Tuesday, November 30, 2010

X-Files--"Young at Heart"

“Young at Heart” digs a little deeper into Mulder’s professional past. As with Boggs a couple episodes ago, we discover another guy Mulder help put away who has an axe to grind. This time, it is more personal for Mulder.

Mulder is called to the aftermath of a jewelry store robbery by his old supervisor, Reggie Purdue. The robber left a note specifically taunting Mulder. It is from a guy named John Barnett. Mulder helped capture Barnett on his very first case, but in trying to protect a hostage, another agent was killed by Barnett. Mulder blames himself, though he followed regulations, and his personal rage at himself is something Barnett has enjoyed tweaking. Here is the thing--Barnett has been dead for five years.

Although he supposedly died in prison, Barnett has been leaving hints he is stalking Mulder. As the ultimate proof, he sneaks into Purdue’s home and strangles him while he is on the phone with Mulder. Barnett plans to hunt down and murder all his friends.

Through investigation, Mulder and Scully discover Barnett was being secretly experimented on by a research doctor named Ridley. Ridley had his medical license revoked a decade before for performing inhumane experiments on children suffering from progenia, the disease that causes premature aging. Ridley was obsessed with reversing the aging process. His success prompted secret government funding and a fresh supply of prisoners ton whom to experiment. Barnett was one such prisoner. He has managed to hide his survival because he looks twenty years younger.

Thrown into the mix is a tifbit he lost his right hand during the experiments. Ridley grew him another one from salamander scales. It strikes me as strange to throw that in to a character who is already an extraordinary villain for having literally grown younger, but there you go. Perhaps it was thrown in there solely to make the scene in which he strangles Purdue from the shadows, with the salamander hand clearly visible, more disturbing. It worked in that regard.

Barnett stole Ridley’s research. He is negotiating with the government to sell it to them while tracking the next of Mulder’s friends to die--Scully. Bet you did not see that coming. He is going to kill her at a recital. The FBI prepare an ambush for him. The ambush winds up a repeat of the original capture. This time, Mulder does not hesitate because of the hostage and shoots Barnett. He dies on the operating table in spite of the medical team’s best effort to save him. The Cigarette Smoking Man is one of those aiding them, so the government was eager for him to survive so he can reveal the location of Ridley’s research notes. Alas, the secret dies with Barnett.

Scully has no apparent flash of recognition for the Cigarette Smoking Man even though he sat in on her initial interview in the Pilot. This is the second time something she was introduced to in the pilot is unfamiliar to her later. The other thing being Samantha Mulder’s abduction, which Mulder told her about, but she appeared to just be learning about in “Conduit.” It serves as another hint the pilot may not be canon.

In spite of the strange, tacked on element of the salamander hand, “Young at Heart” is a good episode. Dating Mulder’s career the way it has is a bit implausible--how he manages to go from a fledgling agent to enjoying carte blanch on the X-Files five years out of Quantico strikes me as highly implausible. Oh, well. It is television. Entertaining television.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, November 29, 2010

X-Files--"Lazarus"

In what will become a running theme throughout the series, Scully is kidnapped, thereby inadvertently becoming part of an X-File. (Though, out of respect for Scully, Mulder hides the extraordinary elements of the case.) We also meet on of the two older male colleagues with whom she has carried on a romantic relationship. If it is not too much of a spoiler at this point, the guy dies during the course of the episode, meaning both mulder and Scully have lost close friends in the line of duty this season.

Scully is working with her old colleague Jack Willis in thwarting a bank robbery which Willis received an anonymous tip is about to happen. It is to be perpetrated by the husband and wife team, Warren Dupre and Lula Phillips. Dupre is supposed to hold up the bank with Phillips serving as the getaway driver. Scully and Willis stop the robbery in progress, but both Dupre and Willis are mortally wounded.

Willis is revived by heroic measures, but it is Dupre’s corpse that reacts to the treatment. Dupre’s consciousness entered Willis’ body at the moment of willis’ near death experience. Willis has a miraculous recovery, secretly escaping the hospital with the wedding ring he took from his old corpse by cutting off the finger. Wildly enough, Mulder already suspects the body transfer because the surgical scissors utilized were left handed (Willis is a righty), the ring was specifically sought after for obviously emotional reasons, and he is Mulder. He is a genius like that.

Inhabiting another mind in the manner Dupre has causes severe psychotic behavior. Dupre was not exactly a pussy cat to begin with. Scully wants to believe her friend is okay, but Mulder keeps subtly putting him to the test to prove he is willis. While he fails all of them, Scully clings onto her belief.

Willis hunts down and kills his brother-in-law, whom he believes was the anonymous tip to the FBI. He continues looking for Phillips. When he finds her, Scully tags along for the arrest. Willis finally reveals himself as Dupre when they find Phillips. They kidnap Scully and hold her for ransom while Willis tries to convince his wife who he really is.

Mulder is tipped off to where Scully is being held because Dupre, who was unaware Willis is diabetic, is not suffering from insulin shock because he is in Willis’ body, forcing Phillips to rob a drug store. Out of all the confusing weirdness of the episode, this one puzzles me the most. Phillips commit’s the robbery and brings back the insulin, but refuses to give it to the rapidly deteriorating Willis. She was the anonymous tip to the FBI. She wanted him out of the picture so she could run off with all the money they had stolen up until that point. But if she wanted him to die of insulin shock, why bother to rob the store, especially she blew her location in the process? It was the only way Mulder could find Scully, I guess, so the writers did it. Willis/Dupre does die of insulin shock as the FBI rescues Scully.

“Lazarus” is a decent enough episode. The illogical resolution could have been handled much better. I am also curious why Dupre did not suspect his wife’s betrayal much earlier. Blinded by love, maybe? Call this one flawed, but entertaining in spite.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

X-Files--"Gender Bender"

Well, dear readers, we have reached the lowest point of the first season. “Gender-bender” set out to do two things. One, to sex up the show. Other than a brief glimpse of Scully in her underwear in the pilot, the series has been remarkably chaste up until this point. Two, to offer a surprise ending which would really shock the audience. It fails on both attempts.

Someone with abnormally high pheromone has been picking up both men and women in several large cities in the mid-Atlantic area and literally…uh…sexing them to death. The thing is, the murderer appears to be able to assume both male and female form. There is nothing sexy about any of it. The scenes are dark, grimy, and brutal . It is true the victims are supposed to have an inability to resist his or her sexual urges on a biological level, but this is television. The murderer needs some sex appeal if s/he is supposed to seduce victims.

The story starts to go way out there when some clay on the latest victim is traced to an Amish-like group in Massachusetts called the Kindred who make their living mining the stuff. Mulder and Scully visit. There are some photographic clues the Kindred do not age. There are also clues they are some sort of demonic cult, as the agents discover them performing some kind of ritual over a member who has suffered a heart attack. But mostly, they are just walking aphrodisiacs. A good, that, because they are all quite plain.

The killer, Martin, is one of them. One day, he found some nudie magazines someone had thrown out and decided he was all about that sort of thing. So he left the Kindred to screw people to death. In the end, the Kindred catches up with Martin first. They take him away, presumably back to their community. When the Fbi arrives, they find no trace of the Kindred. Just a big crop circle. Roll credits.

Yeah, that is it. They Kindred sex crazed, shape shifting aliens posing as the Amish. If that does not explain to you why the episode is awful, nothing will. There is no foreshadowing of any kind. It looks like the writers were running out of time, so they needed an abrupt ending. But the ending comes from so far out of left fielf--pardon the pun--it feels like a crop out--er, I mean cop out.

I advise even the most dedicated of X-phile to steer clear. There is nothing worth seeing here. In fact, since Nicholas Lea makes a brief appearance before joining the cast as Alexander Krycek next season, you should skip it just so his “reappearance” does not come across as implausible.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

X-Files--"Beyond the Sea"

“Beyond the Sea” ranks as my favorite episode of the first season and one of my top favorites of the series. It is appealing for a couple reasons. One, Scully is the main character for the first time. There is a juxtaposition between her and Mulder. He plays the skeptic in the case while she struggles with accepting psychic phenomena. Two, there are echoes of The Silence of the Lambs throughout. I am fascinated by that film. Any homage, intentional or otherwise, that can hold its own earns high marks from me. Plus, Scully is said to be based loosely on Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling from the film. It is in this episode you see that is likely true.

Scully’s parents come visit her at Christmas. A few hours after they leave, Scully sees a ghostly image of her father in her living room. He mouths something to her, but no sound comes out. A few moments later, she gets a phone call from her mother that her father has suffered a fatal heart attack. His ashes are buried at sea, with Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” playing.

Rather than take time off, Scully decides to travel with Mulder to North Carolina on a case. Luther Lee Boggs, a serial killer Mulder help put on death row, claims that he can channel spirits who can help find the latest victims of another kidnapping serial killer before, in fitting with his pattern, they are murdered in five days. Mulder thinks Boggs is orchestrating a ruse in order to have his sentence commuted to life, but when boggs calls her by her father’s nickname for him, she is shaken.

Scully is further shaken when Boggs’ channeling leads her to evidence the kidnap victims were once located in an abandoned building and, eventually, to one of the victims. Mulder is inclined to think Boggs is in cahoots with an outside partner, but when he is seriously wounded, she goes it alone, with Boggs perhaps having the upper hand.

What happens after Mulder is taken out of the picture is what reminds of The Silence of the Lambs. The tense confrontation between Scully and Boggs, Scully lying to him about a deal to get him to talk, and him subtly revealing the other kidnap victim’s location before he can be murdered are all elements from the film, yet done with a unique X-Files flavor. Very well done, I might add.

Boggs promises to reveal the message Scully’s father was trying to give her as a vision the night he died if she witnesses his execution. But she has already rationalized away his ability to channel spirits, so refuses to attend. In one of the most chilling scenes in the series, Boggs is marched to the gas chamber in full view of the ghosts of all the people he has murdered.

Scully’s father is played by Don. S. Davis, so there is a nod for any Stargate SG-1 fans irked I am not likely to review that series. Boggs is chillingly played by Brad Dourif. He will go onto play Suder, another serial killer, on Star Trek: Voyager. One can only assume Boggs is the reason he got that role. Thank heaven he did. Boggs is one of the best one off villains in the serries. I think very highly of “Beyond the Sea.”

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, November 26, 2010

X-Files--"Fire"

“Fire” features a young Mark Sheppard, cynical lawyer Romo Lampkin from Battlestar Galactica, as a pyromaniac who can create fire with his mind. Even as far back as 1994, he already had the psychopath bad guy role down pat. The itself is interesting on many levels, but feels a bit incomplete at the same time.

Sheppard plays Cecil L’ively, a guy who has a short history of taking on jobs as the gardener, handyman, or chauffeur for wealthy British families and eventually kills the patriarch by setting him on fire. The only connection Scotland Yard can find between the murders is that L’ively sends love letters to his victims’ wives. A potential victim, Malcolm Marsden, flees with his family to his summer home in Massachusetts when his garage catches fire.

Phoebe Green, a Scotland Yard inspector, travels to the united States with him under the assumption the assumption lively will follow. She is an old flame of Mulder’s--pardon the reference. The episode has a theme going--from his Oxford University days. She lies to play mind games with him. It is revealed Mulder has an intense fear of fire because of a childhood incident. Green knows about it and therefore wants torment him with it.

L’ively works as the handyman for Marsden. He spends much of the episode painting the house in rocket fuel while scoping out Mrs. Marsden. He also appears to have a fascination with her two young boys. This is one of the elements I find incomplete. The psychological profile of the unknown to Mulder and Green arsonist is that he is sexually immature. Fire excites and his fascination with older, unreachable women is a result of his immaturity. Men who have that problem are often pedophiles. If L’ively was supposed to have pedophilic desires or he was making attempts to get the kids out of the way so he can have Mrs. Marsden to himself is not made clear.

Once he is identified, there is an impressive confrontation at the Marsden home with full pyrotechnic glory. It was done with a combination of real pyrotechnics--in one seen while facing off with Mulder across a hallway which he lights on fire, Sheppard clearly ducks out of the way to avoid the intense heat before the walls and ceiling burst into flames--and green screen work, both of which are impressive for the time period and relatively low first season budget. In the end, lively is doused with rocket fuel and accidentally immolates himself. Under arrest later in a hospital hyperbolic chamber, his completely charred body is steadily on its way to a full recovery.

I already talked about L’ively’s ambiguous interest in the boys as an incomplete aspect of the episode. Another is the way Green is portrayed. She is a manipulative witch who is literally jerking Mulder around for the heck of it. There are also hints she is having an affair with Marsden that are thrown in the mix during the third act. There are further hints she might become a recurring character, but that never pans out. The character does not resonate like she is obviously supposed to do. She does serve to make Scully jealous, so the ’shippers get something out of it.

As a dedicated X-Phile, I ought to know this, but does Mulder’s paralyzing fear of fire ever come up again in the future? I do not recall it ever doing so. Creator Chris Carter wrote “Fire,” so the aspect of the character comes from the head man himself. Now that I have pointed out I do not remember Mulder’s fire of fire ever being mentioned again, someone will point out a famous instance from a popular episode I will instantly remember once it is brought to my attention.

In spite of some flaws, I can see why “Fire” is a popular episode itself. Sheppard plays a great villain. There are loads of exciting action scenes, more so than the norm. It is a definite highlight of the first season.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

X-Files--"Eve"

I do not know if I will ever work up the nerve to review Star Trek: Voyager, but if I do, you are going to hear the name Kenneth Biller a lot. Biller was responsible for some of the worst episodes of that series. He is the writer for “Eve,” as well. Surprisingly, it is an effectively entertaining episode. Unsurprisingly, it was heavily rewritten by Glenn Morgan and James Wong, who wrote some of the best X-Files episodes. So there is a strong possibility Biller screwed this script up, too. Therefore, it might be good solely because Morgan and Wong salvaged it. If you cannot tell, VOY reviews would often be drafted by poison pen.

A man is murdered in his backyard by having 75% of the blood drawn out of his body. Two puncture marks near the jugular are the only evidence remaining, aside from his young daughter, Cindy, who claims she saw nothing. Mulder becomes involved when he notes similarities with cattle mutilations and suspects alien involvement. When he and Scully learn another murder of the same type occurred on the west coast at the same time, they investigate that one, too, only to find out not only was his little girl present, butTeena looks exactly like Cindy.

(Before anyone snickers, her name is spelled with two E’s, not an “I.” Morgan and wong named the girl’s after their wives. I assume she had parents who thought avoiding traditional name spellings is cute.)

Deep Throat conveniently shows up to fill in all the exposition we need to further the plot. Since bringing him in was the only way to do so, I figure that is good enough evidence to declare Biller screwed the script originally. Deep throat tells Mulder that US intelligence got wind cloning experiments being done in the Soviet Union in the ‘60’s attempting to create super soldiers. The US tried it, too. They named the cloned boys Adam and the girls Eve. Breathtakingly original, huh? Classic Biller. The project was scrapped when the children developed psychotic behavior at the onset of puberty.

Eve 6 survived the government purge/cover up and become a fertility doctor who decided to clone herself. Teena and Cindy are some of the results Predictably, all the eves are psychotic. The two little girls killed their fathers, eventually kill her, and attempt to kill Mulder and Scully before the truth is discovered and they get locked up in a mental hospital.

I do not mean to sound down on the episode. I am just down on Biller. I had forgotten he wrote for the series. My heart sank when I saw his name in the credits. But lucky for us, the script was heavily rewritten. Kids can be scary and for some reason, having them as twins is even scarier. Judging by the nameplates on the cell doors, there have been at least ten of them of various ages, all psychotically loony. It is effectively disturbing enough to salvage what could have been another Biller dud.

The now defunct band Eve 6 got its name from this episode. I searched YouTube for one of their songs to embed, but they only had two hits: “Inside Out“ and “Here‘s to the Night.” Neither of them tickled my tuckus. No wonder the band broke up.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

X-Files--"Fallen Angel"


“Fallen Angel” is one of the most pivotal episodes of the X-Files mythology. It foreshadows three key events. One, the existence of The Lone Gunmen, a group of amateur enthusiasts of Ufology and other such unexplained phenomena. Two, the eventual fate of Deep Throat for assisting Mulder along. Finally, the closing of the X-Files in the season finale in order to curtail Mulder’s activities. I shall elaborate as we go along.

At the behest of Deep Throat, Mulder goes AWOL to visit what is publicly being called a toxic clean up by the military, but is a UFO landing instead. The military is covering up both that truth and the dozen or so bodies of law enforcement and military who have been fatally burned beyond all recognition by the on the loose alien.

Mulder is captured and thrown in a stockade where he meets Max Feng, a UFO enthusiast. Feng is part of NICAP, an amatuer0 group like The Lone Gunmen who are attempting to uncover the connection between the government and aliens. Mulder comes to believe Feng has been abducted by aliens himself because of a distinctive scar behind his right ear, but Scully, when she eventually arrives, dismisses the idea because Feng has been institutionalized before for hallucinations.

Mulder refuses to leave, but the two agents get no where carrying on an investigation near the quarantined landing site. Col. Henderson, your stereotypical gung ho military lunk head , inhibits them at every turn. The two aspects of the story collide when Mulder figures out the alien is after Feng, not the other way around. Feng is mysteriously kidnapped from a warehouse after a spectacular light show by an alien we never get to see. We will, however, see Feng again in the fourth season. Somewhere around March or April, I would guess.

Mulder is brought up for a disciplinary hearing in which the X-Files is most certain to be closed because of his infiltration of the landing site. However, Deep throat intervenes in order to keep Mulder’s quest going. He rationalizes that, if he is at the Fbi, they can keep a close eye on his activities. Deep Throat will pay for his aaction soon.

“Fallen Angel” is one of the best of the season and series as a whole. Feng will become one of the most memorable guest stars. His experiences with aliens sets the tone for how many other will play out in future episodes. The presentation off the alien sets a precedent, as well. It remains out of sight in order to be scarier for the audiennce. It is a highly effective move. The alien kills effortlessly and is obviously horrifying to see. Such is best left to our imaginations to fill in the image of it.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

X-Files--"Space"

One of the dangers of reviewing a science fiction show that is nearly eighteen years old is how badly it can age in that time. “Space” is a key example. Looking at the photo above of the guest character, Col. Marcus Belt of NASA, do you notice the alien image that is ghosting over his face looks like the famous alleged face on mars photo? It is supposed to. Within recent years, we have now seen photos of the "face” which which show it is a rock formation that bears no resemblance to a face in the slightest. So much for the mystery behind this episode, no?

Even aside from that, “Space” is not all that great. The plot is that an alien has possessed a famous astronaut since a spacewalk in 1972. The alien has been using him to sabotage the space program ever since. Luckily for them, Col. Belt has become head of the shuttle program. The episode implies that Col. Belt has sabotaged everything from the Challenger to the Hubble in order to end the space program and keep the aliens’ existence a secret.

Mulder is approached by one of the scientists running the next shuttle mission because her fiance is the commander. She fears for his life because even though the shuttle has shown obvious safety problems in recent days, col. Belt insists on launching anyway. He is, of course, expecting a disaster.

There are quite a few problems with "Space.” A big one is why aliens allegedly from Mars care whether NASA performs routine experiments in orbi9t. In is not like the shuttle missions are deep space probes. Part of the X-Files' mythology is the highest levels of government know aliens exist anyway. How does the scientist know who Mulder is or why he would be the one to talk to? Are you aware of individual FBI agents and their fields of specialty? They do not advertise those things, even inside different federal agencies. The biggest one for me is why destroying this shuttle launch will end the space program when the Challenger, which Col. Belt was also responsible for, did not? None of this makes sense.

You want to know the corniest bit/ Mulder is responsible for saving the astronauts. No kidding. Yes, you can skip this one without missing a thing. Why Chris Carter himself wrote it is beyond me other than the notion he had not quite planned out the mythology at this early date.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, November 22, 2010

X-Files--"Ice"

If yesterday’s episode could be considered an homage to 2001: a space Odyssey because of the similarities between Hal and the COS, then “ice” is an homage to The Thing in both tone and feel. The key elements are there--an alien presence causes paranoia and distrust among people trapped in an Arctic research station.

Mulder and Scully are sent to the tip of northern Alaska to investigate the site at which a team of climate researchers turned on and then killed each other. The two agents will be escorting three medical researchers to determine the cause. When they arrive, the epidemiologist, played by a young Felicity Huffman, and the pilot are attacked by what appears to be a rabid dog. The dog is safely subdued. A medical exam shows it is not rabid, but is infected by a parasite.

The pilot, who was bitten by the dog, shows signs of psychotic aggression quickly, so it becomes apparent the original research team had become infected. The pilot dies upon the removal of the parasite, so everyone realizes they are now trapped there. The critter cannot be removed, so until some other cure can be found, they cannot leave or they will risk infecting the general population. The story becomes a claustrophobic nightmare as nerves fray. When tempers flare, everyone suspects everyone else of being infected. Mulder winds up the top suspect when he discovers one of the medical team dead.

Scully eventually discovers, when placing two jars containing parasites next to each other, the parasites will attempt to kill one another. The cure is to inject another parasite into an already infected person. Mulder is not infected, however. It turns out to be Huffman, who was presumably infected by handling blood samples. After a struggle, she is cured.

I am skeptical of the science here. While these are alien parasites brought to Earth by an asteroid crash 250,000 years ago and are unlike anything on Earth, it does not make since they reproduce by passing blood into another organism. Nor does it make since they automatically want to kill each other when fully grown. Sure, some animals will resort to cannibalism when food is scarce, but they do not normally kill each other just for the heck of it. If there is a parasite or some such on Earth like that, I am unaware of it.

Even if I am skeptical of the science, I enjoy “Ice.” It is a highlight of the first season in particular and the series in general. You have a fairly large cast full of already abrasive personalities because they do not want to be assigned to such a job in a high pressure situation, and in a confined area. The tiny, budget saving set is a asset which adds to the confined, fearful feeling. A great episode all around.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

X-Files--"Ghost in the Machine"

Fans are generally divided on “Ghost in the Machine.” It is either loved or hated because it is not a traditional plot for the X-Files. There are no aliens, ghosts, or monsters of any kind. There is a government conspiracy aspect to it, but said aspect does not fit within the mythology of the series. It is not forced, but the story does not advance the mythology, either. I can see why more obsessive fans might dislike the episode, but I am quite fond of it.

The only major flaw I have with it is the truth is revealed in the teaser. The CEO of Euriska, a computer software company, announces he is terminating the COS project because it is losing money hand over fist. Unfortunately for him, COS is an artificial intelligence program which runs the entire building and it is so advanced, it has developed a survival instinct. The building kills the CEO in order to save itself.

Mulder’s old partner, Jerry Lamana, is assigned the case. He is eager to make a good impression because he coming off a screw up in which a federal judge was maimed because he lost evidence. He needs Mulder’s help . Mulder agrees out of respect for his friend, even though the guy is a real jerk.

Early on, the story deals largely with tension between the two. Lamana suffers from professional jealousy to the point the steals Mulder’s profile of the killer they are looking for and claims it is his work. Later, it shifts gears to the prime suspect, Bard Brad Wiczek, the designer of the COS and his guilt over creating it, considering how it eventually kills two people (Including Lamana) and becomes a target of desire for the government. All this rings a bit hollow in terms of excitement, since we know from the beginning the COS itself is the killer. Still, the drama is entertaining, if not preachy at time. Wiczek cites robert Oppenheimer’s guily over splitting the atom as his motivation for going to jail for life rather than handing over his AI tech skills to the government.

Wiczek does create a virus to destroy the COS, but it cannot be applied before the most famous bit in the episode--Scully v. the air conditioning system. An FBY agent’s harrowing work is never done. Her hair gets mussed in this charming ’I just had a roll in the hay” look that got all the fan boy hearts in a flitter.

It is pretty obvious the writers were trying hard not to make the COS into HAL from 2001: A Space odyssey. Maybe they were trying a little too hard. The COS could have used a more sinister personality. Nevertheless, I like “{Ghost in the Machine.” it manages to be an interesting episode by emphasizing the human drama. Quite an accomplishment when you consider we learn who the murderer is before the opening credits. There is a lot more action in the resolution than most episodes, to boot. Watching is a good time.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

X-Files--"Shadows"

“Shadows” was written, much to the creators’ chagrin, at the behest of FOX. The network wanted Mulder and Scully to be more heroic in helping people resolve issues. The writers did a fairly good job of combining an actual crime the FBI would investigate with paranormal activity the show would normally feature, but it is a run of the mill affair compared to later efforts.

A secretary for a defense contractor named Lauren Kyle is attacked at an ATM by two assailants. The two are killed by an invisible force which crushes their throats from the inside. Mulder and Scully are called in because the bodies have a high electrical charge which has kept the corpses warm for hours after death. The agents in charge only want to know if Mulder has ever seen anything like this before in an X-File. It is not a very plausible means of getting Mulder and Scully interested in the case, but there you go.

Mulder lies and says he has never seen anything like it. In fact, he thinks the murderer was a ghost and swiped a fingerprint from one of the corpses on his glasses so he can continue his own investigation. A few twists lead them to Lauren, who is not interested in talking to them. Her boss, Howard Graves (Graves. Get it? Grave. Dead. Ghost. The writers really resented drafting this one.) recently committed suicide. She is upset enough over it to quit her job, but odd things have been happening around her lately.

Those odd things are Graves’ ghost protecting Lauren. It killed those two assailants, helps convince Lauren he was actually murdered, and finally helps expose evidence that his partner had sold technology to foreign terrorists and had him murdered when he discovered the crime. The technology sale is what the agents who called Mulder in were investigating.

The story is a little thin. There is a wild goose chase for the second act in which Scully convinces Mulder Graves faked his death, but a DNA screening on donated organs proves he is deader than a doornail. The entire act makes logical sense, but is not very interesting outside of Scully taking on the role of forcing Mulder to be a real FBI agent for a while instead of pursuing his own obsessive interests.

I had a bitter laugh at how the terrorist plot was formulated in the ‘hysteria’ of the original World Trade Center bombing in 1993. It seems almost quaint now when considering the subsequent terrorist threat we have been facing since 2001. Simpler times, simpler times. A simple episode, too. Not bad, but nothing special. Mulder and Scully get dragged into the real world of the FBI for a few days.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, November 19, 2010

X-Files--"The Jersey Devil"

We have been fortunate so far the X-Files started out strong. It takes ‘The Jersey Devil’ to remind me the truth is out there. That truth is the first season was awfully uneven. The highs were great, but the lows were abysmal. This episode was definitely a low point.

A family vacationing in Atlantic City, New Jersey has to stop to fix a flat tire. While changing the tire, the father is dragged off by an apparent wild animal. Local police track the creature down and kill it. They subsequently hide evidence about the kill. The matter attracts Mulder’s attention. He believes the Jersey Devil is responsible.

It is not, of course. There is actually a family of feral humans from the woods preying on homeless people, hikers, and the like. The police were hiding the truth, either because of protecting the tourism industry or because they have been picking off members of a feral family living in the woods. Take your pick.

“The Jersey Devil” is a very dull episode. The only twist is the Jersey Devil, which is made out to be a missing link in evolution, turns out to be feral humans. The truth is less exciting than the myth. The investigation has no surprises other than that one. Rather uneventful.

The episode has one minor saving grace. It features scully on her downtime in an effort to humanize her. She goes out on a date with a boring estate planning lawyer, but keeps thinking about Mulder’s case the entire time. In the end, she refuses a second date in order to go along with Mulder on another obsessive quest of his. Rather than show Scully’s life outside work, the subplot solidified her connection with mulder. Sexual tension, folks, and right off the bat.

But “The Jersey Devil” is not recommended viewing outside of those who were hoping the two agents would eventually hook up.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

X-Files--"Conduit"

Mulder becomes even more obsessed than usual over an alleged UFO abduction case when it sounds eerily similar to the disappearance of his sister, Samantha. A young girl named Ruby Miller is allegedly taken from the woods on a camping trip one night. The only witness is her eight year old brother, Kevin, but he cannot understand what he saw.

Their mother, Darlene, suspects alien involvement as much as Mylder does. Back in 1967, she was part of a Girl Scout troupe which witnessed a UFO. She becomes far less cooperative when Kevin claims to be receiving binary code signals from the television set which turn out to be signals from a military satellite. They are both snatched up by Department of Defense authorities. They are given the all clear after a couple days, prompting Darlene to insist Mulder and Scully leave before they cause more problems.

The case takes a turn when a body of a man is found in the same woods. He was to be part of an assignation with Ruby, but was killed by one of her jealous friends. The girl will not confess to Ruby’s murder and claims Ruby never showed. The news is enough to convince Scully there was no alien involvement, just a redneck lover’s spat that ended in murder. That is until Ruby returns in a coma and suffered the effects of long term weightlessness. She refuses to speak about anything that happened after she awakens.

‘Conduit” is a touching episode which further develops Mulder’s dedication towards finding his missing sister. It feels like a bit of an oddity because Scully acts as though she is just now learning about Samantha from the case file even though Mulder told her all about the incident in the pilot. I guess in terms of production the pilot may not exactly be in continuity, but since I just watched it on Monday, it sticks out in my mind as strange.

In terms of drama, it is highly effective. If we do not have the pilot revelation in mind, we learn as the episode progresses why this case is so important to mulder and how empathizes so much with Kevin. Without the continuity blip, “Conduit’ is one of the more effective emotional episodes. Even with the blip, it is still very good.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

X-Files--"Squeeze"

“Squeeze” establishes two motifs that will run throughout most of the series. One, the non-mythology, monster of the week theme that will allow the series to play with all sorts of concepts beyond alien conspiracies. And two, that even though Mulder is a pariah other agents fear losing their reputations by working with, he is still a gifted criminal profiler who is generally one step ahead of everyone else. The misfit genius, as it were.

An old friend of Scully’s, who is interested in ambitiously climbing the career ladder at the Bureau, has been stymied by a case involving locked room murders in which the victims’ livers have been torn out. He wants Mulder’s expertise, but does not want him anywhere near the in the field investigation. Mulder cooperates, even though none of the other agents want him involved, either.

Mulder notices the similarity between the four liver removing murder and a sequence of five other murders which have occurred every thirty years since 1903. As he now believes the case is an X-File, he carries on his own investigation. Scully has conflicted loyalties and is skeptical of Mulder’s belief the same killer has been active since 1903, but she has gained enough respect for him to both work with and defend him from the other agents, including her friend.

They capture a suspect, Eugene Tooms. He passes a lie detector test, but only Mulder does not buy it. Tooms has a unique physiology that allows him to squeeze into small places, but requires large amounts of iron to sustain him through his required thirty year hibernations. The agents find his nest--an abandoned apartment building that was still in use in his last three killing sprees earlier in the century.

Their discovery of his nest leads to what will become something of a cliché--Scully as the next victim. It makes logical sense from a dramatic perspective. We care about what happens to her more than we would a guest star in the same perilous spot, but the situation occurs over and over again throughout the nine seasons. Fortunately, it is done well more often than not, with Scully often doing as much to save herself as being rescued by Mulder. Such is the case here. Tooms is incarcerated, but it is left open that he is looking for a means of escape, no matter how tight a squeeze the route might be.

I have always been fond of “Squeeze.” The question of what makes the criminally insane tick fascinates me, particularly when their methods and motives are far out there. It is much more comforting when the killer is fictional. We will see Tooms again in a few more episodes.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

X-Files--"Deep Throat"

“Deep Throat” begins the relatively short alliance between Mulder and a semi-friendly contact who assists him with tidbits and guidance as long as it suits his own interests. He states his own interests as the truth in their second meeting pictured above, but we are never quite confident what his game is.

Mulder first meets Deep Throat in the bathroom of a restaurant at which he is briefing Scully on their next case. A military test pilot named Budahas suffered a psychotic episode four months ago and was taken away to parts unknown by the military. His wife called the FBI to report his disappearance as a kidnapping. Mulder is convinced Budahas was flying experimental aircraft made with alien technology from the Roswell crash. Deep Throat warns him not to investigate.

He and Scully do anyway and find other pilots have returned home not quite right, as though they have suffered some brain trauma which has robbed them of certain memories of their flights. The two agents are chased off the airbase at night after viewing lights in the sky darting about at impossible speeds and sharp angles.

The next day, Budahas is returned to his wife in the same condition as other pilots. He cannot remember anything about his flights. With the kidnap victim returned and DOD agents harassing them, Scully says the case is closed, so they should leave. Mulder refuses. That night, he sneaks on the base. There, he witness the triangular shaped UFO locals have been photographing for years. He is subsequently captured and has his memory wiped of specifics the same way the pilots had been. No one will comment further.

“Deep Throat” continues developing the mythology from the pilot the government is either in cahoots with or is otherwise exploiting aliens . What can I say? This is what the show is all about and it is done well here. The episode also establishes the motif that nothing can ever quite be proven or disproven. I had friends who tried watching the show, but quit for lack of patience over that aspect. It always suited me, though.

Look for a young Seth Green as a stoner who sneaked on the airbase, too, in order to watch the light show and probe his girlfriend. Not necessarily in that order, of course.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, November 15, 2010

X-Files--"Pilot"

As promised or threatened, depending on your point of view, the beginning of X-Files reviews. Like Deep Space Nine, I used to watch this show religiously, so expect a generally positive tone. I have not seen some of these episodes in as much as fifteen years, however, so I am anxious to see how well we have all aged.

Dana Scully, who does not remind me as much of Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling as with regards to her viewpoint. generally accepted, is assigned by the FBI to offer a rational, scientific explanation to complement the work of Fox “Spooky” Mulder, a brilliant profiler who has developed an obsession with the X-Files, which are cases involving unexplained phenomena the bureau does not want to spend resources to investigate.

Scully’s first meeting with FBI brass is overseen by the as yet unknown Cigarette Smoking Man. There is an air of menace to him already even though he has less than three minutes of screen time in the three scenes in which he appears.

The first meeting between Mulder and Scully is tense. While reviewing the series, I am attempting to keep future developments out of older episodes. Nevertheless, there is already a sense that there is not going to be an animosity between the two even though Mulder is a true believer and Scully is the rationalist sent to debunk him. Throughout the pilot, Scully is put on the defensive regarding her viewpoints. Their first assignment together is not a typical criminal investigation. The two of them are subtly pushed towards one another even at this early date to an use against them search for the truth.

Mulder and Scully travel to Oregon to investigate the most recent of four deaths from the graduating high school class of 1990. The latest girl was found dead in the woods with two circular markings on her back. The others have had similar ends, but the pararents of the kids, conveniently the sheriff and coroner, impede the two agents at every turn.

All the trappings are here: missing time, electrical power going dead during alleged alien activity, a dug up corpse which is no longer human, and all evidence that cannot be debunked either destroyed or confiscated by unknown conspirators. The revelation to Mulder and Scully is that all the kids were in the woods celebrating their graduation four years ago when they were abducted by aliens. The aliens performed genetic experiments on them, hence the exhumed corpse of one of the kids was no longer human. The final member of the party, the sheriff’s daughter, is kidnapped by the only other surviving member of the group, even though he is in a coma, and taken away in a flash of light. Nevertheless, nothing remains to prove any of it really happened.

The plot introduces the mythology which will run through most of the series. At one point, Mulder explains to Scully his obsession with the X-Files is due to his sister’s disappearance years ago. He believes she was abducted by aliens and the government knows something about the matter, but is covering it up. The my logy will eventually wear out its welcome as it is stretched well beyond the original five year plan, but it is entertaining for a good while there.

As I said above, the pilot has all the elements that will make this series great. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have not settled into their roles yet, obviously, but the chemistry is palpable already. The pilot set the tone well. Much more good stuff to come.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Allegedly Deep Thought # 6--Are You Holding Onto Something You Need to Let Go Of?

Does irritation that you ended that sentence with a preposition count? People hate Grammar Nazis, but sometimes, it is just required.

Serious answer--no. I am about as unfettered as a man can be. I have had plenty of time to work through old issues--old timers have read through much of it--and too busy facing new ones to fret over yesterday's baggage, anyway.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of Miguelito's Revenge "

Michael Dunn returns for his tenth and final appearance as Dr. Miguelito Loveless. It is a surrealistic masterpiece. The episode also has a sense of finality to it eve though Loveless promises to return. The writing must have been on the wall, if not for the entire series, then for Dunn. Not to be morbid here, but declining health kept him from playing the recurring arch villain he had been during the first two seasons. Dunn’s health would sadly continue failing until his death in 1973 at the far too young age of 39.

Fortunately, his swan song is one of the best Loveless episodes. Loveless has been kidnapping people he has a grudge with based on the nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child:”

Mondays child is fair of face,
Tuesdays child is full of grace,
Wednesdays child is full of woe,
Thursdays child has far to go,
Fridays child is loving and giving,
Saturdays child works hard for his living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

The seven people relating to each day are an actress who refused to help the career of one of Loveless’ friends, a ballet writer who allegedly plagiarized one of his works, a jockey who threw a race Loveless lost money on, a judge who sentenced an accomplice to death, a financier who refused to find a scheme to shrink men in stature, a blacksmith who was foreman on his condemned friend’s jury, and Jim. Loveless considers all these people a thorn in his side, so he sets up a kangaroo court in an old circus to sentence them all to death.

When you first hear the plot, you might snicker at it sounding like some junior high kid’s fantasy revenge against the cool kids who shoved him ito his locker and never invited him to their parties. You would be right on some level. There has always been a certain petulance mixed in with the evil, but epicurean genius of Loveless. But the silliness of Loveless’ motivation is a strength, not a weakness, when the minimalist, surreal atmosphere of the episode is taken into consideration. For once, we literally get into his warped mind in order to see his twisted vision of the world. This circus ad mock trial are a reflection of his reality and it is terrifying to say the least.

But still awesome. Loveless could not have gone out with a bigger bang.

“The Night of Miguelito’s Revenge” is another out of filming order episode in which Charles Aidman fills in as Jeremy Pike for the ailing Ross Martin. Jeremy I not really his own character here as e was in his previous appearance. It is quite clear the script was written for Artie and Jeremy is taking over his lines. While the no script changes are obvious, they do not distract from te episode in any way other than making you mis Artie.

There is also a blink and you will miss it subplot with Loveless having created a steam powered android that gets about ten minutes of screen time. Loveless does not even use it in the kidnappings. One wonders if the android was not intended for another Loveless episode that was not likely to come, so they tossed it in here. It is such a minor element which has to be forced ito the plot by serving as the faux judge at trial, it feels like an afterthought.

Nevertheless, I really like the episode. The good stuff more than competes for some script flaws. It would have been great to see more loveless, but at least he went out on a high note.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Avaricious Actuary"

“The Night of the Avaricious actuary’ is quite a spectacle for a number of reasons. Te plot is not one of them. It is a fairly straightforward insurance scam I which a villain has created a super weapon he uses to destroy the mansions of wealthy men who refuse to uy insurance policies with extortion level premiums. Everything else is incredibly odd.

First, the weapon is a giant tuning fork. We are talking about something Wile E. Coyote would use in a plot to catch the Roadrunner. The weapon’s power as no basis in science. There is no way one tuning fork can hit the exact frequency to destroy variety of different structures even if a tuning fork as large as a Volkswagon Beetle could work that way at all, which it cannot. The bigger the tuning fork, te lower the pitch and therefore less effective.

Second, our heroes only have one clue to go on--the mastermind villain weighs 285lbs. Jim goes off on his own with stubs from carnie weight guessing machines found I the insurance company office, and Artie--remember, these episode were not aired in the order they were filmed-- tracks down the restaurant which has a Epicurean menu also found. The trick here is that Artie is off on a wild goose chase. Everyone at the restaurant he finds is fat. Jim is on the right track. The villain, played by the recently deceased Harold Gould, was once fat, but lost most of it in prison. There is really no way either jim or Artie could connect the dots for all this, yet they do.

Finally, for the real weirdness. Jim wear his riding chaps backwards the entire episode for no apparent reason. One of the henchmen split’s the seat of his pats during te final fistfight. Ross martin tosses a gun aside, it bounces off the wall back into his path, so he trips over it, breaking his leg. The rest of the scene, which is pt of the pats splitting fight I just mentioned, goes on with a blatantly obvious stuntman. Think of this as extra strange, since they found excuses in two prior episodes to have Artie in a cast to accommodate Martin in episodes prior to this one. Which makes one wonder the logic used in deciding which episode to air when.

I have called the fourth season wonderfully weird. Episodes like this are why I have. The series was attempting to recapture the feel of the very popular second season. Sometimes it hit the mark. Sometimes it did not. When it does not, such as in this episode, it is still so strange, you cannot help but like it anyway. Even the obvious mistakes and misfires are amusing.

Rating: *** (out of 5)