Friday, October 25, 2013

1x06: Shadows

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.

As we go forward with these reviews, I'm going to keep the following themes in mind:

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.

I reserve the right to add more items to this list as the series progresses and you can't stop me!

Warning: If you're watching the show for the first time while following along with these recaps, that's awesome, but I've seen this whole series a bunch of times and will probably mention things that happen in the later seasons.  Please keep that in mind if you're the kind of person who hates spoilers.

Before we start, I want to thank those of you who have left comments on this blog over the past week. I was feeling really crappy and your words of encouragement were a big help.

HTG Industrial Technologies
Philadelphia, PA

We open on the office of one Howard Graves (according to the desk's nameplate).  The camera pans across a wall of photos of a man we presume to be Howard hobnobbing with presidents and bigshots, all the while hearing a woman sniffling and crying.  She comes into frame, pulling the photo of Howard and Bill Clinton off the wall and putting it in a box, and we see that the rest of the room is filled with more such boxes. A coworker enters to give her her paycheck and, in comforting her, we learn that Howard killed himself a few weeks ago. The coworker tells Lauren to go home and she turns to leave, but as she reaches the door, a plaque on Howard's desk (which reads "One To-Day is Worth Two To-morrows") slides across the desk on its own.  Lauren plucks it from the desk and takes it with her.

Later that night, Lauren is at an ATM withdrawing money when two men attack her. They drag her into an alley and the scene fades to black as she screams.

Two hours later, a couple teen hoodlums walk by the alley and decide climb the fire escape to "crash" in one of the apartments. The girl climbs on the boy's shoulders to pull down the ladder, but it's stuck - on a body, which falls almost right on them as a second drops onto the dumpster next to them. It's the two men who attacked Lauren earlier. Screaming, the two kids run away.

Is it just me or does that girl look exactly like Becky from Roseanne?

Opening credits roll.

Bethesda Naval Hospital
Bethesda, Maryland

Mulder and Scully head to a morgue where two bodies are lying on the slab, and their own ethnic counterparts are waiting for them.

Who knew the large man / tiny woman partnering technique was used across all government agencies?

And y'know what, I think this is the first time a black person has actually had a line on this show. There was one black MIB back in Deep Throat who never spoke, and I seem to recall a few background characters who were not-white, but Ethnic Mulder and Scully (hereafter referred to as EMS) may be the first non-white people to actually speak.  I seriously doubt this was intentional, but I'm going to add this to the list:

#13. This show is white-washed as fuck. And almost all the non-whites are villains or stereotypes. See Kersch, see the voodoo episode, see the melanin-sucking African monster episode, see the stereotypical "goat sucker" Mexican episode, see the angry Latina in Agua Mala... and on and on. Even X is kind of a dick.

Anyway, EMS are hoping that regular MS will be able to help them figure out what the hell happened to these two dead dudes. Their bodies are still twitchy and warm even though they've been dead for 6 hours. EMS are hella shady about offering details until Mulder reminds them that he and Scully are the experts here, and if they wanted answers so badly they're going to have to give them something to go on. EMS admit that the men's throats appear to have been crushed, but with no external trauma - like they were crushed from the inside.

Mulder claims to have never countered anything like this. EMS make it clear that if anyone asks, this meeting never happened, and Mulder and Scully leave.

Out in the hallway, Scully asks Mulder why he lied to them, and he says he only willfully participated in a campaign of misinformation (thus giving my teenage self a snarky new line to use whenever someone accused me of lying).  He has X-files like this one, involving psychokinetic manipulation.  Scully, intrigued for once instead of purely skeptical, asks how they're going to investigate when they got zero info from EMS. Mulder whips out his smart glasses and breathes on the lenses, where he managed to get perfect fingerprints off the bodies.

Little known fact: Mulder actually exhales fingerprinting powder.

Wow. I'm actually really impressed.  Normally I poke fun at Mulder and Scully for kind of sucking at their jobs but that was a fairly smooth maneuver right there, big guy. Though I'm a little disappointed you weren't wearing your smart guy glasses just to make me swoon. It's like you don't even care anymore.

Also, I just love the look on Scully's face when he pulls her in close to look at the prints.

That look just screams, "Who are you and why are you so close to me right now?"

HTG Industrial Tehcnologies
Philadelphia, PA
Next Morning

Lauren walks into the office and is almost immediately accosted by a mouthy secretary who informs her that Mr. Graves may have let her get away with coming in late but the new guy in charge, Mr. Dorland, won't stand for such nonsense.  The secretary gets a cup of coffee spilled all over her desk by some non-corporeal entity - karma, bitch!

For best results, read that last bit in Jesse Pinkman's voice.

Mr. Dorland comes out of his office to see what all the commotion is (because seriously, that secretary is acting like Lauren straight up shat on her keyboard), and Lauren asks to have a word with him.  He invites her into his office, where she gives him her two weeks' notice. He tries to tell her how and and Howard were like brothers, so he understands her pain, but that the company really needs her.  He reaches down and grabs her face and says "I won't let you leave," which isn't fucking creepy at all.

Luckily for Lauren, that hideous gold bracelet on Dorland's wrist suddenly tightens and he flinches away from her. That'll teach you to dress like Mr. T, Dorland. You are not a big enough badass to wear gold chains.

After that, he grudgingly gives her two weeks.

FBI Headquarters
Washington DC

 Mulder has found some info on one of the corpses - Mohamed Amalaki, who's got a rapsheet that would basically guarantee he could never get on a plane these days. Scully whips out her own file, revealing that the guy had ties to an extremist group call the Isfahan, operating out of Philadelphia.

Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA

Moose and Squirrel are walking down the alley where Lauren was attacked, talking to the beat cop (who is black and has lines - wow, 3 for 3!) who found the bodies "last Wednesday." ... How the hell long did it take them to find the info on the two dead terrorists? They saw the bodies and lifted the prints a mere 6 hours after the dudes died.  Damn, the dial-up connection at the Hoover building must have been slow as balls.

Anyway, Mulder notices the ATM across the street:

Back at the FBI Office, Mulder and Scully run through the surveillance video from the ATM. Maybe this whole investigation is taking so long because you two keep jumping back and forth from Philly to DC - an hour flight or a nearly 3 hour drive. These two must have played so much license plate bingo as they crisscrossed the country looking for crop circles.

Scully suggests that they're going to have to interview everyone who hit the ATM before the bodies were found, but just then footage of Lauren being attacked pops up on the screen.  Scully consults her file (the bank just gives that shit out? Don't they need a warrant or something?) and gets Lauren's name and address. the Mulder spots this on the screen:

And then Scully, my dear sweet practical Scully, says the one thing that no one on any crime drama after TXF will ever, ever say: "The resolution is too poor. It won't help much to enhance it."

I fucking love you, Scully.  Thank you for not pretending that you can take a grainy image composed of, like, 50 pixels and blow it up a million times and still see anything recognizable.

At her home, Lauren is packing up all her belongings. She stops to look at the plaque she took from Howard's office, when there is a knock at the door. Mulder holds up his badge and does the whole "mind if we come in oh never mind I'm just gonna squeeze in through your door" move.  Rude AND unprofessional. #6, #12.

"Excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me..."

Scully pulls out photos of the two dead men and asks if Lauren recognizes them; when she claims not to, Scully calls bullshit and ships out a still frame from the surveillance footage.  Lauren says they grabbed her as she was depositing her paycheck and she just ran, she didn't want to file a police report. Finally, Scully shows her the spectral image from the footage. Lauren seems pretty shake but says she can't tell who it is. Mulder gives her his number and says to call him when she's ready to talk.

M&S head back out to their car, Scully expressing her doubt as to a woman Lauren's size breaking free and outrunning those two dead men. Mulder seems more interested in how she crushed their necks, but they both think she knows who the ghostly figure is and wonder what she's packing up and running from. They both buckle up for safety, and good thing, too, because their rental car goes all Christine on them - speeding off on its own, ignoring Mulder's attempts to steer or brake, and promptly crashing them into another car.

Hope they got the extra insurance against ghostly vehicular possession.  #7.

Mulder notices Lauren watching them through her window... even though there is no possible way her house would still be visible after the car drove itself all the way down the block and the spun around in the crash. Call me a nit-picker but that kind of shit really bothers me.

Cut to a repair shop, where Mulder crouches to examine the the massive dent in the side of their car. Scully, cleared by the paramedics, suggests someone tampered with the car while they were in the house, but Mulder assures her the mechanics have found nothing out of order. He points out that the lights are on despite the engine/battery being off - charged up with massive levels of electrostatic charge, just like the bodies at the morgue.  He thinks Lauren might be psychokinetic, maybe unaware of her abilities, but Scully is of course skeptical.  His only other theory is that it's a poltergeist.

She actually mocks him with a Poltergeist impression. "They're heeeeeeere."

Scully is far from convinced - after all, Lauren works for a company that manufactures parts of the Defense Department (first time we're hearing about this, thanks for sharing) and then got attacked by two middle eastern extremists. She thinks Lauren must have had an accomplice, who is the figure in the ATM footage.

Lauren pulls up to the HTG Industries building, unaware that M&S are watching her from their brand new rental car... which I'm sure they got from a different agency, because no way the same place is going to give them a new car when they totaled the last one.

Scully is flipping through a file on Lauren and - wait, how the hell did she get that?? They're working with no jurisdiction or authorization here.  Every other time they've gone poking their noses in without approval, said noses have been promptly punched and then stripped of all evidence. You'd think EMS and whatever cryptic shadow agency they work for would be keeping an eye on this whole thing and squashing their efforts. Or maybe they're just sitting back and letting M&S do all the work for them so they can take credit at the end.  Yeah, that last one sounds about right.

M&S should probably be getting spooked by the fact that no one is trying to stop them, though.

Anyway, Lauren's file shows no police record but a huge credit card debt.

Lauren, meanwhile, is freaking out at a painter who's putting Tom Braidwood's name on what used to be Howard's spot.

That's right, Tom Braidwood. Assistant Director / Frohike.

Curious, Mulder figures they should check out this Howard Graves person.

Back at the FBI office AGAIN (just so we're clear, they've gone from DC to Philly to DC to Philly and now back to DC again) Scully is reading through some microfiche for info on Howard Graves.  Damn, I'd forgotten how much microfiche they go through in the early episodes. This show would have such a different feel if it took place today, with all our Google and smartphones and whatnot.  Of course then Mulder would never get anything done due to his crippling addiction to internet porn...

Anyway, Scully finds an article about Howard slitting his wrists in a bathtub, which mentions that Lauren was his secretary.

Cut to Lauren placing flowers on Howard's grave (ha! Graves's grave!). Mulder and Scully (DC-Philly-DC-Philly-DC-Philly) watch from their car as she walks away, then head to Graves's grave themselves and notice that he was buried next to his daughter, who died when she was 3.  Mulder talks to a nearby groundskeeper, who claims to have been present at every funeral (which is intensely creepy, even for a groundskeeper at a cemetery) and knows pretty much everything about them. He tells our agents that the daughter drowned when her parents forgot to latch the pool gate, and that the wife left Howard shortly thereafter.  Mulder comments that if the girl had lived, she'd be about Lauren's age.

Mulder heads off to develop some photos while Scully works on her case report in her apartment ... which she doesn't actually need to do because they never got authorization go be there but whatever.  Her voiceover tells us that Lauren was estranged from her family but had a strong relationship to Howard Graves.  She wonders if this had anything to do with his suicide, and why the Isfahan guys attacked her. Also DC-Philly-DC-Philly-DC-Philly-DC. This shit's getting ridiculous, guys.

In the darkroom, Mulder finds something strange in one of his surveillance photos - Lauren at her front window, with a figure standing behind her.

In the next scene, Mulder and Scully stand over a computer tech as he analyzes the darkroom photo. And Scully loses all that credibility she earned earlier by telling him to "enhance it by 10." 10 what? Percent? 10x magnification? What the fuck kind of program are they using here?? Look at this:

That is some sophisticated software right there, people.  It takes me, like, four hours in Photoshop to clean up a blurry image from a high-res digital photo, but in less than 10 seconds this tech completely sharpens and perfectly refines a fucking SMUDGE from an actual physical film negative. That information simply ISN'T THERE.

I can't even with this bullshit, y'all.  I know I'm an art nerd and kind of a computer nerd and therefor this kind of thing bugs me more than it should, but this was clearly written by someone who doesn't know fuckall about photo enhancement.

Anyway. Yeah. That's Howard Graves in the photo. Scully's all shocked and thinks he's not dead after all, but Mulder isn't sure.

Cut to Lauren's house. She wakes up to a banging noise and grabs a bat from her closet. Slowly, she makes her way into the hallway, and we hear sounds of a struggle and a man saying "No, no, don't do this to me!"  She moves to the bathroom and finds her tub full of water, with a cloud of blood blooming in the middle.  As the blood water starts to drain, she says, "Oh Howard... they killed him."

Remember in Squeeze when I said something about bathtubs never being a good thing? I was right.

#14. Bathtubs are scary, terrible places that should be avoided at all costs.

National Bureau of Medical Examiners
Philadelphia, PA


Scully tells Mulder she thinks Howard faked his own death, but Mulder says that's an incredibly difficult thing to do - only one man has ever pulled it off: Elvis. Scully thinks maybe Howard and Lauren were in on something illegal and Mulder says she may be right.

And Scully has a cute little record-scratch moment. "Wait, you think I'm right?"

We're all pretty shocked too, Scully.

Of course Mulder has to be a snarky little dick about it and say all she has to do is prove that Howard is still alive. #6.  Turns out their at the office of the medical examiner who did the autopsy on Howard Graves, and who is very snarky and grouchy about some other pathologist getting all up in her grill about it.

Also, another black character with lines.

She's the 4th one this episode, you guys. This is some sort of X-Files record.

Anyway, the ME says they didn't run bloodwork because they didn't suspect homicide, and didn't do a dental record check because Lauren Kyte positively IDed the body.  Scully asks how they knew it was Graves, and the ME says, deadpan, "It said so on the toe-tag."  #12 (Maybe not a villain so much as just kind of mean about it.)

Mulder says Graves was cremated so they couldn't do those tests now, but Scully thinks they can since his tissues and organs were donated.

University of Pennsylvania Hospital
Tissue Bank

Someone at the cryogenics lab explains that Howard Graves's organs have gone into 5 different people all over the country, but that the membrane of his spinal column has been preserved. He'll get back to them in a couple of hours to confirm the donor's identity.

Back at the HTG building, Lauren is moping her way through her goodbye party. (So this case has already taken 2 weeks, you guys. All that travel time really adds up.) She goes to Howard's old office, which has been stripped bare, and Dorland corners her.  They have this charming exchange:

DORLAND: I know Howard told you and if it ever gets out, I won't waste my time trying to pin the source. I'll go straight to you.
LAUREN: And you'll do to me what you did to Howard? I know you had him killed.
DORLAND: Why would you say that?
LAUREN: He told me.
He grabs at her as she goes for the door, but she slips out and away.

Has no one else witnessed his violent treatment of employees, like, ever? No? Just me? Fine then, carry on.

Cut to Mulder and Scully, still at the cryolab waiting for results. Mulder's cell phone rings and it's Lauren - she wants them to come to her house right away. She rushes out of the office, Dorland watching her all the while.

Scully gets the lab results: positive match to Howard Graves who is, indeed, very dead.

Back at Lauren's house, she's finishing up the last of her packing when there's a knock at the door. She tries to open it, but the deadbolt slides back. She unlocks it again, but this time a kitchen chair rushes across the floor and wedges itself under the doorknob.

Two people kick down the door anyway, and the man tells his female partner to "go run the bath" in the same voice people usually reserve for asking someone to please remember to put the right cover sheets on the TPS reports this time.

Lauren tries to get away and light bulbs start bursting all around the room. A spectral presence rushes at the woman and crushes her neck; the man runs to the door but is flung back, unseen hands punching at his face and drawing blood. Lauren keeps screaming but can't move.

Mulder rushes in just in time to see this:

While Scully, always a step behind, sees nothing but crumpled bodies and a terrified Lauren huddled in the corner.  What the hell, Scully, your door was curbside and closer to the house. Did you get stuck in your seatbelt or something?  I'm a little bit shorter than Scully and I can keep pace with my 6'4 brother when he's at a light jog over short distances; there is no reason she should have been a full 10 seconds behind Mulder in entering this house except plot dictates she never see anything conclusive.

In some nondescript interrogation room, M&S question Lauren to figure out what happened and who the people who attacked her were. Before she can say anything, EMS show up and pull them away. There's a brief pissing contest in which no one will tell anyone else anything, so M&S call their bluff and walk away. EMS give in and say that HTG was selling restricted plans to the Isfahan. Mulder doesn't see how Lauren could be involved, and EMS say they have enough to hold her and want their chance to "break this company." Mulder cryptically warns them not to get rough in their questioning.

It's like looking into a racially diverse mirror.

Some time passes, and EMS emerge from the interrogation room with nothing. Our heroes take their shot,
and at first Lauren doesn't want to cooperate. Then Mulder says he knows that Howard is watching over her, and she's suddenly spilling everything. Howard had been worried the company was going under after the Pentagon cancelled their contracts, but then Dorland brought in the Isfahan who were willing buy parts at outrageous prices.  She found Howard crying the night he found out the Isfahan had killed some sailors in Florida, and she thought that's why he killed himself... until he showed her how Dorland had staged it to prevent him from ending the deal. And now Howard is lingering, watching her, and she just wants it to end.

Scully tells her that she has a second chance now, to show Howard how much she cares for him by helping finish what he started, and that's the only way he'll be able to rest.

"Hey, that's my line."

Lauren agrees to help them, then steps out to clean herself up. Mulder seems pretty upset and disgusted by Scully faking belief in the paranormal to further their investigation, not to mention sacrificing this chance to observe spectral phenomena, but Scully wants them to solve a case that is actually tangible.

Cut to Mulder, Scully, and their ethnic counterparts prepping an FBI team to conduct a search of the HTG office. They give a rundown of what to look for and insist that this operation has to be clean or else Dorland will walk.  Lauren is there to act as their guide.

Gosh, it must be so nice for the pair of them to be on the other side of a search and seizure mission for once.

A fleet of bland FBI sedans rolls up to the HTG building, and the team swarms the office, searching anything and everything to find evidence. Scully and Lauren search Dorland's office but turn up empty. They have nothing, and Dorland knows it.  Lauren flips out and starts breaking picture frames and tearing the backs off paintings, trying to find anything they can use, and when Dorland calls her a bitch she attacks him with a letter opener. An unseen force throws him against the walls and slams the door shut - leaving Mulder inside the office to witness all the paranormal stuff and Scully firmly on the outside, seeing nothing.

Should that get added to the list? I'm not sure it's really a recurring theme so much as a central plot element.  It does get a little ridiculous, sometimes.

"Sigh. This shit always happens to me..."

Lauren begs Howard not to kill Dorland but to help them find evidence. Lightbulbs start exploding and papers fly around the room.  The letter opener, which Lauren dropped in her struggle with Dorland, floats up and hovers momentarily in front of Dorland's face.

Then it turns and flies off into the wall, cutting a slit in the wallpaper before falling to the floor.

The spectral wind dies down and Scully is able to open the door, seeing the destruction inside.  Mulder walks over to the torn wallpaper and pulls out a disc hidden behind it; whatever they're looking for, it's on there.

Back at Lauren's house, she putting the last box into a U-Haul U-Move trailer. Scully tells her that US Attorney's office is going after Dorland with everything they've got, including the murder Howard Graves. Lauren's all, "Yeah, that's great, I'm outta here bitches, be back to testify," and drives off.

Mulder asks Scully if she believes in the afterlife, and she answers that she'd settle for a life in this one.  And he asks her to come with him to see the Liberty Bell because he's never seen it, and life is short.

I'm counting this as their first day, y'all. We never see it on screen, we don't even know for sure if it happened, but Mulder invited Scully to go somewhere fun with him for non-case reasons and dammit, I'm calling that a date.

Monroe Mutual Insurance Co.
Omaha, Nebraska

In the final scene, Lauren is at her new office, already fucking it up by delivering a report way late.  The head secretary tells her that punctuality is a virtue here, and Lauren gets really scared when the coffee cup on her desk starts shaking... Until the head secretary tells her that the whole building shakes every time a truck goes by.  Lauren sighs with relief and goes back to her desk, smiling at the plaque she kept from Howard's office - content that he is at peace now.

Overall this is a pretty decent episode, especially for the first season. That bathtub scene remains one of the creepiest moments in the X-Files to me.  They'll return to the whole "staged suicide" thing several times, most notably in Emily/Christmas Carol, but those later incidents didn't creep me out half as much as the sight of Howard's ghostly blood filling Lauren's tub as he shows her his own murder.

I'm not going to make any comment on the fashion choices made here, because they're all terrible - from Scully's 8-foot-wide shoulder pads and white nylons to Mulder's paisley tie to Lauren's unfortunate taste in sweaters.

I'm a plot guesser, and the first time I ever watched this episode I thought that maybe the recipients of Howard's organs were acting on his feelings, or that Howard was so attached to Lauren because she was possessed by the spirit of his dead daughter... Two things that would have been awesome to explore in their own episodes. I know Supernatural did the first one, and Born Again sort of covers the little-girl-possessed angle but damn I wish we could have gotten one of those plots at some point instead of Space or (shudder) Fight Club.

Firsts: a non-white character has spoken lines, staff/crew names used onscreen, staged suicide, their first date.

New themes:
#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.

1 comment:

  1. You guys, I totally thought Jane (the co-worker who comforts Lauren at the beginning) was Phyllis from The Office. Something about her smile and the way she said a few things. I was so excited! But I looked it up and I was wrong... oh, well :)