Friday, September 25

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."
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