Saturday, November 3, 2018

X-Files S5E7: Like sands through the hourglass...

Sestra Amateur: 

Last week, you were either thrilled, annoyed or creeped out to learn Scully had a 3-year-old daughter named Emily. You probably were also thrilled or annoyed after realizing Mulder was practically nowhere to be seen. But worry not, David Duchovny is done Playing God and back earning his weekly paycheck. Unfortunately, we first have to endure that age-old narrative crutch -- the voiceover -- with Dana in a bleak, metaphorical dream. At least in the dream she gets back her gold-cross necklace.

Fox finds Scully and Emily at the San Diego Children’s Center and tells his partner Frohike identified Emily’s surrogate mother as Anna Fugazzi. The last name means “fake.” Mulder is worried for Dana's safety since anyone who takes care of that little girl dies. His need to protect Sculder may overshadow her desperation to adopt Emily. 

The Scully family and Fox testify at a hearing at which presiding Judge Maibaum is this week’s non-believer, because he doesn’t even buy Dana's abduction and ova removal story from years earlier. Too bad we can’t give him the blogs of those episodes as references, but I do appreciate his Michael Crichton crack about the unprecedented science experiments performed on Scully and other women. Bottom line, Fox comes through in support of Dana's adoption petition.

Scully gets a phone call which Mulder traces back to the Children’s Center. They hurry over there where Dana finds Emily burning up with fever. There’s a strange green cyst on the back of her neck. Sculder rush her to the hospital where emergency room Dr. Vinet asks if they are Emily’s parents. The awkward momentary silence could have been a good first use of the phrase “It’s complicated.” Dana steps up with Emily’s medical history. Another doctor punctures the cyst over Mulder’s objections and releases toxins in the air which take down the physician but leave Emily unscathed. 

Fox suggests putting the doctor in an ice bath like Scully did for him to save his life (End Game, Season 2 Episode 17 … no, I didn't remember on my own and yes, I had to go back through the blogs and research it.) Dr. Vinet is unable to get medical records from Dr. Calderon, Emily’s medical trial physician. 

Mulder goes to the pharmaceutical company in charge of Emily’s medication. After getting nowhere, Fox beats and threatens Dr. Calderon with a gun. Security just lets Mulder walk away. Fox then follows the “good” doctor to the two men in suits from the previous episode. Calderon gets stabbed in the back of the neck with a silver ice pick-like weapon and a green acidic substance bubbles out. The men in suits are bounty hunters! They morph into Calderon and one leads Mulder on a wild goose chase.

Back at the hospital, Emily undergoes an MRI. Scully learns her medical prognosis is pretty bleak. Dana finds “Dr. Calderon” leaving Emily’s room but the bounty hunter changes his looks, so it appears Scully just mistook him for someone else. Dana doesn’t know what her “Dr. Calderon” injected into Emily, but she calls Mulder, who is still tracking the "other" one. Fox thinks Scully’s Calderon might be trying to help Emily. Detective Kresge arrives at the hospital with local police to help protect Emily. Mulder follows his Calderon to a nursing home where he stumbles across 71-year-old Anna Fugazzi. Maybe the medical miracle the government has been secretly working on is using elderly females as surrogates to carry babies to term. Or, as Mulder said in the beginning, the name on Emily’s birth certificate is a fake.

Miss Chambliss from Child Services confronts Scully about Emily’s medical condition and Dana’s attempts to make medical decisions for Emily without proper authority. Scully continues to fight for her rights as Emily’s mother. Back in the nursing home, Mulder learns from Frohike that eight of the elderly women who reside there are listed as mothers for recent births. They’re also all on the same hormone medication. Lucky for Frohike, Mulder thinks he has a shot with these women. 

Emily’s next painful test puts her in a hyperbaric chamber. Fox finds several elderly women enjoying their medicated beauty sleep. (Is this what our taxes are paying for??) He finds an embryo with Dana’s name and birth date on it. Oh good, Emily can have a sibling. After Calderon returns, Mulder steals several vials, but he gets caught by Detective Kresge and drops them. Fox very, very quickly explains the situation and the detective seems to be on board. Unfortunately, he doesn’t listen when Mulder tells him not to shoot Calderon. Should have briefly mentioned the alien stuff, Fox. Kresge shoots Calderon twice and gets overcome by the toxins. “Calderon” then morphs into the detective and gets away.

Mulder joins Scully at Emily’s deathbed, but she’d rather be alone so Fox leaves. He still has one vial in his possession, though. Epilogue time: Emily’s funeral is short but sweet and Dana pontificates over what has happened. Detective Kresge is luckily still alive; maybe next time he’ll listen to Mulder. The nursing home has been cleaned out and there is no evidence of Calderon’s work. All of the evidence is literally gone -- Emily’s body has dissolved into sand, but at least Dana gets her gold cross back. Oh, and Tara Scully finally had her baby, probably with a lot less trouble.

Sestra Professional:

So as interesting as last week's build proved to be, the second part seemed to back the show into a corner. There wasn't a great way to extricate Dana from this story, so it's tough to blame our three-headed monster writing machine -- Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz. Of course, I deemed them "amazing" last time and monsters this time, so maybe there's a wee bit of residual blame still hanging in the air.

The ridiculousness of the opening monologue does nothing to alleviate the situation, and in fact, exacerbates it. I'd be all right with pointing the finger at show creator Chris Carter for at least the concept of the teaser, that kind of pretension tends to fall into his purview on a regular basis.

How did she come into this world? So when Scully introduces a 3-year-old to Mulder, she just can't call him Fox? That might have been a little bit easier for a young girl to remember. Not that Emily could even do that for very long since she falls violently ill very quickly. So violently that she reminds me of a sweat-soaked Drew Barrymore in Firestarter when the doctor examining Emily tries to get a sample of the cyst on her neck.

Now it's true we didn't want Emily clinging to Dana's trenchcoat forever. It might have been easy to saddle her with Mom Scully and see her occasionally during holiday episodes. But it was thirtysomething enough watching Fox and Dana discussing the attempt to get custody of Emily. In short, the air went out of this episode long before its denouement.

She's just a lab rat to you: But it was sharp of our writing trifecta to raise the tension between our leads, even in the slightest of ways. Mulder kept the fact children were being created through genetic experiments from Scully. And even though that's just a moment passing in the context of this particular episode, it's still serving a greater purpose in their ongoing story. We see how much Dana means to Fox several times in the context of "Emily" and keeping that kind of information from her does seem true to his character.

Also brought up in this episode is a concept that we see time and again in the show's run -- medical rape. It's something that's woven through the tapestry of the story, even in a couple of light-hearted episodes. Given the current landscape and one particular series injustice we'll get to later on, The X-Files taken some hard hits on this front of late. At least we have Fox front and center proclaiming the very notion is wrong at this juncture.

The decisions I make are reasonable and right: It's tough -- and slightly annoying -- to see judges and Child Service agencies disregarding Scully's advice. She's a medical doctor and the girl's mother. Neither of these things seem to carry much weight. But then again, not a lot comes up Dana's medical or maternal instincts during this episode either. 

Whereas "Christmas Carol" packed emotional punch, "Emily" fails to do so. It's not the fault of Gillian Anderson or David Duchovny, there's just not a lot of meat on this story's bones. Maybe for that reason, ultimately it's easy for us to let this little girl go. We can ponder at a later date why she's not factored into the telling of the ongoing narrative. 

Guest star of the week: Lauren Diewold. It's not because she delivered an amazingly poised performance for her age. As revealed in the series' official guide, another actress originally cast as Emily freaked out when put in the hyperbaric chamber. Almost two episodes worth of scenes had to be restructured and reshot. Brava to Diewold for saving the day. Twice.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

X-Files S5E6: A not-so-immaculate conception

Sestra Amateur: 

It's too bad we didn't get to this one next month, when we would be more accepting of a Christmas-themed episode. Halloween is only four days away, so my focus is obviously on that now. Maybe I can find a way to have the best of both worlds, like The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Dana and Margaret Scully are visiting Bill and his pregnant wife, Tara, on a San Diego U.S. Naval base for the Christmas holidays. (Bill has a wife? Bill’s about to be a father? Did the writers just throw that out there or did I miss something in previous Bill eps?) Margaret quickly gets lost in memories of her deceased husband. 

At the Scully homestead, Dana answers the phone. A woman is requesting her help. Maybe it’s a Halloween prank. Oh yeah, it’s not Halloween. Maybe the call is coming from inside the house!! Okay, it’s not. … Scully uses her FBI connections to try and get the call traced. I don’t know about you, but I started using the *69 feature to call back the last number sometime in that mid '90s, so maybe Agent Scully should have tried that before utilizing costly federal resources.

Bill and Dana go to the address and then learn the occupant, Roberta Sim (nice Christmas Carol homage), committed suicide hours before the phone call. Local police detective John Kresge seems skeptical. I’m really hoping the meaning of his last name is not foreshadowing, but The X-Files writers always seem to have a reason when they use unusual surnames. (Don’t blame me for checking, blame George Lucas and his Vader-means-father nonsense.) Bill catches up to Dana, who claims the voice sounded like their dead sister, Melissa. Detective Kresge confirms Scully’s impossible phone call but assumes it was a computer glitch. Roberta’s husband and young daughter are present, so he’s ready to wrap his the suicide investigation. 

Back at Bill’s house, Dana calls Mulder, but hangs up without talking. Man, I wish he had *69’d that call! Also, why would she do that to him knowing how paranoid he gets? Speaking of Halloween, even Fox looked like he was in costume. When he ran into the apartment to answer his phone, I thought he was dressed as a pirate. That’s a weird way to wear a scarf. Also, I hope you got your Mulder fix, because that’s all you get in this episode. In San Diego, Dana’s clearly affected by her sister-in-law’s pregnancy and upset about her own infertility issues. 

Later that night, she dreams about younger versions of herself, Bill and Melissa. Then “Melissa” calls Scully and directs her back to the Sim house to check on young Emily. Marshall Sim, who now has two unknown men in suits inside the house, reacts badly to Dana’s presence and orders her to leave. Scully asks Det. Kresge to show her the case file and notices a strong resemblance between Emily and a picture of 3-year-old Melissa. Dana continues her investigation and learns Emily was adopted … and born about a year before Melissa’s murder.

The detective authorizes an autopsy for Roberta Sim and Scully learns the medication in Roberta’s system was injected, not ingested. The cops return to the Sim residence and find a bloody needle … in the garbage can … in the backyard during a crime scene search. This sure is making San Diego PD look bad. Dana somehow also arranged a DNA test on the girl and learns Emily may be Melissa’s daughter. Scully tells her mother, who is in denial, even after seeing the girls’ pictures and the test results. Dana next dreams about the Christmas when her parents gave and Melissa their gold cross necklaces. Kresge wakes up Dana and updates her on his investigation. They learn Emily is in medical trials for a rare autoimmune condition. The detective finds enough evidence to arrest Marshall for Roberta’s murder. Emily is enthralled by Scully's gold cross necklace, so Dana gives it to her before Child Services takes her away.

Back at the Scully holiday party -- could be a Halloween party since half the guests are dressed as Naval officers -- everyone is enjoying themselves but Dana, who is clearly bringing down the room. Bill confronts his sister and sides with Margaret. Both of them think Dana is turning the Emily situation into something personal. Kresge calls Scully with news of Marshall Sim’s full confession, but now Scully isn’t buying it. She arrives at the jail as the two men in suits leave. They got inside Sim’s cell by claiming to be his lawyers. And now Marshall is dead … another “suicide." 

Still trying to prove Dana wrong, Bill shows her a photograph of a non-pregnant Melissa taken a month before the day Emily was born. This feels exactly like "Redux Part 2" (Season 5, Episode 2), when we understand Bill’s point of view but don’t sympathize with him at all. Right now, he just comes off as a jealous brother who thinks his infertile sister is stealing his soon-to-be-a-father thunder. Dana has started the paperwork to adopt Emily, but Child Services rejects her application for several reasons. Alien abduction is not one of them -- she’s single, no long-term relationships, long hours, dangerous job. Scully’s down, not out entirely just yet. She goes back to sleep and dreams about adult Melissa in the days before Dana started the FBI Academy. 

Are we sure Melissa isn’t haunting this house? It’s really not too late to turn the story into Poltergeist or The Amityville Horror. The next morning, Christmas morning, mind you, an FBI courier arrives at Bill and Tara’s home with the more extensive DNA test results. (Trick or treat? At least offer the guy working on Christmas Day some egg nog.) Turns out Bill and Margaret were right; Emily is not Melissa’s daughter ... she’s Dana’s! (Insert gasps of disbelief here….) Boy, now I’m sorry I wasted my Maury Povich reference in the last episode. We’ll get more answers next week, but for now it’s a Halloween (OK, Christmas) miracle! 

Sestra Professional:

I don't know about Dana, but I certainly recognized her sister's voice right away. I was kind of surprised she didn't. It would be like me not knowing Sestra Am when she calls me on the phone. Deeming the mystery person a garden-variety woman is pretty bizarre. Of course, Scully has a history of supernatural occurrences with her family. Remember, she had the vision of her father passing on just before her mother called with the bad news in "Beyond the Sea" (S1E13). 

But maybe that's why Dana didn't fight it as hard as she usually fights the unexplained things she and the guy who isn't in much of this episode investigate on a regular basis. (Nope, David Duchovny wasn't again working on the summer blockbuster, Fight the Future. This time, he had obligations for another film, Playing God. Remember that one? Didn't think so.)

I've always admired most of the setup and execution of this one by the amazing writing team of Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz, puzzling appearance of Bill's pregnant wife aside. But Scully's brother just can't get out of his own way. He doesn't do himself any favors with the fandom by constantly butting heads with Dana and never taking her side. He picked the right wife too, droning on and on about how life is less without a baby. That's not gonna make her barren sister-in-law feel too good, is it?

It's a great mystery, hearing the voice of Melissa (still Melinda McGraw, so it resonates with the viewers) urging Dana to try to help the little girl. Even aside the supernatural jingles she's getting on the phone, Scully has great reason to suspect what's going on in the house of the woman who allegedly committed suicide. The way she lays out the facts to get the autopsy -- such as the phone being off the hook -- show how smart Dana is, even in the face of interfacing with an inhabitant from the great beyond.

There's the DNA evidence that skillfully leads Scully (and us) to believe she's on the right track. And that mysterious period of time when Melissa was on the road, finding herself? She very well could have had a baby during that time, it's not one of those ridiculous conjectures Scully often has to come up with in response to the fantastical Mulder suppositions that usually prove to be correct. It's pretty easy to follow along with that reasoning ... and then blammo! John Gilnitz hits us right between the eyes with that little surprise.

That startling piece of news fits even better into the framework of the show. We know Scully was appropriated early in Season 2 and that tests were done on her during that time. We can believe it was by aliens or by the government or some unholy alliance between the two. But now it's three years later in Dana's life, in the journeys all of us have taken through the X-Files. What are the ramifications of that? This poor little girl suffering from an autoimmune disease could very well be one of the -- to put it harshly -- byproducts of the abduction machinations. 

According to Resist or Serve, Volume 4 of The Official Guide to The X-Files, this particular story came about because Gilligan, Shiban and Spotnitz needed to 1.) do a Scully-centric episode that 2.) would air around the holidays. Rather trot out the old Christmas Carol allegory, the triumvirate decided to go with self-examination of another sort for Dana. With the cancer scare in the rearview mirror but still in mind, Scully again confronts her choices in the wake of fresh remembrances that she'll never be able to have the same kind family unit as Bill and his bride.

Another sterling performance from Gillian Anderson really ties the whole episode together. She's strong as an investigator and smart as a physician. Then we get that other look at her outside of the power suits and scrubs when she talks with the representative from Child Services about adopting Emily. And finally ... the big surprise. The most shocking news an infertile woman would never expect to get.

In The Complete X-Files, Gillian Anderson credited the crew for helping her get the job done. "It's great when you get a crew that really respects the work that's being done by the actors," she said. "That makes a world of difference when you feel safe to go where you need to go as an actor, day in and day out. A crew is everything."

Guest star of the week: Two young Danas, one young Melissa and one young Bill -- that's a lot of youth actors asked to help move the story along through flashbacks. The 1976 version of Scully getting the trademark cross from her mother stood out. And if the remarkable resemblance to Gillian seemed obvious, that's probably because that young Dana was played by her own sister, Zoe Anderson. Sestras are doing it for themselves.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

X-Files S5E5: The pre-#metoo Prometheus

Sestra Amateur: 

Just like the announcer says during the introduction to The Outer Limits: “There is nothing wrong with your television set” (tablet, computer, smart phone, whatever). “Do not attempt to adjust the picture.” This one is supposed to be in black and white. Chris Carter decided to write an homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein instead of continuing with his frustrating character mythology. So let’s sit back and enjoy the bottle ep.

Teenagers Booger and Izzy head to a comic book convention, leaving Izzy’s mom, Shaineh Berkowitz, all alone to watch Jerry Springer’s show about a werewolf baby. (I’m almost positive that was a fake episode, but with “reality” TV you really can’t be too sure.) Meanwhile, someone tents the family home and sets off a smoke bomb. Cher’s cover of The Walker Brothers’ song "The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore" plays in the background while a disfigured person approaches Shaineh. 

Mulder is driving to the Berkowitz home while Scully reads a letter from Shaineh describing how she became pregnant with Izzy. Shanieh claims the same thing happened to her again. Turns out, Fox met with the werewolf baby mama who name-dropped Mulder on TV. Shaineh claims she couldn’t be pregnant because her tubes were tied. She was unconscious for three days, so maybe her attacker performed a reversal procedure before impregnating her. Dana searches the house for clues while Fox uses his "woe is me" tone to articulate how he doesn't believe in aliens anymore. Shaineh’s description of her attacker matches Izzy’s comic book about a character named The Great Mutato, lumpy dual faces and all.

Upon his arrival back home, Izzy claims many people in their neighborhood have seen The Great Mutato. Izzy tries to entice G.M. with a peanut butter sandwich. Mutato eats and runs; Sculder can’t catch up to him, but they come across an old man and his pig. He steers them in the direction of his mad scientist son played by J. Peterman himself, John O’Hurley. Dr. Pollidori doesn’t really have the patience for the agents' interruptions until Scully threatens him with … reality TV exposure? Dr. P. takes the time to explain his manipulation of man and insect genes to a crescendo of Mark Snow B-movie score and some really (intentionally) fake-sounding thunder.

Here is where my storehouse of useless information really comes into play. The not-so-good doctor’s last name, Dr. John William Polidori (correct spelling) authored The Vampyre, the original modern vampire tale written decades before Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He was with Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley during the hallucinogenic weekend that inspired Mary’s novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. (See how it all relates?) This slumber party was dramatized in several novels and at least two movies from the 1980s: Haunted Summer and Gothic. (“Based on True Events” is probably more accurate, it’s not like the movies are documentaries.) It’s amusing how the Shelleys and Byron were portrayed by some of the most attractive actors of the decade, but poor Polidori is seen as either goofy Alex Winter (Bill S. Preston, Esquire of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure fame) or goofy Timothy Spall (Wormtail in the Harry Potter series). Although when you look at his portrait, he did resemble a young Rowan Atkinson. But, as usual, I digress. Back to the Great Mutato.

At the Pollidori home, Mrs. P. tries to convince her husband they want a baby, but he isn’t buying it. He leaves for his convention and his wife cries alone while someone tents their house. … The next morning, Sculder go to breakfast at the world’s creepiest diner, where Mulder sits by a reporter who moves like a bird. The circus-like music and tricky camera shots help encourage the freak-show feeling of the episode, even more so than in "Humbug" (Season 2, Episode 20). Scully reads the paper and is irked because Izzy apparently recorded their conversation in the Berkowitz house and told a reporter (Bird-woman??) Luckily, Izzy also has a recording of Cher’s song and The Great Mutato’s voice. Mulder’s definitely on board with the mad scientist theory, while Scully obtains medical proof of Shaineh’s pregnancy.

Our intrepid heroes then stumble upon the Pollidori residence, mainly because it’s still tented and Cher’s "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" is blasting from the home. Sculder search the foggy, smelly home and find Mrs. P. just before they lose consciousness. Dr. P.’s father is there, wisely using a gas mask. Mrs. P. and hungover-ish Fox and Dana eventually wake up to Dr. P. and the police hovering over them. Mrs. P. describes G.M. and the crime scenes indicate the same assailant. When Mulder suggests she might have been impregnated, Mrs. P. reacts just a teeny tiny bit too happily. Guess she won’t be pressing charges…

Papa P. is taking care of G.M. who is watching Mask, the true story of Rocky Dennis, a teenaged boy who suffered from a bone disorder which caused facial disfigurement. I’m probably stealing one of Sestra Pro’s meta moments here, but my mental storehouse must be accessed. Mask starred Cher – whose songs have played such a pivotal part in this episode – and Eric Stoltz who played Percy Shelley in Haunted Summer. Dr. P. confronts his father and a struggle ensues. 

Back at the creepy diner, people are less appreciative of Mulder this time around because those pesky Feds think G.M. is a “hoax.” There’s an awful lot of spitting and coffee spilling going on this time. The townsfolk also turns on Izzy. Luckily there’s no lynching, otherwise Izzy would be a goner. G.M. finds Papa P.’s body in the kitchen and buries him in the barn. Sculder arrive and search the barn. The birdlike reporter woman arrives and shows them Papa P.’s photo album. Dr. P. leads the mob to kill Mutato, but our heroes find him in his Cher-decorated basement hideout. 

Meanwhile, the mob burns down the barn – luckily the horses get away – and corner Sculder and Mutato, who finally provides some much appreciated exposition. Papa P. learned about Dr. P.’s experiments and rescued G.M. who he kept hidden. Papa P. wanted to create a mate for G.M. so he would not be left alone. The mob sees the error of their ways and stop trying to kill Mutato. The police take away Dr. P. and Sculder take G.M. to a Cher concert. But does G.M. really deserve his happy ending? He drugged, raped and impregnated Shaineh and Mrs. P. (I still want to know how he worked around the whole tubes-tied complication.) The new mothers appear on a later Jerry Springer ep with their Mutato-like babies. Of course, The Maury Povich Show would not have been the way to go because clearly Mutato, you are the father!

Sestra Professional:

"The Post-Modern Prometheus" is a favorite episode of show creator Chris Carter -- who wrote and directed this one -- co-executive producer Frank Spotnitz and legions of fans the world over. But truth be told, it's never been one of mine. I'm not a big fan of "on the nose" writing, in the tradition of Forrest Gump. I prefer a little more subtlety in my tributes.

This one is more than merely pays homage to Frankenstein, it drags the legendary horror icon through The X-Files grinder. Carter finds better ways of doing this as the series goes on, but this one just doesn't do it for me. So while I don't dole out the high praise it generally garners, I do think it's a good step for the show creator into a different realm of storytelling. 

Well, yeah, but that don't mean it didn't happen: The black-and-white filming definitely gives the episode some style, the acting is on point with the tone and tempo of the story, Mark Snow's music slots in perfectly and it has the perfect ending -- Mulder and Scully become a comic book. That's what the show has been all along, a live-action comic book. It doesn't just fit the mold, it is the mold.

Thanks Sestra Am for providing all the Polidori back story better than I could. Maybe Carter and Spotnitz had that kind of Byron-Shelley weekend when this episode was concocted. If so, I'm quite sure a lot of Cher was played. Oh, and an addendum to all that information. Dr. P. has to deliver a speech at the University of Ingolstadt; and Victor Frankenstein comes up with the concept of creating a human while attending Ingolstadt U as a medical student.

Is there anything that you don't believe in, Mulder: Love how Fox is off alien abductions, but still prone to going along with any wild story he hears about. Meanwhile, Scully gets to overprocess her part in the proceedings by droning on about how those obsessed by pop culture just want to get on The Jerry Springer Show and are more willing to blame society's failings the ogre, the hunchback and a lonely half-breed -- hey, a sideways reference to an actual Cher song rather than a cover -- instead of admitting there's a predator among them.

Which brings me to the current state of the world and the subsequent re-examination of pop culture under the #metoo movement. Episodes like this and "Small Potatoes" (S4E20), which were truly beloved during original run, now seem subject to rampant overanalysis and subsequent rebranding as offensive to a growing portion of society. At the time, it did resonate with us on some level -- uh, The Great Mutato and Eddie Van Blundht obviously impregnated women without their consent -- but it doesn't cheapen the episodes for me now, it's just a factor in them. Like Dexter or Tony Soprano killing people, it doesn't mean you can't take the ride and even empathize on occasion while abhorring the behavior.

They're mewling little monsters: Carter does craft a nice variation on the small-town theme in the diner scenes, although all the denizens hanging out there look like they auditioned for "Home" (S4E2) and were brought back to fill the background of the restaurant as bizarre-looking and sounding creatures.

I don't think The Great Mutato gets a happy ending, Sestra Am, because he's still being escorted to a facility of some sort by the FBI agents. Yeah, he probably doesn't deserve front row at a Cher concert (or an incredible facsimile, at the least). But it wouldn't make as good of a last page for the comic book to see the dead half of his face squeezing through bars of a cell. 

I think we found our smoking meta: Still got plenty left for this one. According to the fifth-season episode guide, Cher was blown away by "Home" (S4E2), but declined to appear in "The Post-Modern Prometheus," because she didn't want to just sing on the show. She did the next best thing, approving the use of her covers and impersonator Tracey Bell for the episode. And on the documentary Reflections on The X-Files, Cher admitted, "Oh shit, I should have done that." ... The Academy sure appreciated the episode. It racked up seven Emmy nominations for writing, directing, art direction, cinematography, single-picture editing, makeup and music composition. Production designer Graeme Murray, art director Greg Loewen and set director Shirley Inget nabbed the art direction Emmy. ... The role of Shaineh Berkowitz was written for Roseanne, but she wasn't able to appear, according to The Complete X-Files. ...  Count Gillian Anderson among those who consider this ep one of the series highlights. "I didn't always understand what (Carter) was doing while we were shooting it, but when it was together, it turned out wonderfully," she said in the episode guide.

Guest star of the week: Chris Owens does an incredible job under a ton of makeup. He actually makes us comprehend what The Great Mutato has been going through, particularly since the scientist who made him is more like the cold machine we might expect of a reanimated creature. He really sells lines like learning of the world by invading people's homes and checking out their books, records and home media centers. Owens, who also cut a mean figure as the young Cigarette Smoking Man in a couple of episodes, soon joins the cast under less auspicious circumstances with reduced time in the makeup chair. He's much preferred here.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

X-Files S5E4: There is an 'I' in team building

Sestra Amateur: 

This episode begins in Vancouver’s version of North Florida woods, near the Tallahassee area, according to Google Maps. Surveyors are mapping the area until one worker, Sloan, awakens something in the ground. The thing opens its red eyes and attacks him. Sloan’s partner runs and hides, but he suffers the same fate. Next, father and son, Louis and Michael Asekoff, are bonding while hunting in the same woods. They happen upon the surveyor equipment – finders’ keepers – and their dog finds what’s left of the surveyors. Then something attacks the father. Maybe you guys should have just had a nice catch outside your house.

Sculder are driving to a team-building seminar with Agents Stonecypher and Kinsley (who we never met before so don’t feel bad if you have no clue who they are) when they are stopped by a Florida Highway Patrol roadblock. Actually I must clarify, the cars are Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicles, but the officers are dressed like FHP troopers. Nice job, research team. Mulder bails and gets ambushed by the hunter’s wife, who apparently isn’t important enough to be given a first name. Mrs. Asekoff is waiting for information on her husband. Don’t worry, the boy and his dog are perfectly fine. Fox talks to Michele Fazekas of Florida Search and Rescue and joins her investigation while sending Scully and the other agents to the seminar. Hope Dana doesn’t get jealous of the other redhead working with Mulder.

Back in the motel, Fox does some online research and can't find previous examples of the predator’s psychology. He leaves Dana – and her tray of wine and cheese – to chase a lead. Meanwhile, some red-eyed thing has managed to enter the Asekoff’s house and chase Michael outside, straight into Mulder’s arms. The next morning, Fox reviews the physical evidence inside the house and thinks the creature is running on the balls of its feet, unlike humans. Michele arrives and comes to the same conclusion. Tech guy Jeff Glaser – played by Anthony Rapp of Rent and Adventures in Babysitting fame -- is brought in to help. Hope there’s a karaoke scene later in the episode so he can break out into song. 

The crew walks through the woods trying to find the creature, but it seems to be tracking them instead. Jeff locates one, but since it’s like Predator – able to camouflage itself – they’re unable to see it with the naked eye, just with infrared equipment. Jeff spots a second one and the group splits up -- ladies one way and gents the other. Scully realizes its (their?) plan is to divide and conquer, so they head back to Fox and Jeff, unknowingly passing one creature embedded in a tree. Michele then disappears and Dana is all alone. So much for the competition…

Glaser is torn between getting out of dodge and staying to find Fazekas. Mulder again points out how Michele was taken because she was presumably the strongest. Is that why he tells Jeff to “lead the way?” That’s cold, Fox. Mulder compares this creature to Point Pleasant’s Moth Men from the 1960’s. Yes, that’s real folklore from West Virginia. I read The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel years ago. Whether or not you believe in the Mothman, it makes for an intriguing read. If you’re interested, the next Mothman festival begins Sept. 20, 2019, but the Mothman Museum is open year round. But I digress. 

Jeff experiences a Blair Witch Project lost-in-the-woods moment and starts to panic. Clearly, he’ll be the last man standing if the creatures keep going after the strong ones first. Glaser sees one creature on the infrared and directs Fox to its location. Mulder and Scully shoot but miss. Jeff runs away, but doesn’t get far. Fox gets dragged down, but Dana saves him from the creature. Did I mention she’s looking a lot healthier after that whole deathbed cancer scare?

So Sculder spend the night together – in the woods, in the dark, huddling together for warmth. Scully is able to start a fire with gunpowder from one of their bullets. I was half right about the karaoke prediction, too bad it’s tone-deaf Dana singing to Mulder to prove she’s staying awake. The red-eyed creature remains at bay, but looks bored. The next morning Scully goes grocery shopping in the woods for their breakfast. On the way back she falls into a hole … and finds several of the missing victims. Michele and Louis are still alive. Dana also spots one of the red-eyed creatures in the cave with her. 

Fox gives Scully his weapon, then gets chased into the hole by another predator. Dana shoots the one coming toward them and takes it down. Of course she hopes there’s a scientific explanation. Mulder’s leaning toward evolution over hundreds of years. Agents Stonecypher and Kinsley find and rescue their ride partners. Fox becomes worried for Scully's safety after realizing how one of the creatures still went after the boy in his own home. He drives to the motel thinking he has to save Dana from a creature hiding in the room. He was right, but neither he nor Scully get to know that little factoid. At least Sculder can write off their expenses now.

Sestra Professional:

There aren't a lot of times in which a fan changes their opinion on an episode, but I know I've come around a bit on "Detour." On original run, I found it a bit of a bore, starting with the clunky team-building discussion in the car with the rubes who obviously sat behind a desk all day at the FBI. The rest of the episode played like a different take on Season 1's dynamic "Darkness Falls" with shades of The Conversation on the Rock from "Quagmire." I've changed my tune to some extent. It's not perfect, but it's certainly an enjoyable enough offering.

Love the interplay between the surveyors in the opening scene in which one dude chastises the other by declaring that's where the new Blockbuster will open up. Well, the woods might still be there years later, but it's the Blockbusters that have fallen by the wayside. If he could, Sloan would smile at that irony.

Kill me now: Still not a whopping big fan of the machinations that landed Mulder and Scully in the car with their fellow agents. Huge flash-forward to Season 10, Kincypher make Einstein and Miller seem interesting. Oh well, it's a way to get our dynamic duo on the scene. The concept seems much more interesting when the one-dimensional FBI reps are off the canvas, even Dana's joke about needing the communication seminar about Fox going rogue works better without them around.

Nature is populated by creatures either killing something they need to survive or trying to avoid being killed by something that needs them to survive: So Frank Spotnitz wrote this one and it's got some interesting ideas, such as the idea that encroaching development has caused the somethings in the woods to "push back." And he's able to drive that point across while drawing strange and wonderful parallells between Walt Whitman and dialogue from another Fox network show, When Animals Attack. Speaking of such similarities, not only do we get a large dose of Predator, doesn't there seem to be a substantive correlation to Jurassic Park? We've got raptor-like behavior in which the prey gets distracted by one creature only to be attacked by another. And even something like Scully saying she'll stay awake, just like Sam Neill protecting the kids. Glad he didn't sing in that movie, it might not have been a blockbuster.

Everything in this episode is quite beautiful -- driving home another point made by the team's weak link, Jeff Glaser -- about how if we're mesmerized by the sights and sounds in the forest we might overlook its deadly nature. It's not only the makeshift Apalachicola National Forest that is striking, though, our heroes look fabulous in blue. 

The most unique aspect of the unknown threat is the idea that it attacks the strongest first. (By the way, the strongest didn't seem to "initiate oral contact" when she was taken out.) And, of the course, the part in which they follow the victims home is different from your garden-variety attack. That doesn't happen too often with predators in the woods outside the Friday the 13th franchise. 

Despite the fact that I didn't like them, I'm a big fan of the boring agents ultimately coming to Sculder's rescue. Maybe Kincypher have two dimensions instead of one. So, if they hadn't had success at the previous team-building success they took part in, maybe Mulder and Scully wouldn't have been rescued? Not that it opened these plebes' minds at all about thinking outside of the box. 

Meta morsels: Spotnitz expressed appreciation for open-ended conclusions like this one in The Complete X-Files. "Nothing pleased me more than when I would talk to a viewer who said they really couldn't go to sleep that night, or they kept double-checking their windows and doors. It's scarier if you think he could still be out there," he said. ... Due to rain in the region, this episode took 19 days to shoot, according to the fifth-season episode guide. ... The writer drew from another movie before penning this one -- Deliverance -- and the idea of the agents in a hostile environment, the guide said. ... Spotnitz originally scripted that Scully sing "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" by Hank Williams, but cottoned to creator Chris Carter's suggestion to switch to Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World." Gillian Anderson jumped to her own defense in the episode guide -- "In that scene, I sang intentionally badly. In real life, I can do a lot better than that," she said.

Guest star of the week: Well, he may have been the Thumper on the search team, but Anthony Rapp stands head and shoulders above the trees in this tale. For a change of pace, the weakest link gives us something to think about when it comes to evolution. So glad he took 10 days off from Rent, which was a big hit on Broadway at the time, to be in the episode. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

X-Files S5E3: Looking back at 100

Sestra Amateur: 

Back in 1997, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were too busy filming a movie to work on The X-Files show, but it was The X-Files movie so that makes it OK. It still left the show’s writers and production crew with episode deadlines, so Vince Gilligan had the opportunity to write a Lone Gunmen origin tale for the millions (hundreds?) of fans who were dying to know the conspiracy theorists’ background. On the upside, after the bleak Season 4 finale and "Redux" episodes, this one should be fairly lighthearted and amusing. It takes place in May 1989, so maybe one of the boys will sport the Sonny Crockett look.

In Baltimore, S.W.A.T. responds to a burglary call. I guess the protocol was much looser back then. Usually patrol officers handle that sort of thing. They find blood, a naked Mulder shrieking, “They’re here!” (at least he’s consistent) and our Lone Gunmen, who “didn’t do it.” Of course, they don’t have that nickname yet, having just met. Langly the “Hippie” blames “Doohickey” and “the Narc” (Byers). Luckily for Baltimore P.D., their investigation is led by Det. John Munch, played by Richard Belzer. Munch -- the character -- has quite a diverse resume, having appeared on approximately 10 different TV shows. But when this episode originally aired, we only knew him from Homicide: Life on the Street, which just happens to take place in … Baltimore! (I love continuity!)

Munch interviews Byers first -- John Fitzgerald Byers, born Nov. 22, 1963 -- who works for the Federal Communications Commission as a public information officer. The man who was thisclose to being named Bertram recounts the tale. He was manning a booth at the computer and electronics expo at the Baltimore convention center when the mysterious “Holly” (Signy Coleman) crosses his path. The Narc follows her to Frohike’s table, where Doohickey is hawking his cable theft device. His booth is next to Langly’s, where the hippie is selling a clearer version of bootleg cable. Frohike and Langly argue until Holly walks away. 

Byers bumps into Holly and she tells him her tale of woe -- her psychotic ex-boyfriend kidnapped their 3-year-old daughter. They should have let Bruce Harwood shave his beard, he would have looked younger and the wide-eyed innocent thing might be more believable. Anyway, Holly has Arpanet documentation and thought she would find her ex at the convention. (Tech 101: The Arpanet was a precursor to the Internet.) Byers naively offers to help and accidentally accesses the Defense Department's data network. Byers is too skittish to continue because, well, he’s an FCC “narc” and his job is to stop people from doing just that. Holly asks him to look up her daughter’s name, Susanne Modeski, (spoiler alert: IMDb lists that as Holly’s name), but it’s an encrypted file. Byers prints it out and they hide when they spot her psychotic ex. By the way, it’s Mulder, in all his ungelled, unmoussed glory.

Frohike tries his sales pitch on Fox, but “Punk Ass” ain’t buying it. Langly is out to a very long lunch (he’s playing Dungeons and Dragons). “Narc” and “Pretty Lady” recruit “Doohickey” to decipher the encrypted file. Frohike suggests bodily harm over espionage, they can beat up the ex. Fox stops Frohike and Byers, flashes his badge and asks about “Holly.” And apparently, Mulder is perfectly OK with carrying a bulky 1980s model portable phone, even though he rarely has his way-more-compact '90s one on him when he needs it most. (See: No cell phone contact is used as plot contrivance in almost every episode.) 

Meanwhile, Byers’ co-worker is being hauled away by the military for computer hacking. (Lo, the dangers of playing Dig Dug. I always preferred Mr. Do.) Frohike convinces Byers not to turn himself in and they interrupt Langly’s D&D game. “Lord Manhammer” agrees to access the FBI mainframe and find out why they’re after “Holly.” The Three Fugitives pull up Mulder’s record and learn he’s very smart, very decorated and assigned to the Violent Crimes Unit. They also learn Holly is Susanne. She’s a former employee of the Army Advanced Weapons Facility wanted for murder and terrorism against the U.S. government.

Unfortunately for the Three Blind Mice, Susanne has found them. She claims she didn’t murder anyone, but admits she lied about having a kidnapped daughter to convince Byers to help her. Susanne says she helped create a gas that induces paranoia and then learned our government plans to test it on Baltimore residents. We also now know why every single hotel has a Bible: Electronic surveillance of the American people, of course. Frohike and Langly aren’t ready to believe there’s a dark side to the U.S. government. 

Susanne says the answers are in the encrypted printout, so our boys hack into a supercomputer and are able to prove everything she told them. They find the location of the gas and learn Susanne has been under surveillance all this time. So she performs an emergency tooth extraction and finds the bug. Snap, Crackle and Pop are now officially on board. (You can decide who is who, but Frohike seems like Pop to me.) They find the gas in a warehouse disguised as asthma inhalers. Boy, is our government sinister or what? Mulder shows up to place Susanne under arrest for multiple murder ... without backup, I might add. He also tells the Three Stooges they’re under arrest.

But the men who set up Susanne also have arrived and they shoot at Fox ... a lot. Mulder gets dosed with the gas and starts stripping. Just when the men are about to kill Fox, Susanne shoots them in the back. She escapes and Mr. X arrives with the cleaners. (It’s technically a prequel so Mr. X is alive!) He stares at the blubbering Mulder, then focuses his gaze on our future Lone Gunmen. Drugged Fox watches the cleanup which, from his perspective, consists of little aliens removing dead bodies. You know, if Mulder had used that bulky-ass phone to call one backup agent, then this would have been resolved a lot sooner. Byers is fed up and confronts Mr. X, who chooses not to answer the conspiracy questions but not to kill them either. Instead, he tries to scare the Three Amigos and clearly inspires their future nickname.

After hearing the full story Det. Munch thinks Byers is full of it. Upon returning to their cell, it's clear Byers now has his eyes open to government conspiracies. Mulder, who has finally returned to normal, calls Munch to get the Three Musketeers released. The detective decides he no longer wants to pay for cable and confiscates Langly’s gizmo. The Charmed Ones track Susanne to the Baltimore Guardian, but no one believes her story. She warns The Three Bears to stay paranoid and continue telling the truth to the public. But Mr. X has found her again – she should have pulled out all of her teeth, I guess. They chase her down and take her away. Mulder finds The Good, the Bad and the Ugly back at the convention center (Again, you can decide who is who). He tells them Susanne’s case is closed, but he wants the truth about what happened the night before. That’s our Fox, always searching for the truth. Now it’s time to search for proper hair care products.

Sestra Professional:

The X-Files hit the century mark with an episode that features no Scully and minimal Mulder. Like Sestra Am said, well, at least they're planning for the future. Fight the Future, that is. "The Unusual Suspects" was the first show made for the fifth season, while production for the film that would debut the next summer was wrapping up. I'm not sure it should have served as the landmark episode, and that premise was ultimately backed up by the fact that the original airing hauled in three million less viewers than "Redux II" the week before. 

But it's certainly a pleasant enough origin tale, filled with loads of Gilliganisms that warm the cockles of our hearts. The go-to writer attacks the task with relish too, concocting a meet-cute variation that not only brings the Gunmen together but also pulls Fox Mulder into their orbit. David Duchovny was a gamer, lying on the ground, naked and shouting "They're here" with a level of dramatics that won't be seen again until Darin Morgan's episode in Season 11.

You want to cha-cha? Where else would geeks of the stature of the Gunmen be in May 1989 but at a computer electronics show? It's a nice touch that Byers started out with the FCC. I can definitely buy Frohike doing the illegal cable snatch thing and Langly using his computer skills for such dubious pursuits as gaining access to handicapped parking. 

It wasn't quite what the Gang of Three had envisioned on their own as actors while coming up with back stories for their characters, though. In the fifth-season episode guide, Dean Haglund (Langly) said he thought they would have been a university garage band, while Bruce Harwood (Byers) saw himself as a former photocopier repairman. 

Still, I've always had a problem with the fact that three conspiracy-minded guys would not have already questioned the virtual holy grail of machinations -- the assassination of Kennedy. After all, it's how Byers got his name, one would think he would have been widely read on the subject, and thusly come up with his own speculations about that fateful day in Dallas.

Speaking of such conceits, Duchovny may not have been in "The Unusual Suspects" for long, but boy, did he create an uproar by wearing a wedding ring in the flashback episode. That nugget is somewhat diluted by Mulder's FBI profile in the episode, which lists him as single. But the episode guide said Duchovny "insisted" on wearing it, so the fan theory that the newlywed just forgot to take it off doesn't hold much water. Anyway, this hot-button topic will get a better ride midway through the season when we get to another flashback ep, "Travelers." 

Poor Susanne Modeski, she's suffering a fate at a level on par with Mulder and Scully. She's got all this information and no one will believe her. The only ones she can rope into helping her are a trio of yokels who don't know when to speak up and when to keep their mouths closed. And the only guy she can find to kiss is Byers. Although, I gotta admit, he definitely has his charms. Plus he's steadfast and true, if a little naive and way too green. Her tooth extraction scene proves to be one of the most harrowing of the series run. 

I heard it was a lone gunman: The money scene is when X shows up. First, it proves the old adage, "No one on The X-Files really dies," because they can always be brought back for this kind of circumstance or memories or death dreams. But secondly, he brings the action back down from its giddy heights and gives the goings-on some gravity. Otherwise, the trifecta might have been in danger of taking Munch's advice to wear aluminum hats to block out mind-control rays seriously.

Meta Munchables: Let's run down the list of Det. Munch's other television appearances beyond Homicide: Life on the Street and the Law and Order properties (Law and Order, Special Victims Unit, Trial by Jury) -- The Beat, Arrested Development, The Wire, 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. ... Having the esteemed detective on the show meant a network crossover, which proved easier than might have been expected, as Gilligan explained in the episode guide. "NBC was great about it and Fox was real happy too. Only the lawyers were a little nervous," he said. ... And Mulder's cell phone? Gilligan asked propmeister Ken Hawryliw to find the biggest cell phone he could. "He found this great old Motorola the size of a brick," the writer laughed in The Complete X-Files.

Guest star of the week: Richard Belzer, of course. Back in the day, network competition was so fierce, it was a real rarity for two shows to do crossovers, yet Munch traipses across four networks as easily as if he merely showed his badge to gain entrance. It's truly a testament to Belzer's skill as an actor, making the detective so malleable that he can be slotted into the funniest comedy or most serious drama. It's kind of both for our purposes.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

X-Files S5E2: Throwing a few Hail Marys

Sestra Amateur: 

Good news. X-Philes, our prayers were answered. No voiceovers! When we last saw our intrepid heroes, Scully was on her deathbed. Mulder arrives at the hospital to see her. Assistant Director Skinner updates Fox about Dana’s condition, then has men drag Mulder out of Scully's room and into Section Chief Blevins’ office at FBI headquarters. Blevins talks a good game, but Fox leaves without giving any answers. Skinner deserves bonus points for not punching Mulder, considering the compromising position he’s been put in while protecting both of his lying agents. Fox finally reveals an FBI mole infected Dana.

Back at the races, Cancer Man and The Elder discuss Mulder’s cockroach-like ability to stay alive. The Emperor thinks he can turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side ... I mean, CSM wants to convince Fox to play ball in exchange for saving Scully. Mulder returns to Dana's bedside, she wants to save Fox from jail time by taking the blame for killing the man in his apartment. After all, she’s already facing a death sentence. Mulder finally meets Dana’s brother, Bill, who gives Fox the move-along. Cancer Man surprises his “friend” Mulder at the hospital to discuss options. Turns out, the deionized water Fox stole from the Pentagon archives contains a microchip that might cure Scully’s cancer after all. Oh, and a hitman with a rifle is setting up shop somewhere.

Remember Mr. Kritschgau? Well, his son died earlier that morning and it’s now his turn in the FBI panel hot seat. Considering Dana almost dropped dead during her inquest, he might want to take some precautions. Michael admits to providing Sculder with information about government conspiracies and denies knowing who killed Scott Ostelhoff. Back in the hospital, Scully’s mother and brother are trying to be supportive, but it’s in that they-have-no-clue-what’s-going-on way. Dana decides to take a chance on the microchip. And that hitman is still assembling his rifle. What the hell is taking him so long? Hopefully it’s just an editing continuity issue, but if he’s that slow, then maybe his target will have a fighting chance.

Bill confronts Mulder while Scully undergoes treatment. I think it’s interesting that we should really be siding with Bill, who already lost one sister to Fox's quest for “the truth” and is about to lose another. But Bill doesn’t come off as sympathetic at all. We side with Mulder, even though we know his obsession can/will/does get innocent people killed. Fox then gets a phone call from CSM, who arranges a little meeting at a nearby diner with ... Samantha?? She claims Cancer Man is her father and just trying to protect their family. Mulder tries to convince Sam not to trust CSM. Sam doesn’t trust Fox until he reveals their mother is still alive. She claims it’s too much too soon and leaves without letting Mulder know how to reach her. So, Fox, did meeting “Samantha” make things better or worse for you?

Dana and Dr. Zuckerman are talking about her treatment options. Apparently, “miracle” is on the list of possibilities. Hitman is back and he’s got Fox and Cancer Man in his sights. Mulder does an interesting 180: He asks Cancer Man why he’s given him the two things he wanted most -- a cure for Scully and the truth. Then, after declining CSM’s suggestion of quitting the FBI to work for him, Fox claims Cancer Man has given him nothing. Clearly Mulder hasn’t forgotten the murders of his father and Dana's sister. Hitman can’t get a clear shot, so he doesn’t take one. Both Fox and Cancer Man live to gripe another day.

Scully is visibly frustrated, has a crisis of faith and breaks down in front of her mother. The Elder is watching a hearing regarding human cloning at which Skinner has the best seat in the house. The Elder is not happy with this turn of events. Mulder returns to Dana's bedside and cries quietly while she sleeps. Actually, it looks like he’s about to take a bite out of her wrist. Sorry if that diminishes the impact of the scene for ya.

The next morning Fox is called into Blevins’ office to discuss the forensic evidence obtained in Mulder’s apartment. The section chief assumes Scully was going to name Skinner as the FBI mole and suggests Fox do the same. Back in Dana’s hospital room, Mulder recaps the meeting. The Scully family priest arrives so Dana can finally find peace. 

At Fox's inquest, Walter squirms because he doesn’t know what Mulder is going to say. Fox is up on his soapbox very much the same way Scully was right before she was about to name names. But he is not suffering from a fatal illness, and boy, when he names names, he does it right! Skinner is safe because Mulder hangs Blevins out to dry. The section chief somehow leaves the hearing and retreats to his office, where another hitman shoots him in the chest then puts the gun in Blevins’ hand. Hope ballistics has fun with that reenactment, because that’s an awkward way to commit suicide.

Oh, and the hitman shoots Cancer Man who appears to drop dead while holding a picture of young Fox and Samantha. Skinner tells Mulder that CSM was shot to death but his body is missing. Yeah ... riiiiight. If he's gone, they can always clone him like Samantha. And Blevins was on a biotech company’s payroll, you know, the company that does cloning. Fox tells Walter that Dana’s cancer has gone into remission. Skinner gives Mulder the photograph that was found in CSM’s apartment. And those are all the answers you’re going to get for a long, long time, Fox. You should have rationed them.

Sestra Professional:

So we're set up for a season in which Mulder just doesn't believe ... in anything. Kritschgau detailed for him how everything he's investigated has been a government conspiracy. The aliens he's been chasing for longer than just the previous four years have just been the ultimate coverup. But he's not the only one whose whole world has been torn asunder. Scully's faith is at a low ebb as well, she'll need to turn that around in much the same way Fox has to get his groove back. Maybe rebooting to factory settings will help her in that regard.

Season 4 was so weighted down by Dana's light-headed spells and nose-bleed reminders of her illness that it's nice to be able to dispel all of that so quickly and easily. But the Syndicate has a cure for cancer and mortals who don't have family members at the highest level of power aren't able to get it? That would give us a disgusting glimpse at government that won't be matched until the timeline catches up to our current landscape. Unless her cancer was different from the insidious disease that pervades the rest of society, and thusly needed particular treatment that wouldn't work for others.

If I can save you, let me: The cancer scare did serve to heighten the connection between our leads. Show creator Chris Carter explained it as "a meeting of the minds" in The Complete X-Files. "Theirs is an intellectual romance," he said. "It's the most potent kind of sexual energy. ... Everything else is easy and fleeting. Ephemeral. But that -- I'll call it a soul connection -- is the greatest romance."

We're not having anywhere near that kind of fascination with Scully's brother. Sestra's right, we should be firmly on Bill's side in his standoff with Mulder. But because Bill doesn't know anything about anything, his words ultimately sound hollow and feeble. Basically, he comes off like a jerk. But point taken about everything happening to Dana because of her association with Fox.

It's not a good episode for siblings. This isn't the Samantha we've been wanting Mulder to find for four seasons. Sam's apparently fine -- albeit with not a lot of memories of her childhood. She thinks Cigarette-Smoking Man is her dad, if you ask me, that should have been the plot twist the whole time instead of him being Fox's father. But Samantha's patron didn't bother to tell her Mulder was looking for her or that her mother was still alive, not to mention the fact she could have seen her real father before his untimely departure. Yet she still leaves with CSM despite finding out all that by determining that "it's too much" for her? Weak. 

I don't care whose father you are, I will put you down: The latest confrontations between Mulder and CSM work to a lot better effect. Fox's pop has utilized a sizable amount of leverage when push comes to shove, even when it puts Cancer Man's own life in peril and is in direct opposition to the work he's trying to get done. I'll just deem that the most elaborate and long-running job pitch in the history of man. It's probably good that no one heard Mulder threaten the guy not long before his old man was supposedly gunned down. Because that would have started off a whole new wave of hearings.

Skinner seems to be back in no man's land, even though he's always showing concern for his charges. But at least he's in a better place with Sculder than Cancer Man is with the Syndicate. I guess The Elder decided there had been one foulup too many between the ineffective assassins and side deals with Fox. 

One sorry son of a bitch speaking: I remain taken aback at the reveal of baddie Blevins to this day. I'm still not real sure of what actually happened there. The section chief hadn't been on the canvas since the first season, for goodness' sake. I guess he had been up to a lot of no good since then. But Mulder had evidence of Cancer Man in Skinner's office on a regular basis, on occasion while he was there. Both CSM and Walter were in Fox's sights coming into the hearing -- with a lot better target than that slow-moving hitman had, for sure -- no wonder Walter was so worried. 

In The Complete X-Files, William B. Davis (CSM) explained the series was so successful because of that kind of reinvention. "It wasn't trying to follow a preset template. It was able to go with what was happening within the stories themselves and the characters themselves, and also within the audience's response to the stories," he said. "So it kept finding a life because of that. If you look for consistency, I think you're going to be challenged."

Guest star of the week: As mentioned earlier, it was a bit of a cheat to make Section Chief Blevins the fall guy when he hadn't been seen since "Conduit" (Season 1, Episode 4) prior to this arc. But Charles Cioffi (who built a career out of these kind of roles on episodic television) did a fine job, first as the guy seeking answers -- or at least a patsy -- and then after the big reveal.