"This is where you pucker up and kiss my ass." - Assistant Director Skinner.
Episode 2, 'Paper Clip', original air date September 29th, 1995. Written by Chris Carter, directed by Rob Bowman. Mythology episode count, 15. The conclusion to the three part story arc that began with 'Anasazi' is possibly the most significant mythology episode to date, in that it reveals key information that lays the groundwork for the stories that will span across several seasons. The more noteworthy components of this story are the revelation that Mulder's father not only played a role in the abduction of his sister but also worked alongside Nazi scientists in the 1970's who were performing secret genetic experiments in an attempt to create human-alien hybrids. This is in preparation for a post apocalyptic landscape following some unknown world changing event. Skinner's allegiance is firmly settled once and for all and we learn that Cancer Man has superiors that he must answer to who have concerns about his capacity to carry out the responsibilities of his position. He himself appears to exaggerate his own importance within the group, flaunting his power over people like A.D. Skinner yet seemingly unable to handle the situation effectively in regards to the retrieval of the DAT tape.
Following on from the cliffhanger ending of 'The Blessing Way', Skinner and Scully are at a standoff when Mulder, back from the dead, enters the room and evens out the odds forcing Skinner to holster his gun and produce the DAT tape he had claimed to be in possession of. He insists that he hold on to it so they may use it as leverage against the Syndicate. Mulder has a photograph of his father and a group of men from the 70's. The Lone Gunmen provide the agents with the identity of one of these figures, Victor Klemper (Walter Gotell), a Nazi scientist who escaped the Nuremberg trials, thanks to Operation Paperclip, and continued to practice illegal and top-secret genetic experiments in the United States. Mulder's father was involved in this but protested against the human experiments. Mulder and Scully visit the former mining facility which was the backdrop to the photo and discover cavernous tunnels containing a complex system of medical records, among them are files on both Scully and Samantha Mulder. Mulder discovers that his sister's file was original his. While Skinner is visiting Melissa Scully in hospital he is attacked by Krycek and two other men, who steal the DAT tape. Krycek is then double crossed by Cancer Man in an attempting car bombing which he narrowly escapes. Speaking to the syndicate he claims that the tape and Scully's would-be assassin where killed. He meets with Skinner, who says that if Mulder or Scully are ever harmed Albert Hosteen will recite the contents of the tape word for word, forcing Cancer Man to back off.
Mulder's discovery of the file, originally meant for him, is a significant plot point that is explored further in later episodes. In retrospect we can see that this episode infers much of what is later confirmed throughout the series. At this point it's a good idea to try and clarify what is being set up in this story. As we know, it will be revealed in subsequent episodes that when the Syndicate was formed in 1973 each of them offered a family member in exchange for an alien fetus, seen in 'The Erlenmeyer Flask', whose genetic material would be used in the hybrid experiments. Bill Mulder chose his son first and that decision was then changed to Samantha. It is revealed later that Cancer Man offered up his wife, Cassandra Spender, whom we have yet to meet. These family members were eventually returned, some of which were abducted many more times. Samantha went to live under the care of Cancer Man with his son Jeffrey Spender and was subject to cloning experiments. It is one of these clones that Mulder met in the season 2 episode, 'Colony'.
Cancer Man is being pressured by the Syndicate to produce results. He claims to have retrieved the DAT tape, though this in in fact a lie since Skinner is shown to have it at the beginning of the episode. It's interesting to see Cancer Man having to answer to someone, he's not quite the all powerful figure we believed him to be. His methods and approach to handling situations is evidently at odds with the other group members who are beginning to distrust him and lose confidence in his abilities. He is desperate to get the tape back from Skinner as he screams at him, almost pleading, while at the same making sure that it's known that he does not bargain with anyone. He is really a rogue figure, despite belonging to this group he appears to act on his own, without their authorization and with no loyalty to anyone. We know this because he attempts to have Krycek killed and blatantly lies to the Syndicate. This can also be seen as the catalyst for Krycek venturing out on his own. The character will become very much a lone wolf, simultaneously forging new alliances while cutting ties with others, basically aligning himself with whomever or whatever will benefit him the most.
The conclusion of this story arc has shown Mulder and Scully that their work is important, certainly important enough to kill for and therefore providing them with even more motivation to continue with their investigations. Both of them have now sacrificed too much to give up and have witnessed the global implications of this alien conspiracy. For Scully in particular whether she 'believes' or not, she can certainly see that there are a group of people, governmental or otherwise, who are depriving citizens of their civil liberties and they must be held accountable. For Mulder it's the most information he's ever had regarding his sisters disappearance and conformation that the X-Files investigations will provide him with the answers he seeks.
We predict the future. And the best way to predict it, is to invent it.
"We predict the future. And the best way to predict it, is to invent it. " – The Well-Manicured Man.
Season 3 premiere, 'The Blessing Way', original air date September 22nd, 1995. Written by Chris Carter, directed by R.W. Goodwin. Mythology episode count, 14. The third season begins with an episode that blends thoughtful sentimentality and mysticism with tense drama. In contrast to the previous season's closer, Scully pulls focus and drives much of the plot forward, while Mulder takes a back seat. A choice that Duchovny felt resulted in a wasted opportunity for himself as an actor, but rather Carter disagreed and felt, rightfully so in my opinion, that the dramatic weight had to be shifted from Mulder to Scully. This episode introduces us to one of my favorite syndicate members, The Well-Manicured Man, played by John Neville. Though this moniker is only used to credit the character in the cast list, thankfully it's never used on the show as it is pretty silly as far as names go. While 'Anasazi' saw the murder of Bill Mulder by Alex Krycek, this time around same trigger man dispatches Scully's sister, Melissa, albeit by accident with Scully being the intended victim. Both agents have now lost someone close to them, paid the heavy price for their insubordination, their stubborn pursuit of the truth despite the deadly consequences. Deep Throat's final words, "Trust no one", have never been more pertinent as Scully questions Skinner's allegiances and realises that Mulder may be her only true friend at the F.B.I.
The previous season's looming question is answered within the first scene of this episode as Albert Hosteen discovers the unconscious body of Mulder, hidden beneath rock near the burnt our train car. The Navajo Indians perform the 'Blessing Way' ritual on him and after a spiritual journey through the after life in which he is spoken to by both Deep Throat and his Father, urging him to return to earthly plains, he regains consciousness and slowly recovers over several days. Meanwhile, Scully, who only half believes that Mulder is truly dead is reprimanded for her defiance of F.B.I protocols and place on leave without pay. She attempts to provide Skinner with some evidence that may exonerate Mulder though he refuses to oblige her. Cancer Man is seen uncharacteristically unhinged in one particular scene as he desperately tries retrieve the DAT tape with the stolen government files. Scully is approached by the Well-Manicured Man at Mulder's funeral and warned that she is in danger even from those whom she may believe to be a friend.
For a mythology episode, this one is fairly straightforward. It doesn't succumb to convoluted subplots but rather functions simply as a way to bring Mulder back in to the game and give Scully more stake in the X-Files. It does this in two ways, one is the death of her sister and the other is the discovery of a computer chip embedded in her neck. The chip is hard evidence of her abduction and something which she cannot deny. As Melissa says to her, she is shut off to any other possibilities than her 'rigid scientific view' and part of this episode is about Scully finally starting to accept that there are events occurring which defy logic, though she'll still have a ways to go. Some viewers were critical of the mystical elements presented through the Navajo spiritual rituals used to effectively bring Mulder back to life. I, however felt this added a nice tonal shift between the two stories being told in this episode. The scenes with Mulder in New Mexico, once again the red paint covered Vancouver quarry, were slow moving but had his reemergence been rushed it would have felt cheap. Maybe it's because I find the spirituality of the traditional Native American culture fascinating but I enjoyed these scenes. It was a far more interesting both visually and thematically to have him brought back in this fashion than to spend half an episode with him lying in a hospital bed.
The final scene is a highlight of the episode. Scully, fearing that Skinner has been sent to kill her, holds a gun to his head and demands answers. A figure approaches the door to Mulder's apartment, where they are currently situated and Skinner takes this opportunity to draw his own gun. It's a great moment because so far in the series Skinner's loyalty to the agents has been called in to question on more than one occasion. His motives are unclear and though he appears to want to aid in the X-Files investigations we haven't seen enough evidence to be certain one way or the other. Therefore when he reassures Scully he is on her side and then proceeds to draw his gun, with everything we've seen so far it feels like it could go in either direction. This is the first time we see the Syndicate, or as they're called in this episode, the Consortium. It's a brief glimpse in to Cancer Man's world that has been only hinted at up until this point. We get the impression that this group of men wields a great deal of power, something the agents are all to aware of as Scully remarks to the Assistant Director of the F.B.I, "I think you overestimate your position in the chain of command." A strong opening for season 3.
"Nothing disappears without a trace." - Albert Hosteen.
Episode 25, season finale, 'Anasazi', original air date May 19th, 1995. Written by Chris Carter and David Duchovny, directed by R.W. Goodwin who also directed the season 1 finale. Mythology episode count, 13. Carter worked closely with Duchovny to develop the story for the final episode of season 2, the first of a three-part story arc that continues in to season 3. Carter was apparently pleased with the way the finale posed more questions than it answered and this is certainly a trademark of most mythology episodes. While the standalone shows would often vary in many aspects; tone, rhythm, pacing and so on, the myth-arc entries almost all share a very similar structure, and one aspect of this is that they often featured quite densely layered plots, attempting to cover a lot of ground in limited time period. Early on these episodes were few and far between so you get the sense that when they did venture into mythology territory that they worked hard to make the most of it. This method achieves varying effects. For one, they can rarely be described as boring, moving swiftly from scene to scene with frantic urgency, teasing the reveal of a course changing revelation, though admittedly never quite satisfying our desire for the infamous 'truth'. Arguably an intentional effect, attempting, and often succeeding, at keeping us baited but never fully content that we've been given the whole story. And herein lies the root of their undoing. This obsessive desire to cover so much ground while persisting to hold back on ever answering the big questions unfortunately resulted in as much, if not more, frustration as fulfillment. Looking forward, it's clear that the series weaved itself in to tangled mess of loose ends and while it's certainly possible to stand back and construct some overall sense of structure, it still demands a lot from the viewer in the process. While it's easy to criticise the mythology arcs when looking at the big picture in retrospect, it's important to attempt to take each episode on its own merits, regardless if the end doesn't quite match up perfectly with what was set in place in these early stages. With that in mind, 'Anasazi' is undoubtedly an enjoyable episode that ends on what could be called the series greatest cliffhanger, the apparent death of Mulder.
At a Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico, a young boy discovers what looks like the remains of an extra-terrestrial in a boxcar buried in the ground. Meanwhile, a computer hacker has just broken in to the Defense Department database and downloaded secret files which detail the governments long standing knowledge about alien life on earth. This file, which is encrypted, finds it way in to the hands of Mulder courtesy of the Lone Gunmen. The Cancer Man approaches Bill Mulder and warns him that his son is about to uncover secrets about Bill's nefarious past. His father prepares to confess to Mulder but before he's able he is killed by Alex Krycek. Mulder, now desperate to decode the sensitive material heads to New Mexico to speak to Albert Hosteen (Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman), a Navajo code talker which Scully helped him locate. Throughout this time, Mulder has been acting out of character, becoming more and more erratic and unhinged. Scully discovers that his building's water supply has been tampered with and possibly laced with some type of LCD substance which is causing both Mulder and other residents in the building to act dangerously irrational. It turns out that this is part of an elaborate plot to frame Mulder for his father's murder, altering his state of being prior to the killing so that he would be witness acting in a bizarre way before being linked directly to his father's death. Back in New Mexico, Albert Hosteen's grandson guides Mulder to the buried boxcar, which is full of alien-like corpses. While he is inside, the Cancer Man shows up and fire bombs the car, leaving the agents fate unknown by the episodes conclusion.
It's difficult to sum up the mythology episodes in a succinct fashion as there's simply so much plot to cover. This isn't the only time the series teased the possible demise of Mulder, however at this stage after only two seasons it would have been possible to convince audiences that the character may in fact not return for future episodes. The future of the series was undetermined and really could have gone in any number of directions. The apparent death of Mulder brought a lot of interest to the show and succeeded in keeping the fan base on board for the next installment. The writer's also shocked audiences with the sudden death of Bill Mulder, whom we had only just begun to get to know. Carter has been quoted as saying that this turn of events proved that 'anything could happen in the X-Files' and to this end the plot device served its purpose.
The art department had their work cut out for them with the re-creation of the New Mexico environment. As it was too difficult and expensive to fly the crew to the location, 16,000 gallons of red paint were used to transform a rock quarry in Vancouver in to a believable New Mexico location. The painted rocks were then combined with images shot in New Mexico to achieve the final result, which all things considered is nothing short of spectacular. Duchovny pulls in a compelling performance as he gradually shifts in to a more agitated state due to the contaminated water. It's a subtle direction at first, which is almost imperceptible, but progressively builds at a steady rate throughout the show and is one of the episode's strong points. It's a pity Scully doesn't have more to do but this is a very Mulder-centric story that's being told, which is fine as it works very well in that regard.
"Chaco Chicken. Good People. Good Food." – Chaco Motto.
Episode 24, 'Our Town', original air date May 12th, 1995. Written by Frank Spotnitz, directed by Rob Bowman. Monster of the week episode count, 34. There's something creepy about small towns. The idea of wandering in to some backwoods part of the country where everyone except you is in on the secret. There's an incestuous vibe to it, a sense of anonymity and isolation which suggests that what happens in this town, stays in this town. Many horror stories take place in a small towns, often somewhere in the Southern United States, where folks are a bit 'set in their ways' and wary of outsiders. The unassuming traveller unintentionally brings with them the threat of change or perhaps the locals fear their unconventional ways will be exposed by this interloper. Either way there's always something sinister lurking just underneath the friendly visage. Spotnitz's first standalone episode, his second overall, employs this familiar trope with a story about human cannibalism. The script isn't populated by the type of inbred caricatures we often see in these stories, rather the townsfolk all appear quite normal when we meet them. It's their actions that are disturbing.
Walter Chaco (John Milford) is the founder of Chaco Chicken, a company that supplies chicken to food outlets across the country. The factory where the food is processed is situated in Dudley, Arkansas. Mulder and Scully travel to the town to investigate the disappearance of a local resident, George Kearns (John Maclaren), who was attempting to have the chicken plant shut down. The locals, including the sheriff and his wife, all appear nonplussed by his disappearance, claiming that he never really fit in anyway and most likely left town to pursue a young love interest. Paula Gray (Gabrielle Miller), a young girl whom we saw Kearns involved with during the opening teaser, is suffering from some hallucinations and during a shift at the plant, holds a co-worker at knife point and is subsequently shot and killed by the sheriff. Scully does an autopsy on Paula and discovers that she has a rare medical condition called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a rare and fatal illness that causes dementia. It becomes apparent that other locals have also contracted this disease despite this being an extremely unlikely occurrence. Kearns' remains are eventually discovered in the lake, with dozens of other bones that appear to have been boiled, this along with the discovery that over 80 people have gone missing in the surrounding area over the past 50 years leads Mulder to suspect the residents are practicing cannibalism. A ritual that has the alleged effect of immortality, which may explain why Paula's medical records show her to be a 47 year old with the appearance of someone in their 20's. Mulder's suspicions are correct and it turns out that the residents have been contracting this rare disease due to consuming the flesh of infected people.
Spotnitz doesn't give anything away too quickly, and the plot is slowly fleshed out over the course of the episode so that we're never guessing too far ahead of what's happening on screen. The inclusion of the rare disease works almost like a misdirection to the cannibalism. This, along with the discovery of Paula's age discrepancy and the mysterious tribal masked murderer at the beginning of the episode mean that early on in the proceedings it feels like the story could go in many different directions. There's a good sense of mystery about the events that have occurred and Mulder and Scully get down to some solid detective work to uncover the truth. The tone is sometimes comedic, especially early on, and gradually descends in to a much darker, more sinister feel as we discover the horrors that are occurring in Dudley. The scene in which Paula slowly submerges in a vat of blood and ground chicken waste is both suitably disgusting and also a clever foreshadowing of what will be revealed later on.
The writing does waver towards the end when they once again resort to placing Scully in danger in order for Mulder to save her. It's a little hard to swallow this type of plot device when we consider that our female lead is a highly trained F.B.I. field agent who you would expect to be able to handle herself without the need to rely on her male counterpart. It's also not so much the sexism of the situation as it is a tired cliché of creating a climactic moment by placing one of the leads in danger. I find this rarely works to their advantage as there is never any doubt that either will be harmed. After all, we need them to come back for the next episode. Placing a more minor character in danger has a greater effect as it's very plausible that they will get killed. Of course the audience needs to care about this person for the effect to pay off so there's a delicate balance between using the invincible main characters and an insignificant bit player whom we couldn't care less about. The revelation that Chaco, a man with the appearance of a 60 year old, is actually 93 gives credence to the idea of cannibalism prolonging life. The inclusion of this plot point has been criticized as going too far but I thought it added to the slightly supernatural feel of the episode and gave the story more weight. It worked particularly well because it wasn't laboured as an integral component of the show, but worked simply as an arousing addition to cap off the story. An enjoyably creepy, perhaps even underrated, small town horror story to conclude this season's standalone tales.
The second film, following Man of Steel, of the DC Extended Universe which is DC Comics attempt to replicate the huge success of Marvel's Cinematic Universe which began in 2008 with Iron Man. The film draws much of it's inspiration from two comic book story lines, The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman. It has so far garnered generally unfavourable reviews from critics and a backlash from long-time DC fans who felt that Snyder's take on the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel was in contradiction to their established roles in their respective comics. It's been said that the film is too dark and gritty which is one of the reasons it has failed to capture audiences in the same way as the more family friendly Marvel films have managed to do. Another criticism has been that the DCEU is trying to play catch up with Marvel and thus accelerated their timeline by jumping straight in to a sort of mini-Avengers story rather than build up their characters with standalone origin films, with the exception of Man of Steel's origin of Superman story. This means we're thrown in to an already established world without the backstory, this would be akin to releasing The Avengers before the standalone films that built the universe in which it exists. However, preceding this film Batman has already graced the big screen a total of 8 times and Superman, 6, not to mention the various television shows. Therefore the argument could be made that audience are already well acquainted with these characters and in some respects yet another Batman origin story would be redundant. Let's face it, even non comic book fans know who Batman and Superman are at this point.
Snyder has a flair for striking visuals and BvS is no exception. Visually, the film is stunning and well worth experiencing on the big screen. Ben Affleck's turn as the caped crusader may just be the best live action interpretation I've seen. I have a strong personal connection with Michael Keaton's Batman that is loaded with nostalgia which makes it difficult for me to rate Affleck's higher but it's certainly a strong contender. I've never been a big Superman fan but Henry Cavill certainly has classic good looks and physique to be believable in the role, incidentally this film has piqued my interested and I intend to check out the character's cinematic back catalogue. I was particularly excited for Wonder Woman's film debut and though Gal Gadot's screen time is minimal, her presentation certainly bodes well for her upcoming origin story in 2017. The film is loaded with religious iconography, with numerous references to Gods and Devils, something which contributes to the mature tone. The soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, is definitely worth mentioning as it perfectly accents the on screen drama and is instrumental, no pun intended, in moving the tone through from thoughtful drama to explosive action. It also may well be the only official soundtrack I've ever considered buying. Throughout it's 151 minute running length, which at no point felt too long, the action sequences are sporadic, a decision that received heavy criticism but which I felt actually served to accent the action rather than beat us over the head with it until we're desperately searching for a moment to catch our breath and reorient ourselves. The pacing moves quickly and it's easy to miss things on the first time around, I don't mind this as I enjoy films that offer something more with repeated viewings. I saw this twice at the cinemas, which is incredibly rare for me. This is a testament to the lasting impact of the experience that stayed with me for days before I finally gave in and bought a second ticket. While I certainly enjoy and own most of the MCU films and will revisit them multiple times, I felt like BvS had a deeper level of enjoyment that lingered for days after and will only get better with time. This leaves me very excited for both Wonder Woman and The Justice League which are both in production now, and has made me eager to revisit Man of Steel. Up until this point I was like warm about Suicide Squad but this film has done it's job of drawing me in to the wider DCEU that I'm now much more eagre to see the film, particularly since Affleck's Batman will cameo. I'm also very interested to see the blu-ray release which promises an R rated (MA15+ in Australia) version with around 30 minutes of extra footage, this is very similar to what Snyder did with the director's cut of Watchmen, which proved to be superior to the theatrical cut, in my opinion. All in all this is a strong beginning for the DCEU, I just hope the negative critical response won't hinder the production of future entries too much.
The Martian (2015) directed by Ridley Scott, written by Drew Goddard, based on the novel by Andy Weir. This is not the film you think it is. To elaborate, the premise of the The Martian suggests a tale about one man's solitary struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds as he overcomes one hurdle after another while stranded on Mars. Isolated and detached from humanity in every sense of the word we would expect to see a mans emotional and intellectual battle with this overbearing desolation and the pain of never seeing his loved ones again. However, in stark contrast to this what we get is an eternally optimistic film with a persistently upbeat, wise-cracking protagonist set to a soundtrack of '70s disco music. The tone is consistently light throughout, save for a few fleeting moments such as when Matt Damon's character mentions his parents on earth or the brief moments when something doesn't quite go to plan at NASA. When they do encounter a problem it's resolved so quickly it scarcely seems to have posed any threat. The films insistence on never getting weighed down by it's subject matter unfortunately means that it fails to produce any real tension. From very early on in the film it's clear that everything will be OK by the end, one way or another this astronaut is getting home safe, that much you can be sure on. Consequently what we have then is an entertaining, easy to watch space travel story in which we watch an astronaut devise some nifty scientific devices to help him survive in his man made habitat while he waits for NASA to rescue him. There are several scenes where Damon's character actually seems to be enjoying himself. The character development is paper thin, he starts of a self assured, relatively cheerful every-man who endears himself to us almost instantly. By the end of the film he remains exactly that, his harrowing experience of surviving a harsh alien wasteland after being left for dead by his crew has failed to instill even the slightest sense of self-reflection or introspective behavior. The question then remains, does this make it a 'bad' film? My answer is no. It's just not what you'd expect from a Ridley Scott sci-fi. It's an easy going film with a likable protagonist, a healthy dose of humour with just a touch of sentimentality. I will say that I appreciated that we had both a female captain leading the space crew and not even the slightest hint of an unnecessary romantic subplot. Adjust your expectations and you'll have a good time. If, however, you were hoping for a masterpiece of suspense that brilliantly captures the terrifying dangers of space, Scott already made that film in 1979.
Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
"Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you." - Fox Mulder.
Episode 23, 'Soft Light', original air date May 5th, 1995. Written by Vince Gilligan, directed by James A. Contner. Monster of the week episode count, 33. In 1995, Vince Gilligan was a relatively inexperienced screenwriter with only a single credit to his name. He was also a fan of The X-Files and, at Carter's request, submitted a script as a freelancer writer. Carter and Howard Gordon then edited the script that would become 'Soft Light', leading to the hiring of Gilligan as a permanent member of the writing staff. As the years progressed he would continue to pen some highly acclaimed screenplays for the series and take on the additional roles of producer and director, not only for The X-Files but also Carter's side projects, Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen. He is of course now well known as the creator of the groundbreaking AMC produced television series Breaking Bad and it's surprisingly successful spin-off Better Call Saul, he also wrote the screenplay for the film Hancock. He became an integral component of the shows success, a key figure behind the scenes alongside Carter and Spotnitz. His first script is one that I can vividly recall watching back when it aired on television and it has stuck with me ever since. I would cite 'Soft Light' among my favorite episodes. This isn't as universally praised as other Gilligan episodes like season 5's 'Bad Blood' or season 6's 'Dreamland' (Parts I & II) but it had a significant impact on me and like 'Darkness Falls' is one of the early episodes that for one reason or another struck a chord and has been permanently etched in to my mind.
Dr. Chester Ray Banton is terrified of his shadow, spending his days and nights in a train station, staring at the floor. We learn early on that his shadow has the ability to devour people, leaving behind only a small burn stain on the ground. This monstrous 'appendage' is the result of an experiment in dark matter gone wrong. The science is never fully explained but it appears that his shadow is not his own anymore, it is a sentient being that is tethered to Banton's body. Mulder and Scully are asked to help with the case as a favour by an up and coming detective friend of Scully's working her first case and fearing a dead end. A trail of unexplained deaths lead them to Chester and, once subdued, he explains the situation. He fears the government is searching for him so that they can experiment on the dark matter shadow he has created. This sounds a lot like delusion and paranoia until X, whom Mulder calls on for help, ends up kidnapping Chester and placing him in an unidentified government facility where he is seen being subjected to torturous light experiments. The ending is wonderfully depressing as we see a single tear fall down Chester's anguished expression.
The screenplay runs like a procedural detective story with supernatural elements. We spend a lot of time with Mulder and Scully investigating crime scenes, examining clues and posing hypotheses. Their thorough investigatory techniques lead them to find Chester, not by coincidence or happenstance but through a logical progression of fact finding and evidence examination. This is less common that it sounds for the series. We don't often follow the agents from one crime scene to another and witness them playing the role of detective in such a traditional sense. There's nothing mysterious or inexplicable about how they find Chester. Mulder and Scully spend a lot of time together and this was always smart move since they have such great chemistry, whenever they are split up in other episodes there seems to be less dramatic congruence. This makes the episode feel very grounded in reality, despite the premise of a man-eating shadow, which admittedly sounds a little silly when you say it out loud. However, Shalhoub's acting is very naturalistic and we really believe the fear that he's expressing. It's an interesting idea that the monster, and the person most afraid of that monster are one and the same. On one hand you have an unstoppable, indiscriminate killer, Banton's dark matter shadow, and on the other a mild mannered scientist who's terrified of hurting anyone, it's a little like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Combine these two elements together and you have a character who's wrestling with the physical manifestation of his inner demons.
The effects of the shadow consuming people is left nice and simple, this is lucky since they could have overdone it and caused the CGI to age much more rapidly. As it stands it's still highly effective decades later. The idea of someone being sucked into a dark matter black whole is a scary thought. I've often wondered whether they are in fact dead or perhaps they are still existing in another dimensional space and time. The character of X makes some interesting choices in this episode. It had been a while since his character had any significant headway and here we see him seemingly cross the line between friend and foe. Having X deceive Mulder and capture Chester for the government makes us question his motives. We're left to decide whether he's simply an antagonist working alongside people like the Cancer Man or whether he has to answer to superiors and is forced to take action.
Perhaps the secret to the episode's success is the casting of Tony Shalhoub as Dr. Chester Ray Banton, the emotionally torn physicist who's literally afraid of his own shadow. Or maybe there is simply an indefinable, subjective quality that makes an episode stand out from the pack. Every fan has their personal favorites and often no manner of intellectual justification or objective analysis can fully explain the emotional response one receives from the experience of watching it. This is 'Soft Light' for me.
"I stand right on the line that you keep crossing." – A.D. Skinner.
Episode 22, 'F. Emasculata', original air date April 28th, 1995. Written by Chris Carter and Howard Gordon, directed by Rob Bowman. Monster of the week episode count, 32. Long running television shows like 'How I Met Your Mother' and 'That '70s Show' had one director for every episode. I imagine this would be a huge benefit to show, making visual and stylistic continuity infinitely easier to maintain. While these are half hour sitcoms with far less elaborate setups and half the running time of the X-Files, I have still often wondered why the series had so many one time directors instead of sticking with a core group of regulars. Perhaps they feared that sticking with the same director on a long term basis would cause the series to go stale. After all one of the secrets of the shows success is that within a basic framework, from episode to episode they were able to cross multiple genres and stylistic approaches that made every entry, at the very least, feel like a fresh experience. However, this also increases the failure rate by relying on directors who are perhaps less experience than others or just less familiar with the tone of the series. A clear example of this visual inconsistency can be seen when comparing the direction of the previous episode, 'The Calusari', by Michael Vejar, a one time director with no internal ties to the show. To the this far superior entry by Rob Bowman, series producer and director of multiple episodes, including the 1998 feature film. The difference is noticeable from the very opening shot, it's immediately more engaging thanks to his direction, the camera angles and movement have a much more cinematic feel to them. This episode felt more like a mini movie. Of course this isn't so much a criticism against Vejar as a director, rather it's to point out that directors who've had more experience on the show, Bowman, Carter, Manners, Nutter, tend to produce better episodes simply because they seem to understand the tone of the series more. As such, this episode ranks among the top end for series two, it's a monster of the week but with a bigger scope than we're used to. It almost feels like a mythology episode especially with the inclusion of the Cancer Man.
Faciphaga Emasculata is the scientific name for an insect discovered by an entomologist working in the Costa Rican rainforest. The insect carries a parasite that kills it's host in under 36 hours. Pinck pharmaceuticals, the company which the entomologist worked for, secretly introduces the parasite in to a prison in order to run an illegal experiment. The parasite quickly spreads and the prison is quarantined by Pinck Pharmaceuticals under the guise of the CDC, the Centre for Disease Control. However, not before two convicts escape the prison, both of which are unknowingly infected with the virus. Mulder and Scully are assigned the case by Skinner under the assumption that it's regarding a man hunt for the escaped prisoners. Mulder suspects there's more they're not telling them and he searches for answers. A Pinck employee confides in Scully when he discovers he's infected and accepts his fate. He explains that his company did this on purpose and that it's not an isolated incident. A furious Mulder demands answers from Skinner who simply replies that he has no idea who he's dealing with, in reference to Cancer Man's involvement in the cover up. A warning to both Mulder and the audience.
The makeup work by Toby Lindala is perfectly disgusting, as victims stricken with the virus grow huge exploding pustules on their face and neck. It's designed to gross out the audience and it certainly does the trick. But there's more to this episode than just the special effects. The scale of the production feels much larger than the previous episode, this is a story you could really see working well on the big screen. In fact the producers were a little wary of running the episode so close to the film 'Outbreak' as they share similar themes. The addition of the Cancer Man to a stand-alone episode is rare, Carter has said that he didn't like mixing MOTW and Mythology episodes but his inclusion helps to give scope to this story. The screenplay is tightly woven as they make full use of the 44 minute running time, each scene feels like it's progressing the story there's nothing superfluous here. Both Duchovny and Scully are given something interesting to do, they spend most of the episode apart but their characters contributions to the story are equally important and engaging. The guest stars are another element which attributes to the success of the episode, particularly Dean Norris, who much later will play a major role in X-Files producer Vince Gilligan's 'Breaking Bad' and also Charles Martin Smith as Dr. Osbourne.
When the X-Files really hits the mark it's comparable to the best television being produced today. Aside from the odd effect here and there and perhaps some dated clothing styles, the series has aged exceptionally well. Thematically a story like this still feels fresh and the execution, thanks largely to Bowman's direction, is as visually engaging and dynamic as the productions values we're used to from feature films. A strong highlight for season two.
Neither innocence nor vigilance may be protection against the howling heart of evil.
"Neither innocence nor vigilance may be protection against the howling heart of evil." - Fox Mulder.
Episode 21, 'The Calusari', written by Sara B. Charno, directed by Michael Vejar. Monster of the week episode count, 31. Charno's second script borrows heavily from films like 'The Exorcist' (1973) and 'The Omen' (1976) which challenge the traditional archetypal villain, in some cases the personification of the Devil, by having a child embody this evil. This can be highly effective at terrifying audiences, as the juxtaposition of innocence and purity, that we associate with a child, with the malevolent and destructive force of pure evil, can be very unsettling. At the same time however, this concept can easily become comical. The 'evil child' trope is often unsuccessful at being genuinely scary since the execution of the idea is riding so heavily on the performance of an often inexperienced actor. The question here is where does 'The Calusari' fall in it's attempt at dramatic horror? For the most part it sticks the landing and despite sometimes missing the mark it's largely successful even though it's wholly unoriginal. This was the only X-Files episode in the life of the series to receive a UK '18' rating for featuring the death of a small child and the overall disturbing nature of the premise. Joel Palmer returns once again to the series to play the 'devil child', he was featured in season one's forgettable entry, 'Conduit'.
The episode begins with a boy, Charlie (Joel Palmer) witnessing his little brother walk on to the tracks of an amusement park's tour train while following a runaway balloon. He is killed and his death ruled an accident. However Charlie's grandmother fears that the boy is cursed, death follows him and she is desperately trying to expel the evil she believes originated from Charlie's father. The grandmother calls for the help of the Calusari mystics to help her perform ancient rituals in the boys home. Charlie's mother is Romanian, as is the grandmother, and it's a little odd that the writer would choose the word Calusari for these men as Romanian 'Călușari' were traditional acrobatic dancers. This was one of the criticisms for the episode brought up by Romanian fans. Semantics aside, the group attempt to perform rituals to exorcise Charlie. They are ultimately successful but not before the evil claims several lives.
The aforementioned tightrope of comedy and horror that this episode traverses holds steady for the most part though there are a few slips here and there. One such moment that was written to be scary but comes of as funny is when Michael, Charlie's twin brother who has materialized from the dead, says "What are you doing Mummy?" They pushed a little hard with this line and it comes off as a forced attempt at being creepy. Yet at other points in the episode Palmer is actually quite convincing, such as when he is violently resisting the exorcism or when his twin is about to stab Scully, he manages to pull off a credible menacing presence, no small feat for a child actor.
The opening and closing sequences are probably the two strongest moments in the show, and this helps carry some of the dead weight and loose ends that were not thoroughly explored during the course of the episode. Such as the grandmother's claims that the father is the devil or a demon. This is never explored to any great length, we start to get a sense at one point that there may be some truth to this claim but it's left wide open after his 'accidental' death at the hands of the garage door opener motor. The grandmother claims at one point that the boy is evil because the father is evil, but then later on we learn that the evil actually stems from the fact that Charlie's twin brother Micheal died at birth and the proper soul separating ceremony was not performed. Supposedly this mean that death will now follow Charlie throughout his life. What, if anything, this has to do with her earlier accusations against the father is underdeveloped. A positive addition is that we're treated to the first appearance of Chuck Burk (Bill Dow) whom Mulder will call upon at various times throughout the series for his unique take on all things paranormal. This is a character I always felt could have been given more screen time and was unfortunately under used.
An aspect that I enjoyed about the climax was that both Mulder and Scully witness equally terrifying and unexplained events. Mulder watches as the evil force is drawn from Charlie's body as he thrashes around in the hospital bed. Looking for perhaps the first time genuinely frightened and confused by what he is witnessing. At the same time Scully enters the family home to find the mother pinned to the ceiling and Michael advancing upon her with a knife, only to vanish in to thin air moments later leaving behind a small pile of ash, or 'vibhuti' the residual sign of spiritual energy. There is a sense at the end of the episode that both agents have experienced something profound, they can neither can fully explain or understand it and both have been moved by the event. The fact that we don't see a conversation between them were Scully tries to use science to justify the occurrence gives the impression that for once she can't explain it in any rational sense. It's about time.
"Mr Nut, the kindhearted manager here, convinced me that to make a living by publicly displaying my deformity lacked dignity. So... now I carry other people's luggage." - Lanny.
Episode 20, 'Humbug', written by Darin Morgan, directed by Kim Manners. Monster of the week episode count, 30. Darin Morgan's first script for The X-Files, not counting his story credit on 'Blood', was a seminal moment for the series. Morgan weaved his irreverent style of black comedy so seamlessly into the Monster of the Week format that while it represented a significant tonal shift for the series, it was at the same time such a natural fit that it feels like a perfectly logical direction for the writing to take. The absurd nature of the X-File cases that Mulder and Scully investigate often tread a fine line between comical and horrifying, accepting the ridiculousness of the situation and embracing the comedic element was a very smart decision by the writers. Morgan was instrumental in this realisation that the show could weave comedy through the established horror/thriller format that they had developed up to this point. It really shouldn't be so surprising that it works since comedy and horror have always gone hand in hand. Horror films often use comic relief as a reprieve from the scares. Duchovny has always played Mulder with a sense of humour, ever since the Pilot, and here he showed that he was able to utilise his offbeat sensibility to great effect by simply turning up the dial from deadpan to goofy and finding just the right balance. All of Morgan's contributions as a writer used this 'comedy' format and while others followed suit by delivering some fan favorites in this style it's important that we give credit to Morgan for daring to push the envelope so early on in the life of the show.
'Humbug' peers in to the life of circus performers, who all inhabit a town in Florida called Gibsonton. The episode begins with a fun piece of misdirection, where we think two young boys are about to be attacked by some type of creature. It turns out to be the boys father who has a skin condition and works in a freak show as "The Amazing Alligator Man". However, soon after the boys leave their swimming pool the father is attacked and killed by a unseen assailant. Mulder and Scully are investigating this crime while staying in a trailer park. Their investigation leads them to meet a variety of circus performers, some with hideous physical deformities and others like Dr. Blockhead (Jim Rose) and The Conundrum (The Enigma) who consider themselves self-made freaks. The latter two characters were actual circus performers in the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. A series of gruesome deaths occur and we eventually discover that the killer is the underdeveloped conjoined twin of Lanny (Vincent Shiavelli), who can detach and re-attach from his brother at will. However, the agents are unable to apprehend the twin before he is eaten by The Conundrum, who it's been established will eat anything.
It all sounds pretty silly on paper and if this were played as a straight horror/thriller episode it would have likely been ridiculed for it's bizarre premise. By injecting just the right about of comedy and a certain self-awareness in to the mix, Morgan was able to save his story from being seen as a parody of the show and have it be not only accepted but embraced by fans and critics. It's clear we're not supposed to take things too seriously here, but it's still the X-Files and there's still some genuinely creepy moments throughout. The idea of a conjoined twin detaching itself and attempting to find a new host by gouging out their stomach flesh is admittedly funny in one sense but on the other hand a deeply disturbing image. Unlike some later comedy episodes the actors don't ham up their performances much at all, rather they take a ridiculous situation and play it with dramatic integrity. This stops the episode from being too jokey, and the comedy is more understated than too on-the-nose.
A well known piece of trivia from this episode involves a scene between the agents and Dr. Blockhead. Having been offered a jar of live cockroaches, Scully takes one from the jar and eats it, only to reveal moments later to Mulder that she hid it with a slight of hand. During filming however, Gillian Anderson actually took the live bug and put it in her mouth, she held it there, pretending to chew until Manners yelled cut and then she spit out the still live cockroach. Duchovny apparently stated that he liked the fact that Morgan's scripts almost seemed like he was trying to destroy the show. It's not hard to imagine this attempt at comedy failing dismally. This could have easily earned a place among the worst of the X-Files episodes. However thanks to a willingness of the fans to embrace this new direction, the future of the series was irrevocably altered for the better. Without the tenacity of Morgan's genre bending script writing we would likely never have gotten to experience such gems as 'Bad Blood', 'Small Potatoes' and the season six two-parter 'Dreamland'. Also, without this comedic touch it's entirely possible that the show might not have lasted as long as it did, offering no respite from oftentimes overbearingly gloomy atmosphere. I can only speculate but I would imagine that episodes like this would have drawn in a wider audience or simply a different crowd that were initially not so willing to invest in a dramatic science fiction horror show about aliens and monsters.
I always thought when I got older I'd maybe take a cruise somewhere. This isn't exactly what I had in mind.
"I always thought when I got older I'd maybe take a cruise somewhere. This isn't exactly what I had in mind." – Fox Mulder.
Episode 19, 'Død Kalm', written by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, directed by Rob Bowman. Monster of the week episode count, 29. The X-Files had its fair share of gruesome monsters on the show, brought to life often with great success by the highly skilled art department. A monster of the week lineup from the entire series would be a veritable cornucopia of ghosts, ghouls, zombies, werewolves, vampires and mutants. Some of these nightmarish creations have become iconic images from the series, permanently etched in to the minds of the viewers. Any fan will remember characters like the Flukeman from 'The Host', Eugene Tooms from 'Squeeze' and 'Tooms', the Peacock family from 'Home' and The Great Mutato from 'The Post-modern Prometheus'. Not to mention the many human 'monsters' such as the mind-controlling Pusher, Robert Modell, and the creepy child killer John Lee Roach from 'Paper Hearts'. There's no doubt the writers thought up some memorable antagonists for Mulder and Scully to face. However, there's also another type of 'monster' that takes on a less corporeal form, the type of 'monster' the agents face in this episode. As wonderful as the zombies and mutant sewer creatures are I've always found that the unseen evil can be even more frightening. A force, entity or disease can, in some respects, pose a far greater danger. Once evil manifests itself physically, there is a sense that it can be contained and ultimately destroyed in one way or another. However if it is faceless, an ethereal presence, in some ways it poses a greater threat. This is what the agents face in 'Død Kalm', a threat they can neither see and struggle to fully understand.
Mulder and Scully travel to Norway to investigate what happened on a US Navy Destroyer. Baring one sole survivor the entire crew of the ship disappeared for several hours, until they were found, floating at sea in a lifeboat, having rapidly aged beyond their years. With the help of an American fishing boat captain living in Norway, Henry Trondheim (John Savage), they find the abandoned destroyer, looking as though it has rusted from decades at sea. Inside they discover the surviving Captain, who has also aged drastically and is dying, they also meet Norwegian fisherman Olafsson (Vladimir Kulich) who mysteriously appears unaffected. Mulder, Scully and Trondheim become stranded on the boat when their ship is stolen and they must figure out what is happening to them as they all begin to rapidly age. Scully eventually figures out that it has to do with contaminated water that causes massive cellular damage by raising the level of sodium chloride in the body and the only source of untainted water is in the recycled sewage system. Naturally Trondheim turns on them when he fears for his life and the fate of the agents is fast approaching a grim finale.
The episode slows things right down, with a minimal cast, static environment and focus on dialogue and atmosphere over action. This was done partly to give the crew a rest following a series of demanding shoots with the previous episodes. The vibe and plot is similar to Darkness Falls, a small group of people trapped in an isolated place, the danger growing with the passing of time, and an invisible threat that they cannot fight head on. Everything about the ship is dark and foreboding and since the majority of the episode takes place here it's quite a gloomy feeling show. Which is a good thing. This is one of those times where Mulder's initial theory turns out to be way off and it's Scully who uses her scientifically minded way of seeing to discover the cause of the rapid aging. Another good example of how the pair complement each other with their opposing ways of approaching a situation.
The extensive makeup and prosthetics applied to the actors was poorly received by many fans and drew harsh criticisms from some critics. It's important to remember that the change in the character's appearance was caused by cell damage and an overproduction of salt. This means that their skin became wrinkly, taking on the look of an elderly person. Therefore since the characters are not actually aging, but rather becoming deformed in a sense, you could excuse the somewhat odd makeup effects to a certain extent. Gillian Anderson's makeup was done well, John Savage's makeup never seemed to be quite enough as compared to Anderson's and this was not explained within the story. Duchovny on the other hand looked almost comical by the end, there was far too much latex used which made his face lose to much of it's natural shape and severely inhibited his facial expression. Poor effects notwithstanding, this still wasn't enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the show. Once again the main characters are put in mortal danger, even though we of course know that they'll survive it's still good to see that the writer's are not afraid to let their lead actors get dirty.
One would assume the title Død Kalm is a Norwegian word but it's actually gibberish. Død translates to Dead, however Kalm is not a word. Obviously the writer's were intending the translation to be Dead Calm, which would refer to the stillness that took over the ship and most likely also reference the 1989 film Dead Calm. Yet again I seem to be at odds with the general consensus on this entry from Gordon and Gansa. Maybe it's Bowman's direction or my fascination with claustrophobic minimal settings that rely on characters to move the story forward but this is a Monster of the Week that borrows from, and earns its place among, earlier successful entries like 'Darkness Falls' and 'Ice.'
Mulder, if you're still suggesting that an elephant did this it defies logic. Someone would have seen it.
"Mulder, if you're still suggesting that an elephant did this it defies logic. Someone would have seen it." – Dana Scully.
Episode 18, 'Fearful Symmetry', original air date February 24th, 1995. Written by Steve De Jarnatt, directed by James Whitmore Jr. Monster of the week episode count, 28. This is one of the rare episodes I can remember watching on TV during it's original airing. I recall at the time that I found it quite disturbing and now 20 years on from that first impression little has changed to dissuade my opinion. Written and directed by another pair of X-Files one-timers, it's certainly understandable that some critics and fans have had unfavourable reactions to what seems at first to be a rather ridiculous premise. The script feels very Carter-esque which pushes an agenda regarding animal rights and concludes with stern warning to human-kind that our reckless attitude towards nature and our current state of apathy regarding our imminent self-destruction will lead to our downfall. This is unless we receive some assistance from another civilisation who has the foresight to anticipate our demise and help us prevent it. The common consensus that this episode is unintentionally comedic is a justifiable reaction, certainly invisible elephants and animal abducting aliens could err on the side of absurdity. And it's possible that my enjoyment of this episode is due to a sense of nostalgia rather than it being good story telling. Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief I still find this worthy of a re-visit.
The teaser, or cold opening, is definitely one of the highlights of the episode. An invisible force tears through a suburban setting, leaving a path of destruction in it's wake, including one dead road-worker. Meanwhile an elephant has reportedly escaped from a local zoo. Mulder is characteristically quick to jump to conclusions regarding the destruction, citing an invisible elephant as the perpetrator. As the pair investigate the zoo they find that other animals have been vanishing from their cages. All signs point to a local animal rights group, 'liberating' them from their man made prisons. The sub-plot makes it's way in to the show at this point and activist Kyle Lang (Lance Guest) is the writer's sounding board for perhaps their personal viewpoint regarding animals in captivity. Ultimately Mulder comes to the conclusion that these animals are being abducted, impregnated and returned. However it's in the returning that something appears to be going wrong. Mulder suggests that possibly due to a disruption in the space-time continuum these animals are reappearing in wrong place, hence their confusion and aggressive behaviour which ultimately leads to their deaths. The case is left unsolved but Mulder is convinced of the alien involvement which was acting like some kind of extra-terrestrial Noah's ark, attempting to save earth's animals from extinction.
Aliens abducting animals may seem like a silly idea on paper but one could easily make the argument, if human abductions are so easy to accept within the realms of science-fiction then why not animals? After all, all life on earth should be foreign to an alien civilisation. From an alien perspective, there is conceivably just as much to learn from experimenting on a cockroach as with a human. Going one step further, the argument could be made that animals are in fact easier to deal with since there is no need to wipe their memories and people are much less concerned with the disappearance of an animal versus a human being. Therefore the subject matter of this episode is well within the boundaries of the believable. The idea is handled with a sense of realism and re-watching the episode I found nothing comedic about the execution.
The connection between the episode and it's title alluded me until I discovered that it's taken from a line in a poem written by William Blake, 'The Tyger'. The pre-CGI practical effects of the invisible elephants destruction is worth a mention as they have held up extremely well over the past two decades. The scene where the animal rights activist is mauled to death by an invisible tiger is also done well, both of these sequences could have severely hampered the intended effect however I found them very serviceable even today. This is certainly not the greatest episode of the series, however I do believe it's unworthy of it's harsh criticism. On whole the direction is hit and miss, there's an over-abundance of close ups in the early scenes that ends up feeling like a series of talking heads, yet on the other hand there's the previously mentioned opening sequence which is very memorable. Much like season one's 'Space' which was panned by critics for it's supposedly outlandish plot, 'Fearful Symmetry' seems to have received the same unwarranted backlash from an audience who maybe forgot what television show they were watching at the time. This the X-Files remember, unexplained paranormal phenomena abounds.
I found something I thought I'd lost faith to keep looking.
"I found something I thought I'd lost faith to keep looking." – Fox Mulder.
Episode 17, 'End Game', original air date February 17th, 1995. Written by Frank Spotnitz, directed by Rob Bowman. Mythology episode count, 12. The conclusion to the two part mythology story line that began with 'Colony', which is arguably the superior of the two, thanks mainly to the competent direction from Rob Bowman. This is the first credited work of Frank Spotnitz who will go on to become a key collaborator in the series as a writer and executive producer, contributing to both feature films and creating the short lived spin-off series, 'The Lone Gunman'. Spotnitz also worked as a producer on 'Harsh Realm' and 'Millennium', two other Carter produced shows, and has returned for the 2016 mini-series event. Spotnitz worked closely with Carter over the years to develop the mythology of the show. A great deal of what will become the tangled web of secret government conspiracies, interwoven counter-plots and entangled backstories was intricately constructed by these two. 'End Game' heaps exposition at us by the bucket load at such an overwhelming pace that it's difficult to take it all in upon first viewing. Spotnitz attempts to answer the questions left by 'Colony' though in the process we're left scratching our heads, searching for the missing pieces while second guessing the information handed to us, is this the ever elusive 'truth', or yet another deception? Even so it's a hell of a ride.
Samantha provides Mulder with some valuable information about the Alien Bounty Hunter. There are secret genetic experiments being performed by alien clones in order to set up an extra terrestrial colony on earth. However another alien, the Bounty Hunter, has been sent to end these experiments which are seen to be tainting the alien race. What we also learn later in the episode is that Samantha is in fact a clone herself, one of many, who are working on this project and are in grave danger. This is why they sent one of their own to pose as Mulder's biological sister, in order to gain his trust and manipulate him in to aiding their cause.
Early on Mulder and Scully clash over the fatal ramifications of his single minded pursuit of the truth and this comes to a head with him distancing himself from her in order to protect her both physically and her career. While chasing down the Bounty Hunter, Mulder is exposed to the alien retrovirus and we come full circle to the opening of 'Colony' in which Scully is warning the doctors that the only thing keeping Mulder alive is the cold temperature that mutes the effect of the virus. Ultimately Mulder is saved by his partner, and while he lacks any hard evidence his spirit is reinvigorated with the will to keep searching for answers.
The pacing of this episode is tighter than it's predecessor and Bowman's direction shapes a more noticeably polished experience. The scenes in Alaska towards the end of the episode are a definite highlight, the submarine/spacecraft submerged in the ice provides a memorable visual spectacle that is a key element to the climactic finish of this two-parter. Once again the relationship between the agents is tested, only to be strengthened further by the events that take place. Scully is, somewhat disappointingly, placed in the damsel-in-distress role once again, relying on Mulder to save her. However, the tables turn and Scully plays the role of savior, returning the favor. If anything this episode shows us that Mulder and Scully are a team and when they're separated physically or at odds with one another, trouble will ensue.
Scully attempts to enlist Skinner's help when Mulder performs his disappearing act but she is met with hostility and a resistance to lend support. However as we've begun to expect from Skinner, he is all to aware of his superiors discovering where his allegiance lies and he turns out to, literally, fight for the information which helps save Mulder's life. Scully contacts X using Mulder's usual method though he is unwilling to help when he finds out it's her. Skinner however confronts X as he attempts to leave the building which results in a violent encounter. Proving conclusively that Skinner is in fact willing to risk a great deal for his subordinates on a personal and professional level, and has a personal stake in the X-Files unit. This is a turning point for the character of Skinner whom we now see as a true ally to the agents. In the position that he's in, Skinner is perhaps more aware of how deep the conspiracy goes than Mulder himself, who is really at this stage of the game still quite naive.
Introducing Samantha only to effectively kill her off in the next episode feels a little cheap. It might have been nice to keep her around a little longer before revealing the truth about her so that as an audience we could develop a relationship with the character which would in turn give the reveal more impact. On a positive note, the Bounty Hunter's shape-shifting ability is a great device at creating tension as we're never sure exactly who is who in this story. During the interaction between fake Mulder and Scully in her apartment there's really no way to tell whether it's him or not and this very effective. Even during the final encounter in the submarine you're just about to start trusting the disheveled and frightened crew member before he reveals his true nature. Overall, the 'Colony' and 'End Game' story-line establishes some rich mythology based plot that really helps to begin to flesh out the X-Files universe and show us what the series is capable of.
In case you haven't noticed, Agent Mulder, the Statue of Liberty is on vacation. The new mandate says if you're not a citizen you'd better keep out.
"In case you haven't noticed, Agent Mulder, the Statue of Liberty is on vacation. The new mandate says if you're not a citizen you'd better keep out." – Mr. X.
Episode 15, 'Fresh Bones', original air date February 3rd, 1995. Written by Howard Gordan, directed by Rob Bowman. Monster of the week episode count, 27. Inspired by the reported suicides of two U.S servicemen in Haiti, during Operation Uphold Democracy, which was successful in restoring peace to the region. Gordon originally wanted this episode to be set in Haiti itself, though this proved infeasible and the story was shifted to focus on Haitian refugees on American soil instead. The episode deals with both the supernatural concept of voodoo curses while at the same time acting as a social commentary on the inhumane treatment of refugees in holding camps. It's unfortunate that this social and political element of the episode is just as relevant today, if not more so, than when this episode aired 20 years ago. First world country's policies on asylum seekers is still a very thorny issue that fuels endless debates among politicians and the public, and due to this being a central theme that frames the story for this week, there is a particular poignancy to the episodes subject matter. Howard Gordon's scripts are almost unrecognisable when compared to the pedestrian effort that he and writing partner Alex Gansa were producing in early season 1. In simply tracking the progression of his scripts alone we can clearly chart a significant growth in the shows complexity and sophistication regarding story telling.
Mulder and Scully are contacted by the wife of recently deceased soldier, Private McAlpin (Kevin Conway), who refuses to believe that his death was the result of suicide. Her child has recently unearthed a sea shell that is inscribed with some type of ceremonial symbol, which was also found at the site of both her husband's death and another soldier. When Scully attempts to perform an autopsy on the body of Private McAlpin, they find instead the corpse of a dog in his place. The agents then discover McAlpin wandering the roads, dazed and confused, but nonetheless alive. Another soldier, Private Harry Dunham (Matt Hill), warns Mulder and Scully that they're in danger. He is convinced that the Haitian refugees, led by the charismatic Pierre Beauvais (Bruce Young) is cursing the solders as retaliation for their mistreatment. Beatings are being ordered by Colonel Wharton (Daniel Benzali) and the refugees are fighting back with their own supernatural brand of justice. The episode progresses steadily with the investigation into the soldier's claims until it comes to close in a climactic third act that sees Wharton ultimately punished for his crimes in a particularly grisly fashion, buried alive.
There are a lot of unexplained elements to this story. Just what was the true nature of the child, Chester Bonaparte, who sells Scully the protection charm that ultimately seems to saves her life. How did Beauvais orchestrate the killing of the soldiers and what exactly was Wharton after when he was interrogating him. These questions however, did not seem to detract from my enjoyment of the episode. I would attribute this willingness to accept the unexplainable by the fact that the whole story is framed around voodoo magic, which is in itself mysterious in nature and arguably unexplainable by logic. I was happy to be taken on the ride and simply become swept up in the metaphysical power of voodoo magic. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Scully hallucinates a man emerging from the sore on her hand and attacking her in the car. This was a really creepy concept with the man violently chanting French while strangling her and the black contact lenses they used to make Gillian Anderson's eyes appear diluted were very effective. The political element of the episode regarding the mistreatment of refugees is not pushed as an agenda by the writer, rather it simply grounds the episode in a believable reality. It's an obvious undercurrent to the story that's deserves to be recognised but I was glad that it didn't derail the story. This is after all science fiction, not a political drama.
Mr. X makes a brief appearance in order to tell Mulder that the government may actually be sanctioning Colonel Wharton's revenge on the Haitians due to some of his men being killed while in the country. As with Deep Throat, Mr. X is sometimes used a key plot device to the propel the story in a certain direction, and other times, like this one, he's simply used to deliver some quick exposition that neither detracts nor really adds anything of great value to the episode. I suppose though it's good to remind the audience that he's there, behind the scenes keeping an eye of Mulder's work, ready to intervene if necessary.
Mulder doesn't really have great deal of understanding regarding Haitian voodoo and this is one of those episodes where both agents appear out of their depth, dealing with forces they don't fully understand. It's good that the writer's didn't fall in to the trap of having Mulder be an expert in all things supernatural. While he certainly has an extensive and varied range of knowledge regarding supernatural concepts, he does at times get it wrong or simply encounter something he has not had a great deal of experience in. This is the sort of stuff that makes characters more interesting, having them sometimes get it wrong or make bad decisions. It endears us to them because they appear more human and therefore relate-able to an audience. The development of the shows two lead characters and their captivating performances played a huge part in the success of the series and it's fascinating to analyse their progress over the nine year run.
I have lived with a fragile faith built on the ether of vague memories from an experience that I can neither prove nor explain.
"I have lived with a fragile faith built on the ether of vague memories from an experience that I can neither prove nor explain." – Fox Mulder.
Episode 16, 'Colony', original air date February 10th, 1995. Written by David Duchovny and Chris Carter, directed by Nick Marck. Mythology episode count, 11. Duchovny's first contribution as a c0-writer is for an episode that introduces us to some major players in the X-Files ongoing mythology. This first installment of a two part thriller is directed by another series one-timer, Nick Marck, and ends with a cliffhanger that makes us eager for the story's conclusion. Mulder's sister, or a version of her as we'll later discover, makes her first appearance as portrayed by actress Megan Leitch, along with Mulder's mother and father and of course the infamous Alien Bounty Hunter, all being introduced to audiences for the first time. Deception runs thick as Mulder and Scully inadvertently aid the opposition and are led astray by people they thought they could trust. Proving once again that Deep Throat had it right when he warned Mulder to "Trust no one." The prologue to this two-part mythology begins with a short wistful monologue that sounds almost melancholy in its realisation that Mulder's life's work may finally have been justified by a revelatory experience that may also end his life. This dialogue is spoken over the visuals of Mulder being rushed to emergency in a life threatening condition, however the events which led to this dire situation won't be revealed until the following episode. An engaging prologue, or 'cold opening' in TV speak, has a huge impact on the audiences interaction with the show. If we're drawn in by an enticing sequence that leaves us with questions begging to be answered we're more primed to enjoy what follows. Just as an explosive opening to an action film will get our blood pumping and edged forward on our seats or a well presented trailer will get us excited about the upcoming experience, first impressions count for a lot. In the format of a television show the opening prologue that runs before the title sequence is designed to stop us changing channels, to hook us in and say, 'you're in for a treat with this one.' Certainly the X-Files did not always hit the mark with these sequences but Colony's captivating opening scene does it's job in grabbing out attention.
Part one of this story revolves around the extermination of non-human doctors who share identical appearances by a mysterious figure we'll come to know as the Alien Bounty Hunter. Played by Brian Thompson, who could have worked as Schwarzenegger's stand-in, and coincidentally had a bit part in the first Terminator movie, portrays the Alien Bounty Hunter who is able to shape-shift in to anyone. He is systematically dispatching these doctors, who we're told are clones, and destroying their work. There's a lot of grey areas and half truths in this unfinished story as we're not quite sure whether we're dealing with clones or aliens or even alien human hybrids. Patience is a virtue however and throughout the series we'll slowly unravel the pieces that form this complex web of mythology. Samantha turns up unexpectedly and no one is quite sure what to make of it. As mentioned we have the first appearance of Mulder's parents played by Peter Donat and Rebecca Toolan. Interesting side note, Toolan, despite playing Mulder's mother, is only one year older than Duchovny himself. With all this talk of clones throughout this episode first time viewers may make some predictions about the true nature of Samantha. Mulder senior remains very quiet on the subject and appears to be the least taken by her story. Later on in the series we'll learn why he appears so skeptical at this juncture. The Bounty Hunter appears as a man named Ambrose Chapel at one point, which I would like to think is a reference to Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" in which they are searching for a mysterious man named Ambrose Chapel who turns out to be not who they thought.
Mulder and Scully spend a lot of time apart in this episode, playing phone tag as they follow separate elements of the investigation. Contrary to regular occurrence, Scully bares witness to many of the more shocking scenes such as the melting corpses of the 'clones' and the secret laboratory that appeared to contain tiny fetuses in water tanks. She still however remains the voice of reason, warning Mulder that his pursuit of the truth may be lead him down a dangerous path. Carter has explained that the series as he sees it is presented mainly through Scully's eyes. She is the voice of the rational audience, questioning the validity of these absurd events, challenging Mulder to justify his wild theories and being the one who is amazed by what she sees, unable to comprehend at times the events that transpire. This is particularly evident in this episode and also simply from a fans perspective I enjoyed seeing her play a more integral role, taking the lead as opposed to being dragged on yet another wild goose chase by her partner. As the episode nears the forty minute mark we can sense the 'To Be Continued ' coming as there's far too much to wrap up in time. We're left with a terrific cliffhanger as Scully realises she may be in mortal danger, unable to trust the one person she has come to depend on.
Did you really think you could call up the devil and ask him to behave?
"Did you really think you could call up the devil and ask him to behave?" – Fox Mulder.
Episode 14, 'Die Hand Die Verletzt', original air date January 27th, 1995. Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, directed by Kim Manners. Monster of the week episode count, 26. Kim Manners joins the X-Files team as director, and later producer, while Morgan and Wong bid farewell with their final episode. The writing duo left The X-Files at this time to pursue their own project, the short lived 'Space: Above and Beyond' in which they're credited as co-creators, producers and writers. They will return however in the X-Files fourth season and pen arguably their most well known and controversial episode. Manners will go on to direct an impressive 52 X-Files episodes, including the two part finale and he starts his X-Files career with a bang. Looking back on the series I would place Manners alongside David Nutter and Rob Bowman as the most influential X-Files directors. Their combined efforts comprise many of my personal favourites as well as numerous critically acclaimed entries that span the entirety of the series. 'Die Hand Die Verletzt' is a visual powerhouse of an episode from the opening shot to the thrilling climax.
The episode is about a group of devil worshippers who have let their faith go over the years, failing to offer sacrifices and perform the religions rituals. Because of this an evil presence is felt in the town as strange occurrences and unexplained deaths happen. The local police department is convinced it's the work of the devil but both Mulder and Scully are sceptical. The devil worshippers, who funnily enough also happen to be staff members at a strict catholic school, know exactly what's happening. As they discuss, they're being punished for not keeping up their faith and must rectify this immediately before they incur dire consequences. A young teen is murdered, as a sacrifice for their transgressions, and another young girl who previous to her demise, admitted to Mulder and Scully that she had been abused by her father in bizarre rituals involving sexual abuse. A newly arrived teacher, Mrs. Paddock, has an eerie quality about her and it soon becomes apparent that she is not what she seems. She is, in no uncertain terms, the devil incarnate. Who has risen from the depths of hell to punish the wicked for their sins. It's a heavily religious themed episode that many have argued is a parody of organised religion, particularly religious people who only pay lip service to their faith without actually following through on their beliefs.
In keeping with the established tone of the series Manners works with an appropriately grim colour pallet. As the actors and crew have commented many times, the Vancouver climate was an integral component in developing the shows dark imagery. When production moved to L.A in season 6, many feared that it would be difficult to replicate the naturally gloomy atmosphere imbued in Vancouver's weather within L.A's clear, sunny climate. Although I disagree with the criticism that the series lost some of it's charm as a result of this move, there is still an obvious shift in tonality between seasons 5 and 6, especially with the lack of outdoor settings like the British Columbia forest. When the teens conduct their night ritual in the forest, the cinematography is gorgeous. The white light of the moon streams through the darkened trees, casting shadows contrasting light and shade to create a wonderfully ominous atmosphere. A shot like this would have been far more difficult to replicate in the concrete jungle of LA. The opening scene mixes the genres of horror and comedy well, as what appear to be devout Christians suddenly start chanting devil worship as the camera pans back from the door as red light shines through the door frame. This is something the episode does well, mixing genres.
The episode begins in a rather comical way. A high school staff meeting sees a group of people concerned over the inclusion of the 'F' word in the musical 'Grease', and citing Jesus Christ Superstar as an inappropriate production for the school. This assumed sensibility is then turn on it's head as they begin devil worshipping prayer to the light of a burning red candle. You wouldn't be wrong to laugh at this point, as well as feel slightly uncomfortable at the subject matter. Morgan and Wong have intentionally brought comedy in to the episode's first act, possibly as a way to catch the audience off guard for the dramatic shift that comes later. Frogs raining from the sky, Mulder remarks, "Guess their parachutes didn't open," a clearly intentional comedic moment. Compare this with the young Shannon Ausbury tearfully recounting the horrific physical and sexual abuse she and her sister were subject to at the hands of their own father while Mulder and Scully listen helplessly. It's a striking contrast to say the least but it works as the underlying subject matter was always dark from the beginning.
This is a rare episode in that the writers make no pretence to obscure the true nature of Paddock. It's insinuated very heavily, beyond a doubt that Paddock is the devil in disguise and is murdering these staff members because they have lost their faith and are only paying lip service to the religion. One of the groups members expresses the need to act now, "If it's not already too late." As Paddock takes control of his body in order to murder his colleagues and force himself to commit suicide, with a shotgun to the face no less, she remarks, "You're right, it is too late." This is uncharacteristically explicit for the X-Files to be so clear, we're usually used to some degree of mystery but Morgan and Wong have laid it out clear as day, don't mess with the devil.
You think you can look into the face of pure evil. And then you find yourself paralysed by it.
"You think you can look into the face of pure evil. And then you find yourself paralysed by it." – Dana Scully.
Episode 13, 'Irresistible', original air date January 13th, 1995. Written by Chris Carter, directed by David Nutter. Monster of the week episode count, 25. The X-Files takes a side step from the paranormal this week to focus on a more personal, character driven story. For the first time since the Duane Barry incident, Gillian Anderson is given a chance to explore the effect that this event has had on the character of Dana Scully. Working through her post-traumatic stress, allowing the full weight of her experience to penetrate her psyche reveals that Scully is at her most vulnerable and this makes her feel very uncomfortable. As evidenced through her characterisation thus far, Scully is an empowered, independent person capable of standing toe to toe with her male counterpart. Unwavering in her convictions with a methodical and logical approach to her work, she is the epitome of professionalism. Which is why it's so difficult for her now to concede to the fact that she is struggling to move past her ordeal without outside intervention. Too proud to admit to Mulder that she might actually need his support and also unwilling to place that burden upon his shoulders, she persists in dealing with her issues on her own. And up until now she's managed to persevere, however when faced with this new case involving death fetishist Donnie Pfaster (Nick Chinlund), who harbours a deep seated hatred towards women, her strength of mind is pushed to breaking point.
Pfaster in his first of two appearances in the X-Files, he will return in season 7 'Orison', is a death fetishist who unearths corpses of young attractive women and removes their fingernails and locks of their hair. He is soon driven to commit murder in order to procure his corpses, as predicted by Mulder, and with the assistance of Agent Bocks (Bruce Weitz) the F.B.I agents attempt to develop a profile and hunt him down. Mulder has experience with this type of case and as such is prepared for the horrors that they bring. Scully on the other hand has never witnessed first hand a mutilated corpse, particularity that of a young woman, and is deeply affected by the experience. The case is stirring up emotions that Scully had been trying to ignore up until now. While usually so confident in her autonomy, she finds herself requiring, but unable to ask for help. Clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress following on from her abduction, her faith has been severely tested and she desperately searches to find it again. The episode culminates in her abduction once again, this time by Donnie and even following her rescue by Mulder and Bocks she valiantly attempts to reassure him that she's fine, before breaking down in Mulder's embrace. A touching moment of genuine affection for two characters who as yet have maintained a rather rigidly platonic relationship.
Carter's script, while certainly an engaging thriller with a well developed sinister antagonist, is at it's heart a character study on Scully. Dana's resistance to exposing her vulnerable side to Mulder is understandable. Her unwillingness to openly express her emotions is born out of a sense of pride in her work and her role as an F.B.I agent who needs to focus on cases with a clinical mindset. As mentioned, her independence is a point of pride for her. Adding to that, being a woman in a predominantly male work environment, with a male partner and supervisor, it's understandable that she wouldn't want to appear weak and succumb to the unwarranted stereotype placed upon her gender by the patriarchal society in which she exists. Having her break down at the episode's conclusion is not played as a failing of her character or a comment on gender, but simply an acknowledgement that she is human and fallible. Her ordeal was traumatic and her response justifiable. The characters struggle is treated with dignity and she is never portrayed as weaker than Mulder or less capable, simply as a person who has undergone a life altering event and needs to consciously deal with her pain before moving on. This episode allows her to let go slightly and, without verbalising it to her partner, admit that she could benefit from his support.
David Nutter's direction is very enjoyable to watch as he uses light and shadow to great effect in order to enhance the already creepy performance by Nick Chinlund as Donnie. It's quite a dark episode, visually, with some scenes played almost totally in blackness. Often we can only see part of the character's faces, particularly Donnie. He uses the camera in interesting ways as well, having Donnie walk directly towards camera in the opening scene, or with the various low angle shots that create an unsettling feeling. The direction and camera work definitely make us feel uneasy right from the start and this helps us empathise with Scully and her sense of discomfort throughout the show.
It's been said that this episode is notable for being one of the few in the series that contained no paranormal references. As Mulder iterates in the closing monologue, the fear derived from this scenario is that evil need not always come from some otherworldly entity, rather the danger can often originate from something much more real, more close to home. This is perhaps why Scully is so affected by this case, as compared with previous ones. It's easier, particularly for someone as skeptic as Scully, to develop a detachment from the dangers of alien abduction, monsters or spectral entities. It's much more difficult however to remain desensitised when the evil is so much more real and personal, as with Donnie Pfaster, who is simply a man with hatred in his heart.
I've often felt that dreams are answers to questions we haven't yet figured out how to ask.
"I've often felt that dreams are answers to questions we haven't yet figured out how to ask." - Fox Mulder.
Episode 12, 'Aubrey', original air date January 6th, 1995. Written by Sara B. Charno, directed by Rob Bowman. Monster of the week episode count, 24. At this point in the life of the series Charno is only the second female staff member with a writing credit to her name and she delivers a terrific installment that knocks the previous entry off it's pedestal and takes the lead for my favourite season 2 MOTW, so far. Bowman is back for his second turn in the director's chair this season and his contribution is an integral component that aids in the success of the show. It's hard to believe that this is only his third episode, as throughout the life of the series he will take the helm for some of my favourite and consistently highly rated episodes. Terry O'Quinn guest stars in his first X-Files appearance. He will later reappear as two separate characters, one in the 1995 X-Files movie and again in the final season. I always felt that O'Quinn had the perfect sensibility for this series and would have been a great choice for a recurring character. His performances are often subtle and endearing, though at the same time he exudes a sense of mystery. This persona is probably best characterised by his role as John Locke in the television series Lost, arguably one of the most popular characters on that particular series. It's clear that Carter shares this sentiment as O'Quinn was cast as a recurring character in the sister series to 'The X-Files', 'Millennium' and he also made an appearance in another Carter produced show, the short lived 'Harsh Realm'. It's just unfortunate that they couldn't find a regular role for him in this series.
In Aubrey, Missouri, inspector B.J. Morrow (Deborah Strang) experiences a vision of murder and is compelled to dig in a field at night where she unearths the 50 year old body of an F.B.I. agent. The bones of the victim reveal the cause of death to be the modus operandi of a serial killer who was active in the 1940's. Soon after this discovery female victims start turning up with identical wound patterns and the belief is that the killer is still active. Mulder and Scully hit a roadblock however when they discover that the man, Harry Cokely (Morgan Woodward) convicted of an attack in the 40's and likely to be the perpetrator of a series of similar murders is confined to his home with an oxygen tank and in a frail state of health. Morrow is attacked one night by a man she describes as Harry Cokely, only a much younger version of himself that she recognised from his 1940's mugshot. Mulder starts to theorise that the evil in Cokely has been passed on through generations, biologically. Morrow is having visions, nightmares, which contain images she has never witnessed in real life. Though as the episode progresses we learn that Morrow is actually the granddaughter of Cokely, her father being a child of rape from one of Cokely's surviving victims. The evil that exists within Cokely is inhabiting his granddaughter and she is in a sense becoming him both in action and physical appearance. She begins to transform in to the personification of evil and is driven to commit these heinous acts of violence by something almost ethereal.
The episode explores some interesting themes. The core idea here is the argument that perhaps evil and violent tendencies are not a product of environment but something that can be passed on through genetic material from generation to generation. It's suggested that Cokely didn't turn evil but was born that way and thus his violent tendencies are being passed on to his granddaughter. As Mulder explains in the episode, many cases have been documented where twin siblings were separated from birth and yet shared many identical traits and behaviours regardless of the differences in their upbringing. This certainly suggests that personality traits could very well be passed on biologically in the same way that physical characteristics are passed down such as tall parents having tall children. It's an intriguing premise which due to its connection with real world science is actually quite frightening. The writer takes it a step further here of course with Morrow taking on the physical appearance of Cokely with his red skin splotches on his face and hands and her voice gradually becoming deeper. This is a nice touch and pushes the idea just a bit further in to the realms of science fiction. The make-up work on Cokely and Morrow is well done and really adds to the menacing quality of Cokely's character.
This was the second last acting performance for Morgan Woodward, his last being with Carter again on 'Millennium', and he's characterisation is a notable feature of the episode. All the guest appearances in this episode in fact are enjoyable, realistic performances that work well to sell the story and heighten the drama. Deborah Strang's transformation is convincing and although Terry O'Quinn isn't given a great deal to do he still delivers a satisfying performance. I have a particular fondness to stories involving serial killers and past lives so it's not surprising that I found this episode to be highly entertaining. Serial killers motive's and behaviour's are fascinating to consider, it's a highly debatable topic, that which drives someone to commit horrendous acts of repeated violence. Where does this behaviour stem from? Can it be tracked to a single event or traumatic incident in their lives, is it the product of violent media or, as Charno suggests, is it something innate, a deeper biological condition that is seeded from birth. Either way it's certainly interesting to speculate and explore this concept and The X-Files is the perfect format in which to do so.
Are you saying that the building's haunted? Because if you are, you've been working with me for too long, Scully.
"Are you saying that the building's haunted? Because if you are, you've been working with me for too long, Scully." - Fox Mulder.
Episode 11, 'Excelsis Dei', original air date December 16th, 1994. Written by Paul Brown, directed by Stephen Surjik. Monster of the week episode count, 23. Known mainly at the time for directing the 1993 film Wayne's World 2, Stephen Surjik requested to direct this episode as he was a fan of the series. Paul Brown, writer of 'Ascension' returns for his second and final episode with a MOTW that touches on a few different social issues while weaving a delicate path between comedy and horror. The outlandish subject matter in this episode could have easily pushed it into the realm of comically absurd. However I felt that Brown's script and Surjik's direction, in conjunction with some capable performances, managed to find just the right balance between creepy and corny. The horror aspects are handled well and there are some genuinely unnerving moments coupled with emotionally charged drama. On a side note, the episode's title is misprinted on the DVD box set and in the disc menu as 'Excelsius Dei'.
One night while on duty at the Excelsis Dei, a private nursing home in Worcester, Massachusetts, nurse Carters (Teryl Rothery) is viciously attacked and sexually assaulted by an invisible assailant. Contrary to custom, Scully is waiting for Mulder in the basement while she examines the video evidence documenting Nurse Carter's injuries that were sustained in the attack. Possibly due to subject matter of rape, she has appeared to take a personal interest in this case, which Mulder is quick to dismiss as another unsubstantiated phenomena involving spectral entity rape. Scully urges him to investigate with her further and they visit the nursing home. The residents of Excelsis Dei are all suffering from degenerative diseases such as alzheimer's and dementia, though thanks to their involvement with an experimental drug trial their symptoms seem to be steadily decreasing. It quickly becomes evident however that the pills we witness them taking are not the drug in question, rather they are being provided by an orderly named Gung Bituen (Sab Shimono). This traditional medicine, made from mushrooms and various herbs is having a remarkable effect on the resident's condition. People who were once unable to speak now appear lucid and full of life. However, the drug, which is used traditionally to allow the user to communicate with the dead, has somehow allowed some of these residents to develop super human strength and spirit-like powers. It's possible that the drug has created a bridge between the physical and spiritual world where the residents are able to cross over at will and cause havoc with the nursing staff. Nurse Carter's was raped by one of these residents, Hal Arden (David Fresco), though no one, not even Mulder at first believes her. As the episode continues and the chaos ensues it quickly becomes clear and undeniable to the agents that these mushrooms are causing some extraordinary side effects.
The mistreatment of the residents by the nurses and orderlies is a motivating factor in their ghostly attacks. As Gung says, we don't treat our elderly with respect in this country, referring to the United States, abandoning them at nursing homes. They are not given the emotional love and support they deserve from the community. This is one of the issues Brown is examining with this episode. The nursing home staff hold the residents in contempt and to some degree we're made to feel like the violence inflicted upon them by some of the elderly members is deserved. Mistreatment of patients and residents in elderly resting homes is a very real issue and certainly from an emotional point of view there is a moral grey area in the way many people 'commit' their elders to these places and relinquish responsibility for them to often underpaid and unappreciated medical staff that bare the brunt of (often Western) societies who do not respect the elderly. Certainly this is show exists within the realms of science fiction but the social issue is still relevant and helps to lend emotional weight to this ghost story.
Some reviewers have criticised the episode for its depiction of a rape case and the cavalier attitude that many of the characters have towards a woman who has clearly been brutally assaulted. Mulder in particular is quick to dismiss the case and if not for Scully he would have pursued it no further. Additionally, the nursing home management refuse to acknowledge the issue of rape, claiming that Nurse Carters simply concocted the story in order to take advantage of her employer's medical disability. Whether intentional or not, it's difficult to say what the writer's personal viewpoint on cases involving rape is, I actually feel like the representation and victimisation of the female character, while frustrating is nonetheless a generally accurate depiction of the reality rape survivors. It's a depressing truth that it's near impossible to build a case around sexual assault due to the common lack of conclusive evidence. Due to this, rape survivors are often dismissed by law enforcement and offered little in the way of compensation for their physical and emotional trauma. The fact that no one believes Carter's story or offers much sympathy for her is actually a fairly accurate portrayal of society's attitude towards sexual violence involving women. Consequently, I disagree with the criticisms that this subject matter was handled poorly. If an audience member feels a sense of frustration and disgust at the treatment and lack of care afforded to the character in this story, it's a reaction that I'd like to think writer Paul Brown was aiming for by tackling this social issue.
They who slaughter the flesh, slaughter their own souls, and must be taught the way.
"They who slaughter the flesh, slaughter their own souls, and must be taught the way." - Richard Odin.
Episode 10, 'Red Museum', original air date December 9th, 1994. Written by Chris Carter, directed by Win Phelps. Mythology episode count, 11. This episode appears at first to be a Monster of the Week until it shifts gear mid-way and ends up tying in to the mythology arc by making reference to season 1 finale, 'The Erlenmeyer Flask'. Carter's script is directed by one time contributor to the show, Win Phelps, and together they manage to deliver a creepy thriller which upon initial viewing can appear somewhat convoluted. However, after revisiting the episode I tend to disagree with the generally unfavourable reviews and argue that while there are certainly many elements to the plot, it's easy enough to follow if you can keep up with the pace.
Teenagers are going missing in a small town and re-appearing, scared and disoriented, stripped to their underwear with the words 'He/She Is One' written across their backs. It's a disturbing and mysterious image that grabs the audience from the opening scene. Mulder and Scully are investigating the presumed kidnappings with the help of local sheriff Mazeroski (Steve Eastin). Mazeroski is convinced that the perpetrator of these crimes is the leader of a religious cult known as the 'Church of the Red Museum', Richard Odin (Mark Rolston). While this group of religious vegetarians certainly appear strange in their white cloaks and red turbans, they are simply misunderstood and wrongly accused. Thanks to a toxicology report from one of the victims, Scully learns that the teenagers have all been injected with what appears to be 'Purity Control'. The government has been working with a local doctor, Jerrold Larson, to conduct human tests in order to study the effects of injecting alien DNA in to the teenagers. A peeping tom who was involved in this experiment has been kidnapping these teenagers and marking them in a bizarre attempt to expose the purity control tests. Meanwhile a figure known as 'The Crew Cut Man' (in 'The Erlenymeyer Flask') and credited here as 'The Cleaner', has been sent to destroy all evidence that could expose his employers. Scully recognises him as the same man who shot and killed Deep Throat and the episode ends with a tense one on one fight between Mulder and The Cleaner which results in his death.
While this episode doesn't offer any significant hard evidence to support Mulder's theory regarding Purity Control, it still offers another alluring glimpse in to this shady conspiracy. Mark Rolston is always convincing at portraying someone who doesn't seem quite right and he's almost wasted in this episode as his engaging performance could have been utilised more. As it stands though, due to the high number of components that are packed in to this episode it would be difficult to see where exactly they could have fit this in. Carter's script highlights the idea of fear of the unknown, particularly in small towns, and the paranoia that follows when presented with something that's difficult to understand without delving below the surface. Despite their appearance the members of the Red Museum Church are in fact harmless and keep to themselves. Though in this small town it's difficult for the community to accept their belief system and the fact that they don't appear to follow the social norms, they are met with undeserved bigotry and judgement. Carter's scripts always contain a broader theme or message and this is the idea he's trying to get across this time.
Writer/Producer Glen Morgan disliked the treatment of 'The Crew Cut Man', feeling that his death scene was glossed over and not afforded the time it deserved. Considering this is the man who killed Deep Throat, who was such an integral component to the mythology, I agree that he could have been given some more screen time to develop his character a little more and I always half expected his return in later episodes. A gripe I could have with the episode is the lack of explanation for why the peeping tom was filming that particular family. At first it seems as though he's simply a psychologically disturbed paedophile but it's also possible that he was studying the boy in regards to the effect the alien DNA was having on him. At the same time though, it's not so bad to leave some things unsaid or unexplained. As I've said previously, if one where to nit pick every unexplained moment on the X-Files they would quickly develop a rather long list. Mystery is an integral part of the show and from another perspective we could ask the question, is it enjoyable to have all the answers laid out in front of you as clear as day? Or does a certain degree of mystery actually serve to draw us deeper in to this fictional world, strengthening our desire for more.
"I'm back and I'm not going anywhere." - Dana Scully.
Episode 9, 'Firewalker', original air date November 18th, 1994. Written by Howard Gordon, directed by David Nutter. Monster of the week episode count, 22. Howard Gordon's second script for season 2 is a decent thriller in its own right but suffers due to a feeling of repetition. Tensions run high as a team of scientists fight for their survival in an isolated research station after the discovery of a new life-form threatens their existence. They are displaying violent tendencies and unusual shifts in their behaviour that is generating a sense of distrust and suspicion between them and the F.B.I agents. If this is starting to sound familiar it's because the plot bares more than a passing resemblance to season 1's stellar MOTW episode 'Ice.' James Wong, one of the writer's on 'Ice' criticised this episode as a rehash of ideas, expressing concern that the show may have begun cannibalising itself. Nearly every review of 'Firewalker' makes reference to 'Ice' and Gordon himself acknowledged the similarities, arguing however that the difference outweighed the sames. Watching this episode I found that the recurrence of ideas and themes from an arguably superior episode made this entry feel redundant. Much in the same way that 'Roland' felt like a repeat, thematically, of 'Born Again', 'Firewalker' plays like a season 2 remake of 'Ice.' Firewalker is the name of a robot that was designed to traverse the inner floor of a volcano for the purpose of scientific research. Recently the team lost contact with the man in charge, Daniel Trepkos (Bradley Whitford), and has received some concerning imagery from Firewalker's internal camera. Mulder and Scully are contacted by one of the scientists who was, until recently, heavily involved in the project. Concerned with jeopardising the project's funding, he contacts the X-Files unit as a way of avoiding traditional channels of investigation. The pair of agents head off to investigate and quickly find themselves caught up in a game of cat and mouse as Trepkos appears to have lost his sanity and is murdering his fellow scientists. It becomes clear that the team are infected with some type of unknown biological contagion which causes them to die in a manner not dissimilar to the victims in the 'Alien' film series, this was another criticism from some reviewers regarding the reuse of old ideas. Trepkos has discovered a new type of life-form and has taken it on himself to ensure it does not reach the outside world. Unsurprisingly it's all left fairly unresolved with nearly all parties dead or missing by the episodes conclusion.
It's almost unfortunate that this episode follows a more polished version of the same story because without the ability to draw comparisons it's likely that 'Firewalker' would have been a much more enjoyable affair. The acting is certainly a draw card and possibly the main element that keeps the story afloat. Shawnee Smith and Jason Ludwig in particular have proved on several occasions that they're quite adept at playing characters with high levels of anxiety and they both deliver convincing performances. Hiro Kanagawa is another consistently believable character actor that helps to ground this story in some level of reality. Parallels have been drawn between Trepkos and O'Neils character and Mulder and Scully's relationship. Trepkos, like Mulder, is driven by an insatiable quest for truth while pulling along O'Neil who invariably ends up at risk thanks to his disregard for rational thinking. It's a nice underlay to the script that gives the show a bit of layering but it's not quite enough to redeem its flaws. Scully remarks to Mulder at one point that she's back and not going away. This is almost directed at the audience as the writers assure us that Anderson isn't going anywhere and we can get back to the standard format after the recent departure.
A personal gripe I have with this episode concerns it's opening sequence. We witness a shadow move across the dead body of a scientist lying on the volcanic floor. Characters remark that temperatures inside the area well exceed those fit for humans and we're left to assume we're in for some type of fire monster episode. As we learn that it's simply Trepkos who is causing the destruction we can't help but wonder how exactly he is able to walk inside the volcano interior without dying. He is seen with sever burns to his body but nothing is given to indicate any element of super human resistance to heat. This is a type of plot hole that has occurred before in previous episodes. Specifically that what we see in the episodes opening doesn't fit in to the following story. It seems that in an attempt to peak our interest from the outset, which this admittedly succeeds in doing, the writer has sacrificed a certain amount of logic in the story. Howard Gordon was never a particularly strong writer during his time on the X-Files and had he not essentially ripped of Morgan & Wong with this remake we may well had been singing his praises. Alas. this one just simply came at the wrong time to be considered anything other than an average episode.
I don't know if my being here will help bring you back. But I'm here.
"I don't know if my being here will help bring you back. But I'm here." – Fox Mulder.
Episode 8, 'One Breath', original air date November 11th, 1994. Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, directed by R. W. Goodwin. Mythology episode count, 10. Morgan & Wong close off the myth-arc that began with 'Sleepless', with an episode that's rich in drama and human emotion but presents more as a series of moments rather than a complete package. Gillian Anderson's first episode back after having given birth conveniently has her lying in a hospital bed for the majority of her screen time. Therefore this is really a Mulder centric show in the vein of 'Beyond the Sea', meaning Duchovny is given the chance to explore his character's faith, or lack-thereof and come to terms with what he truly holds dear to his heart. The relentless pursuit of truth, whatever the cost is taking it's toll on Mulder and those around him. We're introduced to Scully's new age sister (Melinda McGraw) in the same episode we bid farewell to the final appearance of her father (Don S. Davis). Mulder debuts the term 'Cancer Man' which some fans adopted in place of 'Smoking Man'. I personally prefer the new moniker, it carries a more ominous connotation that fits with the character and in keeping with the progression of the series I will henceforth utilise this name in reference to him. Mulder tapes a large 'X' on his window in an attempt to signal his informant, this is the first time we see him act out this now iconic gesture and the taped 'X' will become a very recognisable reference to the show in the years to come.
Scully is returned to civilisation by mysteriously appearing in a hospital bed, the staff are unable to account for either her whereabouts previous to her reappearance or the circumstances that brought her to this setting. Mulder is irate, having just recently been cautioning Margaret Scully that it's too early to presume the worse, while the pair stand over a recently purchased tomb stone. This episode sees Mulder with a singular vision, desperately trying to track down Scully's abductors regardless of the consequences. He's warned at gun point by X that pursuing this further will result in dire ramifications for both of them. Regardless, Mulder pushes on and eventually comes face to face with Cancer Man himself. Skinner has an encounter with the antagonist in his office and clearly displays both his contempt for the man and his support for the X-Files. In a decision which puts his own life at great risk, he provides Mulder with Cancer Man's home address. Unfortunately the confrontation simply forces Mulder to face his own guilt and this prompts him to tender his resignation at the F.B.I. Through all of his coming and going, Mulder has spent very little time with Scully in the hospital. Melissa, her sister, urges him to try and connect with Scully and at least take the time to let her know how he feels. He finally chooses love for his partner over his lust for revenge and we end with an atypically happy conclusion for the X-Files as Scully regains consciousness.
This episode is full of great moment that, as mentioned, unfortunately don't come together quite as neatly as they should. If we break down the character driven emotional drama that is presented to us into separate pieces we can draw out some terrific scenes that work well in isolation. Mulder's confrontation with Cancer Man is definitely a highlight. We see that the character is fallible and vulnerable physically but at the same time intellectually superior. He is able to talk down an enraged Mulder with a gun to his head without breaking a sweat. At first it seems odd that he's home is so easily accessible and unguarded. However, what this interaction shows us is that he does not rely on brute force to ensure his survival but rather through manipulation and intimidation. Fear is this character's greatest weapon, fear of the unknown, fear of our true nature, as in the case of Mulder becoming overwhelmed with guilt and and disdain for what he has become, a man obsessed with vengeance. This interaction basically says to the audience that Mulder will never kill Cancer Man, not without crossing a line he is not willing to cross.
Each of these scenes are well crafted and deliver a strong amount of drama to the episode. However, Morgan & Wong are never quite able to make all these individual elements gel together as well as they should have, considering their strength as individual scenes. I also found the visual metaphor of the boat tethered to the dock to be a bit on the nose, an almost too literally representation of what the writer's were trying to convey.
There is a rather peculiar element that I feel compelled to mention, and that is the distracting nature of Anderson's breasts while lying down. They seem to be abnormally large, pointy and defiant of gravity. There's something not quite right about her physical proportions here and I only mention it because I found that it detracted from the sombre mood of some of the scenes. Some fans have suggested that since the episode was filmed directly after Anderson's labour, that her stomach was quite big and would be very noticeable while lying down. Therefore, the suggestion is that they padded her bra in order to make her belly appear flatter. This is one possibly explanation, but either way there is certainly something strange about her appearance that doesn't seem natural.
That oddity aside, this episode is by and large a satisfying conclusion to this story line which contains a memorable performance by Duchovny and some fantastic standalone scenes which writer Glen Morgan himself commented was a departure from standard X-Files procedure and was more about human emotions, drama and relationships.
"All I know is... normal is not what I feel." - Fox Mulder.
Episode 7, '3', original air date November 4th, 1994. Written by Chris Ruppenthal, Glen Morgan and James Wong, directed by David Nutter. Monster of the week episode count, 21. Chris Ruppenthal, who also wrote season 1's 'Roland', is a freelance writer who submitted the script for '3', which was then edited significantly by Morgan & Wong. It's the first show that explores the classic vampire myth and is also the first of four episodes to not feature Gillian Anderson. The mythology takes a break this week to explore a side of Mulder we haven't seen before. '3' is an erotic thriller that received heavy criticism from fans who reacted against the romantic scenes between Mulder and guest star Kristen (Perrey Reeves, Duchovny's girlfriend at the time.) I find '3' to be successful at handling Anderson's absence by focusing heavily on Mulder's sense of loss and hopelessness at his current situation. The vampire's in this episode can be seen as a metaphor for Mulder's sleepwalking, anaemic state, in which he no longer sleeps, devoid of the soul that has been ripped from him along with Scully's presence. We are witnessing him in a vulnerable and weakened state, it's common for grief stricken people to look for comfort in the form of physical affection and thus it's justifiable that he would be lured in to Kristen's embrace. This intimate connection is helping him to cope with the loss he feels. It's arguable then that even though we see the character in the arms of another woman, this episode only serves to strengthen the bond between the two agents. It's never been clearer the value that Mulder places on his relationship with Scully. The angered response from some fans is a typical knee jerk reaction towards what appears on the surface to be a betrayal by the writer's. However, one only needs to look just below the literal surface here to understand what the writer's are trying to convey with this story of heartache and mourning.
The story revolves around the search for a trio of vampires that consider themselves the holy trinity, the father, the son and the holy spirit. Mulder attempts to bury himself in work in order to cope with Scully's absence. The X-Files have now been re-opened and we have a nice scene early on in which Mulder removes the plastic covering from his office and wistfully places an X-File document in the cabinet labelled, 'Dana Scully'. He works his way in to the case presumably by his own authority but is sceptical at first, believing that the so-called vampire 'The Son' is simply suffering from a psychological disorder. However we then witness John (The son) burn up in the light of the sun and it appears as if there is some truth to his claims. Mulder meets a woman who can help his investigation as she knows a thing or two about the motives of the trio. He learns that she is in danger and feels compelled to protect her, perhaps compensating for his inability to protect Scully. Typical of a vampire story there is a lot of sexually charged moments between the two until they finally give in to their desires. Ultimately Mulder fails to save her as she chooses to burn herself alive along with the trio themselves. It's a dismal end to Mulder's story, once again he fails to save someone he cares about and is left alone to wallow in his misery.
David Nutter's direction helps to bring life to this familiar tune. The red lit interrogation scene is a memorable moment that's both visually arresting and thematically appropriate. The guest stars this week, particularly Frank Military as the enigmatic 'Son' delivers captivating performances. Vampire stories are probably the most common monster tale in Western literature, with Zombie's a close second, so it's a testament to the writing and direction that this doesn't feel like a stale or unnecessary monster of the week. With shows like 'True Blood', 'The Vampire Diaries', 'Being Human' and 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', these stories have in recent years been done to death, pardon the pun. At the time that the X-Files was airing though, these sorts of monster tales where actually quite rare for network television. Certainly there have been a multitude of cinema releases that have tackled the subject well before the 90's but mainstream television had not yet reached the saturation we see today. Duchovny has stated that he felt vampire stories where some of the more 'lame' monster stories that the show covered at the time. Of course now it seems that audiences can't get enough of the blood sucking undead.
It's somewhat surprising that I don't miss Scully in this episode, though of course her presence is felt within the narrative. We're treated to another side of Mulder, a more desperate and broken shadow of his former self. Even though we know Scully's return is imminent we still feel for the character. What could have easily been a filler episode designed to give Anderson a quick reprieve turns out to be a thoroughly entertaining vampire story that feels significantly different from the MOTW episodes we've seen so far, but in a good way.
I wanted to believe but the tools have been taken away.
"I wanted to believe but the tools have been taken away." – Fox Mulder.
Season 2 premiere, 'Little Green Men', original air date September 16th, 1994. Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, directed by David Nutter. Mythology episode count, 6. 'Little Green Men' is the only season premiere not written by series creator Chris Carter, instead the task was given to fan favourites, Morgan & Wong and for the most part they deliver an enjoyable opening to the second season that's not without it's flaws. A new start brings with it significant growth in the titular characters. This episode serves primarily to explore Mulder's new found state of mind, having been defeated by the department, he's left humiliated and re-assigned to pointless busy work. With his deep cover contact dead, The X-Files unit shut down and forced to cease contact with Scully, Mulder is a broken man with little left to give. When we last saw him in the closing scenes of 'The Erlenmeyer Flask', he was defiant in his determination to seek the truth, yet he appears before us now disillusioned. It's an interesting way to begin a season on such a low point for the characters.
The episode opens with a monologue by David Duchovny, the first of many mythology episodes to begin in this manner, regarding the voyager spacecraft that was sent out in to the universe to seek out alien life. The now abandoned outpost of a radio communications dish in Puerto Rico is seen whirring to life as an incoming transmission is intercepted, indicating contact with extraterrestrial life. Back at the F.B.I and working now on separate assignments, the agents are forced to meet in secret. Scully is concerned about Mulder's state of mind, fearing, rightfully so, that he has given up. As we've learned from previous episodes, Scully admires Mulder's passion, though she may not always agree with his methods. It deeply concerns her to see him like this and she urges him to find the strength to continue his work through other channels. The futility of his situation however overwhelms Mulder's desire to push on. He is contacted by Senator Richard Matheson (Raymond J. Barry) and encouraged to seek out the radio communications equipment in Puerto Rico. With nothing tying him to the F.B.I offices, he of course heads off immediately without informing Scully of his intentions. While monitoring the equipment, Mulder has an experience in which he witnesses an alien-like being attempting to enter the shack and presumably make contact with him. Scully catches up to him and before they can gather the crucial evidence they are chased off by military agents with orders to kill on sight. Once again the agents have come so close and are still yet so far from discovering the truth.
The relationship between Mulder and Scully has seen significant development since the beginning of the series. Scully is distracted while conducting medical training and wonders about the emotional life of her patient, his dreams and fears that are locked away inside his mind. A student is heard describing her as 'spooky', an obvious reference to Mulder's unwanted nickname at the F.B.I. Scully has become more open and perhaps more emotionally aware than her rather cold and scientific rationality that we witnessed at the beginning of season one. Her relationship with Mulder has begun to change the way she thinks, conversely, Mulder has become more sceptical and part of his struggle throughout this episode is about rediscovering his ability to believe. Though they are certainly still individual personalities that will often juxtapose each other, we can see already at the opening of season two, that these two characters are growing together and shaping the way each other think. It's a steady and gradual development of character that, thanks to high episode count of the seasons, the writers were fortunate enough to dole out in small doses rather than have characters make sudden shifts in their mindset that sometimes feels forced in other shows due to time constraints.
The only significant flaw in the writing from Morgan & Wong is that while Mulder experiences quite possibly his most profound and influential alien encounter so far, he's ultimately left with nothing by the episode's conclusion. At the beginning of the show one of his issues with the unit's success so far is that they have not amassed any hard evidence. He has nothing to prove what he has seen or discovered since he began the The X-Files. It is for this reason, among others, that he feels like there is no point in trying to continue his work. He's beginning to think that perhaps there really is nothing out there. He's been lied to before by secret governmental organisations in order to cover up top secret military experiments and he's beginning to think that maybe his theories are simply unfounded. The events of this episode are supposed to serve to reignite the fire by allowing him to experience something definitive, that he can not possibly discount. However we basically come full circle by the end as he still is left without a shred of hard evidence, beyond what he alone has seen with his own two eyes. It's a bit frustrating to come so far only to feel like we've gone nowhere. Mulder is certainly more hopeful now but he's also not bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm. It'll be a little longer before we see him back in full swing. The strong point of the season premiere is the exploration of character as witnessed by the changes in Mulder and Scully since we last saw them and this is more than enough to make this episode an enjoyable experience and a decent start to season two.
You know, sometimes, it just gets really hard to smile through it when they ask you to bend down and grab your ankles.
"You know, sometimes, it just gets really hard to smile through it when they ask you to bend down and grab your ankles." – Fox Mulder.
Episode 2, 'The Host', original air date September 23rd, 1994. Written by Chris Carter, directed by Daniel Sackheim. Monster of the week episode count, 19. 'The Host' was the second episode, aside from the pilot, that featured on The X-Files: Essentials DVD collection. Following on from 'Beyond the Sea', which was more of a dramatic entry, 'The Host' is a straight up horror affair featuring one of the most gruesome and disgusting monsters conceived for the show. Unsurprisingly, the episode is often cited as a favourite among both fans and critics of the show and it's not difficult to see why. Carter's writing seems to be improving with each stroke of the pen, delivering his best standalone episode so far, and Sackheim's direction has shown a marked improvement since his early season 1 episodes. Overall we can see a step up in the visual flair of the show when compared to season 1, while it's not as dramatic a shift as will come in later seasons, it's clear that the X-Files team have really begun to find their feet and sharpen the edges to work towards more polished production values. An interesting side note to this episode is that the monster is played by Darin Morgan, co-executive producer/writer Glen Morgan's brother, who will migrate to a series writer later in the season and pen some of the series most popular comedic episodes.
Mulder is relieved from a routine surveillance assignment in order to follow up on a case involving an unidentified mutilated corpse, found washed up in New Jersey. He considers the case a waste of his time and considerable skill, assuming that Skinner is punishing him by assigning him mundane cases and he voices his displeasure quite forcefully. Scully remains more hopeful and optimistic that the agents will be able to work together again, while Mulder despairs, and even considers handing in his resignation due to his sheer frustration at his superiors. However as the case develops it begins to unravel a more bizarre nature than what first appeared. Mulder, reluctantly at first, pursues the case, spurred on by Scully's encouragement and support and, working together, the agents realise they're searching for some type of mutated fluke-worm, born out of radiation from nuclear experiments. The agents are uncharacteristically in sync for the most part on their opinions in this episode, which helps to incite their passion for re-starting The X-Files unit. Throughout the episode both Scully and Mulder are contacted by an anonymous person working at the F.B.I, who appears to be aiding them in their investigation and shares a common goal in reinstating them to their former positions. Though he remains unseen at this point, this character will come to be known as 'X', played by Steven Williams, who will replace Deep Throat as Mulder's F.B.I informant. In a rare occurrence, Mulder turns in a completed case report which seems to please Skinner. Though he is frustrated by the fact that this was the perfect case for the X-Files unit to investigate, had they not been shut down. Skinner then surprisingly agrees, stating off hand, "We all get our orders from someone, agent Mulder." This episode features a turning point in the character of Skinner. Though we have seen very little of him so far, he was thought to be working against the agents. As we can see from this episode however, when he reprimands Mulder it is in front of a group of F.B.I higher ups, as was the case in previous episodes like, 'Tooms'. In all the situations where Skinner has appeared to be in opposition to Mulder, there has always been someone else in the room, watching over his shoulder. Last season we saw the Smoking Man lurking behind his desk and we can surmise from Skinner's comment in this episode that someone like CSM is pulling the strings in this relationship. Skinner in fact appears to value Mulder's unique perspective and although it appeared at first to be a punishment, assigning him to this case Skinner was actually hoping to circumvent the system and allow Mulder the chance to work on an X-File.
Carter's script of course features some touching moments between the two agents and he develops their kindling romance well, through subtle nuance. The relationship between Mulder and Scully has never been stronger, they obviously care for each other now beyond the realms of a professional relationship as Scully remarks that she would consider it a personal loss were he to resign. And of course it wouldn't be a Carter script without some form of broader moralising about the effects of radiation on living creatures and humans carelessness at allowing these aberrations of nature to exist. This is presented more as an afterthought towards the episode's conclusion and it neither adds nor detracts from the episodes enjoyability to be honest. As a horror episode it triumphs, as mentioned Sackheim's direction is leagues beyond what he delivered in 'Conduit', opting to take the 'Jaws' approach with the fluke-man and choosing to show less early on in order to create a sense of mystery. Certainly when watching it for the first time this aids in the scare factor, playing on many people's natural fear of the water and the unseen creatures that dwell within. The visual effects are a step up from the previous season, while the fluke-man is slightly less agile than he could have been, the monster make-up is top notch, delivering a very iconic and recognisable monster of the week creature that is still etched in to the minds of many fans, years after viewing it for the first time.