Friday, December 13, 2013

1x12 Fire

It seems to me the best shows, the ones that last, are frequently the ones that are rooted in unresolved sexual tension.  You know, one day you look at Mulder and Scully and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere.  And the partners that were just partners are suddenly the only people you can think about getting it on.

Welcome to 1x12 Fire, or "The One Where Mulder's Ex Sparks Feelings of Thinly-Veiled Jealousy in Scully."  We already saw her be all bashful and defensive about having a date in Jersey Devil; now we see her get strangely possessive of him when some British chippy starts horning in on her territory. Chris Carter is a confusing guy - he claims he never meant for M&S to have a romantic relationship, but then he goes and writes episodes like this, where the romantic/jealous undercurrent is made pretty obvious. AND he said at Comic Con 2013 that Mulder and Scully basically fell in love the day she walked into his office.

This guy. This fucking guy. STOP TOYING WITH MY EMOTIONS.


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.

Bosham, England
70 Miles Southwest of London

(Because to Americans, every place in England needs to be explained in relation to London or else we won't know what the hell is going on.)

We open on a charming British estate, where an old man with a lovely mustache kisses his wife goodbye and heads off to some important mustache affair. On the way to the car, he strolls through his gardens, greeting the gardeners milling about... one of whom Cecil L'ively, played by none other than Mark Sheppard

He looks SO YOUNG. And evilly bearded. Definitely going to be King of Hell someday.
aka Crowley on Supernatural aka Romo Lampkin on Battlestar Galactica aka Canton Delaware from Doctor Who aka a lot of other guys on a lot of other shows. This was one of his earliest roles and I just cannot get over how young he is here. Or how well he's aged. Guess he hit max level early.

Anyway, as Mr. Mustache gets to his car and waves goodbye to his wife one more time, he's suddenly ON FUCKING FIRE. He flails about and then falls to the ground, while Cecil looks on with no small degree of satisfaction.

Washington, D.C.

After the opening credits, we catch up with Mulder and Scully walking to their car after a day in court. The find the door unlocked and a cassette sitting on the dashboard.  Rather than do the sensible thing for any paranoid monster-hunter to do and send it to be analyzed somewhere, Mulder just jams it into the car's tape player (#11).

A woman with a British accent starts speaking, describing how a British Minister of Parliament received a tape much like this one - and when he put it in the tape player, it triggered a device that blew up the car when he tried to open the doors.

And Scully nearly shits herself as a woman opens the door - it's Phoebe Green, an ex from his Oxford days, and WE HATE HER.

Haha, very funny.  Because the best way to come back into your ex's life is to make him and his new partner think they're about to get blown to bits.

She gives Mulder a kiss that's not quite on the lips nor on the cheek, which makes Scully rather uncomfortable.

#4, just #4 all over the damn place. And we have this delightful snippet of dialogue:
MULDER: Dana Scully, this is Phoebe Green, terror of Scotland Yard.
GREEN: Hello.
SCULLY: Hello.
GREEN (whispering in Mulder's ear): She hates me.
Goddamn right she does. Whether it's because you made her think she was about to die, or because you're snogging on the man she doesn't want to admit to herself she's in love with, is not quite clear. It's probably both. Yeah, I'm going with both on this one.

They head over to the X-files office, where Phoebe shares a casefile about some asshole BURNING PEOPLE ALIVE. (It bears mentioning that being burned alive is tied for my least-favorite-way-to-die, right up with being buried alive. So I'm going to be freaking out about the fire in this episode almost as hard as Mulder.) One victim only narrowly escaped, Malcolm Marsden, and he and his family are now in the US where Phoebe thinks the killer will strike again. Mulder says he'll run it by their arson specialist and Phoebe leaves... but not before throwing a "goodbye" at Scully that's basically code for, "I'm deliberately ignoring you and pretending not to notice you're even here."


Mulder tries to pretend he's not uncomfortable when he tells Scully that Phoebe is his ex, and Scully in turn tries to pretend it doesn't bother her to think about him being all up in another woman's vajay. These two...
MULDER: That was over ten years ago, Scully.
SCULLY: Yeah, I noticed how you couldn't drop everything fast enough in order to help her out.
MULDER: Oh, I was merely extending her a professional courtesy.
SCULLY: Oh, is that what you were extending?
Chris Carter, though he may play with my emotions like a freaking Monopoly board, does write some of the best dialogue in the series.

At the arson lab, the arson specialist doesn't even try to hide how sexually excited he is at the slides of fire, or "demon poetry," that Phoebe has brought with her, while I briefly imagined her and Mulder bonding over their love of gruesome slideshows, and then I threw up in my mouth a little. There's no trace of accelerant or ignition device to be found at the crime scenes, so Mulder decides it has to be pyrokinesis - someone who can control fire with his brain.

Cape Code, Massachusetts

Cecil, now sans that dead giveaway of a beard, is dressed as a handyman and painting some walls... and I never noticed until RIGHT NOW that he's coating them with rocket fuel. 20 years later and I'm still noticing new things.

You'd have to imagine the house would smell pretty bad if you'd used this for paint, right?? Did no one notice?

The Marsdens (Malcolm, his wife, and two young boys) show up for their escape-an-arsonist vacation, and Cecil puts on an American accent and introduces himself as Bob the Caretaker.  He heads outside and sees their dog digging in the woods - he kicks the dog away and we see a hand sticking out of a shallow grave, all that remains of the real Bob the Caretaker.

Back at the X-files office, Mulder tries to explain to Scully that this whole case is about Phoebe mindfucking him, because she knows that he is utterly terrified of fire ever since his friend's house burned down when he was a kid. But he's going to help her anyway, because he secretly hates himself and thinks all the bad things in his life are punishment for not being able to save Samantha and he deserves it knows every man must face his demons sometime.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cecil watches creepily through a window as Mrs. Marsden makes herself some tea, then he has a little talk with their driver who can't seem to stop coughing. Cecil offers to get him so cough medicine and heads into town.

He grabs a beer at a bar, and one of the kinda-pretty barflies you get in dives like that starts flirting with him. She takes out a cigarette and he offers to light it for her - with his fingertip.

Not pictured: her panties also spontaneously combusting.
She turns for a moment to call her friends over, and when she looks back, his whole hand is engulfed in flames and he's smiling an evil little smile. He slams his arm down on the bar, setting it on fire, and everyone in the bar runs screaming as he watches the flames dance.

Boston Mercy Hospital

Mulder and Phoebe (oh how that hurts to write) show up to interview the barfly that was flirting with Cecil, and she tells them about this "magic trick where he lit his finger on fire." She agrees to meet with a sketch artist. They leave, and Phoebe makes an awkward segue to talk about "a certain youthful indiscretion atop Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tombstone" and are you TRYING to make me go all Cecil on my computer? Because I'll do it. I really will. I will develop pyrokinetic abilities just to make you stop flirting with my Scully's Mulder.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Meanwhile, Cecil hints that he's poisoning the driver with the cough syrup.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

Scully is taking casenotes as she peruses the photos of the victims' burnt and horrifically mangled bodies. Charming. She reiterates that no traceable accelerant has been found, and postulates that the arsonist has intimate access to the victims based on the fact that they died in safe surroundings in the presence of family members. Her voiceover continues as we watch Cecil approach the Marsden boys, offering to show them a magic trick - the disappearing cigarette, which starts in one hand, vanishes, and reappears as he pulls it from his ear, lit.

Mmmm, carcinogens and charred ear hair. Delightful.

Scully heads to the arson specialist's office, wondering if the arsonist could have snuck rocket fuel into hand cream or anything else that could have been in contact with the victim's skin. The specialist says it's possible, but that it would still need to be ignited somehow.

Cecil now has 3 cigarettes in his mouth, which he lights without touching. He offers one to the younger boy who refuses it, then to the older. As the boy reaches for it, entranced by the taboo, Mrs. Marsden calls to them, breaking the spell as they run to her. She tells Cecil that their driver has taken ill (probably all that rocket fuel or whatever in the cough syrup) and asks him to drive them into Boston for a party. Scully's voiceover comes back on as Mrs. Marsden walks away, Cecil watching her with a leering grin - "The arsonist is usually unmarried and prone to excessive fantasies about women or men who are inaccessible to him" and the fire at the bar suggests he has followed the Marsdens to the US.

No shit, Sherlock.

Mulder and Phoebe (like nails on a chalkboard!) are walking in the rain and discussing the case and she's all "yeah I agree with you, it's totally pyrokinesis" and he's all "wow, how hot, you agree with me" and then she's like, "oh btw, I got a hotel for the night and we should totally bone later" and dammit, this shit is not right!!!  There's a chance I have jealousy issues, here.

It better not start raining sleeping bags.
Oh, and they decide to set a trap for the arsonist or something.

Venable Plaza Hotel
5:16 P.M.

Mulder checks into a hotel room (Phoebe's, perhaps?) and immediately gets a call on his cell phone - Scully, who has info on the identity of the arsonist. She wants to come up there, but Mulder is "anticipating having his hands full" which... could mean a lot of things but I prefer to think it's about the trap for the arsonist and not about banging his ex. Either way, Scully looks a bit disappointed.

6:57 P.M.

Phoebe arrives at the hotel with the Marsdens (the party they're attending is here), and Cecil as the driver. Inside, Mulder and Phoebe break my heart by having a romantic little slow dance in full view of poor Scully

Me too, Scullster. Me too.
who turns away in disgust only to see Cecil standing right there, creeping creepily. She looks back at the dancers (who are now kissing, excuse me while I bleach my eyes) and has to turn away again... and now Cecil has disappeared. The fire alarms start going off, giving her an excuse to break up the vomit-inducing couple - there's a fire on the 14th floor, where the Marsden children are.

Mulder, fighting down his own fear, runs up the stairs. He tries to rescue the children, who are screaming for help, but he can't do it, and the firemen have to carry him out. It is Cecil L'Ively who emerges with the children safe and sound. Everyone surrounds him, offering praise, including Phoebe... but it's only Scully who notices Mulder, wearing an oyxgen mask, being carried out by the firemen. She goes to comfort him, while Phoebe is just fangirling all over Cecil.

And this is one of the reasons that Scully is an infinitely better person and friend than Phoebe will ever be. Even though Phoebe was the one just locking lips with Mulder, she's already forgotten about him to fawn over some other hero. And Scully, who has just witnessed her partner and friend - and probable crush - kissing another woman, puts that aside and goes to help him rather than using this as a way to punish him for being an idiot. #4 I think this is also the first time we see her do that forehead touch / doctor / comfort thing, which makes up the majority of their physical contact for, like, ever.

Later, Mulder is lying in bed in nothing but black silk boxers, sexy as hell despite the coughing, while Scully sits over him playing doctor. Not shown: the scene where she strips him (y'know, for doctor reasons) much to everyone's disappointment. I find it both frustrating and thrilling that the only bare skin contact these two seem to have occurs only when one or both of them is wounded and/or in great emotional pain.

Just lean in and nibble him already. You know you want to.
She hesitates for a moment before asking him what happened, and he admits with no small degree of shame that he panicked. She asks what he knows of the guy who saved the kids, and Phobe comes in at that moment to tell them that she checked him out before the Marsdens even arrived and he's clean. She tells them the Marsdens are going to be heading back to England ... and she is too. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

After Phoebe leaves, Scully tells Mulder that there was only one common connection between the murder victims - Cecil Lively, who worked for two of them, and who also happened to have died in a tenement fire in 1971. More digging revealed that Cecil L'Ively, with an apostrophe, appeared on a list of death cirtificates among of group of children who died in a satanic ritual sacrifice in 1963... and then again on a British visa stamped by US Immigration 2 weeks ago in Boston.


Mulder jumps into action, heading to Cape Cod to warn Phoebe about the arsonist, and tells Scully to get the sketch composite from the barfly and fax it freaking everywhere. The sketch comes through and she immediately recognizes it as the hero driver.

She tries to call Mulder but he's out of service, thanks to convenient 90s cell phone limitations.

Up in Cape Cod, Cecil watches from a window as Mulder pulls up, interrupting a kiss between Mr. Marsden and Phoebe. I hate to see him emotionally wounded (no I don't) but damn, bitch, really? That guy? Over Mulder?

Guess we know what broke them up in the first place.

Anyway, Mulder delivers his warning and they start gathering everyone up to leave. Scully shows up with the sketch, and Mulder confirms the driver has disappeared. There's a moment of confusion as Mr. Marsden looks at the sketch, saying that that man isn't the driver but the caretaker, who is upstairs with the children.

Upstairs, they find the real driver dead, his burnt out husk of a corpse kneeling over the toilet as if he died mid-vomit. In another room, shit starts burning up and Mulder tries in vain to extinguish the flames. The fires grow and they run out - Mulder thinks Cecil has rigged the whole house to blow, coating everything in rocket fuel. Scully runs to find a fire extinguisher, and Mulder ushers everyone outside to safety while he goes to find the children. Before Phoebe leaves, she asks if he'll be okay, and he says "There's no place I'd rather be." Translation: "I would literally rather walk into a burning building to confront a homicidal pyrokinetic armed with rocket fuel than spend another second with your skanky fish-and-chips ass."

He goes back upstairs and hears the children screaming behind a locked door but before he can break it down, Cecil shows up behind him and snaps his fingers:

The whole hallways goes up in flames and Mulder jumps back, terrified. Cecil turns to start down the stairs only to see Scully standing at the bottom, pointing a gun up at him, but he knows she won't shoot because it could send the whole house up in flames. He practically skips down the stairs, gloating, until Phoebe comes around the corner and does the only good thing she's ever done in her whole life: splashes accelerant on his face. Blinded by rocket fuel, Cecil stumbles out of the house.

Mulder reaches down deep in that stout little heart of his and finds the courage to brave the fire and save the children, emerging from the burning house as a hero with a child under each arm.

Then Cecil straight up loses his mind, lighting himself on fire and laughing maniacally as he falls to the ground.

Later, Mulder sits at his desk, thinking, when he hears the door open and a woman with a British accent says, "Care to take me to lunch?" He practically shits himself before realizing that it's Scully. She asks where Phoebe is, but he doesn't know - she just sent a tape to him. But he hasn't played it, because he's a strong independent Mulder who don't need no Brit... Just his Scully :)

We cut to a high security burn unit as Scully's voiceover comes on, explaining that Cecil L'Ively suffered 5th and 6th degree burns over his entire body and yet survived, and is even recovering rapidly. We watch as a nurse walks up to his hyperbaric chamber, asking if he needs anything. He looks at her and says, "I'm just dying for a cigarette."

It really bothers me that he still has eyelashes despite being ON FIRE.

End credits.

Obviously, I hate Phoebe Green. The way she toys with poor Mulder is just cruel, but it does establish a pattern of his relationships with women which will culminate in fucking bitch despicable Diana Fowley. And I do get a kick out of Scully being all jealous because we know how much she hearts Mulder at this point, even if neither of them will admit it for 6 or 7 more years.

I did not know this, but every bit of fire used in this episode was real - no CGI at all. Which is super impressive, considering that both David Duchovny and Mark Sheppard did nearly all their own stunts. Apparently DD still has a scar from a burn suffered in production.

I sort of wish they'd gone a little more into the whole "this guy died in a fire in the 70s after being ritually sacrificed in the 60s" thing. Did he pick the name Cecil L'Ively because of those incidents? Or is he the original Cecil who "died" in the sacrifice, perhaps rising from the dead with the power to control fire? And was that death in the tenement fire a "Meredith Gordon on Heroes" kind of deal, where his ability allowed him to survive an otherwise fatal fire so that he could fake his own death and disappear? So many unanswered (and, in fact, unasked) questions, just begging for more exploration, which we never get. And maybe that's okay? I really don't know.

Next week: Beyond the Sea or "The Brief Appearance of Bill Scully Sr." or "Holy Shit That Guy Is Scary As Balls."

Firsts: Jealous!Scully, Mulder kisses someone and makes me see red, forehead touch, Scully plays doctor to a sick or wounded Mulder


  1. "it's Phoebe Green, an ex from his Oxford days, and WE HATE HER"

    I would seriously consider getting a t-shirt with that on it. If you do have your girl twins someday, I will also seriously consider embroidering that on onesies for them.

  2. Ah, the first look at Mulder's poor choice in women (until the red-haired fox that is Dana Scully). Seriously, all of his ex-girlfriends treat him like crap.

    Also, every time I see Mark Sheppard in something, I yell "Badger!" at the screen with a smile on my face :)