The Blessing Way written by Chris Carter and directed by R.W. Goodwin
What’s it about: Mulder is off on the astral plane to see some old faces…
Trust No-One: Every time we cut back to Mulder on his blessing way ritual the episode crawls to a halt. These scenes are the literal interpretation of watching paint dry metaphorically. Or something.
Brains’n’Beauty: Duchovny was disappointed with this episode and wished they could have gone back and tweaked it. Of course he is – all the dramatic opportunities here are given to Scully! It can’t always be about Mulder, despite Duchovny’s efforts to doctor scripts. That’s one of the reasons I found season eight something of a renaissance for the show because Scully could finally claim the show completely and show us what she is capable of. It is long past time that Gillian Anderson was given the sort of opportunities this three parter affords her and if Mulder has to be shunted off in some symbolic dreamscape in order for that to happen then so be it. It turns out Scully was right to question Mulder in Anasazi because here she is suspended without pay or benefits for her insubordination. Scully turns to her mother for support when her world turns upside down and Gillian Anderson gives a passionate portrayal of a woman that has lost everything that was ever important to her. Like Mulder during her abduction, it is amazing how these characters come alive when they are separated like this. Scully learns that she has a metal chip embedded in her neck, an identification marker. Melissa Scully is a character that feels as though she should have had a larger role in this series than she did. I like how Carter mirrors her scene in One Breath, questioning Scully’s rigid scientific view in the same way she questioned Mulder’s faith. The hypnosis sequence is a rare off moment for Gillian Anderson though, where she wanders off on some other plane rather than capturing my attention (compare to a similar scene in season five’s The Red and the Black where Anderson is riveting as Scully is put under again).
Assistant Director: In a moment of stubborn mutiny Scully informs Skinner that he overestimates his position in the chain of command. This is her version of the scene that played out in Anasazi with Mulder pulling his fists out to remonstrate with the Assistant Director. No matter what his place in the hierarchy of this conspiracy is they would both do well to remember that he is still the AS of the building that they work in. Finally the question of where Skinner’s loyalties lie is being addressed but we have to take one more paranoid waltz before we can be entirely sure.
Smoking Man: Isn’t it fantastic how the Smoking Man is now an active player rather than somebody who sits around in the background of scenes puffing away. He’s a brutal and desperate man and far more interesting to watch as such. The way he has gone from being a formidable thorn in Skinner’s side to a desperate stooge of the Syndicate is one of the best aspects of this trilogy.
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I have been on the bridge that spans two worlds, the link between all souls by which we cross into our own true nature…’ I honestly have no idea what Mulder is talking about here. Its probably meant to sound really meaningful but actually sounds meaningless.
The Good: Start as you mean to go on – The X-Files is back and its more cinematic than ever and straight after the pre-credits we are straight into an impressive sequence where Scully’s motor is pursued by a helicopter. After their brief exposure in Anasazi Carter follows that up immediately with the introduction of the American arm of the Syndicate, a bunch of old men sitting in a dark room pontificating about what is transpiring. We’ll be seeing a lot of them now and its great for the enemy to have a proper face at last. The gassing of the hybrids is shown briefly (and shoved between two of Mulder’s dull visions as if there is a connection there that I jut couldn’t fathom) and I would have like to have learnt more about that than more vision quest nonsense. John Neville proves to be a fine addition to the show, the Well-Manicured Man (how do they think up these names…couldn’t he have just been Arthur or something?) coming out of the woodwork to clear up the mess left by the Smoking Man. ‘We predict the future and the best way to predict the future is to invent it’ Brilliantly he finds the best way to manipulate Scully is to be entirely honest with her. Let’s hope we get to see lots more of him. Scully is going to Melissa’s but is intercepted by Skinner and Melissa is going to Scully’s and she has been warned that an assassin is out to kill her – this all plays out with such tragic inevitability its painful to watch. Scully holds her superior hostage whilst her sister is murdered in her place. It works so well because it could have so easily have been avoided and Krychek is such an enjoyably hissable villain.
The Bad: To open the series on a flaming boxcar with the now obligatory ‘previously on…’ is to assume that everybody was around for the finale last year. I can tell you that nearly nine million people showed up between seasons who would be baffled by the lack of explanation. Its lovely that Carter holds the Navajo Indians in such esteem but why does he insist on filling their mouths full of his incomprehensible poetic dialogue that makes them all sound like pubescent teenagers spouting philosophy to impress the girls? Mulder managed to escape the cliffhanger by crawling along a tunnel of rock, a route that was taken by one of the hybrids when they were gassed to death. It makes sense as presented but it’s hardly the clever ‘rabbit out of a hat’ answer I was expecting. The Blessing Way ritual was not what I was expecting when I turned up at the start of the third series of this horror anthology show and it goes to show how much confidence that Carter has in his series to kick start a season on such an unusual note. It feels like it is trying to capture the same beguiling atmosphere of One Breath but the interminably dull voiceover and dodgy effects work puts paid to that. CGI will never top a physical effect and Mulder floating amongst the stars on a bed of leaves looks decidedly ropey against the much simpler imagery of Scully sitting in a boat on a foggy lake. What the hell is Deep Throat talking about when he steps forward from the sea of faces to address Mulder? It would appear that even in death he can spout nothing but inane obscurities. I rewound the DVD three times to try and decipher his dialogue but gave up figuring that it was only self-reflective bollocks. I’m not complaining about the material because its always great when a show chooses to deal with consequences but why did they wait an entire half season to start dealing with the fallout from Scully’s abduction? Rebecca Toolan is back as Teena Mulder and there aren’t words to describe how wooden she is (‘oh my goodness gracious!’ she declares like a malfunctioning robot as she learns that Mulder is alive). Bill Mulder’s funeral is strangely unaffecting (remember how low key and devastating Scully’s fathers was in Beyond the Sea?) – perhaps its because we barely got as chance to get to know the character, perhaps it is because Rebecca Toolan is such a dreadful actress or perhaps its because Mulder isn’t there to see him off.
Moment to Watch Out For: The cliffhanger, which after Anasazi is a real letdown. The shooting of Melissa would have been a much more effective place to take a pause in the action rather than Scully and Skinner pointing guns at each other.
Result: Slow, reflective and underwhelming after such incredible build up, The Blessing Way offers little more than scraps to be going along with and only really comes alive when it centres on Scully. I don’t want to blame the actor for the words that are put into his mouth but Albert Holsteen is one of the most tedious characters ever to have appeared on this show and his ponderous monologues are a real chore to endure. Any show that starts bringing back dead characters in dream sequences is usually in a lot of trouble and the appearance of Deep Throat and Bill Mulder feels more like trying to please the fans than a worthy storytelling function. Its useful then that Gillian Anderson is better than ever here, given the chance to go solo and play the paranoia game as she starts to realise just how much the government had a hand in her abduction last year. It seems whenever one of the leads is sidelined (you can feel Duchovny’s disapproval in his performance) the semi regulars are pushed to forefront and more than make up for their absence. The Smoking Man and Skinner are more interesting than ever and I’m pleased there is one more episode to this mini arc in their company. However much of this indulgent episode could have been excised, it’s the hollow filling in what is ultimately a satisfying sandwich: 5/10
Paper Clip written by Chris Carter and directed by Rob Bowman
What’s it about: Revelations galore as Carter finally spills the beans. A bit…
Trust No-One: ‘I was a dead man. Now I’m back!’ I was wondering how Carter was going to shoehorn a mention of Samantha into this sequence of episodes (she is the only part of the mythology that has been missing so far). To his credit he pulls out a humdinger of a twist that reveals that it was Mulder who was supposed to be taken and there was a last minute decision made for Samantha to be abducted in his place. One of Bill Mulder’s children was going to be taken as insurance because he was planning on exposing the project and the tests being carried out on American citizens. In Rebecca Toolan’s best scene yet as Teena, Mulder asks his mother if she ever had to make a choice of which child was her favourite. She admits she couldn’t and that Bill ultimately made the choice and she hate him for it. Its proof that she knew that Melissa’s abduction was deliberate and I hope they return to deal with this revelation at a later date. Am I the only person who loves the idea of Mulder and Scully being on the run as they are here, without access or protection. I could see half a season or so playing out with the pair of them moving from state to state and unearthing supernatural mysteries, Sam and Dean Winchester style, with their former employers always a menacing background presence as they are here. Perhaps I’m just chasing that Blakes’ 7 vibe that they so successfully conjour up for a handful of scenes here. Mulder has become his father now, threatening to bring down the project and he needs to find his own insurance to ensure that his life and that of those around him is spared.
Brains’n’Beauty: Sheila Larkin is much superior actress to Rebecca Toolan, both Mulder and Scully’s respective mothers suffer terrible losses over this trilogy but only one of them moved me to tears. ‘That bullet was meant for me!’ How much worse can Scully be made to feel? With her sister in critical care and her file turning up in a secret government filing facility, there has never been more of a reason for Scully to step out of this world that seems to be destroying her life. Surely losing a relative is thanks to your work that is a price too high to pay? Melissa’s death seems to have the reverse effect, strengthening her commitment to Mulder and determined to make that death count for something by bringing the men to justice. Albert gently comforting Scully’s mother is the best use of his character yet. The recent tissue sample in Scully’s file is the proof that she needs that the government has had a hand in her abduction. The two movie length conspiracy tales this season deal with both the fallout from what she learns here about her abduction and her revenge on her sisters killer. Expect fireworks.
Assistant Director: ‘This is where you pucker up and kiss my ass’ I’m so glad it was Skinner that got the opportunity to wipe the smile so spectacularly off of the Smoking Man’s face at the climax. Especially after how he has been pulling his strings for so long and treating him so discourteously.
Smoking Man: ‘You can’t play poker if you’re not holding any cards…’ More phenomenal scenes from the Smoking Man who faces the inquisition for Krychek’s mistakes and starts promising far more than he can deliver (Mulder’s death and the return of the tape). The way these three episodes have subtly transformed him from a mysterious background player who appeared to be in charge of the conspiracy to a victim of his own overcomplicated schemes has been inspired. William B. Davis deserves massive kudos for making that transformation so convincingly and for throwing himself into his new role so fulsomely. Its easy to see why he is such a fan favourite. There’s nothing more delicious than watching the bad guys squirm. ‘Do you have the damn tape?’ – he works so well as a desperate man. Krychek swearing bloody vengeance on his former employer (and the Smoking Man’s non reaction to this call is fantastic) is great set up for future episodes.
The Good: Where do they find these fantastic locations on this show? The enormous derelict warehouse is one of the most impressive yet. The extensive filing system is just as jaw dropping (with a handy railroad through the middle to make searching for files less arduous!) and reveals the scale of the testing performed on the American population. The rising lighting rig posing as an alien spacecraft is a unparalleled physical special effect (leagues away from the dreadful CGI dreamscape stuff in the last episode) but there is no need whatsoever for this appearance of a ship to occur (despite the Syndicate stating that they are going to turn to ‘old friends’ to find Mulder and Scully. Its momentously realised but needlessly complicates the episode which was getting along very well without an alien presence. Who would have thought that the digital tape would have been such a successful McGuffin, driving all the characters of these three episodes in such a frenzy. Krychek has been treated to very little screen time but Carter has ensured that his character is beyond redemption now, murdering Mulder’s father and Scully’s sister and kicking the crap out of Skinner (even after he obtains the tape he enjoys one last punch like a good nasty). How spectacular is the moment when the Smoking Man tries to wipe his hands of him? This show stages action brilliantly and the low angle pull back as the car explodes is spectacular. John Neville’s Well Manicured Man can turn up anytime he damn well likes because he’s not only a smooth talking bad guy played by a strong actor but he has a habit of giving us much sought after answers every time he opens his mouth! I love it when this show integrates real life atrocities into its mythology to give it some gravitas. It takes nothing away from the horror of what the Jews experienced during the Second World War to mention them in relation to the alien/human hybrid programme that the government was running at the same time. Even Albert is given a great role by the end of the episode, memorising the information on the digital tape and sharing it with 20 other members of his tribe. Now that information is available through anonymous source the Smoking Man cannot touch Mulder and Scully or their families. This word of mouth high technology is an ingenious idea.
The Bad: Its another cliffhanger answered with crushing inevitability – given we have already seen that Mulder has survived his ordeals in the boxcar who else would it be but him coming to his door? Everybody is waving guns and screaming as though testosterone is being pumped into the room by the gallon and it doesn’t make for very effective drama especially when Mulder, Scully and Skinner are ultimately all on the same side. If this was Buffy they would have all caught their breath and looked at each other, awkwardly and someone would have said ‘well, this is embarrassing…’ You’ve got to wonder about the subtlety of a show that will flaunt a clearly photoshopped black and white image of its evil Syndicate hanging out with Nazi war criminals. If they needed evidence that Mulder’s father had a shady past this about as blatant as they could have been. Its unbelievable that after everything the characters have been through to obtain its secrets that we still don’t get to find out what was on the digital tape.
Pre Titles Sequence: Is this the least compelling pre-titles sequence ever? It’s a montage of beautiful images spoilt by another interminable monologue from Albert Holsteen. I honestly don’t give a damn about the omen of white buffalo, I just wish the series would dump the Indian mysticism and get back to telling good stories.
Moment to Watch Out For & Mythology: ‘In 1947 a spacecraft was reportedly recovered in New Mexico. No doubt you know of this, and of the body reportedly recovered at the site. There incidents co-incided with not only the end of World War II but an ignominious project which brought Nazi scientists and war criminals to this country to exploit their knowledge’ ‘Operation Paper Clip?’ ‘Yes, you know of it already. And you must also know of the work of Dr Josef Mengele, the so called “Angel of Death.” ‘Mengale thought he could produce a super race through genetic engineering’ As did many of his colleagues at the Institute of Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene’ ‘Like Victor Klemper?’ ‘Poor Victor. He loved his orchids. Did you know he was able to create some of the most beautiful hybrids’ ‘Klemper was trying to create an alien/human hybrids. He was using human test subjects. My father was involved in this?’ ‘When you father realised what the medical data was being used for he objected strenuously. With the threat of nuclear holocaust in the 1950s, the government instructed men like your father to gather genetic data on the general populace for the purposes of post apocalyptic identification’ ‘They took tissue from everybody who had a small pox inoculation!’ ‘Hundreds of Americans…’ ‘So that Victor Klemper had access to a DNA database of nearly everyone who was born since 1950…’ Look at that! Actual answers! Let joy be uncontained! It doesn’t explain why there was a project to turn humanity into a race of alien/human hybrids but it does tie a neat bow around everything that has been introduced in this trilogy and apply to the arc storyline that is already in place. It’s a very satisfying scene.
Result: Paper Clip pulls off a massive coup in the last fifteen minutes and Carter really surprised me by managing to pull together all of elements of this trilogy into a satisfying whole. Its nowhere near as epic as Carter seems to think it is (the inappropriate appearance of a spaceship seems to be there just to make what is an exercise is card shuffling feel much more ambitious) and could happily have played over two episodes, cutting out all the mystical bollocks from the middle instalment. What is achieved (and brilliantly) is shift in the emphasis of all the regular cast; Mulder and Scully have both suffered personal losses and now have to justify them, Skinner has emerged as a hero, the Smoking Man is now a desperate player and Krychek has gone rogue. Its been an invaluable shake up that has made all these characters prominent again. It also leaves the conspiracy arc in a great place to be picked up again with the introduction of the Well Manicured Man (expertly played by John Neville) and the Syndicate, Krychek promising bloody vengeance and with much more to learn about the international players. If we still haven’t got all the answers (there’s so much emphasis placed on creating alien/human hybrids with no explanation for why) then this episode at least ties up everything that has taken place over the last three episodes in a nice little package in a way that feels as if the arc is moving forwards in a positive direction. With some judicious pruning Anasazi and Paper Clip would have made an impressive and packed two parter. Shoving The Blessing Way in between them blunts the impact of the (genuinely surprising) revelations and makes this far more bloated than it needed to be. Cut down on the indulgences, Carter and concentrate on telling a good story. You have proven with this conclusion that you are more than up to the task: 8/10
D.P.O. written by Howard Gordon and directed by Kim Manners
What’s it about: A kid that can strike like lightning…
Trust No-One: There’s no hanging around in D.P.O. Mulder and Scully get on the trail of their suspect in record time so the episode can dispense with the usual investigative platitudes and concentrate solely on Darin.
Brains’n’Beauty: Whilst it is nice for Scully to bring up what they have just through in the past three episodes she also states categorically that this isn’t the work o aliens or government conspiracies. For once Mulder concurs and there is a visible smile of relief on his face, its time to get back to some good old fashioned standalone adventures.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m saying he is lightning and we’ve got to find him before he strikes again…’ – kudos to David Duchovny for getting that line out with a straight face.
Ugh: ‘It looks like his heart was cooked right in his chest!’ – you could almost believe that the image of the chargrilled heart in the evidence bag was where this episode was conceived. It’s the sort of concept that is unique to The X-Files.
The Good: You’ve got to hand it to casting director that manages to draw Jack Black and Giovanni Ribisi from a pack to star in the same episode. It may have taken Carter a couple of audition to be convinced that Ribisi was right for the titular role of Darin but it was definitely the right call, he’s superb. The X-Files never has much but condemnation for ‘yoof’ culture and it can get a little wearying at times but there is something strangely sympathetic about Darin despite his how angry and unpredictable appetite for destruction and that all comes down to the way he is portrayed. I love how the director gets right in the face of the hideous mother, vegetating in from of the TV, exposing the ugly existence she has brewed up for Darin. When she is seen later in a coloured shell suit and walking through her wall of hideously patterned wallpaper I could see precisely why Darin turned out no good. Darin will summon the heavens and murder cows just to release some of that angst that is bottled up inside of him and change traffic lights at whim to get cars to smash into each other. The metaphor for out of control hormones is clear and as channelled through this character is pretty scary. Darin isn’t the brightest lad in the book and is willing to save Mr Kiveat despite the fact that that very act will implicate him further. My sister fancied a teacher once and made hell for him during her years at school, kids are so destructively emotional at this age they don’t realise the harm they are doing. Karen Witter’s performance matches Ribisi’s during the sequence where he leads her away from the hospital to a life of bliss together. She’s terrified and sympathetic which is not an easy combination to pull off. Its so ridiculous, teacher and pupil holding hands and him talking about her see through dress in class and the real tragedy is that Darin just can’t see how unlikely this all looks. He’s so gentle with her that its really sweet and really cringeworthy at the same time. His tears when she runs away from him are genuine. I love the Psycho inspired ending where Darin looks straight into the camera and the cuteness of Carter’s name appearing on the TV. It’s a fun cap from what has been a slight but enjoyable episode.
The Bad: The stubborn and unhelpful Sheriff is the sort of character that turns up in so many shows and he’s never especially likable or productive, he’s just there to get in the way. You want him to be punished for being so stupid as to release Darin for what looks like sheer stubbornness and I applauded Howard Gordon for seeing this through and killing him off needlessly in the final act. I applauded.
Pre Titles Sequence: There’s plenty to like in the pre-titles sequence including the rare use of a song and the dramatic lighting but I’m not entirely sure what happens because there is no clear indication that the kid has been struck by lightning.
Moment to Watch Out For: Kim Manners was made for The X-Files because he manages to bring the show to life in such a visually imaginative way. This is one of his lesser episodes but it is still full of crane shots, fluid pans, dramatic low angles (especially during Darin’s lightning attractor sequence on the hill) and POV shots. I found the realisation of this character drama to be quite striking (hohoho). Zero’s death is especially well done with some very angry music signalling Darin’s presence and the sudden bolt of lightning that strikes from behind. The image of Darin standing atop the roof of the arcade with the moon silhouetting him like the Angel of Mercy is very effective.
Fashion Statement: As the series continues to become more popular the regulars are looking sharper than ever. Scully’s sporting a pair of designer sunglasses here and Mulder turns up in town in a sharp suit. Wait until the show reaches its popularity zenith in the middle seasons, its like a pair of models have wandered into the FBI.
Result: As the first standalone adventure of season three I found D.P.O pleasingly unpretentious and simple and easy to enjoy. Because there are no great surprises to be had (this is one of those season one X-Files where everything we need to know is in the teaser) this is more of a performance pieces and so it comes as a relief that the performances are this good. Its amazing how much the writer and director manage to make such a slight teenager seem like such a threat but with the combination of explosive adolescent emotions and a supernatural gift they more than succeed. Its becoming increasingly popular to offer up plenty of time to the antagonist of the week and Ribisi is more than up to the task to injecting a great deal of sympathy into his otherwise angry portrayal of Darin. It means we are rooting for him at the same time as wanting to see him stopped. With the clever use of music, some stylish deaths and a chance for Mulder and Scully to catch their breath after such a dramatic opening to the year; season three is off to a refreshing start: 7/10
Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose written by Darin Morgan and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: Fate. Determinism. Co-incidences. Life. Death.
Trust No-One: There’s a fantastic build up to the introduction of Mulder in this episode with talk of a spooky and unorthodox advisor that is being brought in to help with the investigation. In walks Mulder and the police don’t have a clue who he is – it’s the Stupendous Yappi that they have been waiting for! This is the sort of self-critical humour that Buffy excels in and taking the piss out of its own staple ingredients is the surest sign of confidence a show can exude. Yappi advances on Scully when he picks up on negative energy in the room which is interfering with his insights but suddenly turns on Mulder who is told to leave the room like a naughty schoolboy (Scully’s ‘I can’t take you anywhere’ made me howl). He gets his own back on Yappi when he asks him to read his mind. Even though Bruckman is the one with the paranormal ability he still wants to see Mulder’s ID when he starts spouting off his usual paranormal inanities (‘I’m supposed to believe that’s a real name?’). Mulder is asked if he wants to know how he dies and insanely says yes not realising that that knowledge will define the rest of his existence. Is Mulder really going to die of auto erotic asphyxiation? Who cares when his reaction to this is such a scream. Mulder isn’t a Freudian so I guess its nice that there is something that he wont buy into. I was beginning to wonder. Bruckman ultimately saves Mulder’s life – the fact that he knew that stepping in the pie signified the approach of the killer is what prevents his throat from being opened up. That Bruckman’s ability (that has to this point only signified misery) could ultimately save a mans life is a lovely gift to the character. It adds to the poignancy of the conclusion that he never realised that he has finally done some good.
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘Mr Bruckman there are hits and there are misses. And then there are misses…’ is possibly Scully’s best line in the entire series as she responds to Bruckman’s assertion that they will end up in bed together. Scully enjoys a scientific rationale for everything and at times it feels as though she enjoys taking all the wonder out of life. Which is why the first scene she appears in she and Mulder start debunking psychics with descriptions like anthropomancy, professional prognosticators and amateur tasseogrophers. Making something that is potentially dangerous feel very safe and scientific. There’s a gorgeous comment on Scully’s need to know how and why paranormal happenings take place summed up beautifully by Bruckman who points out that they have happened ‘so what are you complaining about?’ Any episode that can get Scully to say ‘fat white Nazi storm trooper’ gets my vote. Gillian Anderson’s performance at the climax is the very epitome of tenderness with a tear that wants to escape her eye but she is so restrained (and its all the more touching for it) that she wont let it go. I love the fact that Scully earns a dog out of this exercise. Hurrah for its appearances later in the year.
Banana Cream Pie: Bruckman is a delightful character from the off, mocking the idiotic predictions of the Stupendous Yappi that turn up in the National Enquirer but buying the magazine anyway. Peter Doyle gives a magnificent performance, delivering his lines with a warm and yet still deadpan approach which makes every gag a winner. Doyle makes such a an obviously scripted character entirely credible and great fun to be around. He deserves every plaudit that was handed down to him and more. Anybody who is that down on life has the ability to be really funny. To be able to tell how everybody is going to die would be a terrible curse, burdening you with a poisonous knowledge of everybody you touch in life. ‘Sometimes it just seems that everybody’s having sex except for me…’ How can you not love a character that can pause halfway through reliving a terrible crime for a moment of melancholy like this? Why would Bruckman pursue a relationship with anybody? You would be blighted with the exact circumstances of the moment they would be taken away from you. Instead he lives a depressing existence selling insurance because at least he can do some good with his gift that way, ensuring that people who are about to lose somebody are sufficiently covered. Bruckman hears somebody at his door and correctly predicts that it is Mulder come to drag him further into this investigation but when he looks up says ‘oh, its you.’ His (or should that be Darin Morgan’s) self deprecating humour never fails to hit the spot. Hoping that the eventual fate of his helping the FBI will lead to his mother never meeting his father and his birth never taking place (he’s kooky like that), Bruckman is eager to get started. Moments like this signpost the touching ending. When Scully is doubtful that Bruckman’s abilities can give them any satisfying leads (as Bruckman himself says ‘I guess I can’t see the forest from the trees’ – I don’t think I’ve ever seen that line filmed in an actual forest but then I guess only this episode would dare) its brilliant that his wild goose chase is revealed to be irrelevant because the very place he asked them to stop the car is where the victim is, underneath in the mud. Hauntingly the connection between Bruckman and the killer is made perfectly clear, one predicts the deaths and the other makes them happen. You cannot have one without the other. Destined to a life of solitude, of selling insurance, of never being able to look at a single person and not be confronted with death, Bruckman pokes a finger in the eye of fate and chooses to take his own life. Given his unguarded depression throughout it shouldn’t come as a great surprise but it feels devastating to lose such a magnificent character.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I have to an APB out on a white male, 17-34, with or without a beard, maybe a tattoo who’s impotent’ ‘Might as well go home, Mulder. This case is as good as solved.’
‘This is from your New York Nicks T-Shirt!’ – when Darin Morgan wanted to write an episode based around the same theme as Beyond the Sea I never thought he would so hilariously reference the episode.
‘If co-incidences are co-incidences then why do they feel so contrived?’
‘Don’t you understand it yet son? Don’t you get it? You do the things you do because you’re a homicidal mainiac…’ – Bruckman has to spell out to the killer the reason behind his murder spree. The way he smiles because that makes sense is utterly chilling.
The Good: What a shame that The Stupendous Yappi had to be reduced to only a couple of scenes because his presence is a delight, especially his insights into the killer that all come with an addendum of ‘or not’ or ‘I think.’ It’s a wonderful piss take of Derek Acorah and his contemporaries and prove that as long as you make a show out of it you can convince people of psychic ability through theatre. Its played to comic perfection. Its an episode that is happy to continually pause and make thoughtful observations without ever halting the flow of the narrative. Why do we collect the things that we do? What are the moments in our life that make us decide to follow a certain path? Why do we see meaningful patterns and configurations in things that inherently don’t have any? ‘How could I see the future if it didn’t already exist?’ ‘If the future is already written then why bother to do anything?’ – an exchange of two very good questions that I can remember debating long until the night with a Christian friend recently. Wonderfully Bruckman in one of his flights of fancy lists pretty much every ‘time travel’ plot sported by most genre series. What Bruckman has touched upon is to look at the specifics of everybody’s lives so he can determine when all the variables will come together and lead to your death. Very few shows I have watched have come up with an idea that fascinates me quite as much as this one. A cats cradle of decisions and influences that make up a life and converge on the point where it ultimately stops. To study just one person and see that process in action would be the work of a lifetime. You can’t have an episode the focuses on the abilities of psychics and mediums without a sequence where our heroes fate is spelt out. The way this scene plays out with Morgan undercutting the tension with humour (Bruckman is far more interested in the flavour of the pie that Mulder has stepped in than the knife that is approaching his throat) is inspired. In the vision Mulder’s throat is slit because Bruckman is seeing what the killer wants to happen rather than what is actually going to happen. It means when this scene plays out later in the episode there is a real sense of anticipation. What an astonishing visual Bruckman decomposing is. I’ve seen similar effects on other shows but they always cut away at some point, this is a progression of purification from a dead body right the way through to a pile of dust and beyond. There is such delicate tragedy in the way that Bruckman tells Havez that he isn’t going to die of lung cancer and lights up a cigarette, a tender gesture since he is the only person who knows that it will be his last one as the killer is about to murder him. Through Havez we see the link between Bruckman and the killer, he’s predicted his death at the hands of the killer so now he has no choice but to turn up and make sure it happens. Bruckman’s curse is to cement the fate of these people. Even woman’s intuition gets a mention here, the most mentioned form of psychic ability in my world.
Pre Titles Sequence: One of my favourite pre titles sequences from one of my favourite episodes, this teaser manages to be funny, thoughtful, clever and frightening in the space of a couple of minutes. The irony of a fortune teller not being able to predict her own death is one of the most blackly funny things I have ever seen committed to film. I also love the idea of a serial killer who has absolutely no idea why he is about to go on a killing spree and seeking the advice of those people that would ultimately be his victims. This episode thrives on madness like that.
Moment to Watch Out For: Whether it is fate, co-incidence or pre-determinism through life choices, Bruckman and the killer coming face to face in the hotel room is one of the most spine tingling moments this show ever produced. It gives me goosebumps every time I see it.
Result: I have never known a single episode of television that managed to be this bleak and yet so delightful to watch at the same time. Darin Morgan is in another league to the rest of the writers on this show and believe me the team that contributed to The X-Files were frequently excellent. His scripts are bursting with ideas, intelligent observations, imagination, laugh out loud humour, brilliant lines and phenomenal characters. If we are talking about substance I would say that Morgan is one of the foremost scriptwriters for television of all time. Every scene is a gem, packed with moments that will make you laugh and cry and experience all the emotions in between. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is the ultimate expression of what Morgan could bring to The X-Files and remains one of the shows most significant achievements. I spend so often reacting to this show (because it is often scaring the pants off me) that it is a refreshing change when it gives me this much to think about. Tempering all of the philosophy with humour is inspired because it never feels like you are being lectured at but introduced to catalysts that get your imagination firing in a very gentle way. From the black comedy of the pre titles sequence to the tear jerking conclusion, there is no part of this episode that isn’t magnificent. I’ll see other episodes of The X-Files that will make me tingle with how glorious they are but nothing will quite touch me in the same way as the tale of Clyde Bruckman and his terrible, terrible gift: 10/10
What’s it about: A prisoner on death row promises to exact his revenge on five people…
The List written and directed by Chris Carter
What’s it about: A prisoner on death row promises to exact his revenge on five people…
Trust No-One: It feels like Mulder and Scully’s role in this episode is to stumble on corpses rather than get down to any serious investigating. They sure talk a lot about the list and the suspects but they don’t seem to achieve anything, turning up after the killings have taken place and looking appalled (watch Duchovny especially who has mastered this look on autopilot). They swan off at the end drawing no real conclusions about anything leaving a trail of corpses in their wake.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I only get five?’ ‘I remembered your birthday this year didn’t I Scully?’
‘How does it feel to be on death row warden?’ – there is a certain irony to the idea that the warden whose occupation involves leading people to their deaths haunted by the fact that his days are numbered.
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Its over Mulder, let’s just go home…’ – Scully is bored with the whole thing and wants to leave despite the dearth of a resolution. Mulder is more troubled by this by shrugs his shoulders and leaves anyway. The fact that this script is the work of their creator is troubling, like he cannot think of anything more useful to be doing with them.
Ugh: As far as I understand Gillian Anderson was not thrilled to be working with maggots (this from a woman who shoved a cricket in her gob in Humbug!) but they do make for some memorably icky moments. I especially liked how their presence was used later on to indicate that there was a corpse to find, as they dropped to the floor through the light fittings. Oddly though we never actually witness any of the deaths until the end of the episode (probably to try and keep the mystery of whether this is the work of Neech or not a secret), we constantly stumble on bodies but with no reaction shot these murders have no impact.
The Good: Carter shoots the prison with lots of green lighting giving it an ethereal, spectral appearance. Its an oppressive environment for sure and one where prison guards ca jump of helpless women from the shadows and heads will turn up in paint cans.
The Bad: If Carter was going for a Shawshank Redemption vibe with Neech he needed to adjust the tone of this story 180 degrees. Mulder talks almost reverently about how well read he was and his philosophical beliefs but in the end of the day that is all for nothing when he is going around killing people because he’s a bit pissed that he was executed. It doesn’t matter who is on the list because its impossible to give a damn about any of these people. The similarities with Fresh Bones from season two are manifold (the despicable characters, the dead prisoner with supernatural powers seeking revenge) but I felt as if I was actually watching the previous show when I was I was treated to prisoners being beaten up again. Its really nasty television and it didn’t work the first time around. Of course the Neech’s wife is having an affair, that was pointed out the second she told him she would never love another man. Mulder asserts that this could be the work of a conspiracy within the prison, using Neech’s promise of a five deaths to their own ends. Had that actually played out in the episode (rather than Neech turning up as an avenging spirit for goodness only knows what reason) it would have been an awesome twist. Florida is represented by filming on a particularly sunny day in Vancouver but the two locations have such a different energy about them it doesn’t convince for a second. Plus this much sunshine on The X-Files feels odd – how on Earth am I going to cope once the show moves to LA? I’m not entirely sure why Danielle pulls a gun on her lover – she seems to think that Neech has been re-incarnated in him for some reason that is never explained. Sperenza being killed after telling the warden that there is still one name on the list probably supposed to be loaded with irony but its just another vile moment of persecution in the prison from hell that director revels in.
Pre Titles Sequence: The best scene in the entire story by far, the teaser unflinchingly shows us a man being led to his death in the electric chair and fried. Its very well acted (you would swear it was playing out for real) and with Roque’s violent threats it reveals what the episode is going to be about in economic fashion. If only the rest of this tale could have been so succinct.
Moment to Watch Out For: The last scene of this episode sees the warden who thinks he has gotten away with his regime of terror in the prison being forced off the road by Neech. It plays out in a familiar fashion – its exactly the same scene that kick started Fresh Bones.
Result: Every now and again The X-Files offers an episode that will test its audience to the limit. Filled with hateful characters, cursed with predictable writing and leaving the viewer with the impression that they have wasted an hour because Mulder and Scully achieve nothing. Fresh Bones was one such episode and it might not surprise you to hear that The List has a great deal in common with it (right up to a scene with a car crashing into a tree). There’s no real urgency or ingenuity about who has been killed and it never leads anywhere climactic (we’re told about halfway through that the warden is the last name on the list so its hardly a surprise when he snuffs it in the final scene). A little humour and some of these characters might have come alive long enough for us to give a damn about them before they died but everything plays out with deadly earnestness. Carter needs to peep over his shoulder at what Darin Morgan was doing just a week earlier. He could learn something valuable about structuring a drama, filling it with memorable moments, likable characters and finding fascinating things to do with Scully and Mulder. If this (as a Chris Carter writing/directing combo) was supposed to replicate the success of Duane Barry, its an abject failiure: 3/10
2Shy written by Jeff Vlaming and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: An online killer is targeting larger women because they have something that he needs…
Trust No-One: ‘OK its not yet the finely detailed insanity you expect from me. Its just a theory…’ Mulder runs through the motions whilst Scully gets all the best bits. Its kind of nice because until now it has so often been the other way around.
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘You’re concluding that he’s some kind of fat sucking vampire?’ Is this the first time that we have seen Scully experience sexism like this? I don’t recall it ever being an issue before (except for her tantrum about it in Soft Light without precedent) and it sticks out like a sore thumb because the show has always concentrated on her as a professional rather than as a woman. That was quite rare and one of the reasons I really took to the character. Detective Cross seems to think that because 2Shy is preying on women that this will affect her judgement regarding the case (whereas it was far more of an issue in Irresistible) when the only person behaving out of the norm is him. As soon as Cross gives Scully a hard time he is a marked man, just like the Sheriff was in D.P.O. The climax sees Mulder chasing after a graffiti artist whilst Scully is left at the mercy of the killer. Its been at least six episodes since she was last attacked so I suppose we should have seen it coming! The natural conclusion that this drama makes about a man who preys on women is that Scully is a strong enough protagonist to fight back. It comes as a real surprise then that its Ellen who takes him out. There is something satisfying about these two women working together to bring down this lady killer.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I gave them what they wanted. They gave me what I needed.’
‘The dead are non longer lonely…’
Ugh: The teaser lets you know that you are in for an icky ride with victim number one breaking away from her kiss with Incanto with a fatty membrane sealing up her mouth! I love scene where Scully opens the autopsy bay only to find the body has been reduced to fatty sludge that pours all over the floor! What about the strips of dry skin that end up hanging from the prostitutes fingernails? The final shot of Incanto staring out of the television with skin hanging from his face is memorably scary even it was precisely how D.P.O ended a few weeks back. David Nutter seems to revel in the stomach turning these days and pushes things right to the limit. Lovely.
The Good: A killer that preys upon less attractive, larger women is a really neat idea because it tarnishes the frights with a sense of tragedy. The way he gives them one night to feel special before snacking away on their fat is somehow more gruesome than had he just attacked them. There’s something very cruel about feeding into peoples dreams to make them feel comfortable. A lonely hearts killer is an idea that has been tapped into before and it is possibly the most plausible modus operandi a killer has adopted on this show and the long shots of Incanto practically salivating over his computer as he lures another victim in is enough to frighten anybody off the idea of internet dating! I thought Catherine Paolone gave a nicely understated performance as Ellen, the dumpy victim that we follow throughout most of the episode. I really liked the way they portrayed her as uncharismatic, a bit unpleasant and quite hard work – it felt far more realistic than had she been represented as a dappy, cute as a button victim. You can really see why she hasn’t found love before which makes this liaison even more heartbreaking. When she offers milk to 2Shy and points out that its non-fat you can see the sort of delusions that so many people live with – it takes more than cutting out the fat in one part of your diet to lose weight! Because Incanto is feeding a hunger rather than indulging in a psychotic impulse the murders are more frightening, its not that he wants to but that he needs to. That necessity taps into the same skin crawling requirement that Tooms had. When Incanto’s face is faxed through to Ellen I was impressed at how she tried to keep her poker face on but she cannot hide the fact that she is terrified. There is a trend developing in season three where each episode feels the need to tie up everything quite satisfactorily by explaining precisely what is going on. It seemed to baffle the season two writers for the most part (odd considering they are mostly the same writers – perhaps there was a meeting?) and it’s a development that I heartily approve of.
The Bad: There’s nothing worse than a nosy neighbour (well there is but not when you live a very sheltered life!) and especially a pushy one like Monica who fancies you. At times it feels as though this subplot is only there to show that killers can be preyed upon too. Fancy her letting herself into his apartment when he is out! She deserves everything that she discovers. Incanto having to fulfil his needs with a prostitute is reminiscent of Irresistible and Carter should have pointed out the similarities and altered the script. Its not so much a comment on the episode but how quickly television dates as technology continues to evolve, the use of floppy discs and that blocky green font marks this as the early days of computer technology.
Pre Titles Sequence: Like every episode so far this year it’s an extremely informative teaser that tells you pretty much all you need to know for the hour ahead. Timothy Carhart is an attractive man but these women only have to look into his eyes to see what a predator he is. From the first time I clapped eyes on him I thought ‘killer.’ He doesn’t disappoint.
Moment to Watch Out For: The fight in the bathroom is very well staged and utilises the small space well. Incanto is going for a proper Psycho moment of his own the way he rips aside the shower curtain and lunges at Scully.
Fashion Statement: I wish Mulder would stop wandering around in giant shades. It keeps reminding me of the end of Humbug.
Orchestra: Mark Snow is on fire in this story after snoozing his way through The List. The score feels more ‘science fiction’ than usual but its very creepy and memorable for it.
Result: There’s nothing particularly original going on in 2Shy (there are nods to Squeeze, Fire and Irresistible) but it’s a terrifically well executed episode that has some decent scares and stomach turning visuals. This is what should be used as a blueprint for an average X-File because it is extremely watchable. Timothy Carhart gives a masterful performance as Incanto, a fat sucking monster that wants to give his victims one night to feel special before he kills them. I did like the way the audience were allowed to follow one of 2Shy’s victims throughout the course of the episode and Ellen manages to stay on the right side of being a stereotype because she isn’t a particularly fun person to be around. I’d rather watch her than the bizarre nosy neighbour who turns up in an unnecessary subplot of her own. David Nutter has done a grand job of putting this all together (look at how he handles the camera, it never stops moving) and Mark Snow’s music is more noticeably scary than usual. It might be by the numbers X-Files but its quite engaging despite that and the way the killer exploits the internet to prey on his victims adds an extra layer of frisson. I liked it: 7/10
The Walk written by John Shiban and directed by Rob Bowman
What’s it about: Is the ‘phantom soldier’ that is haunting members of the U.S. Army really an amputee?
Trust No-One: There’s a wonderfully funny moment in Jose Chung’s From Outer Space later in the season where Darin Morgan portrays Mulder and Scully as a pair of FBI thugs that crash into a crime scene menacingly and threaten witnesses. Watch the scenes where they break into Roach’s apartment here and try and intimidate him in the interrogation room – they play out along similar lines except they are deadly serious. It just goes to show Morgan is spot on when he deconstructs their characters. Duchovny in particular seems to enjoy playing the authorative bullyboy here. Mulder finally gets the chance to square off with a villain (something that so rarely gets to happen in this show) and really drive home the horror of what he is doing and for the most selfish of reasons. This is precisely the sort of participation of the regulars that The List needed, driving home the horror of the situation by expression their repulsion to the antagonist.
Brains’n’Beauty: Cleverly Shiban allows Mulder and Scully to have their usual bitch fight over whose theory is correct but this time during an interview by writing on a pad. Having Scully talk her way out of a tough spot when encountering military bureaucracy is infinitely preferable to her being treated with kid gloves for being a woman in 2Shy. She’s back to being a hard as nails professional here, and that’s just how I like her.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Sometimes the only sane response to an insane world is insanity!’ – Mulder sums himself up perfectly.
‘You sat at home and watched the war on cable TV as though it was a video game!’
The Good: The group therapy session manages to be both tragic and very funny. I’m not one of those people that thinks sitting around singing kumbya and getting in touch with each others feelings suits every personality defect but when it comes to post traumatic shock disorder and sharing stories of losing limbs in combat its quite touching (and necessary). However there’s Rappo there to stop it from getting too twee, screaming as though he has only just realised that his missing both and arms and legs. He’s counter-productive but he’s also a reminder that you have to laugh at yourself through adversity. Rob Bowman shoots one scene in a massively long tracking shot that is beautifully done. As though he was directing a really effective horror film Bowman makes the swimming pool death fantastically eerie, telling us precisely how we are going to witness the killers entrance by shooting shadows on the ceiling. When Rappo does emerge from the water looking for all the world like a water sprite and drags her under the water it is a very clever effect. I love how the next scene seems to be shot from the corpses point of view as well, looking up at Scully from under the water. Willie Garson always impresses in playing the fall guy and he doesn’t let the side down here. You will genuinely believe that they have managed to cast a actor who has been dismembered because the effects shots of his missing arms and legs are flawless. Rappo is sick of suffering and has murdered his colleagues friends and family to manipulate them into killing him because he cannot do it himself. Therefore the greatest punishment he can receive from Callahan is to make him live and suffer like the rest of them. Stans killing Rappo brings us full circle, he can finally die himself by killing the man that is keeping him alive. Ignore Mulder’s hideous wrapping up speech at the end (why does Duchovny always sound so bored during these?) and instead ponder on the memorable closing image of two men (Callahan and Stans) sharing a look of pain, both men scarred by the war and Rappo’s curse upon them.
The Bad: The lighting in the military hospital draws attention to itself in exactly the same way the lighting did in The Walk. Practically every room is in darkness with a misty white light flooding through one window. It gives the scenes a harsh, cover-your-eyes feel of an alien abduction (when nothing of the sort is happening) where perhaps standard lighting might have been just as effective. Not every shot has to be lit as though it is screaming ‘atmosphere!’ Mulder’s description of Rappo’s ability to stalk his victims as ‘astral projection’ sounds awkward but I think any scientific description of a phantom would wind up being so.
Pre Titles Sequence: Talk about making an impression in your first script for the show, John Shiban opens his debut story with a thoroughly nasty set piece featuring a depressed soldier that is desperate to commit suicide shoving weights in his pockets and throwing himself into a vat of scalding water. The way director Rob Bowman shoves the boiling water right in our faces is especially dramatic. The blistered, scarred monstrosity that emerges alive is repulsive. Its one of those ‘how the hell did they do that?’ scenarios with the water that the stunt man jumps into looking for all the world as if it is roasting hot.
Moment to Watch Out For: Even after the shocking death of Teddy Holvey in The Calusari last year I still didn’t think any American TV show would dare to attempt killing a child in primetime again. How wrong I was. Little Trevor’s death in the sandpit is very well realised but it’s the fact that the show is taking risks again that impresses the most. I suspect there were meetings agonising over whether this was appropriate but I’m glad they went with it. When Mrs Callahan is murdered later in the episode it feels almost like a release after losing her son.
Notes: It was lovely to see Thomas Kopache turn up in another cult show after seeing him as Kira’s father in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. How refreshing to have someone in authority actually believe Mulder for a change.
Result: ‘No sleepwalking…’ The X-Files really likes its revenge stories, doesn’t it? Fortunately this is miles better than The List in just about every respect and the thing it gets most right is by actually showing the deaths of the victims being stalked and they prove to be highly disturbing. And in complete contrast to The List both Scully and Mulder are treated as real professionals, working their way methodically through this case and trying to stay one step ahead of the phantom soldier. Anderson and Duchovny are more stony faced than ever here but it really works in the context of the episode and they prove to be quite intimidating in parts. Rob Bowman’s direction is avant-garde and his use of shadows and bloody footsteps to suggest the killers approach gives the story some really tense moments. At this stage of the game this show has access to the finest small pool of small screen directors available and each episode is practically a visual masterpiece (its usually in the scripting where the show falls down but that is not in evidence here). Once again the killer is known from the beginning and the story is wrapped up satisfactorily – have they employed the services of a script editor between seasons? Like 2Shy this isn’t original material for The X-Files but its even more polished (the final set piece of Callahan being chased through explosions of steam by the phantom looks amazing) and kicks the teeth of the show that it steals its best ideas from. Season three chalks up another winner: 8/10
Oubliette written by Charles Grant Craig and directed by Kim Manners
What’s it about: The abduction of Amy Jacobs brings back some disturbing memories to Lucy Householder, a previous victim…
Trust No-One: ‘You are protecting her beyond the point of reason…’ After a run of episodes where he has been little more than an FBI brute, Mulder is back to being sweet and approachable which I guess was vital in a case as delicate as this one. Its lovely to see the agents working on a case that truly benefits somebody rather than being witnesses to a chain of murders which has been their purpose of the last couple of weeks. Even better scriptwriter Charles Grant Craig fills the episode with little moments of human tragedy that really help to sell this a real investigation – Mulder being slapped away by the mother who asks how he could possibly know what she is going through is but one example. You can always tell when David Duchovny is engaged with the material because his performance is packed full of subtleties, like he has really tried to get under the skin of the character in this situation. Mulder realises that he has to be gentle with Lucy but he needs her help to crack this case so occasionally the sledgehammer approach to get a reaction is employed too. To show how close this comes to being a ‘normal’ cop drama (whatever one of those is – they all feature episodes that are based of implausible leaps as much as The X-Files to me) Mulder doesn’t make an official announcement of his theory of the week until two thirds through the episode. Scully points out that Mulder is identifying a little too closely with the victim and I wanted to punch the air with delight when he slapped her away and told her that not everything he does and has anything to do with his sister. Seriously, this character hasn’t been this well written in over a season. When they find Lucy at Wade’s house exactly where Amy should be my first thought was ‘how on Earth is Mulder going to talk her guilt out of this one?’ He is determined to remind her that she is a survivor and strong for getting on with her life where it its clear that Lucy has always seen herself as a victim. Its only because somebody so fervently believes in her that she allows herself to be tortured again whilst she sees the crime playing out through Amy’s eyes. He gives her the strength to face that.
Brains’n’Beauty: I love the fact that episodes like this break against tradition and have the male lead empathising with the female victim whilst Scully is as cold and as detached as ever. Scully approaches this case as a scientist who makes a logical connection that because the second blood type on Lucy’s overalls matches Amy’s blood type then she must be involved. Whereas Mulder is vehement that Lucy is another victim and that is the extent of her involvement. Mulder and Scully struggling to bring Amy back to life at the riverside is an excellent snapshot of what they should be about. Working these investigations to make a difference to peoples lives. The show has forgotten about that for too long now. The emotion that crackles between the two agents when she orders him to stop trying to save her is electric.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Who could take someone who wasn’t theirs?’ – that just about sums up all abductions.
Ugh: The scenes of Amy trapped in the darkened cellar are some of the most frightening I have seen on my marathon run of the show so far. There is something truly gut wrenching about the way Carl chases her through the shadows with the red dot to take photos of her, the flash blinding her in the darkness. He’s doing it because he thinks they have some kind of future together which is even creepier and wants some kind of photographic evidence of their lives. Amy is pinned to the wall by the red dot, as though it is a laser sight for a bullet that is about to strike her. The shrill whine of the camera building up is terrifying. Watching her beg for her life (‘I don’t want to die here!’) is enough to turn your stomach.
The Good: Tracey Ellis deserves a massive round of applause for never once trying to make Lucy a sympathetic character despite the fact that she has been a victim of a terrible crime. She’s a deeply troubled woman who wants to forget all about what has happened to her in the past and doesn’t want to get involved with the latest investigation even though a little girls life might depend on it. She bald facedly tells Mulder that she doesn’t care about the missing girl and that she isn’t interested and much of the tragedy of the situation is that she is forced to empathise with Amy against her will, to experience that pain again. Another thing that really impressed me was how the episode almost seemed to try and empathise with the abductor whilst at the same time assuredly painting him as the villain of the piece. The way he holds the wrench up to threaten away the mechanic is almost motherly, like he is trying to protect something precious. Another little detail that just feels right is Lucy’s reaction to the light after being kept in the darkness for so many years. Amy isn’t the sort of girl that accepts her situation and plays the helpless victim, she manages to break free of her underground prison and try and escape Carl’s clutches. At this point the Vancouver forest becomes a leafy trap that doesn’t want her to escape, tripping her and allowing her predator to catch up with her. I’m glad the idea of Lucy developing an emotional dependency on Carl and thus being the reason for her hand in this abduction was at least discussed. Its not easy to imagine but such cases have been known and whilst it is never a serious consideration in this drama it’s the writer once again realistically covering all the angles. We have been given enough access to how Wade thinks to understand why he tries to drown Amy at the climax. ‘Nobody is going to spoil this…’ is a chilling statement and I hope its while before the show allows me to understand such a disturbed mind again. Lucy giving her life to save Amy’s is what the episode has been building to all along but there is a feeling that this is a release for her as much as it is suicide. Finally she is free of her disturbing past and can find peace. Scully’s line that nobody wants to talk about all the things that don’t make sense because her family (and the police) are just relieved that Amy is safe draws a line under all the unanswered questions very neatly.
Pre Titles Sequence: Straight off the bat you have the show indulging in what must be every parents nightmare, a photographers assistant working at the local High School perving on the students. Taking their photographs and then lusting after them. The way Carl carves out her outline so delicately and places into a frame next to a picture of him tells you everything you need to know about this socially dysfunctional man. The director pulls back from his work slowly until all you can see in the darkness is the blinding flashes of the camera. Its undeniably very creepy. We’ve all had moments when we’ve woken up and thought there might be somebody in the bedroom watching us and the heart stopping horror that faces Amy is that it is real. Cutting to Lucy struggling with a nosebleed repeating exactly Carl said during the abduction links her to the crime scene in some way. Its one of the most effective X-Files pre credits sequences because it manages to economically tell you everything you need to know about the episode ahead, seeds an intriguing mystery (how are Amy and Lucy connected?) and its chillingly realised too. Top notch television.
Moment to Watch Out For: The direction of the final scenes where Mulder rushes back to Lucy is superb. With night encroaching, the light from the ambulance strikes the shrouded trolley with Lucy’s corpse beneath. Mulder’s face is already slick from the river as he bursts into tears, gently touching her lifeless face. Like the rest of the episode it hits all the right emotional notes. I was reaching for tissues without ever feeling as though I was being exploited.
Orchestra: Mark Snow’s dark, raging stings that accompany the abduction scenes really convey the juddering horror of what Amy is facing.
Notes: Tracey Ellis returned to the series in another fantastic episode, season nine’s Audrey Pauley. Its well worth checking that one out even if you can’t stomach the show in its twilight years.
Result: Beautifully written and executed with a great role for Mulder and a simple but emotional premise, Oubliette is the finest standalone episode of the show since last seasons Aubrey. It’s a show that manages to create a nightmare for both Amy and Lucy whilst Wade himself is portrayed almost compassionately as a man who just wants to be able to look after these girls. It’s a measure of how balanced the show is that at portraying this situation realistically that you could point at Lucy as the villain of the piece for so forcefully refusing to help the police. There’s no sign of the FBI bully that has plagued the series of late, Mulder is a compassionate man here who is determined to help a disturbed young woman through an ordeal that is not of her making. Duchovny is excellent and it is a healthy reminder of the riveting character that featured during the abduction arc last year. What a shame that the show lost Charles Grant Craig before his debut script was even completed because he has tapped into a new approach to the show and its one as close to a straight drama as you could imagine this show getting without ever feeling like another series. There’s no bitching between Mulder and Scully over whose theory is more valid, there’s no inconclusive ending and there’s no implausible twists that leave you hanging your head in shame. This is a sensual, powerful piece that connects strong characters through a terrible crime and allows us to empathise with them all. The icing on the cake is the gorgeous location work – the Vancouver forest has never looked more like a work of beauty. In the way that it treats the characters with respect and the issue realistically, Oubliette is practically flawless: 9/10
Nisei written by Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz & Howard Gordon and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: An apparently faked alien autopsy tape leads Mulder deeper to an international conspiracy…
Trust No-One: Wow, Mulder’s pornography collection must be huge to justify the amount of times it is mentioned. There is some kind of weird logic to Mulder believing in the alien autopsy tape precisely because of the lack of detail it shows. Mulder is a real action hero here, chasing after the Japanese assassin and pulling his gun, being judo chopped to the ground and pulling out his spare (‘I get tired of losing my gun!’) and firing. Its all breathlessly done and Duchovny seems to be having a blast. Mulder’s subtle way of gaining access to a ship illegally is to smash a window rather than to pick a lock and he escapes by diving into the sea. Whilst Scully is busy providing some heart for the episode Mulder is the action man and he looks great whether he is searching ships, avoiding patrols, stumbling across alien craft or jumping onto trains.
Brains’n’Beauty: Follow up from Scully’s abduction is always welcome and its striking to learn that she wasn’t alone in her ordeal. Its hard to know whether to laugh or gasp as the various members of MUFON pull out and rattle their chips that is identical to Scully’s because its like a bizarre version of Alcoholics Anonymous. The difference between Scully and the other MUFON members is that the experience has haunted her whereas they seem to revere their abductions, treating it as some kind of blessing that has defined their lives. Perhaps they are just seeking answers but you cannot imagine somebody as ultra rational as Scully joining up with a cultish group like this. Scully is afraid to remember what happened to her, to discover how she was violated during her abduction. Given the implausibility of the plotline you need an actress as strong as Gillian Anderson to give the revelations some complexity and subtlety and she makes Scully genuinely disturbed as she discovers that it was men that abducted her rather than aliens. I was surprised that the seeds of the cancer arc were planted this early – when Scully visits Betsy who is suffering with an unknown but malignant condition Scully is getting a glimpse of her future but she doesn’t realise it yet (‘this is what’s going to happen to all of us…’). Mulder gently lists all the things that Scully has already admitted she has seen and experienced and needs to know why she still refuses to believe. Believing is the easy part but she still needs hard proof. There’s another gorgeous scene between Scully and Mr X (holding back their meeting has really reaped some rewards) and it looks as though now Mulder has severed his ties with him approaching Scully is his only option.
Assistant Director: I think Skinner enjoys walking the fine line between enemy and ally by the way he behaves so covertly, waiting in the shadow of Mulder’s apartment for him to return as he does here. Anybody else would come back and knock when Mulder was home.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Mulder this is even hokier than the one they aired on the Fox Network!’
‘I don’t get it Mulder, it just doesn’t track. What would a Japanese diplomat be doing in that house with a dead man with his head stuffed in a pillow case?’ ‘Obviously not strengthening international relations.’
‘What am I onto here?’ ‘Monsters begetting monsters…’
The Good: I’ve always thought that the conspiracy episodes were the most complicatedly plotted episodes of The X-Files but one of things that has surprised me is just how clearly they progress from one set piece to another through logical stages of deduction. Duane Barry, Colony (although End Game did suffer from terrible plotting problems), Anasazi and now Nisei are all very well written from a narrative standpoint. I like the simplicity of the autopsy tape leading to the man who circulated them leading to the assassin that has killed him leading to leads on the potential deaths of MUFON members and the mystery of a missing ship that came to port in West Virginia. When the armed guards turn up to execute Mulder has investigates the latter we know he is on the right track. The image of the alien spacecraft being steam cleaned brings back vivid and giddy memories of Deep Throat, the last time Mulder got this close to the truth. The show is once again indulging in real world nasties, exposing some of the dirtier aspects of the Second World War involving the experimentation of human subjects and applying it to the mythology of the series. I like the way the show stacks its advancements in the arc – The Erlenmeyer Flask talked about experiments involving alien/human hybrids and it followed up on that promise by showing us the tests in progress in End Game and the failiure of that research in Anasazi. The same thing has happened this season with suggestions of war criminals being shipped to the US and working on the governments alien/human hybrid programme in Paper Clip and that being followed up with hard proof in this two parter. As Scully remembers being operated on by Dr Ishimaru, I was more shocked that the show has decided to answer a pertinent question that has posed (was Scully abducted by men or aliens?) than the answer itself. For a show that thrives on ambiguity to the point of insanity it is very refreshing for the answers to spill.
The Bad: Where on Earth has Senator Matheson been hiding since the beginning of season two? It seems rather churlish for him to turn up for his second appearance a year and a half after his first. In that time Skinner, Krychek and the Smoking Man have been explored and re-invented. This is the only part where the story stalls and Matheson is dumped in to fill Mulder in on exposition.
Pre Titles Sequence: There is something oddly satisfying about the way the teaser lurches from a Railway Children inspired wave at a train as it passes by to the horror of what is taking place inside one of the boxcars at night. Inside is a sterile operating chamber where Japanese scientists are dissecting an alien creature and before the title music has piped in they are all massacred in a hail of bullets. A rarity for this season, the show hasn’t really armed us with everything we need to watch the episode ahead (it must be a mythology episode then) but thanks to some muscular imagery and deft camerawork (just watch the way it smoothly glides over the top of the boxcar) this is a visually stunning first step into a very satisfying two parter. The mere suggestion of a boxcar brings back memories the desiccated alien/human hybrids from Anasazi and offers much hope for further examination.
Moment to Watch Out For: I’m going to sound like a total kid (and even more geeky than I usually do…) but I love trains! Setting up the stunt where David Duchovny jumps from one train to another was worth it because it looks fabulous and it promises an entire train set second episode ahead. Sign me up!
Fashion Statement: Mulder is wearing a black roll neck which rather suits him whilst Frohike is sporting a sleeveless sheepskin jacket. Which doesn’t.
Orchestra: There’s a lovely filmic score towards the end of the episode as everything starts to cohere. Snow’s music just gets better and better and it was pretty special to begin with. He really knows how to add energy to the show and get us excited for what is coming up.
Mythology: ‘Several weeks ago in Knoxville, Tennessee, four Japanese nationals were murdered. All prominent Doctors apparently engaged in a highly classified project’ ‘What kind of project?’ ‘The autopsy of an extraterrestrial lifeform, was that part of it?’ ‘I can’t tell you. I was only just now given the names of the murdered scientists.’
Result: The X-Files turns to action movies for inspiration of its latest mythology episode and its infinitely more watchable to the mystical bollocks that kicked started this season. Given its trio of writers you might think this would be an overly complicated script but it impresses because it avoids all the pitfalls of the worst of the arc episodes. The story has real momentum and offers insight into Scully’s abduction and further exploration of the alien/human hybrid experiments and the narrative is pushed along by some memorable action sequences and brawny imagery. I like the fact that it has international implications but it actually feels quite small scale, the story winding up being concentrated on one boxcar and the answers that might be contained within. Another bonus is that the heart of the episode comes not from Mulder, his cause and his sisters abduction (which is usually a given with this sub genre) but Scully dealing with the horror of what she experienced last year. Gillian Anderson is as exceptional as ever and she gives the material an extra layer of sensitivity that is otherwise missing in this masculine storytelling. It really feels as though Carter and cohorts have gotten a hang of how to tell the mythology episodes this year and it promises much for the conclusion. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint: 8/10
731 written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman
What’s it about: Mulder is trapped on a boxcar that is rigged to explode with all the proof he needs to expose the alien/human hybrid programme whilst Scully is given proof of a very different kind…
Trust No-One: It feels like Mulder is continually being punished for his beliefs and the image of his face covered in blood after receiving a brutal kicking in is perhaps the most shocking example yet. Despite the fact that he deducts most of it without a scrap of proof, Mulder is closer to actual hard evidence than he has ever been before so of course he has to be dragged away from it whilst it is destroyed.
Brains’n’Beauty: Nobody makes being angry look quite as hot as Dana Scully and she’s immediately worked up by the evasions of X and pulls a gun on him. He uses what is perhaps the only thing that would make her pause and pay attention, information about her sisters killer. Its another plot thread from a previous episode being woven into this mythology update and more proof that Carter and co haven’t forgotten about the various threads that they have started elsewhere. The idea that Scully’s every thought could be tapped into via her chip and that its removal leads to a cancerous attack on the body to destroy the subject is frightening and gives you an idea of the kind of people that Mulder and Scully are facing. Its unusual for this show to take the time to explore the horrific implications of the conspiracy from an emotional point of view and Scully’s gut wrenching reaction to the mass grave is a very effective reminder of the human cost involved. Regardless of whether she thinks this is the work of aliens or not (and the script goes to great pains to prove otherwise to her), Scully confronts the real life consequences of what Mulder’s work is there to expose. It gives her even more of a reason to want to see whoever is responsible for poisoning so many peoples lives brought to justice. The First Elder gives Scully what she has always sought after, proof of what is really going on. He has cleverly driven a wedge between Mulder and Scully by exposing everything that Mulder has ever believed in to be a hoax. Its an elaborate deception and Scully falls for it hook, line and sinker because it is presented so openly.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This was one of the most frightening places on the Earth. A place where society sent its monsters to live in shame and isolation…’
‘There is no such thing as alien abduction! It is just a smokescreen happily created by our government to cover up the biggest lie of all!’
‘I’m not a very good shot and when I miss, I tend to miss low…’
Ugh: The image of a group of scabrous, disease ridden victims scrambling about in the darkness is nerve shattering until Scully shows them great compassion for what they have been through. Suddenly they shift from terrifying grotesques to unfortunate victims of a government plot. The make up is shockingly effective, aided by some downcast performances and I was surprised to see the show so bold facedly naming the camp a leper colony.
The Good: The six weeks that it took to prepare David Duchovny for his stunt of jumping onto a moving train would seem to be well worth it as numerous impressive camera set ups capture the moment. Even by The X-Files exacting realisation, this is slick. I already mentioned this in the first episode but I am mad on setting TV drama on trains (I pretty much squeed throughout the latest adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express) – the clatter of the vehicle on the tracks, the claustrophobia of the setting, the fact that it’s a moving location…it just really appeals to me. Basically the first half of this episode is Mulder and the assassin both pursuing Ishimaru through the train carriages and proves to be rather engaging for all its lack of development. Pendrell is a delightful new character whose main purpose is to turn up and fawn over Scully whilst providing her with leads to push the episode forwards. Usually this role is performed by some faceless character dropped into the action awkwardly (I think we’ve had three separate cases of gravediggers so far in the shows run) and its nice to have somebody engaging who can turn up in the mythology episodes and fulfil the job. I love the shot of the alien human hybrid mirrored in Mulder’s eye – once again he is so close to the truth and by now we know that something like a wire wrapped around his neck is going to drag him away. Its lovely that Mulder acquires the services of a train guard who is in over his head but helps to scupper the attempts of assassin when he tries to kill Mulder and escape. We don’t meet enough ‘normal’ people like this in The X-Files that are likable just because they are incredibly brave when facing dangerous situations they are unaccustomed to. Talk of a bomb wired to the boxcar might have been baloney but it does give the latter half of this episode a race against time feel which always helps to up the tension. The First Elder (I bet his real name is something ridiculously mundane like Bernard) showing up to fill in Scully on some of the gaps in the story is the first real indication that this is tied into the greater international conspiracy arc that was shown to us at the beginning of the season. Him phoning the assassin on the train ties the two plots together and the Syndicates hand in cleaning up this mess. Stephen McHattie has always managed to impress me with his one shot roles in genre television (his turn as Senator Vreenak in Star Trek: DS9’s In the Pale Moonlight will forever he burnt into my subconscious – ‘It’s a faaaaake!’) and he provides a muscular character in the shape of the mysterious NSA assassin in the employ of the Syndicate. Given his lack of character background and motives the part relies solely on McHattie’s charisma in the part and he succeeds in creating a memorable rivalry with David Duchovny. We know now that war criminals were brought in to work on the alien/human hybrid programme which has been continuing unsuccessfully since the war. We also know that the Syndicate want to obtain all knowledge of such experiments and fear its success almost as much as they long for the results. Mulder suggests here that the reason behind these alien/human hybrid experiments is to protect the population from a weapon of mass destruction. A weapon that will be deployed by the aliens when they try and colonise the planet? The way we are being drip fed information about this plot is staggeringly measured (most other shows would handle such a plot over a season or even a two parter) but at least we are getting somewhere.
Pre Titles Sequence: In what feels like a massive departure from the story that was being told in the first part, the concluding episode begins with an unforgettable sequence of a concentration camp being invaded by soldiers who take the entire population out into the woods to a mass grave that has been prepared for them. Any World War illusions are tossed out of the window, this show is cherry picking real world horrors and applying them directly to the series’ mythology. You’d be hard pressed to find a more distressing scene in this show than the soldiers looking into the crater like grave once it has been filled as though they have just done a good days work.
Moment to Watch Out For: One of the most impressive explosions to ever hit the small screen as the boxcar winds up in pieces across the Vancouver countryside. A truly volatile ending to the story.
Orchestra: A gorgeous piano riff accompanies X saving Mulder from the exploding boxcar.
Mythology: ‘What about the people who were in this room?’ ‘They had been exposed’ ‘Exposed to what?’ ‘The same thing all these people have been exposed to. Victims of an inhuman project run by a man name Falmer’ ‘You mean Ishimaru. You hid him here after the war. He stayed here and he continued his experiments!’ ‘The rule of the world is no longer the country with the greatest soldiers but the greatest scientists. Unfortunately Ishimaru started to conduct his work in secret. Not sharing with those who had risked much in given him his asylum’ ‘What was he exposing these people to?’ ‘Terrible things’ ‘What kinds of things? Have I been exposed?’ ‘Please I would like to show you something that will give you your answers…’
‘It’s a weapon’ ‘A weapon? What kind of a weapon?’ ‘Ask yourself my friend…what could be more valuable than Star Wars? More valuable than the atomic bomb? Or the most advanced biological weapons?’ ‘A standing army immune to the effects of those weapons. That’s what Dr Zama did, didn’t he? He came up with an immunity to those weapons! And he was trying to smuggle that thing back to his own country to share the science only our government isn’t in the mood to share, right? They’ve been doing experiments since World War II. Tests on innocent civilians but Zama succeeded where the others had failed. And that thing in there, that’s not an innocent civilian. Its not a leper either. Its an alien/human hybrid, isn’t it?’
Result: Infinitely preferable to the last time Spotnitz was entrusted to close a double instalment mythology story, 731 is remarkably focused on dealing with the questions and ideas that were posed in the first part rather than heading off in a hundred directions at once. It helps that the story drives a wedge between Mulder and Scully not just geographically but by giving them very different viewpoints on what is happening and allowing them the space to back up their unique opinions. For the show to call into question everything that we have ever seen to this point and suggest that it was all a massive sleight of hand trick to cover something even more nasty is truly audacious even if that proves to be a blind alley in subsequent mythology episodes. 731 works on most levels because it explores some very dark themes (the whilst also working as an effective action thriller and it reaffirms Mulder and Scully’s clash of ideologies. There’s very little warmth to the story but for once the show has made the right decision to play all this in a deadly serious fashion because it makes the exploration of real world horrors all the more shocking. The fact that this conclusion doesn’t drop the ball in the same way that so many mythology episodes do is something of a minor miracle and I love the fact that we are finally (if painstakingly slowly) being fed some answers: 8/10
Revelations written by Kim Newton and directed by David Nutter
What’s it about: When a boy shows signs of being a real stigmatic, Scully and Mulder vow to protect him from harm…
Trust No-One: ‘These people are simply fanatics behaving fanatically using religion as a justification…’ Mulder has some balls sampling the blood of the dead Priest simply because it might not have been fake. You might think it would be odd to skip from Mulder discussing the existence of alien/human hybrids in one episode to suggesting that a young boy is self harming and reacting against a abusive parent in the next but one of the joys of season three is how it swings from science fiction to real life horrors and back again with absolute conviction. Its very amusing to see how different Mulder and Scully are around children, Mulder gets down to their level and talks to them like little adults whereas Scully is far more motherly and gentle. They would make very good parents. Mulder proves to be quite intolerant of religion which comes as a shock considering he is usually the first in line to sign up to anything that lacks proof and requires a little faith. Astonishingly Mulder suggests that Scully not let faith overwhelm her judgement, a statement that should be carved into his grave. Mulder says all he has seen here has tested his patience and not his faith and its interesting that he comes across as being far more bullish when moulded into the role of the sceptic than Scully ever is.
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘How is it that you’re able to go out on a limb when you see a light in the sky but you’re unwilling to accept the possibility of a miracle even when its right in front of you?’ In Oubliette you had Mulder reaching out to Lucy and Scully standing back as the clinical observer and those roles are neatly reversed here with Scully taking a very personal interest in Kevin and Mulder rather coldly rejecting the idea that his stigmatic bleedings are the work of God. Rather than have Scully jump in with both feet and declare that she believes she is meant to protect Kevin for divine purposes (which is exactly the kind of approach we see week in, week out with Mulder with him buying into every paranormal fad going and accepting it without any kind of doubt that might make it rational) it is gradual process throughout the episode. There are little reminders of Scully’s faith and she is nudged into a position of acceptance because so much of what she sees ties up with her own beliefs. She believes that Gods hand can be witnessed and that He can create miracles and it feels like a little dig when Mulder asks how she can accept that when science can’t explain them when she has always held firm that proof is what she needs to believe in the existence of extra terrestrials. We learn that it has been six years since Scully’s last confession but as a result of the events here she has claimed back that part of her life. Mulder is (sometimes quite irritatingly) always proven to be right when he gets behind the supernatural threat of the week and what makes this so effective is that even after everything she has seen Scully still questions her interpretation of events, especially in the wake of Mulder’s uncertainties. I love the fact that the priest tells Scully that these things weren’t meant for Mulder to see and that perhaps the whole point of her journey was to find her way back to the church. The purpose of the episode is laid bare. Regardless, give Gillian Anderson material like this to play with and she makes it sing.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Looks like Kevin was abducted by Homer Simpson’s evil twin.’
Ugh: The director uses everyday items to contrast against the blood during Kevin’s lettings; the way the blood of Christ dribbles over chalk and through a wicker basket adds a touch of the mundane to these miraculous acts. Gates falling into the newspaper grinder is spectacularly nasty, especially when you can see his arm juddering as it is slowly consumed.
The Good: Working with children is always a double edged sword, they can either make or break an episode depending on how naturalistic the child is. Fortunately Revelations strikes gold in Kevin Zegers (who has gone on to become one of the most fanciable actors in America – fact) who has to carry a lot of heavy material and does it with absolute conviction whilst never once trying to be anything other than the normal little boy that the script wants him to be. Kevin suffering from stigmatic wounds in front of his classmates is a vivid and very public display of his role in the episode. Revelations exposes just how dangerous it can be to be a parent when it comes to explaining away a childs odd behaviour – whilst the social workers only want the best for Kevin the instant reaction is to blame the mother for his wounds. Michael Berryman makes an instant impression and is given a terrific introduction by the director as the monster of Kevin’s bedtime horror story. Owen is the perfect representation of not judging by appearances and proves to be a gentle sentinel whilst the much more convention looking Simon Gates is his executioner. There is a suggestion of divine intervention, as if Owen is supposed to protect Kevin he is given the strength to survive a head long collision with a window, breaks free of his handcuffs and disappears into thin air. Kevin being menaced at home is shot horror movie style, drenched in shadows with minimal scoring to make the pursuit all the more nerve wracking. The sudden appearance of Owen is as unexpected as his death is tragic. I have never heard of Jerusalem Syndrome (when people who visit the Holy Land suffer from religious delusions) and its great to see the episode discuss that this could all be fraudulent as it gives a far more balanced view of things. Even though we have already witnessed the supernatural powers that Simon Gates possesses (such as the glowing doorknob). More great imagery in the advent of the glowing bars on the window which tells the audience everything they need to know about Kevin’s abduction. The episode remains pleasingly ambiguous as to why Gates is so determined to murder Kevin which is exactly how it should be, I don’t think that The X-Files is quite ready to declare the Second Coming.
Pre Titles Sequence: This is every bit as unique as the teaser to Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. In the former episode, Darin Morgan disproved the efforts of mediums and oracles by having a fortune teller murdered and failing to see that it is about to happen. Its as blackly funny as the show will ever get. Here Kim Newton does the same thing with religious fundamentalists, exposing how they can use tricks to twist the beliefs of their flock but then subverting that by having a representative of the Devil show up and murder him. Its braver too because American is so devoutly religious in places that this is exactly the sort of mockery that doesn’t go down too well. It is only at the moment of his death that this spokesperson for God has all the proof he has ever sought after of the existence of divine beings.
Moment to Watch Out For: Revelations is one of the more subtle explorations of Scully’s faith and also one of the most effective. The closing scene in which we witness a conversation between Scully and a priest discussing her doubts proves to be as enlightening and as touching as the end of Conduit was for Mulder.
Result: ‘It just makes me afraid that God is speaking but no-one’s listening…’ What a fascinating experiment to turn the shows crux on its head and have Scully the ardent believer and Mulder the stubborn sceptic. It worked so well in Beyond the Sea and they repeat the formula here with similar success, helped by the fact that the two episodes are so spaced apart that it still feels like a novelty. I think it is very brave for The X-Files to state categorically that these are genuine religious manifestations whilst at the same time offering just enough doubt to not feel like a sermon. Its another beautifully executed piece of television, packed with memorable imagery and lashings of atmosphere. It feels as though season three is the year where all of the directors were in competition to see who could create the most memorably visual piece of television and they are all at the top of their game, happily co-inciding with the year where the scripts are constantly delivering too. It no point does it feel like a stuffy lecture on religion and that is because the script and the direction ensure that this is a spook fest first and that the subject matter is a thoughtful extra. Had it been the other way around it could have been agonising (as exemplified in season five’s All Souls). Gillian Anderson runs with this character building material and takes us on a journey of Scully’s faith and religious beliefs. She’s been given some wonderful opportunities in season three and hope her character continues to blossom in this vein. Revelations is another confident, attention-grabbing episode in what is turning out to be the finest run of shows the show has delivered yet: 9/10
War of the Coprophages written by Darin Morgan and directed by Kim Manners
What’s it about: Run! Flee! Save your children! The cockroaches are here!
Trust No-One: ‘I gotta go!’ Mulder looks up at the sky and thinks that something is looking down on him at the exact same moment. Scully just thinks he is nuts. The running gag of Mulder inviting Scully to join him every time things get hairy and telling her to stay put when there is something that she doesn’t want to see (such as him flirting with a beautiful woman) is hilarious. It shows just how he exploits her on a case by case basis. Clearly he only needs her for her brains because as soon as she gives him a lead to go on he know longer requires her presence. The use of the telephone calls to connect our heroes throughout not only gives this episode an unconventional feel (and is in no way bested by the reversal in season five’s Chinga) but also serves a dramatic purpose by having Scully cut off at sudden moments and unaware of Mulder’s fate. The look on Mulder’s face when Bambi suggests that UFO sightings are swarms of insects is priceless, had this been Scully he would have raged at her for making such an outrageous suggestion but because Bambi is a hottie he looks absorbed by her explanation. Nodding his head like a puppy dog. In a teasing line he says that he finds her scientific detachment quite refreshing when it is the very thing about Scully that drives him nuts (he also tells his partner to feck off when he is in the middle of flirting with this buxom etymologist). After hearing so much about bugs Mulder proves he is as susceptible as the rest of us, unable to sleep because he keeps imagining them crawling over his face and under the sheets. Dr Ivanov suggests that anybody who thinks that alien visitors will be grey beings with big bug eyes has been brainwashed by too much science fiction and all Mulder can do is look silently embarrassed. He loses the girl to the Steven Hawking parody but at least he gets to go home with the girl that stinks of shit. In the final scene Mulder gets the chance to redeem himself for his girly scream in childhood and make contact with a potential alien species. Instead he uses his case file to squash the twitching creature. That’s where a superior intellect gets you.
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘Are you sure it wasn’t a girly scream?’ This is The X-Files at its most sitcom (until it literally becomes a sitcom in its sixth year) with Scully left at home cleaning her gun, shampooing her dog, tucking into a leafy salad and reading her book whilst Mulder is away on vacation investigating the case of the killer insects. Scully calls the existence of extraterrestrial life anti-Darwinian so she must be conflicted with her belief in God (and his week long affix kit creation of the Earth) and evolution. Its wonderful to see Scully in such a mundane, domestic setting and its proof of what I have always suspected – that like Mulder she doesn’t really have that much of a life (which is why traipsing after him chasing aliens is a preferable alternative). It’s the only episode in the nine year run where Scully suggests a man has died of an aneurysm by straining too hard on the toilet. Its nice to know that Scully isn’t completely square, however, as we cut to her at one point in the episode with a spoon reaching into the biggest tub of ice cream known to mankind. The writer is really trying to make a point when Mulder flirts outrageously with Bambi and we cut back to Scully desponding staring at her phone, waiting for it to ring. When the phone eventually does ring she’s asleep and yet answers it in record time. Bless her, she really is obsessed by this man and his safety. The way she talks to Bambi (‘this is no place for an etymologist’) proves hilariously that women do suffer the ‘mine is bigger than yours’ syndrome too. Her ‘that would explain everything’ dismissal of Bambi’s theory that the robot bugs have flown back to where they came from made me howl. She really doesn’t like competition, does she?
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It appears that cockroaches are mortally attacking people!’ ‘I’m not going to ask you if you just said what I think you just said because I know its what you just said.’
‘After talking with Agent Mulder here I suddenly feel slightly constipated.’
‘Eat. Sleep. Defecate. Procreate. That’s all they do. That’s all we do but at least insects don’t kid themselves that its anything more than that.’
‘Her name is Bambi?’ ‘Yeah, both her parents were naturalists.’
‘I screamed. Not a girly scream…’
‘Is there anything abnormal?’ ‘I’ll say! He’s hung like a club tail dragonfly!’
‘You know I never thought I would say this to you Scully…but you smell bad.’
Ugh: Not many shows would feature a scene with kids getting deliriously high on shit (with a beer resting in liquid nitrogen for afters) and hallucinating cockroaches burrowing into their arm and crawling under their skin. It’s the epitome of Morgan’s approach to the show, OTT and yet utterly chilling at the same time as the kid tries to slash his arms open with a blade to cut the insects free. War of the Coprophages goes for all the same crawl-under-your-skin scares as Arachnophobia did with spiders, having them pop up in the most obscenely mundane places and bringing them into the viewers lives. The scene of them crawling all over the toilet as the doctor takes a dump is memorably nasty (and extra points for having the camera positioned so that when he yanks on the toilet roll a cockroach rolls into shot) and I bet there have been more than a few viewers who have watched this episode and had second thoughts about parking their breakfast afterwards. Beyond a doubt the most loathsome shot in The X-Files history is off the victim who dies halfway through the episode – the focus on his dirty, scabby feet as a cockroach probes its way towards them left me clutching my innards. I really hate feet, especially nasty ones like this. Could the cake that Mulder eats look more like a pile of crap?
The Good: I love the idea of a town with a large science constituency being targeted for the roach attacks with the victims being a molecular biologist, an astrophysicist and an alternative fuel researcher. I bet Morgan wrote that line just so Duchovny had to learn it. Scully’s flea killer for her dog is called DIE FLEA DIE! It’s the same sort of b movie title that this episode enjoys. Morgan taps into the panic and paranoia that spreads with a spate of mysterious murders with the local doctor worried that he should evacuate his family and anyone with an insect phobia seeing them crawling out of every shadow. One man mentions the possibility of killer cockroaches within earshot of a nurse and before you know it the whole town is fleeing from this new terror. Soon the press are reporting on a new breed of killer cockroaches spreading the Ebola virus! The way the panic escalates its expertly done, that build up of madness is needed to justify the completely insane climax at the research facility. Kim Manners isn’t afraid of using unconventional camera techniques and shoots directly up from a plughole as a roach escapes down it (straight towards the audience – ugh!). Mulder stumbling on a perfectly respectable looking house in the middle of a scientific complex that is suddenly plagued by cockroaches that burst from the walls really sticks in the mind. Talk about bringing the horror into peoples homes. The crackling chemistry gag between Mulder and Bambi works a treat, you realise the lengths that Morgan will go to to set up a joke. The idea of creating a race of insect robots that can be shot into space and used to explore other planets is actually pretty neat and not as daft as it might sound. By simulating insect movements and abilities these robots could explore the terrain with much great efficiency than human beings. The bug walking across the screen sees The X-Files breaking the fourth wall in one of the most imaginative ways I have ever seen. I love the assertion that the metallic cockroaches are the work of extraterrestrials that have sent these insectoid robots to study our world. Its so bonkers it could happily be flaunted by one of my other favourite programmes (Doctor Who) and the gorgeous POV shot of Mulder saying hi justifies the insane notion completely. In any other show (or indeed in any other episode of this show) a climax that sees a scientist pulling a gun on Mulder because he believes he might be a cockroach in disguise would be preposterous but somehow the writer and director have pitched the insect fever to such an extent that it just feels like a natural extension of what we have already seen. The use of their phones throughout has been a subtle build up to the moment where Mulder’s rings at the climax and convinces the delirious doctor that he is in fact a cockroach! Morgan is even taking the piss out of the dreary monologues that plague this show. He’s a genius, that man.
Pre Titles Sequence: As brilliantly subversive as ever, Darin Morgan spells out why cockroaches are one of the most flawless creatures in creation before having the exterminator who admires them so much crunch one underfoot. If you have a fear of twitching insects then prepare to look away now as a little army of them comes popping from a hole in the ground to cover the exterminator. His just desserts, surely?
Moment to Watch Out For: ‘I’m in a convenience store on the outskirts of civilisation…’ The swelling dread results in the glorious scene where Scully arrives at the convenience store only to be confronted by panic buying, violence and obscene theories being touted. Its one of the funniest moments in the shows history not because the sailor grabs at several packets of stockings (although that is funny) or because ‘we’re all going to be bleeding from our nipples!’ (although that’s funny too) or even because of the spectacular stunt of one car crashing into another to create a sense of destructive madness (that made me howl!). No it’s the funniest sequence because of Scully’s ultra rational attempts to calm the populace down. As soon as they see her badge and gun putting an official face on the disaster it ramps the panic up even further! It wouldn’t be out of place in The Simpsons but it has a very serious point to make about people not trusting what the authorities tell them. Who knew that The X-Files could stray this far into sitcom land and still kick ass?
Result: It’s the episode that Darin Morgan was least happy with and yet at the same time it’s the one example of his work that most of his detractors seem to enjoy. There might be something in that. War of the Coprophages manages to be many things at once and I think that is the joy of it for me; it’s a comic masterpiece with countless gems of lines, an OTT b-movie that explores small town panic with some verve, a turn-your-stomach monster story with some truly revolting scenes, camp as Christmas science-fiction with a gorgeous piss take of Stephen Hawking and an intelligent discussion on phobias, insects, space exploration and all manner of fascinating subjects. The fact that it swings wildly between each of these and still remains cohesive is down to Morgan’s confident scripting and Kim Manners stellar direction. It manages to be both ridiculously silly and stomach turningly horrific, sometimes both in the same scene. There are also terrific sight gags (the bug walking across the screen), great characters (‘her name is Bambi?’) and it features one of Mark Snow’s most skin crawling scores too. On top of all this we get to see Mulder and Scully covered in shit which might just be the most sublime moment in this shows nine year history. There really isn’t another episode like this one and that is the joy of it, The X-Files strays into a truly unique, ever fluctuating genre of madness and its deliriously enjoyable to hang onto its coattails and fly with it: 10/10
Syzygy written by Chris Carter and directed by Rob Bowman
What’s it about: The stars make everybody act like tossers…
Trust No-One: To have Mulder and Scully so deliberately at loggerheads for comic effect demands a damn good reason. The reason it doesn’t work out quite as Carter intended is because he fails to provide one. It simply looks as if this is where their relationship is at the moment and that they can’t stand the sight of each other. Neither of them actually acknowledges how out of behaviour they are acting or discuss what possible influences might be the cause. As such its not so much clever as it is nasty and it tarnishes an already pretty dreary episode with a sarcastic, angry edge that makes it actively unpleasant to watch. When Vince Gilligan attempts to comment on the Mulder/Scully relationship in Bad Blood he does it by having them tell a story twice over in their own words, painting two very different pictures of their characters as they perceive them. Carter lacks such innovation and instead just has them making snide remarks about each others deficiencies. Whereas Bad Blood allowed the Duchovny and Anderson to play exaggerated versions of themselves in a subtly different and humorous way, they progress stiffly and unconvincingly through Syzygy as if they are uncomfortable with the material. Mulder and Scully squabbling over who gets to drive was inspired by fan comment that you never see her behind the wheel…indulging the fan base in this way is a dangerous business and usually the sign of a show that is trying to hold on to its followers. Not a show that is currently at its creative zenith.
Brains’n’Beauty: Mulder describes Scully as ‘rigid in a wonderful way’ which does sum her up rather nicely. If only it were true of her behaviour in this episode. When Scully starts accusing Mulder of ditching her she sounds like a jealous twelve year old who is losing her best friend. I cannot think of a more awkward scene featuring Gillian Anderson than the one where Scully is puffing on a cigarette and bitching about Detective White in her hotel room – it baffles me as to why Carter would want her to behave in such a fashion.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You don’t think she’s a virgin, do you?’ ‘I doubt she’s even a blonde.’
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Why do you always have to drive? Because you’re the guy? Because you’re the big macho man?’
‘What the hell’s going on here?’ ‘Something cosmic.’
‘We are but visitors on this rock, hurtling through time and space at 66,000 miles an hour. Tethered to a burning sphere by an invisible force in an unfathomable universe. This most of us take for granted while refusing to believe that these forces have any more effect on us then a butterfly beating its wings halfway around the world. Whether two girls born on the same date, at the same time and the same place might not find themselves the unfortunate focus of similar unseen forces. Converging like the planets themselves into burning pinpoints of cosmic energy whose absolute gravity would threaten to swallow and consume everything in its path. Or maybe the answer lies even further from out grasp.’ Carter’s wrap up speech is so awful its quoted here in full. He’s basically saying ‘I made this shit up because.’
The Bad: I don’t mind the odd bimbo in science fiction. We’ve taken such leaps and bounds with regards to the portrayal of women in genre television that the occasional throwback to a more innocent time is fine. Its all about how well the writers and the performers play on the stereotype. Glory from Buffy the Vampire Slayer worked a treat because there was a knowing wink at the audience that this was clearly a villainous alter ego to Buffy herself and the demi-God proved to be quite terrifyingly unpredictable and dangerous at the same time as trying to pick out the shoes that would make her ankles look fabulous. I simply don’t understand Margi and Terri – they just seem to be a pair of Buffy wanabees (they talk in exactly the same valley-speak as the Scoobies ‘hate her!’ ‘babilicious!’), they’re vacuous and talentless girls with no depth to them beyond wanting to impress boys who as soon as they gain bizarre astrological powers lose any sense of morality and happily start killing people. There is no motive for their homicidal behaviour beyond a sense of jealousy and that doesn’t wash. The only reason that they stop killing other people and start trying to kill each other is because they both fancy the same boy. That is the level of characterisation we are dealing with here. When Darin Morgan writes crazy shit there is always a sense that he has thought his world through and whilst mad events might occur there is an internal logic that explains how that could be the case. In Syzygy I get the sense that Carter just thought a pair of blond bimbo assassins would be cute. The absurdly exaggerated tale of a black Sabbath and burying babies might have been funny had Morgan and Wong not already pulled this trick off in Die Hand Die Verletz. Here it is played for comic effect and winds up being a bit tasteless, there it was played absolutely serious and as a result it was hilarious. Detective White is never seen as anything but a cartoon character, played in a drunken, childish fashion by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and made to look deliberately stupid so Scully can patronise her and be all clever-clever. Like the villains, you cannot take her seriously for a moment. Let me get this straight, Margi and Terri crush a boy to death in the most violent and bloody way…because he spilt orange juice on them? Darin Morgan provided one of the funniest moments of mob mentality in television history in War of the Coprophages…Carter tries to mimic that here by having a town try and dig up a mass grave of babies and hunting down an abortion Doctor in a ladies hosiery. You can see the problem. There is just no subtlety to his approach. He even has Scully explain why the town is behaving as they are. He should stick to writing po-faced science fiction because his comedy is far too awkward. Carter tries (and fails) to make the astrology angle sound convincing but in its basic form he is saying everybody is behaving strangely because of the stars. No more, no less. For some reason Margi and Terri have these powers because ‘all the energy of the cosmos is focused on them.’ Or something. The finale in the police station that sees the conflict between Terri and Margi come to ahead with a display of dancing tables, guns firing wildly and light bulbs exploding fails to work as either drama or comedy. It s just random weirdness and violence. The perfect ending to this episode then.
Pre Titles Sequence: As season three powers ahead and proves to be the most consistently excellent series of the show the only person who is lagging behind is Chris Carter himself and nowhere is this more apparent in this teaser which opens in exactly the same fashion as Carter’s Irresistible with a funeral and the antagonist(s) unveiled before the theme music kicks in. Whereas Irresistible opened in as terrifying and unforgettable a fashion as possible, Syzygy is crassly scripted and appalling acted from the off. The thought of spending an entire hour with Margi and Terri depresses me no end. Have we really gone from something as skilfully crafted as War of the Coprophages to ‘maybe if we weren’t virgins then we wouldn’t be so scared?’ in the space of a single episode. Proof, if it was needed that The X-Files can dive dramatically down the graph even during a period of stability and quality for the show.
Moment to Watch Out For: The truly horrendous sequence where Detective White invades Mulder’s room and comes on to him, pinning him to the bed when Scully walks in. There is such an inconsistency of tone it literally feels like these are characters behaving against their will and none of the actors look comfortable within the scene. The silences aren’t amusing, they’re cringeworthy. The drunken acting isn’t funny, its painful. And the little musical sting at the end to remind us that this is supposed to funny. Just no.
Orchestra: Someone needs to get that horn away from Mark Snow. He starts blowing whenever there is any sign of black magic.
Result: ‘Sure. Fine. Whatever…’ was pretty much my reaction to this spectacular clunker. Carter attempts to pull off a Darin Morgan inspired episode and it is like watching a man with no aim shooting fish in a barrel. Occasionally he will score an accidental hit (there is the odd witty line and scene) but you’re mostly watching a futile and pointless exercise (a pair of irritating protagonists, embarrassing dialogue, laboured comedy and some misjudged performances). Its not just that the villains are obvious to the audience, they are obvious to the characters within the story too and its absurd that they remain at liberty whilst the body count stacks up. Mulder and Scully are so far out of character for the most tenuous of reasons and their behaviour provokes nothing but irritation. The only thing I can take from this is that the idea was to make the most deliberately cringeworthy hour of television to push the limits of the staunchest supporter and test their loyalty to the show. If Syzygy is trying to mimic the energy and the slapstick humour of the Keystone Cops (which he references many times throughout) then Carter has a great deal to learn about comedy: 2/10
Grotesque written by Howard Gordon and directed by Kim Manners
What’s it about: Mulder’s mentor drags him into a case that takes him within a hairs breadth of madness…
Trust No-One: Fascinating to meet who is essentially Mulder’s mentor, a man with such melancholic demeanour its unsurprising that they are estranged to such a level. The performances of Duchovny and Smith are spot on, Patterson acting like a slightly disappointed father who is appalled that his son should have thrown his promising career away. Mulder ultimately earned Patterson’s respect not just by knuckling down and proving his worth but by not surrendering to the same hero worship as the other students. Whilst it would appear that there is no love lost between them, there is clearly a great deal of mutual respect. Patterson is a man who will openly say to Mulder that he is disappointed in him and when drunk with a colleague will sing his praises. It’s not an atypical parental relationship and when you factor in that underneath all the passionless bile Patterson is actually reaching out to his protégé the relationship has real layers. Ultimately I’m not sure whether Patterson is trying to punish Mulder for sacrificing his career and thus drawing him into this investigation to share his madness or if he is genuinely trying to grab hold out of his hand to pull himself out of the dark but the psychological implications either way expose this as one of the most complex relationships The X-Files has ever explored. Mulder talks about this menace as though it is a physical monster that is attacking people and his journey is to discover that its something that lingers in the mind. The moment Mostow is roughed up in his cell by Mulder and he suggests that the madness has already caught up with him is great because the audience is just coming to the same conclusion. The director fixes the camera on Duchovny’s face to expose Mulder’s burgeoning insanity. Trying to shift the blame onto Mulder doesn’t wash because the first murder was committed before he even started working on the case but its still a terrifying experiment having him stare so hard into the heart of evil. Duchovny has never been better than at the moment where he confronts Patterson, Mulder crumbling under the realisation that his mentor has become a killer.
Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is slightly in awe of Patterson the writer, the man who wrote the book on criminal psychology but once she meets the man in the flesh she is disappointed that he doesn’t quite live up to expectations. As usual Scully is Mulder’s anchor. It seems clear to me that without that human connection Mulder could have easily have succumbed to madness in exactly the same way as Patterson has.
Assistant Director: Skinner’s involvement might seem superfluous but Scully needed somebody to share her anxieties with and their shared concern actually proves rather touching.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Maybe you are just seeing what you want to see?’ ‘What makes you think I would want to see that!’
‘You’re here because John Mostow stole three years of your life. Every day and night for three years you lived and dreamed the horror show that was in his head and I’m sorry. Imagining everything he imagined. Sinking deeper and deeper into the ugliness just like you always taught us to do. But when you finally caught it it didn’t just go away, all that violence, it stayed alive inside you…’
Ugh: For me, psychological horror is far more terrifying than anything visceral. There are far more evils to be found in the dark recesses of peoples minds than in watching blood and guts being sprayed over a camera (I wish the current season of Supernatural would remember that). That is why for all its atmosphere, Home remains something of a comic masterpiece to me…something that is so ridiculously grotesque it actually emerges as being quite amusing. In contrast, Grotesque holds back on the blood and guts and instead probes the minds of its characters and shows the murderous instincts that fester there. When the visual horror does come, the imagery is as ugly as the psychology - dead faces staring their way out of dirty clay. Watching this episode in hindsight of the twist that Patterson is the killer is fascinating. He’s a man that has been obsessing over a case for so long, identifying with the actions of this madman so intensely that he has become the killer himself. I find the idea of a mind that has been split in two compelling, one half the policeman trying to find the killer and the other half a twisted murderer that is gnawing his way out of the mans soul. Patterson is essentially trying to catch himself, there is something casual and violent and easily traceable about his kills almost as if he is willing out to Mulder to expose him.
The Good: The gargoyle imagery throughout chills the blood, like a physical expression of the anger and the hate that breeds inside every one of us. Revulsion personified, rage given a face. The insane sketchings that wallpaper Mostow’s apartment are like the deranged work of a man who has looked into the heart of human depravity and seen nothing but monstrousness. Kurtwood Smith is an actor that I have never seen give an inadequate performance. He frequently amused in That 70s Show and is another of those impressive character actors that shows up in a wealth of television shows in memorable roles (he worked wonders as Androvax in the Star Trek Voyager adventure The Year From Hell). He’s a perfect fit for The X-Files, bringing a great deal of brooding astringence to an episode that needs an actor who can convey a great deal of emotion with a poker face. There’s a gorgeous Twin Peaks atmosphere to the first half of the episode that seems to suggest that some kind of devil is entering innocent peoples minds and forcing them to kill (Mostow keeps insisting that ‘it killed them’ rather than admitting that he did it). The horror on Mostow’s face when he realises that ‘it’ has killed again, knowing that it wasn’t by his own hands is chilling…this disease has spread to another victim (the director has the nerve at that exact moment to fix his camera on Patterson as the door to the cell opens). I love the fact that the writer tries to suggest that Nemhauser as a possible alternative killer. Mostow bit him during the arrest and if you look at past form that is exactly the route that The X-Files has gone down before (Shapes). Its Howard Gordon playing games, shifting the attention away from Patterson who when if you look at this episode on a psychological level is the obvious candidate. Later there is a shot of Nemhauser stroking his wrist as he watches Scully and Patterson argue almost as if he has orchestrated this entire affair. The close up on Mulder’s eyes just before he starts sculpting gargoyles out of clay is especially effective because it seems to suggest that he has also succumbed to this disease of madness. Right up until Mulder’s nightmare the writer is still tossing the ball between Patterson and Nemhauser, either of them potentially being the killer. Its rare for an X-File to sink or swim on the basis of the identity of the killer – had Grotesque gone down the Nemhauser ‘I’ve been bitten’ route I would have been bitterly disappointed. I love the fact that the episode lifts the curtain on Patterson’s guilt with shocking image of Nemhauser’s disfigured head, Mulder pulling aside that clay is like Schrodinger’s Head…whoever was revealed beneath the other is revealed as the killer. You almost don’t need the voiceover at the end because the disturbing sight of Patterson screaming his innocence in his cell is a memorable exit scene.
The Bad: I can’t believe in an episode this subtly menacing that the writer and director went for anything as crass as a cat leaping out at Scully. That’s the oldest trick in the book and deserving of an episode of far less quality (say, Teso Dos Bichos coming up).
Pre Titles Sequence: From the very first shot the photography in this episode is dark, moody and brutal. Mostow scratching at his drawing board, cutting his finger and smearing his blood into the picture says something quite profound about pouring pain into your artwork. There’s a clever piece of misdirection in the teaser, informing the audience that Mostow has murdered the artist when in fact he has done nothing of the sort. Patterson finds the murder weapon with astonishing swiftness, almost as if he was the one that utilised it in the first place… After two comedy episodes it is a relief to get back to something this gripping.
Moment to Watch Out For: If you ever want an example of what a fantastic horror show The X-Files is just stick on the sequence in the glass blowing factory. It’s a masterclass in provoking the ‘there’s something coming up behind you’ paranoia, its gorgeously shot and scored and when I first watched it had me scurry for the light switch because I didn’t want to watch in the dark on my own anymore. Brrr…
Orchestra: This is probably Mark Snow’s most effective score for the show. Tactfully menacing for the most part with some unforgettable stings that will make you jump out of your seat and an expert use of the piano to run his fingers up and down your spine. I think the dark and yet triumphant score when Mulder heads to Mostow’s studio to confront Patterson might just be my favourite piece of music he has ever produced.
Result: ‘Is this the monster called madness?’ A frighteningly good psychological thriller with kisses to Cracker and Twin Peaks, Grotesque is one of my favourite X-File episodes because it dares to get inside the head of a killer and expose the ugliness that festers there. Its an exceptionally tight script, Howard Gordon’s best for the series and the sinister material is given appropriate weight with two knockout performances by David Duchovny and Kurtwood Smith. It also rewards repeat viewings because once you have figured out who the killer is it allows you to go back and look at the relationships in a whole new, even more fascinating, light. Kim Manners would continue to direct for this show and whilst his work always errs on the impressive side there would be few occasions where every shot is imbued with such brooding menace. Constructed from memorable imagery and striking lighting, this is one X-File where the stunning cinematography really stands out. There is a television series to be made out of subject matter this probing and dark and whilst Millennium had a fair crack at the whip (whilst indulging in far too much portentous garbage) there were very few episodes that lived up to the promise of Grotesque. Compelling and terrifying, one of the shows best: 10/10
Piper Maru written by Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter and directed by Rob Bowman
What’s it about: A deadly substance has been salvaged from a down World War II plane beneath the sea…
Trust No-One: Mulder is down in the basement because the FBI is afraid of him and embarrassed by him at the same time. For a while it feels as though Mulder has lost his paranoid touch (there was a time when he would be constantly looking over his shoulder) but when he sits down at the same table of the woman who is dogging his tracks I was impressed. He has learnt the art of subtlety and surprising his enemies. Krychek deserves some kind of punishment for the murders of Mulder’s father and Scully’s sister but the way Carter turns Mulder into a savage thug when they meet lacks any elegance. Krychek seems so pathetic that Mulder winds up looking like the villain.
Brains’n’Beauty: The standard of the show this series has been so high that I had completely distracted from the fact that Scully’s sister was murdered at the beginning of the season. For a show that has been both praised and slated for its use of arcs it seems quite remiss that this should have been forgotten until now. What bringing this to light this does though is give Gillian Anderson another chance to cut her teeth on some emotive material, Scully desperately trying to hang onto her sisters murder case when the Bureau have lost interest. Anderson has been presented with her most challenging material this year and has delivered time and again. Finally it feels as though she has emerged from Duchovny’s shadow and claimed equal ownership of the show. In an ill timed moment, Mulder starts harping on about aliens and UFOs and the look on Scully’s face when there is something far more tangible that she would rather be doing is unforgettable. Anderson manages to convey so much with a single look as Scully drives through the naval cul de sac and remembers happy times of her Melissa playing there. This show is lucky to have an actress of this calibre.
Assistant Director: You know that Skinner has crossed a line when he is starting to receive warnings of his own. Precisely the same kind of warnings that he usually dishes out to Mulder and Scully. When he is shot down he is definitely on the side of the good guys, beyond doubt.
Traitor: It feels like an age since we last saw Krychek (when in reality he leapt from an exploding car at the beginning of the season) and its great to catch up with him in Hong Kong, selling secrets, nervous and paranoid. He’s made a great deal of enemies and already had an attempt on his life so it comes as no surprise that he has fled this far.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Men can blow up buildings and we can be nowhere near the crime scene and yet we can piece together the evidence and convict them beyond a doubt. Our labs here can recreate out of the most microscopic detail the motivation and circumstance to almost any murder, right down to a killers attitude towards his mother and whether he was a bed wetter. But in the case of a woman, my sister, who was gunned down in cold blood in a well lit apartment building by a shooter who left the weapon at the crime scene…we can’t even put together enough to keep anybody interested.’
Ugh: Time to introduce the black oil. I don’t think that anybody has ever looked at oil or tar and thought ‘ooh scary’ (except perhaps the b-movie creature in the Star Trek TNG episode Skin of Evil that crushed the life out of Tasha Yar and even then that was an act to be applauded) so I can only think that this was an aesthetic decision. They thought that the effect would look cool swimming in front of peoples eyes (and they were right, it does). Skinner’s shooting is so swift and brutal I was left reeling (and I’ve seen this before).
The Good: I’m starting to notice an agreeable pattern with these mythology episodes. Whilst erring on the side of functional, Carter (and now Spotnitz who seems to be attached to the arc episodes as a matter of course these days) plot the opening episode of their two parters as a linear, progressional detective dramas. A leads to B leads to C…with each step expanding the scope of the episode. Colony kick started this approach, Anasazi followed suit and then Nisei. It’s a engaging nuts’n’bolts method of telling a story that would be forgotten in subsequent years when the arc becomes too unwieldy and crammed with elements. Another predictable occurrence is that Mulder will be on the road playing action man whilst Scully is emoting like mad in a subplot of her own. I’d quite like to see those positions reversed. As we watch the black oil infection spread from person to person, the episode broadens its horizons internationally giving the impression that the show commands an unlimited budget. Whilst Mulder turning into Rambo and kicking the shit out Krychek feels like a violation of character, watching Joan shove his face into a urinal is glorious. You don’t see enough women beating up men on television and whilst its not something I would promote, it makes for a great moment (especially how she wipes the smile off his face).
The Bad: Whilst the extra time that a two part story provides gives Carter and Spotnitz a chance to explore the emotional ramifications of the events in Paper Clip, the pace is a little indolent as a result. The episode takes advantage of the fact that not a great deal is happening and sneaks up some nice surprises like that of the double barrelled shotgun tape to the underside of the desk. As impressive as Robert Clothier is as Commander Johansen (injecting some real emotion into what could have been a very plain character) these scenes go on for too long. It feels like Johansen tried to pretend that everything was fine to kill time so we could play the scenes out all over again with the truth revealed. Unusually for The X-Files there is an effects shot that completely fails to convince…check out the submarine shot at the start of the flashback. If that isn’t a barely concealed miniature I don’t know what is! Why would Scully be called about Skinner’s shooting? Is she his point of contact? Would she handle his medical needs?
Pre Titles Sequence: About as middle of the road as these set pieces come with a man taking a dive into the ocean and discovering the wreckage of plane on the sea bed. The pollution of the black oil from one man trapped under the sea to the other is intriguing enough but it doesn’t quite match up to what we have been seeing of late. Its okay.
Moment to Watch Out For: I love black and white photography when its handled correctly (it is never a case of bleeding away the colour) and the flashback sequence is the centrepiece of the episode. It feels like it has leapt from an old movie until the oil slick eye effect jolts us back into the world of contemporary television. Moodily shot and lit, it is a long time coming and worth the wait. The trouble is its far more gripping than the episode around it.
Orchestra: After his outstanding score for Grotesque, this is back to Mark Snow on autopilot. I don’t think I heard a single note that hasn’t been used in other episodes and I could start predicting when the piano, harpsichord, etc would kick in. Having every episode scored by the same man does allow for a real sense of musical continuity and identity for the show but as talented as Mark Snow is having to provide the music for 202 45-minute episodes is going to see some repetition. I find with Snow you can tell when he is excited about the material because he really gives those shows a unique sound.
Mythology: What Scully thinks: ‘I think I know what those men were exposed to. What the Piper Maru was out there looking for. That P-51 Mustang was part of an escort for a P-29 carrying an atomic bomb, just like the one we dropped on Hiroshima. Why would they build a nuclear bomb when they could salvage one?’ Jeraldine seems to have the ability to knock out an entire squadron of armed men by emitting a fierce white glow…what the hell is all that about?
Result: Above average but not quite strong enough so it can hang out with the surfeit of knockout episodes this season, Piper Maru starts slowly but explodes into life about two thirds through and does leave you wanting more. The appearance of Krychek lifts things considerably and the route they go down with rat boy promises a larger role for him next week. I was busy waiting for something to happen as Mulder and Scully open their separate routes of investigation but by the conclusion we’ve enjoyed a gripping black and white flashback, some exciting Rob Bowman action and the savage shooting of one of the regulars. Ultimately this proves to be more of an action movie than containing anything of great substance (the nuclear weapon is a dead end explanation that feels included just to add some kind of real world texture to the episode) but there is enough excitement to be going along with. The black oil turns out to be a better storytelling device than I expected: 7/10
Apocrypha written by Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners
What’s it about: All roads lead to Krychek…
Trust No-One: Mulder and Scully have a habit of waking up in hospital beds with the other half looking at them with doe eyes. Its probably the ultimate medicine. There’s a wonderfully pathetic shot of Mulder screaming ‘you can’t bury the truth!’ as he is bundled into a car violently by an armed guard. I think you’ll find that they can.
Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is wonderfully stroppy when it comes to protecting Skinner, even to the point of insulting another pair of agents. When Mulder starts going on about black oil with intelligence body jumping Scully goes from mild surprise to outright hilarity. Its gently played by Duchovny and Anderson so rather than feeling spiteful (like their interaction in Syzygy) its actually rather heart-warming. This is how to show the two agents having different beliefs and agendas and still working well together. Scully has seen stranger things than signs from God and is prepared to admit it to her peers. Maybe there’s hope for her yet! For a show that evades conclusions as a matter of course it is very fulfilling for Scully to be able to pull a gun on her sisters killer and choose not to blow his brains out. This could have been another obscure plot thread left dangling but it is tied up very neatly here and all that is left is for Scully to heal. Scully thought that once she caught up with her sisters killer that she would feel a sense of closure but the truth is that no court and no punishment would be enough.
Assistant Director: There’s something horribly mocking about Skinner being the man who informs Scully that her sisters case has been quietly rested and then taking a bullet that leads his agent directly to the assassin. The way both actors play the scene in the hospital places the emphasis on Skinner taking a bullet as punishment and there isn’t a ounce of resentment on his part. Its as though he deserved it. Given that Skinner has also suffered a beating earlier in the season, I hope this is the end of his trials to prove himself to Mulder and Scully.
Traitor: Krychek is now an incubator for the alien intelligence that inhabits the black oil and has the ability to flash (not like that although I really wouldn’t object) and bring down armed men with an unknown radiation.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think the dead are speaking to us, Mulder. Demanding justice.’
Ugh: The punishment of Krychek continues as he vomits black oil from his eyes and mouth as the entity reconnects with its spaceship. It’s a memorably nasty scene that you wouldn’t see outside of this show.
The Good: Thanks to the set up of Piper Maru, Apocrypha can open in spectacularly busy style with Scully rushing to the hospital to tend to Skinner and Mulder in an airport in Hong Kong with an infected Krychek. Director Kim Manners is on fire this year and brings a distinct visual style to this episode – just watch the way he brings the car chase that forces Mulder and Krychek off the road to life. Its as brutal and as uncompromising as any fist fight with the blows really having a destructive impact. For once something that might appear to be an unreasonable co-incidence – that the man who shot Skinner was also responsible for the death of Scully’s sister – works a charm because there is no reason why the same wouldn’t be sent on both assignments. It also allows for this narrative thread to put to rest and to give Scully some closure. There’s only so many horrors you can put Mulder and Scully through before they start to look stupid for continuing with their work but by having that persistence rewarded with some closure is satisfying. Their inclusion might be a little surplus to requirement but I did enjoy the cut to the Lone Gunmen skating on the ice rink and getting involved in the action (for the record Byers is a natural, Langley looks as though he is going to fall over at any minute and has to stop and Frohike’s little legs work against him). The exchange between Krychek and the Smoking is wonderful but its impossible to know whether he is talking to his ex-assassin or the alien embodying him when he says ‘I have what you want.’ For once the complicated nature of the series feels as though it is reaping some rewards and set up from previous episodes is the source of some excitement. Love the gag about the pencil and the phone number, highlighted how the Lone Gunmen over think their work at times. I got very excited when the Manicured Man (I physically cringe when I write these names down) agreed to meet Mulder in Central Park because the last time they hooked up answers came spilling out of him at a rate of knots. Again he doesn’t disappoint. Mulder and Scully dancing torch beams around darkened rooms has become a seminal X-Files image but rarely is it as visually stunning as during their exploration of the silo. There have been sequences of the dynamic duo being pursued by armed forces before too but they have never felt as dangerous as these…perhaps because we know how close to the truth they are here.
The Bad: Why don’t the Syndicate turn the lights on? Are they afraid that they wont look portentous enough? Why Skinner’s second shooting attempt had to take place in an ambulance on the road rather than in his hospital bed is beyond me. Probably because it made for a more exciting scene.
Pre Titles Sequence: Its quite a lot to throw at the viewer in the first few minutes and if you haven’t seen the first episode you will be totally lot but its another example of Carter and Spotnitz actually releasing some information about the plot and for that it should be applauded. The submarine wasn’t went down to find a down plane but to guard whatever entity was lurking down there. The image of the sailor vomiting black oil from his eyes and mouth is one that lingers in the memory. And the twist that the men listening to the tale are a young Bill Mulder and Smoking Man is a punch the air moment of excitement.
Moment to Watch Out For: Mulder managing to completely wrong foot the Syndicate by phoning straight through to their boardroom. For once he’s got access straight to the heart of the conspiracy. Plus Anderson’s unforgettable outrage when she pulls a gun on Cardinal.
Fashion Statement: The Smoking Man was quite the looker when he was younger. Pendrell needs to show up more often in this show…he’s so adorable!
Mythology: The black substance that is causing so many problems this week is the same kind of diesel oil that powered submarines during the war. Its 50 years old and its composition has been changed due to radiation. For once Mulder asks the intelligent question: ‘now that its in Krychek…what does it want?’
‘What was pulled off the bottom of the Pacific ocean?’ ‘It was a UFO. A so-called foo fighter. Downed by American fighter pilots in the Second World War’ ‘Left there until now?’ ‘There were salvage attempts. A sub was sent in fifty years ago but there were complications. The cover story said it was the third A bob for Japan but the truth is no-one knows what killed that crew.’
Result: Much more focused than the first part with some stunning set pieces and a real sense of closure, Apocrypha is a superior mythology episode in a season that is really starting to perfect that particular brand of X-File episode. As Scully so helpfully points out, all roads lead to Krychek and it is pleasing that he becomes the focus of this episode. For once it is very clear what is going on and where all the characters are – Mulder is on the hunt for body swapping black oil and its craft, Scully seeks the head of her sister’s killer, the Smoking Man wants to appear competent and powerful to his superiors, the Syndicate want their secrets tucked away and the black oil wants to get back to its spaceship. Whilst we never learn what the black oil is about and how it connects to the conspiracy (but then what’s new?) at least all the threads within this story are brought to a satisfying conclusion. There are some emotional fireworks when Scully confronts the assassin that killed her sister and the episode is packed to the gills with memorable images and some fantastic set pieces. The conspiracy is spiralling out into an insanely vast mosaic and there are so many elements that it is impossible to see what the finished picture will be…but this section of the image is clear cut, visually stunning and tells a gripping little narrative all of its own: 8/10
Pusher written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Rob Bowman
What’s it about: Look in to my eyes, look deep and listen to my voice…
Trust No-One: Given Mulder’s expertise in the field of psychology, he has technically found his ultimate nemesis in Modell – a man who can use words to alter perception. In cases such as this Mulder should be gagged and bound rather than allowed to stand up in court and express the truth about the situation. Just like he did in Tooms when he stood before a judge and rattled on about a liver eating mutant, his assertion that Modell can force his will upon others without even touching them makes him look like a laughing stock. His suggestive ability might be the truth but this is not something that can be explained within legal terms. Mulder looks like a complete nutter and that’s before Modell has put the whammy on the judge. Proving that he hasn’t quite lost his touch completely though, Mulder manages to sum up Modell’s life history based purely on what he has seen of his character so far. At the climax the way Mulder keeps pulling the trigger on Modell tells you everything you need to know about how he feels for Scully.
Brains’n’Beauty: Scully does believe that Modell is capable of murder but will argue with Mulder to the ends of the Earth for an explanation more substantial than ‘the whammy.’ There’s a lovely moment between the two agents before Mulder walks into the lions den. Scully knows how dangerous Modell is and the thought of her partner playing into his hand genuinely disturbs her.
Assistant Director: My one objection to this episode is that Skinner is once again being treated as a punch bag. Somebody important had to be the victim of Modell’s influence at this point but this is the third instance this year where Skinner has been the unfortunate recipient of that penalty.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy?’
‘He’s just a little man who wishes he were someone big.’
‘Mango kiwi tropical swirl. Now we know we’re dealing with a madman.’
‘You mean you killed this man for nothing, you sick bastard?’
‘Why do we keep giving this guy exactly what he wants?’
‘I say we don’t let him take up another minute of our time.’
Ugh: Nothing frightens me more than the thought of a character knowing they are about to die. Life is such a precious commodity and everybody takes for granted that they will live until their dotage and so the split second realisation that everything that you hoped for is about to be cut short with no time to prepare for the moment is terrifying. Its especially well handled here when the cutest FBI agent known to mankind douses himself with petrol under Pusher’s influence and walks towards his peers with the frightening knowledge that he is not going to be able to resist setting himself alight. Its terrifyingly well played , the agony on his face as he tries to resist is almost impossible to watch. The burns that he suffers are gruesomely realised.
The Good: Pusher is another of season three’s excellent villains but for his own very unique reasons. Modell is a mesmerizing man with the ability to twist your powers of perception and uses this to disguise the fact that he is actually a bit of a failiure in life. He contacts the police to get them on his scent because without their interest he would be a nobody, an obscure little man with nothing to make him stand out in a crowd. He wanted to be a somebody and tried to enlist for the FBI but his obvious character deficiencies stood in the way of that life goal (described as acutely egocentric) ever being realised so instead he dreams of being an rogue Samurai warrior on a vengeance kick. It’s a childs mentality, somebody who is completely forgettable going to any lengths to make himself get noticed. He’s rather pathetic and because of his most childish of motives I found him one of the most unpredictable X-Files bad guys. He always seems to be one step ahead of the FBI and delights in pointing out that fact. The nerve of the man walking into the FBI building with an envelope with the massive letters PASS written on it is incredible. The bruised FBI worker seems like a superfluous inclusion (albeit one that is treated sensitively…and the bruise on her cheek does make what could have been a minor character stand out) but the reason for her inclusion becomes hauntingly obvious as the episode progresses. A vulnerable woman is far easier to exploit than a strong one and she is twisted into thinking that Skinner was the man who attacked her. I love the sequence where Frank is manipulated into staying on the phone to the point where Modell has talked him into a heart attack – I was literally screaming at the TV like Mulder was but the phone is practically glued to his ear. Modell’s all the more powerful when he can exploit a weakness, he’s insidious like that. Its maddening when characters behave irrationally but we’ve already seen Modell’s spellbinding powers at work so this is entirely judicious (it’s the agents that hold Scully back from ripping the phone chord from the wall that should be punished). Wow, Modell kills Frank because he wants a ‘worthy adversary’ to face before he dies. This guy never really grew up, did he? The idea of having a POV camera angle feels worthless when the director chooses to shoot the scene in the usual fashion as well until the awesome shock moment of Modell pointing a gun right out at the audience. That’s the last thing Scully sees and its enough to convince her to walk into danger for her partner.
The Bad: I wouldn’t have even bothered to try and explain Modell’s ability. Psychokenesis brought on by a brain tumour? That’s as desperate an explanation as any Star Trek technobabble. I suppose it does add the reason for his accelerated acts of homicide – that an unmemorable man wants to end his life in a blaze of glory – but I still wouldn’t have connected the ability and his life threatening tumour. It really isn’t needed (there have been plenty of X-Files episodes where the villains modus operandi has been left completely unexplained) and when Mulder spells it out it seems even more absurd (these crackpot ideas always sound more ridiculous coming out of his mouth for some reason).
Pre Titles Sequence: A subtle indication of the episode ahead, the teaser is both playful and hypnotic. From the off there is something charismatic and confident about our killer of the week, a man who knows he is being pursued through a supermarket, compliments the arresting officer for his masculine name and smiles through his incarceration because he knows he will be free before they even reach the station. He’s even willing to go to the lengths of staging a car crash whilst he is in the back of the vehicle in question to expedite his escape.
Moment to Watch Out For: The Russian Roulette sequence is effective on so many levels it seems almost churlish to list them rather than just experiencing the magic. It’s a fantastic face off between Mulder and Modell that allows Mulder to violently take vengeance for the victims of this master hypnotist, it beautifully reaffirms the strength of Mulder and Scully’s friendship when he agonisingly refuses to pull the trigger on his partner despite his mind pushing him to comply and its also an expertly filmed set piece with moments that really make you catch your breath. The performances are unforgettable; for once Duchovny’s hypnotic vacancy is part of the plot until Mulder has to fight his own will to save Scully’s life, Anderson’s restrained tears and Wisden’s sweaty, intense gravitas. When it comes to providing a climax with substance and emotion, this has rarely been bettered.
Result: Another memorable and sophisticated season three drama, Pusher takes the frightening concept of a man that can bend your will to his design and runs with it. Robert Wisden has been perfectly cast as the titular villain, as hypnotic to watch as his powers of perception prove to be. The episode is little more than a series of set pieces but each one is more effective than the last until we climax on the unforgettable sequence of Mulder and Modell playing Russian Roulette. Soft Light was a forgettable debut episode written by Vince Gilligan and he returns to the show with something much more impressive and far more indicative of the magic he would continue to weave over the next six seasons. In a season that has seen fit to push them apart and explore their individual strengths as characters, Gilligan is insistent on keeping Mulder and Scully together and proving what an effective partnership they have. This is also a healthy reminder that psychological horror can be far more effective than hanging viscera over the cameras and that all you need is an effective script and strong actors to create a magnetic hour of television. This was probably one of the cheaper episodes of the season to produce (because the menace is implied rather than actualised) and its also one of the strongest. Darin Morgan aside, Gilligan’s dialogue is the sharpest and most intelligent. I’m starting to run out of superlatives for this transcendent season of The X-Files: 9/10
Teso Dos Bichos written by John Shiban and directed by Kim Manners
What’s it about: It deserves a fantastic b-movie title: Killer Cats Possessed!
Trust No-One: There’s very little for either Duchovny or Anderson to get their teeth into with this episode, no revelations or insights into their characters (they have been lucky this season that so many episodes have been charitable in that respect) and so both actors go through the motions. I don’t object to that here though, had they tried to pretend this was anything more than an humble pot boiler it would have been absurd. Not every story can be an opportunity for Duchovny to expose his vulnerable side or see Anderson holding back tears…sometimes they just have to be the purveyors of plot exposition. It worked in many a season one episode and it works here. At time it feels like Duchovny knows he is in a bad b-movie and just runs with it (‘what the hell is that?’).
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I feel like someone’s here. Someone’s watching me!’ – John Shiban is going to have to work a little harder on the dialogue if he is going to continue on this show. A first year media student could spy the horror clichés.
Ugh: I don’t know what that substance is that the Ecuadorians eat during their ceremony but it looks stomach turningly like a cross between wallpaper paste and semen. The cats might not be willing to play ball but the dedication of the jumping toilets and the rats that are contained within them should not be undersold! It’s a scene that (if you are my husband) goes from mirth (‘ooh bouncing lavatories!’) to absolute horror (‘rats! I’m never taking a dump again!’). When the show has to resort to a blood stained bathroom you know it is desperate.
The Good: The delicate, snowy location work looks fabulous on screen. Even if what you are watching is clichéd to the point of being carbon dated (hoho) you can at least be assured that it will look good. As soon as Mona is told that she has a bright future ahead of her you know that her cards are marked and the fun is figuring out when she is going to exit stage left.
The Bad: There is so much of an emphasis on cats throughout the episode, so much so that it isn’t so much of a revelation when their part is uncovered and more of a relief that that characters have finally caught up with the audience. Very season one. Questionable performance number one – Alan Robertson as Roosevelt who mechanically walks across the dig and never becomes more than a plot function. Questionable performance number two – Ron Sauve as Tim Decker who has real trouble trying to make his (admittedly pretty laboured) dialogue come to life with any conviction. He looks like an actor that is relieved to have been booked for a job. I can’t believe that a show as accomplished as The X-Files would resort to ‘its started raining again…’ as blood drips down from some viscera hanging in a tree. Shiban is so desperate that he has Mulder and Scully figure out the cat connection by introducing an army of rats evacuating from the sewers (‘they weren’t trying to get in the toilets – they were trying to get out!’). So let me get this straight…killer domestic cats that drag their victims down to the sewers? The cats trying to desperately paw their way through wood so they can have their wicked way with Mulder and Scully brings to mind a similarly cheeky sequence in The New Avengers when birds tried to peck their way through a table to get at Purdey. How Anderson and Duchovny kept a straight face is beyond me.
Pre Titles Sequence: How many shows have broken out the ‘buried horror from the dawn of history’ plot? Now it’s the X-Files’ turn as human remains are discovered in an archaeological dig in Ecuador and the professor in charge is warned against removing the body from the ground and disturbing her peace. There is nothing clever going on here but the show is playing with some pleasing hoary old themes. The poor old professor doesn’t even make past the opening set piece, struck down by an unseen force. The drugged up POV shots are very nice, as are those of the creature which attacks Roosevelt. Oh and the chant the Ecuadorians sing is really catchy too.
Moment to Watch Out For: Poor Kim Manners. An excellent director left with the unfortunate job of having to make fluffy cats look scary. The puppet specimen that attacks Scully is hilariously awful and you can just imagine the outtakes of Anderson diving around the set with this hideously unconvincing ball of fluff clamped to her face (in fact you don’t have to imagine it…most of it ended up in the episode!). Worse Mulder turns his flash light on the pussy army from hell and they all look as if they would rather be somewhere else. I swear I could see one licking its arse. Ooh scary.
Result: ‘Some things are better left buried…’ Many people will tell you that Teso Dos Bichos is the worst X-File to grace your television sets and whilst I’m not going to pretend that it is some kind of classic I find it far more watchable than that. There’s some superb location work, an exotic Mark Snow score, some half decent effects and a general feeling of just trying to tell a daft story in as unpretentious way as possible. Countering that are some questionable performances and the sequence where this weeks horror reveals itself which must count as one of the most unintentionally funny set pieces that this show has ever purported. The idea of killer domestic cats is so absurd and being the proud owner of two myself I know it is very tricky to get them to do anything they don’t want to. And that’s exactly what they look like when their fearsome army is unveiled! Whilst this is the episode that tries the least this season (even The Walk and Syzygy have potentially interesting premises), I still found it enjoyable in a switch your brain off, lazy riff on horror movie clichés sort of way. Its not even remotely satisfying as a drama in its own right but there is a lot of aesthetic detail that helps you to forget about its failings: 5/10
Hell Money written by Jeffrey Vlaming and directed by Tucker Gates
What’s it about: An organ lottery, a pyramid scheme and corporate exploitation of the Chinese community…
Brains’n’Beauty: Its interesting that in an episode that deals so firmly with a foreign culture Mulder and Scully walk around as though they have something bad smelling wafting under their noses. There is a sense of arrogant superiority that exudes from the two agents this week which might come from ignorance or might come from a pair of American citizens that think they know better. Scully in particular feels especially accusatory this week, because she doesn’t understand the complexities of Chinese culture she only sees the negative aspects and judges the culture according to her beliefs. Frankly she looks like a big bully at times. Chao at least has the balls to fight back and tell the pair of agents where to go when they accuse him of being more faithful to his culture than his work. Amazing how natural Gillian Anderson looks acting all haughty, there is even something quite vacant about the way Scully informs Mulder that Chao has been attacked, almost as if she didn’t really give a damn. If there was supposed to a subtext here about how Americans look down on the Chinese immigrants in their country, it succeeds. For Scully to come face to face with the Doctors that extract the organs its like staring into a mirror of alterantives, here are two sets of surgeons that essentially do the same thing (cutting open bodies) for very different reasons and at either side of life.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Festival of the Hungry Ghost. On the 15th day of the 7th moon in the Chinese calendar its believed the gates of hell are opened and the ghosts of unwanted souls roam the Earth. Believers protect themselves by leaving gifts of food and Hell Money outside their homes to appease the ghosts. To keep them from coming inside and causing trouble. But for some spirits, ghosts most feared by the Chinese, there’s no buying them off.’
‘This guy’s like a jigsaw puzzle.’
‘He said the game is not over.’
Ugh: Only a show as strong stomached as the X-Files would show a man having his organs extracted whilst he watches. The masks worn by the gravediggers really gave me the willies, there is something very scary about picking out a blank face in the darkness. Reducing the human body no more than a collection of saleable items, to capitalise on the worth of each organ…its just seems to profane everything that we hold sacred about the soul. The toad climbing his way out of the corpse Scully is doing an autopsy on is a glorious shock moment. He was probably quite snug in there before she cut him open.
The Good: How nice for The X-Files to tackle a foreign culture and unearth and teach some of its most interesting customs. Hell Money is used in the Chinese festival of the hungry ghosts, a symbolic offering to the evil spirits for good luck. Considering how badly they fudged their depiction of the British in season one’s Fire (with Phoebe Green still a hideous stereotype that I will never shake from my mind), its lovely to see something a bit more complex happening with the Chinese community. Chao is a character that is worth much praise, a man that is caught between two worlds (that of his job with the American government and his culture) and is forced to made bad choices to try and please both sides. Its very healthy to see a character that bridges the gap between two cultures and without his involvement Mulder and Scully would be quite lost weaving their investigation through a society they simply have no knowledge of. Even that proves to be more intricate than it seems, with him leading them up the garden path. Chao admits that he finds it hard to disagree with thousands of years worth of Chinese portents but he is more haunted by his mortgage payments that keep him firmly entranced in the real world. You’ve got to love a guy with that kind of humour. Hsin is another multi faceted character, a man who wants so badly to cure his sick daughter that he is willing to risk the sick organ lottery to earn the money to do so. In reality I don’t think a lot of men would be willing to go this far for their children. Once you realise what the lottery is all about and how these desperate men are being exploited and harvested by their own people the episode takes on an even darker tone. Drawing those tokens out the bag is remarkably tense. Halfway through the episode we visit a carbon copy of the Magic Shop in Buffy except this better lit and stocked. I liked how a lot of the episode is filmed in Chinese, emphasising the fact that we are the foreigners here and we have to catch up in order to understand (to be fair the performances are so strong there’s never any doubt what is happening). Notice the lighting in this episode, especially for the street scenes, they lend the story an stylish atmosphere. It is revealed that the man who runs the lottery, a wealthy businessman, is only in that situation because he drew the right token out of the lottery himself. It could have so easily have gone the other way. The moment the wrong chip is pulled out Hsin literally sags forward, terrified of a fate that he has been talked into. When it comes down to it Chao might have been on the take to protect the ‘game’ from the police but he makes the right decision in the end, bringing the whole sorry business to a close. Discovering that the tokens are all the same and the game is fixed is a real stab in the gut, all those people have been sold false hope when all that waited for them was murderous extraction. What an interesting philosophy the villain of the piece spouts – that there is nothing in their culture to fear of death but life without hope is a living death. He offered them hope and handed them death. In his eyes, he is anything but a villain. Chao’s suicide almost feels like a release from a life that pulled him in two opposing directions.
Pre Titles Sequence: If you want to make some noise about a fresh location then Chinatown in San Francisco is bursting with noise and colour. Ghostly carnival masks haunt the streets, firecrackers explode in your face and men dressed like the undead stalk the living. If you include the shock of seeing a man burnt alive, this is a visually stunning teaser that plants right into a very exotic kind of horror.
Moment to Watch Out For: Given their abrupt attitude it seems almost a shame that Chao ultimately turns out to be involved by it’s a nicely placed surprise in an episode that looked to be quite clear cut. Suddenly you find yourself questioning everything he has said.
Fashion Statement: I’ve never been especially attracted to men of the Asian persuasion (balanced by a good friend of mine who doesn’t go for anything but!) but BD Wong is a fine looking man. There’s always an exception to every rule. Fascinating to see Lucy Liu in an early television role before she made her name.
Orchestra: Alluring Chinese music winds its way through the episode, Mark Snow invigorated by the shows exotic setting.
Result: Infinitely preferable to Indian mumbo-jumbo that Carter wallpapered over the seasons debut episode, Hell Money paints a rounded and respectful picture of Chinese culture whilst telling a subtly menacing tale. You have to question whether this is truly an X-File at all because you could surgically remove (hoho) Mulder and Scully without anything radically changing and the paranormal element is completely absent. However it is a superior drama, beautifully acted by the guest cast and stylishly brought to life by newbie director Tucker Gates. I would rather watch something slower paced, attention-grabbing and steeped in a menacing atmosphere than a fast paced mythology episode that ties itself up in knots any day of the week. It says something about me that I hated this episode as a child, often skipping it in my marathons of the show and yet through more seasoned eyes it stands out as one of the more unique episodes of the season. It paints Mulder and Scully as arrogant interlopers in a far more effective way than Syzygy and makes something as simple as a lottery one of the most terrifying things ever. A massive round of applause to BD Wong for his complex portrayal of Chao, a man with far more complexities than our agents could ever dream of within this scenario. Different, but oddly compelling: 8/10
Jose Chung’s From Outer Space written by Darin Morgan and directed by Rob Bowman
What’s it about: Well that’s a very subjective point...
Trust No-One: How can you not want to howl until a little bit of wee comes out when Mulder shows great interest in Roky’s encounter with aliens and excitedly reads through his account until the realisation dawns on him that his source is a delusional fanatic. Reading that manifesto must be like staring into a mirror. Chung wonderfully observes ‘surely your partner didn’t believe any of it?’ Like you had to ask. You’d think the fact that it is written in screenplay format would be a clue. The last shot of Mulder is of him receiving groan-worthy gratification from a televisual treat…grainy footage of Bigfoot in the woods.
Brains’n’Beauty: ‘Here I was thinking you were just some kind of brainy beauty!’ Gillian Anderson leaps at the chance to be the focus of a Morgan script and reveals a gift for comic timing whilst remaining entirely in character (that is until we are seeing events from someone else’s POV where she is doing anything but). Scully believes in the therapeutic power of hypnosis but doesn’t think that proves that it helps to enhance memory. Her opinion might change after season five’s The Red and the Black. To be fair to Scully if I was asked to concoct an abduction scenario I would conjure up something similar to Chrissy. I love the moment when Scully finally snaps, sick of listening to Mulder probing for information about alien abduction and demanding to know whether Harold and Chrissy had sex. Because Scully is the one telling this story, Anderson walks through the flashbacks looking even more incredulous than usual. She’s one step away from arching her eyebrow. I don’t know what’s funnier, the bully girl Scully that Blaine recalls (‘you tell anyone, you’re a dead man!’) or our Scully’s horrified response to being described that way. You only have to think back to last weeks episodes and Scully was pretty much behaving in this way so maybe there is something in Blaine’s interpretation of her character. Scully is utterly nonplussed by most of the contradictions to the story but then she and Mulder often exit an investigation with very different opinions as to what has happened.
Jose Chung: A delightful character and a very different sort of protagonist than Clyde Bruckman despite certain similarities (wit, charm and lack of social graces). Scully is a massive fan of his work and it’s the only reason she agrees to be interviewed by him, Mulder staunchly refuses. There is a certain knowing charm to Charles Nelson Reilly’s performance that was lacking in Peter Boyle’s star turn earlier in the season (Bruckman worked so well because aside from his gift he was entirely ordinary) – it feels as though Reilly has been told that he is acting in one of the best X-File scripts of all time and his occasionally sitcom performance reflects that. Saying that its still a gorgeous performance, full of eccentric ticks and tactile appeal. Its sad that whilst he turns up a fair amount throughout the episode, Chung isn’t an essential catalyst to events in the same way Morgan’s other titular character was. He has a much better stab it this when he brings Chung back in Millennium.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You somehow brazenly declare that seeing is believing!’
‘Agent Scully you are so kind hearted…he’s a nut!’
‘Because the proper authorities showed up with a couple of Men in Black. One of them was disguised as a woman but wasn’t pulling it off. Like her hair was red but it was a little too red, you know? And the other on, the tall lanky one…his face was so blank and expressionless. He didn’t even seem human…’ – as skilful a description of Duchovny’s acting ability as I have ever heard.
‘You mean its just a dead human being?’ – Morgan comments on how we can handle fictionalised violence (the alien) but not realistic violence.
‘I don’t know if these mashed potatoes are really here!’ – this whole episode can be boiled down (hoho) to this one fatuous line.
‘I know it probably doesn’t have the sense of closure that you want but it does more than some of our other cases…’
‘Love. Is that all you men think about?’
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘The next rape you’ll experience will probably be your own. In prison’ – there’s something distasteful about Morgan referencing something as unsanitary as rape and in such an unguarded, in-yer-face manner. Along with Vince Gilligan he is my little ray of sunshine when it comes to The X-Files and it feels as wrong for him to be wasting time on a subject this scummy as it would for Doctor Who scribe Terrance Dicks to bring up the same putrescence in his novels.
Ugh: Oddly there isn’t a single moment of horror. Humbug, Clyde Bruckman and Coprophages all remembered that despite their propensity to be something other than a horror anthology show, that people still come to this series for the scares. Unless the play-doh alien gave you the willies.
The Good: Apparently creating a new genre is a guarantee of landing on the bestseller lists and Chung’s non-fiction science fiction certainly qualifies! This episode goes on to prove Chung’s assertion that truth is as subjective as reality by showing us the same events taking place but with a very different emphasis in each scene. Its done in such a textured and richly comic way it bears no similarity to the likewise brilliant Bad Blood because that focuses purely on the characters of Mulder and Scully and their interpretation of events. Scully tells the story of what happened in this case but there are so many alternative views that her evidence lacks any credulity. Rob Bowman enjoys playing lots of visual tricks on the characters, a cuddly bear and a shadow on the lawn becoming terrifying alien abductors. Placing Chrissie in the same position in a police office and an alien ship with both sets onlookers in the same positions is an unnerving effect. When we start dealing with flashbacks within flashbacks the veracity of what we are seeing is divided exponentially. Its Scully’s version of Roky’s version of events. We’ve seen Men in Black in this show before but never ones that are quite as self conscious and theatrical as this. Was Chrissy abducted by aliens or was she taken by the air force? Like the alternate endings to Clue either explanation works so make your own mind up whodunit. Fiction needs more characters like Blaine, the uncharismatic geek who desperately wants to be abducted and taking somewhere else because he can’t be arsed to find himself a job. Just a few seconds of the Stupendous Yappi is enough to get my senses tingling. Bowman uses familiar X-Files imagery to tell his story – a naked man walking down the highway (Red Museum) and exposition in a diner (Sleepless). If alien abductions are little more than air force pilots travelling around in spaceships dressed up as aliens then who is it that abducted the abductors? It wouldn’t be a tale of multiple interpretations if we didn’t see two scenes played out in very different ways and Mulder’s sweet potato pie interrogation is probably the more plausible (but less interesting) of the two. Magnificently Mulder’s speech to Chung at the end of the episode sounds exactly like one of his voice over wrap up speeches (go on, close your eyes and you’ll see what I mean) – pretentious, nonsensical and downright barmy. Darin Morgan remembers that despite all the clever plot tricks and witty lines that we have to invest in these characters too and so he includes a lovely coda which wraps up all of their stories. Mind you that is told by Chung…and we know so little about him who knows whether we can believe his version of events.
The Bad: Detective Manners and his bleeped out expletives doesn’t really work for me. It’s a clever reminder that what we are witnessing is an interpretation of events rather than the events themselves but it’s a laboured gag that somehow fails to raise a laugh. The alien in the cell with the cigarette just looks wrong (even if it is just a air force pilot in a costume). Blaine ’stumbling’ is a gag so obvious it isn’t worthy of Morgan.
Pre Titles Sequence: From that spectacular Star Wars style pan across the surface of an alien spacecraft that turns out to be the bottom of a truck buggy in motion in action, you know this going to be something a bit different. Within seconds it screams of Darin Morgan. However has the great man taken things a bit too far this time? Imagine somebody new to the show catching the pre-titles sequence and seeing that godawful stop animation creature beaming down from the bottle top spaceship? Without the audience being pre-warned that this isn’t the norm on The X-Files they will probably think that science fiction hasn’t progressed beyond the 50s. Its wonderfully silly and knowing (Morgan’s watchwords) but it’s the first time when I have stopped to ask myself whether the show is being a bit too knowingly farcical for its own good. Perhaps this was the right point for Morgan to get off before his work descended into a parody of itself.
Moment to Watch Out For: ‘It’s a zipper…’ Probably my favourite moment comes during the piss take of the fake autopsy that the Fox network put out. Glorious shot on handheld camera and with a light version of the shows theme, this is The X-Files exuding confidence. Like the stories we are being told, the footage of autopsy has been edited and re-interpreted to fit a specific agenda.
Result: ‘I don’t have any recollection of this…’ Its Morgan’s weakest script of the three but its still packed to the gills with laugh out loud gags, intelligent observations, clever narrative tricks and memorable moments. If this were Morgan’s only contribution to The X-Files I would probably give it top marks but coming after Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose and War of the Coprophages, Jose Chung’s From Outer Space lacks the conceptual brilliance of the former and the effortless mix of humour and horror of the latter. There are a few moments where you have to wonder if Morgan is buying into his own reputation and producing something that is so crammed with his trademarks that he is almost (not quite) producing a parody of his own work. I feel as if I am being too hard on an episode that’s only real problem is that it came last because for every scene that fails there are a handful more gorgeous moments ready to make you forget it. I’ve seen episodes of other series that have tried to explore the complexities and contradictions of interpretation and how everybody sees things differently but rarely with a script as labyrinthine and dense as this. There are superb comic turns from Gillian Anderson and Charles Nelson Reilly and Rob Bowman walks into the upside down reality of Darin Morgan’s world with some aplomb (although surprisingly not quite as flawlessly as David Nutter and Kim Manners did earlier in the season) and each scene is basically a little gem when viewed in isolation. Personally I preferred Chung’s appearance in Millennium but for all my complaints this is still awash with style, confidence and insight: 9/10
Avatar written by Howard Gordon and directed by James Charleston
Trust No-One: Given that their alliance has always been necessitated by the plot mechanics that are manipulating them rather than anything personal, I was grateful for this episode taking the time to allow the agents to make up their mind about Skinner. They are clearly as awkward delving into his personal life as the audience is, used to seeing Skinner as a powerful, official man. Scully says she feels the same way about Skinner as Mulder does but they both agree that they don’t really know anything about him. All they can tangibly say is that he has put himself on the line for them in the past and that is enough for them to work for his freedom. Mulder wants to give Skinner the benefit of the doubt whereas Scully cannot help but accept the direction that the evidence points her. Hilariously Mulder asks Scully if she’s sure that she’s seen something supernatural (the unearthly phosphorescence on the prostitute) when that is exactly the sort of tone she usually takes with him! When Skinner and the agents wont admit how they feel about each other it takes an official investigation by the Bureau to point out the lengths that both parties go to protect each other above and beyond the call of duty. By the end of the episode things go back to where they were at the beginning with Mulder and Scully as in the dark about Skinner as they were but at least now he knows they will fight for him as much as he does for them.
Assistant Director: It is long past time that we explored the life and times of Walter Skinner. He’s existed on the periphery of The X-Files for too long now, becoming more substantial with each passing season. Its interesting that the moment that the writers choose to allow us into his world (rather than him entering into Mulder and Scully’s) is a rainy afternoon on the day that his divorce papers have come through. Its as though they want us to sympathise with this character from the off but what they don’t realise is that by making him this seasons whipping boy they have already achieved that. Skinner’s work has turned him into a lonely man and he is desperate for some human contact and so falls into the arms of a woman who is murdered in his bed. Meeting his wife is invaluable because she has some insight into Skinner’s psyche. He has built a wall around him to keep everybody out, even her, thinking that it gives him strength. He talks about Mulder and Scully respectfully in private, admiring their work from afar and protecting it to a point but he never allowing them to see that. The scenes between Walter and Sharon are powerfully played and agonising to watch because you can see precisely how much he still cares for her and how he refuses to let her in to the hurt he is feeling. Skinner saw so many horrific things in Vietnam that he didn’t give much credence to any of it, least of all a succubus that haunted his waking dreams.
The Good: David Duchovny helped to pen the storyline for this episode and it seems very generous for an actor to allow the limelight to strike elsewhere in a show where he is one of the two leads. Perhaps he just wanted to give himself a break. Whatever the reason, opening out the show to allow for guest characters to hog the limelight is a massive step in the right direction. It allows for a greater flexibility of shows. Come the later seasons there would be entire episodes devoted to the Smoking Man (Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, Two Fathers/One Son, En Ami), the Lone Gunmen (The Usual Suspects, Three of a Kind, Jump the Shark) and, of course, Skinner (Zero Sum, S.R. 819). It’s a definite shift in the shows favour. I like how the episode ties in Skinner’s attempted murder in Piper Maru, this being a second attempt to remove an ally to the X-Files.
The Bad: They never quite adequately explain what the phosphorescence around the prostitutes mouth was all about. Unless there was something about Skinner’s semen that we just don’t want to know about. Why does nobody on this show manage to hold down a successful relationship? The inference seems to be that if you get close to The X-Files your personal life falls to pieces. Neither Mulder or Scully are ever seen pursuing successful relationships away from their work, Skinner and Doggett are estranged from their respective wives and Reyes has a cloudy past with a future Assistant Director. That’s a very dark outlook on life. Is the truth really worth it if there’s nothing of your life left once you have unearthed it? Pendrell is nowhere near as fun without Scully to fawn over.
Pre Titles Sequence: I always find it fascinating when actors turn up in shows other than the ones that they are more famous for appearing in just to see what else they are capable of. I never envisaged a time when Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1 would wind up doing the wild thing with Skinner and have her neck snapped in the morning. If they wanted to get our attention early, they have succeeded.
Moment to Watch Out For: Finally when his wife lies in a hospital bed he can finally let down his defences and tell her the truth. He has witnessed such terrible things in his life, things that he doesn’t want to inflict on her. What got him through his darkest days was that he would be able to wake up next to her each morning. It’s the one moment where we can really get inside Skinner’s head and its superbly played by Mitch Pileggi.
Result: There is a shift in emphasis in Avatar where Scully and Mulder walk into Skinner’s world rather than the other way around and its proof that if the show did lose either of its central cast (something that would become a reality post season seven) it has built up a strong enough base of semi regulars for it to continue. I love the idea that Skinner could be framed and sacrificed in order to keep Mulder and Scully in check, it’s a subtly clever way of the government regaining some control over their most rebellious agents. The trouble with this episode is that it cannot decide whether to have a shit or a haircut – it wants to suggest that Skinner is being set up by his own people and that there is a supernatural influence as well and by faltering on which explanation is accountable it fails to convince with either version. Ultimately you have to work quite hard to dig beneath Skinner’s tough exterior and I’m not sure if the rewards are worth it. We discover that underneath all that officious bluster is a intense man who is fighting with his own demons. That’s fine but we kind of knew that already. I wanted to like this more than I did (primarily because Mitch Pileggi is such a fine actor) but this is probably the weakest of the ‘Skinner solo’ episodes because of its confused (and ambiguous) plotting: 5/10
Quagmire written by Kim Newton and directed by Kim Manners
What’s it about: Is Big Blue emerging from the waters of the lake and attacking people?
Trust No-One: Scully mentions that she had a passing interest in Nessie as a child but then she grew up and became a scientist. Maybe that is their ultimate problem - clearly Mulder never reached puberty, rushing off on a whim to whatever exciting paranormal possibility that passes his way whereas Scully is practically experiencing obsolescence, happy to pass her time reading a good book and letting somebody else have the adventures. They come at these investigations from different angles; him the wide eyed child and her the rule bound adult.
Brains’n’Beauty: There is something so sunny about Scully having to bring her dog along for the ride as Mulder yanks her from her weekend at a moments notice. It would take until season six before the investigations of the two agents are allowed to feel this deliberately domestic again. In a gloriously paced scene that plays on what we already know about both characters, Scully looks out of the window at the sign welcoming them to town wondering what Mulder is missing out…before they pass another sign advertising the presence of Big Blue, Americans answer to the Loch Ness Monster! Its very funny, especially since we should be bored by Scully’s unenthusiastic responses these days, that they should go to such lengths to get a laugh out of this moment. Gillian Anderson understands perfectly how to play the early scenes with Scully suspicious of the man that the script has already pointed the finger at. She also proves that a pretty face can sometimes be more useful than an official presence, twisting the Sheriff’s arm to aid them just because she asked nicely. What makes me laugh is that Scully is so reluctant to follow Mulder on these insane quests and is ready to mock him heartily throughout but when his theory has been blown it is revealed to be nothing more than an alligator she feels desperately sorry that his childlike glee has been invaded by cynicism. She’s a mass of wonderful contradictions and that’s why we love her.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Has anyone ever told you two that you have a great problem of getting to the point!’ – it looks like I’m not the only one who is sick of Mulder and Scully’s vague insinuations!
‘Scully are you coming on to me?’
‘There’s hope. That’s why these myths and stories have endured. People want to believe.’
Ugh: Poor old Scott. Not only dragged into the water by Big Blue and eaten but when the bottom half of his body is snared by a the fish hook it decides to grab hold of his butt and when turned over his flies are undone. The indignity.
The Good: The location work on The X-Files is always something pretty special but every now and again it really comes up trumps. The stillness of the lake is like polished obsidian and the wet, leafy forest takes on a life of its own. It’s a really atmospheric location to set a run-around of this nature in. I’m sure a frog holocaust would do very bad things to the food chain and the natural world but let’s be honest giving it that name is really funny. The episode playfully explores how a myth can be capitalised (‘I bet those stories sell a lot of T-shirts’) and exploited to make an otherwise unexceptional area count for something. If there hadn’t been a scene with a fisherman wrestling with his rod I would have been disappointed and the fact that this subverts expectations and he winds up dragging a body to the surface rather than being consumed by Big Blue really made me chuckle. Even funnier is the scene that begins with scaly, three toed feet clomping through the countryside…only to be revealed as being the bait and tackle shop owner in dinosaur boots trying to fake prints through the woods. A fake mythological monster being killed by a real one? The writer knows exactly what he is doing, having some fun with the audience. How wonderful to catch up with the stoners from War of the Coprophages again. It’s a shame that they didn’t learn from this example as they could have randomly inserted this pair into a story once a season as two innocent observers on the periphery of the story. Last time they were smoking shit, this time they are licking toads. Who knows what they would have been getting up to in the harsher, dirtier season four? Like Coprophages they don’t even get to talk to Mulder and Scully (there is a shot of the agents walking past them) and that could have been the running gag, that they are never an integral part of the investigation but are stung by whatever horror is being investigated. The stunt of the kid in the wet suit being dragged through the water to his watery grave is straight out of Jaws without the appearance of a rubbery shark. You’ve got to love the idiotic Sheriff who refuses to shut the lake down until he is attacked…then it becomes the number one priority! It’s a shame that Queequeg was added to the list of victims in this episode because the cute visual of Mulder, Scully and dog investigating was worth repeating but its worth it for the shot of the collar slowly making its way towards Scully as the lead retracts and the look of horror on her face that her little doggie has been eaten (oh come on…don’t tell me you didn’t laugh).You even have the Jaws sequence of something appearing on a radar and approaching the boat that the agents are investigating in and ramming it! For the camera to emerge over the top of the bubbling, sinking ship to discover Mulder and Scully standing on a rock in what appears to be the middle of the ocean…well let’s just say there are moments when this show really is magnificent. The fact that the frog depletion was pointed out to us in the very first scene and turns out to be the biggest clue as to the identity of ‘Big Blue’, an alligator that has been forced to rely on a new food source (human beings) is very clever. This solution would be far more disappointing if they didn’t slip in that sneaky shot of the real Big Blue once Mulder and Scully has left town.
Pre Titles Sequence: A glorious teaser that signposts every scare but does it with such a knowing wink at the audience you would be fool not to go with it and enjoy the ride. A man turning his back on nature foraging in the reeds, the insects and birds turning silent in an instant, the slow emergence of something from the water and floating towards him…right down to the shot of the toad happily ribbiting away whilst his hands disappears beneath the water. You will have seen scenes of this type in a hundred different horror movies but rarely with as much cheek as it is here.
Moment to Watch Out For: Obviously the sequence on the rock where Mulder and Scully have nothing to do but await rescue and talk. Its rare for The X-Files to take an extended rest in the middle of an episode to examine its central characters – its obviously pure padding but written and played this well it is the best material in the whole episode. The little titbits that we learn about their characters is invaluable. Scully’s father always taught her to respect nature because it has no respect for you. She asks Mulder what the point of his work is, what he really hopes to discover out there and he answers incredulously that she is a scientist so surely she is eager for the next big discovery. Mulder reminds Scully of Ahab, so consumed by personal vengeance that everything in his life warps to fit his meglomaniacal cosmology. The two gags – one of a duck emerging from the mist and the other when they realise that they have been barely two foot away from the shoreline – work perfectly. Boy did I laugh. And the chemistry between Anderson and Duchovny has never been more apparent.
Result: In season three The X-Files has taken itself apart, exposed everything that makes this show work and then put it back together again in an even healthier state. Quagmire is the perfect example of this, a season one monster of the week tale that would have been practically unbearable had it taken place in the shows debut year. In hindsight of everything the writers and directors have learnt about the series since it emerges as a delightful little romp that knows exactly how to play with its clichés. Not only is it a great monster story in its own right but it also deconstructs what a great horror story is made out of by so happily pointing out (and often subverting) the audiences expectations. If half the horror movies that I have seen had a fraction of Quagmire’s confidence and understanding of the genre I would be a very happy boy. As well as telling such an uncomplicated and visually arresting slice of horror, this episode also scores highly in its handling of Mulder and Scully who have never felt more like they have stepped from a sitcom and know the roles they have to play in the show. The scene on the rock is justly praised but there are lovely moments between the two agents scattered throughout the piece. If you take a look back at the show as a whole this will probably not be one of the episodes that stands out because of its sheer modesty but there are very few examples of this show that achieve what they are aspiring for quite so perfectly. Quagmire wants little more than to provide a we’re-nearly-at-the-end-of-the-season hour of top notch entertainment and it succeeds in droves. It hasn’t got a fraction of the tricks that Jose Chung deployed but in its own quiet way its just as gorgeous: 9/10
Wetwired written by Matt Beck and directed by Rob Bowman
What’s it about: ‘Television does equal violence…’
Trust No-One: The trouble with Mulder is that as much as he might object to being manipulated like a puppet if he gets an email asking for a covert meeting and potential information he will follow that scent like a dog after a sausage. I rather think he enjoys playing at subterfuge. Mulder’s vicious rant at X for his abuse of their relationship has been a long time coming and proves to be very satisfying. Things simply cannot keep going in this vein.
Brains’n’Beauty: As soon as Scully tells Mulder she is going to review the tapes that turned a man into a psychotic killer you know that this cannot end well for her. Its all done very subtly at first, Scully looking over her shoulder a lot or staring hard at Mulder as if trying to look beneath his words for his real meaning. Gillian Anderson shifts her performance ever so slightly so we can tell that she doesn’t trust a word that Mulder is telling her and looks edgily like she could be capable of anything. Especially good is the image of Scully clutching the phone in a darkened room, her face lit up by the flickering events on the television. When Mulder calls Margaret she immediately thinks that something has happened to her daughter, given she has already lost one child to Mulder’s crusade. It must be the voice on the phone she least likes to hear. The very idea that Mulder has been leading Scully on a wild goose chase for the past three years and that he is at the heart of what he is trying to ‘expose’ is ridiculous but when the delivery is as raw and passionate as this you are at least convinced that she believes it.
Ugh: Hot on the tail of the exploration of the nature of perception in Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, this is an altogether more sinister handling of the same theme. Blood will always be the ultimate expression of horror through subliminal messaging but there is something very scary about the way that staring at your television screen can feed homicidal information into the brain invisibly. Watching television is something a large amount of the population does on a regular basis so if this was plausible the government could potentially turn any of the public into assassins. Imagine if overcrowding became unmanageable…they could decide which are the least productive members of society and send the right information through their television screens to get them to commit suicide. The possibilities are chilling. The use of static and white noise as something angry and hissing and whispering dark thoughts into the minds of the characters is especially clever and the protracted shots of people hypnotised by the screens mirrors the audience at home mesmerised by this episode. Sometimes when you are walked through the reasons behind weird goings on in horror movies/TV it dispels the very thing that made it scary in the first place. Understanding something shatters the mystery. But when The Lone Gunmen explain away the subliminal messaging in the TV signal to Mulder it becomes more frightening. You can see just how possible this idea is.
The Good: I love the scene where Mulder and Scully discuss whether simulated violence on television creates violent people because it has long been a bone of contention that has failed to be properly addressed. Mulder asserts that if that is the case then people are just empty vessels waiting to be fed information rather than intelligent individuals able to make their own choices. I believe that people who seek out deliberately violent television/movies/video games to indulge in them for any other reasons than to be entertained and then act upon their desires are unusually aggressive people to begin with. Watching fiction might give them ideas but the feelings and the ability act upon them were already there and would have always manifested themselves regardless. It’s a lazy way of describing the things that people do, ignoring the fact that some people are genuinely disturbed. The shot of Mulder and the Smoking Man laughing in his car like a pair of illicit lovers as seen by paranoiac Scully is delightful. Amongst all the restrained horror there is still room for some laughs, especially when a man is killed because his wife thought she saw him having an affair with a blonde which turned out to be a Labrador. You don’t realise it until the end of the episode but there is a very understated thread running through this that pre-empts the departure of Mr X from the series. The way this show can shift from a standalone to a conspiracy episode in the batting of an eyelid exposes how much more confident it is this year (they tried something similar in Red Museum last year and it fell as flat as a pancake). The final scene is deliciously foreboding - the Smoking Man stares right into the heart of X to see whether he can be trusted or not and it looks like his time might be up…
Pre Titles Sequence: A real ‘what the fuck?’ teaser featuring a man that looks frighteningly like Edward Funsch from Blood (an episode that this resembles in many ways) burying a man in a fit of pique before returning home to clean his hands and finding him alive and well and having to go through the whole affair again. When the police turn up to investigate they all have the face of the man he has buried. Reality seems to shift and he realises the murdered man is in fact his wife Sarah. At this point it is impossible to decipher what is happening but it certainly looks as if it is going to be a hell of a ride.
Moment to Watch Out For: Its astonishing how they keep mining the Mulder/Scully relationship for gold in season three from the sitcom antics of War of the Coprophages, Mulder’s insanity in Grotesque, his resistance to killing her in Pusher and their quiet moment of reflection on their lives in Quagmire. It’s a partnership that just seems to keep giving. Here’s another chance for them to prove how deep their connection goes with Mulder physically crumbling when he thinks that her body has been discovered and later his passion when he tries to reach out to her and convince her that he has nothing to hide. When he admits that she is the only person he trusts we have reached the zenith of the marbled exploration of their relationship this season. As far as Mulder and Scully are concerned it doesn’t get much better than this.
Fashion Statement: Colin Cunningham is quite the hottie and is about to fresh foot it to a recurring role on Stargate SG-1. He’s so cute he had to be up to no good!
Orchestra: A great minimalist score that really gets under your skin and suggests that wrong things are happening.
Result: Whilst it does owe some credit to Blood, Wetwired taps into an insidious horror all of its own. The premise proves to be a real winner, television influencing someone’s perception so that images are created that send them into a paranoid and homicidal rage. As soon as the subtly creepy effect of the TV interference breaks up the killers sight you know there is about to be another murder. All the ideas are put in place quite early so it is well established by the time that Scully succumbs. Considering paranoia is this shows stock and trade it is astonishing that Matt beck manages to cut into a brand new slice of the pie, giving Gillian Anderson the chance to play Scully as a frightened, edgy victim. For once I’m quite pleased that the climax is left ambiguous because its more frightening to think that this kind of subliminal testing is still going on out there and the final goal can only be guessed at. Like a seam of precious minerals running through the engaging a plot is a second narrative that explores paranoia of a very different kind. The Smoking Man is finally onto Mr X and no matter how many precautions he takes to contact Mulder it looks like his time is up. Season three continues to deliver right up until the end – this rewatch really has focussed my opinion that this is one of the finest individual seasons of any television show. Wetwired is a delicious paranoid nightmare with real bite: 8/10
Talitha Cumi written by Chris Carter and directed by R.W. Goodwin
What’s it about: Conversations with God…
Trust No-One: Every time I see ‘story by David Duchovny and…’ on the credits I wince because that has rarely gone down well (Colony/End Game, Avatar) and usually involves Mulder hogging the limelight at the expense of his partner. The problem with Mulder’s muted reaction to finding his mother in hospital is there has never been a convincing connection between the two of them on screen and it extends to this episode. Plus we’ve been through this routine with Scully, Bill and Melissa already and there’s little that is added to make this feel special. Despite the words that Carter puts in his mouth, Duchovny honestly makes it look as if Mulder doesn’t give a shit if his mother survives or not. Ultimately the relationship with Mulder and X leads to…a bloody great scrap in an underground car park. It feels like we have been here too many times before and that this could have been so much more interesting.
Brains’n’Beauty: As with the events of Revelations, I don’t see why the theological leanings to this episode fail to get Scully worked up in the same way. With its blatant religious parody I would say that this would justify her faith even more than the previous episode but it isn’t even touched upon. Rather than patronise him in her usual manner Scully tries to gently prevent Mulder from reading too much into his mothers attack.
Assistant Director: How many times can Mulder burst into Skinner’s office and demand the Smoking Man’s address before his superior turns around and says ‘why the hell didn’t you kill him last time?’
Mr X: What a shame that Steven Williams’ commitments elsewhere prevent him from taking part in the show any longer because he did bring a certain presence to the show as Mulder’s replacement mole in the government. Its doubly unfortunate that he should go out on such a spectacularly underwhelming two parter which barely features him. Jerry Hardin’s departure from The X-Files was rightly hailed as a classic and his death scene one of the most dramatic moments the show achieved. The same plaudits cannot be placed at Talitha Cumi/Herrenvolk’s door. Carter feels that killing characters off in such an arbitrary way ups the stakes but after a while it feels like the entire cast of characters are going to be massacred whenever the show needs a boost in the ratings. When characters work out, sometimes it is a good idea to keep them around. Whilst the murder doesn’t take place here, its inclusion in the conclusion is made very apparent by the brawl between him and Mulder which finally cuts the ties between them.
The Good: The show threatens to get exciting when Mulder confronts the Smoking Man at the hospital but it’s a real blink and you’ll miss it moment.
The Bad: Spare me the soap opera suggestion that the Smoking Man is Mulder’s father. The sequence where he visits Teena Mulder to reminisce over old times fails to work for two reasons – the dialogue is overblown strays too far into daytime telvision and the inclusion of Rebecca Toolan who remains the shows most robotic and unconvincing actress. For an actor of William B. Davis’ calibre its like hitting your head against a brick wall. I’m also getting a little bored of the way that our heroes family members are exploited in these mythology episodes – how many more are they prepared to lose on this quest of theirs? I could understand Scully wanting to continue searching for the killer of her sister but with Mulder’s father and now mother placed in jeopardy you would have to start to question whether the truth was worth discovering it meant a massacre of your loved ones. The fact that Mulder as good as chooses his cause objective over his family in this episode leads me to believe that Carter and Duchovny have lost sight of how a reasonable person would react. It seems in order to turn Mulder into a mythological figure he has to jettison his personal life completely. It says something about her competency as an actress when Toolan gives her best performance when Teena Mulder is practically comatose. What about the childish puzzle surrounding the word PALM? Not so much a conundrum as an insult to the viewers intelligence as Mulder starts reading all kinds of meaning into the word when in fact his mother simply meant to write the word the other way around. When the episode actually spells out the anagram to the audience like a game of Countdown you know the writer is in trouble. Whilst not a fault of the episode itself the Administration Office of Social Security looks like a truly monotonous place to work. Placing Jeremiah in a straight jacket and restraints makes him look more like the killer than the hero. Who cares if the Smoking Man is dying of lung cancer? He’s seen lighting up in every scene he appears in…its hardly a revelation! So let me get this straight…Mulder’s father put the weapon that could kill the alien bounty hunter inside a lamp for safe keeping? Did he think that would be any good if these guys decided to invade? What if Teena decided to throw it out? You can see the director or stunt co-ordinator in shot during the Mulder/X fight sequence and the doubles are clearly visible for both actors several times. What a dull end of season cliffhanger.
Pre Titles Sequence: Whilst it is beautifully acted, this is one of those teasers that sets out to prove a point about a character and so rushes its set piece to do so. It features a hostage situation in a restaurant but its about a zillion times less impacting than the one in Duane Barry because it has absolutely no context. We don’t know who this guy is or why he is waving a gun in the face of these people – he just comes across as a madman that is rather easily provoked. Besides I’m not really keen on cod religious analogies usually and the heavy handed ‘Jeremiah is an Angel’ music really pushes the point too far for me.
Moment to Watch Out For: If you have the stomach for it then the sequences between the Smoking Man and Jeremiah are ponderous, portentous, purveyors of purple prose. The dialogue is so hidden in mythological obscurities and exclamations that are open to interpretation that other the course of five minutes or so they wind up saying absolutely nothing of consequence at all. That is some feat. ‘Science is their religion. No greater explanation exists for them…’ Even if you understand the source of this sequence it still doesn’t explain why Carter chose to write it in such dreary, censored dialogue unless he genuinely believes that the audience would continue to follow the show on the barest breadcrumbs he feeds them whilst acting out his wish to turn the show into some kind of pretentious religious metaphor. This is what happens when a man starts to buy into the myths that are being built around his work. As usual with show runners, there needed to be somebody there to say no when they stray off into ego stroking territory. Its also a massive waste if Peter Donat and Jerry Hardin but considering Carter already had a stab at that at the beginning of the season things have simply come full circle.
Fashion Statement: I was happy to see Brian Thompson back looking sharper than ever in a designer suit.
Orchestra: There’s nothing innovative about the score, it feels like a collection of Mark Snow’s greatest hits on the show. Perhaps stronger, fresher music would have provoked more interest.
Mythology: About the only thing to come out of the long winded ‘dialogue of the Gods’ is that a date has been set. But for what is anybody’s guess at this point. ‘What we’re talking about is colonisation…’ Really? Because I have seen no exploration or explanation of that within this episode.
Result: Its almost cruel that a season that has been so giving should stumble at the last hurdle but Talitha Cumi is one of the weakest episodes of the year. The first half of the episode is ponderous, unexciting and plays the same exploitative tricks we have seen from the series plenty of time before. However considering what comes next we were lucky during those opening scenes because the sequences between the Smoking Man and Jeremiah are so thoroughly tedious you might just lose the will to live as they endure for what feels like several Ice Ages. As usual when David Duchovny gets a writers credit Gillian Anderson is given very little to do at his expense and it is somewhat unbelievable to think that Steven Williams barely appears in his penultimate episode. The conclusion would see his character depart from the show but you would never think he was relevant given his non existence in the story. Whereas the generally disappointing second half of season two climaxed on the unforgettable image of a boxcar of corpses going up in flames, Talitha Cumi chooses to pause the action between seasons with the return of the alien Bounty Hunter. Big woo. It’s a long winded exercise in running on the spot and repackaging information that we have already learnt and telling it to us again in the form of a revelation. The mythology episodes usually go one of two ways – working as a piece of drama in isolation or not and this is a particularly poor example of the latter. Perhaps the worst mythology episode the series delivered: 2/10