Saturday, November 11, 2017

X-Files S3E21: Fleshing out Skinner a little

Sestra Amateur: 

The word "Avatar" has undergone some pop-culture upgrades since this episode aired 20+ years ago: These days it can refer to your online presence, last airbenders or the extremely profitable movie about skinny blue aliens. We’ll have to see in what context The X-Files uses it. 

Whoever arranged series' air dates was pretty shrewd, you can’t follow "Jose Chung’s From Outer Space" with just your run-of-the-mill story, so we get to enjoy a Skinner ep. Of course, Walter isn’t going to be that entertained. His wife of 17 years is divorcing him, but he’s not quite ready to sign the papers. (Does that make this an episode of The Ex-Files?) Instead, he goes to a bar and hooks up with Amanda Tapping, soon to be famous for all things Stargate. Afterward Skinner has a nightmare about an old lady. He wakes to a living nightmare because his transitional person is dead in his hotel bed. 

Fox meets with the local detective investigating the homicide. Walter, who claims to be suffering from memory loss, leaves with the police. Mulder ignores Skinner's suggestion that he not get involved. Scully goes to the coroner’s office and concurs with the official report of the cause of death. Fox learns the victim, Carina Sayles, was a former legal secretary who moonlighted as a prostitute. When Dana turns off the light to leave, she observes glow-in-the-dark residue around Carina’s mouth and nose. 

Sculder interview her employer, madam Lorraine Kelleher, who claims Walter hired Carina for the night. Scully’s ready to write him off, but Mulder -- of course -- intends to dig deeper. Skinner gets released but won't tell Sculder why he refuses to take a polygraph to prove his innocence. But he is clearly surprised to learn Carina was a lady of the evening. Walter then sees the old woman on the police station steps wearing a red coat and hood. He runs to her, but finds his soon-to-be ex-wife Sharon instead. 

Skinner walks away and Sharon admits to Sculder they’ve been separated for eight months. Fox says he doesn’t think Walter committed murder. The agents get called back to their office and meet with Agent Bonnecaze, who is in charge of Walter's FBI inquest. He tells Sculder to cease and desist their investigation. Mulder is suspicious. Yes, really.

Dana learns Skinner has been receiving treatment at a sleep disorder clinic because of his recurring dream about the old woman. She thinks Walter may have accidentally killed Carina in his sleep thinking he was defending himself from the old lady. Mulder jumps on board with this theory and goes one step further, he thinks a succubus has targeted Skinner. Scully finally gets around to telling Fox about the residue around the victim’s mouth and nose, but by the time she takes Mulder back to the body, it’s gone. Of course, the sample she sent to the lab no longer exists. You dropped the ball on that one, Dana. 

Sharon visits Skinner at his “new” apartment and tries to talk to him, but he still won’t open up to her. Maybe he thinks of her as the succubus, they do wear the same red coat. The wedding picture of the Skinners taken 17 years earlier actually looks like an authentic photo, not one of those fake, hastily assembled shots. Walter falls asleep, but abruptly wakes to the old lady’s shrieks. Police arrive because Sharon was run off the road. Of course, they think Skinner's involved. 

Fox updates Walter about Sharon’s condition and Skinner’s frustration is apparent. What doesn’t make sense is why he wouldn't go to Mulder about what was happening to him. If anyone is an expert on investigating the unknown, then it’s Fox. Walter admits the first time he saw the old woman was when he almost died while serving in Vietnam, but he thought she was a hallucination. Cancer Man quietly watches Skinner confide in Mulder. Sculder look at Skinner’s car and the damage is consistent with the vehicle who hit Sharon’s car. But Mulder goes one step further and removes the air bag. The lab starts analyzing the bag to recreate the face that hit it. 

Scully attends Walter's professional conduct hearing, and even though they initially wait for Mulder, the panel chooses to start without him. Dana dodges the question of whether she believes in paranormal phenomena and hides behind science. Seriously, after three years and all of these cases, she still can’t admit when she sees something inexplicable? Agent Bonnecaze cuts off Scully and dismisses her. Mulder finally arrives and learns Skinner was fired. He thinks this is an elaborate plot to weaken the X-Files unit. 

Fox shows Dana the pixelated photo of the man who face-planted in the airbag. Mulder does bring up a good point, someone did just try to kill Skinner very recently (S3E15: Piper Maru). Sculder learn the madam is dead. They use Lorraine's former employee Judy Fairly to set up a meeting with the man who hired Carina. Too bad he and his partner are watching them make the call. 

Walter finally opens up to Sharon in the hospital. Too bad she’s still unconscious. Skinner sees the old lady in the bed instead of his wife and takes her hand. She talks through Sharon so Walter can understand her. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, the bad guy overpowers Scully and tries to shoot Judy, but Skinner arrives and kills his tormenter. Guess we know what the old woman told him.

The next morning, Dana gives their report to the reinstated Assistant Director, but lets him know they haven’t identified the killer. Walter doubts they ever will. Mulder wants to know -- off the record -- how Skinner knew to go to the hotel, but he still won’t spill the beans. At least Sculder get a thank you. After they leave his office Walter takes his wedding band out of his drawer and puts it back on, which actually mars the ep a teeny bit. Since the agents claimed to not even know Skinner was married, if Walter ever wore his ring in the office, then Sculder need to work on their observational skills. And I’m still not sure how the title "Avatar" relates to the episode.

Sestra Professional:

The one-night stand sure showed us where the "Skin" in Skinner's name comes from. At this point in the series, we didn't have an incredible amount of insight into Walter's character. This episode might not be one of the ones X-Philes return to time and again, but it gives Mitch Pileggi an opportunity to do a lot more than reflect upon the whereabouts of his agents.

It's a nifty plot device too -- a dalliance spun through the world of the supernatural and expounding upon Skinner's history as a veteran. Sculder's concern for their boss reminds us that he's someone to be rooted for and not some faceless bureaucrat trying to deter them from their work seemingly at every turn.

David Duchovny and Howard Gordon worked up this story, and I give much credit to our lead actor for wanting to bring Skinner -- and Pileggi, in turn -- to the forefront. It's a move that gives viewers a whole other look at the landscape. Giving Walter some humanity ensures we don't always have to take everything Mulder and Scully say and do as 100 percent in the right. They can survive their mistakes with him around.

But Duchovny admitted in the official third-season episode guide that his motives weren't completely altruistic. "Actually, I conceived the idea trying to give myself a break. ... As it turned out, It was a very heavy episode for me. ... It was nice for Mitch, and I think he deserved a nice episode after two years. He did a great job."

Truth is, we don't know very much about him: But I think we should open an X-File on why Dana changed her opinion a couple times over the course of the same conversation with Fox. She started with "It just doesn't seem like him," segued to "I think the lack of discretion is the least of his sins" and capped off with the ol' dead-prostitute-in-his-bed evidence.

The trouble with the episode -- in addition to the non-explanation of title "Avatar" -- is that it gets a little convoluted while trying to cover a lot of ground between the prostitute, the succubus, the wife, a madam, another hooker and the party ultimately responsible for the frame job. We do ultimately discover Skinner's old lady -- the phantom, not the wife -- is a good succubus, but her methods leave a little something to be desired. Not until late in the game does she actually pass on information in a more direct manner. (By the way, according to the official third-season episode guide, "Avatar" is Sanskrit for "descent to Earth of a deity in human or animal form.")

He's doing everything he shouldn't be doing: While the agents indeed should get taken down a peg for not realizing their boss was married, I do understand why Walter might not have confided in Mulder about his visitations. First of all, he never really is positive he's seen what he thinks he's seen, and secondly, because he's sketched out as a veteran so affected by what he's seen and done that he never even told his own wife any of the gory details.

Thank goodness we have Fox around to take certain leaps. Dana delivers news on their boss' REM sleep disorder -- I'm not so sure she should have been able to get that information from his doctor -- and Mulder immediately goes right to succubus determined to wipe out any woman competing for his affection. Wouldn't Sharon have been a goner long before now if that was the case? I guess there were no other supernatural options, like the ghost of someone he may have accidentally killed in the service of his country, for example. 

I can get behind Scully seeing something that Mulder doesn't get to, although she perhaps should have gotten photographic evidence of the glowing around the mouth. Dropped the ball indeed. Speaking of convoluted, what exactly did that have to do with the outcome of the episode?

I was a dead man: I can't give Pileggi "Guest Star of the Week" kudos, since he's a regular, but he does get a chance to flex his acting muscles beyond tightening his jaw line. His scenes with David Duchovny and Walter's comatose wife (Jennifer Hetrick) deliver exactly what X-Philes need from the assistant director at this point in the series. Doesn't matter how perplexing this particular episode turns out to be, we're now invested in him and eager to see shows that give him to more to do.

Writer/producer Vince Gilligan explained it best in The Complete X-Files. "Skinner was meant to be a bad guy, and yet Mitch is such such a good actor they thought to themselves, 'Let's not take this character in the direction we thought we were going to take him in."

Saturday, November 4, 2017

X-Files S3E20: Going 'Outer' our minds

Sestra Amateur: 

There are a handful of bottle eps from The X-Files that I’ve seen more than once: "Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose" (Season 3, Episode 4), "Triangle" (S6E3), "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" (S6E6), and "Jose Chung’s From Outer Space." In the latter's case, writer Darin Morgan and company reward the fans for their ongoing loyalty and patience. And the actors are clearly having fun with it too. There’s so much to absorb in this one I’m glad we have Sestra Pro to fill in the blanks and really flesh out everything. 

Director Rob Bowman starts with a subtle homage to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There’s a cute couple named Harold and Chrissy going out on their first date in Klass County, Washington. The car dies, there’s a bright light and a UFO appears above them. Creatures start walking toward them and they look like the stereotypical descriptions of aliens we might have seen on the cover of Weekly World News. 

Harold and Chrissy lose consciousness and the aliens carry them – dummy drag style – toward their ship. I had to do the dummy drag for training once upon a time. That sucker weighed 150 pounds. Chrissy certainly doesn’t weigh that much, but her alien doesn’t seem to have upper body strength. Harold's alien seems better at it. Maybe he’s training Chrissy’s alien … a UFOFTO.  But the aliens are interrupted by a second UFO, one that produces a red light and a very non-stereotypical cyclops beast. The original aliens panic – and start talking to each other in English. What the what?

Three months after the alien/alien encounter, Jose Chung -- played by Charles Nelson Reilly -- meets with Dana to discuss his future novel, a “non-fiction science fiction” story. He has to settle for Scully because Mulder refuses to talk to him. I’ve always associated Chuckles with the '70s (and early '80s) game show Match Game even though his career spanned four decades. His presence in this episode as Jose Chung seems tailor-made for him. Sestra, did they consider anyone else for the role or was it written specifically for the Reilly-meister? 

Jose claims he cannot report the truth because everyone in Klass County has a different account of the incident. In essence, he wants Scully’s “version of the truth,” so she tells him about their investigation. She flashes back to Chrissy’s testimony. Authorities -- Dana included -- believe her to be a victim of date rape, not alien abduction. Harold gets picked up by the cops, denies raping Chrissy and claims they were abducted. The boy passes a lie detector test, but changes his story when Sculder arrive to interrogate him. Now Harold claims he raped Chrissy and refuses to take a lie detector test to prove he didn’t. That’s so backward. Mulder interviews Chrissy and asks enough leading questions to convince her and her parents she actually was abducted. The girl gets hypnotized and “remembers” being on a table surrounded by those stereotypical aliens while they steal her memories. Scully clearly ain’t buying it. Detective Manners, who observed the hypnosis session, doesn’t live up to his name and colorfully tells Fox he ain’t buying it either.

Harold tells the agents what happened while he and Chrissy were trapped on the beast alien’s ship. One of the original aliens in the cell beside Harold is smoking a cigarette. Which is weirder: Picturing other planets having cigarettes or picturing other planets having convenience stores that sell cigarettes? Chrissy wakes up and Harold says he won’t let anything happen to her. She promptly gets yanked out of the cell from above. Nice work there, Harold; you can’t really protect anyone while you’re in the fetal position. Cigarette Smoking Alien keeps rocking back and forth and saying, “This is not happening.” Harold doesn’t even question the fact that the alien speaking English. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have time to. Harold gets yanked out of the cell and is released. 

Harold admits to Scully he and Chrissy had consensual sex – on the first date. Jeez, no wonder he kept saying he was in love with her. Harold’s already whipped. Det. Manners interrupts to tell Sculder – with his usual verbal flavor -- that there’s a possible witness to the abduction. 

Roky Crikenson -- who had been working on the power in the area at the time a la Roy Neary in Close Encounters -- starts to sound like a Lone Gunman when he details Men in Black arriving at his house to deter him from coming forward with his story. MIB No. 1 -- Jesse Ventura – tries to convince Roky he saw Venus in the sky, not a UFO. Really, Jesse should have just taken his printed-out version of events, he had his hands on it. Or maybe the Men in Black just want Crikenson to think they don’t want his story released, but secretly do want the public to know so they can debunk it later. 

So Roky’s story – which is written in screenplay format, how tacky is that?? – describes him driving up on the beast vs. aliens vs. Harold/Chrissy encounter. Crikenson tried to hide by ducking out of sight in his work truck. But the beast alien, now named Lord Kinbote, approached Roky and spoke to him in Shakespearean English -- thou, thee, blah blah blah. Roky claims Lord Kinbote took Crickenson to inner space, not outer space. Ooh, what a twist! 

As lame as Roky’s tale comes off, Mulder points out it confirms part of Harold’s account. Since Chrissy’s account is the only one not matching the others, Fox arranges for her to be re-hypnotized. This version starts to sound like Harold’s, but she throws the Air Force into the mix. Now it sounds like a conspiracy version of her first account. Scully claims Mulder and the hypnotist were leading Chrissy with their line of questioning, but it’s a moot point as Det. Manners then claims someone has found a real-live dead-alien body. Sounds like an oxymoron.

Abductee wannabe Blaine Faulkner talks to Jose about meeting Men in Black (disguised-as-a-woman Scully and mandroid Mulder). Blaine claims Dana grabbed and threatened him, but Scully vehemently denies that account. Faulkner shows up at the alien autopsy and Fox lets Blaine use his video camera to document it. The footage ultimately gets made into a video with the Stupendous Yappi as host. Remember that charlatan from "Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose"? Dr. Scully discovers the dead alien is just a human male wearing an alien costume. Pretty sure that part didn’t make it into the video. Blaine gets sick and runs out of the room and probably out of the building with his priceless footage. 

Dana identifies the body as Air Force Major Robert Vallee. The Air Force arrive to take Vallee into custody for desertion, but learn he’s dead. Blaine goes home and watches the footage but Men in Black No. 1 and 2 break in and steal the tape. MIB No. 1 does a nice wrestling backbreaker which renders Faulkner unconscious. Fox smacks Blaine awake. On his way back to the hotel, Mulder finds a naked Lt. Jack Schaefer -- also known as the “this is not happening” Cigarette Smoking Alien. 

At a diner, Schaefer uses his fork to turn his mashed potatoes into Devils Tower – another Close Encounters reference. Jack claims his job is to fly a UFO and abduct people who are taken to the base and hypnotized into thinking they were probed by aliens. The Air Force arrive to take the lieutenant into custody. But Jose had learned a slightly different account from the diner cook, one that had Mulder pursuing a ridiculous line of questioning and eating a lot of pie.

Fox finds the Men in Black in Dana's room. Again, No. 1 does the bulk of the talking, but we finally see No. 2 and he looks an awful lot like Alex Trebek. Scully claims she doesn’t remember any of it. Then Det. Manners calls to say they found the bleeping UFO. Of course, Major Vallee and Lt. Schaefer's bodies are recovered in the wreckage. Surprisingly, this investigation has more closure than most X-Files cases.

Mulder finally visits Chung and implores him not to write the book. Jose asks what really happened to Harold and Chrissy that night, but Fox can’t answer the question. We do learn what happened to Blaine, Roky, Harold, Chrissy, “federal employee Diana Lesky” and “Raynard Muldrake, ticking time bomb of insanity,” though. Sestra, since we’re not going to be blogging about Millennium, do you want to cover Jose Chung’s appearance there?

Sestra Professional:

I do consider "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" my favorite episode of television ever, albeit with an asterisk. As a pop-culture junkie in a world full of shows running the gamut from hilarious to intense at my fingerprints, how do I arrive at this conclusion? Let me try and explain -- hopefully in a less convoluted manner than the plotline of "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." 

Truth is as subjective as reality: The first shot of the episode clues us in to the fact that we're in for something different and special. We appear to be looking at a spaceship moving slowly through the heavens, but then we find out is we're actually just seeing the undercarriage of a platform. Then standard formation on shows in The X-Files vein, two kids spy a UFO -- or two -- in the middle of nowhere. The first aliens look a lot like we'd expect them to, as Sestra Amateur points out, but hmmm, the second one seems kind of cartoony. Something's not right here.

And that's the key to a Darin Morgan episode. He may pen images and ideas that have been presented 1,000 times over, but he'll give us fresh looks and inspired reactions. Yeah, lanky Mulder has seemed rather "blank and expressionless" for almost three seasons, and we don't really process that because he's great with quips. Fox ran an alien autopsy program to further cash in on the success of the show, and Morgan rips that to shreds during Scully's procedure when the alien is revealed to just be a human in an intricate costume.

At the same time, Darin takes us to places we hadn't previously considered. A military-industrial-entertainment complex? That's just wild enough that it could be true. The non-fiction science fiction -- what a great idea for a literary genre. But there's also room for some recurring themes. After wordy pontifications, many of the characters' motivations get boiled down to "How the hell should I know?" or "dead man" threats. 

Those kids' stories couldn't be more bleeping different: Rob Bowman's directorial skills sure get a workout in this episode. He filmed the hypnotic sessions very similarly and in slightly distorted fashion so that the psychologist putting Chrissy under hypnosis mirrors the alien leaning in to examine her during her recollection. During a subsequent session, even Sculder wind up in similar positions in the room as Air Force personnel conducting an interrogation.

Speaking of our leads, Scully's got as good of a handle on the goings-on as it's probable to have, even with extended fan girling at the sight of her favorite author. She shows extreme patience with Chung where she would be rolling her eyes and guffawing if her partner posited similar theories. Mulder tries really hard to get to the bottom of things as usual, but after getting knocked down by others' accounts of him and perhaps dispirited by his discussion with the Cigarette Smoking Alien (sans mask), even he's willing to dismiss the case with a "How the hell should I know?"

You really bleeped up this case: I have to devote some time and space here to Detective Manners, spiritedly portrayed by Larry Musser (who we've seen in S2E14's "Die Hand Die Verletzt," Manners' first directorial foray into The X-Files, and will see again in two more episodes. So he probably had gotten the Manners-isms down pat.) Morgan wrote the character's "colorful phraseology" for director Kim Manners, who did some acting in 1970 but ultimately decided against taking on the part. 

Your scientific illiteracy makes me shudder:  In fact, every single character in this episode deserves more air time in the blog, from Men in Black No. 1's diatribe on perception to Blaine Faulkner wanting to be abducted because he doesn't want to find a job. And yeah, there are several nods to my favorite movie of all time -- Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- but don't think for a second that's why this is my favorite episode of TV. There's just as much entertainment to be found in Jose explaining why he prefers the term "alien experiencer" over "abductee," the cook's account of Mulder's pie eating and Blaine's description of Fox's yelp as in Schaefer building a Devils Tower out of his potatoes. Just to name a few, because they come fast and furiously over 45 minutes.

You ever flown a flying saucer? Afterwards, sex seems trite: To truly figure out this story, even though we don't particularly need to understand the through line to enjoy it,  I think everything hangs on the lieutenant's version of events. Jack details the soft-option kills -- nerve gas, low-frequency infrasound beams, high-powered microwaves -- that explain the missing time detailed in abductee reports. Their subsequent hypnosis leads people to believe they were probed by aliens. So, as Morgan sees it, the UFO phenomenon might just be covert intelligence operation utilizing secret military airships. 

But what about Lord Kinbote? That other unexplained alien still makes us wonder whether there's still more to be gleaned. "I'm absolutely positive me, my co-pilot and those two kids were abducted, but I can't be absolutely sure it happened. I can't be sure of anything anymore," Schaefer says. "I'm not even sure we're having the conversation.  I don't know if these mashed potatoes are really here. I don't know if you even exist." 

Do we discount witnesses because their recollections make them sound like lunatics? Just because Roky's account has Shakespearean dialogue, does that mean it didn't happen at all? Or was he just remembering it that way because that's how his brain needed to process that? One thing's for sure, the doctors' method of stealing memories seems more effective than Clorox. Thanks to Jack, Mulder's version of what happened in the diner seems a lot more plausible than a cook who just remembers Fox eating plate after plate of sweet potato pie. 

How the hell should I know: Maybe this is of those pop-culture litmus tests. If you think everything that went down -- Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek included -- were psychological tricks, you're probably on the straight and narrow. But if you think the kids ran into a real alien, perhaps you're a pie-eyed dreamer.

Chung's conclusions on the characters who made it to the end of the saga bring us back down to Earth rather quickly. Well, Mulder getting his enjoyment out of life by watching vague Bigfoot video elicits a chuckle, but Harold remains lovelorn as Jose puts Darin's bow on the story. "For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet ... we are all alone."

Can't wipe this: According to the official third-season episode guide, the name Jose Chung was a recurring practical joke created by the writing staff. John Shiban would call the office about an unsolicited script using that moniker. ... Morgan used callbacks to his previous episodes, including the previously mentioned return of the Stupendous Yappi and the autopsy show, "Dead Alien! Truth or Humbug?" The last word of the title was the first script he wrote The X-Files (S2E20). ... According to The Complete X-Files, Darin was inspired to build a show around a writer by a Truman Capote lookalike. With Capote and first choice Rip Taylor unavailable, Reilly auditioned and won the role. "It was one of the hardest episodes to shoot because he was so funny," first assistant director (and Lone Gunman) Tom Braidwood recalled in the book. "He would have people laughing between takes and during takes."

Guest star of the week: Charles Nelson Reilly, no doubt. He may not have initially been on Morgan's radar, but the writer found so much to appreciate that he penned (and directed) the sequel "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense" on sister show Millennium. I don't want to divulge too many details, but it takes Chung in a whole other different direction -- annihilating everything from Scientology to the downbeat nature of lead Frank Black. And here's where my asterisk comes back into play. "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" is my favorite episode of TV ever ... unless I've just watched "Doomsday Defense." 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

X-Files S3E19: Ya gotta be in it to lose it

Sestra Amateur: 

Welcome to Big Trouble in Little China, Part 2. I wasn’t going to pepper the entire blog with BTILC references because I wasn’t sure it was well known enough, but since there’s a whole line of Funkos from that 1986 flick, I’m going with it. 

Some poor Chinese guy is being chased through Chinatown, San Francisco. He tries to hide in a building, but men in creepy white masks are already there waiting for him. If subtitles were included, I would have broken out the Google translate to find out what they were saying to each other. But I guess I’ll have to wait for exposition with all of the other non-Chinese-speaking viewers. In a nearby funeral home, a security guard investigates a strange noise coming from inside the crematorium. Yep, the chased man is now being burned alive.

Mulder (aka Jack Burton) and Scully (aka Gracie Law) arrive to view the burned body. The local detective claims he is the third victim who died in this manner, but Mulder -- of course -- has knowledge of 10 other Chinese men between the ages of 20 and 40 being burned alive in major cities across the country. (Big Trouble in Little Boston?) Really, how does he get those statistics? His search engine criteria must be oddly specific. 

Detective Neary refers Sculder to Chinese-speaking (and -reading) Det. Glen Chao, played by a very baby-faced B.D. Wong – let’s cast him as Wang Chi. Chao translates a word written by the victim as “ghost.” There’s also a piece of Hell Money in the oven. Chao explains it’s not real money, just used as an offering to evil spirits for good luck. 

Mulder makes the obligatory Ghostbusters reference when he, Scully and Chao go to victim Johnny Lo’s house. (Johnny can be Eddie Lee, who was adorable in the movie but, character-wise, not relevant enough for this “sequel.”) There’s a still-wet Chinese character painted on the door that Chao claims he does not recognize. We’ll probably get a translation for it later. I guess Johnny was trying to hide in his own apartment. Sculder realize someone hastily covered up the crime scene.

Meanwhile, a man named Hsin is taking care of his sick young daughter, Kim -- the future O-Ren Ishii, Lucy Liu. Hsin goes to a hall full of Chinese men and participates in a lottery being run by Lo Pan himself, James Hong. Not quite sure how this ties in with Kim yet, but since she looks more like Miao Yin than Hsin does, we’ll deem Hsin to be Miao Yin’s papa. Lo Pan’s lackeys at the hall can be the Three Storms: Thunder, Rain and Lightning. I always liked Lightning best, Rain just looked spooky weird to me. But let’s get back to the lottery. One man “wins” when his tile is pulled from a vase full of tiles. But then he “loses” when he pulls the wrong tile from a separate vase. The man later drinks a potion and dies. 

Sculder and Chao learn Johnny was using skullcap root and Chinese angelica as painkillers. They also discover someone marked Johnny’s place as a haunted house. Chao explains the tradition of the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. Chinese believers leave hell money and food gifts outside their homes to appease the ghosts and keep them away. Of course, not all ghosts can be appeased. Det. Neary calls them to the cemetery, where they find the lottery “winner” unceremoniously buried in someone else’s grave by men in white masks. Scully gets to play doctor and analyze the body. She realizes he’s undergone numerous surgeries, likely for money. And just when it looks like Dana's witnessing something supernatural, it turns out to just be a frog inside the dead guy.

Back at lottery central, the next “winner” is Hsin, but we don’t know what he’s won – or lost – yet. Scully meets with Chao at the San Francisco Police Department to ask about body parts being sold on the black market, and Dana is pretty confrontational with him because she thinks he’s not being forthcoming with them due to his Chinese heritage. Fox wisely stays quiet in the background. Chao takes offense, but hopefully, that’s not the case. I’d hate for Scully to be proven right this time.  Despite Sculder’s attitude, Chao gives them his lead and they meet with Hsin at his apartment. Dad is missing his right eye. Now we know the price he paid. Sculder hear Chao and Hsin talking in Chinese, but don’t believe the young detective's version of their conversation. Mulder finds Hsin’s tile and Chao claims the character means “wood.” Kim doesn’t believe her father's work injury excuse, but he doesn’t know what else to do to help her.

Chao goes home and his front door is marked in blood. Inside he sees men in white masks. Maybe these men are the Three Storms since they’re acting on Lo Pan’s behalf. This won’t end well for Chao, will it? Scully meets with Mulder, who is staking out Hsin’s apartment. She tells him about Chao’s attack and they head to the hospital. As soon as Sculder leave Lo Pan confronts Hsin to convince him to return to the lottery. (I’m going to keep calling him Lo Pan because, according to IMDb, his character is never given a name.) Kim hears everything from her room. 

The agents get to the hospital but Chao’s already gone. Mulder thinks Chao's blood was in Johnny’s apartment and Chao called for the carpet to be installed. Sculder go back to Hsin’s apartment and Kim tells them what she saw. She also discloses she is dying of leukemia. Kim looks at the tile for “wood” and says it also relates to the eye. Mulder realizes they’re playing a game for body parts. Sculder go to the Organ Procurement Organization and speak with an employee who says Asian men have come there for workups but disappear after they are deemed “compatible.” 

At lottery headquarters, Hsin gets picked again. Boy, this really sounds rigged. Sculder and Chao arrive separately at the lottery location. Pops picks a tile and he tries to run, but the men stop him. Guess Hsin is about to lose something he can’t live without. Sculder finally get inside the building and find body parts in the kitchen refrigerator. The detective tries to intervene on behalf of Hsin’s daughter but we learn Chao has been paid off to keep non-Chinese people out of the loop. Dammit, Scully’s right yet again. I guess Sculder also “were not brought upon this world to ‘get it.’” But Chao still has some fight left in him and upsets the apple cart. He learns the game has been rigged all along and the crowd fights back. Lo Pan is about to cut out Hsin’s heart and Chao stops the carnage by shooting him. 

In the epilogue, Lo Pan is doing his best Cigarette-Smoking Man impersonation. No other villain on the show should be allowed to smoke. It just seems wrong. Unfortunately, the case against Lo Pan falls apart when everyone refuses to talk and Chao disappears. Ultimately he suffers the same fate as Johnny Lo. Guess it’s not all in the reflexes after all… 

Sestra Professional:

I busted last week's episode, "Teso dos Bichos," for not particularly feeling like a Sculder show. "Hell Money" takes it a step further, the premise could be used in any procedural -- supernatural or not. But maybe it's fine and dandy if every case doesn't fit neatly into the X-Files cabinet. A haunted house is probably a get-rich-quick scheme more often than not.

But if I'm right, this is one man who left his heart in San Francisco: Since we're not in a metaphysical episode, it stands to reason that our resident non-believer is going to make the lion's share of correct calls this time around. And it's not too difficult to side with Dana about the initial killing being some form of retribution, as opposed to Fox's theory that ancestral spirits pushed the victim into the oven and turned the gas on.

It's too bad, though, that Scully is also right about Chao because Baby Face had been making some seriously good and cogent points. As an American-born Chinese cop, he faced his own form of discrimination from both sides. "What good is an interpreter when everyone speaks the language of silence," Chao bemoans. Too bad he didn't heed his own words, maybe he learned far too much from those around him.

Who ya gonna call? In a couple years, Lucy Liu went on to make a big splash as Ling (soft l, soft g) on Ally McBeal. We see absolutely none of the edge of that character in Kim. Then again, we don't know what happened to her after going on the transplant list, I would imagine Kim might be a little hard-boiled following what happened to her. Anyway, the actress is billed as Lucy Alexis Liu here, should we open an X-File on where her middle name went? According to IMDb, she used the full name here and the previous year for a three-episode arc on ER.

James Hong makes for a formidable presence as the baddie in the episode. In addition to Lo Pan, he's been in something for everyone -- from Hannibal Chew in Blade Runner to Mr. Ping in the Kung Fu Panda series -- as well as host of other small but memorable roles in movies and television. He definitely gives this episode its gravity, the sense of danger is palpable throughout. In that sense, it's the opposite of Teso dos Bichos, which didn't resonate or raise primal fears.

More meta for the Money: Rumor has it that Duchovny was dating Liu at the time of production. ... Co-producer Paul Rabwin recalled that "Hell Money" required an enormous amount of looping in the official third-season episode guide. Both Michael Yama (Hsin) and Liu had to rerecord their dialogue in a Cantonese dialect. "We did it 'til it sounded right," Rabwin said. ... Creator Chris Carter came up with the basic concept of a pyramid scheme for body parts. The script was written by Jeffrey Vlaming, who also penned "2Shy" from earlier this season. He'd go on to write and produce for the likes of Fringe, Hannibal and Outcast. ... Diana Ha of Rogue played Dr. Wu in this episode; there is a Steely Dan song called "Dr. Wu."

Guest star of the week: With all the powerhouse guest performances, including Yama as hapless Hsin, it's a tough call. I threw all the names into a vase and drew out BD Wong.  Yeah, it was rigged just like the lottery in this episode. We really feel for Chao, even when Scully realizes he might not be on the up and up. And afterward, when we know for sure that he's been profiting off the scheme for quite some time. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

X-Files S3E18: Please don't squeeze the shaman

Sestra Amateur: 

How many of you knew "Teso dos Bichos" translates in English to "burial mound of small animals?" I’ll bet at least one person thought it meant “tease two bitches.” 

This episode opens on an excavation site in Vancouver’s version of Ecuador. Diggers find the skull of a female shaman known as an Amaru. It’s amusing how it’s a clear day when Dr. Bilac retrieves lead archaeologist Dr. Roosevelt, but when they come outside, it’s a major snowstorm. Is that the Amaru’s influence or just bad editing? Dr. Roosevelt tries to justify removing the Amaru from the site but the locals believe that to be sacrilegious. Later that night, the tribe and Dr. Bilac perform a ceremony and drink a thick, phlegmy liquid from a bowl. Things seem to end painfully for Dr. Roosevelt.

Three weeks later at the Hall of Indigenous Peoples in Boston’s Museum of Natural History – which should be a real exhibit but isn’t – a security guard finds blood stains in the same room as the Amaru. So who sent it to the United States after Dr. Roosevelt was taken out of the equation? Probably Dr. Horning, another scientist working on the excavation of the highland burial grounds of the Secona Indians. Dr. Horning has disappeared like Dr. Roosevelt, who is considered missing but not dead.

Sculder arrive at the museum and Fox mentions the Amaru is thought to be protected by a jaguar spirit. PhD candidate Mona Wustner is recruited to assist the agents. She sends them to Dr. Bilac, who no longer works for the museum. He claims Horning and Roosevelt are dead and won’t be seen again. Scully considers Bilac their suspect, but Mulder keeps his usual open mind. Dr. Lewton, the one who “fired” Dr. Bilac, gives a friendly warning to Mona about her alliance with Bilac. He tries to leave in his car – which has a jaguar hood ornament – but gets attacked by an unseen creature and loudly dragged away. 

At the new crime scene, Scully pulls a dead rat from under the hood of Dr. Lewton’s car and gives it to a police officer. Wouldn’t an agency the size of the Boston Police Department have crime scene investigators come to their major incidents to document and preserve evidence? Dana doesn't get any useful information from questioning Mona. While our leads discuss the case in a nearby wooded area, Fox feels drops of rain. Actually, it’s blood dripping from Lewton’s intestine, which is entangled in the branches above them. Even though Sculder realize that, they continue to stand under it. They’ll probably bill the FBI for the dry cleaning charges.

Mona goes to Bilac’s house and he looks like hell. She realizes he’s drinking the thick, phlegmy “yaje” -- which he calls “vine of the soul” -- and freaks out. The doctor politely asks her to leave. Mona tells Dana about Bilac’s behavior, then returns to the museum. All of the toilet seats in the women’s bathroom are rattling because of a major rat infestation. Hopefully she can use the men’s room if she really has to go. Fox arrives at the museum but can’t find Mona. Scully goes back to the doctor’s house and reads his journal. She’s convinced Bilac is tripping on a hallucinogen and trying to invoke the jaguar curse. 

At the museum, Mulder finds the doc, who claims Mona is dead. He doesn’t concede anything during Scully’s interrogation. Fox checks the bathroom and sees dead rats in the toilets. Mona’s dog, Sugar, is found dead from rat poisoning. Mulder suspects the jaguar chased all the rats into the toilets. 

Bilac disappears through a heating vent and Fox doesn’t think he went willingly. Sculder go into the tunnels and end up directly under the museum. They find dead Dr. Lewton and get attacked by feral cats. While trying to get away from the cats, they find dead Dr. Bilac. Sculder manage to get to safety. The search team recovers dead Mona’s body, but all the feral cats are gone. The deaths are officially listed as animal attacks, the urn of Amaru is reburied in Ecuador, and no part of this episode is ever mentioned again. 

Sestra Professional:

It's pretty rough to go from one of the best examples of an X-Files stand-alone episode to one of the worst, but those are the breaks. This one would probably be near the bottom of the list for most X-Philes. It did make for an amusing outtake, for what that's worth. I'll save it for later.

The opening teaser is just gorgeous. It's easy to overlook that fact because I would rate this particular show an F-  overall, but I'll give director Kim Manners some props and tick it up to an F. The X-Files doesn't usually look like a weekly television series. This is movie quality. A really, really bad movie that I don't want to rewatch, but movie quality nonetheless.

The cat ate a rat ... and the dog ate the cat: "Teso dos Bichos" has an intriguing enough premise. An archaeological team messes with the wrong burial site and unleashes some kind of vengeful spirit. Basically, don't mess with a woman shaman. But that gets buried under a lot of boring conversation -- this might be the least crisp script in the entire run. I'll let you know when we're done with the rewatch.

There hasn't been a lot of success during the run with this kind of soapbox script. Points haven't been driven across with any degree of subtlety very often. "Shapes" (Season 1, Episode 19) springs most immediately to mind, although The X-Files fared much better the next week with "Darkness Falls" (S1, E20). Season 2's "Red Museum" (E10), "Fresh Bones" (E15) and "Fearful Symmetry" (E18) were other examples of causes that didn't fit too well into the structure of the show. Should we conclude that threats such as Robert Patrick Modell ("Pusher," S3E17) and Tooms ("Squeeze," S1E3 and "Tooms," S1E21) fit the landscape much better? It certainly looks that way. 

The bigger problem is that these episodes serve more like sermons and less like opportunities to delve deeper into the lives of our leads. And that's the real attraction of the show, right? By this time in the original run, the fan base had split into shippers and no-romos, based upon whether viewers wanted Sculder to become a couple. It was never important to me, I didn't watch the show to see them get it on -- which doesn't mean I didn't fully appreciate their more heartfelt moments together. It was the journey that appealed to me most, and the "Teso dos Bichos" sojourn was akin to taking an overnight bus trip. Please, let's just get there already.

Have you been drinking yaje, Mulder? This episode has very little to do with Dana and Fox actually. The big laugh is that the guy Scully autopsied ate sunflower seeds like Mulder. Hardy har har. Well, that and Fox keeps saying "Go with it, Scully" in hopes of getting Dana to open her mind like that substance did for Dr. Bilac. Not that we can have Mulder turning guns on Scully every week, especially when they had to deliver 24 scripts and shows each season.

Chance meta-ings: Another hardy har har. According to the official third-season episode guide, Dr. Lewton was named for Val Lewton, who directed the original Cat People film. ... Writer John Shiban titled the ep after a specific Portugese chant, but the episode starts in Ecuador, where Spanish is spoken. And, of course, in Colombia and Venezuela, "bichos" is slang for a part of the male anatomy. ... Manners awarded the crew with "Teso dos Bichos Survivor" T-shirts after completion. We could use them ourselves.

Follow that rat: And without further ado, the saving grace ... David Duchovny on the Season 3 gag reel, battles an unctuous feline. By the way, Gillian Anderson -- who is severely allergic to cats -- reportedly considers wrestling with a cat toy covered in rabbit fur during this ep to be one of her series low points.

Guest star of the week: Well, those rats did emerge from the toilet in pretty spooky fashion. Those cats did look pretty menacing en masse. And all of the animal sounds were apparently provided by one actor -- Frank Welker. So the veteran voice actor, Ray Stantz on The Real Ghostbusters, among countless others from the '70s to today, wrangles the nod.

Friday, September 29, 2017

X-Files S3E17: When Pusher comes to shove

Sestra Amateur: 

This episode begins in a grocery store in Loudoun County, Virginia. Customers are shopping to a sweet Muzak version of Johnny Mathis’s "Misty." Hopefully it won’t have as extreme an influence here as in the Clint Eastwood/Jessica Walter movie Play Misty for Me. Have you ever noticed the music while you’re grocery shopping? If it’s a song you like then the experience is more enjoyable. However, if it’s one you don’t like then you’ll rush to complete the task and get the hell out of the store, even though that means the wretched song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. It’s wise to wait and see what the next one is because if it’s a good one, then your pleasant mood will return. But I digress. 

One customer is stocking up on canned goods – he probably should have used a cart instead of a basket – then heads to the checkout line. We see Flukeman ("The Host" Season 2, Episode 2) has made the news, but it’s a tabloid so I guess that doesn’t really count. Besides if Flukeman really came back, wouldn’t Mulder have investigated? The customer, nicknamed Pusher, realizes he’s surrounded by undercover FBI agents, so he confronts them and they take him into custody. 

Turns out he has some type of hypnotic ability because he messes with one police officer’s head and they get walloped by an 18-wheeler. Agent Frank Burst, Pusher’s nemesis, survives the crash to tell his tale of woe to Sculder. Turns out, Pusher has been bragging to Burst about his accomplishments, murders that look like suicides. Sculder learn Pusher has been advertising in mercenary magazines and an analyst Holly brings them some issues to search. Poor Holly was mugged and has a large bruise on her eye. She also has a rather pessimistic attitude toward law enforcement’s ability to solve crimes. Interesting, considering her career choice. Sculder find contact numbers for Pusher in the magazines and set a trap for him. But Pusher is on to them and leaves them a clue.

The next morning he is at the golf driving range when police show up to take him into custody … again. Pusher convinces one of the SWAT guys to set himself on fire. Sculder put him out pretty quickly, but the damage is done. Mulder finds an exhausted Pusher in a white Cadillac and easily arrests him, but Pusher chides he’ll get away with it. At the courthouse, Pusher identifies himself as Robert Patrick Modell. Fox tries to explain to the judge how the suicides are actually murders committed by Modell. It doesn’t work out so well and Pusher is released. Scully does some background research on Modell, but still doesn’t really believe in his power to put “the whammy” on his victims.

Then Pusher puts the whammy on the security guard and Holly at the FBI office and obtains Mulder’s home address. Every time they reference “the whammy,” I think of the game show Press Your Luck. Modell seems sincere when looking at the analyst’s bruised eye. Too bad he can’t find her purse snatcher. Skinner interrupts them and restrains Pusher, but Modell convinces Holly that Walter is her assailant. She sprays him with mace and kicks him in the face. Jeez, everyone is going to have facial injuries by the end of this episode. Surveillance cameras verify Pusher’s presence in the building and Dana now believes in “the whammy.”

Agents raid Modell’s apartment to arrest him, but he’s not there. Mulder, who has a search warrant, starts going through Pusher’s things. Looks like the only food he buys are canned protein drinks. Scully learns Modell is epileptic and takes medication for it. Fox thinks it’s the result of a brain tumor. Pusher calls them and talks Agent Burst into having a heart attack. Frank won’t hang up because he wants to complete the call trace. Talk about taking one for the team. Sculder track Modell to a hospital where he has an MRI appointment.

Mulder goes in alone and unarmed while the SWAT team waits outside. Fox learns the hospital security guard shot the technician then himself. The guard’s gun is missing. Dana sees Pusher’s brain MRI and there’s clearly a mass. Modell’s chart confirms he’s dying. Guess Pusher didn’t take the bad news so well, looks like he completely bypassed the denial stage and went straight to anger. Modell takes Mulder at gunpoint and Scully joins them in their psychological standoff. 

Pusher rattles on and on about his warrior mentality then gives the gun to Mulder, who’s clearly being pushed into playing Russian roulette. Two rounds down, four to go. Fox then unwillingly turns the gun on Dana, who breaks through Mulder’s trance by pulling the fire alarm. Fox shoots Modell, who doesn’t die but is stuck on life support for whatever little life he has left. I guess you can say this experience has brought Sculder a little closer together. Sestra Pro, I saw in the IMDB credits that Dave Grohl had a cameo in this one. So how did that happen?

Sestra Professional:

Gotta have a guy who named his band the Foo Fighters in an X-Files episode, right? Dave Grohl was a big fan of the show and the Foos will contribute to "Songs in the Key of X" -- a compilation of songs inspired by the show -- and then the soundtrack of Fight the Future as well. Blink and you miss him here, even when you know he's walking into FBI headquarters behind Modell. And that's because of Robert Wisden's dynamic performance.

The sci-fi/fantasy character actor is the focal point of this exemplary stand-alone ep. "Pusher" really does stand alone. It also boasts a crackling, fast-paced and compelling script by Vince Gilligan with unforgettable Sculder moments -- all delivered via a light yet taut touch by the show's workhorse director Rob Bowman. They don't come much better. Because they can't.

Bet you five bucks I get off: Wisden's Robert Patrick Modell obviously doesn't give a damn. He's got his death sentence, he's got his animosity for society and he's just looking for a worthy adversary. The fact that it winds up coming from the FBI, which turned down his employment application, only makes it that more satisfying for him. He's capable of just about anything, taking great joy in all the pain he causes -- especially when he makes Frank Burst burst -- and doesn't mind leaving a trail of clues along the way. 

The fact that law enforcement continues to catch him and he keeps getting away proves to be a nice change of pace from an ordinary episode. Usually there's 40 minutes of hunting for the bad guy/creature and some resolution of the case. Here, Sculder know how and even why -- although Dana's not too hot on the whole Press Your Luck theory. 

Let's go, G-Woman: Mulder can't even keep up with Pusher on the quipping front. The best Fox can do is put his search warrant on Modell's TV set as it airs the movie, Svengali, about a music maestro trying to control the woman he loves through hypnotism and mind control. He also pulls the ol' "your shoe's untied"/"made you look" gag on Robert Patrick -- no relation.

But then there's the episode's real attraction -- advancing the relationship of Mulder and Scully. When Fox goes into the building unarmed -- lest he use his weapon on anyone but Pusher -- he's got Dana in his ear whispering sweet nothings (OK, more like important facts about Modell's brain tumor, but still, it's pretty sensual.)  

Mulder, no. ... Mulder, yes: The final confrontation in the hospital is as tense as The X-Files will ever get. The strong-willed Mulder is not in control -- David Duchovny is spot-on here -- and even Scully has to struggle to get through to him -- Gillian Anderson rocks that, of course. The show really had to fight to get that Russian roulette denouement, the network was worried about giving impressionable kids ideas, Gilligan said in the official third-season episode guide.

Pleased to meta you: The casting of Modell proved to be fortuitous but not easy. According to The Complete X-Files, Harvey Fierstein and Lance Henriksen were considered for the role. ... Throughout his time writing for the series, Gilligan used the first or last name of his lady love -- Holly Rice -- in his eps. This time, Holly kicked some serious Skinner ass. ... Gilligan originally conceived the plot as a movie script, then retooled it when he joined The X-Files writing staff. ... Scully's line "He's a killer and a golfer" -- seems a little obvious, even over 20 years later.  Less on the nose, devotees draw parallels between Robert Patrick Modell and Walter White, Gilligan's lead character in his much-beloved series Breaking Bad.

Guest star of the week: Lots of clutch performances in this one -- Vic Polizos is simply wonderful as the ill-fated detective and Julia Arkos' Holly literally kicks ass but is just as good before and after the beatdown. There's no pushing Wisden out of this spot, though. Talk about nailing the character. And those eyes. So persuasive, very calming, very tranquil, makes me think of a breeze ... a gentle breeze. I just can't help but give him the kudos.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

X-Files S3E16: You can bury the truth

Sestra Amateur: 

When we left off last episode, Krycek – possessed by the black oil – was walking toward the camera and directly into Sestra Pro’s heart. But this ep doesn’t pick up exactly there. We change locale to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We also flash back about 46 years. Some poor schlub with a minor case of radiation burns is telling a tale of woe and mutiny on board his submarine. The scene in which the oil oozes out of its host looks pretty convincing even for 1996 FX. The G-Men listening to the sailor’s story include a young William Mulder -- clearly this is one of those episodes where the sins of the father are visited upon the son -- and one young man who lights up a cigarette and sounds amazingly like William B. Davis. Did they dub his voice or just find a sound-alike actor? But let’s get to the important stuff, although some might argue aliens and nuclear energy are important.

Scully arrives at the hospital to check on Assistant Director Skinner. Dana takes his hand while talking to the doctor, and Walter squeezes it then whispers some information about his shooter. However cute that may be, they’d never make a cute shipper couple. Skully? Scinner? Nope. Ergo, it will never happen. And don’t try to use "Triangle" (Season 6, Episode 3) as a rebuttal, Sis. 

We get to see Take-Charge Scully as she bosses around Agents Fuller and Caleca to keep Skinner safe in his hospital room. Meanwhile, Mulder and Krycek (Mulcek? Kryder?) arrive back in D.C. I was going to say finally arrive, but in the time it took Scully to get to a local hospital, the boys flew halfway around the world and rented a car. Unfortunately, someone is in hot pursuit and runs them off the road. Mulder, who wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, paints the windshield red with his blood. Black Oil Krycek takes out the would-be murderers.

Dana's unrequited lab crush Agent Pendrell processes Walter's crime scene evidence and gives her some leads. She sort of thanks him and he stares at her wistfully. Poor guy. Cancer Man checks on a live patient completely covered in tumors, and even that doesn't get him to stop smoking for a minute. CSM tells the doctor to burn the bodies. 

Somehow, Scully gets notified that Mulder’s in a hospital room too. She’s sitting by his bedside when he wakes up. State police were too lazy to write him a ticket for not wearing his seatbelt, so they claimed he was buckled up. Crack investigative team they got there because the replay clearly showed he was not wearing it.

Fox updates Dana about what went down with Alex and she tells him about Skinner. Scully is in full you-go-girl mode when she shows how she learned the man who shot the assistant director and her sister are one and the same. Funny how Mulder -- a man who believes he’s seen aliens, monsters and the worst of humanity -- looks so shocked at this revelation. Walter tells Dana about the three men who warned him to stop Melissa’s murder investigation and how his shooter worked with Krycek. 

Cancer Man’s Boys’ Club meets in New York City to discuss the French salvage vessel in San Diego and its radioactive crew. The Syndicate has an information leak and really needs to take care of it. Back in their office, Fox shows off Gauthier’s deep sea diver equipment and a small vial of the black oil he found slathered over the victims in San Diego and Hong Kong. Mulder claims the oil is 50 years old and altered due to radiation. Then he plays the alien card, if you’ve ever seen The Hidden then you’ll understand how Fox thinks this intelligent being is moving from body to body. However, the writers still need to address how it traveled through that underwater fuselage into Gauthier in the first place. Mulder somehow knows it’s now in Krycek.

And now for something completely different: The Lone Gunmen go ice skating. Nope, that’s not a typo. They really are not blending with the crowd, which is mainly children and young ladies, but it was good for a chuckle or two. They use Fox's locker key and retrieve the digital tape … or do they? Turns out, Alex beat them to it. He hand-delivers it to Cancer Man, who doesn’t react when the black oil covers up Krycek’s pretty eyes. The Syndicate meets again, and CSM proceeds to get berated by the others. There’s a lot of blah, blah, blah about “compromising beyond repair the secrecy of our work and the security of our project’s future.” 

Fox goes old school and figures out the Syndicate’s phone number. Well-Manicured Man – the one who helped Dana, or at least helped feed her paranoia back in "The Blessing Way" (Season 3, Episode 1) -- arranges to meet with Mulder. WMM’s revelations don’t impress Fox. He wants more information, but doesn’t get it.

Agents Scully, Pendrell, Fuller and Caleca discuss Luis Cardinal, Skinner’s would-be assassin. Seems futile, but Dana is determined to find him. But she still checks on Walter at Mulder's behest, and it turns out the assistant director's being taken away by ambulance. Dana catches up to them and goes along for the ride, literally. She knows something’s wrong, especially when the shooter takes a shot at her in an utterly piss-poor assassination attempt. 
Scully chases Luis down and gets the upper hand. He begs Dana not to shoot him and agrees to give up Alex. She loses her opportunity to shoot Cardinal without witnesses when the police show up. 

Then Sculder learn Krycek and the salvaged UFO may be in an abandoned missile silo in North Dakota, oh yah. Think they’ll find him? You betcha. But first they find men dead from radiation burns. Then soldiers find and disarm our heroes. Cancer Man arrives, looks at the handiwork and orders the soldiers to clean up. He walks by door No. 1013 (“I made this!”) but leaves without opening it. Behind that door, Alex is painfully leaking black oil on the ship and the alien finds its way home again. Things ain’t looking so good for Alex, though. See you next season, Krycek.

Back at FBI headquarters, Skinner pays Mulder a visit while looking for Scully, who is at Melissa’s grave. Fox catches up to her there and tells her Luis was discovered dead in his cell and “they” probably got to Krycek too. So we get more closure than Sculder because we’re able to move on to next week’s ep. 

Fun fact: Suleka Mathew (Agent Caleca) and Nicholas Lea (Krycek) played a couple on Men in Trees, one of those ABC dramedies that almost no one remembers. She was a reformed hooker-turned-paramedic and he was a guitar-playing pastor in Alaska. Pretty sure Calcek won’t be a thing.

Sestra Professional:

Welcome back, Krycek. And farewell, Krycek. (Nick Lea isn't rushing off to Men in Trees just yet, he does John Woo's entertaining Once a Thief in the interim here.)

This episode caps one of the better two-parters in The X-Files pantheon. There aren't a lot of them that work so completely in back-to-back mythology episodes, usually there's a lot of padding, or even worse, convolution. And the amusing-but-needless ice skating scene aside, "Apocrypha" and predecessor "Piper Maru" wisely takes our conspiracy storyline to a much-needed new level. 

That indeed was William B. Davis doing voiceover for Cigarette-Smoking Man to open the show. And what a start, to be certain. Fun to get to see Bill Mulder and CSM working together, in much the mold that the son and his brainy, determined partner will later take up arms (and other assorted body parts in various incarnations of decay and mutation). I'll give all the credit to director Kim Manners, who had the reins for his first mythology episode and delivered the goods.

Is anybody not looking for Krycek? Since we're picking up where "Piper Maru" left off, our leads spend much of the episode apart again, but their stories prove equally engrossing. There's the relationship that launched almost as much fan fiction as Sculder -- Mulder and Krycek -- and even on minimal display, they get a lot of bang for their buck. Alex gets his trademark beating of the week. And who doesn't love watching Dana throwing her weight around -- such as it is -- to protect Skinner and nail her sister's killer?

 When our heroes are first reunited, Scully proves she's twice the agent Mulder is by determining the man who shot the assistant director was the same one who offed her sister. Maybe that's why Fox looks so surprised, she's surpassed him in the FBI power rankings. He'll make for it later with an array of black oil guesstimates.

Walter gets to make some sense by telling Dana anger is a luxury she can't afford. But most of the time, his advice comes off as really namby-pamby, clearly a function of being on their side but not the center of attention.  "If you can't keep your ahead, it's all right to step away," Skinner tells his charge, and Scully realizes that's exactly what the conspirators would want her to do.

Anyone can be gotten to: It's also fun to see that all is not well in the Syndicate, neither Well-Manicured Man nor the Elder seem entirely comfortable with Cigarette-Smoking Man's methods and/or arrogance. That can only serve our cause and make it slightly more plausible that WMM would talk to Mulder, for maybe he's really after more information than he's getting out of the Tar heel. WMM does name-check a future righteous rock band, deeming the UFO at the bottom of the ocean that started this arc a "so-called Foo Fighter."

But then we again see the conspiracy's lackies proving to be not only ineffective, but downright stupid. The guy who killed Scully's sister also shot Skinner and then went after Walter again? On the other hand, the denouement certainly makes for another great Gillian Anderson confrontation scene, even if the concept seems incredibly insipid.

I didn't sign any disarmament treaty: And there's more than enough room for David Duchovny's amiable persona here too. Mulder knocks his overly technical cohorts down a peg by using a mere pencil to read the Syndicate's unlisted phone number. And then the piece de resistance, upon breaking into the missile silo, Fox taps into all our fears about government doing the opposite of what they tell us they're doing in Washington. Two hundred missile silos that were supposed to be concreted up haven't been? "Apparently no one else signed that treaty either," he quips, and we have to laugh or we'll cry.

Although there's a small confrontation between Sculder and CSM in North Dakota, what I appreciate most is the lack of a pretentious dialogue scene between Cancer Man and Krycek. No protracted discussion or ham-fisted threats. Alex just gets locked in there so the aliens can Fight the Foo-ture.

Guest star of the week: Lenno Britos, who finally got a name in this episode -- Luis Cardinal -- and stepped out of Krycek's shadow ... just in time to be nabbed by Scully, locked up for his crimes and then killed in jail by the people he worked for. Still, he got more air time and really ratcheted up the tension this time around. A far cry from playing the frightened janitor in "Fearful Symmetry" (Season 2, Episode 18).