Friday, December 31, 2010

X-Files--"Soft Light"

“Soft Light” is one of many episodes which prove either being friends with or related to either Mulder or Scully is essentially painting a target on your back. It is also one of the more interesting monster of the week episodes. That is largely due to the great character actor Tony Scaloub playing the unfortunate soul who is the target of the investigation.

Scully is contacted in an unofficial capacity by one of her former students, Kelly Ryan, who just made detective in Richmond, Virginia. She is in over her head in her first case involving a missing person with only a large pile of ashes in his apartment as a clue to go on. Scully, empathetic to Ryan trying to make it in an old boys’ club, Drags Mulder off to help. While Mulder runs rings around the novice Ryan in pointing out forensic evidence, he draws the conclusion the man is not missing, but spontaneously combusted. Such a combination must make Ryan feel really good about herself, being shown up by a nut and all.

Turns out, Mulder pretty close. The killer is Chester Banton, a mild mannered scientist who had been working with dark matter, a theoretic element which an accident proves is not so theoretical anymore. After the accident, Banton’s shadow becomes a black hole which incinerates anyone who steps on it. Banton has accidentally killed two people, including the missing man from Ryan’s case. She sends two cops after him. They get killed, too. Only Mulder seems to know how to handle the guy. He arranges for Banton to be locked up, under soft light, in a mental hospital.

Up until this point, we have seen Banton played as a bum on the run, trying to stay out of the light so he will not catch a shadow. It is the scene in the hospital when he is finally interviewed by Mulder the character starts to shine. Shaloub plays him as an eccentric beta male type. It is perfect, because he is literally afraid of his own shadow. He is also fearful the government wants to use him for weapons research, so he is also quite the paranoid madman, too.

The problem is, he is right. While Mulder contacts Mr. X for help, he uses what he learns from the agent to make a kidnapping attempt from the hospital. A couple agents of the Syndicate are incinerated by Banton’s shadow in the process. He escapes to the scene of the original lab accident, hoping to repeat it in a suicide attempt. Unfortunately, Ryan gets in his way and is killed, too. That is what you get for being friends with Scully. Banton is betrayed by his lab partner and handed over to the Syndicate for experiments before our heroes can reach the lab to save him.

"Soft Light” features many elements of the first season favorite, “Ghost in the Machine.” There, Mulder was contacted by his former partner who needs help on a case in order to boost his career. The case involves a scientist working on theoretical artificial intelligence. The result winds up murdering people, including Mulder’s former partner. Conflict arises when he puts his own career aspirations ahead of his need for Mulder and Scully’s help. In the end, the project is stolen by the government. That is pretty much what happens here, right down to Mr. X replacing Deep Throat in the role of the Syndicate associate who betrays Mulder’s trust. All those elements are transferred to different characters in ‘Soft Light,” but it is all still there, right down to a mention of Robert Oppenheimer’s guily over having created a weapon for the government.

“Soft Light” does not feel like a rip off, however. There are enough unique elements to make the episode its own, unique animal. I also find Shhaloub’s portrayal of Banton to be a neat preview of many of the emotional quirks he will eventually exhibit as Monk a decade later, albeit not for comedic effect here. It does not quite measure up to “Ghost in the Machine” for me, but it is still good.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

X-Files--"F. Emasculata"

F. Emasculata“ is one of those rare episodes of the series that feels more like a standard cop show than X-Files. the only feature that says it belongs on the show is the loose tie to the overall mythology. In hindsight, it does not fit well into the mythology unless you speculate the bugs that carry the title injection lead to the later experiments with the bees. I do not recall any connection emerging, but that could be my lapse of memory. I promise to flog myself thirty lashes with a wet noodle as penance if this episode turns out to be a bigger piece of the puzzle than I recall.

A scientist researching in the jungles of Costa Rica for possible new drug sources for Pink Pharmaceuticals comes across the corpse of a hog covered in pustules and crawling with strange insects. A pustule bursts in his face, squirting a sticky fluid all over him. Later that night, he is desperately radioing for help. When help arrives sometime later, the scientist is dead.

Flash ahead to a prison in Virginia where prisoner Robert Torrance receives a package. It contains an animal leg which looks like it has been infected by the same disease as the hog in Costa Rica. Soon, the entire prison is quarantined, allegedly by the Center for Disease Control. Over a dozen prisoners, including Torrance, have been infected. Torrance uses the panic to escape with his old partner in crime.

Mulder and Scully are inexplicably assigned to assist federal marshals in assisting in the capture of Torrance and his partner. Neither can figure out why. This is not an FBI matter. They are not the only ones in the dark. The marshalls have no idea there is a contagion being contained or that Torrance is infected. Mulder joins the manhunt while Scully, suspicious about the strange goings on at the prison, elbows her way in to find the truth.

The chase for Torrance is a standard police procedural until it is discovered Torrance’s partner died on the run after a pustule on his face burst. Scully learns the prison quarantine is what she thinks a CDC operation, but later learns and informs is a purposeful infection of prisoners by Pink Pharmaceuticals in order to save time on research. She informs Mulder, who later discovers the Cigarette Smoking Man is in on it.

The revelation begins the true conflict of the episode. Mulder, ever obsessed with revealing the truth, wants to go to the media to inform the public of the contagion. The Cigarette smoking man says no in that smug way of his. It will cause a panic that may cost more lives than the disease. Torrance needs to be captured quietly. Scully, still stuck in the prison because she may be infected, too, agrees. Lying to the public goes against everything Mulder is working for, but he reluctantly agrees. It is painful to face a logical argument against beliefs you hold dear, particularly when your greatest enemy and closest ally both agree on it.

Mulder learns through Torrance’s girlfriend, who is also infected, he is planning to leave for Toronto by bus. Mulder and the marshals catch up to him and defuse a hostage situation, but a sniper kills Torrance before he can implicate Pink Pharmaceuticals. All evidence, including the corpses, are burned inside the prison, so there is nothing left of the conspiracy. Had Mulder or Scully gone public, there were plans to implicate the two. Cue foreboding music. The Syndicate is out to get them.

While the mythology connection is flimsy and quickly forgotten, it is not a bad episode. It is interesting to see Mulder and Scully working apart in roles that emphasize their crime fighting skills. They do so without being corny. Mulder is not the ubber-profiler who knows every step Torrance is going to make even before he does. Dr. Scully does not come up with a miracle cure by the end. In fact, they are both hapless victims right until the end and beyond.

The way the contagion is presented is disgusting. The exploding pustules that spray fluid everywhere are the nastiest concept the show has come up with so far. There is at least half a dozen that explode, so you get an eyeful on a fairly regular basis. The brief time Scully may have been infected does not carry much drama. By that point, we have long since figured out the disease is spread by the exploding pustules. That is the only real drag on the episode outside of the forced mythology aspect. It is not for the weak of stomach, but it is an entertaining episode.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

X-Files--"The Calusari"

The formula of “The Calusari” is to borrow liberally from The Omen, The Exorcist, and Rosemary’s Baby, add Mulder and Scully, then cross your fingers hoping no one notices. I am not a huge horror fan, but I recognize the biggies of the genre. The story added some particularly gruesome kills--the most gruesome of the series so far--as a distractive from the episode being so derivative, but the combination gives the episode a derivative and undue grotesque feel.

The episode begins with a family visiting an amusement park. They have a baby with them. The baby loses his balloon. The father takes a balloon away from his nine year old son, Charley, and gives it the crying baby. He promises to get Charley another, but that is not good enough. Some sort of ghostly force moves the balloon away from the baby while his mother is in a bathroom stall and leads the baby out to a park ride which runs over the child, fatally injuring him.

The father works for the State Department (The Omen), so Mulder decides to run his own investigation because he believes, through photographic evidence, a ghost used the balloon to lure the baby unto tracks. The agents visit his home. There, we are introduced to the big red herring. The man’s wife is a woman he met while working in Romania. He married her over her mother’s objection, and brought her to the united states. His mother-in-law came to live with them even though she thinks he is the devil. Meh. Do not all mothers-in-law think that? It gets worse when he is strangled by the garage door in a freak accident. (A la The Omen

She performs all manner of candlelight ceremonies in the home (Rosemary’s Baby) including some which frighten Charley at best, send him to the hospital will strange illness at worse. It looks like she is using some of that old country magic to destroy the family. But she is actually trying to cleanse the boy of an evil spirit with the help of four ambiguously religious figures who are essentiall Max von Sydow stand ins. (The Exorcist)

In the climax, it is revealed Charley had a twin brother named Michael who died at birth. Some separation ceremony was never performed, so the evil spirit of Michael is connected to Charley. Mulder contacts the Calugari to perform an exorcism on the hospitalized Charley while Scully races home to protect his mother from Michael. Note Scully does this without question. She is losing her skeptical edge and joining in with Mulder no matter how far out there he goes.

Mulder helps perform the exorcism, which has all the trappings of The Exorcist sans spewing pea soup. It is successful just in the nick of time to save Scully from being stabbed by Michael. In the voice over, Mulder informs us Charley is blameless and physically okay, but evil is all around us and does not care who gets hurt by it. Well, there is a comforting thought.

I may sound harsh, but “The Calusari” is not really a bad episode. Even its borrowing from horror movies is not so bad. Part of the fans’ enjoyment of the series was speculation about pitting Mulder and Scully against traditional science fiction and horror elements to see how they would handle it. My problem is I prefer gothic horror when I like it at all. Seeing an infant run over by an amusement park ride or a father strangled by his necktie becoming entangled in the gears of a garage door strikes me as gratuitous violence, no genuine horror. Nor does irt fit well with the adventures of our agents.

Indeed, I have already remarked how strange it is for Scully to unquestionably run off in pursuit of a woman because she believes an evil spirit is going to kill her. It dfoes not fit in with the character. Mulder is visibly shaken by participating in the exorcism, but that would freak anybody out, I guess. It just does not fit well. The episode is mildly entertaining, but its gruesome kills and the fact the evil children motif has been done better in “Eve” and evil spirit possessions were done well in "Die Hand Die Verletzt" keep it from receiving too high marks.

The Calusari were a real, historical Romanian cult. They were famous for allegedly removing the curses of fairies. Although they took an oath to God, they had little in common with Christianity. The Church stood in opposition to them, often refusing to allow the Calusari to take communion.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

X-Files--"Humbug"

You may not realize it by the above photo, but "Humbug” is the most comedic episode of the series yet. It was the first of four scripts written by Darin Morgan, who previously appeared as Flukeman in “The Host.” The episode features the murder investigation of a sideshow freak with no paranormal aspects. The script actually makes no effort to add who the murderer really is in order to set up the final joke. Nevertheless, what could have been a one trick episode at best or a bad Vincent price movie at worst winds up a fun, but unusual installment.

Aside from the one joke set up I mentioned, the other significant issue with ’Humbug” is how poorly Vancouver doubles for central Florida. It is obviously late fall in Canada. The actors have to suffer through wearing lighter clothes, a few even swimming in pools or a lake, with their breath clearly visible in the cold air. (They have not yet learned the BBC trick of sucking on an ice cube in winter to keep that from happening.) The only concession is overcoats during night scenes. It must have been a tough shoot.

Mulder and Scully head to central Florida to investigate the murder of the Alligator Man, a sideshow freak suffering from a skin condition which caused him to grow scales. The Alligator man had a hole borrowed into the left side of his abdomen just as a number of previous victims have. Mulder not only believes there is a serial killer targeting sideshow freaks, but unusual tracks near the corpses lead him to believe the killer is a freak himself.

Once they get to the carnival, all signs point to Dr. Blockhead, the human contortionist who can feel no pain. Or perhaps it is The Conundrum, a tattooed human who will eat anything. Or maybe it is the local sheriff, who used to be the Dog Faced Boy before receiving a Nurelco for Christmas. Only the agents are in the dark. We bear witness to two murders during their investigation which are clearly committed by a tiny, but vicious creature. The only character we have met so far who could fit that description is Leonard, the undeveloped co-joined twin of Larry, an assistant to the sideshow owner, Mr. Nutt.

Sure enough, that is the case. Leonard can separate himself from Larry for short periods of time. He resents Larry for whatever reasons, so he seeks out other people he can borrow into in order to survive. When he escapes Larry’s abdomen in the climax, Larry dies from years of alcohol abuse, so Leonard is desperate to find another host. There is a morbidly funny chase between the agents and Leonard in a fun house before Leonard escapes, attacks The Conundrum, and, known only to the audience, is eaten by him. Case closed.

“Humbug” has a highly entertaining combination oftwisted humor and horrific violence. Watching Leonard scurry about seeking a new host is both hilarious and terrifying. There is a moral message throughout about celebrating differences, but it is buried in so much weirdness, the episode never gets preachy.

I do have to mention one bit. There is a scene in the second act after the second murder in which Larry awakens scully by knocking on her trailer door. It is early in the morning and both are in their robes. Their robes are both open enough to expose themselves--Larry’s parasitic twin and Scully’s cleavage. They glimpse at one another for the briefest of moments before wrapping themselves up in an embarrassed manner. While the rest of the episode clearly has a celebrate the difference theme to it, even if often done tongue in cheek, that one scene stands out as the polar opposite. Here is Larry the freak, clearly deformed, and obviously never been with a woman catching a glimpse of the beautiful Scully he could only ever accidentally do. There is sad reality to the encounter which both realize as they quietly, but hurriedly hide themselves. Larry was obviously embarrassed by his deformity. What was running through Scully’s mind is anyone’s guess. Fear of Larry’s attraction or the shame of reminding him of something he can never have? I do not know, but there is a certain deflation of the central theme because of me dwelling on it.

A couple casting notes. Larry is played by the late, great character actor Vincent Schiavelli, probably best known for his role in Ghost. Mr. Nutt the dwarf is played by Michael J. Anderson, who starred in Twin Peaks as did David Duchovny. I do not believe they were ever in the same episode, but I could be wrong. I have not seen Twin Peaks in twenty years. The other sideshow freaks were real carnival performers essentially playing themselves with surprisingly good acting skills.

“Humbug” is an entertaining episode unlike any which has aired thus far. As I explained when I reviewed Freaks not too long ago, my disabilities make it difficult for me to watch such things. I understand the alienation some freaks feel. It is difficult to deal with the reality of certain truths, such as the deformed cannot participate as freely in life as others do, but even worse when said reality is dealt with in the form of entertainment. Nevertheless, I am overall amused by “Humbug” even through some uncomfortable moments.

Ratings: *** (out of 5)

Monday, December 27, 2010

X-Files--"Død Kalm"

I haave reviewed a ton of Star Trek episodes over the last couple years which featured the dreaed reset button. You know what i mean--some sort of seemingly irreversible disaster or otherwise continuity busting event happens, but the last five minutes or so reverses it all? "Død Kalm" is one of the few X-Files reset button episodes. For me, the reset was awfully flimsy.

An American ship becomes stranded in the North Sea when the crew abandons it and the captain. They are discovered drifting in a lifeboat with the appearance they have all aged decades in a matter of hours. Mulder learns of the incident, even though the fate of the crew is being kept under wraps. He suspects the rapid aging is a remnant of the Philadelphia Experiment, an alleged government project which sent matter through time and space. He skips off to Norway to investigate. Scully, having her medical curiosity piqued, goes, too.

They hire a local sea captain to take them to the abandoned ship. They discover it adrift and covered with what looks like centuries of rust even though the ship was commissioned only four years prior. They discover the rest of the crew’s corpses scattered about. They appear to have been dead for years. The discover scares off the captain’s crew. They strand the agents and the captain on ship.

Sure enough, they begin rapidly aging. They have nothing to go on until they discover packs of rats, apparently unaffected, living off the water in the sewage system. Scully discovers the aging has been caused by the drinking water. There is some sort of contaminant that causes cellular deterioration. The three off them have to survive off clean water is in the toilet bowls until help arrives. As well, but does not save the episode ultimately.

Scully keeps notes on the cellular degradation while the the three of them begin arguing over how best to conserve the clean water. General health and life expectancy become point of contention. Neither of the agents is willing to sacrifice anyone. The captain is not so humanitarian. He locks himself in with the rest of the water, then gets himself drowned when the ship begins taking on water.

The agents only have the water from a broken snow globe left. Neither of them get to drink it before it is broken in the jarring of the ship as it takes on water. They pass out, but wake up normal aged in a Virginia hospital. Thanks to Scully’s notes, the doctor knew to use hormone therapy to save them.

There is your reset button. The episode falls apart with it. Certainbly, the miracle cure which returns the agents to normal is bad enough, but how did they get from Norway to Virginia in time for the doctor to study Scully notes and find a cure when everyone else died from the illness in a far shorter time than Mulder and Scully? Because they are the stars of the show, I guess. The resolution is illogical and a cop out.

I am not a fan of the episode, obviously, but I will give some credit for the make up job. It is quite good. Far less rubbery than many I have seen. The claustrophobic, Lifeboat feel to much of the episode is intense . But neither of those two points save the bad ending. At least is was not all a dream, no?

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

X-Files--"Fearful Symmetry"

Every now and then, X-files took a trip into social commentary. Such trips can be awfully irksome considering Hollywood’s single-mindedness. It seems logical one should brace for a bumpy ride with a story is going to be about animal cruelty. Surprisingly enough, while the moral of “Fearful Symmetry” is one promoting conservation, it is quite evenhanded. Two PETA like advocates are killed, one being mauled by an animal. One cannot call the episode an advertisement for animal rights groups then, no?

Mulder and Scully are called to Idaho when a federal employee is killed by what by all signs was a rampaging elephant. Eyewitnesses say there were all sorts of signs an elephant was on the loose, but no one could actually see it. Mulder is open to the possibility of an invisible elephant, but Scully theorizes a militant animal rights group called the WAO is responsible for letting the elephant loose. However, a WAO member is mauled by an invisible tiger, pointing to something bigger going on.

The break in the case comes from Chelsea, a gorilla who knows sign language. She signs of a bright light which takes away babies of which she is terrified. She is pregnant, although she has never been bred. Autopsies reveal the elephant and tiger had both been pregnant, though they never gave birth. Mulder theorizes the bright light is aliens abducting the animals to perform breeding experiments. The animals went on rampages after their babies were taken.

Because of the violent incidents, the zoo is shut down. The naturalist in charge, who has formed an attachment to Chelsea, hides her away in order to keep her. She and her associate kill another WAO member to cover up her crime. Chelsea is abducted in a bright light just like the tiger and presumably the elephant. She winds up miles away with her baby gone.

Mulder’s vioce over at the end speculates aliens are abducting endangered species and breeding them to preserve them against man’s carelessness. He then speculates humans are being abducted for the same reason. Silly, I know, particularly since zoos, including the one in this episode, are making every effort to breed and care for the young of any animal in captivity. I am afraid the moral of the story did not tug at my heartstrings. It did remind me of this groovy song:The title of this episode is taken from "The Tyger" by William Blake:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Blake’s poem speculates that every creation must must possess some reflection of its creator…or in this case, Creator. The poem asks what can the true nature of God be if He allows evil, represented by the tiger’s brutal characteristics, into the world, and how he could create a world in which beauty and horror both exist. Take what you will from that and apply it to “Fearful Symmetry.”

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

X-Files--"End Game"

I was down on the revelation of the ending being featured in the teaser of the previous episode, but I will admit the payoff was much better than I thought it would be. The addition of a cliffhanger to the first episode was not such a detriment, either. Chalk it up to uberwriter Frank Spotnitz, who will pen a number of pivotal episodes. “End Game” is his first contribution to the series.

The cliffhanger is resolved by the Alien Bounty Hunter holding Scully in exchange for Mulder to hand over Samantha. He still is not clear on what is going on, but she tells him there are two alien factions. One wants to colonize the Earth through DNA experiments in cloning experiments. The other sent the Alien Bounty Hunter to eliminate everyone associated with the plan.

Samantha opts to help Mulder rescue Scully. Skinner joins in the rescue. For the first time, he takes an active role in unofficially helping both Mulder and Scully along at great personal risk to himself, both professionally and with his life. The3 hostage exchange goes badly. When Samantha tries to kill the Alien Bounty Hunter with a needle through his neck, the struggle causes the FBI sniper to miss. They both fall off the bridge into the icy water. Samantha’s corpse is found the next morning.

Mulder blames himself for losing her yet again. The tense relationship demonstrated between him and his father in the previous episodes grows even more hostile. It is an incredibly painful scene that I think is broken too early when not only is Samantha’s corpse eroded like the clones, it is discover she is one of many. The scenes involving Mulder’s father to the revelation of the clones is about two minutes. It is supposed to be a rollercoaster of emotion, I suppose, but it is actually a let down. All this even though it was pretty obvious Samantha was a clone in the first place. Am I being harsh?

The Samantha clones urge Mulder to kill the Alien Bounty Hunter. He is en route to northern Alaska where a submarine has run aground in the ice. Mulder refuses to notify Scully where he is going, but she and Skinner beat it out of Mr. X. Good thing, too. The guy’s lack of cooperation has gotten annoying. Mulder confronts the alien Bounty Hunter in the submarine and is thrown about like a rag doll before being stranded on the Arctic tundra. Which leads us to the previous episode’s teaser of him being treated for hypothermia. But he learns through the alien Bounty Hunter his sister is still alive.

“End Game” is very much on par with yesterday’s episode. I have to admit the submarine prop is a bit flimsy for a network show, but since it was, sadly enough, better than the CGI sub used recently in LOST, I am going to forgive it. Obviously, it could have been much, much worse. One other note--Mark Snow's music has been a vital part of setting the mood for the series, but his score is especially intense here. Very well done.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, December 24, 2010

X-Files--"Colony"

“Colony” is a pivotal episode of firsts. We meet Mulder’s parents and a woman claiming to be his abducted sister Samantha. More importantly to the overall mythology, we meet the Alien Bounty Hunter. All the trimmings are here--the shape shifting, the Lrge needle to the neck as his weapon of choice, and poisonous green blood. The episode is also the first to imply the aliens’ intention is to colonize Earth.

In spite of “Colony” sounding like an X-Phile’s nirvana, I do have a nitpick. The teaser shows the aftermath of the story. Mulder has been taken to a medical research facility to be treated for severe hypothermia when Scully bursts in, ordering the doctors to stop the usual treatment of submersion in warm water. She claims Mulder has been infected by an alien parasite and only the cold is keeping him alive. After the opening credits, the story begins two weeks prior. Beginning at the end is a narrative technique that is often irksome for me. Your mileage may vary, but I am firmly in the just Tell the Freaking Story school of thought.

But that is a minor nitpick. The story is engaging otherwise. A mysterious benefactor e-mails Mulder the obituaries of four men, all identical and all within the medical profession, who were killed within days of each other. Mulder’s interest is piqued when he not only cannot find any blood relation among the four, but discovers there is a fifth. He and Scully arrange for the FBI field office in New Jersey to put him under protective custody, but they are too late. All five of the men have been murdered by the alien bounty hunter.

The agents have nothing else to go on until Mulder is contacted by a CIA agent named Ambrose Chapel. He reveals the men were part of a Soviet plot to create clones to infiltrate and sabotage the healthcare resources of the United States in the event of a Soviet attack. Chapel claims the Alien Bounty Hunter is KGB agent erasing all evidence of the plot while the US government looks the other way. The scientist who created the project, Dr. Gregor, must have anonymously contacted Mulder for help because of his reputation for buying into such wild conspiracy theories. Chapel is the Alien Bounty Hunter in disguise. He kills Gregor once the agents locate him.

Mulder becomes immediately distracted when a woman claiming to be his long lost sister shows up at the family home. Treatment under hyponosis revealed repressed memories of her life before being abducted. The entire family is skeptical, but whern she reveals knowledge of the alien colonization plot, Mulder’s attention is piqued. Meanwhile, Scully, left alone in the investigation, is stalked by the Alien Bounty Hunter. The cliffhanger involves her talking on the phone with Mulder at the same time “he” shows up at her motal room door.

Yes, that does mean the scene from the teaser is the ending to the nest episode, and I think that is even more irksome because it dissipates the tension even further. Aspiring writers take note--do not reveal the overall ending to build up tension, then make us wait a week plus offering another cliffhanger in the interim. It is too much.

Nice touch: Ambrose Chapel is a reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. In that film, Jimmy Stewart, who is looking for his kidnapped son, finds Ambrose Chapel on a piece of paper and mistakenly assumes it is the name of a man who can help him. Instead, it is the name of the church in which the kidnappers have taken his son. If only our heroes were better movie buffs, they would have known Chapel was not who he claimed to be.

There is tension between Mulder and his father that has not been mentioned before. When Mulder returns home, he is noticeably cool, but cordial to his father. They shake hands as a greeting. Mulders initiates, but does not appear confident his father will take his hand. He and his mother have a much warmer relationship. She even calls him Fox without incident.

I sound a bit down on “Colony” because of some structural gripes, but that is misleading. I actually enjoy it quite a bit. The early mythology episodes before the story began to meander were the best. I also like the implication that Mulder’s father must be part of something sinister because of the palpable suspicion. In the air. There is a tense feeling, even Scully scolds him for it for it here, that Mulder is ready to believe just about any weird idea that suits his vision of an evil mass conspiracy. I often forget just how on edge the character was early in the series.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

X-Files--"Fresh Bones"

From Satanism in school administrations to voodoo in military run refugee camps, that old black magic runs rampant in the United State government. “Fresh Bones” deals with the aftermath of the US involvement in the return of deposed Haitian Pres. Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994. A Marine colonel and a refugee camp leader clash in North Carolina. But who is really at fault?

A deceased marine’s wife notifies the FBI when the military rules her husband’s car crash a suicide and refuses to investigate further. He is the second Marine assigned to guard Haitian refugees to die in as many weeks. Voodoo symbols were found at both death scenes. The agents arrive at the camp to find tensions are reaching the boiling point. There was a riot a couple days before in which a ten year old boy was killed. The camp leader, Col. Wharton, has the leader of the rioters, Pierre Beauvais, placed in solitary. Beauvais is a political radical and voodoo priest. Mulder treats the case as though voodoo Beauvais used voodoo to kill the Marines, which is a clear sign he did not do it.

Mulder and Scully are helped along by a Haitian kid named Chester who seems to know a little voodoo himself. At one point, he sells the agents a good luck charm which saves Scully from a curse in the climax. If you have not figured out who Chester is yet, you are not cynical enough.

All the trappings of voodoo appear as the conflict between the Marines and Haitians escalates. The first Marine, semi-simplified, returns from the ’dead” in order to kill another. Marines hallucinate maggots and blood coming from their food or they themselves decaying like corpses. Scully has a curse put on her. The twist of the plot is that Wharton is the one behind the voodoo. He got interested in it while in Haiti, but never built a kinship with the people. Several of his men were killed in Haiti, so he has been taking his anger out on the refugees. The Marines were killed by him to keep them from telling all to his superiors. The Haitians eventually use voodoo themselves to kill him in revenge. Chester defends Mulder and scully himself--and yes, he is the ten year old boy who was killed in the riot.

I have a theory that every high concept show, be it supernatural or super hero, does a voodoo episode eventually. It is a television law. I have never been interested in the subject, so I take them as they come. “Fresh Bones” is a combination of the painfully obvious--Chester’s identity--and the painfully absurd--the colonel is a secretly evil voodoo priest, while the imprisoned revolutionary is a good guy. Oh, yeah, he does know voodoo, too. Much of the maggot infested hallucinations ands blood lettings are stomach churning. It is a decent episode , but like I said above, it feels like the obligatory voodoo paint by numbers voodoo story with an implausible rather than someone coming up with an inspirational take on the issue.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

X-Files--“Die Hand Die Verletzt”

I have spoken many times of the struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the heavily bob Jones influenced Christian education. Christian fundamentalism is much like our natural sinful nature--which might be a revealing sign, come to think of it--in the sense you can never really get rid of it. My fundamentalist influence always bubbles to the surface when I experience things like “Die Hand Die Verletzt.” (Translated from German: "The Hand That Wounds.") The episode is combination of that fundamentalist fear public schools are controlled by Satanic forces and a satire on flaky religious adherents. My reaction: a slight twinge of discomfort with the former and a smirking recognition of the latter.

Two teenage couples head out to the Nw Hampshire woods to a site that is said to be a place for witch ceremonies. One kid begins reading incantations from a torn page of a book. The kids hear demonic voices in the distance. The kid who was reading the incantation bursts into flames. The local sheriff calls in the FBI because he, like the rest of the town, have heard stories of a secret coven a Satan worshippers who secretly run everything. He fears the conspiracy is too big for him to handle.

Mulder and Scully are both skeptical. They think someone is playing with the town’s fear in order to cover up the real motivation for killing the boy. It is not an FBI matter, that is until toads start falling from the sky. Then Mulder suspects something is odd. They opt to investigate further by interviewing the murdered kids’ friends.

They admit to playing around with devil worship solely because everyone in town is so afraid of it, they wanted to see what the fuss was all about. They had no idea they could actually invoke satan. Truth is, they did not. The school, Crowley High, is run by a coven of Satan worshippers. They killed the kid for blasphemy.

They cover their tracks well up until the murdered kid’s girlfriend has repressed memories of secret ceremonies in which she was subjected to as a small child return. Again, the agents do not believe it, but the description is enough to make them suspect she has been abused by her father. The other members of the coven use black magic to force the girl to commit suicide in order to shut her up. Her sacrifice convinces her father to abandon his beliefs and confess all to the agents.

The truth is they are wishy washy Satanists. They do only the rituals that are easy and do not involve any bloodshed. They did use the girl in their early rituals, but it was little more than playacting. The fact two kids are now dead scares the heck out of him. Realizing they have been betrayed, the head of the coven summons a python to kill the traitor. The rest of the coven captures Mulder and Scully to get rid of everyone who knows anything about them. In the climax, the coven members are all killed, saving the agents. A message is scrawled on a chalkboard saying it was nice working with them. The implication being Satan intervened on their behalf because he is not found of Loadiceans, either.

As I said above, the episode prompys mixed emotions. I do not care much for involving Satanism in popular entertainment. It makes me uneasy. However, the satire on half hearted religious types is still amusing. Overall, I have to give the episode reasonably high marks. It is not bad, but it is one a small army of teachers from my past would rail against. There is also a knowing wink in that the high school is named after Aleister Crowley, the British occultist who heavily influenced modern day Wicca and realy bad mysticism in ‘60’s rock and roll The guy was a huge waste of flesh.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

X-Files--"Irresistible"

“Irresistible” is another incredibly intriguing episode of the X-Files. It is unusual in the sense it features no paranormal elements. Instead, it centers largely on Scully, as a case of particularly gruesome murders trigger post-traumatic stress in her from her recent kidnapping and near death experience. If nothing else, I would appreciate the continuity. But there is far more here to like.

Mulder and Scully are called to Minneapolis by a detective who is a UFO enthusiast. He has discovered a grave dug up with the corpse shaved and fingernails removed. He believes it is similar to cattle mutilations and assumes aliens were involved. They are not, and Mulder knew it all along. He traveled to Minnesota on the Fbi’s dime so he could take Scully to her first NFL game. Mulder advises the detective there is a fetishist on the loose collecting trophies from corpses, but such a case does not fall under FBI jurisdiction.

The guy strikes again, however. This time he kills a hooker for her hair and nails. The murderer is Donnie Pfaster, a former mortuary worker who was fired for desicrating corpses in his unique way. Now that he has moved onto the living and likely serially so, the agents join in the investigation. Scully is particularly disturbed by the crimes. He stated reason is how she considers mutilating the dead to be the worst violation imaginable. The truth is, she has done dealt with her own feelings of being violated.

Scully and Pfaster cross paths when he is arrested in the attempt to snatch his next victim. He spots her from his jail cell while the two agents are interviewing a suspect in the adjacent cell. Pfaster is enamored by her red, but just a little too red hair. If you did not see that coming within the first ten minutes of the episode, you are way too naïve. He learns her name through the other prisoner once they have left.

Scully returns to Washington to meet with a therapist to deal with her emotional issues regarding the case. It is established she has unresolved feelings about the recent events in her life, from her father’s death to her kidnapping by Duane Barry. She gets a call back to Minneapolis after discovering a fingerprint on evidence discovered found on the hooker’s corpse. It was Pfaster who called her back, not Mulder. He kidnaps her from the rental car place at the airport as soon as she lands.

It is inevitable when there is a female lead in a crime or action series that she is going to be the damsel in distress on occasion. There is too much appeal for the male audience to fantasize about being the swashbuckling hero rescuing the pretty girl for it not to happen. I am fine with it myself under two conditions. One, that it does not become a habit. Two, the character is not degraded. “Irresisible” marks the third time Scully has been kidnapped and the fourth she has been attacked by the villain of the week. This will not be the last time for either.

But it works here. Scully is missing for hours. Mulder and the detective take an unknown additional amount of time to trace the fingerprint and a paint blotch on the back of Scully’s rental car from where Pfaster ran into her to find his house. In that time, Scully, who is near nervous breakdown, manages to fight back through hallucinations Pfaster is a demon. There is a moment at which she overcomes her fear to fight him off, even though her hands are cuffed, until help arrives--not that she knew help would. She is not the entirely helpless victim here, but I am well aware her breaking down in Mulder’s arms after her rescue has the ’shippers all aflutter.

It is no secret I am Team Scully, so I am bound to like episodes centering on her. I think ’Irresistable” struck the right balance between the character’s toughness and her human frailty. Without any romantic undertones, either. Come on folks. Consoling a crying friend is not necessarily an act of romance. Neither is taking a friend to her first NFL game. Appreciate those things for what they are.

But “Irresistible” is good not just for Scully. Nick Chinlund plays Pfaster as an androgynous, very disturbed man. The genral assumption is the role solidified Chinlund as the go to guy for quietly psychotic villains. He has been playing such roles almost exclusively for the last fifteen years. I can see why, too. Pfaster is an ordinary guy who grew up in a house full of older sisters. He has built up a hatred of women with subtle hints of issues with his own sexuality. Originally, Pfaster was to be a necrophilia, but the network nixed the idea. I am glad they did. The Pfaster presented here is more terrifying. He will return in the seventh season to attempt murdering Scully again. He is one of only a handful of villains of the week to do so.

“Irresistable” is definitely one of the highlights of the second season in particular and series in general. So far, Scully-centric episode have been outperforming the Mulder-centrics. But, hey--I am Team Scully. How do you expect me to feel?

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, December 20, 2010

X-Files--"Aubrey"

I am a sucker for crime stories in which a decades old case is suddenly solved, particularly from the era of the ‘80’s or ‘90’s when such an unsolved case can involve detective noir of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. Such is the case with “Aubrey.” It has a sketchy paranormal touch with the concept of genetic memory, but is otherwise a decent story.

One point--they do try a little too hard to position the original crimes firmly in the World War IiI by connecting a rape at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York with a serial killings in some Podunk town in Missouri. I would think that is a stretch, but it honestly reminded me of DC Comics’ revival of the Wesley Dodd Sandman around about the time of “Aubrey.” I am not claiming any plagiarism. It is that both stories took place partially at the World’s Fair and possessed a spooky, ethereal quality. I am connecting them fondly in my mind.

The episode takes place in 1995 and centers around Detective BJ Morrow. She begins having flashbacks to the murder of an FBI agent who was on the trail of a serial killer when the killer caught up with him instead. She travels right to the spot in the middle of a barren field where his body has been buried for fifty years. Mulder takes an interest in the case because of her apparent psychic episode.

There is more to his interest than that. The slain FBI agent was an early advocate of using psychology to catch criminals. Mulder, who is an FBI profiler, admires the guy as a pioneer in the field. Perhaps that is what prompts Mulder and Scully to investigate the corpse the traditional way while paying only marginal attention to Morrow’s psychic episode. She keeps suffering them. Each time, she appears to slide further into madness.

Morrow had been investigating a rash of murders similar to the ones occurring fifty years ago. A now elderly man, who has spent years in prison due to a rape conviction, was a suspect in 1945 and is one now. Ironic, considering the plot of the previous episode involved the elderly being rejuvenated and committing crimes with their newfound strength.

The twist is, while the old man was the serial killer in 1995, he is not the culprit now. It is morrow, who is his granddaughter by way of rasping a woman at the World’s Fair. He passed on a genetic desire to commit murder that morrow has been acting on without memory. She plays out her grandfather’s killing spree by attacking her grandmother and eventually her grandfather himself, who dies by her hand. In the end, she is instutionalized with the note she is pregnant. By her detective partner, who plans to adopt the child. A future serial killer, no doubt.

The babydaddy is played by Terry O’Quinn. It is the first of three appearances he will make. Two will be on the series itself. One will be in X-Files: Fight the Future. he will play a different role each time. O’Quinn will also become a semi-regular on the kinda sortas spin off Millennium. he is best known as John Locke on Lost.

I have already mentioned the episode reminds me of a some particularly good comics I read once upon a time, but there are a couple other high points. One, the story is incredibly gruesome in its display of mutilations, including morrow slicing up herself. It is a key plot point because the main question the story asks is if certain people are born sadistic killers or do they become them. With genetic memory, the answer appears to be the former. The second high point is how well Deborah Strang plays Morrow’s slow morph into her grandfather. Much of the change is physical. She actually looks more demented as she lets go of her real self. She creates a terrifying character.

I am not a psychologist, but I find genetic memory awfully implausible. It is not like a younger family member repeating behavior he has witnessed another family member engage in, such as an abused child growing up to abuse his child as well. Genetic memory skips generations so one will act as a distant relative one may never even knew existed acts. That is tough to swallow, even for this show. I did, however, enjoy the philosophical question of whether evil is born or made. It was not explored but, nor in terms of the Christian worldview, but it was interesting nevertheless.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

X-Files--"Excelsis Dei"

I have a certain fondness for “Excelsis Dei.” (Translation: “The Highest Glory of God”) The title refers to the name of the nursing home in which this stealth budget saving episode takes place. Nursing homes are inherently frightening places because they remind us of old age, illness, and death. It is certainly unpleasant to be reminded we will all going to reach those point one day even under the best of circumstances. Add to that the loneliness of helpless abandonment in one’s old age, and you have “Excelsis Dei.”

Elder law became an interest of mine late in my 2L year of law school after I had been introduced to scores of cases involving elder abuse. The cases which stuck out most in my mind were the ones in which an elderly person became incapable of caring for him or herself, but suffered neglect by those left to take charge of them. If you have read the Eye for a good length of time, you will have noticed I blog about such cases when they pop up in the news. Family members often do rotten things to each other. It is proof of my theory we stand at the twilight of human civilization.

No less horrifying than being neglected at home with no recourse for help is to be neglected by the help one would most likely seek. Many of the cases I discovered wrre of nursing home abuse. Elderly people left by family members to die. Nursing homes are a very sheltered environment. Patients are completely dependent on others to care for them. A mentality often develops that is almost a warden to prisoner relationship because of the isolation and power emplyees have over the patients. It is a formula for abuse.

That dynamic is at the heart of the episode. Mulder and Scully arrive at the nursing home to investigate a claim an abusive nurse was sexually assaulted by an invisible force she claims was a 74 year old patient who has patted her tush a few times in recent days. While there, the agents discover all of the Alzheimer’s patients are making dramatic recoveries, which is odd in itself. They are being treated with a new drug that has not shown success in any other clinical trials except here. Scully is suspicious, so she requests a toxicology report on a recently deceased patient.

In the middle of the investigation, another orderly is killed by being pushed out an upstairs window by another invisible force. Soon after, the toxicology report identifies hallucinogenic substances in the corpse’s blood system. They are coming from mushrooms being grown in the basement by a Japanese orderly. They are part of some ancient home remedy for improving the mental and physical state of the elderly by connecting them with the spirit world. The mushrooms also make any music sound awesome.

The patients are using their spirit selves to take revenge on the employees who have been mistreating them. After a climatic attempt to drown the previously raped nurse with Mulder along for the swim, the final bit of mushrooms are cleared out of the patients’ systems. The Japanese orderly is fired. Without the mushrooms, all the patients revert back to near catatonic states of advanced dementia.

There is a mix of dark humor and some truly scary stuff here that is highly effective. One bit features an aged artist painting a mural of his fellow patients as ghosts roaming about, exacting revenge on deserving souls. It is a chilling touch. Conversing, the handful of old ghosts trotting happily after Scully is sinister, but hilarious. Ah, but who would not want to follow a young Gillian Anderson around?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

X-Files--"Red Museum"

I did not remember much about this episode. Within the first few minutes, the plot looked to be revolving around a vegetarian cult, so I was afraid it might hover into a preachy animal rights screed. Fortunately, it did not. The episode wound up being a marginal part of the mythology. Much of “Red Museum” is an odd mess.

Several kids have gone missing in the cattle country of Wisconsin. They return sometime later in their underwear with, “He/She is one of them” in marker. The local sheriff calls in the FBI because he believes a local vegetarian cult named Red Museum is involved. His theory is the cult is kidnapping the kids to punish them for eating meat. The kids return full of hallucinogens describing what it is like to suffer as animals being slaughtered for meat do.

A couple other kids are kidnapped to suffer the same fate. One is a teenage girl. We got to see the hallucination as she sees it, but her case is never followed up on. One hopes she was thrown into the story so we could share her horrifying experience and not just to have a young girl trotting about in her underwear. The sheriff’s son is also kidnapped. He is the only one to die. That will be significant, of course.

Blaming the cult seems too obvious, but I think it a nice touch the cult leader is played by Mark Rolston in order to give Red Museum a sinister vibe. Rolston has made a career out of playing villains in poular action movies and on television. He was fresh off playing Boggs in The Shawshank Redemption at the time of “Red Museum.” He is still active in villainous roles, most recently on Supernatural and the Saw series. In the latter, he once co-starred with Shawnee Smith from yesterday’s episode, “Firewalker.” All that to say the cult is not to blame, but it is a fine red herring.

The truth is discovered when a local cattle rancher shows Mulder and Scully the cows have been injected with human growth hormone. Since that began, the townspeople have been more aggressive, causing the crime rate to rise. The agents soon discover the local doctor has been injecting the children with a substance since birth, too. An analysis determines it is the purity control substance from “The Erlenmeyer Flask.”

The Crew Cut Man makes an appearance to kill off everyone involved in what looks to be a controlled experiment by the Syndicate. Scully recognizes him with a brief glimpse as the man who murdered Deep Throat. Mulder plots to catch him alive, but when he is finally cornered, the sheriff kills him in revenge for his son. Crew Cut man’s death means all evidence of the experiment died with him.

I called this a muddled mess because there is a running plot about a peeping tom pedophile who the Syndicate is using to inject the cows, but he is also the guy who has been kidnapping the kids. He never sexually abused any of the kids, so what exactly was he up to? He claimed to be protecting them. Maybe we are supposed to assume in his screwed up mind he was in some way. Perhaps I am missing the obvious, but I did not get it. Any X-Philes out there want to enlighten me, please do.

“Red Museum’ is not a terrible episode, but it is not one of the better mythology tales. It feels kind of thrown together. I think it would have worked better as a monster of the week episode without any involvement of the Syndicate. At least the peeping tom kidnapper thing might have made more sense of he was acting acting of his own insanity and not as a fall guy for an international conspiracy. The implausibility is my biggest gripe. In a few days, you will see another reason why I am down on “Red Museum.” An upcoming episode called “Our Town” has a similar theme, much is done much scarier.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, December 17, 2010

X-Files--"Firewalker"

The origins of ‘Firewalker” lie within the success of the first season’s “Ice.” The basic plot remains the same--the outside world loses contact a group of isolated scientists after said scientists have committed a murder within the group. Mulder and Scully investigate only to discover a strange life form is at the root of the incident. The episode does not quite measure up to “Ice” with its highly effective claustrophobic feel. “Ice” is a tough act to follow, so one cannot be too harsh.

The episode title comes from the project name. Firewalker is a device much like the Mars rover except it is designed to explore inactive volcanoes. The research team was exploring Mt. Avalon when all contact was lost. The last communication received was Firewalker transmitting an image of one of the dead scientists with a shadow passing across him.

Once at Mt. Avalon, Mulder and Scully find three survivors and learn a third, Daniel Tepkos, has gone crazy. He is presumably living in the volcano, save for when he has returned in an attempt to kill the other three. One of the survivors, Peter Tanaka, begins showing signs of illness. Something eventually bursts out of his throat, killing him. Scully later identifies it as a fungus. One of the team members pulverized a rock which was carrying a spore that grows within the human body. The entire team was infected when the rock was pulverized. Tepkos has been killing them off tp prevent the spores’ spread.

The youngest member of the team, Jesse O’Neil,, handcuffs herself to Scully in order to spread the spore to her once the fungus bursts out of her throat. Scully saves herself by locking O’Neill into a storage closet before her throat bursts. The agents lenter a quarantine by the Center for Disease Control, buy hide the fact Tepkos is still alive. He remains in the volcano when the research project is terminated.

The problem is have with “Firewalker” is fungi do not have intelligence. The idea one could compel an infected person to help find a new host is absurd. The only explanation even remotely offered as to how this fungi might control a person is that it is silicon, not carbon, based. There is no way that difference could account for the fungi controlling s person. It is something one has to chalk up to science fiction. Just go with it.

I do like how Mulder has taken on a more protective role with Scully. He did not want her to go on the assignment at all so soon after her abduction ordeal, but she insisted on some normalcy in her life. Well, as much normalcy as one can experience on the X-Files. He also did not want her to follow him into Mt. Avalon when he went looking for Tepkos. He justified it by insisting she research the fungi found in Tanaka, but it is obvious his motivation was more than that. He still feels guilty over what happened to her.

Another highlight is how many of the cast members went on to bigger roles. Tepkos is played by The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford. Tanaka is played by Hiro Tanagawa, who now has a recurring role on Smallville. O’Neill is played by actress and singer Shawnee Smith of :Becker and Saw fame. Call that a geeky all star cast. They combine for an entertaining, but nothing special episode.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

UPDATE: I got the whim to search for Shawnee Smith photos. In "Firewalker," she comes across as a goth/punk type. It does not look like she has changed her style much in the sixteen years since the episode aired:Not really my cup of tea, but if it is yours, here you go.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

X-Files--"One Breath"

“One Breath” features the long awaited return of Dana Scully. Okay, she was only gone for one episode, but good grief, what an awful episode. “One Breath” is one of the most pivotal episodes of the series, both in terms of mythology and on a characterization level. Its implications will last the entire series.

In spite of Mulder’s encouragement to not give up hope for Scully‘s return, her mother decides to purchase a tombstone for her daughter. Miraculously, Scully reappears in a coma at Georgetown University Hospital before the funeral can be held. No one knows how she got there or what exactly is wrong with her, but she is nearing the condition for which her DNR demands the plug be pulled.

Interestingly, the episode has very little to do with Scully. She spends the entire episode in a hospital bed, unconscious save for the final scene and a dreamlike sequence in a boat that I suspect was filmed earlier. Word is she Gillian Anderson, still drained from her duties as a new mother, often fell asleep during filming. The heart of the episode is Mulder coming to terms with his guilt over what has happened to her. While Scully’s mother and sister, Melissa, worry over her bedside, Mulder spends much of what is likely Scully last time left alive seeking revenge.

He is pulled in that direction by the Lone Gunmen, who discover from her stolen medical chart whatever experiments have been done on her destroyed her immune system, Mr. X, who saves Mulder at the hospital from a mystery man attempting to steal a vial of Scully’s blood, and Skinner, who anonymously gives Mulder the Cigarette Smoking man’s address. None of this salves Mulder at all, even when Skinner iacitly admits respect for Mulder’s search for frightening truths, something he has avoided since an out of body experience in Vietnam. Mr. X finally offers up scully’s real kidnappers by secretly arranging an ambush in mulder’s apartment when he will supposedly be out of town. Mulder waits to kill them when they arrive.

But throughout the episode, Melissa, a New Age type, as been counseling Mulder to let go of his guily ridden desire for revenge so he can appreciate Scully last bit of time. She even interrupts his waiting in ambush. Melissa finally gets through to him, even though he does not buy into her touchy feely routine. He abandons his plan to kill Scully’s kidnappers in order to be by her side. It is a breakthrough, but not that he has forgiven himself. It will be very clear in future episodes when the implications of the experiments Scully was subjected to that he has not.

While the bulk of ’One Breath” is about Mulder’s struggle with his guilt, Scully’s ordeal is by no means unimportant. Her story exists in a purgatory existence which represents her soul’s decision to stay or leave. She meets her father, played again by Stargate SG1’s Don S. Davis. Scully does eventually come out of her coma when her soul decides it is not her time to go. She is prompted by a Nurse Owen, who tells her time is not up. No one knows who Nurse Owen is. Presumably, she is supposed to be an angel. I hate to take away from the idea, but considering how the storyline eventually plays out, she was probably an agent of the Syndicate. But we can pretend for a while, if you so desire.

“One Breath” is one of the best episodes of the series. Ironic, considering how little Gillian Anderson has to do in it. There are a couple of oddities. Why would Mulder be with Scully’s mother when she is buying a tombstone? That seems like a family affair with which co-workers ought not interfere. One could assume Mulder and her mother have bonded, so perhaps it is a sign he is now a part of the family. A point in that favor is that Melissa makes a note Scully told her not to call him Fox, yet her mother does so frequently with impunity. Maybe the two are connected enough to make funeral arrangements together. Weird, but it is television.

Another unavoidable aspect is that, even in a baggy hospital gown, it is obvious Anderson has recently given birth. You might think that is okay considering the fertilization experiments to which Scully was subjected, but the medical exams never say she had a child while missing. Presumably, the obvious signs she has recently given birth are not supposed to be obvious. Oops.

No matter. “One Breath” is still one of my favorites.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

X-Files--"3"

“3” is the first major indulgence the powers that be will make towards David Duchovny, including writing future episodes, throughout the series. Considering how badly it goes, one wonders how he got any more. In this case, Duchovny’s girlfriend at the time, Perrey Reeves, was cast as his love interest. Did the two of them have chemistry? It is hard to say. The episode runs towards the unpleasantly weird, particularly in regards to romance.

The episode opens with Mulder returning to his old basement office. He removes the plastic covers off the furniture and equipment, then turns the calendar to the proper month. The x-files have been shut from April to November 1994. He also puts away Scully’s case file, her glasses, and badge. He is about to put away the cross pendant her mother gave him at the end of the previous episode, but does not. We soon learn he decides to wear it instead.

He is called out to Los Angeles because an unholy Trio of vampire like killers have evidently struck again. Interestingly, Mulder never believes they are actually vampires. He thinks they are ubergoth serial killers. It is not clear why he has taken such a special interest, other than perhaps his penchant for killers with strange psychological issues. Maybe he just wanted to catch some Southern California rays. Who knows.

He begins searching the local blood banks and fortunately captures a suspect while he is feasting on a bag o’ blood. Mulder still does not believe he is a vampire. That is until the guy is scorched to death by sunlight entering his holding cell. A doctor determines the guy suffered from porphymia, the disease in which a disease in which sunlight is fatal to sufferers. The man does not have the extreme albino look normal sufferers of thhe disease have, so we just have to accept the Hollywood version. No wrongful death lawsuit, either. This is fiction, no?

Mulder visit’s a dance club the guy used to frequent and meets Kristen, a vampire enthusiast who becomes a prime suspect. The killers have committed murders already in Memphis (A reference to the West Memphis Three?) and Portland. He discovers she has lived in both those cities recently. He also begins falling for her.

She is one screwed up chick. Her father used to beat her. Once when he knocked out two teeth, she tasted blood down her throat and developed a liking for it. It was the only thing that made her feel alive. She hooked up with a boyfriend, one of the Unholy Trinity. He beat her, too. She began to enjoy blood sports for a thrill. Mulder tries to convince her vampirism is not what she ought to be into. Failing that, he sleeps with her.

When the Unholy Trinity comes for her, she and Mulder fight them off. Kristen escapes, with mulder chasing after. She doubles back to the house. She tells the captured trio she wants to be a vampire, too, but she has to take a life in order to do so. So she douses the house in gasoline and sets it on fire, killing everyone. At the end, Mulder clutches Scully’s cross around his neck, believing it is the only thing that saved him from being caught in the fire, too.

I get the impression the episode is supposed to be a Lost Weekend for Mulder. He goes into the underground of the Los Angeles weird night club scene and nearly loses himself. Although Gillian Anderson is on maternity leave, the thought of Scully is ever present. Perhaps he is being reckless because he misses her and/or blames himself for her fate. Or, as in Californication fifteen years later, Duchovny likes to have his characters indulging in odd sexual behavior with even odder women. Whatever the case, the episode is too disturbing to be enjoyable for me.

I can recognize how “3” might be someone’s favorite in the same sense some identify with Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye. I have never felt any identification with the character or that book, and for whatever reason, I have connected the Caufield with Mulder here. Fair or not, “3” comes across as the bad combination of pretentious and immature because of it. Like I said above, a Duchovny indulgence that misfires.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

X-Files--"Ascension"

“Ascension” is the episode in which much of the early mythology comes together. For the first time, Mulder runs headlong into agents of the Syndicate. Skinner, who up until this point has been as hostile to Mulder as he has been helpful, realizes he needs to aid Mulder along much more overtly. Perhaps most importantly for the sake of the series, “Ascension” features Scully’s abduction with strong implications she has been subjected to a fertilization procedure. A nifty way to include Gillian Anderson’s real life pregnancy while enriching the show’s over all mythology story arc.

The episode begins with Mulder returning home to Scully’s desperate answering machine message. Her home is turned into a crowded crime scene, but there is no trace of her. The Fbi assumes she has been kidnapped by Duane Barry. They work under the theory that he is a brain damaged psychopath acting act his fantasies rather than an abductee taking Scully to the site in which he was originally taken by aliens. Mulder thinks, whether he was taken by aliens or not, Barry believes he was enough to want to offer up Scully to them. Skinner refuses to spend resources following mulder’s hunch, so he goes AWOL with Krycek to do it himself.

I have to admit, I think Skinner’s reluctance is odd. He is convinced Barry is acting out his fantasies in kidnapping Scully, but will not entertain the theory part of his fantasy is an alien abduction? Why not? It is the only lead they have to go on anyway until Barry kills a highway patrolman who stopped his car, then heard Scully banging around in the trunk. The video from the patrolman’s car video camera is the first concrete proof they get on where Barry in headed and it happens to be in the same direction as a hotbed of UFO sighting activity. Even if a normal person would doubt Barry had been taken by aliens before, he is a nut he cannot tell it is not real. You have to think like him in this regard.

It appears that Mulder and Krycek are the only ones to see the patrolman’s video footage, because whoever is in charge of the case never catches up to the two of them in pursuit. It is clear that Krycek is impeding Mulde’ attempts to find Scully, but I do not see how he could have curtailed the legitimate investigation or Skinner, who is not in on the conspiracy, is being obstructionist, too. It is the strange second act which keeps ’Ascension” from reaching the heights part one achieved. Events all come together for Mulder alone to be on the trail of Barry while apparently no one else in the FBI is bothering to investigate at all. I find it too tough to swallow the Syndicate would stop such a big manhunt without someone raising an eyebrow. These guys are supposed to be too shadowy to ever get caught.

Krycek does take an active, on camera role in stalling Mulder from rescuing Scully, including murdering a tram operator in order to strand Mulder in midair. Channeling Spider-Man, he escapes the predicament, but reaches Barry too late. He claims Scully was taken just before Mulder showed up. Interestingly, Mulder does not believe barry’s story at first. He suspects Barry murdered Scully. Barry winds up dead, presumably by Krucek’s hand, when Mulder is out of the room. It is only then he realizes the Syndicate’s involvement.

He does not suspect Krycek, either, until he discovers the Cigarette Smoking man’s brand in the ashtray of Krycek’s car. It had been made obvious to the audience at this point the syndicate gave Barry Scully’s address and Krycek, as their agent, helped buy time for them to take Scully from him and kill Barry to cover it up. He then disappears. When presented with the circumstantial evidence by Mulder, the relatively powerless skinner does the only thing he can--reopen the X-Files to spite the Syndicate.

“Ascension” is flawed, but still a cut above the herd. The episode has implications for the entire series, so I cannot blast it too much. I think some of the conspiracy stuff which allowed Barry to go on his merry way without any FBI interference is highly implausible, but otherwise, the story is quite good. I appreciate how mulder’s guilt over endangering Scully is compelling him to risk life and limb for her. Once again, David Duchovny plays the character’s obsessive behavior wonderfully. While Mulder has dedicated his life to uncovering the truth, he will still drop it under the realization people matter more.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, December 13, 2010

X-Files--"Duane Barry"

“Duane Barry” is one of the most pivotal episodes of the series. It lays the groundwork for Scully’s abduction, which will have implications throughout the rest of the series. It also happens to be one of the best of the entire series. “Duane Barry’ earned three Emmy nominations, including one for Chris Carter’s script. It is arguable Carter’s loss could be chalked up to the general dismissal of science fiction as a creative endeavor worthy of recognition. That is a debate for another time, no?

Duane Barry is n institutionalized mental patient who escapes with his psychiatrist as a hostage. He winds up holding a travel agency hostage, as well. Mulder is requested on the case because Barry claims he was abducted by aliens. He went to the travel agency to book passage to the original abduction site.

The agent in charge ( CCH Pounder, who earned an Emmy nomination for the role) does not believe Barry. She wants Mulder to keep him talking long enough to get the hostages free and unharmed. Mulder works under the assumption Barry really was abducted, which causes some friction. What she does not tell him is Barry is a former FBI agent. The bureau wants this matter cleared up fast and without any knowledge of who Barry really is or what he is claiming.

Mulder winds up trading himself for a hostage who was shot when Barry panicked as the power went out. He keeps Barry talking about his abduction experience. It sounds like the stereotypical abduction story--flashing lights, missing time, paralyzed, taken aboard ship, torturously experimented on, and given implants before being returned. While he is talking,

Meanwhile, Scully discovers Barry was actually shot in the head twelve years earlier. He lost the moral center of his moral. As a result, he is a pathological liar , completely delusional, with a tendency to act out his fantasies. She convinces Mulder through the earpiece he is wearing that Barry is delusional. While Mulder still believes him, he sets up Barry to be taken out by sniper fire.

Barry survives. A medical exam shows he has metal chips in his body in the exact locations he told Mulder they were. Scully discovers the chips are similar to a cataloguing device. Unknown to her, Barry has escaped the hospital and is coming for her. The cliffhanger is probably the best to not end a season--Scully leaves a panicked answering machine message begging for Mulder’s help as Barry breaks into her home.

“Duane Barry” is one of the best written episodes of the series. Chris Carter certainly deserved his Emmy. The story is masterfully done. You never quite know if Barry is lying because of his brain damage or if he is crazy because of his abduction experience. Mullder, too, is torn. He wants to believe, but he has to play it as a delusion, perhaps getting Barry killed in the process, in order to end the stand off. Like I said above, the ending is iconic.

Scully will go missing after the next episode. The reality is Gillian Anderson’s maternity leave. As a nod to her pregnancy, Scully is seen buying pickles and ice cream from a grocery store before returning home to call Mulder about the cataloguing chip. It is a fun touch., and helps excuse the nitpick that Barry and Mulder were using regular phones to talk to one another at first, then cordless phones once the power went out. Oops.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

X-Files--"Sleepless"

“Sleepless” introduces us to Alex Krycek, nicknamed Ratboy by fans for the revelation at the end he is a spy for the Syndicate. I always found him to be an interesting character, although he really will not come into his own until later seasons. For now, the benfit of Krycek’s addition is too remind us what a great team Mulder and Scully made instead. A couple scenes in “Sleepless” in which the Mulder/Krycek working relationship goes from tense to amicable faster than that of the Mulder/Scully prompts what one might consider a wistful phone conversation between the original Dynamic Duo when Mulder realizes he is becoming comfortable with Krycek. Nice moment, that.

The story revolves around a string of strange deaths in which men have apparently physically suffered from incidents they were dreaming about. Mulder wants the assignment, but new agent Krycek winds up with it. Mulder, ego bruised, is officially along for the ride. Unofficially, he has no use for Krycek. Mulder is completely lost until Mr. X shows up in the flesh for the first time. He offers Mulder evidence of what is really going on.

The murdered men were part of a Marine unit in Vietnam who volunteered for an experimental surgery that eliminated their need for sleep. At first, they were super soldiers, going on 24 hour patrols and feeling invincible. Eventually, they went AWOL to do their own thing. They killed indiscriminately, enemy and civilian alike. At one point, they perpetrated the massacre of 300 men, women, and children in one village.

One member of the team, ’Preacher” Augustus Cole, swore God’s vengeance upon them for their actions. Cole had been institutionalized since the end of the war, but escaped a couple days before the first murder by using the ability he has developed to link the dream world to reality. It is now the 24 anniversary of the massacre, so he is tracking down everyone associated with it and killing them through waking dreams.

In the final confrontation between Mulder, Krycek, and Cole, Krcek kills Fletcher in an act he claims was to protect Mulder. The facts do not bear that out. All evidence given to Mulder by Mr. X also disappears, as does Scully’s medical research. Krycek is responsible for eliminating all traces of the military’s experiments by handing them over to the Syndicate.

“Sleepless” is an interesting episode. It is interesting mores so for establishing both the character of Krycek and an appreciation for the Mulder/Scully partnership than the story. “Sleepless” is too much like the film Jacob’s Ladder to be particularly unique or engaging. Been there, done that, was not terribly thrilled then, either. Tony Todd, frequent Star Trek, does play Scripture quoting Cole to the hilt, so he is a highlight. Chalk this one up to everything but the main story hitting the marks.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Plague"

We have now reached the final episode of .The Wild Wild West more than a month behind schedule due to a couple bouts of poor health and one not insignifant stretch of, “Aw, screw it!” Nevertheless, the project has been completed. It was also much fun. I had not watched some of these episodes in twenty years or more. It was interesting to see how my perspective has changed since I have gotten older.

I would like to say the show ended on a high note, but it honestly did not. The last few episodes have petered out pitifully with either mediocre stories, obvious budget saving reuse of footage, or both. “The Night of the Plague” has a case of both, but particularly the latter. As with “The Night of the Cossacks,” an entire action sequence lasting nearly three minutes is blatantly lifted from another episode. This time around, it is Jim spying on some bank robbers, then lowering himself from the top of a mountain via pulley, all from the third season’s “The Night of the Jack O’ Diamonds.

Jim is on the trail of some serial bank robbers. He has a sting operation going where they are supposed to rob an empty stagecoach carrying a bankroll. Unfortunately, the territorial governor’s daughter has hidden herself inside the stagecoach with plans of running away to Ft. Corboba to hook up with her sweetheart. The robbers take her hostage in order to escape Jim’s trap. He goes off in hot pursuit.

One of them is shot in the melee, however. A medical exam shows he has contracted a plague which originated in Asia. Anyone infected, which now means Jim and the governor’s daughter, must be inoculated within three days. Artie needs to find them both, but his only clue is the robber, in his delirium, quotes Hamlet. Through some investigation, he learns an acting troupe has been traveling to towns in the same pattern as the bank robberies. He surmises the troupe is part of the gang of bank robbers. He dispatches with their Falstaff in the next logical town to be hit, joins up with the troupe, then waits for them to meet up with the others.

Meanwhile, the gang has discovered the money they stole is not real, but then realize they can hold the governor’s daughter for ransom. After “The Night of the Jack O’ Diamonds” interlude, Jim is captured, rescues the girl, has a shoot out, loses the girl again, has another shoot out. You know the drill. Artie figures out how to force a meeting between the two gangs, so he is lead right to Jim and the girl. They get safely inoculated. The bank robbers surrender in order to be inoculated themselves.

It is not the most thrilling swan song, but there you go. The Wild Wild West met its end due to an antiviolence mood after the assassinations of MLK and RFK. It was not the only western affected by the crusade, but it was the one to knock me the most. On the bright side, Robert Conrad has said they would have all gotten themselves killed eventually trying to film this comic book western if it had gone on much longer. Maybe so, but I kind of wish it had lasted a while longer.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

X-Files--"Blood"

We had a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of radiation yesterday which managed to avoid preachy lecturing. Today’s episode offers the same treatment for pesticides. “Blood” id far more manic and not quite as compelling, but still avoids a sermon on the evils of DDT. Farmer, farmer, pull out the DDT. I don’t want spots on my apples. Get rid of the birds and bees.

The normally idyllic small town of Franklin, Pennsylvania has been the site of seven gruesome killing sprees in which an ordinary, mild mannered person went berserk until being killed by police. Mulder is called in to investigate the most recent case in which a man went wild in an elevator, killing the other passengers with his bare hands. He then smashed the elevator’s digital floor number display before being shot by police. While in Franklin, another gruesome murder takes place in which a woman attacked the mechanic working on her car when prompted to do so by the engine diagnostic monitor. When questioned, she tries to stab Mulder and is killed by a sheriff in self-defense.

Scully performs autopsies on both bodies. She discovers a supposedly non-toxic chemical normally associated with plants on their skins. It appears when the chemical reacts with a person’s phobias, it can triggle a response similar to LSD. Both of the murderers had extreme phobias. The elevator killer was claustrophobic. The lady had a paralyzing fear of being raped by strangers. Neither agent knows about the electronic displays yet.

After a gratuitous cameo by the Lone Gunman, Mulder suspects there is something in the pesticide. He stakes out the cherry orchards at night and gets sprayed himself. Somehow this is all secretive even though it is done by helicopter. Apparently no one in Franklin has been outside after dark since the Ford Administration. It is at thios point mulder views a message on a television screen. He then suspects a government controlled experiment using a combination of LAS and subliminal messages.

The town poobahs stage a blood test on everyone under the guise of a national cholesterol test. Only a few people remain untested. One is Eddie Funsch, a sad sack we have been following off and on since the teaser. He has a terrible fear of blood. He has seen messages in an adding machine, ATM, television, and a calculator, but has yet to snap. He finally does as the nurse comes to his door to administer the “cholesterol” test. Eddie climbs to the top of a college clock tower in order to go on a shooting spree. He is eventually subdued by Mulder when he sees reopened stabbing wound dripping blood.

I do not think “Blood” stands up to a lot of scrutiny. How is it possible to rework all these electronic devices to give off messages? It makes more sense for those messages to be hallucinations. But if they are, then the is no government mind control experiment going on, as Mulder suspects. It is just a farming community using a pesticide without knowing it has dangerous side effects in certain people. I am sticking with the hallucination story. It makes more sense. Is it not also strange that the last ticking time bomb happens to have a blood phobia at the same time the town is being subjected to blood testing? When it rains, it pours, no?

Eddie’s rampage is very similar to the 1966 incident at the University of Texas in which Charles Whitman went on a 92 minute shooting spree on the clock tower observation deck, killing sixteen people and wounding dozens before being killed by police. I go back and forth with my opinion on the value of copying a real incident in a fictional story. It usually depends on the quality of said story. I am on the fence about “Blood,” so I am inclined to think lifting the incident from real life is lazy writing. If I liked the episode more, I would have likely a different view on the issue.

Not to say ‘Blood” is bad. It just does not stand out for me. The evidence does not fit the idea Franklin is the subject of a government mind control experiment, so Mulder looks foolish claiming that until the very end. I would have preferred the Lone Gunmen to play a more pivotal role. They could have been taken out completely with no loss suffered. The episode does a have standout performance with William Sanderson, Larry from Newhart, as Eddie. He plays the poor guy’s descenr into paranoid violence to the hilt. “Blood” is worth watching, but nothing special.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Tycoons"

If you needed proof beyond the previous episode’s blatant reuse of an entire sequence from a previous installment that the end is coming soon for The Wild Wild West, look no further than “The Night of the Tycoons.” I am not familiar enough with the behind the scenes doings to know for certain, but this is either an incredibly poorly written script, or they edited the heck out of it in order for guest star Joanie Sommers to perform a solo.

Jim is a solo act in this one, too, so I assume it was filmed while Ross martin was recuperating from his heart attack. I suppose the poor story structure could be a reworking of the script to remove Artie from the episode. Again, I do not know. All I know for certain is this thing is a serious dud.

Jim interrupts the board meeting of the Jupiter Corporation, an arms manufacturer with strong ties to the War Department. He gets to the boardroom just in time to keep a trained monkey from killing them all with a grenade. The board has already lost two members to “accidents” in the last couple weeks, so Ulysses S. Grant has taken a personal interest in what looks like a concerted effort to destroy the company.

The chairman of the board is ice queen Amelia Bronston. She took over her position from her brother after his heart gave out on him under the stress of dealing with the other board members, whom she despises. She despises them so much, she refuses to allow jim to protect them in the hopes whoever is trying to kill them succeeds. She cannot be the villain, though. She is too obvious.

Then we meet her nephew, Lionel. He is a royal brat who forces the help to box with him so he can beat the crap out of them. Jim criticizes his fighting skills, so lionel makes a note to beat him up later. Lionel must be the bad guy, right? I would certainly like to see him get the bejebus knocked out of him.

Bronston changes her mind about protection and makes Jim chairman of the board so he will have free reign. Somehow, I doubt a federal agent investigating a case can do such a thing, but it is The Wild Wild West, so I just go with it. Bronston makes Lionel Jim’s assistant just to be a witch. Before he will help, he wants Jim to spar with him. We not see the fight at all, but in the next scene, Lionel is sporting a shiner and happily explaining the stock scheme that allegedly preceded the murders.

The scheme involves several board members dumping their stock in order to cause a panic. As other stockholders dump their shares, the value plummets. Then the conspirators can buy up all the dumped stock for chump change. If the scheme works, the conspirators hold enough stock to control the company. Evidence of the scheme points to a circus as the single address for the fake purchasers of the dumped stock.

Lionel takes it upon himself to investigate. He gets captured by some hoods. Off screen, of course. This is another scene where we have to fill in the gaps. Jim discovers where he has gone. When he gets there, he stops to watch a trained seal act. So do we--for about two minutes, which makes skipping Lionel’s capture and his sparring with Jim strange omissions. As if we would rather watch seals play harmonicas. Maybe during Glee, but not this show. Jim rescues Lionel from the backroom. They discover a replica of the boardroom there, too, with mannequins and a gatlin gun set to kill everyone.

Two of the mannequins are hoods in disguise. They fight Jim and Lionel, knock them unconscious, and tie them up in a predicament in which a large cross bow will skewer them both when a candle burns through a rope around the trigger. At least that is what I think happened. We go to commercial once the two fake mannequins begin moving. When we come back, Jim and Lionel are tied up in front of the crossbow. You may fill in the gaps as you see fit.

They escape in time to rescue the board members from--Bronston. Yes, it turns out the too obvious choice to be the villain was the villain anyway. What is more, she killed off her brother so she could become chairman a while back because she thought he was too much of a weinie to run a munitions manufacturer. She introduced the stock scheme, but when the other board members did not go for it, she killed them, too. Now she is planning to kill everyone. She does not get the chance, though. She falls down an open elevator shaft. Hey, why not? Nothing elsehere makes sense.

No one finds it odd she was the only board member not present when the monkey threw the grenade. No one thought it was odd she told Jim she wanted them all to die. Apparently, no one was going to think it was odd the entire board was slaughtered by a gatlin gun, leaving Bronston as the sole survivor and owner of the company because--lo and behold,--she was not in the boardroom then, either. Methinks no one thought this out very well.

Needless to say, “The Night of the Tycoons” is horrible. There is one saving grace. Singer Jo Sommers is a guest star as Lionel’s main squeeze. At one point, Jim sneaks into the Bronston mansion and, hiding on the balcony, listens to her sing an entire song. She has a lovely voice, but considering the huge chunks of action missing, I have to wonder why that was put in there rather than other vital stuff. Here is her biggest hit.Jim manhandles her character twice and makes a chauvinist joke about her staying in the kitchen. Was that a clumsy reference to this song? Considering Jim usually exhibits a chivalrous streak, maybe so.

Rating: * (out of 5)