Thursday, March 31, 2011

X-Files--"The Unnatural"

It is an incredibly fortunate circumstance for ‘The Unnatural” to come up on Opening Day. I am a baseball fanatic, and therefore very much in tune with the mysticism attached to the game. Win or lose, there is something magical about the game. In his rookie outing as a television writer and director, David Duchovny masterfully captures the lore of baseball with some tough social themes, all while tying it all into The X-Files mythology. That is not easy to do in 44 minutes of screen time.

On a random Saturday in his office, Mulder discovers an old photo of the alien bounty Hunter alongside Authur Dales in 1948 New Mexico. Mulder visit’s the man who turns out to be the brother of the dales we know--Darren McGavin was ill and could not reprise his role--and learns the story of how he, as a cop in Roswell, New Mexico, was assigned to protect a Negro League player named Josh Exley.

Exley is secretly one of the gray aliens from the Roswell crash of 1947. At some point after the crash, he watched a baseball game and fell in love with it. He assumed the form of a black man in order to play, believing the color of his skin would keep him out of the big leagues. He was such a success, he attracted the attention of the KKK. (In New Mexico? Eh, maybe.) dales was assigned to be his body guard. The two form a fast friendship in spite of the color barrier and eventually, when Dales discovers what Exley truly is, the planetary barrier, as well.

All the while, the Alien Bounty Hunter hunted for Exley out of fear he might expose the colonization project. He nearly does when he bleeds acid after being beaned by a pitch. The Alien Bounty Hunter discovers Exley. He demands exley change into his true form, but Exley refuses, choosing to die as a man.

I remember back in the day being fearful over how this episode would turn out. Allowing Duchovny to write and direct an episode was a concession to his ever louder grumbling about being stuck on the series. One feared, with his well known overblown ego, this could turn out embarrassingly self-indulgent. Imagine my surprise to find out how well done “The Unnatural” turned out to be.

The script carries the central theme of racism without being preachy. You will have to excuse my shock a white liberal from Hollywood can manage to do a story in which an alien is hated by his own people for abandoning them for a game decides to take on the form of a black man whites hate for his potential to be the next Jackie Robinson all while not getting bogged down in a new writer’s compulsion to Say Something Really Important. The script never gets preachy, nor does the fate of Exley suffer from maudlin overtones. Duchovny decides to contrast the scene of Exley’s death with the famous baseball lesson he gives Scully. Yes, shippers. This is the episode.

Speaking of Scully, “The Unnatural” features the best interpretation of her we have seen in years. She is fun and funny. Confident with being witchy. A very appealing person after many episodes of her either aggressively contrary, or pitifully lonely and ready to fall for the attentions of even the most unappealing men. I am including Mulder in that, as he is often a royal jer--though not here. I once read Ken Levine, a writer for MASH and Cheers, once say it was impossible to writer or direct actors after the fifth season of a series because they swear they know their characters better than anyone. “The Unnatural” confirms theory. Duchovny certainly has a grasp on how to make Mulder and Scully fun, likable characters after a string of some tough episodes.

But what makes ’The Unnatural” great is not all Duchovny. He surrounded himself with a great cast. M. Emmet Walsh plays his usual grumpy old man routine which believably dissolves when recalling the death of his friend Exley. Jesse L. Martin plays the humble Exley, an alien/man rejected by all parties, but thrives through his love of the game. Daniel Duchovny, David’s brother, stars as an opposing team player. Mark Snow turns in a wonderfully low key score full of acoustic guitars to compliment the lazt feel of a minor league baseball game and some soulful gospel twinged numbers. Good stuff.

I like ’The Unnatural” for far more reasons that fondness for baseball. I am not certain the concept fits in well with what we know of the series mythology, but even nitpicky me does not care. “The Unnatural‘ is a wonderful story done fantastically well for a first time writer/director.

Shippers would be upset if I did not include mulder teaching Scully to hit a baseball, so here you go, folks:.Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

X-Files--"Milagro"

When asked to list one’s favorite episodes of The X-Files, “Milagro” 9Spanish for “miracle’) is inevitably near the top of the list. It is, by the way, the only sixth season on episode to be so honored. We are on the slow decline towards the end of the series already, folks, with only a few truly bright spots left. The cynic in me believes “Milageo” is highly regarded because it “reveals” for the first time scully is in love with Mulder. It is also one of the few episodes to sex her up. But I would like to think there is a better reason.

“Milagro” is a novel--pardon the pun-- piece of television. We just do not get much in the medium quite so creative and existential. A writer who moves next door to Mulder is working on a murder mystery novel in which a killer removes his victims hearts with his bare hand. Somehow, the writer has managed to resurrect a Brazilian psychic surgeon--the kind who allegedly removed illness from people, but is actually removing bloody chicken entrails or some such.--who is committing for real the murders he is writing about.

The writer is on the periphery of the murder investigation when he meets Scully in the apartment building’s elevator. He immediately becomes enamored with her. She seems strangely drawn to him as well because he has such a skill at sizing her up. As with Eddie van Blundt as Faux Nulder, scully’s profound loneliness draws her to anyone who seeks to understand her. She is added to the novel as a character, which puts her on a collision course with the killer.

She is saved from death at the last minute by the writer destroying his manuscript before the surgeon can rip her heart out. Or does he do all the right things, but she survives because clyde bruckman once told her she would never die? It is not made clear, but it is also irrelevant. The issue is lost in the tearful embrace she and Mulder share when he discovers her alive, and the suicide of the writer near the building’s incinerator by the removal of his own heart.

The above summary does not do the episode justice. It is a story within a story, where the writer’s imagination tragically comes to life with the resurrection of the Brazilian psychic surgeon, but still demonstrates the often fat separation between life as we dream it--he is in love with Scully--and how we are forced to live it--she is in love with someone else. Sometimes even our fantasies betray us, so as when the psychic surgeon goes after Scully. The writers destroys his work and then himself to prevent her murder.

It is easy to get a Fight Club vibe from “Milagro,‘ sans any of the film’s whiny theme that modern men cannot all be rock stars, so they must destroy society in revenge. “Milagro” takes the best elements--the existential bits about creating a person to allow one’s id to ru unrestrained--and plays it out in a fascinating manner.

I rate ‘Milagro’ highly because of its uniqueness. One suspects a television executive would scratch his head if such an existential concept were pitched today as a regular episode of a television series. Further proof television is rapidly going downhill. There is very little this daring on the idiot box these days.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

X-Files--"Trevor"

I have complained about the post-Vancouver episodes shift away from dark horror and weird science towards a lighter, more relationship oriented tone. Overall, that has been prominent in the sixth season, but the back half has made an effort to slide in some classic themes. “Trevor” is a case in point. The episode is an obvious effort to create a memorable villain in the mode of Robert “Pusher” Modell. Pinker rawls does not quite measure up to Modell, but I will give the writers a ’B” for effort. Emotional impact trumps science, but it is not done well enough to elevate “Trevor” to the top tier of The X-Files.

Pinker Rawls is a prone to violence prisoner in Mississippi serving time for stealing $90,000. He assaults another inmate while they are preparing the prison grounds for an oncoming tornado. He gets put in the hot box for the duration of the storm. He gets struck by lighting, which grants him the power to walk through solid objects. The hot box is blown away by the tornado, and Rawls is assumed dead. No one can explain how the warden who put him in the hot box wound up subsequently split in half.

Mulder and Scully investigate, and quickly decide pinker is still alive, but now has the ability to pass through objects, though he changes their composition by doing so. The agents assume, by following a trail of horribly mangled bodies, Rawls is looking for his ex-girlfriend under the assumption she has the stolen money. In fact, she gave birth to his son shortly after he went to prison, but did not tell him. She gave the kid to her sister so she could start a new life. Rawls goes looking for his kid.

Fortunately, the agents find him first. Surmising rawls cannot pass through glass since his abilities are based on electricity, Scully hides with Trevor in a phone booth. Desperate, no? they are saved by Trevor’s mother, who runs Rawls over with her car. He passes through the car, but not the windshield. In other words, he gets chopped in half.

The major flaw of “Trevor” is poor writing. The script wants us to sympathize with the characters, but throws too much at us. Rawls is a psychopath we could not care less about at any point, even in the brief moment he attempts an emotional connection with his son. We have a tough time caring about trevor, too. He is not introduced until the final act, and is therefore on screen for less than seven minutes. It is bad form to introduce a major character out of the blue so late in the story. His mother is the worst. She abandons her son entirely, takes rawls’ stolen money to build a new life, and then loses her new husband in a flash when he discovers what she really is. Exactly who is it we are supposed to feel for here? They are all hard luck cases to the point of absurdity.

“Trevor” has some logical problems, too. Rawls visits his ex-girlfriend’s sister at a time when we still think he is looking for the money. At no point in the confrontation is any indication given he is looking for anything but the money. He is there late at night, however. Why would a seven year old boy not be home at that time? The revelation should have come then. On a scientific note, there is inconsistency on exactly how Rawls’ abilities work. Supposedly, his clothes cannot go through solid objects with him, but at one point, scalding soup thrown at him passes through his shirt. He also chases Scully and Trevor in his boxers. I guess that is a disturbing enough image as it is without him being nude as he should be.

“Trevor” has flaws, but it is still an entertaining episode. I probably appreciate it because it reminds me of older episodes. The script does not resonate with all the emotion obviously intended. There are some serious logical problems, too. But if you can mindlessly be entertained, it is a decent view.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, March 28, 2011

X-Files--"Alpha"

“Alpha" demonstrates two consistent points regarding The X-Files. One, when a filler episode is done by a freelance writer and a new director, the episode never captures the feel of the series quite right. Both the characters and general tone are usually off. Two, when the series attempt a variation on a common horror theme--in this case, Chinese werewolf legend--it is often too unfamiliar for the audience to immerse themselves in. On a personal level, I am not a fan of dogs, so not even Andrew Robinson in a guest role saves the episode.

Mulder is lured to California by a lonely, emotionally crippled dog whisperer named Karin Berquist whom he has chatted with online. She calls his attention to two murders which appear to have been committed by a dog with human intelligence. Upon arriving, the agents encounter a crypto zoologist named Ian Detweiler who claims the animal responsible is a supposed extinct breed of dog he captured in China. He is adamant the dog must be captured, but not killed, regardless of the damage the animal causes.

Mulder seeks out Berquist’s expertise as a canine expert. Scully is immediately suspicious--some say jealous, but I think that is an unfair assumption--of Berquist. She suspects berquist is enamored with Mulder because she sees him as about the only person who understands her. Mulder denies the accusation in spite of the ’I Want to Believe” poster hanging on her wall. Regardless, they barely know each other.

The crux of the plot is that Detweiler did not actually capture the supposedly extinct dog, but somehow got transformed into one. At night, he turns into a vicious dog to kill for sport. By vicious, I am referring to four brutal onscreen kills and fifth near miss. Highly gratuitous, but I must compliment to camera angle work. They are all done from the dog’s perspective. After we learn Detweiler is the dog in human form, we get a neat POV shot of the transformation from human to dog. It was probably a budget saving move to avoid costly CGI, but very effective.

Detweiler’s lycanthropy problem is secondary to Berquist’s emotional issues. She does have crush on Mulder, though she lacks the feminine wiles to woo him. So she did manipulate him to California in order to meet him. Yo make up for it--and arguably end her suffering from lupus, she sacrifices herself in order to stop Detweiler, but not before she mails mulder her “I Want to Believe” poster.

I really did not sympathize with Berquitz enough for her plight to resonate with me. I hate to sound cold, but she is one of those people who are so far gone emotionally, you cannot do anything for them. She lives with scores of dogs because she hates people. She found a kindred spirit in Mulder, so she tricked him into coming out to see her. He does not have any emotional connection with her because she is just someone he chatted with online. Feeling guilty, she sacrifices herself to make up for what she has done. Mulder feels guilty about her death because he did not realize how much he meant to her, though what could he have done? The way I look at it, she still manipulated him from beyond the grave. It is difficult o feel for someone like that no matter how much she suffered in life.

I will give "Alpha” this--the guest cast is a blast from the past. I already said Detweiler was played by Andrew Robinson. Robinson has been a popular character actor over the years. Notably for me, he played Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Berquitz was played by Melinda Culea, who played journalist Amy on The A-Team. I am confident they both appeared on that show, but I have not watched it in twenty years. Memory can be a funny thing. I could be wrong there.

I do not think I am wrong in saying “Alpha” is below average. Some of the camera work in terms of perspective and the guest cast save the episode from the cellar, but not by much. Its heart was in the right place with Berquist’s crush on Mulder, but the desired emotion just was not there. The characterizations of the agents were off. Perhaps it was because they were so secondary to the action and irrelevant in the resolution. Then again, Mulder seemed more aloof than usual and Scully meaner when dealing with him and his associates. I do not care about Chinese werewolf legends I have never heard of before, either. “Alpha” is a bad episode on many levels.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

X-Files--"Arcadia"

“Arcadia” is the famous episode in which Mulder and Scully play. I will admit, shipper though I am not, those elements of the episode were quite humorous. But “Arcadia” is unfairly ignored for the other aspects of the episode, including a highly effective mix of tension and humor, to create a spooky atmosphere. I am a sucker for terror in the middle of peaceful suburbia stories.

The agents go undercover in a San Diego gated community called Arcadia. Three families have disappeared without a trace there in the last seven years. Local police have given up and handed the matter over to the FBI. The neighbors are ultra-friendly, though incredibly nervous and paranoid over Arcadia’s incredibly strict rules being enforced. Mulder tests the waters several times by messing with his mailbox, putting up a basketball hoop, and finally digging a reflecting pool. The neighbors scurry about cleaning up all traces of his alterations. In the meantime, one of their neighbors is attacked by a monster for allowing a light in his front yard to blow out.

What is going on here is that the president of the homeowner’s association, a man who travels extensively in the Far east on business, created a Tulpa, which is a creature that serves a similar purpose as a golem, to prtect the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he cannot control the tulpa as it enforces the community’s rules with extreme prejudice. He gets his in the end when Mulder handcuffs him to a mailbox in order to see if scully is okay. The tulpa kills him for presumably damaging the mailbox by being cuffed to it. No one in Arcadia admits to any knowledge of missing or dead former residents. It is still a top notch place to live--as long as you follow the rules.

I will grant you, on the surface, it is a dumb concept a creature on the loose attacks residents for violations of community guidelines. But the idea fits in so well with the absurd tone of the episode, I can overlook it. Arcadia is this wonderful gated community where rich people compare their belongings, yet they are prisoners there--literally trapped by their own need to conform. Watching them scurry about making certain everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be is more humorous than watching mulder make scully uncomfortable by forcing her to play the little woman for the neighbors. I am confident the latter is what most fans care about in the episode, but I think they are shortchanging “Arcadia” if that is true.

There is a big, logical flaw in the episode. Mulder and scully are posing as prospective homebuyers. This is presumably a way of cutting them some slack in breaking the community rules for the sake of humorously entertaining the audience. The actual homeowners in Arcadia are dealt with swiftly for violations. But how could prospective homebuyers have a mailbox with their name on it or dig up the front yard for a reflecting poll? There is no gated community who would allow non-homeowners to make extensive changes, much less a community in which the rules are enforced by a Tulpa.

It is not a big deal, however. “Arcadia” is fun viewing. It is much like a classic episode of the series in which a very normal setting has something very horrific dwelling within it. But ‘Arcadia” could not have fit in with early episodes because of the husband and wife motif the agents are using as their cover. Now is about the time it would only be funny, as we are in the midst of the do they/do they not have a thing for each other. You know, shippers, “Arcadia” shows most prominently they do not. Mulder continually teases Scully, in public and not, about being a couple. It is clear she cannot stand it. This is the way I prefer them to be--two people with a friendly working relationship in which one can poke fun at the other good naturedly. Elements of potential romance ruins that.

“Arcadia” is fun and moody. I would not call it a classic, but it is an above average episode well worth watching. It came at the right time. It is a throwback to older style episodes, yet really could not have had the undercover married couple aspect back then. The friendly tension between the agents while pretending to be married is a welcome change from the march towards couple-dom the sixth season has been engaged in. thus far.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

X-Files--"Monday"

“Monday" is the famous alleged homage to Groundhog Day. I say alleged because writers Vince Gilligan and John Shiban have said inspiration was due more to The Twilight Zone episode “Shadow Play.” If I may muddy the waters, I get a bigger Run Lola Run vibe, probably because of Carrie Hamilton’s bad dye job and the presence of a bomb. Yes, I know many include Stargate Sg-1‘s “Window of Opportunity.” I ignore those people.

While there are minor variations each go around, the basic premise is that Mulder’s waterbed springs a leak. The water damages his alarm clock, so he oversleeps. Oversleeping makes him late for a meeting, but he has no choice but to cash his paycheck at the bank across the street. Everyday, he interrupts a desperate man named Bernard’s attempt to rob the bank despite efforts to intervene by his girlfriend, Pam. (Played by Carrie Hamilton, daughter of Carol Burnett.) Scully always winds up in the bank, too. The day ends with Bernard blowing up the bank with a strip of dynamite strapped around his waist, killing everyone.

There are variations: Sometimes Mulder needs to cash the check to pay his rent. Others because his downstairs neighbor is angry at water damage from his leaking bed. Sometimes Mulder is shot by Bernard. Sometimes scully is in the bank already. Other times she interrupts the robbery in progress. Pam is the key to most variations. She tries various means to keep Bernard from carrying out his plan, or she makes contact with Mulder, Scully, or Skinner, but the result is always the same.

Pam assumes Mulder is the key. There is no overt explanation for this, but given that he has the most acute sense of déjà vu during however many cycles of the day Pam suffers through, that must the clue she hangs her theory on. He is the only one willing to listen during most cycles, but he always enters the bank regardless to end the day with the bomb going off. That is until Pam enters the bank, too. At one point, she jumps in front of Mulder as Bernard is about to shoot him. She takes the fatal bullet, remarking that had not happened in any variation before. Her death breaks the cycle.

An interesting point of note is a discussion Mulder and Scully have in the second cycle of the episode. Mulder’s growing sense of déjà vu prompts a discussion between the two on free will versus fate. Mulder thinks déjà vu is repressed memories of things we have done before that bubble up while we are in the exact same situation, but making a new decision to affect a better outcome. Scully disagrees. She believes in fate. One is free to be whatever kind of person one wants to be, but there is an inevitable outcome.

They are having the age old free will v. fate debate. Although there are no theological aspects mentioned, Scully’s argument tacitly acknowledges the problem that free will cannot exist for a human created by an omniscient God who knows all the days of his life long before his existence. If God knows you future already, there is no way to change it. I have had this debate many times with Christians as to whether those are choices you still freely make or if it is just the illusion of free will because you do not know the outcome even though god does and always did. I have no interest in getting into it here. Suffice to say, I accept the latter argument, and am a TULIP Calvinist because of it. Ironic that Scully, a Catholic, argues the Calvinist theological point considering the animosity between Catholics and Calvinists which still lingers today.

Whether Mulder or Scully were ultimately correct is debatable. You could side with Mulder and say Pam was repeating the day until she made the right she of getting herself killed. You could side with Scully and say Pam was destined to die, and there was no way to avoid her death until she gave into her fate. Alas, the resolution does not fit into the theological debate in any appreciable manner, so all we can say David Duchovny is the star of the show, so Mulder is right. If anyone wants to argue the case for scully’s Calvinist theory is presented as the stronger, feel free.

What makes “Monday’ is the performance of Hamilton. We have not been given any indication of how many times she has been dragged through “Monday,’ but it is easy to tell it has been enough times to devastate her. She has an exhausted, heavy bags under her eyes look which is pulled off by--bravely, for certain--Hamilton wearing little make up. She deteriorates even further during the handful of cycles we get to watch, physically and mentally. When she is killed in the end, she almost posses a quiet glee when she realizes her death never happened before, so maybe it is over now. Her performance is haunting. Very powerful. Also sadly poignant considering Hamilton died in 2002 of brain and lung cancer at the young age of 38.

There are nitpicks about the episode which could be mentioned. Most notably that a waterbed would not spring a spraying leak that could drown an alarm clock. A waterbed leak would seep instead. The problem means the entire catalyst for Mulder being late to set events in motion could not happen. But “Monday” is such an engaging episode, I have to let it slide. I credit Hamilton’s performance for most of my enjoyment, but “Monday” is a highly emotional, thought provoking episode in general. The definite highlight of the all too often absurdly humorous sixth season.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, March 25, 2011

X-Files--"Aqua Mala"

The worst part about sitting through a monumental mythology arc storyline is the next episode is always filler. Now that we are in the slow decline of the series, the filler episodes are going to be far worse than they ever have before. Case in point; “Aqua Mala” (Spanish for “bad water”0 which starts out as a promising homage to Kolchak the Night Stalker, complete with Darren McGavin as a guest star, buy quickly devolves into farce.

Darren McGavin makes his second appearance as retired FBI Special Agent Arthur Dales is what I lament as a wasted appearance. He should have been part of a much better monster of the week story, perhaps with Mulder and Scully investigating a decades old case of which still has some emotional resonance for him. Instead, he calls them down to Florida in the middle of a hurricane when a tentacled sea monster comes up through the plumbing and murders an entire family.

The X-Files utilizes two techniques to make up for a bad script. One, something horrible happens to a kid. Two, there is a lot of gore. In this case, we get a double whammy. The teaser involves a child being strangled to death by a tentacle coming up through the toilet. (potty training children should avoid ’aqua Mala.” Just sayin’.) The rest of the episode is full of blood and gore, not the least of which is Scully performing an emergency tracheotomy on the local deputy using a pocket knife and a ballpoint pen. Yeesh.

The problem with this is the episode’s heavy emphasis on humor instead of horror. The agents are trapped in a cheap condominium complex with a cast of goofy stereotypical characters, such as a trigger happy conspiracy nut who thinks Castro is about to invade any minute, an obnoxious pregnant Latina and her dumb, unemployed boyfriend,, and a looter pretending he actually lives there instead. Id you predicted the gun nut fires wildly periodically at shadows, the latina gives birth in the middle of it all, her husband is the butt of a myriad of stupid jokes, and the looter steals from the deputy while no one is looking because cannot talk with his makeshift stoma, then you, too, are ready to be a generic television writer.

The horror elements are bad, too. There is no real tension because there are too many attempts at humor. The usual less is more strategy of presenting a monster does not work here, either. All we ever see is a tentacle grabbing its victims from the toilet or bath tub. We are supposed to imagine some huge squid or octopus, but I cannot get passed the image of a rubber prop controlled by wires. The biggest problem with the creature is its destruction. It can live in the sewer system because the hurricane has pushed salt water into the pipes. But exposure to fresh water kills it. No lie, and bad science.

I am disappointed by the characterizations, particularly Scully. Mulder is his usual sardonic self, but Scully is unusually whiny. There are no circumstances in which I can see her abandoning mulder after he has been attacked by the creature, even if she assumes it’s a fatal attack, as she does here. There is too much loyalty between the two agents to give up that easily. Even I could not stand Scully in “Aqua Mala.”

Darin Morgan might have made this kind of episode work, but is long gone by this point. There is nothing to recommend “Aqua Mala.” The humor is so over the top, it does not work. The horror is cheap. The gore is a blatant attempt to cover up the episode’s shortcomings. The starwat that broke the camels back is early on in the episode when the agents find the murdered family’s cat safe and sound in the water of a half filled washing machine. So the cat figured out sitting in fresh water would save it from the monster hours before the FBI agents draw the same conclusion. The FBI should have put that cat in charge of the X-Files instead of Spender and Fowley. Skip “Aqua Mala” for your own good.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

X-Files--"One Son"

“One Son” marks the culmination of the mythology arc which has been running through the series since the second season. To remind us of this, the opening teaser is a montage of flashbacks from various arc episodes with a narration by Mulder of the coming Armageddon. In case you did not realize the episode was a big deal, every major character involved in the arc makes at least a cameo, and often a forced one that does not add to the story at all. But truth be told, the arc ends in about as big a splash as one could ask for. It is difficult to complain about anything other than how mulder and scully were not a party top much of any of the resolution.

The episode is also heavy on exposition, just like part one. Funnier still, the conspiracy is explained yet again by the Cigarette Smoking man in excruciating detail. This time around, it is not in a last minute narration addition so the audience will not get mired in the story, but an explanation of everything told to Mulder at gunpoint. The scene brings forth two points. One, I was reminded of the old Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs is being held captive by Edward G. Robinson’s gang of crooks. He is goofing around with them, refusing to talk until Robinson pulls a gun on him, at which point bugs blabs a bunch of nonsense at a mile a minute. In ’One Son, Csm taunts Mulder that he did not have the nerve to shoot the last time the agent had him at gun point, but once Mulder cocks the hammer, CSM pulls a Bugs Bunny on him.The second point is that it is the exact same story he told Fowley in the previous episode. When there is a week gap between the two episodes like when originally aired, that is not a big deal, so I cannot criticize it much. But when you watch the episodes back to back, it strikes one as unnecessary overkill.

With that in mind, I will direct you to my review for ”Two Fathers” if you need a refreshed on the last five years of continuity. I spelled it all out in a couple paragraphs there.

There are some strange points to “One Son.” The first is, like yesterday, the near irrelevance of Mulder and Scully to the story. The cliffhanger of Mulder about to honor Cassandra spender’s request to kill her is broken up by the Center for Disease Control which takes them all into custody because they are allegedly exposed to a contagion carried by Cassandra. This leads to the famous shower scene, for which you will all be angry if I do not do this:You are welcome, shippers and perverts alike.

From there, Scully actually disappears for a solid thirty minutes because Mulder will not believe Fowley is part of the conspiracy, so she will not associate with him anymore. Mulder is reduced to a convenient sounding board for the CSM’s Bugs Bunny act because soliloquy is a passe method of exposition in today’s filmed drama. Otherwise, we have secondary characters at the forefront. Jeffrey takes up Mulder’s cause to save his mother. The lone Gunman research fowley’s activities on behalf of Scully, who presumably batted her eyelashes just right to convince them to do so behind Mulder’s back. (I blame them not. I would skinny dip in a lake infested with snapping turtles if scully batted her eyelashes at me.) Krycek shows up to discover Maria Cavarrubias is still being held by the Syndicate after they tested the black oil vaccine on her a year prior. Fowley kinda sorta convinces Mulder, who is thinking with his penis, that she is on the up and up. The funny thing is, in spite of no resolution between the two agents over Fowley’s status, they hook back up to attempt rescuing Cassandra, though they fail. Skinner shows up during the rescue attempt, has two lines, and promptly disappears. His cameo is laughable.

The real heroes among all this strange drama are the faceless rebels. When the syndicate gathers with their families to meet with the alien colonists now that Cassandra is a successful human/alien hybrid, they torch everyone as they have in every episode related to the rebel arc. A few things seem really convenient. For one, the CSM is not there even though he is in charge of the hybrid program. We need him as a villain for the future, so there. Two, I find it odd that Samantha Mulder, in whatever form, was left out of the family members going to meet up with the aliens. Maybe I am reading it wrong, but like the CSM’s absence from the massacre, they needed her for future storylines, so she was spared.

In the end, a guilt ridden Jeffrey Spender requests Mulder and Scully be placed back on the X-Files because he believes the two of them could have saved his mother even though they tried and failed to do so. (In his defense, I am not sure he knew of their efforts there at the last minute.) Exactly why kersh would reinstate two suspended agents and assign them to a special section based on the request of a young, relatively inexperienced agent is a mystery, but that is television for you. In the end, Jeffrey spender is shot and supposed killed by his father for not living up to his legacy like Mulder has.

I have been snaky, but ‘One Son” is as good as resolution to the original mythology arc as one could wish. Subsequent seasons rendered most every bit of the mythology irrelevant, but I cannot fault ‘One Son’ for that. There are some logical flaws, such as Scully’s change of heart for no reason after storming off, characters who need to appear later for no good reason not being a Part of the meeting with the aliens even though they should have been, and the appearance of various supporting characters for no good reason other than than a rousing chorus of “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here,’ but I am still going to give this one four stars because it wraps up a five year arc without any serious gaps, all things considered.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

X-Files--"Two Fathers"

While there is some debate among fans when the ‘five year plan” began, the most popular theory is the mythology arc for The X-Files was crafted after Gillian Anderson got pregnant. In order to explain her maternity leave, she was to be abducted as part of a grand conspiracy to create human/alien hybrids. Assuming that is true, the story arc began in 1994. “Two Fathers,” set in 1999, brings the original mythology to a head. Math is not my strong suit, but I am confident 1994-1999 is five years. So here we go crashing towards the end.

As with many long television story arcs, it feels like the conclusion was not there from the beginning. (I am looking at you, Lost) The original mythology for The X-Files hinges on Cassandra Spender, a character introduced last season for two appearances, then *poof.* She vanished. Now she returns as the most pivotal character in the series.

Not that I fault Veronica Cartwright in the slightest for the let down. She earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a drama Series for ’Two fathers’ and I clearly see why. Her character goes from the euphoria of being rescued from Syndicate doctors and the realization she is not longer wheelchair bound to the horror of discovering it is because she is the first successful human/alien hybrid and therefore, signals the beginning of alien colonization of Earth. For a character we hardly know, we feel sympathy for her in a hurry.

One wonders if it was originally meant to be Scully who was the first successful hybrid. Her experience was the same as Cassandra’s, but one might think it would be going overboard to put Scully front and center so much in the conspiracy, particularly considering she does not believe any of it. Maybe it would have been a bit much, which is another reason I am going easy on the mythology’s conclusion hinging on a relatively new character. Further reasons come down the road a bit when Scully becomes prominent in the second mythology arc that seems like a bit much to have her mired.

Since ’Two Fathers” is the beginning of the end, there is an unusually large amount of exposition to explain the situation. A great deal of it was famously after initial filming when it was decided the Cigarette smoking Man should narrate the episode to Diane Fowley because so much needed to be explained beyond the story filmed. What did the narration reveal/ Take a deep breath….

The conspiracy began with Roswell in 1947 when a cabal of State department officials discovered a plan for aliens to reclaim the Earth. This is the first time the term ’reclaim’ is used, which hints at the blink and you will miss it story arc that life on Earth originated from outer space. The aliens plan to use the black oil, which is their life’s blood, to wipe out humanity. The State Department officials, who eventually become an international cabal of other diplomats, agree to work on creating human/alien hybrids. Once they are successful, colonization can begin. The Syndicate, as they are now called, works on the long term project, but drags its feet in hopes of finding a way to stop colonization. They almost had it with the black oil vaccine, but unfortunately, they were successful with Cassandra as a hybrid faster than hoped for. Luckily, faceless alien rebels have begun attacking the Syndicate’s resources in an effort to stop colonization.

Samantha Mulder was taken as punishment for Bill Mulder’s desire to resist colonization in the first place. Fox Mulder has been inadvertently carrying on his legacy by piecing together the syndicate’s plan with The X-Files. The Cigarette Smoking man arranged for his son, Jeffrey Spender, to take over the X-Files in order to stall investigation into the conspiracy as a legacy to him. Hence, the fathers and sons theme.

The Cigarette Smoking Man winds up highly disappointed in Jeffrey for paling in comparison to Mulder. The disappointment is particularly poignant considering the cliffhanger has Jeffrey murdering a rebel alien and Mulder about to shoot Cassandra, upon her desperate request, so the two of them have the nerve to commit an evil act for what they both see as the greater good. Looking back on it with the knowledge they are half-brothers makes them appear much more equal, though perhaps in a warped way.

“Two Fathers” is an interesting episode. For one who has followed the mythology story from its beginning, there is not much new to learn. There is so much exposition and Spender family drama, Mulder and Scully are not particularly prominent. As often happens, they are more buffeted by events around them than anything else. Anticipation of the conclusion of the mythology arc and the performance by Veronica Cartwright make ’Two Fathers” a worthy episode.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

X-Files--"Tithonus"

"Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man--
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem'd
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask'd thee, "Give me immortality."
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men who care not how they give."
--"Tithonus" by Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Tithonus” is named after a character from Greek mythology. He feel in love with a goddess Aurora. She begged Zeus to give him eternal life so he could be with her forever. Zeus granted her request, but since she forgot to also ask for eternal youth, Tithonus grew older and more feeble, suffering all the infirmities of old age. The Greek gods tended to be real jerks that way.

The episode runs along a similar theme. Scully is paired with another agent, Peyton Ritter, in an attempt to split her and Mulder up. Peyton leads Scully a possible murder case in which a certain photographer has an unnatural skill at discovering dead bodies before the police do. The photographer is Alfred Fellig, a man they cannot peg any murder on, much to Ritter’s consternation.

Scully develops a fascination with Fellig. With the secret assistance of Mulder, she discovers she is actually working on an X-File. Using any number of aliases, Fellif has been living for over 149 years. Scully does not believe that, of course, but she still trails him in order to discover how he knows when people are about to die.

The matter gets up close and personal when he takes her along on one of his trips. He is going to photograph the murder of a prostitute. Scully is skeptical, but as an argument between a hooker and her pimp heats up, she intervenes. The potential murder is stopped, but the hooker steps out into the street only to be struck by a bus.

Curiosity piqued and grossly offended by Fellig’s disregard for human life, Scully confronts him over his behavior. For unknown reasons, Fellig cannot die, though he is obsessed with the idea of it. He is a battle-scarred, world weary man who sees no point in living further. He has some connection with Death, however. He has been photographing the living embodiment of death for decades. . Fellig explains that he was once supposed to die of yellow fever, but he refused to look death in the eyes, so his nurse was killed instead.

Fellig tells Sculy she is about to die, so he gets his camera out to record Death coming for her.

Meanwhile, Mulder determines Fellig did commit a murder back in 1929. Unable to warn Scully, he contacts Ritter. Ritter is on his way to Fellig’s apartment after the warning. Being the gung ho young agent that he is, Ritter breaks down the door. Feelig’s camera flashes in his eyes as he fires. The bullet goes through fellig ansd into Scully. With his final breath, he asks her if she sees Death. She will not look him in the eye. Poetically, seeing someone refuse to die allows fellig to pass on, while scully miraculously recovers from her bullet wound.

Anyone remember Clyde Bruckman telling Scully she would never die? Has her refusal to look death in the eyes as Fellig once did rendered her immortal? We are meant to think that, I believe. Immortality is presented as a truly awful thing here, however. It is mostly because love is not forever. Fellig’s wife has been dead for decades. Without ever being able to confront the mystery of their being an afterlife, there is no possibility he will ever see her again. It is a very sad concept. Fellig is played perfectly by veteran actor Geoffrey Lewis. He is a haunted character whom you do not sympathize with for his plight so much as wish he could die just so the rest of us could be spared such a miserable creature.

So many Scully-centric stories deal with mortal peril for her or a loved one that it has almost become cliché, but when the subject is dealt with well, the stories are still enthralling. “Tithonus” is a fine example.

There is a lot packed into ’Tithonus.” I have emphasized the philosophy of eternal life not being as glorious as one might think, but there is also a prominent running sadness about splitting up the Mulder/Scully team. That is obviously Krrsh’s plan. It is made clear if she does well on this case, she will resume field agent status, but leave Mulder behind to do background checks. While she assures Mulder this is a one time deal, she knows its her chance to resume her career and takes it without hesitation.

Mulder comes across as a lonely schoolboy, once even making a joke over the phone that they used to sit next to each other at the FBI, as he watches her go. He continues to do research in order to guide her in the right direction on Fellig. It feels like a desperate way of holding onto his connection with her. It is doubly poignant considering Ritter is an ambitious prick more interested in making a name for himself with a big collar than discovering the truth. He treats her like garbage for playing the same role that Mulder ultimately appreciates. When he stupidly gets her shot, that is last straw. I want the band back together!

I appreciate the mood and way themes of death are dealt with in ‘Tithonus.” I am also a fan of Scully-centric episodes in general. This is the first really good one we have seen in a while. It is an underrated episode that is a throwback to the old, darker themed episodes I generally prefer. Hence, “Tithonus” earns high marks.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, March 21, 2011

X-Files--"SR 819"

“SR 819’ is an interesting change of pace. The episode is an homage to the 1950 Edmund O’Brien film DOA in which a man is poisoned and has 24 hours to find out who effectively murdered him. The X-Files makes the story its own by having skinner be poisoned in an effort to break him away even further from Mulder and Scully.

Skinner winds up in the emergency room after a friendly boxing match. It is presumed a punch knocked him flat, but when Mulder pays a social visit to him later that evening, his health has deteriorated. Mulder and scully surmise skinner was poisoned in a brief encounter that morning with a physicist in the hallway. Suspicions are confirmed when the physicist, Dr. Kenneth Orgel, signed into the FBI building as a guest of skinner.

As Skinner lands in the hospital, the agents split up into their usual roles, albeit refreshingly not contrary to one another. Mulder is the field agent attempting to locate orgel and discover his connection to the Senate Resolution 819 referred to in the episode title. Scully uses her medical knowledge to look for a cure in the lab. They are doing regular FBI duties here, yet it does not feel like a generic cop show. Kudos for that.

Why it feels like The X-Files is because the Senate resolution is funding nanotechnology as a bio-weapon rather than the humanitarian aid for the World Health Organization as advertised. Skinner was infected with the nanotechnology inadvertently by orgel, who has already died from a manufactured heart attack. Skinner is on the verge of death, too, but is mysteriously pulled back from the brink in what is considered nothing short of a miracle.

The agents want to investigate further, as all evidence is rapidly disappearing, including SR 819 from committee. Skinner curtly refuses. The two are only suppose to report to Kersh now. Reluctantly, they do not argue. That night, skinner is confronted by krycek, who is revealed to be behind the nanotech attack on him. Thus begins the running storyline of Krycek blackmailing skinner that will eventually end with a bang.

“SR 819” is a very good, serious episode after a string of some goofy stories. It is a reminder that The X-Files does not have to be the Moonlighting with Aliens the latter half of the series tried hard to be. Skinner is my favorite supporting character. He rarely gets a chance to shine. Surprisingly, he still comes across as a tough guy here even though he is near death for most of the episode and revealed to be blackmailed by the end. Mulder and Scully are competent professional without sparring over proof over the paranormal or sexual tension. We could use more episodes like this.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

X-Files--"The Rain King"

The discrepancies between the production order and airing really skewered this season’s episode. Post-production on "Triangle” ran long, and “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” had to be rushed in order to get it in before the holiday season. The result was some strange continuity glitches. Some, like "The Rain King,” unintentionally revealed future storylines. The episode is set in august. The two agents are back on the X-Files after having been sent to Kansas to investigate a fraud case, but at this point, Spender and Fowley are still in charge of the x-Files while Mulder and Scully are stuck with menial tasks under the idea of forcing their resignations. At least we know the status quo will be restored fairly quickly, no?

The agents arrive in a small Kansas town where a severe drought has plagued farmers for months. There is an alleged con artist going about claiming he can make it rain for a fee. They soon discover the guy appears to be the real deal. Or, at the very least, the farmers he helps are happy with the results. It becomes apparent he is a fraud when Mulder discovers the weather is actually being affected by the emotions of the local meteorologist, Holman hardt, and his unrequited love for his co-worker, Sheila.

Sheila is not very excited about Holman. She is still after her ex-faince. Things get worse when she develops a thing for mulder, whom she considers far more interesting than anyone else in her small town. Feeling deeply rejected, Holman inadvertently cause heavy thunderstorms and flash flooding. Mulder decides to give him dating advice to soothe his jangled emotions , thereby calming the weather. Scully quips that is the blind leading the blind. She is right. It is girl talk between she and Sheila that resolves matters. Holman and Sheila eventually marry and have a child, according to the epilogue.

“The Rain King” continues the less than subtle theme that mulder and Scully are in love with each other, but denying it. Holman remarks how Mulder gazes at her. He cannot believe they have never hooked up. Sheila is just as surprised Scully denies any romantic interest in Mulder. They both assure the they are just friends. For good measure, Scully tells Sheila that the best romances grow out of friendship. Just because she has only seen Holman as a friend does not mean there is not a lasting love in there somewhere. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge to the audience there, though scully is oblivious. It is a joke that she is also the blind leading the blind.

‘The Rain King” is dumb, but sweet. Like much of the comedy in the second season, it is played for absurd laughs. At one point, Holman is so upset, he causes a tornado to drop a cow on Mulder’s motel room. It is still a touching episode in spite of the silliness. I chalk it up largely to Victoria Jackson. She brings a gentle, naïve nature to the character that often annoys my cynical ways in real people, but it is charming in her. I would like for her to take on more acting roles than she does. Alas, she is a Christian conservative in Hollywood, so not much chance of that. To bad. She makes the episode for non-shipper me.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

X-Files--"Terms of Endearment"

“Terms of Endearment” is another episode I have mixed emotions about. Let us go ahead and get it out of the way that I still possess a certain bob Jones university fundamentalist echo in me that feels uncomfortable with demonic references even when said demon is presented in full, evil glory. That goes without saying. As for the rest of the episode, I am divided between the surprising pro-life theme versus how wasted guest star Bruce Campbell is as a demon bigamist and hopeful daddy.

Spender, reminding us of what a complete jerk he is, completely dismisses a potential X-File regarding a Virginia woman who claims a demon stole her unborn child after a sonogram revealed some abnormalities. Mulder picks up the file to pursue it, leaving Scully to do boring background check work. He suspects the woman’s dream in which she saw a demon take her baby is real. Her husband is the demon in question.

He is right. Bruce Campbell plays a demon named Wayne who wants a normal life with a normal child. He keeps marrying human women to get them pregnant, then aborts the children when he discovers they are demons. (those abnormalities on the sonograms are nascent horns and wings.) Scully finally joins mulder once the first wife inexplicably falls into a coma, but she does not buy the demon seed story.

Mulder is curious to find the guy’s other wife before she gives birth. There is a twist--she is a demon, too, but unbeknownst to all parties. She wanted a full demon child. By the end of the episode, Wayne is dead after having given up his life spirit to pull his human wife out of her coma and his second wife is living a happy life with her demon child.

As I said above, I appreciated the pro-life undertones, although I suspect they were not intended to be a political statement on the abortion issue in general. Nevertheless, it was strongly considered evil for Wayne to abort his children when they seemed to possess, as far as the doctors were concerned, non-fatal, non-regressive defects. I have a suspicion the pro-choice crowd would think such defects are still grounds for abortion. Or is that just now? I doubt 1999 was a time when abortion was less acceptable in all its rationales, but maybe I am being cynical in my recollection. Have we fallen that much further in twelve years?

In spite of my kudos for the pro-life message, I was disappointed by Bruce Campbell. I like Campbell, do not get me wrong. He was Brisco County, jr. and is now Sam Ax on Burn Notice. both are characters I really like. He has a skill for dark comedy that was not present in ’Terms of Endearment.” I have to wonder why. The premise is wayne is a demon posing as a sports car driving insurance salesman who wants a normal human baby, but winds up conned by a female demon instead. The set up ought to be comedy gold, but we get nothing other than mulder’s usual sardonic wit. Campbell was wasted here on a bad script.

The episode could have been a darkly funny classic, but it is instead a run of the mill monster of the week installment. It does have some extremely gruesome scenes, such as wayne as the demon pulling his child out of the womb and burning it in a furnace. Police dig up five infant corpses in the span of the story, to boot. Some famous Campbell comedy would have helped relieve the tension. Basically, it is gratuitous on the gore, but stingy on Campbell doing his thing. But subdued Campbell is better than no Campbell, so the episode is still not one to skip.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

The episode features “Only Happy When it Rains” by Garbage on two occasions. It is a cool song. Shirley Manson is also hot in the video:

Friday, March 18, 2011

X-Files--"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"

It does not seem like too long ago I wrote the review for last season’s Christmas episode. We roll through these seasons pretty quickly, no? “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” is one of my favorite Christmas episodes of any series. It is obviously a ghost story, yet is not take the easy route and parody Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” is a very creative, arguably bitter little candy cane. Ergo, I like it.

On Christmas Eve, mulder invites Scully to go ghost hunting in a Maryland mansion in which two lovers alleged killed each other in a pact on Christmas Eve, 1917. Several other double murders have taken place over the decades, all on Christmas Eve. Mulder thinks the place is haunted by the spirits of the murdered. Scully shows up, but is irritated to discover what he wants her to do. She insists she is going back home to prepare for her family’s visit tomorrow. Yet, when Mulder goes in the mansion anyway, she follows, thinking he has swiped her car keys.

The mansion does have a certain lived in look. The agents wind up trapped in a locked room. A tapping under the floorboards leads the to rip them up and discover their own corpses. The two get separated while looking for a way out, each encountering a ghost. The ghosts are Maurice and Lyda, the two lovers who allegedly committed double4 suicide, but were involved in a murder-suicide instead. Whenever there are visitors on Christmas eve, the two attempt to get them to kill each other, too.

The ghosts make the agents suspicious of one another by playing with their true feelings. Mulder is revealed to be a narcissist who demands Scully be around him because he gets a kick out of proving her wrong. But he is a lonely man. That will never be enough to satisfy the emotional void. The other ghost convinces Scully she has no other pleasure in life than proving people wrong. She and Mulder feed off each other, but it is destructive.

The agents escape to run into one another, at which point Mulder does shoot Scully. Proving hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, she shoots him back. They are both clearly bleeding to death as they crawl their way outside. There is a strong implication the ghosts were controlling each one as he or she shot the other. The two realize they would never shoot one another under any circumstances, so they get up with the realization they are un harmed. They flee the mansion as quickly as possible.

Once they have left, Maurice and Lyda lament they failed in their task. Had Mulder and Scully not realized their friendship would not allow them to harm one another, they would have died from their ‘wounds.” Oh, well. There is always next year.

Mulder sits alone in his apartment, undecorated for Christmas, when Scully knocks at his door. She wants to know if any of what happened was real. He assures her it was not, then apologizes for being so selfish as to drag her out on Christmas Eve. She tells him not to worry about it. Although she is often very contrary, she likes being around him and wanted to be there. The two exchange gifts, even though they said they would not.

Speaking of Mulder as a narcissist, it does seem particularly selfish to drag Scully out at Christmas considering it is the first anniversary of her daughter Emily’s death. While that storyline was not as emotionally poignant as it was supposed to be, disregarding the incident entirely sounds extremely cold, even for Mulder. It is a turn off to see all that completely ignored. Is it an admission the Emily story was a mistake? I would not doubt it.

I did like the subconscious implication the two agents are going to a mansion in which murders traditionally take place on Christmas Eve because they secretly want to end their lonely lives. I am still not a shipper, but I appreciated how they realized they can alleviate each other’s loneliness when they temper their respective obsessive personality traits. One could apply that standard professionally and personally without implying romantically, but whatever floats you boat is all right with me.

One nitpick as a history buff; when Mulder is explaining the alleged suicide pact between, he mentions it is 1917 and American soldiers are dying all over Europe with influenza killing them at home. The latter is arguably true, even though the flu epidemic is mostly identified with 1918, but the former is absolutely incorrect. While the United States declared war in April 1917, the military was so unprepared to fight, it did not arrive until May 1918 and did not see combat until June. Our doughboys were quite safe on Christmas Eve, 1917.

Maurice and Lyda were played magnificently by Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin. Asner, a noted obnoxious progressive, even has a joke in which he claims he has friends in the ACLU who will hear about the FBI’s violation of his civil rights during this home invasion. I appreciated the clever reference. The amazing part is there are only four characters in the episode, which takes place largely in one room. It is like a well crafted stage play. I was never aware of the minimalist surroundings.

Ghost stories and Christmas go hand in hand as far as I am concerned. I guess there is something about the holidays that brings back the long dead ghosts of the past. I regardless think A Christmas Carol is overdone, so I definitely appreciate a new twist on a haunted Christmas teaching a life lesson. “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” does a fantastic job.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

X-Files--"Dreamland II"

X-Philes to whom it may apply should still be at the ready to torch me in effigy. While I do find “Dreamland II” more amusing than the first part, the story still does not rise to the top tier of The X-Filesquite as well as popularly assumed. I have two big issues I will talk about in a minute.

But first I will give “Dreamland II” props for correcting an issue I had with the first episode. If Morris Fletcher is such a womanizing cad, why did he pay no attention to Scully while he was inhabiting Mulder’s body? In “Dreamland II,” he changes all that. He is on her like white on rice. Again, his change in attitude towards her is all for the comedy, as she already suspects from the moment Mulder as Fletcher is arrested in Nevada they have switched bodies. But since Fletcher’s clumsy attempts to seduce her are amusing, I will not pick too many nits over it.

Which leads to the first problem I had--the plot was so flimsy, it was nothing more than an excuse to set up some I Love Lucy level screw ball comedy. The catalyst for the story was the general at Area 51 suspected they were flying UFO technology and lured mulder there hoping he would know if it was true. He crashed the experimental plane so he could show Mulder the flight data recorder. It takes about two minutes to explain all that and 86 for hilarity to ensue.

I am going to be fair here. I thought a lot of the mistaken identity bits and frustration Scully and Fletcher’s wife are facing with their new ’partners’ were hilarious. Michael McKean is a master at selling smart alec one liners. I particularly enjoyed how he convinced his wife he was in Mulder’s body by reminding her she got mad at him at their wedding reception because he told her he could not see the cake for her fat butt. It was such an out of the blue joke delivered so matter of fact, and it happily convinced his wife who he really was. Ah, romance. So I cannot knock the comedy. Much of it was gold. The problem is that is all it was--a sitcom scenario.

Or more precisely, a sitcom scenario with a reset button ending, which is my second problem. I get what the writers were doing. There were a couple sly Star Trek references towards the end which were a wink to the “reset button” endings that plagued the modern series, particularly Star Trek: Voyager. Oftentimes, it felt like trek had backed itself into a corner, so a deus ex machina is the only way to fix things. That is what happens here. All the damage done by the warp tear just begins reversing. Eventually, everyone goes back to the time they first encountered each other on the highway outside Area 51 with no memories of the last few days. All is back to normal.

But not quite. For the sake of laughs, Scully still has a two fused pennies and Fletcher’s redecorating job on Mulder’s apartment is still there. There is no way to reconcile the changes, however. Why do those changes still exist, but others--Scully disciplinary suspension, Kersh’s irritation at their insubordination, Fletcher’s affair with Kersh’s secretary--all go down the rabbit hole? Just to be cute at the expense of logic, I suppose.

I sound harsh here, but you should not get the impression I dislike ’Dreamland II.” I appreciate it for what it is--a frivolous comedy set to break the tension of darker episodes to come. I am not certain I can even complain about it not fitting the general motif of the series. I liked early episodes because there was a frequent theme of placing the agents in the middle of a famous horror movie scenario. Well, why not place them in a screwball comedy scenario every now and then, too? It is not the best fit, but it is not a complete waste of time, either.

A big saving grace is the moment just before Scully realizes the whole process is reversing. She and Mulder as Fletcher are standing alone in the desert with the realization there is no way to switch bodies back. Mulder and Fletcher are going to be forced to live each other’s lives permanently. There is a palpable air of sadness the team is being split up, which is a stark contrast to the irritation Scully expressed in the previous about spending her life chasing aliens with him. I think the emotions there were supposed to compel you to dismiss the without explanation reversal of everything because you were supposed to want it all to return to normal. In that sense, I suppose it works.

Final verdict--call it good, but not great. If I were in the mood to watch some of the funnier episodes, it would be a while before I got to this one. I am inclined to think Fletcher’s subsequent appearances are moe humorous. Nevertheless, it is worth watching, if for no other reason than the cast appears to be having a ball with it.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

X-Files--"Dreamland"

Lots of X-Philes are going to want to burn me in effigy for this, but episodes like “Dreamland” cause me to lament the post-Fight the Future shift away from dark episodes to a more light-hearted adventure series. Which is not to say I have lost interest in the series or that I particularly dislike “Dreamland.” it is the powers that be seemed to be growing bored with The X-Files and wanted to turn it into something else. A spectacle, perhaps.

Spectacle is an apt description of “Dreamland.” Ut is a farce played mostly for laughs which plays on the subtle theme running through the sixth season of what it might be like for the agents to settle down into domestic bliss. The answer is that does not seem to be the kind of life the two can live. Not that the realization has stopped the shippers from considering “Dreamland” and its sequel favorite episodes.

The agents are accosted on the road to Area 51 by Men in Black. They are forced to turn around, but not before an experimental aircraft flies over, tearing a hole in space. The effect is Mulder and Morris Fletcher, played extra smarmy by Michael McKean, switch bodies. I find it highly contrived that both go on about their business in order to get separated rather than immediately panicking. It is too implausible.

What their separation does is set up the fish out of water jokes for the remainder of the episode as each adjust to their new life. Fletcher is having a much better time playing Mulder than the other way around. Scully becomes suspicious as Mulder acts like a chauvinistic cad who is no longer interested in the X-Files. Mulder cannot adjust to Fletcher’s home life even though he is definitely an absentee husband and father.

I will grant you there are some laugh out loud moments. As a Marx Brothers fan, I loved the sequence in which Mulder and Fletcher reenacted the famous mirror scene between Groucho and Harpo from Duck Soup. You may be more familiar with Lucille Ball and Harpo reprising the scene in an episode of I Love Lucy. But I do hope the original came to mind for you first. Some of Fletcher’s more obnoxious intereactions with Scully are amusing, but since he is a sex fiend, I have to wonder why he is not more flirtatious with her. I would be. *Ahem*

The warp tear caused by the experimental plane is wreaking all sorts of havoc across the Nevada desert. Mulder is being dragged along to clean up the mess with extreme prejudice. After he finally contacts Scully, she is suspicious there may really have been a body switch. Before she can really look into it, Kersh forces her to arrest mulder as Fletcher for being a traitor at the behest of Fletcher as Mulder so he can continue posing as the FBI agent.

Fun, frivolous, and gruesome at times with human nodies fused into solid objects because of the warp tears, “Dreamland’ is entertaining, but far different than much of what has gone before. The series’ philosophy has definitely shifted. Not necessarily a terrible thing yet, but an indicator the show has peaked.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

X-Files--"Triangle"

Here you go, shippers--the first of four onscreen smooches between the agents, albeit Mulder kisses a 1939 version of Scully who punches him in the left eye for doing so. Fans into that sort of thing consider the occasion a series highlight, so rejoice as you deem necessary. I am more impressed with the technical expertise that went into filming triangle. It really is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking.

“Triangle” tells the story of Mulder traveling to the Bermuda Triangle on an apparent whim to search for the British ship Queen Anne. The opening scene depicts him lying facedown in the water before he is rescued by the crew of the Queen Anne. believing himself to be back in 1939 just days after Germany invaded Poland, he gets mixed up in a Nazi search for a nuclear scientist onboard and OSS agent Scully attempting to keep said scientist out of Nazi hands.

“Triangle” is generally an homage to The Wizard of oz. there are more subtle references, such as Mulder’s boat being called Lady Garland after Oz star Judy Garland, but far more overt ones, such as key roles in 1939 being played by people Mulder knows from contemporary times. Not to mention loads of joke s about over the rainbow and Toto.

As I said, the most appealing part of “Triangle” is the technical skill with which it was made. The first four acts are done in one continuous shot with the camera following a main character from commercial break to commercial break. That is not easy to do when considering each act is busier than the previous. In the present day, Scully scurries through the corridors and offices of the FBI building attempting to track down Mulder’s whereabouts, while in 1939, Mulder is being chased through the decks of the Queen Anne into an elaborate ballroom party. For the fifth act, the two time periods converge in a split screen in which 1998 Scully and 1939 Scully literally cross each other’s path on the same Queen Anne deck. Describing it does not do justice. It must be seen to be fully appreciated.

Not that it is perfect. At one point, Gillian Anderson stumbles on the FBI building set, but manages to right herself and keep going. The scene was kept in, presumably to add authenticity to Scully’s desperation is locate Mulder, but it was probably also kept in to keep from having to re-shoot the nine minute continuance sequence again.

As a period piece, the setting is done extraordinarily well. Many of the period costumes had been used in James Cameron’s Titanic, which was most certainly the inspiration for the episode in the first place whether anyone responsible is willing to own up to the fact. Gillian Anderson is quite hot, too. I can see how she has carved out a decent career for herself playing in period pieces for the BBC these days. Ahe makes for a classy dame.

There are strong hints the episode from Mulder’s perspective was an oxygen deprived hallucination in which he fantasized people he knew were a part of it. The only hint events were real is his black left eye from where 1939 Scully punched him for kissing her. That and the generally dismissive attitude 1998 Scully had for his advances, which include a sly placing of his hand on her hip in the hospital. Blink and you will miss it.

I am fond of “Triangle” as both one who appreciates when filmmakers take risks and as a history buff. Granted, the latter strains at times to accept some errors. Scully could not be an OSS agent in 1939 because the OSS was not founded until 1942. I suppose I can live with such things. “triangle” is the first episode in quite a while to earn four stars.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, March 14, 2011

X-Files--"Drive"

“Drive” is an interesting point of note. Bryan Cranston, a year before taking his famous role as the father on Malcolm in the Middle, has a prominent guest role in an episode written by Vince Gilligan. A decade later the two would pair up again for the award winning series, Breaking Bad. As near as I can tell, “Drive” is the first time Cranston and Gilligan work together, so this episode may be Breaking Bad’s grandpappy.

“Drive” also continues the sixth season trend towards more action oriented episodes of The X-Files. The story is one long car chase with standard gore and government conspiracy thrown in to remind you what show you are watching. For an episode so different than most of the series’ offerings, it is surprisingly intense and entertaining. The downer ending comes as no surprise. Oh, and in case you have forgotten the show is no longer filmed in Vancouver, you get to see plenty of Southwestern desert on the trip from Nevada to California.

Mulder and Scully have been knocked down to the lowest of the low--checking in on farmers who have purchased high quantities of fertilizer to make certain they are not building bombs with them. Assistant director Kersh, whom the two are now under, makes it clear he is attempting to force them to quit the FBI. While checking out big piles of manure, Mulder spots the news report of the end of a high speed chase in which in which a woman’s head exploded when the car finally stopped. He convinces scully to check it out.

Bad idea. Mulder winds up being taken hostage by the husband. He appears to be suffering from a severe headache that can only be alleviated by driving west at high rate of speed. Scully performs an autopsy on his wife and determines there was a growing pressure on her inner ear which literally forced it to explode. Her husband obviously has the same condition.

As the car heads towards the pacific ocean, the agents plan a NASCAR style pit stop with a quickie surgical procedure to relieve the pressure on the man’s inner ear. It is too little, too late. By the time Mulder has reached the stop, the fellow’s head has exploded. For good measure, Kersh chews them both out for the unauthorized detour. I do not like this guy. Bring back Skinner.

There are a couple missteps here. Scully performs the autopsy without a contamination suit even though she has no idea what killed the woman. It could be an infectious disease, in which case she is unnecessarily exposing herself to risk. Indeed, for two-thirds of the episode, she thinks the root cause is an infectious disease, so she and everyone around her are wearing haz-mat suits. Soon, she discovers the cause is a white noise signal the Department of Defense is emitting which destroys the inner ear. But if that is the case, why is only one ear affected? Both inner ears should be primed to explode, not just one as “Drive” depicts.

In spite of those two logical flaws, I like “Drive.” There is not much to it outside of the action, but that winds up being enough. I am even willing to accept the whole idea of the military secretly testing a sonic weapon on white trash rednecks as the premise. Cranston does not get to be as clever as many of his other characters, but his banter with Mulder over Jewish conspiracies--first overt hint Mulder is Jewish, albeit not observant?-- offers comic relief from what thankfully rises above the generic television car chase. It is not typical fare for The X-Files, but it is not a waste of your time, either.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

“Drive” also features a cameo by country artist Junior Brown as the farmer the agents check in on in the beginning of the episode. Vince Gilligan is a big fan, so flew in Brown at personal cost to do the role. I am positive I have posted brown and the Beach Boys performing “409,” but it is still one of my favorites, so it bears a re-post:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

X-Files--"The Beginning"

Since "The Beginning" takes up at the return of Mulder and Scully from Antarctica, however it is they returned from the Arctic tundra, you should check out my review for X-Files: Fight the Future before going any further. As I mentioned yesterday, it feels strange to go from the season finale story into the relatively unrelated movie, then back to conclude the finale story without much connection between them, but a concerted effort is made in ‘The Beginning” to tie much of it together.

The first thing to notice is “The Beginning” marks definite change. It is the first episode filmed in California. The difference is highly noticeable. Gone are all the overcast, gray tones of Vancouver. They are replaced by the bright, Southern California sun. The contrast between Vancouver and Los Angeles is also indicative of the new tone for the conspiracy--it is no longer as shadowy. The plot of “The Beginning” depicts the chase for a murderous alien in all its bloody glory. There is not much left to hide at this point.

The second point to note is Mulder’s inexplicable turn on Scully after they had connected so well, almost romantically, in X-Files: Fight the future. He expects her to reiterate his extraordinary story of her having been infected with an alien virus that was incubating an WBE inside her and confirm she was on board a space ship in the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, she does not. She discovers the virus is terrestrial and was unconscious when the ship took off, so she has no memories of it. Scully has no choice but to say that, even though it hangs them both out to dry.

Mulder never bothers to recognize how she is ruining her own reputation by hanging with him. All he cares about is she is not saying what he wants to hear. The two of them are taken off the x-Files together. They are given to spender and Fowley, of all people, thanks to the nepotism of the Cigarette Smoking Man. Mulder can only see how screwed he is personally, so he treats scully like garbage throughout the episode even though she is in the same boat he is--and does not have to be, truth be told.

This is not the first time the x-Files have been closed down or Mulder has dumped on Scully, so that is nothing new. What is new is the more overt actions of the aliens. A Syndicate scientist in Arizona accidentally injects himself with the alien virus. It works far faster on him than did Scully in the movie, so an alien aggressively erupts from him inside his home. The Csm uses his new power over spender and Fowley to cover up the incident while he searches for the alien using Gibson praise’s mental abilities. Skinner unofficially gives Mulder a heads up at what is going on in Arizona, so he heads out with Scully in tow.

Furthering his charming demeanor, he dumps Gibson off on her once he escapes the CSM. While she takes him to the hospital, Mulder and Fowley pursue the alien at a nuclear power plant. It gets away from both of them, eventually hooking up with Gibson as the alien evolves from one of those long clawed vicious critters into a traditional grey alien. Fowley opts to cover everything up as Mulder and Scully are forbidden any contact with the X-Files under penalty of termination from the FBI.

As I mentioned yesterday, I had forgotten Mimi Rogers had such a prominent role prior to the sixth season finale. Maybe it is because Fowley is such an unlikable character. I do not know, but yet again, I had no memory of her being such a big part of ‘The Beginning.” it is not one of the most memorable of season premieres, either. It does have a big scope similar to the movie. The battle against the aliens is far less left to finding clues about colonization than it is running into the actual critters now as they pursue an agenda on Earth. I am not so certain the switch from a shadowy conspiracy to out and out man versus killer suit’s the series, but there you go.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

X-Files--"The End"

The fifth season of The X-Files is the second shortest of the series at only twenty episodes, so we have reached it quite quickly. “The End” has a double meaning. The first and most important I will get to in a moment. The second is this is the final episode to be filmed in Vancouver. Officially, the move was because FOX was willing to spruce up the production values of its cash cow series. Unofficially, it was a move to keep David Duchovny happy because he wanted to be closer to his family.

Vancouver gets a huge send off as the opening sequence not only takes place there, but local citizens were invited to play the audience at a chess tournament in which an assassination attempt is made. The assassin is attempting to kill Gibson Praise, a young chess prodigy. Gibson, who can read minds, though we do not know that yet, senses a sniper targeting him and ducks. The bullet hits his Russian opponent instead.

The case is handed over to Special Agent Jeffrey Spender even though the FBI would have no jurisdiction in the matter, even though the assassin is a former National Security Agent. The Canadians would most certainly take charge of a murder investigation like this themselves. No use dwelling on that, however. Spender assembles his team, which includes Scully, but specifically requests mulder go chase flying saucers as far west as he can without hitting water. Skinner, who does not think Spender is ready for such responsibility, unofficially urges Mulder to crash the party.

He does, and is the only one to surmise Gibson knew a split second ahead of time he was the target of the bullet, not the Russian player. While it is a mystery why anyone would want to assassinate a kid, the video of the incident nevertheless seem to bear out mulder’s theory. He and scully wind up heading off to interview Gibson along with Mulder’s old chickadee from his academy days, Special Agent Diane Fowley. (Mi mi Rogers, who has played a lot of weird MILF in the last decade or so.)

Spender spits fire over the matter, but the characterization I find most irritating--saying a lot, because I really dislike Spender--is Scully. She is so catty and jealous about Fowley throughout the entire episode. She even interrogates the Lone Gunmen about her like some spurned junior high school girl. The worst part is the combination of her nearly asking Gibson what is on Fowley’s mind and the subsequent scene in which she is in mulder’s apartment just chillin’ with him while he is sprawled out on the couch. I got the impression she is hanging around trying to win him over after he and Fowley, subdued thought they may be, give off a vibe they click better. I am sure the shippers dig it, but I think it degrades the characters. Scully is a professional woman in her mid-thirties. She ought to be acting far more maturely, particularly since she has never showed romantic interest in Mulder before.

Mulder’s personal meeting with gibson confirms for him the kid can read minds. He sends scully off to confirm it through medical means, if possible, while he takes a few more jabs at Spender over his continued pursuit of the Russian chess player as the assassin‘s target. This, I like. Scully’s irritation at Fowley constantly trotting along behind Mulder, not so much.

As it turns out, Gibson’s has a heightened brain function in some hoodah area known as the God Lobe, which could be the center of all paranormal understanding. (A google search implies there is a pseudoscience based on the concept of finding spiritual awareness through the lobe, same as if one can find the name of God in pi.) Nevertheless, the idea prompts the Syndicate to call the Cigarette Smoking Man back into action to kidnap Gibson. He does, after popping a cap in Fowley’s left lung.

Janet Reno is not happy. She has not killed any kids since Waco, and she will not get to deport Elian Gonzalez back to sunny, Cuba at gunpoint for another two years, so she orders the X-Files shut down and mulder and Scully split up for good measure. The Csm enters the X-Files office one night, takes Samantha Mulder’s file, then sets the place on fire. For good measure, he answers the, “Who’s your daddy?” question for spender on the way out.

We end with Mulder’s professional life in shambles. At least he has Scully wrapped around him. That is something, no? “The End” leads right into X-Files: Fight the Future, which you can read right now at apocalypse cinema by following the link.

I remembered a lot about this episode from the first time around back in 1998 in spite of the fact I was studying for the LSAT at that point, but I had completely forgotten Fowley was introduced in it. Maybe that is because of how disappointed I was at Scully’s behavior, or because how she unceremoniously drops off the map until taking a big role towards the end of the next season. Nicolas lea shows up again as Krycek, but is little more than a delivery boy a and driver for the Well manicured Man. I guess what I really find strange is how the movie plops right in the middle of everything, has nothing to do with it other than reopening the X-Files as fast as they were closed, then picking up with the season premiere as though only certain bits of the movie actually happened. That will sound more reasonable tomorrow.

“The End” is not bad, but there is a certain filling the episode order to get to the movie vibe to it. It is only really disappointing if you were not anticipating a good time at the theater, so you were not really paying attention to the season finale anyway. I was looking forward to the movie and sweating the LSAT, so I did not dwell on my expectations being met at the time, either. Thirteen years later, I think ’the End’ is good, but nothing special. Certainly not like the great season finales of the past.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, March 11, 2011

X-Files--"Folie a Deux"

“Folie a Deux” (French for “a madness shared by two”) sees Mulder finally locked up in the loony bin after five years of chasing aliens, ghosts, and vampires with little solid evidence to show for it. You figured that would have to happen at some point, no?

Mulder is called to a Chicago telemarketing company which sells vinyl aiding because a taped manifesto has been discovered by an employee claiming a monster works there, hiding in the light. Mulder goes alone, because he suspects this matter is pointless work being thrown on him because of his reputation. Instead, he gets caught up in a hostage situation by the employee who believes his boss is a monster who is turning his employees into zombies.

The FBI eventually raids the office in order to rescue the hostages. They kill the deranged employee, but not before Mulder is convinced he has seen the man’s boss’ true colors as a monster, too.

Mulder pieces together clues from several other X-Files to determine this sort of incident has occurred before and the boss has been marginally attached to all of them. Scully and Skinner both assume Mulder is suffering some PTSD, but he will not drop the matter. He heads back to Chicago to ’protect” other employees in what looks more like stalking to everyone else. His claims the boss is a monster get him locked up.

Even Scully thinks he has finally lost his mind, but out of loyalty, she follows up on the one lead he gives her--the monster leaves some sort of marks on the back of the neck of the victims he zombifies. She discovers them on the neck of an allegedly zombified shooting victim in the earlier hostage situation. Surmising Mulder may be in trouble at the hospital, Scully arrives that night just in time to save him from the monster. With her confirming enough of his story, Mulder is released and returns to work. The monster is free to roam another telemarketing firm.

Considering how quickly points of continuity are forgotten between episodes, it is strangely refreshing to see Mulder’s broken finger still buddy taped from the previous episode.

We never get a really good look at the monster. Rumor has it the costume was laughably bad and had to be enhanced by CGI. From the brief glimpses we do so, it appears very insect-like. Mulder claims at one point this monster may be like a praying mantis in that it hypnotizes its prey. The actual monster resembles a roach. There is probably something Kafka-esque meant there, along with a tongue in cheek message that telemarketers are truly dead inside, but neither point jumps out at you. What did jump out at me is Mulder’s reference to the Helsinki syndrome in reference to his shared vision of the monster with his hostage taker. We meant Stockholm Syndrome, the phenomena of a hostage becoming sympathetic to the viewpoints of his captor. That is a glaring factual error.

Otherwise, “Folie a Deux” is an enjoyable episode. It feels a lot like filler before the season finale, but it does not come across as badly as many episodes in that unfortunate position have in the past. The episode does not stand up to much scrutiny, sop just enjoy it for what it is.

Rating: *** (out of 5)