Thursday, December 31, 2015

The X-Files - S9:E4 "4-D"

[ S9:E3 "Daemonicus" <<< Season 9 >>> S9:E5 "Lord of the Flies" ]

I don't expect the streak to last, but so far, this season has been steadily improving since its lackluster premiere. This episode is even better than the last. And if it's the best standalone episode of the season, then I'll be satisfied that the season has at least one episode I can comfortably recommend. It starts with a pretty neat opener, in which a man with the apparent ability to teleport - to disappear and reappear at will - manages to land a critical hit on both Doggett and Reyes while in the line of duty. One can't avoid wondering about the nature and origin of his abilities, the likes of which we've never seen on The X-Files before. Things get even weirder when an uninjured Reyes has an "encounter" with Doggett following the accident (in a rare glimpse into their off-duty lives - although dammit, is there going to be UST between every pairing on this show now?), and you're not sure if she's having some kind of a psychic vision, or if the freak-of-the-week is not only playing with space, but time as well. Regardless, it's not a good sign for Doggett - who spends the episode in the hospital in critical condition - when Scully reminisces about a similar vision she had in Beyond The Sea.

More so than Daemonicus, this is the episode where Reyes gets her turn to shine. And I have to say, I'm starting to like her. She'll never be a satisfying replacement for either Mulder or Scully (which is the same position Doggett is in), but at least she's not an obnoxious character like Diana Fowley, whom I can't even stand. On that note, this episode features the recurrence of Cary Elwes as A.D. Brad Follmer, who was ostensibly a mythology character up to this point. Although, I don't know if I'm just getting used to him in this role, but he didn't feel quite as out of place this time around. His sliminess almost seems to suit his perfectly coiffed appearance. (Plus, he's a great shot)! As for this week's freak, played by Dylan Haggerty (who reminds me of a grimmer version of Darin Morgan in Small Potatoes), he's a real creep, but in a good way. When we see him sharing a twin size bed with his elderly mother, I'm thinking, "god, it's no wonder he enjoys escaping into alternate dimensions." The episode resolves by exploiting a twin paradox that is far more effective than what we saw in Fight Club. Never before has returning to the status quo ever been so heart-breaking.

Memorable quotes:

Reyes: It doesn't make any sense. None of it!

(I think it's amusingly ironic that I was putting the pieces together in my head just as Reyes was saying this).

Reyes: How do you do it? You know what I'm talking about, don't you? There's this world, and there's the world where you live out your sick fantasies.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The X-Files - S9:E3 "Daemonicus"

[ S9:E2 "Nothing Important Happened Today II" <<< Season 9 >>> S9:E4 "4-D" ]

After that lukewarm two-part season-opener, this episode - Frank Spotnitz' second turn in the director's chair (but with a more consistently serious tone than Alone) - starts off strong, with a creepy intro in which an old couple is assaulted by home invaders during a game of Scrabble. It's pretty standard horror fare, but my expectations are pretty low at this point, and you can't go wrong with a formula that's tried and true. Anyway, it ends with a delightfully X-Filesian twist, in which the invaders appear to be demons (joining the ranks of such occult-themed episodes as Irresistible, Die Hand die Verletzt, The Calusari, Grotesque, Sanguinarium, Orison, Signs & Wonders, etc.). Leave it to an episode with a strong Millenniumistic flavor to get me reinvested in the series.

Although possibly representing her first brush with true evil, it's a case that seems tailor-made for Agent Reyes - which is good, because at this point, Reyes is in sore need of a more solid foundation for her character. In addition to a more successful introduction, it was these "bread-and-butter" cases that solidified Agent Doggett's place on the show, whereas Reyes was just tossed at us during the midst of a big, messy mytharc, and hasn't had a chance yet to pay her dues. As the believer in the new believer/skeptic dynamic, she's more of a feeling psychic in contrast with Mulder's cerebral intuition, for better or worse. I think it contributes to the growing impression that this show is becoming less like The X-Files and more like your standard supernatural crime drama.

However, this episode would seem to be more of a vehicle for Agent Doggett than Reyes. Like Via Negativa (also written by Frank Spotnitz), it puts a lot of psychological pressure on Doggett, but relies a little too much on Doggett's supposed affection for Scully. I can see him having a professional respect for her, but by god, is this going to be another case of unresolved sexual tension? If you ask me, it only worked between Mulder and Scully because it was almost entirely implied - when it became explicit, I began to lose interest. But do we really need more of that now? To the episode's credit, Scully is back at Quantico, teaching forensic pathology - and it's great to see her doing something other than doting over her baby for once.

Memorable quotes:

Doggett: Say anything you want about Satanic ritual, but don't tell me you think the devil did this. This case ain't even close to bein' an X-File.

(Sorry, Doggett - for all your protesting, this ain't no Irresistible).

Scully: Science tells us that evil comes not from monsters, but from men. It offers us the methodology to catch these men. And only after we have exhausted these methods, should we leave science behind to consider more extreme possibilities.

Doggett: I believe that the devil's a story, made up to scare people.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The X-Files - S9:E2 "Nothing Important Happened Today II"

[ S9:E1 "Nothing Important Happened Today" <<< Season 9 >>> S9:E3 "Daemonicus" ]

Nothing important happened again today - including thinking of a unique title to use for the second half of this two-parter. Although we do finally learn the significance of said title - it's a neat story (unless it didn't really happen), but at this point, it's too little, too late (and a bit pretentious to boot). As far as I'm concerned, the quality of this episode is on par with the last one - it just continues on in the same vein, without getting better, and without introducing any new plot points that are actually exciting, or resolving in any kind of a satisfactory manner. As an opener to the ninth season, I honestly can't say that I'm very enthused about continuing forward (although I do maintain a thin hope that the freak-of-the-week episodes may be better by not being bogged down by the utterly uninteresting mythology).

Spoiler Warning: There, that's all you really need to know. But if you want to read a long list of gripes I have with this and the preceding episode - gripes that contain spoilers for the show's mythology - then read on.

Now, about that mythology. Apparently, the aliens are investigating new delivery mechanisms for their colonizing virus, and the idea they come upon in this two-parter is to poison the water supply. Which isn't very original (compared to the devilishly brilliant - who cares if it's convoluted? - bee system). I can't help thinking that the aliens are reaching for ideas here, and that they should be better than this. The slow burn, behind the scenes stuff ("a silent weapon for a quiet war") worked when the aliens had a deal with the Syndicate, but with them gone, I don't see why they don't just go all Independence Day already. At the very least, they could use some kind of advanced technology, instead of resorting to lame plans any half-assed criminal mastermind could come up with, and that can be foiled easily enough by two upstart agents at the FBI.

Also, the fact that instead of these alien-human hybrids - or just outright aliens - they're trying to turn the population into more of these Super Soldiers (albeit organic versions, I guess)...I don't know. The X-Files always felt different from other sci-fi shows. But lately it's been feeling more and more like a run-of-the-mill tech geek genre show. I guess maybe that's a symptom of losing much of what made The X-Files what it was - dropping Mulder, and turning Scully into a house mother - and bringing on an actor with a lot of baggage from a competing sci-fi/horror pop culture phenomenon (The Terminator). Regardless, it's lost a lot of its steam. Like, take all this talk of the FBI being involved in a conspiracy, and compare it to the web that Section Chief Blevins weaved in Gethsemane/Redux/Redux II. It was captivating (and believable) then. Now it just feels like unlikely actors playing out parts on a stage.

To be fair, I gotta say I like Cary Elwes. He was one of the great fairy tale heroes of my childhood. But - and not to type-cast him - he really doesn't seem right for a hard-headed Assistant Director at the FBI. That pretty face of his belongs on magazine covers, not sitting behind a desk trying to bury government conspiracies. And this episode has the nerve to try and make Kersh out to be a good guy? For that matter, when was the last time we saw Skinner sitting behind a desk? It's good that he's got more to do on the show now, but his character has changed, and he's lost a lot of what made him who he was. It all contributes to the feeling that this is not the same X-Files we used to watch. We were invested in Mulder and Scully's search for the truth. It meant something to put them in danger. Although I'd hate to see the X-Files project closed, it's hardly the same without Mulder or Scully working on it. And in spite of Robert Patrick's best efforts to endear himself to fans throughout the last season, we're just not invested in Doggett or especially Reyes enough to care whether they get fired or killed, or continue working cases for weeks to come.

Honestly, it's come to a point where I wouldn't feel much of a loss if the series was cancelled once and for all. I mean, even the mythology has lost steam. I'm completely uninterested in Scully's baby. I don't even see what the big deal about it being telekinetic is. We've seen tons of freaks on this show with incredible abilities, and not one of them was the messiah, or an indestructible alien drone, or whatever else we're supposed to be afraid that this baby might be. And while Mulder's abduction meant something last season, his re-disappearance here leaves me feeling apathetic at best, and annoyed at worst. I suppose he's gone into hiding(?), but it just reeks of the tail chasing the dog - dropping Mulder off the show and worrying about explaining it away later, leaving the audience frustrated with non-explanations in the meantime. There's a palpable feeling of the show's writers fumbling about trying to make sense out of David Duchovny's abandonment. And with all the key figures in the conspiracy gone (the Syndicate, Samantha, the Smoking Man, the Alien Bounty Hunter, the Black OilKrycek - I wonder if we'll ever see Marita Covarrubias again, not that she alone would be enough to regurgitate my interest), I just don't care anymore.

Memorable quotes:

Reyes: Can we cut the crap, Brad?
A.D. Brad (because calling him A.D. Brad instead of A.D. Follmer or A.D. Brad Follmer appropriately highlights the ridiculousness of his character): I don't know, can we? There's a lot of crap to cut through.

(Thank you. I didn't want to say it myself).

Monday, December 28, 2015

The X-Files - S9:E1 "Nothing Important Happened Today"

[ S8:E21 "Existence" <<< Season 9 >>> S9:E2 "Nothing Important Happened Today II" ]

Spoiler Warning: Watching this episode might spoil your fond memories of The X-Files. As it is a mythology episode, this review will also contain mythology-related spoilers.

I've read a lot of reports on the poor quality of season 9, but I never imagined it'd drop so far so fast. Even after the surprisingly good eighth season, I'm having trouble mustering the enthusiasm to plow forward. I guess in the back of my mind I was hoping that the status quo of the latter half of season eight would continue, with Mulder and Scully simply taking on increasingly smaller supporting roles, as advisors (while juggling their new home life) to their replacements on the X-Files, and new leads, Doggett and Reyes. I can't say that would have been a successful show - certainly not as successful as the original X-Files - but it couldn't have been any worse than it actually was.

So...the main technical problem for the show is David Duchovny's absence. I think they handled it well in the eighth season, writing in a mytharc about Mulder's abduction. But it's almost as if Chris Carter loved this idea of Mulder being an "absent center" for the show so much that, even after bringing Mulder back, and resolving that story arc, come the ninth season premiere, he figured, well, let's just make Mulder disappear again. Except, this time, there's just no good reason for it. I mean, maybe he's going into hiding or whatever, but it just feels so conspicuously like the creators' juggling to write around David Duchovny's absence, that it's not the least bit satisfying.

To start with, the episode's title doesn't inspire much confidence in the viewer that he's going to sit down to a quality hour of television. In an earlier era, it could have been a reference to a funny self-parody, like the Darin Morgan episode War of the Coprophages, humorously detailing in part the agents' off-duty lives. But at this late stage of the game, with all the significant structural changes being made to the show, it skirts dangerously close to being an on-the-nose reference to how bad this show might be becoming. I mean, like - nothing important happened today? Then why am I watching? This isn't Seinfeld.

The episode opens on a bar scene (making me realize how idiotic the "bar scene" is - who would ever go to be picked up by some drunkard at a bar? - and hoping that modern social media, not to mention "speed dating", is playing its part in making this antiquated social custom obsolete). A handsome yet creepy man prone to conspiracy theories (not unlike Mulder) flirts with a woman who gives me the immediate physical impression of a much younger, much sexier (not that that's saying much) Diana Fowley. And I'm thinking...Gender Bender! Although what really happens is the woman (who I guess will turn out to be some kind of Super Soldier?) has an apparent death wish (if not for her indestructibility), and forces the man to kill himself by driving off a bridge.

Then we come to the opening credits - a brand new opening credits sequence, which just drives home the point that this is a new show. Even worse than the Frankenstein credits sequence of last season - which balanced half new stuff with half old stuff - this one is all new. A lot of it imitates what was in the old sequence, but it has an awkward, then-modern look to it that's just not very appealing. There was a time during the classic years of the show when I could have lived with a new opening sequence, but at this stage, it's been a rock, a pivot around which the show revolves. To change it now just adds insult to injury. Mitch Pileggi finally makes it into the main credits, but while he deserves the spot, Annabeth Gish (Agent Monica Reyes), whose name precedes his, has yet to demonstrate that she deserves to be a lead player on this show, which Robert Patrick spent the last season proving.

And it just goes further down hill from there. From Scully's home life (featuring an obnoxious, crying baby that you just want to punch, and a non-cameo of Mulder in the shower - but obscured by the shower door, so that they could just use a body double and not have to bill David Duchovny for the episode), to a guest star roster that includes the unlikely names of Lucy Lawless (the aforementioned bar hopper/Super Soldier) and Cary Elwes (who makes a lot more sense as Agent Reyes' old flame than as another Assistant Director at the FBI). Gillian Anderson may be "starring" in this episode (though not to a capacity that deserves top billing, in spite of her celebrity status and tenure on the show), but this house mother is not the Dana Scully we've known for the past eight years.

Far from gaining a new lease on life after killing the man with the controls to the deadly nanobots in his body, Skinner is seen here bending over backward to plead with Doggett to drop his internal investigation of Kersh - for no good reason (like a lot of things in this episode) other than his fear for the wellbeing of Mulder and Scully and their baby. Doggett has become an unlikely audience surrogate, confused and frustrated, but asking all of the right questions, only to be rebuffed by Skinner and Scully, who are no doubt parroting writers Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz' response: just let it alone. Do they not realize that they're sabotaging their own show?

And then Scully changes her mind about helping out because - what, William has powers of telekinesis? What does that even mean for his significance and the apparent danger that he's in? The aliens already came and went, leaving him alone. And this happens just in time for Scully to show up and perform an autopsy. The writing here is blatantly transparent! I'd swear the Lone Gunmen's appearance is a dig at Fox for yet another of Chris Carter's alternate series' being cancelled while The X-Files continues to chug along, except that I've never watched that show. The episode ends on a (lukewarm) cliffhanger, so I'll have to at least wait to form a conclusion about how this two-parter sets up the new season. But taken on its own, while this episode is not bad like Fight Club, for an episode of The X-Files - a season premiering mythology episode, no less - it just feels off in so many ways. Like it's missed its mark. Not even a "nude" Lucy Lawless can save it, and that's pretty sad.

To be continued...

I've watched better porn than this episode.

Memorable quotes:

(Uh... Yeah).

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The X-Files - Season 8 (2000-1)

[ Season 7 <<< The X-Files >>> Season 9 ]

This is the season that introduced Robert Patrick as Agent John Doggett, and put Mulder on the sidelines. It's not classic X-Files (but then, neither were the sixth or seventh seasons), but it's a strong season nonetheless, and the most consistent in a while. I daresay I enjoyed it more than the seventh season, which was a surprise. The show was perceptibly exhausted in its seventh season, but the way that the eighth season shook things up gave it new life. It represents the show's second wind - a hearkening back to the first season (even more of a return to form, surprisingly, than the first half of season 7), which concerned itself mainly with developing its characters and telling basic, scary stories week after week.

The first half of the season consists mainly of standalone freak-of-the-week episodes, giving Scully and Agent Doggett a chance to build a rapport before resolving the issue of Mulder's disappearance. Of the best of them, Roadrunners puts Scully in danger from a small town cult as a consequence of not trusting her new partner more fully, and Via Negativa explores Doggett's visceral reaction to the paranormal aspect of your typical X-Files case through a series of Lynchian dream sequences. Invocation, which hints at a tragic event in Doggett's past, and Medusa, which involves a mysterious subway killer, are also good. On the flip side, Badlaa (about an Indian mutant who hides inside people's bodies) is notorious for its ridiculous premise and demonstration of poor taste.

The latter half of the season consists of a string of mythology episodes and standalones with notable mythology content. It begins with Per Manum, which explores certain frightening possibilities for Scully's condition in this season, and then continues to This is Not Happening, in which Mulder finally returns to the series, albeit under extenuating circumstances. Deadalive kicks off a whole new chapter in the mythology, involving the aliens' newest weapon, in the form of indestructible "Super Soldiers". This thread is continued in Three Words, and carried through the rest of the season - taking a break to explore Doggett's past more fully in Empedocles, putting Mulder and Doggett together on a case in Vienen, and stirring up some nostalgia in Alone - until the two-part finale, Essence/Existence, which wraps up many of the season's lingering questions, while poising the series to continue with a shifted focus in the next, and last, season.

For your convenience, here is a list of links to my reviews of each of the episodes in the eighth season (names in parentheses are the episodes' writers):

S8:E1 "Within" (Chris Carter)
S8:E2 "Without" (Chris Carter)
S8:E3 "Patience" (Chris Carter)
S8:E4 "Roadrunners" (Vince Gilligan)
S8:E5 "Invocation" (David Amann)
S8:E6 "Redrum" (Steven Maeda & Daniel Arkin)
S8:E7 "Via Negativa" (Frank Spotnitz)
S8:E8 "Surekill" (Greg Walker)
S8:E9 "Salvage" (Jeffrey Bell)
S8:E10 "Badlaa" (John Shiban)
S8:E11 "The Gift" (Frank Spotnitz)
S8:E12 "Medusa" (Frank Spotnitz)
S8:E13 "Per Manum" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S8:E14 "This is Not Happening" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S8:E15 "Deadalive" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S8:E16 "Three Words" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S8:E17 "Empedocles" (Greg Walker)
S8:E18 "Vienen" (Steven Maeda)
S8:E19 "Alone" (Frank Spotnitz)
S8:E20 "Essence" (Chris Carter)
S8:E21 "Existence" (Chris Carter)

Standalone Episode of the Season: Via Negativa (although Roadrunners is also excellent)
Mythology Arc of the Season: There's not one that really stands out, but the loosely connected string that begins with Per Manum and follows through This is Not Happening/Deadalive and Three Words probably gives you the most bang for your buck.
Clunker of the Season: Badlaa is notoriously bad, but at least it's got some spirit. I'd sooner pick Surekill, which commits the greater crime of being plain boring, and squanders the potential of its nifty premise.

Heavy Mythology Content (These are the essential mythology episodes).
Light Mythology Content (These episodes feature light or incidental mythology-related content).
Must watch! (If you're short on time, or just want to revisit the highlights of the series, these are the best episodes the show has to offer).
Recommended. (While not being the best of the best, these are quality episodes; I recommend viewing them if you have the time).
Good for a viewing. (These are not essential episodes, but if you want to dig deeper into the series, they're worth sitting through).
Skippable. (Unless you are, like me, dedicated to absorbing the series in its entirety, these are the episodes that you can afford to skip).

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E21 "Existence"

[ S8:E20 "Essence" <<< Season 8 >>> S9:E1 "Nothing Important Happened Today" ]

Spoiler Warning: This is a season-ending mythology episode. Expect huge spoilers.

With Agent Reyes shipping Scully off to some remote village where Doggett was born to have her baby, Billy Miles rolls into the morgue in a box, adequately described by the autopsy specialist as "hamburger". Well, all except for a neat-looking metallic vertebra, which subsequently begins to regenerate. I guess "indestructible" wasn't an understatement. To be honest, I still think these Super Soldiers (which are finally described as such in this episode) are pretty cool, but it's definitely more akin to something out of a Terminator movie, than The X-Files. Apparently, Robert Patrick's appearance on the show had a subconscious (or maybe just conscious) effect on the writers.

Knowle is the one to provide further explanation in this episode - although, knowing that he's one of them, you can take what he says with a grain of salt. He pushes the military projects angle (which is a good idea if he wants to get Doggett the skeptic to believe him), saying that the chip the government put in Scully's neck triggered her pregnancy, with what he claims is the first organic version of the Super Soldier prototype. When Doggett lets Mulder know about Knowle, he's appropriately distrustful (surely remembering how Deep Throat used to jerk him around), but I don't know why he's so convinced that what Knowle says is a lie. I mean, Scully was taken by the government in a staged abduction, right? Even with the alien explanation, the government was still involved. Unless they're retconning that now, too...

Meanwhile, Reyes humorously imitates whale song, while Scully makes the obvious comparison between this character and her sister, Melissa. Again, Krycek has a few scenes where he demonstrates the real malice of his character, but that are once again marred by questionable plot developments. First, he's working with the Super Soldiers. Okay. But why does he suddenly want to kill Mulder now, after all that's happened? Mulder's known about a conspiracy infiltrating the FBI for years. That's not new. I just can't get Krycek's motivations. He claims to have wanted to see Mulder stop the alien invasion, but then why is he working with them? And if he's working with them, why does he want to kill the baby? The scene ends with Skinner shooting Krycek pretty definitively in the forehead, and though it's entirely warranted, given Krycek's stunt with the nanobots (you signed your own death warrant there, Krycek), I'm really sad to see him go.

But that's not even the thing that bugs me the most about this episode. For what it's worth, the conclusion is very exciting, and the scene where Scully finally delivers her baby in front of a crowd of emotionless human drones is terrifically creepy. And you gotta love Doggett telling Kersh off after discovering that he's working with the Super Soldiers, even if it does mean assigning Reyes to work with him on the X-Files (completing the ousting and replacement of Mulder and Scully). But when Mulder explained that he found Scully by following a light in the sky (even if it really was an alien beacon), I swear I vomited in my mouth just a little bit. Like, are they going to start singing Away In A Manger now? They didn't have to put that in - Mulder could have gotten the location from Skinner and Doggett - they clearly went out of the way to include it. So I guess they really are pushing the "second coming" angle.

Except the aliens didn't take the baby, after all. I thought they were afraid of it, but this episode positions it as another one of their experiments. Except maybe it's not. So, is it special, or not? And if so, how? Dammit, Chris Carter, I'm sick of being jerked around! And is it really Mulder's baby? Because that's what it looks like. In a season, we've gone from Mulder being abducted and Scully learning that she's pregnant, to Mulder and Scully kissing at home, while cradling their newborn son. It's definitely a warmer place to leave off a season (let alone the series). But, on the other hand, it's less the vibe I would expect from The X-Files. This was a surprisingly good season - considering the circumstances - but can they really stretch it out for another year?

Hold that door!

Memorable quotes:

Doggett: It can't be. It's impossible.
Mulder: Yeah, it can't be, but it is.

Knowle: Six years ago, Agent Scully was taken in a military operation staged as an abduction. They put a chip in the back of her neck to monitor her. It was also used to make her pregnant, with the first organic version of that same Super Soldier.

Game Warden: I've heard every excuse in the book, but this one's far too original.

Doggett: You ever stop to ask yourself? All the sacrifice, the blood spilled. You've given nearly a decade of your life. Where the hell is it all gonna end?
Mulder: I don't know. Maybe it doesn't.

(I feel like this is another one of those lines that expresses Chris Carter and David Duchovny's feelings).

Krycek: It's gonna take more bullets than you can ever fire to win this game. One bullet, and I can give you a thousand lives.

(Yeah, I don't know what this means. I'm having flashbacks to Mulder's "if those are my last words, I can do better").

Game Warden: This baby will be born.

Kersh: You investigate what I tell you.
Doggett: And you put me on the X-Files. That's what I'm investigatin'.

Mulder: What are you gonna call him?
Scully: William. After your father.
Mulder: Well, I don't know, he's got your coloring and your eyes, but he looks suspiciously like Assistant Director Skinner.

The X-Files - S8:E20 "Essence"

[ S8:E19 "Alone" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E21 "Existence" ]

Spoiler Warning: You're no doubt used to this by now, but if there were spoilers before, we're into the two-part season finale now, so expect even bigger ones.

So far, this series has arranged its season-spanning mytharcs in such a way that there'd only ever been a single episode before the season cliffhanger, to be resolved in one or two episodes come the following season. This is, therefore, the first time that a season concludes with a two-parter before the break. It starts with Mulder waxing philosophical in voice-over - as in important mythology episodes of the past - this time about the miracle of birth. It also hints at the central question behind Scully's pregnancy: is it natural, or supernatural? While Scully's mother (whom we haven't seen very much of lately, but is as meddling as ever) throws her daughter a baby shower, Billy Miles - last seen being resurrected in Deadalive - is on the warpath, destroying anyone and anything connected to Scully's miraculous pregnancy.

About which we do finally get some answers in this episode. Apparently, it turns out that the doctors we were all afraid of (and which Billy Miles is systematically executing) were actually trying to protect Scully's baby - and not because it's an alien. Though they were almost certainly involved in experiments with alien babies (and it sounds like they were taking orders from the Syndicate back when it was still around), Scully's baby would seem to be something else entirely. But that's where things get a little hokey. I would have loved for Scully to have given birth to an alien baby. And I would have settled for her having Mulder's human baby. But I fear this series is laying on the religious imagery a little strong - what with Scully being a virgin mother and all. As much as I love it whenever Krycek pops up, he lays down some unsatisfying exposition in this episode.

It's cool that the aliens are trying to sabotage any and all efforts by mankind to survive the coming alien apocalypse. I even think this new form of enforcer - the alien pod people, who I predict are going to be the "Super Soldiers" fans often talk about when discussing this show's late-era mythology - are a neat idea. (Although, I don't like them better than the Alien Bounty Hunter, who - now that I think about it - was probably engaged in a similar objective in Colony/End Game). This is definitely a new phase for the mythology - more so than The Sixth Extinction (which never really went anywhere) ever proved to be. But Krycek spouts some of that "more human than human" crap when referring to Scully's baby, who is apparently going to be some kind of messiah. Which is why the aliens want to destroy it, since they're apparently not only religious now, but superstitious to boot. I don't want the aliens to be afraid of "a higher power". I liked it better when the aliens were the higher power!

I should have known something was wrong when it was Krycek coming to the rescue (and then Agent Reyes as their backup - lame!). Mulder seems to think that Scully's baby could somehow be proof that there's a God. Except, he's supposed to be an atheist. I don't see any good reason for him to backpedal now, just because some scientists have created a superbaby in a lab, and stuck it in a barren woman's womb. The conclusion/cliffhanger, which ends with Scully being spirited away to somewhere presumably safe from the replicants (but don't count on it), leaves much to be desired. Though Billy Miles ends up in a trash compactor, there's another replicant on the scene. But rather than the excitement of shouting, "oh my god, I can't believe it", I find myself frustrated, thinking, "what the hell is going on here?" This show has lots of potential - the alien menace, the usage of Krycek (who has remained a regular, if sporadic, character much longer than I remembered) - but I just don't know that I'm enjoying the direction the story is going in.

To be continued...

Memorable quotes:

Party-Goer: So many secrets, Margaret.
Mrs. Scully: What do you expect? My daughter works for the FBI.

Mulder: Pissing people off comes with the territory, Agent Doggett. It's part of working on the X-Files.

Doggett: You're ignorin' the fact that he bled red blood. Now, every single X-File I read - and I read 'em all, Mulder - what you call "aliens" bleed green. Right?
Mulder: Well, Billy Miles is a whole new deal.

Krycek: You can call 'em what you want - human replacements, alien replicants. They're virtually unstoppable.

(Super soldiers, perhaps? I'd like to know where Krycek gets all his information. Oh, that's right, he used to have the MJ files. He probably copied them and has been interpreting them piecemeal for the last five years).

Skinner: What do they want?
Krycek: They want to knock out any and all attempts by us to survive the final days. When they come back to retake the planet.

(Kinda begs the question - why did Krycek want to prevent the baby from coming to term before, but now he's all helping hands? Or one hand, at least. Is he for or against)?

Krycek: If I'm so full of crap, why all the precautions?
Skinner: Precisely because you are so full of crap, Krycek.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E19 "Alone"

[ S8:E18 "Vienen" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E20 "Essence" ]

Spoiler Warning: This is the closest thing to a traditional monster-of-the-week episode we've had in a while, but there are still some significant developments in the serial storyline (mainly revolving around the main characters), so expect more spoilers in the following review.

I'd like to start this review by saying that I think this episode works as a spiritual series finale even better than Requiem did. Written and directed (for the first time!) by Frank Spotnitz, it's chock full of in-jokes and references to earlier episodes (let's see, I recognized Dreamland, Quagmire, Tempus Fugit/Max, Squeeze, Detour, The Sixth Extinction, and of course a hilarious scene where Mulder and Scully quibble over whether it was really a spaceship they escaped from in Antarctica during the events of Fight The Future). In this episode, Scully finally takes her maternity leave, and Doggett is introduced to his new (one-time) partner, Agent Leyla Harrison (Jolie Jenkins). She is the anti-Scully - a cute, bubbly blonde (and call me superficial, but I like her). It's a testament to the evolution of this show that I described Dana Scully as the audience's surrogate back in the first season, since she was the skeptic to Mulder's outlandish theories. But at this point, Harrison is a very different kind of audience surrogate - the X-Files fangirl.

Within the world of The X-Files, this manifests as an FBI accountant who had spent the last eight years covering Mulder and Scully's travel expenses, and no doubt living vicariously through their case reports. As such, she's long on lore, and short on field experience, which puts Doggett's life at risk during the investigation of a Reptilian menace. Although she claims she begged for the assignment (and I believe her), I wouldn't put it past Kersh to play fast and loose with his agents' lives. Scully's concern for her new ex-partner gets Mulder involved in the case, and I must say that, ironically, despite the both of them now being out of a job, they're more like their old selves than ever (at least when they're not playing house). I just hope this isn't the last time we'll see that, because the show is clearly angling for a formal changing of the guard. By the end of the episode, Agent Harrison has learned her lesson, and Doggett is left to work alone. He's grown protective of the X-Files over the course of this season, but he came on a stranger to the work. Now he must ask himself if he has it in him to helm the project.

Memorable quotes:

Doggett: This pregnancy leave - it's just a leave, right? I mean, you are coming back...eventually?
Scully: (silence).

(And the entire fanbase lets out a sigh to mourn The X-Files as they've known it for eight years).

Agent Harrison: What is that, slime?

Mulder: I'm unemployed. I got a lot of time on my hands.

The X-Files - S8:E18 "Vienen"

[ S8:E17 "Empedocles" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E19 "Alone" ]

Spoiler Warning: Continuing in this season's tradition of serial storytelling, this largely standalone episode does contain some developments in the series' mythology that I'd like to discuss, so expect the following review to contain spoilers.

Even more than Medusa recalled the "bottle episodes" of this season's past, this episode opens very much like a blue-collar version of the "scientists stranded in the middle of nowhere" plotline that goes all the way back to season 1's Ice. The majority of the episode takes place on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico (and, while probably not located in the right body of water, it demonstrates how much difference it makes to film on location). It just so happens that the monster of the week is none other than the Black Oil! And even more exciting is the fact that this appears to be the original Black Oil (complete with radiation flare capabilities) that Mulder encountered all the way back in Piper Maru. In fact, the events of that episode (and its followup, Apocrypha) are referenced directly by Agent Doggett, as he regales Mulder with his superficial knowledge of the X-Files. On the other hand, Mulder is upset because Doggett had overlooked this recent case Mulder links to the Black Oil. I guess his instincts could still use some honing. But, then, he'll never beat Mulder at his own job.

Well, his former job. Sticking his nose in this case involving an oil rig accident actually ends up causing big problems for the company, who want to keep it hush-hush so as not to jeopardize their rights to the property. So, a perturbed Deputy Director Kersh sends Doggett out to the oil rig to investigate, hoping for a speedy resolution. And Mulder - well, Mulder just invites himself. Unfortunately, the two of them end up stranded on the oil rig with an entire crew potentially infected by the Black Oil. Back in the autopsy room, Scully is tasked with finding a cure (an endeavor that took the Syndicate decades), before it's too late (although, if anyone could do it, it would be Scully). And it's really great to see Scully doing science again. I had taken it for granted, but it's an important element of her character, and to her contribution to the work.

I was hoping to learn more about where the Black Oil stands in terms of the aliens' new plan involving body snatching pods (as explored in Deadalive), but all we really get in way of explanation is that the aliens were (maybe) poised to distribute the Black Oil to the world's population via its usage of regular black oil as a power supply. I guess. Anyway, the real villain here is bureaucracy. Kersh provides some well-needed antagonism in this series, even if he sometimes comes off like a cartoon villain. (His concern for the FBI's public image is understandable, but he seems to lack the instinct or empathy that seems critical for one working in law enforcement - he's definitely more of a politician than a policeman). It occurs to me that his character is something of a corporeal distillation of what had long been left vague on this show - the corruption of authority, and its meddling reach - only sometimes represented by the shadowy figure of the Smoking Man (who has been in hibernation this season, presumed dead - for the second time).

In the bittersweet conclusion (following an explosive action setpiece the likes of which we haven't seen for a while), Mulder reveals that his antics on the oil rig are essentially the straw that broke the camel's back - that his job at the FBI has been sacrificed. As Scully warned, Kersh isn't playing around like he was back in season 6. Although, Mulder seems strangely at peace with this turn of events (surely he saw it coming - maybe his heart's not in the work anymore, after all that's changed, or maybe he's just not interested in working for the FBI if he can't be on the X-Files, like Scully threatened in the movie). Whatever the case, he formally hands the reins over to Agent Doggett, finally coming to accept him as his replacement. I don't know if I like the implications of this development for the show, however.

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: We're both in the same boat, Agent Doggett. We're just paddling in different directions.
Doggett: No, we're not going in different directions, here. We're going in one direction - my direction.

Doggett: I never would have believed it - these stories about you.
Mulder: Really, what stories are those?
Doggett: That you could find a conspiracy at a church picnic.
Mulder: (Thinks about it). What church?

(Good answer, Mulder. Good answer).

Kersh: If I didn't know better, I'd say this was a Mulder stunt.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E17 "Empedocles"

[ S8:E16 "Three Words" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E18 "Vienen" ]

Spoiler Warning: This isn't strictly a mythology episode, but it deals with some of Agent Doggett's back story, so keep that in mind, as this review will contain spoilers.

Yes, we finally get to explore Doggett's back story - specifically, some of the details involving the case of his lost son, Luke. The boy was killed, and Doggett and Reyes never caught the killer. But it's not the killer (who dies before the opening credits roll) so much as his spiritual legacy that this episode concerns itself with. In the opener, a man is fired from his job, and then literally gets fired when, after witnessing a car chase end in a fiery explosion, the burning victim gets up and walks through him, metaphorically infecting him (as Mulder explains it later in the episode) with evil. He then turns around and shoots the boss that fired him just moments before. A local detective thinks the killing involves a Satanic ritual, based on the fact that the prime suspect owned a Marilyn Manson CD. Which is funny, but it's a pretty specious excuse to get Agent Reyes involved in the case. (As an aside, we hardly know Reyes, and we're not invested in whether or not she quits smoking. So I can't help wondering what the point of those scenes with the nicotine gum is)...

Reyes makes a connection to the killing of Doggett's son via a psychic vision, but, not wanting to open old wounds, she calls Mulder for assistance, instead. Likely still bitter from being denied reinstatement on the X-Files, Mulder is at first uninterested - until Reyes mentions the connection to Doggett's past (then his ears perk right up). One can't help seeing the reluctant Mulder/Reyes pairing as a kind of counterpart to Scully/Doggett, especially when Mulder initially acts like the skeptic to Reyes' believer, paralleling the similar about-face that Scully performed while working with Doggett (though thankfully, this doesn't last). As we'll see, this episode is very much about the line between skepticism and belief, as it explores the reason behind Doggett's vehement opposition to the paranormal. When he flies off the handle and assaults Mulder after learning that he's working a case involving his past, it feels like an unreasonable reaction - even more so than Mulder's treatment of Doggett in the last episode. But Robert Patrick brings enough pathos to a later scene explaining Doggett's resistance that it justifies his intensity, saving that story thread.

For her part, Scully ends up back in the hospital in this episode. Which is a little bit disappointing, but it's not like she can be in the middle of the action anyway, given how far along her pregnancy is getting (though I don't imagine that story thread will be resolved until the season finale). There are some pleasant scenes between her and Mulder, at least, although they more remind than resurrect the mood of the great partnership that used to drive this show. Although Mulder and Doggett are still alternately at each other's throats - in what feels at times like a forced rivalry akin to that constructed between Mulder and Agent Spender (who could have been friends under different circumstances), albeit with more animation - they again find some level of reconciliation by episode's end. I don't buy Scully's claim to Mulder that she likes Agent Reyes, after their thorny interactions in This is Not Happening, but it's worth noting that Reyes ultimately gives Doggett the same explanation for them all being haunted by the specter of his son's disappearance that Scully gave him in Invocation. The real climax of the episode, however, is its thrilling and ultimately open-ended conclusion in the hospital.

Wish you were here...

Memorable quotes:

Scully: I was just about to jump in the shower, but I was waiting for the pizza man.
Mulder: You got something going on with the pizza man I should know about?

(It's nice to have Mulder's casual humor back - but he totally sells this exchange by reading his lines in complete seriousness - it's funny because it doesn't feel like a joke).

Mulder: The pizza man is not above suspicion.

Katha Dukes: I believe that we're all born good - uncorrupted - and life itself does the corrupting.

Doggett: You never believed in any of this stuff - this...paranormal whatever-you-call-it. So what changed your mind?
Scully: I realized it was me. That I was afraid - afraid to believe.

(This is consistent with her statement in Beyond The Sea. Although, clearly, realizing it then wasn't enough to change her habits).

Mulder (to Reyes): I think there's an opening coming up in this office soon, you might want to apply.

(I hope this isn't a prophecy).

Mulder: You can't help a man who can't help himself.

Mulder: I began to think about evil like a disease - you know, that it goes from man to man or age to age. Most of us walk around thinking that we're incapable of any acts of evil, and we are - we can stifle that momentary urge to kill, or to hurt. We have some kind of immunity to it. But I think it's possible that there' occurrence in somebody's life - a tragedy, or a loss - that leaves them vulnerable, hurts their immunity to evil, and all of a sudden, at that point in their lives, when they're weakened, they're open to evil. And they can become evil.

(That's when evil slips on in).

The X-Files - S8:E16 "Three Words"

[ S8:E15 "Deadalive" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E17 "Empedocles" ]

Spoiler Warning: The string of mythology episodes continues! Beware of spoilers.

This episode continues from the last one like as if it had ended with a "to be continued" (and I'm pretty sure it didn't). When, honestly, I think this episode is more connected with the last one than the last one was to the one before it (which did have a "to be continued"). I guess you can just chalk it up to the increasingly serial nature of the story in this season (at least the second half). The A.V. Club has written in their reviews that this season feels the most modern, in the sense of being more serial and less episodic than it had always been, and I can definitely see that. I just wonder to what extent that is a result of the contract disputes with David Duchovny - only getting him for so many episodes, and kinda having to push the mythology to the back end of the season, so that they can make those stories count, instead of spreading the mythology out more like they used to.

In any case, this episode opens with a census worker jumping the White House fence and dying in the process of trying to warn the president about an alien invasion already in progress. I guess that's what this whole body snatchers pod thing is about. It's a nice opportunity for this show to resurrect its themes of government conspiracy, even in the absence of the Syndicate. The surprise star of this episode is the "informant", Knowle, that Doggett consulted in Per Manum (and who probably set him up then, too). He's obviously not to be trusted, and by the end of the episode it's clear that he's one of these alien things (it's funny, the man who plays the character - Adam Baldwin - even looks kinda like Brian Thompson, who played the Alien Bounty Hunter). But up to that point, you definitely get a bit of an 'X' feeling from him - that he relies on Doggett knowing he's being set up in order to make the most of the information given without compromising his position. Even if he doesn't strictly turn out to play the role of an informant, he's still got more of that intrigue that Marita Covarrubias always lacked as X's "replacement".

On the other front, Mulder is still recovering - having flashbacks to his torture at the hands of the aliens (yet they seem to lack the intensity of Duane Barry's). But he's otherwise in perfect health; apparently the disease that was plaguing him from before is gone, making you wonder if there was ever a point to that retconned plotline after all? His reaction to Scully's pregnancy is understated, although when Langly suggests the possibility of his involvement, he seems legitimately surprised. It's another one of those things that could be nothing, but could also hint at alternative explanations (alien baby!). Regardless, Mulder wastes very little time getting back to his usual manner of following hunches and breaking the rules. It reminds you how much has changed since he left the show, and it's legitimately nostalgic. You can't help thinking how many adventures we would have missed out on using Doggett's by-the-books approach. And that, only Mulder's almost gleefully anti-authoritarian stance holds any chance of fighting back against a true government conspiracy.

On that note, Kersh lays down another whammy - citing improved success rates since Doggett joined the X-Files - in order to deny Mulder reinstatement on the project (talk about kicking a man while he's down), threatening to close the X-Files altogether if Doggett refuses to usurp Mulder's position, now that he's back. This inevitably creates some friction between the two agents, manifesting as some light antagonism, leading up to a direct confrontation, and something of an ultimate reconciliation by the end of the episode. It's a testament to how far we've come in just fifteen episodes. When Scully threw the water in Doggett's face in Within, it felt right - even if Doggett didn't really deserve it. But now, Mulder's got him in a similar position, and all I can think is that he's being unreasonable. I've come to like Doggett - not as a replacement for Mulder, but as his own character - and I want Mulder to like him, too. I actually want to see them getting along!

Absalom turns up again in this episode, too. He manages to escape prison using a board with a nail in it (lol), but only gets himself killed for his efforts. For what it's worth, Mulder takes up his mantle, infiltrating the census bureau (old-school style with the Lone Gunmen, like in Memento Mori) in the hope of getting proof of the alien invasion - although ultimately to no avail. This is partly due to Doggett being set up by his alien contact. One wonders to what extent the aliens have infiltrated the government - this could be a different kind of conspiracy, altogether, where the conspirators are not sympathizers, but aliens themselves! All of this would seem to suggest - thinking ahead to the new episodes coming in January - that this show can be successful playing with its original themes and concepts even if some of the old characters (though preferably not Mulder or Scully) are replaced by newer stand-ins. Which is promising.

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Mulder, are you okay?
Mulder: Yeah. For a guy who was in a coffin not too long ago, I think I'm doing pretty damn good.

Kersh: You never see 'em coming. People are so rarely what they seem.

Doggett: You sent me to find Mulder. I found him. Don't charge me with drivin' a stake through his heart.

Absalom: Doubting Thomas is going to spread the word.
Doggett: What word?
Absalom: The invasion has begun.

Scully: Mulder, you make it sound like this was a conspiracy.
Mulder: Ooh. There's that word again.

Skinner: You know, I'm startin' to wonder about you too, John. Just whose side you are working on here.
Doggett: I'm startin' to wonder about that myself.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E15 "Deadalive"

[ S8:E14 "This is Not Happening" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E16 "Three Words" ]

Spoiler Warning: Another mythology episode. More spoilers. Big ones.

Deadalive (more like Dead? Alive!) begins with Mulder's funeral. Perhaps I'm missing out by not watching these episodes as they aired, and thus not knowing how everything would end. Not that I know the details, but just the all-important part where Mulder comes out of it alive and well is enough. So the more they play the "Mulder is really dead" card - which his actual, honest-to-god funeral would seem to serve - the more insincere it feels, and the less emotionally invested I am, because I'm just not buying it (although Gillian Anderson does her damnedest to try to make it real for us, even if Scully's emotions verge at times on the soap operatic). And, the cheaper it makes Mulder's inevitable resurrection feel, because it's like we're being strung along, and we know it. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer did a much more effective resurrection plotline, giving a character a whole season to deal with the aftereffects of returning from the world of the dead). Not that Mulder's life hasn't successfully been put in jeopardy on this show in the past - even when the viewers knew for certain that he would come out of it intact. But I guess then the drama never hinged so much on the "what if", but more on the "how" and the "why" of it (which in this episode fails to captivate).

Right from the start, this episode jumps ahead three months from the last episode. That's really pushing the resurrection angle. How would you like to wake up from death to find your body already three months decayed? This is just one of those things where it's the sooner done, the better. Anyway, Billy Miles (the boy who was introduced in the pilot, and abducted along with Mulder in Requiem - stretching the whole Oregon plotline even further, after I'd already erroneously claimed - but believed at the time! - that it didn't intersect with the show's main mythology in any significant way) is found by some fishermen in North Carolina. Ostensibly long dead, he is actually in some creepy state of being "deadalive", in which his body continues to decompose, but he breathes, and occasionally is even conscious. (Doesn't sound like fun). So, Skinner decides to exhume Mulder's body and, sure enough, he's in a similar state. But this isn't going to be a simple matter of, "oh, he was dead, but now he's alive again" (except that it is, in the end).

As the advance scout for the effects of this "disease", Billy Miles demonstrates the true nature of his condition following a gross shower scene in which he basically rinses off his decaying flesh, and emerges a fresh and new person. Except, as Scully finds out, he is literally a new person, now extolling the virtues of the alien menace (with shades of Cassandra's positive - but misguided - message in Patient X). Apparently, the gestation method demonstrated in the movie, Fight The Future, has now been swapped out for some kind of disturbing amalgam of Night of the Living Dead and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Go figure. That's where Krycek comes in (in his first appearance since Doggett's introduction on the show), once again wielding the nano-powers of life and death over A.D. Skinner (for a reminder, consult S.R. 819). He claims to have the vaccine (is it the same one from before?) to heal Mulder, thus preventing him from becoming an alien pod. But in return for saving Mulder's life, he orders Skinner to make sure Scully's baby doesn't come to term.

Which makes you wonder, does Krycek know something about Scully's baby? Or is he just doing this to watch them all squirm? I could see it going either way. Regardless, he appears to have them all in checkmate, and even Doggett's dogged determination isn't enough to resolve the situation, except that it seems to find a way to conveniently resolve itself. While Krycek maniacally smashes the vaccine against the floor of the parking garage (giving him another great opportunity to be the detestable weasel we all love to hate), Skinner takes Mulder off of life support, ostensibly to kill him so that he doesn't have to sabotage Scully's baby, only to find that the life support was incubating the virus. Taken off of it, and following an antiviral course prescribed by Scully (but presumably not including Krycek's wasted vaccine), Mulder magically recovers by a largely unsatisfying and all-too-convenient form of deus ex why-the-hell-not?

Whatever. I'm kind of beyond caring at this point. The end game, I guess, is getting Mulder back on his feet, and I'm curious to see what the show is going to do with him now. Finding Mulder definitely closes one arc of the mythology (leaving room for the next). Kersh has some nice scenes in this episode, inappropriately (but not unexpectedly) gloating over the news of Mulder's demise. He offers Doggett an opportunity for a transfer to a more respectable division - but to his enduring credit, Doggett hesitates. And by the time Mulder recovers, Kersh is ready to damn Doggett to the fate of the X-Files. But with Mulder back on the scene, you almost feel sad for him (which is again credit to what this show has managed to do with his character, against the odds), because now he's gonna be a third wheel (well, at least until Scully - who is beginning to show - goes on maternity leave, I guess). Only time will tell.

Memorable quotes:

Scully: I think the real tragedy is that, for all of his pain and searching, the truth that he worked so hard to find was never truly revealed to him. I can't truly believe that I'm really standing here.

(Neither can we. Because you're not, really. Not truly. Just give it to the end of the episode and things will turn around).

Scully: Get out while you can, Agent Doggett. Or you may never get out at all.

(Is that a prophecy?)

Kersh: It serves a man to have useful information, John. One never knows when he might find himself having to survive on his wits alone.

Kersh: I'm throwing you a rope. Don't go and hang yourself with it now.

Scully: The truth may hurt, but it's all that matters.

Scully: Do you you have any idea what you've been through?
Mulder: I know what I see in your face.

(As we all do. Each and every line and lopsided grimace and furrowed brow and teary-eyed rivulet of it).

Friday, December 18, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E14 "This is Not Happening"

[ S8:E13 "Per Manum" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E15 "Deadalive" ]

Spoiler Warning: This is another mythology episode (there are going to be a lot of these over the next few days). Spoilers to follow.

Finally, we pick up on the thread of Mulder's disappearance! This episode begins with an exciting opener, in which that guy from Requiem (yeah, I didn't remember him either) is chasing a UFO. We see it land, and activate its cloaking device, like we've seen before (especially in Within/Without). It sticks around just long enough to spit out that girl from Oregon - Theresa, an abductee - in critical condition. The UFO leaves her for dead, and the UFO chaser finds her, while scaring off an unknown interloper whom he assumes is alien. It's actually pretty neat, the story that this episode pieces together - Jeremiah Smith (the unforgettable miracle healer from Talitha Cumi) is back in action, and still as much a rebel as ever. The aliens are apparently in a coverup phase now, since their deal with the Syndicate went bad (recall the conclusion to One Son), and are trying to dispose of all evidence of their human experiments. They're trying to eliminate abductees, but Jeremiah Smith (working with a former doomsday cult leader that sounds like a character out of Millennium) is following the UFO(s?) around, scooping up the dead or dying abductees being spit out, in an attempt to use his powers to heal them.

And that's where Scully and Doggett (and Skinner) come in, because maybe this is how they're going to find Mulder! But we also get introduced to a new character in this episode, Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) - pronounced "Ray-ess", or "Ray-ez, not "Raise". I have mixed feelings about this character. She's not eminently detestable the way Diana Fowley was, but there are just some things about her. Like the fact that she smokes Morley cigarettes (which, on this show, is shorthand for drawing the audience's ire). And that she initially pisses Scully off (rightly) by suggesting that, rather than being abducted, Mulder may have joined a UFO cult (cue eye-rolling). A specialist in "ritualistic crime", she at first comes off as a skeptic, only to waffle and reveal later that she's a believer in cosmic energies. What are we supposed to think about her? She's also a friend of Doggett's - and through her past connection with him, we learn a little bit more about the son Doggett lost, which was hinted at in Invocation.

So - I don't know, because I stopped watching the series before this point, but I've heard some things, and it gets me worried. I have this feeling that Agent Reyes is being set up to eventually replace Scully, in a kind of next generation X-Files with Doggett/Reyes in place of Mulder/Scully. And I can't say I feel very confident about a change of that magnitude. But I can see how the show could easily progress that way. Eventually, Mulder's going to come back from his abduction, and what then? I don't see him coming back full-time, so without the excuse of his abduction, how are the creators going to explain his non-appearance on the show? Unless they shift focus, and make the show about someone else (e.g., Doggett and/or Reyes). And Gillian Anderson is already following in David Duchovny's footsteps in terms of appearing hardly or not at all in episodes every now and then. After this pregnancy plotline is resolved, how are the creators going to keep coming up with excuses to give Gillian Anderson breaks from shooting? Unless her character is re-written in a more occasional (maybe advisory?) capacity.

Anyway, I guess I'm just going to have to keep watching and find out when it happens. We do in fact find Mulder by the end of this episode. But he appears to be dead. There's a dramatic irony in that it's possible the agents' raid of the cultleader's refuge may have been what prevented Jeremiah Smith from healing Mulder in time. Talk about a morbid turn of events. Then a UFO comes down and scoops up Jeremiah Smith before he's able to do anything further for Mulder. It's a pretty heartbreaking cliffhanger, although honestly, all the melodrama rings a little hollow for me. For one thing, you know that surely they'll find a way to revive Mulder. And all the focus on Scully's pain is getting to be a bit much. This show has just put her through the ringer, I know, and it's an opportunity for Gillian Anderson to show her range as an actress. I don't know if I'm just getting bored with it this late in the series, if I'm just not feeling the storyline like I used to, or if Gillian Anderson is doing something differently. But I'm not quite as invested as I used to be. But I still want to know what happens next.

To be continued...

Memorable quotes:

Doggett: You ever hear of an alien in Nike's?

Doggett: Bad as you wanna find Mulder, you're afraid to find him, too.

Reyes: What we think happened and what actually happened aren't always the same thing. But not altogether insignificant, either.
Scully: I'm sorry, this feels like therapy.

Doggett: This is where we part company.
Scully: Enjoy your new company.

(A sign of things to come, maybe?)

Scully: What is it you specialize in again? Ritualistic crime?
Reyes: Right. Satanic ritual abuse. Or I should say claims of it. We never found any hard evidence.
Scully: We should talk sometime.

(If this were the NCMEC, it would be a different story, but does the FBI really have agents dedicated to a field of inquiry that has no reported evidence to back it up? Oh, that's right, they fund The X-Files. Silly me).

Absalom: How many times can I tell you?
Doggett: It's early. Coffee's hot.

The X-Files - S8:E13 "Per Manum"

[ S8:E12 "Medusa" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E14 "This is Not Happening" ]

Spoiler Warning: Mythology episode. Expect spoilers.

I may have a few qualms about this episode, but unlike the half-assed The Gift, this is how you do a post-Mulder mythology episode. It deals with the advancement of Scully's pregnancy, and her fears that she might be carrying an alien baby! (Surely, we've all been thinking that). And thanks to the complications involved with an eerily similar case that falls across their desk, Doggett ultimately (and finally) finds out her secret. The case involves a woman - a multiple abductee - who recently gave birth (allegedly) to an alien baby (despite having been barren), and then was killed as part of a coverup. There's a nice overarching conspiracy plotline in this episode (culminating in a scene where Scully is tossed from the frying pan into the fire, effectively underlining the fact that we don't know who to trust), by which we find out at the end that the whole case was a setup just to get at another alien baby. But the question remains, is the baby Scully carrying an alien too?

The fact that she survived the ordeal with the baby intact would suggest that the answer is no, although it's still a possibility. There is also the parallel plotline told in flashback that gives another possible source for her pregnancy. Unfortunately, however, the episode opts to blur the line completely between flashback and reality. It's easy enough to distinguish the two in hindsight, which leaves you wondering what the purpose for this technique was, if not just to trick the audience into thinking Mulder is back, without realizing right away that they're watching a flashback. Which is kind of cheap, and makes me angry. Stop stringing us along! Regardless, in these flashbacks, Mulder finally drops the bomb about stealing Scully's ova back from the government (in Memento Mori), and then she basically asks Mulder to be her baby-daddy.

I have to be honest, stories about immaculate conception just leave me dry. They smack of an ultra-prudish mindset, not a little bit inspired by that super-popular religion that labels sex a sin and attributes sexlessness to divinity. You get all the hassle of pregnancy, child birth, and then child-rearing, without even the fun of having sex. Sounds pretty lame, to me. If Chris Carter's plan to (allegedly) never have Mulder and Scully get together really meant a romantic relationship and even a child together, but no sex, then that's just beyond the pale. Besides, this whole in vitro thing is just another retcon - more stuff that happened before Mulder's disappearance, but written into the chronology after his disappearance. Instead of plowing ahead, or even treading water, as it has in the past, the mythology is backpedaling now.

And what's more, eight seasons in, and Chris Carter is still stringin' us along! Watch how he does it. He hints at the obvious possibility of Scully having an alien baby. Then he provides an alternative (and arguably more dramatically satisfying) explanation - in vitro fertilization with Mulder's "donor tissue" - only to reveal it to have been a failure in the end. But having provided that explanation, it's not completely off the table that it could work on another try. Yet we just don't know, and that alien baby is still a possibility. So it's left up in the air, and we just can't be sure. There are advantages to this kind of storytelling - certainly, open endings let viewers fill in the spaces with their imagination - but after so long, you just start feeling like you want some straight answers for once. Haven't we earned it yet?

Memorable quotes:

Scully: So you're saying that it was the doctors that killed your wife?
Mr. Haskell: And stole the alien baby!

(Well, we gotta get our paranoid fix somehow, now that Mulder is gone).

Doggett: I thought you'd find it interesting, actually.
Scully: Interesting? As in preposterous, and outrageous?

Doggett: I'm just tryin' to do my job. Only it gets hard to do if the person you're workin' with is keepin' secrets and tellin' lies.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E12 "Medusa"

[ S8:E11 "The Gift" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E13 "Per Manum" ]

This is the second episode in a row with a solo writing credit by Frank Spotnitz, and the third this season. He must be putting in double time, although it seems that the producers are playing this season close to the chest, with a lot of repetition and familiar names on the writing side of the business. I'd place this episode above the last one, but not quite as high as Via Negativa. Among others, it costars Ken Jenkins, playing a gruff authority figure not unlike his role as Dr. Kelso on Scrubs. Here, he is a transit bigwig, intent only on getting the trains back up and running by rush hour, after a mysterious death in a subway tunnel halts operations just long enough for Scully to send Doggett down underground to investigate. What they find is a bit of a mystery organism that attacks like a disease (threatening the possibility of an outbreak scenario) and kills with a biochemical reaction that looks a lot like electricity. It's a fun premise, that recalls the isolated sets of early-era episodes, like Ice, Firewalker, and especially Darkness Falls (which also dealt with a bioluminescent organism). Plus, the conclusion fits nicely into the tradition of this season's reinventing the old formula, by introducing Doggett to corporate corruption, via a mild conspiracy angle that recalls episodes like F. Emasculata and The Pine Bluff Variant. I don't know that I would rate this episode quite as good as either of those two, but it's one of the better episodes this season.

Memorable quotes:

Scully: You don't understand - they could be infected and contagious.
Karras: With what? Sea water?

Scully: Who are those dead men and how did they die?!
Karras: Prob'ly tunnel rats.

The X-Files - S8:E11 "The Gift"

[ S8:E10 "Badlaa" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E12 "Medusa" ]

Spoiler Warning: This really isn't a mythology episode, but it does deal with the continuing search for Mulder, and so the following discussion may contain some spoilers.

This isn't actually a terrible episode, it's just misguided. In the opener, some kind of assassin enters a house marked with a bloody symbol on the door, and kills someone (or something) as the residents fearfully (but helplessly) look on. It's shot in disjointed closeups, so as to obscure the fact (soon revealed) that the killer is none other than Fox Mulder. But I'm kinda pissed that this is the first we see of Mulder since Within/Without. His uncharacteristic behavior is adequately explained by the end of the episode, but even before that, you're thinking, this is probably just the Alien Bounty Hunter again, or else he's possessed or confused or something. Either way, the conclusion is that though it's him, it's not really him, which is the impression you get regardless, because this is not the Mulder we know and love. And that's the thing - if this is what David Duchovny's cameos on the show are going to consist of, then why bring Mulder back at all? Don't tease us if you're not going to deliver.

Now, it ultimately turns out to be a flashback - but I'm not sure that's any better. This would ostensibly appear to be a "mythology" episode, but it's myth-lite at best. Scully's not even in it - which is a sin for an episode that deals with the search for Mulder, even if it does turn out to be a big red herring. The episode is basically Agent Doggett putting together the pieces of Mulder's investigation of a case in a small town he returned to shortly before his disappearance - but investigating a prior investigation isn't by itself a strong premise for an episode. And if the mythology is going to concern itself now with filling in a bunch of backstory on events that allegedly happened concurrently with the seventh season - essentially retconning a whole storyline - well, that's kinda sucky.

Flashbacks are admittedly an easy way to give Mulder some screen time prior to bringing him back from that spaceship, but, in my opinion, the series was doing a fine enough job of ignoring Mulder's disappearance. Until such time as they are ready to commit to bringing Mulder back for real (or at least to seriously exploring his current whereabouts), I'd just as soon stick with the standalone freak-of-the-weeks, and not have to sit through any half-assed "Mulder's here but not really here" situations. Even the Scully angle is annoying. It's enough that she's conspicuously absent for a case in which she deserves to be at the forefront, but the explanation is that she signed off on a falsified case report to save Mulder's hide for trying to give mercy to a monster? I guess they learned something from Bad Blood, but it seems out of character for two agents dedicated to truth and justice. It's not the best excuse I've heard for giving Gillian Anderson some time off - I'd just as soon have Scully back in the hospital again.

Anyway, Skinner steps in again to take up the slack of Scully's absence (although Skinner/Doggett is no Mulder/Scully). But I must say I can't agree with him when he criticizes Doggett for investigating the case just to find a mundane explanation for Mulder's disappearance. It's a credit, I guess, to the integrity of his character (though he doesn't believe in the paranormal, he is legitimately concerned with finding the truth), that I trust him over Skinner's word just 11 episodes into his tenure on the show. The freak is creepy enough - a gross, miserable creature; some kind of mutated neanderthal involved in cannibalistic sex rituals (god it's fun, sometimes, trying to find words to describe the twisted premises The X-Files comes up with). Although, coming on the heels of Badlaa, the whole cavern vomiting scene feels a little much. The foggy, foresty atmosphere is almost enough to conjure the vibes of Vancouver - but atmosphere alone does not an episode make. As I said, it's not terrible, it's just misguided. Certainly nowhere near as superb as Frank Spotnitz' last episode, Via Negativa (which, interestingly, was another Doggett-centric, Scully-lite episode. Go figure).

Memorable quotes:

Doggett: Somethin' happened here. Just wasn't what we thought.

Skinner: You and I both know what happened out there, Agent Doggett. No one else needs to.

(I have mixed feelings about this. I understand that there are people out there - and in this case, in positions of direct authority in the FBI - who aren't in a position to properly understand the nuances of an X-File. But this smacks too much of sacrificing principles. One thing I always loved about Mulder was that his dedication to the truth came before any rational considerations for his job, his reputation, or even his life. I'm talking about the Mulder that caused Eugene Victor Tooms to be released because he insisted on rambling about hundred year old liver-eating mutants to the parole board in Tooms. "I don't care how it sounded, as long as it was the truth." Granted, Skinner's role was always to reign Mulder in, but here even Mulder is falsifying documents in order to cover his tracks. I don't know. It just doesn't feel right).