What’s it about: Agent Dana Scully is assigned to the X-Files…
Trust No-One: ‘Sorry nobody down here but the FBI’s most unwanted!’ When somebody describes a man as an ‘Oxford educated psychologist’ I get terrible visions of a pretentious, upper class know-it all. One out of three aint bad. Actually Mulder is nothing like I imagined and David Duchovny chooses to make this socially awkward, brilliant man every bit as embarrassing as he can possibly be. I want to point that out now because much later in the shows run (around season seven) Duchovny would toss away this geeky image and walk around with a stylish long coat, cool shades and perfect hair and basically lose everything that was ever appealing about the character. But at this point he is willing to look as beaten and as pathetic as Chris Carter’s script portrays him and that is a great point in which to meet him. He is in no way the typical male lead and it’s very appealing to root for this guy and his cause. He comes across as driven, unconventional and slightly barmy but those are all characteristics that I rather like. Only Mulder could look at an alien corpse and say ‘we’ll order it to go’ with a straight face! Mulder informs Scully that he isn’t crazy (we’ll be the judge of that) and that he has the same doubts that she has…the difference is that he is open the idea alien life and she isn’t and faith can skip over a multitude of rational explanations. His unorthodox methods include heading to a graveyard and digging up bodies on a rain lashed evening – he’s nuttier than squirrel shit but you’ve gotta love him!
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘What I find fantastic is that there are any answers beyond the realms of science…’ The audience goes on such a long journey with Scully over nine seasons that it is weird to look back to the very beginning where she was so fresh faced and naïve about the horrors she is about to face. You can imagine her life skipping along happily (or as happily as somebody who is as rigid as Scully is) from one success to another until the point where she meets Mulder and it all goes frighteningly downhill. I’m really pleased that Chris Carter fought for Gillian Anderson rather than somebody that the execs considered more beautiful (her look this season is severe but Anderson would soon drink in the success of the show and soften her look into something far more appealing on the eye) because she clearly was the best fit for the role and has the acting chops to take it to some dark and delicious places. It’s nice to hear that Scully has a mind of her own and took a role within the FBI because she thought she could distinguish herself there against her parent’s wishes. She might go on to wish that she had listened to them… Despite having an entirely different ethos Scully clearly feels an attraction to Mulder in their very first scene together, she enjoys engaging with him and rather than flouncing off in a huff because they have disagreed she smiles at his back. We might get bored of Scully’s constant rationalisations in later series when the proof has been irrefutable but her claim that this might just be a crazy cult in the woods does hold some weight because we haven’t seen anything yet that could contradict it. Mulder raving in the rain about missing time, forests that can attract kids and lost time is a great moment character wise because whilst Scully cannot agree with his insane theories she still gets whipped up in his excitement and that is what hooks her for the initial years. That and the possibility that it might be true… The climax of the first episode sees Scully just on the periphery of the proof she needs to truly believe and that’s where she would stay for quite some time! You can’t help but cheer when Blevins dismisses Scully’s write up as personal and subjective and she produces evidence to substantiate it. You start to think there may be hope for her yet…
Ugh: The X-Files will throw up some pretty disgusting images over its nine year stint and this is where I will discuss them. I’m not just talking about visceral horror but psychological and conceptual nasties too. We can have some fun looking at why this show was so effectively scary. Marvel at how Carter cuts through an exposition scene with a coffin snapping free of its restraints and tumbling down and hill to reveal its grisly contents inside. The corpse of what looks like an alien rotting like old fruit. That’s an eye opening moment for the show where it seems to suggest that alien life really does exist. Of course the body goes missing and the autopsy results burnt because we couldn’t have this series answer its strongest mystery so suddenly. The blood spurting from Peggy’s nose is paradoxically a more subtle effect but less effective scene because of the hysterical performance of the actress.
- They could have taken the route of having the X-Files as a respected organisation that deals with genuine cases of alien abduction and completely blown the credibility of the series. Something akin to the Doctor Who spin off Torchwood which cannot help but be a hyper camp send up of this show because it takes its claims of ‘outside the government, beyond the police…’ so seriously you either have to laugh or switch off. Instead Chris Carter dropped Mulder in the basement of the FBI building and had his department (can you really be a department with one office and one worker?) scoffed at by all the high flyers that are being promoted to bigger and better things. It immediately warms the audience both the character and his work because we all love a lost cause but it also gives the series a firm foot in reality. Despite the evidence that we would see throughout series one nobody outside of this office believes that these supernatural events actually happen. That’s very important because it allows average Joe in the televisual audience to connect with this show when they wouldn’t usually bother with science fiction. They are the people that Mulder is trying to convince. Rather wonderfully it would take until Tooms to show this sceptical audience something that cannot be given a rational answer.
- I love the atmosphere of a small seaside town in America with dark secrets, cover ups and mysterious goings on. There’s a gorgeous tracking shot of Mulder and Scully driving into town as the sun is stating to go down and the weird goings on begin. Mark Snow’s ominous music is especially good at building up an air suspense in even the most ordinary of scenes.
- The director does a particularly good job of constantly stressing the unusual at moments that other shows would skip over. He focuses in on medical reports and x-rays eerily always making the audience feel there is something wrong.
- The format of the show screams at you about halfway through the episode. One sceptic, one believer and one paranormal investigation for them to argue over. Its an economic formula that powers the show for many years and its rare to see a show finds its groove as early as this in its first season.
- The final shot of the CSM walking amongst the alien artefacts that are tucked away at the Pentagon is a real appetite whetter. Imagine if this really was a standalone TV movie…the untapped potential would have been an extraordinary waste.
The Bad: It doesn’t matter how much they attempt to blank out his face the silhouette of the thing that is menacing Karen in the pre titles sequence is clearly Billy Miles as soon as we are introduced to him in the episode. Having Scully and Mulder read out each others character specs is really clunky although Chris Carter does add some humorous observations (‘Spooky Mulder’ and ‘Rewriting Einstein?’). Its basically saying these are our main characters and this what they have done to this point – it’s a lazy, bullet point way to introduce them when they are interesting enough to capture our attention anyway and there are many occasions in the first season when elements from their past catch up with them. Still I guess getting too much information is better than getting too little. There is something a little off about the chemistry between Anderson and Duchovny at some points in the first episode – his performance screams of trying enjoy this for as long as it lasts and hers occasionally tips into ‘what am I doing here?’ How little they both knew that this was going to change their lives. Is a little early to suggest a romantic connection between the two or does a show need that in order to lure in the shippers? The skin on skin examination is pretty hot but I’m not sure if it doesn’t slow the story down a tad with a pointless scene. In a moment of absolute madness Mulder reveals who the abductor is…Billy Miles! And then proceeds to give no explanation or reason as to how he made that leap why that should be the case! With this revelation out in the air the episode simply goes along with that as the truth. I still have no clue why or how this conclusion was reached beyond ‘it fits a profile of alien abduction.’ Gee thanks man but how? You can’t just throw a lot of weird accusations about missing time and possessed kids and expect us to nod our heads and go ‘yup that makes sense or at least its so exciting I don’t mind that it doesn’t make sense!’
Pre-titles Sequence: What I love about the atmosphere of the very first X-Files set piece is how it adopts the menace and documentary feels of the horror movies that were being brought out at the same time. This could almost be one of those made for TV movies, a brilliantly scary one-off programme revealing the cancer in the heart of the government and that aliens really are among us. It taps in the primal fear of a young woman alone being menaced (a cliché before this show began and certainly one afterwards) in a forest and with Mark Snow’s terrifying music and some subtle effects (the leaves kicking up and harsh lighting truly suggest something different is happening) it opens the show in superb style.
Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where Mulder explains his passion for the paranormal and his mission to find his sister is evocatively shot in shadow with rain lashed lighting. The goal for the first seven years of the series is summed up in this scene and it is still engaging enough to capture my attention all these years later. There’s something insidious at the heart of the American government that knows about UFOs and is keeping it a secret for some ungodly reason. I can’t wait to find out why…
Fashion Statement: The way Scully dresses here is pure early 90s businesswoman. At this point it was felt that if women were going to make it in a mans world (oh how I hate that angle shows take rather than just allowing them to flourish as women in the work place) then they had to dress with a severe masculine image. Mulder pretty much always wears a suit but its only when the show becomes a phenomenon that he goes designer. Here he’s practically wearing tweed – well he is supposed to have been educated at Oxford! Woah, Scully’s knickers and bra are the least sexy I have ever seen on a woman (not that my experience stretches that far you understand) and that includes Bridget Jones.
Mythology: The Cigarette Smoking Man is seen in the first scene in the FBI puffing away and adding nothing but background menace.
Foreboding: Nobody could have foreseen that this series would have made nine seasons at this point but its worth noting a lot of the plot elements and characters in the pilot because we re-visit Oregon in the season seven finale Requiem and Billy Miles becomes a formidable presence in the shows eighth year. Mulder describes the night of his sisters disappearance and we would get to experience it (or at least his remembrance of it) in the second season opener Little Green Men.
Result: The premise of The X-Files is so attention grabbing that you can forgive how dated the pilot looks now and bask in the potential of the show. Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of good in the pilot; an intriguing small town mystery, some economic but effective set pieces, and a glorious Mark Snow score. What really stands out though is the central idea and how many great stories you can envisage being told through it. Seen as a pilot for a series this gets a massive thumbs up but as a piece of storytelling in its own right it doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Ultimately the mystery at the heart of the narrative leads to a big fat nothing with no real answers and I was left wondering why a series would kick off with a story that flaunts such an ambiguous climax. The characterisation and dialogue are pretty functional too with none of the guest characters standing out as anything but TV stereotypes and Mulder and Scully taking their first nervous steps into the limelight but these would be refined considerably during the shows first year. What’s important is that both of the central characters are likable even if Chris Carter needs to be taught a masterclass in introducing a regular cast to its audience because he constantly feels the need to give you too much information. Compared to how superbly he introduces characters later in the series this is a bit of a dogs dinner but by the time we reach Mulder and Scully’s argument outside the motel its clear what the formula of this show is going to be (one sceptic, one believer) and it’s a pretty engaging one. More importantly the pilot has made me excited for the journey ahead and you can’t really ask much more of an opening act: 7/10
Deep Throat written by Chris Carter and directed by Daniel Sackheim
What’s it about: Missing pilots and UFO technology and Mulder senses a conspiracy…
Trust No-One: ‘Let’s get out of here Mulder while you still have a job…’ Clicking phones, government agents whispering secrets in his ear…its no wonder Mulder is paranoid! There’s a strong feeling already that Mulder (and because he drags her along, Scully too) is an invasive presence wherever he visits because he asks the questions that nobody wants to answer. It does appear that Scully is trying to find fault in everything that he suggests (although when he buys into the story of a pair of stoners you can see her point) but what he doesn’t realise yet is that she focuses him and keeps him honest about what is going on. As Mulder heads into the airbase despite warnings to his life you begin to realise how far his obsession goes and what he is prepared to risk to get the answers he seeks.
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘Just because I can’t explain it, it doesn’t mean I’m going to believe they were UFOs’ Scully is still calling him ‘Agent Mulder’ and finds it awkward socialising with her partner so not a great deal of time can have past since the pilot. She scoffs Mulder’s interest in this case because she cannot see how this connects to the paranormal – its quite an insulting reaction to what is a well presented mystery. Scully cannot even bear to watch as Mulder talks ‘UFO’ with a local and waits outside but what she fails to realise is that the locals have information that could help that you can tease out by a sympathetic ear. Stuck in a field with Mulder whilst he looks to the skies for UFOS…this a visual interpretation of what Scully will be doing for the next seven years! I was wondering why I was having such an allergic reaction to Scully in this episode and it came to me in the scene where she points out that Mulder’s evidence is two blurry photographs and the word of two stoners – Scully is me! She’s a rationalist so she needs absolute proof before she is going to believe something that isn’t tangible and that is precisely how I feel about God and extraterrestrial life and all those other things that people only need ‘faith’ to buy into. When she is dismissing Mulder’s theories and evidence I can hear myself being as dogged and questioning when I have had conversations about such things in the past. That’s why I was uncomfortable watching her scenes - she is throwing up a mirror at my own pig-headedness. She proves that she is more than a match for Paul by locking herself in his car whilst she checks his identity and scratching his face when he smashes the window to drag her out.
Deep Throat: The inclusion of Mulder’s very own mole within the government is a great idea and not just because their relationship is such an ambiguous one to follow. Despite the fact that you could take the material presented in the first two episodes as paranormal writ there is nothing here which Scully couldn’t give you an equally convincing rational explanation for. So here comes a character who knows that there is something rotten at the heart of the American government and is willing to drip feed those secrets to Mulder on his own terms. Its an endorsement (of a kind) of Mulder’s theories and his work and the series needs that if it is going to continue. Jerry Hardin is a fine character actor and strikes a good balance between being a good friend to Mulder and a potential enemy too and his scenes are always exciting because they often lead to some much needed explanations! As soon as he first reveals himself to Mulder I was looking out for him in all subsequent scenes. He’s prepared to provide Mulder with information but only so long as it is in his best interests to do so.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Doesn’t the government have a right and responsibility to protect its secrets?’ – Scully paints Mulder as a free radical with a negative charge!
‘We don’t know anything! Anything more than when we got here!’ and here she sums up the grand total of what they have learnt officially. That the episode is willing to spell that out is very brave but then it has given us a peek at a UFO and the area it is being constructed…
‘They’re here aren’t they?’ ‘Mr Mulder they’ve been here for a long, long time…’
Ugh: The nasty, scabrous burns that cover Budahast are hard to stomach and the very image of a man sitting shivering in the corner naked sticks in the mind. Something that has crept into television over the past two decades is the examination of the perfect American family (an image they were keen to exploit in the early days of television) and revealing its dark underbelly like picking up a perfect stone and seeing the dirt and bugs that fester and hide underneath. Its what made American Beauty such an incredible film and why Dexter season four was so terrifying (especially the Thanksgiving episode where John Lithgow’s character was literally holding his family to ransom around the perfect dinner table with the fear that he might snap at any minute). The X-Files would also tap into this dark vein of social commentary and it all begins here. Mrs McLennan’s forced smiles as she talks about her husbands recovery is clearly a front and Mrs Budahast is living in fear of her husband every day once he is returned to her. What goes on behind closed doors can be terrifying, especially when it is given such pretty lick of paint to make it look so inviting from the outside. The fact that Deep Throat offers no happy ending to Mrs Budahast who is still being abused by her husband at its close marks The X-Files out as something different.
- I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Okay not a secret exactly but its not something I would usually actively broadcast to all and sundry – when I was 11 years old my dad was put away for a long time for trying to smuggle drugs into the country through Gatwick Airport. I bet that got your attention! No seriously, it’s the truth! The reason I am bringing it up here is because I can remember sitting in front of and episode of Star Trek The Next Generation and waiting for my tea when policemen came bursting into the house and filled every room. It was the most exciting thing ever for an 11 year old kid but I was whisked off to a neighbours whilst the house was thoroughly searched. In my head it plays out in exactly the same way as the pre titles sequence does here with a meaty looking SWAT team that are heavily armed. Given this was England in the early 1990s it was probably more like Dixon of Dock Green! Whenever I see this opening sequence it always reminds me of the sudden invasive drama that unfolding in my house 21 years ago. Oh and it’s a really exciting opening to the episode too!
- Its another simple but engaging mystery for Mulder and Scully to get stuck into. Pilots of experimental aircraft going missing and the airbase they worked for offering no explanation to their families. It immediately smacks of a cover up which suggests that there is something to hide…and Mulder’s interest is therefore understandable. I’m not saying that every episode has to tie into the conspiracy theme but from what we saw set up in the pilot this is a very pleasing continuation of the same themes.
- There’s a glorious moment when Mulder excitedly shows Scully eerie lights moving in the sky and for one giddy second you think that the show is going to play its UFO hand really early before the lights converge and become…helicopter! The way the series dangles a carrot of possibility like that and snatches it away is cruel but I will always reach out for the carrot all the same.
- Brian Thompson appeared in the Buffy pilot and would go on to appear in many a X-File and here with have Seth Green turn up in a very funny cameo role before his days as Oz in Buffy.
- Budahast turning up halfway through the episode is the last thing I imagined. I thought that we would close this episode with another ‘we never found out what happened to him but there was pretty crazy shit to keep you amused…’ voiceover. Instead Deep Throat is playing a very different game by giving us missing pilot halfway through the episode and then stressing the wrongness of his return. This is basically the climax of the mystery that this episode set out to solve 20 minutes before the conclusion so we can experience a complete anti climax of what is happening on the airbase when the time comes. Or having your cake and eating it and getting away with it as its known in the trade.
- I love the hallucinatory direction from Mulder’s POV as he is wheeled through the workshop hangar of the airbase. There is just enough seen to suggest that everything he believes is true but not quite enough to confirm it. Its as frustrating for us as it is for Mulder but that frustration is all part of The X-Files continuing success. To reveal all so early would be a fatal error. Just give us enough scraps to keep us interested for now.
- The introduction of Paul ‘the reporter’ was clever deception and it gives Scully a bargaining chip to get Mulder back when he is in grave danger of going the way of the pilots. This is a much tighter script than I previously thought.
- The final long shot of Deep Throat walking away from Mulder seems to suggest that the pair of them are being watched…
The Bad: There is a truly atrocious double for Gillian Anderson when the car screeches to a halt and they are surrounded. The stunt doubles hair is about three inches longer…and its brown!
Moment to Watch Out For: We get to see what appears to be a UFO hovering over Mulder but with no confirmation from the episode it could just as easily be stealth technology. It’s a breathtaking moment all the same, beautifully realised by the director.
Mythology: Its taken 50 years for the government to master UFO technology since Roswell and develop it into a military aircraft. However the pilots are incapable of handling the stresses this technology puts on their bodies. At least that is Mulder’s theory!
Result: A very strong second episode and one which keeps bringing the audience closer to the truth and then pushing them away again. There’s a wealth of good material here that is worth commenting on; a peek into the darker side of military suburbia, the introduction of Deep Throat, another fine Mark Snow score and some glorious set pieces including a gripping chase scene and the magical moment when Mulder is confronted with what looks like a UFO. Both Duchovny and Anderson seem so much more comfortable with their roles already and this a great episode to show off their continuing clash of ideologies. Mulder seems more reckless here but that only serves to make him more of a hero for risking his life for answers and Scully is almost defiant in taking his insane theories and crushing them with facts. The tone of the piece is much more adult than the pilot and Daniel Sackheim gets how the series needs to be constantly offering visual surprises and dynamic set pieces to underscore the fact that it is very talky. The first episode suggested a threat from the government but Deep Throat plants our heroes right in the heart of danger and for an episode that has such a high quota of filming in wide open spaces it feels oppressive and claustrophobic. That’s all down to Chris Carter’s impressive script which plays games with its audience and the regulars throughout. Carter offers us the chance to seek answers and then slams the door right in our faces. Deep Throat lets us see much more than most season one episodes and it promises that this show is going to be one hell of a ride: 9/10
Squeeze written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by Harry Longstreet
What’s it about: A serial killer that rips out livers?
Trust No-One: Mulder is shocked to learn that he has a reputation among other agents although he does seem to recognise the nickname ‘Spooky.’ The way he deliberately shakes Colton’s hand in a very masculine way always makes me chuckle. The first two episodes have purported to show Mulder in the right with every theory he has sported so its rather lovely to have him confidently tell Scully that Tooms is not coming back to the crime scene and then walk around the corner and be confronted with his contorting act in a ventilation duct. Mulder’s approach is shown to have both good and bad results – his outlandish theories are often spot on and help to identify the guilty party (as they do here with Tooms) but because he is unwilling to censor his more eccentric theories nobody is willing to take him seriously (leading to Tooms being released to kill again).
Brains’n’Beauty: Scully meets up with an old Academy friend who starts cracking jokes about her Close Encounters of the First Kind and she’s appalled that people think that is what her career has amounted to. She has some very nice things to say about Mulder and his work which is really refreshing after butting heads with him in the last two episodes. Just as he can open Scully’s mind to a universe of extreme possibilities she gives The X-Files a sense of credibility it would otherwise lack with Mulder going solo. People are more willing to listen to Mulder simply because she works with him. Mulder makes a gag about Scully being the head of the Bureau in 2026 – it obviously never occurred to him that he is going to drag her down into the mud.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Is there any way I can get it off my fingers quickly without betraying my cool exterior?’
‘Is this what it takes to climb the ladder, Colton?’ ‘All the way to the top’ ‘Then I can’t wait until you fall off and land on your ass.’
‘All these people putting bars on their windows. Spending good money on high tech security systems trying to feel safe. I look at this guy and I think it ain’t enough.’
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘So what is this The Anti-Waltons?’ – Morgan and Wong are hot on ideas and atmosphere but sometimes their dialogue needs refinement.
Ugh: When he was younger Simon had a terrible shock when he was making a cup of tea in his darkened kitchen and turned around and there was a face at the window staring in at him. It has burnt itself into his subconscious and to this day he is still terrified when he thinks he is being watched (its something I occasionally take advantage of to scare the pants off him). This episode really exploits the terror of being observed and there are many powerful images of Tooms staring lustfully from the darkness. Its the thought that you could be going about your usual business and somebody could be picking you out of a crowd as a target. Brrr… Its worth looking at why Tooms is such an effectively scary grotesque. When I talk to my friends about The X-Files nine times out of ten the first thing they mention is Tooms as the thing they most remember about the show. Considering the show would go on to flaunt many other monsters of this ilk what did they get right here that doesn’t quite have the same effect later? It may have something to do with Doug Hutchinson’s chilling performance and boyish good looks. There is something guileless and innocent looking about Tooms that goes against his savage nature, its almost like looking into the eyes of a child that has been known to kill. The juxtaposition of innocence and an intent to kill just feels wrong. Another factor could be the fact that his desire to kill is in his nature rather than something that he does for pleasure. He needs to feed on livers just as a creature in the wild needs to kill to survive. The creepiest aspect for me, though, is the insidious (and stomach churning) way that he can invade your home or workplace by contorting his body into an inhuman form to slide into vents and shafts. The idea of being home alone and safe (all the windows and doors locked) and somebody can still worm their way in and kill you is simply petrifying. The bone crunching sound effects as he breaks him arm to fit into the chimney is enough to turn anyone’s stomach. ‘Its like all the horrible acts that humans are capable of somehow gave birth to some kind of human monster…’ That is the scariest observation of all. That somehow we are responsible for Tooms, our hate gave birth to this grotesque.
- Squeeze has a secondary function beyond providing an hour of superb horror and that is to prove that this series isn’t just going to be able UFOs and alien abduction. Anybody who has watched the first two episodes could be under the mistaken illusion that that is all this series is going to cover. Dropping a genetic mutant in our heroes lap suggests there are all manner of grizzlies out there for Mulder and Scully to investigate. Suddenly we are on a whole new playing field beyond government facilities and there are nasties hiding in every shadow…
- Donal Logue gives too good a performance as Scully’s Academy friend Tom Colton because he reminds me very strongly of all the hotshots that I have met in my time who thought they should be going places but couldn’t place why they weren’t Jealous of other peoples success and mocking anybody who thinks outside the box, this is an FBI drone who will never make his mark simply because he is too square and tunnel visioned. It’s a real wake up call for the audience to meet somebody as tasteless as this because suddenly Scully doesn’t seem quite so mean spirited and you soon come to realise that had she never met Mulder this is exactly how she might have ended up. When he asks Scully to let him call Mulder and break the bad news that he has been pulled from the case it is very easy to loathe this character. He only derives pleasure from stepping on other people on his way to the top.
- The episode starts out with Tooms invading his victims workplace. It then steps up the terror to claim somebody in their home. Finally it escalates to Tooms squeezing his way into Scully’s house. Morgan and Wong know that they have to up the ante constantly to keep the audience on the edge of their seat.
- Tooms’ lair is expertly hidden in an abandoned building through a massive hole in the wall by a mattress! No I’m not being facetious, it is a genuinely wonderful hiding place because as Mulder and Scully walk into the room it looks absolutely normal. The best place to hide something is in plain sight. The sight of his incubation nest like some grotesque parody of a womb slick with yellow bile is truly revolting.
- Throughout the nine year run of The X-Files we would see Scully attacked again and again like she is some kind of human punch bag but rarely (not never) would it be as effective as it is here. Tooms has been built up as such a insidious, terrifying threat to characters we have never met before that the possibility of him going after Scully is edge of the seat terrorizing. The director has ensured that up until this moment all we have seen is a slow build up of tension and a shy camera when the murders have taken place so when he bursts from the ventilation shaft and hungrily grabs for Scully it is heart stopping. When I first saw this I was behind a cushion!
The Bad: Gillian Anderson is clearly waiting for the bile to land on her hand as she reaaaaaallly slowly opens her bottle of bath scent.
Pre Titles Sequence: This has to be one of my favourites in The X-Files entire run. It gets me more excited than practically any other moment in the series because I can still remember the thrill of terror I felt the first time I saw it (I was 13 at the time and this was serious grown horror through my innocent eyes). A sun glazed Baltimore street at dusk and a man walking from his place of work. The camera slowly creeps towards what looks like an innocuous sewer drain but the music tells us otherwise. You suddenly realise that the POV of the man is from the sewer drain as he starts moving in slow motion and the colour bleeds from everything on the screen but him. Suddenly two pin pricks of light emerge from the drain, hungry eyes that have spotted a victim. Its still absolutely terrifying to this day and so well achieved. I defy you to put this episode on front of somebody you know who has never seen the show before in the dark one evening and I reckon they will be cuddling up to you by the end. What I especially love about these early scenes is how the writers and directors use suggestion to scare – the worst that you see here is the reflection of the body in a polished surface and that is only for a second. Otherwise it is all implied horror and that is very often the most effective…eyes in the darkness, a crack of the door, screws squeaking back into place. Terrifying stuff.
Moment to Watch Out For: Considering this is the first ‘monster of the week’ episode and Tooms winds up in prison I did wonder if by the end of the season there was going to be a correctional facility full of nasties! Surely not every mutant Mulder and Scully encounter can end up in jail? That criticism is soon answered with that unforgettable ending (and strangely enough the image that stayed with more than the sicker moments in this episode) as Tooms stares at the grille on his prison door with a wistful smile on his face. Not since Psycho has a smile given me such sleepless nights.
Fashion Statement: Scully is still dressing like a bloke…or at least a very frumpy woman. Someone give that woman some fashion tips, stat!
Orchestra: Stand up and take a bow Mark Snow as you are without a doubt one of the reasons The X-Files was such a resounding success. The atmosphere that his music brought to the show cannot be denied and in these early days when the budget was tight it was all the more vital to get the mood right. He added a great deal of tension and energy to the first two episodes but it is with the advent of Squeeze where he is in his element and really going to town with a subtle menace that creeps down your spine and squeezes your heart.
Foreboding: Tooms would prove to be such an instant hit he was back before the end of the season.
Result: An unforgettable tale with a performance so sinister by Doug Hutchinson it would burn itself into the minds of the audience as the very image of what The X-Files represents. Squeeze plays out like a traditional detective story with all the usual staples (a profile, a stakeout, a character from the past to shine light on the current case) and had it been about a standard serial killer it might have been disappointing. However Tooms is such a terrifying grotesque it takes the episode to a whole new level of menace. His modus operandi is such a simple idea and its shocking that nobody has ever thought of it before and the scenes of him contorting into peoples homes and waiting in the shadows to strike were enough to give this 13 year old nightmares at the time. The emphasis is on Scully this week and the sort of career she has sacrificed in order to work with Mulder but if Tom Colton is anything to go by it looks as though she has made a lucky escape. Mulder appears to be the butt of everybody’s joke at the FBI and I can only hope he will wipe the smile of their faces one day. Harry Longstreet deserves at lot of the credit for making this episode such a success, his direction is first class and he clearly understands the horror genre and how to build edge of the seat tension. What a shame that he would never be used by the series again. Memorably scary and a massive diversion from the first two episodes, Squeeze reveals with some relish that this show will be far more eclectic than we realised: 9/10
Conduit written by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon and directed by Daniel Sackheim
What’s it about: A girl has gone missing in very similar circumstances to Mulder’s sister…
Trust No-One: After mentioning his sister and his efforts to find her in the pilot it is refreshing to see such quick follow up. It suggests that The X-Files is going to be right on top of its mythology and keep it ticking over with fresh revelations. Requesting a case be opened on a newspaper tabloid about a story that closely resembles his sisters disappearance the Bureau think that Mulder may be too personally involved to be objective. This is the episode that really helps define who Mulder is as a character and everything that he stands for in his work, its vital if you want to see why he is so obsessed about aliens. Its very telling that Mulder should spy a picture of Ruby and stroke it gently and see his sister staring back at him. He’s the perfect person to empathise with Kevin because whatever his credentials might be Mulder never really grew up beyond the day his sister was abducted, he’s still the same 12 year old boy looking up at the stars and hoping for a sign that she is up there. Its so refreshing to see a male character portrayed not as a swaggering stereotype but as a sensitive man trying to handle an incredible loss. The scene where Mulder discovers the grave and starts destroying a crime scene in order to see who is buried in the forest is absolutely vintage stuff. At this point we don’t know if Mulder thinks it could be his sister or that he has become completely obsessed by this case (his ‘What is its her? I need to know…’ is very ambiguous) but Duchovny’s fevered performance and the fact that this is the first point that Scully objects to his behaviour makes it a moment to watch. When he was a kid he used to close his eyes before he went into his bedroom because he thought that when he opened them that his sister would be there. He’s still walking into that room. That final image of Mulder weeping over the loss of his sister in church tugs at the heartstrings. It feels as though the lack of answers in this case has allowed something inside of him to pour open and let those feelings of grief flow. At this stage the show has definitely become all about Mulder and his quest to find his sister and Conduit has brought the feelings bubbling to the surface. I hope it isn’t too long before we get to explore them again.
Brains’n’Beauty: Scully must realise how hollow her words sound when she suggests that Mulder isn’t personally involved in this case. I love the moment when Darlene talks about the look that people get in her eye when she starts talking about her daughter being abducted…the very look that Scully is giving her. Its wonderful to see Scully, a woman so firm in her convictions that aliens do not exist, squirm in the face of the people she spends so much time mocking. Scully tries every avenue to protect Mulder but he is simply too determined to link this case with his and so she eventually has to shake some sense into him and tell him to stop running after his sister. Proving she is right on the money he doesn’t even try to correct her.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How can an eight-year-old boy who can barely multiply be a danger to national security? And people call me paranoid!’
- I really enjoy Carrie Snodgress’ heartfelt performance in this episode because she manages to pull off that desperate believability that allows you to completely buy into her as a mother looking to the skies for answers. She worked as a jobbing actress turning up in everything from ER to The West Wing and it was sorry day for the profession when she died at 58. The parallel between Mulder and Darlene is obvious, both of them have lost somebody important and both of them are being accused of making up crazy stories in order to get over (or excuse) the fact. Darlene’s response to getting her daughter back is to turn her back on whatever happened and to try and move on with their lives. She doesn’t want the kind of ridicule she has been subjected to for her daughter. Its not the answer Mulder wanted but it does make me wonder that if he ever does get his sister back if he would act any differently?
- Conduit wears its Poltergeist influences proudly like a badge of honour. Any episode that features a blonde child staring intently at the static on a TV screen gathering messages cannot in all honestly claim to be original but it is as potent here as it was in Spielberg film. The idea of conveying something as awe inspiring as Da Vinci’s Universal Man and a DNA double helix through binary is a great notion for this episode to flaunt. If this is aliens communicating through Kevin then perhaps they have absorbed the information that we have sent out into space.
- I like how each episode has taken us to diverse parts of America with a very different atmosphere for each instalment. The pilot episode was all leafy forests and seaside towns (Oregon), Deep Throat took us on a whirlwind tour of military suburbia (Idaho), Tooms exposed horror at the heart of the City (Baltimore) and Conduit focuses on a grungy small town (Iowa). Some of the imagery is again very memorable with special mention to the scene of the wolves prowling around the hastily built grave in the sun kissed forest.
- You remember the drugs bust I told you about when I was younger…well my room look pretty much like Kevin’s once the police were done! I can only hope there was somebody there to condemn them for their delicate as Mulder does here.
The Bad: I’m pleased that the episode did not come to the conclusion that Tessa murdered Ruby because that would have been really anti-climactic. Mind you I’m not sure that Ruby just turning up again is entirely satisfying either. Was she taken by the bikers? Or was it really aliens? Tooms is the only episode so far to buck the trend of offering us scraps for answers. ‘I’m not supposed to tell. They told me not to say…’ Who?
Pre Titles Sequence: Its something that The X-Files practically always gets right no matter how bad the episode ultimately ends up being. With Conduit we are back in alien abduction territory and like the pilot it does a great job of suggesting something is being snatched away with clever use of lighting and performance. The camera cranes upwards with Darlene screaming her daughters name at the sky leaving us with no questions as to where she thinks her daughter has gone.
Moment to Watch Out For: Only a show that has established its credentials as something very different from your usual cop drama could try and pull off the extraordinary moment when Scully sees Ruby’s face in Kevin’s binary scribblings. In an episode full of memorable images this is the most unexpected and I love the idea of making something so beautiful out of something as cold as mathematics.
Fashion Statement: As a 13 year old coming to terms with his sexuality the sight of Mulder bare chested was certainly an eye opener. If I ever needed any proof of how dull I had become as a happily married adult the most it could raise on this re-watch was an eyebrow. In fact it was during this scene that I realised that half the time Mulder is scarier looking than some of the monsters that he and Scully meet – here he has a feral, wide eyed fascination to him. Or possibly just really bad bed hair.
Orchestra: There’s a great piece of understated music as Scully wakes up in her motel room to realise that men are about to come crashing through her door that starts quietly and builds and builds and builds.
Foreboding: The X-Files would have another stab at suggesting horror bleeding out from television in the season three episode Wetwired.
Result: An important character episode that gets a massive slagging off by fans but actually winds up saying a lot more about Mulder than most of the other season one stories put together. Its an oddly paced episode for sure and it has two many dead end subplots but for its insight into our regulars and the mythology of the show it is an invaluable piece. Great production values are again in evidence and there are a number of startling moments scattered throughout (the wolves in the forest, Ruby’s face in binary code, the light from the bikes cresting the hill). Duchovny is having a blast redefining his character as an angry man who is too involved in the case and Anderson is only a heartbeat behind as Scully trying salvage the career of a man who she has come to respect. To have a show that is fronted by such a strong, businesslike woman and an emotional, sensitive man is rare but The X-Files (and this episode in particular) highlights the role reversal to great effect. This isn’t the most engaging of mysteries (especially since once again we are denied an ending) but the character work is exceptional and the last scene is very touching: 8/10
The Jersey Devil written by Chris Carter and directed by Joe Napolitano
What’s it about: Mulder becomes obsessed with the eponymous Jersey Devil…
Trust No-One: I’m not sure if Chris Carter is the best person to be bringing these characters to life if his characterisation of Mulder and Scully is anything to go by in this episode. Mulder attempts to shoehorn in on somebody else’s case and is told to go hang and walks away with the attitude that local law enforcement officers will be pissing in the wind investigating this case because they aren’t as open minded as he is. He needs to get that ego seriously in check! When Scully tells Mulder that she has plans Mulder practically throws the car keys in her face because she is leaving him! In Deep Throat Mulder seemed like a reckless man chasing an obsession and its was riveting to watch because the loss of his sister and his firm belief that there is something rotten in the heart of the US government was so well set up in the pilot episode. Her though he is just a desperate man living that looks like a tramp chasing an unimpressive monster through some back streets. Its pretty much the antithesis of what we have seen of his character so far (in Conduit he was fascinating) and shows a man that simply wants to run around chasing spooks just because. What a shame that cracks should appear in his otherwise very well thought through character so soon.
Brains’n’Beauty: Its an interesting role reversal to see Scully bring a case to Mulder’s attention but she does so with the knowledge that the local police have already taken on the case. Its odd to have such a vivid glimpse into Scully’s personal life because its something that is pretty much dropped straight away afterwards (or its at least suggested that she doesn’t have any kind of social life because she has sacrificed her life to Mulder’s cause). Apparently Scully has mentioned that Mulder is cute in the past but when her friend suggests that she make a move Scully quickly rebuts that idea with the very definite response ‘he’s a jerk!’ Scully is set up with one of the fastest moving men in history – he actually asks her if she wants to spend a weekend with his kids on their first date! Her breezy ‘yeah…’ could also be translated into ‘you’re dumped.’ The conclusion that Carter seems to draw with Scully is that she cannot indulge in such pleasures if she is going to fully support Mulder in his work. He also implies that her kooky partner is a wonderful get out clause to escape from an awkward date. The truth of the matter is that we can see from the off that Mulder and Scully are made for each other even if they are blind to the fact and this is basically a dead end plotline that isn’t going anywhere.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Eight million years out of Africa…’ ‘…and look who’s holding the door?’ – some part of me wonders if this entire episode was written just to allow for this exchange between the leads.
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Haven’t there been cases where man has been raised in the wilderness by animals who have no language and hunt like predators?’ – Brilliant! This must be the only time Mulder uses The Jungle Book as proof of one of his theories!
‘Does she feel emotion? Or are her days spent just looking for food?’ – Mulder tries to get inside the head of the Jersey Devil in some excruciatingly scripted scenes.
‘Why d’you have to kill her?’ ‘Same reason you kill a rabid animal’ – I don’t often need to have the subtext in a script pointed out to me but I have absolutely no idea what Carter is trying to say with this exchange. His examination of his themes has been so half hearted and childish he could be saying anything. Man kills because it is in its nature? Man kills what it doesn’t understand? Man feels the need to dominate woman? Goodness knows what conclusion this episode is drawing.
Ugh: This is our first humanoid ‘monster’ since Tooms so its worth making a comparison to see how the Jersey Devil compares. She doesn’t is the simple answer. Tooms really worked because it tapped into something that terrifies the core of most people – that of being watched and unsafe in our homes. He was also an innocent looking everyman that you and I might know which is a paranoid nightmare people could genuinely face. Finally he could contort his body sickening in order to gain access to places that other killers couldn’t. In contrast the Jersey Devil is just a grubby woman in animal skins prowling around the back streets going through litter and grunting an awful lot. There’s very little difference between her and Leela from Doctor Who except Leela was probably scarier at most points during her run. Carter might have been trying to tap into our fear of the bestial side of our nature but it is completely lost in the script. It strikes me that any time a show attempts to deal with cave people (gosh that sounds ridiculous) its usually considered the worst episode of its series. Buffy tried turning kids into cavemen in Beer Bad and that’s one of the most unloved of its run and Doctor Who’s first story takes a dive in the reputation stakes as soon as it steps from the TARDIS into prehistoric Earth. I’m not necessarily saying I agree with these opinions but its an odd co-incidence that as soon these shows all try and touch on prehistoric behaviour those episodes languish at the bottom of the opinion polls! The Jersey Devil isn’t memorable in any way and it seriously hampers this episodes credentials.
- The X-Files loves flaunting the ‘random stranger who turns up to give the plot a kick’ and The Jersey Devil has some particularly bland examples. The Ranger (with the wonderfully improbable name of Peter Brulee…or at least that’s what it sounds like) turns up to offer ominous forewarnings about a sinister presence in the woods and Mulder stumbles upon a tramp who happens to have seen the Devil and drawn a picture of her. This is real Mickey Mouse writing from an author who cannot be bothered to try make his characters and audience work (odd considering Carter did so well in this respect in Deep Throat) but instead just have random caricatures point us both in the right direction. Mulder then manages to catch sight of the Jersey Devil not by thorough investigative research but by wrapping a stinky blanket around his shoulders and taking the tramps place and waiting for her to come to him. It makes sense but its hardly the best use of his character…just hanging around for the monster to show up!
- I realise that not every episode can be packed full of beautiful and terrifying images like the first four episodes but there is a dearth of visual splendour to this episode that makes it even harder to endure than it already is. Its compounded by the fact that the director chooses to shoot in some really grim locations and back streets that have no atmosphere to them. At times it feels like he has just gone into town with a camera and filmed in the grottiest areas. As this show goes on there are relatively few episodes that look as visually unexciting as this.
- ‘We humans have retained hereditary traits through evolution that have proven to be extremely disruptive…’ Any sentence that begins with ‘we humans’ is never going to go anywhere particularly intelligent. Carter seems to want to comment on mans destructive nature but does it with all the subtlety of hitting the audience with a boxing glove by introducing a scruffy womanly savage and having man take pot shots at her.
- Its rather wonderful (for wonderful read awful) to see Mulder and Scully collect together their group of experts and witnesses to try and capture the Jersey Devil like some dysfunctional version of the Scooby Doo gang. All we need was the tramp to go along with them too and scream ‘Zoiks!’ every time their prey growled and homage would be complete!
- Confirming that this episode was never going to make any grand observations about human behaviour or even reach any kind of satisfying conclusion regarding its monster of the week the last ten minutes consists of a tediously filmed chase sequence that doesn’t go anywhere. Fortunately when she is killed the Devil manages to fall into a mound of leaves that covers up all her naughty bits.
- I don’t mind The X-Files constantly suggesting that whatever Mulder and Scully do to prevent these threats they keep coming back because that is the kind of lingering fear that the danger could still be out there that kept this 13 year old boy watching. It really comes to something however when we end a story with a scruffy looking kid who no matter how much detritus they cover her in still looks like she is trying out for a shampoo commercial pops her head out of a hole in the ground to suggest that the Jersey Devil legacy lives on. Its not clever or scary…its just ridiculous and annoying. Way to end an episode.
Pre Titles Sequence: Let’s be honest this happy go lucky family driving along a dark road in the woods at night singing ‘B-I-N-G-O’ had it coming! Five seconds into the episode and they had the words victims stamped on their heads. It looks like the police and rangers have solved the case before Mulder and Scully even have a chance to appear. They’ve found the Jersey Devil’s nest and started shooting before we’ve even had the titles! I have to be honest though as well staged as this is its not the most exciting or the most atmospheric of set pieces and its something The X-Files usually gets spot on.
Moment to Watch Out For: Spare me the scenes of the Jersey Devil straddling Mulder and for the director even daring to suggest that there might be sexual tension between them!
Fashion Statement: Scully’s dress sense does not seem to have improved even as she heads out on a dinner date. This time she is wearing what appears to be a skin tight net curtain!
Result: It comes as quite a shock to watch something as deathly dull as The Jersey Devil after four superb introductory episodes to The X-Files. It makes so many mistakes that you can’t point at any one reason as to why it fails so badly. Its mundanely shot by a director that seems at a loss at how to bring it to life such a dreary narrative and features a script that begins with such a daft premise it is gagging to be a comedy. Scenes like those between Mulder and anthropologist are so obscenely scripted that the mere fact that they are played so seriously makes it all the funnier. There’s dead end subplots (Scully goes on a date, Detective Thompson is obstructive because of some mindless nonsense to do with gambling that has nothing to do with anything), appalling characterisation (bit part characters turn up to contribute to the episode with no suggestion that they have any kind of existence outside of it), dreadful performances (Michael McRae is especially awful but Clare Stansfield hardly gets a chance to shine as the grunting Devil) and another appallingly vague ending. Its an episode that purports to be saying something intelligent when actually it doesn’t have a clue what it is trying to say and instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue it climaxes on ten minutes of running around and murder to avoid reaching any conclusions. Worse than all of this though is the damage this episode does to Mulder’s character. Before The Jersey Devil he was a man obsessed with his quest for a reason. Afterwards he’s just a nutter chasing every paranormal (or otherwise) happening that flies his way just because that’s what he does. There’s a massive difference between the two and throughout he is as boring as sin. The plummet in quality is a real shock and I find it hard to believe that The X-Files would manage to serve an hour less interesting than this both intellectually and visually in the future: 2/10
Shadows written by Glen Morgan and James Wong and directed by Michael Lange
What’s it about: Ghostly happenings surrounding a office secretary…
Trust No-One: At this point I would say that the Morgan/Wong combo are the best writers of Mulder and Scully (sorry Carter but their dialogue is so much sharper). They enjoy bringing them into conflict but also offer a healthy dose of humour and affection that is necessary to make this friendship work. The emphasis is on them working together to solve a mystery rather than against each other; it worked in Squeeze and there is similar unity between them here. Its lovely to have the episode end with Mulder and Scully bantering and seeing off the woman they have helped to get her life back on track. Ultimately they do feel like a very positive presence in this instalment.
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘I’m giving us a chance to solve a case that’s tangible instead of chasing after shadows…’ Its interesting that this episode was created in order to make Mulder and Scully look as if they are helping people rather than simply following their own pursuits week in, week out and yet Gillian Anderson chooses to give her coldest performance to date here. The emphasis is very much on Lauren throughout with Scully and Mulder being treated as invasive outsiders and whilst Mulder turns out to be a sympathetic ear Scully enters her life with her nose in the air and a general air of superiority. Its not a criticism as such because I always think it is refreshing to have new angles on established characters (although at this point Scully is barely established) but this take on the outsiders point of view and how judgemental and arctic Scully can seem is fascinating. She’s instantly suspicious of Lauren and her role in the murders and cannot be bothered to hide it. Whether this is her attempting a good cop/bad cop approach or she just isn’t very good at hiding her feelings I just couldn’t tell you! When she’s with Mulder her temperature raises about 100 degrees (and she has great fun poking at his Poltergeist suggestion – ‘They’re heeeeere…’). Mulder can barely disguise his disgust when Scully pretends that she believes in order to get through to Lauren and get her to help them expose the company’s middle Eastern connection. It’s a great moment because we get to see just how manipulative Scully can be. She’s turning out to be far more complex a character than I thought she was in season one and far more calculating too. I like it. During the climax Mulder is trapped in the heart of supernatural events whilst Scully is stuck outside the door trying to get in. I’m not sure how much longer than can keep that up.
Ugh: One of the strongest aspects of these early episodes is how careful The X-Files was to suggest horror rather than to frighten off its audience by throwing too much gore in their faces (a shame that Torchwood did not take note of its success). What the writers didn’t realise (or perhaps they did and revelled in it because the network couldn’t object) was that suggestion is often far more creepy than actually seeing horrific images because your imagination does most of the work (and that can stretch far more than a budget…and head into far darker places than would be allowed on television). The criminals that try and steal Lauren’s pay check could be doing all sorts to her when they assault her at the cash point but the camera shies away from the attack and focuses on their shadows on the wall. In my head this was far more graphic than they would have been allowed to film. It’s the cleverest form of horror if you can pull it off and they are doing a great job of it in season one. The strong suggestive imagery continues through the episode; Howard’s wraithlike appearance in a photo of Lauren to suggest his protection of her, the blood billowing in the bath to point to how he was murdered. You could pretty much turn the sound down and figure out the plot of this episode if you had a shrewd grasp of visual storytelling. Blood going down the plughole evoked Psycho for me and gave me a little shudder…that film scared the shit out of me when I was younger and it still has the power to get to me now.
- Lisa Waltz is very well cast as Lauren as she seems to exude vulnerability from her very first scene and it is impossible not to warm to her. It helps that she has the boss from hell and an MD that tries to letch over her…who hasn’t been in that situation? To be frank there isn’t a great deal to her character beyond the tragedy of losing the father figure in her life (we literally learn nothing else about Lauren and her past) and even Morgan and Wong commented as much after it was made but for what she has to contribute to the episode Waltz does a fine job.
- Considering its one of our first big X-Files stunts the scene where Mulder and Scully are powerless as Howard slams on the accelerator and they fly backwards on their hire car straight into the path of another car is pretty damn exciting!
- Cleverly the writers use a photograph of Howard Graves to suggest that he is alive and coming after anybody who might threaten Lauren. It makes you start questioning what he might have done to have to fake his own death. It’s a complete non sequitur because we have already seen evidence of poltergeist activity but it does provide the episode with a little substance when ghostly goings on might have become a little tedious.
- It is really hard to pull off a sequence where a ghost is taking on two killers without it looking really dopey but this sequences is very cleverly done with one shock after another (exploding lights, a table sliding across the room, throats being crushed, blood spraying from the killers face) so your brain doesn’t have time to register that you are actually watching a ghost kick some ass! It helps that Lauren is actually more scared of the supernatural happenings than she was of the killers invading her home (and their casual ‘go run the bath’ made this horrific act sound so frighteningly mundane).
- Hilariously Mulder runs into the house as the killer is still being strangled in the air by Howard and Scully only enters after he has slumped to the floor. Rather than annoying I found this quite funny…its almost as if the writers know how the audience are going to react and are having fun with it.
- Even the closing scene works because again it seems to be suggesting that the horror is still out there (that Graves will continue to terrorise anybody who upsets Lauren) but Morgan/Wong turn that on its head and make the shaking desk a nearby train passing the office. Can we have these two back soon please.
The Bad: Its unbelievable to think that there are two even more humourless agents out there than Mulder and Scully but this turgid pair from the NSA prove otherwise! I love the way that they play the role mystery so straight – you desperately want somebody to fart just to make them crack a smile!
Pre Titles Sequence: I love that moment when the two bums are yanking on the fire escape ladder in order to find somewhere to stay because you know that there is at least one body waiting to jump out at them. The director times the reveal just about right and cleverly doesn’t have the body appear where you think…followed by another that appears exactly where you thought the first would! Great stuff. There’s a similar moment of ‘don’t do it!’ later in the episode when Lauren approaches her bath and reaches out to pull back the shower curtain…I was advising her against it because no good could possibly come of what she would discover.
Moment to Watch Out For: The imagery of the papers flying around Howard’s office as if to expose all of the company’s dark secrets is very dramatic and the rising paper knife promises a grisly end for Robert but instead stabs the wall and spills his shady deal with the Isfahan. Visually stunning and dramatically satisfying, if only all X-File episodes could end as strongly as this!
Result: The early episodes of The X-Files have something about them that always makes me want to start a fresh marathon again after I have finished the last one. There is a sense of something incredible beginning, a certain frisson that always captures me. Sure there are a bad episodes (the last one was a particularly smelly example) but the show is finding its feet and trying new things and you have to expect some misfires at this stage until it figures out what works and what doesn’t. Shadows is one of the first episodes I watched and it really captured my attention. Its not a brilliant piece of storytelling by any means but the execution is exceptional and there is that exciting sense that we are getting a glimpse into a far more disturbing world than we ever envisaged. Had this taken place in seasons eight or nine fans would be declaring it clichéd and dull but Shadows is right at home in season one where this sort of thing hadn’t been tried before. Its atmospheric to a fault, genuinely frightening in places and sees Mulder and Scully making a real difference in somebody’s life. The physical effects are simply but extremely well done and the episode builds to a dramatic crescendo with the marvellous set piece in Howard’s office. At the time this was standout television and if it hasn’t aged brilliantly I can still see the potential of this series slowly being realised and precisely how evocative pieces like Shadows captured me so completely: 8/10
Ghost in the Machine written by Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa and directed by Jerrold Freedman
What’s it about: There’s a psychotic computer that doesn’t want to be shut down…
Trust No-One: I love these episodes when random people from our agents past turn up to build a bigger picture of them. It worked really well for Scully in Tooms because in Tom we got to see the sort of career she has avoided and it works for Mulder here because compared to Jerry he is made to seem all the more intelligent and capable. Throughout the first series there is a real emphasis on building a history for these characters which is suddenly dropped in series two when the show stops looking backwards and starts looking forwards and building its own mythology. This is the first time that one of our heroes loses somebody that was quite close to them, something that would continually haunt them as they continue their work together. It’s a nice reminder that this is dangerous work and that you perhaps shouldn’t get too close to the people you are partnered with because their safety is constantly in jeopardy.
Brains’n’Beauty: There’s not a great going on with Scully in this episode beyond her usually competent investigative skills. That’s not such a bad thing. The pendulum swings back and forth between focusing on the two characters so for every Ghost in the Machine for Mulder there is a Beyond the Sea for Scully. I know who got the better deal. It is interesting that this is the first ‘monster’ that Scully is allowed to see for her own eyes for a while because (like Tooms which could just about be explained away biologically) this can be explained away technologically. Its scenes like the poltergeist activity in Shadows that Scully isn’t privy to because that world shatter her world view completely. The CES can be explained away as the technical work of a disturbed man.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How do you like that a politally correct elevator!’ wisecracks Mulder and the nutcase computer judders the lift and knocks Scully off her feet.
- Wayne Duvall does a fine job in thankless role of Jerry Lamana, Mulder’s old partner who turns up on his doorstep with puppy dog eyes and his cap out looking for help solving a case. Once again Gordon/Gansa shows some deft understanding of character and make this character as pathetic and as desperate as possible but still within the realms of believability so you can see why Mulder would want to help him out whilst at the same time want to get as far away from his smell of failiure as possible. Its truly sad when people who aren’t capable of doing a job are given important roles within the establishment or a company and watching this flounder can be an excruciating experience. But it does make a good television. His ‘I taught him everything he knows’ really makes you want to crawl under the sofa and die and his profile stealing antics would be enough for me to tell him to fuck right off. I really thought this guy was heading towards some kind of redemption by the end of the episode which made his death all the more surprising. Its surprisingly bleak for television to offer up such a loser and come to the conclusion that the only thing he is good for is to die.
- Blu Mankuma is one of those fine American character actors that turns up in most shows and can turn his hand to any role with ease (I believe he plays several roles across The X-Files run). He convinces for a time that he is Eurisko’s Head of Security but when it comes for the tables to be turned and he is revealed as the villain he nicely underplays the reveal so it is effective rather than embarrassing. Rob LaBelle completes this nicely cast episode with his scatterbrained performance as Brad Wilczek, the eccentric and socially awkward creator of the COS. As a parody of Bill Gates (a genius that built up a company from nothing) he could have been cringeworthy (and to be fair his ‘You’re killing me! You’re killing my company!’ at the beginning of the episode does qualify) but instead they don’t push the comparisons too far and you get a quirky man whose intelligence is too vast to be trapped inside a feeble human brain and has tried to pour all of that intellect into a computer.
- Ghost in the Machine is a visually impressive episode with some very fine tricks used to make a static building appear a threat. The fish eye POV of the building in the lift makes for a dramatic angle especially when it is watching its handiwork as the lift plummets and murders Jerry. Scully typing away at a computer and reading out her report in voiceover is something that is repeated over and over so much it becomes part of the formula in season one (its Simon’s one residing memory of the first year) and so for the COS to be able to access that as a way of getting in her head and deciding to kill her is rather clever. Another memorable visual is glorious low angle shot of Mulder standing outside the Eurisko building as he is about to head in and destroy its Operating system. The director is really trying to suggest the man versus technology angle.
The Bad: In its nine year life span The X-Files would venture into every single nook and cranny of the cult genre but rarely would tackle something as clichéd as artificial intelligence turned bad. Its such an old idea now that in order to really impact you would have to do something completely innovative with it and Ghost in the Machine doesn’t even come close. Its simply a grumpy building that is punishing its creator and even has its own tribute to HAL as it slips away at the climax. Whilst they do their best with the premise I’m not sure that its one that a show like The X-Files that is trying to prove itself as the new kid on the block and is dishing up exciting, original pieces like Deep Throat and Squeeze should be tackling. Doctor Who offered a new spin on the idea by giving it a psychological angle in The Face of Evil, The New Avengers had a fair stab (at least as good as this) in Complex and there’s 2001 A Space Odyssey which is the ultimate expression of the sub genre. The X-Files attempt doesn’t really have the sparkle of any of these although I do love the idea of Mulder and Scully heading into the belly of the beast as it tries to destroy them. Perhaps Gordon/Gansa should have sought a little technical advice because Mulder asking where the ‘b port’ is and simply plugging in a hard drive with the virus is so simple it almost insults the intelligence of somebody like me who knows nothing about computers so it must drive the whizz kids wild with fury!
Pre Titles Sequence: Its not really like The X-Files to spell out its entire episodes plot in the pre credits but Ghost in the Machine is an astonishingly naked in revealing its intentions. A company on the way down, a computer genius on the way out with a revenge plan and a sentient computer that is not willing to be shut down and able to kill anyone to stop that happening. Its not the most immediately gripping of scenarios but it is (as usual) very nicely realised. The dramatic crack in the window as the CEO is thrown against it after being electrocuted is pretty memorable.
Moment to Watch Out For: A ventilation shaft! Its nice to see that the old science fiction chestnut has a place in The X-Files and like all the best examples this one is out to kill you! Scully is thrown about like a rag doll as she gets whipped along by the biting air current and almost ends up in the clutches of a giant extractor fan. There’s nothing clever going on her but its very exciting!
Orchestra: Mark Snow knows exactly what tone to set with this episode by adding all manner of electronic bleeps and quirks to the score to make it as science fiction as possible without tipping into a blatant example of the genre.
Foreboding: The X-Files would again delve into the realms of a psychotic artificial intelligence with season five’s Kill Switch. Ultimately that turns out to be a better episode with some really exciting set pieces but it is only more entertaining because it goes all out for the comic book approach with massive explosions, lasers and VR programmes involving an armless Mulder and Scully kicking ass Emma Peel style against a bunch of crazy nurses! Ghost in the Machine simply could not have taken such an outrageous approach because the show was still finding its feet (and more importantly, its audience) and in its own quiet way I find this episode more menacing.
Result: I don’t get all the hate for Ghost in the Machine. No it isn’t the most original concept and nor is it one of the better episodes of the first season but it displays a more than competent level of suspense, style and character to more than score it a pass. Ghost in the Machine might annoy those in the audience that are computer literate because it seems to boil everything down to quite a simple, superficial level but since I am the most ignorant person when it comes to technical things that is exactly the way I like it! The Gordon/Gansa episodes always seem to get a bum deal compared to the work of Carter and Morgan/Wong and its true that their concepts can feel a little tired but they always try and inject character and exciting set pieces into their stories that make them very watchable if not standout examples of the show. The last ten minutes of this episode as Mulder and Scully are in the heart of the building trying to kill it are some of my favourite moments of the series to date because this is one time when playing a ridiculous idea so straight actually yields some tense moments. Unoriginal and lacking innovation, this is also really well made and quite engaging for it: 7/10
Ice written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: There’s a bug war in the Artic…
Trust No-One: Mulder wonders if the Bureau considers him and Scully brilliant or expendable (my money’s on the latter) because they have pulled the assignment to investigate the massacre at the Artic! Mulder proves to be quite the public speaker when they get there, taking charge when nobody else is willing to do so. Unfortunately I am with Scully all the way when she fights Mulder’s insane idea to keep hold of the bugs for further study. I don’t care about this top of the food chain/ survival of the fittest/we all have a right to exist bollocks. This is a genuinely dangerous organism that could (as they say) have everybody in New York slaughtering each other in a matter of days. I found the moment where Mulder checked Scully’s back for signs of alien interference in the pilot strangely neutered but when he grabs her roughly here and slides his hands exploratively over her neck my hairs stood on end. There could be hope for this pair yet.
Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is not used to having her findings double checked and Hodge seems to delight in pointing out that a second opinion is always a good idea. This is an especially good episode for Scully because all we have seen of her is the level headed, unflappable FBI agent to this point (even when she was shoved down a ventilation shaft and almost sliced up by a fan she leapt from the other side holding her gun unwaveringly) so to watch her lose her cool this spectacularly is quite a treat. What would normally be crossed words between her and Mulder and their differing theories becomes something far more enraged in this tense environment. Its telling that when she is alone Scully is willing to let her guard down and she frantically shoves a desk against the door in order to feel safe. This is something of a watershed episode for the Scully/Mulder relationship because even though they have only worked together for a few months you can feel a weight of respect and understanding that has built up between then. Scully is unwilling to allow them to simply infect Mulder and wants to be given the chance to make it voluntary. She thinks that she owes him that.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Before anyone passes judgement remember we are in the Artic…’
Ugh: How nice for The X-Files to step away from visceral horror for an episode and focus on a far more insidious terror – that of the mind. When the words ‘we’re not who we are…’ are uttered in the first few minutes it sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Its that glorious Invasion of the Body Snatchers fear of not being able to trust the people around you and that anybody could have been taken over. Is less of a job for the director and more of a job for the actors to sell the material and this cast is particularly strong at wrenching up the tension and stifling paranoia. It’s the way that people suddenly start looking at each other, questioning each other…put an idea in peoples heads that there is something wrong with one of them and they start seeing demons in every shadow. Everybody checks everybody else’s backs for signs of the black nodules and the all clear is sounded…and people still barricade their doors and compile lists of evidence against the others. Paranoia is like a seed and once it has entered your mind it grows. Whilst the actors are busy scary the pants off of us there is still room for some graphic violence (the savage fight at the beginning), shocks (the dog leaping from the shadows, Murphy’s body falling out of the freezer) and disgusting effects (the worm being but out of Bear’s neck – the black blood of the worm mingling with his red blood is really icky!). As a horror Ice is a very generous episode.
- Ice proves that the successful old formula of putting some well cast, well characterised people together in a confined space and set them at each other and you have dramatic gold. This is a particularly well cast episode with a special mention for Felicity Huffman in her pre-Desperate Housewives days providing a terrific turn as Nancy Da Silva. She goes from brow beaten scientist to frightened victim to psychotic vixen in a heartbeat and makes each step look effortless. Xander Berkley seems born to play the role of a paranoiac like Hodge and at no point in this episode does he try and make the character likable which warms me to him all the more! I have a secret love of deeply unlikable characters because they are often far more interesting than the protagonists and Hodge manages to be paranoid from his first line right the way through to his last. There’s really solid work from Jeff Kober as Bear who is marked out as a victim from the start (but wont go out without a fight) and Steve Hynter as Murphy who similarly was never going to make it out this show alive because he’s too damn nice.
- Obviously this was designed to be a bottle show and they do that in the age old Doctor Who formula of setting the entire story in one location. What this allows is the set designers to go to town on that one location and this is particularly creepy hellhole for our heroes to be trapped in. When they force open the doors and find bloody corpses strewn about and scientific equipment demolished director David Nutter must have felt as though all of his dreams had come true!
- I normally switch off when any shows start talking technobabble whether it is biological, scientific or technological (unless it is really imaginatively handled - Douglas Adams is just about the only author who has excited my with his witty exploration of big scientific concepts in a very engaging way) but there is something rather delicious about how simple Ice deals with its explanations. Worms that invade the body like parasites that hate each other, so much so they turn on other hosts in a frenzy of violence. That is so beautifully simple (and disgusting) even I can get my head around it! Like the best episodes of the first season the premise allows Mulder to starts talking extraterrestrials (he thinks the bugs have come from a crashed meteor) and Scully to counter his argument with some sanity and its left to the audience to decide which of them is right. I really enjoy it when episodes don’t side with one of them and allows the possibility that either of them could be right.
- The climax is unforgettable as Scully is trapped behind an iron door bashing it to pieces as Mulder is held down screaming and about to infected with one of the worms. Its fascinating to think that to this point our heroes have mostly been observers at the climaxes of their investigations and in no immediate danger themselves (Squeeze and Ghost in the Machines are the only exceptions) but this more than makes up for that. For the first time in the series you genuinely wander if they are going to make it out of an episode. If that was reason enough to celebrate watching Felicity Huffman lose it completely and smash her way through the set is a sight to behold.
Pre Titles Sequence: One of the absolute best in The X-Files history, this is about as gripping an opening that any show could ask for. An isolated snowbound location, the aftermath of a terrible massacre and two men fighting in the wreckage and turning on each other with silent acceptance of their fate and blow their own brains out. The direction is exquisite, Mark Snow is doing his thing with the score and I was desperate to know what was going on. You don’t need a big budget to pull of an atmosphere like this – just a great script and a sympathetic director.
Moment to Watch Out For: If there was any doubt that Anderson and Duchovny were perfect for their roles and that Scully and Mulder could create real fireworks between them then watch the sequence where he (brilliantly) is caught cradle Murphy’s dead body with blood most literally on his hands. The scene builds and builds until they are pointing guns at each other in a dramatic parallel to the pre titles sequence and I was literally on the edge of my seat. Anderson in particular absolutely nails this scene.
Fashion Statement: Mulder gets his shirt off an awful lot in this episode much to my appreciation. Fans of Scully might be (once again) disappointed by her utterly sexless underwear.
Result: There’s nothing especially original happening in Ice (with massive steals from both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing From Another World and even the old base under siege formula from Doctor Who) but that doesn’t matter one jot because it takes the absolute best of these sources and applies them so well it practically becomes the definitive exploration of paranoia on television. David Nutter’s direction is extraordinarily good and it comes as no surprise to me that he would go on to helm a large number of X-File episodes in the shows formative years. Through his lens this is a genuinely hellish environment, claustrophobic and terrifying and he tightens the drama around his characters’ throats as they realise the danger they are in. As much work as the director is putting in it is the cast that shine the brightest and it’s a powerhouse turn for Duchovny and Anderson who excel in this oppressive, dramatic atmosphere. There are some definitive X-Files moments in this episode including the unforgettable Mulder/Scully confrontation and De Silva’s psychotic dash through the base for freedom. This got me as excited watching today as it did back in the day and it proved a very salient point – that sometimes saving money forces you to focus your productions talent and the result is something that really endures. The first X-Files classic: 10/10
Space written by Chris Carter and directed by William Graham
What’s it about: What returned to Earth in the Mars space shuttle?
Trust No-One: You have to wonder who within the government has given Mulder and Scully’s names to Michelle. Brilliantly Mulder reels off four different theories about who could be responsible for the sabotage of the shuttle before he even gets to see it. Clearly nobody gave Mulder the pep talk when he was younger about the potential disappointment of meeting your heroes and whilst he approaches Belt with reverence (‘you’re true American heroes’ is a bit cheesy though) he soon learns that what you see as a child on a television screen is very different to the realities as an adult. Which is a shame actually. When he watches a shuttle take off from Mission Control he has fulfilled one of his childhood fantasies (Scully facetiously says that it was right up there with ‘owning a pony and learning to braid her own hair’ but she’s probably joking).
Brains’n’Beauty: Fortunately we have Mulder around to explain all the technobabble to Scully who is completely clueless in this geeky environment. Its not exactly the most convincing (or exciting) of plot devices having one of your heroes standing around for long periods educating the audience.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You make the front page today only if you screw up…’ – truer words were never spoken.
Ugh: I know this isn’t a particularly popular episode but there is something about the screaming face that attacks Belt that really gets under my skin. It might have something to do with Mark Snow’s chillingly high pitched score whenever it appears but also it taps into the feat of the unknowable. There is something so very optimistic about us going to other planets and planting our flag in its surface and yet so frightening if something other comes to Earth and dares to do the same thing. The face is a grotesque parody of the human visage, frightening enough to recognise but clearly something completely alien and haunting. With the face pressing down on Belt’s own the episode seems to suggest it latched itself onto him when he was on Mars and he dragged it hitchhiked its way back with him. The shot of it leaving him and floating out into a busy American metropolis is horrible because it seems to suggest that extraterrestrial horror is all these American heroes are going to bring back from their travels. The fact that we never discover exactly what it is and that it is still out there at the end is especially nerve wracking.
- Opening the episode on a news broadcast is an economical way of getting us up to speed with what the episode is going to be about. Doctor Who had a fair stab at dealing with the ‘is there life on Mars?’ concept in The Ambassadors of Death (clearly a much more melodramatic and exciting title than Space) and it also used the services of a news broadcaster to relay the importance and the documentary style of the footage we were watching. There was also a high up authority figure who was heavily involved with the intruige surrounding the return from Mars.
- This is The X-Files season one where anything is possible. You have episodes about liver eating mutants sitting side by side with ones about alien abduction, it could feature threat returning in a space shuttle from Mars or psychotic clones. It will even go as far as offering up a werewolf and a disabled man who is being controlled by his cryogenically frozen brother! There was no limits to what they would try and to create an episode that is this far out from the norm is all part of the fabulous season one experience. By the time we reach season two the show has already moulded itself into the formula of either ‘government conspiracy’ or ‘monster of the week.’ Success brings stronger interference from the channel or maybe it is just longevity but as The X-Files continues it loses some of that delicious experimental nature. There are still odd episodes that are so far left field that you wonder if they are the same show but with nothing like the frequency of the first year that was trying everything to see if it worked.
- Mulder makes a very telling point when he says ‘I can’t believe how much faith we put in machines.’ Not just space shuttles to transport us to the moon but aeroplanes to hop continents and even cars to pop down the shops. Perhaps the animals look at us and our many traffic accidents and laugh at human ‘ingenuity?’ Possibly before they get run over by a car. It is astonishing though, the faith that we are willing to put into something that can autonomously decide to explode on a whim.
- Far from being a dull character I find Belt to be this episodes saving grace. Imagine having to live up to the legacy you have built before yourself after having flown a shuttle to Mars and back? Belt is trapped in a nightmarish scenario of having to be a great man at all times – nobody wants a hero to be seen to be at a loss to solve a problem and he stands impotently in mission control breaking a sweat and trying to be the man everybody wants him to be (especially Mulder). Its when he more or less has a nervous breakdown in front of his entire staff because of the face that keeps haunting him that you feel devastated for the man. He stood for everything that was optimistic about space travel and in one devastating collapse becomes a fright story for why travelling the stars is a mistake. Ed Lauter gives an admirably restrained performance and manages to internalise a lot of this emotion – go and watch the Star Trek TNG episode The First Duty for a similarly hauntingly quiet performance from this actor.
- If you are a Trek fan it might be in your interest to check this episode out. Susannah Thompson featured in one of the most controversial DS9 episodes (Rejoined) and appeared as the Borg Queen in Voyager and here she does the best she can with a largely forgettable role.
- The upbeat ending of the shuttle arriving home safely is tempered by the poignant suicide of Colonel Belt. The only way to escape this horror is for a once great man to take his own life.
- No matter how much The X-Files tries to convince that it has a the scale and the budget to pull off a trip to Houston we still cut from dizzyingly huge genuine footage of a launch pad and a vast control room to the far less impressive set for mission control that this is being filmed in.
- Another potential steal is from The Tenth Planet which featured much communication between mission control (this time in Antarctica of all places!) and features a relationship between somebody one side on the ground and somebody in danger in the shuttle. It’s an age old way of trying to add a little emotion to the situation but I don’t think in Doctor Who or The X-Files’ case it really works because we don’t get close enough to the protagonists to care.
- Michelle has blood oozing from her head after the car crash and she just picks up her headphones and starts working? Isn’t Scully a medical Doctor?
- I appreciate the idea behind cross cutting Belt’s death falling from a great with the greatest moment of his life hanging in orbit of the Earth but the POV shots of him falling are really comical. It’s a shame because this is a really nice idea.
Moment to Watch Out For: The flashback really sells the horror of when the being invaded Belt with the screaming face reflected in his visor as he was hanging in space.
Result: Space is a very odd baby and a complete departure from anything you recognise as The X-Files when the show gets into its swing. It doesn’t quite work but I still admire the show for trying new things and venturing into conceptual horror territory rather than supernatural ones. Carter’s script is troubled – he has Mulder reeling off a lot of exposition rather than engaging in the action and the Houston sequences get repetitive very fast. Help comes in the form of Corporal Belt and a skilful performance by Ed Lauter who manages to elevate the episode whenever he is on the screen. Designed as an cheap episode that ultimately became quite an expensive one but somehow still manages to look pretty cheap (so much obvious stock footage doesn’t help) Space should be applauded for testing out a spanking new location for the show to play its games on (it’s a shame we never visited Houston again once the show had honed its skills) and its terrifyingly unknowable menace. On the other hand it should be criticised for its slow pacing and lack of exciting incident. Its an odd one for sure because there are some flat out losers in the first season and I wouldn’t group this episode with them but its weighed down by so many problems it cannot join the upper echelons either. A middle of the road instalment with some deeply scary moments surrounding Belt and his alien hitchhiker: 6/10
Fallen Angel written by Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa and directed by Larry Shaw
What’s it about: Mulder is on the hunt for an extraterrestrial that has crash landed…
Trust No-One: ‘How can I disprove lies that have been stamped with an official seal?’ Mulder has the ultimate carrot dangled in front of him by Deep Throat – an alien lifeform has crashed on Earth and is on the run. Fallen Angel does a great job of convincing the viewer that Mulder can throw off his day job and be an effective action hero dashing about the countryside in pursuit of the alien. The image of Mulder wild eyed with excitement as he observes the clearing up of a crashed alien ship is as definitive as you are going to find for the show in season one. Its the way that Mulder is offered enough to keep him interested and engaged with his obsession but constantly has any proof snatched away from him that keeps us watching. Long before David Duchovny developed a cult following of his own Mulder has his own small group of obsessives following his work on The X-Files! Max says that Mulder’s travel expensive are a matter of public record so they can follow where his work takes him. Mulder has published potentially incriminating articles under a pseudonym (M.F. Luder) but didn’t estimate the mind of the obsessive who can see through that can of subterfuge in a second (Max reminds me of the sort of sci-fi fan who pours over episodes of their favourite shows looking for clues that will be relevant to the arc storytelling later in the season). Besides that’s a really bad pseudonym. He unleashes an angry torrent at the hearing that should have destroyed his career and the only reason he still has a job to hold onto is the mysterious hand of Deep Throat.
Brains’n’Beauty: Its very telling that Scully doesn’t appear until around 15 minutes into this episode. At the moment The X-Files is definitely Mulder’s show but its amazing how quickly after Beyond the Sea (which is the first time we really see the potential of Scully beyond sniping at her partner) things are on a much more even footing. When she does turn up to get Mulder our of prison she looks (and acts) like a disappointed parent that has to collect their kid from the drunk tank. Scully doesn’t understand why Mulder always ignores protocol and sticks two fingers up at jurisdiction. She’s known amongst the fans of their work as the ‘enigmatic Dr Scully.’ The feeling is that Scully is banging her head against a brick wall trying to convince Mulder to get on a plane and head to his hearing because he has something far more important to chase up here, career be damned. You start to wonder if she continues to shackle herself to this man if her career is going to go down the toilet too. The shot of her at the end of a long desk all alone and receiving a grilling from executives is very telling.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘That story happens to be highly classified!’ ‘A highly classified lie…’
‘I can’t afford the truth!’ – interesting to see how normal people are co-erced into silence by the forces that govern the alien programme.
‘The meteor seems to be hovering over a small town in Eastern Wisconsin.’
‘Always keep you friends close but keep your enemies closer.’
Ugh: When men start pouring into the hospital with hideous radiation burns you begin to understand what this alien can do when it is cornered.
- Fallen Angel hits the ground running with the enticing prospect of a UFO fallen to Earth and Mulder on the hunt for it. I love the fact that there is no allowances made for people who haven’t been watching the show until this point – no scene in the FBI building where Mulder and Scully over whether this crash landing is a UFO or not and Mulder heading off in a fit of pique. It expects you to buy into its premise, to be engaged by the action and the to pick up the plot as you go. That’s some confidence for a show in its formative years. Mulder has 24 hours to find the creature before the area is santatised – there’s nothing like a ticking clock to up the dramatic stakes!
- Without demeaning the rest of the show this is probably the coolest looking alien that we would ever get to see realised in The X-Files. The fish eye POV shots are phenomenal (especially when the alien is looking at the red laser beams cutting up the forest) and suggest the scale and the speed of the creature and its Predator-style invisibility tricks oddly give this episode an expensive look. When it attacks the director uses strong lighting and slow motion camerawork to suggest something otherworldly is taking place.
- Scott Bellis gives a massively endearing performance as Max Fenig and its rather a shame that with the advent of the Lone Gunmen he wouldn’t get the opportunity to return until season four. You can almost see him as a prototype for the Lone Gunmen in that he is a intelligent paranoiac that screams geek but there is something quite vulnerable and naive about Max that Byers, Langley and Frohike lack because their monumental sized egos get in the way! You’ve got to love somebody who is so rubbish at trying to escape from his hotel when the authorities come searching that he gets his butt stuck in a window! His caravan is like the ultimate geek wagon geared for tapping military transmissions, looking into space and full of extraterrestrial literature and ephemera. Max could have been just another sci-fi geek but the shot of Scully finding his anti-psychotic medication adds a whole new dimension to the character. It adds a dark, questionable edge to what could have been a one note character. Is he ill because he was abducted or has chasing abductions made him ill? When Mulder finds him having an epileptic fit and cradles him until it subsides is actually very touching despite the fact they have only just met each other.
- The X-Files always manages to find lots of smoky, run down warehouse areas to set its big stunt scenes in. Its like the equivalent of the Doctor Who quarry posing as an alien planet. There must be loads of them about but they sure make for an atmospheric setting!
- Deep Throat’s appearance at the end of the episode is a gorgeous scene because it appears that we (and Mulder) have been sold down the garden path with this character. Rather than exposing Mulder to the right cases and people the suggestion here is that he has been revealing some things to stop Mulder discovering others. He’s distracting Mulder, not aiding him. This has great possibilities for the future.
- ‘I hate fascists!’ The extraordinarily named Dr Oppenheim is another of those one-scene X-Files characters that has to lay all their cards on the line very quickly and does so in a very awkward fashion. He pushes the plot along in a great gulp of exposition because (yep, you’ve guessed it) ‘I hate fascists!’ Still at least he has his little moment of triumph.
- With crushing inevitability Scully is arrested just in time for Mulder to be the only person who witnesses Max levitating in the air and abducted. Bloody typical.
- How annoying that we don’t find out why the aliens are after Max, what the alien creature is and how the crash and his abduction are linked. Fallen Angel redefines vague.
Moment to Watch Out For: Regardless of whether Scully witnesses it or not the set piece of Max being abducted is really well achieved. We’ve seen abductions already this season (Pilot) and we’ve seen people floating (Shadows) but this is in a different league and Max is somebody we have really come to care about in a short space of time.
Orchestra: Mark Snow’s music does an awful lot to suggest the pace and fluidity of this episode.
Mythology: It’s a little too early to tell where this alien fits into the rest of The X-Files mythology and it does seem like an anomaly because all of the aliens that we meet in the future do not have this invisibility trick (nothing about the Greys or the Rebels even suggests that they have this kind of power). Because it does seem to be humanoid in shape it could conceivably be a Rebel Colonist but on the other hand it might be another type of alien that just had the misfortune to land on the Earth and that there are an awful lot more aliens out there than we will be led to believe. This one is entirely up to you – as far as I recall in Tempus Fugit/Max the aliens that come back for him are kept frustratingly ambiguous. The ship looks triangular so it could very well be the same design as Mulder witnessed in Deep Throat.
Foreboding: The sequel to this episode takes place in season four (Tempus Fugit/Max) and features Max Fenig being abducted from a plane in flight. And rather good it is too. Max mentions MUFON, a group that we get to visit in the season three episode Nisei.
Result: An action packed, expensive looking episode that engages for the most part and only falls down when it comes to offering a satisfying conclusion. There’s an urgency to the episode that a lot of the other season one episodes don’t have with both Mulder and the military forces hunting down the alien and its treatment being determined by which of them finds it first. The opening ten minutes toss the viewer right in at the deep end and there are some fine looking set pieces too. Max is a fantastic character who should have been used as a semi regular to give the show more of an ensemble feel but he was edged out by the very similar (but not quite as appealing) Lone Gunmen in a handful of episodes time. Most of the early episodes of The X-Files feel as though the writers are a little constrained by the shows budget (the last episode suffered in that respect) but Fallen Angel proves the exception and feels like a mini movie over 45 minutes with plenty of incident and flashy visuals to keep the pace up. A few complaints; the show is once again focussing on Mulder to the detriment of Scully and the irritatingly vague endings are starting to bore me. Sometimes its okay to allow your audience some closure. If I was going to recommend to a friend to watch an early episode of this show to see what it is all about I might just choose this one: 8/10
Eve written by Kenneth Biller (not Star Trek Voyager’s Kenneth Biller?) & Chris Brancato and directed by Fred Gerber
What’s it about: Patricide in suburbia...
Trust No-One: Mulder is attracted to this case thanks to a similarity between the death of Tina’s father and a UFO cow mutilation (I kid you not!) but its quit a refreshing change that Mulder is forced to drop his theory pretty quickly when the facts do not fit. Scully is deeply suspicious when Mulder tries to rush her out of his room suggesting that he has a girl coming over but instead he states he has a movie he wants to watch – yeah because that sounds a lot better! The truth of the matter is Mulder is neither expecting a night of hot romance nor a sly wank but is in fact living up to his geeky reputation and meeting his contact in the government.
Brains’n’Beauty: Just like The Jersey Devil we get to experience a surprisingly maternal side to Scully as she gently handles Tina after the death of her father. She is gagging for Mulder to admit that he has abandoned his UFO connection as though that is the only thrill she gets in life. Despite the fact that she knows nothing of Deep Throat Scully is surprisingly silent about asking Mulder how he got his lead that directs them to the Whiting Institute.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The boys were called Adam and the girls were called Eve…’
‘I paid too much attention to a guard. Bit into his eyeball. I meant it as a sign of affection! – Eve 6 is nuttier than squirrel shit!
Ugh: The direction is going a little stir crazy to convince us that the visitation to Tina’s bedroom is extraterrestrial but in my experience alien invaders tend not to try the door handle and smash against the frame! Regardless the show is still trying to convince us at this point that the children are innocent victims and this is a great representation of a child frightened that something is invading their room and turning out to be correct! I love the creepy subversion of cliché – usually it is a horror that is coming from under the bed but this time it’s the kid that is hiding under there in a spectacularly tense moment as feet walk around the room trying to sniff her out.
- My Simon is always warning me that the children are responsible for the murders in whatever detective shows we are watching and ducked his head in the door whilst I was watching Eve and commented that it was definitely the children this time. He has a point – I’m not sure what casting company they used (Freaky Looking Kids Ltd) but the twins they use in Eve just scream otherworldliness in a way that is quite unnerving. As soon as a girl that young says ‘they wanted to exsanguinate him’ that should have given Mulder a massive clue as to who the culprit was. The thought of children being so good at lying they can present the image of the perfect child to their parents whilst simultaneously trying to kill them is really creepy.
- What I love about Eve is that it has layers of mystery that just get more involving as it progresses. The cold reaction to Tina’s dads death, the identical houses, the identical children…when Cindy’s mother is confronted with a picture of what appears to be her daughter with a strange man all sorts of possibilities race through the mind. Have these families been part of a weird genetic experiment?
- Harriet Sansom Harris is a phenomenal actress and like a clunky mechanism that has just been oiled you can actually hear the episode step up a gear when she joins. I will never forget her wonderfully oddball portrayal of Martha Huber in Desperate Housewives (this is a woman who will chop off her own fingers to implicate somebody in a murder) and her turn as various Eve’s here is just as memorable. The various stages and versions of Eve that she showcases is impressive – the twitchy, teeth clenching Eve in prison is terrifying (I seriously would not have gone in that room with her) but the scene that made me most uncomfortable was the more cogent Dr Sally’s reaction to the digitalis. Its Kendrick’s messianic plea to the girls to try and live a normal life (she calls the murder of their fathers a ‘little prank’) and suddenly realising that she herself has been poisoned that shocks – Kendrick and the audience realise that there is no hope for this pair at the same time.
- Its very interesting that Deep Throat should turn up in the very next episode after admitting to a colleague that he is deliberately diverting Mulder away from speaking to the right people to expose their enterprise and sate his thirsty for a scandal that has nothing to do with alien abduction whatsoever. It makes you wonder what he is trying to hide elsewhere if he is prepared to blow the lid of a government eugenics scandal.
- Eve happily talks of the heightened intelligence and strength that the Lichfield eugenics project has instilled in the Adams and Eves but its not until Mulder chips in with ‘heightened psychosis?’ that you realise what a danger they are. In front of them is an example of what Tina and Cindy will become; disturbed, violent women with a taste for murder. Kendrick clutches a knife to deal with the girls once she realises how dangerous they are and they use that to their advantage playing the innocent girls who were menaced by the scary woman who abducted them. They are really good at playing on the feelings adults feel for children and that makes them one of the most insidious threats Mulder and Scully have faced. Our heroes are completely unaware that the two children they are taking for sodas are responsible for multiple homicides.
Pre Titles Sequence: Its one the quickest, quietest X-Files pre title sequences with us coming in after the murder has taken place. Usually this show is pretty open in its early scenes as to what exactly the horror is going to be (the murder stories haven’t exactly tried to hide their culprits – Tooms, Ghost in the Machine) but Eve takes the approach of a good Agatha Christie and presents a dead body on a swing and a traumatised little girls tentatively asking ‘daddy.’ From the off Eve is trying to hoodwink its audience and I rather like that. This is also a gloriously chosen autumnal location with red leaves being collected from the trees and burnt and an atmospheric layer of mist coating the surroundings.
Moment to Watch Out For: Rather than just another ‘the menace is still alive…’ ending that plagued episodes like Ghost in the Machine and The Jersey Devil, Eve plants the seeds to its last scene into the episode with talk of the missing Eve still out there somewhere. When she comes to release the girls from confinement its rather a gorgeous moment to leave the episode on. ‘How did you know I would come for you?’ ‘We just knew…’
Orchestra: The ‘fingers down the spine’ music sting has started to be overused now. It’s the piece that accompanied Scully’s realisation that Tooms was in her house in Squeeze and the second abduction in this episode but I don’t think there has been an episode so far where it hasn’t been present at one point or another.
Mythology: There is talk of the US government jumping on the bandwagon to create a super soldier from eugenics and mimicking research that had been performed by the Russians. The X-Files would go on in later years to create a super soldier arc which could very well be tied into this.
Result: An unusually dense mystery for The X-Files and an episode that seems designed to be unravelled by any FBI agent and not just tailored to Mulder and Scully. That’s a subtle shift for the show to make but I think there needed to be more episodes of this nature (with a strong narrative happening regardless of the agents involvement or not) in order for show to be a success. So far this show has been quite upfront with what the ‘menace of the week’ is at the beginning of each show but Eve proves to be quite deceptive in this regard and gets more and more layered and interesting as it continues. The eugenics angle adds a whole new level of realism that is absent in the more ‘out of this world’ horror in the episodes surrounding and the episode is helped by a phenomenal performance by Harriet Harris and two of the creepiest little girls I have ever seen committed to film. Again the only downside is the climax but this time it is for completely the opposite reason to shows like Fallen Angel and Deep Throat. This time we are one step ahead of the agents during the climax (you might find yourself screaming at them to realise their drinks have been poisoned) and the episode has already spelt out precisely what it is about so there are no more surprises left as we watch Mulder and Scully being duped by this pair of creepy kids. Since this was such a clever episode in how it presented its mystery I expected something similarly clever to wrap the story up. Eve is not outside the realms of possibility and that makes it one of the more subtly scary X-Files episodes: 8/10
Fire written by Chris Carter and directed by Larry Shaw
What’s it about: Caretaker Bob will set you ablaze…
Trust No-One: According to Mulder hunting down aliens and monsters has one advantage – you rarely get to press charges and get stuck in court! Phoebe is such a vacuous, unsexy character you might just find yourself thinking less of Mulder for ever falling for her in the first place. Its fine to introduce an irrational fear of fire to flesh out Mulder’s character but its odd that they make such a song and dance about it here and never mention it again. Mulder and Phoebe got their rocks off ‘atop Arthur Conan Doyle’s grave!’ Is that what all the cool kids are doing these days? I have had complaints about David Duchony’s performance in the first season and whilst I think he has generally acquitted himself rather well it has to be said that he looks a lot more comfortable chasing UFOS than he does indulging in romantic plotlines. The lack of chemistry between him and Pays damages this episode no end.
Brains’n’Beauty: Until now Scully has always been the lady in Mulder’s life but more like a disapproving parent than a lover. With the advent of Phoebe she becomes the ‘other woman’ and it’s a role she is far less suited to. Compared to Mulder’s old flame Scully is sophisticated, intelligent and gorgeous so introducing Phoebe does at least have a positive effect on one of the regulars. Fortunately Gillian Anderson is a classically trained actress so she can really sell those ‘staring at a screen whilst typing’ scenes whilst her voice wafts around the room filling us in on exposition. Come on guys, there must be more that you can do with this character than this? Scully’s awkward reaction to Mulder and Phoebe dancing is lovely, its another glimpse of sexual chemistry emerging between the two following on from their intimate examination of each others backs in Ice. Her ‘care to take me to lunch’ is beautifully done.
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Some clever bloke has been giving the aristocracy a good scare!’ – has Chris Carter ever been to England?
‘It doesn’t look as if your arsonist is going to make an appearance’ ‘It doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be any fires to put out.’
‘Phoebe is fire…’
Ugh: Is fire really worthy of an X-File?
- Watching the USA trying to capture that essential Britishness is always worth a hearty laugh but it is especially inept in Chris Carter’s hands who seems to think that English blokes leave their manor houses with their canes tucked under their arms, wave cheerio to their spouses and stroll amongst their staff like kings amongst men! Its such a deep misunderstanding of the modern British man (who is more likely to be swaggering away from a council flat with his jeans around his ankles) and so utterly stereotypical you have to giggle. Considering this is the first scene you know you are in for an interesting hour. Our Lord of the Manor is such a cardboard character he bursts into flames although whether that is because Bob wants a feel of his wife or my thoughts were picked up upon I honestly couldn’t tell you. The less said about the upper class ‘pip pip old chap’ Marsden family the better! I’m not sure if those two terribly posh kids could possibly be more annoying and whilst I never like to see any harm befall children I might make an exception in this case.
- Its amazing how technology dates a show isn’t it? Phoebe leaves Mulder a cassette to listen to. When I was growing up I formed a deeply held hatred for those damn cassettes due to many years of taping all of my favourite songs from the radio onto them and then losing the entire collection as the ruddy tape snapped and got caught in the player!
- Let’s take a step back for a second a consider Phoebe as a character. This is the sort of woman who rather than simply saying hello leaves a recorded message in you car suggesting that it is about to blow up! She turns up again in her ex lovers life, a man incidentally whose heart she took hold of and crushed in her palm, and kisses him in front of his work partner. Even if she wasn’t another hideous British stereotype (this time it’s the upper class working woman) we would be predisposed not to like her because she’s just so pushy. Worse still she’s stuffy, pompous, completely sexless and utterly dismissive of Scully. Phoebe epitomises everything that was wrong with the late eighties/early nineties businesswoman. Astonishingly Amanda Pays is from England but you would never have thought so the way she delivers her dialogue. She sounds like an American trying to do an English accent whilst chewing on a caramel toffee – her inflection is all over the place and not one line sounds convincing. Strangely everybody seems to be beguiled by this woman which leads me to believe that love is blind after all. There seems to be something going on between her and Mt Marsden too although why this should be beyond the fact that she isn’t very nice I have no idea. It isn’t expounded upon and nor does it add anything to the story. She vanishes in as unconvincing a way as she turned up leaving another cassette behind her. At least when The X-Files office goes up in flames Mulder is spared ever having to listen to her voice again.
- There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about your work but the expert that Mulder and Phoebe consult about has such a excitable obsession with fire I might actually look to him as my first suspect!
- Mark Sheppard is a wonderful character actor who has proven his worth in a number of impressive cult TV shows (especially his quality turns in Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural) but here he is handed the role of a villain completely without motivation beyond an insatiable sexual desire. Bob seems to want to kill people because they have better luck at ensnaring women than he does but the episode fails to probe into why so he becomes just another dull psychopath without a point. There’s a gormless voiceover where Scully profiles Bob (‘…he will often act out of impulse satisfying sexual urges or insecurities with destructive behaviour which compensates for social inadequacies or maladjustments’) but it is basically a bunch of psychology textbook words thrown together to sound like a motive. There is no confirmation of this prognosis beyond the ‘destructive acts’ we are seeing, no delving into this characters past or psychology to find out if this is why he does what he does. We are supposed to accept this as written based on Scully’s guesswork. I did laugh though when he booted the dog who had found the arm of the old caretaker. Everything about the character (including this scene) is so unsubtle it is worth a chuckle or two. Bob has this odd way of talking off camera as though he is directly addressing the audience which is a pretty lazy way of revealing his involvement in things (‘I’m the caretaker now!’ ‘Maybe it’s the cough syrup…’). Even Scully gets in on the act during the climax when Bob’s face is faxed to her (‘Oh my God! The driver!’). He enjoys a soft gaze when addressing people but in the way that all really bad TV villains have of exposing their intentions he gives them the evil look of death as soon as their backs are turned! Why he chooses to spontaneously combust rather than try and escape is beyond me but the last scene fails to give the character any closure so I’m left wondering ‘what was the point of that?’
- Even the fire effects lack finesse with the fastest combusting bar in world history (it would have had to have been saturated with alcohol in order to create that sheet of flame so quickly) and the wonderfully naff moment when Scully interrupts Mulder and Phoebe’s dance and we cut to the 4th floor where what is clearly a fire jet is trying to spit flames around a corner. There’s a brilliant shot of Mulder’s stunt double who dives directly into camera shot in slow motion (its almost as if they want you to know this isn’t Duchovny!).
- Am I the only person who wanted to see Phoebe’s face spit out of the fax machine that s sending Scully the composite picture of the killer? We’ve been so far ahead of the agents this week it has been a long old plod for them to catch up and there is no satisfaction when they do. There’s no point packaging this moment as a surprise when only the characters within the story are shocked!
- What is the relevance of the painting that looks like Mrs Marsden? Am I missing something there?
- Since the conclusion features a bunch of irritating non entities trapped in a burning house why are we supposed to care? Slam the door shut and let them burn, I say.
- Phoebe just happens to walk around the corner with a tin of the accelerant in time to save Scully and toss it over Bob? You couldn’t make this nonsense up!
Fashion Statement: Mulder is flashing his chest again!
Result: Fire is the first really uncomfortable episode of The X-Files and one that is little more than a string of explosive set pieces held together by racial stereotypes and some appalling characterisation. Chris Carter might have created the show but he is also the most inconsistent writer and for every gem like Deep Throat he could also produce a dud like Fire. With the introduction of Phoebe and his (inexplicably forgotten in later episode) fear of fire Mulder is demeaned by this script and David Duchovny looks deeply uncomfortable trying to bring it to life. Mind you playing off somebody as wooden as Amanda Pays who as a femme fatale is a sexy as trout that is flailing on the end of a fishing line must have been difficult. There are no surprises because Carter reveals who the villain is in the first scene and since Bob plods through the story with no motivation or character it leaves the plot feeling lighter than a sigh. The direction is awkward too with some jarring cuts and dodgy stunts and there is a general feeling that we are watching a choppy first attempt rather than a polished final cut. I recall this episode was selected to be shown as a special late night special on BBC 2’s Fright Night which is a shame because it might have put some people off The X-Files for good when episodes like Beyond the Sea would have set their worlds on fire (hoho). Thank goodness we never saw Phoebe again: 3/10
Beyond the Sea written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: Scully’s father has died and the only way she can contact him to say goodbye is through a serial killer on death row…
Trust No-One: Given her bereavement Mulder tries to be extremely gentle with Scully but it appears that she is as uncomfortable with him calling her Dana as he is of her calling him Fox – there is a wonderful awkwardness between them when the focus is on their relationship rather than the work which is well worth exploiting further in the future. Morgan and Wong always seem to want to push Mulder and Scully out of their comfort zones (they certainly managed that in Ice) and here they perform a much awaited role reversal of making him the sceptic and her the believer. Now Mulder is watching on as Scully is manipulated by a paranormal possibility because there is a personal stake involved and what is really interesting is how much more unlikable he is in this role than Scully usually is. He’s furiously angry when Scully admits that she listened to Boggs and found Henry’s previous nest thanks to his ‘gift’ but omitted to mention that in her police report. Mulder comes across as very bitter that she is embarrassed to admit that she has opened her mind to extreme possibilities.
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘I’ll believe you if you let me talk to him…’ Gillian Anderson’s breakout episode and the first time (except for moments during Ice where she really came alive) that the audience realises that she is going to be a force of nature in her own right not just David Duchovny’s sidekick. There is something different about Beyond the Sea from the off that sees the supernatural horrors that Mulder and Scully see from a distance (and to be honest don’t usually connect with on an emotional level) invading one of their homes. That it is Scully (the unbeliever) that this should happen to makes this a very special episode indeed. A lot of work has gone into that opening scene to make the Scully family a realistic one and not just some more pointless background about the character (like they did with the unforgettable Phoebe Green for Mulder in Fire). Her father clearly disapproves of her career path but prompted by her mum asks how everything is going. There’s clearly a lot of warmth between them but also some antagonism as well and that pretty much sums up most families in my opinion. It’s the sign of a great actress that rather than giving everything from the off and playing Scully as angry and bitter that her father has died she restrains her performance to such a degree that it is coldly very affecting so that when she finally explodes with anger the audience feel as though they have been physically struck. Its breathtakingly good. Scully is so desperate for one last chance to talk to her father she stands there before Boggs admitting that she willing to throw away everything that she knows to be true and believe him if he can put her in touch with him one last time. It has been worth Scully’s dogged (some might say overdone) refusal to believe in extreme possibilities just for the character gold they mine from her here. Bravely Scully denies herself closure by refusing to be Boggs’ witness and receiving the message from her father. Who would want the last memory of a man they love to come from the lips of a serial killer about to be gassed to death? Scully quietly admits to Mulder that she is afraid to believe.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Some killers are products of society. Some act out past abuses. Boggs kills because he likes it.’
‘He could be trying to claim you as his last victim.’
Ugh: ‘The kidnapper is aroused at the prospect of becoming a killer…’ This is the first bog standard (or non supernatural) serial killer to feature in The X-Files and he remains one of the most frightening. What makes him so effective is both the material that we do see (pretending to be an authority figure and coaxing the kids out of the car so he can knock them out and drag them away) and what we are told about (Boggs’ explaining on how he is getting off on whipping them with coat hangers) and between those two things we are painted a pretty obscene picture of what a nasty piece of work Lucas Hendry is.
- In a way it is a shame that Don S. Davis has to die in the opening scenes because he would have brought such a presence to this show as Scully’s father. You only have to see what a lift he gave Stargate SG-1 during its dodgier periods. I would have liked to have seen how Scully tried to juggle up her family and her work in future episodes but with her father out of the way she doesn’t have to justify herself to anybody (until her brother joins the show in season five and gives Mulder a hard time). Regardless Davis has a wonderful presence here simply by the weight that is given to his absence and it pleases me that he was brought back for a special moment during Scully’s crisis in One Breath.
- As frightening as Lucas Henry is he has nothing on Luther Lee Boggs and Brad Dourif gives a career defining performance as the manipulative serial killer with the ability to look into the eyes of other killers. Dourif is often saddled in the role of murderers (he just about manages to be the best guest turn in Star Trek Voyager too with his unforgettable turn as the killer Suder) but he manages to embody their instability and barely restrained anger in a way that makes him deeply uncomfortable to watch. This is an actor who doesn’t care how pretty he looks or how depraved he might seem, he becomes these sick individuals he is asked to play and convinces you completely that they are real people. There is a two way razors edge which makes the character so fascinating – he holds one to his prosecutors throats by suggesting that he can commune with Lucas Henry and help them find the missing children and they hold one to his throat with the death sentence that is looming over him. Its such a twisted, fascinating game that Mulder and Boggs engage in made even more edgy by the snippets of hope that Boggs tosses Scully. Right up until the end Boggs appears to be tricked and he always manages to know that the newspaper and the Scully’s trick with the fake deal are bogus. Boggs’ death at the climax is one of the most stifling moments of television as he attempts to hold his breath as the bubbling gases fills the room. Its horrible.
- The funeral scene is perfectly shot by David Nutter highlighting the drizzly, miserable mood of the crowd as they stand huddled together under umbrellas as Bill’s ashes are released into the sea breeze. The rain and the sea can stir up memories and Margaret’s tale of Bill’s proposal is very touching and so is the gift that she gives Scully by letting her know that he was proud of her accomplishments.
- The episode brilliantly exposes Boggs as a completely fraud when he gathers all manner of erroneous information from what he thinks is supposed to be a piece of fabric connected to the case when in fact it was torn off of one of Mulder’s T-shirts. Our minds made up, Morgan and Wong then toss in the first glimpse that Boggs can commune with Scully’s father. I love it when writers play games with the audiences certainties like this. Boggs could have set up Mulder to be shot but how did he know that his blood would wind up on the cross? I really like it when this show tosses out an extreme possibility (in this case Boggs being able to commune with Henry) and then gives you an equal amount of evidence either way (Boggs is utterly engrossing when he looks through Henry’s eyes and through sheer conviction you may very well believe him but he is also proven later in the episode to have connections with the man and could have known about the abduction of the kids from the off) so you have to decide whether you believe it or not. There is a massive difference between this and denying the viewer any kind of closure because whatever you choose to believe Beyond the Sea still makes for a satisfying episode.
- David Nutter did such a fantastic job of creating a stifling atmosphere in Ice and his work here in Beyond the Sea is just as special. I love the cut between Henry whipping at the kids with the coat hanger and Boggs recoiling as if he is the one that has been struck – its only a small moment but it visualises the bond between them in a very violent way. The monochrome hell that surrounds Boggs as he walks towards his death with his victims watching him is one of the most haunting sequences you will see on television. Judgement day writ large.
- Boggs’ story about having a cigarette when he was younger is very telling because in its own quiet way it explains the reason that serial killers murder. Its that thrill, that desire to do what your not supposed to do. It’s a very profound statement for the show to make.
Pre Titles Sequence: When I told Simon I was going to embark on an X-Files marathon as I had with the Star Trek shows he had two reactions. Aside from ruffling my hair in that cute way of his to tell me he loves the fact that I’m a dweeb the first memory of this show that popped into his mind was of Scully’s father mouthing silently in the armchair at her as she woke up in the middle of the night. It had scared the life out of him when he was younger and had remained with him ever since. It’s a genuinely unnerving moment of prescience that works so well because you could easily dismiss it as a fevered dream image that lingered in your head after you have woken up. Except the audience sees him too and it is followed by a call from Scully’s mother to say that her father has died.
Moment to Watch Out For: Scully losing it completely at Boggs when she discovers that he has a connection with Henry. Anderson is like a firecracker that gets more and more explosive and until she is literally screaming blue bloody murder at him. For the usually reserved Scully this a real watershed moment. ‘Well I came here to tell you that if he dies because of what you’ve done…four days from now nobody will stop me from being the that’ll throw the switch and gas you out of this life for good you son of a bitch!’
Foreboding: This episode is paid off in a massive way in season two’s One Breath where we finally get to here Scully’s fathers final message to her.
Result: An astonishing episode so early in the shows run and one of the best X-Files of its nine seasons, Beyond the Sea has a richness and raw emotion that makes it extremely uncomfortable to watch and yet utterly beguiling at the same time. Glen Morgan and James Wong are a cut above all the other writers on the show (with Squeeze and Ice already under their belt) but this is even better than their already stellar efforts as they engage with Scully on a very personal level following the death of her father and delve into the mind of two very sick serial killers. Gillian Anderson gives an extraordinary performance here and proves that she is no small talent and when handed the right material she can blow her co star out of the water. Her haunted, frightened, angry turn as Scully desperately trying to cling onto the vestiges of her father through a serial killer remains the highpoint of the first season. Brad Dourif matches her intensity and the scenes between them prove to be electrifying drama. Director David Nutter understands the episode and paces it perfectly, filling it with beautiful and disturbing images and giving the actors the right amount of exposure so they can knock your socks off. Beyond the Sea has a complex script that is playing games with its characters and the audience and delves into some unclean areas of human behaviour. Its a peerless piece of supernatural drama and setting the bar really high for the rest of the season to match up to. Brave, original and extremely dark; death has never seemed a more terrifying concept: 10/10
Genderbender written by Larry Barber & Paul Barber and directed by Rob Bowman
What’s it about: It never tells the audience so I can’t really tell you. Dodgy sex that leads to frothing at the mouth.
Trust No-One: Its painful to go from Beyond the Sea to Genderbender when considering the material for Mulder and Scully. Last week you saw two engaged actors bring to life an incredible script and now Mulder and Scully are reduced to talking trite exposition and clichéd dialogue (‘you think there’s a new drug on the street? – really?) and hanging out on the periphery of the plot. The difference between the passion that Anderson and Duchovny injected into last weeks dark masterpiece and this less than stellar effort is so vast its in-yer-face apparent. Mulder clearly did not pay attention when he was a boy scout and gets completely lost when trying to find the kindred settlement in the woods. I don’t think we’ve ever experienced an episode where even Mulder is completely clueless as to what the whole escapade has been about as the audience and Scully are.
Brains’n’Beauty: In case we missed it Scully gives the audience a little lecture about how hard it is to believe that in this day and age that somebody could have sex with a perfect stranger? Where exactly has she been brought up? That’s rampant down my neck of the woods! Somehow I just knew that Scully had been brought up with horse riding lessons. Watching Scully being molested by Andrew and powerless in his orgasmic grip is possibly the least sexy thing I have ever seen committed to film. For all intents and purposes he is raping her (as directed there is no way this could be interpreted as consensual sexual activity – she’s practically comatose as though he has dosed her with rohypnol!) and yet this seems to go completely unmentioned afterwards. Astonishingly when asked about her experiences Scully mentions that she is ‘a little embarrassed, actually.’ This script has been written by men who have no understanding of women. Scully’s astonishing deductive leap is that they are looking for a transvestite!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘So what is the profile of the killer? Indeterminate height, weight, sex. Unarmed but extremely attractive.’
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Maybe it’s the sex that kills…’
Ugh: The scariest thing here is the bloody froth pulsing from the victims mouths. At least they went out feeling good.
- To be fair to Rob Bowman he is trying to make everything as atmospheric as possible but when interest levels are so low its just gift wrapping a particularly dull present in the best possible taste. The scene where Scully chases Marty into a smoky, puddle strewn back alley is especially gorgeous.
- Poor Nick Lea. Soon to become an X-Files staple and making his debut here as a luckless prowler at a nightclub who winds up being pulled by our monster of the week and frothing at the mouth after a night of hot sweaty car sex! Hardly the most auspicious of introductions to the show! I love how pathetic he looks in the hospital bed trying to re-assert his masculinity when he has to admit that he might have made out with a guy. Poor lamb.
- Since the episode is a little muddy when it comes to its theme or its moral (or even what the hell its content was about) I guess we’ll have to make one up as we go. At first this could be one of those ‘don’t have unprotected sex’ adverts but when you throw in a gender bending murderer you’re entering all kinds of dodgy areas. The whole gender bending element of the show is completely unnecessary and seems to have only been added to make this look more controversial than it actually is. Men are sleeping with men posing as women? Whatever next? Then the show seems to be commenting on repressed desires when trapped within a devoutly religious society. We discover that Marty headed out into our world and is sleeping with people even though he knows that it would infect them with a savage poison. In this post-AIDS world we find ourselves in there have been revenge stories of this kind that have made the headlines and whilst that might not be what this episode was aiming for it certainly has some similarities. I wonder if a show like The X-Files should be commenting on such messy business. There is a odd close up of a photo of Princess Diana when Mulder and Scully burst into the room and try and arrest Marty which is begging you to make the connection with AIDS sufferers.
- What exactly does happen when Marty touches people? What gives him the ability to induce sexual feelings in people at the touch of a hand? How do the aliens change their sex? Is this an offshoot of the alien bounty hunter who can morph his form? Why did they come to Earth? Marty says that ‘the day is coming and they wont leave without me’ which suggests the Kindred were leaving anyway despite his/her actions. Why? Has there ever been an episode with so many unanswered questions? At least with the standalones you can usually expect some kind of a reveal and wrap up but this is maddeningly vague.
- There’s a truly awful moment where Scully is getting her rocks off with brother Andrew whilst Mulder is outside the bedroom window trying to call her name in a hoarse whisper so nobody can hear him. That’s about as good as it gets.
Pre Titles Sequence: Probably the most stylish set piece in the entire episode with some creepy close ups on the Marty’s eye and the lovely moment when we cut to the sex scene in monochrome negative.
Moment to Watch Out For: The beautifully filmed but agonisingly vague crop circle ending. Sums The X-Files up perfectly!
Fashion Statement: They hire a pretty cute guy to play the male version of Marty (unlike the female version who is a real Plain Jane – even Krychek calls her a ‘3 out of ten’) but in the climactic scenes when Scully is called to try and arrest him he is seen to be wearing underwear that looks shockingly like a nappy. Yup, sexy stuff.
Result: The X-Files wants to whip up a furiously sexy episode and decides to set it amongst a mock Amish community? Was somebody on crazy pills when this was written? Drizzly weather, muddy fields, abstinence and uniformity…yep this is getting me really horny! The director seems to be trying to juxtapose the sleazy and colourful world of nightclubs with the dreary life led by the Kindred and use that as an explanation for why the killer is misbehaving. Living amongst this group means you are allowed no entertainment, no carnal pleasure, no excitement…you’re not even allowed an outburst of anger! The only thing that surprises me is that they all aren’t out there having homicidal sex! There are so many elements thrown into this script (gender bending, dangerous sex, religious cults, a cure-all, crop circles) that to call it a confused mess is to do a disservice to that description. Beyond the Sea proved that Scully and Mulder could really drive these stories but with no personal stake involved (beyond Scully potentially getting an orgasm at the touch of a hand) there is little for them to do beyond stand around looking baffled (which they do right until the last frame). Ultimately this show seems to be about a group of aliens (even that is only implied and not confirmed) that came to Earth and chose to ostracise themselves from society and deny themselves all pleasures…and then when one of their number seeks a little nookie amongst the natives they go away again. Why this is a story worth telling puzzles me: 3/10
Lazarus written by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: Agent Jack Willis is acting very strangely indeed…
Trust No-One: Mulder often comes across as a little staid when forced to investigate what appears to be ‘normal’ crimes. He lacks that sparkle, the insane glint that he sports whenever paranormal activity is involved that makes it feel as though he is a little better than what is playing out. He joins this episode around seven minutes in in a scene so nonchalantly performed by David Duchovny you can tell that his heart isn’t really in this one. During her kidnap Mulder gets to talk to Scully on the phone and calls her Dana again. It just doesn’t sound right. Constantly having the police mocking ‘Spooky’ Mulder is getting a little tedious too so it comes as a relief when Bruskin gives him the seal of approval and tells his men to shut up.
Brains’n’Beauty: How strange to see Scully in the midst of a normal police investigation rather than being dragged to the latest paranormal possibility. What’s even stranger is that this is one of the few times the show could have ditched its science fiction element altogether (episodes such as The Pine Bluff Variant and Release are also in this category). To have Scully drag Mulder to a new case is not new (Squeeze) but its rare enough to make the novelty worth mentioning. Gillian Anderson is clearly not used to firing a gun (why should she?) because she almost jumps out of her skin when she has to fire several rounds into Dupre. Finding out that Scully dated her instructor during the Academy raised an eyebrow but once again this is (like Mulder in Fire and the next episode) trying to complete our knowledge of these characters by hastily sketching in a lot of their background. Its far more satisfying when we get close to them by events that are happening now (Beyond the Sea) than great dollops of history being hacked up. Anderson is trying her damdest to give her material with Scully’s ex-lover some meaning but the characterisation is all a bit empty regardless. It does say something about Scully that she keeps being seduced by obsessive men. It must be something in their crazy eyes.
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘It wont make any difference in the dark…’ – Dupre is back from the dead and this is the way he tries to soothe his girlfriend and fellow con? By convincing her the sex will be good as long as there’s a power cut?
Ugh: It’s a rare X-File in that there is practically no horror element whatsoever. Even the psychological angle is lacking.
The Good: For a while Mulder and Scully are working on the impression that Willis was so wrapped up in the case it has destabilised him and he has grown obsessed to the point of hacking off one of Dupre’s fingers to get to his wedding ring. To be fair it’s a more plausible answer than mind swapping!
The Bad: Think of all the fun you could have if you were a criminal waking up in the body of a cop? It’s a shame that, as usual, everything has to be deadly serious and Lazarus plays out along exactly the sort of lines you would expect with the criminal picking up his thieving, murdering ways. Sometimes this show will tout weird goings on for the sake of it without explanation (you only have to look at Genderbender to see that) and we never quite get to the bottom of what that vanishing and re-appearing tattoo is all about. It’s the return of the random ‘expert’ that fills in a lot of the gaps of explanation for our FBI agents and its just as clunky as ever. It’s a shame that the twist that the reveal that Lula was the FBI mole is obvious long before Dupre finds out because its exactly the sort of dramatic wrench this episode needs in its climax. The story of Dupre and Lula cutting themselves after they got married and mixing their blood is the sort of overdone Bonnie and Clyde cliché that can destroy a characters credibility. Mulder recognising the aeroplane screaming overhead to pinpoint Dupre’s location is a little simple and the way the director makes a point of Dupre looking to the ceiling as one roars overhead earlier in the episode rather gives the game away on that score. Ultimately we are left with a pair of corpses, a heartbroken Scully and no proof of paranormal activity. Again I find myself asking what the point of the episode was.
Pre Titles Sequence: Its another of those set pieces which kicks off the episode telling us absolutely everything little thing about the episode. Dupre has mind swapped with Willis. From now on this episode will be sold on its performances alone because there will be no great surprises. Whilst this may be a criticism of the episode in general, this is still quite dramatically done and if it turned up in a standard cop drama I would be a happy bunny.
Moment to Watch Out For: The crazy idea of Willis being given a couple of bolts on the defibrillator and Dupre’s body jerkily reacting to each one in the background tells us everything we need to know about what is going on before all the business with the tattoo. Its also the quirkiest thing you are going to see in the whole episode so you might as well in enjoy it. Its so daft it’s the sort of thing I can imagine turning up on Torchwood.
Fashion Statement: Scully is still wearing those hideous pastel coloured baggy suit jackets. The 90s had a lot to answer for.
Orchestra: Sometimes it might be nice for Mark Snow to calm down a little – when Dupre kisses Lucy in the pre titles sequence it feels as if something unearthly is going on when the scene is simply pointing out the tattoo that will transfer to Jack along with the criminals mind.
Result: This is a completely different type of X-File since it could almost pose as a regular cop drama without any supernatural elements if you squinted at it. Whilst this might not be the slickest or the most intelligent of first season episodes it is again trying to find a new angle on the shows premise. The show would never quite be this eclectic and experimental again. In a rare move for The X-Files this episode is not really about its lame body swap premise or the regulars (Scully gets a little development in the usual backwards facing way but its nothing that’s ever referenced again) but primarily the focus of the main guest star, Christopher Allport. He gives a wild eyed, dramatic performance but I think the idea is to make him a Vincent Vega-esque villain that the audience comes to admire, if not like but I found little in this character that redeems him. Weighing Lazarus down is the fact that (once again) everything is spelt out early on and the twist about Lula is signposted with great big plot arrows throughout. Waiting for people to get clued in on things that I have figured out ten minutes in is not my idea of fun and its becoming increasingly tiresome that Mulder should be so clued in and Scully obstinately looking stupid for being four steps behind. The next time The X-Files plays around with the idea of body swapping (Dreamland) it would have a lot more fun with it but for the time being this is a sincerely acted but routine, unspectacular instalment: 4/10
Young at Heart written by Chris Carter & Scott Kaufer and directed by Michael Lange
What’s it about: A mistake from Mulder’s past returns to haunt him…
Trust No-One: It was Scully’s turn to have her past rashly scribbled in last week and now its Mulder’s turn with a case coming back to disturb him. I’m not saying its entirely a bad thing to fill in the blanks of these characters lives before we met them but there seems to be a strange rash of episodes that are doing so of late rather than taking Mulder and Scully forward and developing them through what is happening now. You will find out far more about Mulder’s character once he loses Scully in season two than you ever will in episodes like Fire and Young at Heart which see elements from his past affect the present. Oh bless, Mulder suggests that when he was younger he was full of it. As if he isn’t now. Its interesting to hook up with the handwriting specialist who is a kooky one off character who manages to make practically every line a double entendre but this could have been how his relationship with Scully had have played out had Chris Carter not been keen to keep them on a professional level for so long. You only have to look at more recent shows to see the flirty tone between the leads (Castle, Bones) and see that the way that chemistry between the protagonists has developed. Mulder shows his keen investigative instinct by walking straight past the killer without a care in the world. We learn that because of Mulder’s devotion to The X-Files a lot of people have come to think of him as a liability but considering how everyone seems to regard him face to face this cannot come as such a shock to him. It does suggest that his cards are marked though and The X-Files could very well be closed down before long.
Brains’n’Beauty: When Mulder stands up in court and screams ‘which is why you should die like an animal you son of a bitch!’ it s the same inflection, dialogue and meaning that Gillian Anderson used so effectively in Beyond the Sea to condemn Luther Boggs only about thousand times less effective. Scully’s tirade meant something, this just feels like empty characterisation to give the episode its own A Few Good Men moment in the courtroom. Its almost as if David Duchovny saw how effective she was in that episode and wanted his own ‘son of a bitch!’ moment.
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Mulder its science fiction!’ – even Gillian Anderson sounds bored saying such obvious dialogue. And its not true.
The Bad: There is a world of difference between serial killers Barnett and Luther Boggs and it all starts with the writing and then continues on through the performances and the direction. In Beyond the Sea we saw a vivid, nightmarish picture of why Boggs does what he does but with Barnett he is ultimately just a bad man who just kills because that’s what he’s always done. Because the focus is primarily on Mulder and not wanting the past to repeat itself we never get to engage with Barnett and find out what his motives are. He’s just a serial killer who kills because that’s what they do. It makes him such a dreary character. I’m not sure that The X-Files is the sort of arena where revenge stories like this should be played out. Mulder doesn’t seem the sort of character to dwell on professional decisions he has made in the past and doesn’t suit the role of a paranoid victim screaming lines like ‘I’ll get you, you son of a bitch!’ when reading a threatening note (I really wanted it to say I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER…). Like Lazarus this feels far too much like a conventional cop drama than the same show that has shown us invisible alien hunters and murderous child clones. Barnett barely seems to want to conceal his guilt in the flashbacks to his hearing – he sits nonchalantly, sipping water and smiling as his crimes are listed. Just in case we didn’t get the idea that he is evil. In the present day he’s like some mad Doctor Who villain spouting out lines like ‘oh you’re the dead man, Mul-derrr…’ Every time he calls Mulder up he sounds like he is ringing a sex chat line…sighing and groaning with pleasure. Christ imagine if they had made Tooms as obvious as this? Robin Mossley deserves some kind of award for injecting the least amount of emotion into his performance. Dr Ridley might be some kind of mock-Frankenstein but he shows none of his progenitors flair or passion for the work. Dr Mengele would have been embarrassed by the comparison. Reggie’s murder was as predictable as an Agatha Christie novel with an ending I didn’t guess. When Ridley does show up he tries to muddy the waters by throwing in a reference to the US Government funding his research on an fountain of youth elixir prompting Deep Throat’s most pointless appearance of the season. So the government has its fingers in some dirty business? They have been telling us that since the Pilot!
Pre Titles Sequence: Its like we’ve stepped into an alternate universe where The X-Files is completely shit, Young at Heart opens with a spectacularly unsubtle and disappointing pre titles sequence. Remember Tooms peering out of the sewage drain in Squeeze or the military raid on Budahest’s house in Deep Throat. The X-Files wasn’t just trying in those first handful of episodes, it was thriving. Now it seems you can open on a Dr Frankenstein hack cutting off a mans arm and get away with it. Not on my watch. Let’s move back to more surreptitious horrors, shall we?
Moment to Watch Out For: At least Barnett lives up to his promises in the reasonably exciting finale as he pumps Scully full of lead in slow motion. His attack is so quick and brutal it really gets the heart pumping. It’s the most exciting thing to happen in the whole episode and director Michael Lange shoots all the music hall scenes with a wide lense to make them scenes as cinematic as possible.
Orchestra: Remember I asked Mark Snow to calm it down a bit in Lazarus because he was suggesting supernatural circumstances when none were occurring? Well he manages to top that here with his all male choir accompaniment to Scully’s voiceover of the week. As she types the music builds and builds to a dramatic culmination suggesting something truly creepy is going on and as she becomes aware of it we reach the terrifying revelation that…somebody is at the door. Music should compliment a show, not send the audience into a frenzy of excitement for nothing. The all male choir musical atmosphere has been burnt into my mind now as being associated with The Omen…or possibly the Daleks. Here it feels like a hysterical reaction to the fact that this isn’t a very interesting story.
Result: With the last two episodes it feels like Chris Carter is trying to move the show away from its supernatural elements into something a lot more conventional and less interesting. That might come from juxtaposing two squint-and-you’ll-see-CSI shows in a row and this middle patch of episodes might have benefited from being scattered around a bit to avoid this impression. It doesn’t help that this is the third under performer in a row and the second ‘past comes back to haunt you’ back to back which screams of a show that has (already) run out of ideas and pizzazz. Giving your serial killer of the week milky eyes and a salamanders hand doesn’t make this science fiction, its an otiose reaction to the fact that this is a bland script. Halfway through the story the writers introduce talk of unethical science and a government conspiracy but since neither of these are especially original and only serve to add pointless complication it leads me to wonder if they ever had a handle on where this was going. It’s the second Chris Carter script in a row that mischaracterises Mulder and starts to make me wonder if he really understood the man he created. Never again will we see him painted in quite so conformist strokes and Duchovny is practically comatose in the early scenes. Young at Heart is a revenge episode that purports to be something more but ultimately has little more to offer than a serial killer with a salamander hand. And its not a very impressive salamander hand at that. What else could this episode lead to but a replaying of the events from Mulder’s past that he has been agonising over? Let’s get back to some real mystery, excitement and originality next week: 3/10
Tooms written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by David Nutter
Result: Disliked by the production team and David Duchovny, I find Born Again a confidently made episode and one that has a great deal to offer. Yes there are similarities to both Eve (creepy little girl) and Shadows (a cover up that resurfaces) but it handles both elements well and tosses in some memorable imagery (the origami, the spaceman in the fish tank) and great set pieces (you might think twice about twisting your scarf around your neck…) to the mix. It’s a little sluggish in the middle but pulls itself together for an exciting climax featuring the gorgeous effect of the exploding fish tank. It would seem that the show knows exactly what formula to fall back on when there is nothing original to be said and this hotch potch of previous episodes ticks all the right boxes. Mulder and Scully at each others throats? Check. Ghoulish children? Check. Stylish set pieces? Check. It’s the same blueprint that the show would dine out over many years to come. Born Again also sports a pair of amiable performances from Maggie Wheeler and Brian Markham and the best Mark Snow score of the year. And for once everything is wrapped at the climax with justice dished out in all the right places and a full explanation of what the episode has been about and why. Closure is oft-ignored virtue on this show. Season one is bowing out with a strong run of episodes: 7/10
E.B.E written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by William Graham
What’s it about: ‘A lie Mr Mulder is most convincingly hidden between two truths…’
Trust No-One: ‘If the shark stops swimming it will die. Don’t stop swimming…’ When we eventually catch up with Mulder he is wandering the forest where the crash happened with a space age looking gun as if he is trying to confirm everybody’s worse fears about him! I love the frustrated reaction of the authority figure who cannot be bothered to counter Mulder’s accusations with elaborate lies and simply tells him to ‘just…go away.’ One great thing about the Lone Gunmen is that they have the positive effect of making Mulder look less geeky and paranoid because they are what he could be taken to the nth degree. That Mulder seems to have had the wreckage of an alien spacecraft in his grasp and he let it go is bittersweet for the audience as much as it is for him. Constantly having the truth within reach and then walking away with nothing is just as frustrating for the viewer. Fortunately the episode heads off on a hunt for the truck and seems to be moving towards some kind of conclusion for him. Mulder gets the chance to thank Deep Throat for the help he has given him but his reaction is to walk away as if he is concealing the fact that he has been working against him all this time. The scene where Scully tries to point out that the photo Deep Throat has given him is a fake is one of the highpoints of their relationship in the first season. He is trying too hard to believe and she is trying too hard not to believe - watch the sparks fly! When she does stop him from heading off on a wild goose chase you can see clear evidence of why she is so good him. Mulder’s smashed up apartment is a wonderful visual representation of his paranoia. Its nice to see Mulder (who to this point has believed everything the guy has told him) questioning Deep Throat’s allegiances. Ultimately he walks away from this episode with no physical proof and no firm answers as to which side his informant is on but he has a clearer understanding that there is definitely something out there. It might just be a crumb but at least its something.
Brains’n’Beauty: Morgan and Wong can’t be bothered to play the usual games with Scully and her scepticism so they get all her alternative non-paranormal theories out of the way in about 30 seconds after she joins the episode. It could have been a mountain lion that the trucker shot at, atmospheric occurrences in the area that were conducive to lightning and there was a marsh nearby which may have been swamp gas rather than a spaceship. She’s really reaching with that last one. With her complaining that none of his evidence is conclusive you could basically skip the first half of the season (not that I would suggest you should because there lies some real gems) because this introductory scene says absolutely everything you need to know about both characters and their relationship. At this point I would say that Morgan/Wong understand what makes these characters tick and give them much better dialogue than their creator. Scully thinks that the Lone Gunmen give the government far too much credit with their freewheeling theories of their many cover ups and that they are the most implausible, paranoid people she has ever met. Interesting that come the last season they would be the first people she turns to to protect her child – they come along way in nine seasons. For Scully to admit that Mulder is the only person she trusts is quite a moment. She admits that she respects and admires his passion but others would use it against him.
The Lone Gunmen: I am completely on the fence with regards to the Lone Gunmen because whilst I agree they are useful contacts for Mulder and their many subsequent appearances means that their impact on the series is huge, I’m not sure if I like any of them at this stage. Mulder describes them as having good contacts but insane theories which about sums them up beautifully. Frohike is probably my favourite of the three because of his manic lusting after Scully (the show desperately needed a little fun of this nature) and his wonderful moments of short man syndrome. Byers is more like a robot at this stage and I’m not certain if that is because of Bruce Harwood’s monotonous delivery or that the character has no emotional depth. That would be rectified in future episodes. My least favourite of the three and ever would be so is Langly and just about everything about this character from his snidey remarks (‘is this your sceptical partner?’), sneers, unflattering geekiness and arrogance really turn me off. Unless he is supposed to be unlikable for some bizarre reason that I cannot fathom. Of the three he is the only one that doesn’t experience any real development, not even when they qualified for their own (short lived) show. Personally I think Max Fenig was more appealing than all three of them and he could have taken Langly’s place quite nicely to have made a much more enjoyable quartet. Its nice to have somewhere for Mulder and Scully to visit in the course of their investigations, though, and including new semi regulars feels like the show is beefing up its mythology.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think its remotely plausible that someone might think you’re hot.’
‘The truth is out there. But so are lies…’
The Good: I thinks its lovely that this episode chooses not to involve Mulder and Scully straight after the credits (you know the drill – they’re usually squabbling over a projector) but instead draws in the viewer with some dramatic incident first. Certainly a spaceship roaring overhead and something so nasty the driver pumps several rounds into the back of his lorry perks my interest up! Its only when watching this episode over that you realise how brilliantly little moments are slipped in and the woman who asked Scully to borrow her pen is so completely innocuous only the most paranoid of people would suspect that she was being handed back one that was bugged. It struck me during this episode that the covert scenes between Mulder and Deep Throat meeting in public places and exchanging information really seared themselves into the public consciousness and helped to make the show the success it was. With Mr X and Marita they were trying to recapture that special feeling of a clandestine relationship but they never quite get it as right as they did on season one and specifically in this episode. Why would Deep Throat try and send Mulder on a wild goose chase? What could he possibly be hiding that is that big? Mulder is literally frenzied with excitement as he tears away the boxes in the back of the truck thinking that he is going to find the wreckage of an alien spacecraft and I was certain that it was going to be a massive let down…so imagine my surprise when they discover a trolley that has clearly held an alien lifeform at some point. I love all the scenes set inside the government facility – the agents proof quite adept at subterfuge to a point and then Mulder sacrifices Scully in order to catch a glimpse of the alien life form.
The Bad: Has there been a scene where Mulder discusses Deep Throat with Scully that I have completely missed? She seems very aware of him here whereas I always thought Mulder had kept this a secret to make his deductive leaps look all the more impressive! Deep Throat suggests that the faked photo was prepared by the governments very best but they couldn’t even get the reflection of the moon right!
Pre Titles Sequence: Urgent and exciting, this is the best opening set piece since Beyond the Sea (since this episode and that share the same writers I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusion). Featuring a skirmish in the nights sky over Iraqi airspace that happens so quickly and violently you cannot tell if the pilot is being attacked or doing the attacking and which of the two craft has crash landed.
Moment to Watch Out For: The wonderful scene where Scully has to shut her mouth pretty quick sharpish about how paranoid everybody in her life seems to be these days when finding a bug inside her pen. I don’t think I have ever seen the wind taken out of somebody’s sails quite so pithily before.
Mythology: ‘After the Roswell incident in 1947, even at the brink of the Cold War there was an ultra secret conference attended by the United States, the Soviet Union, the Peoples Republic of China, Britain, both Germany’s, France…and it was agreed that should any extraterrestrial biological entities survive a crash the country that held that being would be responsible for its extermination.’ Deep Throat suggests that he comes to Mulder to atone for killing an E.B.E in the past.
Result: With the return of Morgan/Wong to the schedules the show suddenly gains incredible focus and E.B.E is another standout episode penned by the shows most consistent pair. It feels as though all the running threads of the season are cumulating and leading somewhere special; Mulder’s paranoia, Scully’s scepticism and Deep Throat’s allegiances are all addressed and taken to dramatic new highs. It highlights the strengths of Mulder and Scully’s characters better than practically anything surrounding it and the introduction of the Lone Gunmen adds some much needed comic relief to the show. The writers and director manage to brew up such a stifling feeling of paranoia its possible that before the end you might be looking over your own shoulder uncomfortably. The story has a drive to it where it constantly feels as though it is giving you one more clue after another and leading somewhere very special indeed. The fact that it (as is starting to become the norm) remains maddeningly vague about its conclusions doesn’t matter one jot because this time the journey has been so completely gripping. It’s a story constructed of smoke and mirrors and takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of deception and reaches the grand conclusion that there is definitely something out there but Mulder and Scully are going to have to up their game if they plan to expose it. Dense and riveting, a rapturous return to form for the show: 9/10
Miracle Man written by Howard Gordon & Chris Carter and directed by Michael Lange
What’s it about: Can Samuel Hartley really bring people back from the dead?
Trust No-One: Miracle Man is bubbling along quite adequately until Samuel mentions Samantha to Mulder and then my ears really pricked up. This is the first mention of her since Conduit (which feels like an age away). The mention is creepy enough but then the writers feel the need to actualise Samantha and we are treated to inexplicable moments of a little girl in a red dress that haunts Mulder. What was the purpose of this? How did Samuel plant these visions in his head? Is she supposed to be leading him somewhere? Why didn’t they ask this actress back when it came to playing out the abduction scenes in Little Green Men? Why is Mulder visualising a Samantha who is much younger than the last time he saw her. There’s no good reason to add these visions except to admit that your main plot isn’t interesting enough (something I disagree with). More to the point why is the little girl made up like some Transylvanian spirit complete with creepy organ score? Was Mulder’s sister a vampire?
Brains’n’Beauty: Scully admits that she doesn’t doubt the power of God but she does doubt the veracity of Samuel’s claims. At this point in the show they obviously haven’t decided to tackle Scully’s faith yet (it was similarly omitted from Beyond the Sea which perhaps should have been the ultimate expression of it) but this is the first time she open admits her religious affiliations. Episodes such as Revelations and All Souls would go on to study her faith in much more detail. There’s a very odd shot of Scully sharpening her giant scalpel before cutting into the body of the latest victim that looks as though it has come straight from a horror film – she looks like Dr Death salivating over the chance to cut into a corpse!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Don’t discount the power of suggestion. A healers greatest magic lies in the patients willingness to believe. Imagine a miracle and you’re halfway there.’
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘What is tarnation do you want?’ – yes somebody actually says that line!
Ugh: There has been a distinct lack of visual horror in the last handful of episode. Get to it, X-Files! Grossing me out is one the best things you do!
The Good: It feels as though this episode is really going to go after religious evangelists and expose them for what they really are – politicians with a bible and my interest was perked early on. George Gerdes is almost too good at playing the role of the celebrity Reverend and playing his audience like a finely tuned instrument. He has them eating out of his hands with his proclamations of faith, joy and happiness and he’s managed to turn preaching into a business that has made him rich. They are the kind of people that think they can gather en masse around the authorities and stop them from carrying out their investigation. Samuel is an intriguing character because whilst he accepts the power that he has been granted he genuinely thinks he is a danger to the public and should be locked up. He’s a mass of contradictions played with righteous anger by Scott Bairstow that makes him much more interesting to watch than the usual guest character of the week. A plague of locusts filling the courtroom is just whacky enough to work (mind you the critters appear so quickly with no sign of how they are entering so it does look more like a miracle than a stunt). I like the image of the scarred servant who follows Samuel after he brought him back from the dead. If you need proof of a miracle this ghostly figure sermonizing to the flock might just be enough. Its to the credit of the writers that I didn’t suspect his involvement in the killings until the very last minute. When Mulder and Scully visit Samuel’s blessing event it exposes both the good and the bad in evangelism; the director creates a real sense of energy and positivity and you can see the hope that religion brings to these people and yet when Samuel’s tricks fail to heal people they walk away disappointed and crushed. Samuel forgiving Leonard for his acts of homicide to discredit him is the last act of kindness he could bestow.
The Bad: There’s some extremely dodgy dialogue between Mulder and Scully regarding treating the body in bio-chemical terms and Samuel having the ability to heal the body’s electromagnetic system and destroy it in order to kill. Or something. It’s a load of sweaty bollocks and I think I would prefer to think of Samuel’s powers as a genuine touch of divinity rather than this nonsense. I think the framing of the scene where Samuel is beaten up in prison in the pose of Jesus on the cross is pushing things a little too far – he’s really suffering for our sins folks!
Pre Titles Sequence: I really don’t like the idea of local celebrity evangelists who whip up their communities into a fervour of religious dogma (personally religion is something I think you should come to on your own and this is far more akin to brainwashing) and so the thought of a child being shoehorned into that role horrifies me. Its just unusual enough to really catch on. Never mind the grisly corpse which comes back to life, convincing a kid to behave like this chills me to the bone.
Moment to Watch Out For: He’s the bringer of life, he’s Jesus and finally Samuel is Lazarus returning from the grave! This script must have bypassed the subtlety scanner!
Result: Throughout the first year the writers were trying different types of episodes t see what sort of show this would turn out to be. I wont condemn Miracle Man for being something so out of the ordinary that I can barely recognise it as an X-File and since it does go some way towards offering a balanced view of sermonising I’d say it is something of a success in its aims. Samuel is a deeply flawed character but that works in his favour, to have portrayed a healer as somebody as devout as Reverend Hartley would have gutted the piece of any realism. I really like how this episode transforms from a critique on evangelism into a murder mystery with the switch in genres being the twist rather than who the culprit is. Ultimately it winds up being quite a subtle character drama which is exactly what I would expect from Howard Gordon. Where this episode fails is in trying to shoehorn Mulder’s quest to find his sister in where it doesn’t belong and it shows a distinct lack of faith (hoho) on the part of the writers and their central storyline. There’s also pacing issues and a lack of visual stimulation. Miracle Man is a middle of the road X-File but it elevates itself with some fine characterisation and a thought provoking theme: 6/10
Shapes written by Marilyn Osborn and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: There’s a’howlin at the moon in remote Montana…
Trust No-One: I’m not sure why Mulder and Scully are involved in this story because they don’t bring anything of themselves to the narrative at all beyond the usual clichés. It could have been any generic agents turning up to follow the trail of the werewolf. Rather than apply their intelligence to the mystery they merely move from the scene of one attack to the next listening to the local squabbles (but not engaging with them) and learning Native American customs before finally just happening to be around when the werewolf transforms at the climax. It’s a waste of the characters that have shown in the seasons best episodes (Deep Throat, Ice, Beyond the Sea, E.B.E) that the dramas that involve them personally are the ones that get the best results. Watching them (barely) react to this episodes events sees them at their least engaging. Obviously Mulder hasn’t been brushing up on his werewolf stories of late because they seem to bypass the idea that it could be passed on from one person to another through scratches and bites.
Brains’n’Beauty: Mulder tells Scully about his werewolf theory and with predictable results she starts ranting about how ridiculous his theory is. I was just waiting for her to come face to face with the beast herself so he could say ‘I told you so.’ Which he never did (boo hiss). She is as good as attacked by the beast during the climax and has all the evidence she needs and yet I’m almost willing to bet that in the next episode she will be as sceptical as ever. They really need to start addressing her journey and why she is continually fighting the truth even when it is staring her in the face.
Ugh: What could have been the dodgiest scene of the entire year – the werewolf transformation scene – is superbly executed and turns out to be one of the best. Lyle is sweaty and black eyed, puking up his teeth and screaming in anguish as his skin bulges and rips, allowing the animal to tear free beneath. It’s a full bloodied horror transformation and it scared the life out of me when I was kid!
The Good: The location work is gorgeous and it screams of that wet, leafy Autumnal Vancouver forest more atmospherically than practically any other episode. The Native American settlement is well realised and feels like genuinely lived in community and the burning funeral pyre out in the countryside is a stunning image. Pointing the finger at Gwen has its advantages (the actress is pretty one note so watching her get shot down like a dog would have been quite fun) and considering her aggressive attitude (it’s the only emotion she displays) it is very plausible that she could be the werewolf.
The Bad: The footsteps that Mulder discovers turning from human to animal tells him (and us) everything we need to know about this episode. Just as including Samantha in Miracle Man felt like the show was trying to generate interest because the main plot was lacking, they pull off a similar trick here with Mulder surprising Scully with the fact that this is a continuation of the very first X-File. It doesn’t really contribute anything and is such a selling point it probably should have been made the focus of an episode in its own right. Lyle mentions he has an image in his head of his father sitting on the porch and Scully fails to put two and two together and figure he is the killer. Sometimes I have to wonder about the intelligence of our two favourite agents! Jimmy Herman has the job of getting across a massive dollop of exposition regarding the werewolf but unfortunately he has the most soporific voice that I would suggest if you were ever having trouble sleeping you stick on this scene and you’ll be purring like a cat in no time. When we get a glimpse of the werewolf costume in its full glory it is as disappointing as you imagine. I never thought I would see the day when a Doctor Who effect triumphed over an X-File one but Russell T Davies made the right choice when he decided to go for a dynamic and expressive CGI creature.
Pre Titles Sequence: Now this is more like it! Frightening streaks of white lightning that highlights stuffed bears and slaughtered deer, a creature hiding out in the barn, a split second view of its eyes filled with bloodlust and a savage attack. It might not be the most intelligent of set pieces but it has something that The X-Files has been missing for a while now – atmosphere. This is classic horror movie material, gloriously shot by David Nutter and most welcome in show that is starting to feel like a straight cop drama.
Moment to Watch Out For: The sequence of Jim Parker alone on his porch being attacked by the creature should be held up as an example of how to get hide behind the pillow horror right. Something growling in the bushes. Nah it was nothing. Puff on the cigar. Absolute silence. Tinkle of the chimes. Sudden close up on the creatures snarling face. Quick POV shot of the creature approaching. Jim tossed into his chair and savaged to death out of focus as we concentrate on his glass of whiskey. Its superbly done and tells the story atmospherically without ever having to show us the hideous werewolf costume.
Result: Shapes was the first X-Files episode I ever saw on its original broadcast (I went back and watched all the others when they were released on video afterwards) and I can remember sitting there in the dark at the tender age of 15 absolutely terrified out of my wits as this werewolf story unfolded. Now that I am older (but not necessarily wiser) and have since fallen in love with the horror genre and lapped up a wealth of movies and novels this seems pretty tame but I still feel some of those teenage chills I felt when it was first aired. Its exceptionally well directed by David Nutter who is clearly the shows best when it comes to bringing atmosphere to the screen and he employs all kinds of effective techniques (sudden streaks of lightning, close up shots of the animal, dizzying use of the camera, quick pans across the ground) to make the attacks as effective as possible. The cowboys vs. Indians angle (I simplify it a tad with that description but not by much) is woefully unsophisticated and pretty dull and yet Carter seems to use it (especially the Native American material) as a blueprint for future episodes. There’s nothing wrong with a shallow horror story every now and again and this would have worked much better without the naïve cultural politics weighing it down. It feels like the first episode in an age without an anti-climax too where we get definitive ending where the paranormal element is dealt with in a pretty permanent sort of way and nothing is left unexplained. Its another so-so episode that has half an episodes worth of worthy material and half an episode that’s bollocks but at least the horror aspect seems to have been re-ignited even if once again the pace is lackadaisical. The transformation scene is one of the highlights of season one but even with that this is still pretty average: 5/10
Darkness Falls written by Chris Carter and directed by Joe Napolitano
What’s it about: If you go down to the woods today…
Trust No-One: This is more like it! Carter forgets about introducing old lovers and old cases and old grudges and starts engaging with his characters in the here and now. Unlike the last handful of episodes (E.B.E aside) which have seen Mulder and Scully barely getting involved in the cases they are investigating (what the hell did Scully do in Miracle Man or Shapes?) Carter decides to put them in a very dangerous situation and watch them try and cope. It generates the best performances out of either Anderson and Duchovny for a while as the darkness presses in and they literally have to run for their lives. Its interesting that Scully doesn’t mind Mulder making crazy leaps of logic and judgement except when it means her life is danger as well…then she comes down on him like a ton of bricks. I’m really glad that Spinney returned with the car because it goes someway towards redeeming Mulder and his risky decision.
Brains’n’Beauty: I bet Scully is displeased that she is the lightest amongst them because she gets the honour of being winched up a tree and coming face to face with dirty, scrabbling fingers caught up in webbing. There’s a wonderful moment where Scully freaks out totally when she realises the bugs are crawling all over her but the light has rendered them all but invisible. The way she moves from quiet fascination to abject terror in about five seconds is expertly played by Anderson, highlighting that sudden dread that bugs instil in us.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A brain sucking amoeba?’
Ugh: Its easy to have a fear of bugs. We hate the thought of being at the mercy of nature and the very idea of lots of diseased legs tickling at our skin as they crawl all over us is enough to get the bravest of us scratching. The bugs of Darkness Falls aren’t realised in the most inspiring way (they are basically just green dots) but they are pre-empted by a terrifying sound of the swarm approaching and the sheer number of them enveloping their victims makes them a force to be reckoned with. When they find a desiccated corpse spun up in a tree we can see the extent of their ability en masse and suddenly it doesn’t matter how daft they look. All that matters is running away from this swarm as soon as you detect them. There’s something rather apt about nature having its own revenge against people who dismiss its age and right to exist and the bugs can be seen as a metaphor for a planet that is sick of being raped of all of its resources.
The Good: Did I say that Shapes captured that damp, leafy feel of the Vancouver forests better than any other episode? Was I insane? The X-Files is the sort of show that can happily spend an entire episode out in a gloriously moody location and Darkness Falls positively revels in the atmosphere of being trapped in a vast area of space with no help of rescue. This episode touts the same sort of cultural politics as Shapes (Mulder and Scully enter the story describing the situation between the loggers and the eco terrorists as akin to a war zone) but where it was only used to provide local colour in the last episode the tension between the two groups is at the very core of the plot here. Are the disappearances of the men eco sabotage? Can Spinney be trusted? The very reason Mulder and Scully are trapped in the woods is down to a spike left by the terrorists. The appearance of the bugs is well built up with the presence of the greasy residue, the grotesque body spun in a web and the green ring in the tree…their emergence is handled in convincingly written stages. I love the wide shot of Mulder and Scully walking across a vast area that has been cleared of trees – this really is a cinematic location. Its such a lovely, simple idea to have characters trapped inside the cabin with the coughing, choking generator their only source of light and keeping the bugs out. It’s the old Doctor Who base under siege formula brought right up to date into the 90s and it proves as tense and suffocating as ever. We can spot a victim a mile off now because they are always the ones that scoff at the idea that paranormal happenings are in evidence. So as soon as Humphreys starts suggesting that the eco terrorists have faked the body in the cocoon and mocks the menace that lies in wait in the darkness his cards are well and truly marked. This is a warming kind of predictability though because he’s so unreasonable that we want him to die. His death has a lovely sense of irony to it when the vehicle that is his only chance to escape becomes a trap that the bugs swarm inside to have their fill of him. There’s some interesting discussion about the death of trees many centuries older than any living person and its unsurprising that this episode won the Environmental Media Award. It doesn’t get in the way of the story (in fact it explains where the bugs come from) and it teaches us something new. The direction on this show gets better and better – there’s a lovely shot where one form of protection (the setting sun) blends seamlessly into another (the single light bulb). The shots of bugs crawling across the camera is also really well done (and stolen later in War of the Coprophages). The irony of the car Spinney returns to save Mulder and Scully in being sabotaged by a spike placed on the road by Spinney is not lost on me. Even the open ended conclusion feels a bit different this time with the emphasis on hope that the bugs can be destroyed rather than the repetitive revelation that this weeks horror has somehow survived. It might feel like an anti-climax to those who enjoy seeing things wrapped up but the ambiguity of the final scene is million times better than simply suggesting the horror is still out there. Does that mean we are going to see a sequel to this episode?
The Bad: Militant environmentalists? Sorry but that just sounds funny!
Pre Titles Sequence: It feels like Chris Carter has been liberated from the crushing functionality of his last couple of scripts and has finally decided to let go and have some fun. He has set across a brilliant idea of not just making the darkness something to be feared because of what it might be hiding (which is a staple of most horror stories) but the very thing that allows the monster to roam free. This is a fast paced and memorable opening set piece which cleverly manages to make the wide open spaces of the Vancouver forest feel stiflingly claustrophobic (just think about that for a second and realise how tricky that must have been to get right).
Moment to Watch Out For: Carter delivers the last kind of climax that you would imagine – the bugs win! They swarm into Mulder and Scully’s escape vehicle and hack away at them leaving them comatose and scarred. Its very well done and probably as close to either character biting the farm as we are ever likely to see.
Result: Returning to the formula that made Ice such a success earlier in the season sees Chris Carter delivering his best script since Deep Throat and truly memorable trapped in the woods instalment. Mulder and Scully work so well in this kind of threatening environment because they are usually so professional and glacial in their investigations and the fear for their lives forces them into a whirlwind of panic that sets my teeth on edge. The bugs may not be the most dynamically realised of monsters but the characters fear is very real and the director makes some savvy choices to keep reminding us that danger is lurking nearby. Not so much an anti-climax as an ante-climax in that this episode is practically a prelude for another adventure that actually sees the bugs tackled (we learn about as much about the situation in the entire episode as we normally do in the pre titles sequence). Never mind about the vague ending that basically acknowledges that we have had our fun and someone else can do the clearing up and concentrate on the journey. The lush location work, the frightening score, the expert pacing and the descent into anxiety. Besides the suggestion that nature has won has a certain poetic truth to it: 8/10
Tooms written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: The daily life of an innocent liver eating mutant and his arch nemesis Fox Mulder…
Trust No-One: I rather like the way the writers paint Mulder as raving lunatic who is dogging the footsteps of poor innocent Eugene Victor Tooms. I began sinking into my seat with horror as Mulder stood up in front of a court of law and started gibbering on about a liver eating mutant who is a danger to the public! Suddenly with crystal clarity I can see why perhaps Scully’s approach to quietly dealing with these paranormal investigations and then not telling anyone about them makes sense. In this setting Mulder is a complete joke and its enough to make you cringe watching him embarrass himself publicly like this. Mulder’s testimony that should have convicted Tooms (because it is the truth) is what ultimately frees him. How’s that for comic irony. Mulder starts watching Tooms in exactly the same way Tooms was watching his victims in Squeeze; in the darkness and with predatory glee. Skinner informs us of what we always suspected; that Mulder was highly regarded and expect to go on to great things before the X-Files consumed his life.
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘Mulder I wouldn’t put myself on the line for anybody but you…’ For the first time in an age the reason that Scully was brought in to work with Mulder is referenced to. Initially it was her task to debunk the X-Files (although they never said this directly it was perfectly clear that was her purpose – ‘we trust you’ll make the proper scientific analysis’) and instead of pairing a enemy with Fox Mulder she has become his most trusted ally. They are extremely displeased with this as her work over the last year is finally reviewed. Irregular procedure, untenable evidence, anonymous witnesses and inclusive findings are the accusations thrown at her and it makes me laugh because those are some of the criticisms that I have tossed at the writers in the shows debut season! When Skinner suggests that Scully’s mind has become too open I nearly spat my coffee all over the keyboard! There’s a wonderful scene where Scully joins Mulder in a stakeout and she reveals her feelings for him, telling him what the audience has needed to hear for ages (even if we, like Mulder, wince at her calling him Fox).
Assistant Director: Another fresh and interesting character that would go on to become a part of the X-File family. I’m rather fond of Skinner but half the time I think that is because of Mitch Pileggi’s stalwart performance as the Assistant Director rather than because the character is especially well defined. Here he is treated as another bureaucratic cog in the wheel that is threatening to bring down the X-Files and with the Smoking Man hanging around over his shoulder listening to every word he is saying they seem to be very much in cahoots. There is no indication at all that Skinner and Scully could ever become friends here and I rather like him being cast in the role of a bad guy to begin with.
Ugh: Mostly discussed elsewhere in this review but the image of the naked, bile coloured Tooms clawing his way along an escalator shaft is certainly one that sticks in the memory.
The Good: Let’s not beat around the bush – Doug Hutchinson is still as creepy as hell in the part whether he is staring guilelessly like a cat begging for cream or yellow eyed in a liver lusting fervour. I find it very funny that the writers could go down the route of painting Tooms as an innocent victim and watching the kangaroo court playing out which puts him in the best possible light (with Mulder the raving dissenter) makes you believe that the American legal system wants more serial killers out on the streets! Tooms longing for his defence attorney’s liver whilst he is trying to get him off the hook made me howl with laughter…you always bite the hand that feeds you! The FBI has never been subtle about hiding its distaste for The X-Files department but now Scully’s work is being criticised too it really feels as though a bureaucratic hand is closing in on them. For all this is an X-File episode the writers deliberately allow us close to Tooms and follow his life out of prison so we can experience how Mulder is a constant pain in his behind. By all accounts Tooms is merely trying to get on with his life as a the happy go lucky liver eating mutant that he is and Mulder is the nasty authority figure that keeps getting in his way. Its this kind of role reversal that Morgan/Wong excel in. When Mulder tails him to every victims house what other choice does he have but to frame him to get him off his back? It’s a shame that the climax didn’t match the rest of the episode by portraying Tooms as protecting his nest rather than painting him as a nasty bile covering monster that bursts his cocoon and attacks Mulder but it still provides and exciting and elevator crushingly memorable end to the shows most memorable monster of the week.
The Bad: Apparently Mulder and Scully have a conviction or case solution rate of 75% Are you kidding me? That must be all the cases set in between the ones we have been privy to this year that have climaxed on suspects vanishing in a puff of smoke or with similar obfuscating conclusions. Odd how Frank Briggs never mentioned his chemical plant cement hunch in Squeeze but I guess that’s the curse of writing a sequel. The ribcage with the teeth marks in it is so unsubtle it’s the sort of visual gag that would turn up in Red Dwarf! They sure tore down that apartment block and put up that shopping mall quickly!
Pre Titles Sequence: You have to count something like Tooms as a success when they rush a sequel so quickly that it manages to squeeze (hoho) into the first season! The only other time I can recall a similar sort of thing happening is way back in 1963 when the Daleks were such a hit in Doctor Who they were rushed back into production almost immediately. Everything is a little more obvious now because the production are assuming that you have seen (or at least heard of) Squeeze and so rather than the slow build up of tension in his first episode Tooms is very forthright in its re-introduction of the character. Within seconds he is peering menacing from the darkness and contorting his body to try and escape prison which might spoil the surprise of new viewers to the character but the ideas (and just as importantly the execution) are still powerful enough a second time round to give you the shivers.
Moment to Watch Out For: Toilet humour in The X-Files? I would have never thought the series could stretch that far (mind you wait until the confidence exuded by the show in series three when it features an episode that climaxes with Mulder and Scully showered in shit!) but once again the dynamic duo look for ways to broaden the shows format. Tooms features a tug of war between the latest intended victim and the mutant on either side of a toilet unblocking device as he manipulates his way up the u-bend! Its crazy fun to watch but the very idea of something come up out of the toilet to get you is stomach turning!
Foreboding: This ‘day in the life of a monster’ approach would be handled even more sympathetically in season seven’s Hungry. Mulder ominously states ‘a change for us, its coming…’ in the last scene.
Result: ‘I’m sure you’ll be able to squeeze in…’ Morgan and Wong couldn’t repeat the success of Squeeze by copying it slavishly (and besides they are too sophisticated as writers to attempt something as lazy as that) and instead churn out a darkly funny sequel that dares to paint Tooms as the victim and Mulder as the villain. If you except that Tooms is merely following a biological imperative (he’s no more dangerous than any number of animals out in the wild) and this episode does just that and has the gorgeous effect for one time only of turning Mulder into the bad guy of the piece who keeps getting in his way. The writers blend jet black humour (terror in the u-bend!) and grotesque thrills (the hungry escalator) to great effect and with the added pressure of the FBI threatening to close down the X-Files this is an episode packed with treats. Tooms is not as crawl under your skin suspenseful as Squeeze but then I don’t think it had any chance of being so because the debut Morgan/Wong script was a dazzling one off. Instead it offers memorable set pieces, a fascinating view of a villain just trying to do his business, charming Mulder and Scully interaction and an examination of just how ridiculous this show is from ‘the other side’ (for the court hearing and the FBI bigwigs like Skinner substitute for TV goers that don’t enjoy the cult variety). Not at all what I was expecting but terrific entertainment: 8/10
Born Again written by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon and directed by Jerrold Freedman
What’s it about: Make sure you’re a good cop of creepy little Michelle Bishop will be coming for you…
Trust No-One: Apparently their work is getting something of a reputation, it was their work on the Tooms case which attracted Sharon to Mulder and Scully. Mulder has another little paddy at Scully for refusing to believe even when all the evidence points to extraordinary phenomena. She tells him that sometimes looking for extreme possibilities blinds you to the real answers that are right in front of you. You can see the pickle they’ve got themselves in here – under differing circumstances they’re both right. In this case the investigation does rule in Mulder’s favour but its still quite a leap to admit that Michelle Bishop is housing the soul of Charlie Morris. Where Scully is concerned there has to be a more logical explanation than that of Barbala being tossed out of a window being linked to reincarnation. Plus Scully is right in saying that even if he does get all the proof he needs to expose this how is he going to spin it in court? We can all remember how well it went down in Tooms when he started ranting on about liver eating mutants! There’s even the suggestion that Mulder might go too far when his lust for the paranormal takes hold of him and he subjects Michelle to a disturbing post hypnotic regression session.
Ugh: This is one episode that is far more about cool effects than anything spooky but it sure gets those effects right.
The Good: First lets deal with the inexplicable ability The X-Files has to cast freaky looking little girls and boys! Michelle is even creepier looking than the Eve’s earlier in the season and I have to wonder if there is some kind of CreepyKid Inc casting agency out there which is set up just for this kind of emergency! Maggie Wheeler is outstanding in this episode and it makes me yearn to see more of her in straight dramas. For a while I didn’t make the connection between her and Chandler’s grotesque ex girlfriend Janice in Friends because there is a universe of subtlety between them. Its not the most exciting role ever but Wheeler (Duchovny’s then girlfriend) makes it a charismatic, watchable one (‘I just started the autopsy’ ‘I don’t think he’s going anywhere’). With the agents barely registering in Miracle Man and Shapes, troubled by their past coming back to haunt them in Lazarus, Young at Heart and Tooms and running for their lives in Darkness Falls this is the first episode in an age that feels as though we are watching Mulder and Scully showing off their investigative talent and really engaging with the central mystery. It seems in the world of the X-Files no bad deed ever goes unpunished there is supernatural retribution for every scheming cover up in its very twisted legal system! Money and murder always seem to be inextricably linked, don’t they? It seems like Gordon/Gansa want to get in on the fun that Morgan/Wong had in the last episode and enjoy their own quirky death – this time it is a man choked to death by his own scarf as a bus drags him along the road! The ending that sees Anita Fiore recognise her ex husband in the little girl and beg him to release Tony is rather lovely.
Pre Titles Sequence: Cleverly the direction makes you believe that Michelle is the villain of the piece; a creepy little girl with the extraordinary strength to toss a man out of a window to his death. At no point here do you suspect that the man she killed is a part of a plot that she is trying to seek revenge for.
Moment to Watch Out For: Morris taking his revenge on Fiore at the climax is beautifully done with a length of electrical cable tying his legs as his gun is telekinetically dragged from his grasp and the fish tank explodes in slow motion. Pokers fly through the air and smack him in the head, vases smash into him, apocalyptic splits crack the walls…its all very destructive and exciting! When people talk about memorable set pieces on The X-Files this is exactly the sort of thing they mean.
Fashion Statement: Mulder is looking more and more like the cool dude that he will become rather than the scruffy geek he started out as.
Orchestra: The music on The X-Files has always been of a high quality and highly atmospheric and only stutters when Mark Snow gets a bit carried away in trying to inject more supernatural atmosphere into the duller episodes. His work on Born Again however feels as though it has stepped up a notch and we are reaching for real cinematic menace. Go watch the sequence where the fish tank bursts, the music is terrifyingly apparent but highly effective.
Notes: Brian Markinson gives a nicely underplayed performance here. If you are something of a TV buff his is a face you should recognise as his list of credits extends to all manner of cult TV appearances in DS9, Millennium, Voyager, Dark Angel, Caprica…
Roland written by Chris Ruppenthal and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: Is a retarded janitor really responsible for a spate of deaths?
Trust No-One: Every now and again an episode comes along when Mulder is unexpectedly very sweet and sensitive and Roland is the first time we get to see that side of him. He proves very adept at dealing with Roland simply by not treating him any different from anybody else. When Mulder tells Roland that his dreams are bad but he isn’t I just wanted to give him a big hug. The way he manages to get through to him and explain why he does these terrible things by having him play with a remote controlled spaceship is inspired (‘who runs the controls?’).
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘People die. They go away and they’re not supposed to come back.’
The Good: If this episode was being judged on the performance of its central guest actor, Zeljko Ivanek, it would be getting full marks because he embodies the role of Roland completely and convinces that he is mentally retarded without ever going over the top. It’s a subtle, touching turn that impresses with its little details like his childlike wandering eyes and hands and the way he gets across that he is perfectly happy with his life despite his disability. I love Roland’s innocent unspoken romance with Tracey and throughout you are longing for them to tell each other how they feel. You get the impression that all the feelings and emotions are there but they just don’t know how to translate them. Instead its all gestures and looks. James Sloyan is quite a catch too as the show continues to flaunt increasingly impressive character actors in bit parts (for fans of the show Sloyan would memorably go on to play Odo’s dad Dr Mora in DS9). The central idea of this episode – that a man can be directed by his cryogenically frozen brother to murder – is slightly ridiculous but when you add in the retardation element it becomes something much more interesting. It would have been so easy to have gotten the tone of this piece wrong and wound up causing offence (there is a general awkwardness around autistic people already without turning them into killers!) but the emotional aspect is superbly judged to touch the audience and help them understand how frustrating it must be to be mentally handicapped. There is a pained resistance on Roland’s face every time he is forced to kill that really makes you feel for the guy. His hysterical screams to Tracey to leave him alone when his brother tries to get him to murder her are terrifying, it’s a moment of pure malice on Arthur’s part because she has nothing to do with the institute. Its almost as if he wants to punish Roland simply for being alive and capable. The last shot of Roland looking in the mirror and looking unsure at what he sees there is gorgeous. Its one of the most subtle versions of the same ending we have seen all year (the horror lives on…) because it is all down to the performance.
The Bad: The finale leaves a bad taste in the mouth because it seems to suggest that people can do bad things and get away with it. Nolette more than anyone deserved to die a messy death but he walks away Scot free. I supposed it could be seen as Roland reasserting his humanity but I would have thought more of the character if he had a bitter streak in him anyway. Then Roland and Tracey are forced to part as he is sent off for psychiatric evaluation…come on guys a happy ending isn’t a crime every once in a while!
Pre Titles Sequence: Surprising and suggestive, Roland’s opening set piece sees the show going for something a bit different by offering an immediate twist of the idiot turning out to be something of a savant who can’t use a door lock but can turn a wind tunnel into a deadly weapon. The growing tension as you realise that the scientist is literally going to be shredded by this machine is expertly maintained and the final shot of his flying through the air tells us everything we need to know about his grisly fate to make up the rest in our minds.
Moment to Watch Out For: Talk about giving a whole knew meaning to having your face smashed in! One of the scientists is drowned in nitrogen and then once his face is crystallised it is dropped to the floor and smashes into pieces! That’s one of the most novel deaths I have ever seen on any television show! To counteract this grisly fate is the gloriously funny outline of the victims corpse whose head is made up of little pieces as it smashed outwards! Its so whacky it could belong on an episode of The Avengers!
Orchestra: Thinking back, it was Mark Snow’s touching, elegiac score for this episode that I remembered the most. Certain episodes of The X-Files can be recognised by a musical signature and this is definitely one of them.
Result: Tragic and idiosyncratic; Roland works as both an X-File that has something to say and as a supernatural drama with some really crazy death scenes. The key to episodes success is down to two men; Zeljko Ivanek, who is utterly mesmerising in the crucial role of Roland and David Nutter who brings his usual stylistic touch of class to the proceedings. The script is not particularly inspired in itself since it is another one of those episodes that lets us in on all of its secrets early on but the sorrowful, melancholic atmosphere was more than enough to keep me hooked. Roland is a nice guy being directed to do terrible things and Ivanek portrays the conflicting emotions with real skill. Its not often that you are rooting for a happy ending for the mass murderer. I think perhaps one more murder was needed in the last (very talky) third but the ones that we do get are some of the most inspired that the show would present. The Mulder/Scully interaction seems a little flat this week but David Duchovny is wonderfully sweet when Mulder interacts with the titular character. Roland isn’t perfect but it is trying hard to be different and for the most part succeeds rather well: 7/10
The Erlenmeyer Flask written by Chris Carter and directed by R.W. Goodwin
What’s it about: The Truth at last?
Trust No-One: Mulder is so easily manipulated because he wants to understand what Deep Throat knows so badly that he will lap up and follow any clues that he tosses his way. There’s a lovely moment when he finally snaps at Deep Throat and says he has enough work to do without following his vague clues all the time. His mole suggests he has become too dependant on him for information but Mulder speculates that perhaps it is the other way round. I love how this episode morphs from an episode that looks as though it is going to finally draw back the curtains and show Mulder everything into a journey of discovery for Scully. Halfway through the episode the narrative shifts in her favour and he’s left unconscious and out of action.
Brains’n’Beauty: Its Scully (as usual) who is asking all of the sensible questions. Who is Deep Throat? Who does he work for? What is his purpose in helping Mulder? Having Scully head off to examine the substance in the laboratory was a brilliant idea because she is confronted with the one thing that could shake her cynical nature towards paranormal phenomena – actual scientific proof (‘what you are looking at exists nowhere in nature. It would have to be by definition extraterrestrial…’). Scully is woman enough to admit that she was wrong to Mulder and in a lovely move on Chris Carter’s part Mulder understands rather then condemns her for her previous scepticism (which he would perfectly within his rights to do so). Had this been the end for these two characters it would have been a very nice place to leave them. The difficulty Carter has as soon as he knows the show has been picked up for a second year is how to get Scully back in the role she has played in the first year without it seeming like he is backtracking. But we’ll deal with that later. As much as I desperately wanted Scully to have even more proof by witnessing the warehouse experiments it would have been deeply unsatisfying if they hadn’t of vanished because that is precisely the pattern that the show has put in place. Its precisely why Scully seeing the alien embryo is such a remarkable moment because she has been kept away from the reality of their work for so long. With Mulder out of the action during the climax the show suddenly becomes all about Scully and how she fares without him and its disturbing how much better she is at carrying the show. Her confrontation with Deep Throat, indulging in a little governmental espionage, discovering the alien embryo and her devastating reaction to the death of their only friend in the government – this is cracking stuff. Whilst we have been on alien hunts with Mulder in Deep Throat, Fallen Angel and E.B.E all year and Scully has stood back as the disapproving parent. Who knew that she was waiting to step into his shoes quite so effectively and completely steal the limelight? Scully owes her life to Deep Throat who insists that he makes the exchange for Mulder’s life and loses his own in the process.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You think he does it because he gets off on it?’ ‘No, I think he does it because you do’ – Mulder and Scully discuss why they think Deep Throat feeds him information.
‘If this is monkey pee you’re on your own…’
Ugh: Toxic blood is such a simple idea and so insidious because it makes the fugitive (who has been treated as a sympathetic character) someone very dangerous to be around. The nasty swellings to his victims eyes and mouth bring to mind radiation burns.
The Good: After a year of obfuscation and red herrings there is a sudden mood of excitement as Deep Throat tells Mulder ‘you’ve never been closer.’ Its impossible to watch this episode without feeling as though the show is moving up a gear. There’s a great mystery that builds around the fugitive that can survive being shot and duck under water for hours, he’s a superhuman that is somehow caught up in the government conspiracy and could provide Mulder with all the answers he seeks. Although we may not have realised it at the time Deep Throat (the episode) was about as close as we were ever going to get to the heart of the government conspiracy in season one. In that episode Mulder manages to break into a government facility and get within a gnats whisker of an alien craft. The only other point in season one where Mulder’s quest threatened to reach fruition was E.B.E where he almost caught a glimpse at an alien. But that has become the pattern; almosts and might have beens but the anticipatory, unflowering nature of The Erlenmeyer Flask promises full disclosure and even goes some way towards fulfilling that promise. Mulder discovering the warehouse full of vats containing fully grown human experiments makes for a visually stunning and emotionally satisfying scene. This is precisely the sort of behind the scenes secrets we have been denied throughout series one and the audience is as much in awe as Mulder. Are the government cloning people? Are there clones already in place? Why create superhumans? Suddenly keeping us back from the truth for so long makes perfect sense because glimmers like this make for such stimulating viewing. Deep Throat suggests that there is a mass clean up operation to ensure everything to do with the experiments is being tidied away which is quite passionless when you hear it being said. Once Scully is informed that the Doctor she took the sample to has been murdered along with her entire family you realise just what merciless lengths they will go to ensure their secrets are kept hidden. Scully is directly responsible for that woman’s death and the enormity of that realisation is beautifully performed by Gillian Anderson. The shock ending that the X-Files has been closed down is a jaw dropping way to end the season leaving them a massive hole to climb out of in the next. The parting shot of the Smoking Man tidying away the alien embryo and walking smugly towards the camera mirroring the closing scene in the pilot episode would have been the perfect way to end the show had that been its fate. The truth is out there but they are going to do everything in their power to keep it hidden.
The Bad: I hate it when drama relies on characters happily managing to guess the right password in a spectacularly tense moment.
Pre Titles Sequence: It strikes me as odd that The X-Files has never gone in for the usual sort of car chase action adventure openings to its episodes and instead has chosen to opt for something that is much more slower paced and sinister. They make up for lost time here with a high octane pursue sequence that culminates in wheels screeching, a violent confrontation and a truly impressive stunt as the fugitive leaps into the water after being shot. Its very expensive looking and exciting and not at all what we usually come to expect from The X-Files (at least in series one – as the budget increases in subsequent years the show becomes more and more cinematic) and that is what makes it so effective.
Moment to Watch Out For: The death of Deep Throat is so brilliantly handled that the show would be trying to replicate its success for years to come but never quite get it as right as it does here. The idea of killing off such an established character is a shocking move because he has formed an integral part of the shows tapestry. Had this been the end of the series Carter was bowing out with the message that nobody, not even Deep Throat, was safe from being tidied up by this government conspiracy. What a bleak, unforgettable message that would have been. With the show renewed it has a secondary purpose of reminding us that not even Mulder and Scully’s safety should be taken for granted. That’s something that would prove quite prescient very soon in the first third of season two. More importantly the execution is perfect. There’s simply no way this outcome could have been predicted on first viewing because Deep Throat has always appeared so well connected. The prisoner/embryo exchange seems to be going down perfectly and Deep Throat is suddenly shot with such speed I was left reeling on first viewing. I wanted to rewind it to confirm what I had just seen! If you are going to slap your audience around the face with the death of regular character this is how to do it. Quick, unexpected, unfair and unforgettable. I don’t think I have ever seen it done better, personally.
Orchestra: Mark Snow’s rising music as Scully opens the cryo-container and reveals the alien embryo inside captures the sense of wonder she is experiencing perfectly.
Mythology: Experimenting on people with alien bacteria to create superhumans with tolerance to all kinds of lethal pain. Breeding them in vats in an innocuous looking warehouse right under the noses of the American public. They’ve had the tissue since 1947 but not the technology. Roswell was a smokescreen and they have had half a dozen better salvage operations since then. Berube was killed because his work was successful, he had created the first alien/human hybrid. There were six willing patients all who were terminally ill who underwent the procedure. Thanks to the extraterrestrial treatment all six patients recovered from their illnesses. All the government were interested in was the science, not the results and the fugitive was being hunted down because the idea of him living a normal life when his biology contained such secrets was too great a liability. What could possibly be the purpose of creating an alien human hybrid and then wanting to keep it a secret?
Foreboding: ‘In 1987 a group of children what they thought was a routine inoculation. What they were injected with was a clone DNA from the contents of that package you’re holding as a test!’ Skip forward to the climax of season two to see the results of this disgusting experiment… Scully spies Deep Throat’s assassin as he drives past her and this prove an important plot point in season two’s Red Museum.
Result: ‘Trust no one…’ How do you even begin to bring to a close something as eclectic as the first year of The X-Files? Due to dwindling ratings it was perfectly possible that the show wouldn’t be picked up for a second so Chris Carter had the unenviable task of writing a finale that would satisfy if this was the end of the show and provide story leads if it was lucky enough to continue. He gets the balance just about perfect by giving the audience a rare inside peek into the governments shady work and at the same time closing down the X-Files and murdering Deep Throat. Had this been the end we would have been left reeling at such a devastatingly cynical conclusion and the show would have wound up one of those ‘do you remember…?’ one year wonders. Fortunately Fox saw fit to renew The X-Files for a second year which would ultimately prove to be a ratings winning success. On its own terms The Erlenmeyer Flask is a terrific piece of drama with plenty of muscular action and intriguing mystery to keep even the staunchest of critics happy. Mulder gets closer to the truth than ever before and its one of the best Scully episodes yet as she owns the concluding third and proves to be a riveting solo protagonist. What we are ultimately given is crumbs but after being starved of the truth for an entire season it feels like a feast has been laid on and what becomes clear is that Carter has a long term story planned that is going to need time and patience to play out. With memorable imagery, slick direction and exciting developments this is a knockout conclusion to the incredible first year of The X-Files: 9/10