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).

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