Saturday, April 30, 2011

X-Files--"Invocation"

“Invocation” revisit’s the hit and miss motif of the creepy, murderous child which The X-Files did frequently in its early years, but mercifully leet pass on in later seasons. While some episodes with such kids are very good, I am inclined to think it is a worn out gimmick that does not have the emotional impact it once did. It does not pack much of a wallop here, either, but it is not really the point. “Invocation” gives Doggett some much needed character development, though still with too many blank spots to make the episode a classic.

Billy Underwood, a seven year old child who was kidnapped from a playground ten years ago mysteriously returns to the same playground ten years later having not aged a day. In fact, a medical exam shows he still has the remnants of an illness he was treated for days before his disappearance. Not only has he not aged, but he is literally the exact same as he was the day he went missing.

Doggett has a particularly high emotional response to missing children cases. He does not buy that billy is the exacyt age he was when he disappeared. He is more inclined to think a teenage suspect who was questioned in the matter a decade ago has held Billy all this time, perhaps stunting his growth. While Doggett harasses the suspect now, Scully, while not quite pinning down a paranormal cause, is nevertheless there is not a normal explanation for the case.

Billy turns out to be homicidal with all the trimmings. He tries to stab his little brother on two occasions. Everyone but Scully rationalizes he has been traumatized by whatever he experienced the previous ten years. But Billy also keeps disappearing and reappearing His reappearance in the former suspect’s car leads to his arrest, interrogation, and eventual admission that he was bullied by his stepfather to kidnap billy years ago. He tried to protect the boy, but his stepfather eventually murdered him. In a twist, Billy’s brother has now been kidnapped, too. The “ghost” of Billy, lead the agents to his brother’s rescue as well as his own, shallow grave.

While Billy and his family’s plight evokes a lot of sympathy, “Invocation” is a character driven episode. The emphasis is on Doggett. There is a clearly personal need for him to solve this case, and he does not want to hear any supernatural goings on as the sole explanation. We discover subtly exactly why as he pulls out a photo of a young boy from his wallet during a quiet moment. We are not clued in on anything beyond that at this point, which is a shame. It is obvious the boy is his son. He must have been kidnapped with the outcome of the kidnapping turning out badly. But why do the writers not let us in on that? We do not even learn his name is Luke yet.

What is worse than the lack of overt explanation is Scully. She yanks Doggett back once when he gets too insistent Billy talk about his ordeal the first time they meet. Doggett insists he has much experience dealing with missing children. At that point, we are thinking professional experience, and that may very well be the case, but he also talking about personal experience. Scully tells him he is full of it. Okay, I realize he lied to her when they first met, so she still questions his honestly. But where is the old Scully who had an empathy for suffering people? The one who used to bring mulder back to reality whenever his obsession with proving the paranormal made him lose sight of the real people involved? Lord, I miss her.

There was a time when she would have known something was up with Doggett. They would have discussed the issue of Luke’s kidnapping. You would think after spending so much time with mulder’s obsession over discovering the fate of his sister, she would be more in tuned with Doggett’s pain. The revelation would have created a bond between the two of them while also letting the audience in on Doggett’s past. We might have even started liking the guy. But no, it is a wasted opportunity.

Another point I dislike about Scully now is how rapidly she accepts paranormal explanations for things, but cannot explain why because she lacks Mulder’s expertise in the subject. She compensates by being cold and rigid. Doggett has taken her old role of urging to consider the case a normal crime that may happen again to another little boy if it is not solved. The problem is that Mulder, whom she is trying pitifully to channel, could be snapped out of his one track mind towards the paranormal when a person was in danger. She is not channeling that aspect of Mulder’s personality. Doggett lascks her old skill of pulling the True Believer back to reality.

Quite frankly, s\Scully is useless here. She does literally nothing but stand around and berate Doggett while he does all the investigative legwork. He is the one to eventually rescue Billy’s kidnapped brother and arrest the culprit beyond the crime while Scully trots along behind him without any proactive gestures on her part. Top cap it all off, when Doggett wants some explanation at the end for how Billy’s ghost appeared, she tells him there is not one and storms off brooding. I get it. She is in pain over mulder being missing, good heavens, her behavior is atrocious.

Before any X-Phile asks, yes, I have taken into consideration Gillian Anderson is tired of the role at this point, so her negative feelings are shining through. That is not as good excuse, however., nor is it a serious evaluation of the problem. The writers are changing the dynamic of Scully from Skeptic to Reluctant Believer, but it is simply not working. That is not what the Scully we all know and love is about.

While I try to avoid speculating what might have been when reviewing episodes, this is the first of the eighth season episodes I am certain would have been vastly improved if it was a Mulder and Scully case. I cannot put my finger on exactly why, since Doggett’s personal issues are what we are supposed to hang our hat on. Maybe it is because Mulder always had a soft spot for children who were crime victims. Scully did, too, back in better days.

As far as comparing “Invocation” to episodes from the final two seasons, it is still one of the most solid. The continued unnecessary tension between Scully and Doggett is annoyingly ridiculous, particularly considering what he has done for her over the last couple episodes. She had bonded with Mulder over far less far more quickly. Certainly there is a desire to keep him at arm’s length in hopes Mulder will return, but she is still acting like an unprofessional ingrate. If I were Doggett, I would be begging for a transfer after this one. It is definitely a Doggett episode, but it would have been better if we had been given more details about his son--like his name--to build up more sympathy, but there you go.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, April 29, 2011

X-Files--"Roadrunners"

Back in the day, it was with “Roadrunners’ that X-Philes began seriously complaining how the departure of david duchovny was negatively affecting the show. Specifically, fans believed the creators were over compensating with too much gore and the working relationship between scully and Doggett was being forced. The former is nothing new. The series has been compensating for bad scripts with bloody shock value from the beginning. Not that the unnecessary gore of “Roadrunners” does not detract from the bad script, but it is the development Scully/Doggett relation that really kills the episode.

Much of the story is based loosely on the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. It is a about a small town that holds a lottery in order to choose a person to stone to death. In “Roadrunners,” citizens of a not on the map small community are a religious cult which periodically selects someone new as the host of a giant, parasitic worm which attaches itself to the chosen one’s spine. The cult believes this worm is the Second Coming, but cannot find a host who can survive long enough for the worm to do…whatever wonderful thing it is supposed to do. Grant special powers or something. No one ever clarifies. Maybe they do not know themselves. There is a running theme these religious folks are idiots, so maybe they are being played by the worm. Like I said, it is a bad script. Do not waste time thinking about it.

Think instead about Scully, and how badly her character is demeaned. She runs off to Utah without Doggett in order to investigate a missing persons case. She is looking for a hitchhiker who accidentally became part of the exchange of the worm. In spite of showing him respect as a colleague at the end of the previous episode, she still does not want to connect with him in anticipation Mulder will return. It is a petty thing for her to do. I am not an expert on the real FBI, but I would imagine upward promotion means changes in partners quite often. It is professional courtesy to work with new agents. So Scully is being unusually petty for the character. She is not normally a pouting woman.

Nor is she normally as dumb as she is here. She becomes trapped in the community through every contrived horror film cliché known to (wo)man--her gas tank is sabotaged by a station attendant, no one has a working phone, only the creepy people at a boarding house will even speak to her, she has to spend the night there, and they have a medical crisis with the new guy infected with the worm in order to distract her. If that is not bad enough, when she is along with the guy, she decides to look for a way to escape, so she gives him her freaking gun! Again, I am no expert on the FBI, but I do know giving up your gun is verboten. Heck, I am not an FBI agent and I would not have done it. There is immediate danger ahead.

Naturally, she is captured, sans gun, and the worm is forced on her spine. Scully begsw pitifully for them to stop because she is pregnant. There is something that should have crossed her mind before handing over her weapon. The whole sequence is demeaning to Scully. You should never reduce your heroine to a crying, whimpering mess in the face of the bad guys. She has never done that before when her life was threatened. In fact, the times she has broken down in tears were always after such incidents when she felt she could privately rely on Mulder for consoling.

Scully has been the damsel in distress before, but never quite this way. She got herself into this mess by doing dumb things. She was reduced to a puddle of tears when the worst of it occurred. When rescue finally comes, because Doggett has followed his cop instincts to find her, he finds her half-naked, spread-eagle tied to a bed. Every bit of this is the classic male fantasy of rescuing the naïve, helpless female, and she will be yours, you dashing hero, you. The only point that diminishes this thought is Doggett taking his knife and cutting open Scully’s back, sans anesthetic, to pull the worm out and kill it. Nothing like slicing between a woman’s shoulder blades to ruin the knight in shining armor wins the damsel’s heart archetype.

The cult does not seem to much care Doggett killed god, either. They just stand around in silence as he carries the profusely bleeding Scully to the arriving emergency personnel. If the thought of scully profusely bleeding disturbs you, realize that is the tamest of the gory scenes. We get the whole visual joy of watching Doggett slice into her back and yank the squiggling worm out, which is on top of her pulling part of the worm out of the first guy’s back earlier in the episode. It is hard enough to swallow Scully survived the emergency surgery period, but even more difficult to know ahe did not miscarry under all the stress she suffered. Stress suffered from any of the three previous episodes, either, for that matter.

To top it all off, she apologizes to Doggett for not involving him initially. She does not thank him for preventing a giant worm from burrowing into her brain, but I suppose she is taking small steps here. Doggett assures here she was, in fact, very dumb. In the span of a lackluster episode, Scully has been reduced to incompetent second fiddle in favor of Doggett This comes after her stumbling from the previous episode. Very, very bad for ardent members of Team Scully.

Very, very bad describes “Roadrunners” in general. It is a bad script that destroys everything we love about Scully in order to make Doggett look good in the eyes of the audience. It does not work. “Roadrunners” breaks Scully down to far while making Doggett look invincibly heroic. Performing emergency surgery on a woman with a pocket knife? Really, guys? Just so he can lecture her later how important he is to these cases? For heaven’s sake.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X-Files--"Patience"

I am quite confident the title “Patience” has a double meaning. In the context of the story, it represents the plot of waiting 44 years to seek revenge. As for the show as a whole, it is a request for fans to give the new dynamic some time to gel. The former is easier to cope with than the latter.

“Patience” is a standard monster of the week episode. In certain ways, it is a throwback to the earliest and best of the series. Unfortunately, it terribly misses the mark in others. The plot is that a giant man-bat, which is very much like a mute version of the Man-Bat from DC Comics, is committing a string of murders relating to a 44 year old corpse dredged out of a river. The man-bat appears to be stalking a man who killed another man-bat back in 1956, but does not appear to be intelligent enough to know the difference between the man it is looking for and others like the undertaker and police detective associated with the newly discovered corpse.

To mention the good first, the make up job on the man-bat is superb. I would rank it right up there with Flukeman. But aside from the agents literally engaging in a physical brawl with the man-bat in the climax, that is where the similarities to Flukeman and any other classic critter end. The early days of The X-Files were famous for keeping the mystery as long as possible, oftentimes leaving the enite decision of what really happened up to the audience. In “Patience,” we see the man-bat in all it glory in the teaser. No mystery whatsoever, which is particularly bad since the first act has scully and Doggett sparring over what their killer is when the audience already knows. The teaser could have been the opening scene to any generic horror film. Like any horror film, there are subsequent gruesome kills shown in their full glory, too. For horror fans, that is great. For X-Philes, not so much.

X-Philes have to take pleasure in something else in “Patience.” it does feature an extraordinary amount of character development for a monster of the week episode. I have mixed emotions about it. Mulder’s shadow hangs heavy on Scully. It is reasonable for her to miss her partner terribly and to keep Doggett at arm’s length in anticipation of Mulder’s quick return dump him. The problem is how much the creators are forcing her to play Mulder’s role as the Believer against Doggett’s Horse Sense Skepticism. He cannot play the scientist role she used to do, but he is the longtime jaded cop who has seen everything, but still cannot believe the wildest bits of the X-Files.

The dynamic is strained. For one thing, the episode is book ended by Scully staring sadly at Mulder’s desk nameplate. In the beginning, it prompts her to curtly insist Doggett not get too comfortable. When mulder returns, this will be his office again. By the end of the episode, she thanks Doggett for looking out for her, then puts the nameplate in mulder’s desk and tells Doggett she will get him a desk, too. The latter look at the nameplate before putting it away felt like an apology to the absent Mulder. I do not feel as though what came between the bookends was terribly convincing enough to get us from one to the other.

Scully tries too hard to be Mulder. Doggett makes a statement early on that he has read through the x-Files and notes most of them were solved through a leap in logic by Mulder, who was probably the only one who could make such a leap. Scully makes such a leap as well when she finally assumes the killer really is a man-bat monster. The local detective, who is not hip to the idea of a woman senior FBI agent in the first place, does not want to play the investigation her way. Just to prove scully is not doing a very good job playing mulder, her request to exhume the corpse only she thinks is related to the man-bat gets the detective killed. Talk about piling on to her failure.

To his credit, Doggett is sympathetic. He knows she misses Mulder for one. But he also casts his ego aside to force the chauvinist detective to respect Scully. He intervenes to get him to cooperate with her seeming leap in logic even though he does not buy the man-bat theory, either. He does not browbeat her mistakes when she is obviously out her comfort zone here. Finally, he has her back when the man-bat physically attacks.

What it boils down to is Scully is being humor at best, patronized at worst throughout the episode. Ultimately, she realizes this and accepts Doggett’s way of doing things has merit. I feel like Scully is being demeaned, but I am going to chalk it up to a heavy handed attempt at closure for the way she used to interact with Mulder. Doggett as a character has to be given a chance to find his own groove with her. He never did so all that well, but we have thirty-eight more reviews to explore that.

When I rate episodes of a series, I do so within the context of the series. The final two seasons of The X-Files are so radically different than those that came before, it is not always fair to compare them to old episodes. I am not keen on the man-bat’s reveal in its entirety during the teaser, now did I enjoy all the scully trying to find her way stuff while Doggett runs interference. But as far as seasons eight and nine go, “Patience” qualifies as a decent outing. I cannot see how it could be anyone’s favorite, but I cannot see anyone despising it, either. It is necessary viewing for any X-Phile who did not abandon the series once David Duchovny went off to pursue a failed movie career as a way of introducing the Scully/Doggett partnership.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

X-Files--"Without"

I have made the observation in the past the first part of a two part story is almost always lacking something because it is mostly build up to a big pay off in the second part. Hence, it is difficult to judge a first part fairly. I was quite harsh on “Within” regardless, but after having watched the superior second part, I feel the story should have been a two hour premiere event. Pairing them up double length still would not have made it a classic, but things would have run far more smoothly.

The episode begins where we left off--a literal cliffhanger. Doggett has Mulder backed to the edge of a cliff with Gibson Praise. Mulder lets the boy go as Doggett requests, but then dives off the cliff to avoid capture. This sequence is the only part of the episode which is laughably dumb. Where is mulder going with the boy? There is nowhere to run from the top of the cliff. He is not going to throw Praise off the cliff to kill him because he is actually the alien bounty Hunter in disguise. The aliens want Praise alive for experimentation. The Alien Bounty hunter is tough, but has been injured in far less serious circumstances than an eighty foot fall from a cliff. Why did he think jumping was a good idea, particularly when he makes short work of other FBI agents throughout the episode? Just attack Doggett, dude? Another problem: Gibson gets away to hide out in the desert, somehow escaping a small army of FBI agents in the process. Um, how exactly can a twelve year old boy give the FBI the slip in the middle of the desert?

I think the big reason I would like for the opening episodes to be one movie is because there would have been less of a need to contrive a cliffhanger like thisd one to bring viewers back next week. The resolution is too illogical to believe. The powers that be should have come up with something far better. Fortunately, the resolution of the cliffhanger is the only bad aspect of the episode.

Doggett and his task force are baffled to discover Faux Mulder missing from his Wile E. Coyote plunge. Scully immediately suspects it was the Alien Bounty Hunter, not Mulder. It is about time she does so, too. She has seen the alien Bounty Hunter shape shift repeatedly since the second season without ever acknowledging that is not a natural thing to be doing. Doggett does not buy it. He is more inclined to think Mulder survived the fall. He has seen stranger things as an NYPD detective.

His task force heads out to search the boarding school praise has been living in to see if he is hiding there. Scully notices a girl sneaking off into the desert and follows her right to a secret hideaway for praise. He is hiding out there with a fractured leg. So not only did the kid elude the FBI task force, he did it with a broken leg. Doggett is on top his game, no?

Doggett has to come around at least somewhat to Scully’s way of thinking as the Alien Bounty Hunter assumes the identity of other people, including Scully at one point, to search for praise and smack a few agents around for good measure.

Scully and Skinner decide to rescue Praise on their own without Doggett’s knowledge since they cannot trust that any person is not the Alien Bounty Hunter. While they were gone, Praise hears Mulder screaming in pain from the space ship which is parked in the nearby desert, but invisible. Scully and Skinner eventually catch up to him. Scully feels the connection to Mulder, too, --shipper alert!--and stays behind as Skinner takes Gibson to the hospital. She never runs into the ship, but does get distracted when Doggett finds her. They mutually draw the conclusion the alien bounty hunter will head for the hospital to find praise.

Things are a bit odd here. Skinner has time to get Praise settled into a hospital room, so how long was scully wandering through the desert Doggett found her/ what prompted the Alien bounty hunter to go to the hospital? Scully speculates one of Doggett’s men is the Alien Bounty Hunter, but none of them knew what skinner was up to. You have to fill in the blanks that skinner informed the task force of praise’s whereabouts, and somehow the Alien Bounty hunter learned from that. I guess. I do not know. We are supposed to be distracted by Mulder’s only line in two episodes--shouting Scully’s name from inside the ship--to care about such minor issues.

There is a big confrontation at the hospital in which Scully has to kill the alien bounty hunter by shooting him in the neck. For some reason, his acid blood does not have the usual eye burning effect on her or Praise. But no matter. Mean she realizes killing him means no more connection to finding Mulder, she breaks down in hysterical tears. Doggett comforts her. I do not think enough of an emotional connection is established to convince fans, but I am going to be generous and call it a touching moment.

Doing so helps me swallow the concept the shadowy powers that be have placed Doggett on this task force because they know he would have to write up aliens and bounty hunters with green, scidic blood, and prodigy in his report. Doing so would curtail his career. Why would anyone want to cut off Doggett’s career advancement? Part of the mystery, folks. But they finally do their worst to him--he ends the episode assigned to the X-Files.

Yeah, that thing about the X-File budget being cut into non-existence? That is so last season. We are back in business now.

In spite of the snark, I think “Without” is an entertaining episode. It is the action that makes it interesting. We do not often get to see a lot of gun play along with the intrigue on this series. It has flaws, no doubt. Aside from the cliffhanger resolution and gibson’s broken leg which only sort of causes him any problem, Scully becomes a true believer in aliens way too fast. While it is true she is going to play Mulder’s True believer shtick to Doggett’s Skeptic, there is such a thing as too much, too soon. But it has got to happen sometime, and I suppose hitting the ground running is the way episodic television has to do things. I cannot consider any of these points a huge detriment., particularly with the final scene of a defeated Mulder surrounded by Alien Bounty Hunters is the last image we will have of him in our minds for a dozen episodes.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

X-Files--"Within"

“Within” is the eighth season premiere. It is the start of big changes for the series dynamic. The episode introduces John Doggett as the Special Agent in charge of finding Mulder. He will eventually pair up with Scully on the X-Files. Scully has moved from the Skeptic to the Reluctant Believer in the wake of Mulder’s abduction. It is a role that does not quite suit the character. Skinner can no longer deny the existence of aliens, either. His newfound belief has made him more of a hands on ally than before. “Within” sets a more serious tone for the season. There are no humor episodes so as to avoid trivializing Mulder’s absence. As a fan of the older, darker episodes, that is one of the few good points of the season. Discussion of aspects of the season will come as we get to them. For now, we should stick with “Within” in all its glory.

As I said above, it is the introduction of Doggett. Like Scully, he is named after a baseball announcer, Jerry Doggett, who was partners with Vin Scully from 1957-1987. The name is a also a play on words: Doggett is looking for Fox Mulder, so he is a ’dog” on a “fox” hunt. Doggett is played by Robert Patrick, probably most famous as the T-1000 from Terminator 2. Patrick beat out other actors Lou Diamond Phillips, Bruce Campbell, Hart Boechner, and Chris Noth for the role. While I try to avoid speculation on what might have been with these reviews, I recall thinking back in the day when these names were being floated about that Noth would have been the best choice, followed by Phillips. I do not recall feeling one way or the other about Patrick. I suppose that is good for the sake of reviews, since I have no significant prejudice as I would with, say, Bruce Campbell, whom I like, but would be a terrible fit in a tensely dramatic season.

“Within” has some scant scenes with David Duchovny as Mulder. Being aware that Duchovny is not going to play a large role in much of the season takes some of the drama out of the search for him. We know he is not going to show up for a while, so the intensity of his friends’ search for him loses some of its meaning. If I may reference some lesser science fiction, it reminds me of Sabrina Lloyd leaving Sliders. Her character was said to have been kidnapped and imprisoned in a breeding facility--she is being repeatedly sexually assaulted, in other words--with no chance the actress was ever going to return, so her friends’ search for her would never turn out successfully. the dynamic is not exactly the same, but one suspected Duchovny wanted an end to his character as quickly as possible just as Lloyd did. Sometimes it is difficult to get into the fiction when real world issues intervene. At least Duchovny did not alien the creative people enough that his character was ultimately gang-raped to death like a certain ms. Lloyd’s, no?

All but the last of Mulder’s appearances in “Within” are ambiguous as to whether they are real or part of Scully’s dream. She is tormented from the beginning by visions of him suffering brutal surgical experiments like having his soft palate drilled and his chest being sawed open with him anaesthetized. (Okay, is that worse than being gang raped by aliens? You make the call: Lloyd or Duchovny, who ticked off their respective creative staff more?) Scully is distraught over Mulder’s disappearance without hints that there was a romantic connection between them, which I appreciate. He was a close friend to whom she has a deep emotional connection. Shippers can read into it what they will, but this thankfully is not done as a tragic lost love story.

Scully arrives at the X-Files office a short time after Mulder’s disappearance to find agents going over the place with a fine toothed comb. They are part of a task force created by Kersh, whom you may remember was the assistant director the agents reported to when they were taken off the x-Files in the first half of the sixth season. I did not care much for the character back then, but he does fit in with what the show is looking for now--someone who is not exactly enthusiastic about ever finding Mulder, much less entertaining the possibility he was taken by aliens. Kersh has appointed Doggett to head the task force. Doggett is a former marine and NYPD detective. He is well respected and ambitious. Professionally speaking, he is the exact opposite of Mulder within the Bureau.

Scully and Skinner are naturally prime suspects since they are the ones who saw Mulder last. But obviously there must be more tension established than that, so Doggett hides his identity from scully when they first meet, then lies to her about knowing Mulder in order to get her honest opinion on his whereabouts. The odd partt is that he later complains she shows him no respect while he is just trying to help Mulder. One practically wants to yell at thee screen, ‘Well, then do not lie to her1 If anyone can help you find mulder, it is her.” The incident is an unnecessary creation of tension. Suspicion that she may have been involved with Mulder’s disappearance--not unreasonable from Doggett’s perspective--would be enough.

Doggett discovers Mulder has been keeping a secret from Scully and Skinner about the aftermath of his medical status after his brain anomaly last season. He had been secretly traveling about to a medical facility on a regular basis prior to his abduction. Post-abduction, someone purchased a tombstone for him in Raleigh, North Carolina, as well as stolen his and Scully’s computer, and a file from the FBI--that of Gibson Praise. all of this in an effort to either done by Mulder to fake his abduction as proof of alien existence as Doggett suspects, or aliens cleaning up all traces of their activities as Scully thinks.

The return of Gibson praise is another hugely odd point. He was supposed to be a child prodigy who may have been part alien. He eventually disappeared along with an alien somewhere in Arizona. Then his story was completely dropped for two years until now. If the kid is such a key element to solving the mysteries of the universe, how come no one cared to find him, particularly considering once Doggett is aware someone stole his case file, praise is found within a few hours by both Doggett’s team and Scully separately? If it is that easy to find the kid, how come no one did over the last couple years? Bringing Praise back into the story creates a tie to the series’ past, but also creates some huge logical problems. He is a hugely important missing person, but apparently was not hard to find. Very strange. In the end, Doggett finds Praise in the desert after having been kidnapped by Mulder. To be continued…

The excitement level for “Within” is very subdued for a season premiere. We have to absorb an awful lot of changes to the dynamic which really are not done that well. The inherent, logical tension between Scully and Doggett is ratcheted up unnecessarily by his initial dishonesty. Why bring back Kersh? A new, shadowy character would have been a better choice. The whole Gibson praise reappearance is out of the blue and brings up questions of why no one has cared about him up until now, especially when he is so easy to find. Truth be told, “Within” feels like the creative staff was not expecting to have to make an eighth season, so they cobbled together an episode in a hurry by using old, familiar elements even if they really do not fit. Nostalgia is fine, but I would prefer it be done with more skill. “Within” is not a horrible start, but it does not hold much promise, either.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, April 25, 2011

X-Files--"Requiem"

We have reached the seventh season finale. It is a pivotal point in the series. As the script was being written, the creators were unaware of the future of the show. It was certain David Duchovny was going to depart. His contract was up, there was some bad blood with the breach of contract lawsuit he had filed against 20th Century Fox the previous summer, and his willingness to gripe about being stuck on the series to the press spelled that out quite obviously. No one knew if The X-Files would be cancelled, continue on as a series with another actor, or move to the big screen, possibly with Duchovny agreeing to participate with the final option.

I will write more about what finally happened tomorrow when I begin reviewing the eighth season. For now, I will deal with the effects on this particular episode. It had to be written as a possible series finale, but with some possibility of carrying on with The X-Files in some form. Writer Chris Carter, who was not given the two hours for the episode he requested, brought back every recurring character to the setting of the Pilot in order to bookend the series. He left the two final pages to be written at the last possible minute to allow time for the network’s decision on The X-File fate.

Carter had a plan either way. If the series was cancelled, the final two pages would have featured Mulder encountering his father onboard the space ship after his abduction. Considering the cynical and/or ironic endings to many episodes, it would have been fitting to conclude Mulder’s search for alien life by being taken by them. If the show was going to carry on, Mulder’s fate would have been a mystery. The final pages would be the reveal that Scully is pregnant. At the last minute, the series was renewed, and Duchovny agreed to become a recurring character towards the end of the eighth season, so Scully wound up pregnant and the mystery of what happened to Mulder went in full swing. But those are the final two pages. The rest of the script has very much a sense of finality to it.

‘Requiem,’ which is a chant or song in remembrance of the dead, begins the X-Files office being audited. The agents have racked up quite an expense budget over the years. Mulder adopts an ambivalent attitude at the possibility of their travel being curtailed in favor of localized intelligence gathering instead. The auditor’s rationale, one which Mulder seems to agree, is that he now knows Samantha’s fate and the Syndicate is gone, so what is left, anyway? Scully is interviewed separately. She is surprisingly more adamant in her defense of the work than Mulder. The switch between the two previews the tone for the final two seasons in which Scully is far less the skeptic when working the X-Files than she ever has been. Nevertheless, you feel like this is the end.

When the auditor leaves, Mulder gets a call from Billy Miles, the Oregon abductee the agents investigated in the Pilot. A deputy has disappeared while investigating a possible UFO crash. In spite of being under budgetary scrutiny, the two travel to Oregon to look for the deputy and space craft.

Maria Coverrarubias appears at a prison in Tunisias where Alex Krycek has been held for months. Krycek has had a habit of popping into the series without explanation since he was first exposed as a spy, but this appearance is the wildest, most inexplicable of them all. The Cigarette Smoking Man, who arranged for his arrest in the first place, wants him in Oregon to look for the space craft, too. Krycek agrees, but for her flimsiest of reasons just to conveniently make him a bigger part of the story.

The agents’ Oregon adventure is a nostalgia trip. They find all the teenagers they met seven years ago have gotten over their abduction experiences and moved on with their lives. They even finsd the “X” spray painted on the road, though I am skeptical paint would have lasted all these years. Like I wrote earlier, Carter is throwing it all in there in case this is the series finale. Billy Miles thinks the space craft, which allegedly collided with an Aitr Force fighter, is still out there. He thinks his detective father is helping cover the incident up. He is right--his real father is dead. The one he is dealing with now is the Alien Bounty Hunter in disguise.

Mulder gets distracted by Scully in two ways. One, she passes out twice in Oregon, once after encountering the invisible space craft, though neither knows that, and another time in the missing deputy’s house. The other way is that he watches her playing with the deputy’s baby while his wife retrieves some medical files. The incidents remind him of all scully has lost while working with him. It brings back the old pangs of guilt from the middle seasons which were my favorite interpretation of the character. He was very protective of her then. Now that he is falling in love, he wants her off the X-Files because of the toll it has taken on her.

They find nothing, so they head back to Washington for the sole purpose of utilizing the Lone Gunmen’s expertise in analizing secret data given to skinner by Krycek as to where the space craft is and what the aliens are doing. Why has Krycek, who was following Mulder and Scully in Oregon, suddenly decide that, yes, he is angry enough at the CSM to stop working for him and help the good guys? Your guess is as good as mind. Carter appears to chalk it up to Krycek’s mercenary personality and leaves it at that. Well, okay.

The aliens are rounding up former abductees, presumably never to return them this time. Mulder plans to prevent this. He refuses to let Scully go since she is a former abductee, but she insists he take Skinner. They have their second tear-jerking shipper moment of the episode--this one does not involve them cuddling in bed like the other--and mulder heads to Oregon with Skinner. There was a possibility skinner would have become a more prominent character should the series be renewed, so his emotional involvement here is a potential set up for that.

Let behind, Scully sullenly examines the medical records of the abductees and learns they have had similar brain function disorders such as mulder suffered at the beginning of the season. This is the point she realizes she was rejected by the space ship when she passed out earlier. The aliens want Mulder. Unfortunately, she passes out again before she can tell anyone. Too bad, because Mulder is taken away right before Skinner’s eyes, along with the other abductees.

Before we learn Scully’s fate, there is an intervening scene in which Krycek allegedly kills the now wheelchair bound CSM down a flight of stairs. As the CSM will not show up again for two years, fans could do nothing but assume this was the lackluster end for a character who should have gone out in a far better blaze of glory. This is a guy who has survived all sorts of ends that no one else could have over the course of the series. Surely Carter could have done better than throw the guy down a flight of stairs. Thankfully, he did. But for two years there...ugh. What an awful idea.

In the end, Scully reveals her health issue is she is pregnant even though she is barren. She and skinner vow to find Mulder. You can say this is the beginning of the super-soldier mythology, but since the terms makes X-Philes cringe as badly as Trekkies at the term Xindi super weapon, we shall hold off on that as long as possible.

“Requiem” is not a bad episode, but it has far too many flaws to have potentially sent the series off. At times, it looks like the x-Files are going to be closed for budgetary reasons, then that Scully might quit. ONE minute, she and Mulder are partners, the next they appear to be in love. There is not a solitary lick of logic in krycek’s appearance, or actions. If Mulder is targeted for abduction for his former heightened brain activity, why not the CSM, since he had brain surgery to experience it, too? The Lonegun man have two minutes of screen time. Really, they are just there to call an ambulance for Scully. It is all very sloppy. It does not surprise me that a lot of fans did not return in the fall. ‘Requiem” is definitely a must see for X-Philes, but deflate expectations.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

X-Files--"Je Souhaite"

“Je Souhaite” (French for “I wish’) will go down in the history of The X-Files for two big reasons. One, it is the first time the series has done three comedy episodes in a row. Perhaps the plan was to lighten the mood prior to the drama of what may or may not have been the series finale the next episode. Two, and more importantly, it is the last monster of the week episode to feature solely Mulder and Scully as partners. Tomorrow’s seventh season finale is a mythology story for the two of them, and they will hook up for a few more episodes before it is all said and done, but those will involve numerous characters added in the wake of David Duchovny’s departure. Things will never be the same again, so old school x-Philes like me have to savor the moment.

The episode features a 500 hundred year old woman--still hot, though--who discovered a genie back in the day. She wished for power and long life, so the genie made her a genie, too. Instead of a lamp, she is wrapped in an oriental rug. However unrolls her gets three wishes. Over the centuries, she has bounced from master to master, but granting their small-minded wishes has always turned out badly for them in the end. The genie has grown cynical of humanity because of the dumb things her masters want.

She is rescued from the rug by an idiot employee at a storage rental facility. The guy blows his first wish on making his boss shut up. The genie removes the guy’s mouth. The agents are contacted by the boss to investigate. They discover the former employee, Anson stokes, lives in a trailer park with his crippled brother Leslie and a huge yacht parked across several lots.The agents do not get anywhere with the investigation at this point.

Anson blows his final wish on invisibility, then is promptly killed when struck by a semi while distracted at the prospect of sneaking up to some unsuspecting girls for a little fondling. His body is discovered when a bicyclist flips over it in a cheap, slapstick pratfall that I still laughed out loud over in spite of myself. The special effects done to make the invisible Anson interact with his surroundings were done the old fashioned way, sans CGI save foor his autopsy, with much more impact, if you ask me.

The autopsy sequence is the best bit of the episode. Scully, who refuses to chalk the invisible body up to anything paranormal, is excited at the scientific discovery and alerts some Harvard Medical School professors to visit the morgue to see. Well, not see. You know what I mean. up until Scully paints the body, she is interacting with thin air as though there is something there. I do not know how many takes of the scene were filmed, but even in this, the best one, presumably, Gillian Anderson can barely keep a straight face while pretending there is a body on the slab.

Meanwhile, Leslie rescues the genie for three wishes himself. He is no brighter than his brother. Instead of wishing for his disabilities to be healed, he wants his brother back. Having never read “The Monkey’s Paw,” he forgets to be specific, so his brother comes back a mangled zombie. He blows another wish on something dumb, but cannot use his final wish before Zombie Anson blows up the trailer lighting a match with the gas stove on.

Mulder rescues the genie after the explosion, so he gets three wishes. Surmising past masters have made the mistake of wishing for selfish things, Mulder asks for world peace. The genie promptly gets rid of every human being on Earth other than him. (a world without people. How bad could that be?) He blows his second wish returning things to normal. While crafting his world peace wish as airtight as possible, he is convinced by Scully, who still does not believe the genie has powers, that the journey to world peace is part of man’s purpose. Maybe it should not happen because of one man’s wish. Instead, Mulder’s final wish is to grant the genie’s request--to be become human again.

Je Souhaite” is one of only two or three season seventh season episodes I consider classics. It features the agents in their original roles. Mulder is the True Believer who jumps to the conclusion way too early a genie is involved in the case, but with the lighthearted tone, the leap in logic is not horribly out of place. Scully plays the Skeptic, even clinging to science when examining an invisible body. Her skepticism even trumps her Christian beliefs when she convinces Mulder utopia should come by human effort without supernatural help. As in the past, her skepticism keeps him honest even though he was right about the genie and winds up being the hero by freeing her from her powers.

They saved the best comedy episode for last. “Je Souhaite” is fun, frivolous, and highly entertaining. There are some gruesome bits with the guy losing his mouth and Anson simplified, but both are played hilariously. It is a good thing the agents’ last monster of the week go around is such a marvelous episode. Tomorrow’s installment starts us on radical changes for the series’ increasingly rapid descent towards the end.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

X-Files--"Fight Club"

It completely slipped my mind over the last eleven years that Kathy Griffin had a guest role on The X-Files. She was not at this point a full on obnoxious, d-list celebrity desperately attempting to slow her descent into obscurity by frequently attacking Bristol Palin, but she had yet to finance all the plastic surgery yet, is playing twins, and has scene in her underwear. You might think ’Fight club” is a wash, but it has a few big laughs that surprisingly make up for Griffin. Not by much, but in a fun, frivolous filler for this series sort of way.

Griffin plays identical sisters, Betty Templeton and LuLu Pfeiffer, who are products of sperm donation by their now imprisoned, but always insane father. After a chance encounter twelve years ago, they have pursued one another across the country attempting to ruin each other’s life. When they are in close proximity, their presence prompts overly aggressive behavior in people nearby. Mulder and scully investigate when two locally based FBI agents beat each other to a pulp while interviewing Betty about two door to door missionaries who also beat each other to a pulp.

Betty and LuLu are competing for the affection of a full time bank robber and part time professional wrestler. They are leaving behind a path of destruction in the process, but the agents still remain one step behind until the big fight in which said wrestler and object of affection will hand over stolen cash as well as put on a good show for a crooked fight promoter. In the interim, Scully discovers the bank robber/wrestler has a twin, too, so she gets the bright idea of bringing him to the fight so each of the sisters can have one. This plan is why Mulder is consider the brilliant one who is never wrong.

Up until this point, “Fight Club” has been a silly sitcom full of pratfalls, absurd fistfights, and mistaken identity scenarios. Had Scully plan worked with all four falling in love, thereby resolving the issue of prompting aggression in surrounding people, I would have considered it the laziest writing imaginable. Instead, both sets of twins prompt aggression, so a huge fight breaks out in the wrestling arena. Both Mulder and Scully get the tar beat out of them, too. Serves them right for not holding out for a better script.

The X-Files has a history of bad late season filler. Whether it is because the creators are running out of steam by that point or they are spending more time on the supposedly more involved season finaler, I cannot say. But “Fight Club” fit’s the usual motif. It is not very serious, nor is it particularly good. But being in the mindseet that it is late season filler, those are the episodes I feel like comparing them to in my pre-Easter generosity. In that regard, it has some big laughs even if the story is extremely predictable. They did not take the easy, happy ending route, however, and I give them some props for that.

“Fight Club” does not belong in the same class as other lighthearted episodes, but if you can stand Griffin in her underwear--no small feat, that--it is an enjoyable watch. I am uncertain why anyone thought the episode was a good idea in the first place, mind you. One high point: the episode takes place in Kansas City. Fats Domino’s version of “Kansas City” plays on a jukebox at one point. Good stuff:

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, April 22, 2011

X-Files--"Hollywood AD"

“Hollywood AD” is the third and final episode of the seventh season to be written by a cast member. This time around, it is David Duchovny doing the writing and directing chores. Of the three, I plop this one firmly between William B. Davis’ “En Ami” as the best, and Gillian Anderson’s “all things“. Is it a bad episode? Not really, but it reminds me of a quote from Duchovny years ago in which he said Darin Morgan absurdly comedic scripts were his favorite to film because it seemed like Morgan was always trying to destroy the show. An attempt to destroy the show is about the best way to describe “Hollywood AD.”

The story is loosely based on master forger Mark Hoffman, a master forger who, in the ’80’s, convinced the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to buy fake documents which cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Church’s founding. Hoffman hoped his forgeries would pass inspection, but a couple of his Mormon accomplices got cold feet and threatened to expose his fraud. Hoffman planned to kill them with a homemade bomb, but was injured when the bomb went off as he was constructing it. The explosion prompted an investigation which uncovered the entire plot.

The forger in “Hollywood AD” is Micah, Hoffman, a former ’60’s radical who drafts a Gospel of Mary Magdalene which presents Jesus as a Man who carries on a romantic relationship with her. I assume Micah Hoffman is not only based on forger Micah Hoffman, but his background as a Weathermen sounds like a nod to Abbie Hoffman. I would not be too surprised, given the homage/parody tone of the script, if the idea of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in a relationship was not a tweak at the direct lift of the last thirty minutes of the seventh season premiere.

Cardinal O’Fallon buys the forgery and an artifact which is claimed to be a bowl with the exact words Jesus used to raise Lazarus from the dead inscribed on it. O’Fallon destroys the forgery, but cannot bring himself to destroy the Lazarus Bowl. O’Fallon poisons Hoffman to keep him quiet, but Hoffman, who has had a change of heart after immersing himself in the life of Christ in order to draft his Gospel of Mary Magdalene, sets a bomb to destroy the forgery himself. The lazarus Bowl turns out to be real, so he rises from the dead just as O’Fallon is being arrested for his murder. The whole case is a wash. Mulder and Scully are suspended pending a possible lawsuit from the Catholic church.

You got all that? Do not fret if you have not. It is all quite irrelevant. The real heart of the episode is the final act. A screenwriter/producer friend of Skinner’s from college follows the agents around during the case hoping to find something interesting enough to film. The film turns out to be an Ed Wood laughably bad project starring gary Shandling and Tea Leoni produced in part by skinner himself. In the end, we discover O’Fallon murders Hoffman then kills himself. The fake Lazarus Bowl Mulder was eating popcorn out of turns out to have actually resurrection powers which raise zombies up for a cross between Thriller and Chicago dance number when no one is looking.

The best way to describe “Hollywood AD,” besides absurd, is self-indulgent. Duchovny made the script heavily Mulder and Duchovny-centric. Scully often plays third fiddle here as Mulder is the center of it all. However, I will note the few scenes she does have present the character as well as she has ever been written. Duchovny has a knack for balancing Scully’s characteristics better than just about any other writer. She is strong, but not hard. Smart, but not aloof. More fun would be the best way to describe her. Nevertheless, Mulder gets the best lines, particularly joke-wise, gets to toss in all sorts of indulgences like hanging out with his real wife Leoni and playing with The Larry Sanders Show that he and Shandling have a thing for one another, and some ax grinding. Certainly Mulder’s irritation as being presented as buffoonish in the film is a jab at his being stuck on a series for which he has a well recorded animosity.

“Hollywood AD” is entertaining, but very sill. I imagine the Duchuvny buffs find it better overall than I do. It is almost like two episodes in one, with the investigation and then the Hollywood bits. Duchovny, an avowed anti-theist, takes some pointed jabs at Christianity’s alleged disinterest in the natural world versus the spiritual which reminds me of Christopher Hitchens’ accusation Mother Teresa was less interested in relieving the physical suffering of people than promoting the church. It is distracting, but so angry atheist amateurish, I have an hard time taking it seriously enough to get angry. Duchovny is having fun here stroking his ego while taking jabs at anything and anyone he does not like. Take that for what it’s worth.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

X-Files--"Brand X"

“Brand X” demonstrates three points about The X-Files. First, the seventh season truly is running out of steam. Unless an episode is written by a cast member at this point, there is not a whole lot to hold viewer attention. Second, the show never does social commentary well. Finally, The X-Files is very self-aware of my first two points, si it compensates with gross out scenes as it generally does with weak scripts.

The episode features skinner personally guarding a tobacco company researcher the night before he is to testify against Morley Tobacco about some deep, dark secret for which the company would kill him for rather than let be revealed. Here we have our first big problem with “Brand X.” I am sorry, folks, but corporations are not inherently evil, even if they do manufacture and market cancer sticks. They are not in the business of murdering people to keep corporate secrets. Morley Tobacco is presented as unquestionably evil as any terrorist group out there. I have a tough time buying it.

“Brand X” aired in spring 2000 when the huge tobacco settlement in favor of states was heavy in the news. Presenting tobacco companies as evil corporations peddling death was the media motif. It was pretty easy to pass off a tobacco company as the bad guy on television. However, I am big on personal responsibility. No one makes a person smoke or eat four Big Macs a week. Lung cancer and heart attacks are the consequences of personal choices, not the company providing them. It is how I feel, so I have a difficult time getting into the evil corporation mood in the first place, much less one in which the company is murdering to keep new research quiet.

I will give some props that things are not exactly as they seem. While Morley is ultimately trying to protect itself, the deaths which do occur, including the whistleblower’s, are not a direct murder. Morley was attempting to create a safer cigarette. What it wound up doing was genetically engineering a carnivorous tobacco beetle whose larva is carried into the lungs, grows into a bug, then eats its way out. Quite graphically, I might add. Three of four test subjects died. The fourt survived, but is being paid off by Morley to keep quiet. That is what the whistle blower was going to reveal.

I might have an easier time buying into the premise if the script was stronger, but there are some major flaws. Darryl Weaver, the surviving test subject, is dirt poor, but willing to be paid off in cigarettes. It is not that he is a moron, mind you. It is a commentary on how dangerously addictive cigarettes are. Way too over the top to be believed. Not to mention preachy. For good measure, one has to ask why, if the company is trying to keep a lid on cigarettes that cause killer bugs to grow in people’s lungs would they offer a lifetime supply to an amoral chain smoker who is leaving behind a trail of bodies with their throats eaten out by beetles?

The script attempts to distract from the illogic by infecting Mulder in the penultimate act. His life is in danger. We are supposed to both fear for him and empathize with scully over his impending death. But it happens so quickly, and the emotions so forced, I wind up more irritated at how I am being cheaply manipulated instead. It feels like the writers are just throwing the scenario in to give the audience an emotional stake in what has thus far been a lackluster episode. Things do not improve from there. Even after everyone knows the tobacco smoke from the genetically engineered cigarettes carries the bug larva, no one protects themselves from Weaver’s smoking. Not even so much as surgical masks, much less gas masks or haz mat suits. The cure for Mulder turns out to be nicotine. It is poisonous to the larva/beetles. Weaver is immune to them because he is a four pack a day smoker. I have a difficult time buying the idea. Surely there are plenty of smokers who puff away that much. Why is weaver so special? The answer is he is not. The resolution is a cheap cop out which further diminishes the already weak episode.

There is one high point. Weaver is played with splendid creepiness by Tobin Bell. ’Brand x” takes place four years before he will shoot to horror movie fame with his role in the Saw series. Those films have a tough time competing against the heyday slasher horror flicks of the ’80’s, but bell is quite good in them. I would not be surprised, considering the similarities between characters, if “Brand X” did not land him in Saw He is the second Saw actor to appear on The X-Files. South Carolina’s own Shawnee Smith appeared in the second season.’s “Firewalker.” Ironically, that episode was about airborne spores growing large fungus in people’s lungs.

Skip “Brand X.” Outside of Bell’s performance and a larger, proactive role for Skinner, there is not much else to see. The episode is meant to preach a sermon I do not care to hear. It does not do that particularly well, either. Even the most adamant shippers never mention the scenes of scully holding the dying mulder’s hand towards the end. Considering how desperately they read into every little thing, that ought to tell you about the episode’s poor quality.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

X-Files--"all things"

“all things” is not a capitalization error. With all my usual blind eye typos, I figure I need to get that out of the way immediately. It is not my fault. Gillian Anderson is just being cutsy in naming her episode. “all things’ is the second of three episodes from the seventh season written by a main cast member. It is the worst of the three, but if you have seen it, you are already aware. There is really no point to the story.

I have spent a considerable amount of time taking jabs at David Duchovny for his open contempt for being stuck on a science fiction series that made him fabulously wealthy and the terrible, terrible of suffering the adoration of millions of fans, many of them of the attractive female variety. I mean, who would not engage in public clenched fist, foot stomping tantrums over such unbearable circumstances? Now it is Anderson’s turn. Admittedly, I do not critique her much for public attitude regarding The X-Files. as far as I know, the only thing she has gone on record as saying is that she moved to the United Kingdom to still be considered an actress, rather than just Scully. By all other accounts, she has been appreciative of her fans.

But she is a weird one. If you have ever seen her interviewed, you are familiar with her stream of conscious way of responding to questions peppered with random absurdities. One can only imagine what her private conversations with friends and family must be like. She is something of a Buddhist--at least her first marriage was performed by a Buddhist monk--but her beliefs boil down to if it sounds like New Age existentialism, then she likes. Auras, ying yangs, chakras, or molasses colonics to expel evil thoughts--if you can convince her its spiritual, she will go for it. My college experience proves such girls are fun in the short term. They are also more willing than most to take their clothes off, a virtue that cannot be dismissed. What they are not good for is writing scripts.

Bless her heart, Anderson gives it ye olde college try. It is immediately obvious “all things’ is a highly personal project. She injects scully with much of herself. Unfortunately, Scully is a character who often struggles with her professional need for logical, cogent proof of anything she is asked to believe in versus her devout faith in Catholicism. What she is not is a New Age faith healer who embraces the idea spiritual health can effect the physical. But in ’all things,’ she is.

I have said before when reviewing the episodes written by Duchovny and William B. Davis that not only are the characterizations of the other cast members a bit off when written by a non-writer, but script writer tends to put himself in his character’s shoes, as well. Fantasy fulfillment or personal indulgence, take your pick. Anderson did that sort of thing, too, so I am going to be as gentle as I can in my critique.

“all things” is an incredibly strange, existential journey with all sorts of weird imagery and symbolism. It meanders between exploring regret over the roads not taken and forgiveness for past transgressions. But like Anderson’s stream of conscious way of speaking, you have to carefully piece together what she is trying to say because she cannot come right out and say what is on her mind. Her script is the work of a pseudo-intellectual who thinks because no one understands what is so clearly obvious to her, it must be highly enlightened rather than a muddled mess.

Watching ‘all things,” I am reminded of Head, the film the Monkees made after their television series was cancelled. They were fed up with the bad scripts they were being given on the series, so the manufactured hippie singers locked themselves in a house with Jack Nicholson for weekend, smoked pot, and brainstormed until they had enough disjointed material to fill two hours. I remain unconvinced Anderson did not have a similar experience writing “all things.” A somersaulting turtle could have shown up reciting the Gettysburg Address in Esperanto and I would not think it was the slightest bit out of place.

A series of coincidences lead Scully back to a medical school professor, Daniel Waterston, she carried on an affair with back in the day. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, but she broke it off. You have to infer it, mostly from Wasterston’s daughter’s animosity towards Scully, that Waterston’s wife discovered the affair and committed suicide. Whether it was the affair itself, or he announced he was leaving her for scully that prompted her decision is unclear. But he is still in love with her. Scully still has feelings for him, too, but they are mostly recurring doubts about her decisions in life. Waterston is dying, but cannot go until the issue with Scully is resolved.

Scully takes this journey of self-discovery or forgiveness or an M. Scott Peck pop psychology book or whatever the heck this thing is as an illusory vision during Buddhist meditation. I say that because throughout the episode, she is prompted by a beat--from music, a tapping pencil, swinging pendulum, an Iv drip, a heart beat, and a sign swinging in the wind, to hallucinations or dreamscapes that guide her to enlightenment. Such rhythmic beats are a traditional part of Buddhist meditation. I am guessing Scully is on a walkabout here.

What does it all mean? Your guess is as good as mine. She keeps seeing patterns in crop circle photos which have a meaning for her, but we never find out what it is. She keeps seeing a young woman who is not really there that I suppose is the late Mrs. Waterston. a painting appears in a Buddhist shrine where God speaks to her. The painting is also in Mulder’s presentment at the end. All this leads her to request a holistic healer to work on the comatose Waterston so she can tell him what they had in the past is gone. Apparently, his chakra needs to hear this so he can die in peace. Or something. I do not know. I doubt you could smoke enough pot in one sitting for “all things” to make a lick of sense.

Fans still like this episode for the opening teaser. It shows Scully getting dressed in a bathroom, only to reveal it is Mulder’s bathroom. He is asleep in bed. The scene strongly hints the two slept together. The teaser is actually an epilogue, however. The end of the episode shows her falling asleep on Mulder’s couch with him leaving her there while he goes to bed. Shipper’s still cling to the fact she was putting her clothes on in the teaser to say she was probably naked in bed with Mulder. More likely, she showered after sleeping all night on his couch. But you may believe whatever paddles your canoe.

It sounds like I am down on “all things.” That is not really true. By no means is it a good episode. It sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the pack. But there is a certain entertainment value in its inherent weirdness. The episode is not done poorly, aside from some disorienting camera angles first time director Anderson employs to get the dream-like theme across. “all things” is an earnest exploration of Anderson’s thoughts and beliefs. They just happen to be way off kilter.

“all things” features the song “The Sky is Broken” all throughout. The beat establishes the motif of all subsequent beating patterns that prompt Scully’s meditative journey. Listening to it at least once will help give you an idea of what I have been talking about. “The Sky is Broken” is the second Moby song to appear in the seventh season.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

X-Files--"Chimera"

I am a sucker for horror in quiet suburbia stories. The X-Files often does them well, and “Chimera” is no exception. There is still a different feel to ‘chimera” than many other such episodes. Perhaps it is because writer David Amann is not one of the more frequent contributors to the series. Perhaps it is because Gillian Anderson only appears briefly because she was working writing and directing on tomorrow’s episode. Perhaps it is because the episode frequently violates the imply, do not show rule about the monster of the week. Whatever makes “Chimera” feel unlike most installments of The X-Files, it is not a significant detraction.

Mulder leaves Scully in charge of a tedious stake out in order to investigate the disappearance of a federal judge’s wife in Vermont. Skinner chooses Mulder for the job because the appearance of a raven was the precursor to the incident. The local sheriff insists Mulder stay with him and his wife rather than a motel for the duration. Mulder’s enjoyment of the creature comforts of a well kept house is one of the running gags, particularly in contrast to several phone calls between the agents in which scully whines about her suffering during the stake out.

The sheriff has an ulterior motive. He has been having two affairs, one with the missing federal judge’s wife. He wants to make certain Mulder does not find evidence pointing to him. In truth, the sheriff is guilty only of having affairs. Both the judge’s wife and the second little chickadee on the side were killed by his wife who turns into some sort of evil creature to kill the adulterers. The creature is in stark contrast to her usual Martha Stewart nature.

As the creature, she attacks Mulder and nearly drowns him before seeing her reflection in the bathwater she is submerging him in convinces her of what she really is. She is later locked up in a mental hospital under the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder. But she still has the power to become a separate creature.

“Chimera” jumps out at me as the first time since Flukeman way back in the second season the monster is such a prominent character. We get a good look at it several times before the final confrontation. Said confrontation is a full on brawl with Mulder. These encounters make “Chimera” feel more like a standard horror film than the usual What did we just see? X-File. Ironically, “The Host” was also a Mulder goes solo adventure in which he hunted the Flukeman with Scully making scant appearances. Anderson was pregnant at the time, not about to subject us to a dud of an existential episode like tomorrow.

One note of oddity: ravens are a central part of the story. They appear just before the creature every time. But the birds used are clearly not ravens. They are far too small. The birds are actually crows. Crows are in the same family, but are not ravens. Why crows are used is a mystery. Maybe they are easier to train. Or someone at The X-Files is a fan of Heckle & Jeckle. who knows?

“Chimera” is a good episode in spite of the slight ornithological issue. It is a throwback to the best days of the series when even the filler monster of the week episodes were on par with the mythology stories. Such is rare in this later seasons. Therefore, they must be savored when they come along.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, April 18, 2011

X-Files--"En Ami"

“En Ami,” which roughly translates from the French as “as a friend,’ or phonetically in English as “enemy,” is the first of three season seven episodes to be written by a cast member. The episode was penned by William B. Davis, aka the Cigarette Smoking Man. The other two are written and directed by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson respectively. We will get to the others when we get to them, but I will say now ’En Ami’ is my favorite of the three. That goes against conventional wisdom that Duchovny’s combination of humor and drama can do no wrong, but there you go. I frequently find such a thrill in being a contrarian.

The Cigarette Smoking Man lures to a young boy in Virginia whose parents refused to allow his cancer to be treated because of religious objections, but was miraculously cured anyway by a chip mysteriously placed in his neck. The CSM offers her the cure for cancer if she takes a trip with him under the condition she not tell Mulder. She is reluctant at first, but the prospect of curing cancer gets the better of her compassionate side.

The two take a car trip from Virginia to Pennsylvania in order to meet a contact dubbed Cobra who works for a pharmaceutical company. They have been experimenting with extraterrestrial material. While doing so, they discover, not just a cure for cancer, but every disease known to man. Scully is being set up in two ways. One, her e-mail was hijacked, so cobra believes he has been corresponding with her for months when he has been talking to the CSM instead. Two, she is the old man’s fantasy, to put it mildly.

The first set up is straightforward. The CSM used an FBI agent to gain cobra’s trust so he could steal the cure. Without the resources of the now defunct syndicate, I guess this was the best way to go about it. Cobra is killed by a sniper working for Csm after the exchange is made, but the CSM prevents him from murdering Scully, which leads to the second and more important point.

The CSM clearly has a thing for Scully. Who could blame him, no? it fits quite well in retroactive continuity. He did save Scully from her terminal cancer even though he did not get anything out of it. Although he killed Diana Fowley for her betrayal, he still allowed Scully to find Mulder after his brain surgery using the clues Fowley gave her. He even pointed her in the right direction as to Samantha’s fate a few episodes ago. The CSM has been something of a patron for her even amongst the grief he has caused her and Mulder.

“En Ami’ gives the distinct impression he is carrying a torch for her, although as a cold blooded killer, he has a difficult time expressing it a way that is not creepy. There is a point where they arrive in Pennsylvania at which Scully is asleep in the passenger seat. A throwaway line says she had been up for thirty hours straight, but she later suspects she was drugged. The truth is left up to the audience, but while passed out, the CSM puts on gloves, probably in the same manner as if he were going to commit a hands on murder, caresses her face, carries her up to a bedroom, and changes her into pajamas. I get the vibe her just wanted to see her naked.

In a less sinister moment, he buys her a revealing dress to wear to a dinner in which they are supposed to meet Cobra. The meeting is supposed to happen, though it does not. The evening is left with that old awkward trick of arranging a date with a pretty girl by claiming it is not actually a date, but still with the hopes of winning her over. It is the sort of thing some inexperienced kid suffering puppy love does with a girl he realizes he cannot have.

The two incidents contrast with one another--the first kind of a peeping tom deal, with the other coming across as boyishly awkward--but they both reveal a longing for companionship and love a cold fish with the history of the CSM can never have. He tried to convince himself Scully might fall for him. At one point, he remarks that she is drawn to powerful men, but her independent streak will not allow her to love them. He speculates she likes Mulder for carrying on his lone crusade against men of power, but she will not allow herself to love him, either. Perhaps he is attempting to win her over by seeking out this cure for all diseases in the kind of quest Mulder might indulge.

In the end, she is angry at being cheated out of the real cure. The Csm is seen throwing the data disc with the cure’s information on it into a lake. He has a haunted look on his face. His demeanor makes one wonder if he was looking to cure his own fatal disease with the data, or if he decided to throw it out because he was rejected by Scully. With his act of ’redemption” failed, the whole world can burn? I do not know, in all honesty, but his true purpose remaining ambiguous is a poignant ending.

I find characterizations are usually off when cast members take to writing for the characters. They write their own character as they see him or her, and one suspects the true feelings for their co-stars become evident, too. In regards to the former, Davis gives the CSM some much needed character development. There is much more to him here than a shadowy, finger in all pies evil mastermind. He is a man nearing the end of his life who wants a shot at something he cannot have. There is just enough of the disturbing aspects of the Csm to keep me from sympathizing with him. As for the latter, I do not think Scully would be quite so gullible, even if her sense of altruism is very strong. I also doubt Mulder, paranoid as he is, would sit on his hands with his partner out there quite like he did. Minor gripes, those. This was a CSM episode, save for the highly gratuitous shots of Anderson’s cleavage. I guess the Csm is not the only one with old man fantasies.

But the gripes do keep “En Ami” from earning four stars. The odd characterizations are distracting. I am also a bit thrown off by the whole MacGuffin of a cure for all disease. It is one of those too good to be true deals that a skeptic like Scully would never buy into. She would certainly walk out the door the minute she heard the claim the cure is mostly alien in origin. Nevertheless, the Csm is one of my favorite characters, and he has not been handled very well in his recent appearances. Hence, I give any good turn of his props. Davis has a knack for crisp dialogue, too, though like any “autobiographer,” saves the best lines for himself. Cannot fault him for that, I suppose.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

X-Files--"Theef"

The X-Files revisit’s the subject of voodoo in “Theef.” it is a topic that has been done hit and miss over the seven year run thus far. “Theef’ winds up as a typical monster of the week story. It is not bad, but it is not particularly memorable, either. A notable highlight is character actor Billy Drago, whom you will definitely recognize by appearance if not by name, as grieving father out for revenge Peattie.

Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate the unexplained murders of people associated with a wealthy doctor. They discover the murders are being committed by a backwoods West Virginia voo doo practitioner who is seeking revenge on the doctor for euthanizing his suffering, dying daughter. Peattie is angry because his voodoo could have saved his daughter.

The thing about “Theef” is that hardly anyone doubts it. Even Scully, who suffers from peattie’s voodoo at one point, admits to mulder there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in philosophy. She says for the first time maybe one can find answers in something beyond science. Why her change of heart gets buried in an ordinary monster of the week episode is beyond me. I am particularly baffled the voodoo here gets to her after all the other things she has experienced over the years. But I digress. Even the doctor who euthanized the girl defends himself by saying Peattie was not there, so it is not his fault his daughter died.

I am curious if Wiccans got as upset with “Theef” as they did ”Sanguinarium.” several seasons ago. Both revolve around science v. black magic, and both present black magic as evil. “Theef” might be even worse, considering Peattie is such an ignorant man. It is arguable he is a good, but misguided man. He is motivated to his actions by his daughter’s death. What grieving parent would not fault the doctor in a kneejerk response? Still, practitioners of the black arts come across looking evil and dumb, even though the powers are considered legitimate. The X-Files has peaked in popularity at this point. Maybe no one cares anymore.

“Theef” is entertaining. It is very creepy in places, which is enough to make it a worthwhile view. But there is nothing much special about it. It is a paint by numbers revenge story with voodoo thrown in to fit within the demands of the series. You have seen and heard it all before. Seriously, Peattie’s bad spelling prompts a Dan Quayle joke. In 2000. Now that is some lazy writing.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

X-Files--"First Person Shooter"

Cyberpunk guru William Gibson takes his second turn at co-writing a script for The X-Files. I thoroughly enjoyed “Kill Switch,”, his first episode. “First Person Shooter” is a bit lacking, however. I can sum it up in three reasons. One, I have not cared much for video games since Sega Genesis was all the rage in the mid ’90’s. so this is not my thing. Two, the CGI is badly dated. Three, there some moral preaching about the effects of violent video games on society which feels forced, then quickly dropped. Three strikes, you are out.

The Lone Gunman ask for the agents help when a virtual reality game they are helping design kills one of its players. The guys and the game’s main programmers want to keep the murder on the downlow because the IPO is in a week. A virtual character not designed to be in the game is the culprit. The Lone Gunmen inconveniently get stuck in the game themselves. Mulder heads inside to rescue them, but gets trapped, too. The game disappears with mulder inside. Through enough techno babble to make a fan of Star Trek: Voyager blush with shame over the cop out, scully finds a way to enter and save him. Pheobe, who characted the murderous main characters, inputs the kill switch she should have used in the very beginning to shut the game off before the agents are killed.

Up above, I said it has been a long time since I was into video games, so the subject matter does not thrill me. More to the point, I never cared for first person shooter games even in my younger days when I did play. Sports, adventure, and role playing was more my speed. Sdoom, Castle Wolfenstein, and now Halo do not ring my bell. You should take my personal bias into account for whatever it is worth in judging the value of this reviewe.

I also said the CGI was dated. Maybe I am being unfair here. Technology changes so rapidly that hardly anything remains cutting edge for long. I would probably be willing to overlook the distracting element of bad CGI if the episode were otherwise good, but it is not. Therefore, I am piling on.

The main problem with the episode is the preachy video games are bad because they are violent. This argument is laid out by Scully, who thinks it is a horrible thing for fourteen year old boys to be inundated with violent imagery and g-string clad virtual characters killing in uncontrolled rampages Mulder, who announces he is a fan of such games, though we have never heard that before or since, disagrees. He thinks they serve as an outlet to indulge in behavior society deems inappropriate. I am not entirely certain where I fall on the issue--more towards Mulder, but scully has some good points--but it is a topic for later discussion. The matter is promptly dropped as scully, who hates violence in video games, becomes a violent video game character in order to save Mulder.

But that is not the only issue. Scully is quick to point out this game is a male fantasy of violence, even though the killer is female. Pheobe, who created the character, admits she did it to be part of her own game. She wanted to compete in a male dominated world, and put all her pent up frustration into the character. So I think gibson is trying to slide in an indictment of man as possessing violent tendencies versus dainty woman, but contrast it with making both the murderer and the hero (Scully) women who committed extreme acts of violence. So what is the moral lesson? We are violent, so let us get it all out of our sytem by playing video games? Your guess is as good as mine, but I would suggest not putting a whole lot of thought into it. Gibson certainly did not bother to do so.

Further irony: the character is named Matreya, which means ‘loving one” in Sanskrit. It is the name given to the future manifestation of Buddha who will eventually bring peace and enlightenment to the world. I suppose choosing that name for a half-naked virtual character who fills one guy full of lead and chops another’s head off is supposed to be poignant irony, but it is as lost on me as how virtual reality literally killed people, or how Pheobe escaped manslaughter charges over the deaths.

Like I said, do not think about this one too much. Some of the jokes are funny. Mulder has a boyish enthusiasm which is amusing compared to how dryly the character has been played throughout most of the season. Seeing Scully blasting away hypocritically with a huge, futuristic gun is worth a view, as well. But those points are only worth an extra star. “first Person Shooter” mostly fires blanks.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Friday, April 15, 2011

X-Files--"X-COPS"

I am not a fan of COPS. The idea of watching a bunch of guys trying to relive their high school jock and military days by dragging wife-beater wearing white trash out of his trailer in order to arrest him is not my cup of tea. But it is one of FOX’s biggest hits, as is The X-Files, so a format marriage between the two is more inspired than I care to admit. For the sake of my fragile emotions, I am going to claim ‘X-COPS” is more an homage to The Blair Witch Project than COPS. Do not pop my bubble.

“X-COPS” is enormously clever in how it begins as a straightforward episode of COPS, with a shaky-cam film crew riding along with the bored, jaded cop relating to them in a matter-of-fact manner he has seen it all. Then the episode hits x-File territory when he and the film crew are chased by some unseen monster who then attacks the patrol car. Shortly thereafter, the cops run into Mulder and Scully, who claim to be pursuing a monster that only appears on a full moon. The camera crew then begins following the now joint investigation.

This is a Vince Gilligan script, so they run into all sorts of colorful characters along the way: a deputy fearful of his childhood boogey man, a hooker with hot pink hair being chased by Freddy Krueger, a coroner terrified of contagion viruses, and drag queens named Steve and Edie. While initially believing they are looking for a werewolf, mulder determines they are actually looking for a shape shifter that takes on the appearance of one’s greatest fear. If one is afraid of it, its attacks are fatal.

Mulder relishes the idea of his hunt being captured on television. To capture the monster would be a validation of his life’s work. Scully is far less enthused about appearing on national television chasing after a monster she does not believe exists. Mulder falls into the role of a typical law enforcement officer featured on COPS. Scully far less so. Their encounters with these colorful characters, accentuated by their usual True believer versus the Skeptic roles, take on a light-hearted, occasionally laugh out loud tone.

An interesting observation is that, since the monster can kill by fear, Mulder and Scully were perhaps in danger because the film crew, which never caught the monster on camera, represent their fear. Mulder is afraid of failure being filmed, while Scully is afraid of looking foolish. Was the film crew the monster as far as they were concerned? Were the agents lives spared because the sun came up before it was their turn to suffer an attack? It is a typical open ended issue like the conclusion of many episodes.

In spite of not being a fan of COPS, I enjoyed “X-COPS.” It is an inspired idea. Terrifying in some places and hilarious in others, it generally hits the right marks. I would not call it a classic in the vein of other absurdly comedic episodes of the past, but it definitely has its high points--and no white trash dragged out on the front lawn, thank goodness.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

X-Files--"Closure"

At the risk of redundancy, “Closure” offers much closure to the seven year story arc of Samantha Mulder’s fate. It is a beautiful story, quite existential, and extremely sad in parts. The best way to look at it is too ignore virtually every instance in which a version of Samantha has appeared in the series and think of “Closure” as the only episode to deal with her story. In doing so, it becomes one of the best in the series.

The FBI clears out the mass graves at the Santa Clause Ranch. The owner confesses to 24 child murders dating back to the ’60’s. He once played santa Clause for a school where he worked as a janitor. He liked the reaction of the children, and the rest is tragic history. The man takes no responsibility for Amber-Lynn’s death, but her fate quickly falls behind the realization Mulder is disappointed by not discovering his sister among the dead.

He subsequently falls under the influence of Harold Piller, an alleged psychic who has helped discover the fate of missing children after natural disasters and major accidents. He says he wants to help find Amber-Lynn, but he turns his attention to Mulder and his hunt for Samantha. Scully is not only skeptical of Piller, but fears he will prey on Mulder’s wounded emotional state. She goes through a more legitimate route to uncover Samantha’s fate to give her partner true closure, not a psychic fraud’s reassurances.

Piller is not exactly a fraud, but he does have little control over what he “sees.” His credibility is further damaged by the accusation he may have murdered his missing son. He was institutionalized for mental illness shortly after his son’s disappearance. He theorizes benevolent spirits take suffering children to a better place. He believes this is what happened to Samantha.

Scully encounters the Cigarette Smoking Man and learns he called off the original search for Samantha because he believed she was dead. He is lying, however, as both Mulder and Scully learn when their investigations converge. The CSM had Samantha on a military base for years. She was living with him and Jeffrey Spender. She was experimented on for years. Finally, having enough of the torturous experience, escaped to a hospital in 1979. She was taken by those benevolent spirits right before the CSM could take her back to the base.

In the end, Mulder is lead to a playground where ghostly children are happily playing. His sister is among them. When they embrace, he realizes she is in a better place now. It offers him peace of mind. It is difficult to not get misty eyed at the scene.

The concept is based on a ghost story originating from the Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville, Alabama. There is a park adjacent to the cemetery with a playground. Allegedly at night, swings move by themselves, and the sound of children’s laughter can be heard as they play. Legends have been built around the alleged sounds. Some say a group of children were murdered while their parents were attending a funeral. Others say there was a rash of child abductions in which the bodies were never found. The sounds coming from the playground at night are supposedly the spirits of the children playing.

As I said above, it is best to forget any other episodes which deal with Samantha when appreciating “Closure.” all the clones and alleged real adult versions and fantasy dreams cheapen her true fate, which is quite poignant. It is also best to ignore Jeffrey Spender growing up alongside Samantha. It is next to impossible to reconcile that with what we knew of his history. Did the powers that be really expect we would forget all about his story just two seasons ago? Not with the way X-Philes nitpick.

But forget most of the past, and “Closure” is one of the best episodes of the series. It is moody and disturbing, yet offers a hope in the end that is rare for this series. In addition to caring about the characters by this point in the series, the feel is accentuated by the most moving piece of music not composed by Mark Snow to be used in the series. It is “My Weakness” by Moby. The song is used twice, once when the children’s graves are being excavated at the beginning, and again when mulder meets his sister’s ghost.. Touchingly ethereal:You will not fined many episodes left as good as this one.

Rating: **** (out of 5)