Saturday, October 3, 2015

The X-Files - S4:E20 "Small Potatoes"

[ S4:E19 "Synchrony" <<< Season 4 >>> S4:E21 "Zero Sum" ]

Spoiler Warning: This is a humorous monster-of-the-week episode, but if you haven't seen it before, you might like to know that this review will contain some shipper-related spoilers. Proceed at your own discretion.

This is another fan-favorite episode. I can admit now that episodes like this one, and Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (which I enjoyed a little more), are well-crafted and fun to watch, but it always struck me as odd when people would say things like "my favorite episode of The X-Files is Small Potatoes!" Like, what about One Breath? Or Anasazi? Or the season 4 finale that's coming up in a few more episodes that I'm really excited about? Those are episodes! (I'm betraying my mythology bias here, aren't I)? I guess a lot of people just like to laugh. To be honest, Small Potatoes never really stood out in my mind, although I do recall it as that episode where the freak-of-the-week assumes Mulder's form and asks Scully out on a date. Never underestimate the power of the shippers to influence community opinion of this series!

In another case ripped from the tabloids (remember Conduit?), this episode opens with a woman giving birth to a baby with a tail (she claims the father is from another planet); but the weirdest part is that the doctor's seen it before. When she explains to Mulder and Scully that the father was Luke Skywalker, that pretty much rules out alien abduction. The agents bandy about different theories - Scully likes date rape (wait, that came out wrong, I mean Scully prefers date rape - er, no, I mean, Scully prefers date rape as an explanation for how all these "monkey babies" are being born to married women who don't remember sleeping around), and Mulder latches onto a theory involving the sinister intentions of an insemination therapist, à la Eve - but ultimately they realize that what they're dealing with is a shape-shifting mutant. (Kudos on the nod to continuity when Mulder reminds Scully that they've encountered such a thing before).

If all of the great facial expressions leave you with any doubt as to what tone this episode is supposed to have, know that Darin Morgan himself stars as the freak, Eddie Van Blundht (apart from his notable writing credits in season 3, he also played the Flukeman in season 2's The Host). The episode, however, is written by Vince Gilligan, who has had a solid track record for monster-of-the-week episodes this season, between Unruhe, Paper Hearts, and his contribution to Leonard Betts. However, this episode definitely aims more for the sort of humor that Darin Morgan was known for. In fact, Small Potatoes even seems to recall some of the themes of Humbug, except that I don't think Eddie Van Blundht was proud of his abnormality - I think he just wanted to fit in, to be normal, or at least not an outcast.

It's certainly humorous to see David Duchovny playing Eddie Van Blundht trying to be Fox Mulder (although one wonders how Scully fell for it, given how well she knows him). There's definitely some commentary about the privileges that attractive people have here. Although I've always found Mulder's closing line compelling, in its reference to the fact that despite Mulder's charisma and good looks, he really does live the life of a loser, and all Eddie Van Blundht had to do was change his appearance to get Scully to totally open up to him. Giving Darin Morgan an opportunity - as Eddie Van Blundht - to criticize Mulder to his face in this highly meta episode feels more satisfying to me than in the past, when he used his pen to write the characters into making fun of themselves.

Although, that's pretty much what happens when Eddie Van Blundht assumes Mulder's form, and takes a trial run of his life. It's a perfect opportunity - even more so than in Darin Morgan's self-conscious episodes - for the writers to take a swing at some of the things a normal person might criticize or find ridiculous about the series' main characters, like the fact that Scully spends her weekends working (and thus doesn't have a life), or that Mulder doesn't have a bed in his apartment(!). Above all, it brings to the forefront the question shippers have been asking since episode one: how come Mulder and Scully - two smart, attractive singles who spend a lot of time together - have never hooked up? (It shouldn't be as hilarious as it is that Scully's eyes get so big when Mulder leans in for a kiss).

At the risk of venturing into tangent country, let me explore that question. Although they've become more familiar with themselves over the years they've been working together, and, certainly, their brief separation in the beginning of the second season indicated just how emotionally invested they are in each other (before the pilot, Mulder was content to work alone, but after Ascension, he could barely work a case without Scully), four years have gone by with nothing concrete to indicate a development of any kind of romantic relationship (and you'd think something would have happened by now, if that were the object). Granted, there were some displays of unprecedented tenderness in the recent episode Memento Mori, but that was fully appropriate to the seriousness of the very unexpected and tragic situation they have found themselves in. But does that mean they'll ever "get together"?

Mulder and Scully respect each other highly - that's for sure - and there's really no point at which they do anything that would preclude a romantic relationship from developing (which I'm sure helps to keep the shippers strung along), but you get the impression (and Chris Carter has stated as much in early interviews I've read) that it's just not in the cards for this series. And I don't mind. I'm not exactly what X-Philes call "noromo" - a fan who objects to any romantic development between the leads. It doesn't bother me when Mulder and Scully are tender towards one another; in fact, I think it's sweet. But I'm satisfied with the relationship they do have, and I think it's actually stronger and more satisfying than a romantic relationship would be.

You know, now that I come to think of it, Mulder and Scully could, potentially, be the ideal model of an asexual/aromantic relationship. Although how that differs from a platonic relationship, I'm not sure I can say. It seems as though they are "promised" to each other, they just don't have any need to show it in a romantic or sexual way. Personally, I relate more to Mulder and Scully as passionate, career-minded investigators, than the social butterflies they resemble in the infamous "date scene" in this episode. I'm surprised fans like it so much, considering that I imagine this series attracts a lot of on-the-fringe geeks. Then again, maybe it's because they've spent a lot of time (as even I have) wishing - like Eddie Van Blundht - they were the social butterflies they get to see their impossibly attractive on-screen surrogates behave like in this episode.

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: But, the baby's father is an alien?
Amanda Nelligan: No, no, I didn't say he was an alien, I said he was from another planet.
Mulder: (confused)
Amanda Nelligan: His name is Luke Skywalker. He's what's known as a Jedi knight.
(uncomfortable silence)
Scully: Did he have a lightsaber?

Scully: I think you're right, Mulder.

(Wow, that's rare!)

Eddie Van Blundht: The 'h' is silent.

Scully: Looking like someone else, Mulder, and being someone else are completely different things.
Mulder: Well, maybe it's not, I mean, everybody else around you would treat you like you were somebody else. I mean, ultimately, maybe it's other people's reactions to us that make us who we are.

(Interesting thought, Mulder, but looking like Jimi Hendrix wouldn't give me the ability to play like Jimi Hendrix, and I don't think people would react the same way to Jimi Hendrix if he couldn't play the way he could. He would still be Jimi Hendrix, perhaps, but "Jimi Hendrix" wouldn't be the same person to everyone else anymore).

Edward Van Blundht, Sr.: I told him it was a mistake. I said, "son, Ya ain't much to look at. Ya h'ain't no athlete. And ya sure the hell ain't no Einstein. But at least ya got that tail. Otherwise, you're just small potatahs."

Eddie Van Blundht (to Mulder): You're a damn good-lookin' man.

Skinner: Which one of you wrote this?
Mulder: I did, sir.
Skinner: You spelled "Federal Bureau of Investigation" wrong.
Mulder: It was a typo.
Skinner: Twice.

Eddie Van Blundht (to Mulder): I was born a loser,'re one by choice.

Scully: I don't imagine you need to be told this, Mulder,'re not a loser.
Mulder: Yeah, but I'm no Eddie Van Blundht, either. Am I?

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