Friday, December 20, 2013

1x13 Beyond the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson University
Raleigh, North Carolina

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

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

FBI Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Prison
Raleigh, North Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Prison
Raleigh, North Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

Central Prison
Raleigh, North Carolina

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

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

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

Central Prison
Raleigh, North Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Good catch with the tattoo!

    Another thing you can do if you're being pulled over in at night is turn on your dome light as a signal that you know you're being pulled over, and continue to a safer place (like a well-populated gas station).

  2. Oh my word... I NEVER noticed the tattoo!! This show never stops amazing me!!

    But yes, this was the kickstart episode for Scully-centric stories, and man is it a doozy. I love when we begin to see the differing dynamic's between Mulder and Scully's family lives. Mulder and his parents are all very distant from each other, seeming to be pretty awkward whenever they meet up. Meanwhile, the Scullys seem to be held together pretty tightly, even with the tension about Dana's career choice (and Melissa being a traveling spiritual/hippy/moon child).

  3. I just watched this episode last night (before reading your review) and had the same thought about the funeral - where are all her brothers? I really like this episode, for it's creepiness, but somehow seem to forget about it until I re-watch the episodes.