Sunday, January 10, 2016

The X-Files - S9:E14 "Scary Monsters"

[ S9:E13 "Improbable" <<< Season 9 >>> S9:E15 "Jump The Shark" ]

Do you believe? Great title for an episode, right? The creepy opener has a real "monsters under the bed" kinda atmosphere. And when the dad holds the door shut on the kid, I'm thinking of Aliens, when Burke locks the facehugger in with Ripley and Newt.

This episode's got several things going for it. The unexpected return of Agent Leyla Harrison (who is as cute as ever, but more annoying than I remember her). A pseudo-metaphor about a bug infestation standing in for monster attacks. A car ignition spurting blood. Agents trapped in a house during a snowstorm. Monsters that behave like gremlins (e.g., sabotaging electronics). A boy with strange powers, like something out of the Twilight Zone. And the clever usage of Doggett's skepticism as a weapon against a monster that relies on belief.

And then it has some things not doing it any favors. To start with, it's written by Thomas Schnauz - the same person who wrote Lord of the Flies, which doesn't inspire much confidence. Scully's scenes serve no other purpose than to provide humor (also like in that other episode). There's one scene that seems to be trying to play digging up a dead cat for laughs, and I'm thinking - this series hasn't been this far over the line of bad taste since Badlaa (but at least in that episode, you got less of a feeling that it was trying to be funny, instead of just unsettling - which it accomplished). And then there's the bad CG effects (an 8 year old's drawing of the monsters is better). Plus, though giant bugs as monsters is more realistic (at least from my perspective), it's not as imaginative as something, well...more monstrous.

Mix it all together, and you get a halfway decent episode - one that's not great, but not as bad as Lord of the Flies was. The inside references (to D.P.O. and Field Trip) are not as plentiful coming from a less experienced staffer than Frank Spotnitz (who wrote Alone, which was the last episode that Leyla Harrison appeared in). And the brief attempts at self-aware deconstruction don't compare to what came from the tortured genius of Darin Morgan, or even Vince Gilligan, in some of his funnier moments.

Furthermore, Leyla's signing off on Doggett (and, by extension, Reyes) as Mulder and Scully's replacements at the end is a little heavy-handed, considering her role as audience surrogate. It's a bit too much like putting words in our mouths. I like Doggett and Reyes enough (especially Doggett, although Reyes has grown on me this season), but I'm not ready to write Mulder and Scully off completely - I don't think I'll ever be.

I do like the little commentary thrown in at the end about how television kills the imagination. Although, I would agree with it only to a certain extent. For some, zombification does indeed seem to be a real consequence. But for us creative types, I find that my imagination is actually stimulated by watching fictional media (it's the difference between finishing an episode and wanting to analyze/discuss it, and just wanting to put the next episode on). I guess the trick is to take it in moderation (which is obviously not what's happening at the end of this episode), and not everyone has that kind of self-control.

It's the Antlion!

Memorable quotes:

Tommy: No such thing as monsters.

Leyla Harrison: I apologize. I let my imagination run wild, and I ruined both your evenings. Thank you in advance for not yelling at me.

Leyla Harrison: What would Agents Mulder and Scully do if they were in this situation?
Doggett: Agents Mulder and Scully aren't in this situation. Agents Doggett and Reyes are.

(Even the meta-commentary is feeling less inspired).

Dad: Come on, you saw what happens. You think you've killed one. And then, it becomes two.

(This is my fear every time I encounter a pest in the home. Killing it doesn't bring satisfaction so much as the creeping anxiety that there might be more, hiding just out of sight).

Tommy: You're just trying to scare me.
Doggett: (Lights a match). Scared yet?

Leyla Harrison: Your lack of imagination saved our lives.
Doggett: Gee, thanks.

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