Friday, September 25

X-Files Season One: Episode 24 (The Erlenmeyer Flask)

1x24: The Erlenmeyer Flask

Scully is supportive of Mulder, but part of that support is to check him.  And she's deeply, deeply suspicious and protective of him regarding other people trying to use him.

Was the government trying to use him as another way to leverage the disinformation agenda?  Except that with Scully, suddenly, they're not perpetuating the wrong information and fostering the appearance of the ridiculous... they're becoming legitimate in the eyes of other people, and they're seeing through the lies being told to them.

"Do you think he does it because he gets off on it?"  "NO.  I think he does it because you do."

The relationship progression between Mulder and Deep Throat is so incredibly improbable.  It's so intense so quickly, likely because Mulder has an unceasing hunger for the puzzle, as well as a desire for the approval and support of a father-figure, but there's also an almost frantic sense of urgency from Deep Throat in this episode.

So what's the end game for Deep Throat?  If he wanted people to know what was going on, would he have been able at that time in our history to get irrefutable information into enough people's hands to outmaneuver the Syndicate?  This is the very beginning of the Internet, way, way before information could travel that virally.  How easy would it be for the conspiracy to take out anyone he gave information to before it could be aired?
If he's just legitimately trying to get the truth out into the open, how does getting Mulder to do it supersede his own abilities to do so?

Do not hand me that flask, Mulder.  /  We don't know what's in there Mulder.  /  Are you serious Mulder? -- Really, that look from Scully here, OMG.

I'm really taking a long, hard look at how much of Scully's "disbelief" is actually her playing Devil's advocate to keep Mulder from falling too far in.

She'll trade the evidence Mulder has been after for years for him.  He's much more important to her.

Why is Mulder so important to everyone else?  Why does Deep Throat care SO MUCH if he lives or dies?  Scully and Mulder are being used by him as pawns.  It's doesn't seem to be care for them personally, but we'll see over and over again where elements of the Conspiracy spare Mulder's life when it would (seem) to be so much easier to kill him.

Mulder is open to everything that he sees and hears, but not without consideration. He says "that might be true, let me see what I can find out" rather than "let me try to disprove it".  Scully quickly goes from complete skeptic to being the balance - and by doing so frees Mulder to jump higher, farther, faster because he doesn't have to do that part of the job himself anymore.

Mulder says "trust no one" but in reality, with his self, his heart, his feelings, he wants and is quick to trust people. He wants to be open to them and connect to them. He wants to believe.

X-Files Season One: Episodes 19-23 (Shapes, Darkness Falls, Tooms, Born Again, Roland)

There are several "meh" episodes in the last stretch of season one that really didn't spark a lot of introspection, so I dumped them all off in one post to give "The Erlenmeyer Flask" a little more room to breathe.

1x19: Shapes

... yeah, no, I got nothing.

1x20: Darkness Falls

The banter at the beginning of the episode is what we come here for.  Love. It.

Mulder's trust in people bites them in the ass once again.  There is no point in which Mulder actually subscribes to the "trust no one" mantra (and let's look forward a moment and remember that this actually gets quoted to Scully by Deep Throat as his dying words).  Mulder trusts every-damn-body, or is at least willing to give them a huge amount of benefit of the doubt.

Also, these bugs? Are seriously creepy shit.  I hate the bug episodes, I really do.

1x21: Tooms

SKINNER!!!  I did not fully appreciate Walter Skinner when I was a teenager.  I will freely admit that I was entirely there for the M/S 'shippiness way back when.  Which is fine, that's a completely valid way to read the show, but oh my g-d am I ever loving getting to see him and watch how subtly the conspiracy is unfolding in the background this time through.

Skinner vs. Scully - which has such a different tenor knowing what we know later about Skinner...  he seems less like the FBI-conspiracy-helper of the week and more like "oh for g-d's sake this is bullshit get this guy off my back I am annoyed by the world"  It very much reads as Skinner saying what he's been told to say with CSM hanging right on top of him to make sure that he does.

Aaaaaaannnnnnnnd Mulder goes completely off the rails. ::facepalm::

Hunh.  Mulder says here "if you're resistant because you don't believe, I'll respect that. But if you're resistant because of some sort of bureaucratic pressure, they've not only reeled you in they've already skinned you."
And they don't run into conflict (between the two of them) because of her beliefs, but because of her bowing to the will of the government/oversight/"the rules".  And we know from "Young at Heart" how Mulder feels about the rulebook and why.  Meanwhile, as previously elaborated, Scully's attachment to the rules always seems directly dependent upon how much outside pressure and threat of shutdown she's getting from the higher-ups, because she's determined to protect the work and protect Mulder from himself.

(You know, I had this in my notes, and can't actually tell you now what it was in reaction to now that I'm writing them up.  But since it's a Tooms episode, I'm going to let it stand as an applicable and understood reality and move on.)

Awwwww, Mulder wants to protect her.  I'm a total sucker for them this, I can't help it.

And no, not "Fox". Never Fox.

"I would expect you to place the same trust in me that I place in you" - GIRLFRIEND KNOWS HOW TO PLAY THE GAME.  This is game, set, and match.

1x22: Born Again

CREEPY LITTLE KID  (This show has so many creepy kids. Wow.)

Again we see both that Mulder is great with kids - tells the computer guy to do the funny faces on the screen - and that he excels at taking the time to really consider and connect with witnesses and other often-overlooked people around him.

1x23: Roland

Music and sound direction is excellent (horribly so).  I knew what was coming with the researcher and the fan, and expected some level of visual evidence of such so I was looking away.  Turns out?  The music and the sound effects were way scarier than anything they showed on screen.

"Did you catch the bouquet?" Maaaaaaaaaaybe." D'awwwwwww.

So, Scully is a snarky, snarky bitch and I love her.  She is sarcastic and sometimes caustic and has no time or patience for the irrelevant.  She wants to get straight to the point, and I think that's why (one of many, many reasons why) the damn conspiracy and shadow government pisses her the fuck off.

X-Files Season One: Episodes 16-18 (Young at Heart, E.B.E., Miracle Man)

1x16: Young at Heart

So much has changed about the pace of storytelling on TV since this was filmed.  The opening sequences in the hospital/prison feel like they take an incredibly long time, mostly showing atmospheric touches rather than being packed wall-to-wall with plot information.  Some days I miss the more leisurely pace, and other days I'm bored by it.
We get to see Mulder having friends and connections beyond just Scully and the Lone Gunman - although that's not going to last much longer, the deeper he goes.

Mulder used to go by the book and it bit him in the ass - I think I'd missed this plot point the first time around.  I didn't remember it, in any case.

I need two gifs from this episode: Reggie waking up with his glasses all askew, and the scene where Scully is learning about the research and is all "whoa, science!" and Mulder is all "oh god, why do you people keep thinking this is a good idea?"

1x17: E.B.E.

I love how Scully is cut off in the middle of explaining how the Gunmen's paranoia is self-delusion by the discovery of the bug in her pen.

Scully is all on board the conspiracy train, just with an eye to a different cause.  She's seen plenty even just in the first half of season one to make her angry about what the government (and/or shadow government) is hiding and she's is very plainly Not Okay with it.  She just doesn't necessarily think that it's due to the same causes Mulder does.
Mulder is the one who trusts others - Scully trusts only him, even from the beginning and I think that's a natural outgrowth of the fangirl hero-crush she came into the partnership with, proven out by close to a year internal show-time working with him and seeing how good he is, and how he repays that with respect and appreciation of her skills and talents.

Deep throat gives Mulder this look like "oh you poor naive baby"

"He's never lied to me" - this is something Mulder is taking on faith, he's assuming that's true, but we don't see any evidence that he's ever actually questioned Deep Throat's viability as a source.

"Mulder the truth is out there. But so are lies."

He's mad she doesn't believe it, but he still has enough respect for her views and intellect to double check at her request.  Again and again: this is why they work.

And, DING DING DING - Deep Throat lied.

Physical boundaries - he pushes them.

Scully questions - in a way that suggests she believes in a real possibility - if they just had a close encounter.  There's a change to the tenor of her voice when they run into visceral proof of a possible phenomena, she sounds younger and more like a subordinate asking a teacher when she asks Mulder those sorts of questions.

Mulder's the first one to disbelieve in the face of the hoaxes, while Scully is all in, returning to the apprentice role asking him for reassurance and confirmation and answers. She still respects his authority and knowledge in this arena.

Scully always takes one for the team and gets taken into custody (and how much do I love her expressions and body language here? SO MUCH), but she's much more suited to being interrogated, and Mulder is much more suited to making a break for it.

How does the story that Deep Throat spins for Mulder here add up to the broader conspiracy we later discover?  As usual with this character, how much faith can we put in his answers and explanations?

Also a side question - what are the chances that Skinner's involvement with the conspiracy go back as far as Vietnam?  The creature that Deep Throat talks about exterminating was found over/near Hanoi, which I believe is where Skinner says he was after his near death experience.

"I'm wondering which lie to believe"

1x18: Miracle Man

"Slaying of the first born?" - I love that grin, and would imagine that here she's well aware that he is a firstborn and she isn't. I love it when they're playful with one another.

The general description, when someone talks about the dynamic between Mulder and Scully, is that he believes and she doesn't except when it comes to matters of faith, in which case they're perceived to flip roles.  It isn't an unfair description - however, having not seen "Miracle Man" in several years, and with my memory of it being spotty at best, I was expecting this to be the first time that faith vs. distrust comes into play (really, it turns out that crops up first way back in "Beyond the Sea") - but in this case that isn't how it plays out, at all.  Scully doesn't believe in Samuel's abilities, she doesn't seem to have much in the way of patience with the Reverend and what he does, meanwhile Mulder is the one having visions of Samantha and wanting more answers from Samuel.  It's a call out to Scully's back-and-forth with Boggs over her father, though without some of the more dangerous undertones since Samuel isn't ever really believed to be the director of whatever is going wrong by anyone except himself.  Mulder has the same struggle between wanting more information and being angry at Samuel's unwillingness to provide it, though - he storms off and comes back, over and over and over again.

X-Files Season One: Episodes 13-15 (Beyond the Sea, Gender Bender, Lazarus)

As promised, here's the back half of season one, just in time for the weekend.  I'm still finding myself surprised by which episodes are prompting the most thought.  (And if you're reading this, I'd love to hear what you think.  I love comments, but please keep things civil and respectful.  I wish that didn't have to be prefaced, but such is the nature of the internet.)

1x13: Beyond the Sea

Random Scullys at the funeral!  Let's hear it for an incompletely developed canon!  They state that the funeral is "Family" only - I am going to assume those other random people are supposed to be some combination of Charlie, Bill, Melissa and assorted spouses and kids.

Scully is so blissfully *normal* in many of these first scenes - and again, in all the scenes with her parents and following the death of her father, it's just shocking at how young she seems because so much of the Scully in my head is later season Scully.  I think this also stems from a greater willingness to write characters as more open, dynamic and unjaded than we often see written now, in the era of the anti-hero.  Mulder and Scully's multi-faceted characterization is one of the real strengths of this show.  If you're not sure what I mean, go to Youtube and check out a serious retrospective vid and then one of the "goofy" ones.

Actually, here (spoiler warnings for the series as a whole are applicable):

Better? Yes.  Good.

Scully's absolutely vicious screaming fit at Boggs is glorious.  They've become so protective of one another so quickly! :) (I will happily admit to eating that kind of interaction up with a spoon.)  Also? Her anger is much scarier than Mulder's.

And the first of many hospital-bedside conversations between the two of them.

We'll also get the first real instance of role-reversal here between Mulder and Scully as Skeptic and Believer - after a fashion.  Mulder disbelieves Boggs, specifically, at least in part because he reviles who and what Boggs is.  Had Scully just randomly said "hey, I think I'm seeing my dad's ghost" he would probably have been much more open to it.

Oooooo, is there a possible parallel between Skinner's experiences in Vietnam and Scully's experiences here?

Further, we often get Scully missing her chance to see otherwise compelling evidence and events, but here it's the reverse.  She sees the signs and wonders, she hangs on to the things Boggs says as more than a little bit possibly true.   I don't think she's a non-believer at all, in fact, but rather (again) she's that counterbalance to Mulder.

1x14: Gender Bender

This is another episode I thought I'd have things to say about, but then I really just didn't.  Nothing besides the lovely toss and catch of the crumpled up paper in the forest really grabbed me this time through, and I've already touched on the use of long camera shots of individual body parts.  I do also wonder if they'd ever meant for this group to play into the larger conspiracy, or if they're just a random other alien species camping out on Earth who's got no part in the mission of the Conspiracy/Colonization aliens.

1x15: Lazarus

Dana Scully, ladies and gentlemen - soft and fierce and a fully rounded character.  Yes.

There's a strong focus on the form of the body in X-Files - realistic forms, not necessarily model perfect ones.  Over and over again they use long shots of an arm or someone's feet, or legs, and they come into those shots from unusual angles or starting points.  It keeps it from feeling like there's any kind of sexual voyeurism or leering involved, even in episodes predicated on a sexual premise like "Gender Bender" while also serving to alienate or dissociate the form from the person attached to it.  It makes otherwise "normal" people feel like they're "other" or "alien" to the viewer.  At the same time, it heightens the level of intimacy we feel with the character or characters being show to an unsettling degree.  Television (and film) framing does odd things to our perceptions.

Most people rely heavily on reading body language, both the unconscious and universal expressions, and the culturally coded language of gesture, space, and posture, to navigate situations.  As such, we "read" intentions, emotional states, relationship cues and character inferences without being consciously aware of it.  The framing of a typical conversational shot on a tv show may entail two actors standing much closer together than they necessarily would in off-camera life, but what we read from it is that the characters are minimizing the space between them in a manner that's indicative of intimacy.

Here, we're forced to stare at people (parts of people) in a way that social mores generally doesn't allow, in a way that would otherwise make the subject uncomfortable unless they were someone we were very close to.  If this were Mulder, or Scully that we were viewing, as involved and familiar with them as we are, that would be fine and feel like a natural deepening and extension of the show, but instead it's one-off characters, strangers, often that we've never even seen before.  That doesn't sit well, and serves to heighten the "unsettled" feeling of the show.

Mulder is the one who listens to the people who aren't used to being listened to.  That, in a nutshell, is what makes him different, not just from the FBI agents around him, but from the other factions involved in the conspiracy as we go forward.

Scully enjoys dropping the "I dated my teacher" bombshell on Mulder - and this is such an overlooked part of her character (and part that's done a HUGE disservice in season four and the choices FOX made to air those episodes out of order, but more on that rant when we get there).  Scully has a very complex relationship with the men around her, and with male authority figures.  Her relationship with Jack is certainly part of that, both because of their relative positions within the Bureau, and their age difference.  I would imagine that there were probably some kind of restrictions about instructors dating students at the Academy, but it obviously didn't bother or stop them.  Scully expresses no sense of shame or hesitation about admitting they were together to Mulder, and she certainly likes shocking him with it.  The sexual politics aside, there's an even more important aspect of her character that's reflected here (that we see in Deep Throat, and will continue to see grow over time: Scully only "plays by the rules" inasmuch as she feels it is necessary to achieve her larger goals.  When she argues with Mulder about regulations and policy (certainly past the first few cases) - she is worried about Mulder.  She's worried about his job, and his safety.  It's not that she inherently feels that the rules are sacrosanct because they're "the rules" - if that were the case, we should see some level of discomfiture about her relationship with Jack.  It's that she understands that in order to achieve their larger goal, they need to be careful.

Mulder is still trying to call her Dana, although here it feels fairly natural.

There's a great comparison and contrast between how Scully reacted to Boggs when he "threatened" Mulder, and how Mulder reacts to Lula when she has Scully.  Scully has the much shorter fuse (though some consideration could be made there due to her heightened emotional state from her father's recent death and the experiences she's having at the time) - Mulder reacts like a more seasoned agent, which makes perfect sense, as he is.  It also shows just how fast Scully has attached herself emotionally to Mulder (how quickly he's become important to her) and reflects more of that "shiny new agent" thing she's still got going on.  I'm inclined to think that most if not all her time with the FBI prior to the X-Files assignment was at Quantico rather than any kind of field work.

The "operatic devotion" that Willis talks about in the tapes is echoed much later in the series by Mulder and Scully's own relationship.

They can both command a room (and scenes where they head up task forces or otherwise give people their marching orders are some of my very favorites).  Mulder in particular is good at putting it all aside and doing his job,while still being open and vulnerable.  In large part, that's because he really doesn't give a shit what other people think of him.

I want more stories about the agent at the door that pretends to be an evangelist.  He seems awesome.

"What do I tell myself" -  Mulder walks away, he can't/won't answer that question for her.  Then she asks him what does the watch having stopped mean? - Mulder's reaction is strange.  It feels like he's got this resigned realization, like he's tired of offering her theories just to have her shoot them down, despite how often he's right.  Or that he perceives that he's right.  "It means... It means whatever you want it to mean."

Friday, September 18

X-Files Season One: Episodes 10-12 (Fallen Angel, Eve, Fire)

1x10: Fallen Angel

"A highly classified lie" Is this parallel and shadowing that the information Mulder is being fed is also a lie? Questioning the authenticity of Deep Throat's motives begins now.

Scully is trying to protect Mulder from himself, trying to protect the work, and she's tired. She's almost fighting that fight by herself, since Mulder seems to be working against her.

Throughout the episode, but particularly in the final scene w/ Max in the warehouse, when Max is in so much pain, Mulder is fascinated and in wonderment of a lot of this in an almost inappropriate way. He misses, for a moment, that Max is a person who's suffering - he glosses past that point on over to "wow I'm getting to see actual alien interaction" (at least by the look on his face, and yes I realize that's highly subjective). He does outgrow this very quickly, I think by the end of season one, but he's just now starting to delve into the practical side of his research, and real, palpable phenomena he can experience himself is a big deal for him. That said, this is where he's going to eventually forge a path that separates him from even the two (apparent) sides of the shadow war. Mulder will ultimately decide to focus on the personal cost rather than the objective phenomena or answers, or the simple dichotomy of "tell the world" or "don't tell them".

During the inquest at the end, Scully sits at the end of the table, in single-point perspective, from a long view. Mulder, later, sits in two point perspective, offset from the center and in a less targeted line of sight with the camera. The camera is also pulled in closer, making Mulder seem more of the same size with the men at the other end of the table. It's a nice bit of direction that helps highlight their relative positions within and approaches to authority.

Deep Throat is a manipulative bastard. Please keep that in mind. Let's break down his statements here at the end: " and I both know Mulder's work is a singular passion -- poses a most unique dilemma. But his occasional insubordination is in the end, far less dangerous... Than having him exposed to the wrong people.What he knows...(laughs)... what he thinks he knows...(sighs) Always keep your friends close, Mr. McGrath... but keep your enemies closer."  

Is this deep throat lying to McGrath about Mulder being the enemy and his reasons for keeping him on because he's in a visible position within the conspiracy but secretly working against it, and knows McGrath is one of them?

OR is this Deep Throat telling McGrath the truth and his approaches to Mulder are designed to direct and control the information he finds and the way he interprets it, while still working for an agenda outside of "The Truth"?

I absolutely believe that Deep Throat and CSM are at opposing viewpoints with regards to the Conspiracy on some level, I do see them as opposing factions in this game of Shadow Chess that's going on. However, that doesn't mean that Deep Throat or his motives are "good", or ones that Mulder and Scully might agree with if they knew the truth about them.


1x11: Eve 

So Mulder and Scully are both good /comfortable with kids, and I get the impression from how it's handled that the idea of precluding children or making them something that's unknown or "other" wasn't a thing yet. I'd be interested to see what someone might find by writing a paper on how children are portrayed in genre fiction over the last few decades. There feels like there's a predisposition of characters to be uncomfortable around them or with the idea of them, usually with one character being the exception or the one who's "good with kids". Here, no one mentions, asks, or clarifies if either Mulder or Scully are or are not good or comfortable with watching over a child or gives that facet a second narrative look.

1x12: Fire

Mulder and Scully are both tiny, tiny babies here. SO. YOUNG. And innocent and vital. (And those cellphones are HUGE.) I'm coming back to this point partway through season two, because it's still resonating with me. Even by the time we hit the "Colony"/"End Game" two-parter, the almost childlike wonder and shine hasn't worn off these two. I don't mean "childlike" in a negative way (all other discussions about Mulder's character and occasional temperament aside), but I'm struggling for another word that fits the feeling I get from them. Naivete also isn't exactly right, nor does "vulnerability" capture the scope, but somewhere in the intersection of those three points you've got where these two characters are.  

Mulder will probably never outgrow his sense of wonderment at the phenomena he explores - while a huge part of his personal drive to find "the Truth" is due to Samantha's abduction and the responsibility he feels because of it, on another level he just flatly has a deep, deep sense of wonderment at all the universe can contain. And he cares about people, even though those two drives occasionally war with one another (see again, his reaction to Max's experiences in the warehouse in "Fallen Angel". I'll dip back into this more thoroughly in mid-season two when various relevant plot points crop up (ALSO CHESS METAPHORS FOR AGES), but it seemed to beg for some attention here.

The difference in body language, modesty, and comfort levels between Mulder and Scully and Mulder and Phoebe was interesting. He makes it a point to close his robe (to even put on the robe) while Phoebe is in the hotel room with them, but as soon as she leaves, he relaxes and eventually discards it, and didn't seem to care one way or the other when it was just Scully in the room with him. Like so many of their interactions, while it can certainly be looked at with the shipper-goggles on, at the same time there's a solid center that is simply mutual respect and deepening friendship.

X-Files Season One: Episodes 7-9 (Ghost in the Machine, Ice, Space)

1x07: Ghost in the Machine

So this is October. they got together in March, so they've been partners about 7-8 months by this episode.

The only real note I have (since I don't feel like delving into the ideas about technology in 1993 vs. 2015) is this: Scully is over your shit. Scully means business and she is over your shit. We all know where she's going to end up, with a level of cold self-confidence and almost royal bearing that could take over the entire FBI if she wanted to, but it's really cool to see the first hints of it here when we didn't know, yet.  

"What else could I have done?" "Nothing... Unless you were willing to let the technology survive..." Deep Throat says VERY POINTEDLY. This is almost like a test for Mulder - people vs. ideas? Where are you going to fall? Deep Throat is paying attention to that.

1x08: Ice

Ice is probably one of my "most watched" episodes of season one, but the rewatch was kind of surprisingly meh this time around and I have surprisingly little to say about it. I still love the very visceral quality of Mulder and Scully "checking" each other in the storage room. Also, it's an interesting note or highlight to the season how Mulder's normal level of paranoia reads as possibly infectious to the rest of the "team". Scully knows it's not, but they both miscalculated with the damn guns. (So much foreshadowing of so many other standoffs with loaded weapons (I'm looking at you, Season Three).)

From a more meta perspective (what am I saying, this is all meta, you know what I mean) - it's a great adaptation of one of the classic stories of modern speculative horror done by the show that what will turn out to be a game-changer of modern speculative horror, itself.

1x09: Space

So I had a revelation. I really do not like this episode. I don't think I paid enough attention to it originally to care, but this time around, wow, no.

I'll start with the kind things I can say about it, which have to do with the broad-strokes narrative. Namely, that this looks like it should be a conspiracy episode, but they very neatly subvert those expectations with what is actually a monster of the week story, illustrating that the distinction has very little to do with "aliens" vs. "everything else" and everything to do with the locus of control (as it were). Yes, Col. Belt is technically military and NASA and all those government things. However, the push/pull is entirely between Belt and this entity that's possessing him. The "conspiracy-esque" elements like the sabotage or leaked files are all done by or initiated by Belt, either in opposition to or at the behest of the entity. When the government gets referenced, it's as if it's an outside figure beyond NASA or the shuttle launch, it looms in regards to budget cuts, but is kept well away from the mystery. That part, that dichotomy, I really liked.

Now, for everything else: First, I don't really get the sense here that Mulder and Scully are all that involved in the story. Yes, they end up performing certain actions, but the focus remains on the ground control crew and the shuttle crew, and Belt himself in some indefinable way. They mostly run around, either explaining to one another or having someone explain to them what's going on technically with the launch, mostly for the sake of the audience. They don't save the shuttle, other than being the physical conveyance of a message and they don't, precisely, solve the mystery - yes they come around to Belt having sabotaged things, but we don't find out why and, most importantly, Belt confesses because of his complete breakdown rather than some external reveal. Knowing who did it is almost an afterthought and was never really in question. The immediate danger the shuttle is in takes center stage, is solved by Belt and the ground crew, and Mulder and Scully just function as a Greek Chorus while all this goes on.

Second, the hero worship Mulder feels for Belt seems both forced and a caricature of Mulder's usual optimistic belief behaviour. It's nice to see Mulder so enthusiastic about things, I like when characters can do that, but the way they play his desire to believe in Belt's innocence falls flat to me, since it seems to rely on Mulder seeing him as a hero rather than Mulder trying to believe in the extraordinary.
And finally, the camera work feels both claustrophobic and off-center, which makes it really visually unappealing for me. That might've been the intention, in which case, okay, it's just not to my tastes, but I don't just mean the special effects scenes, I mean overall.  

X-Files Season One: Episodes 4-6 (Conduit, The Jersey Devil, Shadows)

1x04: Conduit 

Mulder is totally okay with them "agreeing to disagree". He doesn't need Scully to be his sycophant. He doesn't even need her to believe in his theories - just in him. He needs her respect and her partnership. I get this kind of peripheral impression of a plant that's been denied water or sunlight suddenly having access to it and just drinking in as much as possible as quickly as possible.

Scully takes his side outwardly, then challenges him to his face in private. Yes. Good. She's not going to undercut his perspective or authority in view of other people... and questioning or challenging him in private doesn't undercut anything at all.

Is there a question to be looked at here about devotion versus loyalty? Are those different ideas? (I think they might be.) Scully is, pretty much from day one, extremely loyal to Mulder. He, on the other hand, will become devoted to Scully. In part, I think the distinction stems from their basic characters, and shouldn't be taken as a measure of level of commitment between them. Scully leads with her head, Mulder leads with his heart.  

"Loyalty" is a more academic, clear-eyed term, implying stepping deliberately into a choice of committing yourself to a person, idea, or organization. "Devotion" has a blind implication of emotional intensity guiding one's decisions or actions. More specifically:

Devotion (from  - n., early 13c., from Old French devocion "devotion, piety," from Latin devotionem (nominative devotio), noun of action from past participle stem of devovere "dedicate by a vow, sacrifice oneself, promise solemnly," from de- "down, away" + vovere "to vow," from votum "vow". In ancient Latin, "act of consecrating by a vow," also "loyalty, fealty, allegiance;" in Church Latin, "devotion to God, piety." 
Loyalty (from - n., c.1400, from Old French loialté, leauté "loyalty, fidelity; legitimacy; honesty; good quality" (Modern French loyauté), from loial.

Scully's expression when he tells the bartender he doesn't believe in UFOs is priceless.

At the end of the episode, Mulder says "I want to believe" NOT "I (do) believe" - he wants to believe in things because he wants to believe the voices, he wants Samantha to come back. But, he doubts. He is not slavishly blind with actual belief, at least not in regards to the larger question of alien phenomena, at least inasmuch as it pertains directly to his situation.

1x05: The Jersey Devil

The big deal here seems to mostly focus on Scully's still seemingly normal life, and her deliberate choice of departure from it by the end of the episode. There's a nice trilogy of responses that builds up in episodes 3-5: first, she's faced with having to make a decision in regards to her career path and her peers in "Squeeze". Next, she has to face the possible career repercussions from her superiors during the meeting with the Director in "Conduit". Now, she's having to decide about whether or not she'll depart from the personal life that she's had until now - not just her friend and godson, but dating, having a family someday, all of her non-work life options are put in contrast with this new opportunity of following Mulder on his quest. Nice.

I don't understand why or how this is so very far afield from any other Jersey Devil legends ever? Every other account I have ever heard of the Jersey Devil is a winged horse-hooved creature with big almost moth-man like eyes. This... is not that. It doesn't even reference that, so idek.

Also? The phone conversation when Mulder calls her from the drunk tank is priceless and will never not be fun.

1x06: Shadows

This ep doesn't lend itself to much meta delving, but highlights a couple nice character moments between the two of them.  

First, Scully knows that Mulder lied. Loooooooooooved that scene. I love that she can read him that well, and I'm a sucker for anything that puts them in an "us vs. them" position where they're not even remotely at odds with one another over anything in the background. Separately, they're intellectual powerhouses, with an understanding and resolve that put most people to shame. Together? They're on another playing field entirely. I know that the show isn't ever going to give me as much of that shared directionality as I crave (I seem to be continually disappointed by my fandoms in that regard) but I'll take any and every hint of it I can get.  

Second, Scully's poltergeist reference. I love how much fun they have with one another!

Thursday, September 17

X-Files Season One: Episodes 1-3 (Pilot, Deep Throat, Squeeze)

1x01: Pilot

I've probably watched this episode more than any other single episode of any other television show. That said, I was surprised at how much more I've managed to notice and tease out of it this time around, partly because I was actively paying attention to it, and partly because 22 years later I'm looking at it from a different perspective. 

We establish early on that Scully isn't just "good" - she's exceptional. I don't know what the official stats are, but I can't imagine that it's a common occurrence for someone to go from college to medical school to the FBI academy, to then be hired to teach at the FBI academy almost immediately upon graduating, but we know from her first conversation with the director et al that she's been with the Bureau just over two years and has, in fact been an instructor at Quantico during that time.

(I'll also note here that it seems like Scully might have a little bit of a fangirl crush on the Mulder of Academy legend and it's kind of adorable. But more importantly, I think establishing that she goes into this with a high opinion of him (and possibly a professional fascination with him and his early work) helps to build on the relationship they develop over the course of season one, which looking back through the original material after years of mostly fanon and headcanon is beautiful and fascinating, and not what I was expecting it to be.)

A note about Mulder, which will probably be reiterated a few times here - he accepts the fantastic as an equally valid possibility. This is NOT the same thing as him automatically, completely believing that the fantastic has to be the right answer, and there is a level of reserve that he holds in the earlier episodes particularly, when he suggests those ideas to Scully. I get the feeling that he's as much testing her reactions as he is expressing genuine belief during this first case. Which is not to say that he doesn't often believe the fantastic is the right answer. He definitely believes in the possibility of (even actual existence of) extraterrestrials and other paranormal phenomena. He certainly knows there is some kind of conspiracy going on in the government. However, you can see where up to this point he's been walking the tightrope between belief and healthy investigative skepticism by himself, and that he also understands the political intricacies involved in his job and his passions, he just doesn't like to play by them.

One thing that develops very quickly through the first season, even this first arc of episodes, is the two of them establishing a pattern of taking opposing sides. Not because either of them have hard-set absolute beliefs, but because it allows them to fully explore the possibilities without falling over the edge of the abyss. Even in moments where Scully does agree that something is going on, even when she is facing what is plausible evidence to her scientific mind of the possibility of aliens and phenomena, she counters Mulder's arguments with "okay, but what if it's not? What are the other options here?" - Mulder in contrast, looks at situations where there's strong evidence for a "normal" solution and says "but what if it is? Are we ruling out another avenue just because it's not standard thinking?" And this is why they work. This is why they're so damn good at what they do - and the more they do it, the more they grow to trust one another in this regard, the further into those two polar opposites they can, and almost have to sit. But I think that it's too simplistic and unfair to the complexity of the characters to say or assume that he always absolutely believes and that she always absolutely does not.

In their opening scene together, there's a palpable sense of enjoyment in both of them with the exchange. There's an obvious meeting of the minds, of shared and equal intelligence, of realizing that you're talking to someone who either does or could respect you and your accomplishments and keep up with you and your thinking (and one thing season one is going to emphasize again and again and AGAIN is how very accomplished these two people are).

Starting with an out-of-town case in a rural, tight-knit community draws clear lines of "us vs. them" for Mulder and Scully to work within, which in turn establishes an internal "We're in this together / we're better acquainted and connected than we might otherwise feel" sense between the two of them.

In re: Scully's "I've never had the pleasure" line regarding the bodies in the graveyard - this can't be referring to an autopsy. She's been teaching at Quantico, and really the only field she's qualified to teach at that point would be forensic pathology - she's done autopsies. It's much more likely she's referring to it being her first exhumation.

And finally, a random thing that I wonder: what does Scully do that first night before they leave for Oregon? Pack? Does she even have things for a trip, or does she have to run to the store for provisions or tiny bottles of shampoo? How much travelling has she done for work so far? How does that contrast to Scully three years from now - who likely has not one but several "go-bags" packed and stowed in her house, her car, her office, because really, how often will they just up and leave on a dime? (Answer: ALL THE DAMN TIME.)

1x02: Deep Throat

I love Mulder's little "swoop" in on Scully at the bar when he first arrives. Their sometimes quite physical playfulness with one another is one of my constant joys with these characters.

This is where we get our first look at Deep Throat, and the question to ask is, does he warn Mulder off because he legitimately doesn't want Mulder investigating and thinks it's too dangerous? Does he warn him off, still legitimately, but because he doesn't want to risk this particular project getting revealed? Or does he warn him because he realizes that will make Mulder want to to investigate THAT MUCH MORE by being told he shouldn't?

The answer to that question is always going to be subjective. It hinges on what Deep Throat's overall goal in his interactions with Mulder are over the entire course of their relationship. I'm going to come back to this frequently, so let's outline the possibilities.

One, there's the possibility that he is, in fact (as he will explain in E.B.E.) sick of the shadow conspiracy and the lies and what's being done to people. In which case he's either hoping that Mulder will help reveal the truth - OR - he doesn't want the public to know the truth, but he's using Mulder as a knight on his chessboard against the other side of the Consortium, to poke at them or distract them, or damage their goals in some way or another.

Two, he could loyal to the shadow conspiracy, and be using Mulder and the trust Mulder places in him to help disseminate false information. Yes, there is a conspiracy, but it's not what you think, and while Mulder is chasing down Explanation A (and therefore giving it time, attention, and weight) - the answer is actually Explanation B, which stays hidden.

"Aren't you even curious?" Mulder asks Scully. I think here she is, but she says no, because the only thing she can think is what is he's right about any part of it? What if they really can break minds, somehow, someway? His mind is too beautiful to be broken, she can't stand the thought of Mulder ending up like the pilots they've seen there.  (Yes, my M/S shippiness is showing a bit here, but it plays well against the mild fangirling Scully does in episode one.)

How often does Mulder outright and blatantly ditch her like that? Not so much going off to investigate something without telling her first, but ditches her mid-case? It's one of those points of characterization that gets played up a lot in fic, but I'll be interested to see how often it actually plays out in canon.

Scully gets really, really rattled and offended by the government fucking with them, and what was done to Mulder. She puts her foot down hard about leaving and dropping the case at the end. Until now, whatever government interference they've faced has been passive - "oh, hey, did you hear? The evidence disappeared" It hasn't been men with guns in cars stomping all over their rights without what she perceives as cause. It certainly hasn't been the government taking her partner and mucking around with his brain leaving him disoriented and confused. Even the events in episode one, like the fire and the body tampering could be explained as the local parents trying to cover for their children. That's a different thing. That's not government sanctioned miscarriage of procedure and justice. Her reactions here are our first glimpse of the righteous anger that will carry her through the show.

1x03: Squeeze

Mulder being vaguely possessive of Scully. I love this. I love this in unreasonable ways.

We get to see, now that we've seen two cases where they were looked at as a unit, by outsiders, what the reactions that their peers have to their work. More importantly, we get to see how this change in career path is affecting Scully's life externally, instead of the internal view we've had so far.


Scully points out the possessiveness and Mulder acknowledges it - acknowledges that she's important and the respect she has for him is important. It's a weirdly platonic sort of possessiveness, it's about partnership rather than relationship - and that's a striking parallel. It's also part of what makes their relationship so compelling - we're given the same beats we'd get if they were a couple (or leaning that way), but in contexts that are very definitely non-sexual. You can still read the sexual connotations and tension under the surface, there's certainly an attraction there, but it's almost incidental to their attraction to one another's intellect, their character, and their skills. 

Is that why they captured the imagination of so many fans and writers so completely? That their relationship is predicated on so much deeper a reading of one another than just physical attractiveness? None of which is to say physical attraction doesn't or shouldn't play a part, or that acknowledging two characters being attracted to one another is a bad thing, but it is seen much less in modern media between male/female couples. More often, the easy-out of falling back on a trope-ish situation to garner fan attention wins out. The things that the British TV show "The Avengers" did between Steed and Peel that innovated writing a male/female pair and created the situations we now use so often as tropes to move relationships along have become so commonplace that the other side of that coin, building a thorough, well-rounded and completely human, multi-faceted relationship between the two gets short shrift. 

She may differ on the details, but she believes that Mulder is right about the connections between the cases. Again, this isn't the dynamic they tend to get reduced to: "Mulder believes, Scully rolls her eyes, gets him out of trouble, and blindly ignores all evidence put in front of her".

This is all about what path does Scully want to take, what side does she want to be on? And the subtle undercurrent is as much "the victim's side" vs. "the bureaucracy's side" as it is "Mulder's side" vs. "rationality/normal". (I still say there's a fantastic paper to be written comparing and contrasting the X-Files and Fringe in terms of the agents of fear and distrust in our society.)

X-Files is getting a Revival - are you ready?

The first "grown-up" fandom that I was able to deep-dive into (in any modern sense of the term), was X-Files. Oh, there were plenty of fandoms before that (Star Trek, X-Men and New Mutants, Power Pack, Pern... well, let's just say we'd be here awhile, okay?) but what I mean by "in any modern sense" is fandom as we see it now. Online fandom, interactive fandom, fanfiction and forums and fan art and meta discussion: those things that were made more possible and accessible by the introduction of the internet. 

Twenty-two years later, we're on the cusp of a revival, and we're all different fans than we were then. What was a burgeoning platform to collaborate and explore has exploded into a panoply of material and ideas we couldn't even dream of. The very forms of television storytelling have shifted dramatically from how they were when X-Files was first conceptualized, much of which is, at least in part, due to the advancements that X-Files made in terms of long-form arcs and mythology. More to the point, as a viewer of the material, I'm radically different than my thirteen to eighteen year old self. I see things in new ways, want different things from my stories, and know both more and less than I did back then. I also know that I missed huge chunks of the text in the days before Netflix and Hulu and DVRs, despite my extensive and well-loved homemade VHS collection.

So I'm taking this opportunity to go back with fresh eyes and rewatch the series in a mad dash before January's revival premieres. I realize that there are ways it might go horribly wrong, but I don't care. I want to wax nostalgic about the passion I once felt for these stories, and I hope against hope that even some part of that will re-emerge in the aftermath of something new. (I would also love for a whole new generation of fandom and fic writers and artists and thinkers to discover this show and explore all sorts of new ways of looking at it.)

As I go, I'm attempting to analyze most (if not quite all) of the episodes to help me figure out what I'm seeing and what I think about it. And I'm finding some really fascinating things. I started out without any clear theme or direction to my ponderings, but two and a half seasons in, I'm starting to see some threads and patterns that I'm focusing more tightly on, particularly the Believer/Skeptic dynamic, and the Eternal Chess Game that is the Conspiracy, with some possible bunny trails into just how awesome Walter Skinner really is and a look at Scully and Mulder in parallel to Christos and Magdalene mythology.

Also, whatever I think is cool at the time. Randomness happens.