Thursday, January 14, 2016

The X-Files - S9:E18 "Sunshine Days"

[ S9:E17 "Release" <<< Season 9 >>> S9:E19/20 "The Truth" ]

I'll tell you what, I'm just about sick of "closure". If the next episode weren't the series finale (once and for all), I'd actually be dreading watching it. And not because I'm reluctant to see the series end, but because I just want it to be over with already. If the series were still pumping out dark and gritty sci-fi/horror cases week after week, I'd be sad to see it go. But it's not just that the episodes have decreased in quality. As a matter of fact, there are some perfectly solid episodes even in this, last season. And the first season's episodes were frequently mediocre, but the difference is that back then this show had a high concept that still felt fresh. It had great characters that could make even a substandard episode fun to watch. It believed in what it was doing. It was hungry. For success. To prove itself. Now the show is just tired. Whatever energy Robert Patrick had infused into the series has worn out.

But the worst thing of all is that they've been drawing out the series' demise for years now, going at least back to the seventh season. It's sad to see something you love go away, but is it more painful to watch it wither slowly day by day? Isn't it better to burn out than fade away? We got a maybe-series finale in season 7's Requiem. Then we got another maybe-series finale in season 8's Essence/Existence (preceded, as this episode precedes this season's finale, by the emotional closure provided by Alone). And here we are again. The fact that it's final this time is a relief, but it's like going to a funeral after you've rehearsed it for several days prior. At some point, you just disconnect your emotions in order to preserve your own sorrow. I'm ranting, but my point is that, although it would be sad to see a series go when it's still good, I think that episodes like The End, or even The Erlenmeyer Flask would have worked better as series endings, when the show still had fire. I don't want to watch the characters weep and mourn for their show week after week, year after year, until it's finally, really gone.

And there's too much of that in this episode. It approaches melodrama in the ending, and there's too much sappiness throughout. I have to admit, I'm appreciating Vince Gilligan's sentimental side less and less. Give me an episode like John Doe, and I'll play ball. And it's unfortunate, because as weird as the choice to make this series' last X-File (i.e., last freak-of-the-week case) a parody of The Brady Bunch, it begins with a lot of potential. There's something fundamentally creepy on the dark underside of "the perfect suburban home life" that various television shows (especially from a more naive era) idolize. We saw this in Arcadia, but the theme of fantasy and imagination, and the holes in our lives it fills, that this episode brings up is something else. Just the imagery in the episode opener - two dudebros breaking into some guy's house 'cause one of them claims it's the Brady Bunch house, and then watching them slink through such an iconic set (even I can recognize it) in the dark, while shadowy doppelgangers lead them to their doom - is fantastically creepy. But where does it go from there?

I see definite echoes from Vince Gilligan's last directing credit - season 7's Je Souhaite - in Scully almost getting proof of the paranormal (then, she autopsied an invisible body; now, there's a guy willing - after a little persuasion - to demonstrate amazing powers of psychokinesis). But the tone just isn't right, for me. It's too light - when it's not being unnecessarily melodramatic. I noted with relief in the eighth season, when Doggett's arrival forced the show to revert to its dark roots, that it wouldn't really be able to do the light-hearted self-parody that the series became increasingly reliant on in the sixth and seventh seasons, because it requires a certain amount of familiarity with the characters and the format, which were being shaken up by Doggett (and later Reyes) taking Mulder and Scully's places (note that self-parody didn't enter the equation on this show until, at the very earliest, the end of the second season). I'll leave it to other reviewers to discuss the potential for success of an X-Files Lite episode with relative newcomers Doggett and Reyes, since I'm not invested in those types of episodes to begin with. Suffice to say, I knew it was inevitable that the creators would sooner or later try to do one. And in the ninth season, they certainly have toyed with the concept, in episodes like Lord of the Flies, and most especially Improbable.

And now, Vince Gilligan is relying on his own sense of humor to infuse this episode - not wholescale, but with a little joke here and there, and some lighter expressions on Doggett and Reyes. Like, Skinner's in his office doing flips in midair, and I'm thinking Field Trip, except that it's not Field Trip. We're supposed to take it at face value. And I'm not buying. The theme of a guy with special powers that are killing him isn't new (even for Vince Gilligan), but this is no Pusher (although I can't imagine a better way to commit suicide than materializing your favorite TV characters to say goodbye to you). No, it's a sad sack whose raison d'etre is to set Doggett up for some meta-commentary about the fact that this show is going off the air, and we're all going to have to learn to be satisfied with real life real soon (and some mushy hint about how life is better with other people - real people). It's all too heavy-handed, like it's trying too hard to be profound, when it's really just telling me things I'm not interested in hearing. It's high time this series stopped talking about ending, and just did it already. Don't put your finger on the trigger unless you're prepared to shoot.

Memorable quotes:

Michael Daley: My friend was murdered. Who woulda thought this could happen at the Brady Bunch house?

Doggett: What can I tell ya? I think I'm finally gettin' the hang of this job.

Scully: Well, if Mulder were here, I'd imagine he'd talk about...

(Gotta say, this is a pretty lazy way of shoehorning in a character the series no longer has access to).

Scully: I've been working this unit for nine years now. I've investigated nearly 200 paranormal cases. We are due for some incontrovertible proof. I want vindication. For Mulder, and for all of us.

(Oh, is that what this episode's going to be about?)

Doggett: Why the Brady Bunch? Why not the Partridge Family?

Doggett: So close, Dana. I'm sorry you don't get your proof.
Scully: Me too. But maybe I've had it these past nine years. If not proof of the paranormal, then...of more important things.
Doggett: Here's hoping the TV stays off and he learns how to love the real world. (Grabs Reyes' hand).

(Gag. This is too much, guys. And not in a teary-eyed kinda way. In an "I think I'm gonna hurl" kinda way. Talk about melodrama. It's like Closure all over again, except the wound has already healed. And I'm not interested in opening it back up again).

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