Monday, February 28, 2011

X-Files--"Schizogeny"

“Schizogeny” is The X-Files effort in a long while to do a scary kid story. I am pleased there was a twist to make it so things are not what they seem. While the series has done the theme well in the past, they seriously got off on the wrong foot here.

I chalk the problem up to the presentation of the kids as typically sullen, sand for brains teenagers, which is a habit The X-Files has also done to poor effect. Whether it is early in the episode where I am supposed to believe the kids are psycho killers, or the latter half where I am supposed to fear for their lives, I cannot get passed the Beavis and Butthead characterizations to feel the emotions I am supposed to feel.

Mulder and Scully head to Michigan to investigate a murder in which a teenage boy named Bobby apparently buried his stepfather alive within a few seconds. There is no logical explanation how the scrawny moron could have pulled it off, but it is general town knowledge he was an abused kid who hated his stepfather. Mulder does not believe the kid did it, but no exculpatory evidence is forthcoming.

While in town, Bobby’s girlfriend’s abusive father is thrown out of a window after an argument with her. It looks as though Bobby may have been a part of the incident, as he was just talking with the girl as she was walking home.

The common thread between the two kids is a therapist named Karen Matthews. Her method of treatment is to urge kids to stand up to their abusers even if they have no power to stop further abuse. Matthews was abused by her own father as a child. She obviously never dealt with the emotional scars from her past. Somehow, she has the ability to control the local trees, so she has been using the power to drag her clients’ abusive parents by smothering Bobby’s stepfather and yanking his girlfriend’s father out the window with tree roots.

She begins suffering from the psychotic habit of acting out past abuse by pretending to be her father trying to kill the two kids. The relatively minor character of a woodchopper in an apple orchard beheads her with his axe before she can smother mulder and Bobby.

“Schizogeny” is nothing special, but there is nothing terribly wrong with it. The big problem is the tough time I have feeling anything for the characters. I am not alone there, either. Mulder comments early on when Bobby is a murder suspect that he is a hard kid to love. Indeed, and also to sympathize with. The agents are clearly investigating the case out of duty with no sympathy for Bobby, even after they learn he has been duped by Matthews and is now being hunted by her. If they do not care, why should we?

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

X-Files--"Kitsunegari"

“Kitsunegari’ (Japanese for “fox hunt.” Guess the plot of the episode. Go on. Guess.) is the sequel to the third season‘s “Pusher,” which introduced serial cop killer Robert “Pusher” Modell. Modell had a brain tumor which gave him the ability to force his will on others. He used this ability to build an exciting life for himself as an assassin by forcing people to kill themselves. He soon grew bored with that and began looking for a worthy adversary. He found one in Mulder. Eventually, Mulder defeated Modell by shooting him in the head. Modell was presumed to be in a vegetative state for the rest of his--presumably short--life.

Modell does recover, however. He awoke from his coma six months ago and has been rehabbing in prison since. He has recovered enough in the teaser to have convinced the guard at the prison hospital to let him walk out the door a free man. The Fbi takes charge of the manhunt. Skinner handles the matter personally with Mulder and Scully in as advisors since they caught Modell the first time.

Modell’s first victim is the prosecutor who convicted him for murder in 1996. (Keep that in mind. I will vent about the trial in a moment.) He forces the prosecutor to paint the word “kitsunegari’ all over the walls on his living room, then fatally drink the rest of the paint. His next target is the prosecutor’s wife, Linda Bowman, whom the FBI take into protective custody.

The thing is, she does not appear the slightest bit upset that her husband has been murdered or that a serial killer is after her now. In fact, she appears to have a contempt for her husband. She toys with play on words over him being a “true blue” guy and such. Mulder suspects she is in cahoots with modell. She is so over the top, I have to wonder why Skinner and scully do not see it, but they do not even entertain the idea. The whole situation devolves into another Mulder is always right, so why does no one else listen to him? Episode. When Mulder theorizes Modell is innocent and being used, he is suspended, but investigates independently.

So what is the truth? Brace yourself for the stupidity. Linda Bowman and robert Modell are fraternal twins. They were separated at two weeks hold. Bowman did not discover the truth until after Modell’s trial. Conveniently, she developed a brain tumor which give her the same suggestive abilities as her brother. Although she had no emotional connections to him at all, she decided to kill her husband for prosecuting him and then take revenge on Mulder. But she also decided to pin ther murders all on Modell. Perhaps you can chalk the failed logic there on her being a complete psychopath, but how did she seem like a normal, well-adjusted person all this time? Blame it on the tumor, I guess.

Modell is shot by skinner. Mulder remains in his hospital room waiting for him to awaken to test his theory Bowman isa behind the prosecutor’s murder. He is forced to leave when a nurse enters to change his bandage dressings. The nurse is actually Bowman. After all that has happened, the possibility does not even cross his mind he might be tricked. It is doubly funny considering the shape shifting bounty hunter folled him with the same trick in the last episode. Bowman kills her brother, then leaves an address to a warehouse for Mulder to find.

He does, but when he arrives at the address, he finds Scully there. She claims to be under Bowman’s control as she shoots herself in the head. Distraught, over his partner’s apparent suicide, he turns to find Bowman with a gun pointed at him. He is going to kill her out of anger, but Bowman insists she is the real Scully. Bowman wants him to kill her, knowing he would never forgive himself for doing so. Scully cannot convince him she is the real deal, so she shoots over his shoulder, killing Bowman and allowing him to see things as they really are.

In the end, Skinner acknowledges Mulder had him beat in figuring out the truth behind Bowman, but mulder is too busy beating himself up over nearly killing Scully to care.

The story just does not add up. It is reasonable to assume Modell could be tried in absentia even though he is in what is assumed a permanent vegetative state, though I am skeptical that would happen. Even if it did, why would Mulder and Scully not have been part of the trial/ Modell was being prosecuted for the murders he committed while they were attempting apprehend him. They were present at both murders. Mulder was the apprehending agent. They should have been star witnesses. Instead, thery learn about the trial now in 1998 and act as though they have never met the prosecutor before. Obviously, the trial went on without the arresting law enforcement officers and star witnesses to both murders taking part. Umm…how?

I can still buy that better than secret siblings, one of whom happens to be married to the prosecutor trying the other sibling for murder. Who wrote this episode, the brothers Grimm? Linda Bowman develops special powers and decides to use them to avenge the brother she cares nothing about/ then apparently decides, what the heck, she will just kill him, too. How did scully know to show up at the warehouse, for that matter? I being asked to swallow a lot of stuff here that I cannot manage.

I hate to say it, but the episode is still worth watching in spite of the huge plot holes. Modell makes for a great villain. The idea of his having a sibling with the same power is not a bad idea, either, but the story is put together so poorly, it falls flat. If you have not seen “Pusher” and do not know the inconsistencies, I imagine you would think this episode is great. I judge accordingly.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

X-Files--"Emily"

I want to appreciate “Emily.” Its heart is certainly in the right place. The episode wants to create an emotionally charged story on par with some of the past episodes regarding Scully’s abduction and subsequent cancer. If you can resist nitpicking some glaring inconsistencies, “Emily” does the job. But I just cannot overlook the flaws, particularly when they are glossed over for the sake of manipulating your emotions.

David Duchovny, resigned to the knowledge a love scene with Angelina Jolie will not make him a movie star, but no so resigned we will not leave the series in three years for another try with Minnie driver, returns as Mulder. He arrives in San Diego to find scully having an impossible time proving she is Emily’s real mother. Mulder had Frohike hack into the California Social Services computers for records of live births. He finds Emily’s surrogate mother is named Anna Fuggazi, a slang term for fake, but no other records exist.

The adoption agency does not buy the idea Scully was kidnapped by secret governmenmt conspirators, had her ova removed, and was returned, but someone Emily is a product of their experiment. Why in the world would they? Scully herself suffers a pained look as Mulder makes the case. To his credit, he does go the extra mile throughout to both get to the bottom of Emily’s origin and save her. When he realizes he cannot, hew is careful again to spare Scully from uncomfortable truths about the overal conspiracy in order to let her grieve. Earlier in the series, when he was more interested in proving her skepticism wrong than maintaining their relationship, he would have dangled evidence right in front of her.

As it is now, his search for the truth as he sees it takes a backseat to Scully’s needs. There is no overt evidence guilt over the effects of her abduction is his primary motivation, which is something I chalked up to lazy writing until I decided this is another step in the journey towards their eventual romance. For better or worse, mulder has moved on from guilt over Scully’s losses because of him to the realization, perhaps because he nearly lost her to cancer, he has grown to care for her. Agape love, but not yet romantic, so chill out, shippers. Your time will come in about sixty more episodes.

Emily becomes extremely ill. They discover a green cyst on the bsack of her neck which bleeds the corrosive green blood when popped. Emily is one of the human/alien hybrids Mulder and Scully have encountered before. A systematic effort is underway to keep Scully from making medical decisions to treat Emily, from the doctor formerly treating her “{anemia’ refusing to release her medical records even after mulder pounds the stuffing out of him to the adoption agency attempting to remove her from the hospital even as her condition worsens. Scully stands her ground there while Mulder scoops around for Emily’s origin.

He finds Anna Fugazzi is an elderly woman in a nursing home. Four other women there, are also surrogate mothers to children born within the last few years, all of whom are actually the children of abductees like scully. Inside the nursing home’s pharmacy, he finds a hybrid fetus along with medication used to treat the suurogate mothers. One of the alien bounty hunters shows up to get rid of him and the San Diego detective from the previous episode. The bounty hunter, posing as the detective, escapes to clean up all evidence of the experiment.

Emily is getting weaker because she needs the treatment posing as her anemia medication in order to survive. Her parents wanted to stop it, so they were killed in what was made to look like suicides. Emily is, unfortunately, a failed test subject who cannot survive on her own regardless. She slips into a coma and dies. In the interim, all evidence from the nursing home to any records of Emily’s existence are erased. The only evidence remaining is Emily’s body.

For all the lukewarm reactions I have had to “Emily,” the final scene still gets to me. Emily casket sits in a chapel with Scully standing over. When mulder tells her all that is left of the experiment is Emily’s body, they both know the truth, but scully has to look anyway. Mulder turns around to give a private moment. She opens the casket to find nothing but sand equal to the weight of a three year old girl and the crucifix scully gave her. There is something so deeply sad about the scene.

Alas, there are so many lazy mistakes in “Emily.” how come no one has realized up until this point Emily has green, corrosive blood? If you want to argue that was only in the cyst on the back of her neck, fine, but that is inconsistent with every hybrid we have seen so far. Green blood should have been revealed when some was drawn from her Dna test in the previous episode. Fugazzi explains to Mulder they give her medication for ’beauty sleep.” Evidently, that means a nine month nap so the elderly women can carry the hybrids to term. I can see the rationale for using ’forgotten” nursing home patients, but the nine month nap and giving birth without the women knowing anything is up is too far fetched. The most glaring error is how mulder is fooled by the shape shifting bounty hunter who takes on the form of the detective. He high tails it out of the nursing home when the detective shoots the bounty hunter and becomes burnt by exposure to its blood. When Mulder steps outside to call the police, the detective comes out a moment later, perfectly fine, claiming to have subdued the bounty hunter--and Mulder buys it! Has he nort dealt with these bounty hunters enough to know that is not the detective? I guess not/

If these three errors had been dealt with more competently, “Emily” might have been considered a classic entry into the series pantheon. As it is, I have to call it a noble effort that falls short. It is definitely worth seeing, but there have been far better in the past. Even Gillian Anderson comes across as rather wooden compared to some of her past performances in similar situations. She reveals an awareness of the often lackluster material. Still, it would not be fair to give “Emily” a bad score. It is still good, but it could have been much more.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, February 25, 2011

X-Files--"Christmas Carol"

All members of Team Scully in good standing, rejoice! “Christmas Carol’ is the first part a Scully-centric effort to tug on the heart strings as last season’s cancer arc. It is a notch below the life and struggle from then, but still poignant. Scully has to come to terms with her inability to have a child as her motherly instincts rise to the surface when she mysteriously gets involved in a woman’s suicide that may have actually been a murder committed by her husband--a case which leaves their daughter, Emily, in limbo.

Mulder has only a brief appearance when Scully calls him from her brother’s home in San Diego, then thinks better of it and hangs up. It is not clear whether she wants to assert herself by sleuthing on her own, or does not want to tell him she wsas prompted to the woman’s suicide/murder scene by a phone call from someone she swears was her murdered sister, Melissa. Whichever the case, I appreciated that scully was on her own in this one. She competently handled the case, especially having it reopened as a murder investigation when the police had closed the books for good. She turns out to be right. The husband drugged his wife, then slit her wrists to make it look like a suicide.

The murder case is almost incidental to what prompts Scully, who is visiting her brother and his wife for Christmas in San Diego, to get involved in the case. It starts with a phone call the moment she arrives in which someone, whom she swears was Melissa, prompts her to go to the home of Roberta Sims. She does, and finds sims has just committed suicide. Scully sees the police interviewing sims’ husband and three year old daughter, Emily. Something about Emily catches her eye.

Later that night, Emily appears in Scully’s dream. The dream is a flashback to an incident when she was a little girl. She accidentally suffocated her pet rabbit while hiding it from her big brother. Emily is in her dream in the place of where Melissa should have been. Scully is awakened by another phone call from ’Melissa,” who tells her to ’go to her.” The dream and phone call bother her so much, she is compelled to find an oldf photo of Melissa just to confirm her suspicion--Emily looks just like melissa at three years old.

Scully forces the reopening of the Sims case. By an autopsy, she discovers a small puncture wound on sims’ foot by which she was drugged. How did scully find it when the coroner missed it? It is her show, darn it. Scully is awesome, too. Her discovery convinces the police to search sims’ house. They find a needle and syringe used to drug his wife . He claims Emily has to have daily injections for anemia, so that is why he has it. A blood test from Emily proves that is a lire.

Scully requests Melissa’s case file from the FBI to compare her DNA with Emily’s blood sample. It is a preliminary report with more comprehensive results coming in a few days, but this early result shows a match between Melissa and Emily. She is melissa’s child. Scully tries to convince her mother of this, but she does not believe it. Hert brother eventually confronts Scully to tell her she is imagining all this because she cannot have a child of her own nmow, but wants one desperately. Nevertheless, scully shows a strong bond with Emily when she goes along with the police to arrest sims for murdering his wife.

Sims commits suicide in jail after confessing to the crime. Scully immediately applies to adopt Emily. As only happens in television, the process takes two days, but she is rejected. And why not? Scully is single, lives out of state, works long hours in a dangerous job, keeps a gun in the house, was once kidnapped for months and experimented on by the government/aliens, and has a fatal cancer now in remission, and appears twice in FBI crime files, the latter of which involves her having been infected with an hallucinogenic tattoo dye which causes murderous psychosis. I am not sure I would give her a kid, either.

All that becomes moot when the full Dna report comes back. Merry Christmas, Scully. Emily is your daughter, not Melissa’s.

There is a deep, running sense of foreboding throughout. The idea that Emily is Melissa’s child never really grabs you as plausible. The key reason is a pharmaceutical company is hovering in the background. It is a different one from the company that manufactured scully’s cancer, but when we learn that Emily was receiving an experimental drug as treatment, and both parents are killed due to apparent, but not actually suicides, the truth Emily is part of the Syndicate conspiracy is already obvious. Still, the revelation Emily is scully’s child comes as a stabbing cliffhanger.

Another point of note is her brother, William. He ripped into Mulder a few episodes back because he fekt like his sister was dedicating her last days of life to him when he did not deserve it. He also thought her trust in him was going too far when she agreed totry the Cigarette smoking Man’s cure solely because Mulder urged her to do so. I excused what a jerk William was being because he was distraught over his sister’s impending death. But now, we learn as a kid, he threatened to kill scully’s rabbit. In the present, he taleked to her like she was a blooming idiot over melissa, then rubbed salt into the wound about her never being able to have a child of her own. Now I am convinced he is just a dick in general. He never gets eaten by alien, but he should have been.

Mulder only has a brief scene in which he picks up the phone in his apartment, only to have scully hang up without saying anything to him. David Duchovny was off in Los Angeles promoting Playing God. if that was his goal, he should have stayed in LA for the next three or four episodes. Not that the extra effort would have saved that stinkeroo. Fifteen year old scully is portayed in a flashback by Gillian Anderson’s real sister, Zoe, in her acting debut.

“Christmas Carol’ is not quite as emotional as some of the other scully-centric episodes regarding her abdsuction and cancer, but there are still some touching moments. Scully has that compelling need to protect those who cannot help themselves along with a quiet Christian faith. Both collide when she meets Emily. The scene in which she gives the little girl her cross necklace before handing her over to Social Serrrvices is one that has strangely stuck out in my mind these nearly fourteen years. Some things just speak to me, I guess.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

X-Files--"The Post-Modern Prometheus"

Brace yourselves, shippers. This is the one in which they slow dance to Cher’s cover of ‘Walking in Memphis.” Commence swooning as you deem necessary. Many good elements of “The Post-Modern Prometheus” are forgotten because of that final scene, but taken as a whole, the episode is one of the best of the series.

I am biased, of course. It is no secret I have some alienation issues stemming from disabilities, so I tend to empathize with characters suffering the same experiences. Not entirely unrelated, I am a fan of the Frankenstein mythology, both in its conflict between science and religion/existentialism and, again, the alienation that comes from being different. With The X-Files’ tradition of pitting Mulder and Scully in the midst of traditional horror movie themes and urban legends, it was only a matter of time before they ran into a Frankenstein monster.

Oddly enough, I am glad it happened during this era of the series. I think the series is great overall, but I have a particular fondness for its early, cult favorite days when it was dark and gritty. By this point, The X-Files has doubled its ratings thanks to word of mouth buzz over season finale cliffhangers and a post-super Bowl appearance in 1997. That same year, it attracted an Emmy win for Gillian Anderson and a golden globe fort her and the series. The show had hit the mainstream, and the powers that be made sure it stayed there.

The result was a more comedic, often less gritty feel. Sometimes that worked better than others. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” is a case of it working well. I do not believe the episode would have played out as well in the early days of the series. I have a hunch it would have been more gruesome and far less poignant. As it is, the episode strikes the right tone of homage to Frankenstein with cultural satire.

A woman from a small southern town is compelled to write to Mulder when she learns from a Jerry Springer guest who believed she was impregnated by a werewolf he is an expect in such strange matters. She claims she was impregnated by a monster while Cher’s “the Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine” played in the background. Sure enough, Mulder visits her, anyway. The woman is definitely pregnant, but the agents soon discover the creature she described as attacking her is a character in her son’s comic book he created about a local urban legend, The Amazing Mutato.

Ah, but then they discover The Amazing Mutato is real when the boy lures the creature out that night with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The creature gets away from them. An old man they encounter while giving chase assures them the only monster in town is his son, mad scientist Dr. Francis Pollidori. Pollidori is wonderfully played by John O’Hurley, who had gained popularity at the time by playing Elaine’s boss on Seinfeld. Jerry Springer, Cher, and Seinfeld. that amounts to pop culture overload.

Pollidori is working on mutating flies through genetic experiments. The fly was referred to as a ’bosko” something or another in reference to the famous bruhaha over George Costanza’s impossible to guess ATM password in a Seinfeld episode. I will bet you can log into all kinds of ATM and online accounts using bosko as a password these days. I regret not perusing that list of blown Gawker passwords a few months ago to see if bosko appeared. But anyway, Mulder suspects Pollidori is responsible for The Amazing Mutato. Scully does not think any ethical scientist would do such a thing. There is a world of difference turning flies into freaks than do so to humans.

Scully is only half right. Pollidori, Jr. did not create The Amazing Mutato, but his father did. The old Man grew to love the Mutato in spite of his deformities, but realized he would want female companionship at some point. So he set out to create the Mutato a mater. The agents quickly--and grossly--realize many of the townspeople were unknowingly products of crossbreeding experiments with farm animals. The Amazing Mutato wins the raging townspeople over when they come after him in the belief he has killed Old man Pollidori.. He is a gentle soul who only longs for someone to love him the way Cher loved her deformed son in Mask, which I have reviewed.

Pollidori, Jr. kills his old man in a rage when he learns his wife was impregnated, too. He is sent off to jail, but The Mutato, whom Mulder and Scully take pity on, gets to go to a Chert concert in Memphis. Everyone who wanted to get on Jerry Springer with their mutant kids does. Mulder and Scully dance. We are all happy now.

Well, everyone is happy but Cher. she refused to appear in the episode, but later expressed regret after seeing the episode. Too little, too late honey.

We are all happy because "The Post-Modern Prometheus” is an enjoyable episode. As a Frankenstein enthusiast, I appreciated the homage elements to the classic Universal film, which include filming in black and white, strange camera angles to make it appear Pollidori’s lab is an old castle 9Had to describe. You need to see it. The episode won an Emmy for art direction because of it and more.) and the torch weilding townsfolk who come after The Amazing Mutato. The story adds its post-modern elements of Jerry Springer and other pop culture references. The wild humor The X-Files has been adding lately is there, too. The episode is a combination of humor and poignancy that hit’s the mark perfectly.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

I do not like Cher's cover of "Walking in Memphis" nearly as much as Marc Cohn's original:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

X-Files--"Detour"

The best thing I can say about “Detour” is that I like it in spite of itself. The story is quite weak, with an implausible premise that appears to just be thrown in there along with a preachy message about the encroachment of civilization. I get the impression the writing was so rushed as to not be well thought out because Fight the Future was wrapping up production at the time. What saves the episode is the humor. It is padded with so much classic banter between Mulder and Scully, it is easy to forget the episode itself is pretty bad.

The two agents are on their way to a team building conference in Florida with two other incredibly dull agents. Why they are driving instead of flying is one of the first dumb aspects of the episode. It is a necessary element in order to get Mulder distracted by a police roadblock which is part of a missing persons hunt. Bored out of his mind, Mulder joins the case, dragging Scully along.

Conveniently, it is an X-File type case. Those twop are like weirdo magnets, no? Some sort of creature has been grabbing and hauling off with people entering in or living near the forest. We only catch hints of the creature (s) through early CGI camouflage with the forest background. I immediately thought of it as a predator homage. Then I thought, “Geez, how unoriginal.”

The two wildlife/police/whatever they were searching the woods with her heroes are picked off by the invisible creatures. Lost in the wooods, the two have to camp out. Shipper alert--there is lots of sexual innuendo about snuggling naked in order to stay warm during the night. As a city boy, albeit a small, Southern one, I must confess such a happenstance is the only virtue I find in camping out. I have never had occasion to go camping with anyone I wanted to snuggle with naked, however. Maybe one day.

In the morning, Scully randomly falls into the burrow of the creatures and finds all the missing people alive. Mulder falls in, too, of course, but both are discovered by the other two FBI agents they were traveling with before anything else bad happens. Mulder wraps up the case by claiming the creatures were Ponce de Leon and his mwen, having found the fountain of youth, protecting it from encroaching real estate developers. Yes, really. One of the other agents suggests Mulder is joking so he can write off the motal room to the FBI. Lord, I hope so. That makes for an awful wrap up.

“Detour’ is saved by a barrage of jokes. Mulder jabs Scully with sexual innuendo. She snaps back with the silliness of his theories over the creatures. She belts out a terrible rendition of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.” They discuss the virtues of Wilma v. Betty. (Scully identifies with Betty. I bet she chooses Betty over Veronica, in that debate, too.)) There is a running gag about a team building exercise using office supplies to build a tower that Mulder snickers in reference to throughtout the episode, but he and Scully wind up piling the bodies in the burrow in order to get enough height to climb out. Morbid, but funny.

The episode itself is trite, but funny. I am still going to give it a decent score because it is enjoyable to watch, but it is certainly not the full package. As a bonus, someone made a compilation video of Scully singing the first few lines of “Joy to the World,” then using the original version for some lighthearted clips from the whole series. It is a nest videoRating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

X-Files--"The Unusual Suspects"

We have reached the halfway point of my reviews for The X-Files, more or less. There are 201 episodes. ‘The Unusual Suspects” comes in at 100. I am calling it the halfway point just to have a nice, round number for the occasion. It would certainly be more poetic for a key episodes like “Redux, Part II” to have been the 100th, but thanks to the main cast being off in California filming Fight the Future, an installment without them had to be filmed before any others in order to fill the network episode order. So we get the Lone Gunmen origin story as we hit the triple digits.

The Lone Gunmen are generally a fan favorite, but not a big part of what makes The X-Files enjoyable for me. I appreciate the characters as occasional comic relief best experienced in small doses. Witness the failure of their 2001 absurdly slapstick spin off as evidence I am not alone in my thinking. I will allow they have had some high points--becoming field agents in “Momento Mori”, for instance--but outide of comic relief, they serve as a too convenient source of info to guide Mulder in the right direction when the script cannot logically progress any other way. A further detriment is there is generally no explanation how they have earned such specialized knowledge about conspiracies.

I do not want to sound like I am too down on the characters. The occasional epide centered on them counts as an enjoyable small dose. “The Unusual Suspects” also reminds me of the old Secret Origins DC comics used to publish featuring the “untold” origins of it characters. Issues were usually done by brand new, fill in type creators whose origin stories were generally dismissed by the regular creative teams of the characters. The lack of respect the comic got was amusing, much like what the Lone Gunmen suffer.

“The Unusual Suspects” is set in 1989 and tells the story of how they formed and hooked up with Mulder. Byers falls for a woman named Suzanne Modeski at an electronics trade show in Baltimore. She is clearly manipulating him, but you know how nerds are about a pretty girl batting her eyelashes. She claims her abusive husband has kidnapped her daughter and needs Byers’ hacking skills to find her. Her abusive former husband? Fox Mulder, of course.

Byers recruits two electronics salesmen, Langley and Forhike, for their better hacking skills. They discover Mulder is an FBI agent hunting Modeski because she allegedly stole materials from a weapons facility in New Mexico, killing four people in the process. She denies this as a frame up. In reality, she has uncovered a plot to use an experimental gas on the population of Baltimore which will heighten the peoples’ sense of paranoia.

What is the point to that, by the way? If the government really wanted to control minds, why do so by increasing one’s paranoia? That would make people distrustful and afraid. People who are distrustful and afraid are harder to control. All the government would really wind up doing is creating enemies. I cannot discount the idea Modeski is not correct that control is the government’s intention. However, when Mulder is gassed, he very clearly exhibit’s a paralyzing fear the government agents surrounding him are aliens. So the stuff works exactly as advertised. It is left up to you to draw your own conclusion as to what is really going on.

Mr. x arrives to clean up the mess once everyone runs into each other at the warehouse where the gas is being stored. Mulder gets a face full, so he is taken out of it all. The experience, and Modeski’s sudden kidnapping by Mr. X, prompts the Lone Gunmen to dedicate themselves to uncovering government conspiracies. They form a working relationship with Mulder when they fill in the gaps on what happened while he was off in paranoid la la alien land.

“The Unusual Suspects” is a fun, but frivolous episode not to be taken too seriously. The confusing motives of the government plan to gas Baltimore ought to be enough to convince you of that. The episode feels like a lot of personal indulgence. The Lone Gunmen get to clown around, David Duchovny insisted on wearing his wedding ring to show off his recent nuptials to Tea Leoni, and Richard Belzer got to play an exaggerated version of his famous det. John Munch. He became the first actor in television history to play the same character on three different shows in one week: Law & Order, Homicide, and The X-Files. That is about the only thing one can remember the episode for.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, February 21, 2011

X-Files--"Redux, Part II"

I was disappointed by the weak first part of the fifth season finale yesterday, but speculated it could be saved by a strong conclusion. Indeed, it was. ‘Redux, Part II” possesses many of the same elements of the character relationships and mythology that makes the fourth season my favorite. It is both poignant and monumental.

The most important theme in “Redux, Part II” is the restoration of faith. Both Mulder and Scully enjoy epiphanies. Remarkably, mulder’s is just as powerful even though he is not experiencing his last moments on earth as Scully is. That writer Chris Carter is able to pull that off without maudlin melodrama is a testament to his writing ability. For a former surfing freelance journalist, he knows what makes the human heart beat.

Mulder and Scully are being broken down in other to build them back up again. While she lays on her deathbed, slowly but surely coming out of the protective shell of her skepticism to admit she is afraid of what lies beyond and is hoping for a miracle, mulder is off on his own journey with the Cigarette Smoking Man in a last ditch effort to find a cure for her. Their plights complete the journey they begun in the last episode in which Mulder was rapidly losing his faith in the existence of aliens as scully was just as quickly learning to accept that a global conspiracy may actually exist right under her nose.

So why exactly is Mulder’s journey as poignant as the dying Scully’s? it is because je gets everything he wants here--the ‘truth” about aliens, the CSM brings his sister back to him, and he exposes the Syndicate mole inside the FBI--but he gives up all that to save Scully. It is a bitter pill to swallow. While he does offer up the cure thr Csm gave him and scully opts to go for it, her family rips him to shreds, not only for putting her in this spot in the firtst place, but because they believe she is still indulging him right to the end. In fact, we never see Mulder and Scully together after her cancer goes into remission. Mulder is not only alienated from the victory he caused, he sits alone, crying over a photo of his lost sister, whom he knows he will never find now that--as far as he knows, at any rate,--the Csm is dead and can never lead him back to her.

So when I say “Redux, Part Ii’ is about the restoration of faith, it is really about the restoration of faith Mulder and Scully have in each other. It is true she was willing to try the Csm’s cure solely because she trusts Mulder. In the inquiry in which Mulder is ready to blow open the conspiracy by naming Section chief Scott Blevins as the guy who set up Scully with cancer, he acknowledges for the first time Scully has been a great asset to him, not the spy he first suspected and Blevins likely intended. Her loyalty to Mulder is a mark of her professionalism and integrity. I am not so certain mulder would have acknowledged that at any point in the past because of how much his quest for the truth meant to him--more than anyone else did.

Blevins and the Csm wind up killed by the Syndicate for their actions. Specifically, for Blevins getting caught and Csm helping Mulder along. I take issue with the former, because Blevins has not had a large role in the series. The revelation he is a traitor does not offer much emotional sting. For the former, I have to blind myself to Csm not being Mulder’s father. Thinking that at the time, it appeared Csm was saving Scully and bringing Samantha back in the way an estranged father might make offerings to his distraught son. These gifts came after CSM believed Mulder was dead. Many times it takes losing someone forever to find out what he or she really meant to you. Taking into account only the knowledge I possessed at the time, the CSM/Mulder dynamic was quite poignant here, too.

I thought “Redux, Part Ii” was a vast improvement over the fifth season premiere. Shippers consider this the point at which Mulder and Scully begin falling for each other. That is not a big deal for me, but I can see where they are coming from. This episode is a fan favorite to the romantics at heart for that reason. I give it high marks myself.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

X-Files--"Redux"

Rolling right along here, we have reached the fifth season premiere. Because Fight the Future was filmed simultaneously with part of the season, the fifth is cut short to twenty episodes. The limited episode count means the season is short and sweet. Bittersweet, in many places. Absurdly funny in others. This is also the season in which some famous authors who were fans, but not associated with the series, got a chance to pen episodes. Horror master Stephen King worked his black magic, as did cyberpunk guru William Gibson. Lots of good stuff to come is the point you should take away from this introduction.

Speaking of taking away, any tension built up over the question of whether Mulder committed suicide in the fourth season finale cliffhanger immediately dissipates as we learn Mulder kills a DOD emplyee spying on him from the apartment above, then creates a ruse with Scully to root out which members of the FBI brass they can trust. All events occurring within the first five minutes of the episode. Basically, the cliffhanger is resolved as quickly as possible so we can hurriedly get to the action.

As a side note, Mulder fires his gun in a full apartment building in the middle of the night, then carries the corpse downstairs to his apartment in order for it to be found and identified as him. Now, cast aside the absurdity of Mulder shooting the guy in the face, rendering him unidentifiable even before he concocted the plan to fake his death. Surely he would have shot him in the chest, or maybe just wounded him so he could still answer questions. The real oddity is no one was disturbed by the gunfire or noticed mulder carrying a corpse down the stairs. Washington was the murder capitol of the United States at the time--the NBA Washington Bullets changed their name to Wizards because of it--but surely Mulder’s neighbors are not jaded enough to not care?

To add another absurdity, when I said get to the action up above, I should have said get into the heavy exposition and voiceovers. There is a load of it here as Mulder and scully split up to pursue their half of the plan to uncover the conspirators. There are long stretches of no dialoguer at all in which Mulder, using the dead DOD’ guy’s identification, sneaks into the catacombs of the Pentagon while Scully works on comparing the cell sample from the faux alien with cancerous cells from herself while each explain their thoughts and motivations in voice over.

The point I really liked about this was the role reversal to the extreme. Yesterday, I wrote the two of them had been pushed to the edge of the respective roles as the True Believer and the Skeptic to the point of alienating 9no pun intended) one another. Now they have gone to the exact opposite directions. Mulder has lost all faith in the existence of aliens as he runs deeper into the Pentagon to discover elements of the of how the alien conspiracy was faked. He is only motivated now by finding a cure for Scully to make up for the damage his quest has caused her. Scully, on the other hand, is dedicated to proving a connection between the faux alien and her cancer which would prove a near global conspiracy she cannot believe exists. Mulder is not full of doubt, but Scully is ready to believe the extraordinary. Appreciate the moment.

If you can stay awake to appreciate said moment. Aside from the Mulder and Scully voiceovers, the theory that the government concocted an alien conspiracy during the Cold War to distract the public from the threat of nuclear annihilation is reiterated in excruciating detail complete with public domain archival footage of atomic blasts and iconic images of the Cuban revolution, Vietnam, etc. I thought it was a silly touch back in 1997, and it has not improved with age.

But the silliness there does not detract from the wham moments interspersed throughout the episode. The Cigarette Smoking Man enters Mulder’s apartment after he believes he is dead and mopes about, looking at old photographs and such with a deep sense of melancholy. We know now Mulder is not his son, but at the time, the scene helped strongly reinforce the theory. The end sequence which switches back and forth from Mulder discovering, along with the Lone Gunmen, that he has not stolen a cure for scully, but a vial of de-ionized water and scully collapsing at the FBI hearing before she can name Section Chief Scott Blevins for giving her the disease in the first place is a sharply painful duo on which to leave us hanging.

“Redux” has flaws, logical and technical, which make it a relatively weak season premiere that requires a stronger second part to improve the story. As I recall, it gets it. The episode’s heart is in the right place, but relies way to much on telling us what is going on rather than letting the action flow.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

X-Files--"Gethsemane"

We have reached the finale of the fourth season. There were more highly rated episodes in this season than in any other, so while I have the most nostalgia for the earliest seasons when The X-Files was a cult hit, I have to label the fourth season as the most well done. I am not the only one. Gillian Anderson won an Emmy Golden Globe for the season and the series itself won a Golden Globe, one of the rare times a genre show has been given such clout. David Duchovny was nominated for an Emmy, too, but did not win.

Do not fret. It is not all downhill from here as far as the show goes. We have not yet reached the halfway point of the series. There are still many favorite episodes left to cover. But it must be noted we have completed an unusually good string of episode. It is not easy to hit so many high points in a 24 episode season.

“Gethsemane” runs on two themes: betrayal and hoax. The first should be obvious. Gethsemane is the garden in which Jesus was betrayed by Judas to the Romans. Seemingly, Scully is betraying Mulder’s trust throughout the story by debunking the X-Files before an FBI committee hearing. The hoax aspect holds a double meaning, only one of which is readily apparent in the episode. It appears the grand conspiracy Mulder has dedicated his life to uncovering has been an elaborate plot to deflect attention away from Defense department initiatives in general and lately, to throw him off specifically. The other hoax will have to keep for the fifth season finale review tomorrow.

The episode opens with one of Chris Carter’s favorite tricks--showing us the end of events at the very beginning. In this case, Scully arrives at Mulder’s apartment to identify a wrapped up corpse for the police. We do not see who it is, but it is pretty obvious we are to believe it is Mulder himself. The story resumes later with scully relaying the events of the last few days in front of a hearing of FBI top brass. She is ready to announce the X-Files has been one big hoaxed that has duped both her and Mulder.

As her testimony goes, Mulder had been contacted by an anthropologist associate of his who has found an alien body frozen in the ice of the Yukon Territory. He drags scully away from a welcome home dinner for her naval officer brother to test some cell samples of the alien. Mulder has regressed back to his old self of putting his own agenda above anyone else’s feelings after he had been maturing over the season. He is being a royal jerk here. Scully’s cancer is spreading aggressively. She deserves to spend as much time with her family as possible.

She does passive aggressively acknowledge his selfishness. Why should she bother looking at these samples when Mulder believes they are alien anyway and would only consider a false report to be a detour on the road to the truth? Mulder tells her this is his life’s quest. It is as important to him as finding proof of God would be to someone else. There is a tough of sadnness in how important finding proof of aliens is to him. Scully responds it is more important to her to live what little time she has left, not waste time pondering unanswerable questions of faith.

Notice how their roles are being taken to the extreme in “Gethsemane.” Mulder is the ultra True Believer here by comparing his search for proof of alien life to the timeless quest for proof of God’s existence. It is a religion to him, and one in which he is willing to absorb the last bit of life scully has left to resolve. Scully is the ultimate Skeptic. She does not want to waste time on pondering the existential questions, even those about life after death, even though she is quickly marching into twilight. The two of them have been pushed to the very edge of who they are.

The two split up on estranged terms. Interestingly, Scully still researches the cell samples as Mulder heads off the Yukon. She gets scolded by her brother for it when he comes to her aid after she is attacked by a Dod agent stealing the cell sample. Her brother wants to know why she is so dedicated to spending what is left of her time when he has hauled off to chase after an alien corpse. She does not have an answerr, but does offer further proof she is one tough woman by hunting down the agent that injured her.

Mulder discovers the corpse in the midst of the anthropology team having been murdered. He excitedly watches the autopsy. There is a palpable sense he is trilled to have finally reached this point. He and his anthropologist buddy return to the united states with it, but are confronted by Scully and her DOD assailant. He spills the beans that everything Mulder has seen about the alien conspiracy, including the cell samples and the corpse, have been faked. There are no aliens, but they wanted him to believe there was. The coup de grace was too give scully cancer to solidify his belief in the conspiracy. Mulder storms off, clearly distraught at the cancer revelation.

In the cliffhanger, scully testifies she identified mulder’s body early that morning. He had apparently committed suicide by a gunshot wound to the head.

This was still in the Dark Ages of 1997 when a television series could keep spoilers away from even the most dedicated of geek snoops. The cliffhanger came as a total surprise. There was speculation all summer long that Mulder might really have committed suicide. The speculation was not helped any by the increasingly vocal distaste Duchovny was having for being tied to a television series rather than becoming the movie star he was obviously destined to be with such cinematic masterpieces like Playing God under his belt.

Oh, you did not see Playing God? Neither did anyone else. My mother brought it home one night from my stepfather’s video store because she knew I was a big X-Phile and assumed I would want to see Duchovny in the film. I watched in order to be polite. I gave it one star. Duchovny plays a doctor who loses his medical license because of drug use, but becomes the personal physician to a crime lord after performing an emergency procedure. He has a romantic encounter with Angelina Jolie. I have to assume that is the only reason he agreed to star in the clunker.

But I digress….

“Gethsemane” earns high marks for one of those rare cliffhangers that actually had me anticipating the season premiere. It takes a lot to impress me with such things, so when one comes along, it must be acknowledged. The lead up to the cliffhanger is good, but not great. It is certainly not as monumental as one would hope for a season finale. The powers that be spent a ton of cash on the elaborate cave in which the alien corpse was frozen in ice. Perhaps that was supposed to be enough to wow us. I would have preferred more personal touches, such as a further exploration of Mulder’s religious obsession with finding proof of alien life versus Scully total rejection of it, but still loyalty to him. The dynamic of their relationship means more here than expensive sets and weird, alien corpses, particularly considering all that is revealed as a mindfrak in tomorrow’s episode.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, February 18, 2011

X-Files--"Demons"

One of the major running themes of The X-Files is the two sided relationship between Mulder and Scully. On the surface, they are pit against each other as the True Believer v. the Skeptic. The dynamic constitutes their professional relationship. On a personal level--the one I prefer over any romantic inclinations--is how scully serves as an anchor to keep Mulder grounded when he becomes too immersed in his obsessions, whether it be his own guilt over the past or his quest for the truth as he sees it. “Demons” is one of the best examples of this aspect of their relationship.

Mulder awakens in a motel room in Rhode Island disoriented with no memory of the last two days. Worse yet, he is covered in someone else’s blood and his gun has been fired. Scully ruishes to his aid under the assumption he has had a stroke. He suffers a seizure which triggers memories of a house he is familiar with, but does not know why. Against her better judgment, Scully helps Mulder find the house. Inside are a married couple who have been shot dead.

A zealous police detective believes he has Mulder on the hook for double murder. Things do not look too promising for him until forensics identifies the blood splatter on his shirt as impossible if he had pulled the trigger. The story immediately shifts gears from whether Mulder is a murderer to how he got connected with the married couple.

We learn Amy Cassandra believed she had been abducted by aliens. Presumably, she contacted Mulder to tell her story. She murdered her husband, them committed suicide while he was with her. A police officer, who also believes he was an abductee, commits suicide while Mulder is incarcerated.

The common element between Amy, the officer, and, as we learn, Mulder, is an ethics challenged psychologist who uses an hallucinogenic drug injected directly into the brain to illicit repressed memories. The ’memories” are not necessarily real, but they are maddening enough to drive two people to suicide. Scully fears for Mulder, who believes the treatment is helping him uncover the truth about his sister’s disappearance.

In a highly tense climax, Scully has to convince Mulder to trust her over what he thinks are the real memories of what happened the night Samantha was taken or face him shooting her in his mania. He makes the choice to trust her over his ’memories.” It is a mark of progress for the character. Only in recent times as he put his friendship with her over his personal quest. Scully still makes it vlear she fears for her partner’s sanity in the closing scene, a foreshadowing of what is to come for him in tomorrow’s fourth season finale.

“Demons” is the only script for the series written by managing producer R. W. Goodwin. The result is one heck of a tense story which proves he has a fine grasp on what makes the characters tick. That Goodwin never wrote another episode is our loss. He offers us a fresh look at how the two agents fill their roles without falling into the same formula many non-mythology episodes do. I would like to have seen him have the opportunity to twist it more.

It is not just the writing that makes “Demons” such a good episode. David Duchovny does a fantastic job of playing Mulder as a man tortured by his memories, but no matter how crippled he is by them, indulges his need for the truth. While it sounds like a Mulder-centric episode, Gillian Anderson is equally vital. He stands by Mulder for the duration, never believing he could be a murderer even when his gun is pointed at her in a deranged fit.

I have to give ’Demons” full props. From the allusion of Cassandra as the mythological woman who could accurately foresee the future, but no one believed her, to a solid script, to the interjection of mythology element--Mulder confronts his mother about whether the Cigarette Smoking man is his real father, and the superior acting of the leads. “Demons” is top notch.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

X-Files--"Elegy"

As if to make up for her absense in the previous episode, Scully subtly becomes the main interest in a run of the mill monster of the week case as the series ratchets up the tension over her brain tumor. The focus on Scully is the selling point of the episode. The monster of the week aspect is competently done in its build up to the big reveal, but the reveal itself is a huge letdown.

The story revolves around people who are about to die themselves seeing the ghosts of people who have just died themselves. Mulder refers to them as wraiths, or death omens. He and scully are called to a bowling alley when the owner, Ageleo Pintaro, sees an injured woman trapped in the workings of the pin set up at the end of a lane. He runs to get help, fortunately sporring several policemen near by, but unfortunately realizing they are handling a murder case--the girl pin taro just saw in the bowling lane.

Mulder instantly believes Pintaro saw a ghost, though he does not mention anything about it being a possible death omen for Pintaro. Too bad, because Pintaro suffers heart failure in the middle of the episode. That possibility only becomes part of the story after scully has seen the second murder victim after she has been killed. In other words, Mulder only offers up the aspect of wraith visions at a time when it would have the sharpest emotional impact--when we are worried Scully is closing in on the end of her life. His witholding is even more bizarre considering Scully does not tell Mulder about her vision until the case has been solved and he scolds her for--wait for it--keeping vital information from him. Hypocrite much, Spooky?

The agents zero in on two leads. One is a recurring message--”She is me” scrawled at the locations of wraith sightings. The other is Howard Spuiler, an OCD suffered who lives in a mental institution, but whom Pintaro has hired to organize his bowling shoes. Someone from the mental institution alerted police to the first victim by phone. The agents suspect Puiler tipped the cops, but he quickly becomes a suspect instead.

I say quickly, but I should also say peculiarly. Scully, who is not an oxford trained psychological profiler, believes Spuiler, who has become prone to violent verbal outbursts of late, stalked customers of the bowling alley and murdered them. Mulder, who is an Oxford trained psychological profiler, believes Spuiler’s outbursts are the result of of the murdered women. It will not surprise you that mulder is correct.

Perhaps to keep us from dwelling on the absurdity of the investigation, the episode detours into scully’s psyche. After seeing the wraith of the second victim, Scully visit’s a psychologist to sort out her feelings over seeing something she does not believe exists. The session segues into why she has continued to work though she has little time left. Scully allows she is fearful of letting Mulder down. He has been supportive--a change in her attitude about him from the mid-season, no/--and feels like her debt to him is more important than crossing items off a bucket list. A sweet sentiment, and a welcome change from the tension from earlier fourth season episodes. It is the saving grace of “Elegy.”

The saving grace is redeeming the truth about the killer. Spuiler’s nurse as been stealing his respiratory medication. The medication causes psychotic mood swings in her. In turn, she is mentally and emotionally abusing Spuiler. The unkindest cut of all is she murdered the girls because they were sweet to him at the bowling alley, causing him to develop crushes on each of them. The nurse attacks Scully with the murder weapon--a scalpel--once she is discovered, but is subdued. Spuiler runs off and dies--offscreen, for heaven’s sake--of respiratory failure because of lack of medication. He was dying, so that is why he saw the wraiths. In the final scene, Scully gets in her car, sees Spuiler’s wraith, and bursts into tears.

How much of that do you buy into? The nurse appeared briefly in the first act. She had only two lines, none of which gave any indication she was a psycho. She has been stealing Spuiler’s respiratory medication, which for whatever reason turns her into a brutal murderer. Why she wanted to hurt Spuiler by killing his “girlfriends” can only be chalked up to mania. It is unsatisfying. Making the killer someone we suspect is an extra on screen for such a short time we do not even recall she was there is cheating the drama. I have a difficult time believing Spuiler has the wherewithal to anonymously drop clues as to the real murderer off screen, but cannot communicate at all onscreen. None of it really adds up.

But I am Team Scully, so what can I tell you? The emphasis on her plight keeps “Elegy” from earning a bad rating. There are some serious flaws in the main plot, which is a bigger disappointment considering how many homage there are to the great One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but the arc elements save the episode.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

X-Files--"Zero Sum"

Bad news for team Scully: Gillian Anderson was off filming her part in The Mighty during the production of “Zero Sum,” so Scully is not in it. Her precencce is deeply felt, however, with a necessary sense of urgency. She is said to be in the hospital due to complications from her brain tumor. Scully plight is the catalyst for the action of the episode as Skinner is secretly pit against Mulder to cover up a syndicate plot in exchange for a cure for her.

“Zero Sum’ is very much a Skinner episode and a very welcome one as he returns to the tough as nails G-man you would expect the Assistant Director of the FBI to be. The fourth season has been an act of redemption for the character after being poorly represented in the third. You may recall last season Skinner was pepper sprayed, then beaten up by a woman, shot, had an affair, and was framed for murdering a prostitute--none of which reflected well on him. In the fourth season, he has returned to the take charge, no non-sense guy.

Understand, he is most certainly not on the right side of the law here, but he has logical reasons for working with the Syndicate. He is sacrificing of himself, particularly to save scully, but also Mulder, whom he advised not to make a deal with the syndicate in exchange for a cancer cure. Skinner did not follow his own advice. It costs him here, as he is framed for murder and winds up no closer to helping Scully than he was before.

I question the value of structuring the story as it was. For the teaser and entire first act, we witness a postal worker being killed by a swarm of those killer bees the clones were harvesting. Skinner quietly goes about erasing e-mailed photos of the incident off mulder’s computer, cleaning the crime scene itself, and then stealing the woman’s corpse in order to burn it, all while posing as Mulder. When the detective who contacted Mulder about the death in the first place winds up murdered, Mulder suspects the Syndicate is to keep him off the matter.

The tension of the story involves Mulder getting closer and closer to discovering the culprit is Skinner. It was also his gun that killed the detective. That is all well and good, but the episode would have been far more interesting if we had discovered the clues pointing to skinner as Mulder did rather than us knowing right off the bat what skinner was up to. As it is, we are anticipating mulder’s sense of betrayal when he discovers the truth, but it could have been a double whammy if we had felt betrayed right along with him in a big reveal. As it is, the matter is resolved quickly once Mulder learns skinner is only doing what he was about to offer himself up for several weeks ago.

As I have said before, I review what is and not what I think should be. Mulder is nearly incidental to the plot. He shows up several times to announce he is waiting for evidence from the lab, evidence which will chip away at Skinner’s cover up of his actions, then disappears. This is a completely Skinner-centric episode as he learns to his horror he has been covering up an experiment to use bees as tramsmitters of smallpox. Yet he cannot pull the trigger when he finally confronts the Cigarette Smoking Man because there is still a chance he will cure Scully.

While Skinner is being yanked around by the Syndicate, I do not feel his character is being degraded as he was during some of the sillier incidents he was involved in throughout the previous season. He is a tormented man committing immoral acts for what he believes is a higher purpose, then is even further torn when he realizes what he has done has allowed the Syndicate to infect a classr of children to small pox through a bee swarm attack. But what else can he do but try to clean the mess up as best as possible while still walking the razor’s edge for Scully. I feel for him. He is good, though flawed, guy here.

“Zero Sum,” a game theory concept that one’s gain is directly proportional to an opponent’s loss, manages to give our regular heroes a break from acting while still furthering the mythology. I like Skinner as a character, and “Zero Sum” is the better of his centric episodes up until this point. It is not that great overall because of the structural flaw in the narrative I mentioned above, but it is worth watching.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

X-Files--"Small Potatoes"

David Duchovny has named ‘Small Potatoes” as his favorite acting experience on The X-Files because he got to play Mulder as a comedic character rather than the usual uptight, restrained character he normally is. It is more difficult than it sounds to parody an established character without turning the caricature into a farce, but Duchovny pulls it off wonderfully. Part of me thinks Duchovny’s joy at jabbing Mulder is an early sign he has grown tired of playing him, but I try to cast the notion asidee to enjoy one of the most amusing episodes of the series.

Mulder and Scully head off to West Virginia on a tabloid tip that five women have given birth to babies with tails. Mulder suspects alien involvement. While scully finds the statistical anomaly worth investigating by some health agency, it is not an FBI matter. That is until the agents discover all five babies have the same father. By chance, Mulder discovers a fertility clinic janitor with a scar from the removal of a vestigial tail. But that does not explain how the latest mother claims she was impregnated by Luke Sky walker.

Such is the beginning of a light hearted romp which bring surprising insight into Mulder. Eddie van Blundht--do not forget the silent “H”--is a sweet natured, nebbish loser who, with the ability to morph his appearance into other people, can escape his own life. Van Blundht has been posing as the husbands of women attempting to get pregnant by artificial insemination in order to engage in romantic relationships which elude him normally. The one woman he posed as Luke Skywalker for is his old high school girlfriend. She is someone he obviously still loves--she is the lone woman who was not using the fertility clinic--but she finds him a loser, though a person she could easily talk to.

Her attitude reveals an uncomfortable truth about relationships--van Blundht is a nice guy, quite a romantic, actually, but he is short, chubby, balding, and has a low class, blue collar job, so no one really cares until his assumes the identity of better looking, more successful men. Do we ronly care about such qualities if they come in a superficially pretty package? Yes, it certainly looks that way.

Van Blundht gets the drop on mulder once the agents have evidence to nail him for social security fraud because he has been posing as his dead father to keep cashing the checks. He replaces Mulder after locking him in the hospital basement and assumes his life. It is illuminating for van Blundht and the rest of us. Mulder works in a basement office, wasting tax dollars pursuing his own a personal quest uncovering a conspiracy no other than him believes exists. He lives alone, has geeks as friends, and his only romantic encounters are of the adult entertainment variety. In van Blundht’s estimation, mulder is a loser.

His biggest error is in his treatment of scully. Van Blundht decides to make the moves on her by the incredible trick of--wait for it--listening to her. Mulder never trulty listens to Scully. Perhaps because there is still a sense she is against his work on the x-files, but more likely because Mulder is so absorbed in his own agenda, he pays no attention to anything else. It only takes an evening a of wine and hanging on Scully’s every word before she is warm to the idea of a romantic encounter. This even though she has to have noticed her partner of four years is far less witty and urbane as he normally is. Again, we are willing to overlook a lot of things as long as the outward appearance is pretty.

The real Mulder intervenes into the date night before van Blundht can seal the deal. He winds up in prison. Mulder visits upon his request and receives some advice from van Blundht--live a little. Stop being such a loser on purpose.

A psychologist would have a field day with “Small Potatoes.” Van Blundht as mulder represents Mulder’s unrestrained id, engaging in all the activities Mulder’s ego would never let him do--playing the tough guy FBI agent, flashing the badge authoritatively, practicing quick draws with his gun, and, of course, romancing the lovely Scully. As a Fruedian bonus, van Blundht locks Mulder in the hospital basement, representing suppressing the ego into the subconscious, in order to let his id run wild before Mulder breaks out to put van Blundht--his id--back into it place. It place happens to be buried as deeply as possible so the ego can do its normal thing.

Aside from the psychological aspects, “Small Potatoes” is hilarious in general. The whole matter of mistaken identity and pretending to be other people could quickly devolve into farce, but it is all done with an amazing skill. Chalk it up to the acting chops of Duchovny and Darin Morgan--yes, that Darin Morgan--for playing the main roles. As noted above, Duchovny plays Faux Mulder as an awkward parody without insulting the character. Not easy to do, considering a couple pratfalls and dropping the clip to his gun while practicing a quick draw are called for in the script. Duchovny plays the joy, though fleeting, as van Blundht gets into the role as van blundht plays out his fantasy of what it must be like to be an FBI agent. Really, would you not flash your badge and tough guy image in front of a mirror, too? I am sure I would.

It does not take long before faux Mulder is boring to play, so van Blundht goes for what he has always been after--sex. Is that not why we do everything we do--to attract the best sex partner?I imagine psychologist would have a field day with that aspect of the episode, too.

For an episode steeped in comedy, “Small Potatoes” has some profound revelations to offer about our favorite characters, as well as some uncomfortable truths about what we value in other people. Maybe we do not value the better qualities of others unless our most superficial desires are satisfied first. Not a very pleasant thought, but easier to take because it is wrapped up in a lot of laughs. Ironic, if you think about it, no?

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, February 14, 2011

X-Files--"Synchrony"

It is difficult to believe we made it 92 episodes before featuring time travel as a story element. Surprising still, considering The X-Files usually does weird science well, “Synchrony” falls flat. There are always inherent logical flaws within any story that does time travel, such as time traveler to the past desiring to change an event should be able to go back in time over and over again, learning from his failure, until he gets the desired outcome. It is a logical point one has to overlook. But some logical flaws are so glaring, it is impossible to over look them. “Synchrony” suffers from

Mulder’s curiosity is piqued by a strange murder at MIT. Allegedly, a man in his seventies approached two quarreling young doctoral students, Jason and Lucas, and informed one of them he was going to be hit by a bus at exactly 11:46 PM. The old man is arrested by campus police. As 11:46 nears, Lucas accidentally drops the papers he is carrying. Jason, fearing the old man might be right, chases after him, but instead of saving Jason from an oncoming bus, pushes him into it path instead. Jason is arrested for murder. He claims the old man as an alibi, but not only is he no where to be found, the campus cop is found frozen solid with Jason’s fingerprints inside the car.

Before we are even done with the first act, we have already figured out the old man is Jason from the future. For a change, Mulder does not draw that conclusion until the end of the third act., which is refreshing even though we are way ahead of him. But when we have already figured out the extraordinary twist to the story, there is an expectation there is an even more surprising element to come later on. If you have that expectation about “Synchrony,” you will be disappointed by the time the final credits roll.

The major clue that cues mulder in on the time travel aspect is when another scientist is also found frozen solid after being spotted with the same old man. He has been frozen by a compound in which Jason’s team of scientists are working on--an instant coolant--but are still five or ten years away from the technology to physically make it. Si it has been brought back from the future to use as a murder weapon.

At this point, Jason’s girlfriend Lisa is introduced. To give us all the exposition on the theoretical coolant. Mulder suspects Future Jason will try to kill her next. He does. She is frozen solid. Future Jason’s final target is his younger self. While the two are scuffling, Scully figures out how to thaw Lisa out safely. Jason ‘s plan was to confront Future Jason to discover how to do that. He could have just asked scully and saved himself a lot of trouble. Did I saw trouble? I meant being incinerated by his future self’s rising temperature. In the final scene, we see Lisa attempting to recreate the formula from memory after Future Jason has destroyed all the research data.

So what does a coolant have to do with time travel? Time travel is actually incidental to the plot. Future Jason offers a throwaway line to lisa saying she will meet a physicist in a decade who will discover a way for a person to travel through time, but the stress on the human body would be too much--that is, without the coolant. So she eventually teams up with Dr. Sam Beckett (I kid, I kid) to give him the one piece of the puzzle he lacks. Keep in mind Future Jason knows Lisa is the one who will do that, not his past self.

But why is Future Jason killing his past colleagues? It is another throwaway line. Time travel is common in the future thanks to the coolant. It has made everyone miserable because there is no mystery to life. He sort of implies, but never says, people are traveling to the future, too, and learning their fate. Philosophically speaking, that might make for an interesting theme to explore, But like I said, it is not only a throwaway line, it is one of the last things Future Jason says before killing his past self. Not only is there no indication that is the issue that has tormented him the entire time, we are not given enough time to absorb the concept ourselves. We need more elaboration, and we do not get it. All we see is lisa working diligently to recreate all the research.

Lisa is the biggest problem with the episode. Keep in mind, mulder has not made the connection between the coolant and time travel. He has no idea how Future Jason traveled into the past. He only knows that young Jason is going to force him to reveal how to defrost Lisa. Mulder stops him from harming Future Jason by telling him Scully, brilliant doctor she is, has saved Lisa. Future Jason heard this, knows Lisa is going to survive, knows she is going to eventually collaborate with a scientist who has developed time travel, knows she is smart enough to reproduce all the research data he just destroyed, but decides to sacrifice himself in order to kill younger Jason thinking he will have solved his problem that way.

Cast aside the truth that if Young Jason is killed, Future Jason will not exist to travel back in time to kill him in the first place. Why would Future Jason sacrifice himself to kill Young Jason when he knows, noty only is Lisa the one to hand over the coolant for time travel instead of him, but he failed to kill her, so she is naturally going to develop the coolant anyway? If he is that dedicated to stopping the development of the coolant, then stop fighting with Young Jason, give up, and wait for another opportunity to kill her. Or do something even more breathtakingly rational and talk her out of working on the coolant. She already believes Future Jason is from the future. How hard could it be?

I also need to knock on Mulder. Once the two Jasons are dead, mulder lectures Scully on the inevitably of fate. He says since someone already came up with the idea for the coolant, it is bound to get made at some point. Uh, yeah. Lisa is going to make it, because she is familiar enough with the data to recreate it. So maybe you should, you know, advise her not to? Sure, she would probably not listen, but mulder does not even entertain the possibility she is going to continue the work.

How dumb is he? Oh, yeah. Dumb enough to risk the lives of a plane load of passengers by carrying alien technology onboard which aliens want and the military has proven will kill countless innocents to hide. That is how dumb. At least said dumbness is consistent with “Synchrony.” It is a very bad episode.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

X-Files--"Max"

I mentioned yesterday that Mulder makes a very large error in judgment that has stuck out in my mind for nearly fourteen years now. Not that it means I am a total weirdo. I recall it because I met with some friends who were strolling around the Horseshoe at the University of South Carolina later that sleepless night. We were all facing some personal issues. The habit was to wander around until we were literally ready to pass out. It was easier to sleep that way when you were too tired to think about how different life is about to become. One prominent thing I recall discussing that night--the only one I am going to share with you, at any rate--is Mulder’s error in judgment. We all reached the same conclusion--he got lucky his decision did not kill 139+ people.

Before I get to that, it must be noted how heavy “Max” is on exposition. The two cliffhangers from the previous episode are quickly resolved. Mulder is arrested by the military, then released the next day. Pendrell dies off screen at the hospital after Scully promises to 8ahem8 celebrate her birthday once he recovers. She was promising to finally pay attention to him in the high emotion of knowing he is not going to survive, but some sentimental ’shippers insist she was offering to rock his world as an incentive to cling to life. Draw your own conclusions as to which Scully likely meant. So as not to dwell too much on the emotion of the moment, Scully’s nose begins bleeding from her tumor. Perhaps it means something that she wants to celebrate what is probably her last birthday with Pendrell.

Those resolution are literally the last action of the episode until the final few minutes. We are told the military is shooing away the NTSB crew and taking over both the plane crash and clearing out the UFO in secret. Mulder explains to the NTSB supervisor his theory that max was carrying a piece of alien technology he wanted to show the agent. The plane was intercepted by a UFO, which removed Max from the plane, took the technology, and then put him back. However, the military shot the UFO down before the aliens could complete their task, so both the UFO and the plane went down. The military is now attempting to cover up every aspect.

The agents learn that Max had only one of three parts to the alien technology. Sharon Graffia had another, but it was taken from her in her abduction in part one. Searching max’s mail by way of his landlord, Mulder discovers a baggage claim ticket that must be the final piece. He claims the bag at the airport and, in order to avoid the Mustache Man, boards a flight to Washington with it.

Which is an incredibly dumb thing to do. The other two people who held onto pieces were abducted. Max was abducted off a plane. The result of his abduction was the death of 140 passengers onboard when the military intervened. Mulder got on the plane to evade an agent pursuing him, so he knows the military is onto him and is not afraid to sacrifice numerous lives to keep the existence of alien technology a secret. Why would he risk the lives of everyone on the plane, knowing full well the military is going to take the same action it took two days prior? It did not happen this time, as the Mustache Man snatched the bag away from Mulder before the aliens did their thing by abducting him. The only thing different is the military did not have time to shoot the UFO down this time.

That is one heck of a risk Mulder took. I cannot even see him putting the lives of so many in jeopardy in in the first couple seasons when he placed the truth as he saw it about nearly all else. At this point, mulder has matured enough to recognize there are things more important than his personal quest, as evidenced by his refusal to tell Scully some of her eggs have been harvested for cloning experiments because she was so emotionally spent over her terminal illness. The Mulder in “Max” has seriously regressed.

Why do the aliens not return Mustache man the same way they did Max and Sharon? For the sake of drama, I can only assume.

To lighten the mood, the closing scene of “Max” has one of the most memorable exchanges between Mulder and Scully. She speculates on why he gave her an Apollo 11 commemorative keychain in the most profound of terms. His dry response is priceless:
Scully: This gift that you gave me for my birthday. You never got to tell me why you gave it to me or what it means... but I think I know. I think that you appreciate that there are extraordinary men and women and... extraordinary moments when history leaps forward on the backs of these individuals... that what can be imagined can be achieved... that you must dare to dream... but that there's no substitute for perseverance and hard work... and teamwork... because no one gets there alone... and that, while we commemorate the... the greatness of these events and the individuals who achieve them, we cannot forget the sacrifice of those who make these achievements and leaps possible.

Mulder: I just thought it was a pretty cool keychain.
Heh. Way to deflate the moment, Mulder.

In spite of Mulder’s reckless behavior, “Max’ is still one of the most moving episodes of the series. The abduction scene in the climax is one of the most exciting and action packed sequences of the series, too. No wonder the powers that be had to cut some corners and tell us so much of the story through exposition. They had to have spent a ton of cash on the abduction sequence. Good stuff, all things considered.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

X-Files--"Tempus Fugit"

“Tempius Fugit” (Latin for “time flies) is the first part of the back end mythology story for the fourth season. The story arc is famous for bringing back Max, the good natured, multiple abductee groupie of Mulder and Scully’s work. Max was last seen in the first season’s “Fallen Angel” in which he quickly became a fan favorite. Maybe we X-Philes saw a little of ourselves in his obsessive interest in our heroes’ pursuit of truth The most poignant part is how little of the episode Max is in, yet he is the focal point.

Scully’s birthday celebration--the first one Mulder has remembered in their four years as partners--is interrupted by Sharon Graffia, who claims to be Max’s sister. She tells the agents he was traveling on a passenger plane that just crashed in upstate New York. She tellsd mulder he had cogent evidence of his abduction and believes the government shot the plane down in order to keep him from delivering it. The possibility piques Mulder’s curiosity, so he immediately drags Scully to New York to get in the middle of the NTSB’s recovery operation.

I do literally mean drags. It is not only that Scully is reluctant to spend her birthday--she has a brain tumor. It may be her last birthday--combing through plane wreckage, but she spends the remainder of the episode trailing Mulder in everything. The two are filling their usual roles, of course. Scully discovers max had been working at a nuclear facility priort to taking flight. He whatever reason, it looks like he was carrying plutonium in his knapsack. (Well, the guy was institutionalized for a time. He obviously had a loose screw or three.) The leaking radiation could have caused a plane malfunction. Mulder does not buy it. All the watches on passengers bodies are stuck at a time nine minutes before the crash. It is evidence of alien abduction. He believes max was taken yet again. Mulder is crestfallen when he discovers max’s corpse among the others.

The discover of his business card in max’s pocket is the point Mulder kicks his obsession into overdrive. Very little else, even the key plot points of Sharon apparently being abducted out of FBI protective custody, the Mustache man eliminating military personnel who knew their was a second craft in the area tailing max’s flight, and even the death of Pendrell, the recurring FBI lab nerd with a crush on Scully, occur in the blink of an eye or even off screen. It is Mulder’s quest to find the truth about Max, obviously motivated by grief over his tragic fate, that propels the episode. It will also prompt him to make a really dumb mistake in tomorrow’s episode that nearly ruins everything for me, but we will get to that later.

“Tempus Fugit” ends with a double cliffhanger. The Mustache Man, in an attempt to kill a military officer willing to spill the beans about the second craft, shoots Pendrell instead as he attempts to buy Scully a drink. That poor guy has some seriously hard luck. The other is Mulder, scuba diving to the wreckage of the second ship crashed in a lake, discovering an alien corpse. To be continued…

Kudoes to authenticity here. The powers that be hired a former NTSB official as a consultant to design the crash site. It shows. They pulled out all the stops. The crew earned an Emmy nomination for their work on it. But that is not the only high point. Unlike many first parts of a two part episode which is mostly unsatisfying build up waiting for a pay off next episode, “Tempus Fugit” makes us care about Max’s fate and why it was so important for him to find Mulder. Since max is only alive in the opening teaser, the emotional impact comes from mulder, not Max. It takes more writing skill than one might think to make us care so much about a one off character we have not seen in four years when he has only been in this episode for slightly over a minute. Fine job, gentlemen.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, February 11, 2011

X-Files--"Unrequited"

The first thing I thought when “Unrequited" first aired is how much, in 1997, the writers are stretching the idea Americans are still held captive in Vietnam 24 years after the war ended and well over a decade since the Hollywood fantasies of Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris rescuing POW left behind while single-handedly “winning” the war this time. An underlying element of those type movies is a government cover up of the POW’s existence beyond the end of the war, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before a conspiratorial show like The X-Files dealt with the matter.

Three points here; One, I do not believe the Vietnamese kept any prisoners after the war. Some stayed behind willingly after finding local wives and such, but I do not see value in Vietnam holding Americans prisoner. The only reason the Vietnamese defeated the United States was because they won the propaganda war. I doubt they would run the risk of jeopardizing their public relations victory by keeping prisoners to be discovered post-war. Two, I regardless thought it was incredibly cruel to play on the emotions of families who did not know the final fate of their loved ones with films like Rambo: First Blood, Part II and the Missing in Action films which speculated they might be imprisoned having faced decades of torture with no end in sight. Real life con artists have preyed on such families, as well. Finally, and related to “Unrequited,” even if a POW had been heldf prisoner after the war, a 26 year imprisonment under harsh conditions is about as unlikely as a UFO abduction for Dna experiments.

Nevertheless, that is what we have here. Nathaniel T0eager was a Special Forces member whose helicopter was shot down in 1971. Officially, he and his fellow Special Forces were declared dead by the government, but they were actually taken prisoner and the government knew it. Teager was held until 1995 when a paramilitary group called The Right Hand liberated his camp. The government attempted to arrest him upon his arrival is San Diego, but he literally disappeared. It is a skill he learned from the Viet Cong. It is never explained, but he can stand in front of you without you ever seeing him. Very fanciful.

Teager is busy assassinating high ranking officers who were part of the official denial any Americans were still being held in Vietnam. As the story goes, some elements of the government would just as soon that happen, so they assign Mulder and Scully to find Teager with the idea they will fail and be discredited. That plan might be even more fanciful than the Teager turning invisible bit, but you have to get the agents involved somehow.

There are not any real tense elements in the episode. Teager shows up inside a general’s car when he was not seen there a moment ago and in another general’s office at the Pentagon before killing both. Both murders were supposed to be locked room, close quarters impossible kills, but neither came across as particularly frightening. The climactic scene with Teager wandering through a crowded rally in order to get a clear shot at his final victim was more tedious than anything else. Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and some other other agent keep spotting and then losing him in the crowd continually. Finally, teager winds up shot dead in the general’s car. The episode ends with the government covering everything up. Mulder and Scully’s good reputations survive intact.

The overall premise is tough to swallow. The rationale for involving mulder and Scully is flimsy. The catalyst for Mulder discovering the cover up of POW my the American government is his new United Nations contact. Why would she know anything about an internal cover up within the American government? I do not buy Mulder would plausibly think she would, much less that she does. There is no build up of sympathy for Teager, either. He does not speak his peace until the final act. When he does, we realize he is a completely far gone psychopath due to his quarter-century ordeal, not the tragic hero. There is nothing to do but kill him. It all adds up to being too implausible to really care about any aspect of “Unrequited.”

One bright spot is I can see shades of what writer Howard Gordon would go on to do with 24 years later. Many of Gordon’s scripts for The X-Files have flirted with political messages. He was a bit reckless about it on the series, but it must have been a maturing process for him before chronicling the eight worse days in Jack Bauer’s life. Too bad we X-Philes had to suffer through it. I am going to give “Unrequited” two stars for hints of 24 and the unintentionally hilarious images of crowds scattering on two separate occasions because Mulder and Scully have pulled their gun on tTager after he has already disappeared.

Rating: ** (out of 5)