Saturday, 17 November 2012

The X-Files Season Four

Herrenvolk written by Chris Carter and directed by R.W. Goodwin

What’s it about: I’m not entirely sure…

Trust No-One: If I were Scully I would be right royally pissed off that Mulder scarpers with Jeremiah and leaves her at the mercy of the Bounty Hunter (okay Mulder believes that he has killed him but he has proven to be impervious to attack in the past).  I suppose he is doing the right thing trying to save his mother (loathsome as she is) but his decision is compounded by the fact that he doesn’t even achieve that. Instead he heads off to trying discover more about this great conspiracy. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t leave my mom to die no matter how important my work was. As another reviewer has mentioned (and I wholeheartedly agree with) Carter’s inference here is that the mythology storyline is more important than these characters personal lives and that just doesn’t add up. There’s no frisson when Mulder is apparently reunited with his sister because this has been tried before and proven to be hoax. There was no way that the fruition of this long standing character arc would take place in such an oddball location with no emotional impact. 

Mr X: And so we say goodbye to Mr X, one of the least satisfying characters this show has ever coughed up. All he has ever done is hang out in underground car parks and dish out information. We’ve never seen him at work, never become involved in his life, never been given a reason to care about him beyond the fact that he offers Mulder crumbs of information. He’s been appearing on the show for over two seasons now and we no next to nothing about him. So how is his death supposed to impact the audience in any way? Steven Williams is such a charismatic actor that at times he manages to rise above the barrenness of the character and provide memorable scenes but more often than not he dashes away before we get a chance to learn anything about him. What’s worse is that thanks to Williams’ commitments elsewhere he barely appears in his exit storyline. Its not like he’s even allowed to go out on a high. But then I guess that’s about right for a character so obscure that if he turned sideways he would vanish. Melodramatic to the last, X scrawls the name of Mulder’s next contact in his own blood. Only in Carter’s mind would this be a natural dying act.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘You have to understand something. I must perish. Whatever the consequences to that end they are incalculable to the preservation of the larger plan!’ Listen very carefully to the moment when Mulder and Jeremiah stop running and start talking. It might be the worst exchange of dialogue in the entire series. Lots of words but no information. It’s a couple of minutes worth of discussion of ‘the Plan’ and ‘the Work’ that tells a grand total of nothing about any of it. Has Carter finally bought into his mythology – that people actually enjoy not having any satisfactory elucidation as the story progresses?
‘A flowering shrub. But its specific epithet can’t be found be found on any of your taxonomic charts’ – how could any actor make that line sound convincing?
‘You know what these are. Confirm or deny?’ – even Scully is talking like an automaton.
‘You have a chance here to understand something so much greater, to comprehend it, to expose it…’ – then fricking get on with telling us about it rather than keep telling us you are going to tell us about it!
‘There are answers to be found now, We have hope that there are places to start’ – oh fuck off and die! That is what this whole 90 minute spectacular has been about? Not exposing the truth but understanding that there is potentially some way of starting to look for it?

Ugh: The inclusion of the bees is a controversial issue. You might not be scared of them and thus find this a particularly unintimidating addition to the myth arc. I, however, was stung quite badly as a child and have had something of a phobia about buzzing insects ever since (before you think I am a complete wimp I love spiders and am currently campaigning to acquire a pet tarantula…although that appears to be over my husbands dead body at this precise moment in time). The thought of being trapped in an enclosed space surrounded by screaming bees fills me with dread (I can’t even stand a fly buzzing around the room).

The Bad: After the sumptuous pre-title sequence it’s a harsh slap in the face with icy water to be reminded precisely where we left the series in the tedious and unspectacular finale to the otherwise stellar season three. For a while you might mistake this episode for a lesson in how to find an interesting looking location and run about in it. Whether it’s a warehouse or the countryside, Mulder and Jeremiah sprint about being relentlessly pursued by the alien Bounty Hunter whilst the plot fails to move on at all. I wont pretend that the stunts aren’t impressive (because they are) or that the action isn’t pacy and well executed (because it is) but it’s a TV show pretending to be a Bond movie for half an hour when there is so much of this arc that needs clarification, exploration and solution. The Bounty Hunter has his hand wrapped around Scully’s throat. I fail to understand why he doesn’t just snap it. It would aid his campaign no end in the future if he had just disposed of her here. Mulder and Jeremiah have literally hours between locations to talk about everything that is going on but instead choose to pass the time in silence. What the fuck? If that was me I would be demanding answers! I really love science fiction but there comes a stage where you have to stop introducing more odd stuff and try and tie together stuff from seasons back that you have left hanging. As a result I have started to resent cool stuff like the village of young clones cultivating the bees. Not because it’s a bad idea (although I feel it could be a hell of a lot creepier than it is) but simply because its another idea to add to the pot. And frankly we need a bigger pot. The alien Bounty Hunter is a great, robust character but the way he turns up every time Jeremiah is about to dish out some answers makes me actively dislike him. Carter seems to think that he can have his characters run on the spot for an hour and then kill somebody important off at the conclusion and assume that everybody will so in awe of that decision that they will be convinced that they have watched a satisfying hour of television. He’s wrong. We come out of this episode not knowing what the bees were about, what Jeremiah was about, what the clones are about and without any new information regarding the conspiracy. So what was the point of it all? Considering the long recap and the short running time…this episode seems to go on forever.

Pre Titles Sequence: Several miracles in one teaser; the sun is out in force in Vancouver, its not under cut with a horrendous voice over full of purple prose and it is a refreshingly simple and yet creepy idea. Identical blond children gather around a telegraph pole and watch a man who has been stung by a bee fall to his death. I didn’t have a clue what was going on but this visually stunning little teaser is a very nice ease into the fourth season. The way he falls towards the audience is particularly awesome as you feel the impact of his landing and the twinkly piano score puts me in mind of Village of the Damned as the kiddywinks gather to watch him expire.

Moment to Watch Out For: The Bounty Hunter being consumed by a swarm of bees was the one point in this episode where my heart quickened. Ewww.

Orchestra: Because there is so little dialogue and character interaction in the first half of the episode it is left to Mark Snow to fill in the gaps whilst everybody dashes about. A fine job he does of it too, my foot was tapping away with the urgency of the score whilst I waiting for something (anything) to happen.

Foreboding: ‘And you know how important Agent Mulder is the to equation…’

Mythology: We’ve seen older clones (or ‘serial ova types’ whatever that means) of Samantha (Colony/End Game) and now we are introduced to younger versions of her too. Whatever happened to the original specimen her DNA was extracted and used in this project. Scully has uncovered that the entire population has been genetically marked under the guise of smallpox inoculations. Been there, done that. What on Earth for? ‘We’re being catalogued, tagged an inventoried? By who?’ ‘I don’t know.’

Result: From a production standpoint this is just glorious. The location work is spectacular, the action relentless and beautifully directed and the music courtesy of Mark Snow really compliments the events unfolding. In all other areas however the show has gone to the dogs and you have to look no further than Chris Carter’s horrendous script. It forces his characters to make unconvincing decisions (Mulder choosing to leave Scully behind and to choose his work over his mothers life), it offers so little explanation for what is transpiring you may as well make it up yourself and it regurgitates dialogue that would be embarrassing if penned by a complete novice to the trade rather than one of the shows most experienced writer. Coupled with Talithi Cumi, it marks a low point for the series (if people think the mythology episodes were as bad as this in the shows twilight years they are sadly mistaken) – a point where the head writer is so convinced of the shows success that he feels he can slap any old nonsense up on the screen and the audiences will lap it up. Upon my original watching of the show I had pretty much given up on the mythology episodes and was far more concerned with the monster of the week stuff (a shame because there was some great stuff coming up mythology-wise after the interminable Tunguska two parter). Plus how po-faced can one show get? Its just under 30 minutes into this episode before anybody cracks a joke (and its not a particularly funny one at that). Season three showed how satisfying it is when this show lightens up and doesn’t take itself too seriously…those lesson are about to be unlearnt as we head into the darkest season of The X-Files ever: 3/10

Home written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: The Peacocks. Your average, amiable American family…

Trust No-One: Its really refreshing to get back to a good old fashioned X-File rather than the murky conspiracy material we have suffered in the last two episodes. It seems that Mulder and Scully can only look as though they are enjoying themselves in the standalone episodes because they have spent the last handful walking around as though the moon was about to fall out of the sky. Perhaps some found their wisecracking behaviour to be disrespectful (given the sick subject matter) but I personally thought it was good to have some relief. They’ve been at this game for long enough now to take monstrous sights like those that they experience in this episode in their stride. And besides the agents aren’t laughing and joking about the horrors of infanticide, they share a sombre moment outside the police station where they comfort each other and discuss the tragedy. Mulder’s work ensure that he lives in the city but if he had to settle down it would be in the country in a place like Home. I love the look on Mulder’s face when he tries to whittle down the list of incestual possibilities for the Peacock brothers to propagate. The only moment that marred for me was Mulder turning into David Attenborough after Deputy Paster’s death and explaining away the Peacock’s pack animal behaviour.

Brains’n’Beauty: If I were Scully I would want to have a change of career. I wouldn’t want to be the first person somebody calls when a mutilated baby is dug up out of the ground. Mulder admits he never saw Scully as a mother before but its clearly something she has considered.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Mulder if you had to last about a cell phone for two minutes you’d lapse into catatonic schizophrenia.’
‘Scully would you think less of me as a man if I said I was kind of excited right now?’ – Mulder in the mud with squealing pigs.

Ugh: This the episode that most people will fight over and I think it comes down to what sort of horror you enjoy and where your tolerance levels are when it comes to graphic violence and uncomfortable ideas. Personally I love it, I remember watching it when it was first broadcast in the UK and finding it deeply unpleasant to endure and afterwards considering it the first piece of television in a long while that made me feel that uncomfortable watching it. I enjoy that feeling though, because it pushes my tolerance levels and gets under my skin. From the off Home is packed with graphic horror with Mrs Peacock (quite a grisly sight herself) gives birth to a baby in the middle of a storm whilst her three inbred sons hack away at the umbilical cord with a rusty fork. They then proceed to take the screaming infant into the garden and throw it into a muddy grave and pack it over with mud. You just couldn’t make this sort of shit up, could you? And its precisely the sort of material that a good horror is made out of. The whole point of the genre is to frighten you and this behaviour is just obscene. Incest and infanticide in the first few minutes - Glen Morgan and James Wong really wanted to come back making a statement, didn’t they? The fact that one of the brothers screams in pain as the baby is buried alive because one of them is the father and yet does nothing to stop the murder makes it all the more sick. Later a kid getting his footing right in a baseball game finds his shoe in a pool of blood and exactly where they buried the baby earlier its little pink hand sticks up out of the mud. Its such an unsubtle shot (in what is actually quite a slyly judged episode) you have to wonder why they included it. We only get glimpses of the baby with every birth defect known to mankind but its enough to turn your stomach. As Mulder and Scully explore the Peacock house, director Kim Manners slides the camera into the darkness and settles on the eyes of Mrs Peacock staring out from under the bed. Shots of one of the Peacock’s coughing up petrol are superfluous but add to the overall, nauseating effect. Death scenes are tenapenny on The X-Files but there is something horribly invasive and brutal about the Peacock brothers entering the Sheriff’s home and murdering him and his wife. Top quality direction helps, Kim Manners focuses on the innocent woman hiding under the bed as her husband is ferociously bludgeoned to death and her whimpering as they discover where she is. For a murder scene this is very artistically done. Because the Peacock brothers have been seen to act in a manner that is so antithetical to normal human behaviour there is a terrifying feeling that they are capable of anything. That is where much of tension comes in the last set piece which becomes a kill or be killed hunt between Mulder and Scully and the Peacocks. They save the best shock for last as Mrs Peacock is revealed in all her glory. A multiple amputee, strapped to a rack and living under the bed…she’s the embodiment of the nauseating lengths this episode will go to repulse. Just in case you haven’t been grossed out enough the final scene features the surviving Peacock brother climbing out of the boot of the car that contains the mother after giving her a good rodgering so they can start a new family. Words fail me. 

The Good: I love the slow, silent close ups on the children playing baseball when the ball is hit onto the Peacocks property. Clearly the whole neighbourhood knows what freaks they are and usually steer well clear of them. There’s a theme of nostalgia and trying to hold onto the ways of the past in Home that is exemplified in Mulder’s reminiscence of the baseball games he used to play with his sister. He talks longingly about the days when the only things you had to worry about was getting home for tea. Sheriff Taylor discusses how pleasant things are in home and how he has prayed that the contemporary world would leave them behind but now those horrors are slowly manifesting themselves. This is neatly paralleled by Mrs Peacock’s fears that their way of life will be questioned and brought to an end. It’s the presence of Mulder and Scully that spoils the harmony these two families have lived in for so long and causes the mass slaughter that wipes them all out. I still can’t decide whether I prefer the stirrings of Johnny Mathis’ Wonderful Wonderful partnered to Karen McCluksy’s death in the series finale to Desperate Housewives or used as a prelude to the Peacock’s reign of terror in The X-Files. It’s a marvellous song either way and oddly suits both, very diverse, tones. You would never guess that this wasn’t the original but an impersonator who was drafted in after Mathis refused to give his permission to use the original after reading the screenplay. There’s a red herring tossed in when the script asks the director to focus on the fact that both Mulder and the Sheriff have left their doors unlocked…who have the Peacock’s left their house to kill? Teasingly, the final sequence of events are shot in perfect sunshine. Its almost as if the director wanted to suggest that these horrors aren’t shrouded in darkness but take place in the harsh light of day when you are supposed to feel safe. Scully trying to tame the pigs by cooing ‘naa-ram-ewe!’ is hilarious! I would usually object to an episode that resorts to the brainless solution of murdering the bad guys (indeed it really bugged me when something similar to the ending of Home occurred in the Torchwood episode Countrycide) but the Peacock’s are so vile and unstoppable there was never going to be any chance of reasoning with them. This is one X-Files nasty that needed to be put down. That they don’t quite achieve that leaves a lingering sense of disquiet.

Pre Titles Sequence: Wowzas, talk about throwing you in at the deep end! This is the X-File teaser to top them in all in the grisly stakes, plastering sick images across the television screen and giving the censors a coronary in the process. I am astonished that some of this material made it through but I’m pleased that it did. Its great to see that season four is going to push the envelope just like the previous year did but in very different ways. The direction is absolutely brutal, refusing to shy away from any of the monstrosities on display and the flashes of lightning only serve to heighten the visual drama.

Moment to Watch Out For: Its one of those rare episodes where Mulder and Scully are working together throughout. Usually during the climax they are split up but this is a great opportunity to see them working as team in the face of terrifying adversity.

Fashion Statement: Mulder and Scully have been given a new look and look like they belong in a catalogue more than ever before.

Orchestra: From the off mark Snow knows precisely what sort of episode he is scoring – a big, bold, darker than night horror story with a slightly comic edge. 

Result: Now had they began the season with this unrelenting slice if horror I would have applauded their audacity. If an installment of this show is going to give you nightmares, this one must surely rank. Home isn’t afraid to push the limits of where horror can go and exposes a slice of twisted America that a lot of viewers weren’t unwilling to explore. The Peacock house is as important to television as Bates Motel was to the flicks, a hell hole thick with atmosphere and festered with horrors in the most unexpected of places. The murder of Sherrif Taylor and his wife and the final fight to the death are seminal X-Files sequences. Director Kim Manners understands the use of silence to create suspense and there are many lingering, almost agonisingly tense moments that are suddenly punctured with leap-out-of-your-seat noises. Strangely for an episode that perpetuates the revolting, Home manages to develop a vein of black humour which at times really made me chuckle (the Peacock’s chasing the pigs about looks like it belongs in a Charlie Chaplin movie!). Its that unsettling mixture of humour and horror added to the generally unpleasant imagery that gives this episode its unique flavour. Like all the best horrors by the time the show was over I felt absolutely filthy, like I had been rolling around in the mud and loving every second of it. This is sick, perverse and yet strangely beguiling because of it. If the idea of horror is to horrify then Home is The X-Files’ finest example in its nine year run: 10/10

Teliko written by Howard Gordon and directed by James Charleston

What’s it about: Mr Tooms, Mark II…

Trust No-One: I have no problem with Mulder and Scully being used as tools to investigate and explore paranormal ideas but it comes to something when there is the chance to explore their take on racism and instead Gordon chooses to have Scully attempting to analyse the motive of a pathogen rather than the people involved in the tale. Its obscenely clinical when an emotional examination would have been a much interesting approach and this is one of the few times where they comes across as walking automatons rather than living, breathing individuals. Its strange because in Hell Money last season writer Jeffrey Vlaming proved that Mulder and Scully could be characters to investigate discrimination through and with some unusual results. Whilst they were given perhaps their most disagreeable treatment to date, it was certainly more interesting watching them displaying a little racism (in an episode that delicately saw a guest character precariously walking between two cultures) than their disinterested treatment here. Remember in season one when these two characters used to get passionate about their investigations, arguing their opposing opinions with zeal. I really miss that. There’s been no moment in the first three episodes of season four where the regulars have been at loggerheads with anything more than a raised eyebrow. Let’s inject some enthusiasm back into the show. Mulder is left in a comatose state by the climax, staring off camera and drooling. This is what Howard Gordon’s script has done to David Duchovny.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I heard you were down here slicing and dicing. Who’s the lucky stiff?’ – Howard Gordon is capable of much better dialogue than this.

Ugh: From a show that has offered up bloody parasites being pulled from its victims neck, exploding pustules and cockroaches crawling under the skin, an ice pick up the nose just doesn’t cut it. At least when Incanto was feeding a need in 2Shy it was riffing Squeeze in a particularly gruesome and memorable way.

The Good: The basic premise of the week is an intriguing one, an anomalous albino man who devours the skin colour of his victims. It might be impolitic to say so but its quite nice to see black characters getting the chance to ‘white it up’ in fiction because the reverse was done with abhorrent frequency in the past to detrimental effect. It’s a concept that has the possibility to explore a lot of race issues and the muddy concept of identity with far more subtlety than, say, Original Star Trek’s Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (where they literally had two races at war, one side of the conflict having half a black and half a white face and the same for the opposition but the other way around). Taking the idea of black people turning white and adding the theory that it is a disease that is responsible and imagine the dramatic mileage in an idea like that – to place that on a worldwide scale you could look at the social ramifications of such an idea. There would be some people who would think that it is God handing down his judgement on black people and others who fight against the notion and try and hold onto their cultural and physical identity. It could be the most controversial episode of The X-Files ever. Gordon is aware of the social ramifications of his focus on the African community but the emphasis is more on immigration and less about racism. For once it would be nice if this show was less careful attacked its theme with a notorious passion.

The Bad: Its not really fair of me to compare this weeks freak to Eugene Tooms purely on the basis of his introduction as seen through a crack exposing his eye as he seeks out another victim. That is a standard horror trope which has been used in many, many shows and movies. However Tooms remains the most effective and terrifying ‘monster of the week’ the show has ever produced and so I tend measure up everybody against him anyway. When you make the similarities obvious like this its almost impossible to resist. Marcus visiting Samuel in a darkened room plays out in exactly the same way as the social worker who visited Tooms in his sophomore episode except that was much scarier and more convincingly performed. It’s the second appearance of Marita Cavarrubias and she’s even less appealing here than she was in her debut episode. At this stage of the game Mr X was loaded with potential but Marita comes off as nothing but a poor mans imitation with nothing fresh to offer. When you resort to mimicking the climax of not one (Ghost in the Machine) but two (Tooms) episodes (involving one of the agents in danger down a ventilation duct) you’ve reached the limit of your imagination. Its unsurprising that this was the last year Gordon wrote for the show. Scully’s voiceover in the last scene is one of the worst of its kind. She’s not talking about anything, its just a pretentious way of convincing the viewer they have watched something with a point when they have already made up their mind otherwise.

Pre Titles Sequence: Its filmed more as a horror sequence but if taken as such it really pales in comparison to previous attempts at this sort of thing. When looked at as a conceptual set piece, introducing us to the bizarre notion of the week then it suddenly becomes much more intriguing.

Moment to Watch Out For: I’d skip this one if I were you. There’s very little here that stands out as being particularly original or memorable.

Orchestra: I’m often quite hard on Mark Snow’s music which might seem a little unjust because in select episodes of this show (Triangle, The Unnatural, Closure) his music is second to none. What I object to is being able to predict which instruments are going to come into play each week when the shows theme or tone kicks in. As soon as I saw a larger number of African characters present I immediately thought of tribal drums and low and behold they weren’t far away. Snow’s best scores (because each one is well composed and pleasingly melodic on their own terms) are the ones that sneak up on you and surprise – offering a fresh perspective on events musically, sometimes at odds with the events taking place on screen. Teliko is one of his least memorable scores because you can pretty much forecast when each cue will strike (especially the choral touches). 

Result: Teliko had the opportunity to be one of the more controversial episodes of The X-Files had it pushed its ‘black men turning white’ to the fore rather than churning out another formulaic monster of the week tale. In the hands of Russell T Davies this concept would be fascinating because it needs somebody who is willing to explore it on a social level and even if it Gordon chose to push his own political agenda onto the audience it would make far more interesting viewing than a re-tread of the far superior Squeeze. Given the focus on immigration this could have been about a man who wanted to slip into the shadows of the black community and avoid standing out as an albino but instead we go through the plodding investigative steps to reach the conclusion that his kills are instinct and need based rather than anything that he desires. In other words, drearily old school. There are a few mentions that this could be race related but its never pushed enough. Duchovny and Anderson sleepwalk their way through a script that offers them nothing new to work with. They must have read the story and experienced a profound sense of déjà vu. It’s a shame to dismiss the atmospheric work that director James Charleston achieves, shooting much of the episode in shadows and with creepy silhouettes but all he is doing is atmospherically gift wrapping a gift that turns out to be an empty box. For tossing away so much potential and turning something conceivably groundbreaking into such a mechanical snooze fest, this is one of the worst X-File episodes. With a stinker, a classic and a stinker to its name, season four of this show looks set to veer between genius and fatigue. Unfortunately this is most definitely in the latter category: 2/10

Unruhe written by Vice Gilligan and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: ‘For truly to pursue monsters, we must understand them, we must venture into their minds…’

Brains’n’Beauty: Unruhe features a pair of agents that are as dour and as grave as the ones in Teliko but because the episode itself is of a much finer vintage and the tone of the piece is chilly, their humourless approach to the investigation seems quite appropriate. Indeed in Scully’s case (she looks genuinely haunted throughout in a way she hasn’t been since season two’s Irresistible) there is a feeling that there might have been a personal tragedy of some kind in her life recently such is her anxious reaction to the horrors that are playing out here. It really helps to sell the edgy tension of the piece. There’s a glorious moment as Mulder and Scully begin their investigation where Scully is made to look like a complete laughing stock by Mulder who does nothing more than nod his head in mock agreement at her ridiculous theory of the week. But then her hypothesis that the reason the woman appears to screaming out of her passport photo because the film is out of date and warped deserves no less condescension. It’s an attempt to return to the playful banter that used to exist between them but there is something cold and clinical about now, almost as if Scully doesn’t want to play ball anymore. Trust Gilligan to take a standard trope of this series and do something different with it. Scully figuring out the identical locations the killer is exploiting and Mulder deconstructing the photographs sees both agents intelligently applying their investigative skills. Its something that often gets overlooked in the creative impetus of this series but Gilligan in particular likes to remind the audience why these characters are in the positions they hold. Scully as a medical professional looks genuinely appalled at the weapon of Schnauz’s choice. For once Scully doesn’t seem to give a toss about loose ends, she just wants to drive as far away from this sick investigation as possible. Its most unlike her, her scientific personality usually requiring a logical answer to the supernatural elements that crop up in their investigations.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Pictures don’t lie…’
‘What does this mean?’ ‘It means you need help, Jerry.’

Ugh: Gilligan is feeling greedy this week and gathers together four distinct and very scary notions to build one of the shows scariest serial killers. Anything surrounding a dentists chair is bound to give me the heebie-jeebies because I am absolutely petrified of anyone who rips teeth out of your mouth for a living. Strapping the victims to the chair and using dental anasethic to subdue his victims does nothing to allay my fears. Next up is the more conceptual horror of the victims reaching out of photographs almost as a warning to the treatment that they are suffering. Its something that would not be out of place on Sapphire and Steel (an inspired show I often reference and must get around to reviewing one day). And thirdly is the terrifying notion that Schnauz performs a lobotomy on his victims because he thinks he is saving them from an affliction of madness. The lingering shots of the giant metal spike that is going to be piercing the brain is enough to give you a triple heart bypass. And finally the idea that psychosis can be personified as howling wraiths whispering inside your head could only be the work of a madmen but Schnauz genuinely believes that he is benevolently saving people from their own lunacy whilst skipping over the fact that he himself is afflicted. Any one of these ideas would normally be enough to take authority of an X-File episode, to have all four cohere so effectively makes for a particularly chilling tale.

The Good: Thought photography is an interesting notion but because what you perceive is so subjective (and happens in the blink of an eye) you could pretty much forge this gift by claiming what was captured was precisely what you were experiencing. After all its not like somebody can hop into the past and check it out. Taking that idea to a creative level and using photography to highlight the thoughts of a killer exposes the sort of visceral horror that this show excels at. Gilligan uses the idea playfully, having a policeman taking a mug shot and seeing a glimpse of his future through Schnauz’s eyes with a bullet through his head. Schnauz turning up on stilts is such a bizarre idea but it really works, especially having him towering over Scully in the background as Mulder points out over the phone that the killers legs are unusually long. Its unusual for the show to expose the killer to the agents so early in the episode, often the audience is privy to the monster of the week and the agents stumble blindly towards the conclusion and their confrontation with him. That Scully realises at the halfway mark that she has found her man means that she is the most terrible danger. Schnauz trying to run away on stilts and falling should be very funny but Bowman twists the scene into something disorientingly dramatic with his rapid handheld camerawork. How does Pruitt Taylor Vince do that crazy, juddery thing with his eyes? He’s one of the more memorable crazies to escaped The X-Files asylum because upon interrogation he seems like a perfectly normal, if scruffy individual.  He’s uncharismatic and charmless but he seems like a genuinely ordinary bloke caught up in a messy murder investigation. Once his mask is lifted, Vince’s performance shifts with alarming realism. Its exactly the same sort of focused mediocrity but this time he is talking about the monsters that whisper in your ear and make you do terrible things. It’s the intense believability to his performance that stops this from tipping in parody. Schnauz really believes that he is trying to help people. There is something askew about the way that Rob Bowman shoots the scene of Scully returning to her car when she is poisoned that hints at her oncoming kidnap (Mark Snow’s music is a good indication too). The high angle shot of her falling to the floor and Schnauz emerging from under the car is extremely dramatic, as is the notion that this kidnap is occurring in broad daylight out in the open. Gilligan has paced his story perfectly, Schnauz imagining Scully’s horror in the photo that Mulder is waiting to develop and his subsequent race to save her really getting the heart racing. Its lovely that Jerry doesn’t seem to understand his own supernatural powers, asking Scully (of all people) to explain his thought photographs. He considers himself to be a normal man doing a public service, he doesn’t think he is special and he’s not seeking any thanks.

Pre Titles Sequence: Certain scenes in shows really stick in your mind. And sometimes you can’t even tell why. I have a vivid recollection of the victim who dies  at the beginning of Unruhe being pursued as the rain sluices down and pierced in the neck by her assailant. Whenever I am out in heavy rain now I always look over my shoulder as an involuntary gesture. It might be because the imagery is very subtle - I love the shadow of his yellow rain mac hanging over her brolley and the way the rain seems to cleanse her of any wrongdoing as she appears to expire in the onslaught. The yellow mac is so innocuous and yet sinister at the same time, worn with the same purpose as a mask to conceal the identity of the killer. Plus the concept of the kidnapped victim having their terror expressed in a photograph is a terrific and spooky, the sort of notion that this show is built on.

Moment to Watch Out For: I’ve heard some really irritating pissing and moaning about Scully being kidnapped and tied the dentists chair somehow pushes back female empowerment about thirty years. What nonsense. Scully has been seen to be affected deeply by this investigation so the most natural thing to do in dramatic terms is to force her through the same horrors that are troubling her. Its nothing to do with sexism (Mulder has had his fair share of punishing encounters), its simply good television. I’m not one of these people that needs to see women wisecracking in the face of death and kicking the shit out of men in order for them to appear empowered (go and watch the film Enough starring Jennifer Lopez to see how ridiculous things can get if you are of that mindset). Scully has already proven to be more than a match for Mulder (not that she ever needed to). She survives this horrific ordeal, empathising with Schnauz in order to effect her escape and that is more than a statement of her ability for me. The same people who moan about Mulder rushing in to save Scully are the ones who champion the show later when she rescues him and that to me strikes of a very different kind of sexism.

Result: ‘She’s safe from the howlers…’ Intense and very scary, Unruhe brews an air of uncomfortable disquiet from its first scene and doesn’t give the audience a moments respite until the end credits. Four episodes in and season four is proving to be very dark indeed, alternating between being compulsive and unexciting depending on the skill of the writer. This might be Vince Gilligan’s most frightening episode of the show (although that doesn’t automatically mean his best); capitalising on a wealth of disturbing ideas such as death in a dentists chair, madness incarnate and a visual representation of kidnapping and torture through the eyes of the killer. Everybody is on board to make this as uncomfortable to watch as possible; director Rob Bowman shoots the episode at disorienting angles, highlights the lingering uneasiness (Schnauz rants straight at the audience in the climax) and revelling in disturbing imagery and Gillian Anderson knows precisely what is require of her, looking for all the world as though she is going to throw up at any minute such is the strength of Scully’s agitation. There’s something very crisp about this episode that really makes it stand out – the horror isn’t made safe or attractive in any way. It’s the fact that you probably shouldn’t be enjoying something that makes you feel this on edge that gives it its bite. If season four is going to continue in this shady vein let’s have more episode of this quality please : 9/10

The Field Where I Died written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Spirits inhabiting people to tell their stories…

Trust No-One: ‘Somehow I just knew…’ Immediately David Duchovny approaches this episode in a very different vein than normal, like he looked over his shoulder at the haunting performance Gillian Anderson gave in Unruhe and decided he wanted some of that. Its very refreshing to have Mulder acting very sweetly once more, not arrogantly shouting his theories from the rooftops to whoever will listen but taking in the magnitude of what he is being told and reacting with appropriate humility. Look at his face during the interrogation of Ephesian, the camera slowly picks him out of the shadows as the cult leader explains his actions. There seems to be something truly haunting going on behind Mulder’s eyes. Its Mulder’s instincts rather than his investigative prowess that leads Mulder to the cultists in the field so perhaps it was fate that he and Melissa should meet. When an agent calls Mulder ‘Spooky’ I literally reeled, it feels like an age since we have heard that term (probably around the time Morgan & Wong left the show) and he has been spoken of in such a condescending fashion. Its one of the things that drew me to the character in the first place so good on the writers for reminded us of his roots. The inference that Mulder and Melissa knew each other in a past life gives the episode an extra layer of depth and an explanation for his sudden ability to have answers without any evidence (not that it has ever been needed before). Suddenly this isn’t a tale about an FBI agent and a battered ex-cult member but two friends reunited across the centuries. When the material engages him, Duchovny is capable of great things (go back and watch the first half of season two where he owns the show). The Field Where I Died not only opens up something impressive in Duchovny (his regression scenes are astonishing) but the writers have written a script where he cannot hide away behind set pieces. The camera is right in his face and expects great things of him (especially when his work is going to be compared to the wonderful things that Cloke is doing) and appropriately it is one of his best ever performances on the show. It’s an exposing trick to play on an actor who has starred in the same show for four years but Duchovny is more than up to the task. Its so impressive they should perform this trick more often. Contrast this with his turn in Teliko and there is gaping maw of talent between them.

Brains’n’Beauty: Not to dismiss the work of other writers on the show right now but Morgan & Wong seem to be the only ones that are willing to place a little distance between Mulder and Scully on the subject in hand. The look they exchange when they argue over who they are responsible for saving suggests that one of them is going to leap over the desk and scratch the others eyeballs out. There’s a passion and drive to their argument that has been missing from the show for some time and it is very welcome. Scully goes as far as to suggest that Mulder is only responsible for himself and that he doesn’t care about the lives involved in this investigation. Ouch. To get through to him and protect Melissa she rips the phone away from his ear and he lashes out at her in reaction, equally as violently frustrated with her scepticism. You wouldn’t want these characters to behave like this every week but as a cupful of cold water in the face (considering how bland they have been of late) it is very refreshing. I was surprised at Scully’s restraint  when Melissa’s theatrical obfuscation gives them absolutely no information for them to work with. Rather than say ‘I told you so’ which she was perfectly within her rights to do, she is instead concerned for her friend who has become completely bewitched by Melissa’s performance. She wont take past life regression on faith but when Scully starts putting together the proof that this could actually be happening, she embraces the idea rather than rejecting it. This is a massive step for her character and the way she uses her information to help Mulder to bring his experience to a climax promotes a friendship that extends way beyond their professional one. This is as hot blooded as these characters have been in quite some time.

Assistant Director: Its so refreshing to have Mitch Pileggi turn up in a standalone episode and not just turning up in the mythology stuff where he has to inform the agents that one of their relations has died. Skinner brings a great deal of authority to the show and so he’s perfect to run an FBI taskforce where in earlier seasons this role might have been given to a guest actor.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn’t change a day.’

The Good: The opening attack on the Temple of the Seven Stars grabs your attention after the gentle pre-titles sequence and its quite impressive that the set designers would go to so much effort to make this compound look so realistic for just a few minutes of screen time. I guess that’s what a multi million pound budget does for you. So many TV shows have exploited the horror of organised religion and suicide cults but you can leave it to The X-Files to approach the subject from a fresh angle. There’s a confidence to the direction of this episode that really stands out, the transition scenes are superb (cutting to mug shots of the cult members) and Bowman isn’t afraid to leave the camera still in empty places to generate a feeling of eeriness. Morgan and Wong dispense with the standard opening scene of Mulder and Scully discussing the case they are going to investigate and jumps straight into the action. Its refreshing that the explanation for their presence at the manhunt is held back for almost ten minutes. Your reaction to this episode may depend upon how successful you judge Kristen Cloke’s performance as Melissa and the other personalities that fill her head. Its probably the most self conscious performance the show has ever had, a character playing actor and slipping into various roles throughout but at the same time the facial tics, voices and personalities that Cloke embodies all feel very real. Melissa is an enigma (much like in DS9’s Duet which also unravelled a fascinating as its central mystery); the audience has three potential explanations for her behaviour. Does she suffer from multiple personality disorder and these characters are made up in her head? Is she trying to hide away from the implications of what she was about to do when she was arrested and divert attention away from the FBI investigation into the 50 other cult members? Or is as genuine as she appears, past lives taking over her body and using her as a vessel. The way Cloke’s performance walks a tightrope across all these different explanations is exceptional, any one of them could be the case at any point. There’s a regression scene in the middle of the episode that plays out in exactly the same way as an abysmal scene in Die Hand Die Verletz, straining with overdone emotion and histrionics. Its almost as though Morgan & Wong are parodying their own work and what’s more they’ve found a medium in which they can. The reward for such an contained and introspective episode is the final, chilling set piece as the FBI agents attack the Temple of the Seven Stars en masse. So much emphasis has been placed on the cult members being in danger the race against time to save their lives really gets the heart pumping. The danger they were in was their own delusion and belief in Ephesian. The lingering shots of the corpses of the cult members littering the floor of the bunker are some of the most disquieting the show has ever produced.

The Bad: Everything is progressing very nicely until the point where Mulder is put under and starts undergoing his own past life regression. For an episode that has been quite subtle to this point suddenly Scully and Samantha are pulled into the scenario, as if the writers didn’t want to leave anybody out. Had this episode remained focused on Mulder and Melissa it would have been far more satisfying and, more importantly, believable.

Pre Titles Sequence: Do you, like me, fear any opening of The X-Files that kicks off with a soporific voiceover by one of the leads sounding for all the world that they are about to commit suicide? The Field Where I Died wants to continue the trend although it makes some attempts to buck it too because whilst the pre titles sequence is drowning in mawkish poetry, the visuals are quite haunting and the overall effect is that something devastating is going to happen to Mulder. The camerawork is exceptional, slowly approaching Mulder standing in the middle of a field clutching onto two photos and arching up and over his head so we can see what he does. It’s The X-Files opening sequence with the least information about the episode ahead but that is no bad thing either, often the horrors we are about to witness are spelt out far too early.

Moment to Watch Out For: That such a triumphant episode should climax on Mulder failing to save Melissa’s life adds a bittersweet touch, one final note of realism.

Fashion Statement: It might be immature of my to mention (but that’s never stopped me before) but marrying Mulder’s season four poster boy look with his very sensitive portrayal in this episode…I don’t know if I have ever fancied him more.

Orchestra: Mark Snow seems to channel his score for Roland in parts of The Field Where I died and since that is one of his most memorable (and heartbreaking) of scores I’m certainly not complaining. As I said once before, when Mark Snow is affianced to the material he produces magic. He’s clearly very engaged here.

Result: I get the impression from their four scripts this year that Morgan & Wong don’t particularly want to write X-File episodes anymore. Not because they are lacking in skill or feel exhausted but because they are so far removed from what we consider to be The X-Files that they stretch the format to breaking point. I’m not complaining, I would rather watch four distinctive and rule-changing episodes than formulaic knock offs such as Teliko. Because of their frustration at having to return to the show that gave them a name there is a real finger in the face feel to these scripts (especially Home which seemed to want to disgust every X-File viewer to the point of making them not watch anymore) and a willingness to turn their back on the format that harks back to the groundbreaking episodes of season three. The Field Where I Died shares a feeling of unease with last years Oubliette but it is an entirely different baby, highlighting the poetic pretensions of the authors and digging controversially into a religious cult and seeing what festers at its heart. Its as close to a straight drama as you are going to get on this show and enjoys exploring the fascinating world of past life regressions (or multiple personalities depending on where you fall on the subject). Whilst it errs on the side of self-importance at times, it has two superb advocators in the shape of Kristen Cloke and David Duchovny who deliver unforgettable performances that justify the approach. Its not an episode that depends on set pieces (in fact it offers very little relief in that respect) and climaxes for advert breaks on conceptual twists instead (the first revealing Melissa’s multiple personalities, the second where she tells Mulder that they knew each other in a past life). I thought it was beguiling, a strong character drama that has an urgency and emotional sincerity that helps to brew up its own unique atmosphere. Morgan & Wong prove once again that they can write Mulder and Scully well as a pair but also individually and it’s a knockout episode for both characters. It only loses a point for dragging in everybody from the Cancer Man to Scully into the past life regression sequences when the focus should have been entirely on Mulder and Melissa. You may not recognise this as an X-File episode but it is a fascinating and beautifully delivered one off: 9/10

Sanguinarium written by Vivian & Valerie Mayhew and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: How body beauty can sometimes go awry…

Trust No-One: Its amusing that Mulder chooses to approach the question of Dr Lloyd’s possession to his nurse as something that he would never in a million years believe in. He can play on peoples psychology at times to great effect. Or that could Duchovny injecting a bit of fun into a script that doesn’t give him a great deal to do. Or he could be misinterpreting the tone of the scene. Make your own mind up there.

Brains’n’Beauty: Considering surgery is her field of expertise that is being made a mockery of here I would have thought that Scully might have reacted more emotionally to the medical procedures that are going wrong.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Well if its that simple why don’t you put out an APB for someone riding a broom and wearing a black hat?’ – Scully takes Mulder’s theories as seriously as ever. Mulder’s spazzy face in response to this line made me laugh out loud.

Ugh: Hospitals are places that this show has shied away from (aside from hanging out in one in every mythology episode when another family member of the regulars bites the dust or Mulder and Scully wake up in bed after their latest ordeal) which is strange because they are genuinely chilling places. Full of lost hope, fear of death and an abundance of pain. The idea of being knocked unconscious and at the mercy of a another human being who is going to be cutting your body open is terrifying and something that the writers are ready to exploit. The Doctor is scrubbing his hands clean so vigorously he has broken the skin and blood has leaked everywhere and he still isn’t satisfied that he is sanitary enough to operate. I’m not sure what is more unsettling for my gut; the intense look in the Doctor’s eye as he hacks away at his patient until he dies or simply that tube which is sucking up vats of his oily, milky fat that turns to blood. Bleugh. Its easy to see why you might think that the nurse is responsible for all this horror when she is calming a patient that is frightened to be given anasethic whilst simultaneously removing leeches gorged with blood from her body. We are also treated to a delightful scene where a hole is burnt right through her face, from one side to the other. There’s a glorious jump out of your seat moment when Franklin returns home to find a bath full of blood (I like how the design of his bathroom is so sterile so to highlight the red of the blood too) and you’re left wondering if there is anybody underneath the surface as he looks at his reflection. You don’t need me to tell you what happens next, do you? To top off a nourishing slice of horror, Nurse Waite begins throwing up razor sharp pins that are cutting her innards and throat to pieces as they come up. Yes this is delightful family viewing of the highest pedigree. After exposing as much gore as they can possibly get away with Manners tries a new approach – a woman is having a skin peel (the very idea makes me want to heave) and the Doctor picks up a bottle of acid and we cut away….to a scream in the corridor. Maybe Manners isn’t going to show us the results this time, I thought. Maybe he’s done enough to get you imagining the worst and he’ll leave it at that. Like Hell! Sizzling, blistered, melted flesh! It might be presented in a more acceptable fashion (there’s no controversial ideas such as infanticide or incest in play) but this is just as in-yer-face as Home when it comes to the stomach turning visuals.

The Good: Anybody who is familiar with the genre might spot that the writers are trying to push your opinion of who is responsible in one direction and so it naturally should be assigned elsewhere. Kim Manners just about pulls off the trick of convincing that Nurse Waite is the witch possessing the doctors as they perform murderous operations whilst quietly slipping Richard Beymer’s Dr Franklin into the background so when his culpability is revealed its not in any way a cheat. In a world that is becoming more obsessed with beautiful bodies and the unnatural (because there really is no other way to describe it) efforts that people go to to obtain one something that violently exposes the twisted fabrication of the procedures is very welcome. You only have to look at the bizarre cat-like appearance of some elderly celebrities to see what the combination of vanity and wealth can produce. With a supernatural twist, Sanguinarium exposes what you are actually exposing your body to. Let’s hope the section of the audience that were considering plastic surgery thought twice after watching. Unknowingly the authors may have had a profound effect on the bizarre concept of manufactured human beings. At first it looks set to be a lecture on the dangers of settling into witchcraft before wrenching away from that notion and becoming a positive statement for occultists. The reveal of Dr Franklin’s supernatural powers comes at just the right point, over halfway through the episode and once the finger has well and truly been pointed elsewhere. Beymer is a character actor of the highest order (check out his unforgettable turn as Li Nalas in Star Trek DS9’s second season opening three-parter) and he underplays the role to superb effect. His satisfying smile as he floats above his bed is lovely. Isn’t it marvellous that the episode points out that cosmetic surgery accounts for the largest portion of the hospitals revenue? There aren’t enough doctors out there working on malignant diseases because some of us want to look a little prettier and it pays better.

The Bad: It’s a good thing that there is so much other good stuff going on because Mulder and Scully really don’t impact on this episode in the slightest. For the first part they aren’t the protagonists (Nurse Waite is) and for the latter half Franklin dominates proceedings completely.

Moment to Watch Out For: This is an X-File episode where the central premise isn’t revealed until the climax, the Dr Franklin operated on himself to create an entirely new face to escape justice from a previous crime. In true Silence of the Lambs-style, he peels away his new face to reveal the one beneath. That is such grisly, playful idea. I often complain about the ambiguous endings in The X-Files’ but Sanguinarium denies you even that – Franklin actually gets away with it and moves onto a new hospital with a new face. That might seem unsatisfying but actually given Mulder and Scully’s absence from the plot, its almost like handing out a punishment to them for failing to achieve anything this week. I rather like it.

Result: ‘Everyone wants to be beautiful…’ If this doesn’t shy people away from having plastic surgery then nothing will! Now this is The X-Files getting back to basics and aside from the gore on display this wouldn’t be an anomaly in the first two years in the show. It works for precisely that reason; there is a fresh, straightforward approach to the material that allows you to revel in the grisly horror and dupe you into thinking the wrong person is the villain of the piece. You would be hard pressed to think that Sanguinarium comes from the same show as the over plotted mythology episodes and it excites me to see two fresh names on a script. Behind all the nauseating set pieces this episode has a terrific point to make about the lengths we go to look beautiful and the detrimental effect it has on genuine health care. That message has only matured with age. There’s a memorable central villain in Richard Beymer’s Dr Franklin (he’s so cool he stabs somebody and walks away with the parting quip ‘I hope those instruments were properly sterilised’) although Duchovny and Anderson waltz through a script that gives them little play with and it would have been nice to see them react a little more to horrifying procedures they are witnessing. It would appear that if you have a messy script to bring to life then Kim Manners is your man and his approach to Sanguinarium is as unrelenting as it was with Home. As I explained in my review of that episode I rather like being discomforted by television and so I was forcing myself to look at the grislier parts of this and laughing my head off. Not quite the best hospital based episode of The X-Files (that title belongs to season nine’s Audrey Pauley) but this is still a confident (in terms of its plotting and its explicit horror) and engaging piece of work and a continuing sign that season four is going to match the quality of its predecessor: 8/10

Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man written by James Wong and directed by Glen Morgan

What’s it about: Full disclosure! Find out who was responsible of the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King…

Dance With the Devil: ‘The only person he can never escape is himself…’ Its long past time that this shadowy figure had a character study of his own as he has consistently managed to be the most interesting recurring character on the show simply because of what we don’t know about him. The production staff have suggested that the information we receive in this episode is apocryphal and has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Most of what we learn comes from a second hand source (Frohike) and who know how many fictions the Smoking Man has planted out there to throw him off the scent. The flashbacks we witness could very well be him buying into the fictions and imagining them as a possible reality. Its worth keeping that in mind if there are any inconsistencies with anything we have been told about the character in the past. His father was executed and his mother died of lung cancer before he got the chance to know her. Chris Owens is astonishingly good as the younger version of the Smoking Man and more than earns his semi regular spot on the show in seasons five six with his mesmerising performance in Musings. One is the result of another but as soon as Owens turns up as Spender in season five there has to be a connection to the Smoking Man. A parallel is drawn between him and his father, they are both destined to be extraordinary men who take control of their beliefs and make tough decisions in order to make them become a reality. The younger Smoking Man resists this analogy at first but soon comes to realise that he is being manipulated into an important position and will force to adopt his fathers cold, hard belief in his convictions. The enormity of being asked to assassinate President Kennedy changes him, and certainly gives him a dark new perspective on the American government. One that he would come to embody. Striking up his cigarette after his first important kill is a superlative moment and one that informs every puff from that point on. There’s a wonderful moment of despair as he listens to Martin Luther King on the radio making controversial statement about the government where he states ‘why d’you have to go and do that’ because he knows that King’s death will be his next assignment. Putting himself forward to kill King because he has too much respect for the man to allow anybody else to do it says a great deal about the Smoking Man and his morality. We leap forward to the 90s where the Smoking Man is all but running the government, has an active interest in Mulder’s work and quietly despairs as his employees try and offer him solace at Christmas. By committing to his work entirely he has become a soulless man, without hope or warmth.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’d rather read the worst book ever written than sit through the best movie ever made.’
‘Your lies have killed more men in a day than I have in a lifetime.’

The Good: The framing device of the Smoking Man sitting alone in a warehouse preparing to shoot Frohike for his expose on his life is a good one and one that was always going to lead to a gripping conclusion despite where the flashbacks take us. A lot of shows have exploited the dramatic possibilities of JFK’s assassination (everything from Quantum Leap to Red Dwarf) but none of them were going to approach it in the same way as The X-Files which dares to suggest that one of its regular cast is responsible. There is certainly an electrifying frisson to the scenes that lead up to Kennedy’s murder as the Smoking Man puts his operation in place. The tension here isn’t what is happening (because history dictates the predictable outcome) but whether they will go through with the controversial notion that the Smoking Man is responsible. The re-enactment of the assassination is flawlessly achieved as you would expect from a show with cinematic aspirations. Setting up Oswald as a scapegoat is an ingenious decision, it cements this man as a manipulator of history and peoples lives. It says something about how society has changed that the second the Smoking Man lights up inside a cinema my first thought was ‘but you’re not allowed to do that…’ A montage of photographs exposes King’s death and it proves to be a poignant touch on the part of the director, a dramatic pause in the action to consider this man and what he stood for. The joke that the government controls everything from the Oscars to sports matches to political parties is a conspiracy theorists dream come true (or more likely nightmare) and the dialogue is very witty and knowing. Its wonderful to see Jerry Hardin back as Deep Throat and to finally have the opportunity to see him at work behind the scenes with the Smoking Man. To move from riveting historical events to Chris Carters mythology – making a directly link between fact and fiction – is pretty impudent in itself. To suggest that Carter’s show is on par with these historical events in the scheme of importance made me chuckle. Bringing the story up to date and flashing back to the Smoking Man’s presence in the background of Scully’s interview when she was assigned to The X-Files is a touch of genius. Finally we have been afforded to see this play out from the ‘other side.’

The Bad: Now this is something I wouldn’t really expect from a writer of James Wong’s calibre and that is quite so many knowing winks at the audience and in-jokes. Would the Smoking Man really have a cigarette lighter with the words Trust No One embossed on it? The ‘CSM’ (Cigarette Smoking Man) 25? Bizarrely the episode switches to black and white during the Martin Luther King sequences as though director Glen Morgan is trying to make a point of the colour issues that are hanging in the air. I cannot imagine why these were shot in a noir-ish fashion (gorgeously so, by the way) when the Kennedy sequences are afforded the glory of Technicolor. It feels like we are constantly genres, the opening shots of the typewriter feeling as though they have sprung from a detective movie of the fifties and the politicking squabbles belonging to a spy movie. Perhaps a stronger director would have better control over the overall visual cohesion of the piece rather than indulging in moments of ‘wouldn’t it be nice if…’ kiss to various genres. I didn’t buy into the fact that the Smoking Man is amoral because no bugger wants to read his fiction – who on Earth thought that was a strong motivation? The way he churns out his resignation because one third rate magazine agrees to publish his stories is laughable. Suddenly the episode has veered into another genre – farcical comedy! Let’s chalk that part down to being fictitious. The alien costumes still look rubbery and need a far more sympathetic director to suggest otherwise. A shame that an episode that has so many unforgettable dramatic beats should end on such an anti climax.

Pre Titles Sequence: Is the Smoking Man going to assassinate Frohike as he has so many other men? This single handedly justifies the paranoia that eats away at the Lone Gunmen.

Moment to Watch Out For: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates…’ Just for the sheer nerve.

Fashion Statement: There are plenty of hot soldiers on display which was quite distracting during the initial flashbacks.

Foreboding: Its interesting that this intimate peek into the soul of the Smoking Man is a one off. His appearances after this episode aren’t affected in the slightest by his portrayal here.

Result: Perhaps a little too indulgent for its own good, Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man is nonetheless an attention grabbing installment. Its during the flashbacks that this episode scores its greatest successes despite the fact that the director doesn’t quite know which genre he is trying to shoot. Chris Owens is a revelation as the younger Smoking Man and the way the story seamlessly dovetails devastating historical events with our central villains timeline is both audacious and revolutionary. So much television is bland and formulaic so its great that The X-Files is prepared to take risks and indulge in a little controversy – its certainly not something that season four is lacking! How this episode is presented as a possible fiction is a get out clause but I prefer to think that these events actually took place (backed up by the Smoking Man’s wonderful line in One Breath: ‘Don’t try and threaten me, Mr Mulder. I’ve watched President’s die.’). Its such a shame that the script is so full of tacky in-jokes because had this script been looked over one last time and had some of the greater excesses taken out then the resulting episode would be even better. Perhaps the biggest joke comes in that fact that in an episode about the Smoking Man William Davis is kept off screen for as long as possible and when he does appear he is forced into the role of an uncharismatic, lonely outcast who has nothing in his life but his work. It does confirm many of the things I have always suspected about the shows central villain but I was surprised at how much sympathy Morgan & Wong were willing to inject into the character. Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man stands out as something rather special and if I have been too hard on it throughout this review that is only because the good bits and very good indeed and the dafter moments merely irritate by their inclusion in such a terrific piece: 8/10

Tunguska written by Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Krychek is back and everybody wants a piece of him…

Trust No-One: Fascinating what success can do to a show. Mulder is no longer a geeky, awkward type stuck down in the basement of the FBI. Now he has the look of a fashion model (and dresses for the part too) and can be seen packing away a vicious looking gun and shooting out the tyres of a runaway van. When the driver turns out to be his old pal Krychek he turns into a ruthless bully, kicking the shit out of him and not giving a damn about the consequences. I’m not one of those people who cries because a character I like is handy with his fists but this does seem a little like overkill. He’s gone from Sheldon Cooper to Rambo in the space of four seasons. Given his background and career this is the sort of behaviour that you might expect Agent Doggett to revel in but he never, ever does. Which for me makes him the superior character because Mulder just comes across as a spoilt kid beating up the ones who wont fight back because they got one up on him in the past. There’s a very odd moment when Mulder and Marita start talking in flirt and we fade to black pondering whether they have slept together or not. Given there is very little chemistry between the two actors, the ‘Shippers’ will organise a mass suicide and it feels as out of place as every sex scene randomly shoved into a James Herbert novel I wouldn’t have even have bothered to make the supposition. By the end of the episode there is so much built up tension between Mulder and Krychek I don’t know why they don’t just fuck the brains out of each other so they can work together to achieve their aim rather than griping at each other all the time. In fact they do share a moment in their cell where they stand close and breathing heavily where I was sure it was going to happen. Duchovny, to his credit, really sells the sexual tension and its nice that he’s giving slash fiction writers something to do with their time.

Brains’n’Beauty: I bet when Scully took her exams to become a Doctor she never foresaw a day when she would be suited and booted in riot gear clutching onto a forbidding firearm and taking part in a domestic terrorist sting. Scully is concerned at how far Mulder will go for the truth and how far she will be able to follow him. I think what frightens her is that she knows she will pursue him to the ends of the Earth (check out Fight the Future) and so she constantly tries to rein him in to prevent that from happening. It does explain why she is so sceptical at times and why she constantly seems to be trying to hold him back.

Smoking Man: There is absolutely no indication that the Smoking Man has been diminished by what we learnt in the last episode leading me to wonder if much of what we saw was apocryphal. William B. Davis seems a lot more comfortable playing this familiar version of his character than he did the shy and awkward storyteller last week. 

Rat Boy: Is it my imagination or does Krychek seem to have his hand in every single dodgy operation going these days? If he’s not an undercover operative for the Syndicate then he’s their pet assassin and now he his hand in domestic terrorism is exposed. We’ll find out he’s responsible for every terrorist act known to mankind throughout the course of the series, I’m sure. I like that his mission in life is to see the Smoking Man brought to justice for his attempt to kill him, it shows some nice fallout from the events of the mythology episodes last year (there will come a time when consequences are irrelevant in this story arc so I’ll take this while I can). It does worry me though that he has become The X-Files’ equivalent of the Master, turning up again after apparently being seen off for good last time with no word as to how he might have escaped. It troubles me that despite being a scumbag Krychek has become the scapegoat for Mulder, Skinner and whoever else wants to have a pop at because they cannot reach into the government and punish those who are really responsible.

Assistant Director: Hubba hubba, Skinner’s hairy chest is on display for all to see and he’s joining Mulder in treating Krychek like the human punch bag. Maybe its his frame or because he’s usually so reserved and its refreshing to see him let rip for once but the persecution role suits Skinner far more than it does Mulder.

Ugh: Carter & Spotnitz have figured a way to make the black oil something visually menacing by capitalising on the Slither technique of having shiny black slugs burrowing their way into peoples bodies. They can literally be seen squirming under skin like hungry worms reaching for the brain.

The Good: I really like how the writers break with the formula of the mythology episodes in Tunguska and juggle multiple threads long before the agents even appear on the scene. Scully and Mulder taking part in an FBI effort to bring down a domestic terrorist ring is a completely new angle for the show. For a series that has always professed to be hard hitting we have never seen action sequences of this nature before with some impressive hardware being flaunted and the whole thing atmospherically shot at night shrouded in mist. Somehow Bowman even manages to make an establishing shot of an airport look visually exciting, panning the camera down across a sea of people. The chase is brilliantly done with stunt men posing as tired travellers waiting to be shoved violently out of the way. We’ve been seeing an awful lot of Agent Pendrell of late which can only be encouraged because he’s the most normal character on this show. I can’t imagine him ever speaking in Cart purple prose. How refreshing to get the Manicured Man out of that stuffy smoke filled office and somewhere rather more attractive. Its great to see he has more in his life than his work (Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man terrified me with the prospect that all members of the Syndicate were lonely, socially awkward men) too. Now a name would be nice. Considering I am often complaining that shows like classic Doctor Who need to turn the lights down to create some atmosphere I often have the reverse problem with The X-Files. Very often events are obscured by a director who is convinced that darkness equals atmosphere. I laughed at first at the scene between cells between Mulder and the fellow prisoner but in all honesty this is the best way to shoot such a scene, in almost total darkness with only their eyes picked out by a shaft of light. But it is the most extreme type of this lightning technique I have ever seen on this show all the same.

The Bad: Laurie Holden has proven to be a great actress (check out her stellar turn in The Walking Dead) but she needs something tangible in order to bring some presence to the screen. She’s fed an empty character with clouded motivations and very little screen time. What exactly can you do with a thankless role like that? Its not until her part is exposed and she is abused cruelly by the Smoking Man that she really makes any kind of impact. As a victim she is far more interesting than a disinterested ally. They want to allow Krychek to swear at Mulder so they have him do it in a foreign language. This was broadcast post-watershed, right? Surely things weren’t that neutered in the late 90s? Skip forward a decade and you’ve got Deborah Morgan invented a brand new language consisting mostly of swear words in Dexter.

Pre Titles Sequence: We open on an attention grabbing scene where Scully reads a prepared statement in court discussing her work and exposing the shadier elements of the government that have hampered it. Whatever is going on, this feels serious. She’s asked if she is handing her resignation and she refuses to divulge the whereabouts of Mulder. This sort of material is deliberately provocative but Gillian Anderson is so controlled and focussed in her performance that she manages to sell this appetite whetter for all its worth.

Moment to Watch Out For: Its one of the most stomach churning cliffhangers on The X-Files and consequently one of the best. Mulder is held down under chicken wire as the black oil smothers him and forms horrid, wriggly little worms that work their way towards his brain…

Mythology: Its lovely to get a little backstory on the black oil. Meteorite fragments have been found in Antarctica that are believed to have come from Mars and that is where the oil originates from and is over four billion years old. This would be explored in much greater depth in the movie when we get to leap backwards in time to witness its landing and its subsequent stronghold on the Earth.

Result: Considering its humble beginnings with Herrenvolk and Teliko, season four has surprised me by being the most consistent performer (to this point) so far in the shows run. I thought Tunguska was going to be where they dropped the ball big time but to my astonishment it has matured into rather an engaging mini action movie with some top quality direction from Rob Bowman. The camera barely stops moving which gives the episode a constant feeling of movement and fluidity. Unlike their tired characterisation for the regulars in the debut episode of the season, Spotnitz and Carter remember the arsenal of great characters they have at the core of the show and Tunguska flaunts several knockout scenes. Not only some tasty conflict between Mulder and Scully but Skinner, the Smoking Man and Krychek all get moments to shine too. The X-Files loves flaunting an international scale and its achieved here better than I have ever seen before and in both storytelling and geographical terms we end up somewhere far different from where we began. The only downsides are the vindictive violence towards Krychek which might be deserved but serve to remove all ambiguity and make the heroes look like the villains for the most part. Also the tone is so muscular that there is very little relief so you have to be prepared to engage the brawny side of brain going in because the sentimental side is going to feel very short changed. I remember not thinking a great deal of this episode when I first saw it so it has turned out to be one of my biggest surprises so far; a dynamic, focused piece of storytelling brought to life by a director with cinematic aspirations: 8/10

Terma written by Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: That’s a damn good question…

Trust No-One: Mulder was last seen with his face smeared with the black oil and the nasty little tendrils worming their way towards his brain. Its therefore something of an anti-climax to return to the character not under the control of the intelligence that lies within the alien tar (which to date has been the fate of everybody who has come into contact with it) but back to normal in his cell and ready for more chats with his eyeballing neighbour. Its such a shocking let down it destroys any credibility the cliffhanger had. Mulder has a new mission in life now: to live long enough to kill Krychek. I’m sorry but when did he start auditioning for a role in Kill Bill? I prefer him being sweet and vulnerable to the macho bad boy he is trying ape. How Mulder thought that attacking Mulder in broad daylight and attempting to steal a getaway car with so many people around was a good idea boggles the mind. He’s got the intelligence of an action hero too, thinking with his fists because his brain has gone to sleep. To complete the erroneous portrayal of the character, he also seems to have nine lives. Especially after he takes a truck straight over a ravine and smashes it to buggery and somehow walks away unharmed. The worst moment comes when Mulder threatens anal rape on a prisoner to get the information he seeks. Who is this person? Topping off a spectacularly fudged effort by the shows creator and his right hand man to write for their lead Mulder can once again be seen railing against a court of disinterested officials and sounding for all the world like the madman he has come to embody.

Brains’n’Beauty: It turns out Scully’s resignation in the previous episode was something of an empty promise on the writers part to justify it with something worthwhile. The reason she cites is old hat (that the government has a dark side) and her actual motive is simply because she doesn’t want to answer the question of where Mulder is. Big woo.

Assistant Director: There’s a moment of panic on Mitch Pileggi’s face when he tries to expel a Carter/Spotnitz line of dialogue of monstrous proportions and nearly trips up on himself. 

The Bad: In stark contrast to the slick action and express pace of Tunguska practically nothing happens in the first ten minutes of Terma. Mulder chats to his cellmate in what must be one of the most blatant examples of empty dialogue and Scully examines a rock. Yes, its that riveting. Because the pace has slowed to such an extent it gives the audience time to examine what this two parter is really made of and it’s a pretty ugly thing, full of unlikable characters (even the regulars are hard pushed to crack a smile) and nasty things happening for what feels like no good reason. Good staging isn’t enough when the script is this devoid of life. Even the location work has taken a turn for the worse; its muddy, drizzly and grainy. Under any circumstances this isn’t easy on the eye. If you’re not going to bother giving us any information about their motivations or conduct (or even a name would do) then why waste our time on pontificating dialogue scenes between the Smoking Man and the Well Manicured Man? More vacant scenes, revealing nothing, achieving nothing. There’s no investigation involved, no collation of evidence. Random things occur at the right times to get our heroes off the hook and provide them with answers. Nobody gets to express the slightest hint of intelligence or problem solving. On a purely narrative level, this is deeply unsatisfactory. Who are these random nobodies that Mulder and Krychek hook up with in Russia? Why should we give a damn about them when they don’t display a trace of humanity? I’ve seen zombies ambling along on The Walking Dead with more life in them. Suddenly from nowhere we’re rushing around after a bomb that seems to have been added to the plot just to inject the climax with some tension. I’d lost the plot at this point and was swivelling around on my chair because that was the more interesting option. It almost feels as though both Rob Bowman and Mark Snow have given up at the climax, one is shooting in a much more relaxed way than usual as our heroes search for the bomb and the other adds a bizarre Irish jig to the music just to provide some interest.

Pre Titles Sequence: Well directed as you would expect from Rob Bowman but a completely anomalous scene that is so far out of context of the events of the last episode it is unclear whether it is in fact a continuation. When the court hearing opening and the cliffhanging close of Tunguska still needs to be tied up is it really the time to be adding further complications?

Moment to Watch Out For: It all ends with a great big, daft explosion because that is the village idiots way of closing a story. At least its impressive but in this story it feels like a shocking waste of resources.

Orchestra: As dreary as the episode it is hung on. I’m not sure I even blame Mark Snow for this, I would find it extremely hard to muster any enthusiasm for this material. Instead I would wallpaper it with repeated cues I have used before which is exactly what Snow appears to have done. 

Mythology: You would think that this section would be teeming with information, wouldn’t you? Nadda.

Result: A perfect exercise in crushing anything of worth from the first part of this ‘blockbuster’, Terma is a crushingly dull experience that doesn’t seem to be about anything in particular and goes to great lengths to tell us absolutely nothing about the continuing story arc. It takes some talent to produce something quite this vacant and Carter and Spotnitz are clearly more than up to the task. Mulder has turned into Rambo and has the intelligence to match, Krychek runs about in some woods and gets tortured, Scully wanders around on the periphery of the plot searching for something to do and the Smoking pontificates. A lot. Its like the writers wanted to confirm every obscene cliché that is associated with the mythology episodes and churn out an hour of entirely worthless television. Do we ever think that Mulder wont escape Russia or that Scully will spend the rest of her days in prison? Of course not and pretending otherwise is just an exercise in prevarication. I wish the writers would stop adding complications to this myth arc and start explaining away everything that we have seen so far. The biggest joke of this show is that there are so many unanswered questions come the final episode it is nothing but a tedious string of explanations instead of actually getting on with telling the invasion story we have been promised. Its bilge like Terma that forced that to happen. Staggeringly awful in a way only this season can be when all hope is abandoned: 1/10

Paper Hearts written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: ‘I got inside your head, you got inside mine…’

Trust No-One: Its been so long since we have been reminded that Mulder (or Scully although her past isn’t the focus here) had a career before he was handed The X-Files that I was starting to wonder if everything that has occurred since had caused it to pale in comparison. There was a time in season one when we were getting to know these characters that every other episode saw an element of their past return to haunt them. I love how this episode re-interprets Mulder as a selfless man trying to bring peace to the homes of the families that Roche has caused endless heartache for. Its hard to reconcile this sensitive portrayal of Mulder with the nasty bully boy of the previous two parter but considering the shift is most definitely in his favour we’ll let it slide. In hindsight we know that Roche didn’t abduct and kill Samantha which makes the suggestion that he did and how he preys on Mulder’s desperation all the more dangerously exploitative. I was so moved by Duchovny’s performance, especially during the scene where he caresses the skeleton of the dead girl wondering if it is his sister and tries to hold back the tears. The relief he experiences when he realises that it isn’t here is palpable and he can be seen physically crumbling before his partner. Mulder tells the teacher that has let Roche take away the little girl away from school that it is all his fault. Its small, very kind act that adds with all the other little touches that make this one of his finest ever portrayals. Ultimately Mulder has to choose between finding a possible explanation for his sisters abduction or put Roche in the ground and prevent him from hurting anybody else. ‘How sure are you that its not Samantha?’

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully takes a more disciplined, psychiatric approach to Mulder’s dream that appears to have solved a long defunct case. Her theory that he has never stopped thinking about the case and the details have cohered in his sleep to provide a possible answer is (for once) quite convincing. In a moment of breathtaking honesty Mulder asks Scully if she genuinely believes that Samantha was abducted by aliens. Cutting away all the pretence that is inherent in their relationship, she cannot look him in the eye and lie to him and say yes. When Mulder furrows furtively in the mud trying to find his sisters body Scully actively seeks to help him. When they were in this exact same scenario in Conduit she stopped him. That says a lot about what they have been through and how far their relationship has come. There is only so long that Scully can watch her partner and best friend being manipulated before she steps in and tells Roche to go to Hell.

Assistant Director: Skinner deservedly chews Mulder’s ass out for striking Roche in prison but he seems to have caught the hypocrite bug because he was just as fist happy in the last two parter when it came to Alex Krychek.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You can gain one moment of decency in your life. You can finally let those families put their daughters to rest.’

Ugh: The idea of a killer targeting children whilst he works door to door selling vacuum cleaners confirms every parents worst nightmare. Roche is a truly intimidating prospect, however, because he doesn’t conform to any of the stereotypes you would associate with a paedophile. He’s uncharismatic, dull and utterly chameleonic. You wouldn’t notice this man in a school playground. The way he takes a heart shaped piece of fabric from his victims pyjamas is soul crushing, a trophy that suggests that he has captured their hearts. Discovering the book with sixteen hearts inside means that there are two more families out there without any kind of peace of mind. To his credit Tom Noonan never tries to sensationalise the character of Roche which a lesser actor might have done to make the role safer and less of a threat to their career. He underplays the role to such an extent that you would be hard pressed to remember him once you have turned the television off and that is what is so frightening. That is exactly what Roche wants, to slip into the background, take your daughter and be gone and leave no memory of his visit. Whatever their crime I don’t think that prisoners should be mistreated in prison and so the guard that turned a blind eye to Mulder punching Roche gave me a moments uncomfortable pause too. It makes you wonder what else is being ignored within those walls (at least Scully is there to criticize him). There’s an agonisingly long pause on the body of a dead little girl in the morgue, almost to point out that this dead husk used to be a child full of life. It is astonishing how after everything that we have been told about Roche how discomforting it is when he talks to the little girl on the plane in front of her mother. A seemingly innocuous act.

The Good: I’ve read a number of horror books that involve the premise of a protagonist and antagonist being psychically linked in some way (James Herbert’s Moon is probably my favourite because for all its flaws, it has terrific prose) and its certainly the sort of territory that The X-Files excels in. Mulder desperately digging up a body in the misty, sun stroked woods reminded me of Conduit which was the first story to really explore the loss of Samantha. I can only imagine that Vince Gilligan and Rob Bowman placed this trigger in the episode on purpose to get the audience thinking along those lines. Coming after the controversial horror of Home, Paper Hearts takes a much more sensitive approach to the a number of similarly awkward subjects (paedophilia, infanticide) and Gilligan proves how this sort of thing can be explored without dividing your audience in two with a chain saw. The scene where Mulder and Scully break the news to the father of the dead girl is heartbreaking, both in terms of its performances and scripting. Frank is overwhelmed with a grief he had thought long buried and says that he always thought that missing was worse than dead but now that he knows the truth the scintilla of hope he has been clinging onto all these years has been for nothing. He says that he is glad that his wife isn’t around to hear the news and to my mind that is real love, happy that she died with the knowledge that her daughter could still be alive and living her life somewhere. The kid who is excited that his car used to be owned by a serial killer is another lovely touch. This could be a forgettable bit part but Gilligan injects a moment of character that says a lot about this person in his few seconds of screen time. When not asked to play hideous soap opera melodramatics Rebecca Toolan proves surprisingly effective as Teena Mulder. Gilligan should always be the one to write for this character. As if this episode wasn’t fantastic enough it also channels Beyond the Sea for one of its finest moments where Mulder tricks Roche into spinning old a web of fabrication about Samantha’s abduction when he has taken him to the wrong house. Sometimes I forget just how devious Mulder can be. You’ve also got one of the best ‘oh shit!’ moments when Mulder wakes up to find himself cuffed with Scully and Skinner banging on his motel door and having to explain that he has let a convicted child molester escape. Ouch.

Pre Titles Sequence: A wonderfully gentle pre-titles sequence for a change as a serial killer has access to Mulder’s dreams and leads him on a hunt for one of his victims. The simplest of effects are deployed (a laser beam) but its remarkably effective and couple with Duchovny’s child like performance and Snow’s memorable score it makes for a spellbindingly anomalous opening. I love it. The image of the little girl disappearing beneath the surface with leaves gathering on her face is unforgettable.

Moment to Watch Out For: Playing out Samantha’s abduction scene from Little Green Men beat for beat but placing Roche in the doorway instead of an alien is one of the most inspired moments of the season. That The X-Files is confident enough to play about with its continuity and to suggest that the shows central mystery can be reduced to something as terrifyingly mundane as this makes my heart sing. At moments like this, this show was really in a league of its own.

Orchestra: The best score in about a season, Mark Snow really grabs onto the coat tails of the dark fantasy theme and has a ball. As I was putting the disc in to watch this episode I was humming the piano theme that kicks it off so it must have really made an impact when I first saw this. 

Result: ‘Don’t make this end badly…’ Bringing the focus back on the abduction of Samantha Mulder but giving it an original twist so it is the best handling of Mulder’s mission in years, Paper Hearts is an absolute classic that plays sublime mind games with its audience. There are so many sensitive, beautifully observed moments throughout this episode and its all so gently played by the entire cast that by the end I was emotionally exhausted because of its honesty and sincerity. It’s a drama that never feels exploitative and by the conclusion it had reduced me to tears. Vince Gilligan has written as close to a straight drama as you are going to get on this show (The Field Where I Died excepted) and Duchovny and Anderson leap on the chance to play something this stirring for a change rather than peddling out the same old horror clichés. Duchovny in particular has never been better and its an astonishing example of what he can bring to the show when he is this engaged with the material. Tom Noonan deserves much praise too, bringing to life a terrible man with such honest conviction and never once feeling the need to highlight how evil he is. The fact that this doesn’t boil down to anything supernatural but ends up concluding with Mulder trying to save a little girl from a child molesters clutches just serves to make this episode feel even more remarkable. Gently discomforting, exquisite details and stunning imagery; Paper Hearts deserves its place in my top ten X-Files episodes: 10/10

El Mundo Gira written by John Shiban and directed by Tucker Gates

What’s it about: Two men. One woman. Trouble.

Trust No-One: The writers on this show aren’t scared to allow their protagonists to express spells of racism. I don’t know if that’s something to be admired (because it makes them as flawed as you and I) or just thoughtless scripting (Mulder’s ‘Maria! Maria!’ is shockingly unsubtle). Scully painting the Spanish immigrants as victims (she calls them ‘aliens’ in an transparent metaphor) is just as bad.

Brains’n’Beauty: It bothers me how often Scully says ‘Oh my God’ when she is supposed to be a devout Christian. I have many Christian friends and they never curse in this fashion even when faced with shocking news. It’s a small thing but one that niggles because it exposes an inconsistency within the character the writers have set out to create. Scully has suffered some indignities in her time but to be dragged out of town to examine a dead goat and to be told about the mystical powers of yellow rain tests her credulity to the limit.

Ugh: Tune in to Doctor Who’s The Green Death for a truly terrifying man eating fungus. This knock off is more likely to turn you into a bizarre form of green loft insulation. Which is more unusual than unpleasant. There’s nothing especially interesting about a rain transmitted fungus that is caused naturally because it means beyond fighting this menace biologically there isn’t a face to the menace of the week. Its personified through the mutating body of a romantic Spanish immigrant who is about as unthreatening as they come (he cries a lot) and so the main threat this week is basically the elements themselves. Scully steps all over the need for a satisfying solution to the problem by casually throwing in that the HASMAT team managed to stop the spread of the fungus. Oh well that’s alright then.

The Good: I did quite like the conclusion of the story being told as a myth to the immigrant workers, intersped with flashbacks to the actual events. Mind you it does feel as though Shiban wants to wrap up his story as quickly as possible.

The Bad: I’ve mentioned elsewhere that this script reminds me a lot of Doctor Who’s The Green Death and that is true in most respects. You’ve got man eating fungus (oil waste that turns men green and maggots into monsters), a soap opera storyline (Jo and Cliff’s burgeoning romance) and a banal view of another culture (the Welsh). What this lacks that the Doctor Who story had in spades is a sense of adventure and fun and humour between the characters. Its all the worst aspects with none of the charm. The racism angle bothered me the most, not just because both Mulder and Scully are so carelessly bigoted but because all of the non-Spanish guest characters are too. It seems that talking down to immigrants is an acceptable business in the world of The X-Files and that simply will not do. Beyond the fact that Maria was the first victim of the yellow rain there seems to be very little to connect the two plots running throughout this episode. You might have something of a headache by the conclusion because the amount of histrionics hits an all time high here. There isn’t a single character that isn’t bellowing at the top of their voice by the climax. It makes most regular daytime soaps look quite restrained in comparison. Shoving in an extraterrestrial explanation for the deadly rain almost threatens to derail the episode entirely. Why was this even needed? Its like shoving an alien spaceship in the middle of Coronation Street (Carbug excepted) – an utterly alienating concept. Because this is an episode with pretensions of being a big budget soap opera we really could have done without the extraterrestrial involvement this week. When aliens (sorry, the Chubacapra) wander out of a white light to mop up the mess they have made of The X-Files’ very own Eldarado I thought John Shiban had literally gone insane. That feeling intensified when the final shot revealed the two brothers having transformed into partially extraterrestrial beings thanks to their exposure to the fungus. Apparently they are just going to hang around invisibly as they normally do. With heads the size of obscenely disfigured melons, I don’t think that is very likely.

Pre Titles Sequence: Bizarre but in a good way. It feels like we have dropped into a Spanish soap opera with a dash of Emmerdale thrown in for good measure. The San Joaquin Valley looks authentically exotic, Mark Snow is strumming his guitar to accentuate the romance angle and two illicit lovers are chasing goats around when the usual X-files schlock strikes in the form of yellow rain that turns Maria from a beautiful young woman into a corpse with half of her face eaten away. If nothing else, the tone and the threat this week are both novel. 

Fashion Statement: Raymond Cruz is very easy on the eye which is a bonus but he’s also a fine actor. Check out DS9’s The Siege of AR-558 for another intense performance from Cruz. 

Orchestra: This is one soundtrack I would love to listen to isolated from the episode. Snow is buoyed up by the foreign setting and tone and provides the relief that isn’t really intrinsic in the script. 

Result: Outbreak it aint. I’m not sure if El Mundo Gira feels more like a soap opera (two brothers fighting over a woman) or an ecological warning (deadly fungus) but it hardly ever feels like an X-File (aside from the terrible idea of extraterrestrial rain). And considering this is a show that has already proven to be more malleable than anybody thought that is quite a statement. Its nicely played by the entire cast (even Duchovny and Anderson get into the romantic spirit) but I had some issues with the portrayal of the Spanish immigrants who appear to conform to plenty of rotten stereotypes (superstitious, romantic). The actors try and fight the racism inherent in the script (‘these people are invisible, you look at them and you don’t see them…they’re just cheap labour to pick crops and clean houses…’) and bring a sense of dignity to their parts and mildly succeed in that aim. Its different, and depending on whether you can stomach casual stereotyping (making an explicit comparison between aliens and immigrants) and overdone melodrama will determine whether you can see past its faults and enjoy the finer aspects of the episode (agreeable performances, a great score, pleasant direction for the most part). This show can have every resource thrown at it but it still comes down to whether the script is worthy or not. John Shiban rests somewhere in the middle to the lower ranks of regular writers on The X-Files, never plumbing the depths of Chris Carter at his worst but never reaching the heights of Gilligan, the Morgan’s & Wong. He’s usually at his best when paired up with a superior writer. This is one solo script that needed to go through the grinder once more before being packaged and sold. It feels like Shiban wants to say something profound (‘nobody cares…’) but by having the Spanish characters behave in the fashion that they are being criticised for it rather defeats the object: 4/10

Leonard Betts written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: A Cancer Man who can re-grow his head. You heard it here first! Call the National Enquirer!

Trust No-One: Mulder has great fun making Scully squirm as she tries to avoid telling him that she thinks the removed head of Leonard Betts is alive. She doesn’t quite know how to respond to his wild assertions and that’s all part of this episodes old school fun.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘You’re not suggesting that a headless body kicked its way out of a morgue freezer, are you?’ Oh Scully bestill my heart! Its been ages since you have said anything as gloriously absurd as that! In the deathly serious season four (but it has mostly worked because of it) it is so refreshing to see the agents loosen up and get into the spirit of some season one banter when investigating these cases was still fun. Enjoy the frivolity of the piece because things are about to get blacker than Draculas underpants. Scully’s theory is some kind of contemporary Burke and Hare scenario, what with medical corpses being in such short supply. It says something about the black humour exhibited by this show that in one of the most light hearted episodes of the season our heroes have to rummage about in the spare parts bin of the hospital to try and find the victims head. Scully is completely unfazed by all the limbs and pieces on display but Mulder has longer arms so he has to reach inside. I reckon she just said that to gross him out. Hilariously Mulder tries to approach Scully with an absurdly scientific rationale to which she replies fatuously ‘you think that Leonard Betts re-grew his head?’ To reveal that Scully has cancer in such a gratuitous episode was a stroke of genius and it comes completely out of the blue. It leaves the audience hanging, wondering how the writers will follow up on this devastating revelation. The fact that Scully performs a number of glorious Diana Rigg style kicks does not diminish her character in the slightest.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why do I think that Charles Darwin is rolling in his grave right now?’
‘Will the real Leonard Betts please stand up?’
‘I’m sorry but you have something I need…’

Ugh: Its another season four episode full of memorably grisly imagery but this time tinged with black humour that has you laughing out loud whilst you are recoiling from the screen. Scully’s reaction mirrors the audience as she leaps away from the Leonard’s decapitated head as it flinches and the mouth opens in a deathly grimace. It’s the second bath full of blood of the year (because one clearly wasn’t enough) and this time a disgusting, cancerous human comes bubbling to the surface for all the world to see.

The Good: There are lots of quirky little touches that help to make this episode standout and the bloody footprints on the door of the freezer is just one of them. Isn’t it great that there is a new character who has embodied the title of ‘Cancer Man’ in one bold stroke leaving the Smoking Man in the dust. In an episode as daft as this who better to turn up than Chuck the freakish lab assistant who has his hands into everything ‘out there.’ Jennifer Clement is extremely likable in the role of Leonard’s driver and the woman who is responsible for his death. The gentle relationship that exists between them is vital because it makes the fact that he has to kill her to protect his secret all the more piquant. Killing somebody under the pretence of a hug is pretty low but he hasn’t managed to keep this secret for so long by spreading the word to all and sundry. Killing those who are even a little close to him has become a necessary evil. It’s the Tooms syndrome all over again (and similar to Teliko too if we’re being picky) of a man who needs to feed on something diabolical (in this case cancer) but unlike the rip off earlier in the season this does something fresh and delicious with the idea. Whereas Terma ended on a big explosion because it didn’t have anything more intelligent to say, Leonard Betts tosses an impressive car mushrooming into the air as a little bonus. Leonard’s mother smearing bloody water over his cancerous body should be as grotesque as similar scenes of paternal love in Home (albeit with a completely different emphasis) but with his haunting howls of pain and her gentle care the resulting scenes are oddly touching. What a brilliantly clever introduction to Scully’s cancer arc, building an entire episode around a man who eats cancer just to reveal that Scully is also afflicted. Kim Manners shoots in and around that ambulance as though it was something he was born to do, capturing it in action, being smashed to pieces and even filming a dynamic and climactic set piece in it. Scully is the recipient of an attack again (its part and parcel of both hers and Mulder’s lives these days) but they subvert that brilliantly by using the attack to reveal something shocking about the character. How awesome is that defibrillating stunt at the climax, Scully squeezing the pads against Betts’ temples and sending him flying from the ambulance?

Pre Titles Sequence: What an awesome way to start an episode with a phenomenal car crash for Kim Manners to be proud of and the truth of the antagonist of the week hidden by the fact that he has just been decapitated! Although you don’t realise it at this point it is a surprisingly informative pre-credits sequence which tells you everything you need to know about the episode ahead from Leonard’s inexplicable ability to grow new body parts to his ability to sniff out cancer in patients. It also plays that wonderful trick of a morgue assistant completely unaware of a corpse having returned to life until it is too late (aping sources such as the Doctor Who TV Movie although there have been several such repetitions since in other programmes, so much so that’s almost a cliché). Almost to make the comparison with the Doctor Who TV Movie explicit, Dave Hurtubuise turns up in both programmes. ‘And…well…it’s a headless corpse walking about! What’s not to love about that? 

Moment to Watch Out For: Nothing could have quite prepared me for the moment where, sweaty and naked, Leonard screams bloody murder as a new head literally pops out of his mouth and tears his original one in half. Its one of the most graphic sequences The X-Files ever put out and one of the most memorable too. I can only imagine the nauseating fun the production team had putting this together for the sheer squirm factor this is one of my favourite moments in the series.

Foreboding: The news of Scully’s cancer will be dealt with in the following two episodes. Get the hankies ready.

Result: How lovely that the highest rated episode of The X-Files ever is something as frivolous and as uncensored as this. Because despite its throwaway nature it says everything that The X-Files is about at its best; terrific chemistry between the two leads, a knockout premise, memorable horror and witty writing. The trio of writers go to great lengths to try and justify their fantastically sick premise of a man who is built of cancer and can re-grow his head. They throw all manner of science at the audience to try and make it stick but ultimately they needn’t have bothered. Its so much fun I would have gone with it either way. Paul McCrane gives such a gentle performance as Leonard Betts which is in complete contrast to the nature of the character and his rather disgusting modus operandi but it works so well because of it. He’s almost apologetic as he murders people to consume their cancer and that makes him one to watch. Its not until the final few minutes that you realise how devilishly clever the writers have been and have used the fiendish premise to introduce a fresh horror to Scully that she will be dealing with for some time. The fact that this blinding revelation doesn’t threaten to steal the limelight from the remainder of the episode is a testament to how well written and made Leonard Betts is as a whole. Twisted, exciting and revelatory, when watching episodes like this its easy to see why this show became such a phenomenon: 9/10

Never Again written by Glen Morgan and James Wong and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: ‘So all this because I wouldn’t get you a desk?’ ‘Not everything is about you Mulder. This is my life’ ‘Yes but its m…’

Trust No-One: Mulder has refused to take a vacation in so many years that the Bureau is now forcing him to depart for a couple of weeks or they will take the privilege away from him. How nice to hear a man who usually spends his time chasing alien Bounty Hunters through cornfields talking about paying bills and buying shopping. For a brief moment Mulder feels like a normal human being. Mulder’s vicious response to Scully’s refusal to be his puppet is to accuse her childishly of going on a date. Almost as if to spite him she makes that happen.

Brains’n’Beauty: The first shot of Scully is very telling as she stands in the background of one of Mulder’s ridiculous discussions of extraterrestrial activity looking bored, awkward and underwhelmed. Suddenly the news of her cancer is forcing her to re-evaluate her life, to look at what she has come to unfavourably and condemn her career path. What might have seemed fun in another light (chasing aliens and government conspiracies) now feels like a complete waste of time and Gillian Anderson wastes no time in expressing that in her body language from the very first scene. She demands to know why in four years of working with Mulder that she doesn’t have a desk and he offhandedly (in a way only Mulder can that makes you feel miniscule) suggests he always thought the pokey area at the back of the office was hers. Way to flatter a girl. Nowadays when she informs Mulder that she wont be chasing UFO nuts up and down the country he sees it as ‘refusing an assignment’ with the emphasis on him being her superior. I love how Morgan and Wong always throw such a harsh light on the Mulder and Scully relationship and refuse to make it safe. There’s an air of disquiet about their chemistry here, as though things really are falling apart and that Scully might walk away for good. What I took away from this was how terrible Scully is at being a bad girl and how uncomfortable she feels in the role. Scully letting her hair down in a bar, getting a tattoo and falling into bed with Ed is about as far removed from the reserved and clinical professional that we fell in love with that it almost feels as though Morgan and Wong are perversely pushing the character in a direction that the audience will hate. Anderson is the consummate professional and so manages to pull this walk on the wide off by underplaying everything (check out her drunken madness in Three’s a Crowd to see how this sort of thing could have been). When she admits to Ed that she doesn’t go out very much and the last time she did the characters in the movie had a better time than her (was season one’s The Jersey Devil the only time we have ever seen Scully on a date?) it is clear that two kindred spirits that aren’t terribly good at having a social life have found each other. The fact that she discovers the burnt picture of Ed’s family and it doesn’t scare her away says a lot about Scully’s need for company and something a little darker than Mulder right now. She’s very honest with Ed and explains how she likes having an authorative figure in her life (like Mulder) but how at a certain point she always rebels. For fans of Scully this is invaluable insight. The chemistry between Gillian Anderson and Rodney Rowland is unmistakable, especially when it comes to the clinching moment when the camera pulls away from them as they kiss. I don’t think there is ever a time when there has been this much sexual chemistry between Mulder and Scully. Almost as soon as Ed and Scully have their night of passion she realises that whatever was between them has reached its peak and they have to move on. Fortunately psychotic tattoos and bodies in the cellar allow for that to be an easy, guilt free transition.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You kiss her and she’s dead.

The Good: Speaking as somebody who has worked in telesales previously I can reveal just how soul sapping and unrewarding that sort of job can be. Watching Jesse being spoken down to by his peers and his clients alike is soul destroying and it is easy to like this pitiful loser. The fact that he can’t even hold down a job like that is heartbreaking. This episode astonishingly old school in that it launches the threat of the week immediately, the tattoo directing his actions as he makes the step from distressed neighbour to satisfied murderer under her tutorage. Rodney Rowland gives an unforgettable performances in the central role, not afraid to take his character to a really dark, uncomfortable place even before he starts killing people. Why is it that when you are at your lowest ebb there always seems to be some kind of religious movement knocking at the door waiting to exploit your weakness? Ed is such a loser that even these evangelical do-gooders don’t want to know and move on quickly. Never Again takes its cue from Home in that it isn’t afraid to play some very catchy music over its death scenes…however unlike Morgan and Wong’s unforgettable returning episode Bowman (unlike Manners) chooses to shy away from showing the murder this time around and instead leaves it to your imagination. In any other circumstance that would be more disturbing (because in your head you usually push things further than any TV network could show you but in Home nothing was left to the imagination). Bowman manages to make the act of getting a tattoo feel like the ultimate rebellion, and a surprisingly intimate act to boot. Whether he killed himself or was murdered, Ed was never going to make it out of this episode alive. Best of all is how Never Again refuses Mulder and Scully any kind of closure, ending on a supremely awkward scene where they cannot bring themselves to talk about what has transpires and we fade to black as the camera lingers on deathly silence…

The Bad: It might have been fun to have heard the voice in Scully’s head (played by another movie stalwart…George Clooney perhaps?) whispering sweet nothings and condemning her relationship with Mulder. Ultimately the script does that rather well but it might have been nice to have had those internal demons realised.

Pre Titles Sequence: Morgan and Wong show how good they are at getting to the heart of a character with about ten seconds of material, the episode opening on the dissolution of Ed’s marriage with his ex wife looking ecstatic and cutting to him drowning his sorrows in a bar and burning a hole through a photograph his face in a photograph of him and his kids. It establishes Ed as one of life’s losers in record time.

Moment to Watch Out For: Scully is attacked again but as ever she puts up one hell of a fight. Watch and wince as she collides with a door that knocks her out cold in seconds, is dragged down a flight of stairs and almost burned alive.

Orchestra: I love the score during the sequence where Scully has her tattoo drawn. Like much of the episode it is discreet and beautiful. The only jarring aspect is the bizarre choice of music during the climax when Ed attacks Scully but its almost so jarring it works, providing a memorable climax.

Result: ‘Another woman in my bed? Burn the sheets lover! Burn her! Burn her!’ Whatever else you might say about Morgan and Wong’s concluding script for the series, it is entirely original (much like a lot of season four, for good or for ill) and it continues to take the show in an even darker direction than was promised in Leonard Betts. To learn that movie director extraordinaire Quentin Tarrantino was originally booked to direct this episode is a sign of how popular the show was at the time (his work on Broadwalk Empire is an indication of how polished his take on a television show would be), as is Jodie Foster’s involvement. Whilst the idea of psychotic tattoo art isn’t the most inspiring of premises, as a character drama Never Again is excellent and it makes some great observations about the Mulder and Scully relationship and introduces a fascinatingly downtrodden third wheel in Ed. Whilst some might suggest that Scully is taking a walk on the wild side by having a tattoo and falling into bed with a stranger is hardly the most controversial of activities, it does show how used we are to her conforming to a certain stereotype. Like all of the Morgan/Wong episodes of season four it seems determined to upset fans of the show (Home was brutal and unflinching in a way that few episodes are, The Field Were I Died was determined to pair Mulder off with another woman as Never Again does with Scully and another man and Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man set out to offer a perverse new angle on an established character) but as a result proves to be something unique and rather compelling because of it. It breaks my heart that we are only halfway through the show and this is the end for two of its strongest writers but at least there was a wealth of material on Millennium from them still to enjoy. Never Again is atypical, deliberately small scale and intimate and throws light on Scully’s general dissatisfaction with her life and her mishandling of recent news. Its not quite Morgan and Wong’s best, but its still very good: 8/10

Momento Mori written by Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz (the only person not involved is the guy originally responsible for this slot – Darin Morgan!) and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Scully attempts to get a grip on her cancer…

Trust No-One: Its easy to see why this might be a more popular episode in the US than Never Again because it effectively repairs all the fractures in Mulder and Scully’s relationship in one bold move. Simply shoving the word cancer between them dissipates all of the tension and they are reaching out to each other again. The sequence where Scully tells Mulder about her tumour is unusually understated for this show all the more effective because of it, Mulder asking all the right questions and Scully refusing to look weak because of her condition. The panic that Mulder expresses when Scully’s room has been vacated says more about his feelings towards her than a million stanza of poetry.

Brains’n’Beauty: What seems odd is how Scully can go from acting up against Mulder and almost deliberately driving a wedge between them in the last episode to her making poetic declarations of love to him in this one. Given the list of writers involved in the creation of this script you would think that somebody would have noticed that her characterisation from Never Again doesn’t exactly segue into her characterisation here. When Scully’s nose bleeds during a crisis it never feels manipulative because she is always unaware of it and has to have it pointed out by her partner. This serves to make him the barer of bad news and her awkward that she does not notice her own weaknesses. It brings them closer whilst keeping them apart. She refuses to show the slightest sign of weakness which has the reverse effect and Mulder doesn’t want to be the one to tell her that the entire MUFON group has succumbed to cancer and died. He can’t quite bring himself to be a portent of doom when what she needs is people to be brutally honest with her. She’s always dealt with cold hard facts and this situation isn’t different. Muddying the water with talk of abductions (specifically hers) isn’t helping at this stage and she (more than ever) refusing to explore what happened to her in season two. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Scully is suffering from cancer, now she learns that the MUFON members were all infertile as well! If she survives this degenerative condition then she may very well be barren too! Talk about kicking somebody when they are down…it does make for effective (if a little soapy) drama but it also makes me question whether the writers like Scully anymore. After Penny’s death Scully decides that she isn’t going to let the cancer beat her.

Assistant Director: How many more times is Mulder going to ask to be put in touch with the Smoking Man before he thinks to put a bullet in his head. Even Skinner is commenting on the frequency of his requests. Skinner proves his affection for Scully by offering the cancerous sonofabitch what ever it takes to obtain a cure for Scully’s condition. I wish they could just come out and tell each other how much they care rather than making expressions of loyalty and affection behind the scenes this way but it would appear that simply telling somebody ‘I care for you’ is not The X-Files way. Its stirring material all the same.

The Good: The X-Files has been playing a long game with the cancer arc, it first being brought up over a year ago in Nisei and kept in the background ever since. We return to the MUFON group (there are flashbacks for those who cannot make the connection) to see a familiar face and discover that Betsy has passed away. Its another reminder that there may very well be a chance that Scully doesn’t survive this condition. Sheila Larkin is one of the unsung heroes of this show with Margaret Scully suffering a loss or dramatic development once a season that would drive a mother and wife insane and yet Larkin manages to portray each stage with absolute believability. I love the way she refuses to molly coddle Scully here and instead angrily accuses her of keeping the truth from her. It’s a very honest reaction from a woman who has lost one daughter already. Sometimes I think the cold water effect is necessary for sufferers of life threatening conditions, to give them something to react against and fight. Larkin takes hold of scenes that could be ridiculously soapy and makes them really impact through the strength of her performance.

Pre Titles Sequence: There’s a really funny episode of Are You being Served? in which Captain Peacock reads out a telex written by the Head of Department Mr Rumbold that in true middle management style is written in an incomprehensible capital letter double speak. Its so indecipherable that Mrs Slocombe, the Head of the Ladies Department, asks ‘Captain Peacock? Of what language are you speaking?’ And that is precisely the question I always find myself asking (and not in my head either) when Chris Carter’s infamous purple prose turns up unannounced such as the appalling speech at the top of this episode. What the hell is Scully talking about? Spontaneous poetic expressions like this are best left to the terminally ill but speaking as somebody who has studied poetry in more depth than I would have liked this is some of the worst written I have ever come across. ‘For the first time I feel time like a heartbeat, the seconds pumping in my breasts like a reckoning. The numinous mysteries that once seemed so distant and unreal threatening clarity in the presence of the truth not in youth but only in its passage…’’ What the hell is she talking about? Its especially odd since Scully isn’t the sort to be gripped by the need to make romantic declarations (or is she a closet angst ridden teen on the quiet?). We’ve seen room filled with vats before on this show that has led us on a narrative dead end so the awe inspiring atmosphere that Rob Bowman is aiming for is rather squandered by a ‘been there/done that’ attitude from the audience.

Moment to Watch Out For: I love the espionage sequence featuring those goons the Lone Gunmen. You can see why with material as strong as this that the producers thought that a spin off series featuring these guys might be a good idea. What they failed to recognise was that it worked because it is light relief in the heart of what is a very dark episode. When The Lone Gunmen got off the ground they mixed comedy plots with comedy set pieces and the result was a show that tipped into farce far too often to ever be taken seriously. The scene where Mulder is shot at numerous times and the bullets start smashing their way through the glass is staggeringly tense.

Fashion Statement: Whilst not being a typical beauty, there is something compelling about David Lovgren. I just can’t put my finger on what it is. When there are several clones of him wandering around the same room I can’t tell you the explicit thoughts I was having.

Mythology: Since the script never bothers to make it clear I have no idea what the clone angle is supposed to add to this episode. As far as I can see the various Kurt Crawford’s on display are a result of the government impregnating the MUFON members, making them barren and giving them cancer. What this all means though, I have no idea. 

Foreboding: Skinner has made a deal with the Smoking Man to save Scully’s life. Whether he will keep that bargain and he will have to pay the price is yet to be determined.

Result: Despite some dialogue that would trip up even the most sophisticated of actors, Momento Mori sees The X-Files take the unusual step of confronting the horror of what Scully is going through. Whereas the show usually points the other way and goes ‘oh look aliens!’ rather than dealing with the emotional ramifications of the developments in the story arc, this deals with them head on and gives Gillian Anderson some powerful material to get her teeth into and prove the mettle that won her the role in the first place. Add in another sensitive turn by David Duchovny who plays Mulder as a man who needs to find something to fight to prove that he is doing something to help Scully and a stunning turn by Sheila Larkin as grieving mother Margaret Scully and there is enough powerful material here to explain how this episode won so many plaudits. The clones/abduction angle has to be added because that is what the show is all about but those are the weakest scenes, muddying the otherwise very clear tale of a woman fighting a life threatening illness that has already claimed so many. The episode is very strong and has some rock solid naturalistic dialogue in places so it confounds me that every time we cut to Scully’s narration she is forced to spout the most sickening and nonsensical poetry. It drags you right out of the drama and leaves you wanting to expel something cancerous inside you. Compensating for that is possibly the most touching moment between Mulder and Scully yet as they silently embrace in the hospital corridor. I was reaching out for the tissues. Momento Mori is quite messy in places but as a last minute script to replace a Darin Morgan spectacular it more than passes muster, especially in the acting opportunities it provides: 8/10

Kaddish written by Howard Gordon and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Mulder and Scully investigate hate crimes…

Trust No-One: Listen to the dialogue between Mulder and Scully in their establishing sequence, it has been really intelligently carved. You can always tell when Howard Gordon is passionate about an episode because he gives the shows regulars characters 100% There’s a terrific moment when the Curt goes from being an amiable shopkeeper to an accusatory predator when he thinks that Mulder and Scully might be working for the Jews. He even suggests that Mulder looks like one of them. Clearly there is a great evil to fought in this town and it isn’t a Golem. Even when Jacob’s past is revealed as having once been a Jewish terrorist Mulder holds firm to his belief that he isn’t the killer they are pursuing. Even when all the evidence suggests the contrary (finding him in the room with the hanged boy). Finally Mulder knows when to keep his mouth shut and he only reveals his theory that he thinks this might be the work of a Golem once irrefutable evidence of Issac’s resurrection is in Scully’s grasp.

Brains’n’Beauty: I always love it when the audience have an emotion stake in Mulder and Scully’s investigation. That might seem like an odd thing to say because the writers should always be aiming for that but more often than not the show takes a cold and clinical approach to each installments central mystery (which is why something as primarily character based as Never Again really stands out where in another show it would probably be slipped into the pack unnoticed). Here there is a real injustice to be dealt with – the persecution of the Jews but at the same time the episode is dealing with the Jew own response to hate crimes which makes things much more interesting. Scully’s anger at the disturbing racism that she faces is unusually reactionary for her but it makes her much more likable as a result.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Spectral figures are not often known to leave fingerprints. Casper never did.’
‘You think they killed my friend with words?’
‘The power of letters. Not just to create but to kill.’

Ugh: Howard Gordon sponsors the idea of a Golem, a man made whole again after death to avenge the life he has had stolen. Whilst the idea of a corpse covered in muck is a chilling one once you add in the racism angle and the tragic love story, Issac the Golem does seem like a particularly scary prospect. That might be a problem for any other episode but it really works in Kaddish, an episode that is seeking to be different from the norm.

The Good: Kaddish exposes how casual racism has become and how something like a pamphlet through the door can completely destroy as persons self worth. There’s more great direction in the murder scenes when the director cuts between the Issac hitting his first victim and the second one cracking open his coffin. If you breed enough hatred into children they will take matters into their own hands. Curt wants to raise discontent towards the Jew’s through rumour and insinuation but the boys are tired of the softly softly approach and start taking matters into their own hands. Children becoming unmanageable can be rather frightening especially at the point where you realise you have lost control of them. I couldn’t help but chuckle when the agents tore through the amassed Jew’s at the Synagogue looking for Jacob because Kim Manners almost seems to go out of his way to make them all look just like him! Listening to Ariel talking about the Jewish faith and their traditions so passionately really gets you involved in the subject matter. Curt being murdered (I wont lose any sleep) whilst Jacob is in custody does rather suggest his innocence. The imagery of a man crumbling to dust with a tear dropping down his cheek is just gorgeous. No hideous wrap up speech is needed because for once the episode has explained itself adequately as it has progressed.

Pre Titles Sequence: In this elegiac pre-titles sequence it is the direction that most impresses. From the autumnal, leafy opening mirroring the decaying of the graveyard to the sudden, dramatic cut to the murder of Issac (we are looking through Isaac’s eyes so the gunman is shoving the gun in our faces as he pulls the trigger) to the fade into a rain swept mud packed corpse being shaped at midnight (strikingly picked out by lightning), it is a glowing indictment of everything that Kim Manners can bring to the show. Its no wonder that he went on to direct more episodes of The X-Files than any other director.

Moment to Watch Out For: The candle lit Synagogue finale is the epitome of evocative direction, luxurious angles and lighting used to stress the romance of the conclusion. I have to be honest and admit that I was completely hoodwinked by the fallacy that Jacob was responsible for bringing Issac back to life (as is suggested in the pre-titles sequence). The reveal that it was Ariel all along came as a complete surprise and sort of sneaked up on me unawares during the climax. Add in a gorgeous Mark Snow score and you’ve got a finale that works on every level.

Orchestra: Mark Snow is working overtime to give this material some meaning and to his credit it is one of the most exciting scores of the year. Stylish and consequential, I’d love to have this as an isolated soundtrack.  

Result: ‘I don’t think it was hate that created this Golem, Scully, I think it was love…’ Its hard to think that an episode that so sensitively deals with the nature of racism and hate crimes is written by the same man who completely neglected to inject these very themes into the last episode that he penned. In the way that Kaddish reveals its antagonists early on and then turns them into victims of their own discrimination, this is an astonishingly mature piece of work. It wants to paint the Jews as the injured party but at the same time reveals that societies hatred of them has turned some of them into what their critics accuse them of. They want to take what’s yours. If only both parties could take a good long look at themselves and leave each other alone then they could live together in some kind of peace. If having another love story so close to El Mundo Gira is a problem then the comparisons are entirely in Kaddish’s favour as it handles the same themes with far greater sensitivity and skill. The fact that at its peak of its popularity The X-Files would put out something as unusual as this (in all honesty it is about as far away from what I came to this show for) is a testament to Chris Carter’s willingness to experiment and the fact that they pull it off with such delicacy and skill is all to the shows credit. This show has struck a very good hit rate in season four that, despite the odd duffer, has shown how it can succeed in many different forms. The last three episodes have all been unique and compelling, not quite the show at its very best but showing a consistency of form that is very encouraging. Kaddish explores Judaism without ever feeling preachy or like a diatribe and for that it should be applauded: 8/10

Unrequited written by Howard Gordon & Chris Carter and directed by Michael Lange

What’s it about: The ghost of a war veteran avenging the lives of those left behind…

Trust No-One: They don’t seem to achieve anything in this episode beyond running into bureaucratic walls and turning up too later after the victims have been killed. Its hardly the most productive use of the characters. Not only is there no need for Skinner to be in this at all (he brings nothing unique to the tale that another random official couldn’t have provided…I really thought this would delve into Skinner’s background in Vietnam but that opportunity is summarily squandered) but you could pretty much choose a pair of regulars from any other drama series and implant them into the Mulder and Scully roles as well without changing a single line of dialogue. Perhaps you should mentally do that to help the episodes trot by more amiably. Mulder has been at this game for too long now to think that he can expose a cover up by the government to hide their mistakes. To even pretend otherwise is just a bit dumb…especially when there’s only thirty seconds of the episode left to go. How many more times can this character be left shaking his fist at the sky at being thwarted once again?

The Good: A car swerving off the road bearing flags carrying a high ranking official who has been shot, there are touches of the Kennedy assassination to the early scenes that really make them stand out. It feels like after missing some real opportunities to make a social commentary in Teliko, Gordon is making up for lost time by exploring anti-religious movements in Kaddish and opposition to the Vietnam War in Unrequited. I do like it when this show gets topical but perhaps not with episodes so close together. You wouldn’t want the audience to start feeling lectured. The idea that POW’s were left behind in Vietnam to suffer is appalling and provides the episode with a believable backbone through which to explore the conflict and for Gordon to indulge in more revenge dramatics. The last line made me flinch…that’s how good Gordon is when he wants to be.

The Bad: It’s the return of the random character who fills in background information and provides a history lecture and then vanishes never to be seen again. Just how many miserable, depressing people can we meet in one episode? Everybody greets Mulder and Scully with a scowl and in turn they scowl back and we’re stuck with scowl fest where nobody is particularly fun to hang about with. Why is it in drama when people are told that somebody may be trying to kill them they immediately fight the idea and refuse to take precautions. If it were me I would head for the nearest nuclear shelter and hide away for a few months. Its not until the gunman is literally right in his face that he believes that he is in danger and tries to protect himself. Perhaps they were trying to make Teager look as unremarkable as possible deliberately and cast appropriately but it doesn’t help an already beige episode when our antagonist is quite as plain and background blending as this.

Pre Titles Sequence: Opening with your best sequence is a both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it draws the audience into the story instantly and leaves the, wanting more but a curse because it does take long for that same audience to realise that they are never going to reach that high again and it’s a long, painful journey to the conclusion. The pre-credits sequence just happens to be the concluding scene in Unrequited, an FBI heist that goes terribly wrong and I have to say it is far more exciting before we know what is going on than afterwards when everything has been spelt out. A ghost in the crowd sporting a gun…its rather exciting as it goes.

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where the widow of a soldier believed killed in Vietnam is told that he survived and suffered whilst she moved on with her life and re-married carries a lot of weight. The performance was touching but it’s the implications that really struck home. It would be the worst news that anybody could hear.

Orchestra: It feels like Mark Snow knows that it is his role to buoy up the action a bit in this installment and he attacks the piano with real fervency. 

Result: I really wish Gordon could learn to write with a sense of humour because if he did his scripts would be made of pure win. Revenge dramas are his thing and he often writes painfully real dialogue, provides stonkingly good characterisation and wraps it up in a great premise with memorable set pieces. But often he undoes all that hard work because his episodes are just so dry and humourless and thus pretty boring to watch. Unrequited is one such example (add Fresh Bones and Avatar to the list although there is always an exception to the rule – Grotesque which is stunning because of its darkness) and although it is concerned with critiquing the Vietnam War it still needs some moments of levity to stop you from dropping off. There’s a great deal of material that is worthy here and Gordon does provide some surprisingly emotional moments but you would be hard pressed to remember what Mulder and Scully contributed at all. It wants to condemn the Vietnam War and the subsequent withdrawal but doesn’t quite have the balls to do it and so it brings up the issues and then fails to explore them in any satisfying way. I have to be honest this was one of the few episodes that I didn’t remember anything about going in and after finishing it I now know why. Not so much bad as completely unmemorable without the action and impressive set pieces that usually prop up episodes of a dreary nature (a ghost with a gun hard cuts it). In terms of plotting and ideas I am sad that this is Gordon’s penultimate work on the series but in terms of providing entertaining episodes I was hardly sorry to see him go. Plus…does Scully still have cancer?: 4/10 (that’s the mark you get when you’re not even bad enough to be imposingly dreadful) 

Tempus Fugit written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Max Fenig and his presence on Flight 549…

Trust No-One: Mulder hasn’t remembered Scully’s birthday in the four years they have known each other so I guess some recent news has made him reconsider his feelings for his partner and be more considerate. Why does he do it? Why does Mulder do it to himself? Instead of simply involving himself with the investigation and scrutinizing the death of Max Fenig on the quiet he has to go blundering in with his size elevens spouting off about alien abductee that automatically gets peoples backs up when they are dealing with a real life tragedy. Maybe Mulder is right and Max’s life was the reason that 133 were taken from this Earth but you would think that he would have a little subtlety and sensitivity to the fact that this is a public disaster they are dealing with. Sometimes I wonder if he isn’t mildly autistic in how he conducts himself, refusing to put himself in other peoples shoes and wonder how they might feel in a situation. I’m not sure if I buy the connection between Mulder and Max (besides the fact that they had the same desire to see alien life exposed) but I appreciated it anyway because it gave me an emotional hook to events. Max was such a quiet, unassuming sort of man who never asked for the attention that he received that when Mulder unzipped his body bag and exposed his battered corpse I found the moment rather touching.

Brains’n’Beauty: It feels like a reaction against the fact that they haven’t written their creations with any charm or character this year since we open with a warm and wonderful scene of Mulder celebrating Scully’s birthday in style. Between them Carter & Spotnitz have written Herrenvolk, Teliko, Tunguska & Terma and Unrequited which all found the need to waste the leads and portray them without any individuality or humour. Scully’s embarrassed reaction to have a sparkly cake brought to her table in the bar is gorgeous and reminds us that these are real people. He buys her a gift and is grinning whilst he gives it to her and she is genuinely touched by the gesture. Who are these likable people? Little moments like Scully’s troubled reaction to finding a bloody arm sticking from the mud make the crash sight all the more distressing.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What you’re suggesting trivialises this tragedy and casts these fine people and the work they have to do in a light that I think you would be well advised to avoid’ – I can’t say that Mulder didn’t deserve this public wrist slapping.

Ugh: This is one X-File that is never scary and it doesn’t matter one jot. 

The Good: The core mystery of Tempus Fugit exposes everything that this show does really well – big ideas, expensive imagery, paranoid cover ups and an intriguing enigma to solve. Having Mulder and Scully involved in the messy clean up operation of a plane crash feels like a great use of their time and a worthy exercise to bring some peace and answers to the families of the dead passengers. Flight 249’s crash site is shot from above to capture the extent of the production teams efforts to make this look as authentic as possible. The tail of the plane sticking out from the mud askew and dripping with rain is especially convincing. Joe Spano gives an extraordinary performance that impresses because of its honesty. The script gives him some wonderful moments but Spano takes hold of them and turns them into little moments of beauty. Are these some of the most frightening abductions ever on The X-Files? I have seen many versions of this idea played out other the past four years but Bowman really highlights the drama of the event that absolutely captured my attention. Max’s sister is whisked away from her hotel room in a blast of light and wind that near as knocks her off her feet. Even the way that Spotnitz and Carter approach the cover up is superb with characters within the conspiracy who doubt whether they are doing the right thing and argue amongst themselves. It’s lovely to see that these schemes aren’t always as black and white as the show paints them as. The apparent suicide (or murder) of Jones adds another layer to an already nuanced script. The shot from the top of the air traffic control building with the commandos swarming like insects on the ground is really impressive. Frish’s guilt, fear for his life and subsequent confession marks him out as a unique character on this show…one that wears his heart on his sleeve and is honest about his actions. To suggest that the US military shot down a passenger plane is a brave thing to perpetuate in a TV drama but Carter and Spotnitz hold strong to their convictions. The plot develops in surprising ways…it wasn’t the alien spacecraft that brought down the plane, the plane just happened to be in the way during a skirmish between a military fighter and the UFO. Those 134 people lost their lives because they just happened to be where they were. That’s even more tragic. Given that he is so appalled by Mulder’s suggestion of alien involvement in the plane crash the sequence where he discovers the UFO (or should that be military craft) quietly picking over the wreckage is haunting. Its extinguishes its lights shyly when it realises it is being watched and Millar is plunged into darkness only for the lights to snap on and expose him directly above. Bowman’s direction really is in a league of its own here, no wonder he secured the movie. The fact that Millar has his own encounter which brings him on side (rather than Mulder wearing him down with his constant theories) is another way the writers are approaching this material from a fresh angle. Mulder discovering the crashed UFO underwater and the alien trapped in the wreckage provides the episode with a startling and visually stunning cliffhanger. There’s absolutely no sign of government officials with ridiculous cover names like the Cigarette Smoking Man and the Well Manicured Man pontificating in a smoke filled rooms. Bliss.

Pre Titles Sequence: Rob Bowman’s direction gets more inventive the more he is booked on the show and the way he sets up the opening shot is incredible. He pans along the exterior of the plane, passing the pilots in the cockpit and gliding across to the passengers relaxing in their seats in the first cabin. They would have had to have built the exterior plane skeleton for this to be shot when this could have opened on the interior quite easily…once again this show exposes that it commands a grand budget and can realise its set pieces with all the grandeur of a movie. So many exciting details in this opening scene; the return of Max Fenig, the expert way that the government agent has hidden his weapon and the way the writer and director capitalise on the fear of flying so expertly. By the time I have finished reviewing this show I doubt that there will be a single phobia that I don’t possess. It’s a very different sort of alien abduction since for one thing it is as public as it gets and you realise with sinking horror that nobody on this plane is going to live to tell the tale of what they have experienced. The light of the alien spacecraft streaming through the aeroplane windows is startlingly dramatic. Like Unrequited this looks set to be the best scene in the episode but it is just an exquisite first step.

Moment to Watch Out For: There’s a breathtaking set piece featuring a car chase that sees Mulder and Scully almost collide with an oncoming plane. Its so dynamically filmed by Bowman I could be seen ducking as the plane approached and I fear my heart may have done a back flip inside my body. Talk about a game of chicken. Also the death of Agent Pendrell, which really affected me in a way that deaths on this show (because they are tenapenny nowadays) rarely do. He’s been such a lovably puppyish presence over the past two seasons, turning up to fulfil some random plot function but its always tempered by his cute crush on Scully. The fact that he is sitting drunk at the bar waiting desperately to get a moment with the birthday girl is really pathetic (and rather lovely) and continuing the theme of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time he just happens to get in the way of a bullet that was meant for somebody else. Its devastating in a way that this show rarely manages, removing a liked (he doesn’t turn up enough to earn the title ‘much loved’) character in a really shocking manner.

Result: Let’s be honest the portents were not good. Tempus Fugit shares all the main contributors that brought us Terma earlier in the year (Carter and Spotnitz writing, Bowman directing) and the simple fact that it is a mid season mythology episode concerned with old continuity should be enough to have you running for the hills. Strange then that Tempus Fugit is one of the finest episodes of a very strong season, a perfectly formed little drama with excitement, tragedy, drama and humour and a sterling first half of a blockbuster that promises to knock the previous trophy holder (Nisei/731) from the top spot. I was as surprised as you are! Its almost as if Carter and Spotnitz have sat down and looked at where their previous episodes have gone wrong and decided to rectify those mistakes and rather than stuffing the episode with lots of cold plotting they ensure that there is an emotional connection throughout which makes all the difference. The production is as spectacular as you would imagine but goes the extra mile to make the crash site look utterly authentic in a way that few shows could muster and the guest cast (in particular Joe Spano and Tom O’Brien) are absolutely superb. The plot refuses to develop in ways that you would expect and I was astonished at how much emotional leverage the writers managed to work from the plane crash without the episode ever becoming maudlin. There’s even a great role for Mulder and Scully (that should be a given on this show but you’d be surprised…) who are given their best material by their creator and his cohort in over a season. Tempus Fugit is exciting, unpredictable and completely involving…I wish every conspiracy tale could be as good as this because we would be chomping at the bit for more: 10/10

Max written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Answers as to why the plane was downed…

Trust No-One: I love the fact that both Mulder (Max, his search for the truth) and Scully (Pendrell, her cancer) have a personal investment in this tale and that it has nothing to do with their respective families (which is what is usually wheeled out during these conspiracy episodes). It brings the best out in the characters and the actors and the way they have both energy in their performances but also a sense that the world is pressing down on them makes the pair highly watchable in this installment. There is nothing forced about their characterisation which is refreshing because sometimes they can be bent out of shape to fit the tone/theme of an episode. Only Mex Fenig and Mulder would appreciate living like a bachelor in a trailer out searching for aliens. Scully would go as far to say that they are kindred spirits. Mulder putting the alien tech through the airport x-ray scanner was a smart move. His quiet threats to Garrett on the plane highlight Mulder at his calm and collective best. Garrett tries to threaten him with the deaths of everybody else on the plane but Mulder brushes that off and talks all about blowing his leg off if he so much as moves.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘Mulder what are these people dying for? Is it for the truth or is it for the lies?’ Scully is forced to face up to her own mortality by losing colleague and it is another reminder that the Grim Reaper is waiting patiently in the wings. The way she uses Penndel’s feelings for her to try and keep him alive is clever and Anderson plays the urgency and professionalism of her character in this sequence so well. Her nose bleeding at that crucial moment is beautifully done, a subtle prompt that Scully is fighting her own battle to stay alive. If only every episode could end with a scene as sweet as the one here with Mulder and Scully discussing the emotional ramifications of what they have experienced. It’s an establishment that they are a team and work better that way.

Assistant Director: There is a lovely moment when Skinner realises that Scully’s cancer has reared its ugly head again and he tells her that he has responsibility for her and Mulder. It’s a touching indication of a relationship that has been building for some time and its nice to actually here him say it out loud.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘All I know is this plane seems to be killing people as it sits there on the ground.’
‘I just thought it was a pretty cool key chain…’ – Mulder punctures Scully’s pomposity brilliantly.

The Good: And the energy doesn’t end with the pre-titles sequence as we cut straight back to the shooting of Agent Pendrell in the FBI bar as the main body of the episode begins. It’s a shocking jolt to the system and a really attention grabbing way to kick start us off. The military manage to spin a pretty convincing story that pins all of the blame on Frish which any average Joe would buy into in a heartbeat but Mulder (who is used to the spinning of these lies) knows better. Has it got to the stage where we, the audience, don’t believe anything they tell us at all? Could it come to a point where we’re as convinced as Mulder that everything the government says is a lie even when they are telling the truth? Max never wanted acceptance or even any kind of fame, all he ever wanted in life was to be left alone. So it is just his luck that he should wind up an alien abductee and having to make it his mission to try and seek out alien life and expose it to prove it. Gloriously the episode cuts from Max’s video with his voiceover explaining that the government have salvaged alien technology (something that we might otherwise scoff at) to exactly that, a military installation picking over the wreckage of an extraterrestrial craft (plus the handheld camerawork here is really dramatic). Watch out for the high angle pan across the fuselage of the plane as it takes in the entirety of the wreckage discovered and assembled in a massive hangar. It’s a truly intimidatingly visual, especially when you think of the emotional implications. Its true that the gun waving, time stopping conclusion on the plane for Mulder can’t quite top the awesome set piece in the middle of this episode but its still a gorgeously paced, superbly acted finale that gets the heart racing all the same. Its also true that this mythology episode ends in exactly the same way as all the others, with the evidence vanished and the agents left with egg on their faces when it comes to exposing the truth. But for once that doesn’t matter because we’ve seen into the heart of the characters and learnt something new about them and enjoyed a fantastic mystery and a cinematic treat to boot.

Pre Titles Sequence: The direction is immediately impressive with the two lights that suggested an alien presence under the water shielding the silhouette of two divers that are plummeting the depths to capture Mulder. As he surfaces the silky rain flows across the screen in billowing curtains, spotlighted. Kim Manners can match Rob Bowman visually any day of the week.

Moment to Watch Out For: The alien siege of the plane is one of the best sequences in The X-Files entire run and takes you through a gamut of emotions whilst providing some striking visuals. There’s the initial excitement of the government agent putting together his gun in toilet, the terror of the plane as it is buffeted and the everybody on board thinks they are going to die, the sense of wonder as the alien craft stops time and an invisible hand steals Max away and then the gut wrenching dread as the plane plummets to the ground. Its terrifying because we know that none of these people are going to make it out alive so it is extreme voyeurism to witness their final moments of hope and terror. I especially love the focus on the little girl who stares out of the window in wonder at the alien craft suspended next to there’s. Kids can be seen screaming as the plane falls from the sky, parents clinging on to them, one woman calls to God and two strangers (both men) hold each others hands as they are about to die. The silhouette of Max being drawn to the light is incredible, as are the effects of the plane falling to pieces and the passengers being flung into the vacuum. Incredible television.

Fashion Statement: Mulder in air force fatigues = not the best look for him. Although it is quite to see him looking like anything other than a catalogue model which has been his want this year.

Orchestra: This is Mark Snow’s music at its best, urgent, exciting and cinematic. The spine-chilling sting as Max is abducted from the plane gives me the shivers. 

Result: Exhilarating, dramatic and powered by some dazzling set pieces, Max fails to disappoint like so many second parts to mythology blockbusters do. The fact that the plane crash (and all those lives lost) came down to an accident because of something as mundane as obtaining a piece of alien technology that Max had in his possession is shocking and shows in one action how far the government is willing to go to protect their secrets. Aside from the brawny and visually stunning action directed by Kim Manners, the other element that makes the conclusion work so well is the superb character work laden in the script. It might sound indecent but I don’t expect characterisation of this quality from Carter and Spotnitz and it’s a fantastic surprise that they should show this much verve right where it is needed. Max is delightful, even if we only get to know him post mortem and the similarities made between him and Mulder are poignant and accurate, And Scully’s cancer features in a few subtle moments and her reaction to the death of Pendrell makes her question the work that they are doing. Its all rather refreshing. All this and a narrative which explains itself as it goes along and comes up with some satisfying answers. See, it can be done! It baffles me as to why it has taken quite this long to get it right. Now all they need to do is keep it up (unfortunately from memory that isn’t the case but there would occasions – Two Fathers/One Son and Existence/Essence where they pull it out of the bag again). I would be quite tempted to give this full marks just for the astonishing set piece where the plane is intercepted by the alien craft and is forced to dive. Wonder and terror are rarely captured this well on television. One of three of my favourite mythology two parters: 10/10

Synchrony written by Howard Gordon and David Greenwalt and directed by James Charleston

What’s it about: Time travel rears its head as a man tries to stop the future from playing out…

Trust No-One: Wow, listen to David Duchovny in the first scene Mulder and Scully share. After his riveting turn in Max he sounds bored already, fully aware of the functional episode that is about to play out. Scully too sounds mechanical. When Mulder and Scully talk about time travel logically and statistically I don’t know if the concept has ever sounded so lifeless. At the climax when the Jason’s go up in flames Mulder can barely bring himself to wince through the glass. He can’t wait to get away from this case and into something more interesting. At the end of the episode Scully is so jaded by the tedious events that have taken place that she can’t even bring herself to argue with Mulder over the idea of time travel. She’s almost like ‘sure, time travel, whatever you like…can we go now?’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘It’s a kind of catalyst for a self-sustaining endothermic reaction…’ is about as profound as the dialogue gets here.
‘Although multi-dimensionality suggests infinite outcomes in an infinite number of universe each universe can produce only one outcome…’ Duchovny can barely get that line out. You can see he’s thinking ‘this is shit/this is shit/this is shit…’

Ugh: Just one little prick and you’ll turn to ice. The much lauded ice deaths are barely seen (more often than not we come at the aftermath to witness a deep frozen corpse) and like the rest of the episode aren’t the most exciting example of their kind. Much more interesting is the idea of Dr Yonechi bursting into flames on the operating table. Its such a sudden acceleration of temperature that the eventual ignition is shocking and for once Mulder and Scully look genuinely horrified in this episode instead of mildly bored.

The Good: To be fair to Jason his story is ludicrous and if you were going to kill to somebody you really wouldn’t make up anything quite this elaborate. On this show the more kookier the alibi, the more I would be inclined to believe them.

The Bad: Can you imagine a duller twist than the fact that Jason is covering up for his girlfriend and she was the one who falsified the data to get the grant? As soon as the girlfriend was introduced I was certain that that would be the case but the episode waits 25 minutes to drop the surprise. When Jason is told that the person they are pursuing is his future self he barely reacts to the idea. Instead he is scripted in the laziest way possible, stealing Scully’s ‘its science fiction’ and stifling a yawn. In the same scene where he and Mulder try and piece together the mystery of this episode it is written in a way that is supposed to sound revelatory but the actors simply cannot inject any enthusiasm into the plodding dialogue. Its actually painful to watch them not bothering. The older Jason describes a whole world gone to hell because of the secret that he helps Lisa to discover…it’s a shame we couldn’t have spent the episode there and actually seen the results of their dabbling. It might have given the laborious events of this episode some sense of context. As it is 90% of the episode seems to be about an old man wandering about murdering people for no good reason.

Pre Titles Sequence: Beyond Lucas’ shocking inability to keep hold of his papers on a wet evening there is little to note in the pre titles sequences. I’ve seen the ‘I’m from the future!’ scenario a hundred times (I’m a fan of Doctor Who for goodness sakes) and this a particularly uninspiring example (being hit by a bus?). I would probably have gone for something a little more intricate, suggesting a course and shown the characters deliberately avoiding it but a chain reaction of events forcing them to experience it. Instead this plays out with plodding predictability.

Moment to Watch Out For: Even Jason confronting and murdering himself lacks any oomph. It plays out inevitably when it should be a profound moment.

Orchestra: I’ve always said Mark Snow’s music is often an indication of the strength of the script. Its always competent (there’s no single score of his that you could point at and say was actively bad) but you know when he is excited by the material he is complimenting. With Synchrony he’s as uninterested as everybody else, providing a whistling, flute like jingle that seems a little shy of actually being heard and otherwise just drags out the synthesiser and plays familiar themes.  

Result: David Greenwalt is a relatively consistent writer on Buffy (and Angel) but doesn’t seem that suited to The X-Files because he approaches the story in as functional a way as possible. I can’t imagine a drearier way to approach time travel than to explore in such a cold, calculating way like this. I’ve often said that this show is at its worst when using familiar tropes because the way it wants to play about with classic ideas (werewolves, vampires and now add time travel to that list) and it wants to be a glossy drama that wants to be taken seriously means that it is being pulled in two directions because they are inherently daft concept. Shows like Buffy and Doctor Who just run with them and milk them for as much entertainment as possible but by restraining themselves to such a degree The X-Files bleeds away much of the potential creativity. Its funny because in the next episode this show takes on the idea of doppelgangers and runs with it so its not like it is incapable of having fun. This story seems to be entirely plot driven (the only stake involved is a university grant) and without any sympathetic characters to care about you are merely watching a particularly unengaging puzzle unravel. In a season that has seen this show take some real risk to push itself in new directions this is probably the least inspiring episode. It could have embraced the idea of time travel and done something clever with it but this is far too grounded in reality and saving face to make any kind of impression. Duchovny and Anderson look so bored I think I might have seen one of them actually yawn at one point. The other times The X-Files takes on time travel (Triangle, Redrum) it has loosened up a bit so it can enjoy the concept: 3/10

Small Potatoes written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: The episode that first reveals that Scully has potential feelings for Mulder…

Trust No-One: Gilligan might just have scored the ultimate Mulder is burned moment when he questions Amanda and she blows any credibility that his investigation has when she sings the Star Wars theme tune. He’s never looked quite so embarrassed. Much of the humour of this episode comes out of Scully mocking Mulder for not going for the simple answer but instead taking leaps of fancy but resulting in him being right and her having egg on her face. Brilliantly Mulder opens a closet and is assailed by a mop and bucket and cries out to Scully that he is okay in case she was worrying…and she hasn’t even noticed! The Mulder of season four has been more akin to a smooth catalogue model than the socially awkward nerd of season one so its lovely to see him nervously attempting to pin the tail back on the corpse, all fingers and thumbs. It’s the only episode of this show where Mulder cuffs a man in his boxer shorts. When Eddie van Blundht declares you a loser…all hope is lost. Eddie is extremely happy living the lives of other people because his own is so lacking but with Mulder he is met his match. Somebody who is even sadder. He’s got no creature comforts, obsesses about aliens, has geeks for friends and fails to notice the extremely hot agent that he has been partnered with. When Eddie as Mulder asks Scully why they don’t take the time to talk to each other she doesn’t have a good reason why not…and yet she still looks like he is waiting to spring a practical joke on her.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘I think something about this definitely warrants investigation…just not by us…’ Is it my imagination or is Scully getting a lot more tactful about her approach to Mulder’s latest crazy investigation? Scully speaks on behalf of all the women in the world when she declares that none of the women who have been wooed by van Blundht did so consensually. Wow, Mulder is right and Scully is boring. She gets asked who she would be if she could be anyone for a day and she chooses herself. Trust me love, you’re not that interesting. However the fact that they are having this sort of deeply mundane but funny conversation shows that Gilligan understands these characters better than anybody. We never get to see Mulder and Scully indulging in this kind of small talk and yet it is exactly the sort of nonsensical chatter that fills the lives of normal people. Scully’s idea of a weekend well spend is to either write up her paperwork or to indulge herself in some intriguing tissue samples. I know the episode is pointing out just how Mulder has everything going for him but he choices to live the life of a loser but it also reveals a quiet sadness in Scully’s life too. They really should get it together, they are precisely what the other one needs (a good roll in the hay). What Eddie proves by attempting to seduce Scully is that all Mulder has to do is listen to her and take some interest in her needs in order for her to get close to him socially. Its interesting that after the lesson they have learnt together in this farce that Mulder and Scully so take more time to be together, to meet each others needs and as a result they get far close than even the audience ever imagined. You’ve never seen Gillian Anderson play Scully quite as loosely as she does in the final ten minutes of this episode and as a result she has never been this appealing.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Did he have a light saber?’ ‘No he didn’t bring it?’
‘Just because I was born with a tail no woman would want me? Maybe I got…personality.’
‘At least you got that tail…otherwise you’re just small potatoes.’
‘You spelt Federal Bureau of Investigation wrong’ ‘It’s a typo’ ‘Twice.’
‘I was born a loser but you’re one by choice.’

Ugh: The desiccated corpse of Eddie’s father that falls down from the attic is pretty disgusting. Unfortunately Mulder gets some residue in his mouth.

The Good: This is a story of perfectly judge performances because if even one of the highly skilled cast had taken this too far over the top it could have tipped the whole shebang over into parody. Christine Cavanaugh probably has the hardest job because Amanda is so perfectly naïve she could so easily have come across as a complete simpleton but instead she imbues her with such likeability and warmth (‘I thought they were letting me stay at the hospital because I have really great insurance…it turns out their keeping me here because they think I’m sort of crazy!’) that is impossible not too be drawn in by her. Even if she is completely dense. The joke that her baby’s father is Luke Skywalker is the joke that would either click or sink and its so hilariously played (especially Scully’s reaction) it opens up a whole new angle for The X-Files that even Darin Morgan didn’t manage to mine. The episode develops logically with Scully figuring that the seven babies must all have the same father which opens up a whole new can of worms morally (and legally). It would appear that Darin Morgan is as accomplished an actor as he is a writer and he manages to create the epitome of a affable loser in Eddie van Blundht. Given what he is doing (it’s the equivalent of date rape when you break it down) you should condemn him for his actions but the episode skips over that thorny issue and ensures the tone is kept light and his character is approached sympathetically. Bizarrely his hypothetical argument about giving these couples the very thing that they want (a baby) actually does make an odd sort of sense. Mulder comments the other people’s reactions to us is what makes us what we are and there is definitely something in that. Certainly how we are treated and responded to as a child but also the willingness to risk disapproval as and adult shapes our personality to a large extent. There is some twisted psycho-analysis going on in the scene where Eddie is playing his father and he is tearing himself to shreds. You have to feel sorry for a man who has so little sense of self worth that even when he is pretending to be his father he can’t bring himself to say anything nice about himself. I love the very quick reveal that Eddie can shapeshift because comes completely out of the blue and is incontrovertible evidence in the face of Scully too. Next up for praise is the small but unforgettable turn by Lee de Broux who manages to bring two very different characters to life and in particular aces the mimicry of Darin Morgan’s performance. Its lovely how we follow Eddie’s story as he tries to escape justice and there are little subplots taking place that are completely independent of Mulder and Scully. That is a sure sign of some strong characterisation. The latter half of the episode relies heavily on David Duchovny bringing a great deal of pathos and humour to the role of Eddie and he is more than up to the task. I would go as far to say he injects more warmth into his portrayal of another character than he hardly ever does as the one who made him famous. Eddie having to listen to Amanda spell out his million and one personal faults is heartbreaking and very funny at the same time – not an easy mix to pull off. There are so many great touches to this episode but my favourite was the Duty Nurse who happens to turn up all the time when weird stuff keeps happening and we often cut away from her bemused face. Eddie is such a loser that he cannot even knock Mulder out with any kind of style…instead he crashes through the ceiling and lands on top of his head. 

Pre Titles Sequence: Immediately this marks itself out as something a bit different with the show opening from the POV of a pregnant woman being placated by hospital staff leaning in. Great little touches reveal that this is going to be cracker of a comedy; Amanda revealing that the father of her child is from another planet, the perfectly time dropping of the forceps as the baby is born and the reveal of its tail flailing about harmlessly. Its all so amiable its like we’re not watching The X-Files at all but some gleeful sitcom with a twisted edge.

Moment to Watch Out For: In a moment that had all the X-Files shippers jumping for joy and everybody else holding their breath with anticipation, Eddie as Mulder leans in to kiss Scully and we all wait nervously to see if she will return the gesture…

Orchestra: This section of the reviews practically writes itself now. Another great script so the score improves to meet it. There’s nothing worse than deliberately funny music undercut all the jokes and Snow understands that and subtly underscores all the episodes best moments. I especially like the piano that kicks in when we discover Mulder trapped amongst the air conditioning system.

Mythology: I’m getting all confused with these crossovers of production staff in the three shows I am currently reviewing! David Greenwalt who is primarily involved in Buffy and Angel wrote the last X-Files episode and Cliff Bole who helmed more TNG episodes than I care to remember (including the seminal Best of Both Worlds) brought this episode to life. Much more of this cross pollination and I’ll have to throw in the towel.

Result: Its been such a dark, twisted season so far its been easy to forget that it is possible to derive humour from these characters. Its also proof that these shows don’t have to be torturously plotted in order to make them engaging since this is a simply laid out narrative that is injected with oodles of charm and humour that means the running time just flies by. It might be minimally plotted but Small Potatoes is packed full of great characterisation that rises very naturally out of the jokes, first at Eddie’s expense (one of the great X-Files’ antagonists) and then at Mulder’s (and this where the episode scores its golden moments). Exquisitely cast and directed with a lightness of touch that this series rarely displays, it’s the first example of sitcom X-Files that would run rife in the series’ later seasons (especially season six). I think the best joke that Small Potatoes sports is the fact that Carter and Spotnitz have been playing about with the idea of doppelgangers and shapeshifters and have pretty much fudged it at every turn and Gilligan has smoothed his way into the concept and aced it by simply making it amusing. The thing that everybody talks about is the Eddie as Mulder/Scully sequence at the end and it is warmly played by Duchovny and Anderson and convinces you that there might be a chance for romance yet. There are gems of scenes and lines littered throughout and this proves an absolute joy to watch and an episode that I revisit with alarming frequency: 10/10

Zero Sum written by Frank Spotnitz & Howard Gordon and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: What could possibly encourage Skinner to work in the employ of the Smoking Man on the side?

Trust No-One: Mulder clearly suspects Skinner before he has the proof but the director still captures the shock of the moment where his suspicions are confirmed. To have Mulder turn his gun on Skinner and then decide to help him to clear his name shows great faith on his part, and secures their allegiance.

Brains’n’Beauty: There’s a great reason to write Scully out if Gillian Anderson needs to do work elsewhere at the moment. Think about it.

Assistant Director: It’s the second solo Skinner effort and in my eyes works about as well as Avatar didn’t. Skinner has never going to win any personality of the year awards and so by focussing on his divorce and attempts to find comfort in the arms of other women felt quite seedy and voyeuristic for our first peek into his life (it kind of left me thinking if he does this sort thing all the time when he is out of uniform). Instead Spotnitz manages to achieve what they couldn’t in season three (turning him into a victim and thus extending the audiences sympathies towards him) by forcing him to behave out of character and sabotage an investigation against his will. By attacking him via the one thing we always see him doing – his job – we have a stake in this episode because we know what he has to lose. Watching hum furtively picking over a crime scene is really dynamic because it just feels wrong (and these scenes are really well filmed by Kim Manners to make the audience a furtive co-conspirator, watching his back). It shows that Skinner is very skilled at his job and his picked up a great number of criminal know how in his career as Assistant Director. Skinner is so cool that even when the Smoking Man screams towards him in his car he merely puts his hands on the bonnet to stop it. He doesn’t even break a sweat. When Skinner questions the postal worker he does so with more tenderness than we have seen from Mulder since The Field Where I Died. Its episodes like this that make you wonder why they don’t expand their list of regulars permanently. It would certainly help during the lesser episodes where Mulder and Scully look so bored they are on the verge of suicide.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I advised you against a certain course of action a while ago concerning Agent Scully. I didn’t follow my own advice.’
‘If you kill me now you have no way of saving Agent Scully…’

Ugh: I don’t know if I have made this abundantly clear or not but I really hate wasps. I was stung by one on the arse when I was younger and had a really bad reaction (not helped by the enduring and ever brought up image of my ten year old self squatting on the kitchen side whilst my mother rubbed a cool lotion into my butt!) and ever since they have been one of my few phobias. Its anything that comes at you suddenly and makes that horrific whining noise (moths don’t bother me in the slightest but flies also make me shudder). So the thought of being involved in this sequence where an entire colony of wasps emerges from a tap and determinedly attack the postal worker chills me to the bone. The shots of them crawling all over the sinks and floor are enough to bring me out in hives! Jean’s blistered, bloated corpse is not an image I’ll be able to forget in a hurry. Skinner tears away at the wall of the toilet and uncovers a horrid, icky sticky coating of royal jelly and hive cells. That would be my worst nightmare. I don’t know what freaks me out more; wasps killing in the moment at random or wasps being directed by some external force. Brrr… To have the Syndicate so casually call the wasp attack on the school a ‘trial run’ is probably the most effectively creepy they have managed to be (whilst still looking daft crowded around in that dark, smoky room). Let’s not beat around the bush, we’re talking about the government deliberately trying to infect children with smallpox. That is a brave idea to realise, even if the extreme method softens the idea. The camera gliding upwards away from the screaming teacher subsumed by wasps might just be the most horrific image from The X-Files for this viewer yet.

The Good: Where do they find these gorgeous, industrial locations on The X-Files? They’re location scouts are second to none. I love the scenes of Mulder following in the footsteps of Skinner and trying to figure out who has been using his name as an illegal cover up of a crime scene. It forces Skinner into the unfortunate position of having to pretend to track down himself. The sequence where Skinner finally confronts the Smoking Man is brilliantly tense and well played by both actors. Even though the script has made it abundantly clear that Skinner cannot shoot him if he is save Scully the acting is so good that for a moment you have to wonder if he has done it anyway. The look on the Smoking Man’s face is priceless once the gun has been fired.

The Bad: Marita Cavarrubias has appeared in more episodes of season four than I care to remember and we still know absolutely zero about her character, her life and her motives. She’s simply a walking plot device. What a waste of Laurie Holden. That she is in the employ of the Smoking Man comes as no surprise to me. We’ve had Mulder and Scully suspect Skinner and for him to prove himself over and over again. And vice versa. Now enough evidence has been laid out for them to trust each other. And yet I still get a sneaky feeling that paranoia is going to be whipped up between these characters again sometime soon.

Pre Titles Sequence: The latest victim seems to be an overly opinionated, work shy smoker who leaks her smoke into public toilets for everybody to inhale. Frankly she deserves everything that she gets. This sequence has been stolen wholesale from Arachnophobia, Jurassic Park and a hundred other sources but its done so well its easy to jump up from your seat and brush all the imaginary wasps off of your skin. Brrr… There’s something so horribly undignified (and very funny from the audiences point of view) about dying on the toilet that film makers seem to love capitalising on. This silly old cow doesn’t even notice a single wasp until they are all around her, covering the surfaces inside the toilet.

Moment to Watch Out For: When we learn that Skinner is doing all of this, risking his career and reputation in order to obtain a cure for Scully’s cancer it not only provides a rock solid reason for his activities but proves to be the moment beyond doubt where the audience trusts Skinner implicitly. The writers have loved playing about with Skinner as a potential ally/potential enemy in a professional setting but this is all taking place behind the scenes and we can see where precisely his loyalties lie.

Fashion Statement: The mandatory Skinner in his pants sequence (it seems it is mandatory in these episodes now) is far hotter than it has any right to be (especially since those pants are hideous). There is something undeniably hot about seeing somebody that you normally see in an official capacity in the buff, isn’t there? Oh just me then. Regardless, Mitch Pileggi clearly knows how to look after himself.

Foreboding: The bees are carrying smallpox which links two separate strands of X-Files mythology together. This is good. More please. Now we just need to know why is the Smoking Man trying to engineer a method of delivery for this detestable virus? And why is he so determined to keep it a secret.

Result: This looks gorgeous and its final proof that the show could successfully continue should either Duchovny or Anderson ever decide to take a sabbatical or leave altogether. Avatar suggested that there was a larger avenue to explore with the solo Skinner episodes and Zero Sum runs with that idea (literally, the first ten minutes are non-stop). The first half of the episode is powered by the intriguing mystery  of why Skinner is doing somebody else’s dirty work and as soon as you realise he is in the employ of the Smoking Man I had even more questions. It’s a fantastic scenario and an impossible situation for Skinner who as soon as he has committed his first crime finds himself trapped in the Smoking Man’s grasp. Zero Sum also sees the return of the colony wasps which were touted at the beginning of the season but seem to have been completely forgotten since. This is a much better outing for them and the set pieces surrounding their attacks are genuinely quite horrific. As a self confessed spheksophobic this is the worst kind of horror for me and the idea of being trapped in a confined space filled with the ringing of wasps as they sting the hell out of you plagues my nightmares. Spotnitz and Gordon have written a fun script which paints Skinner in the role of the hero (trying to obtain the cure for Scully’s cancer) and the villain (cleaning up the Smoking Man’s dirty work) and sees Mulder attempting to catch his own boss in the act. It begins deceptively as a character piece and blends seamlessly into a mythology episode which explains itself as it progresses and seems to be tying up loose threads. I have a great deal of time for this episode, its another fine installment of the criminally underrated season four: 8/10

Elegy written by John Shiban and directed by James Charleston

What’s it about: An childlike autistic man is accuses of murder…

Trust No-One: There’s a cut to Mulder saying ‘a spirit being, a harbinger of death’ before he bowls a ball and gets a strike. I wonder how many times David Duchovny said that line before all ten pins were put in their place. When he starts pouring soda over the bowling lane Scully’s reaction goes from impatience to incredulity.

Brains’n’Beauty: Watch Scully’s face as she walks down the bowling lane towards the body and sees the group of women shrieking and screaming and having fun behind her. Its such a look of distaste it seems that relaxing and having a laugh is a foreign concept to her. Even Mulder says ‘what is that look, Scully?’ Scully then looks deeply embarrassed by Mulder’s explanation that they are looking for a wraith or spirit to the police investigators. Its almost as if nobody sent Gillian Anderson the memo that this isn’t a comedy episode and arched eyebrows are not the order of the day. Its almost as if the tone of the episode forces that blood from her nose to remind her that this week is about drama and not farce. Its another terrific, subtle reminder of her condition and proof that it hasn’t been forgotten. Shiban follows that up with the shock moment where Scully comes face to face with a paranormal phenomenon in a way that she never has before (considering it is such a life changing moment for the character its quite pleasing that it is done so quietly and hauntingly rather than with a great deal of fanfare). Scully admits to her therapist that Mulder has been her rock but that she doesn’t owe it to him to keep on working, its something that she has to do for herself. She never realised how much she realised on him before her cancer. Anderson is fantastic in this scene, having shaken off her tonally jarring comic poses of the first ten minutes. I’m so pleased that Scully admits to Mulder that she saw the ghost and that she hasn’t told him because she doesn’t want to believe it. It’s a scene loaded with nuances because it has the weight of the last fours years behind it. Its lovely to see a real character arc threading through this season, Scully walking away from Mulder because she doesn’t want to face up to that fact that she might be dying. I can only hope that this issue is wrapped up satisfactorily. The last scene where she sees the last victim in the car window like a spectre of her own death clawing towards her, gave me chills.

Ugh: Its weird because the ghosts should be far scarier than last weeks bees but they didn’t have the same effect on me. Perhaps because one is an everyday occurrence (I’m talking about the bees, unless your name is Yvette Fielding) and the other springs from the imagination. Saying that the ghosts themselves are hauntingly filmed turn up at just the right points when the episode needs another fright. What comes from having the ghosts are the great shock moments for Scully and Harold which forces them to confront their own mortality.

The Good: I love the ‘I’m just a human being after all..’ guy in the disabled home. He should have been the centre of this episode instead of dreary old Harold. I’m torn about Harold’s character in general because whilst I think that Steven M. Porter is very good (he strains as if there is physically something that he is trying to straighten out in his head every time he engages with somebody) but the character himself is petulant, reactionary and depressing (he comes across as a spoilt child). The way Harold pours over the bowling scores and memorises them is an interesting way to extend the idea of autism to the audience along with his social awkwardness. Its nice to make people aware of others with this condition in the media because there is still a great deal of resistance and awkwardness surrounding people with mental difficulties. The camera gets right in Harold’s face more often than not, shoving his disabilities in the face of the audience and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a percentage of them felt quite uncomfortable watching this episode because of it. Don’t get me wrong I’m not condemning anybody for that, its simply not what they are used to seeing (in real life or in drama). To have autism shoved in your face quite this dramatically is quite a shock. When the tables then turn and Nurse reveals her true colours the scene is nicely played by both actors (she’s drunk on the power she holds over Harold and he is shaking with uncertainty and fear as she calls him an ugly toad). There’s a lovely moment when Innes sits there after having accused Harold of attacking her for no good reason knowing that she might have to attack somebody to drive her point home about how dangerous he is where she looks so disgusted in herself, almost as if even she cannot believe how low she has sunk.

The Bad: When we first visit the home of the disabled patients it seems immediately clear that the manager is a cuddly, amiable sort of fellow who does the best for his patients and the nurse is an evil, impatient wench who gives them a hard time. Surely it cannot be as simple as that? Either the manager is a really bad judge of character or he subconsciously wants his patients to suffer by leaving them in the not-so tender care of Nurse Innes. Mulder’s explanation of a psychic or pre-conscious bond between Harold and the victims is just bollocks. For once Duchovny doesn’t look embarrassed saying such a lame ass excuse for an explanation but he should. Because the episode has forgotten about her for half an hour to focus on Harold Nurse Innes has to get all of her backstory out in about two lines (no family, a husband that ran off with a kid) and is exposed through something as obvious as dropping the pills from her sleeves that she has stolen from the patients. Its really badly handled in the same way that the autism angle is really well handled, with Shiban he can’t quite get everything right. Mulder and Scully attempting to psycho-analyse why Nurse Innes tried to pin the blame onto Harold after she has been shot dead is a moot point, that should have been addressed whilst she was still alive.

Pre Titles Sequence: The first scene deals with the awkwardness people experience around the mentally ill superbly with the manager of the bowling alley not giving Harold the right amount of time to sort things out in his head and then backtracking when he reacts very badly to being rushed. It’s the sort of thing I have seen myself (I work with an autistic boy) quite a bit and played out this well it is a very well observed moment. As for the actual hook into the episode…well it’s a mouthing corpse hanging down by some bowling pins. Its not the most inspired lead in to an episode of The X-Files I have ever seen and the actor playing the manager is far more convincing at snapping impatiently at his disabled employee than he is reacting in shock to a body.

Moment to Watch Out For: Scully witnessing the ghost with blood leaking from her neck in the toilets. Talk your way out of that one. 

Result: Strangely enough even though this isn’t the best episode of the season by a long chalk, Elegy proves how successful season four has been on the whole. Solo John Shiban scripts often suffer from weak characterisation and/or a very bizarre core idea but neither of those faults seem to be in evidence here. This is the sort of episode that in a regular year of ups and downs for The X-Files would be fudged spectacularly but nestled in the wrap up of the fourth year it is given just enough credibility and atmosphere to scrape a pretty decent mark. The story itself might be a little plodding (the teaser isn’t the best and villain is apparent from the first scene she appears) but it is bolstered by taking place in the Scully arc (with another riveting trip to the therapists) and a sympathetic look at mental disability. James Charleston mines some terrific performances from the cast and ensures that the ghost sightings are memorable. Elegy isn’t an especially likable hour of drama (its far too depressing for that) but it has a great deal of worth for that and enjoys forcing the audience to confront some uncomfortable truths about mental illness. Oh and Scully indulges in a vicious bitch fight with the irredeemably evil Nurse Innes and that has got to be worth a look: 7/10

Demons written by R.W. Goodwin and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Is the Smoking Man Mulder’s father? Is this show a tedious soap opera?

Trust No-One: It’s the bizarrest thing. Whilst Anderson plays Scully with a certain consistency (she always tries to look mildly interested even if the story clearly isn’t engaging her) it almost feels as though Duchovny reads the script over and decides whether it is worth him investing any effort in or not. It’s the only way I can explain how he is so appealing in some stories (taking this year as an example…The Field Where I Died, Paper Hearts, Max, Small Potatoes) and others where he is just not trying (Herrenvolk, Teliko, Synchrony). Despite this being centred around Mulder and the mystery of what has happened before we joined the action, Demons is a particularly frustrating example of the latter where Duchovny walks around in a daze never trying to find a connection with his audience. Because Mulder looks so disinterested in finding out what he has been up to or that he might be guilty of a terrible crime it was very hard for me to give a damn either. He folds his arms in the police interrogation room with all the impudence of a man who thinks he would be better off doing something else, not a man being accused of a double homicide. Whilst he is read his rights he shuts his eyes and looks as though he is going to nod off. It is just the oddest approach to playing the role in this episode. Whilst Scully is fighting to try and prove his innocence Mulder tells her not to bother and that it isn’t really her field. It literally feels as though he is completely given up. He has a hole drilled into his head to awaken his memories and I was hoping the resulting effect might animate the character in general. Even (and this was the clincher) when Mulder points a gun at Scully (a scene we have witnessed several times now and gripping played on every other occasion) he barely bothers to make it look like a genuine threat. Duchovny’s lax expression screams ‘been here, done this before…’

Brains’n’Beauty: Mulder is clearly very disturbed and extremely ill and it is highly unprofessional of Scully as both a Doctor and his partner in failing to force him away from the investigation and to the nearest hospital. You will never see two agents behave so blasé about discovering a pair of corpses as these two when they stumble across Amy Cassandra and her husband. Its like the loss of life is simply something irritatingly mundane that they have to look into. 

The Good: The flashback sequences are visually arresting with a discordant, grainy, washed out effect that stresses the drama of the situation unfolding. Fantastic editing and imagery but its just window dressing for what is an episode that tells us nothing important.

The Bad: It takes Mulder almost the entirety of the episode to get in the car and go and visit his mother to ask her the appropriate questions about the visions he is having. Had he gone straight from the motel to the vineyard we could have had this wrapped up in about ten minutes and saved ourselves a lot of borderm. Nothing is confirmed with regards to Teena’s relationship with the Smoking Man so what precisely was this episode all about? Merely to drop in the possibility that they had an affair? That was already done at the beginning of the season.

Pre Titles Sequence: Goodwin is thinking with his directors cap rather than his writers one so the teaser is an intense visual experience which doesn’t make an ounce of sense. It catapults you into the episode as a sensory experience but as an opening gambit of a story, its pretty perplexing. Adult Mulder voyeuristically watches his sister and younger self observing their parents fighting. Is this a vision? A dream? A memory? Who knows. Mulder wakes up in a motel room covered in blood that isn’t his. Its such a sudden cut into the centre of a narrative I almost got whiplash.

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where Mulder confronts his mother is one of the least convincingly acted moments in the show to date. Duchovny fails to inject any emotion (not even a hint of anger) into his accusations and Rebecca Toolan is as stiff and mechanical as ever. Anderson is lost amongst so much compelling cardboard. When the truth emerges and Mulder accuses her of sleeping with the Smoking Man she slaps him around the face as though she is auditioning for a role in a revamped version of Dynasty.

Fashion Statement: For all the Shippers out there (of which there must have been a great many of when this show was at its height - its always the way when there is a show with two primary protagonists – even in shows like Supernatural when the characters are brothers) there is a scene where Scully pulls back a shower curtain to find Mulder cradling himself in the nude in the bath.

Mythology: As the flashbacks continue it seems clear that the scenes playing out are when Bill and Teena Mulder had to choose which of their children was to be abducted. The Smoking Man is present and Teena seems hysterical when she declares ‘not Samantha!’  It seems to intimate that Fox and Samantha were aware of some kind of upcoming problem before her abduction although there has never been any indication of that before now.

Result: Technically this should be the best episode of the season. A story which delves in the personal mythology of Mulder’s quest for his sister and one which opens halfway through the story with Mulder and Scully trying to piece together the mystery of what led to him firing his gun and waking up in a motel room covered in blood. The lack of character or humour in the script is what weighs it down and the fact that it doesn’t actually lead anywhere. Duchovny and Anderson wander from location to location looking faintly like two actors that are pleased that the seasons break is just around the corner and the plot stumbles along without ever attempting to engage the audience with progressive investigation. Irritatingly it robs us of the one dramatic idea in its favour – that Mulder may have committed a double murder – because neither Mulder of Scully (or the writer if I’m honest) ever believe that it is a possibility. Imagine how dramatic this would have been had Mulder turned out to be guilty? There is a really gripping story to be told about buried memories bleeding to the surface and with a non-linear narrative being assembled to try and make sense of them but that is a movie called Momento, and not this episode. Demons gets it about as wrong as Memento got it right. It’s a shame because this is precisely the sort of plot heavy mystery that The X-Files excels in. The truth that this episode is leading to is less about the abduction of Samantha and more concerned with Teena Mulder’s sleeping habits and that’s something I’ve never cared to pry into. Its disappointing that the season should drop the ball this close to its climax as things have been bubbling away nicely for some time now. Sometimes directors should stay behind the camera and leave the typewriter alone: 2/10

Gethsemane written by Chris Carter and directed by R.W. Goodwin

What’s it about: Proof of the existence of extra-terrestrials? Haven’t we been here before?

Trust No-One: Scully’s assertion that Mulder has abandoned any sense of equanimity and lost himself in the lies of government conspiracies and alien invasions does have a ring of truth to it at least. In a moment that hits him like a slap around the face Scully points out that exposing the existence of extraterrestrials is not her undying wish. Mulder suggests that there would be no greater revelation imaginable but just off the top of my head the Second Coming or being able to walk between alternative realities or the shock discovery of a dinosaur project would have similarly attention grabbing consequences. He sure has a gift for the hyperbolic. Its irritating to think that the show would grab hold of the idea that Mulder has been duped for the past four years by the government into believing in the existence of aliens to hide an even more disturbing truth. Surely the evidence of his own eyes is enough to disprove that. Unfortunately the show has to stall any developments in the arc story next year (the movie being filmed directly after this episode means that any developments in season five have to be held in stasis to allow it to slot into place between years five and six) and so Mulder is sent up this most unconvincing of blind alleys. But that’s for another time, at the moment the idea is merely outed. Mulder has faced greater opposition that this before and had his evidence snatched away. Why would he take his life now when he was this close? Is he that much of a defeatist? The only reason he would credibly commit suicide is if he genuinely bought into the idea of Scully being given cancer to convince him of the existence of extra-terrestrials. Its clear that there are an awful lot of fictions to be exposed next season. Its brave to suggest that a character would be written out in such an ignoble fashion but I doubt many in the audience were convinced that this was his exit strategy.

Brains’n’Beauty: There would have to be a very good reason for Scully to so publicly deconstruct Mulder’s work so negatively. How wonderful for Carter to abandon the idea of Scully and Mulder being tortured by killing off all of their relatives for the sake of a little drama and simply allowing them to indulge in some family time. The party at Margaret Scully’s house that introduces her brother Bill are very naturally played and enjoyable. Its such a contrast to the usual dour atmosphere of these mythology episodes that it really stands out as something unique (when for any drama scenes like this should be second nature). Who hasn’t experienced that moment when their mother thinks that they know best and forced an uncomfortable situation upon you? Margaret wants Scully to talk to their family priest about her condition and how she is dealing with it and she manipulates his visit at a family gathering. The moment when Bill tells Scully that he knows about her cancer and she tells him that she doesn’t want his sympathy because she plans to fight is nicely understated for a show that has started to feel a little like a soap opera of late. This feels like real character drama as opposed to the melodrama of Demons. Just because she hasn’t bared her soul to Bill, a Priest or God it doesn’t mean she isn’t responsible to the people that are important to her. She has to deal with this thing in her own way, not surrendering to it but combating it.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If someone could prove to you the existence of God would it change you?’ ‘Only if it had been disproven?’ ‘So you accept the possibility that belief in God is a lie?’ This is tough dialogue for a part of the world that is heavily religious.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Working for the DOD, watching a military industrial complex that operated unbridled and unchecked during the Cold War created a diversion of attention from itself and its continued misdeeds by confabulating enough believable evidence to convince passionate adepts like yourself that it really could be true…’ An actor must look at a line like that in a script and wonder how on Earth they are going to make it sound convincing. Its just hideous.

Ugh: The alien bodies look terribly rubbery…it looks as if it wants to be considered a fake. That is until we start chopping through the ribcage and exposing the organs hanging beneath. It’s a triumph of wrapping something organic and icky beneath an unconvincing looking exterior. The costume mirrors the layers of deception in the episode.

The Good: From a production standpoint this episode is pushing the boundaries of what television can achieve. When you read up on the lengths that the production went to to make the icy cave sequences look convincing, it is a breathtaking achievement. To be fair to the potentially budget breaking effort the material looks startlingly atmospheric and chilly, aided by some terrific location work on Mount Seymour. The camera glides effervescently around the mountain as the three scientists scale the mountain, exposing the directors cinematic ambitions. The idea of discovering something nasty lurking in the ice is not an original one (it can be traced back as far as A Thing From Another World, Doctor Who’s The Ice Warriors or even The X-Files’ own Ice) but it is such an appealing idea, especially when pulled off on this remarkable scale, that it is worth re-visiting. Why do these idiots always think it is a good idea to cut these nasties from the ice? Do they never consider that they might be held in suspension for a good reason? I like the idea that the three characters on the mountain have their own narrative, one where they are isolated and distrust each other after this awe inspiring discovery. Its like a mini movie playing out, guns being clutched in tents and murder on the mountain. It almost seems inevitable that the creature should be gone by the time Mulder has flown his way up the mountain and it should be disappointing but the storyline has played out so atmospherically to this point somehow that predictability feels like a comfort (and besides finding the bloody corpse on the mountain is a terrific image). The episode quickly subverts this cliché and Mulder gets to come face to face with a indisputable alien entity trapped for centuries in the ice. The body being discovered is part of the episodes mystery and opens up a new avenue to explore. Its great that even when he has the body in his possession Mulder still thinks it might be a hoax. He’s been burnt too many times in the past. Suddenly this becomes less about the idea that aliens are about to be exposed and more about whether Mulder’s quest is about to be justified or not. The fact that six bodies were found on the mountain is irrelevant, we’ve seen how murderously the government is willing to protect a lie before. Scully is tossed down a flight of stairs in an action sequence where her stunt double really earns her crust.

The Bad: Scully just happens to turn up at Dr Vitagliano’s lab when the samples are being stolen? That was really good timing. I just don’t buy the idea that Mulder and Scully have been led down the garden path for the first four seasons of this show, having the wool so spectacularly pulled over their eyes. If real, it would either be the most prolonged and controversial piece of sleight of hand or the most hideous piece of backtracking since Bobby Ewing walked out of the shower. The traitor amongst the scientists is painfully predictable, he’s the only one who doesn’t seem especially excited about the consequences of their discovery.

Pre Titles Sequence: Should this show even bother opening with the suggestion that one of the two leads is dead? Would they really go that far? At this stage of the game when the show is at its height of popularity it would be unthinkable (no wonder it created something of a buzz) but to think that in future seasons this very scenario would play out and not be resolved for over half a season (bourne out of desperation by the absence of an increasingly bored lead actor, admittedly) perhaps it is more prescient and clever than it might at first appear to be? This entire teaser feels slightly unreal, from the idea that we would be introduced to the idea of Mulder’s death in as unaffecting a way as a body under a shroud to Scully’s over-rehearsed speech with regards to de-bunking The X-Files. Rather than a plot naturally unfolding this feels like something deliberately being set up to be proven false.

Moment to Watch Out For: Where the hell has Blevins been hiding himself for the last four seasons minus four episodes? Is it really worth bringing him back just to kill him off? Voyager did something similarly pointless and cynical with one of its semi regular Engineering crewmembers in its final season.

Orchestra: The cinematic, epic score for the scenes on the mountain show exactly what Mark Snow can bring to this show when he is on form.

Result: Its been mixed results with regards to the mythology episodes this year but considering all of the better examples have been kept back to the latter half of the season I am really not complaining. Gethsemane is a terrifically climactic finale that wastes no time in trying to convince the audience that this time an extra terrestrial has really been found and it will really be exposed. If I sound pessimistic its only because past form tells us that this will all be unravelled in the conclusion but what is especially pleasing is the amount of resources being thrown at this production to make its potential revelations as epic as possible. All the scenes set on the mountain are incredible; the atmosphere is stifling, the visuals are dazzling and there is a genuine feeling that something important is unravelling. Contrasting that is the believable character work for both Scully (whose family gains another, marvellously grumpy, presence in the form of her brother Bill) and Mulder (whose quest for the truth has a harsh light thrown on it and the episode considers whether it is actually worth it). It’s only the scenes that bookend the episode that disappoint because they try and push too hard that Mulder is dead and that Scully is calling time on her work with him when the show would never be brave enough to attempt either when it is embracing its zenith of popularity. This is a beautifully directed piece of work, R.W. Goodwin clearing his name behind the camera after penning a hollow, lifeless script last week. His skill is in giving this a revelatory edge when it doesn’t actually reveal anything. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the middle seasons of the X-Files had problems because Carter’s attention was divided between this show and Millennium but this really hasn’t been the case. Instead season four has shown a willingness to experiment, to take on some controversial ideas, to push its characters into dark places and provided a wealth of fine episodes. Gethsemane is a worthy finale to such a year, an engaging affair that genuinely convinces that its exposure is about to force the show to evolve into something different: 8/10

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