Friday, December 27, 2013

1x14: Gender Bender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Steveston, Massachusetts

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

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

Scully's "melting at your touch" face.

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

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

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

We cut back to the same nightclub from the teaser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still a prettier woman than DD in Red Shoe Diaries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firsts: Nicholas Lea, shape-shifting aliens

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Your theory about Krycek's good twin is now in my head-canon.

  2. I stop by to say I just discovedred your (alas) un-finished review of the series and I'm loving it.

    Then, about this episode, I'm surprised you did not mention in your afterwards thoughts how crappy the ultimate ending of this episode is.
    I mean, the alien shaped crop circle... It's like the writers had no idea how to end this episode and just decided to throw this deus ex machina in...
    The episode had its moments, it's not among the best of season 1 but this ending really killed it ... Kinda.

  3. There are no nightclubs in Germantown, MD. Though I wish there were!