Saturday, February 17, 2018

X-Files S4E7: Bemusings about a Cancer Man

Sestra Amateur: 

Hope you’re not expecting to see Sculder this week because that’s not going to happen. Maybe one of them hosted Saturday Night Live or had another commitment that week. As you can tell by the title, "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," this one is all Cancer Man. He’s puffing away inside a decrepit building and eavesdropping on Sculder and The Lone Gunmen. Did you know the engraving on his silver lighter reads “Trust no one”? Maybe that’s where Mulder got it from. 

Even with the Gunmen’s paranoid precautions, CSM is able to continue listening. He has also set up a high-powered rifle and pointed it at the front door of Lone Gunmen Headquarters. Hope they didn’t order a pizza, that delivery boy would be in for a rude awakening. 

Frohike is providing CSM backstory, some of which contradicts what was speculated during the past-life annoyance tale that was "The Field Where I Died" two episodes ago. Sestra, is this exposition supposed to be canon or just Frohike speculation? 

Part 1 of CSM’s saga takes us to Fort Bragg in 1962. The young anonymous captain is enjoying a cigarette-free existence, reading The Manchurian Candidate and chatting with bunkmate Mulder. (I’m thankful for because I would have spent the entire episode wondering why the actor who plays young CSM looks familiar, Chris Owens will later be The X-Files’ Jeffrey Spender.) 

Pre-Cancer Man reports for his first clandestine meeting. His father was executed as a traitor, but they do not hold it against pre-CSM. Or maybe that’s why they chose him, The Manchurian Candidate is about political conspiracy. These cigarette-smoking men recruit the captain to assassinate President John F. Kennedy because of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Captain whatever-his-name-was no longer exists. Does that make CSM the Phantom Menace? (Part One. Episode One. Get it?) 

One year later, we find him in Dallas with “patsy” Lee Harvey Oswald, who hands the former captain his first pack of Morleys cigarettes. Lee is getting a soda from the machine in the book depository when CSM kills JFK. LHO realizes he’s been set up and shoots a Dallas police officer thinking he’s part of the conspiracy. OMG, this got out of hand quickly. The police arrest Oswald in the movie theater. CSM watches the apprehension and lights his first cigarette.

Part 2 brings us to 1968 and Cancer Man is typing a novel titled Take a Chance under the nom de plume Raul Bloodworth. He realized who his next target will be while listening to Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio. This Cancer Man is more confident and condescending during a clandestine meeting with several men, including FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The former captain believes King’s inspirational words will convince black men not to fight for the USA in Vietnam. CSM tells JEH he’ll handle MLK’s assassination himself … and he does. 

WTH happened to that unassuming, non-smoking man? Later in 1968, Cancer Man tries to get his book published, but it’s deemed “preposterous” and “lame” in the rejection letter. The irony is he probably wrote what really happened and just changed the names to protect the guilty. BTW, he’s watching Robert Kennedy speak on television and reacting very coldly. I started to wonder if RFK was going to be CSM’s next hit, but the publisher’s letter was dated November and RFK was killed in June. IMO, I still think CSM was responsible for that assassination too. Or was that a continuity error, Sestra?

Part 3 leapfrogs to a 1991 Christmas Eve clandestine meeting at the FBI office. We see Cancer Man’s influence affect Clarence Thomas, Rodney King, Yugoslavia and the Buffalo Bills. I’ll let Sestra Pro give her take regarding the Miracle on Ice situation. CSM learns Gorbachev has resigned and hands out Christmas presents. These guys seem to actually like him, so we probably won’t see them ever again. In the privacy of his office, CSM is still trying to get published and still getting rejected, LOL. Deep Throat -- AKA Ronald -- calls with some good news, though. They’ve recovered an extraterrestrial biological entity that is now on life support. 

CSM tries to dissuade the assassination of the EBE, but Deep Throat reminds him of their duties. Cancer Man flips a coin and Deep Throat does the dirty work this time. So was this the catalyst for Deep Throat to become Mulder’s source? DT would have been perfectly OK with CSM pulling the trigger in order to save humanity, but he doesn’t want to get alien blood on his own hands? Fast forward to 1992, Cancer Man is there for the meeting regarding Agent Scully’s reassignment to the X-Files. Clearly he wanted his presence known or he wouldn’t be seen so prominently. Mulder’s office is bugged, so Cancer Man eavesdrops on Sculder’s first conversation … and probably many more. 

CSM finally gets a letter of interest from a publisher, who tells the giddy Raul Bloodworth his story will be published in his company's magazine in November. Of course, the publisher quickly mentions that “young writers” have to be flexible. Cancer Man, not really registering the meaning of that, writes a letter of resignation and decides to quit smoking. On Nov. 12, 1996, he goes to the newsstand to pick up a copy of Roman a Clef (love the headlines of the other magazine stories) and realizes they ruined his story. He buys the rag and a pack of Morleys then very negatively ad-libs a scene from Forrest Gump for a homeless person. Later, after Frohike finishes his tale and leaves LGH, CSM seems content with the knowledge that he can kill Frohike whenever he wants and calls it a day. Next XF blog date TBA.

Sestra Professional:

I was never a fan of Forrest Gump, so this particular episode winds up being tougher for me to swallow than, say, a liver-eating mutant. But still I end up being able to buy into this conceit a lot more than I did when watching the Oscar-winning Tom Hanks film. Perhaps because we can't really distinguish the truth -- Frohike's or Cancer Man's -- from one of CSM's works of fiction.

I can appreciate the tiny details of this episode, starting with the Lone Gunmen activating probably very expensive piece of equipment to prevent unwanted ears from listening in, only to have CSM cut right through it and hear the bulk of the conversation. But most importantly, Frohike's words at the end of the ep, he learned all these "facts" from a story he read in one of his weekly subscriptions. Does that mean he's a subscriber to Roman a Clef? I wouldn't consider CSM a reliable narrator.

Truth or fiction, "Musings" is a spectacular piece of work by both William B. Davis as the Cigarette Smoking Man and Chris Owens before him. Any doubt that the young protagonist of the episode is the same man is dispelled by quotes like  "I'd rather read the worst novel ever written than sit through the best movie ever made."

Catch ya later, Mulder: Even with just the tiniest of Fox presence in the episode, our hero reflects heavily upon all of it, whether he was a 1-year-old uttering his first word -- JFK -- or an up-and-coming agent getting in CSM's way by bringing the X-Files out of moth balls. 

The episode was written by Glen Morgan and directed by his writing partner, James Wong. And if you ask me, "Musings" is written more fluidly than Forrest Gump, which tended to bash moviegoers over the head with various points it wanted to make. This episode can be far more subtle. Witness the conspirators talking about assassinating the president. Without actually saying the name, the conspirators show us they're talking about Kennedy, be it with details about the man or just by saying they were setting up a patsy. 

Of course, it's not all hearts and flowers. Their patsy can't even smoke a cigarette properly and doesn't make allowances for having enough bus fare to get to work. Lee Harvey seems more like Forrest than Forrest does at times. In Frohike's version of CSM's version, he is a complete and total patsy, until he gunned down that poor officer. 

I think they have CSM starting his life as a smoke fiend in the wrong place. Since he had absolutely no qualms about rubbing out JFK or setting up LHO, I would have bought that concept a lot easier after the MLK takedown. King was a man whom he had a measure of respect for, and thusly, that would have been a better impetus for his resulting lifetime of inhaling Morleys.

What's the matter, don't you believe in miracles? The show gets particularly Gump-y in the 1991 segment. OK, if you're gonna turn the glorious U.S. hockey win over Russia into myth, you probably would have been better served to blame the coach -- Viktor Tikhonov, who switched goaltenders and didn't know what to do in the final moments when his team was on the ropes -- instead of the best goaltender in the world at the time, Vladislav Tretiak, or Vladimir Myshkin. Which one of those two got CSM's alleged pat on the back? I assume Tretiak, but Myshkin's the one who ultimately took the loss.

Go ahead, make history: The episode becomes more intriguing when Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) comes on the scene, because that directly reflects upon what we've been watching for over four years more than the idea of CSM single-handedly conducting assassinations -- although I do agree RFK might have been his handiwork under this premise. I find it difficult to believe Cancer Man would have had any interest in fixing sports events and wouldn't have just delegated chores like that if asked to by his bosses. 

CSM gets almost humanized while bemoaning the fact he's set the course of human history without being known for doing it. Maybe that's why his "full of crap" writing would become so important to him, it was a passive aggressive way of letting the world know what he had done. And in Frohike's telling, so important to him that his whole reason for being -- and cigarettes -- could have been let go if he succeeded in that venture. How would he get material for future stories without that well to tap? Maybe he had enough back story in the can for that not to be a concern.

The coolest part of revisiting the pilot episode is the new take we get on Cancer Man's reaction to Dana describing Fox's reputation as  "Spooky." There's a lot to be read into that one little mannerism. Where he once seemed annoyed that Scully was unnecessarily drifting into that area, now he could have been more bothered by mere talk of his nemesis' notoreity or the fact that this is one Mulder who can't be forced to do what CSM wants him to do. Or both. 

The Forrest Gump tirade at the end is more irresistible than a box of chocolates. He starts off by condemning candy as a thoughtless perfunctory gift no one asks for. As opposed to a tie like the ones he gave to his cohorts in 1991? I won't hold that against his diatribe, though, for it's structured and delivered as perfectly as could be.

Change for the meta: "Musings" wasn't developed to give David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson a week off. According to the fourth-season episode guide, Morgan and Wong came back to the fold with the story idea. ... X-Files lure has it Frohike was supposed to be killed at the end of the episode. Glen Morgan said in The Complete X-Files he was told point-blank he couldn't do it. ... Davis had a lot of trouble with the script, which he found contradictory to what had previously aired. Both the episode guide and The Complete X-Files state he worked for long hours with executive producer Chris Carter to make it work. ... The "Where the Hell is Darin Morgan?" headline on one of the publications could be construed as passive aggressive. Morgan reportedly was slated to deliver a script early in the fourth season, but never did. 

Guest star of the week: Chris Owens. It's something of a treat to give Owens the nod here, because he'll be unsummarily -- and perhaps unfairly -- dismissed by the fan base at large when he becomes part of the cast as Jeffrey Spender in Season 6. But at least in my own defense, I'll add he delivers the goods better here as the father than he almost ever will as the son. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

X-Files S4E6: Bloody hell

Sestra Amateur: 

If you’re a Metallica fan like me, then you probably started singing their song "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" upon seeing the title of this episode -- “Sanguinarium … leave me be.” I was very apprehensive about this episode because of what a sanguinarium sounds like it would be. No, it’s not an aquarium where you go to watch bloodthirsty people locked up in glass cages. If it’s another “vampire” tale then are we looking at a sequel to "3" (Season 2, Episode 7)? Bite your tongue! (Or your neck, whatever.) 

We begin the episode in Vancouver’s version of Chicago, Illinois. Plastic surgeon Harrison Lloyd preps for surgery by scrubbing his hands so badly they bleed. He performs the most disturbing liposuction procedure ever. Nurse Rebecca Waite tries to intervene, but she’s too late. For once I’m glad to be doing this blog late at night so I’m not eating at the same time because that was extremely repulsive.

Sculder meet with Dr. Lloyd and his attorney in the light of day. The doc seems cooperative at first, but is clearly following his lawyer's lead. Scully learns Lloyd has been taking sleeping pills for five years, so she thinks he’s addicted to the medication. Upon investigation of the crime scene, Mulder finds five marks burned into the floor. He uses the impressions to form a pentagram, leading Dana to deliver the obvious line, “If you want to connect the dots here, you should look at the facts.” (Hey, I’ll take an X-Files witchcraft tale over an X-Files vampire story any day of the week.) Mulder leads Scully out of Operating Room Three ("3?" No!!!) Nurse Waite suggests possession allegations are cheaper than malpractice insurance. Dr. Shannon wants the nurse to stop talking to the agents and gives her the move along. 

Meanwhile hospital board members, led by Dr. Jack Franklyn (Richard Beymer of West Side Story and Twin Peaks fame), discuss Dr. Lloyd’s situation and clearly know what's going on. Nurse Waite is prepping the next patient – with leeches – but claims she is going to protect her. In surveillance video of Lloyd’s last procedure, Sculder sees the markings on the floor. Fox tells Dana a pentagram is a sign of protection. You’d think he would have led with that when he first suggested the spots were points on a pentagram. Scully learns Lloyd’s medication contains belladonna, which Mulder says can be used for hexing rituals. Dr. Shannon gets ready for her next surgical procedure while colleague Dr. Eric Ilaqua acts peculiar and possessed while scrubbing his hands. He begins the laser peel procedure on the patient without Shannon’s permission and burns a hole through the woman's cheek. Anyone having surgical procedures in the near future might want to stop watching this episode.

Scully learns Dr. Ilaqua is taking the same sleep medication as Dr. Lloyd. She updates Mulder, who seems to be considering rhinoplasty. He reviews the latest videotape and notices the marks made by the leeches on the victim’s stomach. The agents meet with the hospital board and Dr. Franklyn mentions similar incidents from 10 years earlier in which the deaths were listed as accidental. Franklyn implicates Nurse Waite, since she is the only person who had contact with the involved patients then and now. 

At home, Rebecca is performing a ritual. She sits around naked and cuts off her hair. Sculder go to her house and see a pentagram … and a broom. Witch! They gain entry and locate remnants of her last spell. Meanwhile, Dr. Franklyn finds a bathtub full of blood at his abode. When turning off the faucet, Rebecca emerges from the tub and attacks him, but Franklyn gets the upper hand. Man, I would hate to be his cleaning woman. Police take Waite into custody, but when our heroes arrive the nurse starts coughing up straight pins … hundreds of them. Mulder picks up one without wearing gloves. Ew …gross. Fox checks on Franklyn, whose head wound is being stitched up by Dr. Shannon. Franklyn guesses that Rebecca attacked him because he accused her. After all, how would she know? Franklyn sends them away and relaxes by levitating over his bed.

Rebecca dies after hemorrhaging from the hundreds of pins in her stomach. Mulder’s theory of allotriophagy -- the act of vomiting or disgorging foreign and foul objects, usually associated with a possessed person -- seems more plausible than Scully’s theory of pica -- a psychiatric disorder regarding the eating of non-food items with no nutritional value. Fox, who continues to silently and comically mull over his facial imperfections, tells Dana he found a book on his theory in Rebecca’s house. He also draws a correlation between the victims’ birth dates and the witches’ four Sabbaths. They call Dr. Shannon about the birth dates, so she warns Doctors Franklyn and Kaplan. 

Since Franklyn professes to be tired, Kaplan takes over his procedure and promptly burns off the victim’s face with acid. Shannon, who is finally affected by the horrible things happening to their patients, tells Sculder about former physician Dr. Cox. By tweaking the computer program and they figure out Doctors Cox and Franklyn are the same person. Mulder thinks witchcraft gave Cox the ability to transform his features beyond surgery’s capabilities. When Shannon finds Franklyn first, he magically inserts several scalpels inside her. That’s gotta hurt. 

Sculder go back to Franklyn’s house. Even though it’s pouring outside, there’s not a drop of rain on them when they enter the house. I really need to know Dana's frizz-control product because her hair is still perfect. Mulder notices Franklyn has an inverted pentagram in his living room with his victims’ names etched on them, so they hurry back to the hospital. Scully stops Shannon’s surgery while Franklyn starts to peel off his face. Yes, you read that right. This episode beat Face/Off to the punch by about seven months; however, Robert Englund’s version of Phantom of the Opera already did that in 1989, so he wins. Back in surgery, they’re able to remove the scalpels from Shannon. Mulder thinks this means they’ve stopped Franklyn. But he kills one last patient, whose birthday just happens to be Oct. 31 – Samhain, probably the holiest of the holy days. So not only has Dr. Franklyn gotten away with it, he now has a new face and a new life as Dr. Hartman. 

It’s pretty far-fetched that the correlating birth dates worked out so well for Franklyn in such a short period of time, but don’t you think after making the connection between the victims’ birth dates and the witches’ holy days, Mulder should have had someone check the birth dates for all patients scheduled for surgery that day? One quick phone call – hey, are any of your surgical patients born on Halloween? – and that would have been the end of Franklyn. I guess technically it is the end of Franklyn since they never address this again. Fun fact: In 1996, the year this episode aired, Richard Beymer also had a TV movie called A Face to Die For. Interesting trend. 

Sestra Professional:

Good lord, that was gross. This certainly could be the grisliest episode of the entire run, at least that's how I remembered it before starting this particular rewatch. And it more than lived up to that unlofty recollection.

It's certainly an interesting story choice after last week's cerebral "The Field Where I Died" and ahead of an interesting quartet of episodes that will mess with the mythology in a few different ways. It was penned by sisters Vivian and Valerie Mayhew, who don't work for The X-Files again, but go on to co-produce and write for Charmed. It's directed without restraint by stand-alone standout Kim Manners, who reportedly gave network standards and practices fits on the heels of the controversial "Home" earlier this season. 

This place is a factory: "Sanguinarium" does have a lot to say on the practice of cosmetic surgery. "There's magic here. Only it's being done with silicone, collagen and a well-placed scalpel," Scully says. In fact, people seem to want it so badly that they won't cancel their procedures. Two deaths at the facility in a couple days should scare off even the most vainglorious of patients. 

I'll give the scripting sestras -- or Chris Carter, John Shiban, Vince Gilligan, Glen Morgan and/or James Wong, who contributed to ironing out the episode according to the official fourth-season episode guide -- credit for leading us to believe that Nurse Waite was the piece's villain before revealing she was just trying to protect the patients with her pentagrams. And also props to props and production designer Graeme Murray for some sharp-looking hospital sets with five-sided operating rooms.

My favorite touch of the episode was Mulder using the broom at Waite's door as probable cause for entering the house. Although even then, I'd have to take issue with the fact that Dana doesn't argue that notion at all. She seems to complain all the time in the face of stronger evidence from Fox.

I'm also kind of glad Dr. Shannon got a taste of Franklyn's medicine. She was so one-note, maybe that enabled her to grow and get some character. Perhaps she would be a better physician because of it. She wasn't winning any points as a doctor or a human being before that happened.

Meta mania: Gillian Anderson wasn't a huge fan of this one. "This was one of the most repulsive scripts that I've done," she said in the episode guide. But David Duchovny kinda liked it. "Everybody worked really hard and Kim Manners did a great job. It was really fun," he said in the guide. ... The show reportedly got a flood of angry letters and emails from supporters of Wicca and ritual magic after the show aired. I think Waite's depiction was favorable, but they were probably focusing on Franklyn's follies. Issue was also taken with Nurse Rebecca Waite's name since Rebecca Nurse was an innocent woman prosecuted at the Salem Witch Trials. ... The opening scene shows the clock at 3:40. That's during Satanic witching hour. ... Gilligan named the female doctor Shannon after one of his favorite actresses, Shannon Tweed, according to the guide.

Guest star of the week: Sorry, Richard Beymer, but O-Lan Jones snags the kudos here. Maybe if you had thrown up 100 straight pins instead of merely peeling off your face, you would have garnered the honors. By the way, Jones didn't get any extra points for being in Beethoven with David Duchovny, it's because she was creepier as the witchy heroine than the villainous face peeler. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

X-Files S4E5: Cloke and dagger

Sestra Amateur: 

Be prepared, it’s another voice-over ep. That practice usually doesn’t fare so well, but I guess it depends on whether it’s exposition or recitation. At the beginning of the episode, Mulder is standing in a field, staring at old photographs with the saddest look on his face. Considering the title of the episode is "The Field Where I Died," it makes you wonder who he’s talking about … or for. (I know I could avoid ending with a preposition but to write "for or about whom he’s talking" just seemed really stuffy for this blog.)

Now we’re at the Temple of the Seven Stars in Apison, Tennessee at the crack of dawn as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raid the place looking for cult leader Vernon Ephesian and his cache of illegal weapons. After the forced entry, Mulder is drawn to a nearby field. He somehow locates Vernon and his wives hiding in a storm cellar and preparing to literally drink the Kool-Aid. No weapons, though, so the raid is a bust -- at least by the Feds’ standards. And Assistant Director Skinner is concerned because they can’t find their informant, Sidney. 

During the interrogation, Scully has little patience for Vernon, who uses the Bible to justify his Jim Jones and David Koresh-like views. Sculder then interview wife No. 1 Melissa (Wife No. 4? Wife No. 5? No one really knows.) She soon exhibits Sidney-like traits. It’s not a typical split personality situation, though. Melissa seems to be reliving a past life. Fox argues the multiple personality theory to Walter, not the past life one. Dana thinks the trigger is Melissa/Sidney’s concern for the safety of the children at the compound. 

Skinner gives Sculder some leeway to get more answers from Melissa, so they take her back to the compound. Melissa turns into Lily, a scared little girl who can touch her tongue to her nose. (Does that mean Melissa and Sidney can do that too?) Sidney makes an appearance and leads Sculder back to the field. Now she’s a nurse named Sarah in the Confederate Army in 1863. She claims Fox was there with her and he died in that field. At least Mulder managed to have a non-Scully romantic relationship in one of his lives.

Our heroes argue about Sarah’s claims on the way to a regression therapist’s office. Sidney comes out during the session to talk about the guns, but Mulder wants Melissa back. Her nurse persona isn’t very helpful this time around, so Fox goes under himself. He says Samantha is his son in this past life. He adds Scully to the mix by claiming she was his father. And, of course, Cancer Man is there as a Nazi officer. (They’re now playing fast and loose with the timeline, depending on how old Cancer Man is supposed to be on this show.) Mulder’s wallowing in his past lives and is of no use to Scully, so she goes to the Hall of Records – at 4:12 a.m., mind you – to try and locate the bunker through old battle plans. She can’t resist peeking at the county register and finds the names and photographs of Fox and Melissa’s former selves. 

Mulder tries to convince Melissa, but she’s not buying it. She tears up Sarah’s picture and returns to the compound with her crazy husband. Ephesian's not happy to see the ATF still creeping around the fields surrounding his home. Luckily, the Feds bugged his temple and hear Vernon is again preparing his disciples for mass suicide. ATF agents try to make contact, but some of the men shoot at the agents while everyone else – except Sidney – drinks the Kool-Aid. Ephesian, bastard that he is, has a glass waiting for Melissa when she wakes up. Fox runs into the compound and finds dozens of dead bodies, including Vernon and Melissa, who is holding Sarah’s picture in her dead hand. And now we know why Mulder looked so sad in the beginning.

The writers tried a little too hard with this one. Shippers must have been livid to learn Scully technically isn’t Mulder’s multi-life soul mate; Melissa the one-and-done wonder is. And Sestra, does Fox ever refer to his past lives again? Considering how many familiar people in his current life supposedly crossed his path over the past lives, you’d think Mulder would become addicted to regression therapy, using that science as a means to get as much information and as many answers as he can, when it’s nearly impossible for him to get “the truth” in his present time. Although I would love to know who The Lone Gunmen would have been in Fox's past lives.

Sestra Professional:

Dead right, Sestra. Even before the modern-day social media enabled fans to share their thoughts .2 seconds after they had them, the disdain for "The Field Where I Died" was palpable. Back then, it was largely done via online mailing lists and message boards, but the assertion that Mulder had a different soul mate was jarring to a large cross-section of the population. Even no-romos seemed to have trouble with that concept. I'll admit I wasn't a huge fan of the episode myself.

I've changed my tune on a couple of fronts. It doesn't help to start off the episode with voiceover of Robert Browning's poem "Paracelsius." It feels pretentious. I'm sure that was meant to help get viewers into this show's serious nature -- this is not gonna be a traditional Mulder quipfest -- but it's jarring and a little off-putting.

But I can get behind this central idea -- the compound and the suicide pact were interesting and relevant concepts for the time and place. Ephesian's a monster that we may not know personally, but that we've heard of.  It's not the most far-fetched idea we've run across in The X-Files to have a man who comes off as smarmy to us exhibiting control over eight impressionable women and the others in his compound.

What is this, the McCarthy hearings? Putting aside the dubious kindred-spirit issue, the episode hinges heavily on Kristen Cloke's performance as Melissa/Sidney/Lily/Sarah. And she nails it ... er, them. There was always a pretty clear and present divide between The X-Files and Millennium, Chris Carter's other show that debuted during The X-Files' fourth season,. Putting aside the crossover episode coming in Season 6, this one blurs the lines more than pretty much any other during the original run. 

It's an unusual sell to have Sarah standing in the middle of field for a large part of the second act, with Mulder and Scully just listening and reacting to her like we do. But it's not a wrong move -- as Darin Morgan expanded the boundaries of the show with comedy, so too do Glen Morgan and James Wong in this more serious vein. The writers returned to the fold in the fourth season with more on their minds than doling out monster-of-the-week episodes. And this particular episode must have given Carter confidence enough to entrust them with the Millennium reins for Season 2.

Sculder spend long portions of time listening to what Melissa has to say in her various incarnations, and when they're not doing that, they're kind of arguing between themselves about Fox believing too much and Dana believing too little. They certainly don't seem to be displaying a soul mate-sort of connection. Morgan and Wong made it more like a family-type bond thing by design.

We will live again: "Evil returns as evil." "Souls mate eternal." "We're always taken away." In truth, and after having watched Cloke do a similar scene, Mulder's hypnosis begets more from the words than David Duchovny's performance. It's almost hurtful to consider Scully not only the male authority figure in two of Mulder's lives, but also dead in both of them. Plus, uh, this hypnosis thing is really not helping out the case at all.

"The Field Where I Died" is definitely an alternate universe. Here, Dana gets to make the quips. When asked about how she might have altered her life if she knew she'd be with the same people, she delivers this trope: "Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn't change a day. Well, maybe that Flukeman thing. I could have lived without that just fine."

And, nope, Sestra, the past-lives experience is not something that Mulder ever brings up again. 

Meta blockers:  I gotta "awwww" here. "It was just my feelings about Kristen," Glen Morgan said of writing the episode in The Complete X-Files. "We got engaged about a week before she went up to shoot it." ... In the official fourth-season episode guide, Cloke said Morgan was heavily influenced by a love story told in Ken Burns' Civil War documentary series. ... Two more of Melissa's personalities wound up on the cutting-room floor since 18 minutes needed to be taken out of the original cut, according to the episode guide. ... Vernon Ephesian's name is a combination of David Koresh's real first name and a title from the Bible. ... Gillian Anderson didn't have any problem with the story, saying in the episode guide that the script made her cry. "And the concept of Dana and Fox meeting in a past life -- it's something that, for once, I'd truly love to believe," she said. ... Not so much Entertainment Weekly, Morgan has often alluded to the fact that it's the only episode The X-Files-loving magazine gave an "F" to. (You're right about that 'ending with a preposition' thing too, Sestra.)

Guest star of the week: Gotta give all props to Cloke, who met Morgan on Space: Above and Beyond -- the show he and Wong did after leaving The X-Files in the second season. She makes it and she doesn't break it. It's great foreshadowing for the crucial role she'll go on to play when Morgan and Wong take over Millennium. Because of her performance, I hereby vow not to just pass over this episode any more.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

X-Files S4E4: Take a picture, it'll last longer

Sestra Amateur: 

In Michigan, a tense couple arrives at a drugstore in a punch-buggy yellow Volkswagon so the woman can get a passport photo taken. Mary Louise Lefante poses with a lovely wide smile but forgets her money to pay for it so she goes back to the car. On the way, she gets drugged by the Gorton’s fisherman and loses consciousness. Her boyfriend, Billy, isn’t looking so good either; he’s unresponsive and bleeding from his ear. The impatient drug store clerk assumes she isn’t coming back and is about to trash her photo when he sees it’s actually her looking terrified. Her makeup still looks good, though.

Sculder respond to the case because it’s considered an abduction. Billy is dead but there’s very little evidence to find Mary Louise because the rain washed it away. Scully solves the mystery of the future-predicting passport photo -- the drug store’s film is expired. Dana also uses the nearby heater to explain the warped parts of the photo. 

The agents meet with postal inspector Puett and learn Mary Louise is under investigation for mail theft, Billy for forgery. Mulder finds a Polaroid camera in Mary Louise’s apartment and tells Scully about thoughtography. (It’s always amusing when The X-Files throws some extreme reality into the episodes. In the 1960s, unemployed bellhop Ted Serios claimed he was able to produce images on Polaroid film through psychic power. The Stupendous Yappi would be jealous. Makes you wonder which is worse, though: Having your legacy being that of a fraudulent psychic or an unemployed bellhop?) Fox experiments with Mary Louise’s camera and ends up with several copies of her terrified image, meaning her abductor was there before them.

Mary Louise shows up on the side of a road looking shell-shocked and wearing the world’s ugliest nightgown. At the hospital, a PET scan reveals Mary Louise was lobotomized … badly. She can only say one thing -- unruhe, which is German for unrest. Police officer Trott tells Sculder another woman has been abducted. We see her captor speaking fluent German to her so let’s keep the Google translate accessible for a bit… “Have no fear. I’ll help you. Forget your rest building. (Stupid literal translation…) Forget your restlessness, yada yada yada.” 

Sculder go to the crime scene, which is luckily indoors, so no rain issues this time. The deceased male victim, an accountant, was stabbed in the ear. The abductee is his secretary, Alice Brandt. Mulder is convinced he’ll find a camera in the crime scene. If only smart phones were available in 1996, they could just check the victim’s phone. Scully realizes the two crime scenes have the same Iskendarian Construction Company in the background. (Sestra, did you know Iskendarian is the 6,300,947th most common surname in the world? In comparison, ours is the 1,876,364th most common. Sometimes I love the Internet.) Sculder split up to follow their two leads while the abductor/killer gives his current victim an ugly nightgown and just says “very soon."

Fox gets the photo analyzed at the FBI lab. It looks like red-eyed, razor-sharp-toothed demons are surrounding Mary Louise. The photo tech is able to get a human image from the photo. Mulder continues to overanalyze it, figuratively and literally. Dana meets with local police and Mr. Iskendarian to find out which foreman may have hired some unofficial day laborers. 

At one of the restoration locations, Scully finds Gerry Schnauz on stilts, played by Pruitt Taylor Vince – who is ripe for the Comic Con picking due to roles in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., True Blood, The Walking Dead and Stranger Things. He’s got some buggy nystagmus going on with his eyes that Dana probably can’t see from that far away. So Fox is right on target when he calls her to tell her their suspect has unusually long legs. She says “unruhe” and pulls her gun, but Schnauz runs away … on the stilts. She’s able to catch him but during the frisk she accidentally jabs her finger with his ... lobotomizer. 

Sculder interrogate Gerry, who denies knowledge of the abductions and murders. However, he does identify his father as the human image in Mary Louise’s terrifying photo as well as the howlers in the background. Schnauz had a sister who committed suicide years ago. Now that Dr. Scully is face to face with Gerry, she should clearly be noticing the nystagmus. Schnauz directs them to Alice’s body in the woods. 

Officer Trott processes Gerry and takes his booking photo. But the developed photo shows the officer after he’s been shot in the head, which is precisely what Schnauz does next. OK, it’s more like the throat, but the end result is the same for poor Trott. Gerry then raids the drug store for his abduction pharmaceutical of choice. Dana worries Schnauz targeted someone near his last job site. Too bad she didn't consider he would choose her, because he hides under her SUV. Drugged Scully unfortunately doesn’t get to take a shot. When Mulder looks at a recently developed photo in the drug store, he sees a terrified Dana. Fox runs after them, but a man on foot cannot catch a speeding Ford Explorer.

Mulder continues to stare at Scully’s picture, trying to decipher it. Would it be weird if that was the picture of Dana he kept in his wallet? Fox and the police officers follow leads to Gerry's father’s old office and notice the dental chair is missing. Scully wakes up duct-taped to it in another location. She tries to reason with Schnauz in German and English. He’s convinced the howlers are in Dana's head, but Scully thinks it’s more like Schnauz’s coping mechanism because his father abused his sister before she killed herself. One stupid scan of Gerry's head would show the brain damage from which he probably suffers. His buggy eyes are making me dizzy. 

Schnauz takes photos of himself instead of Scully but claims not to understand what they mean. Mulder somehow deciphers the six “fingers” he sees in Scully’s distorted images are six headstones where the Schnauz family is buried. Now that's a stretch. Fox sees a recreational vehicle in the distance, and of course, it’s where Gerry is holding Dana. Mulder breaks in and shoots Schnauz before he can offer Scully an ugly nightgown. We see those last photos show Gerry lying dead on the floor. In the end, Dana can’t explain this one away with mere science. 

Sestra Professional:

Season 11's in full swing now, and while doing this rewatch, some concepts seem to be coming back to haunt us. The revival has led to much discussion -- perhaps too much -- of the show painting Scully as a victim, long a facet of the storyline in ways great and small. I don't think that should particularly affect how we feel about the episodes, but even in a standout such as "Unruhe" -- her fourth abduction since the start of the series -- such thoughts are bound to invariably creep in. 

Speaking of creepy, this one hits dead center in The X-Files' monster-of-the-week wheelhouse. It's traditionally kind of an overlooked episode not named on a lot of best-of lists or atop rankings. But it stands up really well -- use of almost-defunct Polaroids for passport photos aside -- and the idea of a live lobotomy is about as scary an idea as they come ... on this planet anyway. 

Stand back, Scully, it's loaded: No big surprise, "Unruhe" was penned by Vince Gilligan, really coming into his own on the show following the late Season 3 gem "Pusher." With Darin Morgan no longer in the fold, Gilligan's starting to become the most distinctive voice on the show. Yet he's not just walking in Morgan's footsteps, he's creating his own path. His characters are more rooted in the here and now, there's less of an alternate-reality structure -- and, as a result, there's more terror.

Let's check on the progress of our agents. They both get to contribute again in the actual resolution of a case. Mulder notices that the mail fraud/forgery is actually incidental to the X-file, but Scully's the one who spies the construction company nearby and makes that connection. They're on their game this season, this is another episode in which their suspect gets nabbed halfway through the show.

You left it like a fingerprint: Now a few words about Scully's German class in college. It covered the word "unrest"? That was pretty comprehensive. And beyond that, kudos for her for remembering, because after a couple years of Spanish and a couple years of French, I can't do a lot more than order hamburgers in Spanish and French fries in French.

Dana's not quite as shook up here as she was in Season 2's "Irresistible" by serial killer Donnie Pfaster. She's able to speak with Schnauz, to tell him if howlers exist they're only in his head. And that's after the perfect reveal at the construction site, where Mulder tells her of the legs out of proportion in the Polaroid and she sees Gerry in construction stilts. She gets a little Silence of the Lambs on us during her report at the end, talking about risking letting monsters venture into our heads to get into theirs. But that's excusable, after all, Scully was originally conceived in the Clarice Starling mold. 

Why don't you cut the B.S.? Not only is this a standout episode, it has impressive meta too. The production crew told Gilligan they'd be using cutting-edge technology on the photographs. "Someone said to me, 'We're gonna Photoshop it,'" Gilligan said in The Complete X-Files. "And I was thinking, 'What the hell does that mean?' It was 1996; I didn't know what he hell they were talking about." Speaking of the Polaroids, when asked which prop I would want from The X-Files if I could take one thing, my answer invariably is Scully's photo from "Unruhe." Top-notch work by the art department.

Gilligan also tripped himself up literally. He told The Complete X-Files the stunt coordinator warned him how difficult it would be to walk in plasterer's stilts and he didn't believe him. So they went out to the parking lot and he tried them on with six crew members spotting him as he stumbled around. "I sweated probably five pounds of water walking on those things out there." 

This was the second episode filmed that season, but it aired fourth because the show wanted to take advantage of a time-slot move from Fridays to Sundays. "We wanted to pick an episode that was particularly successful as a script and that would be an excellent representative of the show -- and we made the decision that 'Unruhe' would be a better episode than 'Teliko' for that purpose," co-producer Frank Spotnitz said in the official fourth-season episode guide. ... According to the guide, Gilligan's dentist threw a scare into him by having a "Twilite Sleep" sign on his office wall at a checkup after the episode aired.

Guest star of the week: Pruitt Taylor Vince. He too tends to gets overlooked when the show's top baddies are referenced. But his hulking figure on those stilts and his eyes -- Vince does really suffer from nystagmus -- strikes a chord. It did for Anderson as well. "It was a little hard for me to let go of the concept of his being an evil person," she said in the fourth-season guide. "Whenever I saw him on the screen (afterward), I felt like he was going to swing a pick-ax at somebody at any moment." 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

X-Files S4E3: More grist for the mill

Sestra Amateur: 

A man on a plane is reading some legal documents when he gets up to use the bathroom. Someone (or something) in white face with red eyes is staring at him from a hidden location. The man enters the unoccupied bathroom because, well, it would be rude to try and enter the occupied one. Unfortunately, he gets attacked. When the plane prepares to land at JFK Airport in New York, a flight attendant goes looking for the missing passenger. She walks by a young man in the aisle who looks completely normal and unassuming. She then finds the missing passenger dead and albino-ed with red eyes.

At FBI Headquarters, Agent Scully meets with assistant director Skinner and Dr. Simon Bruin of the Center for Disease Control to make small talk over weather and sports. Oh, and there’s a joint task force with Philadelphia regarding murdered African-American men who have been depigmented. The man cast as Owen Sanders does not have a credit listed on IMDb, but playing a dead body is not his strong suit, he blinks more than I do when something flies into my eye. Maybe he’s a zombie! Scully begins the autopsy so I hope he isn't a zombie. Mulder and his sunflower seeds quickly join her and he entertains yet another conspiracy theory.

Marcus Duff, played by Carl Lumbly – a comic-con staple for people like me (M.A.N.T.I.S.!, Martian Manhunter! Marcus Dixon of 
Alias! I’m sensing a theme), meets with Samuel Aboah regarding the latter's naturalization papers. Turns out Samuel is the normal, unassuming man from the plane, but he’s looking a little feverish and his skin is blotchy. Duff gives Aboah a pep talk. We’ll see how that plays out. 

Mulder gets the test results from Agent Pendrell, who is crestfallen because Scully won’t be joining them. He shows Fox a seed indigenous only to parts of West Africa. He learns it’s a cortical depressant and calls Dana. She says Owen’s pituitary gland was necrotized, but she still doesn’t know what caused the condition. Mulder goes to see Maria Covarrubias -- Mr. X’s replacement -- at the United Nations in New York to seek information about the missing men. She denies knowledge of the case but reminds Fox that U.S. borders really are just lines on a map.

A young black man gets stung by one of the seeds while sitting at a bus stop and freezes in place. Samuel is there, all red-eyed and patchy. The next morning, Scully interviews the bus driver while Mulder searches the area for another seed. Fox also has photographs of the first victim – the man from the airplane bathroom – who was returned to West Africa before there could be an autopsy. A Philadelphia police officer knocks on Aboah's door during a neighborhood canvas for the missing young man. Looks like Samuel’s activities are starting to occur too close to home. Very close, in fact, the man is still immobile and inside Aboah's apartment. On the upside, Samuel’s eyes are brown and his skin looks normal again. Aboah does a reverse fire eater and removes a long ceremonial-looking stick from his own throat.

Sculder meet with Duff, who is pretty defensive from the get go. Dana pulls the public health crisis card and earns his cooperation. Samuel shows up at Marcus’ office and panics when Fox asks to talk to him. They chase him to an alley where Mulder finds him crammed into an extremely narrow drainpipe. Maybe he’s Tooms’ distant cousin. Dr. Bruin analyzes Samuel, who is currently healthy, so Doc thinks they have the wrong man. The agents ask Duff to translate for them. Marcus reminds Mulder that Aboah probably ran because he fears police, not because he committed a crime. Fox isn’t buying it. 

He goes to the Burkina Faso Embassy in Washington, D.C. to ask Ambassador Diabria why he quashed the original death investigation. Diabria tells Mulder about the Teliko -- an African folktale -- and how he first encountered it when he was 7 years old. His cousin died the same way as the man on the airplane. So if that convinced Diabria the Teliko was real and had arrived in the States, shouldn’t he be held accountable for what happened to the four missing men? This could have been resolved three months earlier at Patient Zero’s autopsy. 

Meanwhile, Samuel is making a Squeeze-like getaway in a food cart. Seriously, how have Fox or Dana not made a single Tooms reference in this episode? Samuel’s PET scans indicate he does not have a pituitary gland. His X-rays are a little questionable as well. Mulder returns and tells Scully that Aboah hightailed it out of there. Samuel goes to his case worker, intending to make Marcus his next victim. Duff offers Aboah a ride home and doesn’t suspect anything is wrong.

Fox realizes Samuel used the food cart as a getaway vehicle. Dana tells him they found Marcus’ car. Catatonic Marcus can’t move while Samuel shoves that ceremonial stick up Duff's nose. Aboah gets interrupted by a police officer who calls for an ambulance. Mulder tells Scully what he learned about African folklore. They separately search for Samuel in a nearby construction site. If the camera closeups are any indication, Aboah's not looking so good. Fox gets all woozy after being shot with the seed. 

Dana crawls around the ducts and fires her gun at Samuel, who is looking progressively worse. Scully finds Mulder and the missing men. They are dead; Fox is not, but he’s as quiet as we’re ever going to see him. Dana calls 911 while Samuel sneaks up behind her. Mulder warns her with his eyes and Scully shoots Aboah. He lives, but the outlook doesn’t look good for him in the evolutionary chain. Dana closes her final report with Fox's 10-cent words -- deceive, inveigle, obfuscate. And with those spelling-bee flashbacks, we’ll see you next week.

Sestra Professional:

The world's political climate has always had some kind of unseen but clearly palpable effect on The X-Files. Rewatching "Teliko" makes me think about the reverse. This case just gives our president fuel for more foul-mouthed fire.

As Sestra Am mentioned, the episode marks a return to a kind of Season 1 Toomsy vibe. (Yes, I used a liver-eating mutant as an adjective.) But I'm having a flash-forward to Season 9's "Badlaa." Planes are such a convenient way for nefarious supernatural types to get their groove on.

Not everything is a labyrinth of dark conspiracy: But the difference is how far our agents have come in their three-plus years together. Mulder's able to discern that he sees conspiracy in everything, even when it's not there ... although it's usually there. More importantly, Dana Scully -- once the beacon of light for women everywhere but in the currently airing Season 11 a source of controversy for show creator Chris Carter -- doesn't walk behind her partner, like she was forced to do by Fox in the early going. She can play hero ... and not just in the morgue.

It's also a good time to mention how well put together Scully seems to be in a physical sense as well this season. Dana's wearing form-fitting clothes actually made for a woman and her hair style has been more tailored to Gillian Anderson's face. In short, she's become quite the babe, and it's no small wonder that she's leaving a trail of admiring puppy dogs like Agent Pendrell in her wake.

I heard you were down here slicing and dicing: But lest I get too far off the mark, Scully's got her science on. She finds out about this particular X-File before Mulder does. Dana gets to shoot Fox down early and often with statements about how she found the effect and not the cause of death for the young black men. Of course, Scully can state all the science she wants ... and eventually Mulder will probably be proven right.

Until that time, Fox gets to quip and feel out his mysterious new informant Marita Covarrubias, whose agenda seems even more clouded than those of her predecessors. "There's a Michael Jackson joke in here somewhere but I can't quite find it," Mulder says upon seeing the albino body. That's a politically correct way of story writer Howard Gordon getting his MJ joke across, ain't it?

This guy can squeeze into a coffee can. He could be anywhere: It's always a plus when when our heroes nab their suspect during the episode, but when he can easily escape in a food cart while Sculder are otherwise employed, it doesn't count as much of a victory. Nor does case worker Duff's claim that Aboah merely ran away because back in his country he got used to evading authority figures.

We can also appreciate Mulder getting his hackles up. The show really picks and chooses the moments in which he strays from his usual objective in favor of really trying to solve a case. Season 3's "Oubliette" was the perfect example of this. As he stated there, not everything he says and does reflects back upon his sister. Here might there be a bit of an irk factor because Scully's taken the lead?

Historically, this episode is not much of a fan favorite, it's probably on the lower end of most spectrums. But there's a lot of growth for both our leads, probably best exemplified by Fox rationalizing that fear of the unknown causes people to reduce questions to the easiest possible theories. For the ambassador, it was the folk lore, for Scully science and for Mulder conspiracy. See, Fox is on top of his game too. He just profiled three people in the course of one sentence. 

Totally in Sestra Am's corner when it comes to the ambassador and not understanding his rationale for covering up the first death. Was he merely afraid the other ambassadors would refer to him as "Spooky"? It's not like the deaths would just stop after five murders like the Tooms case. Aboah needed constant -- and apparently increasing -- refresher courses.

We keep making references to the currently airing Season 11, and that's a credit to the series being able to reflect upon itself so many years later. There's been a lot of debate about Dana as a victim following the controversial opener, and she's completely the opposite here. Scully saves the day -- and Mulder -- by reading her partner's eyes ... and by being a good shot. Yeah, this was the fictional character we know and love who inspired so many in the real world to get into careers in science, medicine and the FBI. 

Guest star of the week: Apologies to Carl Lumbly, but Willie Amayke made a superbly creepy baddie as Samuel. The former Ghana Olympian was cast on the show soon after the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and although his previous acting work was just a bit part in Congo, he cuts quite the menacing figure. It's actually easy to disregard Tooms comparisons because our pulses quicken when Aboah's got Duff, Mulder and Scully in his sights.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

X-Files S4E2: There's no place like Mayberry

Sestra Amateur: 

It’s time for a nice, sweet family-friendly episode of The X-Files. Luckily, this one is a bottle ep because it’s pretty repulsive. The score is catchy, though. It starts with a woman in labor inside a remote farmhouse in Home, Pennsylvania. After the bambino is born, the deformed men witnessing the event bury the crying baby in a shallow, muddy grave. 

Sometime later, local boys are playing baseball near the property. The batter disturbs the baby’s final resting place and stains his sneakers when he digs in at the plate. Scully and Mulder report to the scene and meet with Sheriff Andy Taylor, who is not played by Andy Griffith. Mulder gets nostalgic for days of yore while Scully cracks about how Mulder can’t live without a cell phone. Dana, I can list at least five examples of Fox not having his cell phone and how it adversely affected you, him and your cases.

Mulder asks the sheriff whether he interviewed the farmhouse residents who have been watching Sculder. Taylor explains the tragic history of the Peacock family and implies they evolved into an inbred, ignorant lot who couldn’t be involved in the baby’s death. Considering the proximity of the body and the condition of the baby, the Peacock house should have been everyone’s first stop. 

Scully's autopsy confirms the baby was alive when buried. Afterward, the agents discuss having children. No, not together. Considering the direction of the first episode of Season 11, this conversation is rather disturbing, especially when Fox suggests Dana find a man with spotless genetic makeup so she can pump out uber-Scullys. On the upside, corrective lenses, alien abduction and conspiracy theories aside, the Mulders allegedly pass the genetic test. Fox thinks the baby’s young parents panicked. Dana is already on the inbred bandwagon … for the investigation. Mulder doesn’t think there’s a living female in the Peacock family because the brothers don’t have a sister and their mother supposedly died 10 years earlier.

Sculder find the birthing location inside the Peacock home. Luckily, the boys left some glaringly obvious footprints in the blood which match the ones Scully recovered at the burial site. Meanwhile, someone is hiding and listening as our heroes discuss their next moves. Dana calls the sheriff to update him. After providing some details about the Peacock family, Taylor considers carrying his gun again. But he decides against it, so that should bite him in the ass later. 

In his motel room, Mulder is wrestling with the TV antenna … remember those days? The Peacocks take a road trip and quickly ruin Johnny Mathis’ song "Wonderful! Wonderful!" for me. I’d rather think of Chances Are with Robert Downey Jr. and Cybill Shepherd when I hear it, not the Three Inbred Musketeers. They arrive at Sheriff Taylor’s house and beat him and his wife to death with bats. 

Deputy Barney Fife, I mean Barney Paster, is now in charge. He gives the baby’s DNA reports to Scully, and they indicate more genetic abnormalities than even she expected. Paster is ready to join their fight and kill the Peacocks, who are giving each other a very creepy pep talk about keeping their way of life.

The trio decide against calling for backup for expediency's sake and head to the Peacock farm. Paster takes the booby-trapped front door, so deputy go bye-bye. Sculder try to divert the Peacocks by chasing away the pig stock with Dana using dialogue from Babe to move them along. (“Nah-ram-ewe!” I’ve never seen Babe, but that line once popped up in an episode of How I Met Your Mother.) The pigs make a run for it while the FBI piglets head into the house. They find family photos which indicate the inbreeding has occurred for generations. 

Mulder finds a woman who has no arms and legs under the bed. He thinks she’s a traumatized victim but Scully confirms she’s Mrs. Peacock … in the bedroom … with the photographs. Mama chooses to stay, which clearly disturbs Mulder. Scully tries to reason with Mrs. Peacock, who views the world – and her boys – differently than “normal” people would. The boys return to the house and are unprepared for a gunfight with Sculder. Two of the boys die, but one gets away with Mama. They talk about finding a new home and starting again, which is not wonderful! wonderful! 

Sestra Professional:

My, how times have changed. Back in the day, "Home" was deemed so graphic that it came with a viewer's discretion warning and famously only aired on Fox the one time. Now it seems it tame. I mean not tame in the sense of babies squishing out of birth canals and getting buried, but tame in the sense of what's become acceptable on television since. By the way, it's probably important to note the infant stopped crying before being placed in the shallow grave -- cause the show's most experienced director -- the late, great Kim Manners -- said on the episode's commentary that was a point of contention for the network. 

"I did, perhaps, the most awful shot of my career when I shot the baby's (point of view) as it was placed in the hole, and the mud was being placed over the lens," Manners said in The Complete X-Files.

So Glen Morgan and James Wong returned to the fold after Space: Above and Beyond didn't fly and delivered one of the series' seminal episodes, reportedly with a desire to produce a truly dark and controversial show. Point, Morgan and Wong. But it's not just the gory nature of the case that makes it so wonderful wonderful, the returning writers really know the characters, and they delve more into who Mulder and Scully are as people while grossing everyone out. Dana wants to be a mom -- and this is a theme that will be examined down the line -- so she's empathizing with the mother of the baby. Since shippers consider Fox a candidate for dadhood, they're happy to learn his family history is in the clear.

There's something rotten in Mayberry: Somehow there's quite a lot of fun to be had in this episode too, and not just because Home, Pennsylvania seems akin to a certain Andy Griffith program. Just to point out Scully's precognitive powers, she likened Home, Pennsylvania to Mayberry before we learned the sheriff's name was Andy Taylor. Morgan and Wong strike the most delicate and precarious of balances because the crimes are so violent and the Peacocks' situation so off-putting.

I don't know if it's due to Dana's heightened sensitivities on this case or what not, but she is really on her game here. Not only does she realize the sons overheard the agents talking during their search of the house, she even solves how an infant with that many birth defects could have been born of the Peacock's mother before she learns the matriarch is still alive. Using a pop-culture Babe reference only makes Scully more of a ... well, I'll say it, babe. (Although note to Dana, the pig in the movie uses that phrase to move the sheep, not fellow oinkers.)

I knew we couldn't stay hidden forever: Mulder's big contribution to the proceedings proves to be obvious statements on the boys' undiluted animal behavior and how our heroes are intruders trying to stop the Peacocks from obeying the most savage laws of nature. Better luck next episode, Fox, you may now return to smelling baseballs at your leisure.

Sestra Am was reminded of the final moments of the just-aired Season 11 opener during Sculder's genetics discussion, but Mama Peacock's diatribe -- "I can tell you don't have no children. Maybe one day, you'll learn. The pride, the love. When you know your boy will do anything for his mother" -- really hit home for me in a similar way. Exactly what would Scully's son do for her and are we going to find that out before it all ends?

More than Mama meta: According to the official fourth-season episode guide, put Cadillac down in the not- offended column when it comes to "Home." Manners said the company sent the show a thank-you letter for putting one of their products in the ep. ... In The Complete X-Files, Morgan said "Wonderful! Wonderful!" was used because he liked when a song runs contrary to the action on screen. "Certain songs have a creepy, icky quality that none of us have really openly acknowledged." But Mathis wouldn't let the show use his version, so a sound-alike was dispatched. ... The Peacock's homestead also was used as serial killer Harry Cokely's home in Season 2's "Aubrey." ... A Peacock sequel was planned for sister show Millennium, but FOX gave it the kibosh, according to The Complete X-Files. ... Morgan has often said a story from Charlie Chaplin's autobiography about a quadruple amputee inspired this tale.

Guest star of the week: At Morgan and Wong's behest, during the fourth season we see quite a bit of personnel from the one-season-and-done Space: Above and Beyond, starting with Tucker Smallwood. He's both charming and naive as Sheriff Andy Taylor in a most perfect Griffith manner, but he also fits into The X-Files sensibility perfectly before the character's unfortunately early and untimely death.