Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The X-Files - S5:E20 "The End"

[ S5:E19 "Folie a Deux" <<< Season 5 >>> Fight The Future ]

Spoiler Warning: This is the season finale, and a mythology episode, so expect significant spoilers!

To quote Ozzy Osbourne from a recent Black Sabbath song, is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end? In fact, it's both. I'd call this a turning point, where up to this point everything was the first half of The X-Files, and everything from here on out the second. It also marks the end of Chris Carter's original 5-year plan for the show - although, knowing that due to its success it would last longer than five years, the ultimate answers to the show's ongoing mythology have and will remain unresolved, for at least a while longer (if not indefinitely).

In what is surely a loving tribute to the location in which The X-Files has filmed the past five years - and, sadly, for the last time in this episode, before production moves to LA for the sixth season - the episode opens on a chess tournament in none other than Vancouver, British Columbia, where a 12 year old boy genius manages to outwit not only the chess master he is challenging, but also a sniper who's got him in his sights - all by reading their thoughts. To be honest, I had mixed feelings coming in to this episode, as it smacks of "later mythology" to me, and indicates that we're definitely moving out of classic X-Files and into the later stages of the show, but it's a pretty exciting way to open the episode.

In any case, it's a big episode - being the season finale, but also the episode that takes us into the big summer blockbuster movie. After the title sequence, in which the familiar phrase "The Truth Is Out There" is replaced by the episode's title, "The End", the episode's cast credits read like a who's who of recurring X-Files characters. This is the first time Krycek's showed up in a season finale or premiere since the merchandise trilogy three years prior - having been relegated to the mid-season mythology episodes since then. Apparently the Syndicate's errand boy now (and certainly the Well-Manicured Man's chauffeur in this episode), he's been tasked with bringing the Smoking Man out of "retirement" - in his remote cabin in snowy Canada - and back into the fold. Apparently, whatever the Syndicate (now meeting in parking lots instead of up-scale New York City apartments) has against him, his talents are irreplaceable.

The Smoking Man's also back to pulling strings in the FBI, anonymously giving Agent Spender the case of the assassin who shot the wrong chess player. There's a great scene where he's briefing his agents on the case, and Mulder interjects and makes a fool of him with his genius investigative skills. One wonders, though, whether Spender - who doesn't seem to be evil in spite of his bitchy attitude and rivalry with Mulder - is simply trying to go by the books, or if he's helping to cover something up. Mulder catches him conversing with the Smoking Man in a shadowy parking garage - cluing Mulder in to the fact that ol' Smokey's still alive - but it's not clear to what extent (if any) Agent Spender is truly corruptible.

We also get introduced to Agent Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers) in this episode. And if you don't mind, I'm going to proceed to go on a long tangent about her. We've had episodes before - especially in the first and second seasons (Squeeze, Ghost in the Machine, Lazarus, Soft Light, and particularly Fire come to mind) - in which Mulder or Scully have cases brought to them by former colleagues (who often don't survive the episode), but this time, it happens in a mythology episode. Fowley is an old colleague of Mulder's, who, according to The Lone Gunmen, "was there when he discovered the X-Files". I have to admit that this smells faintly of retroactive continuity, as even though it may not directly contradict what we've been told of Mulder's past, when Scully was first assigned to the X-Files, you got the impression that Mulder was a lone wolf, singularly obsessed with the work he was doing, and not that Scully was replacing a previous partner he'd had, who was of a like mind with him on paranormal matters, and with whom he was even romantically involved.

I have to admit that I don't care much for Agent Fowley, and it's sad, but I think this would be a better episode without her. She has a cold, icy demeanor, and she's not nearly as attractive as Scully is. But what bothers me even more than Mulder's connection with her is how jealous Scully gets. Jealousy really is an ugly emotion. And if Chris Carter insinuated Fowley's character into the show in order to push his agenda of keeping Mulder and Scully apart, well, Scully's jealousy feels as out of touch with the "noromo" perspective on the show as having her and Mulder going on a date. I'm not a shipper, but there's an undeniable bond - not necessarily romantic - between these two characters. I guess I just wish Scully was more confident, and realized - especially after everything they've been through, with the cancer scare and all - that no one could possibly usurp her position of importance in Mulder's life.

And if she's feeling self-conscious about her skeptical nature - that it has a tendency to drive a wedge between her and Mulder sometimes - I don't think she should be worried about that, either. Hell, she was even jealous of Krycek, back when he was Mulder's partner in the FBI, pretending to be open to his ideas about "extreme possibilities" (in the episode Sleepless)! But I think that Mulder understands the importance of having Scully's skeptical perspective. And even if it leads to a number of arguments between the two of them, it's what makes them a perfect match, so evenly balanced. If Mulder were to spend too much time with a believer like himself, it's quite possible that they would feed off of each other's paranoia, and spiral into madness. I think Mulder knows this. And I wish Scully knew that he knew that. Because that's how it always ends up - in the final scene, the "love interest" (such as it is) has been shot, and is lying in the hospital, while Mulder and Scully cling to each other in the face of the forces of conspiracy that are working against them.

Anyway, there are some nice scenes in this episode where we get to see Mulder's brilliant mind at work - like when he intuits that the boy can read minds, but doesn't come right out and say as much, but rather let's everybody else (audience included) catch on to that fact with cryptic references, until he has a chance to verify his hunch by testing the boy's reaction to the thought of playing chess against an AI - whose thoughts he knows the boy won't be able to read. On the other hand, I have to admit his inferences later in the episode leave me a little bit confused. The shooter's reference to a "missing link", inciting Mulder to mention "alien astronauts", doesn't really go far enough into explaining how the boy could in fact be "the key to the X-Files". I mean, even if they could use him to read the Smoking Man's mind, and learn all the secrets he knows, that still wouldn't constitute scientific proof, much less of everything paranormal Mulder and Scully have encountered in their five years working together on the X-Files...

Moreover, the whole chess boy angle is kind of a detour from the main elements of the mythology - at this point, regarding colonization, and the plan with the bees carrying smallpox and whatnot - making it feel like just a warm-up to the movie. Nevertheless, the developments with the Syndicate, and particularly the heartbreaking ending, make it worthwhile viewing, even though I don't think it's as captivating as Patient X/The Red and the Black was. In the end, the Smoking Man takes the boy and hands him over to the Syndicate, confesses to Agent Spender that he's his father, and then proceeds to start a fire in Mulder's basement office, razing the X-Files to the ground (but not before taking Samantha's file for himself). It's devastating, and a much more visceral blow than when the X-Files was shut down at the end of the first season. Think of all the evidence being destroyed! (Including Mulder's "I Want To Believe" poster, which in this episode features the addition of a post-it note with the words "you are here" attached to the UFO - I modified my own version of the poster that I hung up in my college dorm in the same manner).

In a purely hypothetical scenario, one could imagine this episode (which does not end with the words "to be continued") being an [albeit inconclusive] end to the series, if such were its fate. Just as the same could be said about the first season, which - if it had not been so lucky as to have been picked up for another season - could have solidified The X-Files in history as a relatively closed story arc branching across just a single season. Ironically, there are more questions left unanswered now than there were then - as the series has spent a lot of time asking them, and very little time answering them - and so at the same time, this episode's conclusion works really well at getting you to look forward to the movie, and to wonder, what's going to happen next? Will we ever find out the details of the Syndicate's plans involving the creation of alien-human hybrids? Or the alien's plans to allegedly colonize the planet? Or will the mystery of what really happened to Mulder's sister and why, and where she is now, ever be solved? We'll just have to keep watching to see...

Memorable quotes:

Krycek: I was sent to bring you back.

Skinner (perusing the X-Files): I was wondering about your long-term plans.
Mulder: My long-term plans? You got 'em right there in your hands.
Skinner: What do you hope to find? I mean, in the end?

(I'm sure we all want to ask Chris Carter that question at this point in the series. Unfortunately, it won't be answered in this episode.

Elder: When we heard you'd been shot, we'd assumed the worst.
Smoking Man: Obviously, you underestimated me. More obviously, you overestimated the man you sent to do the job.

Scully: Say that what you're suggesting were even possible. Who would want to kill a kid whose abilities would offer you the ultimate advantage - I mean, in business, in war, in anything?
Fowley: Maybe somebody whose business is in keeping secrets.

Mulder (to Spender): You're insulting me when you should be taking notes.

Langly: And you want us to what?
Scully: Analyze the data...with an eye to the parapsychological.
Frohike: Ooh, walk on the wild side!

Mulder (to Fowley): I've done okay without you.

Smoking Man: Control the board. Know which men to sacrifice, and when.
Spender: I don't know what you're talking about.
Smoking Man: Don't become part of someone else's cause, or crusade. Pursue your own self-interest, always.

Mulder: This kid may be the key - not just to all human potential, but to all spiritual, unexplained, paranormal phenomena. The key to everything in the X-Files.
Scully: This would be quantifiable scientific proof of everything Agent Mulder and I have investigated over the past five years.

(A lot of people talk about how the hoax revelation in last season's finale wasn't really believable - "what about everything we've seen?!" - but I found it more believable than this under-explained revelation about a boy who can read minds. It isn't a matter of plausibility but simply too much of an intuitive leap for the audience to follow. You're told the boy is valuable, but you don't really grasp how or why).

Shooter: That kid is a missing link.
Mulder: To what? (Silence). He's genetic proof, isn't he?
Spender: Genetic proof of what? (Silence). Genetic proof of what?!
Mulder: Kid's not super-human, he's just more human than human.

(I'm sorry, but for once I have to take Spender's side - give us some more clues as to what's going on in that brilliant mind of yours, Mulder! Is the kid human, or is he not human? And what does that have to do with your entire diverse collection of X-Files?!)

Smoking Man: That's just part of the game.
Well-Manicured Man: It's not a game, for God's sake!
Smoking Man: Sure it is. It's all a game. You just take their pieces one by one until the board is clear.

Scully: Why else do you like [chess]?
Gibson: Because...there's no talking, just thinking. It's nothing like real life, where people think one thing, but they say something else.
Scully: Is that what people do?
Gibson: They're worried about what other people are thinking, when the people they're worrying about are worried about the same thing. It makes me laugh.

Well-Manicured Man: Your work is done now.
Smoking Man: My work is just beginning.

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