Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The X-Files - S7:E17 "all things"

[ S7:E16 "Chimera" <<< Season 7 >>> S7:E18 "Brand X" ]

You can't help getting the impression that, nearing the expected end of the series' run, the producers were handing out opportunities for anyone who wanted to put in a pass at writing or directing an episode before the party was over. David Duchovny got one last season (and he's got another one coming up), and William B. Davis penned the surprisingly good En Ami just a couple episodes back. Well, "all things" (I think it's supposed to be all lower-case, although I'm not sure why) is Gillian Anderson's turn at the helm - she both wrote and directed this episode.

And this is a hard episode to judge, because it doesn't really feel like an episode of The X-Files. I play to my strengths, and those strengths are horror, and a little bit of science-fiction. There's a reason I decided to review two hundred episodes of The X-Files, and not E.R., or The Young and the Restless, or any number of other TV shows out there. And I don't want to criticize this episode too harshly, because technically it's very proficient, and I have absolutely no grudge against Gillian Anderson. But then, I didn't rate David Duchovny's The Unnatural very favorably, did I? The problem, I guess, is that I just don't enjoy the story the episode is telling all that much. And I don't want to give off the impression that it's bad television - it's just not a very good episode of The X-Files.

For one thing, it feels too much like a soap opera - all romantic drama. And what with Mulder turning up in Scully's bed in the opener, it makes you wonder where Chris Carter was in all of this. Not that I don't appreciate the more straightforward approach to their relationship in this season - it's much better than the wishy-washiness of last season. But, along with the baseball scene at the end of The Unnatural, I kind of get the feeling that David and Gillian are taking advantage of this opportunity to write their characters into flirty situations, not necessarily for their characters' sakes, but for the actors' own sakes.* Honestly, who can blame them, right? But it still takes a little bit away from the show - at least as it was envisioned in its early years.

The episode proper (post title theme) opens on another uncomfortable office scene that seems to borrow too much from the worst parts of Never Again, emphasizing the dysfunction in Mulder and Scully's relationship, and really making Scully out to be a bit of a bitch. Which is a little surprising, given that Gillian Anderson wrote the episode - but I guess she must have fallen victim to the idea that it's more acceptable to poke fun at your character, like David Duchovny did in The Unnatural. I'm not sure I agree. In the show's best moments, Mulder and Scully are likable characters, even if to the point of idealistic fantasy. Anyway, Mulder's explaining his plan to preempt the formation of a crop circle in England, based on predictions made by a computer simulation analyzing crop circle patterns (a fascinating idea!), and Scully's completely bored, not listening, and totally absorbed in her salad (I've been there, Mulder). I would have liked to have seen an episode about Mulder's investigation of those crop circles, but alas, Scully vetoes her participation in the trip.

Instead, we get to follow her as she meets up with an old flame - literally an old man, Scully's former medical teacher, and lover - abed in the hospital with heart troubles. Now, I have nothing against a sympathetic treatment of taboo relationships, and it's true that some people have particular attractions and fixations, but at this stage it seems like the series has taken the incidental fact of Scully having had a fling with an older authority figure back in the first season's Lazarus, expanded it into a full-blown personality trait via some dialogue in Never Again, and have now risen it to the level of a cliché. I'm not going to spend much time complaining about it, because it's no big deal to me if an older man and a younger woman experience an attraction to one another (it's not exactly rare or hard to believe), but it does kinda add to the soap-opera-y flavor of this episode. (I think it's funny, though, that I had assumed that Maggie was the man's wife, and not his daughter - I mean, he obviously has a thing for younger women).

Anyway, meeting an old lover who still harbors feelings for her forces Scully to confront her own feelings, and re-examine her purpose and priorities in life - like, whether she made the right decision in joining the FBI instead of becoming a doctor. Normally, I'm all for existential crises, but not in this series, for some reason. But given the vitriol she spews (okay, I'm exaggerating) towards Mulder and his quest, she ends up choosing him in the end. But that's not all. After dabbling in Buddhism and reaching a kind of enlightenment in which she can sense healing chakras (did I mention that this series had jumped the shark?), Scully goes so far as to resort to sanctioning the use of alternative medicine (if only Melissa could see her now). Is she finally lowering her defenses and becoming a believer? Only time will tell whether this attitude "sticks" in later episodes (I wouldn't count on it).

Anyhow, it's a very artsy episode, with slow-motion designed to emphasize the importance of moments. The episode is very much a series of coincidences, in which everything happens for a reason, and was meant to be. (Yawn). It's all designed to ultimately reaffirm Scully's purpose, and make her realize how much she's changed, and also quite possibly - as a couple of key scenes would seem to suggest - her feelings for Mulder, so that they can finally take their relationship to "the next level" (depending on interpretation, I guess). But honestly, forget all that - the best thing about this whole episode is the fact that there's a floating UFO in Mulder's fish tank!

* According to Wikipedia, the bedroom scene wasn't originally Gillian Anderson's idea. However, my comment on the episode being about its actors more than its characters is no less accurate if it's true that alternative medicine and new-age spirituality (which are so out of tune with Scully's character) were actually Gillian Anderson's beliefs, that she wanted to tell a story about.

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Time passes in moments. Moments which, rushing past, define the path of a life, just as surely as they lead towards its end. How rarely do we stop to examine that path? To see the reasons why all things happen. To consider whether the path we take in life is our own making, or simply one into which we drift with eyes closed. Though what if we could stop, pause to take stock of each precious moment before it passes? Might we then see the endless forks in the road that have shaped a life, and seeing those choices, choose another path?

Scully: Szczesny did indeed drown, but not as the result of the inhalation of ectoplasm as you so vehemently suggested.
Mulder: What else could she possibly have drowned in?

(I love Mulder's crazy theories).

Scully: We're always running. We're always chasing the next big thing. I mean, why don't you ever just stay still?
Mulder: I wouldn't know what I'd be missing.

(Well, I'm glad to see that Mulder is still passionate about investigating paranormal phenomena, even now that the mystery of his sister's disappearance has been solved).

Colleen Azar: There is a greater intelligence in all things. Accidents - or...near accidents - often remind us that we need to keep our mind open to the lessons it gives. You may wanna slow down.

(Thank you, Colleen. If I had any doubt about what the themes of this episode were, I don't any more).

Colleen Azar: When we hold onto shame, guilt, and fear, it creates imbalance. It makes us forget who we are.

Maggie: Don't try to be reasonable with me. I am so sick of being reasonable.

(That's funny, because I haven't seen you being reasonable one bit this whole episode).

Scully: Maybe sometimes nothing happens for a reason, Mulder.
Mulder: Well, what is that supposed to mean?
Scully: Nothing.

No comments:

Post a Comment