Thursday, February 13, 2014

I'm still alive!

This post is not coming from a sentient computer, cryogenically frozen head in a jar, consciousness uploaded to the Internet, nor from any another dead-reaching-out-into-life kind of thing. I'm still alive, promise. I've just been spending all my available pain-free time working on my main venture - Tipsy Sheep Yarn - so that I can have everything for the business squared away before my surgery renders me unable to work.

I should be able to get a few reviews done before I go under the knife in the second week of March.  And I plan  to watch lots and lots of X-Files during my recovery. I'll at least get EBE up for you, which has been sitting half finished in the queue for nearly a month now. Promise.

To reiterate. Not dead. Just hurting. Sorry.

Friday, January 17, 2014


If you're reading this, it's because I couldn't get today's regular post done in time. I'm just... I can't right now. Sorry.

Also, I'm definitely going to need surgery. Sometime in mid-February. And I don't know when I'll have enough use of my hand back to start blogging again. Maybe one of you loyal readers can take over while I'm out?

Friday, January 10, 2014

1x16 Young at Heart

I think it's remotely plausible that someone might love this show.

Welcome to 1x16 Young at Heart or "Salamander Hand? Wait, What?" or "Another Bad Guy from Mulder's Profiler Days Who Holds an Unreasonable Grudge and Has Also Become Somehow Paranormal." Seriously, how many of those do we see over the course of the series? 5? 6? It strikes me as very strange that good guys who were friends of Mulder and Scully back in the day tend to wind up dead, but bad guys who knew them somehow wind up with supernatural abilities. ...With the possible exception of Jack Willis from the previous episode, who sort of gets both. Even bad guys who make reappearances tend to come back more evil and more powerful.

In case you need reminding, here's a list of the themes we'll be examining when and if they crop up in each episode:

1. The show is as much about Scully's journey toward becoming a believer as it is about the paranormal events she and Mulder encounter.
2. Scully is only a skeptic when viewing things from a clinical distance; when the shit hits the fan, she acts on Mulder's crazy beliefs because she knows it will keep her alive.
3. Mulder isn't right nearly as often as he thinks.
4. The evolution of the Mulder/Scully relationship - not just the romantic involvement that eventually occurs, but their dynamics of trust and distrust, the changing ways they view each other, and the friendship that grows over time.
5. Assault on a federal officer never seems to lead to jail time.
6. Mulder is kind of a dick.
7. Hotels, car rental places, and apartment landlords must be crazy to rent to FBI agents.
8. The enormous top-secret government conspiracy actually really sucks at keeping things quiet.
9.  There are some serious homoerotic undertones in this show.
10. The X-files department is super toxic to anyone who comes close to it.
11. Mulder and Scully are both terrible at their jobs.
12. Local law enforcement is portrayed in an extremely negative light.
13. This show is white-washed as fuck. And almost all the non-whites are villains or stereotypes.
14. Bathtubs are scary, terrible places that should be avoided at all costs.
15. Plot and logic will be completely discarded just so Scully can have some reason not to witness the big paranormal events of the episode.

Tashmoo Federal Correctional Facility
Pennsylvania, 1989

In what is probably the shortest teaser ever (under 1:45), an inmate in a wheelchair notices his buddy Barnett's bed is empty and hears screams coming from down the hallway. He goes to investigate and finds, uh...

Just move along. Nothing to see here, folks.

The doc tells him tp GTFO because Barnett is dead, but wheelchair guy sees his milky corpse eyes blinking as he leaves.

Washington, D.C.
Present Day

After the title sequence, we open on Mulder and Scully heading to a jewelry store robber at the request of one of Mulder's old VCU buddies, Reggie... and holy crap everyone, it's a named character of color who has multiple lines and is relevant to the story and is not an asshole. For once. In defiance of #13.

He tells them that whoever robbed the jewelry store shot the sales girl AFTER she'd handed over the money, and left a piece of evidence Reggie repeatedly insists will blow Mulder's mind.

They two of them share some cryptic references to someone named Barnett until Scully, as frustrated as the viewer about not knowing WTF is going on here, asks to be clued in. Mulder explains that Barnett was his first case at the FBI, catching an armed robber/murderer ... and that an agent died during his arrest. Barnett also liked to taunt him with cryptic notes, which is the mind-blowing evidence that Reggie found:

Barnett got life in prison, but supposedly died there years ago.

We cut to some sort of FBI lab where a handwriting analyst is examining the note in between overt flirtations with Mulder. She says the note was written in the last 48 hours by someone right-handed, and is 95% certain it was written by Barnett.

Meanwhile, Scully and Reggie are in his office watching the video of the stakeout where they caught Barnett. On the screen, we watching Barnett taking the driver of an armored car hostage, holding a gun to his head. Mulder circles behind him and has a clear shot, but doesn't take it - for once, he's playing by the book, not firing when it could endanger a hostage. Barnett shoots his hostage and another agent before Mulder shoots him. Reggie says Mulder never forgave himself for that.

So yet another painful memory for Mulder to add to his giant pile of guilt. It's no wonder there's speculation that Mulder's Jewish, what with all the guilt and his weird relationship with his mother. And Scully has Catholic guilt and a weird relationship with her father. These two were made for each other, yo.

Mulder and Scully meet up around a fax machine (yet another archaic piece of technology, though this one is sadly still in use) where he tells her the results of the handwriting analysis and picks up the fax of Barnett's death certificate which has just come through. She thinks the note is from a copycat, and reveals that Reggie showed her the tape. He seems embarrassed and defensive, while Scully is understanding and comforting... and this is one of those scenes where tone of voice and subtle facial cues clue you in that these two are trying to hard to understand and be kind to each other because they really do care about each other. #4

Scully's "sympathetic head tilt and compassionate eyebrows" combo.

And of course we get more insight into Mulder's unending self-flagellation:
SCULLY: You did the right thing, Mulder.
MULDER: Did I? Steve Wallenberg [the agent Barnett killed] had a wife and two kids. One of his boys is an all-star on his football team now. If I had pulled the trigger two seconds earlier and Wallenberg would be here to see his kid play. Instead, I got some dead man robbing jewelry stores and sending me haikus.
He of course immediately heads to said kid's football practice in order to wallow in his guilt some more.

Like, okay, I get it. Mulder feels serious guilt about this. God knows I feel guilty over all kinds of shit that wasn't half as PTSD-inducing as watching an agent die because I was following the rules. But is anyone else getting the feeling that (1) this kind of guilt complex would have gotten him removed from the FBI, if he even passed initial screenings to begin with and (2) they're setting this up as the impetus for his character to be constantly throwing away the rulebook? "Well last time I went by the book, an agent died and I tortured myself about it for several years, so now I'm going to whip out my gun and neglect to file travel plans and shirk my genuine responsibilities and ditch my partner even though she would really be great to have around to watch my back and keep me from being a moron, and go chasing aliens because rules are bad!"

Also I'm pretty sure a non-parent in a dark trenchcoat staring creepily at one prepubescent boy during a football game would get him kicked out and/or arrested.

He goes to leave, but finds an envelope inside his car with another taunting note ("A hunted Fox eventually dies.") and a stack of stalker-y photos of him and Scully. He yells "I'll get you, you son of a bitch!" which makes the football parents intensely uncomfortable and also draws the corpse-eyed gaze of another spectator, whose face is hidden behind his hat.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

Reggie, competing for the cape of Captain Obvious, tells Mulder someone may be messing with his head. Mulder reminds him that Barnett threatened to "get him" during the trial, and that he "just feels" that this must be Barnett. Reggie tells him that a lot of people at the Bureau think "Spooky Mulder" could have been a contender but has just become an embarrassment, a disappointment, and a liability (which is totally the healthy thing to say to someone who's obviously coming apart at the seams) but Scully interrupts the Mulder Pity Party by bringing in Barnett's will - it says he was cremated and all his possessions were given to another prisoner, Joe Crandall.

Mulder goes to a computer lab where he has one of the techs age a photo of Barnett to what he'd probably look like today. At one point he just pauses, gazes off into the distance, and starts having a Vietnam-style flashback to the day he testified at Barnett's trial. He testifies to pretty much everything we learned from the video in Reggie's office, then goes on to have a big emotional outburst about how Barnett is devoid of humanity and should die like an animal. Just the first of several inappropriate courtroom outbursts Mulder will engage in over the course of the series. After Mulder steps down, Barnett turns to him, smiles, and mouths, "I'll get you." He winks and blows a kiss and... just... #9. In the creepiest way possible, but yeah, #9.


He snaps back to the present when Scully comes in to tell him something is fishy about Barnett's death certificate - it says he died of a heart attack, but his medical records show that he was admitted to the prison infirmary for an infected right hand, and there's no indication of cardiac complications.

Tashmoo Federal Correctional Facility

Moose and Squirrel show up to talk to Crandall, the prisoner in a wheel chair from the teaser. He tells them what REALLY happened the night Barnett died - the screams, the severed right hand, the blinking corpse eyes, and how Dr. Ridley threatened him with a scalpel to subtly drive home the point that Barnett was dead when he totally wasn't.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

Mulder loads his gun and tells Scully he's not going to wait around for Barnett to send him any more Valentines. The phone rings - it's Barnett, calling to taunt Mulder in a voice that would not be out of place on a phone sex hotline. #9.  "I stood next to you in line for coffee this morning... you're hotter than that latte you ordered... I'm close than you think... close enough to lick you... I'm everywhere you are... I own you, like the naughty little slave you are..."

Okay, some of that I may have put in myself, but it's implied. It's definitely implied.

There are also a bunch of extreme close ups of eyes and lips during their little exchange, and it's probably supposed to be all tense and dramatic but really it's just uncomfortable and kind of cheesey.

I'm also more than slightly entranced by that panty-melting green gaze...
Scully runs back in just after Mulder hangs up, saying they couldn't complete a trace on the call (which is TV/movie drama bullshit, by the way, since instant traces have been possible since the early 80s). Mulder knows it's Barnett, though, as he detected a faint accent, because I guess Barnett is the only person on the earth who has it.

Mulder gets on the phone to Reggie, who has a hard time talking because Barnett is choking the life out of him in his own bed with this weird salamander hand thing...

Because getting strangled in your own bed isn't bad enough, you have to feel the cold clammy skin of
an amphibious limb pressing the life out of you.

Alas poor Reggie. Yet another victim of the curse that comes along with even the most casual contact with the X-files. #10.

The next morning, police comb through the crime scene at Reggie's apartment while Mulder stands around blaming himself.

They've found another note at the crime scene ("Funeral for Fox's friends - then for Fox.") which Mulder again brings to the handwriting analysis lab. The analyst reiterates that this note was almost certainly made by a right-hander, which Mulder thinks is just a little odd given the other inmate's statement that Barnett's right hand was cut off. The writing is too smooth to be from someone with a prosthetic hand, and it's almost certainly the same person as the first note.

Back down in the basement, Scully has been doing some digging on Dr. Ridley - who signed the death certificate - and found out he hasn't actually been a doctor for like 15 years, after his license was revoked for being evil. Specifically for performing experiments on kids with progeria. (Which makes me even more paranoid about ever going to prison, because apparently they don't care enough to do background checks on their staff doctors.)

National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland

M&S talk to a doctor to get a nice exposition on progeria and more info on Ridley's experiments, which include conducting human experiments without government approval (because remember kids, it's okay to experiment with anti-aging gene therapy on children afflicted with a horrible and rare medical condition, but only if our infallible government says so!) The doctor also tells them that Ridley purportedly went to South America to continue his work, and for a second I thought this was going to go into Boys From Brazil territory (since one of Ridley's nicknames was Dr. Mengele) but sadly, I am disappoint.

I have to say I continue to be confused by the way they bring in random experts in Season One. Scully is a medical doctor, and fully capable of explaining to Mulder the details of progeria that the NIH doctor reveals. Heck, she could have even had her own little slideshow for once. And the FBI (as we will see in season six) has a department that does nothing but background checks - it should be relatively easy for them to find this information without visiting the NIH. This is a technique that almost totally vanishes in later seasons, for which I'm personally grateful as it allows them more time for story and removes a lot of boring exposition.

I guess they just really wanted to show off this actor's bitchin' pornstache.

As they leave, Mulder tells Scully he thinks Ridley found out how to reverse the aging process and that that's why they haven't found Barnett - he's disguised as a younger version of himself.

He goes back to the computer lab, this time to have the tech de-age Barnett's picture... and is that even a thing? Those programs are designed to age images, right? Why would it even have the capability to make someone look younger?

We then cut to Scully's apartment, where she's typing up her notes. Barnett's creepy salamander hand opens the door; she hears the creak and looks around, so she goes back to typing. Then she hears a few more weird sounds and decides, "Hmm, Mulder thinks the supposedly-dead madman with a personal grudge against him might be out to hurt his friends, I better check this out," so she grabs her gun. #2. Also putting this as #11 because really, she should be paranoid enough at this point to (1) never ignore creepy sounds in her apartment and (2) never have her gun out of arm's reach.

Before she actually sees creepy lizard man, there's a knock at her door - it's Dr. Ridley. Barnett, realizing now's not the time, sneaks away.

Later, Mulder and Scully listen while Ridley tells them that Barnett is his only patient to survive the experiments - except for his eyes, which seem to be dying, and his right hand which is a salamander hand because science, bitches. He also says that the US government was secretly funding his research even after he lost his license.

Because this is season one, and everything has to have a conspiracy around it.

This is Mulder's cue to go to a smokey dive bar for a clandestine meeting with Deep Throat,

Two grown men meeting in a dark corner of a seedy bar to have an intense whispered conversation mere inches
from each other's faces. Nothing suggestive about that. #9
who tells him that Barnett stole Ridley's research and has since been in negotiations with the US government, who want to buy it.

The next morning, Scully's phone rings while she's in the shower; someone enters her answering machine code and she comes out of the bathroom in time to hear that someone playing back her messages - one from her mother about nothing in particular (totally not the voice if the actress who plays Scully's mom, btw), and one from a friend we've never heard and will never hear of again inviting her to a cello recital.

It says a lot about how times have changed that I considered explaining answering machines and secret codes just then. But if you're too young to remember that kind of thing, explaining it would probably just confuse you.

Back at the X-files office, Scully brings in her answering machine and explains to Mulder what happened, and also how she thinks she was almost murdered by a lizard man the night before. As if on cue, Barnett calls again to deliver more heavy breathing and to threaten Ridley's life and all of Mulder's friends.

Janie Taylor Memorial Recital Hall
Washington, D.C.

Mulder explains to a group of agents that Scully is going to be Barnett Bait and could they please try not to let her die.

Scully is understandably nervous, probably because she's surrounded by incompetence; Mulder of course walks right by Barnett, who is tuning a piano with his hideous salamander hand in plain sight and staring with his creepy corpse eyes. I guess Mulder is too busy flirting. #11

Predictably, perhaps inevitably, Barnett pushes through the crowd and shoots Scully right in the chest. Rather than stick around and help his partner and leave the pursuit of Barnett to the literally dozens of other agents in the building whose judgement might not be clouded by personal feelings, Mulder takes off after him. #11 again.

Barnett takes the cellist hostage (Scully's dear friend, we presume, though we never learn her name nor hear a single line of dialogue from her), taunting Mulder that he'll never pull the trigger because it's against regulation to shoot him while he's got a hostage at gunpoint. I guess Barnett didn't do enough research - he doesn't know that in the last 5 years, Mulder has gone from the FBI's Golden Boy to the FBI's Most Unwanted, who doesn't give two shits about the rules anymore; Mulder shoots him in the chest.

Oh, and don't get too upset about Mulder's callous disregard for Scully's well-being; she was wearing a bullet-proof vest.

Later, Moose and Squirrel watch through an observation window as a team of doctor's try to save Barnett's life - and a Man in Black hovers over him, trying to find out where he's hidden Ridley's research. They all fail, and Barnett dies, taking his secrets with him.

The camera pans through a train station, finally settling on a single locker, as Mulder and Scully discuss the possibilities:
MULDER: If Barnett didn't destroy it, he could have stashed it anywhere. Which would have a cruel irony, wouldn't it? Scientific knowledge that could change the course of mankind buried out in a field somewhere or in some safe deposit box. Getting old, just like the rest of us.
SCULLY: If it didn't destroy it, chances are that somehow, someday, somebody will find it.
MULDER: And when they do... maybe he can get his revenge from beyond the grave but somehow, I feel like we haven't heard the last from John Barnett.

Spoiler alert: You have totally heard the last from John Barnett.

I really don't know how I feel about this episode. It feels like there were a lot of threads left dangling - not in a "ooooh spooky, wonder what happens next" kind of way, but in a "we ran out of time and/or didn't care" kind of way. Like, Barnett threatens Ridley, but we never see or hear of him again after he shows up at Scully's apartment to explain himself. Did Barnett kill him? Is he still out there? Why isn't the government trying to get the research data out of HIM instead of Barnett? After all, they funded it and he sort of understands everything about it, certainly more than Barnett ever could. The scenes with Ridley and with the NIH doctor feel completely out of place, like the writers couldn't figure out any better way to explain Barnett's condition without having a couple of doctors show up and straight up tell the viewer. One of my biggest peeves with the first season is how often the writers try to spoon feed us information rather than let us uncover it slowly alongside our heroes in a more organic way.

The government conspiracy angle here also felt out of place. I get that this is season one and they want us to understand that the government is shady and evil and all that, but it felt like such a throwaway plot line that I don't know why they even bothered to put it in to begin with. Here's a little writing tip: if you can remove a minor filler plot element without changing the story at all, you should probably get rid of it. Would this episode have been any different at all without that 10-second scene with Deep Throat and Ridley's casual mention that the government wanted to buy the stolen research? The only thing that would have changed AT ALL is the very very end, with the voiceover and the locker close-up, which leads me to believe the writers through it in there because they didn't know how else to wrap up the episode.

It also felt like the cello recital thing was forced. I get that they needed a place for Scully to be where Barnett could come for her, but there is no continuity with regards to Scully's non-work relationships that would explain why she's going to this friend's cello recital. The friend comes out of nowhere to provide a convenient plot device, get held hostage for like 10 seconds, and then vanish, never to be seen or heard from again.  OMG, you guys, Scully's friends are just like Zack Morris's non-Kelly love interests - they just disappear into that dark night.

Next week we move on to EBE, one of the best mytharc episodes of season one, and not just because it actually makes sense in the context of the larger mythology of later seasons.

Firsts: Mulder's inappropriate courtroom outbursts

Friday, January 3, 2014

1x15 Lazarus

I am the key figure in an ongoing blogger project; a project to review each episode of The X-Files in chronological order.  It's a global project, actually, with awesome readers in the highest levels of nerdiness and hopefully it will be read by every man, woman, and child on the face of this planet.

This week we're looking at 1x15 Lazaraus, the first of four count 'em four episodes in S1 that focus on the idea of immortality / coming back from the dead. It's like one of the writers had the idea, and then everyone else thought they could write a story about it too, and they just decided "Fuck it, we'll shoot all of 'em." Which is how we wind up with Lazarus (dead guy comes back in someone else's body), Young at Heart (dead guy comes back as, like, a backwards-aging lizard or something), Born Again (dead guy comes back in someone else's body, but this time it's a little girl), and Roland (dead guy comes back by possessing his long lost mentally-challenged brother). Every season seems to have at least one episode about life-after-death and the possibility of returning to this mortal coil from beyond the grave, but this season has more than any other and it just feels weird, especially because they come in two back-to-back pairs: 1x15 Lazarus / 1x16 Young at Heart and 1x22 Born Again / 1x23 Roland. And three of them are basically the same but with different possessed vessels.

This episode does give us some insight into Scully's past, which as far as I'm concerned is the best part of it. We already know, thanks to Fire, that Mulder has a thing for dark-haired women who treat him like crap (maybe this has something to do with his sister); in this episode, we learn that Scully has a thing for older men who are in some way inappropriate for her (which is totally a daddy-issue thing). These people don't have issues. They have subscriptions.

Anyway, in case you've forgotten, here's a list of the themes we'll be examining as we go through each recap:

1. The show is as much about Scully's journey toward becoming a believer as it is about the paranormal events she and Mulder encounter.
2. Scully is only a skeptic when viewing things from a clinical distance; when the shit hits the fan, she acts on Mulder's crazy beliefs because she knows it will keep her alive.
3. Mulder isn't right nearly as often as he thinks.
4. The evolution of the Mulder/Scully relationship - not just the romantic involvement that eventually occurs, but their dynamics of trust and distrust, the changing ways they view each other, and the friendship that grows over time.
5. Assault on a federal officer never seems to lead to jail time.
6. Mulder is kind of a dick.
7. Hotels, car rental places, and apartment landlords must be crazy to rent to FBI agents.
8. The enormous top-secret government conspiracy actually really sucks at keeping things quiet.
9.  There are some serious homoerotic undertones in this show.
10. The X-files department is super toxic to anyone who comes close to it.
11. Mulder and Scully are both terrible at their jobs.
12. Local law enforcement is protrayed in an extremely negative light.
13. This show is white-washed as fuck. And almost all the non-whites are villains or stereotypes.
14. Bathtubs are scary, terrible places that should be avoided at all costs.
15. Plot and logic will be completely discarded just so Scully can have some reason not to witness the big paranormal events of the episode.

Maryland Marine Bank
5:55 PM

We open on Scully and another agent, Jack Willis, totally failing at looking casual while they stake out the bank - they've gotten a tip it's about to be robbed. There's just enough familiarity in the way they talk to each other to let the viewer know they're not just colleagues.

Meanwhile, outside, a couple of bank robbers are getting ready to go Bonnie and Clyde on the place. The woman, Lula, seems a bit nervous but the man, Dupre, is far too sexually aroused at the prospect of money and violence to care about her feelings. He kisses her, and we see the tattoo on his arm.

Dupre throws on a hockey mask and kicks his way into the bank, demanding the teller hand over all the money. Willis and Scully pull their guns on him, and Dupre starts to slowly lower his gun... then raises it again lightning quick and shoots Willis in the chest. Scully puts 3 rounds into the robber, dropping him.

Later, in the hospital, a bunch of doctors are gathered around Willis, trying to get his heart started again, while Scully hovers nearby looking very worried. The other doctors want to give up, but Scully pushes them to keep shocking his heart again and again... and unnoticed by everyone but the viewer, Dupre's nearby corpse convulses each time they shock Willis. Finally they get a rhythm, and the camera pans over to linger on the tattoo on Dupre's arm.

Betheda Naval Hospital
12:51 A.M.
Two Days Later

After the opening credits, we cut to a hospital room where "Willis" is hooked up to a bunch of machines. He wakes suddenly and goes to another patient's room to steal his clothes. A nurse comes in and he hides in the bathroom, ready to strangle her with a piece of rubber tubing. Luckily she leaves without noticing him, and he seems confused when he looks into the mirror. He goes down to the morgue and finds Dupre's body in a drawer and (ew ew ew) cuts its finger off to get the wedding ring.

So, uh, spoiler alert, guys, but that's not Willis. That's Dupre in Willis's body. Like, they're not really subtle about it at all, and it gets confirmed just a few minutes into the episode when Dupre's tattoo starts showing up on Willis's arm. For the sake of clarity, rather than typing "Dupre in Willis's body" every time, I'm just going to refer to him as Dupre, and "Willis" is shorthand for "the guy everyone thinks is Willis but is really Dupre in Willis's body."... because my wrist still hurts and won't you please have some pity on me?

Later, Mulder and Scully meet up in the morgue where everyone is more than a little weirded out by the fact that "Willis" is missing and someone cut off Dupre's corpse's finger. Scully thinks "Willis" might have done it out of stress and that he's vanished to hunt down Dupre's partner/lover, Lula.

She's right - Dupre kicks down the door of Lula's home but finds it empty. He rolls up his sleeve to root around in the chimney (presumably for a gun or the stolen money) and sees that his tattoo is slowly showing up on his shiny new body.

Either a dead man's tattoo is appearing on his arm, or he picked up a really gnarly rash at that hospital.

Back at the X-Files office, Mulder shows Scully a couple of prints lifted from the shears used to sever the corpse's finger - prints which indicate that the person was left handed. It's a positive match to Willis's print, but he was right-handed; Dupre, however, was a lefty. He shows her an EKG from the ER that shows Willis's cardiac activity, and she grudgingly admits that it looks like there are two heartbeats.

MULDER: Two men died in that crash room, Scully. One man came back. The question is … which one?
University of Maryland
Department of Biology

Mulder drags Scully to meet another of his crackpot cohorts, this one a professor of biology who asks Scully what she knows about near-death experiences. He's basically a thinly-veiled deus ex machina who tells the audience what a near-death experience is and how sometimes people come back... different. I feel like this would have worked better as one of Mulder's kooky slideshow exposition things, because we will never see this professor again and he's otherwise completely irrelevant to the story, but maybe they were tired of having Mulder be the constant know-it-all. This scene feels more like sitting in a lecture hall than watching a hit prime-time TV show.

Scully, however, is still convinced that "Willis" is still Willis. She tells Mulder that she and Willis dated when he was still her instructor at the FBI Academy and wow should that be a red flag.

His mind just went so many places his face doesn't know what to do right now.

Dang, Scully. Who knew beneath that enormous fucking trench coat there beats the heart of a strumpet. I can't tell if Mulder in that screencap is turned on, freaked out, shocked at the realization that Scully is a sexual being, or considering what he'd have to do to get Scully to drop that cool veneer for him, too. #4?

Oh, and she mentions that she and Willis have the same birthday.


Cut to Dupre kicking down some poor schmuck's door and assaulting him in his shitty-ass apartment. The schmuck is Lula's brother, Tommy, and Dupre wants to know where she is. Dupre starts bleeding, as if from a gunshot wound, and gets creepily sentimental about Lula before shooting her brother in the freaking head.

Because nothing says, "I love you" like murdering someone's sibling.

Crime Scene
Desmond Arms Resident Hotel

Mulder, Scully, and a bunch of other agents poke around the shitty-ass apartment hotel room and Dupre shows up, pretending he's still Willis. He sees Scully and flashes back to her shooting him dead, so that's probably not going to end well. She pulls him out into the hallway to discuss just what the fuck he's been doing all this time, and he doesn't have an answer beyond, "Uh, I wasn't feeling well."

Mulder, sensing that something isn't quite right, follows Willis to the shooting range (where he is firing left-handed) and gets him to sign a birthday card for Scully (which he also does left-handed, and also her birthday is months away).

That is one ugly fucking card, Mulder...
 He brings her the card, citing it as evidence that "Willis" is not Willis anymore; oh, and the signature on the card looks nothing like Willis's signature on file; and also, the print they found at the shitty-ass hotel room has gone missing from the lab. But she still refuses to believe that "Willis" is really Dupre.

I mean, I get that this is early seasons-Scully and she's not all the way on board Mulder's crazy train.  And they're talking about her ex here, so she's even more defensive than usual. But this is stubborn even for Scully. Out-of-character stubborn. Normally at this point in the episode she's at least sort of thinking that maybe something spooky could conceivably be happening, or at least humoring Mulder enough to allow him to go poking his (distinguished) nose into things. At a bare minimum, she should be considering that Willis has been seriously affected by the whole "almost dying" thing, maybe even suffering brain damage after being clinically dead for over 13 minutes - especially with that bit about the handwriting. But she seems totally blase about it, just accepting that "Willis" passed his psych and physical evals and has been cleared to return to duty.

Also there is NO WAY that Dupre would pass an actual FBI psych eval. He's a former prison guard who fell in love (obsessively in love, mind you) with an inmate and then spent a year crisscrossing the country on a bank robbery / murder spree. It's not like he has access to the real Willis's memories or anything to help him pass the test - after all, then he'd remember Scully's birthday and how to sign his host's name.  If that guy can actually pass a FBI psychological exam, then there's hope for just about anyone (and it explains how Mulder got in in the first place...).

To Scully's credit, she does at least make some effort to make sure "Willis" is okay - she heads up to his cubicle at the VCU to ask about the missing fingerprint. He's a little distracted, however, because he's just received a phone call with a lead to Lula's location: a landlord thinks that Lula is in his building.

Scully and Dupre head out (for some reason Scully doesn't see fit to bring Mulder along...). "Willis" says he's called for backup but insists they can't wait any longer.  They spot Lula just as she's about to go do some laundry.

That's... that's not really the face of a man hunting down a fugitive...

They give chase, with Scully finally tackling and cuffing Lula in the basement of the building after a brief struggle. Dupre approaches, picks up Scully's gun... and tosses her a pair of handcuffs, ordering her at gunpoint to put them on. And not in that cool sexy way you know they did before.

Scully FINALLY keys in that something is kind of amiss here

There's a Dreamland joke in here somewhere, I just know it.

when "Willis" starts caressing Lula's face and getting weirdly sentimental.

We skip some time and probably a very awkward car ride and cut to Scully cuffed to a radiator, her lip swollen and bloody.  Dupre is trying to convince Lula that he's still him, just with a new face, by telling her stories of their time together.

LULA: (not convinced) Okay. Okay, what did we do after we got married?
WILLIS: (suggestively) Right after?
LULA: After that.
WILLIS: Well, we went down to the beach. I took out my buck knife and I sliced open my palm and then I slit open your palm … and we let the blood drip down in the water.
LULA: Then what did you say to me?
WILLIS: I said, "This is so we can be married in all the oceans of the world."  And then I made you a solemn oath … (holds up wedding ring that he cut from his own corpse) to never take this ring off my finger. Ever. I mean to keep that promise.
I honestly can't decide if that's truly bizarre or kind romantic. I sort of figured that these aren't the kind of people who really worry too much about consequences, but still. HIV? Hepatitis? Tetanus from the dirty knife? And who knows what other gross shit you might have gotten in those wounds considering you cut yourselves on a BEACH. My sister went swimming once with a tiny burst blister on her heel. She wound up with a serious staph infection.

Lula must be way less paranoid about her health than I am, because that story seems to convince her that this really is Dupre, just wearing Willis's face. And she doesn't seem too thrilled about it:

Also, he just said his new body will feel the same in the dark, which would freak out just about anybody.

We cut back to the apartment building where Mulder and some other agent have just finished talking to the landlord who gave "Willis" the tip. Mulder manages to keep a terse front to mask just how badly he's freaking out about the fact that Scully has now been missing for 12 hours. Luckily he doesn't have to wait much longer - Dupre calls his cell seemingly just to taunt him with Scully's frightened voice.

After Dupre hangs up, Scully tries to reason with him, reaching to the Willis she thinks is still inside - she tells him the real Willis's birthday and address, and about a weekend the two of them spent at his parents' cabin in a snow storm. Dupre starts seeing flashes of those memories, but he pushes those memories away, telling Scully he remembers that she shot him and then let him die in order to save Willis... but he came back instead.

He jabs a gun into her face but Lula comes in before he can pull the trigger, reminding him that they need Scully alive. He takes a sip of her soda and Scully tells him that Jack Willis's body is diabetic and pleads with him to get insulin before he goes into a diabetic coma.

It says a lot about Scully's character that even though "Willis" cuffed her, kidnapped her, hit her at least once, and shoved a gun into her cheek and threatened to blow her away, she still wants to save his life.  This is almost the anti-#1, refusing to believe in the weird shit that's happening even though her life is in danger, because she doesn't want to accept that someone she cares about is gone. This scene kind of sets up her relationship with Mulder - how she constantly tries to save him even when he's an ass, even when it causes her to suffer, and how she refuses to give up on him no matter how grim things get. Not gonna mark that as #4 just yet, but it's an interesting character trait to see developing.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

Mulder pours over Willis's notes about Lula and Dupre, hoping for some clue as to where they could be holding Scully. On a tape recording, Willis talks about the "intoxicating freedom" of their life of crime. He gets a page (OMG a pager! It's like seeing the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park for the first time) and calls a meeting with some other agents. He says that a gas station just got robbed but the only thing taken was insulin, so Scully and "Willis" must be nearby.

Back at... wherever they are, Dupre has released Scully, who is getting ready to give him an insulin injection before he passes out. Lula stops her, pointing a gun at her and knocking the insulin to the floor. She tells Dupre that she was the one who tipped the FBI to the bank robbery in the teaser - she just wanted to get rid of him and keep the money.

Damn bitch, you cold.

Cut to the FBI office. Mulder gets a call from Lula, who wants a million dollars by tomorrow or Scully dies. Mulder, less than happy, drops this line:
MULDER: (on phone, threatening) You listen to me --- you lay one hand on Scully, and so help me, God ----
Yeaaaaaaaaaah... remember back in the pilot, how he was all "nothing matters to me but finding out the truth about my sister and the shadow government conspiracy surrounding it"?  I guess we found something that matters.  This is pretty much the first time we see Mulder exhibit such fear and anger at the thought of Scully being in danger. He really could lose her this time, and he realizes how much he wants her to live.  He doesn't seem to give a shit about Dupre-in-Willis, even though it's real hard evidence of something spooky - he just wants Scully back. #4.

They can't trace the phone number because Lula called on Scully's cell (and triangulating from cell towers or using a phone's internal GPS was not a thing back then, my sweet summer children) but they CAN filter out Lula's voice to analyze the background noise.  They manage to isolate the sound of a small-engine plane taking off.

Mulder calls a meeting in the briefing room, explaining what he's found and that they've isolated an area of about 1000 households to search.  And then his voice gets all unsteady like he's about to cry and...


#4. #4 all over the damn place.

Anyway. The following morning, we cut back to Scully who is once again handcuffed to the radiator. Dupre wakes her up, telling her what he remembers about their weekend in the woods... and then starts flashing to Dupre's memories of being shot in the bank. He starts screaming the same things he did then, and for a moment, Scully sees Dupre slumped on the couch instead of Willis.

There is a knock at the door - an undercover cop disguised as a Bible salesman. Lula answers but closes the door on him quickly. The cop instantly gets on the radio to call in Lula's location.

Inside, Scully tells Lula that "Willis" is dead. She gets close to him to deliver her final nasty goodbye, and he lurches up and grabs her gun. Outside, agents move into position around the house, with Mulder of course in the lead. Lula tries to sweet talk Dupre out of killing her, saying they can still get away; he tells her that death is nothing to be afraid of, kisses her, and pulls the trigger.  At the sound of the gunshot, the FBI agents kick down the door and Mulder runs to Scully's side. He hovers over her in concern, but she's only worried about "Willis"... who is now slumped in the corner, dead for real this time. Dupre's tattoo fades from his arm.

In a few years, Scully will wish she were capable of the same easy tatt removal.
Later, Scully is cleaning out Willis's desk when Mulder brings her his watch, which he got from the morgue. It was a gift from Scullly on Willis's 35th birthday - and it stopped at 6:47, the exact time he when into cardiac arrest at the hospital.

And we get one of the most ambiguous final exchanges thus far:
SCULLY: What does that mean?
MULDER: It means … It means whatever you want it to mean. (gently) Good night.
So.... yeah. There ya go. I'm not saying I hate this episode - I don't. I find the premise interesting but overall felt the delivery was lacking. I give it a B-. The bit with Dupre's tattoo felt very contrived, as if the writers were trying to lead the audience to one conclusion by saying, "Hey look, he hasn't lost his mind, someone else is riding his body." But then they double back on that by having Dupre experience Willis's memories near the end. WTF is that supposed to mean? Flesh memory? The real Willis still alive inside somewhere? The real Willis reaching back into his body from beyond the grave? I wish so badly they'd left that part with the tattoo out altogether and left it up to the viewer's interpretation as to whether Willis was just losing his mind or if Dupre really was inhabiting his body. I'd rather have more unanswered questions that leave me with something to think about that a couple of mediocre answers spoonfed to me that don't make much sense.

I would like to note that I wrote the second half of this post using one of those split ergonomic keyboards and it felt strangely good. Like, weird, because I'm not used to hitting certain keys (most notably the B key) with the correct fingers but at least my wrists are nicely supported.  It also feels like I'm typing from the future, which is pretty cool.

Friday, December 27, 2013

1x14: Gender Bender

It seems to me the best blogs, the ones that last, are frequently the ones that are rooted in obsession.  You know, one day you look at the X-Files and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere.  And the show that was just a show is suddenly the only thing you can think about.

I seriously considered abandoning the schedule and reviewing How the Ghosts Stole Christmas this week (given that I've watched it ohhhhhhhh about a MILLION TIMES in the last few days) but I promised chronological order and dammit, I will deliver chronological order. Could someone who's good at math please tell me when we'll be getting to 6x06 and if it's any time in the holiday season? Figure one ep per week plus one wrap-up post per season, and maybe 2 weeks for each movie because they're so long.

Ahhh, Gender Bender. The one that first introduced us to Nicholas Lea, though not as his official character. I like to think the random dude in this episode was Krycek's long-lost good twin, and throughout the rest of the series he's somewhere in the background doing good deeds and saving puppies and stuff. It also features yet another type of species of alien that's sort of loosely related to the ones we'll see later (able to change their face at will)  but they're not quite the same. It's like the writers looked back on Season 1 when they were designing the Grays and said, "Okay, here's all the alien-ish things we made already. Let's mash 'em together and see what happens": shape shifting (GB), radiation burns (Fallen Angel), possessing (Space, though I much prefer the black oil to the Mars face ghost... thing), communication with abductees (Conduit, sort of), and been on earth for a long time in secret (Ice) and our government is in on all of it (EBE).  

As a reminder, here are some of the themes we'll be exploring as we go forward with these reviews.

1. The show is as much about Scully's journey toward becoming a believer as it is about the paranormal events she and Mulder encounter.
2. Scully is only a skeptic when viewing things from a clinical distance; when the shit hits the fan, she acts on Mulder's crazy beliefs because she knows it will keep her alive.
3. Mulder isn't right nearly as often as he thinks.
4. The evolution of the Mulder/Scully relationship - not just the romantic involvement that eventually occurs, but their dynamics of trust and distrust, the changing ways they view each other, and the friendship that grows over time.
5. Assault on a federal officer never seems to lead to jail time.
6. Mulder is kind of a dick.
7. Hotels, car rental places, and apartment landlords must be crazy to rent to FBI agents.
8. The enormous top-secret government conspiracy actually really sucks at keeping things quiet.
9.  There are some serious homoerotic undertones in this show.
10. The X-files department is super toxic to anyone who comes close to it.
11. Mulder and Scully are both terrible at their jobs.
12. Local law enforcement is protrayed in an extremely negative light.
13. This show is white-washed as fuck. And almost all the non-whites are villains or stereotypes.
14. Bathtubs are scary, terrible places that should be avoided at all costs.
15. Plot and logic will be completely discarded just so Scully can have some reason not to witness the big paranormal events of the episode.

We open on a nightclub, and it's like the 90s version of a sexy industrial club with people in cages and music with lots of clanging in it but it's also filmed in Vancouver so it's all a little vanilla, y'know? A young guy gets shot down by a hot blond and is all bummed until another chick comes up to him and starts stroking his hand, and he floats away with her like Pepe le Pew on a cloud of pheromones.

We cut to a hotel room about 1/2 a second to late to witness them actually boning. The girl gets out of bed while the guy starts talking about how amazing that was, but he has a hard time getting the words out around all the gross pink foam he suddenly starts vomiting up.

He dies pretty quickly, and then the girl starts putting on his clothes... and as the camera pans up, we see she is now a he.

Crime Scene
Germantown, Maryland
Outside Washington, D.C.

After the opening credits, we're back in that same hotel room which is now swarming with cops and forensics guys. Mulder examines the body while Scully gets the details from the detective in charge: security shows the dead guy arrived with a woman at 10:13 and that an unknown man left the room just after midnight, but cameras never caught him arriving or the woman leaving. Scully seems confused as to why they would be called in on a case like this, but it's yet again a case of Mulder withholding relevant and important information about THEIR department (not just his).

Back at the X-files office, Mulder finally pulls his head out of his ass and shows Scully the files he's been collecting for over 6 weeks on young attractive folks dying in the throes of passion.

Goddammit, Mulder, this is why I have a hard time liking early-season you. Scully is your partner. She's going with you on these cases, working at your side. She has a medical background. Why the hell wouldn't you let her in on this thing a bit earlier? Maybe she could have provided her invaluable insight like 5 weeks ago and then FIVE PEOPLE WOULDN'T BE DEAD. Do you have some sort of body count minimum required before you'll actually start investigating rather than just collecting casefiles? #6 and #11... just... everywhere. Ugh.


According to yet another of Mulder's signature slideshows, all these hot young nookie-lovers were found with huge amounts of pheromones and arteries burst from an overdose on vitamin XXX. Victims are both male and female and the pattern is moving south from Boston to DC. There was one other death a year before near an Amish-like religious settlement of "The Kindred." A substance used in Kindred pottery - found exclusively in that region - was found in the scratches on one of the victims.

Steveston, Massachusetts

Our intrepid agents hoof it up to Amish Kindred country where they immediately begin questioning random locals about the reclusive religious extremists. Mulder spots a bunch of photos of the Kindred on the wall of one of the shops, which the owner says were taken in the 1930s.

A group of the Kindred shows up in a horse-drawn wagon; Mulder follows the ladies into the feedstore to talk to them while Scully speaks to the one tending the horses. He's hesitant at first, but starts to open up as they talk about the horses. Then he starts caressing her hand and she gets a little, uh, happy:

Scully's "melting at your touch" face.

The other Kindred come out just in time to keep her from ripping off her panties and humping the guy right in the street. Mulder notices she's acting a bit weird but all she says is that she thinks there's something going on up there.

They drive up to the settlement but have to park the car as the road becomes too rough. Mulder displays absolutely zero Indian Guide skills and gets them lost in the woods, but they're found by a group of roaming Kindred. They will take M&S to their village but only if they give up their guns. They do, but very reluctantly.

Up at the Kindred compound, M&S view such wholesome scenes as a bunch of people threshing wheat, hanging clothes out to dry, chopping wood, praying over an obviously sick man instead of using any sort of medicine and refusing to let Scully help when he starts choking to death on his own mucus, and getting way too riled up and defensive about one of their members possibly being a murderer. Nope, nothing weird going on here!

We cut back to the same nightclub from the teaser

You will never see a cage dancer wearing so much clothing in real life.

where the killer is trying out his/her new boy skin by picking up a trashy blonde. She doesn't want to dance with him until he starts touching her hand, at which point it's all she can do not to take him then and there.

Any other Dresden Files fans out there? I wonder if this episode was part of the inspiration for the White Court vampires...

A group of Kindred lead Mulder and Scully to the edge of the compound and points them towards their car. They walk away, very suspicious of what's really going on underneath the veneer of quiet religious life. They realize the Kindred never answered a single one of their questions and, weirdly, there were no children at all. Mulder also thinks he recognizes some of the people in the photos from the store - the ones taken in the '30s.

They sneak back to the compound and find all the buildings abandoned but the barn, where they peek in and see the Kindred carrying the lifeless corpse of the man who was choking earlier into a cellar.

After they leave the barn, Mulder head inside to peak into the cellar. Scully stays to ostensibly keep watch but really the writers didn't want her to witness what's really in the cellar (#15) and because this gives them a chance to write a scene in which she has a sexual interaction with someone other than Mulder. The horse guy from earlier, Brother Andrew, finds her and takes her into the house on the pretense of giving her information.

Mulder makes his way into the cave and observes the Kindred performing a ritual around the corpse, rubbing it with white clay. After they carry it further into the caves, Mulder decides it's safe to do some poking around only to almost immediately hear footsteps and voices approaching; he dives into one of the holes in the cave wall, where he overhears the Kindred saying that Scully has come back. He realizes he's in the same cubbyhole as the corpse, but now it has noticeably longer, darker hair and isn't exactly dead anymore.

Still a prettier woman than DD in Red Shoe Diaries.

He waits for the Kindred to leave and then goes to find Scully.

Meanwhile, Brother Andrew takes Scully to his bedroom and says the killer was his best friend, Brother Marty, who was fascinated by the outside world and left the Kindred to explore it. She starts asking questions about Marty and how he killed and the ceremony in the barn, but Andrew takes her hand... then he strokes her face... and starts nuzzling...

and then pushes her, unresisting and making little happy noises, onto the bed.

Mulder breaks in just in time. He pushes Brother Andrew away and half leads, half carries a limp Scully out of the house. The other Kindred are gathered outside and stare with a mixture of anger and judgment, but let them pass. As they get out of hearing range, Mulder asks Scully just what the hell she was doing back there with a guy who looks more than a little bit like Mulder himself. She can't answer, just starts throwing up on the side of the path.

At the dance club again, the killer (now in the form of the woman from the teaser again) seduces the man who will be Krycek:

Mulder brings coffee out to the car and asks Scully how she's feeling. She doesn't remember much of what happened except that Andrew IDed the killer. He tells her what he saw in the cellar and how the corpse was in the process of changing sexes, which would explain the security footage of a woman entering a hotel room but a man leaving.

He's also victim-blaming pretty strongly here, considering that Scully was essentially roofied and nearly raped. I'm pretty sure a victim overwhelmed with pheromones is legally unable to give consent, and Mulder knows that any hanky-panky taking place here would have probably resulted in Scully's death. Yet he seems way more angry than concerned for her well-being. And maybe, just maybe, some of that anger is just misplaced jealousy that Scully was about to give it up to a stranger (granted, under the influence of supernatural roofies, but still) and not to him. #4, #6.

Cut to NotKrycek making out with the killer in a parked car. A cop knocks on the window to break them up (second time they've used that trope in as many episode, btw) and NotKrycek starts gasping in pain. The cop moves to help him, only to get punched in the face by the suddenly-male killer.

Later, NotKrycek lies in a hospital bed, telling them more or less what happened. He uncomfortably admits, off the record, that when he saw his lady friend beating up the cop, she looked more like a man friend.

Him giggling about hooking up with a guy might just be the origin of all the homoerotic Mulder/Krycek fanfiction out there.

As they walk out of the hospital, Scully tries to rationalize the supposed mansformation by saying NotKrycek might have just accidentally hooked up with a transvestite, but Mulder is pretty sure any guy who gets as much tail as NotKrycek knows the difference. Just then, a cop or something runs up and tells them that a credit card stolen from the last victim was just used to order takeout to a downtown hotel.

At said hotel, girl-Marty soliloquies to his/her latest victim's corpse about how the forbidden fruit is always the sweetest, and that the others are coming to find him/her soon because "the day is coming and they won't leave without me."

Mulder and Scully arrive at the hotel, guns drawn, and make their way to Marty's hotel room. Mulder kicks the door down, and Marty becomes the latest in a long line of perps to knock Scully out with a single blow to the head and escape, thus leaving Mulder the only one conscious to witness Marty shift from female to male. #15

Scully comes to and rushes past Mulder (who received his own grogginess-inducing punch to the face*) and into an alley. She sees boy-Marty running towards her and orders him to stop; he freezes, but a bunch of figured dressed in black descend upon him and start carrying him away.

That horse-and-buggy ride must have taken forever!

Would-be-molester Andrew steps out of the crowd and blocks Scully's line of fire, begging her not to hurt Marty. He inches closer to her and she starts to lower her gun. She turns briefly when Mulder calls her name as he emerges into the alley, and Andrew knocks the gun out of her hand and hits her hard enough to knock her down - so yeah, that's the second time in less than 3 minutes that she's been taken out of the fight by a punch. Mulder rushes to her side and the Kindred get away.

Later, the area is swarming with cops, one of whom tells Moose and Squirrel that the area is secure but there's no sign of the Kindred. Knowing there's only one place they'd hide, Mulder and Scully and a bunch of police roll up to the Kindred compound the next morning, only to find it empty. The cellar door that once led down to the resurrection/sex-change caves now opens only to a wall of solid clay.

All they find is a crop circle, indicating the Kindred fled the compound by no earthly means.

Writers: "So they were, like, aliens? Sure. Let's go with that. Whatever."

Firsts: Nicholas Lea, shape-shifting aliens

I don't know how I feel about this episode. It had an interesting premise - outcast shape-shifter seeks more exciting life, only to find that the intimacy it craves ultimately kills the humans it adores. Like if the Little Mermaid's "kiss of true love" had given Prince Eric a coronary. But I think the writers also tried too late to give Marty any sort of motivation and did it in a really deus ex machina way - explaining his/her loneliness to a corpse, really? That's pretty amateur writing.

Also, the killer being able to change sexes at will feels extremely transphobic in this day and age. At the time, sure, trans people were seen as freakish and scary and the very manifestation of that terrifying "other," the kind of sexual deviants you were afraid to run into. But that attitude has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, so the story of a sex-changing villain just feels insensitive. Not to mention the thinly-veiled religious intolerance, painting the Kindred (and thus the Amish, Mennonites, etc) as evil.

The writers revisit the premise of "outcast shape-shifter seeks more exciting life" brilliantly in season six's The Unnatural (one of my top 5 favorite episodes), which makes Gender Bender seem even more crappy in comparison.

Next week: Lazarus or "The First of Three Season 1 Episodes About Immortality" or "Hey Look, Scully Has Bad Taste in Relationships, Too!"

*I feel like I need to be keeping some sort of blow-to-the-head count for these characters. All this repeated head trauma can't possibly be good for them, nor for the bottom line of the Bureau's health insurance. This episode marks at least the 3rd time Scully has been knocked out or at least badly stunned this season, having also received a blow to the head in the pilot and Eve. Mulder has had his fair share of bumps and bruises, too; this episode is his first knock-out but he also got shot in Beyond the Sea, broke a leg in Fallen Angel, was lightly gored by the she-beast in Jersey Devil, and got some smoke-inhalation damage in Fire. And this is just the first season! By the end of the series, I'm surprised either of them can walk upright after all the physical trauma (and don't get me started on all the emotional damage they sustain).

Friday, December 20, 2013

1x13 Beyond the Sea

We wanted to believe... we wanted to be scared. On September 10 1993, a TV show was launched on the Fox network. It was called The X-Files. It carried a message. A highly-rated broadcast depicting images, music and sounds of scary things, arranged so that it would evoke feelings of fear and captivation among its audience. Twenty years after its launch, The X-Files continues to resonate with old fans and new. After the final movie in 2008, there were no further episodes made, nor were any planned. We want them, though. On June 19 2013,  IDW Publishing initiated The X-Files Season 10 comic book project. An attempt to wrap up loose ends left dangling after I Want To Believe and bring Mulder and Scully back into the homes and hearts of those who love them. ... We want to believe, and the tools have been given to us again. The X-Files have been revived (sort of). They opened our eyes... our voices have been heard.... our ears now alive to the realms of extreme possibilities. (Quote adapted from 2x01 Little Green Men)

This week we're covering 1x13 Beyond the Sea or "The One Where We Meet Scully's Dad and Then Promptly Lose Him" or "The One with One of the Greatest Guest Stars Ever." Everyone cites Luther Lee Boggs as one of the best one-off special guest stars ever, and I have to agree. Brad Dourif is so convincing and committed to his role that I find myself nearly as entranced yet repulsed as Scully herself. He is right up there with Peter Boyle (3x04 Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose) and Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner (6x06 How the Ghosts Stole Christmas, which you should watch RIGHT NOW given the holiday season) as far as my favorite guest stars go. Plus, it's a Morgan/Wong collaboration, so it's amazing by default. The episode is a big fat smattering of #1, #2, and #4 and almost entirely devoid of #15, so buckle in for a fun ride.

On a sort-of-related, my brother (who is a sailor and frequently away from home) and his wife had their first dance to Beyond the Sea at their wedding. ALL THE FEELS.

In case anyone has forgotten, here's a list of themes we'll be keeping in mind over the course of these reviews:

1. The show is as much about Scully's journey toward becoming a believer as it is about the paranormal events she and Mulder encounter.
2. Scully is only a skeptic when viewing things from a clinical distance; when the shit hits the fan, she acts on Mulder's crazy beliefs because she knows it will keep her alive.
3. Mulder isn't right nearly as often as he thinks.
4. The evolution of the Mulder/Scully relationship - not just the romantic involvement that eventually occurs, but their dynamics of trust and distrust, the changing ways they view each other, and the friendship that grows over time.
5. Assault on a federal officer never seems to lead to jail time.
6. Mulder is kind of a dick.
7. Hotels, car rental places, and apartment landlords must be crazy to rent to FBI agents.
8. The enormous top-secret government conspiracy actually really sucks at keeping things quiet.
9.  There are some serious homoerotic undertones in this show.
10. The X-files department is super toxic to anyone who comes close to it.
11. Mulder and Scully are both terrible at their jobs.
12. Local law enforcement is protrayed in an extremely negative light.
13. This show is white-washed as fuck. And almost all the non-whites are villains or stereotypes.
14. Bathtubs are scary, terrible places that should be avoided at all costs.
15. Plot and logic will be completely discarded just so Scully can have some reason not to witness the big paranormal events of the episode.

We open in Scully's apartment, where both her parents have come for dinner. Her father William. (played by Don S. Davis from Stargate SG-1 / the "biological clock" doctor from Look Who's Talking) teases her about still having her Christmas tree up. Before they leave, Margaret gives him that significant look all moms and wives gain as a special ability, and William sort of awkwardly asks Scully about work... and she equally awkwardly says it's all good.

Remember in the pilot when Scully says she joined the FBI against her parents' wishes? Here we're seeing the strange family tension in action. I love how subtle it is.

Later that night, Scully has fallen asleep watching infomercials. She wakes up suddenly and sees her father sitting in a chair in front of her. His mouth is moving but we don't hear the words.

Fun fact: He's actually reciting the Lord's Prayer. Whether that's his final message to Scully or not isn't really clear.
She tries to talk to him, but the phone rings and startles her; when she looks back, he's gone. On the phone, her mother is crying and tells her that William has just died.

Jackson University
Raleigh, North Carolina

After the opening credits, we cut to a guy and girl getting all hot and heavy in their parked car, so you know from countless horror movie tropes that terrible things are going to happen to them. Sure enough, a cop (or rather, a very bad guy pretending to be a cop) knocks on the window, orders the boy out of the car, and beats the guy with his flashlight while the girl screams.

... Just a side note: you have every right to refuse to get out of your car until the officer provides valid ID. In this age of cell phones, you can even call dispatch to make sure that it's really a police officer and not a serial killer. This is especially useful if a cop wants to pull you over a dark, empty road.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

Mulder is reading some files when Scully comes in and quips that the last time he was that engrossed, he was reading porn. Mulder, for perhaps the first time, shows some sensitivity to the fact that she's just lost her father, even calling her "Dana" which grates on my nerves nearly as much as it does hers.

"How do you like it when I call you 'Fox', eh?"
See, Scully is not the type of woman who likes to be treated with sympathy or kid gloves when she's in pain, as it makes her feel weak and vulnerable at a time when she needs to be strong and in control. That's not necessarily the most emotionally healthy way to deal with grief, but she do how she do.

She wants to dive back into work, so Mulder tells her about the two kidnapped kids, who are the latest in a pattern that leaves 2 kids dead by extreme torture. As a bonus, a death row inmate named Luther Lee Boggs claims to be having psychic visions that could lead to finding and saving those kids, in exchange for being granted life in prison instead of being executed in a week.

Mulder, in yet another first (so much character development in the first 10 minutes of this episode!) is actually skeptical and thinks Boggs is in on the kidnapping somehow. (Spoiler: #3)

She wants to go with him to meet Boggs, even though it'll be right after her father's funeral; Mulder tells her she should take some time, but she needs to work. And then this happens, and Shippers across the globes experienced simultaneous spontaneous combustion:

I don't know how they do it, but these two manage to make the smallest bits of personal contact look sexier and more romantic than actual sex.

After he leaves, she goes to the drawer and pulls out this file:

Remember this for Elegy in S4.
But puts it back without reading it and slam the door.

We cut toWilliam's funeral, which is attended by none of the people who will play his children in later episodes. I guess they hadn't fully fleshed out Scully's siblings yet (and we never do meet Charlie) so maybe we can assume they were all, like, insanely busy or had nervous breakdowns at their father's death or something and these are other family members.

As they scatter his ashes off a small boat, "Beyond the Sea" plays loudly - the song that was playing when William proposed to Margaret immediately upon his return from the Cuban Blockade.
SCULLY: I know that you and Dad were... disappointed that I chose the path I'm on instead of medicine but I need to know... was he at all proud of me?
MARGARET SCULLY: He was your father.
Yeah that's... that's really not helpful, Mags.

Central Prison
Raleigh, North Carolina

Mulder and Scully interview Luther Lee Boggs, who jumps back and forth between personalities (or spirits possessing him, or he's faking it). Mulder decides to test him and hands him a piece of fabric; Boggs immediately starts squirming in pain, saying the kidnapped boy is in terrible agony, tied with twine and being beaten with a wire coat hanger. There's a warehouse and angel of stone, and a waterfall that's not water.

After this spectacularly creepy performance, Mulder takes the cloth away and says it's from his New York Knicks t-shirt - it has nothing to do with the victims. He leaves, disgusted, and Scully moves to follow him... until Boggs starts singing "Beyond the Sea."

She looks at him, and in her eyes he's been replaced by William Scully. She winces away, and when she looks again she's seeing Boggs, who is says in her father's tone, "Did you get my message, Starbuck?"

She rushes out, past Mulder and the guards, saying she's just upset about her father. Mulder tells her to go back to the motel so he can interrogate Boggs and find out where the kids are. Guards emerge and lead Boggs back to his cell, and he's still singing.

Scully drives away; when she stops at a red light, she closes her eyes, remembering what Boggs said: a waterfall that's not a waterfall, an angel of stone... She opens her eyes and sees:

She pulls into a nearby alley and opens the door to a condemned building. It's empty, but she finds the missing girl's bracelet and a pile of wire coat hangers amid a ring of candles. (Filing this as #2 and #1, although it's possible she only went in there because she believed Boggs really is in on the kidnapping and leaked these details to make himself seem credible.)

Later, Scully sits in her hotel room, in front of an empty chair, thinking about her father. Mulder knocks on the door and tells her the girl's family confirmed the bracelet was hers. She asks if Boggs confessed, but after 5 hours, Mulder got nothing from him.
MULDER: Just five hours of Boggs' "channeling." After three hours, I asked him to summon up the soul of Jimi Hendrix and requested "All Along the Watchtower." You know the guy's been dead for twenty years and he still hasn't lost his edge.
Scully admits she lied to the police about how she found the warehouse - no "suspicious activity, just the signs Boggs spoke of. Mulder seems both angry that she fell into Boggs' trap (and could've been killed) and hurt that she didn't want to go on record saying she believed him, because "the bureau would expect something like that from 'Spooky' Mulder, but not Dana Scully."

His anger fades quickly to sympathy as he realizes (despite her denial) that this has something to do with her father. He wants her to back away from the job, worried that her judgement is clouded by grief and guilt, but she says she loves this job.

Not her job, mind you, but this job. As in, being assigned to the X-Files. As in, working with Mulder. #4

Mulder reiterates his belief that Boggs is working with someone on the outside, and says they have to be very careful because Boggs has planned ahead. The only thing they have on their side is the deadline (hah, get it?) of his execution.

Central Prison
Raleigh, North Carolina

Mulder shows up with a fake newspaper which states that the college kids were found safe; he hopes that Boggs will call his accomplice to find out what happened.  They from the security room watch as Boggs reads the fake paper and is then lead to a phone room for his weekly phone privileges. He dials, and Mulder's phone rings in his pocket. Obviously, it's Boggs. He stares straight at the security camera, almost as if he can see them watching the monitor, and says
BOGGS: How come you don't believe me? Agent Scully believes me.
Boggs drops the phone, and Scully tells Mulder that they have to make a deal, because those kids are going to die in 3 days and their only connection to the case is going to the gas chamber in 4.

Back in the interrogation room, Boggs does his best to describe the killer: male, small, thin, late twenties, cold gray eyes, something about a skull... As he speaks, we get flashes of the actual killer (wearing a skull earring) as he looks down at his victims. The killer strikes the air with a wire hanger, and in the interrogation room, Boggs reacts as if struck.

He says they're in a small boathouse on Lake Jordan, and warns Mulder not to go near the white cross: "We see you down... and your blood spills on the white cross."

We cut to the boathouse, where our killer is getting ready to wail on the two teenagers, only to look up and see that he's surrounded by FBI agents. They kick down the door and find the girl, but the boy and the killer are gone. Mulder goes haring off alone (again, like always, like an idiot) and gets shot (like always, like an idiot). The killer gets away in a motorboat. Scully runs to Mulder's side and presses her coat to his wound, and looks up to see that the beams of the boathouse form a white cross towering over them, splattered with Mulder's blood.

They get Mulder to the hospital in critical condition; Scully stays with him only briefly, then goes to the girl's room where she is looking at photos trying to ID the man who kidnapped her - it's Lucas Jackson Henry, who's done time for other crimes but nothing this big. The timing of the kidnapping and previous murder falls on the anniversary of the auto accident which killed his mother and high school girlfriend.

Central Prison
Raleigh, North Carolina

Scully goes back to question Boggs again, and is understandably a little upset:
SCULLY: You set us up. You're in on this with Lucas Henry. This was a trap for Mulder because he helped put you away. Well, I came here to tell you that if he dies because of what you've done, four days from now, no one will be able to stop me from being the one that will throw the switch and gas you out of this life for good, you son of a bitch!
He tells her the story of when she was 14 and snuck out of the house to smoke one of her mom's cigarettes (which comes up a few times later in the series); she denies that it's true but is obviously shaken. She wants to believe him, but only if he'll let her talk to her father. Boggs starts to channel him, but stops and says nobody talks to anybody until he gets his deal.

He tells her what happened the first time he went to the gas chamber (where he got a last minute reprieve), walking down the hallway and seeing the family whom he murdered lining the walls.

Facing his own death, he felt his soul leave his body, and thousands of other souls rushing in. He says that death is a cold dark place, a place Mulder is looking into right now. As she leaves, he reminds her that without him, that boy is going to that same cold, dark place.

Central Prison
Raleigh, North Carolina

(Yeah, again. We open back to the same place after a commercial break.)

Scully goes to the warden (or maybe a judge?) to ask for more time for Boggs, but he denies her.

Then she visits Mulder in the hospital, and he's not looking all that good.

Sick Mulder: Still 100000x more bang-able than healthy Frohike. (Sorry, Hickey...)
He tells her again not to believe Boggs - it's all a scam to get back at him because it was his profile that put Boggs on death row. He worries she could be his next and last victim.

Back at the prison, Scully again interviews Boggs and tells him he's got his deal. (Lies, Scully! Lies!) He's grateful, and tells her he sees factory vats where the boy is being held, and gets real specific by saying they're at the Old Blue Devil brewery. As she gets ready to leave, he tells her he knows she was lying and there is no deal, but that at least she tried. He warns her to "avoid the devil."

Cut to what is presumably the Blue Devil Brewery. Henry is waving hatchet around, getting more and more worked up, while the boy is bound and gagged on a table. Just as Henry gets ready to axe the kid, Scully and a bunch of agents swarm in. He tries to throw the hatchet at Scully but she shoots him and he runs.

While a few of the agents check on the boy, Scully - showing far more brains than Mulder ever does - goes chasing after Henry with a few more agents as backup. They chase him to a catwalk over which a giant blue devil mural looms; Scully stops when she sees it, but Henry doesn't, and the boards collapse beneath him. He plummets to his death.

The devil's face fades away, replaced with Boggs, who is sitting on a cot in his cell. Scully comes by to thank him for saving her life and the boy's; she thinks that if Boggs and Henry had been working together, Henry would have been warned about the catwalk, too. He knows she wants that message from her father, but will only tell it to her that night when he's in the chamber.

Later, the guards bring him his last meal. He looks up and his once again surrounded by his dead family; they line the halls, whispering to each other as he walks to the chamber. The executioner straps him to the chair and sticks an EKG lead to his chest... right over a tattoo of a blue devil, which I never noticed before. Interesting. Makes me wonder if he was also warning her away from himself...

The viewing window opens, and he looks up with hope... but Scully isn't there. Just a priest, the warden, and a witness. They flip a switch and activate the gas, and Boggs looks on in pure terror.

Cut to Scully, sitting at the foot of Mulder's hospital bed. He's looking much healthier, this time. She's trying to rationalize what she's experienced - Boggs could have found out everything about her and her father if he knew she was Mulder's partner, visions of deceased loved ones are a common psychological phenomena, etc etc. Finally, however, she admits that she's afraid to believe.
MULDER: You couldn't face that fear? Even if it meant never knowing what your father wanted to tell you?
SCULLY: But I do know.
SCULLY: He was my father.
He nods and smiles sadly at her, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder.

I just... I can't even. This episode is so good. Gillian Anderson is absolutely spectacular here, giving Scully's character new depth and nuance and subtlety that really bring her to life. A daughter grieving for her father, fearing that her one true act of rebellion tore a hole in their relationship that she can't now fix; a skeptic in a moment of vulnerability, confronting for the first time the real possibility that there is more to life than is dreamt of in her philosophy. GA also has the prettiest "ugly cry" face I've ever seen.  This may be the most artfully crafted episode of the first season, and stands out in the series as a whole in terms of character development. It's the first true Scully-centric episode (Squeeze almost counts, but not really), and the first to explore her complex feelings about her father, her career, and her struggle between faith and fact. LOVE IT.

Next week: Genderbender or "Hey, Isn't That Krycek?" or "Scully Gets Her Freaky-Deaky Groove Back."

Firsts: Scully's parents, "Ahab/Starbuck," Scully appears in the teaser, Mulder's skepticism about psychics, Mulder and Scully switch their believer/skeptic roles,  face touching OMG, the New York Knicks t-shirt thing, Mulder gets shot