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).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

X-Files S3E15: Introducing ... the always-slick black oil

Sestra Amateur: 

This episode continues the ongoing mythology of The X-Files. I learned an interesting bit of trivia about the title of this ep, but I’ll leave it up to Sestra Pro to provide the background information. I will disclose an unrelated Google fun fact: This episode takes place in the Pacific Ocean at latitude 42 degrees north and longitude 171 degrees east. When you start typing 42 degrees north in Google, it accurately autocompletes your search. The programmer must have been an X-Phile. That location puts the action way, way east of Japan. 

On the French salvage ship Piper Maru, a deep sea diver named Gauthier is heading downward to salvage some wreckage. What kind of experience do you think he’ll have? The Abyss (benevolent aliens who want to help us)? Leviathan (genetic experiment gone wrong)? Deep Star Six? (I think it was about a prehistoric creature that wanted to be left alone. All I remember from that one was campy Miguel Ferrer returning to the surface without decompressing. You could fit have him into a carry-on bag after that.) 

So Gauthier reaches his target, a fuselage that has one male survivor. Of course, if the black oil over the pupils is any indicator, this survivor is possessed by something. Gauthier returns to the surface and the crew removes him from the deep sea gear. He seems fine, but now his eyes are black oily too. And what happened to the survivor?

This episode makes up for last week’s snafu which took forever to get to the Skinner scene. I thought the wardrobe unit stopped using ultra-reflective lenses in Walter's glasses. They’re very distracting, because I’m always trying to see the camera crew. Immediately after the opening credits, the assistant director calls Scully into his office to tell her the case involving her sister’s murder is being reclassified to inactive (see "Paper Clip": Season 3, Episode 2). Sounds like he’s going to bat for Dana, but her anger gets the better of her, and for good reason. Put Mulder on Melissa’s murder investigation and it’ll get solved fairly quickly. 

Meanwhile, Fox is giddy because the Piper Maru was diving in the same location as the Talapus (see "Nisei": Season 3, Episode 9). The crew members arrived in San Diego suffering from radiation burns. Scully seems alternately impressed and annoyed with Mulder’s tenacity and they head to the Golden State. 

They meet with Dr. Seizer at the San Diego Naval Hospital, who doesn’t have answers but knows the men were exposed to man-made levels of radiation. Gauthier was the only one not showing symptoms, so he headed back home to Pacific Heights. Hope he’s not renting an apartment from Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine. Sculder learn the Hazmat team found nothing suspicious on the Piper Maru. They board the ship where Fox looks for the dive suit video camera. Dana correctly identifies the “fuselage” as a North American P-51 Mustang. Mulder looks at her with new appreciation.

Back in Pacific Heights, Gauthier’s wife, Joan, is thrilled he came home, but he’s a little distant. The black oil moves from him to her. Guess she’ll be the distant one now. Fox goes to Gauthier’s home and finds him disoriented and covered in black goo. It’s nowhere near as entertaining as the pink goo Janosz was doused with in Ghostbusters II. Mulder tries to question him about the company hired to salvage the Mustang, but Gauthier plays dumb then pulls the consulate card and refuses to answer any questions. 

At the Salvage Brokers office, employee Jeraldine acts suspiciously and points a concealed double-barreled shotgun at Fox. He’s lucky she didn’t pull the trigger when he assumed she was the secretary. Mulder leaves, but watches as French men storm in through the front while Jeraldine quietly leaves through the back. Fox tracks Jeraldine to San Francisco International Airport and prepares to follow her to Hong Kong. Gauthier's wife is at the same airport, probably taking the same flight. 

Scully takes a trip down memory lane as she follows a lead with Commander Johansen at the Naval Air Station in Miramar. The commander’s memory isn’t what it used to be, so he can’t really help Dana. Scully’s leaving the naval base when Johansen catches up to her to admit he was sent to find the Mustang when he served as an officer on the submarine Zeus Faber. The commander tells Dana about his crew’s attempt to recover the Mustang, their subsequent exposure to radiation and mutiny. Only seven of the 144 men survived. Scully calls Mulder to tell him the Mustang was originally an escort for a B-29 carrying an atomic bomb. That would explain the radiation, but not the black oil. 

Back in D.C., Skinner has unwelcome visitors while in a restaurant. Turns out, they don’t like his decision to keep Melissa’s murder investigation active. I’ll bet a lot of X-Files fans don’t want it open either. Walter gets in a couple of verbal shots then leaves. Mulder joins Jeraldine for dinner in Hong Kong. Turns out she owns the salvage company. Mulder handcuffs himself to her to play Let’s Make a Deal. 

They go to her office, where Krycek is waiting for them. Alex gets the upper hand since he has a gun and Mulder surrendered his when he entered Hong Kong. He’s probably thinking it doesn’t pay to play by the good-guy rules. Someone else kills Jeraldine and Krycek gets away. Fox escapes before Jeraldine’s murderers catch up to him. Joan arrives and glows white which causes the men to suffer radiation burns. 

Back in the assistant director's favorite restaurant, an irate customer is giving Skinner’s waitress a hard time. He steps in to help her but the guy shoots Walter in the gut. That just reeked of setup. Scully quickly gets the call about Skinner’s shooting. Does he have her listed as his emergency contact or something? 

Back in Hong Kong, Krycek is ready to go home to D.C. Mulder intercepts him at the airport and tries to get back the encrypted tape Alex took, so now it’s their turn to play Let’s Make a Deal. It didn’t really work out so well for Jeraldine. Nice guy Fox stupidly allows Alex to go into the bathroom alone. Of course, Joan shows up while Krycek’s at the urinal and now he’s possessed by the black oil. Not sure if Sestra Pro is going to be happy or sad about that one. 

Sestra Professional:

Color me happy. Always happy to have Alex back in the fray. And not just because Nicholas Lea eventually turned out to be the complete opposite of his character when I had the good fortune to meet him in person -- twice, 18 years apart. It's because Krycek puts a unique spin on the canvas. We're never really sure what he's going to do, and that's particularly true when the mysterious black oil coats his beautiful eyes -- and insides.

I wouldn't have minded if Sestra Am let the proverbial cat out of the bag on the naming of the episode since it's common knowledge among X-Philes. Chris Carter, who co-wrote the ep with Frank Spotnitz, named the ship -- and the episode -- after Gillian Anderson's daughter (and the executive producer's goddaughter), Piper Maru. (As we remember, it was Anderson's pregnancy that literally got the show's mythology off the ground.) By the way, Maru is a spirit in Japanese mythology that taught humans how to make ships, so the name is often used in naming them. (I can Google as well as Sestra Am.)

One of the things my Swiss cheese memory has retained is that Gillian picked "Piper Maru" as one of her favorite episodes, ostensibly for that reason in an Entertainment Weekly article. I particularly love the moment they give Scully to react after Mulder tells her the name of the ship. 

But Gillian has a lot of reasons to like this particular one on principle. Dana gets a chance to display some righteous anger. Her speech early in the episode on the closing of her sister's case is delivered pitch perfectly: "You know, it's strange -- men can blow up buildings, and they can be nowhere near the crime scene. But we can piece together the evidence and convict them beyond a doubt. Our labs here can recreate out of the most microscopic details their motivation and circumstance to almost any murder. Right down to a killer's attitude towards his mother and that he was a bed wetter. But in the case of a woman ... my sister ... who was gunned down in cold blood in a well-lit apartment building by a shooter who left the weapon at the crime scene, we can't even put together enough to keep anybody interested."

And this also could be the strongest episode to date for Mitch Pileggi's Skinner, who finally gets to do more than shuffle papers and look irritated by his renegade agent(s). There's actually a human being behind those ultra-reflective lenses. 

They know that they could drop you in the middle of the desert and tell you the truth is out there, and you'd ask them for a shovel: But before we get to Walter (and the glorious return of Krycek), there's a recap for viewers who might have been late to the bandwagon -- the original run was really hitting its stride at this time -- via the Sculder scene in their basement office. Then Dana gets to show off her medical skills again and we're out to sea on the mythology two-parter.

Our heroes are split up for much of the episode after the delivery of the exposition, just communicating by their trademark cell phones. But it never feels like a bad thing in "Piper Maru." Would we really need to see Dana talking to the non-secretary or watch Fox look bored as the commander admits what happened to son? It empowers them both to be working their angles at the same time.

That has the added benefit of giving weight to the Skinner scenes. Anderson, Pileggi and Duchovny all do real nice work by their lonesomes in this show. In the third-season episode guide, Gillian said she found it challenging to deal with the closing of her sister's murder investigation as well as her own past as a Navy brat. In The Complete X-Files, late great director Kim Manners added that she rose to the challenge. "You look at Season 1 and look at Season 3 and that girl exploded as an actress in terms of talent and capability."

To top it off, the unexpected return of Krycek -- Lea's name was held for the closing credits as to not give away the surprise, and that won't be the last time that's done. Alex's strength in the series is we never really know what he's up to or why. So we'll never know when he'll show up or why. And who he'll side with when he does so. Not to mention the fact that he gives Mulder -- and the fan base vicariously -- a chance to take out some of his frustration as a punching bag.

And nothing else metas: We've already had the ultimate inside information in the title, but a few more tidbits. This week's naming convention is brought to you courtesy of the show's master of special effects ... David Gauthier. ... According to the episode guide, the World War II pilot played by Robert F. Maier remained underwater in the shell of the cockpit for two hours, breathing through a regulator, of course. (Was his character really there or was he a mirage? That's probably a good litmus test for whether one is a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty person.)

Guest star of the week: I find Jeraldine to be a real shot in the arm in Fox's portion of the story. Not only does Jo Adams deftly explain why Mulder doesn't have a gun -- and why Krycek ultimately will -- but she really holds her own against Fox in the sass department. Up until the part her character becomes literal dead weight anyway.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

X-Files S3E14: Seeing beauty in the 'Grotesque'

Sestra Amateur: 

First off, let me tell you there aren’t a lot of accurate synonyms for the word "gargoyle," so I apologize in advance for its overuse here. The episode opens in an art class at George Washington University. Student John Mostow is drawing his version of the very not-grotesque male model, but makes him look practically demonic. Mostow uses his own blood to add some color to the charcoal drawing, then bolts out of the class when it’s over. Fabio Jr. tries to open his car door, but someone who has jammed the lock slashes him. 

The next morning Mostow’s alarm wakes him up, mere moments before the FBI raids his place. Mostow manages to bite Agent Greg Nemhauser, maybe he’s a cannibal too. Bill Patterson, played by everyone’s favorite dumbass-hating TV sitcom father Kurtwood Smith, is the Agent in Charge and finds the box cutter that may have been the murder weapon. 

One week later, Sculder review the case. Seven murders are linked to Mostow, all men between the ages of 17 and 25. Of course, Mostow claims he was possessed when the murders occurred. And Assistant Director Skinner wants Sculder on the case because a murder with an identical modus operandi occurred while Mostow was in custody. That’s one way to direct the blame elsewhere, John. 

Sculder meet Mostow in jail where he’s drawing yet another gargoyle head. Scully tries to use rationale and common sense to reach John, but proves unsuccessful. Mostow is convinced the demon has found a new host. They get interrupted by Agent Patterson, who clearly thinks Mulder is full of it. Dana is practically a groupie around Bill, who heads the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. Fox and Patterson, who have history, verbally spar then go their separate ways. Sculder go to Mostow’s place and find full-size demon sculptures in a hidden room. Turns out, a dead body is inside the gargoyle. More like five additional victims. 

In the meantime, Agent Nemhauser -- Scully to Patterson’s Mulder -- is at the hospital with the latest victim, who suffered horrible burns. Turns out Patterson secretly wants Fox's assistance. Mulder is researching the gargoyle image and subjecting us to an overlong voiceover when Patterson comes a-calling. Again, things don’t end on good terms, which brings up a very pertinent question: How come we’re halfway through the episode and still haven’t seen Skinner?

Dana goes to Fox's apartment and sees he has been in full Mostow mode; not the killing part, mind you, just demon images all over the room. Mulder starts making his own gargoyle bust out of papier mache. He falls asleep in Mostow’s apartment but wakes when he senses someone hovering over him. Of course, it looks like a demon. Fox chases it, but gets slashed and knocked down. Scully, Patterson and the medics arrive to help Mulder, who doesn’t stick around for long. An irritated Dana gets over her Bill infatuation and confronts him about Mulder, but suddenly he sounds like an X-Files believer. He actually suggests Scully let Fox do what he needs to do. Meanwhile, Nemhauser is standing to the side, caressing the bite mark on his hand. Yeah, that’s not weird at all. Maybe he should tell someone. Dumbass. Mulder confronts Mostow about why the demon didn’t kill him. Just take the win, Fox.

Dana's hanging out with the fingerprint tech and learns her partner's prints are on the murder weapon. That makes Mulder a dumbass too. Luckily, the tech just assumed Fox was shoddy at securing the evidence properly. Scully gets called to Skinner’s office – only took three-fourths of the episode – because Fox fondled the murder weapon. Walter seems concerned about Mulder’s mental state and he’s probably right since at that moment he is having a disturbing dream about Patterson and Nemhauser. Of course, Fox's living room is just littered with gargoyle images. He goes back to Mostow’s studio and finds new demon busts … and a blood trail ... and an arm. Yep, just the arm. 

Scully returns a message from Greg and calls his cell phone. Mulder finds Nemhauser’s phone and jacket. Dana asks him about the knife and he admits to fondling the evidence. Fox finds Greg inside the bust. Based on all of the bodies they recovered in the other busts, it sure took a while for Mulder to tear apart that sucker. Patterson arrives and Mulder realizes he’s the killer because Bill's hands are covered in clay. Looks like he delved a little too deeply into Mostow’s psyche. 

Scully arrives and distracts Mulder so Patterson makes a run for it. Sculder give chase but Bill – holding the box cutter in his grotesque-looking hand – tries to slash Fox. Proving you shouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight, Mulder shoots him. Two weeks later, a healing Patterson is sounding exactly like Mostow. Guess he really didn’t mean to do it. Irony, dumbass. 

Sestra Professional:

"Grotesque" isn't an episode traditionally shown a lot of love by X-Philes. But penned by Howard Gordon, it fits right into the show's stand-alone wheelhouse. It reminds me of a few Medium episodes in which Supernatural's demon king Mark Sheppard jumps from body to body, leaving a trail of corpses and possessed patsies in his wake. Come to think of it, there's also a Medium arc in which Kurtwood Smith plays a profiler admired by the female lead who turns out to be less than worthy of her esteem. I digress as The X-Files clearly did theirs first, but those are just another couple examples of how the show won friends and influenced people.

What makes you think I'd want to see that? Kudos to the props department for the amazing gargoyle images that play such a big part in the overall picture and then building on that horror by revealing the bodies contained within. Assistant art director Gary Allen created the gargoyle sketches, produced by the art department and given to cinematographer John Bartley and director Kim Manners. They imbued the picture with rich blues and dark shadows and the result was a moody piece with abundant creeps and scares. The Academy agreed, Bartley took home an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography.

We get a little variation on the Mulder and Scully theme too. Starting with how Dana appreciates Bill's work and Fox can't spare the time of day for him. So it's not just traditional science that brings our heroes to different theories this time around. "I wouldn't want to disappoint you by not disappointing you," Mulder tells Patterson. And we can extend that analogy a little further, widening it to an array of people in Fox's orbit -- his family, little-seen boss Skinner and the FBI in general. But not Dana, never Dana.

Is this the monster called madness? Another aspect of this particular episode I really appreciate is the obsessive component of Mulder's personality brought forward. He's prone to addictive behavior and delving into the history of Mostow's art fits messily into that concept. It's not, by any means, a stretch to see him fall asleep in a studio, surrounded by art or with books laid out in front of him.

"I'm very proud of that episode," Howard Gordon said in the official third-season episode guide, "because I think it illuminated a lot of Mulder. ... There really is this line between madness and sanity. We sort of walk around and act civilized, but there's this thin membrane between us and people who walk into McDonald's and start shooting things up."

Dana's also running true to form. She can put her respect for Patterson aside when she realizes he's holding a grudge against her partner. When evidence is in front of her, she won't ignore it to suit her theory. That proves to be one of the biggest differences between our leads, and that will enable the show to keep going and growing in the face of Scully less and less able to deny supernatural and/or extraterrestrial occurrences.

A little meta will do ya: According to the third-season guide, a Catholic hospital was reluctant to let the show affix gargoyle figures to the exterior of their building for the opening sequence. ... The Patterson character reportedly was sculpted (pun intended) in the mold (yes, again) on real-life FBI profiler John Douglas, credited with writing the proverbial book on profiling. Douglas reportedly suffered from stress illnesses caused by his work, and so not completely off the mark from the fictional version depicted here. ...  Nemhauser was named for the show's post-production supervisor Lori Jo Nemhauser. 

Guest star of the week: With apologies to the intense Lavani as the bedeviled Mostow, it's a That 70's Show repeat. On the heels of Lisa Robin Kelly co-garnering kudos last week for "Syzygy," her on-screen dad Kurtwood Smith cops the honor in "Grotesque." There's a reason he became the go-to guy for shows of the era like The X-Files and Medium. Namely, the casting personnel weren't dumbasses.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

X-Files S3E13: Finding the cosmic G-spot

Sestra Amateur: 

In Green Bay country (I’m assuming so because of the school colors on the high school letterman’s jacket) and some teens are conducting a candlelight memorial for their friend, Bruno. Boom -- played by late bloomer Ryan Reynolds -- and the other kids are worried about “the cult” that has been killing teenagers in their town. Two teenage girls are concerned too. They claim “the cult” is looking for a blonde virgin. One of the girls should be safe; I don’t think she’s a natural blonde. 

The girls (played by Wendy Benson and the late Lisa Robin Kelly) convince Boom to drive them home, then convince him he could solve their problem by making sure they weren’t virgins anymore. What heterosexual high-school male is going to pass that up?!? Alas, it’s a trap and Boom is found hanging the next morning while the girls are playing a whimsically disturbing game of “He loves me, he loves me not” at the murder scene. I guess Boom can’t love anyone anymore. Start preparing for your future as Deadpool, Ryan.

The next day, Sculder are bickering like an old married couple as they approach the small town of Comity, which is actually in New Hampshire. Clearly I was wrong about Green Bay country. Hey, Sestra Pro: If Amity means friendship, what does Comity mean? Maybe they just misspelled Community or the town was charged by the letter for the welcome sign. 

At Bruno’s funeral, they meet with local detective Angela White, who claims three teen boys have possibly been murdered by a satanic cult. Scully is a wee bit skeptical, while Mulder has some fun at Dana's expense. Scully brings up a stunningly good investigative point though, why did Detective White interview the girls together instead of separately? If their stories didn’t match then Angela could have solved the murders, not wasted the FBI’s time and Sculder could have moved on to a Skinner ep (Next week's "Grotesque"). Dana makes the same crack about the detective's fake blond hair that I made about the girls. Great skeptical minds think alike. White gets distracted by a scared parent who starts creating a scene about the satanic cult. Our blondish murderesses create their own distraction by setting Bruno’s casket on fire. Maybe he was supposed to be cremated.

Back at the Caryl County Sheriff’s Office, Sculder do Detective White’s job for her and interview the girls separately. Scully takes Terri while Mulder gets Margi. Their satanic cult stories are so similar that some of the sentences are verbatim, and the detective thinks that means they’re telling the truth. The investigators look at Boom’s burned body. Fox and Angela see a horned (pronounced "horn-ed") beast on his chest, but Dana claims not to see it. Mulder’s annoyance with Scully goes from being playfully entertaining to downright pissy and impatient. Fox and the detective visit an astrologist who denies seeing a horn-ed beast but tells them about the rare alignment of Mercury, Mars and Uranus. (Tee hee, Uranus…)

At the high school, Terri and Margi (Targi? Merri?) are being typical cheerleader bitches until they decide to crush one of the basketball players in the retractable bleachers. And all he did was spill Gatorade on them. Sculder continue to show they need couples’ therapy when Bob, the hysterical parent from the funeral who is also the high school principal, starts digging up another resident’s yard with other panicked parents because that’s supposedly where the cult’s mass grave of victims is located. And just when it seems like Dana might have gotten through to Detective White, one of the diggers finds bones! That’s two episodes in a row that mob mentality has overruled Scully’s common sense. 

The bones are conveniently located in a bag with the initials R.W.G. Bob screams a child's bones are in the bag and that it belongs to Dick Godfrey, the town pediatrician. The lynch mob goes to Godfrey's house to confront him and the frightened doc is partially in drag. Dick claims he sold the bag a year ago to Terri Roberts. Scully confirms his account and proves they’re animal bones, not child bones. (Rest in peace, Mr. Tippy.) Meanwhile, Mulder’s attracted to someone’s perfume … probably Dr. Godfrey’s.

Later that night, Targi celebrate their birthdays by dancing badly to Live and freaking out rival Brenda by convincing her she’s going to marry Satan. Maybe it’s really Santa and they just spelled it wrong. Brenda runs to the bathroom where Merri are playing the Bloody Mary game, but Brenda's the one who loses. 

In their hotel rooms, Mulder and Scully are watching TV separately but every channels is showing Keystone Kops. I cannot tell what nasty stuff Mulder is adding to his bottle of vodka, but he takes a couple of swigs afterward. Scully’s unusual behavior involves smoking in bed and muttering about Detective White. Boy, those aligned planets are just messing with everyone. Angela goes to Fox's room to show him her cat’s collar. Guess the girls did something to her kitty. Mulder puts the moves on Angela, who drinks his vodka, then throws him on the bed and starts kissing him. Dana, of course, barges in to tell him there’s been another death. Before they head to the crime scene, Fox's attitude sinks low enough to make a short joke about Scully, so the agents split up to follow separate leads. 

Targi try to “console” Brenda’s boyfriend Scott, but he freaks out and leaves. Margi doesn’t react the way Terri wants her to. I guess there’s trouble in paradise. Mulder goes back to the astrologist. After the credit card company authorizes payment (up to $300 dollars – either he’s near his limit or his credit sucks), Fox learns those three planets are in conjunction for the first time in 84 years. Throw in the house of Aquarius, Comity being a geological vortex and Jan. 12 (of course) being the perfect alignment date as well as Targi’s birthday and birth year (1979). Can you imagine having all of the energy of the cosmos focused on you and only you? Meanwhile, Margi is still making a play for Scott, and Terri doesn’t handle that well. The girls finally try to hurt each other, but Scott gets caught in the crossfire and dies. I guess you could say he got screwed to death. 

Margi calls Mulder and claims she knows who the killer is. Scully and Detective White are driving down the road when they get pelted by dead birds. Bob and his mob (The Bob Mob?) are hunting for Satanists when Dana again tries to reason with them. Comity, my ass. Terri shows up claiming she knows who the killer is. Fox meets with Margi and finds poor dead Scott. Terri and Margi naturally blame each other. Mulder calls Scully and they compare suspect notes. They meet at the sheriff’s station where things start to go really wonky with the Keystone Cops theme playing in the background. Fox drags Margi into a cell. Terri goes a little more willingly. And at midnight, everything stops and the girls are normal again. Sucks to be them, but it would have been interesting to see a followup episode with a trial and Targi’s temporary insanity defense. “Sure. Fine. Whatever.”

Sestra Professional:

It's Chris Carter's first foray into Darin Morgan's trademark territory and we can quickly see that he's not quite as deft at the comic element -- poking fun at your leads is a subtle art because you don't want to dilute their strengths in the process -- but "Syzygy" definitely has its moments.

Sure, fine, whatever: It's true Mulder and Scully aren't acting like themselves, and a lot of that can be explained away by the rare planetary alignment thing causing the two teen girls to go into some kind of supernatural Heathers overdrive. I can't help think Morgan would have done this better, and in fact, just did do so on the previous episode, "War of the Coprophages," which had a lot of the same undertones. (Perhaps the episodes shouldn't have aired back to back.) Cue clunky dialogue: "I was hoping you could help me solve the mystery of the horny beast." Commence eye roll. 

A lot of Mulder's verbiage gets delivered in some kind of elongated form that makes it more pretentious than usual. For instance: "We are but visitors on this rock, hurtling through time and space at 66,000 miles an hour. Tethered to a burning sphere by an invisible force in an unfathomable universe. This most of us take for granted, while refusing to believe these forces have any more effect on us than a butterfly beating its wings halfway around the world."

I'm not entirely willing to give up on this one, though. There are some inspired bits of business, such as Mulder drinking ( Sestra Am, that's orange juice concentrate) and Scully smoking in their respective hotel rooms while Fox can only charge up to a whopping $300 on his credit card. All that bickering about driving and ditching harkened back to fans' complaints since the beginning of the series.

Happy birthday, bitch: The story actually gets some traction as it goes along with Mulder taking Terri's side and Scully firmly in Marji's corner. And the denouement gives director Rob Bowman the opportunity for one whale of a final set piece as furniture relocates itself and guns go off all cocked in the police station to "Flight of the Bumblebees." 

While the episode title's textbook definition is the alignment of three celestial objects, Carter was probably leaning toward the Jungian use of "Syzygy" as a union of opposites. Speaking of the dictionary, "Comity" means "mutual courtesy" and "civility." Hardee har har, Car-ter. (By the way, in the official third-season episode guide, the executive producer thought fans didn't understand the sign. Uh, we did, Chris.)

But the clumsy dialogue also gives way to some classic lines. In the episode guide, Gillian Anderson said she loved when Fox reveals why Dana doesn't get to drive, "I was just never sure your little feet could reach the pedals," and David Duchovny really sells the one about Fox knowing that Dana really likes "snapping on the latex." 

You don't suppose she's a virgin, do you? ... I doubt she's even a blonde: There's some obvious meta to this episode as David Duchovny's third-season flame Dana Wheeler-Nicholson as hot-and-cold Detective White got a juicier role than his second-season steady (Perrey Reeves in the ill-fated "3").  

Guest stars of the week: Both Wendy Benson (Wishmaster) and Lisa Robin Kelly (That '70s Show) give their all as the planetarily afflicted duo of doom. They can even sell tired "Hate him, hate him, wouldn't want to date him" and "He loves me, he loves me not" mantras. I would like to see the sequel Sestra Am envisioned of their trial. Should the girls get tried separately, like they were eventually questioned, or together?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

X-Files S3E12: Behold the mighty Darin Morgan

Sestra Amateur: 

There are people who can watch X-Files episodes of serial killers burning people alive ("Fire": Season 1, Episode 12), indulging in ice-cold babe fetishes ("Irresistible": Season 2, Episode 13) and treating their dry skin by sucking the fat out of victims (2Shy: Season 3, Episode 6) without wincing. But some will have trouble sitting through this bug-filled 45-minute stretch. Be thankful it’s a bottle episode. Yep, writer Darin Morgan is at it again, but in a good way. And it’s way more enjoyable because it’s one of the few times Mulder’s cell phone comes in handy. 

In Miller’s Grove, Massachusetts, we open on an exterminator sounding way more passionate about a cockroach than he really needs to be, shortly before he stomps one to death. Bug Man continues his God complex while talking with customer Dr. Jeff Eckerle about how to get rid of roaches. He acts a lot like John Goodman in Arachnophobia when coming across a roach that just won’t die, even when he steps on it. Maybe the roach should have the God complex for Bug Man has some type of attack and roaches come out of the wall to dominate him. Roaches: 1, Man: 0. Hope Dr. Eckerle didn’t pay in advance. On the upside, it sounds like Mark Snow had fun creating the score for this one.

Scully calls Mulder, who’s driving around Massachusetts because his apartment is being fumigated – yes, really. They quickly get into a very deep, philosophical conversation about the possibility of life on other planets. Fox gets interrupted by local police Sheriff Frass, who thinks Mulder is waiting for his drug dealer. After a quick attitude adjustment brought about by Fox's credentials, the sheriff gets spooked when Mulder talks about bugs on the windshield. The funny part is how Frass was puzzled because Fox was using his windshield wipers, presumably because it wasn’t raining. But the scene cuts to the cop going back to his car and it’s clearly raining. Either way, the sheriff bolts because of a bug-related call. Turns out, three people have been “killed” by roaches in one day. Guess that makes it Roaches: 3, Man: 0. Mulder wants Scully up there to help him, but she tells Mulder the victims likely died of anaphylactic shock. He agrees and she goes back to eating dinner and watching TV. 

Meanwhile, some stoners are using chemistry to expand their minds, man. One watches a roach crawl inside his arm and tries to cut it out. Tyler Labine, playing the first of three stoners on The X-Files, and Nicole Parker, playing the first of three chicks on The X-Files, try to keep their friend from killing himself but are unsuccessful. Roaches: 4, Man: 0. Fox again calls Dana to come up to investigate with him, but Scully explains the victim likely suffered from Ekbom’s Syndrome, a delusional infestation brought about by drug use. Mulder agrees and Dana goes back to washing her dog – yes, she still has Queequeg. 

Fox finally finds a roach at the crime scene, but its metal exoskeleton disintegrates. That’s not normal, even for an X-File. The sheriff thinks the government created the killer cockroaches just like killer bees and the poor medical examiner gets swarmed while sitting on the toilet in the hospital. Roaches: 5, Man: 0. Mulder spots a live suspect roach and tries to take it in for questioning, but it escapes down the drain. Fox calls Scully yet again for help, but she diagnoses a brain aneurysm based on Mulder’s description of the medical examiner’s body. Guess he should have eaten more fiber. Dana then goes back to reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She really just wanted a quiet night at home, didn’t she?

Fox is breaking into the Department of Agriculture building when Scully calls to tell him about her killer cockroach research. He’s wandering the house in the dark when he notices the rippling walls. You know what that means. So Mulder’s surrounded by roaches when the next worst thing happens ... his flashlight dies. Luckily, he gets rescued by the lovely Dr. Bambi Berenbaum of the U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service, played by Bobbie Phillips, David Duchovny’s former Red Shoe Diaries co-star. Dr. Bambi is the anti-Scully, not only believing in aliens, but believing insect swarms are UFOs. She admires insects because they only eat, sleep, defecate and procreate … just like humans. Fox is so taken with Dr. Bambi he actually hangs up on Dana – doesn’t he realize she lost contact with him when the roaches attacked him?! Stop thinking with Little Mulder, Fox! 

In Mulder’s hotel, another lodger is about to experience a roach-related death. He also seems to be getting a little bug-paranoid and calls Scully back – finally – although it’s not like she used any of her FBI resources to make sure he was OK. Mulder admits he hates insects. He again hangs up on Dana when a hotel room guest screams. Of course, the unfortunate soul who finds the latest victim is poor Dr. Eckerle. Fox misses the roaches again. Roaches: 6, Man: 0.

Dr. Scully is packing to head up to Massachusetts. Is it because of the case or because she’s jealous of Dr. Bambi? Turns out, all of Dana's diagnoses were correct. Mulder finally finds a live one, in a Roach Motel, no less. He brings it to Dr. Bambi who is disturbingly impressed by how well hung it is … the roach, not Fox. Mulder seeks out Dr. Ivanov, who believes in aliens but disses Fox's stereotypical alien theories. Mulder shows the robot roach legs to Dr. Ivanov, who is at a loss for words. I’ll let Sestra Pro articulate what happened next because I’m curious to know whether it’s a Darin Morgan or Kim Manners bit of inspiration.

Scully, who is heading Fox's way, shows up at a convenience store being overrun by paranoid people. I can understand people taking batteries, bug spray and water, but why is the sailor taking chocolate and panty hose? Dana tries to drill some common sense into the customers, but it doesn’t work out so well. Hope she was able to find a road map. 

Mulder finds another roach and brings it to Dr. Bambi, but it’s a normal one. Scully learns Dr. Eckerle’s research may be ground zero since roaches are dung eaters and may have arrived in his international samples. Fox is … skeptical. He’s still on the alien insect infestation bandwagon. He goes to Eckerle’s lab, but the doctor shoots at him. Mulder reminds him about the presence of methane gas, hoping he’ll put the gun down. Too bad Eckerle thinks Fox is a cockroach too.

Dana arrives and meets Bambi before going inside to rescue Mulder. Unfortunately, Fox's cricket-sounding cell-phone ring tone almost gets him shot. Sculder get out of the building just before it blows up, but they get covered in … crap. 

The next morning, the sheriff updates them regarding other incidents that occurred in town overnight -- riots, fires, car crashes. Dr. Ivanov arrives and hits it off with Dr. Bambi. Does that mean Mulder was cock(roach)-blocked? Ivanov: 1, Mulder: 0.

Sestra Professional:

What do you mean, why does the guy need chocolate, Sestra Am? Panty hose, maybe not so much, although I'm thinking of Dick Cavett's Apollo 13 joke at the moment or maybe he's making plans to be one of the looters.

Behold the mighty cockroach: It's a shame we only have Darin Morgan writing three episodes of the initial series run -- plus a quarter of another one if you count the scene penned by him in the upcoming Loch Ness monster-flavored "Quagmire" later this season. Luckily, we'll have Vince Gilligan -- and even executive producer Chris Carter -- to assume some Darin-esque duties with some deep-seated, flavorable eps. And to poke some fun at our agents, who definitely need it from time to time.

It's not just that Morgan has a way with words and phraseology and plot devices, it's the way he taps into our psyches and cultural and delivers the most entertaining and even plot-advancing material. But I have to add Darin wasn't real happy with the finished product, which does come off as an homage to the standard War of the Worlds blueprint.

This one's got so much meta behind it, there's almost no time to discuss the real show. Dr. Berenbaum caused more X-Files fans to riot about Mulder's love interest than the vamp he actually slept with in Season 2. Personally, I don't think there was anything to worry about. The telephone conversations between the agents are a lot more intimate than the awkward flirtations between Fox and Bambi. Meanwhile, Scully correctly details possible causes of death long distance, while still being able to enjoy at least half of what the rest of us might consider a quiet evening at home. 

Scully, what are you wearing?: We actually get insight into why Dana continues to not believe in aliens -- she believes the universe couldn't have created as complicated a life form as the human race. To her, it's downright anti-Darwinian. Scully uses a
Planet of the Apes reference to inadvertently raise Mulder's temperature even more (and prime him for meeting Bambi, no doubt.) But Fox might be even more turned on if he knew Dana was cleaning her gun at the same time she was having that discussion. 

Morgan doesn't put Mulder through quite the ringer that he usually does, maybe that's why Darin finds fault with the finished product. Minus the dung that rains down on both the agents at the end, of course. And the emergency-room doctor who feels "slightly constipated" after not getting any answers from the special agent. And young Fox's praying-mantis epiphany scream. And the insect robot attracted to Mulder. And the doctor berating him for being brainwashed by too much science fiction. I guess Morgan still tags him a time or five, not including the big in-joke -- David Duchovny missed Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's in the final round while competing on Celebrity Jeopardy.

All his contributions are built this way. The sheriff's name is Frass, you say? Frass means insect excrement. The episode's title "War of the Cophrophages" is derived from the word meaning "feeding on dung." The chocolate sounded great, maybe a wee bit less when looking at a box labeled Choco Droppings. But that had to taste better to Gillian Anderson than the cricket she ate in in her last Morgan episode. (By the way, is Dana counted among the looters for eating chocolate without paying for it? Nah, I'm sure she left a buck on the counter.)

And Kim Manners is the perfect director to bring Morgan's work to the screen. His offbeat sensibility serves the material well, whether shooting Mulder reaching for a cockroach inside a sink drain, Fox and Bambi looking at an insect's genitals through the same microscope, the cockroach POV in which Mulder looks like a prism, or the renegade insect darting across the screen. (Sestra Am, that was indeed Morgan's idea, and according to The Complete X-Files, he was dismayed to not get reports of people across the nation throwing their shoes at their TV sets in fear, a la the original War of the Worlds.

Here's the late, great Manners recounting "directing" the roaches in the third-season episode guide: "After about four takes, as a joke, I said to Debbie Cox, our wrangler, bring the bugs over here. I stuck my head in the bucket and I said, 'Now listen you little (expletive deleted), I'm gonna give two cues: The first one is 'Camera action' and the second one is 'Action.' That's when you little (expletive deleted) run to the top of the tank.' I said 'Action!' and they were right there. An absolutely perfect shot. It's a true story, and it worked."

This is no place for an entomologist: Any fan who's seen the blooper reel probably can't look at Scully driving up to the factory and delivering the line "Let me guess, Bambi" without thinking of Tom Braidwood -- Frohike to all of us, but the first assistant director behind the scenes -- doing the same thing in camera rehearsal.

But it's Morgan's show to the end, maybe he hasn't seen as many dog X-Files episodes as we have. It really works right down to the final touch, Mulder typing his report and having the computer glitch on the word "technology."

Guest star of the week: Manners induced relaxed performances from his leads and the main guest actors. Smart is indeed sexy, and even after a late entrance, Ken Kramer steals scenes -- and the girl -- as Dr. Alexander Ivanov. Only in a Darin Morgan script would the hot scientist end up with the wheelchair-bound, mechanical voice box-using doctor.