Reasons X-Philes Should Be Cheerful About 2017

Carl Sweeney helps us end the year by talking reasons to be cheerful next year… one, two, three!

2016 will be remembered for many reasons, but if you’re reading this then it’s likely that one of the things that affected you this year was the release of new episodes of The X-Files. The year to come may not offer anything quite so exciting on the immediate horizon, but there are still a few things we can look forward to.

We’ll get an update on Season 11, one way or another

the-x-files-2015-walter-skinner

You’ve probably heard the whispers that negotiations for new episodes, which had appeared to be progressing nicely, may have hit some sort of impasse. We don’t know how this issue will be resolved, but at least we are likely to get some clarity. Representatives from Fox may be asked questions about the future of The X-Files at a Television Critic’s Association event in January.

IDW Publishing will continue to impress

xfiles_10_cvr-mockonly

Those of us reading the Joe Harris-penned comics can expect more interesting stuff this year. Upcoming issues are set to include an intriguing tale about the Smoking Man’s involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, as well as a Skinner-centric story. If you haven’t read the IDW comics before, now’s as good a time as any to start.

Check out our previous X-Cast shows talking to comics editor Denton J. Tipton & artist/writer Matthew Dow Smith, who should–all going to plan–be back on the show during 2017!

xforigins2xforigins

Elsewhere, January will see the publication of two X-Files novels aimed at a younger audience. Jonathan Maberry’s ‘Devil’s Advocate’ and Kami Garcia’s ‘Agent of Chaos’ will shine a light on events in the life of teenage Scully and Mulder, respectively.

Jonathan will be on The X-Cast in January talking about these novels, and we will be doing podcasts discussing the books in detail.

A new critical look at the show

mooneybook

Some of you will have read Darren Mooney’s excellent articles at The Movie Blog. Those of you who are unfamiliar with his work would be well advised to spend some time getting acquainted with his careful analysis of all the 1013 series. Darren’s ‘Opening The X-Files: A Critical History of the Original Series’, to be published in June, will doubtless be as impressive as his online work.

Darren will also be discussing the book when he reappears on The X-Cast in 2017.

The X-Cast will continue to go from strength to strength

x-cover-igttrytj

The podcast will continue to bring you the same eclectic mix of reviews, interviews and other features. On Twitter, our ongoing Tournament will continue to ruthlessly eliminate episodes until a winner emerges, and we’ll be starting to countdown every week the results of our Episodes Poll we ran at the start of December. We’ve got a lot of exciting things planned for this blog, too, which we’ll reveal as the year progresses.

Remember… trustno1 (except us) 😉

You can follow Carl on Twitter @csweeney758.

Advertisements

X-FILES TOP TEN: Season Finales

Carl Sweeney returns to once again deliver a top ten viewpoint, this time on The X-Files season finales…

I will, eventually, rank something with more than ten possible options. However, a few people got in touch after reading the Top Ten Season Openers piece and requested a follow-up looking at the Season Finales, and who am I to disappoint?

Overall, I think the season-ending episodes are a stronger bunch than the season-opening ones. A low position on this list, then, isn’t necessarily a condemnation in and of itself, with the exception of…

10. The Truth (Season 9)

the-truth

This is fantastically exciting until Mulder sees his first ghost. Sadly, we’re only a few minutes in by that point. The Mount Weather sequence is promising, but that’s about as good as it gets. The kangaroo court is a poor premise that not even the great Kim Manners can breathe any life into, and it’s all undermined when the gang manage to break Mulder out incredibly easily. It picks up a bit towards the end, but not enough.

9. My Struggle 2 (Season 10)

my-struggle-2

There’s the basis of a great episode here, but things don’t quite come together. The Tad O’Malley interludes are quite inelegant and don’t really work, for a start. Secondly, the threat feels a bit abstract. Compare this near-apocalyptic scenario with the one that ends the second season of Millennium, then tell me which one feels more compelling and real. On the plus side, I think the way that Scully takes control of things is rather captivating.

8. The End (Season 5)

gibson_praise_chess_the_end

A curate’s egg of an episode. I really like the sequence where Krycek retrieves the Smoking Man from the snowy cabin, and the last few minutes are stirring. I’ve never much cared for Gibson Praise or Diana Fowley, though, which drags this one down for me. CSM speaking in chess metaphors throughout wears thin, too.

7. Biogenesis (Season 6)

spacecraftonbeach

This feels like a bit of an outlier in terms of the finales, but the turn the mythology took here is one I’m quite fond of in retrospect. It’s flawed, certainly. CSM and Krycek feel a bit crowbarred into this one. Mulder’s descent into madness is executed well, though, and the final image, of Scully having found a whopping great alien ship in the sand, is excellent.

6. Talitha Cumi (Season 3)

mulder_smoking_man_talitha_cumi

I probably would never have read Dostoyevsky if Carter (and Duchovny, who assisted on the story) hadn’t named the fast food restaurant in this episode after ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. For that, I’m grateful. The CSM/Jeremiah Smith interrogation is modeled after a sequence in the aforementioned book, a reminder that The X-Files was often a very literate show. I like this episode but I don’t think it’s in the same league as the earlier Season 3 mythology outings. The cliffhanger is a bit perfunctory, too, especially when compared with some of the others from the run of the series.

5. Existence (Season 8)

existence

This would have been a nice place to leave things. The final scene, with Mulder, Scully & baby William, is very sweet. The rest of the episode goes by at a fast-enough pace that it just about papers over any cracks in the story. Krycek’s demise is indelible. So, too, is Reyes breaking into whale song, though not perhaps in quite the same way. The series never got closer than this to ending with a satisfying degree of closure. Of course, the ill-fated Season 9 was around the corner…

4. Gethsemane (Season 4)

gethsemane

‘Gethsemane’ has an impressive sweep to it, coupled with an intimate exploration of faith. It’s Chris Carter at, or close to, his most confident. Duchovny and Anderson have great material to work with her, and are reliably superb. The last scene continues to pack a real punch, no matter how many times I see it. I’m not sure the summer spent waiting for Season 5 could have felt any longer.

3. The Erlenmeyer Flask (Season 1)

dana_scully_erlenmeyer_flask_alien_fetus

This is a great episode because, after a hit and miss first year, it broadened the canvas for the types of stories the show could tell. It’s an episode that has held up fantastically well and never fails to quicken the pulse. The highlights, for me: Mulder finding the men in tanks at the storage facility; Deep Throat’s execution; and the phone call where Mulder informs Scully that the X-Files have been closed down. Carter concludes by going back to the beginning, by reprising a scene from the pilot. He would do something similar later in the series, on a number of occasions.

2. Anasazi (Season 2)

mulder_boxcar_new_mexico_hybrid_corpses_anasazi

This is brilliant. I don’t think there’s a false note here, really. I take that back, I’ve just remembered Chris Carter’s cameo as an FBI agent. Duchovny deserves particular praise for his performance here. The first half of this episode, where our protagonist is under the influence of poisoned drinking water, offers a convincing portrayal of what Mulder would be like if he was even more paranoid. There’s a lot of other good stuff here, too, but especially terrific is the scene where Scully shoots Mulder to stop him killing Krycek. The final scene is a doozy. ‘The Blessing Way’ doesn’t necessarily follow up on the cliffhanger particularly well, but that’s another matter.

1. Requiem (Season 7)

tvad_requiem

I’ll confess to finding much of Season 7 quite underwhelming (with some very honorable exceptions). It ends magnificently, though, with ‘Je Souhaite’ and then ‘Requiem’. It’s back to the beginning again, as Mulder and Scully return to Oregon, the scene of their first ever investigation. Some of Season 7 feels very tired, and not in a good way, but here the episode is imbued with a sense of weariness that is, paradoxically, rather wonderful. Your mileage may vary as to how successful the series was after this, but the place our protagonists are left in at the end of this episode was fitting and dramatically promising.

It’s an episode that has great material not only for Mulder and Scully, but also for some of the ensemble who had often been underserved. CSM’s death at the hands of Krycek here (Smokey’s 2nd demise, of the 3 to date) is low-key and entirely effective. Mitch Pileggi is excellent, as well. I’m not sure he was ever better than he was here. This episode was written at an uncertain time for the series, by all accounts. Carter was unsure whether the future of the series was on the small screen or the big screen (or, indeed, whether it had much of a future at all). Given the circumstances, ‘Requiem’ is a bit of a miracle.

I’m very interested to hear other opinions on the finales, so please get in touch via the comments or on Facebook if you have an alternative view.

You can find Carl on Twitter @csweeney758.

X-FILES TOP TEN: Season Openers

Carl Sweeney begins a new semi-regular series where he ranks aspects of The X-Files…

This is the first in a semi-regular series where I’ll rank various aspects of The X-Files. I’ll try to cover a wide range of topics but to keep things simple this time, I’ve decided to start with something where my choice is confined to only ten: season premieres.

I must stress that these are personal opinions only and these rankings are not linked to the episode poll you will have seen elsewhere on the blog. You may agree or (more likely) disagree. Feel free to get in touch with your views: you can leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

It seems to me that, while The X-Files generally did season finales well, the show’s record with season premieres was much more patchy. There are some undoubted highlights here, though, so without further ado let’s rate these episodes…

10. Nothing Important Happened Today (Season 9)

niht

Not a difficult choice. Pretty dreary stuff, and the choices made here hobbled the show for the rest of the year. ‘Existence’ gave us a happy ending for Mulder and Scully but David Duchovny’s departure from the series meant that their domestic bliss was short-lived. It’s hard to swallow Mulder going on the run but the main problem here is that the episode as a whole is rather lifeless.

9. My Struggle (Season 10)

my-struggle

The revival begins, but not with the bang we’d all hoped for. It’s a curious episode. Our leads are still finding their way back into the characters, and their performances are uneven as a result. They’re not always helped by the script, which includes some of Carter’s most on-the-nose dialogue (take a drink every time you hear the words ‘alien DNA’).

8. The Beginning (Season 6)

the-beginning

The X-Files moves to Los Angeles! This one feels like a missed opportunity to me. Scully’s scepticism seems somewhat forced off the back of Fight the Future and it’s hard to escape the feeling that the big-screen adventure hasn’t really changed things sufficiently.

7. Herrenvolk (Season 4)

xfiles-herrenvolk23

Some memorable moments here, including X’s bloody death. Marita appears for the first time and bees are introduced into the mythology stew. The chase sequence at the beginning should be thrilling but instead is overlong and pedestrian. Not bad, but this and ‘Talitha Cumi’ were the weakest two-parter up to this point in the show’s run.

6. The Sixth Extinction (Season 7)

sixth-extinction

This is sandwiched between two superior episodes but it certainly has its merits. Your mileage may vary, and the mythology’s new focus on religious symbols and artefacts is a distinct change from what came before, but I find Scully’s sojourn to the Ivory Coast to be an interesting change of pace. Always good to see John Finn as Kritschgau, he’s a character I’d have liked to have seen more of.

5. Within (Season 8)

john_doggett_and_dana_scully_meet

Enter John Doggett. Robert Patrick impresses from the get-go, and shows he can bravely take a cup of water to the face. Mark Snow’s recurring theme for Scully is very effective, which is good because we hear a lot of it. The idea of Scully not knowing Mulder as well as she thinks she does has potential, but the contrivance of his fatal illness doesn’t ring true. Still, this begins a new era for The X-Files in promising fashion.

4. The Blessing Way (Season 3)

txf_201_days_301

Mulder’s healing ritual is hokey and the cliffhanger that ended Season 2 isn’t really dealt with explicitly. However, Scully’s storyline here is great. Anderson is reliably superb and she has good material to work with here opposite Mitch Pileggi and John Neville. Exciting ending, too.

3. Pilot (Season 1)

pilot_x-files

Where it all began. Anderson looks ridiculously young and Duchovny plays things a bit broader than he would subsequently. But the episode gets a lot of things right and establishes a very solid basis for the series to come. It’s amazing to look back at the non-speaking role William B. Davis has here – what a stroke of genius that casting decision would turn out to be!

2. Redux (Season 5)

redux

I may be wrong, but my feeling is that this one gets a bit of flak from fans. I suppose I can see why: a high tolerance for scenes of characters walking down corridors to the sound of Chris Carter monologues is required. The episode resolves the shocker of Mulder’s apparent suicide well, I think. There’s an extraordinary scene, inspired by Oliver Stone’s JFK, where Kritschgau lays out an alternative history for post-WW2 America while the audience is bombarded with documentary footage. It’s a great example of the distinctive way The X-Files could examine US history.

1. Little Green Men (Season 2)

scully_mulder_blank_tape_little_green_men

Deep Throat is dead, the X-Files have been shut down and Mulder and Scully have been separated. This is an interesting point for the series and Glen Morgan and James Wong’s script begins the sophomore year with aplomb. Samantha’s abduction is vividly recreated and we learn a bit about Mulder’s connection in Congress (Senator Matheson should have appeared more, don’t you think?). This is a great character study buoyed by fantastic acting. Duchovny portrayal of Mulder, weary and paranoid, is some of his best work. The X-Files remain closed at episode’s end but this episode makes the future of the series look very bright.

You can follow Carl on Twitter @csweeney758.

1013 Radio: Classical Music

In the latest 1013 Radio, Carl Sweeney looks at the instances of classical music in The X-Files…

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but there’s nothing I like more than to sup from a glass of wine while listening to Beethoven (well, actually, I’m more likely to be drinking a can of Coors Light while playing a Bruce Springsteen album, but there’s no point splitting hairs). This week on 1013 Radio, let’s look back at three times when The X-Files memorably used classical music.

Little Green Men – “I live for Bach”

fox_mulder_and_richard_matheson

Senator Richard Matheson has summoned Mulder to his office, where he’s playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. Mulder holds his own in a brief conversation about Bach (he is Oxford-educated, after all), but doesn’t immediately recall that this was the music sent into space with the Voyager probe. Matheson, fearful of being bugged, uses the volume of the music to disguise the real reason he wants to talk to Mulder: to notify him of possible alien contact in Puerto Rico.

Chinga – Scully takes a bath

bath

After five years assigned to The X-Files, who can begrudge Agent Scully a nice holiday in Maine? It’s just a shame she ended up getting embroiled in an investigation involving a murderous talking doll. Still, at least she found time for a relaxing bath while listening to Hummel’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Trust No 1 – A mother’s lament

trust-no-1

In an impressive pre-credits sequence, we see images from past episodes refashioned as surveillance footage, while Scully narrates a message to William. On the soundtrack we hear a version of Tchaikovsky’s Barcarolle, one of the 12 piano pieces that make up The Seasons. It’s an effective montage, and the melodic music works well in this context.

That’s all for now. Join me next time on 1013 Radio for another journey into the musical world of The X-Files.

You can follow Carl on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.

1013 Radio: Over the Rainbow

Carl Sweeney returns for another 1013 Radio, talking a classic from Season 6’s ‘The Rain King’…
overtherainbowausIn the early days of The X-Files, it was almost impossible to imagine an episode ending with ‘Over the Rainbow’ playing on the soundtrack. By Season 6, though, the series had changed considerably, and ‘The Rain King’ does indeed conclude with Judy Garland’s Oscar-winning song

The song itself is one of the most famous American songs ever recorded. ‘Over the Rainbow’ (referred to by many as ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’) was written in 1939 by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, for MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. It’s an emotional ballad, sung in the first few minutes of the film when Dorothy is daydreaming about a better place than Kansas. The song won the Oscar that year for Best Original Song, and would remain Garland’s signature tune throughout her career. It’s not, however, a natural fit for The X-Files.

txf_201_days_template_700x700_s6e08-2

‘The Rain King’ is a sweet little episode, perhaps most memorable for a scene where Mulder dodges a flying cow.  It’s a romantic comedy, really, about not just Mulder & Scully’s investigation in the local resident apparently able to control the weather for financial gain, but about the unrequited love meteorologist, Holman Hardt feels for Sheila Fontaine. Unusually for The X-Files, there’s even a happy ending. Holman & Sheila get together, and normal weather patterns are restored to the town. There’s a short postscript, set one year later: we hear ‘Over the Rainbow’ as we see Sheila cradling her newborn baby. Your mileage may vary, but I think it’s a nice little scene. But the question remains: how did The X-Files, renowned for its scares and its chills, get to the point where it could use a Judy Garland song?

The X-Files moved production to Los Angeles between Seasons 5 & 6. The move had an immediate effect on the series. Gone was the atmospheric drizzle and mist that were such a hallmark of filming in Vancouver. LA’s warmer climate was reflected in the brighter, warmer look of the series. ‘The Beginning’ would open the season with an image of the baking desert sun. ‘Drive’ and ‘Dreamland’ would make notable use of the different types of location that the series now had at its disposal. The show as a whole now had a generally lighter feel than before, which would last until Season 8 attempted to go back-to-basics. If the series hadn’t moved to LA, ‘The Rain King’ may have ended up a very different episode in look and feel.

The move to LA, in my view, not only changed the look of the series but also broadened the types of music that could be appropriately used on the show. Mark Snow’s scores for Season 6 are more varied and more comedic than before (listen to the music that accompanies Mulder’s mirror dance in Dreamland for a particularly stark example of this), and songs which would once have felt out of place now warrant inclusion. ‘Over the Rainbow’, which is very difficult to imagine being used in the early years of the show, feels suitable when used in ‘The Rain King’.

rain-king

* ‘The Rain King’ wasn’t the first time that the series had tipped its hat to The Wizard of Oz, of course. ‘Triangle’ is heavily indebted to the film, and in ‘Fight the Future’, Mulder jokingly refers to The Lone Gunmen as “Cowardly Lion…Scarecrow…Toto” (Frohike is the one who was unfairly compared to Dorothy’s canine companion).

You can follow Carl @csweeney758 on Twitter.

1013 RADIO: Beyond the Sea

In the first of a new series of articles charting the music involved in The X-Files, ‘1013 Radio’, join Carl Sweeney as he goes somewhere… beyond the sea…

tumblr_m9kqxsfbrl1rynxkao1_1346340463_cover

Bobby Darin’s version of ‘Beyond the Sea’ is probably the definitive rendition of a song that has been covered by many diverse artists, from Django Reinhardt to Robbie Williams. It’s a romantic pop song about separated lovers that charted in the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic for Darin. The song is used memorably in an early episode of The X-Files with the same name.

The episode was written by Glen Morgan and James Wong. Morgan and Wong regularly incorporated different types of music into their scripts for The X-Files, from Bach to Johnny Mathis. Their use of pop music in the early days of the series paved the way for other writers to follow suit later on, though we shouldn’t hold them accountable for Mulder line-dancing to ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ in season 10.

We first hear the song at the funeral of Scully’s father, who died at the beginning of the episode. As his ashes are scattered in the water, Mrs Scully explains that the song had been playing on the day he returned from the Cuban blockade and proposed marriage (this is an example of Morgan and Wong’s fondness for intertwining fiction and 20th century history). Given the lyrical content of the song, this is of course highly appropriate. Bill Scully’s Naval career is central to the way he is represented in The X-Files, as exemplified by the music here and references to Moby Dick in this and other episodes.

xbts_2_funeral

Later, the incarcerated killer Luther Lee Boggs (the fantastic Brad Dourif) unsettles Scully by singing, not very tunefully, a portion of the song to her. Boggs’ knowledge of this, and other personal information, coupled with Scully’s vision of her dead father, are at the centre of a superb character piece. It’s probably the best episode of the first season.

Darin’s music would be used several times in the second season of Millennium, as part of Morgan and Wong’s attempt to humanise Frank Black. There’s one further link to the 1013 universe. Morgan’s brother Darin, who would join The X-Files writing staff in 1994, is reportedly named after the singer.

Interestingly, you may not hear Darin’s ‘Beyond the Sea’ when you watch this episode. His recording is on the UK DVD and Bluray release. When viewed on Amazon Prime though, you’ll hear Charles Trenet’s ‘La Mer’ instead (‘La Mer’ was written in the 1940s and has the same music as ‘Beyond the Sea’ but a different lyrical focus). I’m not sure what the reason for the change is, and whether it’s the same in other territories. I can only assume this is because of a rights issue.

You can follow Carl on Twitter @csweeney758.

The X-Files A to Z – B is for… BEES

Carl Sweeney continues the alphabetical breakdown of The X-Files by looking at the importance of bees to The X-Files and its mythology…

Bees were, for a while, an important ingredient in the mythology mix. They don’t appear that often, and I’d argue that they were never used as well as something like the Black Oil. Chris Carter liked to keep introducing new elements to the conspiracy storyline, which may partially explain why bees fell by the wayside. The creatures also apparently presented considerable production challenges, probably meaning the creative team didn’t miss them too much. They gave us a few memorable moments though and played a key part in Mulder and Scully’s first big-screen outing.

bee_as_syndicate_specimen

‘Herrenvolk’, the Season 4 opener, begins with a workman in Canada being stung while up a telephone pole. Shortly after, while being observed by a group of identical boys, he has an intense allergic reaction and falls to his death. Mulder and Jeremiah Smith discover the man’s body while travelling to an area of farmland tended by clones, some of whom are apparently doubles of Mulder’s sister, Samantha. Mulder, Smith and a Samantha clone hide from the Alien Bounty Hunter in an apiary, a sequence during which the young actress playing Samantha was stung.

In ‘Zero Sum’, Skinner has to make good on a promise he made to the Cigarette-Smoking Man in ‘Memento Mori’. His task is to cover up the death of a woman stung to death by bees in a workplace bathroom, in exchange for CSM doing a good deed for the cancer-stricken Agent Scully. Skinner does the dirty work while assuming Mulder’s identity, a risky strategy which proves difficult to maintain. We learn a bit more about how bees relate to the Syndicate’s grand plan when a swarm of killer bees are unleashed on primary school children in South Carolina, spreading the smallpox virus to all who get stung. This appears to be a trial run for a similar event that will take place when aliens return to colonise Earth.

Shippers everywhere were given reason to curse the Africanised Honey Bee when ‘Fight the Future’ hit cinemas. Mulder and Scully’s adventure in pursuit of an alien virus through Texas takes them to a domed tent in a cornfield. When the agents enter they are assailed by thousands of bees released from vents above them, in a nice set piece that makes good use of the switch from small to big-screen. Unbeknownst to Scully, a stowaway bee hitches a ride in her collar back to Washington DC. It sits through an FBI hearing before deciding to strike seconds before Mulder and Scully can kiss for the first time. This interruption puts the prospect of romance on the backburner for the next two seasons, not least because the bee sting infects Scully with the alien virus and causes her to collapse almost instantly.

Unbeknownst to Scully, a stowaway bee hitches a ride in her collar back to Washington DC. It sits through an FBI hearing before deciding to strike seconds before Mulder and Scully can kiss for the first time. This interruption puts the prospect of romance on the backburner for the next two seasons, not least because the bee sting infects Scully with the alien virus and causes her to collapse almost instantly.

screenshot183

‘Fight the Future’ was the last time we saw bees in The X-Files. The plans to use them during colonisation were presumably destroyed along with the Syndicate in ‘One Son’. There was no sign in Season 10 that Carter intends to revisit this aspect of the mythology, which may be for the best.

Next week… C is for CONSPIRACY

You can follow Carl on Twitter @csweeney758.

Least Favourite X-Files – Excelsis Doh!

Carl Sweeney kicks us off talking about our least favourite episodes, by discussing ‘Excelsis Dei’…

Considering that more than 200 episodes of The X-Files have been produced it’s remarkable how few outright duds there have been. This is not to say that there haven’t been plenty of substandard episodes. However, instalments with no redeeming values are rare. Usually, this was because David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Robert Patrick were worth watching even when their talents were at the service of a lacklustre screenplay. Mark Snow’s scores and the production values could be counted on to be solid, especially once the series really hit its stride. Some of the least successful episodes are undeniably terrible while being distinctive and strangely fascinating at the same time (‘Fight Club’, I’m thinking about you).

excelsis-dei.jpg

‘Excelsis Dei’ is the 11th episode of season 2 of The X-Files. It is for X-Files completists only. In it, Mulder and Scully go to a convalescent home to look into the rape of a nurse by an invisible assailant. While they’re looking into the attack, further unexplained incidents occur. There are a number of problems with the episode. It handles difficult subject matter badly, is poorly plotted and ploddingly paced. Duchovny and Anderson are fine but some of the supporting performances are unnecessarily broad. The locations used are suitably atmospheric but not much is made of them. There are good ideas in the screenplay but none are developed sufficiently.

The episode was written by Paul Brown, who was also credited on the far superior ‘Ascension’. It’s difficult not to see the way that Brown writes Mulder here as a problem. It’s true that there are times during the series when Mulder loses interest in a case or a witness when there appears to be no sign of paranormal activity. Indeed, Darin Morgan’s script for ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’, one of the greatest hours of television ever, contains such a scenario. However, Mulder’s behaviour in ‘Excelsis Dei’ is unusually callous.

Mulder forms the view that Michelle Charters has concocted the story of her rape as a means of getting out of a job she hates. He ostensibly feels this way because there is insufficient evidence to support her story. This is an odd position for him to take when you consider the number of X-Files cases that end with Mulder lacking evidence but believing wholeheartedly in the supernatural event of the moment. It also jars when you think about the sensitivity Mulder shows to female victims of abuse in, say, ‘Oubliette’. Furthermore, Mulder is unconvinced by ‘entity rape’ in general. It seems an odd choice to make one of the few phenomena that he doesn’t believe in be one that involves sexual assault.

250px-Excelsis_Dei.jpg

Now, if Mulder’s thoughtlessness had been developed in some way, things would be different. The episode could perhaps have ended with him reflecting on how quick he was to discard what Michelle was saying. This would have the potential to be horribly heavy-handed but could be pulled off if done skilfully. However, as no such moment occurs, we can only assume that the writer is not using Mulder’s attitude to make any kind of point and that if the viewer finds Mulder exasperating this is unintentional.

What’s also frustrating is that the character of Michelle, and the issue of her rape, are sidelined as the episode progresses. An episode built around an ‘entity rape’ is an interesting concept, and one that’s completely valid for The X-Files, but it could only succeed if treated with the utmost sensitivity. I can only conclude that it is unwise to make rape only one of a number of violent incidents in this episode. If the character of Michelle had been physically attacked but not raped, ‘Excelsis Dei’ might have been more palatable.

ed.jpg

In fairness, there are other episodes of this show with dubious sexual subtext. Interesting debates can be had about, for instance, ‘Post-Modern Prometheus’ and ‘Small Potatoes’. What really damns ‘Excelsis Dei’ is that it is dull. Stephen Surjik wasn’t given a great script to direct but there are a couple of scenes that should have been tense. The scene where the orderly hangs from the window falls flat due to how long it takes to unfold. The same can be said of the final set-piece with Mulder and Michelle locked in the room as it floods, where Surjik’s attempts to add some urgency with frantic cross-cutting prove ineffective.

There is the basis for an interesting episode here that deals with the way people in different cultures look after their elders. Unfortunately, this notion is undermined by the clichéd representation of the character of Gung, a Malaysian orderly growing mushrooms in the basement of the care home. It is only in the final few minutes of the episode that this character is given any voice, by which point the audience is metaphorically checking its watch.

‘Excelsis Dei’ doesn’t work. It isn’t scary or exciting. It squanders interesting concepts through poor writing and indifferent execution. The same is true of other episodes of this show, certainly, but for my money The X-Files was never less impressive than here.

You can follow Carl on Twitter @csweeney758.

Favourite X-Files – Home is where the heart is

Carl Sweeney talks about his favourite X-File, the dark & legendary ‘Home’…

home1

‘Home is a particularly audacious instalment of The X-Files. It’s tense, scary and, at times, very funny. In my view, it represents the artistic peak of the X-Files episodes that can be categorised as horror. In particular, I would argue that the writing and direction are outstanding.

The episode sees Mulder & Scully looking into the death of an infant whose body was buried in the dirt in the remote town of Home, Pennsylvania. Their investigation leads them to encounter the Peacock family, three brothers seemingly living alone in an old house near where the baby was found. If you are somehow reading this but haven’t seen this episode, you should rectify that immediately. You won’t regret it.

‘Home’ was written by the great Glen Morgan & James Wong, who were returning to The X-Files following the cancellation of their series Space: Above & Beyond. It was the first in a quartet of very fine Season 4 episodes that all test the elasticity of the series in different ways. ‘Home’ is almost certainly the most violent and disturbing X-File ever made. I’d argue that ‘Home’ is the apotheosis of a certain type of Morgan & Wong script – scripts that embrace the possibilities The X-Files offers for thematically-rich, genuinely frightening horror (see also ‘Squeeze’/’Tooms’, ‘Ice’, ‘Die Hand Die Verletzt’).

The cleverness of Morgan & Wong’s writing usually becomes apparent with close analysis and this one is no exception. The title has several meanings. Home is the name of the town, a place that hasn’t fully moved with the times. It’s also an apt title for an episode that meditates on the way modernity encroached on a certain way of American life, represented (in an extreme way) by the lifestyle of the Peacock family, and the problems posed when not everybody accepts that change has been for the best. Finally, ‘home plate’ is the base that we first see in the kids’ ball game, where the baby’s body is discovered.

home2

The idea that things are not what they seem on the surface is baked into the script. What looks like a great place for kids to play baseball proves to be a bad choice when blood bubbles up from the soil. Mulder tells Scully that she doesn’t know him as well as she thinks she does when she jokes that he couldn’t live without his cell phone. Soon after, he is surprised when Scully talks about motherhood in a way he hadn’t heard her speak before. Mulder & Scully presume the Peacock house to be empty when they enter it, but Mrs Peacock was there unseen all along, under the bed. In the gripping final stages of the episode, the agents raid the Peacock house and have to contend with a range of booby-traps that aren’t immediately visible.

Wisely, Morgan & Wong leaven the grimness of the subject matter with a fair bit of humour. There are some really good quips from both Mulder & Scully (and an unlikely reference to Babe). I think the funniest moment, though, is actually dialogue-free. While in the Peacock house, Mulder finds a newspaper reporting the death of Elvis and Duchovny pulls a great face.

‘Home’ was directed by the late Kim Manners. Manners was the most prolific helmsman on the show and did all sorts of different episodes. I think that ‘Home’ exemplifies the skill Manners brought to The X-Files and it’s no surprise that he supposedly felt very proud of it.

home3

The sequence where the Peacock brothers leave their home before eventually murdering Sheriff Taylor and his wife showcases Manners at his best. He uses all the tools at his disposal to fashion a tour-de-force that is pure cinema. As the brothers drive to their destination Manners crosscuts back and forth between them, Sheriff Taylor & his wife at home, Scully asleep in bed & Mulder watching TV, thus building tension as we initially don’t know who the brothers are after.

The camerawork in this sequence is interesting. There are times when the camera travels quickly, such as when the Taylor’s leave their front door unlocked and the camera moves in to emphasise the importance of this. At other times, Manners isn’t afraid to keep the camera static to create suspense. When the sheriff’s wife hides under the bed Manners shoots from her point-of-view, making us imagine the way she must be feeling.Throughout the scene, we hear the song ‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’ emanating from the Peacocks’ car stereo, a sweet song which becomes incredibly foreboding when used in this context. It fits thematically too, a pop song from an age now rapidly receding into the past.

After the Peacocks leave, there is a dissolve from the front of the Taylor house to a close-up of the trembling hand of the Sheriff’s Deputy, who has discovered the bodies. His involuntary physiological reaction is entirely understandable and I dare say it has been shared by a large number of people who’ve viewed ‘Home’ over the years. As a whole, the choices made by Manners here (and indeed in the episode as a whole) are very deliberate and undeniably effective.

home_peacock_house

Home is terrific from start to finish. In my view, it’s the best standalone episode of The X-Files, and it never ceases to appal and excite. Once seen, never forgotten.

You can follow Carl on Twitter @csweeney758