Friday, November 29, 2013


Remember last week when I said we'd be reviewing Eve today? Yeah, I was wrong. Today's post will be delayed for 2 reasons. (1) I'm out of town for Thanksgiving without my X-Files DVDs and without a good enough Internet connection to stream or torrent them and (2) I'm in a shit ton of pain from a wrist injury and typing is akin to aliens drilling holes in my damn teeth. I've had a doctor look at it and got some x-rays taken, but until I can get in to see a specialist, I'm supposed to rest it as much as possible. Hopefully the pain will subside enough over the next few days that I can be back to these reviews by next Friday.

Here's a pic of Moose and Squirrel being adorable. May it tide you over until the Eve review.

Friday, November 22, 2013

1x10: Fallen Angel

But you saved me! As difficult and as frustrating as it's been sometimes, your goddamned sweet monsters and crazy plots have saved me a thousand times over. You kept me entertained. You made me think. I owe you everything... X-Files, and you owe me a third movie nothing. I don't know if I wanna watch any other show. I don't even know if I can. And if I quit now, they win.

That... that was a really weird quote appropriation.  I don't even know if it made sense. But it's been a weird kind of day, so whatever. You work with what you got.

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.

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

Also, please remember that I've seen this series, oh, about a million times and will probably be referencing events and plotlines that won't come up in these reviews for a long long time. So if you hate spoilers, warning: here be monsters.

Townsend, Wisconsin
12:57 A.M. Day 1

We see some fiery explosions in the woods and a police vehicle pulls up. The sheriff's deputy inside radios for fire crews, but the line is nothing but static.

US Space Surveillance Center
Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

An officer tells his superior that they've picked up an "unidentified bogey," which maneuvered like no known craft and then and crashed in Townsend, Wisconsin.. The colonel shuts down any talk of weirdness by saying it was just a meteor, and the strange movement was an equipment malfunction on their end, and their reports better reflect it (with a not so subtly-implied "or else"). When he's out of earshot of his staff, he dials his cell phone and starts talking code, confirming a "fallen angel" and ordering someone to initiate "Operation Falcon."

Holy shit, look at the size of that phone!!

Back in Townsend, the deputy is walking through the woods where he sees more explosions. Something rushes at him, accompanied by bright flashing lights, and he screams.

Budget-Rest Motel
Townsend, Wisconsin
12:57 A.M. Day 1

Mulder prepares to do some black ops shit as a news program behind him explains that toxic cargo on a wrecked train has forced the evacuation of the whole town. In flashback, we see Deep Throat telling him about a crash and the top-secret cleanup that's begun, and how Mulder has 24 hours before the entire area is sanitized.

Uh, there must be some sort of screw-up in the taglines here. Because Mulder would be in the hotel at the exact same moment the deputy saw the flames and the colonel was ordering that cleanup. Which means the flashback would be happening BEFORE the crash being described. Also, it's daylight in the news report Mulder is watching, as well as in the flashback where Deep Throat says the crash occurred "last night," so at least some time must have passed.

Anyway, we cut to Mulder running through some foggy woods and coming up against a laser fence.

I know this is supposed to look high-tech and futuristic, but all I can think is that a magic laser detection fence
would be a lot more effective if it wasn't visible.

He goes around it and finds what is obviously a military campsite, with helicopters flying overhead, big trucks at the main gate, and guys in uniforms standing around conspicuously.

Filing this under #8. There are dozens of people milling around this crash area, and at least some of them must be bright enough to realize there aren't any train tracks around and hey, that kind of looks like a spaceship or something. That's assuming they're even supposed to believe the cover story; they could easily be in on the whole cover-up, and it's probably better, for safety's sake, if they are. So we're supposed to believe there's an entire military unit dedicated to covering up crashed UFOs, and no one's told a wife or girlfriend or anyone? The sheer amount of paperwork involved in this is mind-boggling. A conspiracy this massive would almost certainly never be a conspiracy for long.

They do later explain how devastatingly discredited anyone is who tries to tell the truth, how the conspiracy has arranged things so that anyone who claims to have seen a UFO (or I guess worked a government-sanctioned cleanup of one) is ridiculed and made to look like an idiot in front of everyone. And the conspiracy itself is supposed to be massive, like this hideous black tumor pulsing just beneath the surface of civilized society. And they don't really show any qualms when it comes to executing people who would reveal it.

Still, thank God this all happened in the age before smart phones, because otherwise every single one of those soldier guys would have videos of this shit up on Youtube before you could say E.B.E.

Operation Falcon
Field Headquarters

A lieutenant hops out of a personnel carrier and talks to the colonel from the teaser (Henderson), who orders him to go to live rounds; the lieutenant is surprised, as he was told this was just a drill, but the colonel says he was told wrong.  A bunch more soldiers hop out of the nearby truck, and as they walk away, Mulder drops out from beneath it and sort-of-stealthily scampers into the forest.

That night in the woods, Mulder hides from a patrol of soldiers and sees a light in the distance. He walks towards it and discovers the crash site milling with men in protective gear.

He snaps a few photos before someone gets the drop on him and knocks him out with the butt of a gun.

Back at the military camp, Col. Henderson takes the film out of Mulder's camera and exposes it to bright light, destroying his photos. He tells Mulder that he's committed a federal crime by violating a government quarantine, and that he better forget what he saw (again, not-so-subtly implying "or else").

They take him to a temporary brig made of chain-link fence, where he meets MAX FENIG!!!

He bears a shocking resemblance to one of my ex-boyfriends, which is very disturbing and yet explains
SO MUCH about that relationship.
MAX FENIG: Are you MUFON or CUFOS?  Do you mind if I sit down? Let me guess you're with that new group--CSICOP, right? Um, say no more. You're a cautious man. Trust no one. Very wise. After what happened to JFK I understand completely. 
I had completely forgotten that it was Max who first says "trust no one," but there it is. He's also wearing a sweet NICAP hat (National Investigate Committee of Arial Phenomenon), indicating what a massive P-I-M-P he really is. He says he didn't get to see anything, but that this is shaping up to be the Roswell cover-up all over again.

The next morning, Max is gone from his cell and Scully comes to save Mulder's ass yet again. She tells him the section chief is ordering a fill inquiry with a recommendation to shut down the X-Files and kick Mulder out of the bureau. He tells her it's worth it to get the truth, and that this wasn't a train wreck. She knows - it was a downed Libyan jet with a nuclear warhead, duh! She seems all proud to have obtained this highly classified information, until Mulder dismisses it as a highly classified lie. He says the military is searching for somebody in the wreckage.

Cut to the woods, where a blurry something-or-other runs through the laser fence.

Mulder and Scully argue as they walk to their hotel - he wants to stay and investigate, she wants to get them both back to DC before they get in any more trouble. They walk into Mulder's room and find it's a total mess - someone has broken in and trashed the place. #7
I feel so bad for the maid who has to clean all of this up later.

They hear a noise in the bathroom and see someone trying to escape through the window - it's Max Fenig, and he would very much prefer they don't shoot him. He apologizes for being such a stalker with a raging fangirl boner for Mulder (#9), but everyone at NICAP has been following Mulder's career very closely (thanks to the Freedom of Information Act). He's also quite excited to meet "the enigmatic Agent Scully." He recognized Mulder from a photo of him in a "trade publication," and read his article in Omni about the Gulf Breeze sightings - published under the shittiest pseudonym ever, M.F. Luder.

He leads them out to his trailer and it is totally a mobile version of the X-Files office. Papers and photos tacked up everywhere, weird nick-knacks and books on every shelf, mass chaos. Seriously, Max is just what Mulder would be if his father hadn't been an old-money government employee. Even their names have a certain similarity: Max Fenig, Fox Mulder... keep saying them over and over and you'll see what I mean.

They talk crop circles while Scully pokes around, and finds a shelf full of drugs. Not even  the fun kind either, but the take-these-or-lose-your-mind kind.

He shows them a fancy-ass piece of electronics equipment he IDs as the Wolf Ear 2000, a CIA-grade frequency scanner, which picked up the sheriff's deputy calling for help in Townsend as well as the responding unit arriving on the scene, saying there was a man down and "what the hell, we've got a situation here!"

Back at Falcon Headquarters, Hendersen is on the phone telling someone "it will not get away" this time.

Mills Road High School
Emergency Evacuation Center
6:27 PM Day 2

Moose and Squirrel approach the sheriff's wife at the evacuation center, and of course she doesn't want to talk to them - the government is refusing to release his body, and told her if she spoke to anyone, they would withhold her husband's pension.

Just then, the lights go out.

US Microwave Substation B21

A high-pitched screeching sound fills the station as a military police officer tells Henderson they've picked up the "target." Henderson gives the order to search and destroy. Two teams rush out of the station and comb through the facility, but find nothing. Just as one team leader says it must have just been an animal, both teams get knocked to the ground by the blurry entity, and bright white lights flash.

County Hospital
Townsend, Wisconsin
11:42 PM

Mulder and Scully speak to the doctor who treated the deputy, but he's reluctant to talk to them; Mulder deduces that "they" must be threatening him the same way they did the wife. The doctor, still bristling about the way those fascists pushed everyone around, decides to spill: the deputy and 3 others from the fire grew came in dead-on-arrival with 5th and 6th degree burns over 90% of their bodies, and the government took the bodies away before he could perform any autopsies.  Mulder and Scully if the damage could have been caused by radiation exposure, and the doctor says it's possible if the exposure was intense enough.

M&S walk down the hallway - she thinks the burns were from the cracked nuclear warhead of a downed Libyan jet, Mulder has a stack of X-files recording the same burns as the result of close encounters with UFOs. She reminds him again that they have to get back to the OPR inquest or there won't be any more X-files.

Just then, a bunch of military men - the ones from the substation - come in on stretchers, covered in severe burns. Henderson is with them and glares at Mulder as he passes.

Mulder confronts Henderson in the ER about the entity (surrounded by his dying men), but Henderson wants nothing to do with him. Scully gets to stay because she's a doctor and it's all-hands-on-deck to save the burned soldiers, but Henderson kicks Mulder out.

He heads straight to Max's trailer and finds him seizing; when he comes to, he reveals that he's had epilepsy since he was 10 but this is his first episode in 7 years. His doctors thought it started as a result of a head injury, but he can't recall ever hitting his head, and he used to wake up in strange places no knowing where he was or how he got there. Mulder helps him into bed and notices a mark behind his ear.

In his hotel room, Mulder is studying some casefiles. Scully comes in and reveals that only 2 men are still alive, in critical condition on their way to Johns Hopkins. She's anxious to get on their plane and get back to DC, but Mulder tells her he thinks Max Fenig is an abductee - his scars are identical to those of two different women in his files. She thinks Max is a nut - only one of the drugs in his trailer was for epilepsy, but the other is used to treat schizophrenia. Mulder clarifies that Max doesn't claim to be an abductee, but rather that Mulder himself suspects it; he asks her to take a gander at Max's scar. She agrees, reluctantly, as long as it's on their way to the airport.

Look at her face up there. She's just spent the whole night caring for dying men in the ER; her job is in jeopardy because her dick of a partner went and did something stupid AGAIN that might get their department shut down; she's mentally and physically exhausted and just wants to get Mulder back to DC for his own good. And yet all he has to do is give her a little smile, appeal to her compassion and knowledge as a doctor, and she'll agree to help him. Even though she thinks he's insane. #4 I can't tell if it's pity or compassion or Stockholm syndrome.

US Space Surveillance Center
Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

The techs spot something at the same place as the first UFO meteor, but this time it's much larger... and this time, the "meteor" is hovering over a small town in Eastern Wisconsin.

The shot cuts to the entity's weird fisheye POV - it's watching Max, asleep in his trailer. Blood trickles out of his ear, soaking the pillow. He opens his eyes and the screen fades to white.

M&S knock on the trailer door and find it empty. His scanner is still running, and they hear Henderson say something about an unidentified trespasser at the waterfront.

Mulder runs to the car, Scully yelling after him that they have to get to the airport right now so he can at least have a chance at defending himself in front of OPR. Mulder thinks it's not a coincidence that a nomad like Max was in Townsend the very same night a UFO crashed there, and that Col. Henderson has probably figured this out, too. Scully reluctantly hands him the keys - knowing it could mean sacrificing her career and Mulder's in pursuit of a truth she doesn't really believe. But dammit, she believes in Mulder. #4

Take my keys, my career, and my heart. It's all yours, anyway.

I didn't tear up writing that, I swear.

Lake Michigan Waterfront
Dock 7

Max stumbles along, holding his bleeding ear, and he's approached by two guys in military fatigues. Henderson comes on the radio and says to take him with extreme caution.

Scully and Mulder roll up in their rent-a-car and find those same two soldiers burned to a crisp. Scully checks their pulses but they're obviously dead.

[This, by the way, is one of the best blooper moments from season 1. Instead of saying, "They're dead," she touches the two burned bodies, with smoke pouring off their clothes, and says, "They're done."]

They hear Max screaming and run toward the sound. They find him in an empty warehouse, repeating again and again that "it hurts" and "they're coming for me." Military vehicles pull up outside the warehouse, and Henderson tells them to secure the exterior. Scully comes out and is immediately apprehended and dragged to the colonel; she tries to tell him that Max is a delusional schizophrenic man he won't listen. One of the military guys has a heat-sensing camera... and it's picking up 3 forms inside the warehouse. Henderson says to go in in 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, inside the warehouse, Scully is YET AGAIN MISSING FUCKING EVERYTHING:

There's a lot of flashing light, and outside, the guy with the heat camera reports that there is now only one figure inside. The blow the door off the warehouse with plastic explosives, and a bunch of soldiers bust in to find Mulder, alone, picking up Max's NICAP hat from the floor.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, D.C.
Office of Professional Responsibility Hearing
10:17 A.M. Day 4

Boring men in suits ask Scully if Mulder at any point requested to be assigned to investigate the Townsend evacuation, and she honestly answers no. She tries to defend Mulder but they refuse to let her speak, and she is dismissed.

Anyway, in the hall outside, Mulder tells Scully it was only a matter of time before the X-files were shut down. He goes into the office to have his turn, and Scully picks up the newspaper he was reading:


Can we all just take a second to appreciate Scully's outfit, here? The shoulderpads are still pretty bad, but the jack fits properly and her skirt is an appropriate length for someone of her age and profession. And it's not cranberry-colored or have huge lapels or anything. Even that strange collar on the blouse is kind of cute. This may be her best outfit all season.

Inside the OPR hearing, the section chief tries to scold Mulder but he's not having it - even this hearing is part of the coverup, lies stamped with an official seal. He walks out, saying that no government agency has jurisdiction over the truth.

Later, in a courtyard, Deep Throat and the section chief from the hearing are having a less-than-friendly conversation. DT has apparently overturned their decision to close the X-files, thereby ruining their best chance to get rid of him. DT tells him it's a simple matter of keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Roll end credits.

This is another of those early quasi-mytharc episodes that's fun while you're along for the ride but looks really weird when you step back with the perspective of the rest of the series. Max Fenig, a multiple-abductee, was in Wisconsin when a UFO came for him. That UFO crashed, initiating a massive cover-up. Okay, believable... well, in TXF context, anyway. We have no idea what caused the crash, and that's never addressed, but I suppose we could explain it with magnetite or whatever that stuff is from season 9 that makes UFOs and EBEs go all wonky. Some sort of entity survives the crash, and runs around killing military personnel for a little while, presumably in self-defense because they were trying to capture it.  It's not a gray, or a rebel, or a bounty hunter, or a hybrid, or any of the other extraterrestrial entities we see later in the series. It's not even Lord Kimbote; it's just a blurry blob thing. Does it possess Max, or is it like the "force" from the Pilot, driving him to the warehouse to be abducted? And then there's the matter of the second ship, showing up presumably both to rescue the blur and to complete its original mission of abducting Max. I feel like this episode would have been better if we hadn't seen that weird blur, if there was no entity but was purely about the cover-up and subsequent re-abduction. Also, there was NO GODDAMN REASON for Scully to leave that warehouse when she KNEW the military was looking for them, except that plot once again dictates that she never sees what's going on. Fuck it, we're adding that to the list:

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.

Next week, we'll celebrate Black Friday the proper American way: watching two intensely creepy twins murder their fathers and meet their own insane (and occasionally cannibalistic) clones.

Firsts: Max Fenig!, "trust no one," Mulder has a fandom,

Friday, November 15, 2013

1x09: Space

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.

Oh Sweet Zombie Jeebus, Space. There are very few episodes of TXF that I actively dislike, but this is one of them. It's even more painful coming after an episode like Ice, which I really enjoyed.  But I promised - every episode of The X-Files in chronological order - and I will deliver. But we're going to do this one quick-like-a-Band-Aid because otherwise I may have an aneurism.

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.
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.

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

Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, California

A reporter tells the audience that NASA has a nerd boner over the discovery of water on mars, but that they're denying the famous Mars Face is evidence of an alien civilization.  An astronaut, Marcus Aurelius Belt, whose name is the best thing in this episode, comes on to explain it's nothing but a natural formation.

Later, Belt tucks himself into bed and starts having a nightmare about his time in space, where he sees something coming at him. He wakes with a start to see the Mars face floating on the ceiling above him; he screams as it comes at him.

Shuttle Space Center
Cape Canaveral, Florida
Present Day

After the opening credits, we're treated to a series of really crappy stock images of a shuttle launch.  We hear radio communications of a bunch of random launch procedures, that don't seem to mean much, and then cut to Houston Mission Control, where an older Belt is standing in the control room. We get a lot more crappy stock footage as they count down to liftoff, and then abort at the last possible second due to system failure.

Washington, DC
Two Weeks Later

Mulder and Scully share a bag of sunflower seeds as he tells her there's some cloak-and-dagger shit going on at NASA, and they're apparently here to meet someone. One of the control room people from Houston shows up - Michelle Generoo -

and tells them she thinks there's a saboteur inside the space program - apparently that system failure that caused the launch to abort was the result of physical tampering with one of the valves, and if they hadn't aborted, the shuttle would have exploded on the launch pad. She wants M&S to help because of their "expertise in unexplained phenomena", as the valve was made of titanium and no one can explain how it was damaged. She has personal reasons for wanting to get to the bottom of this - her fiancee is a shuttle commander whose mission is due to launch the following day.

Houston Space Center
Next Day

 M&S are riding in one of those adorable Austin Powers airport golf cart things, discussing who would want to sabotage the shuttle: terrorists attacking a symbol of American progress, anti-science extremists who resent all the money NASA receives, futurists who think the shuttle is too archaic for modern use... and "certain fringe elements" who believe the government is hiding evidence of alien civilizations.

They're on their way to meet Belt, and Mulder gives Scully some brief background info on how Belt nearly died on the Gemini 8 mission. They go into his office, and Mulder turns into a gushing fangirl about how as a kid he stayed up all night to watch Belt's space walk. Belt is clearly less than comfortable about this.

To be fair, this is the exact same face I would have upon meeting just about any member of TXF crew or cast.

Anyway, Belt denies that there's any evidence of sabotage (the official reports say it was simple mechanical failure) and is unwilling to postpone the next launch. Mulder practically vomits with excitement when Belt grants them permission to watching the lift-off from Mission Control.

Later, M&S show the photo of the damaged valve to some tech guy who can't believe what he's seeing. He tells them there are a shit-ton of safety measures in place, and people making sure everything's in order before launch... and that ultimately the final go-ahead is given by Colonel Belt (who has been listening this whole time from a balcony above them). They walk away, wondering if maybe Belt knows more than he was saying.

We're treated to a bunch more shitty stock footage and NASA gibberish as Mulder and Scully watch the launch from Mission Control. This time the launch is successful, and Michelle is quite relieved her fiance didn't get blown to pieces.

Cut to Mulder and Scully walking down the hall of a fairly swanky hotel, where Mulder is still high on the joy of watching a large phallic object explode powerfully and thrust into space. (Could we call this #9, please?) Just as he's about to pass out from all the excitement, Michelle comes running up behind them and says they've lost communication with the shuttle.

They hop in their rented car and follow Michelle through the dark and stormy night. While M&S discuss the possibility of sabotage, Michelle gets run off the road by a HIDEOUS FLOATING FACE SO SCARY OMG.

That was sarcasm, in case you couldn't tell. Also, at least this time it was someone else's car that crashed, which must be a pleasant change of pace for our dynamic duo.

Mulder manages to extract her from the wreckage of her vehicle, and she's kind of hysterical, saying something came at her in the fog and she has to get back to mission control.

They make it back to the control room and Michelle hops on the headset. Mulder explains to Scully (and therefor to us) that the maneuvering system on the shuttle is down and they can't rotate it away from the sun to keep cool, so they're getting slowly roasted up in space.

Michelle and some tech argue about telemetry and how they can't remotely operate any of the shuttle systems from the ground... as if someone is blocking their signal. She and our intrepid agents head for the data banks, where the jamming must be coming from, and all the lights go out. Mulder nearly shoots some tech geek in the head, who was just trying to do his damn job, thank you very much (#11); the lights come back on

Please don't kill me, Mr FBI Man, I'm just here to fix the computer.

and what the hell was the point of this scene? They go in a room, the lights go out, nothing happens, the light comes back on. They don't learn anything, and they don't even learn that they didn't learn anything. They just go barging in with their guns drawn and then stand there with egg on their faces when nothing happens. It's like the writers realized they had to fill 3 or 4 more minutes of air time and shoved this scene in for no reason. Mulder says he doesn't want anyone coming in or out of the building without proper clearance... but isn't that pretty much routine? This is freaking NASA. It's not like they're just going to open the door for Snidely Whiplash because he says "please." Everyone in that building already HAS proper clearance, and obviously a pretty good knowledge of shuttle design and launch procedure. So it basically has to be someone who already works there, who thus already has proper clearance, and who thus wouldn't be barred from entering the building. It feels like everyone's being incredibly dense around here. #11

The trio goes back to mission control and Michelle and Belt argue about... something. It's all spacey-wacey shit we don't really care about

but boils down to: Belt wants to do something that could cut them off from the shuttle completely, and Michelle doesn't want him to do that thing. They do Belt's thing anyway.  The thing works and suddenly everyone's all happy.

Considering that, like the rest of us, Scully had no idea what was going on in this scene, her smile
seems a little less than genuine.

Mulder, Scully, and Michelle watch from the sidelines as Belt holds a press conference, talking amongst themselves about how Belt's actions could have killed everyone on the shuttle. Belt, meanwhile, tells the press that the shuttle has "performed magnificently" and makes no mention of the little potentially deadly snafu... totally tarnishing Poor Mulder's view of his boyhood hero. After the press conference, Mulder chases him down and asks why he lied, and Belt says something about how astronauts don't make the news anymore unless they fuck up, but he's going to bring the shuttle back to earth.

That night, Belt has more nightmares about being in space, and then his face starts turning into the Mars Face.

A white ghostly figure pulls itself out of his body and goes floating out the window and up into the sky... and the shuttle astronauts report that something really weird just happened. We hear over the radio at mission control that something is banging against the side of the shuttle. They've got an oxygen leak. Michelle, Mulder, and Scully enter and Mulder explains (to Scully and to us) that the same kind of thing happened on Belt's mission. The shuttle has 30 minutes of backup oxygen, but after that, shit's gonna get real.

M&S go to Belt's apartment, since he's the one who'll know best what to do, and drag his ass out of bed to get to the control room. He gets on the radio and tells the shuttle crew to hop into their spacesuits and then vent the excess CO2, and use their emergency oxygen systems while they deliver the payload.

What the fuck is this payload they keep talking about? It's been mentioned a few times, but I don't think we ever figure out what it is or where they're taking it or why. All we know is that Belt's super determined that it gets done, because apparently if they fail, Congress with shut down NASA. Seems like a mission that important could have been explained just a wee bit to us, the viewing audience, so we'd understand what's at stake here.

Michelle runs crying into the hallway, because Belt is about to get her fiance killed, and M&S take the opportunity to discuss with her whether Belt is the saboteur or not. Mulder still thinks Belt is the only one who can save them. He's also being uncomfortably familiar with Michelle...

He doesn't move his hands for this whole scene. She's got a fiance, dude, who's ABOUT TO DIE.
Boundaries, Mulder. Boundaries. #6

which I find a little weird. Hands on her shoulders would have been a bit more professional there, Moose.

Mulder and Scully have a tech guy lead them through files on the Hubble Telescope, Mars Observer, Shuttle Challenger, and the current Orbiter mission looking for proof that Belt knew about sabotage.

Meanwhile in Mission control, the shuttle crew delivers the payload, which is shitty stock footage of, like, a satellite or something, maybe?

and then see a ghost outside the ship. Belt starts to scream.

Back in the file room, Scully finds a copy of the same photo that was sent to Michelle - sent by Belt himself, who knew about the faulty valve. Mulder has found a file on the O ring that failed in the challenger dated January 21, 1986 (which is the day I was born, which is kind of weird)... and the analysis was ordered by Belt a week before the shuttle blew up.

Michelle comes in and says Belt's collapsed; they find him curled up under his desk, crying, screaming that something is tearing him apart. He keeps screaming and thrashing as the EMTs get him on a stretcher, and it takes way too long for Scully to remember her medical training and give him some diazepam.

Mulder holds up a finger in front of Belt's face and tells him to focus - focus his breathing, his pain... Belt gets all calm, like he's been hypnotized or something.

God this scene is awful.

Can you hypnotize me to believe this episode never happened?

Belt says the shuttle can't survive reentry because the fuselage is damaged, which he knows because he couldn't stop "them" and "they don't want us to know." It or they or whatever has been living in him since his mission in the 70s, and his face starts morphing into Mars Face again. Michelle appears far more shocked that it's the face she saw in the fog than the whole "alien ghost thing has possessed my boss and is trying to murder my fiance" thing.

Belt goes into cardiac arrest just as a tech shows up to tell them the shuttle is out of oxygen and is now on emergency backup.

Michelle goes back to mission control to talk the shuttle through reentry, which is a stupid thing to try given that she was standing RIGHT THERE when Belt was talking about how reentry will kill all of them. As if sensing this, Belt (who is still with Mulder outside his office) says they have to change the reentry trajectory to 35 degrees.

M&S run to mission control and tell everyone they have to change the trajectory; Michelle sends the info to the shuttle but they're not sure if it was received before transmission blackout (which I guess is a thing that happens upon reentry?).

TL;DR There's like 2 tense minutes where no one knows if the shuttle crew is still alive, but then they are and everyone's happy.

Once again, so happy that something she doesn't understand has been successful or whatever.

Later, Belt is in his hospital room watching a press conference in which Michelle is lying through her teeth about how nothing at all went wrong on this totally routine shuttle mission. Belt does the face morph thing again, then rips out all his IVs, fights with the Mars Ghost Face whatever and finally flings himself out the window to his death.

Back at the X-files office, Mulder is reading a newspaper article about Belt's death. (Actually, he has like 6 copies of the same paper spread out all of the table, which is really weird.) Scully comes in and they attempt to give the audience some sort of explanation for what the hell we've been watching for the last 44 minutes but it's something like, "Well, that was weird." They manage to snag some good seats for his funeral, where Michelle is sitting with some dude we're supposed to figure is her fiance. The minister delivers some line about his soul rising to the heavens, higher than he could ever go as a man, and I guess we're supposed to feel a pang of sorrow over this great hero or something, but all I feel is gratitude as the credits finally roll.

This may be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

So, let's go over WHY I hate this episode, shall we? First things first, we get way too clear a picture way too early of the "Mars Face" monster. One of the best and creepiest things about this series is that they rarely give you a good long look at whatever is running around eating people, and when you finally do see it, you're so afraid of it already that it almost doesn't matter what it really looks like. But in the first 2 minutes of this episode, we got a long look at the truly horrible (even for the 90s) CGI of the Mars Face, and thus we no longer feared the unknown. I really hate that kind of audience hand-holding, too - most of the time we're supposed to puzzle it out alongside Moose and Squirrel, but in this episode we already knew who the monster was and were just waiting for them to figure it out... which they never actually do.

Second, there is just so much shitty stock footage and NASA jargon that we the audience can't understand and thus don't care about, all of which could have been cut to make more room for story.  TV episodes have a finite running time, usually between 42-48 minutes for an hour-long program, and this episode wasted far too much time showing stock footage that already looked outdated when it aired. I can forgive stock footage in location establishing shots, because those are usually very brief, but this was just too much.

Third, the pacing. We had a bunch of scenes that didn't go anywhere (looking at the data bank blackout here) and even the scenes where stuff does happen seem incredibly long (it took like 5 minutes to get Michelle out of her overturned car). See above re: finite running time.

Fourth, characterization seems off in this episode. I totally buy that Mulder was a space nerd as a kid, but Scully says early in the episode that she didn't really care and seems to not know one damn thing about NASA or how any of this shit works. Mulder explains to her several times what the control room staff are talking about, which is mostly for the audience's benefit but also makes Scully kind of look like an idiot. Here's a little writing tip: when half the dialogue of your show is so jargon-specific that you need one character to act as an interpreter for the audience to follow along, you're doing it wrong.

M&S also can't seem find their asses with both hands; they spend 90% of the episode convinced it's a human saboteur when Mulder at least should have been suspected a space monster or something from the very beginning.

Finally, the fate of the shuttle crew seems to be the central element around which the whole plot revolves: will they survive, who sabotaged their shuttle, etc. The problem is, we never actually see the shuttle crew and thus feel no emotional connection to them.

BLARG. It's over. Next week we'll be watching the far-more-bearable Fallen Angel and then we get to watch Eve, which is just awesome, so things are looking up.

Firsts: Mulder fangirls out, I'm happy an episode is over

Friday, November 8, 2013

1x08: Ice

Hello Starbuck. It's Ahab. People would say to me that life is short; shows, they run by so fast and before you know it, it's over. I never noticed. For me, The X-Files went at a proper pace, there were many awesome episodes, until the moment that I knew, I understood, that I would never see them again - my Mulder and Scully. I never knew how much I loved that show until there were no new episodes. At that moment I would have traded every Doggett, every Reyes, every Princess Bride Guy for one more quality season.  But we're together again, here, on this blog.

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.
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.

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.

This week we'll be looking at 1x08 Ice, one of my favorite episodes this season. It's tense and scary and almost completely plausible, which makes it even scarier.  Something about the idea of true isolation has always made me very uneasy, along with elevators and other enclosed spaces, but throw me in a bunker miles from civilization with a group of strangers of whom at least one is a parasite-infest murderer? Nope nope nope nope nope.  Even sexy storage-room-examinations with Mulder and Scully wouldn't make that trip worthwhile.

Okay, maybe it would.

Arctic Ice Core Project
Icy Cape, Alaska
250 Miles North of the Arctic Circle

It looks balls cold up there, you guys.

It's maybe 50'F where I am, and I'm wrapped in a blanket with a space heater on. I could not handle this.

A cute widdle puppy skulks through a trash research lab, stepping around at least 2 dead bodies. A rugged looking guy sporting several nasty-looking wounds lurches into view carrying a gun; he heads over to a console and flips the camera on, and starts saying rather cryptically:

RICHTER: We're not... who... we are. We're not... who we are. It goes no further than this. It stops right here... right now.

Yeah, that's definitely one of the creepier lines in this show.

Suddenly another man rushes up behind him and the two start fighting, slamming each other around the room and throwing serious punches. Guy 1 grabs his gun and aims it at Guy 2, who also has a gun drawn and pointed at Guy 1. They approach each other until each gun barrel is only an inch or so from the other's face.  There's a long pause, and finally Guy 1 takes his sites off Guy 2 and aims his gun at his own head; guy 2 does the same.  The shot moves outside the bunker and we hear 2 gunshots ring out.

Roll opening credits.

At FBI HQ, Mulder and Scully are watching a video from the Arctic Ice Project; Guy 1, alive and happy, is all excited because his team has just surpassed the previous record for drilling into an ice sheet. Which I guess is really cool if you're an ice scientist or whatever. The team all high five each other and make with general, flannel-clad merriment.

"Good work, everyone! Let's never murder one another!"

Mulder explains to Scully that these guys were up in Alaska extracting ice samples that could reveal the structure of the earth's climate back to the dawn of man; there were no reports of any trouble until a week after that first video, when the next transmission was sent... and it was Guy 1, doing his "We're not who we are" bit.  After he delivers that line and gets bumrushed by Guy 2, the transmission cuts off.

Wait. If they killed each other, who sent the transmission? Did Guy 1 have his hand on the "trasmit live feed" button or something up until the fight started? It would have made more sense (and created more tension) to hear their scuffle off camera followed by the two gunshots.  Then Mulder could have explained that it kept broadcasting the empty room until the power went out.

Anyway. Mulder says the Bureau thinks they must be either brilliant or expendable, because they've pulled the assignment to go figure out WTF is going on up north - leaving today, with a 3-day window to get in and out before the next arctic storm makes travel impossible.  Filing this under #6, because it is a total dick move not to tell Scully about a huge sojourn to the middle of frozen nowhere and give her zero time to pack or prepare. You think she has ANY clothing suited to arctic weather? Who's going to pay for her new sub-zero-winter wardrobe?

He even quips, "Bring your mittens" as he walks away. Sometimes I kind of want to punch him in the face...

Doolittle Airfield
Nome, Alaska

This guy (who in my memory always gets replaced with Tom Arnold)

sits around listening to old football highlights tapes on his Walkman (which is intensely weird) while other people do the actual work of loading up his plane. He's Danny Murphy, and he'll be heading up to Frozen Nowhere with Moose and Squirrel. Two more scientists, Lynette from Desperate Housewives and some guy who looks like Lucius Malfoy, show up and everyone flashes ID and shakes hands.

From Left to Right: Not-Tom-Arnold, Moose, Squirrel, Lynette from Desperate Housewives, and Lucius Malfoy.

Their pilot, with the amazing name of Bear, pulls up in his jeep and oh holy crap it's this guy:

That's Jeff Kober, who will always be creepy to me. He played a criminally insane vampire of BtVS (Helpless) and later a guy who dealt the magic equivalent of heroin. He also played bad guys on Charmed, Star Trek Voyager, and Supernatural. He is not to be trusted. Something about the wide mouth and the prominent cheekbones.

Creepy Bear throws a bit of attitude at them and they all get on the plane.

Our unlikely team make it up to the project bunkers and kick down the door to find a whole lot of dead people. They document the scene, and Mulder finds the ice cores melting away in the freezer as all the generators have gone out.

Mulder and Lynette go poking around and are suddenly attacked by the dog from the teaser. Bear manages to wrestle the dog off them and Lucius injects it with a tranquilizer - but not before it gives Bear a nice bite on the hand. Scully examines the dog and finds black nodules on its lymph nodes... and something crawling under its skin.

That sound you just heard was me vomiting in my mouth.

Ew. Ew. Ew ew ew. I hate when things do that. Under-skin crawlies show up a few times in this series and it always creeps me right the fuck out.

In the bathroom, Bear is taping up his dog bite. He looks in the mirror and sees that under his arm he has the same black spots as the dog had.

After a quick commercial break, we come back to find that Scully has finished her autopsies on the pile of corpses and determined that two of them killed themselves and the other three were strangled to death. They also had fever-damage to their livers, but no black spots... which would be good news for Bear except that the black spots on the dog have gone away, which could indicate those spots are just an early symptom.

Mulder finds a pile of satellite photos, which Not-Tom says show the ice to be 3,000 meters thick... but the original team found data showing twice that depth - they were digging inside a meteor crater.

Scully and Lucius are examining blood samples from the dead guys and find ammonium hydroxide, which Not-Tom has also found in the ice samples in levels higher than the earth's atmosphere ever contained. He also found this in the ice:

Scully has found the same organism in guy 1's blood and theorizes it's the larval stage of a larger animal - like the thing crawling around inside that dog. Everyone but Mulder goes into immediate denial, and Bear seizes on the "those guys killed each other" autopsy result to pitch his bid for getting the hell out of dodge. Mulder insists that none of them can leave without proper quarantine procedure, but everyone else sides with Bear on the GTFO train.

Tensions have been mounting this whole scene, and when Lynette reminds them that the dog bit Bear, he's quick to get all up in Mulder's face to remind him that he was attacked too. Scully steps in to calm shit down, and says they should examine each other to make sure no one's infected. Blood and stool samples for everybody!

Bear flips his shit and storms out, intent on getting in his plane and flying off; Mulder puts it to a vote, which is 3-2 (Moose, Squirrel, Not-Tom against Lynette and Lucius) to catch and confine Bear until he checks out clean for creepy worm parasites. He agrees at gunpoint, then smashes the sample jar over Mulder's head and bolts... only to be TACKLED by Scully.

Not pictured: her little cape fluttering in the air as she freaking DOVE at him.

So much spunk in such a small package.

They try to restrain him and spot something moving under the skin at the back of his neck. He starts seizing and Lucius cuts the fucking thing out of his neck oh god it's so gross ew oh why?!?


They to yank out the hideous squiggly thing and it immediately starts spewing BLACK BLOOD all up in Bear's neck wound. Mulder drops the worm in a specimen jar and gets his ass on the radio to call for quarantine and evacuation. The weather has gone to shit, though, so no one can get to them for another day.

Oh, and Bear's dead now, so they can't fly out themselves.

A bit later, we come back to the hideous worm thing all cozy in its ammonia tank

as the team discusses its anatomy and how it's super weird. Scully says she found the creatures in the hypothalamus glands of each dead guy (and she's found another one still alive), which could explain their violent, murderous behavior. It also only appears to kill when it's extracted, releasing a toxin into the host's blood. Mulder suggests the two guys from the teaser killed themselves to protect everyone else.

Moose & Squirrel find a quiet moment together in the room holding all the dead people (don't worry, they're in body bags... the corpses, not Our Heroes), and Mulder says he doesn't know if they should kill the hideous evil worm thing because it's probably an alien, brought to earth by the meteor that formed the crater in which the first time was drilling. Scully is firmly on team kill-it-w-with-fire, not only to keep it from infecting the general population but to keep their own team from killing each other.

Lucius and Lynette are listening in and growing increasingly paranoid that M&S knew this whole time that they were flying into a disaster situation. Lucius points out that Bear's infected blood got all over Scully, but Lynette counters that it got all over Lucius, too. It's getting all Salem Witch Trials up in here, you guys.

Lucius, Lynette, and Not-Tom all barge in on Moose and Squirrel, still arguing, and Lucius subtly insinuates that Scully's got angry-worm fever. She does not take this insinuation well.

"My little feet could totally reach up to kick your frozen nuts."

Mulder steps in and says everyone should get some rest, but Lucius reminds him that they still haven't examined everyone for spots and neck worms yet. Scully insists they do them out in the open, no secrets; she and Lynette strip down to play doctor in one room, and Mulder and the boys do the same in another room.
MULDER: Before anyone passes judgement, may I remind you we are in the Arctic.

Content that no one's infected, they all retire to spend the night in various states of sleepless paranoia in the same rooms where dead men once slept.

Don't worry, Scully, nothing bad can happen with the Bosom Buddies watching over you.

Later, Mulder startles himself awake and hears a noise. He finds Not-Tom's door open, but Not-Tom nowhere to be found. He heads into the lab and finds Not-Tom's bloody corpse stuffed in the freeze... which is of course the moment everyone else choose to walk in and find him like this:

Totally not what it looks like, guys.

Scully is, of course, the only one who believes he's innocent, and says he should have a blood test. Of course, she should know that Mulder is already cripplingly paranoid at the best of times, so now he's convinced that Lucius is going to change the results to make him look infected. She wants to look at his neck, but Mulder waves his gun around and says he's not turning his back on anyone ... so, yeah, way to make yourself look innocent and not-infected, what with the violence the yelling and antisocial behavior.

Scully draws her gun on Mulder, and you can tell by the look in her eyes that she hates having to do it.

MULDER: Scully, get that gun off me!
SCULLY: Mulder, you have to understand!
MULDER: (takes his aim off Malfoy and aims at Scully instead) Put it down!
SCULLY: You put it down first!
MULDER: (angry) Scully, for God sakes it's me!
SCULLY: (pleading) Mulder... you may not be who you are.

There's a long pause where Mulder slowly comes to his senses and lowers his gun. Filing this under #4, because Mulder is learning to trust Scully when he cannot trust himself.

Scully shuts him in a small storage room, and as she shuts the door he tells her, "In here, I'll be safer than you."  Which is reassuring, thanks. She locks the door and stares at it for a long moment, wondering if she's done the right thing.

She heads back to the lab and sees Lynette asleep, but before she can check for a worm lump, Lucius comes in and gets all paranoid that Scully is the only person with a gun and could be infected. She gives him some MAJOR stinkeye, pops the clips from her gun and Mulder's, and hurls them out the door into the arctic wasteland. Lucius, in complete contradiction of his actions like 5 seconds ago, says now isn't the time for "the three of us" to start turning on each other and Scully's all, "Hold up, asshole, Mulder's still one of us and needs our help." You go, Scully. #4

She tries the radio again, but there's nothing but static.

Later, Lucius and Lynette are doing some experiments with infected vs uninfected blood, and Lucius gets super pissed with Lynette makes an honest mistake and puts two drops of infected blood from different hosts on the same slide. They each storm off in a rage, but Scully keeps her head and looks in the microscope to see the two larvae fighting and killing each other.

She gets an idea, and puts the jars containing the giant two worms next to each other - the worms immediately start trying to kill each other.

They drop a bit of science on us: Lucius says it doesn't make sense for a species to kill its own because they need to procreate, but Lynette points out that the worms could be hermaphroditic and reproduce asexually.

There's a joke about Mulder and Scully's lack of sexual relationships in there somewhere, I just know it.

Anyway, they decide to test this two-worms-in-one-host-is-a-cure theory by sticking one of the live worms inside the poor dog.

Look at this image without squirming. I dare you.

After a minute or so, the dog has a mild seizure but then is totally fine, wagging its tail and nomming some kibble and totally not trying to eat anyone's face off. It pooped out both worms, dead.

Scully heads back to Mulder's makeshift cell, wanting to make sure he's infected before they go dropping worms in his ears. She tells him about her discovery, but he knows that if they put a worm in him, he'll become infected instead of cured.

SCULLY: If that's true, then why didn't you let us inspect you?
MULDER: I would have, but you pulled a gun on me. Now I don't trust them. I want to trust you. (#4)
SCULLY: Okay, but now they're not here.
Mulder turns, and Scully pulls down the back of his shirt and runs her hands all over his neck and back. No worm. Scully turns to leave but Mulder grabs her (in a totally not sexual way) and she gasps (in also totally not a sexual way). She tries to turn but he gently pushes her back to facing forward (in a totally not sexual way) and leans in close to touch her neck (in a totally sexual way).

There's no sexual tension in this scene at all, I guess, is what I'm saying. But if you take out those first two sentences and all the parentheses, that paragraph reads like a mild BDSM fanfic scene.

I'm sure there's a fanfic out there where, immediately following this moment, he pushes her up against a wall and they have passionate, paranoid, Arctic sex. (If you know of one, please share.)

Just as Lucius and Lynette are convincing each other that M&S will totally come out and lie and say they're uninfected, M&S come out and say they're uninfected. And maybe it's just me, but they both look a little flush and tousled and sheepish...

Lucius suggests they head back into the main building for a public examination of everyone, and the second Mulder turns his back, Lucius tackles him and Lynette shoves Scully into the storage room / cell. Lynette grabs the worm and tries to drop it in Mulder's ear, but Lucius gets a look at the back of her neck... and there's totally a gigantic evil angry worm in there! He releases Mulder and goes after her, but she flips her shit and runs away, screaming and knocking things over.

Mulder lets Scully out of the cell (thank you for thinking of her, just this one time) and he and Scully corner and subdue Lynette, and Lucius approaches with the worm. Scully takes a moment to remind Mulder that if they put the worm in Lynette, there won't be any left for study, but he knows it's the only way. Lucius drops the worm in Lynette's ear; she spazzes for a bit and then calms.

Doolittle Airfield
Nome, Alaska

Lynette gets loaded into an ambulance in a hazmat suit. Lucius explains (more for viewer benefit than for M&S) that she's going to quarantine along with the dog, but that the three of them have been cleared for release. Mulder wants to go back to the site to find more fun worms to play with, but Hudge tells him that the place has already been torched by "the military, Centers for Disease Control... you oughta know, they're your people." So basically, shadowy conspiracy somebodies.

He walks away, and Mulder tells Scully in a dreamy and cryptic voice that the worms are still down there, 200,000 years down in the ice. She says, "Leave it there."  She walks away, and after a quiet moment to collect himself, Mulder follows.

"Why can't I ever have nice things?"
End credits.

I do love this episode, guys. It's one of the shining gems of season 1. There's so much great acting in it, lots of nonverbal cues to clue the viewer in on the mounting tension and paranoia within each character. Mulder and Scully also have some great moments together, testing and reaffirming the bond that's growing between them. And the creep factor with those worm things is just incredible. Every time they got one near somebody's ear, or showed them crawling under their skin, I got both heebies and jeebies.

Firsts: black alien goo, M&S draw weapons on each other, Mulder actually takes Scully's feelings into account