Tuesday, May 31, 2011

X-Files--"Jump the Shark"

We are down to the final five episodes of The X-Files. Four of the five wrap up dangling plot threads to varying degrees of satisfaction. “Jump the Shark,” a play on both the point at which a television series hits its peak before hitting the decline and a major plot point of the episode, features the ultimate fate of the Lone Gunman. It is a direct sequel to the final episode of their self-titled series which had been cancelled the previous year. For the sake of full disclosure, I have seen only the two initial episodes of The Lone Gunman, so “Jump the Shark” is my first exposure to many of the concepts and characters featured. However much my unfamiliarity taints my review is up for you to decide.

I have always had mixed emotions about the Lone Gunman. My opinion hinged on how they were used. Often, they were thrown into the story when Mulder and Scully were unable to get from point A to point B any other logical way. The Lone Gunman managed to implausibly have specialized knowledge which somehow escaped the FBI’s crime lab. Go figure. Other times, they were out in the field, either heroically on their own, or in a back up role for mulder and scully or Doggett and Reyes. In the latter cases, they were usually great characters. Perhaps enough so that I ought to give their series a bigger chance than I did a decade ago. When used properly as real people, they are fine additions to the supporting cast. So much so, I have a melancholy feel about the ending to “Jump the Shark.”

Like many of the best episodes of The X-Files, “Jump the Shark” has a good mix of comedic and horrific elements. Much of the episode is a scam by former man in black Morris Fletcher to con the Lone gunmen into finding one of their former associates, Yves, by convincing Doggett and Reyes she is secretly a super soldier. Yves is working on a mission of her on to prevent the release of a biotoxin hidden inside shark catilage within a terrorist carrier. The Lone Gunmen track down who they believe is the carrier, but winds up being a decoy. They discover the true terrorist, but too late to stop him in any other way than sealing themselves inside an airtight room with him to wait for the biotoxin to activate. The three sacrifice themselves. For that sacrifice, skinner arranges for them to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery..

I am skeptical non-veterans could ever be buried at Arlington, but it is a nice touch regardless. I have to fight off the feeling that Mitch Pileggi, who has only two lines at the end, and Gillian Anderson are embarrassingly misused here. They both neded to be at the funeral, obviously, but it feels like the two are just thrown in there. Particularly Pileggi. Skinner is a really good character, but for long stretches has been sorely misused. Never so much so than in the ninth season. After quickly killing Krycek at the end of last season, it is as though no one could figure out what to do with him. I would have suggested dumping Folmer and handing all his appearances over to Skinner, but I digress. Regardless, the emotions involved in saying goodbye to the Lone Gunmen outweigh any criticisms about how other characters fared.

“Jump the Shark” is not aptly named. It is one of the best episodes of the ninth season. Obviously, I think it gave the Lone Gunman a good send off. Not that I think they should have been killed off mind you. I would have preferred them to ride off into the sunset aware that they were heroes rather than, as Langley says of his hero Joey Ramone, living forever knowing nothing ever broke their spirits. But if they had to go, this is a touchingly appropriate way to give them a send off.Rating: *** (out of 5)

Quick note: Jolie Jenkins, who played Leyla Harrison in yesterday's episode, sent a Twitter DM thanking me for the shout out yesterday. So she is not only cute, but nice, too. Become a fan of hers, folks.

Monday, May 30, 2011

X-Files--"Scary Monsters"

Several points strike me right between the eyes about “Scary Monsters.” First, many of the elements are lifted straight from the classic “It’s a Good Life” from The Twilight Zone. Second, what is not lifted from "It’s a Good Life” reminds me way too much of the worst episode of the revived Doctor who series "Fear Her.” Finally, the sardonic self-awareness is awfully melancholy. Even the show itself is making excuses as to why it has been cancelled.

Agent Leyla Harrison, last seen in “Alone,” approaches scully with a case she swears is an X-File. A young boy’s grandmother has urged authorities to check in on him after his mother stabs herself to death. The boy told her about monsters doing the deed instead. All parties but Harrison think the boy has an overactive imagination. As we will soon discover, he does.

Tommy has the ability to make his imagination come to life by drawing. He created some sort of large bugs that ate his mother from the inside out. She stabbed herself in an attempt to cut them out of her stomach. The boy’s cat killed itself for the same reason. Now his father is being held prisoner by his sadistically demented son. Eventually, Doggett, reyes, and Harrison are trapped, too, and tormented by Tommy’s imagination. Doggett eventually figures a way to stop Tommy--by not believing his creations are real. It works. Tommy is inexplicably incapacitated before Reyes is eaten from the inside by the bugs and Harrison bleeds to death from her eyes.

Out of all the evil kids that have been monsters of the week, Tommy is one of the best. He is very manipulative in luring people into his traps. There is a strong hin the has a crush on Reyes, too. He makes every effort to hover around her, always seeking comfort from her. His previous behavior makes it even cooler when he decides to kill her in the worst manner he can imagine. The glee he has when showing her the picture he drew of her with a bug in her stomach is priceless.

The heart of the episode is not Tommy’s sadism, however. Good thing, too, because it is incredibly derivative of past kids with reality bending powers stories from all over science fiction. What the episode is really about is Harrison speaking for the fans. She is irritated every step of the way how Doggett and Reyes are handling the case. Specifically, she hounds the two that Mulder and Scully would be doing things far better. At one point, Doggett snaps at her that Mulder and Scully are not around anymore, then privately confides in Reyes he believes Harrison is right. He and Reyes are completely in over their heads. He thinks they lack the ability to think outside the box enough to solve x-Files cases. Indeed, it is Doggett’s lack of imagination which allows him to survive Tommy’s death trap for him and eventually subdue the kid. The solution is supposed to be ironic, but it really reinforces the notion The X-Files was best left to Mulder and Scully.

“Scary Monsters” has a decent mix of horror and comedy. I have already described how Tommy manipulates reyes into feeling sorry for him to the point she is always holding him. I half expected him to try unhooking her bra at some point. On a dime, he shows her a drawing of how he plans to kill her and--boom--here we go. Hilariously jarring, as his her commenting, as she suffers under the pain , what a brat he is. Leyla’s over-enthusiastic boyfriend is thrown into the mix. He has been told he will get laid if he digs up the family cat for Scully to autopsy. He shows up at Scully’s door with the feline. Hilarity ensues. The whole sequence feels like just a way of getting Gillian Anderson into the episode. She is phoning it in, just like she has been for the last season and a half. You can see it on her face: End it! End it! For the love of God, end it! I’m moving to London. End it!

I am mocking “Scary Monsters” unmercifully, but it is not really that bad. The problem is how obvious it is everyone involved knows the show is over because the fans no longer care. They are cashing thir paychecks, and that is about it. Annabeth Gish is hoping her role on The West Wing gets extended. It does not, I am afraid. She has to take her clothes off in her next movie to get anyone’s attention. So does Anderson, now that I recall, but not full frontal like Gish. Poor Robert Patrick shows up in one episode of Stargate: Atlantis only to be killed off in the second act. Judge for yourself how Harrison’s Jolie Jenkins has done for herself. I recognize her in many television guest spots. Still cute, too.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

X-Files--"Improbable"

It is great to see a lighthearted, humorous episode with a big name guest star at his quirky best in an otherwise bleak sequence of episodes. The X-File’ is in definite full swing at this point, but “Improbable” is there to remind of those fun episodes of the past when stars like Peter Boyle, Charles Nelson Reilly, Lilly Tomlin, and Ed Asner lifted Many monster of the week episodes to classics. In this case, Burt Reynolds takes a turn ambiguously playing God as he helps Scully and Reyes track down a serial killer who uses numerology to choose his victims.

Reynolds steals the show here as the offbeat Almighty, but I cannot discount that the powers that be finally found something for reyes to do that does not involve some existential voodoo. She finally comes into her own as a capable FBI agent rather than the third wheel behind Doggett and Scully, or the poor soul buffeted by cruel fate. She is the one who ultimately catches the killer, though it is Doggett who fires the fatal shot to save her and Scully. To be fair, he was due. He had about eight lines up until that point. Besides, I cannot remember the last time he got to kill the perp.

Reyes, seemingly out of the blue, connects a series of six murders through numerology. She becomes a quick star within the FBI until the head of the local field office discovers how she did it. He is inexplicably upset because that is just not how the FBI works. His objection puzzles me. If a serial killer is using numerology to choose his victims-- and Reyes proved he is--then it is perfectly reasonable to use numerology in order to catch him. Nevertheless, the FBI’s skepticism forces Reyes to rely solely on Doggett and Scully, though the mysterious Mr. Burt lends a hand in the final act.

The episode is based on the concept that numbers are the language of the universe. Patterns emerge constantly in patterns of three, from the pins on a map marking each murder victim arranged into a six to nine people crammed in an elevator. Some of the patterns are quite creative. I have probably missed a few myself even though I was cued in early on to be observant for them. Ultimately, Scully and Reyes get locked in a garage with Mr. Burt. He convinces them to play checkers, which gives Reyes the epiphany there are going to be nine murder victims in all. Since unlucky number seven was a blonde, the final two will be a brunette and red head, just like the checkers. The killer turns out to be hiding in the garage. Doggett rescues the two before they can become the final victims. Mr. Burt, work having been done, disappears.

There are some absurdities in the episode. I have already mentioned the FBI brass’ skepticism about using numerology even though the killer believes in it if no one else does. Victim number seven just happens to be the numerologist Reyes consults in order to predict the next victim. What are the odds the killer would choose her? Sure, we are supposed to think the numbers make the determination, but it feels like way too much of a coincidence. It also is extremely weird that even while locked in a garage, Scully and Reyes would pass the time playing checkers with some random guy. I am going to forgive it all, however. Somehow, it makes sense within the strange logic the episode establishes.

I noted a very obscure reference to a past episode, too. When the field office head eschews Reyes’ numerology suggestion, he develops a psychological profile that says the killer is a former bed wetter who ia angry at his mother. Scully once angrily told skinner once the FBI could determine whether a killer was a bed wetter and how he felt about his mother, but could not identify the gun which fired the bullet killing her sister. What a wild allusion to make, particularly when it is played for laughs in this context because it is such a broad profile.

“Improbable” is a very funny, very entertaining episode. For whatever reason, the powers that be thought the departure of David Duchovny would somehow be made light of if the final couple seasons had comedy episodes. Perhaps that was true during the period Mulder was abducted, but the rationale does not play as well while Mulder is in hiding. Life goes on, and the motif of comedy episodes in the midst of dark material works just fine, as this episode demonstrates. There should have been more like it. I even liked the soundtrack of non-Mark Snow composed standards. They gave the episode a certain flair.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

X-Files--"Underneath"

It is sad to say, but after yesterday’s excellent Reyes-centric episode, Doggett gets gypped when he is central to the story. I am still having a time swallowing it all. The script is rather bland. Doggett, who is supposedly tormented over the release of a murderer cleared by DNA evidence after thirteen years, has been more intense in previous episodes with less at stake emotionally for him. Reyes serves as an incidental character who pops into the fourth act in order to jump to the paranormal explanation with no logical way of getting there. “underneath” is not firing on all cylinders.

The point that really jumps out at me is how much “Underneath” is a Doggett and Scully episode It feels like a script that was left over from the eighth season now re-written so the sidekick actions could be split between Scully and Reyes. It feels like a leftover script for two reasons. One, Doggett’s days with the NYPD are featured more prominently than in any other episode. It could have served as an early fleshing out of his back story from when he was a new character. Two, Reyes has little more than a cameo until the final two acts, she relates catholic theology in relation to explaining the killer and eventually stopping him. Scully is the devout Catholic who has utilized her faith during cases in times passed. Here, she has little to no response when Reyes brings up the faith. Why not? If I had to guess, I would bet it is because Reyes was never intended to be part of the episode. Scully could have done all her lines and actions without anyone blinking. Reyes is conspicuous.

The story revolves around Doggett arresting a murderer thirteen years ago at the scene of the crime. An entire family is stabbed to death with a screwdriver. The crime left an impression on Doggett because he can still feel the blood squishing under his shoes. In 2002, Doggett is convinced he got the right man even after DNA evidence exonerates the alleged murderer. Doggett enlists Scully definitely and Reyes kinda sorta in order to prove the guy really is guilty.

There is a brief time in which we are lead to wonder if Doggett is determined to keep him from killing again, or just feels guilty about sending an innocent man to prison. The conflict does not last long, as more people are killed in the same manner as the family in 1989. By this point, we are aware the exonerated killer has some sort of charles Manson look alike entity hounding him and committing the murders.

Reyes shows up after her brief cameo in the first act to explain it all. The exonerated man, a devoutly religious man, is a shape shifter who becomes the Manson guy in order to kill while alleviating his guilty conscience. They are two distinct people, therefore they have different DNA. Not that it matters, because Doggett's old partner framed him anyway.

Wait...what? yes, that was completely unnecessary, but there you go. The corrupt partner is supposed to emphasize that Doggett is a straight arrow or something. I do not know. Maybe the script ran short, so they added in a pointless extra scene. The episode hit rock bottom long before this, so it is not like things could have been made worse by introducing the twist.

otherwise, he DNA evidence cleared the guy originally. Reyes compares the change to the Transfiguration--bread and wine turning into the body and blood of Christ--and distracts the killer enough accusing him of being a sinner to allow Doggett to escape his clutches before she kills him. All that would have sounded better coming from Catholic Scully than the New Age Reyes. Just saying.

I am not terribly impressed with “Underneath.” the script feels cobbled together. There are not a whole lot of new elements here, either. Shape shifters and reluctant killers have been a staple of The X-Files from the first season. The characterizations are way off. Doggett is not himself, but Reyes is scully, so I guess that balances out. A pretty big disappointment in total.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Friday, May 27, 2011

X-Files--"Audrey Pauley"

“Audrey Pauley’ is another episode I had forgotten about until watching for these reviews. It is a wonder I did. The story is Reyes-centric, so it is another highly imaginative existential journey. A very engaging one, I might add, because this time around Doggett is as much of part of the story as Reyes. They are not only partners, but have a connection with one another that could blossom into romance. Reyes was, I believe, intended to be a love interest for Doggett in the beginning.

In order to enjoy “Audrey Pauley,’ you have to overlook two issues. One, Reyes is in a coma because of a terrible car accident. Two, while in the coma, she exists in a netherworld created by a mentally/emotionally disturbed patient named Audrey Pauley. In the previous episode, Doggett was in a coma after suffering a terrible car accident. While in a netherworld, he received a message from God. The circumstances are not the same. Doggett was targeted, while Reyes was hit by a drunk driver. Doggett only recalls his experience in the netherworld. We actually see Reyes’ experiences. The episode is so well made, however, the fact the same story is done back to back with the main characters switching places is forgivable.

Reyes’ car is struck while driving in an intersection by a drunk driver. Although she does not suffer any head injuries, she is pronounced brain dead at the hospital. She has a DNR with a request to donate her organs, so the doctor in charge is ready to pull the plug. Doggett does not want to let her go. There are some really sweet touches, including a fantasy sequence which strongly hin the is in love with her, but is afraid to say so. His only hope is Audrey Pauley, a mentally/emotionally disturbed patient who tells Doggett she can interact with Reyes by way of a dollhouse version of the hospital in her room.

Reyes is safely--for the moment, anyway--in a ethereal copy of the hospital along with two other patients on life support. This place was somehow created by Audrey to protect them from being murdered by the on call physician. He has been faking that patients are brain dead so that he can pull the plug himself. It is not made entirely clear whether he likes feeling heroic by saving other lives with the organs donated or if he is just gets a thrill out of murder. At Doggett’s urging, Audrey re-enters her little hospital world to ask reyes to give some kind of outward sign she is alive. Reyes does, and points out what the doctor is doing, but not before he kills Audrey with a lethal injection.

Reyes recover quickly. She and Doggett give each other knowing looks, but neither confesses any romantic love for the other. Does that give any Mulder/Scully shippers a feeling of déjà vu? Perhaps a loss of patience with the series? I cannot even venture a guess how many shippers are still left around at this point.

“Audrey Pauley” feels only marginally like an episode of The X-Files. it is muxh more like an above average installment of The Twilight Zone. I am not complaining, however. The hospital created by Audrey is the incomplete vision of a real environment. Vital parts re missing. Writing is gibberish. It is very clearly the creation of a disturbed mind. It is also homage to The Cabinet of Dr. Calugari,, the classic silent film which takes place within an insane mind.
Aside from the homage, I appreciate the character development. Doggett and Reyes are definitely a case of opposites attract. Maybe so much so, they both fear admitting their attraction for one another. Doggett is such a straight-laced, by the book guy who is grounded in the natural world. Reyes is a free spirited, New Age type. They ought to despise one another, truth be told. It is sweet that not only do they do not, but they have a immensely tight emotional bond.

In a nice touch, Audrey is played by Tracy Ellis. Ellis previously played Lucy Householder in the third season’s “Oubliette.”. Lucy was also emotionally disturbed due to her having been kidnapped and held prisoner in the dark from a young child until her late teens. Audrey is a far less angry character, but like Lucy, Audrey sacrifices herself to save another.

"Audrey Pauley” is a touching episode in many ways. It is definitely one of the ninth season’s highlights.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

X-Files--"Providence"

Now I remember why I felt so ambivalent about this two part episode. They both intend to flesh out the new mythology for however much longer the series was supposed to last. It is heavy on messianic undertones regarding William, the coming alien invasion, and the Mulder family place in it. It is all really murky and confusing, but also irrelevant. When the series is cancelled, all the set up goes out the window as the powers that be only get a handful of episodes to course correct to give fans a sense of closure.

Should one have gotten high hopes? If Chris carter had gotten his wish for a tenth season and beyond, there is no way Gillian Anderson, who is largely phoning it in at this point, would have stuck around to play Scully. That means no William, either. The new mythology would have been dropped rapidly for a Doggett and reyes-centric story arc, so either way these two episodes seem irrelevant.

But for the sake of a complete review, here it goes: Josepho does not actually want to kill William, he wants to protect him instead. The FBI agent who tried to kill in in yesterday’s episode is a rogue former cult member who believes in some sort of prophecy that William will grow up to crusade against the alien invasion just like his father. Allegedly, Mulder has been murdered in order to spur the prophecy along. William takes matters into his own hands when he apparently kills the entire cult and causes the spacecraft to fly off just as scully and reyes arrive in the Canadian wilderness to save him.

Complicating matters; Doggett is in a coma until god talks to him about protecting Scully. The toothpick man is secretly a super soldier who has been impeding the case behind the scenes. Why/ Truth be told, we are not really certain if William is the John Connor who will eventually fight the alien invasion or the alien leader himself. I do note the irony that robert Patrick feels like he has been called upon to watch over William if the former is true in light of Patrick’s role as the T-1000 in Terminator II . Your guess is as good as mine which is which. I assume Carter and Company did not know, either.

Speaking of not knowing, there are three inexplicable points to ’Providence.” One, Folmer announces the same woman who kidnapped William hit Doggett with her car and put him in a coma. How does he know that? Doggett is the only one who saw her and he is in a coma. For all Folmer knows, Doggett was struck by a drunk driver in a stroke of bad luck. Two, Scully has no idea where to look for her son until Josepho calls her cell phone in order to arrange a meeting. How did he get her personal cell phone number? Finally, when Josepho tells her he wants the head of Mulder in order to prove he is dead, Scully does not flinch. It is the second time in the episode someone has told her he has been killed, but she has no particular reaction either time. As weepy as she has been over him, you would think she would freak out.

The Christian themes are very obvious. Mulder is John the Baptist. William is Jesus. Either the FBI agent Scully shot or Toothpick Man is Herod the Great, depending on whether you believe William is the messiah or the harbinger of doom. Scully is kinda sorta the Virgin Mary. Doggett has had a Damascus road conversion to true believe with his conversation with God like Paul. The least subtle connection is when Josepho refers to the super soldiers as the Nephilim by all but proper name. the Nephilim being named in the Old Testament as the offspring of the sons of god and the daughters of men. I assume that Carter and company were going for the more popular interpretation the Nephilim were the children of fallen angels--aliens, in this case--and human woman. If so, perhaps cutting the series short was not such a bad thing.

“Providence” is not technically bad, either, save for the plot holes I mentioned above which are difficult to rationalize away. The problem is the story is pointless in the grand scheme of things because ir all gets dropped in favor of a quick wrap up. The story feels like we burnt off two episodes for no good reason. I will grant “Providence” is more engrossing than the previous episode, but that is not saying much.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

X-Files--"Provenance"

“Provenance,” a word from the French referring to a place of origin, is the first part of a two episode story that finally deals with William’s special powers. It is a continuation of “The Sixth Extinction”, which makes one wonder why, if the powers that be want to follow up on a past story, why not choose a better one than that. “The Sixth Extinction” did introduce the new mythology, so I guess they were stuck with it, for better or for worse.

A missing FBI agent is wounded crossing the border from Canada into North Dakota while carrying a piece of a spacecraft similar to the one found in West Africa two years ago. The agent had been assigned to infiltrate a UFO cult run by former Lt. col Zeke Josepho. The agent found another spacecraft on a dig with the rest of the cult in Canada and became a true believer. The re is some connection between special babies like William and the spacecraft. Whatever the connection, the cult wants William murdered.

The FBI tries to keep all this under wraps from Scully, Doggett, and Reyes, but when the Fbi agent comes to kill William on the cult’s behalf, they are all three neck deep. Scully hands off William to the Lone Gunman--talk about desperation--in order to head off to see the cult herself with the assistance of Doggett and Reyes. The cult makes a second attempt at William, this time running over Doggett and capturing the Lone Gunman. To be continued.

“Provenance” is a lot of exposition, a lot of FBI cover up for no good reason, and a lot of Scully screeching over her baby more than Claire from Lost. If you have not seen “The Sixth Extinction,’ or blocked it from your memory for the sake of fragile sanity, this will all make even less sense than it does if the episode is fresh in memory. I pity you either way. I am not particularly hooked by anything other than the cliffhanger in which obviously William is going to have to be rescued. That is at least a point I can grasp comfortably.

Speaking of Lost again, Alan Dale makes his first appearance as Toothpick Man. He is the only actor I know of who has appeared in Lost, The X-Files, Torchwood, and Star Trek, making him the connecting factor in most of my favorite science fiction franchises. He needs to do a voice on Clone Wars so hhe can be considered part of Star Wars, too.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

X-Files--"Hellbound"

It look a long time for reyes to grow on me as a character. In many ways, she has been little more than a minor character who steps in from time to time in order to impede Doggett and/or Scully with New age mumbo jumbo, often with an emotional detachment that makes me wonder if Annabeth Gish took on a role she did not want in order to pay off gambling debts or something. She seems…bored. “Hellbound” changes that to make her a fascinating, driven character. It feels like a course correction after the powers that be realized reyes was not clicking, but I will take it either way. The ninth season certainly needs some kind of life in it.

:hell bound’ is one of the few final two season episodes I would put on par with the classic Mulder and Scully episodes of the series’ early days. It is incredibly gruesome--three murder victims are depicted skinned alive--but unlike many episode which feature comparable gore, it is not there to compensate for a weak script. The nightmarish murder method compliments what is going through Reyes’ mind as she suffers a psychic connection to the victims and the murderer which extends over the decades. I offer up bonus points here because the script is written by David Amman, a writer I have skinned alive myself in five of his six scripts for the series thus far.

Reyes is drawn to a murder in which an ex-con attending an therapy group session is skinned alive after revealing he dreamed about it happening to him. Reyes, too, is dreaming about the victims, but is too late to stop all but the final murder. The murders are tied to an incident in the 1880’s when a man was skinned alive by four others in a dispute over mining rights. Every forty years, the victim and his four killers are reincarnated wherein the victim murders the four the way he originally died in revenge.

In the end, Reyes believes she is reincarnated every forty years as well as the law enforcement officer attempting to prevent the murders. The last time around, the local sheriff in 1960 failed, then killed himself in grief on Reyes’ birthday. All the current victims were born on the same day as one of the 1960 murders, as well. Reyes saves the fourth victim this time around when she discovers the murderer is the local detective assisted Doggett and her. But the episode ends with his essence emerging into a newborn baby’s in a hospital elsewhere, signifying the cycle has begun again.

If you are thinking this sounds a great deal like a twisted version of “The Field Where I Died,” you are right. I had that vibe by the end of the second act. There is a lot of “Grotesque” and "Paper Hearts" here, too, with Reyes losing her emotional grip while experiencing the mind of a serial killer. Gish does not have David Duchovny’s range of emotion to play the part of a tormented FBI agent quite like he did back then, but in comparison to what normally passes for intense Reyes, she is practically Emmy bait.

I have yet to highly recommend a monster of the week episode centering on Doggett or Reyes, but I am now. “Hellbound’ is a breath of fresh air among a gaggle of mediocre episodes. Many of the episodes I even begrudgingly liked have had some major flaws which would have doomed them at any other point in the series run. Not ‘Hellbound.” it is quite good. If there had been more like it in the ninth season, Chris carter might not have just been blowing smoke when he claimed Robert Patrick and Gish could have carried the show for another nine years.

Rating; **** (out of 5)

Monday, May 23, 2011

X-Files--"John Doe"

The X-Files has sporadically done episodes that feel very out of place within the philosophy of the series. Most often, they have been straight up cop shows with an odd twist showing up late in the episode to give it a paranormal aspect. Many times, these have not worked well. “Hell Money” is notorious in my mind. I have mixed emotions about “John Doe.” It is not a bad story as ‘Hell money” was, but up until the final act, I swore it was a re-written, unused script from Walker, Texas Ranger.

While investigating the disappearance of a Texas banker, Doggett wakes up in Mexico with no memories of who he is, or how he got there. After spending a week in jail, he is recruited by a drug cartel to serve as a courier. Desperate for money, he agrees. While doing his job and searching for his true identity on his own, he drops enough clues for Scully, who has all of two minutes screen time, and reyes to locate him. It is lingering memories of his son that hit the reset button on his memory loss. Turns out the leader of the cartel has some psychic ability to wipe minds, but it cannot overcome a doting father’s love for his son.

I was only half joking about the Walker, Texas Ranger vibe from “John Doe.” I could easily see Walker in the Doggett role with that second sight” of his serving as an anchor to his past life which eventually yanks him back to reality. I am not going to deduct points for that, mind you, but it is worth noting that until the final act when the cartel head’s power is revealed, this is not an episode of The X-Files. Literally. Scully, Skinner, and Reyes have such small, bland roles, they could have been played by anyone. Considering their limited, filling out my contract screen time, but actors might have been cheaper.

You know, if you have the power to wipe people’s minds, then convince them to do your dirty work, you ought to utilize them for more than just drug carriers. I am just saying.

“John Doe” sticks out like a sore thumb among virtually all other episodes of The X-Files. It is mostly a standard cop show. There is no explanation why Doggett, permanently assigned to the X-Files, is looking for a missing banker mixed up in drug smuggling in the first place. It is by pure accident the case turns into an X-File. But Doggett has grown on me so much lately that it is still an entertaining view for an X-Phile. At least an effort is being made to shift the series towards the new characters. I cannot see Mulder missing in Mexico with Scully searching for him in the slums the way Reyes was able to do. Consider it a good episode in the twilight era of the series.

A couple points. Look for Robert Patrick’s real wife playing Doggett’s wife, as well, though she is not given any lines. Also, 9/11 is subtlety mentioned as a reason trdources are not being devoted to the search for Doggett. The FBI’s priority is shifting to national security. The shift indicates a change in mood over how important the x-Files are, too. The red-headed stepchild of the FBI is losing even more favor.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

X-Files--"Trust No 1"

“Trust No 1’ is an attempt to recapture some of the feel from the glory days of The X-Files by playing with the emotional bond between Mulder and Scully in the midst of a government conspiracy. One would hope with chris carter and Frank Spotnitz penning the script, it would be successful. Alas, hopes are dashed against the jagged rocks below. I blame poor characterization and plot holes large enough to pilot a flying saucer through.

It is revealed that wherever Mulder is, he has access to e-mail. He and Scully have been exchanging mushy correspondence that sound like a conversation between two love struck teenagers who only have Facebook to hold them together. Both declare their profound loneliness. Doggett and Reyes show up with news they have been contacted by an anonymous government agent who has classified intelligence on the super soldier program, but will only give it to Mulder. Scully gets the idea this is a way to bring Mulder safely out of hiding.

At the same time, Scully hooks up with who she thinks is a woman escaping her abusive husband. It is a ruse. The woman’s husband is an NSA agent who is ambiguously part of the super soldier program. They have been spying on scully. They became aware of William’s special powers. When the couple discovered their newborn shared those powers, they wanted to contact her.

They are being pursued by the same guy claiming to Doggett and Reyes he wants to see Mulder. Terry O’Quinn stars as the guy, dubbed Shadow Man by the few fans who were still around at the time. Shadow man is O’Quinn’s third and final character on The X-Files. the character has hints of both Peter Watts from Millennium and John Locke from Lost.

Shadow Man leads Scully on an elaborate journey to meet him. When she does, he reveals that he knows everything about her and Mulder, right down to the night they slept together in “all things.” He wants her to arrange a meeting with Mulder. Against the advice of Doggett and Reyes, she does. Naturally, it was all a trick to lure Mulder into the open to be killed. Mulder, supposedly on a passing train, is never allowed to disembark as Shadow Man, now revealed to be a super soldier, is hunted down and killed.

I said above there are two major problems with “Trust No 1.” the first is characterization, particularly with Scully. What in the world has happened to her? I can forgive her being a weepy teenager over Mulder’s absence, but the poor judgment she demonstrates is unforgivable. There is the major point that she allows her loneliness to overshadow her thinking in arranging to meet Shadow Man. After eight+ years of dealing with government conspiractors and insider informants, she ought to know better regardless of her emotional state. Someone gets killed every time even when it is not a trick. But there are minor issues, too. At one point, the woman whom scully took in picks William up out of his crib. Scully, who has at this point been given a heads up by Doggett things are not kosher, pulls a gun on her. You do not pull a gun on a woman holding your baby as a shield! While we are at it, when you are a 5”’ 3” woman being chased by a 6’2” super soldier, get in the car you are standing beside instead of running away on foot. You are not going to make it otherwise. I hate it when Scully is written so poorly.

The other problem is plot holes. If Shadow man knows everything about Mulder and Scully down to the names of their college sweethearts and the night they slept together, why can he not find Mulder himself? Why did he have scully go around her elbow to get to her tush in order to meet him the first time, but later show up at the train station armed in spite of FBI agents crawling all over the place? Shadow man cannot decide where and when to be an all-knowing, invincible warrior. In spite of those points, the worst is that we know Mulder is not going to make an appearance because David Duchovny is off the series. It is impossible to build up anticipation when you already know the outcome.

But going by the lower standards of the final two seasons, “Trust No 1” is quite solid. The shippers in particular are happy with it. Overall, I do not see much point in it beyond proof that a super soldier can be killed. Nothing is added to the overall story arc and I cannot suspended disbelief enough to care how much Scully wants Mulder to return. It is not going to happen, folks. Not until the powers that be beg Duchovny once the series is officially cancelled in a few more episodes to star in the finale.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

X-Files--"Lord of the Flies"

“Lord of the Flies” feels surprisingly a lot like one of the four or fifth season attempts to emulate a Darin Morgan script. The episode has a fairly lighthearted tone with some horrifically jarring scenes in the climax to shake you out of relatively easy mood you have been in thus far. Throw in some social commentary about the idiotic things people will do to get on television, but not be too preachy about it, and you have a decent episode for the final season in spite of some glaring flaws.

There is an overly long teaser in which of group of kids are filming various dangerous stunts for a reality show like Jackass. The final stunt involves a kid in a shopping cart jumping over a girl laying in the street. The cart goes awry and lands in a ditch. The kid’s head is partially caved in. It was not the impact that killed him, but a swarm of flies that voraciously ate his brain so quickly, his head collapsed.

Doggett, Reyes, and Scully eventually discover a boy named Dylan has the hormonal ability to control insects. He killed the kid because he has a thing for Natalie, the girl who was part of the stunt, and he did not want her to get hurt. It turns out he and his mother, played by a pre-Glee Jane Lynch, are some sort of biological anomalies that are neither insect, nor human.

It is at the point of this discovery the episode turns from a goofy story of awkward teenage angst with creepy insect elements to a claustrophobic horror show. Dylan and his mother encase entrap several victims, including Reyes and a smarmy entomologist, in some sort of cocoon webbing. Several years old corpses are found in Dylan’s house, but he and his mother have escaped by then.

There are two major leaps in logic that have me puzzled. One is that Doggett and Reyes just happen to find an overturned car which Dylan had been in. He spewed the webbing on the other kids, then fled. Neither the agents nor the kids had any idea where he might be going. Yet Reyes decides to go to Natalie’s house assuming he will go there. Why? She has no indication that is where he would go. As far as she knows he would head back home to safety. Two, when Scully and the entomologist arrive at Dylan’s home, it is night time. No one is home, so the house is dark. But instead of cutting on any lights they whip out flashlights in order to look around. No intelligent person would search for a suspected murderer in pitch blackness if it were not absolutely necessary. The only reason it is done is to add to the horror when the webbed up corpses are discovered. It is effective emotionally, but really dumb.

It may be the old school X-Phile in me talking, but as entertaining as “Lord of the Flies” is in spite of its flaws, there is a big problem to be taken away from it. Namely, Doggett and Reyes have no real expertise in handling the case, and it shows. It is Scully’s science background that does all the heavy lifting. She even does the end voice over, which indicates she wrote up the case file even though she is not officially assigned to the X-Files in general or the case specifically. I hate to degrade the characters, but Doggett and Reyes do not exactly inspire confidence among fans here with their ability to take over the series.

I have to mention the entomologist is played as over the top and wildly attracted to Scully, thoughh any woman would be repulsed by him. In the end, he tricks her into performing CPR after he has been trapped in the webbing solely so she will give him mouth to mouth. He was a mildly entertaining addition, but the CPT scene was very degrading for Scully. Why does this show frequently make her act stupidly for either a cheap laugh or to put her in danger for another character to rescue her? It is very annoying.

It would have been cool to see Bambi again. It is not like Bobbi Phillips was really busy at the time.

My criticism of these points may make it sound like I am down on “Lord of the Flies.” I am really not, though I am judging episodes based on the lower standards of the final two seasons. Such flaws would have killed a Mulder/Scully episode as far as I am concerned. Kudos to at least an effort to reference the novel The Lord of the Flies subject matter of kids losing their civilized demeanors by giving into baser emotions when the rules disappear.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, May 20, 2011

X-Files--"4-D"

“4-D” is the first episode of The X-Files to truly center on Reyes. Instead of sleepwalking through the story like Annabeth Gish has generally done thus far, she injects Reyes with real emotion. Not only is this episode the first time I liked the character, it is also the first time she and Doggett felt like true partners who cared for one another beyond a professional relationship. It would have been nice to see that a little bit sooner.

The premise is that a man named Lukesh has discovered he has the ability to travel between our world and a parallel Earths. He uses this ability to act out his serial killer fantasies on the parallel earth, then travel safely back to ours so he cannot get caught. Unfortunately for him, the parallel versions of Doggett and reyes are onto him. As they are about to arrest him, lukesh kills Reyes and steals her gun. Enraged, Doggett pursues him into an alley where lukesh shoots him. Somehow, both men travel back to the real world.

Our Doggett is celebrating Reyes’ housewarming when he disappears. Within a moment, she is called to the hospital where the parallel version lay paralyzed and on life support from his gunshot wound. All signs point to reyes as the shooter since it was her gun and her alibi that Doggett was in her new apartment while he was actually in surgery is a wee bit flimsy.

The bond between the two, which has been thin to non-existent thus far to the point we have just had to take their word for it Doggett and Reyes even like each other, is sweetly evident as she quietly cares for her now paralyzed partner and he is relieved, though confused, she is not dead. Their scenes together are very similar to some of the old Mulder/Scully moments in which they clearly shared a bond in spite of their conflicting roles with each other professionally. As much as I like to find fault with the final couple seasons, I cannot say that Doggett and Reyes’ relationship feels like a cheap imitation of Mulder and scully. At least not here, at any rate. It is well done.

Reyes jumps to the parallel Earth theory way too quickly, but Doggett readily accepts the explanation. He does so because he wants reyes to pull the plug. His argument is to play on her theory that the real Doggett is on the other earth. He will come back if the parallel Doggett dies. I do not really buy that Doggett believes that. I think he just does not want to live life as a quadriplegic If true, it does seem cruel to manipulate her. The inevitable reset button takes care of any of that debate, naturally.

In the interim, Lukesh taunts reyes because he really enjoyed slitting her throart on the parallel Earth. After his mother discovers his gun and calls the authorities, he has to murder her. Since he is now wanted for murder, he decides killing reyes again would be a an irresistible thrill. He makes an attempt, but she kills him in self-defense. Later, she goes back to the hospital to pull Doggett’s life support. The act sends her back in time to when she and Doggett were celebrating her new apartment.

At this point, you should be scratching your head over the bad science. Even for a television series, this stuff is a dud. “4-D” refers to time, not a parallel universe. Regardless, how can Lukesh travel between worlds? There is no theory put forth. If the parallel Doggett arriving on our world pushed our Doggett into the parallel Earth, why did Reyes’ gun not disappear when Lukesh brought it with him, too? That would have made for an intriguing plot point, if you really think about it. Doggett has been shot with her gun, but she cannot find where hers got off to. What was our Doggett up to on the parallel Earth? Why is it when the parallel Doggett dies after the plug is pulled, reyes goes back in time?There was no time travel involved at any point other than in the misnomer of an episode title.

No matter, though. It is Doggett and Reyes that make the episode. I cannot fault technical issues when they are not the main point. “4-D” was supposed to bond the two main charaqcters and make them likable. It succeeded. I would even go so far as to betray my Team Scully member in good standing status and say her incidental involvement could have been written out with no detriment to the story. The episode is definitely a highlight of the ninth season.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

X-Files--"Daemonicus"

“Daemonicus,” which is Latin for Satan, is the first official X-File to be investigated by Doggett and Reyes. The dynamic between the two is firmly set, and it certainly is not Mulder and Scully. Doggett plays the by the book Skeptic as he has done since his days paired up with Scully. Reyes is the True Believer who tosses out all sorts of wild theories with absolutely no rhyme or reason to them. While Scully, who is now in the back up role, adamantly supports her, Doggett goes about the case solving it with actual detective work. One wonders what to make of that.

An escaped mental patient is on a rampage committing ritualistic murders. He has some sort of connection to Kobold, his neighbor in the asylum, who is a former history professor and perhaps vessel of Satan. I met a few law professors I thought might have communed with Old Scratch, but never any history professors. Weird. Reyes readily accepts Kobold is possessed, but Doggett holds his is the guy pulling the escapee’s strings, even when Kobold appears familiar with the murder of Doggett’s son, luke, with no explanation how he could beyond the supernatural.

By most accounts, Kobold is possessed, but Doggett winds up scoring more points than Reyes or Scully. He did plan the murders because he wanted to ’assist” the Fbi in solving them in order to show off his brilliance. That is why he did not escape along with the other guy. He wanted to make an elaborate escape in which he conned the FBI. Kobold allegedly chose the murder victims based on the word “Daemoinicus,” then chosen from the phone book. In spite of all this, the three agents still swear they felt an evil presence.

For old time’s sake, we are teased in the fourth act with Scully perhaps being kidnapped by the escaped killer. An homage to the old days, though it felt so cliché, there was no suspense in it. I did not feel much of anything when she perpetually brought up Mulder throughout the episode, either. Nevertheless, it is clear scully has bonded with Reyes very quickly. I am certain it is because she was there for the birth of William, and probably a bit because she reminds scully of her New Agey sister, but much of it has to be because she acts a lot like Mulder.

“Daemonicus” has as much of a classic feel as the Doggett/reyes era can muster. It is genuinely scary with all sorts of strange directoral angles and quick cuts during the murder scenes so that you feel as though you are seeing events through the eyes of an insane person. Kudoes to that. But there is not much chemistry between Doggett and Reyes. At times, he is forcefully angry with her for opposing his notion to investigate the case as a straightforward crime rather than an X-File. Mulder and Scully had a friendly back and forth in the their disagreements that was masterfully done. Not so these days with Doggett and Reyes.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

X-Files--"Nothing Important Happened Today II"

I can say part two is an improvement over the ninth season premiere plot wise. But what that translate to is that it actually has a plot, however thin. What it boils down to is taking the original conspiracy and all the players involved and transferring them to new characters. About two-thirds of the way in, I started comparing the new mythology to scab replacements for striking workers. Not a promising attitude to have.

At least confusing bits glossed over from part one are clarified now. Lucy lawless is playing Shannon McMahon, a secret super soldier working for the Department of Justice. She is killing off three potential whistle blowers for the super soldier program. She found two of them, but does not know who the third is. She tricks Doggett into helping her find him. Why Doggett? Her rationale is not overtly stated, but it is clear she settled for him because Mulder is gone. Doggett, Reyes, and scully eventually discover what the whistleblowers were going to reveal--a ship upon which scientists are experimenting on human embryos. Scully wants to see if her name is listed among the research, but the bad guys have set the ship to self-destruct. The three escape during the longest 32 second countdown in television history.

Here is the deal with why I think the old shtick is being transferred to new characters. Though Doggett is the skeptic, he is playing the Mulder role here. He is uncovering the super soldier program, which is really the same as the old cloning plan as far as the story goes. McMahon is playing the Alien bounty Hunter role, right down to her knowing the only way to kill a super soldier is to decapitate him. That is the new needle to the back of the neck. She “kills” Knowles Rohner, who is the new Cigarette Smoking Man. It is revealed that kersh secretly guided Doggett towards the EPA official’s murder and is the one who advised mulder to flee. He is taking on a combined Deep Throat/Skinner role for Doggett. Folmer is the new Scott Blevins, although the similarities will be more obvious down the road. The only new bit is that Baby William has special powers. Whatever his powers are, they are not enough to make Gillian Anderson appear happy to still be on this show.

“Nothing Important Happened Today II” is dedicated to the memory of Chad Keller, a family friend of Chris and Dotti Carter who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks. The dedication is a reminder of the impact 9/11 had on The X-Files. Carter himself blamed its rapid decline in popularity on 9/11. While he was diplomatically covering for his writers’ less than stellar work, he had a point. There was both a surge of patriotism post-9/11 that made a show about government conspiracies passe. One also has to question why the FBI utilizes resources on the X-Files when there are terrorists to be hunted down. Those two point cannot be completely dismissed.

“Nothing Important Happened Today II’” is a typical mythology episode. Nothing new or exciting is introduced. In fact, I had a here we go again feeling throughout, except I do not think the journey will be as engrossing the second time around. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the episode. It is just so unoriginal. It may have been sever or eight years since we saw Mulder and scully make these same discoveries, but we have not forgotten it after all this time.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

X-Files--"Nothing Important Happened Today"

We have reached the ninth, final, shortest, and most lackluster season on The X-Files. The entire season feels like it is not firing on all cylinders. There are three big reasons for this. One, there was some doubt creator Chris carter would return for the season. At the last minute, he decided to do so. It was not until his decision to return that story arcs were devised, and it shows. Two, David Duchovny is gone. He will return for the finale after being literally begged by Frank Spotnitz to do so once the series was officially cancelled partway through the season, and he will co-write and direct an episode, but otherwise, he is unceremoniously dropped from the series. The story is he has gone into hiding. Characters will mention him as though he could return at any time, but it rings hollow since we all know Duchovny has headed off to what he hopes are greener acting pastures. Finally, too many new situations are introduced for an audience to absorb. A lot of fans gave up because they were overwhelmed with characters with whom they could not become emotionally invested.

“Nothing Important Happened Today” is a perfect example of all three point. Carter wrote the script with Spotnitz in a rush. The title is apy. For a season premiere, nothing happens. Much of the plot is about Doggett and Reyes learning how fast evidence of the conspiracy can be covered up by the powers that be. Such happened to Mulder and scully all the time. They were resigned to it. We have to go through the anger and fustration Doggett and Reyes feel over it--or at least Doggett. Reyes comes across as awfully wooden. Regardless, it feels tiresome to start all over again dealing with how main characters act about the odds they are up against. The rest of the episode is about the murder of an EPA official by a mer-woman played by Lucy lawless. A naked Lucy Lawless. You can always tell a script is bad when gratuitous nudity is sporadically involved.

Mulder is just…gone. Apparently, why he left and where he went is a secret kept even from Scully and Skinner. The sudden disappearance sans explanation right after Scully has given birth gives off the impression the creative team was not aware Duchovny was not going to return. Therefore they had to cook up some reason to explain his absence. Surely this cannot be the case. Duchovny had been grumbling about his desire to be a movie star since the fourth season. (How is that working out for you a decade later, Olivier?) I would chalk it up more to the rushed nature of prepping the season. Whatever the reason, the poor explanation for Mulder’s disappearance leaves a huge gap in believability.

There is a whole lot going on here that is simply dumped on us. What is worse, the only character acting in character is Doggett, but the poor guy just runs around looking confused more often than not. There is the murder of the Epa official by Lawless. Who the heck is she? Beats me. The Billy miles incident is being covered up. Doggett is angry about that while Reyes yawns. Skinner insists Doggett drop the issue for the good of everyone. Scully mopes over mulder. Baby William has special powers. Kersh is a jerk. He is working with a new Assistant Director named Brad Fullmer who is an old flame of Reyes. He still has a thing for her. Why should I care? How does the Epa official’s murder tie into all this again? The Lone Gunman show up to explain, but I had lost interest by that point. Frohike thinks Reyes is hot. Did not see that coming, did you?

“Nothing Important Happened Today” is a confusing mess that tries to do too much with actors who look incredibly bored. Quite literally, Gillian Anderson looks like she would rather endure a root canal than participate in this mess. The excitement level is practically non-existent. The only saving grace is Doggett. Robert Patrick plays the heck out of his tough as nails character. I do not know if he really enjoys the character or is just that much of a professional, but he does all the heavy lifting here and throughout much of the season.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, May 16, 2011

X-Files--"Existence"

I had said yesterday every potential cast member had been thrown into part one of the eighth season finale except for Knowles Rohner. He showed up for “Existence,” along with Kersh, who slipped my mind when I was writing yesterday’s review. We have a chance to join hands and sing ’Hail Hail, the Gang’s All Here” if you so desire. There will not be another chance until covering the series finale in June.

“Existence” does offer a decent payoff from the build up of part one, although it is much of the same action movie cliché. We have more gun play, fistfights, car chases, and Billy Miles, who has reconstructed himself after being crushed in the previous episode, doing his best T-1000 impression. This time around, he even stops and opens a moving elevator with his hands in a direct lift from Terminator 2. There is such a thing as a nod to a famous Robert Patrick role, then there is out right unoriginality. I believe said has been crossed.

The episode is split in two concurring stories. The first is Doggett, Skinner, and Mulder immersed neck deep in the new conspiracy of alien super soldiers--the term is used on screen for the first time--infiltrating high levels of government. The FBI included, of course, with hints Kersh is in on it, if not one himself. Krycek is a part of it as well, but in a moment set to add splash to the finale, skinner finally kills him in revenge. About time, too. Krycek’s ability to blackmail Skinner has demeaned the character of skinner for nearly three seasons now. The other half is the birth of Scully’s baby, William, which is a redeeming factor for “Existence.”

An over the top redeeming factor. If hints William’s birth was to have messianic overtones had not been obvious enough, let “Existence” remove all doubt. Reyes, who no longer looks bored, finds an empty old storehouse in Doggett’s hometown for Scully to give birth. It is not a manager, but it is close. The same light in the sky that she was following in Arizona to look for Mulder leads him to her this time around. Many of the alien super soldiers have gathered to witness the birth themselves. Back home, the Lone Gunman visit her and William, representing the three wise men. So there you go. William is special.

But after all that drama, the alien super soldiers do not take William after he is born. Mulder speculates he is not what they were expecting. According to Rohner in a flash of retroactive continuity, Scully’s abduction years ago was preparation for her to conceive William as an organic super soldier. Presumably, he lacked the yell tale ridges on his neck, so they gave up on him. Or not. In all honesty, I do not remember many details about the upcoming ninth season. I was in that nightmare called law school at the time and very, very distracted from all .other life.

The conclusion is sweet, in two senses of the word. Mulder and Scully finally kiss with the realization William is their child. Word is the kiss was only supposed to be on Scully’s forehead, but David Duchovny suggested after eight years, it ought to be a full fledged romantic affair. So it was. In the other sense, Doggett and Reyes form a partnership to investigate the x-Files in the future. All right, I am not too excited about it, but all good intentions were there for interesting things ahead.

For a series rapidly running out of steam, “Existence” does a fine job of producing both a sense of closure on the Mulder/Scully era and generating excitement for Doggett/Reyes. It certainly is not as great as some past finales. I feel that way because the new mythology does not thrill me, nor do I eagerly anticipate Doggett/reyes adventures. Nevertheless, your milage may vary on the new tone. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the episode. It just does not feel like The X-Files.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

X-Files--"Essence"

“Essence” is the first part of the eighth season finale. Like most first parts, it is a lot of set up leading up to wait will hopefully be a big pay off. Unlike most lead ups to a finale, it is very thin on plot. The episode attempts to make up for the lack of plot with lots of action and a cast of thousands.

Quite literally, in fact. If anyone was on The X-Files roster, they showed up. Well, sans Adam Baldwon’s Knowles Rohner. There is a always one guy who fans four times when the rest of the team is going 3 for 4 at the plate. But everyone else is here: Skinner, Krycek, Reyes, Margaret Scully, Skinner’s secretary who does not even have a name (She is played by Mitch Phileggi’s wife) Billy Miles, and Duffy Haskell. For good measure, new characters played by Clint Eastwood’s main squeeze Frances Fisher and a obstetrician played by Star Trek: the Next Generation’s drop in for a lscene or two.

As Scully is on the verge of giving birth, Billy Miles returns to kill her first obstetrician and destroy the clinic at which he was helping create human/alien babies. The clinic’s destruction catches Mulder’s attention. He recruits Doggett to investigate. While there, they run into Miles, who beats the stuffing out of Mulder and takes three shots to the chest without flinching from Doggett. As an old school x-Phile, Miles’ act feels like a poor man’s copy of the Alien Bounty Hunter’s old methods. As a nod to Robert Patrick, there are hints of the T-1000, too. But the latter does not diminish the feeling this show is running out of steam by forcing new characters to do what past characters did better.

Meanwhile, Scully discovers a woman named Lizzie, a friend of her mother’s, has been replacing her medication. It is only a vitamin supplement, so there is nothing sinister about it other than her belief Scully’s baby is something special. Messianic special, as the case may be. Fearing the worst anyway, Mulder insists Scully leave with him. They are attacked by Miles. Krycek, popping in yet again with no explanation or compelling rationale why he wants to help, rescues them.

Everyone rendezvoused at FBI headquarters for some exposition about super soldiers, alien babies, and scully’s new messiah child. She remarks she is tired of being part of a perpetual x-files. Something tells me that was Gillian Anderson talking with David Duchovny silently concurring. Whatever fans were left at this point probably did, too. Miles shows up ay FBI headquarters, too, so while most of our heroes hold him off, Krycek passes Scully off to Reyes. Yes, Reyes. Smacking on nicotine gum as she loads Scully in the car amidst a nearby scuffle with Miles. I cannot put into words how aloof she comes across.

Yes, fans. She is going to be a main character next season. Woo hoo, right?

It is difficult to rate the first part of a multi-episode story because so much of it hinges on the big picture. I found the story quite anemic. There is a lot of violence with gun play, fist fights, and a couple car chases interrupted by a lot of cryptic exposition about aliens among us wanting Scully’s special baby. Characters show up, but have very little to do. Krycek is there for the sake of an appearance by Krycek. Denise Crosby’s character has two lines one explains the vitamin supplements. The other says the baby is healthy. One of the main characters could have recapped that during exposition time. Was Crosby about to lose her SAG health coverage and needed a quickie acting job? Nice of Chris Carter to be so charitable as to toss her in.

“Essence“ is not really bad. It just is not much on its own. There is not even an immediate tension regarding Scully giving birth, because other than looking like she is about to pop, there is no hint she is ready. Come on, guys. This is television. When a pregnant woman is on the run, she has to start having contractions. You cannot just end with an alien coming after her. Geez.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

X-Files--"Alone"

Now that Mulder is no longer missing, the powers that be felt it was okay to have a more lighthearted episode. With a title like “Alone,” one has to figure it is not a laugh right, and one would be right. If nothing else, Scully’s departure on maternity leave with the prospect she will never return to the x-files now that Mulder is no longer with the FBI is a melancholy moment. But much of the episode is a love letter to old school X-Philes through the character of Leyla Harrison.

Harrison is a young, inexperienced agent who is so enthusiastic about the X-Files, she begged for the assignment. Throughout the episode, she jumps to conclusions relating any minor clue she and Doggett find to a popular episode of the series. Most prominently, she mentions Eugene Tooms, the shedding skin alien, and those critters that snatched people down in Florida. She even gets the chance to ask the big question on fans’ minds--how did Mulder and Scully get back from being stranded in Antarctica? Her enthusiasm for the paranormal and her inexperience in general is a bit much for Doggett to handle. The sweet part is that Leyla Harrison is the name of a big X-Phile who was a fan fiction writer while active in fandom in general. She tragically died of skin cancer in February 2001, just a few months prior to the airing of “Alone.”

The homage to a prominent fan who died too young is great, and so is the almost paternal manner in which Mulder and Scully, neither of whom are assigned to the X-Files at this point, fret over Doggett and Harrison’s investigation of a groundskeeper and his father who had traces of reptile venom in their eyes when their corpses were found. The two remain in a back up roll as Doggett saves himself and Harrison, but the dichotomy of Mulder/Scully not wanting to let go while Doggett/Harrison capably resolve the case themselves is a nice transition piece.

The only lackluster bit is the monster. The murders were committed by a giant lizard. Doggett and leyla are eventually dragged in the tunnels below a mansion by the lizard in order to be eaten later. Mulder searches for the two on the mansion grounds while scully does her forensics work to determine what kind of creature might have committed the murders. The lizard turns out to be the biologist who owns the mansion. He was researching lizard/human hybrids, and successfully turned himself into one. In the end, Doggett kills the lizard in order to save Mulder, Harrison, and himself. If you are thinking “Alpha” right now, you are spot on. If the powers that be had to reuse a monster’s shtick, they should have chosen a better episode.

But the biologist who is also the mythical monster repeat is only a minor gripe compared to the rest of the episode. It is highly entertaining to the point one has the briefest since of optimism Doggett and his new partner might truly make worthy successors to Mulder and Scully. It does not entirely pan out that way, but it is nice to think that it could, if only for a while there.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

X-Files--"Empedocles"

Empedocles was an ancient Greek scientist and philosopher he developed the four elements theory that all things are made up of the elements earth, air, wind, and fire. He further believed that emotions in combination could either attract or repel these elements depending upon whether the emotions complimented or conflicted with one another. As far as relating to this episode, there are two associations. One, ordinary people become infected with pure evil which results in a compulsion to perform heinous acts. Two, the increasingly crowded cast of characters are wavering between conflict and cohesion.

The premise is that a unexplained entity of pure evil invades random people once its current host has died. Jeb Dukes, a guy who was recently fired, happens to be near the scene of a car accident involving Bob Harvey, the current host of the entity. It passes on to dukes, who decides to murder his former boss out of revenge at the entity’s urging. A local detective requests Reyes’ help because he suspects satanic involvement solely because Dukes had a Marilyn Manson CD in his former desk. Reyes dismisses demonic involvement until she experiences a vision of one of the corpses turning to ashes. The last time she had that vision was when she investigated the murder of Luke Doggett. She assumes there is a connection between the murders.

Reyes does not want to tell Doggett yet. Since Scully has been hospitalized for unknown complications due to her pregnancy, she contacts Mulder for help. To his credit, he thinks the same thing the audience is--these incidents are too random and far apart to be connected. Nevertheless, Reyes keeps pushing it under the belief there really is a floating invisible cloud of pure evil possessing people.

Somehow, Doggett discovers Mulder has been looking into Luke’s file and angrily confronts him over it. Reyes breaks up the conflict by confessing she arranged for it all. The three of them step on each other’s toes searching for dukes. They finally discover him living at his sister’s house right after he has murdered a random woman who has been stranded with a flat tire. Reyes shoots him to break up a hostage situation. He dies later in the hospital. The entity passes on to his sister, who tries to kill Reyes, but is prevented from doing so by Doggett. Presumably, this act bonds them for their ninth season partnership. Or something.

I spelled out the whole story just so you can see how contrived it all is. Reyes, who happened to be the FBI agent investigating Luke Doggett’s murder in New York in 1993, happens to be called to New Orleans right after Bob Harvey, a suspect in Luke’s murder who was cleared, but was possessed by the evil entity and really did kill luke, passes the entity on to Dukes and kills his boss. Reyes had a vision of Luke’s body turning to ashes. Now she has seen the boss’ body turn to ashes, too.

She thinks the case is an x-File, but Scully, the only other person she knows, is conveniently out of the picture with pregnancy complications, so she enlists mulder. Because the writers have to give David Duchovny something to do. He is under contract. So we have an excuse for more friction between him and Doggett. Odd, because there is no way Doggett could know what reyes and Mulder are up to, yet somehow he discovers it. For the sake of drama, one assumes.

While the set up is ridiculously contrived, the intent is earnest. This is the first time we see anything significant about Reyes. Her introduction earlier was brief, and she subsequently fell off the radar. She is crusading type who tries to do what is right, but is highly impulsive in both blunt and dangerous ways. Reopening Doggett’s old wounds in order to find the truth is one thing. Deciding to shoot a hostage taker holding a little girl rather than negotiating like Doggett wanted is something else. I noted in her introduction she is a raw version of young Mulder. She is actually far worse. Her heart is on her sleeve way too prominently.

I appreciate that we get closure regarding Luke. I recall back in the day fearing another Samantha like story arc that might drag on. It does feel small there was not more dramatic build up to the reveal of Luke’s murderer. We only got mentions in two previous episodes. As I have already said, the contrivances take are a detriment, too. But there are two saving graces. One, Doggett experienced the vision of Luke turning to ashes, too, but denies it because if there is a paranormal aspect to Luke’s murder, it is beyond his control and he failed to do everything possible to save his son. That is the origin of his adamant skepticism regarding the paranormal. Two, he spends a lot of time by Scully’s bedside. Unlike the previous episode in which she dumped him like a hot potato, she is appreciative of his friendship and concern. I suspect he feels empathy out of fear she may lose her baby.

While on the subject of better relationships than the previous episode, Mulder and Scully are back on sweeter terms. He is warm and caring towards her again rather than absent-mindedly dragging her along on his obsessive crusade like last time. Their humorous banter is back, too. It is fascinating to think greg Walker, who is not a regular writer for the show, has a better grasp of the positive aspects of their relationship than did Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz in the last.

There is much potential for “Empedocles” to be a highly emotional classic episode considering the subject matter, but it falls short. It is not a bad episode, but it is disappointing. The resolution of Luke’s fate feels far more rushed than it should have at the expense of establishing new relationship status for the main characters. Naybe a case less charged than the murder of Doggett’s son should have been utilized instead.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

X-Files--"Three Words"

"Three Words" refers to "Fight the Future. Mulder has been back from the dead for a scant week, but he is already back to his old ways. He can barely stop to feed his fish before he is off on another crusade to uncover the super soldier conspiracy. Scully is back to being dragged along behind him on his quest. For good measure, Mulder does take time out of his busy schedule of paranoid scheming to accuse Doggett of being a spy. It is the old dynamic back in full swing, yet it is disappointing. Sad, but true. The X-Files truly is losing its mojo.

Before getting to the heart of the episode, we do get a brief moment in which Mulder and Scully rekindle their relationship. A few things about it bug me. A week has passed. Mulder is still hospitalized, but miraculously recovered. One assumes Scully has rarely, if ever, left his bedside. She lgazes at him as though his return is the greatest gift she could ever receive. When he is released from the hospital, she takes him back to his apartment--an apartment she has maintained for him after he has been dead for three months. There is no logic in that other than she needed a reminder of him all this time. She takes the opportunity cozier environment to pour her heart out about how difficult it was without him all these months. In response, he finally gets around to asking about her pregnancy, then with that minimal politeness out of the way, asks about his job status.

Seriously, Mulder? Scully has been by your side all week long after months of worrying if she will ever see you alive again. She has maintained your life for you as best she could in the dim hope of your return. She just tearfully expressed your importance to her. But you do not even ask about her pregnancy for an entire week, then only do so as a courtesy before talking about wanting your job back? What a self-absorbed jerk. I can see suffering emotional issues from his abduction being a distraction from reconnecting with Scully, but his problem is he cares more about the x-Files.

The worst part is Scully goes along with it. She has become far more independent and capable since his absence. In fact, she started growing in that direction when she stopped trying to investigate X-Files in the same manner he would. Now she is relating herself back to second fiddle. Mulder does not really care she is carrying his child, but that is okay with her. He is obsessed with the new conspiracy. That is okay, too. She will go along with him. He does not trust Doggett. She never sticks up for him when Mulder makes all sorts of wild accusations she knows by this point are not true. Scully’s entire involvement is nothing but demeaning to the character. Within two acts, I wondered why she or we ever wanted him back.

Doggett is thoroughly abused, too. Aside from the abandonment by Scully--which is literal as well as emotional. On two occasions, she asks him why he is still around--he is kidnapped by the escaped from prison Absalom in order to expose census data that proves the government is tracking alien super soldiers. Mulder and Scully are unofficially working that angle, too, thanks to Mulder’s interest in a census worker shot at the White House while attempting to warn the president of the conspiracy. But they have no interest in Doggett. He is rescued by federal security. When Doggett does get intel that Mulder is in danger when he attempts to expose the conspiracy, neither he nor Scully care. Bonus points: doogett is right, and saves Mulder in the nick of time, but to no appreciation. It boils down to me actually being happy when Mulder is refused reinstatement to the x-Files because Doggett and Scully had a higher success rate. I cannot believe I feel that way. I do not believe I did when “Three Words” first aired.

Considering real world events--David Duchovny was reluctantly fulfilling contract obligations--influenced the writing. Mulder just does not fit in any longer. The show has definitely changed, not necessarily for the better, but definitely in a way that typical Mulder-isms are no longer amusing. I am not rooting for him at any point in “Three Words.” Instead, I think he is a self-absorbed fruit loop. Turning him into a distasteful character has to be a deliberate act to compensate for his departure from all but four episodes next season.

Or maybe the writers are just phoning it in these days. Whatever the reason, “Three Words” is a watchable, but otherwise mediocre episode. One would expect Mulder’s first escapade back from the dead to be a reflective piece with an emotional reconnection to Scully and Doggett wondering where his place now is. But no, it is a typical conspiracy caper with virtually no character development. I expect more out of the set up.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

X-Files--"DeadAlive"

“DeadAlive” is a pivotal episode in the final two seasons which serves three purposes. One, it effectively ends the Mulder/Scully era of The X-Files, but on a happy note. Two, it lays the groundwork for Doggett and Reyes to take over. Finally, the episode introduces the new super soldier mythology. Not all three aspects of “DeadAlive” are created equal, but they balance out to a highly emotional episode for old school X-Philes.

The teaser features Mulder’s funeral. For the record, Mulder is given a Christian burial by an ambiguously Protestant minister. So there is another bit of evidence towards Mulder not being Jewish within the longstanding debate as to his religion. I am still in the school of thought continuity has so loose, convincing evidence has been offered for both arguments, so I doubt his religion was ever meant to be a firmly established part of the character.

Three months later, Billy Miles’ corpse is fished out of the ocean off the coast of North Carolina. He is still alive., but in some state of near dead hibernation. Skinner catches wind of this and recruits Doggett to exhume Mulder’s body. Since they were abduction simultaneously, perhaps they are both in the same condition. They are, but one has to wonder how a coroner in North Carolina could randomly discover against appearances miles is still alive, but Mulder, who was most certainly examined by top forensic pathologists from the FBI, went unnoticed. I will concede Scully was too emotionally distraught to have performed an autopsy on him, but surely some FBI professional would have been at least as observant as a county coroner in the matte even if it was extraordinary.

While Mulder is alive, he is on life support and unlikely to recover. So is Miles. Krycek shows up in the midst of all this, still with the ability to blackmail Skinner, to offer him a vaccine to save Mulder, but only if he agrees to kill Scully’s unborn child. Doggett discovers Skinner in the act of pulling the plug in Mulder’s locked hospital room. After stopping Skinner, he goes after Krycek in a long action sequence in a parking garage which reminded me much of Robert Patrick’s T-1000 days. He fails to stop Krycek, who smashes the vaccine’s vial as punishment.

Nevertheless, pulling Mulder off life support helps him fight off the virus. When he awakens to see Scully at his bedside, he kids with her by pretending he does not remember her. It is a nod to the old banter between the two. Their reunion is the most prominent throwback to the old days. Truth be told, how much of the eighth season has truly felt like The X-Files? I cannot help but feel a sense of melancholy that for all intents and purposes, all that is gone now, yet there are another 26 episodes left that mostly is not quite right.

As an almost unrelated tangent to the Mulder story, Doggett is offered a promotion out of the X-Files office after his recovery of Mulder. Doggett wavers. He knows with Scully about to go on maternity leave, the X-Files would be permanently shut down without him there. There is a strong hin the feels obligated to Scully, which is a nice touch. The two appear to have formed a much better working relationship during those “lost” three months since Mulder’s funeral. While Doggett drags out his decision, he still acts like a jerk while both Scully and Skinner are embroiled in the whole alien abductees returning nearly dead, but having their DNA rewritten in the process. I can understand Doggett’s skepticism, but his overly forceful attitude when a couple of extraordinary events stare him in the face is too much, particularly since The X-Files baton is being passed to him. Should he not be presented as a bit more likeable? We are feeling Scully and Skinner’s pain here. We have no sympathy for Doggett if he is not going to be a team player. In the end, Doggett takes too long with his decision, so Kersh rescinds the promotion. Doggett is now most certainly on the X-Files for good.

One of those extraordinary events is Mulder being buried alive after three months, but the other is the beginning of the super soldier story arc. Miles miraculously recovers from his near comatose state to become a completely new person. The make up job in which he literally sheds his old, bloody skin is incredible. Miles and Mulder are both infected with a virus that, if left alone, turns those infected into aliens. Hence, we have the new colonization mythology. The aliens’ plan is to dump the bodies and hope they are not discovered before the virus does its work, which is not a very good plan. I mean, mulder got buried. How would his alien self escape once the virus did its work? Best not to think about the logic or lack thereof.

Forget the flaws in logic and the introduction of a lackluster new mythology, Mulder and Scully’s reunion is what “DeadAlive” is all about. The drama is rather sparse up until that point, but the resolution makes the episode good. I am going to award four stars out of a sense of nostalgia. It really does not deserve it otherwise, because I cannot get excited at the prospect of Doggett and Reyes taking over to uncover a super soldier conspiracy. Neither could most fans, judging by the steady ratings decline.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, May 9, 2011

X-Files--"This is Not Happening"

“This is not Happening” features the long-awaited permanent return of David Duchovny for the remainder of the season, as well as the introduction of Annabeth Gish as special Agent Monica Reyes. The episode is as strongly emotional as you might expect. There are several key connections to previous episodes. Some make sense, but others feel as weird as Gibson Praise suddenly coming back into the picture. There is also some manufactured drama surrounding Reyes that, while adding intrigue at the time, turns out to be an overly manipulative red herring when viewed in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, “This is Not Happening” is one of the best episodes of the final two seasons.

“This is Not happening” is a direct sequel to the seventh season finale “Requiem“ Ritchie Szalay, whose friend Cory was abducted in that episode by walking into the invible barrier that rejected Scully, has been following UFO sighting reports in order to find his friend. His search leads him to Montana, where he follows a flashing light in the sky until he encounters a severely wounded Teresa Hoese, another abductee from Oregon, lting on the ground. Ritchie witnesses a man running away from the scene.

Reports of the incident catch Skinner’s attention because he knows Theresa was taken at the same time and place as Mulder. Skinner, Scully, and Doggett travel to Montana, though Doggett reluctantly so. I understand he is playing the skeptic here, and playing the skeptic against Scully’s newfound belief in aliens is fine, but his interactions with skinner are forceful to the point of insubordination. Doggett is a field agent assigned to a basement office at the FBI. Skinner is the Assistant Director. Under those circumstances, if Skinner says their suspect is a giant pink rabbit from Saturn, then that is who Doggett ought to be looking for. I do not find Doggett’s behavior reasonable, and it gets worse when Reyes shows up. More on that in a minute.

Teresa is mutilated to the point the treating physician makes the agents promise to find whoever did this to her. That night, she is taken from the hospital by what we learn is a shape shifter. We are supposed to feel that she has been ominously kidnapped by the Alien Bounty Hunter, but the tension lasts little more than a commercial break. Some fans complain “This is Not Happening” has an unfocused script. It is elements like this which are introduced, then dropped before they can be fully absorbed which reinforce the claim.

Doggett is neither buying the idea Teresa was abducted or that the alien bounty hunter took her from the hospital, so he takes it upon himself to request Reyes come to Montana. He does not notify skinner, even though he is in charge of the investigation. See what I mean by pushing too far? What is odder still is he arranges for Scully and Skinner to meet Reyes in the middle of the desert? Why not at the FBI field office or back at the motel where all three are staying? Presumably because we need to see the wind blowing through the beautiful Reyes’ hair from dramatic effect. She also smokes Morley’s, the same brand as the Cigarette Smoking Man. That is the red herring I was talking about earlier. They are setting her up as a possible spy for the CSM with that dubious connection, but it ultimately goes no where.

Another note about Reyes is how much she is like Mulder. While she does not actively believe in UFO and the like, she says she is open the paranormal existing. She is not really a skeptic. She willing to look at and accept evidence of the paranormal as valid. It is easy to see early hints the writers are planning to make Doggett and Reyes partners on the X-Files. Reyes will play Mulder the True Believer to Doggett’s Scully the Skeptic. The series will fade off into oblivion before that happens, but within two scenes with the characters, you already see the possibilities.

Doggett once worked with Reyes when he was with the NYPD. We will learn later she was the agent in charge of searching for his missing son. For now, he says they need her help because of her experience with ritualistic crimes. She believes these abductees are part of a local UFO cult. She also suspects Mulder may have joined. Whether she believes the cult is staging the stereotypical injuries associated with abductions is not made clear, but her theory prompts the FBI to raid their compound.

There they find the cult is headed by a man named Absalom, played by Judson Scott. Scott is famous to science fiction fans for playing Joachin, Khan’s right hand man in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Jeremiah Smith, the alien healer from "Talithas Cumi” and “Herrenvolk” is there. He has healed Teresa completely from all her injuries.

In the interim, cory has been returned, though he did not survive his abduction experience. His reappearance sets up Mulder’s return. He is found lying in a field by skinner and Doggett, dead. Scully desperately runs off in a panic to look for Jeremiah, but the same ship that dumped Mulder has abducted Jeremiah. Scully does her best Darth Vader scream in frustration a full four years before Revenge of the sith made it a permanent joke. To bad. Gillian Anderson pulls it off without a hint of the melodrama from the Vader scene. To be continued….

“This is Not Happening” does merit the complaint of being unfocused. Dramatic moments are set up, but have no pay off. There is no logic in when, where, and how Reyes shows up. There is no reason skinner, scully, and Doggett did not think to contact the UFO cult they knew existed from the get go without Reyes’ urging them to do so. Doggett is being a jerk the entire time, by not only going over Skinner’s head with Reyes, but showing jo sympathy for either of them about Mulder. People who have disappeared like him have reappeared mutilated or dead. Have a heart, Doggett. Considering what happened to his son, you would think he would be empathetic instead. Mulder’s body shows up to set up the cliffhanger without much related dramatic build up, but old school X-Philes like me felt it anyway. Lots of flaws can be excused because of the highly charged ending.

Something that makes the episode quite emotional is the use of mark Snow’s “Scully’s Theme.” The piece was originally written for “all things,” but did not fit in with the metronome beat that ran through the Anderson penned episode. The music has been featured in several episodes this season, but it has a very big sound that many scenes it played over were not charged enough to warrant it. This is not the case in “This is Not Happening.” The music is used to wonderful effect in several places. The following video is edited some, but the heart is still in it: I am going to award this one four stars, in spite of its numerous flaws, because the episode is redeemed by the final minutes.

Rating: **** (out of 5)