Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The X-Files - S5:E12 "Bad Blood"

[ S5:E11 "Kill Switch" <<< Season 5 >>> S5:E13 "Patient X" ]

I think maybe Vince Gilligan was tempted by the success of Darin Morgan's limited tenure on the show, because he's gone from penning emotionally weighty thrillers like Pusher, Unruhe, and Paper Hearts, to more comedic fare such as last season's Small Potatoes, this season's Unusual Suspects - and, now, Bad Blood. This episode is probably the best and purest deconstruction of The X-Files since Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' (which isn't to say that it's quite as good, but it is good). And, like how that episode explores the difficulty in reconstructing the truth from many differing perspectives, this one fully utilizes the Rashomon effect to explore the critical dichotomy at the heart of the series - Scully's skeptical view of reality versus Mulder's aching desire to believe in the paranormal. As such, it manages to be smart as well as funny - which is something I wholly appreciate in a more humorous episode.

The episode opens on Mulder chasing a screaming teen (Patrick Renna) through the woods under the light of a full moon. Convinced that the boy is a vampire, he catches up to him and drives a stake through his heart. But Scully thinks Mulder may have been mistaken, and that the boy was simply obsessed with wanting to be a vampire. This is a case where the agents' differing viewpoints - whether or not the boy really was a vampire - could mean the difference between ridding the world of a blood-sucking monster, and killing an innocent person (well, maybe not innocent, after all). Naturally, the authorities would be interested in getting to the bottom of things, in order to assess whether or not Mulder should be tried for murder. The rest of the episode deals with Mulder and Scully's differing testimonies as to what occurred leading up to the unfortunate slaying, and its aftermath.

Now, this setup could be taken deadly seriously, but Vince Gilligan takes advantage of the opportunity to exploit it for laughs - mostly effectively. It's an excellent excuse to let the characters play caricatures of themselves for comedic effect. Writers in the past (especially Darin Morgan) have delighted in exaggerating Mulder and Scully's personal foibles, but this time it feels more sincere, because the stories are being told from a specific point of view - and, moreover, are constructed to emphasize the speaker's biases. This is, in effect, the difference between saying, "look how ridiculous these characters are," and "look how ridiculous these characters can be interpreted to be, by others." You may argue that this is splitting hairs, but, as I said, it's more sincere, because the writer is not asking you to accept these caricatures at face value - they are cleverly presented in a context where they are transparently recognized as caricatures.

This also enables the episode to humorously point out some of the conventions of a typical episode of The X-Files. For example, during Scully's autopsies, we often switch to Mulder's perspective to follow the exciting adventures he's on, only switching back to Scully long enough to cover her most relevant and interesting findings. But in Scully's account, we don't, of course, cut away from the autopsy - rather, it is depicted in all its hilarious dullness. Maybe this reveals my bias - because both accounts involve exaggerations, to be sure - but I found Scully's exaggeration of Mulder to be less fair than Mulder's exaggeration of Scully. I love the way Mulder emphasizes his ability to regale people with his esoteric knowledge, and the delight he takes in singularly noticing the significance of the untied shoelaces. And I can totally relate to his frustrations having to deal with a small-town sheriff (Luke Wilson) who doesn't understand half the things he says.

For better or worse, the episode drops the differing perspectives in the final act, and opts for a more traditional ending (one that, for me, has shades of a more diplomatic variation on 30 Days of Night). If nothing else, it serves as a kind of reconciliation, where we get to return to reality after the episode's previous over-exaggerations. Funny as they were, I like Mulder and Scully best when they're both at their best, working together like a well-oiled machine, and not when their personality flaws are emphasized, and their partnership interpreted as dysfunctional. This is - Small Potatoes included - the most effective comedic episode of The X-Files since Darin Morgan left the staff. The funny bits in Chinga were good, too (and a decided improvement over Chris Carter's attempt at humor in season 3's Syzygy), but that episode wasn't as strong overall as this one is. I still don't enjoy these funny episodes as much as the straight-laced, serious ones (of which I wish there were a few more in this season), but they're fun to watch once in a while, as long as it's not every single week.

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Skinner wants our report in one hour. What are you going to tell him?
Mulder: What do you mean "what am I gonna tell him?" I'm gonna tell him exactly what I saw. What are you gonna tell him?
Scully: I'll...tell him exactly what I saw.
Mulder: Now, how is that different?

Mulder: Okay, look, Scully, I don't wanna jump to any hasty conclusions, but...on the strength of the evidence that we have here, I think that what we may be looking at is what appears to be a series of vampire - or, vampire-like! - attacks.
Scully: On what do you base that?!
Mulder: Uh, well, on the...corpses drained of blood, and the...fang marks on the neck. But, as always, I'm very eager to hear your opinion.
Scully: Well, it's obviously not a vampire.
Mulder: Well, why not?
Scully: Because they don't exist?

Mulder: I think maybe you were right, before, when you said that this is just a guy who's watched too many Dracula movies. He just happens to be a real vampire.

Mulder: That is...essentially exactly the way it happened.
Scully: Essentially.
Mulder: ...Except for the part about the buck teeth.

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