Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Search for Samantha

Spoiler Warning: Be advised, this post is one big, huge, enormous spoiler for The X-Files.

I want to believe...

Nowhere is the central theme of The X-Files - a government conspiracy to cover up the existence of extraterrestrial life - more perfectly embodied than in the abduction of Mulder's kid sister. His quest to find out what happened to Samantha - where she was taken and why, and whether she might ever return - fueled his search for the truth, and in turn, pushed the series forward. Even after the Syndicate collapsed, the lingering question of Samantha's fate kept viewers watching, until that mystery, too, was solved - effectively sabotaging the rest of the series' mythology. Let us now revisit the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride that was...the search for Samantha.

As Mulder recounted to Scully during their first case together (and as we later saw in flashback during a dream sequence), Mulder's sister was taken from their home right in front of his eyes, when she was 8 and he was 12. After investigating a tabloid case of a girl allegedly abducted by aliens - that Mulder decided to pursue in spite of the reputation such actions were earning him at the FBI - Scully reviewed audio tapes recorded from the hypnotic regression therapy sessions in which Mulder recovered his memories of his sister's abduction.

Occasionally, the subject of Mulder's sister would come up in the course of investigating paranormal cases. Mulder began to see visions of Samantha while investigating the claims of a faith healer in Tennessee. Scully eventually came to recognize that Mulder's determination to rescue kidnapped women was driven by the subconscious desire to save his own sister. At one point, an incarcerated serial killer taunted Mulder with the possibility that Samantha was one of his unclaimed victims, and it almost tore Mulder apart.

While pursuing the conspiracy to hide the government's involvement in an extraterrestrial plot to colonize the planet, Mulder encountered several false positives in the search for his sister. When a woman claiming to be Samantha appeared at the Mulder home, it was soon discovered that she was the product of a cloning experiment. Mulder later found other clones of Samantha as a child, which he was told were created as worker drones to aid in preparations for colonization.

In an ill-conceived bid to earn Mulder's loyalty, the Cigarette-Smoking Man arranged a meeting with another woman claiming to be Samantha, but it's doubtful that she was really Mulder's sister. In another encounter with the untrustworthy Smoking Man, Mulder entered a witness protection program in which his sister was leading a normal life, but eventually learned that it was an extended hallucination experienced during brain surgery.

In the course of his investigations, Mulder did finally learn some answers. As alluded to by his father in a near-death encounter, Mulder discovered - while exploring a secret government archive of abductee reports housed in a mining facility - that he was originally supposed to have been taken in Samantha's place. A radical and dangerous treatment to enhance his memories verified that his parents were forced to make a choice, and that the Cigarette-Smoking Man was involved in the decision.

The reason for the abduction was eventually revealed on the eve of the Syndicate's destruction by a faction of alien rebels. Mulder learned that a group of government agents - his father included - had struck a deal with alien invaders to pave the way for colonization, and were required to give up members of their family to be used as experimental test subjects in a hybridization program.

The remaining question of Samantha's current location was closed once and for all during an investigation into several cases of children doomed to terrible fates, who were preemptively claimed by "walk-in" spirits. After her abduction, Samantha was returned to the conspirators for further testing, and eventually taken by the walk-ins to spare her torment. She now lives eternally in starlight.

Episodes referenced: Pilot, Little Green Men, Conduit, Miracle Man, Oubliette, Paper Hearts, Colony/End Game, Herrenvolk, Redux II, Amor Fati, The Blessing Way/Paper Clip, Demons, Two Fathers/One Son, Sein und Zeit/Closure

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Trials and Tribulations of Dana Katherine Scully

Spoiler Warning: Be advised, this post is one big, huge, enormous spoiler for The X-Files.

This is not happening!

This series really put Scully through the ringer. It was a great opportunity to let Gillian Anderson flaunt her acting chops - but when you think about all the trauma the writers put her through, it gets to be ridiculous once they all begin to stack up. And that's even excluding all of the usual dangers and weekly mortal peril that's all in a day's work for an FBI agent! Let us now recount the trials and tribulations of Dana Katherine Scully.

In the first season, Scully lost her father, but that was only the beginning. In season 2, she was kidnapped by a lunatic in order to be abducted by aliens, where tests were performed on her that left her in a coma that she barely survived. The ensuing psychological trauma from her ordeal impaired her ability to perform her job. Then her sister was shot by a bullet that was meant for her, and subsequently died in the hospital.

Scully later learned that her abduction was part of a government conspiracy to perform unsanctioned medical tests on innocent civilians. In the third season, she rekindled her faith in God, and had an opportunity to confront the assassin who shot her sister. But, come the fourth season, she contracted brain cancer as a long-term effect of the tests performed on her during her abduction, which also left her barren. She suffered from the physical and psychological effects of her terminal illness, nearly succumbing to the disease before making a miraculous deathbed recovery.

Then, in the fifth season, Scully learned that she had a daughter, created using her genetic material; but the girl was severely ill, and could not survive. As if this weren't enough, Scully's faith was tested once again, and then she was infected with an alien virus and taken aboard a spacecraft. Despite being barren, she later discovered that she was pregnant, just as the man she had fallen in love with disappeared. He was eventually found dead (though he got better).

In season 8, Scully began to fear that the baby she was carrying might be an alien hybrid, and then a small army of alien replicants hunted her down as she gave birth. The baby was human, but became the target of an alien prophecy by men who wanted to kill it in season 9. Ultimately, she came to the difficult decision to give the baby up for adoption for its own protection.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The X-Files - S10:E2 "Founder's Mutation"

[ S10:E1 "My Struggle" <<< Season 10 >>>  S10:E3 "M&S Meet the Were-Monster" ]

Spoiler Warning: This review may contain minor spoilers from this episode and from the series' mythology. But nothing major like the last episode.

Written (and directed) by James Wong, I honestly couldn't tell you if this was supposed to be a mythology episode or a freak-of-the-week episode - I guess I'll just have to mark it down as half and half. It doesn't pick up directly where the last episode left off (I'm guessing we'll have to wait till the season finale - though only four more episodes away - to conclude that story thread), but it does seem to concern itself with an update of the whole "alien hybridization" program the government is apparently still up to, and there are significant allusions made to William (who, nonetheless, does not appear, except in some confusing flashbacks to events that couldn't possibly have happened, and may represent Scully and Mulder's wishes and fears for the life they could have had had they not given William up for adoption when he was just a baby).

At the same time, the episode generally follows the freak-of-the-week formula, with an opening "teaser" that concludes with a brutal death (involving a high-pitched noise that is reminiscent of the one heard in Vince Gilligan's Drive), that precipitates the case that Mulder and Scully go on to investigate throughout the episode. There is even a scene of Mulder and Scully waving their flashlights about, but what the episode lacks is a good monster - especially touching, as it does, on the series' go-to subject matter of genetic mutations. The best it does is a gallery of freaks suffering from abnormal conditions, but they are only children locked up in the research facility run by this series' latest incarnation of a government-employed mad scientist. It all ties in to the experimentation with alien hybrids, but with a touch of the flavor of the ninth season mythology's inclusion of paranoid mothers (for better or worse).

I don't know if I would say that this episode is a vast improvement over the last one. I may have even liked the last one better. I haven't seen anything yet that's made me go "oh my god, this is awesome, I'm so glad The X-Files is back on TV!" But next Monday Darin Morgan's episode airs, so we'll have to see what that one's like. My overall impressions remain - I don't think I like watching TV in HD (or digital, or whatever it is that's making the show look so slick and clean). It just doesn't look right. I don't need to see every pore on every character's face. Even more so because it's kind of sad to see these three characters (Mulder, Scully, and Skinner) getting old. By the way, what's up with Gillian Anderson's voice? It's kind of distracting. Anyway, this may be a revival, but it's definitely not a repeat of the classic years of the show. I'm wondering right about now how other people (fans and non-fans alike) are receiving it - whether or not they're liking it, and whether or not it'll be popular enough to keep the series going past this 6 episode event. I'm not convinced yet that it should, but I'll withhold judgment until I see the rest of the miniseries, and at the very least, Darin and Glen Morgan's episodes coming up in the next two weeks.

Memorable quotes:

Lindquist: Unhand the hard drive, sir.

Scully: This is dangerous.
Mulder: When has that ever stopped us before?

Sister Mary: Desire is the devil's pitchfork.

Mulder: All we can do, Scully, is pull the thread. See what it unravels.

Scully: What you're talking about is changing the genetic makeup of a population. That's the next step in evolution.
Mulder: Every new species begins with a founder's mutation.

Jackie: They said I killed my baby. I didn't. I let him out.

Kyle's Mother: Bad things happen when the birds gather...

The X-Files - S10:E1 "My Struggle"

[ I Want To Believe <<< Season 10 >>> S10:E2 "Founder's Mutation" ]

To cut straight to the point of this review, I'll say from the outset that my overall impression of the first episode of this new miniseries is...lukewarm. Maybe I got my hopes up a little too high expecting it to be insta-classic X-Files, just add water. But it's only the first episode, and there's still time to improve. Besides, a lot of this episode seems to be setting up, getting us back into the groove. Perhaps we'll have Mulder and Scully shouting each other's names and waving their flashlights around more in the monster-of-the-week episodes. Regardless, I'm eagerly anticipating the episodes by Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, and James Wong.

Spoiler Warning: The rest of this review is going to contain spoilers, both for this episode, and for much of the mythology of the series, to which this episode begins a new chapter.

So, my first impression as the episode began was that it didn't look or feel like classic X-Files. It's all very modern (and not just because of the hashtag in the corner of the screen). I see heavy usage of digital effects, and I'm not sure how comfortable I am about that. One advantage it may provide (although I've never been prejudiced against men in rubber suits), is that perhaps this series will actually have some aliens in it for the first time in like forever. Despite what I said during my marathon back around the time I reviewed the first movie, the series never really switched over to alien-alien characters. Right up to the end we were still dealing with alien replicants and Super Soldiers that looked, to the viewer's eye, entirely human.

And now we have an alien pilot crawling from the wreckage of a crashed UFO (Roswell, 1947, if I'm not mistaken). But it doesn't look like the crashed UFOs we've seen before. It's less esoteric - less glowing lights and men in hazmat suits, and more a broken saucer sticking out of the ground. In the first of many throwbacks to the series' earlier mythology, we see a presumed government agent executing the alien pilot, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1013 (as alluded to by Deep Throat in E.B.E., and then addressed more explicitly in Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man).

I think the thing I like best that this episode has done, conceptually speaking, is restructure the entire conspiracy around which the show hinges. Even if that requires considerable retconning (one of the more eye-rolling examples of which is changing the date of the alleged alien apocalypse, as discovered in The Truth, to the date of the start of a countdown). The episode hearkens back to the fifth season's mythology quite a bit, even insofar as ostensibly placing Mulder in a position of doubt (initially). But while there has been alien contact, it is not the aliens that are the threat, but the government alone. Acting in a The Day The Earth Stood Still sort of capacity, the aliens have been drawn by mankind's achievement of nuclear warfare, and ever since 1947, the government has been stealing alien technology and hiding it from the public (creating ARVs - Alien Replica Vehicles, like the UFOs we saw in the episode Deep Throat), in a long-term plan to take over the world.

At least, that's what conservative talk show host Tad O'Malley (Joel McHale) is convinced of. And in true X-Files fashion, it's not altogether clear who one should trust. But Tad wants Mulder and Scully on the case, for obvious reasons, what with their background in fighting the conspiracy. It's not an easy sell, although, much like in I Want To Believe, Mulder seems more readily drawn to the action than Scully, who is again seen working as a doctor at Our Lady of Sorrows. Tad has been in contact with an abductee by the name of Sveta (a radiant Annet Mahendru), who appears to be exhibiting mind-reading abilities similar to those that Gibson Praise has demonstrated. Scully determines that she does indeed possess alien DNA, but then, as an abductee herself, she does, too.

Another thing that I think I like about this episode (in spite of myself) is how convincingly it seems to depict Mulder's obsession in an unhealthy way. I've always defended Mulder, and he'll probably turn out to be right yet again, but it really does start feeling like he's gone off the deep end. It doesn't help that he's getting older, and going gray, yet rambles (frequently only just barely coherently) more and more with the passing years. Tad - young and coiffed though he is - doesn't seem to be helping things, with his ultra-paranoid mentality (almost reaching levels witnessed in the episode Trust No 1; I daresay even The Lone Gunmen would call him crazy - and that's saying something).

No, don't kick it, Mulder!

As the episode opened, it was immediately clear that this series is sticking to its UFO-centered subject matter. But it really hammers on the paranoid conspiracy talk. A lot of it coming out of these characters' mouths sounds as obsessively paranoid as it would coming out of anyone's mouth. Similar to the fact that the best argument against conspiracies is that people are messy and prone to error, the fact that technology exists for perfect surveillance doesn't mean that we have the human resources (or inclination, necessarily) to use it that way. Just as the possibility of being seen when you pass a window doesn't mean that somebody will necessarily be looking at the instant you pass, the fact that there's a security camera on the street corner doesn't necessarily mean that you are or ever will be witnessed walking past by any human eyes. Similarly, Google may save all your emails, but somebody's still got to sit there and read through them all, and who has that kind of time?

Obviously, this isn't an argument against standing up for our privacy, because even if it's not ubiquitous, if the capability exists, there will be cases of people taking (selective) advantage of it. Power corrupts, and all that. Plus, if you throw into the mix the knowledge that computers are getting smarter, there may conceivably come a time when a machine could be up to the task of spending the necessary man hours (which would be considerably fewer computer hours), as well as an AI sophisticated enough to parse meaningful information. I guess, then, the important thing is a proactive defense of our privacy, laying the framework now, before it's too late (and the machines - or those that control them - take over)!

Which, I guess, is what's at the heart of the mythology in this episode. (And if it can engender this much discussion, maybe the themes are more on point than I realized). Questions still remain - as is ever the case when Chris Carter puts pen to paper. Who is in charge of this conspiracy? Besides the Cigarette Smoking Man, I mean - although his appearance raises even more questions. Like, how did he survive being incinerated to his very skeleton? He looks better now than he's looked since his surgery in Amor Fati, although he's never been as cool since he's had to smoke his cigarettes through a stoma. But if everything we thought we knew about the conspiracy - the Syndicate's plans, the aliens' agenda - is wrong, then there are a lot of contradictions that are going to need to be ironed out, unless we're being asked to ignore an awful lot of what this series has already laid out. Which I wouldn't be unwilling to do, but it would be helpful to know whether or not that's the case here. (And a brief reference to William would indicate that we're not completely jettisoning canon yet).

Anyway, I think the success of this episode will depend largely on how the rest of the miniseries plays out. And there's really not any other way that could be. The episode ends with the X-Files being re-opened (Skinner appears in a minor role that as yet may not do justice to the main credit he's nonetheless rightfully earned - otherwise, the opening credits sequence has been returned to the classic one, much to my relief), but in spite of the long passage of years, it doesn't feel as exciting (or as natural) as it did when it happened in Ascension, or at the end of Fight The Future. Anyway, it was a foregone conclusion, regardless, and as I mentioned above, I'm looking forward to seeing how this new series handles the monster-of-the-week episodes. (Me, looking forward to a Darin Morgan episode more than a mythology episode? My, how times have changed!).

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: We must ask ourselves: are they really a hoax? Are we truly alone, or are we being lied to?

(Great setup for the alien business, even if it doesn't feel as convincing as it did in the '90s - I'm not sure if it was the times, or just my youthful naiveté. Either way, the rest of this episode unfortunately undermines the pull of this opener by suggesting that the threat hanging over us is not in fact alien, but entirely human).

O'Malley: Do you miss it at all - the X-Files?
Scully: As a scientist, it was probably some of the most intense and challenging work I've ever done. I've never felt so alive.

Sveta: Who can I trust? They would call me a liar when they're the liars!

Mulder: Scully, listen to me. I've been misled - we've been misled. What if everything we've been led to believe in is a lie? What if there is no alien conspiracy?

(So, The X-Files was its own biggest conspiracy all along? I'd be more impressed if this ground hadn't already been tread in Gethsemane).

Mulder: You owe me some answers.
Skinner: Will you just...calm the hell down, Mulder - before we both get pissed off?

(Like old times).

Skinner: Since 9/11, this country's taken a big turn in a very strange direction.
Mulder: They police us, and spy on us, tell us that makes us safer. We've never been in more danger.

Informant: You weren't even close. Warring aliens lighting each other on fire, and other such nonsense.
Mulder: I was being cleverly manipulated.

(We were all being manipulated. Apparently. By Chris Carter).

Informant: Tell me something new.
Mulder: Alien technology being used against us. Not by aliens, not with aliens, but by a venal conspiracy of men against humanity.

Informant: The lies are so great, Mr. Mulder, the truth must be unassailable.

Informant: Roswell - that was a smokescreen.
Mulder: So I've been told.

(Between this and his reluctance to exterminate an alien pilot, I'd swear this guy is Deep Throat all over again. But without the magnetic presence of Jerry Hardin.)

Scully: I have seen this before. You're on fire, believing that you're on to some truth, that you can save the world.
Mulder: This will finally be their undoing.
Scully: It'll be your undoing, Mulder.

(If this wasn't The X-Files... Scully makes perhaps the most convincing argument yet, that Mulder's quest for truth is really just a symptom of madness. Tilting at windmills. As badly as we viewers want to believe in Mulder, all these years have passed and there is still no hard evidence. Even now, everything we thought we were sure of is evaporating into thin air. I'm almost convinced that the best true finale to this series would have Mulder realizing - or not, but the rest of us would - that there are no aliens, or conspiracies. That he's just insane. I know fans probably wouldn't like that, but I've always been fond of mindfuck endings).

Sveta: Why do such a thing and lie about it? Our own government?
Mulder: Your own government lies as a matter of course, as a matter of policy.

Scully: You can't say these things.
O'Malley: I'm gonna say them tomorrow.
Scully: It's fear-mongering, claptrap, isolationist, techno-paranoia so bogus, and dangerous, and stupid, that it borders on treason. Saying these things would be incredibly irresponsible.
Mulder: It's irresponsible not to say it.
Sveta: Especially if it's the truth.

(I'm not a fan of fear-mongering, but I'm a hard-line free-speecher, so my perspective is, crazy conspiracies like this should live or die by the evidence that supports them - or lack thereof. If Scully really wanted to dissuade them - even if she thought they were just paranoid delusions - she should have emphasized the danger over the "irresponsibility").

Mulder: Scully, are you ready for this?
Scully: I don't know there's a choice.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The X-Files - I Want To Believe (2008)

[ S9:E19/20 "The Truth" <<< The X-Files >>> S10:E1 "My Struggle" ]

Spoiler Warning: The following review may contain some spoilers. But it's not like this is the mythology we're talking about, and it's not that fantastic a movie anyway, so I wouldn't be too concerned.

If my previous review is any indication, I enjoyed this movie more the first time I watched it. Which was over a year after it came out - I had planned to see it in the theater, but it only stuck around for a single weekend (I swear to god), and I missed it. When I did finally see it, like everyone else, it was years after The X-Files had gone off the air. But I hadn't even seen the end of the series; I'd stopped watching (like a lot of other fans) when David Duchovny left the show. So, for me, I Want To Believe was a return to the days when The X-Files was about Mulder and Scully investigating paranormal cases, albeit as viewed from the distance of several years, like the characters (and the actors) themselves in this movie. (This is not the classic Mulder and Scully, but a Mulder and Scully who are alternately lovey-dovey, and alternately dysfunctional - in other words, a combination of their worst traits from the series). My expectations were fairly low. But now, having finished the series, and only just a week ago (and even more so with the revival looming, giving all of us X-Philes the hope of seeing a true return to form), I can say that this movie, while not terrible, is not especially good, either.

This is, inevitably, a very different X-Files movie than Fight The Future. I don't think it's the movie that was originally planned to follow that one up, and it's not the movie we all expected - that we had been promised - when the series finally did end 2-4 years later than originally intended. The movie itself was released four years after its earliest projected release date, and so it became less of a continuation of the television series, and more a chance to revisit two characters that had become a pop culture sensation, long after they'd dropped out of the public consciousness. Mulder and Scully have moved on in their lives - together - he, unshaven and holed up at home with news clippings all over his walls, like some mental patient; and she, pursuing her dream career of being a doctor (albeit at some kind of church hospital - I liked it much better when she was teaching forensic medicine at Quantico, as in season 9). It is only at the insistence of a young hotshot with stars in her eyes (Amanda Peet) for the legend of "Spooky" Mulder that they are dragged back to work a case again.

It's a framing story that's really little more than an excuse to give Mulder and Scully a case to work on, while largely jettisoning all the baggage of the mythology that should be catching up to them, considering that they did end the series on the run from the martial law of alien invaders. Sure, there's an offhand comment about the FBI willing to excuse Mulder if he would just give them some assistance on a random case (begging the question of where all these alien replicants wandered off to), and the subject of William does come up briefly during an intimate bedroom scene. But it's all lip service. No mention of the impending alien apocalypse - there's hardly even a hint of government corruption and conspiracy, despite the events of this movie occurring during the Bush administration. I can understand the need to sidestep all of that in order to do a low-key freak-of-the-week movie, but that's not really the movie I wanted to see. I know that fans had been clamoring for just that for years, but I never saw the appeal in doing an X-Files movie that was basically just an extended freak-of-the-week episode.

The television series had always applied a movie sensibility to its production, and it was really cool to basically see a mini-version of a sci-fi or horror movie on TV every week. But it doesn't really work both ways. The episode Ice, for example, makes for an exciting adaptation of The Thing on the small screen, but expand it to a feature length film, and do you honestly think it could hold a candle to John Carpenter's The Thing? Even with Mulder and Scully involved? I'd rather see an X-Files original concept - the mythology - done into a movie, like Fight The Future. And what's more, Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, who wrote this movie, were never two of the series' best freak-of-the-week writers. They steered the mythology, but they could have used some help from, say, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban (and that cute tribute to the two of them, along with Rob Bowman, who directed the first film, doesn't cut it). For that matter, Chris Carter directed this film, and I was never super impressed with his directing efforts on the television series, as pretentious as they often were.

So this movie is just a typical X-Files case, but it's not even a particularly good X-File. There are no aliens - that's already been established - but there's hardly anything paranormal, either (I can't tell you how much cooler this movie would have been with a cryptid or a genetic mutant). An FBI agent runs afoul of a black market organ trade in snowy West Virginia (which looks suspiciously like Vancouver - that's one thing this movie did right), and the only reason Mulder is called in is because the agents in charge (a rapper and a fashion model - I swear, it's like she doesn't know how to button her own shirt; not that I don't like the look, but it doesn't really scream "FBI agent" to me) have enlisted the help of a psychic. But this is no Clyde Bruckman. It's not even a Harold Pillar. You know, the first few times Mulder disbelieved in psychics it made sense, because although he's a believer in paranormal phenomena, he's not a sucker, and a lot of psychics are just scam artists. But the more times we see him dismiss a psychic that turns out to be genuine, the less sense it makes for him to keep on distrusting them. But this psychic also happens to be a Catholic priest, and a convicted pedophile (because in this day and age, you can be convicted not just for what you do, but for who you are) to boot. He believes he's being given visions in a bid for redemption, but this has been done better before.

I imagine that Chris Carter must have found the concept of the pedophile priest irresistible. What better archetype to exploit in order to demonstrate a natural distrust of authority? And I can't fault him for it - it's a good idea. But Father Joe is just not a very compelling character (editor's note: I'm not very familiar with Billy Connolly, but judging from the "making of" special feature, he seems like a fascinating personality - that they managed to make his character in this movie so dull is a wonder). I know he's supposed to be despicable, but we only know that he's a pedophile because other people say he is. I'm not saying we have to witness him buggering an altar boy, but give us something (besides praying) to make the character more interesting, more nuanced, so that his desire for redemption engenders conflict in the viewer, and not simply a distanced, dispassionate disdain. It would also make it less frustrating when Scully - who has the most close-minded reaction to him - ultimately believes him when he just happens to tell her the one thing she wants to hear most. (I'm almost tempted to say that he exists only to challenge Scully's faith and compassion, and give Gillian Anderson an opportunity to emote. Although, after all the emotion she's shown in the series, it feels a little dry here. It must be hard under all that plastic surgery).

If you haven't guessed, this movie is not the most sympathetic towards sexual minorities. I'd read one fan's opinion that it was both homophobic and transphobic, so I was looking for evidence of that. Sure enough, the murderous villains are a married gay couple, one of whom wants to transplant his ugly male head onto a female body (because that makes sense). In its defense, its not very sympathetic toward the Catholic church, either, but I could just as soon do with an X-Files that doesn't put so much emphasis on the importance of religion, which is something that increasingly marred the series (and particularly Scully's character) towards the end. It's awfully convenient, as well, that the research involved with the black market organ trade dovetails so nicely with the stem cell therapy that Scully needs to (maybe?) heal the terminally ill boy she's so dedicated to saving (because he's William's age, why else?). Honestly, the movie drags on too long (I guess I made the mistake of watching the extended cut), although it's a treat to see Skinner at the end. I'm less certain about what to make of the final scene, with Mulder and Scully on a boat in a tropical sea, now that it's not the final end to their story. More so if they're really not going to be together in the revival. But, whatever. I've spent enough time on this movie. Bring on the new miniseries already!

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Do you think God hears your prayers?
Father Joe: Do you think he hears yours? ...I have to believe he does hear me, or why would he send these visions?
Scully: Maybe it's not God doing the sending.

Agent Whitney: I'm not the most popular girl at the FBI right now for calling you in, believe me.
Mulder: I wasn't exactly Miss Popularity at the FBI myself.

Father Ybarra: We are here to heal the sick, not prolong the ordeal of the dying.

Scully: I'm lying here cursing God for all his cruelties.
Mulder: And do you think God is losing any sleep?

Scully: This is not about finding an FBI agent, this is about you trying to save your sister!

(When I heard Scully say this, I swear I shouted at the screen, "what?!" They're still hung up on that? It makes even less sense now than it did in Oubliette. It's like Chris Carter is trying to have his cake and eat it too - you can't close the book on the Samantha case and then still use it as a dramatic element. And I'd just like to ask Scully - if Mulder's trauma causes him to want to go above and beyond the call of duty to save other lost girls, even after everyone else has given up, why is that a bad thing? You're only hurting yourself by believing this paranoid obsessive will ever lead a normal life. This is his strength; this is what he was put on this planet to do, if you believe in that sort of thing. So just roll with it).

Agent Drummy: I don't believe this.
Mulder: That's been your problem from the start.

Scully: I can't look into the darkness with you anymore, Mulder. I cannot stand what it does to you, or to me.
Mulder: I'm fine with it, Scully. I'm actually okay. I'm good.
Scully: Yeah, that's what scares me.

(Somebody's been watching too much Millennium. Excellent response, though, Mulder. I'm with you on this one. Scully seems to be fishing for drama).

Mulder: We'll get out of here. Just me and you.
Scully: As far away from the darkness as we can get?
Mulder: I'm not sure it works that way. I think maybe the darkness finds you. And me.
Scully: I know it does.
Mulder: But let it try.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The X-Files - Writers Roundup (Part 4)

Barrel Scrapers

In this feature, I will place a focus on the various writers that contributed to The X-Files throughout its nine seasons. In this part, we will take a look at the cast and crew who contributed episodes, as well as the many freelancers whose scripts helped to fill out the series.

David Duchovny

There are probably a lot of fans who would take exception to me calling David Duchovny a "small fry", but strictly in terms of his writing contributions to the show, he only ever racked up a small handful of credits, and many of those were for comparatively small contributions anyway. His first four credits, in the second and third seasons, were for story ideas in three mythology episodes written by Chris Carter (all of which involve scenes with Mulder's family), and one Skinner-centric episode written by Howard Gordon - Avatar.

Duchovny's first directorial credit came in season 6, with the fan-favored The Unnatural. I personally didn't like it much, but in all honesty, I can't fault Duchovny's directing or storywriting abilities - I just didn't appreciate the more light-hearted tone of the episode, especially considering its tenuous but undeniable links to the series' mythology. The humorous tone of his second directing experiment, season 7's Hollywood A.D., similarly marred that episode, but to a lesser extent (it is a pretty funny spoof of Fight The Future).

In that same season, Duchovny earned a full-on writing credit alongside Chris Carter for the mythology episode Amor Fati, which concluded an epic three-parter with a sequence in which Mulder experiences something akin to The Last Temptation of Christ. This is actually the second example of Duchovny stretching his academic muscles, as he suggested themes from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov to spice up the conversation between the Smoking Man and Jeremiah Smith in Talitha Cumi.

Duchovny's final writing credit on the show is for another episode he directed, which was written primarily by Chris Carter, with assistance also from Frank Spotnitz. The episode, William, is the series' final mythology episode prior to the series finale, and wraps up the oft-times frustrating storyline surrounding the titular character, via a compelling mystery that toys mischievously with the audience's expectations and lucid awareness of Mulder's absent presence on the show in its final season.

 Season 2: Colony*, Anasazi*
 Season 3: Avatar**, Talitha Cumi*
 Season 6: The Unnatural
 Season 7: Amor Fati***, Hollywood A.D.
 Season 9: William

* Story credit with Chris Carter; Teleplay by Chris Carter
** Story credit with Howard Gordon; Teleplay by Howard Gordon
*** with Chris Carter
† Story credit with Carter/Spotnitz; Teleplay by Chris Carter

Other Cast & Crew

Season 7 was a time for experimentation. In addition to David Duchovny's second directing effort, Gillian Anderson also had an opportunity to write and direct her own episode, all things. It is a fairly competent product, but suffers from an uncharacteristic tone. It feels more like a romantic drama, and has Scully embracing new age spirituality, much in conflict with her established character. On the other hand, the episode that William B. Davis wrote (but did not direct), En Ami, feels tailor-made for The X-Files, and is one of the highlights of the seventh season. In it, the Smoking Man constructs a plot to get closer to Scully by dangling the cure for cancer in front of her face.

On the crew front, we have two excellent and underrated episodes from the earlier seasons. Special effects guru Mat Beck is responsible for writing the penultimate episode of season 3, Wetwired, which is a fantastically paranoid thriller featuring one of X's last appearances. And the penultimate episode of season 4 was written by R.W. Goodwin, who directed the series' season premiere and finale episodes up until the production moved to L.A. Titled Demons, it addresses Mulder's memories of his sister's abduction via a murder mystery involving short-term amnesia.

 Season 3: Wetwired (Mat Beck)
 Season 4: Demons (R.W. Goodwin)
 Season 7: En Ami (William B. Davis), all things (Gillian Anderson)

Combined Ranking (from best to worst):
Anasazi, Colony, Demons, Wetwired, En Ami, Talitha Cumi, Amor Fati,
Avatar, William, Hollywood A.D., The Unnatural, all things

Small Fries

Starting in the sixth season, after the first movie and following the move to L.A., there were a few writers who came on to the show and managed to rack up more than just one or two credits, but not enough to ever join the big leagues. The most prolific of these was David Amann, who earned a respectable seven credits. For the most part, he was responsible for writing somewhat retro episodes - more or less straightforward freak-of-the-weeks at a time when the series' main writers were stretching out and experimenting with format (to more and less effective results). Terms of Endearment stars an understated Bruce Campbell caught up in a twist on the typical antichrist plot, and Agua Mala effectively conjures the atmosphere of a raging Florida hurricane from which a deadly sea creature emerges.

In season 7, Amann wrote two more solid-but-not-stellar freak-of-the-week episodes, one serving as a drug metaphor about a group of teens who learn how to move at the speed of light (Rush), and another that gives form to the green-eyed monster that is jealousy in a not-so-ideal suburban neighborhood (Chimera). Amann's only writing credit for season 8, Invocation, is a pretty good rehash of themes similar to those in Gilligan's Paper Hearts, but reoriented for Agent Doggett's son instead of Mulder's sister. In the ninth season, Amann wrote Hellbound, an episode with potential, but marred by its convoluted conclusion. However, he also wrote Release with some help from John Shiban, which revisits the subject of Doggett's son, and is one of the standout episodes of the ninth season.

The next biggest small fry is Jeffrey Bell, who earned five writing credits. He, too, arrived in the sixth season, splitting his efforts between a traditional freak-of-the-week episode (the fan-panned Alpha), and a more original romantic comedy (The Rain King), which panders shamelessly to the shipper demographic. In the seventh season, he again struck out in two separate directions, with one oddball episode about the determinism of lucky coincidences (The Goldberg Variation), and one of the better straightforward freak-of-the-week episodes of the season, about a snake-handling church in Tennessee (Signs & Wonders). Bell's last credit was for Salvage in the eighth season, which, despite some cool effects, is not one of the better episodes of the season.

Steven Maeda & Greg Walker both came onto the scene in the seventh season, for a collaboration on Brand X, a conspiracy thriller about the tobacco industry that I rate as one of the better episodes of the season. Walker went on to write two episodes in the eighth season - the not-so-great Surekill, which fumbled its clever premise, and Empedocles, a decent episode that was the first to directly address Agent Doggett's trauma regarding his son. Maeda also wrote two episodes in the eighth season - the decent but somewhat overrated Redrum (co-written with Daniel Arkin), and Vienen, which puts Mulder and Doggett together on a standalone case that features the series' final brush-in with the Black Oil. Maeda continued on to write two more solid episodes in the ninth season, ably restructuring the traditional format around the show's new leads, Doggett and Reyes. 4-D examines a creepy killer who can manipulate spacetime, and Audrey Pauley treats Reyes to a Twilight Zone-like near-death experience.

Credits (David Amann):
 Season 6: Terms of Endearment, Agua Mala
 Season 7: Rush, Chimera
 Season 8: Invocation
 Season 9: Hellbound, Release*

* with story ideas by John Shiban

Credits (Jeffrey Bell):
 Season 6: The Rain King, Alpha
 Season 7: The Goldberg Variation, Signs & Wonders
 Season 8: Salvage

Credits (Steven Maeda):
 Season 7: Brand X*
 Season 8: Redrum**, Vienen
 Season 9: 4-D, Audrey Pauley

* with Greg Walker
** with Daniel Arkin

Credits (Greg Walker):
 Season 7: Brand X*
 Season 8: Surekill, Empedocles

* with Steven Maeda

Combined Ranking (from best to worst):
Release, Signs & Wonders, 4-D, Brand X, Empedocles,
Audrey Pauley, Vienen, Invocation, Terms of Endearment,
Agua Mala, Rush, Hellbound, Alpha, Redrum, Chimera,
Surekill, Salvage, The Rain King, The Goldberg Variation


Finally, we come down to the various names that litter the series, none of which earned more than one or two credits. It would be tempting to write these individuals off as insignificant next to the contributions of the bigwigs, but you might be surprised by what you find - especially considering how I feel about the direction the series took in its later years. Sometimes it seemed to me that while the veteran writers were busy twisting around the format that they had become bored with (to greater and lesser results), it took the newbie writers who were just passing through to remember the formula that made the show a success in the first place, and keep it (just barely, at times) from completely losing sight of its roots. Regardless, these are the people who padded out the series, giving Mulder and Scully (and later Doggett and Reyes) new and weird cases to investigate week after week, from the first season to the last.

Two-fers: In the category of those who earned not just one, but two writing credits, we have nine names (technically ten, but two of them worked together). Chris Ruppenthal wrote a very decent episode in the first season (Roland), followed by one of the most-panned episodes in the entire series (in spite of Morgan & Wong's contributions to the script), season 2's 3. (As we'll see, this pattern of one good episode and one bad will be fairly common). Paul Brown wrote the fantastic mythology episode Ascension, followed by the very forgettable Excelsis Dei, both in the second season. Also in that season, Sara B. Cooper wrote one episode I didn't like all that much (Aubrey), and one that was considerably better (The Calusari, which leads to a Romanian exorcism).

Moving into the third season, Jeffrey Vlaming pumped out two good scripts - 2Shy (featuring a fat-sucking vampire), and Hell Money (one of the better "ethnic" episodes, featuring a Chinatown organ auction). In the same season, Kim Newton gave us our first exploration of Scully's faith (for better or worse) in Revelations, and the fantastic Quagmire (which was probably helped along by Darin Morgan's uncredited contributions). In the fifth season, Tim Minear joined forces with Vince Gilligan to write Kitsunegari, a fairly decent sequel to Pusher, and then by himself wrote Mind's Eye, a captivating episode in its own right.

Still in the fifth season, sci-fi authors William Gibson & Tom Maddox gave us the thrilling cyberpunk episode Kill Switch, although their followup episode in season 7, First Person Shooter, was a notorious disappointment. Daniel Arkin provided us with Arcadia in the lighthearted season 6, in which Mulder and Scully go undercover as a married couple. He then worked with Steven Maeda to bring us season 8's Redrum, which I've mentioned above. Finally, in the ninth season, Thomas Schnauz - who had written for The Lone Gunmen spinoff series - gave us the head-shakingly ridiculous Lord of the Flies, and the slightly less odious Scary Monsters (in spite of its bad special effects).

Credits (Two-fers):
 Season 1: Roland (Chris Ruppenthal)
 Season 2: Ascension (Paul Brown), 3 (Chris Ruppenthal*), Excelsis Dei (Paul Brown),
                 Aubrey (Sara B. Cooper), The Calusari (Sara B. Cooper)
 Season 3: 2Shy (Jeffrey Vlaming), Revelations (Kim Newton),
                 Hell Money (Jeffrey Vlaming), Quagmire (Kim Newton)
 Season 5: Kitsunegari (Tim Minear**), Kill Switch (Gibson & Maddox),
                 Mind's Eye (Tim Minear)
 Season 6: Arcadia (Daniel Arkin)
 Season 7: First Person Shooter (Gibson & Maddox)
 Season 8: Redrum (Daniel Arkin***)
 Season 9: Lord of the Flies (Thomas Schnauz), Scary Monsters (Thomas Schnauz)

* with Glen Morgan & James Wong
** with Vince Gilligan
*** with Steven Maeda

My Ranking (from best to worst):
Ascension, Quagmire, Kill Switch, Hell Money, Mind's Eye, Kitsunegari,
Roland, 2Shy, The Calusari, Redrum, Revelations, 3, Arcadia,
Scary Monsters, Excelsis Dei, Aubrey, First Person Shooter, Lord of the Flies

One-offs: We're really scraping the bottom of the barrel now! And quite a few of the following episodes were written by team pairs, splitting the work of one episode across two people. But surprisingly few of them I'd rate among the all-time worst episodes in the series. At least for me, a truly bad episode of The X-Files is not simply one that adheres too strictly to formula, but one that tries to innovate too much, and ends up being something entirely other than The X-Files - and the big-name writers were mostly responsible for those (Chris Carter among them).

Our largest collection of one-offs comes not surprisingly in the first season. Chris Brancato and Kenneth Biller are responsible for what is likely the best one - Eve, about twin girls involved in genetic experimentation. Young At Heart, which revisits Mulder's first case with the FBI, is also decent, written by Scott Kaufer with Chris Carter. Gender Bender, written by Paul and Larry Barber (I have no idea if they're related) doesn't quite come together in the end, but features a creepy atmosphere, as well as Nicholas Lea's first appearance on the show, before he was cast as Alex Krycek. Meanwhile, Marilyn Osborn's Shapes struggles to put a new spin on the werewolf legend, using Native American lore.

In the second season, Steve De Jarnatt wrote Fearful Symmetry, about alien abductions of animals at a zoo. Fans often criticize it, but I thought it was pretty good. Charles Grant Craig's Oubliette in season 3, on the other hand, gets generally favorable reviews, but I really didn't like it. Season 4's one-offs include the gross-out episode Sanguinarium, written by Valerie & Vivian Mayhew, which ties witchcraft to modern medicine, and the time travel paradox of Synchrony, written by David Greenwalt (who worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff series Angel) with Howard Gordon.

For season 5, Jessica Scott & Mike Wollaeger wrote Schizogeny, another one of those straightforward freak-of-the-weeks (about killer trees) that I seem to have liked better than most. Then there's Chinga, about a living doll, which was famously co-written by Stephen King with Chris Carter, but is mediocre in spite of that fact. Billy Brown & Dan Angel came up with the story for All Souls, the second episode focusing on Scully's dedication to the Catholic faith, which was then written up by John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz. In season 6, Jim Guttridge & Ken Hawryliw wrote Trevor, a solid episode about a man who can walk through walls. And Chip Johannessen, who was displaced following the cancellation of Millennium, wrote Orison, a sequel to Irresistible featuring death fetishist Donnie Pfaster, in season 7.

Credits (One-offs):
 Season 1: Eve (Chris Brancato, Kenneth Biller), Gender Bender (Paul & Larry Barber),
                 Young At Heart (Scott Kaufer*), Shapes (Marilyn Osborn)
 Season 2: Fearful Symmetry (Steve De Jarnatt)
 Season 3: Oubliette (Charles Grant Craig)
 Season 4: Sanguinarium (Valerie & Vivian Mayhew), Synchrony (David Greenwalt**)
 Season 5: Schizogeny (Jessica Scott & Mike Wollaeger), Chinga (Stephen King*),
                 All Souls (Billy Brown & Dan Angel***)
 Season 6: Trevor (Jim Guttridge & Ken Hawryliw)
 Season 7: Orison (Chip Johannessen)

* with Chris Carter
** with Howard Gordon
*** Story credit; Teleplay by John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz

My Ranking (from best to worst):
Synchrony, Eve, Orison, Young At Heart, Trevor, Schizogeny, Gender Bender,
Fearful Symmetry, Chinga, Sanguinarium, Shapes, All Souls, Oubliette

Thanks for tuning in!

Friday, January 22, 2016

The X-Files - Writers Roundup (Part 3)

John Gilnitz

In this feature, I will place a focus on the various writers that contributed to The X-Files throughout its nine seasons. In this part, we will take a look at both the individual contributions and collective collaborations between the three writers who made up the John Gilnitz trio.

Vince Gilligan

By all accounts, Vince Gilligan was the star and the sweetheart of The X-Files' writing team. I'd be hard-pressed to pick a "best" writer, but Gilligan is a strong contender for the title (although he'd have to beat out Carter/Spotnitz and Morgan & Wong). Logging a respectable 30 total writing credits, he was the most successful writer at balancing serious episodes against the off-format comedies that became increasingly popular later in the series. Making an unceremonious entrance near the tail end of the second season, Gilligan wowed us all with the episode Pusher in season 3, before coming into his own as a force to be reckoned with in the fourth season. He was the consummate fan-turned-professional, writing in sly references to classic episodes such as Squeeze in Soft Light, and Anasazi in Pusher. He even found a way to put Mulder and Scully on a date (to much fan approval) before they ever got together!

Following the tense Unruhe and the grim (but fantastic) Paper Hearts, Gilligan detoured into comedy with Small Potatoes, no doubt following in the footsteps of Darin Morgan, who guest starred in the episode as a shape-shifting mutant. In season 5, Gilligan wrote the first full episode centered around The Lone Gunmen (Unusual Suspects), as well as another fan-favorite comedy episode, Bad Blood. He also wrote a sequel to Pusher with Tim Minear (Kitsunegari), and a hard-to-categorize psychological thriller about grasshopper pod people (Folie a Deux) that further cemented Gilligan's reputation as a shipper who understood Mulder and Scully's dependence on each other.

Likely diverting his appetite for humor into his collaborations with Shiban and Spotnitz, Gilligan's solo credits in the sixth season include a life-or-death Drive across the California desert with guest star Bryan Cranston, and Tithonus, a melancholy portrait of a man who has lost his ability to die. Season 7 saw Gilligan trying out a few experiments, with an episode cleverly depicted from the monster's perspective (Hungry), and a brilliant (if not spectacular) crossover with COPS (X-COPS). He also directed his first episode, Je Souhaite, in which Mulder encounters a genie who grants him three wishes.

With new blood injected into the series in the wake of David Duchovny's absence and Robert Patrick's arrival in the eighth season, Gilligan brought us another of his finest tales of the macabre - Roadrunners, which strands Scully in a remote village at the mercy of a messianic cult of slug-worshippers - before heading off to focus his attentions on The Lone Gunmen spin-off series. He returned in the ninth season with another whopper of a serious episode, John Doe, before closing out the series on an emotional note, with his second directorial credit, the all-too-saccharine Sunshine Days.

Credits (excluding collaborations with Shiban and/or Spotnitz):
 Season 2: Soft Light
 Season 3: Pusher
 Season 4: Unruhe, Paper Hearts, Small Potatoes
 Season 5: Unusual Suspects, Kitsunegari*, Bad Blood, Folie a Deux
 Season 6: Drive, Tithonus
 Season 7: Hungry, X-COPS, Je Souhaite
 Season 8: Roadrunners
 Season 9: John Doe, Sunshine Days

* with Tim Minear

My Ranking (from best to worst):
Paper Hearts, Pusher, Roadrunners, Unruhe, Tithonus,
John Doe, Bad Blood, Unusual Suspects, Soft Light,
Drive, Kitsunegari, Folie a Deux, Hungry,
Small Potatoes, X-COPS, Je Souhaite, Sunshine Days

John Shiban

I feel like John Shiban is the underdog of the John Gilnitz trio. He earned fewer credits than either Vince Gilligan or Frank Spotnitz, but still more than either Howard Gordon or Morgan & Wong. On the other hand, he didn't write as many truly standout episodes. But, while his credits include a few stinkers, the same could be said of most if not all of the other regular writers on the series (including no less than Chris Carter himself), and they also include a few underrated gems as well.

Shiban arrived on the scene in the third season, but didn't make a very good first impression. Prone to some pretty out-there premises, the quadriplegic who kills by astral projection in The Walk was perhaps a little too weird, and unfortunately overacted. Teso dos Bichos wasn't any better, earning a rather notorious reputation for resolving its central theme of a vengeful jaguar spirit with something even more ridiculous.

Opinions vary, but I believe Shiban's episodes in the fourth season are an improvement. I actually enjoy El Mundo Gira, which is fun in spite of having the tone of a tongue-in-cheek Mexican soap opera. Elegy is not a perfect episode, but it does a good job of toeing the line of what a typical X-Files episode should feel like, while admirably mixing in some mythology elements critical to Scully's condition at that point in the series.

With his efforts divided among the John Gilnitz collaborative episodes, Shiban's solo credits in the fifth and sixth seasons represent his best work in terms of constructing gritty conspiracy thrillers. The Pine Bluff Variant, which contains only minor supernatural elements, has almost the feel of a mob movie, and S.R. 819 carries on the tradition of doing the occasional Skinner-centric episode, with one that runs to the core of the character's central dilemma.

I imagine that in most fan's opinions, Shiban's eighth season credit, Badlaa, represents a misstep - a return to the ridiculous premises that marred his earlier episodes. But there's a courage and a dedication present that earns my respect, even in spite of the beyond-the-pale subject matter. And as far as season 9 is concerned, I consider it more of his best work. Underneath - Shiban's first directing credit - is a straightforward X-File, but stronger than Elegy, and makes competent use of the three lead characters. And, written with David Amann, Release provides a powerful sense of closure to Doggett's (and, by extension, Reyes') journey before turning the series finale back over to Mulder and Scully.

Credits (excluding collaborations with Gilligan and/or Spotnitz):
 Season 3: The Walk, Teso dos Bichos
 Season 4: El Mundo Gira, Elegy
 Season 5: The Pine Bluff Variant
 Season 6: S.R. 819
 Season 8: Badlaa
 Season 9: Underneath, Release*

* Story credit with David Amann; Teleplay by David Amann

My Ranking (from best to worst):
Release, S.R. 819, Underneath, El Mundo Gira,
The Pine Bluff Variant, Badlaa, Elegy,
The Walk, Teso dos Bichos

Frank Spotnitz

As I mentioned yesterday, Frank Spotnitz came on to the series writing the second part of Colony/End Game, before becoming Chris Carter's right hand man in developing the mythology. His other solo mythology credit is for the second part of Nisei/731, and he wrote Zero Sum in season 4 with Howard Gordon. Spotnitz' first freak-of-the-week credit, on the other hand, was for the penultimate episode of season 2, Our Town, which is a very solid episode about suburban cannibals. His next freak-of-the-week credit is for season 5's Detour, which mixes in a little humor (and suffers as a result, in my opinion), as was the style in that season.

It's not until the eighth season that Spotnitz really came into his own as a standalone writer, responsible for the fantastic episode Via Negativa, as well as the not-so-hot The Gift, which suffers from trying to force-fit an absentee Mulder into the story. But he also wrote the claustrophobic Medusa, and another penultimate episode - the sweetly nostalgic Alone, at a period when the series was finalizing the transition from Mulder and Scully over to Doggett - as well as the middle-of-the-road Daemonicus in the ninth season. Altogether, it's not a bad showing for someone whose primary role was in helping to steer the mythology.

Credits (excluding collaborations with Carter, Gilligan, and/or Shiban):
 Season 2: End Game, Our Town
 Season 3: 731
 Season 4: Zero Sum*
 Season 5: Detour
 Season 8: Via Negativa, The Gift, Medusa, Alone
 Season 9: Daemonicus

* with Howard Gordon

My Ranking (from best to worst):
731, End Game, Via Negativa, Zero Sum, Our Town
Alone, Detour, Medusa, Daemonicus, The Gift

John Gilnitz (Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz)

At last, we come to John Gilnitz! I don't know how these three came together, or what made them decide to stick together (aside from the relative success of their collaborative efforts, and perhaps the ease of dividing the usual workload three ways), but their first episode together was a sparkling success. While I wouldn't call it one of my top favorite episodes, Leonard Betts is really an all-around good episode. It has a great concept (a man made of cancer), a sense of fun which penetrates the series' most enjoyable episodes - but without going too far over the line into comedy or self-parody - and just enough good old-fashioned gross-out. Plus, it ends with one of the most heartbreaking "oh shit!" moments in all of television history.

The trio joined together once again, with assistance from Chris Carter, to expand on Leonard Betts' eleventh hour revelation, in the devastatingly funereal mythology episode Memento Mori. They carried this thread of grief over into their next joint effort, season 5's mythology two-parter Christmas Carol/Emily. Looking back, it is at this point that I remark with wonder that the John Gilnitz name ever became associated with comedy! In the second half of the fifth season, Shiban & Spotnitz (without Gilligan) collaborated on Travelers, a flashback episode that examines the genesis of The X-Files division decades before the era of "Spooky" Mulder. The pair also adapted a story by Billy Brown & Dan Angel into the second episode that explicitly confronts Scully's Catholic faith, All Souls.

John Gilnitz - in various incarnations - was very busy in the sixth season. Dreamland is when they must have dedicated themselves fully to comedy, turning what should have been a mythology two-parter about infiltrating Area 51 into an arguably humorous romp guest starring Michael McKean as a Man in Black. Without Spotnitz, Gilligan and Shiban joined forces for Monday, one of the season's highlights, as well as Three of a Kind, the second Lone Gunmen-centered episode, which was little more than a rehash of the first. They also adapted a story by Spotnitz which became the mind-bending Field Trip, surpassed in this season only by Milagro, written by Chris Carter based on a story by Shiban and Spotnitz.

Season 7 saw Gilligan and Spotnitz working together to provide closure to Carter's then-recently canceled companion series, Millennium, while the full trio got back together for one goofy episode (The Amazing Maleeni, a murder mystery involving stage magicians), and one straightforward X-File (Theef, about a mountain man using a much older magic to try and avenge a sorrowful fate). Gilnitz' last credit for the series comes at the end of season 9, following the cancellation of their spinoff series centered around The Lone Gunmen. I can't judge Jump The Shark as a coda to that series, as I haven't seen it, but I don't think it works very well as an episode of The X-Files, and the fate it has in store for its main characters is far from charitable.

 Season 4: Leonard Betts, Memento Mori*
 Season 5: Christmas Carol/Emily, Travelers†, All Souls†**
 Season 6: Dreamland/II, Monday††, Milagro†***, Three of a Kind††, Field Trip
 Season 7: Millennium†††, The Amazing Maleeni, Theef
 Season 9: Jump The Shark

* with Chris Carter
** Story by Billy Brown & Dan Angel
*** Story credit; Teleplay by Chris Carter
† Written by Shiban & Spotnitz (no Gilligan)
†† Written by Gilligan & Shiban (no Spotnitz)
††† Written by Gilligan & Spotnitz (no Shiban)
‡ Teleplay by Gilligan & Shiban; Story by Spotnitz

My Ranking (from best to worst):
Milagro, Field Trip, Memento Mori, Monday, Millennium, Leonard Betts,
Theef, Travelers, Christmas Carol/Emily, Three of a Kind,
Dreamland/II, The Amazing Maleeni, Jump The Shark, All Souls

Stay tuned for Part 4, in which we examine the cast/crew and freelancers whose scripts helped to fill out the series!