Monday, January 31, 2011

X-Files--"The Field Where I Died"

" ...at times I almost dream
I, too, have spent a life the sages' way,
And tread once more familiar paths. Perchance
I perished in an arrogant self-reliance
Ages ago; and in that act, a prayer
For one more chance went up so earnest, so
Instinct with better light let in by death,
That life was blotted out-not so completely
But scattered wrecks enough of it remain,
Dim memories, as now, when once more seems
The goal in sight again..."
--"Paracelsus," Robert Browning

“The Field Where I Died” is the most atmospheric and tragic episode of the series. It remains one of my personal favorites, not only because I am a history buff, but because of how much it stands out among the rest of the series. There is very little action to it, yet it feeld larger than life. Considering the point of the story is living multiple lives, I assume that is intentional. Personal drama propels the story, including allowing a guest actor to splendidly take front stage. In short, it unusually poignant.

Mulder and Scully take part in an ATF raid on a religious compound that has a large cache of illegal firearms. The FBI was tipped off by Sydney, an informant whom they are there to rescue as a secondary objective. After the most heated part of the raid in complete, mulder feels in explicably drawn into a field near the compound where he finds an underground bunker in which the cult leader, Vernon Ephesian, is hiding with his six wives. Mulder has no idea how he knew about the bunker.

The cult hid the weapons. Their lawyers can have them freed within 24 hours if the guns are not found. The Fbi is in a race to find the guns in order to hold all the cult members in custody because, in accordance with their fanciful interpretation of Revelations, they will commit mass suicide rather than allow the Armies of Satan--the ATF and FBI--to defeat them. Their biggest obstacle is that Sydney is discovered to be one of the personalities of MPD sufferer Melissa.

Melissa not only exhibits MPD, but past life regression. One of her pass lives was a Confederate widow who witnessed her husband die in the field behind the cult compound during a battle in 1863. What is more, her past life believes Mulder is her dead husband. Scully, who is not a psychologist, thinks she is suffering from MPD. Mulder, who is an oxford trained psychologist, believes her past life regression. There is a juxtaposition best to gloss over.

Mulder thinks they can bring out the Sydney personality to reveal the location of the gun cache if they take Melissa back to the compound. They do, but she is dominated by her Civil War era life. The agents try hypnosis, much to Scully’s skepticism, but that does little more than cause melissa to reveal the heartbreaking story of how she witnessed her husband die. The two are intertwined throughout eternity because of their love for another.

With Mulder’s attention piqued, he goes under hypnosis himself. He confirms his past identity, that many others in his current life have been with him before, and how his true love has always been with him, too. He tells stories of their past together in the Warsaw ghetto and as lowly bureaucrats. David Duchovney makes the entire sequence come off much more emotionally wrenching than I can describe.

But the Sydney personality never emerges, so the gun cache is never found. Without any reason to hold the cultists, they return to their compound. As expected, they commit mass suicide by drinking poisoned Kool Aid before the ATF can raid the place again looking for the gun cache. Mulder mourns the death of Melissa, someone with whom he obviously shares a connection., even if it is inexplicable.

“The Field Where I Died” is a fantastic episode. It certainly ran the risk of being derivative. The cult is a blatant mash up of the Branch Davidians (The guns, the apocalyptic prophecy, and Vernon, which was David Koresh’s birth name) and Jonestown (The mass suicide by poisoned Koll Aid.) The whole idea of past life regression being brought to the surface by hypnosis is also in many ways sillier than aliens and ghosts. Yet it all works here because of the actors’ skill.

Kristen Cloke, who later married episode writer Glen Morgan, gets much more screen time than most guest cast members in order to shine. She not only affords each personality within her a distinctive spirit, but genuinely establishes her Civil War era self with an air of deep sorrow. Cloke is also the actress in the Millennium video I posted yesterday.

I often praise mark Snow’s musical scores, but they stand out in particular here. When I spoke of “The Field Where I Died” as atmospheric, it is the music I mostly credit, the the early morning/late evening cinematography plays a big part in the discovery of new life/death of the old theme. The musical score mixes the acoustic, Civil War era sound on the field when mulder searches for the bunker and the ATF raids the compound much like the Union army in 1863. Inside the compound, the cult’s religious services, including the mass suicide, are done to ethereal Gregorian chants. Very haunting on both counts.

The only downside to “The Field Where I Died’ is that none of the revelations will mean anything for the characters later. Finding out mulder, Scully, et al are spiritually connected throughout eternity with mulder destined to have a one true love is too big a deal to just drop and never mention again. But that is exactly what will happen. The flaw is only going to knock off a star from my rating, denying “The Field Where I Died” a perfect score.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

X-Files--"Unruhe"

I have a penchant for the crime/horror episodes of The X-Files in which the paranormal elements take a backseat to the complete madness of the villain. “Unruhe” (German for ’unrest”) is a fine example. It is also a showcase for the best, often underused aspects of the main characters in their crime solving. Namely, Mulder is a top criminal profiler who can get inside the twisted heads of the criminally insane and Scully, perhaps because of an empathy due to her her diminutive size, exhibits an obsession with protecting the powerless.

“Unruhe” is also a particularly well done episode on a technical level. The Vince Gillgan script takes a story we have generally seen before--woman kidnapped and brutalized, Scully becoming emotionally involved, Scully kidnapped herself--and turns several incidents in the polar opposite direction of what we expect. It is a good thing, too. I have lost count of how many times scully has been put in peril, but this is at least the seventh or eighth time she has been taken captive. At least she is not playing the complete victim in most. She even rescued Mulder in the previous episode. Kudos to the directing, as well. Considering much of the episode is from the perspective of a schizophrenic rapidly losing control, the weird camera angles and demonic imagery is perfect.

A woman is kidnapped from outside a drugstore while her boyfriend is murdered with an ice pick behind the ear. The only clue left behind is a passport photo the woman took minutes before which depicts her, surrounded by demons, screaming. Mulder believes the photo is a psychic imprint of the killer’s fantasy. Photos are left in four other instances, each of which prtedict the fate of the person in the photo. No explanation is really given for this, but it is incidental to the psychological thriller the story is.

The killer, Gerry Schnauz, is a former mental patient who kidnaps women and performs ice pick lobotomies on them because he fears the “Howlers” in his own head are controlling them. In his mind, he is helping them. The passport photo girl survives, but is near catatonic with brain damage. The agents are in a race against time to save a secretary who has just been kidnapped while they were investigating the first. They catch the guy through a combination of photo manipulation and shoe leather detective work.

Scully is the central agent in “Unruhe.” we are not far into the first sact before realizing she is going to wind up kidnapped as a potential victim. Her emotions over the lobotomized woman are clearly getting the best of her, so when Mulder heads back to Washington for the FBI crime lab and leaves her behind in Michigan to pursue a theory a construction company is a central factor in both kidnappings, we know she is on the right track, but it is going to cost her. It ilmost does, as she is alone with the guy we already know is the killer, yet she captures him with relative ease.

But not before the second woman is found dead from a botched lobotomy. Scully takes blowing it hard, but has little time to wallow as Schauz escapes from police custody and kidnaps her. It is an interesting point that as he has her duct taped to a dental chair ready to perform ‘surgery,” he explains she has a Howler that must be killed. We do not know it yet, but Scully does have a brain tumor caused by her abduction. Is Schauz’s comment a subtle reference to that? I think so.

Mulder rescues her in the nick of time by figuring out from Schnauz’s past that he is hiding out near his father’s grave. Evidently, his father had something done to his also mentally ill sister, which prompts his need to “save” women. A photo Schnauz too of himself before nearly jamming thre ice pick in Scully’s left eye--*shudder*--predicted his own death by Mulder’s gun.

“Unruhe” is a tight psychological thriller. While never fully explained, the photographic insight into Schnauz’s tormented mind are effectively terrifying. He makes a good, monster of the week villain. Admittedly, the scully in peril meme has already been done in about as many conceivable ways as possible, but its appearance yet again is not a detriment. One gripe: she is duct taped hand and foot to a dentist’s chair. When Mulder frees her hands, she stands up and walks off as though their was no tape around her ankles. That is an element they should hasve gotten right. But no biggie. “Unruhe” is quite good in spite.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

X-Files--"Teliko"

Get ready for a bit of a letdown here. After three four star episodes in a row, you knew it had to be coming. ‘Teliko,” the last Friday night airing of The X-Files before Millennium took over the timeslot, is a mundane, formulaic story. I could not help but feel how much it would have fit in better within the first season when the series had not yet found its voice. A saving grace is my enjoyment of the first season. “Teliko” may be pedestrian, but it does have Mulder and scully working a mysterious case in their old role of faith versus reason with it somehow working out in the end.

Mulder and Scully are called to Philadelphia--yes, Pennsylvania two cases in a row--to investigate the disappearance of four black men when one of the men’s corpse is discovered completely devoid of pigmentation. The men have been kidnapped and drained of pigment by Samuel Oboah, an immigrant from West Africa who has no pituitary gland, so he has to survive as a hormone vampire Mulder and Scully find him mostly through shoe leather detective work They discover he has been stashing the now albino bodies in the ventilation system at a construction site. Oboah captures Mulder for dramatic tension, but he is saved by Scully, who shoots oboah.

The faith versus reason tension between Mulder and Scully consists of Mulder learning about the Teliko, a lost African tribe who prey on other Africans, living them albino as ghosts. Scully believes there is a scientific explanation for Oboah’s lack of pituitary gland, perhaps some new disease. Even though she believes this, she is not wearing a haz-mat suit or even a surgical mask when performing an autopsy on the first albino victim even though, under her own theory, he may have suffered from a new, contagious disease. Is that supposed to be an admission Mulder is most likely correct and she is just being contrary for the heck of it?

I mentioned above the story is a shoe leather detective story. That is true except for one point which I think it awkwardly thrown in just to legitimize Mulder’s new status with Syndicate insider Maria Covarrubias. Mulder goes to her to find out whether there is something bigger behind the discovery of a paralyzing West African plant found in the blood stream of the first albino corpse. No, it is just the drug Oboah uses to knock out his victims. Nice to see you, though, Maria.

There is nothing inherently wrong with “yeliko,” unless you want to count the pointless appearance of Covarrubias. There is nothing terribly exciting or scary about the episode. Mulder being put in peril briefly is manufactured drama that could have been done better. He is not actually a hostage, he is just paralyzed and cannot tell scully to look out behind her as Oboah stalks her. Unremarkable is the word.

Speaking of words, Scully uses the words inveigle and obfuscate in regular conversation. I love her.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, January 28, 2011

X-Files--"Home"

“Home” is the most controversial episode of The X-Files. It is the only episode of the series to be banned from FOX after its initial airing. One wonders how it ever aired in the first place with its graphic depictions of infanticide, double bludgeoning, a decapitation, and the graphic depiction of the deformations caused by inbreeding. You can imagine how this description must mean a divisive split among X-Philes as to the popularity of the episode. It is practically a litmus test for true fans.

I pass the test for a full fledged X-Phile. It is not a fun episode to watch, but it is so well written and directed, with some incredibly thought provoking elements that I am glad it was produced as an episode of one of my all time favorite television series, but one viewing will stick with you likely for the duration. I feel the same way about the films The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en for much the same reasons. “home” is gruesomely brutal, yet shines a light on the hopelessly sad state of some people that you feel like you really need to see. It is not Freddy Krueger popcorn horror, but a real world nightmare that probably really is happening somewhere.

I watched ’Home” when it first aired. Rarely will watching a random episode of a television series stick in my mind, but I still recall the gape jawed reaction to the opening teaser. Right off the bat, it reminded me of classic Tales from the Crypt comics from the ’50’s. the kind that brought on the now nearly defunct Comics Code Authority self-censorship. Anyone who does not know comics will likely dismiss my above comparisons to Oscar winning films. You will just have to trust my judgment. Not all comics are or have been as frivolously juvenile as you probably think. The rest of the episode confirmed my thought ‘Home” was an EC Comics story come to film, though no where have writers Glen Morgan and James Wong confirmed an homage, at least to my knowledge.

The first scene involves a carefully shadowed childbirth, then burial in a field of the infant--from the infant’s perspective. The only concessions to censorship allowed was cutting the audio track of the baby’s crying as it is being buried alive. In spite of my Christian conservative roots, I am not big on censorship. I am all about personal responsibility and letting you pay the consequences, natural and eternal, for whatever you choose to experience. But even I am glad they chose not to cross that line.

The child is discovered by kids playing a pick up game of baseball in the field when the batter kicks up some bloody sand. This is a small town in which nothing like this ever happens, so the local sheriff immediately hands the matter over to the FBI. It is not a federal matter until Scully, repulsed by the appearance of the severely deformed corpse, theorizes someone, probably kidnapped, is being forced to breed children and needs to be rescued.

There is no mystery here beyond the identity of the mother. We only see her in the shadows. We have already seen the three deformed monster burying the infant. We know exactly who they are and what they have done. So does the sheriff. The Peacock family, as they are known, are complete throwbacks to savagery. Total recluses without any modern conveniences, they eat, work, and *ahem* breed within their own. The sheriff and the rest of the town pretend they do not exist. He assures the agents they have not been breeding. Hence, Scully’s kidnapped woman theory.

You cannot blame the sheriff for his lack of trust in Scully’s theory. Every effort is made to make Home, Pennsylvania into mythic Mayberry. Literally. The sheriff is named Andy Taylor. At one point, he is shown pulling his gun out of a dusty lock box. There are no bullets in it. This is down home, never have to lock your doors Norman Rockwell America. Contrast that idyllic image with the reality of the Peacocks.

Mulder, Scully, and the deputy, before he is decapitated by a booby-trapped front door, invade the peacock house and discover the woman is not a kidnap victim, but the mother. Missing three limbs from a car accident she was presumed killed in decades ago, the three boys keep her in a box under the bed until they are ready to--use her. She is perfectly content with the arrangement. This is her home, her family way. Outsiders are intruding on it. The agents have little recourse but to intervene. By this point, her sons have murdered Sheriff Taylor , his wife, and deputy. They have to be brought in.

The confrontation is the most violent on The X-Files, including one of the boys being impaled on another booby trap. Somehow, the mother crawls away during the skirmish. It is revealed later that one son survived and took his mother to safety. They drive off into the night in a stolen ’57 Cadillac to find a new home to start over all again.

Oh, mercy. Where to begin?

It is difficult to not assume the Peacocks were inbreeding from the beginning or, at the very least, the mother was a freak. No effort was made to give any credence to Scully’s kidnapping theory even before she convinced Mulder, who thinks the baby’s death is a local matter the FBI has no business dealing with., to go along with it. He concedes solely because because Scully’s maternal instincts strongly emerge. Not that this is the first or last time Scully has or will show a strong inclination to protect children, but it is particularly poignant since she is the one to confront Ms. Peacock in the climactic scene to get an earful of a warped mother’s sense of devotion. That is what the episode is really about--the devotion family members have for each other. However sick that may sound in this case.

“Home” is definitely sick. Definitely tasteless, too. Not just for the content of the plot, but also for much of the banter between Mulder and Scully. Mulder comes across as particularly aloof reminiscing over his childhood while Scully examines the infant’s shallow grave. Both come across as cruel in their witty banter throughout, even during the assault on the Peacock home. Really, Babe quotes while sneaking passed a hog pen? Come on.

There are some logical flaws, too. The agents would never assault a house with at least three armed men inside without state police for backup. It is doubtful Scully could identify such severe birth defects specifically by name just by looking at the infant’s corpse. She is not an expert in such things. Oddly enough, the biggest flaw is in geography. The Peacocks are presented as Southern hicks. The mother even refers to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. But the episode is set in Pennsylvania, not a southern locale. James Carville once famously quipped the Keystone State is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. Still, that is not good enough. If you are going to make fun of Southerners as inbred hicks, at least put them on the proper side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend “Home.” It is a divisive episode for an X-Phile. One either ranks it near the top or in the cellar. I am of the former. Watch it at least once. Once is probably all you will ever need.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

X-Files--"Herrenvolk"

We have reached the premiere of the fourth and excellent season. As I said yesterday, there are an unusually large number of highly rated episodes in the fourth season. While I am not ready to declare an absolute favorite season just yet, the four is a definite contender. The mythology episodes are some of the most compelling, while the monster of the week installments balance well between terrifying and humorous. The best part is the Mulder and Scully dynamic of the first couple seasons is back. Good riddance to the hostility between them throughout most of the third.

“Herrenvolk’ (German for “Master Race,” referring to the clones or the colonists/Syndicate? Fifteen tears later, still have no clue) is a very entertaining hour of The X-Files in spite of not offering up any new pieces to the overall mythology. We already new about cloning experiments, the creation of hybrids for future colonization, the alien bounty hunter, Samantha Mulder’s abduction is a vital part, and the small pox inoculation is a cover for national cataloguing. Chris Carter is able to get away without revealing anything new by making “Herrenvolk’ an often heart wrenching story of human drama.

The X-Files has thus far featured the concepts of sacrifice and martyrdom as much as the paranormal. Mulder has lost his sister, father, and Deep Throat, while Scully has lost her sister, all in the pursuit all in pursuit of unraveling an immense, dangerous conspiracy neither of them of them have any idea how to resolve even if smoking gun evidence came into their possession. There is a sense of hopeless idealism within the whole story. Our heroes are never going to win, but are compelled to play the game anyway for the tiniest hope of answers.

The desperation of their quest comes to a head in “Herrenvolk.” Mulder in particular is nearly come undone. From the very beginning, he is desperate to save Jeremiah Smith from the alien bounty hunter for the sole purpose of healing his dying mother. He must abandon his goal when smith insists there is something he must see in Canada--a farm which is managed by numerous clones of an unknown boy and Samantha, still eight years old. Before we get any answers, the alien bounty hunter catches up with them, presumably killing Smith and Samantha while Mulder is unconscious. All he can do is go to Rhode island and collapse by his dying mother’s bedside.

Scully’s desperation is much more subtle and will not come to a head until the middle of the season when the cancerous aftermath of her abduction emerges full blown, but she is fast losing her comfortable role as the skeptic sent to debunk Mulder’s work. She is not a true believer yet, but as she gathers together several government heads in order to reveal her findings about the human cataloguing behind the small pox inoculations, she is presenting solid facts to support an extraordinary claim--one that, as quipped by a government poobah in attendance, sounds like it would have come from “Spooky” Mulder. Mulder and Scully are striking the right combination of faith versus reason to solve real problems. I am speaking as a man who posseses a reasoned faith. Your mileage may vary.

It would all be in vain if not for the final decision of the Cigarette Smoking Man to convince the aliens to heal Mulder’s mother. To let her die would be to destroy everything Mulder has. A man with nothing to lose is the most dangerous enemy one can have it is that one hope I talked about above that keeps everyone continuing the struggle.

Continue our heroes do. While it has been building up for a long time, The x-Files is not much of an episodic monster of the week series with two disagreeing FBI agents any longer as much as it is a entire cast of characters intertwined in an epic conflict in which each has enough of a personal stake, one wonders how they slept at night under the pressure, much less run off to investigate paranormal cases involving strangers. Eventually, the powers that be at The X-Files realized that meant stepping up the monster of the week stories or alternating their tone to contrast the mood of the mythology episodes. For the most part, it worked, but I must confess it is difficult to see how when the mythology has been so costly to the characters personally.

I like “Herrenvolk.” It is a highly personal story that feels epic. There are not any revelations, in fact, but still a vital part of the mythology for its personal moments: Mulder’s increasing anguish as everything he loves is being taken away from him, Scully losing her objectivity, Mr. X paying the price for betraying the Syndicate and using his last act to leave a clue for Mulder written in his own blood, and the Cigarette Smoking Man offering Mulder a shred of hope by sparing his mother. Small incidents that say big things in the grand scheme of things.

I forgot to mention this yesterday, but Jeremiah Smith is played as a meek, messianic healer perfectly by Roy Thiennes. Thiennes was the star of the ’60’s series The Invaders. on the series, he played the only man who was aware of the impending invasion of Earth by an alien race. His would be a fun bit of casting for that fact alone, but his portrayal of Smith is spot on perfect. Consider that a compliment retroactive to yesterday’s review as well.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

X-Files--"Talitha Cumi"

I am fond of well done literary references done in other forms--well done meaning more than just thrown in to fake intellectualism. There is a clear distinction. If you want a fine example, look to “Talitha Cumi,” which is also the best mythology episode since “Paper Clip.”

The title ’Talitha Cumi” comes from the Gospel of Mark 5:41. Translated from Aramaic, it means ’Arise, Maiden.” Jesus said this to a girl he had risen from the dead. The allusion ties into the episode because a mysterious man named Jeremiah Smith uses some mystical powers to calm an armed hostage taker in a fast food joint, then heals him and several wounded customers when he panics after seeing police snipers outside. Mulder and scully are on the trail of Smith throughout the episode, but he is captured and imprisoned by the Cigarette Smoking Man.

It is their prison cell confrontation that is the most prominent literary reference. There conversation over the future of humanity is a direct lift of the conversation between the Grand Inquisitor and Jesus in a parable told in “The Grand Inquisitor“ chapter of The Brothers Katamazov.. smith is one of the aliens attempting to prevent the eventual colonization of Earth. The Cigarette Smoking Man assures him he will fail in his effort to save humanity, but is visibly upset by Smith’s valid warning that mankind’s love of freedom will conquer the Syndicate’s control. Man lives for hope, which is why smith’s miracle healing has caused such a stir.

Smith escapes prison and tracks down Scully seeking protective custody from the Alien Bounty Hunter. He makes his first appearance since the second season. Mulder is off to the hospital in Rhode Island where his mother has suffered a stroke after a confrontation with the Cigarette Smoking Man. Their dust up is one of the most famous in The X-Files. for one, it reveals she was given one of those alien ice picks--the only weapon known to kill the aliens. Two, the Cigarette Smoking man hints at having had an affair with her in the past. The revelation lead to long speculation that he, and not Bill, is Mulder’s real father.

The episode comes to a head when Mulder meets up with Scully and Smith at an industrial site as the Alien Bounty Hunter shows up to kill smith. To be continued.

An exciting ’to be continued” it is, too. The mythology has suffered in the third season thus far, either by being muddled with Native American mysticism or meandering plots about black oil attempting to return home. The mythology is not only back on track, but we finally get the notion there is more than just Mulder waging a one man crusade against the impossible. He has alien aliens. Said allies have faith in man’s ability to overcome. Speaking as a cynic, that is more faith in man than I can muster. Maybe more than Mulder’s nigh bottomless well of faith in his cause.

“Talitha Cumi” is the third season finale. The audience for The X-Files had grown this season because of all the buzz from the second season cliffhanger. While I enjoyed it overall, the third season falls below the first two as far as consistent quality., particularly in terms of the mythology. The season is saved by several, very strong monster of the week episode. But how the series managed to grow its audience by offering less quality than it had when it was a cult favorite is beyond me.

Fret not, folks. The fourth season is one of my favorite of the entire series. Out of all nine seasons, it contains more highly rated episodes than any other in my book. I am looking forward to putting my thoughts down about them.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

X-Files--"Wetwired"

The X-Files has managed to flirt with social issues while mostly avoiding being preachy, but one always fears when subjects like violence on television come up. Considering the often graphic nature of the series, there is a certain fear of hypocrisy as well. It would seem rather strange to complain about violent imagery causing real violence when The X-Files routinely visualizes the most gruesome of criminal acts. Fears laid to rest, “Wetwired” a meat and potatoes conspiracy romp.

Mulder is let in on a series of murders by ordinary people who saw illusory images by the plain Clothes Man, his first appearance. While the agent knows nothing about him, Mulder looks into the matter after being warned ignoring it would cost lives. The case involves a man who killed his wife and several police officers because he believed they were a Bosnian war criminal and an older woman who shoots her neighbor because she believes he is her husband cheating with another woman. A common factor is a stack of videos in each residence and a cable company man checking a device shortly after each incident occurred.

The agents view the3 video recordings, which all appear to be regular television programming. Unbeknownst to Mulder, Scully is being affected by it. Her paranoia increases as she slowly begins to suspect Mulder is in cahoots with the Syndicate. He finally discovers television viewers are being manipulated when he takes one of the devices the cable repairman installed to the Lone Gunman. It produces visual signals which enhance the viewer’s fear. Mulder was not affected because he is red/green color blind. Scully, however, has gone over the edge.

(Can color blind people pass the FBI physical? I am guessing they can, but there is enough doubt to make me wonder.)

Knowing Scully is probably affected, he goes looking for her and finds six rounds from a glock instead before she heads off. At least, I counted six rounds. Mulder later says it was four. I try not to pick nits too much, but that sounds like an easy detail to get right. Her mother finally brings her down from her delusion by convincing her she would not associate with anyone who kidnapped her daughter or killed her other one like she is with Mulder. The power of mom overcomes subliminal messaging.

The episode is turned on its ear in the end when Mr. X, who sent the Plain Clothes Man to Mulder in the first place, shows up to eliminate all evidence of the project. Mulder is not thrilled that his “ally” has screwed him over, but that is typical of how their relationship goes. Mr. x meets with the Cigarette Smoking Man. It is not spoken between them, but it is obvious he suspects Mr. X is a traitor to the Syndicate.

“Wetwired” is a routine, but entertaining installment. The general plot was done better back in the second season with “Blood”, but after a string of less than stellar monster of the week and mythology episodes, it is a welcome sight. Interestingly enough, the episode was written by the show’s visual effects director Matt Beck. It is his only writing credit.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, January 24, 2011

X-Files--"Quagmire"

“Quagmire’ is a personal favorite. It is not a great episode because of some glaring flaws, most notable how poorly april in Vancouver doubles for april in Georgia, a mismatch of humorous versus overly grizly scenes, and a mischaracterization or two. The episode is saved for many fans by the third act, in which Mulder and scully believe they are stranded on a rock miles from shore in the dead of night, so they wax philosophical while waiting for daylight. I think the third act being so popular proves X-Phile shippers are cheap dates, but that is just my $ .02.

Mulder takes advantage of a missing biologist near a georgia lake in order to search for a mythical Loch Ness Monster-like creature named Big Blue. Because scully is dragged along at the last minute, she has to take her dog, Queequeg, along with them. If you do not see something bad happening to the dog already, you are too naïve to leave the house unsupervised.

One of the reasons “Quagmire is” a personal favorite is because the entire premise and execution is similar to a story that occurred near my neck of the woods called the Lizard Man of Lee County. The Lizard Man was allegedly first spotted by a young man driving home from work at 2 AM one night in 1988. One of his tires blew out. As he was finishing putting a new one on, his car was supposedly attacked by a seven foot tall, humanoid lizard with red eyes, three fingered hands, and three-toed feet. In others words, a shorter Sleestak from Land of the lost . The incident caused a stir because there were scratches on the roof of the car and a missing rear view mirror as physical evidence.

Most people thought the guy had been drinking and was making up a story to cover for an alcohol related accident which damaged his car, but people started reporting sightings of the Lizard man all over. Plaster casts of a set of footprints were made, but never sent to any lab for testing, presumably because someone had faked them as a hoax to keep the story going. It was not too long before locals were selling tee shirts and booking hunting expeditions to boost tourism. All these elements are prominent in “Quagmire,” though altered enough to avoid too much similarity.

There are still occasional reports of Lizard man sightings. It alleged tried to drag a young girl into the swamp in 2004 and attacked an older couple’s car in 2008. But a airman from Shaw Air Force base who alleged shot the creature recanted the scales and blood he presented as evidence after he was convicted of a fire arms misdemeanor. He claimed he lied to keep the myth--and the tourism cash--rolling in. If you are interested, this web site covers twenty years of the myth.

No, I do not believe in the Lizard Man, but I do believe in the greenbacks gullible Yankees have left behind when they have come to Lee County looking for it. The georgia locals in “Quagmire” are the same. At one point, a guy selling tee shirts and key chains is seen making fake footprints with novelty rubber monster feet in order to further the lended and drum up business. It is another of the aspects I like most about “Quagmire”--the Southerners are not presented as ignorant yokels. Instead, Mulder is presented as the naïve guy who believes without question while the locals understand the real deal. Even when other people are attacked on the lake, the sheriff responds to Mulder’s panic by assuring him it is vacation season. At least eight or nine rednecks get drunk and drown themselves, get hit by a boat, or bitten by a water moccasin. It is to be expectected.

However, there is a creature killing people and Scully’s dog. I mentioned above the girzly combination of humor and gruesome death and mischaracterization. My problem zeros around Queequeg’s death. Scully takes him for a walk at night.. He runs off barking at something, then after a pitiable yelp, goes silent. When Scully pulls back the leash, there is nothing left but his collar and nametag. The scene comes right after the silly fake footprints bit, so it is jarring. That would not be so bad if the subsequent scene did not have Mulder, completely unsympathetic to a teary eyed Scully, engrossed in local photos allegedly showing Big Blue and then dragging her off on a moonlit boat ride to search himself. I am no fan of dogs, but I can appreciate when a friend is upset when a friend is upset over hers==and I am not a Rhodes scholar psychologist like Mulder.

Granted, the scene was meant to emphasize Mulder’s obsession with finding truth in the unexplained, but he comes across as nothing but cruel instead. We get some resolution in the third act after something sinks their boat and the two agents are stranded on a rock for the night. Mulder makes an effort to show interest in her dog by asking she named him Queequeg. Her father had a fascination with Moby Dick, so the whole family had nicknames relating to the novel. We already know tjis from past episode; mulder does not. Is that not odd considering how involved he has been in scully family tragedies of late? Again, he comes across as a self-absorbed jerk.

It is presumably this realization that prompts Scully to compare her partner to Ahab in a line that, I painfully admit, jabs me personally:
"You're so consumed by your personal vengeance against life, whether it be its inherent cruelties or mysteries, everything takes on a warped significance to fit your megalomaniacal cosmology."
Ouch, Scully. How long have you been spying on me?

Mulder respons jokingly by saying it has always been a boyhood dream to have a pergleg. That way, he would have a disability which would lower expectations for his sucdees. People would admire him for simply carrying on with life. Let me assure you, this dream is crap. Even if you graduate valedictorian, earn a full scholarship to a big university, and eventually earn a law degree while holding various jobs in the interim inspite of disabilities, all any numb nut will say to you is how much they admire you for getting out of bed in the morning. exceeding the low expectations for cripples ain’t all it is cracked up to be, particularly when surrounded by…well, you know. Morons.

You can see how Scully nailed me as well as Mulder with her Ahab comparison

Anyway, enough with the self-psychoanalysis. The killer turns out to be a large alligator who has been moving closer to people because his regular food source’s population has been cut down. Mulder is disappointed to learn Big Blue is not real, but he misses the creature popping up out the water as the two agents leave the lakeside.

‘quagmire” is a mixed blessing for me, considering its ties to a local legend and an accurate mirror it holds up. I still give it a highly positive review. I can appreciate anything, but particularly an idiot box offering, which prompts serious thought. Considering ’Quagmire” is probably light entertainment to most everyone else, i6t is fully understandable if the general consensus is in disagreement. The shippers get the famous Conversation on the Rock, though. So there is that.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

X-Files--"Avatar"

Stargate SG=1 fans should brace for mixed emotions regarding “Avatar.” Yes, Amanda Tapping follows Don S. Davis as the second main cast member from that series to appear on The X-Files. She plays a prostitute who spends the night with Skinner, for those of you who get excited over such things. Unfortunately, she is killed by having her neck broken by the end of the teaser, so she spends the remainder of the episode as a corpse autopsied by Scully. Not the most illustrious of science fiction debuts, but Tapping made it out okay in the long run.

Onm a related note, we meet Skinner’s wife for the only time in the series. She is played by Jennifer Hetrick, most famous to science fiction fans as Vash on Star Trek: the Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She is currently doing commercials for Tylenol and ThermaCare, so draw your own conclusions as to whether she has made out as well as Tapping. Or evaluate Skinner’s taste in women, whichever floats your boat.

Generally speaking, The X-Files does episodes centering on secondary characters very well. A couple have become favorites of the entire series But I have to sadly admit ’Avatar” disappoints. It is not that it is a bad episode, but that it does not explore Skinner’s character as much as one would hope. He is a good character overall, but he has had a hard, tough guy exterior with very little inclination to open up so the audience can see what makes him tick. “Avatar” should have given him the opportunity to expose more of his inner self, but he still carried on the tough, inpenetrable exterior even through what has to be one of the most traumatic times in his life.

Skinner is in the midst of a divorce from his wife of seventeen years, but he refuses to sign divorce papers. He storms out of his lawyer’s office into a hotel bar where he meets a woman with whom he spends the night.. When she wakes up beside her the next morning after a nightmare involving an old woman, she is dead of a broken neck. Skinner is naturally the only suspect.

Mulder and scully take it upon themselves to investigate. They feel they owe Skinner for as many times as he has gone to bat for them. However, all evidence points to Skinner having committed not only that murder, but having later used his car to run his wife off the road in an attempt to kill her, too. Mulder gived skinner a big benefit of the doubrt. He believes some forensic evidence found on the dead woman’s body plus Skinner’s continuing visions of an old woman are evidence of a spirit visiting him and causing these incidents.

For which I have to pick a nit. A avatar is from the Sanskrit. It means the physical manifestation of a diety. This old woman does not fit the position of a diety in any way. She is more likely a banshee, imp, or even a Syren, all of which would seem more appropriate. How could a guy like mulder blow this one so badly?

While skinner is experiencing the illusions of an old woman, it is the manifestation of his fears of growing old alone. The woman has nothing to do with the murders. Mulder discovers the truth when the FBI crime lab can (extraordinarily) reconstruct a face from whoever got hit with the airbag when Skinner’s car was used to force his wife off the road. The perpetrator is also the guy who hired the prostitute using Skinner’s credit card and eventuallt kills her madame to make it appear Skinner is covering his murderous tracks. It is all a plot by the Syndicate to get rid of Skinner for his protection of Mulder and Scully. He kills the assassin himself. In television, that clears up everything. Naturally, the divorce is called off, too.

Like I said above, “Avatar” does not explore Skinner’s character like one would hope. The only time we really get inside his head is when he is at his wife’s hospital bedside confessing why he cannot sign divorce papers. Maybe the scene resonates with others, but it had no where near the emotion of the similar Mulder/Scully scene from “One Breath“ and those two have not been married for nearly twenty years. I do not think it is asking too much to expect Skinner to appear at least as hurt as Mulder did over Scully under the circumstances. Instead, skinner resolves all his problems in the expected way--he kills the guy ruining his life. Now we are all back to normal. It is all quite underwhelming, as is the idea the Assistant Director of the FBI can be found in bed with a dead woman and not have it become a national scandal. A spirit committing murder is more plausible than that. Happening.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

X-Files--"Jose Chung's From Outer Space"

In the past reviews for episodes written by Darin Morgan, you will realize I have said I loved three out of his four scripts for The X-Files. Morgan saved the best for last, as “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space“ edges out “Clyde Bruckman's final Reprose” as the best Morgan penned episode. Indeed, it is one of the best of the series as a whole.

The general feel of the episode can best be described by David Duchovny, who once said he was always fond of Morgan’s scripts because they attempted to destroy the show. Try not to read into that Duchovny’s growing distaste for being tied down to a series which has obsessive fans for whom he had a thinly veiled contempt. Do dwell on the fact it took him five years and a couple movie flops before he found a regular acting gig again. Oh, and Gillian Anderson, who has always been appreciative of her fans, has had a steady, BAFTA winning career with the BBC for the last eight years. But I digress. Have I mentioned lately I am Team Scully/Anderson?

Taking Duchovny’s statement to mean Morgan likes to turn the series’ general motifs on its ear, that is what this episode does with reckless abandon. As I noted above, it is Morgan’s final script for The X-Files, so he threw in everything and the kitchen sink for good measure. The episode, played in many ways as a parody of the rest of the series, could come dangerously close to mocking the show for ultra-sensitive fans. I find it to be an enjoyable homage with more nods to classic science fiction, as well as a exploration of how perspective distorts the truth.

The episode has a Rashomon, the 1950 crime drama by Akira Kurasawa. The film tells of a criminal investigation into the rape of a woman and the murder of a samurai through the eye witness testimony of four people, each of whom has a widely different account. “Jose Chung,” as I am going to call it for short, tells the account of an alleged alien abduction by eyewitnesses, all of whom cannot get their facts straight or are just plain crazy. Crime novelist Jose Chung, played wonderfully by the late Charles Nelson Reilly, tries to piece ther incident together through interviews. Think of Chung as a Truman Capote type writing an alien abduction version of In Cold Blood.

The abduction story is obviously disjointed, as it bounces between the perspective of characters who are not necessarily right in the head. Here is my best shot: two teenagers are driving down a stretch of Washington state road when they encounter a flying saucer. They are abducted by grey aliens, but a third shows up to attack the other two. This third alien is an homage to the Cyclops from the The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. As the Cyclops has frequently been a mascot of The Eye, I have to note his appearance. The question of whether the kids were really abducted by aliens, snatched up in a government plot, or are trying to cover up the fact they had sex from their parents is never made clear.

The other witnesses, including a guy who was driving behind the two kids, wrote what he witnessed into a screenplay within 48 hours, and claimed to be threatened by Men in Black, one of whom looked like Alex Trebek, a slacker who was out looking for aliens because he wants to be abducted rather than work a low paying, blue collar job, and an Air force pilot who may have been abducted, too, or he may have been wearing an alien costume and kidnapped the teenagers on behalf of the government. Take your pick. Each story has its serious and absurdly laugh out loud moments: Mulder’s yelp at finding an alien corpse, Scully admitting to missing time when the Men in Black allegedly came to her motel room, the reaction of the agents when the screenplay veered into points even mulder could not accept as within the realm of possibility, the excessive ‘bleeping’ profanity of Det. Manners, a caricature of noted foul mouther direct Kim Manners, and much more.

A lot of care went into making the teenagers’ abduction look exactly like Duane Barry’s, so the best thing to assume is the government took the teenager’s, experimented on them as they have done with other characters, and hypnotically convinced them they had been abducted by aliens. The ‘aliern” corpse Mulder shrieked at was a dead Air Force pilot in costume. He and his co-pilot, who was found wandering naked down a road, both disappear and show up again at the site of a downed F-16 in the woods to cover it all up.. But your guess is as good as mine.

I like the tweaking of the mythology in general. The X-Files had a fantastic way of being horrifying in one episode while being outrageously funnt in another. The series generally did both well, but “Jose Chung” is a high point for the latter. Reilly is great as Chung, so good, he is the only character to ever jump from The X-Files to Millennium for another, perspective warping episode. I dig the general science fiction homage, too: the camera pans under a cherry picker just like the Imperial Star Destroyer in Star Wars, the third alien is similar to Ray Harryhausen’s Cyclops, the recovered pilot plays with his mashed potatoes at a diner as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and mulder asks the diner owner brisk questions while eating pie like the agents in Twin Peaks. those are the big ones.

I also find it funny now that one of the Men in Black was played by Jesse Ventura. Considering his new show in which he explores conspiracy theories, most of which he appears tp genuinely believe in, his role here is ironic. Alex Trebel cameod as the other Man in Black because the producers could not get Johnny Cash. Having the original Man in black would have been even funnier than Trebek. Too bad he was unavailable.

“Jose Cung” is one of my all time favorites. My only regret is that Morgan never wrote another episode. He has been one of the consistently best writers of the series thus far. Considering he is the brother of fellow uber-writer Glen Morgan, writing chops must run in the family.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

I cannot mention Johnny Cash and not post a favorite song of his:

Friday, January 21, 2011

X-Files--"Hell Money"

One of the most peculiar aspects in the production side of The X-Files is how rarely the monster of the week episode delved into urban legends. Many would seem like a good fit. Perhaps a ket reason for the lack of urban legend themed stories is the success--more aptly, lack thereof, of “Hell Money.” The episode clicks so poorly, one would almost suspect it was adapted from an unused script another procedural crime show That is not true, however. “Hell money” was written by Jeff Vlanning in his only script for the series. So it is just bad.

Mulder and Scully are called in to Chinatown in San Francisco to investigate the murder of a man whose charred body was found in a crematorium. The agents find some Chinese writing on the walls which spell out “ghosts” and hell money, which are peace offerings to the ghosts of ancestors, scattered about. A local detective of Chinese descent named Chao leads the two through their investigation because of the language and custom barrier.

Speaking of language, much of the dialogue is Chinese subtitled into English. Seriously, entire conversations of important exposition you cannot follow the plot without. There is at least ten minutes worth, including in the climax. Talk about cruelty. I only have one legally blind eye left. It is hard enough to follow the occasional bits that appear on television and movies. But reams of text that go on for minutes at a stretch? Have mercy on me, Chris Carter.

What we figure out long before mulder and Scully do is the bad guys are conducting a lottery game in which the losers have to donate internal organs. Some wind up being killed altogether in order to hide the game. The human face of the game is Hsin, a father who is desperate to earn money so his daughter can have a liver transplant. He loses an eye early in the game and is about to lose other vital organs in the climax when the agents discover the game and save him from a makeshift operating room.

I am glossing over the big details of the investigation because Chao is, unbeknownst to us, part of the cover up. He is being paid off to keep the authorities from finding out about the game. So for forty minutes or so, Chao is leading mulder and scully on a wild goose chase until he finally ditches them. After he does, they crack the case open in just a few minutes.

There is some measure of salvation. Chao has a change of heart when he realizes not only will Hsin die by losing his organs, but so will his daughter with no one to care for her. Chao breaks up the game by smashing tables and overturning containers with the lottery pieces. I caught a hint the scene is an allusion to Christ driving out the moneychangers from the temple, , but I do not understand how he was opposing blasphemy. Perhaps if I knew more about Chinese ancestor worship.

Regardless, when the pieces have all fallen on the ground, it is revealed they are identical. The game is a front for a black market organ scheme in which no one wins but the black marketers themselves. Everyone gets away with it, however, because only Chao is willing to testify before a grand jury and he winds up torched in the crematorium before he can do so. Why Mulder and Scully never suspected that is what happened to him when he went missing or why he was not in custody in the first place as an accessory to the murders caused by the game is anyone’s guess. I say sloppy writing, myself.

“Hell Money”” is a virtual who’s who of Asian Hollywood: B. D. Wong, James Hong, Michael Yana, and a young Lucy Liu among them. I guess Soon-Tek Oh was busy that week. Liu might be the only name you recognize, but you have seen all the actors before if you have watched any crime shows from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. also no surprise, not every actor is Chinese. That is Hollywood for you. An Asian is an Asian.

I am not a fan of “Hell Money.” like I said above, it feels like an episode from a regular cop show that is trying to be exotic by featuring Chinatown. There are no paranormal elements that would have caught Mulder’s attention, so I have to wonder why he is on the case. I cannot even see why his uberprofiling skills would be needed for what everyone suspects is a Triad hit. There is not much to recommend here, unless the hsin family’s plight tugs at your heartstrings. It did not do much for me.

I did learn Vancouver has a Chinatown, too, which is where exteriors were filmed. San Francisco’s Chinatown was the last stop for Chinese immigrants who were building the transcontinental railroad. I am not curious why many Chinese settled in Vancouver. Did they build Canadian railroads, too? I am going to look that up when I get the chance. and find out.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

X-Files--"Teso Dos Bichos"

“Teso Dos Bichos’ (Spanish for “two tiny beasts” and Portuguese for “burial ground for small animals.” Take you pick which you like better.) is a mess. There is no other way to describe it. The script is famous for undergoing so many revisions, director Kim manners had t-shirts produced with ’I Survived “Second Salmon” written across them because, while each new revised script is in a different color, the salmon color came around twice. I think they should have just scrapped the episode altogether.

An archeologist named Roosevelt is leading a dig in Ecuador when his team discovers the body of a female shaman. He decides to send the artifacts found with her corpse to the Boston Museum of Natural History over the objections of native guides working with him. Roosevelt, having never seen a horror movie, does not realize one should always heed the advice of natives in such matters, and sends the artifacts to Boston.

At some point, the natives get together shake rattles, drink some hallucinogenic something or another, and chant in a ruckus that would embarrass the otherwise shameless self-styled shaman Jim Morrison in order to summon up a jaguar spirit to kill everyone associated with the dig, including those in Boston. Mulder and scully head to the museum to investigate two murders in which fountains of bloof are found, but no bodies.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for the agents to even be in the episode. They are haplessly clueless at every turn/ There have no way of preventing them because thery have no idea how these people are being killed or what is happening to the bodies. The only clue they have is dead rats found nearby along with the puddles of human blood. Even by the conclusion, they have done nothing to affect the case. The State Department closes the museum display because of the murders and sends the artifacts back to Ecuador so the deaths--by animal mauling, it is ruled--can be swept under the rug rather than cause an international incident. The X-Files has and will have plenty of episodes in which the episode ends without success for Mulder and Scully, but those usually have a more satisfying journey. “Teso Dos Bichos” cannot pull it off for three reasons.

First, Americans just do not care about foreign culture and we do not want to be blasted for not caring by foreigners. No, that is not a racist attitude. Self-absorbed, maybe, but not racist. Ro make an apt analogy, we want Indians Jones to pursue the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail because we understand Christian artifacts. We do not like it when he goes after magic Indian stones or crystal skulls. There is no emotional investment in it for us. The lack of emotional investment is accentuated here because, as I said above, Mulder and Scully’s presence affects absolutely nothing. The government washes its hands of the whole matter after enough people are killed to be an embarrassment.

There is a slight, but annoying critique of the United states as an imperialist country that runs throughout the early parts of the episode. Roosevelt, the archeologist who takes the sacred artifacts to Boston in the first place, is an obvious reference to Teddy Roosevelt and his often heavy-handed policy towards Latin America. The reason additional murders are allowed to occur is because the State Department drags its feet working on resolving the matter. Because the United States does not care about its foreign relations, of course. It is made very clear we are to be sympathetic to the Ecuadorian archeologist who wants the artifacts returned immediately even though he is a murder suspect right on up until the climax.

The big problem with how the native culture is dealt with is because it is eaten up with that progressive idealism regarding it. You know what I mean--white men came to spread disease and ruined a beautiful, pacifist culture that was in harmony with nature when in fact, they were bar barbarians who had not even developed the wheel by the time Europeans arrived. Those of you clamoring for me to review Star Trek: Voyager should take into account the earfuls criticism regarding this naïve view of native cultures when it comes to Chacotay, particularly when Kenneth Biller is penning the script. Continue urging those reviews at your own risk.

The second problem is the tension. There is not any. I put my finger on the problem halfway through--it is the music. Normally, I have nothing but praise for Mark Snow. In many episodes, his scores ought to be listed as a co-star. But he sadly misses the mark here. We never see the alleged jaguar spirit, but we see it stalking prey through its own eyes. We also spend a lot of time with Mulder and Scully exploring dark, underground tunnels in which the spirit is supposed to be hiding. I expect tense, creepy music during such scenes with an up tempo at the moment the spirit strikes to grab me. No such luck. The music throughout is too big for what is on screen. It sounds almost like rock opera. I imagine the score was written for more appropriate scenes in earlier scripts, but did not match up well with the final draft. I have to give Snow as much credit as possible.. He is too good to have blown it this badly.

Finally, the episode is just poorly executed. We never see anything that sets the episode in Boston other than the location/time/date/location stamp in the bottom left hand corner like we usually get. What is worse is all of the surroundings are rural. Newsflash-- Boston is a major metropolitan area, not the forests outside Vancouver. No one has a Boston accent, either, including local cops who you know would be Boston natives. Even Cheers did a better job than this episode.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson do what they can with the lackluster script, but they are just going through the motions. There is no detective work to be done. The two agents run from one crime scene to the next just as clueless as they began. I will concede Mulder and Scully are working well together again, which is nice. Too often in recent episodes they have either been at each other’s throats or running off to do their own thing, usually in opposition to one another. So we get to see some of the healthy teamwork between the two from the first and second seasons back again.

All these complaints pale in comparison to the biggest of all from the climax. Are you ready for this? Mulder and Scully enter the catacombs beneath the museum to search for the jaguar spirit. They find the dead bodies of the murdered victims down there. Then they find themselves trapped with the killer. Is it a mythical, ferocious feline? Nope. When Mulder shines his light through a grate, we learn the killer is--a mob of cats.No joke. The archeological team was mauled by cats. Chubby, happy housecats that do not appear even slightly agitated when Mulder shines his light on them even though they are supposedly on the verge of ripping open the wooden door to get at the agents. The rats, by the way, are everywhere throughout the episode because they are trying to get away from the ferocious kitty cats. Worse yet, Anderson is severely allergic to cats, so for the scene in which one attacks her, a terribly fake puppet is used. Kermit the Frog fake, folks.

I would consider the big reveal a major letdown, but the rest of the episode is so rock bottom, it really is not. There is absolutely no conceivable way “Teso Dos Bichos” went through numerous script ideas worse than what showed up on screen. The episode should have been scrapped from the drawing board, never having been allowed in front of a camera.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Here is a little something for your trouble:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

X-Files--"Pusher"

“Pusher” introduces the third and final monster of the week villain who will make a second appearance later in the series, Robert “Pusher” Modell. He is a personal favorite, which is interesting considering his gimmick is not as colorfully paranormal as most others. Nevertheless, he is a worthy adversary and makes for a compelling episode. As a bonus, Mulder and Scully finally work together as a cohesive, supportive team. How long has it been since we have seen that happen?

Modell is an average guy in every way. Not really a failure, but has lived a mundane, bumbling life in spite of ambitions at becoming a Navy SEAl and an FBI agent. At some point, he developed a brain tumor. It was operable, but when he discovered it gave him psychokinetic powers which enabled him to control other people’s actions, he liked them enough to forego treatment in order to keep them. He became a self-styled hitman, advertising in the back of mercenary magazines. In his short career, he killed fourteen people. All were ruled suicides because he compelled his victims to do themselves in.

When the tumor started to catch up with him, Modell decided he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, so he confessed to all the murders by phone to the local sheriff. He was hoping for a legendary manhunt. The sheriff nabs him in a grocery store, but Modell gets away by compelling the deputy driving to ram into a passing semi. Mulder becomes attached to the case because the sheriff believes in Modell’s psychic ability. In Mulder, Modell finds his worthy adversary.

Virtually the entire episode is a cat and mouse game between Modell and Mulder. Modell’s tweaking of Mulder ranges from forcing a SWAT team member to immolate himself in front of the agent, talking a judge into dismissing his arraignment for the crime, walking into FBI headquarters to steal Mulder’s personnel profile, forcing the sheriff into cardiac arrest over the phone, and a final confrontation involving a game of Russian roulette which is surprisingly gruesome for network television. No splurting blood like The Deer Hunter, but painful to watch regardless.

The intriguing part about Modell is his generally lackadaisical attitude at what he is doing. He only demonstrates pleasure on two occasions. Once, at jerking Mulder’s chain. Two, when he appears to be interesting in intimacy with a low level FBI secretary who is searching for Mulder’s file. A quick profile of Modell early in the episode notes a complete lack of empathy for other people, which prompted his rejection from the FBI. It is a nice touch that he seems rather clueless about intimacy even though he could apparently force the woman to do anything he wants. But those are minor incidents. Overall, he is totally uninterested in the chaos he causes. It may sound strange, but it is tough to play a pure evil role without going over the top, either Joker style or the ice water in the veins type. Kudos to veteran character actor Robert Wisden for striking the perfect balance.

In the climax, Mulder goes into a hospital alone and unarmed to confront Modell exactly as he wants. Modell has stolen a security guard’s gun and forces Mulder to play Russian roulette with him in order to finish his life once and for all. Scully was not thrilled with the idea of him going in alone, so we finally see some concern for his safety rather than just his sanity as been her exclusive worry thus far. She finally intervenes, and is nearly shot by Mulder (Against his will, of course) before she can pull the fire alarm, thereby shaking Modell’s hold on him long enough to get a cap popped in his belly. Mulder slumps with his head in his hands and Scully comforting him. Never let the threat of getting shot interfere with friendship, I always say.

It is noted in the end that Modell had surgery, both to remove the bullet and the brain tumor, but he will be in a permanent vegetative state under the best of circumstances. This winds up not being true, of course. Modell will return early in the fifth season with a vendetta against Mulder. We will get to that one sometime in mid-March, lord willing, the Creek do not rise.

(That saying refers to the Creek Indians, you know. Not a body of water. See? The Eye can be educational!)

“Pusher” is one of my personal favorites. It is not necessarily a classic when compared to other episodes, but it is one of which I am highly fond. The story manages to rise above a typical police procedural, which is a problem some other similar episodes of The X-Files have had, to make it a unique experience. If there is one drawback, it is that Skinner gets beaten up yet again. This time, it is by the secretary. Modell compels her to pepper spray, then kick Skinner while he writhes in pain on the floor as a cover for Modell’s escape. Skinner is supposed to be a tough guy, but this season has totally demeaned the character. He will be back in usual form soon, but for now, it is painful to watch his wallowing.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

X-Files--"Apocrypha"

Always be fearful when a continuity heavy series like The X-Files purposefully names an episode after religious text which are excluded from the canon because they are for some reason considered invalid. Think of it as Chris Carter’s way of screwing with fans. Hopefully, we can take it as a reference to the cover story for the alleged nuclear bomb the French were attempting to steal from a World War II era American bomber.

I mentioned yesterday I had no recollection of “Apocrypha” from its original airing. That was not entirely true. I did recall the final scene in my mind’s eye, but did not associate it with this episode. Everything else was quite fresh and new. I also expressed concern how all the loose threads could be tied together into a plausible conclusion. Not only did it happen, but it all came together in the first act.

Deep breath: the downed bomber was actually a space ship carrying the black oil, which is a sentient alien. The Syndicate, including bill Mulder and the Cigarette Smoking Man, eliminated all evidence of the ship in 1954 when the last sailor died from his radiation induced cancer. They left the black oil down there thinking no one would ever go looking for the “bomber.” Darn those Frenchman. Who knew they would want a weapon with all their interest in white flags and such. The oil infected the diver and eventually made its way to Alex Krycek at the end of the last episode. It is using krycek to make its way to a military base in North Dakota where the space ship is being held. Meanwhile, Scully discovers through forensics ther man who shot Skinner killed her sister and is an associate of--what for it--Krycek.

Okay, so everyone is hunting Krycek. He gets away from Mulder at the end of the first act. The Syndicate wants the data disc and to cover up the black oil/space ship. Scully wants him to lead her to her sister’s killer so she can pop a cap in his heinie. What the previous episode lacked in emotional tension, the conclusion more than makes up for.

How does it end? Krycek winds up in the military base in North Dakota releasing the black oil back into the space ship through his nose, eyes, and ears in a particularly gruesome scene Krycek returns to normal with it out of him, but he is locked away inside the abandoned base. The Syndicate does not recover the disc. Scully corners her sister’s killer when he attempts a second shot at Skinner, but cannot bring herself to kill him in cold blood. Instead, she turns him over to Washington police. The Syndicate kills him in his cell while making it look like a suicide.

Overall, it is a decent conclusion, though too much was packed in to appreciate some of the drama. Scully goes from hell bent on vengeance during her pursuit to justice, justice pursueth thou so lightning fast, it is difficult to appreciate her thought process. She decides murdering in cold blood would make her no better than him. Then--boom! Right back to Krycek and the black oil, as though it is terribly inconvenient to wrap up Melissa Scully’s murder, we have to get it done quickly. Scully even joins mulder in North Dakota immediately after ward. The two are whisked away from the base by the Cigarette smoking Man’s associates. True to his agreement with Skinner from “Paper Clip“, neither of them are harmed before they can see anything. Convenient, no?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, January 17, 2011

X-Files--"Piper Maru"

It does not feel like enough time has passed for there to be another two parter, but here we are. Like many of these episodes, the first part is a lot of set up with little pay off as yet. The trick is whether the cliffhanger makes you want to come back for the next helping. In spite of some disjointed story elements that do not appear connected and therefore are produce more bewilderment than anticipation how they tie together, yes. I want to come back for the conclusion. You cannot call that anything but a success.

The two disjointed elements are the closing of the search for Melissa Scully’s killer and the major plot point of some purity control “black oil” having been discovered in a World War II era American bomber on the ocean floor which is now being passed from person to person on some sort of quest. The episode opens with skinner informing Scully her sister’s case has been closed, but he is going to fight for the investigation to continue. Scully storms off angrily. That is largely the end of it on her part. Mulder has immersed himself in the case of a French salvage ship with all but one crewmember severely burned by radiation arriving in port in San Diego. He believes they found a UFO. He does not notice Scully is upset. There is that tattering working relationship of theirs in action.

We already know it is not a UFO. It is a downed US bomber that is supposedly carrying a nuclear bomb. The French government have decided to steal it. Why would the French believe the US would leave an atomic bomb down under the ocean for fifty years and why do they want to steal it now? They are French. What else do you need to know? The bomber is infected with the black oil, which possess the diver who found it and irradiates the the rest of the team.

Once again, the two agents split off to do their own thing. Mulder goes after the lone French diver who released himself from the hospital earlier, went home, and then passed the black oil that was controlling him onto his wife. Scully uses her father’s connections with the navy to discover what was really on the bomber. At least that is her stated goal. She spends most of her time in lonely reminiscing about her deceased father and sister. A naval officer who is a family friend plays dumb, but catches up with her later to tell her exactly what the atomic bomb story is real. She never questions why the US would never try to recover a missing bomb, either. I would swear Scully must have some French in her if she were not so good with a gun.


Meanwhile, Mulder travels to the salvage company headquarters only to discover a secretary named Geraldine is selling secrets to the French. I guess the devil made her do nit. He pursues her to Hong Kong in order to aarrest her for treason. The two run into Alex Krycek instead. Mulder threatens to kill him for murdering his father. Krycek denies he did it, but is willing to exchange the data disc that caused so much trouble in the season finale/premiere. Mulder agrees, further proving what a completely excessive nut he is. Meanwhile, the French diver’s wife shows up in Hong Kong and infects Krycek with the black oil. Mulder is unawares.

Somewhere along the line, Skinner is shot in a coffee shop after some agents in the “intelligence community” urge him to back off the Melissa Scully issue.

You got all that? I am the first to admit how tough it is to see how all these threads tie together. Part of the problem is that while I have not seen this episode or the conclusion in fourteen years. I cannot visualize any elements of the conclusion, though I did recall some parts of “Piper Maru.” that hints I will be under whelmed by the conclusion. We shall see.

A couple interesting points of note. Piper Maru, the name of the salvage ship, is also the name of Gillian Anderson’s little girl who was born during the second season. The X-Files creator Chris Carter is her godfather. Canadian singer Michael Buble also has a brief appearance as one of the American pilots on the bomber in a flashback to 1945. Those two items are about the most interesting aspects of ‘Piper Maru.” What will tomorrow have in store?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

X-Files--"Grotesque"

One of the great pleasures of watching The X-Files on a daily basis is appreciating the stark contrast between episode styles. Yesterday’s farcical episode might have been a hoot, but today’s may delve into bone chilling horror. “Grotesque” is definitely an example of the latter, probably made more so by its appearance after two humorous installments. There are definitely no laughs here. “Grotesque” is dark and frightening--easily the most disturbing episode thus far. It also happens to be one of the best.

Mulder’s mentor from the Behavior Crimes Unit years ago, bill Patterson, requests his assistance on a case. Patterson has spent three years pursuing a serial killer who targets young man, mutilates their faces, and allows them to bleed to death. He finally caught the guy--a Russian immigrant named Mostow who failed to inform the INS he spent most of his youth in an insane asylum--after he murders a male model. But two more killings have occurred since Mostow’s incarceration. Mostow claims he was possessed by a demon and had no control over his actions. Mulder accepts that possibility a little too easily. Patterson believes it is an accomplice or copy cat killer and trashes Mulder for his theory.

Here we have the inherent conflict of the episode. I am going to blow the killer’s identity right now, because if you did not see it was Patterson himself right when mulder storms off after their reunion in the first five minutes of the episode, you need to be in a home where trained professionals can make sure you feed yourself with getting stabbed by your fork. Patterson has been so obsessed with getting inside the killer’s mind over the last three years, he lost himself. He is motivated to call in Mulder for two reasons. One, he wants to be caught. Two, he wants to torture Mulder along the way for abandoning a highly promising future as a profiler in order to chase after alien/government conspiracies.

The compelling part is how Mulder immerses himself in Patterson’s old advice to catch a killer, one has to think like a killer. He and Scully discover an atelier adjacent to Mostow’s apartment which is filled with life size clay statues of gargoyles. Mulder quickly discovers they are actually human bodies covered in clay, all with mutilated faces. He drifts away from Scully to spend more time in the atelier, studying the drawings and actual clay figures of gargoyles.

Patterson busts his chops every step of the way as Mulder begins studying gargoyles in order to determine the killer’s obsession with them. In one of several efforts to steer Mulder to discovering he is the killer, he chastises the technique of studying gargoyles. He once, barely disguised, attacks Mulder with a razor blade in the dark. At one point, he even risks being identified by entering the hospital room of one of his victims who survived, though the poor guy was mutilated and on a ventilator, so he could not verbally alert anyone.

All of that is toying with the audience. We knew right away Patterson was the killer. It is how he keeps pushing Mulder into essentially wearing the killer’s skin that is the disturbing aspect of “Grotesque.” he begins sleeping nights in the atelier, touching everything in it. At one point, he even stills the razor blade used to slice his face from evidence just to get a feel for what the killer might be experiencing as he uses one. Both Scully and Skinner, in an all too brief appearance, fear for Mulder’s sanity.

He finally draws the right conclusion after finding another mutilated body in the atelier just before Patterson appears. Patterson claims to be checking up on him, but his hands are cut up and bloody. A brief scuffle and chase ensues as scully arrives and draws the wrong conclusion that mulder has flipped his lid and his holding a gun on patterson for no good reason. Mulder has to shoot Patterson to save himself. In the final scene, patterson screams he was possessed the same as Mostow and not responsible for his murders, either.

There are fans who speculate their was demon possession involved by some of the dialogue about evil crawling inside Patterson. I choose not to believe it, even though the logic of The X-Files has treated Satanism as occasionally true supernatural power. The episode works better--and is far scarier--as a psychological thriller with no paranormal aspects.

A bit of advice--I liked “Grotesque,” but advise against watching it at 2 AM in the dark, even if you have a snoozing kitty laying across your lap the entire time. (Boo is an X-Phile, too.) The cinematography is far more dimly lit than in most other episodes and gradually becomes darker as the story progress--or Mulder regresses, I should say. It is a very subtle, but highly effective technique, as is Mark Snow’s score. Much of the music Snow composed for the series is cinematic in scope, but is far more conspicuous in “Grotesque.” it is more conspicuous because there are long sequences with no dialogue in which Mulder is roaming the creepy atelier pretending to be the killer. You would think that might get boring, but such long sequences tighten the screws painfully for you.

While this is yet another episode in which Mulder and Scully are not only split up, but nearly at daggers drawn in how to conduct the case, it actually strengthens their bond. Mulder pushes her away in order to keep her from taking the sinister journey he is embarking on. He does so not only to protect her, but so she can be his real world anchor. I understand why he needed that. I have never climbed into the mind of a killer, but I have spent three years in law school in another state, the majority of which was as an orphan upon my mother’s death, and consecutive weeks in a hospital before. Both were foreign words completely sperated from everything I was used to. I found readjusting to life on the “outside” hard without a reminder during the ordeal. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to come back from Mulder’s ordeal. So I can empathize with the trust he put in her to bring him out of it. Their profressional/friendship bond is solid.

Patterson is well played by Kurtwood Smith. He is probably most famous these days as red Foreman on That ‘70’s Show, but Smith has had a long career as a character actor playing stern, often abusive authority figures. He has also frequently plays rogue CIA or FBI agents. Patterson managed to combine both aspects of his usual characters and added in his turn as the sadistic villain in Robocop to booty. Patterson was a perfect role for him.

Great episode. Highly recommended, just not to be watched in the dark.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

X-Files--"Syzygy"

“Syzygy," aka Clueless Goes to Hell, is a victim of bad timing. It is another absurd comedy episode--a reminder series creator Chris Carter was once a comedy writer--but coming off another such episode, it feels more like the tone of the entire show is changing. An increasing strain in the relationship between mulder and Scully does not help matters. Nevertheless, many of the jokes work well enough to make the episode a success. Had it been placed back to back with a serious episode, maybe even a classic.

Like “War of the Coprophages” the episode deals with mass hysteria in a small, New England town. That is not the end of past similarities, either. The root cause of the panic is alleged Satanism in a high school like in “Die Hand Die Verletzt” and kids with supernatural powers, which have been prominent in many episodes. Nothing is quite a carbon copy of what has gone on before, mind you. There is no direct Satanism here, depending upon your view of astrology as either pointless new Age hokum o5r a tool of Satan. The kids here are two Valley Girls named Terri and Margi. They are modern day teenage versions of the witches in Macbeth, tormenting classmates just for the heck of it while coming up with silly rhyming spells.

Mulder and Scully are called in by Det. Angela White to comity (Translation: Harmony) New Hampshire to investigate three unexplained deaths that have the town believing a Satanic cult is at work. We know right off the bat the murders are caused by Terri and Margie, two girls who were born on the same day as a major planetary aliegnment in 1979 that is occurring yet again now. Somehow, the alignment has given them telekinetic powers which they use repeatedly throughout the episode to eliminate a clumsy basketball player by crushing him with bleachers and slicing up a rival with mirror shards as well as hanging the kid whose murder initiated the call to the FBI.

With the identity of the murderers so obvious from the teaser, the episode has to give us something to hook our attention other than the mystery. What we get is a change in the personalities of Mulder and Scully, presumably due to the planetary alignment. More specifically, Mulder turns into an abusive jerk, mocking Scully’s professionalism and ability to drive while acting like a typical groping frat boy around White. Scully tuerns all catty and jealous at the attention Mulder pays to white. Essentially, the two act like immature, hormone raging teenagers.

Is it funny/ yes, at times. There are two problems, however. One, Scully acted catty in the previous episode over Mulder’s awkward fondness for Bambi Berenbaum. That was funny. This borders on cruelty. Let us face it, while there is sexual tension between the two agents, neither has demonstrated any romantic desire for the other. Why is scully jealous? Is it supposed to be the stereotypical woman thing in which they hate any other female who is the center of attention? If so, that strikes me as chauvinistic and demeaning.

The second problem is something that goes a little deeper. I have to take myself back to 1996 to talk about it, because I now have the whole serries in mind and therefore know it all plays out differently. But back then, this was the point fans feared the relationship between the two agents was fraying. There is a growing animosity between the two. It is played for laughs here, but not so much everywhere else. Recall back in the second season how the two were split up during the first few episodes because the x-files were shut down. There was an anticipation for them to get back together which was dashed after her abduction. Their eventual reuniting was an emotional experience. Contrast that with the third season in which they bicker over faith versus reason constantly, which often devolves into personal attacks, or a split apart doing their own thing. The latter has often been a relief. As I said, it works out in the end, but for now and the foreseeable future, their working and personal relationship is difficult to watch.

Things return completely back to normal at the stroke of midnight just as the rabid townsfolk are about to descend on the police station to kill the “Satanic” girls as they fight it out in a Carrie-esque telekinetic battle that is also played for laughs. In case you did not realize you were supposed to find moving furniture and shattering glass with cops and Fbi agents hitting the floor in fear, The Keystone Cops music playing over the scene filled you in. What, no “Yakety Sax?” Perhaps that would have been too absurd.

Since most all thew guest characters are meant to be one dimensional stereotypes, I cannot complain about characterization. They are an hysterical, angry mob hunting satan worshippers from the get go. Heck, I live in the Bible Belt. I know people like that for real and they are not really three dimensional folks. Too busy thinking about other people’s sins to dwell on personal development, methinks. But as a I said above, adding Mulder and Scully to the out of character behavior list does not feel right, particularly since it was done more light-heartedly in the previous episode. These two need to get back to being cordial and professional again. Soon.

Final verdict: “Syzygy” is entertaining, but a victim of bad timing. It should have followed a more serious episode which featured Mulder and scully working together as a team. The contrast would have made it a lot more enjoyable.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, January 14, 2011

X-Files--"War of the Coprophages"

The good news is ‘War of the Coprophages” is the third of fan favorite writer Darin Morgan’s four scripts for The X-Files. the bad news is that it is the weakest for the quartet. The episode is a far too subtle homage to the mass hysterias caused by Orson Welles’ radio presentation of War of the Worlds in 1939. There are still a lot of humorous situations, but it is not Morgan at his best. Still, Morgan off his game is still better than most writers at their best.

Mulder visits Miller’s Grove, Massachusetts for the weekend while his apartment is being fumigated. Miller’s grove is a hotbed of UFO activity and most likely named for Grover’s Mill, the town featured in War of the Worlds. Mulder is soon accompanying the local sheriff to the scene of several odd deaths in which the corpses were all found covered by roaches. There are rumors the Department of Agriculture has been breeding killer roaches at a secret facility in the area. The combination of the rumors and deaths cause a panic.

Mulder communicates his findings through cell phone calls to Scully, urging her to join him, but she comes up with a logical explanation, unrelated to killer roaches, for each death. Mulder drops all interest in Scully when he meets a Department of Agriculture entomologist Bambi Berenbaum, played by the lovely Charleston, South Carolina native, Bobbie Phillips. She has a theory that UFOs are actually insects from another planet visiting Earth. A woman after Mulder’s own heart. He acts like a smitten, socially awkward schoolboy around her.

She is am azed to discover roach legs from the last crime scene may be mechanical. Mulder takes the legs to a robotics expert who confirms it is mechanical. Dr. Ivanov expresses his belief that aliens would send robots to explore Earth the same way NASA sends out robots like the Mars Rover to explore. He thinks these roaches may be explorers from another world. Mulder likes the idea.

Meanwhile, Scully arrives. Half out of concern, half out of clear jealousy over Mulder’s growing fascination with Berenbaum. By this point, the town is in full hysteria mode. The highlight of the panic being an overturned box of Milk Duds causing a grocery store to clear out because someone mistakes the rolling candy for roaches. She comes armed with the knowledge the Department of Agriculture has been trucking in dung for a methane study and that is what has attracted the roaches. She comes too late to stop a trigger happy scientist, who has an intense fear of roaches, from firing his gun in the facility, thereby setting off a huge methane explosion. The agents wind up covered in dung while Benanbaum and Ivanov make a love connection while discussing their mutual interesat in robotics, insects, and space exploration.

“War of the Coprophages”--carpophores meaning “dung eaters,” by the way--is a amusing episodes, but not packed with as many jokes and visual puns as Morgan usually puts in his scripts. Even a big science fiction fan like me has to squint hard to see any parody elements from War of the Worlds. The question of whether there really were any mechanical roaches is left up in the air, as well. There is a lot here that is not very clear by the end. Nevertheless, it is an amusing effort.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Bobbie Phillips was featured in Showgirls, but every photo of her from the movie is NSFW. So here is a photo of her as Chameleon from a series of cheap sci fi movies:I would say I approve, but you are already off Googling her photos from Showgirls, so I would just be talking to myself.