Saturday, June 16, 2018

X-Files S4E17: Looking for the plane truth

Sestra Amateur: 

Here's your Latin Lesson du jour: Tempus Fugit when you’re having Amet -- time flies when you're having fun. Remember Max Fenig from "Fallen Angel" (Season 1, Episode 10)? I didn't, but luckily Sibling Cinema has these informational blogs to jog your memory. 

Max is back, still paranoid and quite the squeamish airline passenger on Flight 549. But he has good reason to be paranoid, another passenger has one of those non-metallic John Malkovich guns from In the Line of Fire that can get through security. He pieces it together in the bathroom, but before the would-be hitman can use it, the plane is attacked by … turbulence and bright light?

Back in Washington, D.C., Sculder are celebrating Dana’s birthday. I would love to find a restaurant that serves Hostess Sno Balls with a sparkler candle. Mulder seems unusually giddy as he gives Scully her birthday gift. They are interrupted by Max’s sister, Sharon Graffia, who says Fenig was delivering something important but his plane went down. The agents attend the National Transportation Safety Board meeting on the crash, and the last radio transmission implies the plane may have been forced down. Lead investigator Mike Millar, played by Joe Spano -- who has made a career out of playing respectable law enforcement characters -- is this episode’s mandatory non-believer. He belittles Fox's theories in front of the crash investigators because of the seriousness of the situation -- everyone on board is presumed dead. I’m sure Millar will see the light, so to speak, before the last act. 

Sculder arrive at the horrific crash site and Dana lists all of the possible weather-related causes of the crash. Half of the hitman is found by "investigators" who knew to look for his gun. They remove it discreetly and just as subtly burn away his fingerprints and facial features with some type of acid in an aerosol can. Can you imagine if their significant others mistook that for their Aquanet hair spray? Mulder and Scully find watches which stopped at 8:01, even though the crash supposedly occurred at 7:52. The man sitting next to Max is found alive, but barely. Dana claims his burns are from radiation, not from a fire. 

Sharon gives Scully additional information about Max, who used one of his aliases to book his flight, and another to work in a facility where plutonium is stored. Fox stands by his belief that Fenig was abducted before the crash and will return. Dana breaks the news to Mulder that Max’s body was found near the crash site. Back in her hotel room, Sharon gets a visit from the turbulence and bright light. Not quite sure what that means when there’s no plane involved.

Mulder looks at Fenig's partial remains. Luckily (or unluckily) it’s the top part, so Fox can clearly see his face, as well as the Fox Mulder business card in Max’s shirt pocket. Amusing how Scott Bellis keeps showing signs of life when he's not supposed to be alive. Maybe he’s ticklish. And was it just me or did Mulder’s speech to Scully about the ignorance of facts as fact seem just as relevant in this day and age as it was during the original airing 21 years ago? Fox still sees conspiracy, especially since the other passengers are missing their wristwatches. Of course, if the crash occurred now, maybe only a handful of the passengers would be wearing them because watches have become pretty obsolete.

Sculder interview Sgt. Louis Frisch, one of the Von Drehle Air Force base air traffic controllers who saw Flight 549 drop altitude at 1952 hours (7:52 p.m. in civilian speak). He claims they notified Albany’s air traffic controllers when they couldn’t reach the plane. He doesn’t give Mulder any answers about the missing nine minutes. After the agents depart, we learn Sgt. Frisch told them what he was supposed to tell them, not the truth. His partner, Sgt. Gonzales, is ready to crack under the pressure.

Sharon’s motel room has been trashed with no sign of her, so Fox claims alien abduction. Can you imagine if that was your default setting? Newspaper didn’t arrive? Aliens stole it. Blind date stood you up? Must have been alien abduction. Dana tells the motel manager the government will pay for the room damages. Investigator Millar is warming up to Mulder’s theories, especially when he finds evidence of unexplained tampering on the emergency door by Max’s seat. 

When Frisch returns to the Air Force base, it looks like Gonzales shot himself in the head. Although a suicide shot would make more sense if it was to the temple or in the mouth, not the middle of the forehead. So it’s probably not suicide. Armed men, including the one who took the would-be hitman’s gun at the crash site, arrive for Frisch, but he hides on the roof.

Mulder recognizes the air traffic controller’s voice on the black box recording. He wakes Scully and tells her to come over and listen to it. It’s a portable tape player, Fox. Get off your lazy ass and walk to her room! On the way, Dana gets grabbed by Frisch, who takes responsibility for the crash. Louis admits to Sculder and Millar he was under orders by his commanding officer to monitor Flight 549. Frisch also claims the military shot down the civilian plane. Mulder thinks a third aircraft, possibly a stealth one, was also involved. Apparently Fox would still rather think it’s an alien conspiracy instead of a simple government conspiracy. 

Millar suggests they go look for the second crash site. Shadowy government agents try to intercept Sculder and Frisch's car, chasing them down a runway at the airport. Fox outruns a landing plane, which forces the chasers off the runway. Mike arrives at the crash site and sees a stealth UFO scanning the ground with a bright light. It stops briefly above Millar before it disappears. Then Sharon shows up out of nowhere, begging Mike not to let it take her again.

Back at the airport, Mulder raises the theory that the secondary crash site is in the nearby lake. Fox sends Dana off to D.C. to safely deliver Frisch while he checks out Great Sacandaga Lake, where some type of search and rescue is indeed in effect. Scully decides to swing by her apartment to pick up a few things before delivering Louis to a safe house. Frisch asks to make a personal phone call. Get the feeling that was a bad idea? You should know better, Dana. 

Back on the lake, a somewhat inexperienced Mulder is going scuba diving. Scully takes Frisch to the birthday restaurant, where a buzzed Agent Pendrell is at the bar and very happy to see Dana. Hey Louis, you might feel more comfortable if you changed out of clothing that clearly identifies you as Sgt. Frisch with the United States Air Force. Alas, these words will have no impact upon him because the shadowy hitman has found them. He shoots Pendrell as he unintentionally blocks Louis and Scully shoots the killer. Back at the lake, Mulder finds UFO wreckage and what seems to be a small, gray alien inside. Before he can investigate further, a bright light appears behind him. Are you more concerned about Mulder’s fate (which is pretty safe, Duchovny being under contract and all) or non-contract Brendan Beiser and lovestruck Pendrell’s possibly lethal chest wound? You’ll have to wait until next week go find out how it gets resolved...

Sestra Professional:

...unless you watch ahead on your streaming device or pull out the DVDs ... or just remember what happens from seeing it before. I think you were right about that Duchovny dude, though.

You didn't remember Max, Sestra Am? He's my favorite non-Lone Gunmen Lone Gunman. In fact, pause for unpopular opinion effect ... I might actually like him more than our lovable trio of misfits, probably because he's kind of like all three rolled up into one person. The aliens seem to like him even more than I do. But it was a treat to see him again and very disheartening when he was so swiftly taken away. It was particularly painful when it felt like maybe Max had been saved by something otherworldly, only to find out in the least dramatic way possible that he hadn't been. 

Perhaps you were more invested in poor Agent Pendrell, who has been passive passively (as opposed to passive aggressively) pining away for our brilliant doctor, Sestra? He's pretty drunk at the bar, maybe he had been waiting and drinking since Dana's actual birthday. Apparently that gave him license to be pretty pushy when it came to Scully and what we thought was her date. That shot sure sobered him up, though. Does no one actually understand what the words "Get down" mean? I thought Dana's intention was pretty clear.

Speaking of Scully's birthday, this is where the telltale Apollo 11 keychain comes into play. That's a prop we will see again in the later years when it's regifted ... a couple of times. Although I gotta admit Mulder's joke of a couple of alien implants made into earrings might have made a great marketing gimmick.

It's pretty jarring to go from that to the crash investigation, but maybe that's the point of the script co-written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz and vividly depicted on the screen by director Rob Bowman. There were 134 passengers and crew members on the manifest of the flight, and it's really brought home when we see all the yellow body bags, charred pieces of airplane wreckage and the scorched earth. 

Do you remember the last time you were missing nine minutes? The same is true of the later scene in which Mulder confirms that Max has been killed. All of it is delivered with gravity and sensitivity we might not expect from a weekly television show. Even when Millar dresses down Fox in front of the NTSB meeting, it's not done with malice. It's done with respect and regard for the investigators of the crash -- at least the ones not erasing faces and fingertips while stealing wristwatches. I'm not really understanding why the nine minutes was such a big deal it required taking items off victims, wouldn't it have been easier for the report to be altered to nine minutes earlier? They're giving Fox more to work with by playing it that way.

I'm not going to have no blood on me: The other thing that I don't really understand is that Dana provided proof of radiation burns. Max was carrying plutonium and Scully thinks that could have caused the crash. Why is that rationale not investigated? Fox keeps saying there was no reason for the plane to have come down, but it sounds like a reason to me. And I have no idea how he even comes up with the idea of a third craft taking out the second one that was messing with Max on the first plane. Frisch eventually backs his hypothesis up, but it would have been nice to have gotten that information from Lewis or some other less jarring manner that didn't sound so out of the blue.

The chase on the tarmac with the landing jet is another great set piece in an episode chock full of them. Seeing is believing in this one for sure, just ask Millar, who did indeed see the light. He sure had to take in quite a lot of information over the course of one episode -- some of his hard-working investigators are stealing and changing evidence, he's seeing UFOs, he's comforting returning abduction victims. I think he'll be taking early retirement.

The plot points work a lot better than the dialogue in this episode. Consider it sour grapes for the way Scully delivers the news of Fenig's death -- "Max is returned" -- in response to Mulder's belief that Max wasn't one of the crash victims and eventually would be returned by the aliens. Although I give Carter and Spotnitz credit for Frisch's turnaround. Once the "dots on his screen" turned into palpable carnage, Louis certainly realized the error of his ways and lies. Having some shadowy figures on your tail also help in that regard.

Once I got a quarter off the deep end at the Y pool: It's pretty hilarious that Mulder makes a 50-foot dive with no experience, and in minutes, finds what it took advanced stealth UFO technology longer to do. By the way, our writers didn't give Fox scuba experience in the name of making the YMCA joke ... but he probably wouldn't have survived without knowing how to operate his gear. Still, the combination of the underwater bright lights -- it's not The Abyss, is it? -- and Pendrell's pending health woes made for one crackling cliffhanger.

Multiple metas: The show's postproduction crew won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Sound Editing for "Tempus Fugit." It is pretty outstanding. ... The show tapped an NTSB official as tech adviser and Carter said in The Complete X-Files that the crash site set was deemed absolutely believable, except for the smell. ... According to the official fourth-season episode guide, Scott Bellis had auditioned for another small part on the show a couple of seasons after "Fallen Angel" aired, but Carter said memories of Bellis' other role were too strong. (He shoulda consulted Sestra Am.) ... Mulder's business card actually reads "United States Bureau of Investigation" because making fake cards is against the law. 

Guest star of the week: Sestra was right on the mark about Joe Spano as Millar, best known for his detective work on Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue. He totally suits the role of Millar, providing more conviction and less of the one-note characterization that often befalls the disbelieving nature of officials on the show.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

X-Files S4E16: Some things should be requited

Sestra Amateur: 

We’re at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. where Assistant Director Walter Skinner is leading a manhunt with his agents searching a large crowd for Nathaniel Teager, played by Peter LaCroix. If Teager looks familiar, it’s because he’s been on the show twice before but not as the same character. Scully sees him first but loses him. Skinner is in rare panic mode as each agent finds the suspect then loses him again. But it’s not the agents’ fault. The guy, who happens to be armed with a handgun, disappears into thin air. So why is Walter so frantic? Let’s backtrack a bit to answer that question.

Twelve hours earlier, Lt. General MacDougal finds a king of hearts card in his limo. He looks up and sees Teager pointing a gun at him. Of course, Nathaniel wasn’t in the car when the Lt. General first entered, so that’s quite a trick. Teager shoots MacDougal and the limo driver, a private, has a lot of explaining to do. 

While debriefing his field agents, Skinner identifies the king of hearts as a “death card” used by soldiers during the Vietnam War. He’s worried someone will be targeted at the War Memorial’s rededication ceremony. It doesn’t help hapless Private Gus Burkholder that he’s on a mailing list for a militant group called the Right Hand. 

Sculder meet with Right Hand man Denny Markham, who sics his dogs on the slow running agents. They barely get back to the safety of the fence when Markham comes out to meet them. Denny denies knowing the private and recites his own anti-government beliefs, but gets rattled when Mulder shows him the death card. 

Markham identifies Lt. General MacDougal’s murderer as Sergeant Nathaniel Teager, a killing machine created and abandoned in Vietnam by the U.S. government. Denny claims his organization liberated the prisoner of war and later disappeared. Markham gave up a lot of information pretty easily so Scully is convinced it’s fake news -- I mean false data -- to continue the conspiracy.

Back at the Vietnam Wall, Teager approaches the wife of Green Beret Gary Davenport and tells her Gary is still alive and a prisoner of war. He gives her Davenport’s dog tags – both of them -- then disappears. Sculder show Renee Davenport the recent picture of Nathaniel and she claims it’s the same man. Renee starts bleeding from her eye and Fox thinks it’s because of Teager, the disappearing man. Dana thinks she just burst a capillary from being so upset. 

Mulder has Nathaniel's remains -- a few teeth -- analyzed, then learns Teager’s death investigation was pretty half-assed and signed off by General John Steffan. He calls the general to warn him his life is in danger and assigns two agents to protect him at the Pentagon, which is probably the most secure building in the United States. Of course, Nathaniel gets inside undetected and leaves the king of diamonds death card on the general’s desk. 

Scully tells Mulder that Renee suffered from a scotoma -- a “blind spot.” General Steffan calls Fox at the same time about the death card. Mulder, who is in the Pentagon and on his way to Steffan’s office, hears the general get shot and killed. Too bad Mulder also has a blind spot because he can’t see Teager standing above him. Skinner reviews the video, which shows Nathaniel going through the metal detector at the Pentagon entrance. Fox claims Teager is able to manipulate people’s vision but does not have that capability with video technology. Walter is beyond pissed that Nathaniel just waltzed right in. If he could, he probably would have fired the entire security staff at the Pentagon.

Major General Benjamin Bloch gets nothing useful out of Markham in the military prison. He should have let Scully or Mulder take another run at Denny. Fox somehow arranges a meeting at the Lincoln Memorial with New York-based Marita Covarrubias. Maybe she was also conveniently attending the rededication ceremony. She confirms MacDougal and Steffan’s connection and admits there’s a third man. Gee, I wonder who it’s going to be.

Scully and Skinner try to protect the major general but Dana loses sight of Teager after she pulls her gun and causes a minor panic among the spectators. But the show must go on, so everyone continues with the ceremony preparations. Fox claims Walter was assigned this detail because the U.S. government meant for them to fail. That really says a lot about how the government sees Skinner, especially since this isn’t even a Cancer Man episode. Bloch has every intention of delivering his speech so the assistant director joins him on the stage. Nathaniel gets recognized by Leo Danzinger, a veteran who served with him. Teager gives Danzinger a list of the POWs who are still alive.

The major general is about to begin his speech when he finds his death card -- the ace of clubs -- on the podium. And now we’re all caught up. Agents are searching for Nathaniel, Walter is panicking, Dana gets spotted, Fox suffers from scotoma. Skinner removes Bloch from the scene, but Mulder realizes Teager is in the car. The fact that Nathaniel starts shooting at them backs up that theory. He wings Skinner in the arm, but gets shot to death by one of the agents. 

Too bad the government managed to cover it all up and the major general is going to get away without even a demotion. I don’t even know why the writers had Teager give Danzinger the list of imprisoned soldiers, then do nothing with it. There are no happy endings with this one. And how does the title "Unrequited" relate to the episode? Unrequited refers to feelings of love not returned or rewarded. Need some help here, Sestra Pro. Maybe Leo was Nathaniel’s unrequited love? Nah. Although a scotoma might go a long way to explaining the second shooter on the grassy knoll in Dallas.

Sestra Professional:

The dictionary defines "unrequited" as "not returned or reciprocated," but also "not avenged or retaliated" and "not repaid or satisfied." So Teager probably had the latter two definitions in mind. And my impression of that list is that those names will get out. So maybe it's not as over as the CID -- who took over the investigation from Skinner -- would like it to be.

I think unrequited is an apt description for how fans feel about this episode. It's not mentioned a lot when people talk of favorite shows or guest stars or plots. But I feel it scores on all three fronts. It might be considered bleak, sure, but it's intense and delves pretty deeply into Sculder's area of expertise. Although I admit I'm a wee bit at a loss to explain how it is that Teager can create the transient scotomas. Mulder describes it's similar to soldiers seeing guerrillas appear and disappear before their eyes, but that doesn't really explain the science. Scully, that's your cue. And shouldn't everyone who saw Nathaniel (and then didn't see him) have damaged retinas now? Shouldn't all their capillaries be bursting? Maybe it's just my blind spot and they're treated for them after the credits.

I've already seen more dead soldiers than I ever want to see: The story, written by Howard Gordon, certainly has a lot to say on the subject and it's woven into the fabric of our story pretty seamlessly thanks to Skinner's military past. In the end, when Walter is telling Mulder the case has been reassigned, Fox points out that Skinner could have been Teager. It hits home, and not with as a heavy a thud as one might expect.  

The Teager teaser's a pretty exciting one even though it's not much more than Scully, Mulder and another agent trying to get a glimpse of Nate during the rededication ceremony. Good thing I liked it so much, since we got to see it twice over the course of the episode. 

You mean there's no procedure outlined for an invisible assassin?: We have a pretty good split between Mulder and Scully's theories of what's happening in this one. Dana clings steadfastly to the idea of Markham masterminding the deaths -- or at least knowing about them -- by distracting the agents with a "phantom POW." She won't even cop to the idea when she sees Teager and draws her gun en route to the ceremony. But Fox is seeing clearly, well as much as he can until he gets scotoma-ed.

Denny's played by Larry Musser, another actor we've seen a couple times before on the show, most notably as the foul-mouthed Detective Manners in Season 3's "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." Musser and LaCroix (who stood out as Ranheim in Season 1's "E.B.E.") help ground the episode. They feel familiar and so, as viewers, we don't really need to adjust to their presence. 

Maybe the war ain't over, Scully: Renee Davenport probably shouldn't have been so quick to believe the government's assertion that her husband was dead if they provided the type of evidence used to declare Teager deceased. It took Fox about a minute to declare the two bicuspids and molar found at the crash site as presumptive and inconclusive.

I actually thought this was one of the cleaner uses of Marita Covarrubias. She added something to the mix that wasn't going to be otherwise gleaned so it's organic in terms of plot, if not in terms of location at the Lincoln Memorial. Skinner's detail was asked to protect the three-man commission responsible for leaving Nathaniel and other soldiers behind. I don't think it's a black mark against Walter, it's more of a two-birds-with-one-stone thing, since those powers-that-be (even less of a physical presence in this episode than Teager) knew he'd bring the agents they're always looking to discredit into the mix. 

You did your job. So did Nathaniel Teager: At its very heart, Gordon's story reminds us that though war may be in the rearview mirror, it really isn't for those involved. An extreme example here to be sure, but probably a message we shouldn't soon forget all the same. I'd really like to give Gordon and/or Chris Carter (who helped smooth the edges of the script, according to the fourth-season episode guide) credit for giving another agent the kill shot that finally got Teager.

Meta you can see: In The Complete X-Files, Gordon explained the science beyond the plot. "If you move your finger, you will see that you do have a blind spot because that's where the cortical nerves wind up bundling," said the writer, whose brother is an ophthamologist. ... Gordon came up with the idea after seeing a 60 Minutes story about CIA agents abandoned in Vietnam, according to the official fourth-season episode guide. ... For legal reasons, actual names couldn't be used on the memorial. The show's art assistant Kristina Lyne tapped her sister to make up 2,000 imaginary names. Although two of them seem familiar -- sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison and infamous Jessica Hahn were combined to Jesse R. Ellison and Harlan L. Hahn, the guide said.

Guest stars of the week: LaCroix also got this nod back in the first season for his key role in "E.B.E." He's actually even finer here. He doesn't have an overwhelming amount of dialogue, but I believed and even felt for the character, particularly when he got to show the human being Nathaniel must have been before he turned into Teager with 26 confirmed kills.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

X-Files S4E15: Here's mud man in your eye

Sestra Amateur: 

This episode aired a week after "Memento Mori," in which Scully learned she had cancer. But you wouldn't know something so moving and life-threatening occurred so recently to her (and Mulder) since it's never mentioned. Sculder completely throw themselves into this stand-alone investigation as if Dana wasn’t given a death sentence. 

Today, we’re attending a Jewish funeral in Brooklyn, New York for a Hasidic man named Isaac Luria who was beaten and shot to death in his grocery store. This episode’s title, "Kaddish," means Jewish prayer. (I don’t remember everything I learned in Hebrew school but the prayer recited by the mourners sounded authentic.) The scenes cut from the widow’s perspective to that of her now-deceased husband when he’s looking at his killer. Not sure if that’s for the audience’s benefit or if his wife had the ability to see things from her husband’s perspective. If so, then she knows what the murderers look like. Later that night a hooded person in the cemetery creates a man out of the mud on the victim’s grave, a mud man who appears to be breathing. 

For some reason, this murder in New York has become an X-File instead of a Law and Order episode. In a rare turn of events, Scully is providing exposition to Mulder. One of the teenaged boys who was responsible for Isaac’s murder – Tony Oliver - was found strangled to death, and the prints on his neck belong to the now-dead Isaac. Dana believe it's an anti-Semitic hate crime committed in Luria’s name but not by Isaac himself. Sculder meet with Ariel Luria and her father, Jacob Weiss, during the family’s shloshim (their period of mourning). Jacob is played by character actor David Groh, but it’s hard to recognize him under the fake hair and beard. Groh has the distinction of playing one of General Hospital’s most hated characters, D.L. Brock. Jacob is incensed because he and his people haven’t gotten help from the local police after they were harassed. Weiss supports whoever is achieving vengeance on their behalf and does not want to help the FBI. Unfortunately, Sculder are so busy discussing their perspectives of justice vs. revenge they don’t see the mud man hiding behind a plastic tarp across from Ariel’s apartment. 

The agents interview Curt Brunjes, the printer of Jacob’s anti-Semitic literature, who is unable (more like unwilling) to mask his disgust toward Jews. Scully puts the fate of the remaining two murderous teenagers in Curt’s lap. One of them, Derek Banks, is watching on the video monitor from the back of the store. Brunjes goes to warn him, but Derek and accomplice Clinton head to the cemetery and dig up Isaac’s casket. Derek breaks open the coffin and sees Isaac’s body while someone strangles Clinton to death. 

Scully assumes they desecrated the grave as payback for Tony’s murder. Mulder thinks it’s because they believed Isaac was seeking revenge and wanted to see whether his body was in the grave. Dana notes Isaac was not embalmed before his burial. Fox finds a Hebrew book buried with Isaac that promptly bursts into flames. Derek returns to Curt, who denies telling him and his friends to kill anyone -- he’s a paper-terrorism kind of guy. In a pathetic play on words to The X-Files' running theme, Curt points out how he’s been spreading “the truth” about Jews. Derek is more of an action type of person.

Sculder meet with book expert Kenneth Ungar, played by character actor David Wohl. (Boy, this episode really loaded up on actors named David. Even one of the extras is named David. Do you think on set they just called them David 1, David 2, David 3 and David 4?) He explains about the book Mulder found in the casket, which apparently didn’t belong in the grave. Although its text is considered mystical, the book itself is made of boring old leather and paper. Oh, and Jacob Weiss’s name is embossed on the book in Hebrew. I guess that would be considered a clue.

Ariel reveals she and Isaac were not yet married, their wedding would have been that day. Jacob survived the Holocaust and protected a ceremonial Jewish wedding ring which would go to Ariel after her wedding. Sculder interrupt prayer time at the synagogue, where Jacob makes a very slow getaway. The agents track him to Derek’s hanging body. Jacob almost gets the better of Sculder until Dana takes a shot at him. Then they take Weiss into custody while someone else with a mark on his hand watches them.

At the police station, Jacob claims he hanged Derek in self-defense. But he assumes responsibility for the murder and wants to see Ariel. Scully tells Mulder that Jacob also has a terrorist past, but Fox is convinced Jacob didn’t kill Derek. Weiss seems to be protecting Ariel, but his daughter isn’t exactly  ‘fessing up. Then the marked mud man kills Curt. Mulder goes back to Ungar and asks about the Golem, a mud creation brought to life by a righteous man and the “power of the word.” Only its creator can destroy it. The Hebrew word written on the killer’s hand is “emet” (I actually recognized the Hebrew letters. One for me). Dana tells Fox about Curt’s murder and they get a hold of the surveillance video that captured a clear image of his killer … Isaac! 

Mulder explains to Scully that a Golem is a form without spirit. Jacob, who for some reason has been released from jail even though he confessed to murder, goes to the synagogue and finds Ariel, who still thinks Isaac will show for their wedding. Jacob is strung up and almost strangled to death, but Sculder save him just in time. Fox goes after Ariel and finds her waiting for Isaac, who makes the obligatory appearance on his own wedding day. Mulder shoots, but Isaac overpowers him. Ariel gets Isaac’s attention by showing him the wedding ring. They complete the ceremony and Ariel releases Isaac from the spell. Guess this whole situation will be hard to explain when she starts dating again. L’chaim!

Sestra Professional:

Every now and then, The X-Files tries to tap into real world issues. It's always a treacherous slope and hasn't been the show's greatest forte. But as these soapbox episodes have gone, this one isn't half bad -- the hatred is palpable and the terror easily felt -- but it's not exactly a crowd pleaser either.

Very Old Testament: I can back up Sestra Am's assertion that the opening prayer of mourning is authentic, I found Ariel's a little later on more awkward. But it's an intriguing manner in which our agents are brought into the fold to explain how the first victim's fingerprints wound up on the second one. And the supernatural aspect, a Golem risen from the grave to avenge his death, certainly fits perfectly into the show's realm.

Sculder are immediately thrust into the world of racial tension and hate crimes. Those they talk to are not exactly willing to help out. The principals still speak their minds, though, anti-Semitic Curt tells Mulder he looks like he "might be one" himself. Our heroes rise above such insinuations, striving to do their jobs when everyone's suspicious about their motives and why law enforcement wasn't on the scene long before the death toll started to rise. 

It's a delicate balance to walk and the script by series stalwart Howard Gordon does a fine job of toeing the line. Director Kim Manners then has the arduous task of marrying these hefty concepts -- and the procedural questioning that comes along with them -- with our Monster of the Week.  

The story about Jacob's communal wedding ring -- one of the best props the series will ever have, it was owned by a rabbi who survived the Holocaust -- may sound heavy-handed but it really develops the idea of every wife being a queen, every husband a king and the home they made a castle. And, in turn, that furthers the concept of the celestial mud man -- creating a living being from the earth itself.

I agree with Sestra Am that intended or not, the driving home of the series' theme of "the truth" as an essential component of the golem comes off as a little forced. OK, it's strange to be able to stomach a man-made monster easier than the idea of having our theme shoehorned into this story. Well, at least it's amenable until we get to the stilted and romanticized dialogue revealing Ariel brought Jacob back to life through love.

I never attended a mud-man wedding before, what's the dress code? It's a rare occasion in which an episode loses you but then gets you back. And when Ariel erases the letter that changed the Golem to dust, it rubbed out the problematic "power of words" logic delivered during "the truth" portion of the guy's explanation. At least for me it did.

Meta matters: "Kaddish" was the 12th episode filmed, but the 15th that aired that season due to the Super Bowl shuffle and the slotting of the two previous Scully show. ... According to the fourth-season episode guide, the plot was inspired by violence going on between Orthodox Jews and African-Americans in Brooklyn at the time, but was changed to reflect anti-Semitic bigotry.  ... Jacob Weiss' incendiary book on mysticism wasn't quite as spontaneously combustible during filming of the episode as evidenced by the fourth-season gag reel. ... In the episode guide, Gordon said probably every Jewish writer with the show had pitched a Golem episode, but he was the one who got the green light in his final year on the series. "Kaddish" is dedicated to his grandmother. ... Ron Leibman was the original choice for Jacob Weiss but was unavailable, according to the episode guide. ... Due to communications mixup, the guide said David Groh shaved off his natural beard before heading to Vancouver to play Jacob, so another had to be applied by the crew.

Guest star of the week: To tell the absolute "truth," I wasn't overly impressed by any of the performances in "Kaddish," but David Groh was forthright and true. He did erase some of those General Hospital memories, even if he didn't quite recall his halcyon Rhoda days.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Up, up and away with the alternate 'Superman II'

We interrupt your regularly scheduled X-Files rewatch blog to bring you another special edition. The loss of Margot Kidder affected the Sestras greatly and our fondness for her started with the two Superman movies that came out when we were growing up. As difficult as it must have been to find the man who would perfectly embody both the man from Krypton and his earthly incarnation in Christopher Reeve, it had to be almost as tough for the powers-that-be behind the movie to find their Lois Lane. She had to be someone who was ahead of the game on so many fronts, but couldn't see the super man behind the glasses for a long period of time. Her comic timing had to be spot on, and she had to charge into danger head on, then show a petrified side when things went sideways --- as they tended to do.

It came down to Kidder and Stockard Channing (Grease), and Margot got the nod almost as soon as she tripped on her way into the office, according to the first movie's director, Richard Donner. Speaking of Donner, he initially filmed much of Superman I and II concurrently, but II was put on hold so they could make I's completion date. Donner later was fired after a lengthy and convoluted falling out with producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, and Richard Lester -- a second-unit director on the first movie -- stepped in to give the Salkinds what they wanted. Years later, Donner got to make and release the film he wanted to on DVD and Blu-Ray, well, as much as he could with the found footage and bits of Lester's film.

As neither Sestra would consider herself an amateur when it comes to these two versions, we'll just both claim the title of Sestra Professional in bringing our look at The Donner Cut and how it compares with what most of the world knows as Superman II. Kidder said in The Making of Superman that she picked and chose parts of Lois when bringing her to life. She chose well and far better than Superman on more than one occasion. 

Sestra Leah: 

Once upon a time at a comic con – I attend those from time to time – I stumbled across an unofficial copy of Superman II – The Richard Donner Cut on DVD. Since it was a Christopher Reeve-as-Superman movie I happily scooped it up, but knew it would never surpass the original Sup II in my heart. The behind-the-scenes saga about the making of the first two Superman movies is almost as dramatic as the films themselves. (You’ll believe a man can … go way over budget.) 

According to Jake Rossen's book Superman Vs. Hollywood, the biggest issue was money -- the budget hemorrhaged from $20 million for both movies to $50 million for just the first one. After the Warner Brothers studio heads intervened, the Salkinds replaced Donner for Superman II with Richard Lester. In the sequel, some of Donner’s work was replaced with Lester’s reshot scenes and newly scripted ones had to be filmed. 

Rossen explained in his book that Gene Hackman outright refused to reshoot scenes with Lester. Did you know that’s not Gene’s body in several of Lex Luthor’s scenes? Hell, sometimes it’s not even his voice, but in Donner’s cut, it’s all Hackman. Reeve was unhappy about the backstage drama, but they doubled his salary to keep him around.  Kidder may have suffered the most for being outspoken about the feud between the Salkinds and Donner. According to Larry Tye’s book, Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, Margot’s stance “assured that Lois would have fewer than five minutes of screen time in the third movie,” which was directed by ... Lester.

Over the years I noticed in Lester’s version that Lois either had shiny hair that framed her face or dry hair that didn’t. I just assumed Lois, like me, was having some bad hair days. That remains the best indicator of which scenes were Lester’s and which were Donner’s. 

There was at least a two-year gap between Donner and Lester’s filming dates. Kidder's voice was raspier in the scenes shot later but that’s probably because Margot was a smoker. The same thing happened with Carrie Fisher between Star Wars and Return of the Jedi. For Donner’s version, Lois Lane looks pretty healthy for someone who “died” the previous day, but some of her Lester quirks are gone -- she’s not obsessed with oranges and good health while smoking cigarettes anymore. 

But in typical Lois fashion, she’s running full steam ahead with her theory that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same. Unfortunately, with Donner’s cut, she really hasn’t known Clark/Superman for long. The passing of time between the end of the first movie and the beginning of this one doesn’t exist, it’s literally the next day. There’s also no hydrogen bomb at the Eiffel Tower this time around. The explosion that frees the Kryptonian villains from the Phantom Zone – General Zod, Ursa and Non – is thanks to the missile originally bound for Hackensack, New Jersey that Superman directed into space. (So, as far as Donner is concerned, all of this is Miss Teschmacher’s fault.) 

Lois tries to prove her case by jumping out of the Daily Planet’s window which is 30 stories above the street. Superman doesn’t swoop down after her, but he does manage to covertly break her fall in a very embarrassing way. Even though the Niagara Falls story still takes place and the undercover Mr. and Mrs. Clark Kent head to the honeymoon destination location, there’s no scene where Lois jumps into the river hoping Clark will become Superman and save her. 

One of the most annoying parts of the Donner cut is the first scene of Lex and Otis in prison. It made sense for Lex to get “life plus 25” after he went to trial, but there’s no way Luthor would ever take a plea like that, especially the day after his arrest. And apparently he’s also been working on that “little black box” in their cell for quite some time, even though he’s only been there for a day. Wonder why Donner didn’t choose to address that major plot hole. Donner should have removed the scene of Mr. White talking about the Niagara Falls scam, so we could have assumed there was some time passing between Lois’ swan dive and the jail scenes. 

The biggest change at the Fortress of Solitude is the presence of Jor-El, played by “12 percent share of the gross” Marlon Brando. We never see Lara, played by the much more affordable Susannah York. Jor-El tells Lex and Miss Teschmacher about the three Kryptonian villains. (I’ve always wondered, if Jor-El knew Krypton was going to be destroyed, then why didn’t he arrange to keep the villains on the planet until it exploded? Even though the Kryptonian Council didn’t agree with Jor-El’s findings he should have stalled their sentence while working on Kal-El’s escape shuttle.)

The Donner cut uses Reeve and Kidder's screen test scenes in the Niagara Falls hotel room when Lois again tries to prove Clark is Superman. It's a very jarring change. 
Both Christopher and Margot look very different here, because these scenes were filmed in late 1976 or early 1977. Plus, Christopher is wearing different glasses and a different hairstyle from scene to scene. Lester’s version had Clark accidentally fall into a fire but escape without injury. Donner has Lois shoot Clark – with blanks – although Superman doesn’t know that. 

Lester’s scene had way more heart: There’s some psychoanalysis, some declarations of love. Donner just cuts to that scene with Ursa and the snake, then cuts back to Lois and Superman flying toward the Fortress of Solitude. Donner also re-edits their dinner scene, which takes away some of the romantic, emotional impact. We also don’t get Lois carelessly forgetting about the green crystal that originally made the Fortress which is how Clark eventually is able to restore his powers. We see the Kryptonians destroy the small town before it cuts back to Lois and Superman in his big silver bed. (Side note: In Lester’s version, we have Kal-El giving up his superpowers before having sex with Lois. With Donner, it happens afterward, so feel free to insert your Super sperm joke here.) 

Lester allowed the Kryptonians to destroy Mount Rushmore, here they knock down the Washington Monument. (Probably Ursa’s idea, taking out the phallic symbol and emasculating the country.) Geographically, it makes sense, they are on their way to see the President. Kal-El and Jor-El argue over his duty to humanity while Lois, who is wearing Superman’s shirt – that comes off better than the peignoir Superman kept at the Fortress of Solitude in Lester’s version – watches from above. The scenes showing Superman becoming human are clearly different but Jor-El’s giant head staring pitifully at Lois is somewhat disturbing. And you thought your in-laws didn’t like you…

The Kryptonians still invade the White House, but Donner adds a disturbing touch in which Zod uses a machine gun to kill the soldiers and agents protecting the President. Too bad Donner doesn’t explain how Lois and Clark get from the Fortress to that diner in those new duds of theirs. And where is this diner located on the drive back from the North Pole? Lester definitely picked better cuts of the diner scenes than Donner, who just doesn't get the necessary emotional responses out of Christopher or Margot that Lester does. (Another question for both versions: Why didn’t Clark just have Lois drive him back to the Fortress in the car they used to get to the diner? Too bad there’s no movie novelization to answer these questions.) After he arrives back at the Fortress, Clark’s speech to his “father” sounds much more pathetic than it should. That’s ironic because  Reeve was a Donner supporter during the feud. I think Lester consistently pulled better performances out of him, though.

By the time the Zod and company finally raid the Daily Planet, Kal-El is back to his vibrantly red-and-blue uniformed self. Their battle on the streets of New York – whoops, I mean Metropolis, but in my defense, there is lots of footage of NYC landmarks – features many scenes from Lester’s version but still feels off, and not just because it’s not “familiar.” The score does not sound appropriate for the scenes but that may not be Donner’s fault, they probably had to work with what was available to make his cut. And I’m not sure why I didn’t notice it until after the final scene at the Daily Planet, but Zod and Ursa sound really weird in Donner’s version. It’s like the reverse George Lucas effect -- he is well known for dubbing over Star Wars actors’ voices when he wants them to sound a certain way. Terence Stamp and Sarah Douglas’ deeper voices in Lester’s version are more appropriate for Zod and Ursa. Donner’s Zod sounds 
like he was voiced by Rowan Atkinson. 

Another letdown to Donner’s version is the lack of a final battle between Supes and the villains at the Fortress of Solitude. There’s a quick verbal confrontation until Superman tricks the trio into giving up their powers. Lois still should have known something was up since she saw what happened the first time, but she’s been traumatized so we’ll cut her some slack. Before they leave the North Pole, Donner’s Superman destroys the Fortress with Lex and the Kryptonians in it. So did Superman just kill four helpless people? (Insert "they had it coming" argument here.) If we wanted Superman to kill Zod, we’d go watch Man of Steel.

Lois is still a weepy m
ess when Superman takes her home. She tries to write her tears away, but Superman has another plan. Donner recycles his Superman I plot twist and undoes everything that happened by having Superman reverse the Earth’s rotation. But how far back he goes is kind of a mystery, did he undo Luthor’s sink-California-into-the-ocean plan since now we don’t have any missiles exploding in space and releasing the villains from The Phantom Zone? But if you’re someone who hated Lester’s creepy date-rape drug amnesia kiss at the end of his movie then maybe you prefer this ending. I loved the way Superman II ended until Superman Returns was written as if Superman III and Superman IV did not exist and Lois became pregnant after having sex with “human” Clark in Superman II. 

So … weeks later, Superman leaves Planet Earth and Lois realizes she’s pregnant but she doesn’t remember having sex? Let the character assassination begin! In Donner’s ending, Lois again has no clue that Clark is Superman, but the reverse spin also undid their sexual encounter so … no harm, no foul? Even worse, Donner’s ending still damages Kal-El’s Boy Scout image: He goes back to the diner to get revenge on the trucker who beat the tar out of him, but technically, that didn’t happen. Yes, the same scene exists in Lester’s version, but he did not “undo” Clark’s humanizing beating so that version feels more like satisfying payback. Donner’s version just shows Clark being a bully and that’s not “our” Superman. 

Sestra Pai: 

Sestra Leah makes some fine points, but I don't see The Donner Cut as quite the wash she does. I think we've sat with Lester's version so long that it's a bit tough to open up to the Donner version, but I think the latter does posit some salient points in its favor.

A lot of Donner's issues with Lester's version -- and I'm getting his opinion straight from the source via his DVD commentary -- go to what he considers the campy nature of the '81 film. I'm not sure I totally agree with him on this. Playing it straight doesn't work ... and he himself doesn't always do this. As described in the Donner Cut's extras, having Superman react like Batman doesn't work. Batman is a man who has chosen to don his costume for very particular reasons; Superman's an alien whose powers come with breathing on a planet with a yellow sun. I don't think playing it totally straight works for Superman II. It's a very particular comic book at its core.

I appreciate the different angles used for the sentencing scene recap that starts The Donner Cut, although I gotta give it to Lester and the Salkinds for the way they recap the first film in the credits of the 1981 version. The latter has better pace to it. Point to the Lester version.

The 2006 release really jumps into the action with Lois taking the plunge outside the Daily Planet window. But Superman blowing on her and the watermelon stand face plant comes up a little short against the Eiffel Tower heist and her hurdling into the waters at Niagara Falls. As a continuation of the original story, dropping out the window does work -- as does the Hackensack-bound rocket's explosion releasing the villains -- but we'd already seen Lois free falling a couple times in the first film. Clark aiding her with a well-placed tree limb and then ending up in the drink himself was a nifty way of moving that story along. Another point to Lester.

Donner used pieces of Reeve and Kidder's screen tests for the unfilmed big reveal that Clark was Superman in the restored version. Sestra Leah mentioned how awkward that was, but they didn't have much of a choice when cobbling together something so different from the 1981 movie. It's not a bad way of resolving that plot, I still prefer Kent stumbling into the fire without injury right on the heels of her Nestea plunge instead of her first attempt earlier in the film bearing fruit later on. Point Lester.

My biggest praise for The Donner Cut refers to the return of Jor-El to the proceedings. Superman was a story about a father and a son, his mother barely got to say anything when they sent young Kal-El to safety. Getting Marlon Brando's estate to give Donner and company the rights to his scenes for the second crack at Superman II was such a plus. They should have just paid the legend back in the day, it's not like they didn't make a small fortune off the first film and its memorabilia. 

Now with Brando back, the 2006 version has more impact. Obviously, back in the '70s, Donner's creative types would have had more time to play with the images so the shots of Jor-El talking to Lex Luthor wouldn't have seemed like just a floating head or an oversized Bigfoot wearing a cape. The footage they had worked much better when Clark and Lois get to the fortress. Like Sestra Leah said, that sideways look the father gives Lois is priceless. Major point to Donner.

Speaking of the romance, Donner's prevailing wisdom is that Clark would never kiss Lois. Only Superman got to any base with her. But I just can't see that love scene working out too well for her or even the big silver bed if he's still got all his powers. Point Lester. But I'm in Donner's corner for a lot of romantic beats at the Fortress of Solitude. In the original script -- and as an extra on the 2006 DVD -- there's a double-entendre scene of Superman saying "I've never done this before" and Lois talking him through his hesitation that winds up being about him making a souffle with his X-ray eyes. It's a little less corny than the flowers and candlelight scene we came to know and love. Point Donner. 

Sestra Leah mentioned the back-and-forth nature of scenes between the goings-on between Superman and Lois at the Fortress of Solitude and the trio of evil really getting into the habit of ravaging America. It seems too blunt to me. Donner said in the DVD commentary he would have shot the villains more ominously. I think the threat they pose is strong -- I particularly enjoy the changing of the Rushmore faces -- but it's a shame we didn't get to see how Donner would have filmed them. No point given here.

The restored cut suffers from not being able to complete Superman's return to the fortress the way Donner originally envisioned. The ultimate destruction of Jor-El feels forced, I like in Lester's film how the green crystal glows and we know Kal-El has received his second chance. And he screams "Father!" into the void, not "Mother!" Point Lester.

There are precious few new pieces of dialogue that fit into the framework -- it's easy to see why Lex Luthor's banter with Otis in the slammer didn't make the cut -- but I'll definitely give it to Mario Puzo or whichever of the three other screenplay writers came up with Perry White's description of the super villains as "That cockamamie general ... a big truck with hair on him and a broad that looks like the queen of the runway." And Lois does get to utter those time-honored words from the early days of the legend -- "Up, up and away" -- albeit in a much more poignant fashion.  

There's no swell of music when the trio of Kryptonians breaks into the Daily Planet office. I think the foot should be on the gas pedal a little there. But maybe we don't want that when we're about to be hit with some weak added dialogue. Zod: "This is the son of Jor-El?" Jimmy: "No, but I'll be you're a son of a ..." To which Lois only adds, "Jimmy!" The triteness continues when restored Superman shows up. Zod brands him a fool, "like father like son." Ho hum. 

Metropolis sure does have a lot of New York City landmarks. Having the fight result in damage to almost every single one of them seems campy, I thought you were trying to avoid that, Donner. On the other hand, the antenna being knocked off the top of the Empire State Building and threatening innocent civilians is a lot more organic in his cut. Ursa claiming that "he's caged Non" in the 1981 film always seemed a little ridiculous since something like that obviously wouldn't hold someone with his powers for long, as did the insipid piece of business with a mother leaning over a baby carriage to protect the infant instead of attempting to just move out of the way. Point Donner, with the addendum that I do like the people of Metropolis making a fruitless attempt to stop the villains when they think Superman has been killed by them in Lester's take.

But wait, there's more ho-hum dialogue. Luthor says he wants Cuba in exchange for telling Zod where the Fortress of Solitude is located in the Donner version. Yeah, that's not too campy. And Non's reaction to that? Why would he have any reaction? It's not like he knows Cuba. At least that's better than the bizarre denoeument in 1981 at the Fortress of Solitude in which all four natives of Krypton are using powers they don't really have -- throwing logos, shooting finger rays and the duplicate Supermans. No point given. 

OK, let's get into turning the world around again. Yeah, it's old hat. According to Donner, the first film "stole" this ending and they planned to come up with something new for Sup II. But he never got to, and thusly, we're stuck with this chestnut. (Although putting toothpaste back into the tube is an inspired choice since we're always told you can't do that.) But why destroy the Fortress of Solitude -- allegedly killing the super villains and Lex -- if you're just going to turn the world back around? And if you revert the world, then the Kryptonian trio has their powers back. I could have gotten into seeing those three still trying to take down the son of Jor-El by more human means in subsequent films. And Donner had plans for the series that had to be a lot better than what ultimately was forced upon us.

The goodbye scenes between Superman and Lois are touching in both films. (Note from Donner, Margot refused anything to help her cry.) But the world's not an Etch-a-Sketch, Supe. You can't just erase anything that doesn't go away because that diminishes your mystique. Then again, the kiss to forget might be better than watching him spin the globe again, but it doesn't really fall under the purview of his powers either. Sure wish Donner and company had more time to think on that one back in the day. There had to be a better solution than those two choices.

Finally, point Sestra Leah. With the past reverted, there's no need to return to the diner and give the bully his just desserts. It's always been a crowd pleaser of a scene, kind of like in Lester's version when Superman returns the flag to the top of the White House, but there's not a lot of room for pettiness on his behalf in the mythology. Can't believe I just tore down one of my favorite bits from both movies -- so I'll sidestep that with a piece of trivia -- no need to guess who filmed the diner scenes as Donner can be seen walking down the street as Clark and Lois pull up in the first one. 

I think both versions of worthy of fans' time, but I still will be inclined to pop Lester's version in the ol' Blu-Ray player over Donner's. And even though we finally got a taste of what the Superman I and II arc was going to be, I'll still regret we didn't get to see that realized as the director intended. We would have loved to have seen how the subsequent sequels advanced the story and what better challenges would have been afforded to Reeve and Kidder, who became even bigger heroes to us off the screen as everyday people living through unimaginable circumstances.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

X-Files S4E14: Setting the stages for a whopper

Sestra Amateur: 

During "Leonard Betts," (Season 4 Episode 12),  we got the hint that our heroine, Dana Scully, may be gravely ill. It’s time to address those concerns. The episode opens with a Dana monologue and tangible proof she is suffering from cancer. This isn’t meant to be a monster-of-the-week episode, which is ironic since cancer is one Big Bad you don’t want to see again. 

It was probably more stressful for the fans during the original airing considering Gillian Anderson’s contract could have been up for renewal or she could have been released from it altogether. Anyone looking at the guest cast list would wonder whether there is a conspiracy behind Dana's diagnosis as opposed to just bad luck on her part. Frequent flyers such as Cancer Man and the Lone Gunmen show up for this one.

Scully tells Mulder her tumor – which is inconveniently located between the sinus and cerebrum -- is inoperable, but Fox ain’t buying it. Did you know Stage 1 of the five stages of grief is denial? Mulder is firmly ensconced there and it’s likely even Dana’s death wouldn’t change his stance. Scully seems to already be at Stage 5: acceptance … or is she? 

Sculder notify Assistant Director Skinner and decide to use the X-Files as an avenue of investigation. Remember the MUFON connection in Season 3, Episode 9? (I couldn’t remember which episode but luckily Windows Explorer has a word search option and I was able to locate the blog for "Nisei" rather easily.)  The agents travel to Pennsylvania to visit Betsy Hagopian, but she unfortunately died from her tumor. In Betsy’s home office, Fox realizes an unknown person is remotely uploading her MUFON files. They trace the signal to Kurt Crawford and catch him trying to bolt from his own apartment. 

After exhibiting an unusual burst of anger -- Stage 2 -- Scully's nose starts to bleed when they take Crawford into custody. While she cleans up, Mulder learns Kurt is on Betsy’s side and was trying to protect their MUFON files. Crawford tells them most of the women Scully met the previous year died of brain cancer. There is one survivor – Penny Northern -- but she is on her deathbed in an Allentown hospital. Mulder is convinced the women’s abductions, cancer diagnoses and deaths are related to the government conspiracy. 

Penny remembers Dana, who doesn't recall any of it, and tells her about Dr. Scanlon, the physician who treated them. Scully calls Fox, who is back at Betsy’s house recovering files with Kurt. Scully decides to pursue a different angle, she admits herself to the hospital and tells Mulder to call her mother. Fox abruptly leaves Crawford, who immediately gets a visit from an assassin with a silver weapon. Kurt then dissolves into an oozy, green mess. He’s a hybrid!

Dr. Scanlon tells Scully about the brutal course of treatment in her future. Dana’s mother arrives and jumps to the anger stage. Scully’s voiceover continues during her treatment while Mulder is breaking into the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Lehigh Furnace, which is a brief 19-mile jaunt from Allentown. He tries to hack their computer but doesn’t get far without a password. “Kurt Crawford” enters the building with the same purpose. Is he real or another hybrid? Doesn’t matter because Fox doesn’t even know it’s a possibility yet. They access the computer files while Dana undergoes her first treatment and flashes back to her abduction. Penny is there to comfort her. 

Mulder goes back to Washington, D.C. to “ask” for help from Skinner. Fox finally has proof people conspired against Dana, possibly causing her cancer and he demands a meeting with Cancer Man. Walter tries to discourage Mulder from figuratively selling his soul to CSM, so Fox reaches out to the Lone Gunmen. They say Scully’s mutated DNA possibly made her sick. Mulder wants to break into the research facility to see what they can find. Meanwhile, Cancer Man suggests to Skinner that a miracle can save Dana. Walter asks for one in exchange for a favor to be named later. Bargaining – Stage 3.

Fox and the Gunmen are outside and under the research facility where Langly and Frohike mess with the security system so Mulder and Byers can enter. Fox learns Dr. Scanlon is on staff at the facility and tells Byers to warn Scully, who seems to be writing a sad goodbye letter to Mulder (Stage 4 – Depression). Security guards show up and delay Byers’ escape. Fox makes it inside the lab and sees several Crawford hybrids, who claim their plan is to subvert the project that created them. They bring Mulder into a vault which contains ova from thousands of women, including Dana's. One of the Kurt hybrids claims the women’s deaths were hastened by the men behind the project. 

The assassin arrives at the facility and shoots at Fox … a lot. Mulder escapes and heads back to Scully’s hospital room, but she’s not there and Fox fears he’s too late. Turns out Byers moved her to Northern's room where Penny convinces Dana not to give up. After Northern dies, Scully reaches an alternative to Stage 5 -- she’s not accepting her death, but she has accepted her life and what she needs to do with the rest of it. Mulder comforts her, but doesn’t show her the vial containing her ova which he stole from the facility. Fox calls Walter to update him, too bad Cancer Man is in Skinner’s office when he takes the call. Wonder what type of deal Walter ended up making with the devil. Maybe it involves supplemental health insurance for Scully. There’s no way her salary is going to pay for all of her medical costs. 

Sestra Professional:

I don't know what everyone's so worried about -- Clyde Bruckman told Dana she doesn't die in his "Final Repose" (S3E4). Ah, maybe it was just a come-on line.

I think we both know that, right now, the truth is in me and that's where I need to pursue it: It seems like it was all hands on deck to write "Memento Mori" -- Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban did the first draft and then Chris Carter rewrote it. They wanted to make sure to get this exactly right and overly melodramatic monologue aside -- I'll give them that because it's kind of become a staple of the series -- I think they make the most of their massive storyline twist.

Gillian Anderson's evolution from the beginning of the series to here has been just amazing. Consider her first outstanding performance in Season 1's "Beyond the Sea." This is light years beyond that, even though it's just three seasons since then. Of course, much has happened to Gillian the woman -- fame, marriage, child, divorce -- and it feels like she's channeled all of that into her performances as Dana and particularly here. Anderson has gotten more comfortable in Scully's skin, she's not just speaking words, she's embodying them. It's no small wonder she won the Emmy -- her second nomination for the show -- for this season.

This one's a veritable treasure trove for all the fans who want Mulder and Scully together. After combing over episodes poring over every sideways glance and dissecting every line of dialogue, they get almost everything they want and more here. Well, except the fact that half of their dream couple has been given a death sentence. Sure makes for good drama, though, right from the outset when Dana asks Fox to forgive her for not making the rest of the journey with him. And he's the only one she shared her diagnosis with. Sigh, sigh, flutter, flutter.

I'm willing to deal now: It's a good thing Mulder has a task to accomplish or he would completely fall apart. David Duchovny's performances tend to be overlooked, save the occasional showcase episodes "Oubliette" (S3E8) or "Paper Hearts" (S4E10) that enable him to work outside the restrictions of Fox's childhood trauma of his sister being abducted. Duchovny too has grown by leaps and bounds, even since Season 3, and he did receive an Emmy nomination this season as well.

At least he doesn't take an elevator up to get to work: X-Philes tend to focus on other Skinner pieces of business like him barking "Pucker up and kiss my ass" to CSM or pointing to the no-smoking sign in his office, but was there ever really a more intelligent putdown line than this one? The implication of Smoking Man getting on an elevator from hell to join the rest of the people on the planet is too priceless. This line should be part of every fan's vernacular.

Anyway, the fact Walter winds up doing basically what Fox wanted to do -- anything to help Dana out -- is another incredible outcome of her illness. Skinner warns Mulder off dealing with the devil, but then puts himself in that line of fire. We don't know what the hell CSM is going to want from him, but we know it'll probably compromise Walter beyond the point of no return. 

We got shades of Coma -- the excellent adaptation of Robin Cook's spine-tingler starring Genevieve Bujold and with Michael Douglas playing second fiddle in the boyfriend role -- running throughout this episode. And I, for one, appreciate that as I've always adored and been chilled to the core by that 1978 film. Visually, the bodies in the tanks bring to mind the comatose bodies suspended in the movie. But even better is having Fox try to stop Dana from undergoing any procedure the same way Michael Douglas' character tried to save Genevieve from deadly surgery in the flick. True love is ensuring your woman can make it through a medical procedure.

There is a way and you will find it to save yourself: The sequence of Mulder being shot at with just a glass door between him and the gunman is pretty shattering -- in both physical and abstract terms. In an episode filled with emotional depth, the stakes seemed even higher at that moment. But the hospital corridor scene, well, you don't have to be a shipper to appreciate Fox and Dana's relationship. Scully's determined to get back to work, to be one of those people who keep plugging away. Mulder's thrilled because he does need her by his side now. "The truth will save you, Scully. I think it will save both of us," he said. Not so sure about Walter, but I'll be hoping for the best for him too.

"I think their relationship is defined not by what's said but by what's being withheld," Carter said of his main characters in the official fourth-season guide. "But it's absolutely plain that they love each other -- in their own way. And it's the best kind of love. It's unconditional. It's not based on a physical attraction, but on a shared passion for life and for their quest. These are romantic heroes, romantic heroes in the literary tradition."

In The Complete X-Files, Gilligan admitted he learned a lot from production of this particular script -- his lone mythology contribution. "I learned from Frank that every episode should be about something other than just scaring the audience," he said. "Every episode should have some greater point or theme to it. The theme might be 'courage.'"

Guest star of the week: David Lovgren does a very fine job as the variations on Kurt Crawford. He's the flip side of the Samantha clone coin, the adult version of the boys of all ages. It's, by design, a low-key role with the Kurts pointing out the evidence that women have been used for genetic hybridization. They want to help their mothers -- allegedly barren from the procedures that caused their cancer. It's too bad we don't get to see more of him/them.