Category Archives: TV

Introducing… the Media Mavens podcast

It finally happened! After mulling it over and considering it for months, I’ve started a podcast with my good friend Riley!

Media Mavens logo

It’s a biweekly podcast about pop culture – video games, tv, movies, books. The plan is to have the first half of the podcast be a discussion of all the media we’ve been consuming recently, and then have the second half be a more in-depth discussion and analysis of a particular piece of media or media topic.

The first episode is just Riley and I, and it’s more about introductions than analysis, but in the future we plan to have guests on to talk with us.

You can find the podcast at https://mediamavens.simplecast.fm/ or on iTunes or Stitcher.

I hope you give it a listen!

Revisiting The X-Files – Beyond the Sea

“I’m afraid. I’m afraid to believe.”

It’s the holidays and Dana Scully is entertaining her parents for dinner. Her dad, played by Don Davis of Twin Peaks fame, says it’s time for them to go. Though Scully and him have cute, Moby Dick-themed nicknames for each other, the relationship doesn’t seem like a comfortable one. It’s obvious Scully loves her father, but there seems to be a lot left unsaid between them. Hours later, Scully wakes up on her couch and sees her father sitting in the chair across from her, silently reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The phone rings, stealing her attention, and when she glances back, the chair is empty. It’s her mother on the phone. Scully’s father has died.


It’s been a while since I wrote one these. I originally planned to write something about every X-Files episode in advance of the new series starting next year, but realized I just don’t have much to say about a number of the episodes. So, I’m just going to focus on the most memorable ones.

Beyond the Sea - Scully and Boggs

Beyond the Sea is the best episode of season 1. It doesn’t have a ton of competition, since the series was still finding its feet, but it’s memorable for a number of reasons. Brad Dourif’s turn as Luther Lee Boggs is outstanding. It’s over the top but totally works and is consistently compelling. This is also the first episode that flips the script and shows Scully as the believer and Mulder as the skeptic. Boggs, who’s currently sitting on death row, claims he has psychic powers that can help S&M with their current case. Mulder thinks he’s full of it while Scully believes he may know something about not only their case, but also about her father. Most importantly, this is a great character episode where we get to learn a lot about Scully. Her path to the FBI was not one that her father supported and she worries that he wasn’t proud of her.  She puts faith in Boggs because he says he can channel her father. And because everything he has to say about their current case proves correct.

There are a lot of nice touches that tell us more about Scully. There’s her discomfort at being called Dana by Mulder. How hard she tries to keep it together after her father’s death and how much harder it gets when sympathy is offered. Scully is a believer, just not in the paranormal. Her faith has more of a religious nature, which can come in conflict with her belief in science. She always wears a crucifix, and though the role of religion in Scully’s life isn’t examined too much in this episode, it will come into play in a number of future episodes.

The scenes between Scully and Boggs seem influenced by The Silence of the Lambs, with the serial killer delving into Scully’s past and into her head to tell her what she needs to hear. Gillian Anderson gets to flex her acting chops in this episode, as Scully runs the gamut between mourning for her father, undergoing a crisis of faith, and raging at Boggs when Mulder is shot.

In the end, Scully realizes she has more faith in herself than in Boggs, and that she doesn’t need him to know what her father would have said.

Revisiting The X-Files – Space

“It ranks right up there with getting a pony and learning to braid my own hair.

The episode opens with a newscast. A reporter, in an outfit that defines the early 90s professional ladies look, talks about the 1977 rover mission to Mars. We see closeup pictures of the red planet. One looks like a sculpted human face, but a NASA official denies it being evidence of an alien civilization. Later that night, that man dreams about being in orbit and wakes to see the Mars face form on his ceiling and rush towards him.


Yes, that’s really what happens.

Space is pretty much the low point of the season. Maybe even the series. It takes some great topics – space travel, alien civilizations, astral possession – and somehow makes them incredibly dull.

Mulder is contacted by the NASA communications commander, Michelle Generoo, who believes there’s a saboteur at work, preventing the space shuttle from launching. This threatens the entire space program, so him and Scully go to investigate. Mulder meets one of his childhood heroes, astronaut Captain Marcus Aurelius Belt (yes, that’s really his name) and is giddy as a schoolboy while Scully takes her skeptic role way overboard.

There are a number of major issues with this episode.

First, the special effects. They’re just terrible. At one point, the Mars face gets superimposed onto Captain Belt’s face and it’s laughably bad. This episode was intended to be a money saver so they used a lot of stock NASA footage of the space shuttle but never actually showed any of the astronauts in the space shuttle. The episode mainly took place in the communications command center and intercut stock footage and the result was quite dull.

Second, Scully. I know, she’s the skeptic, but in this episode she takes that skeptic role and runs so far with it that she becomes a total buzzkill. She’s so blasé about the whole idea of space travel. I don’t believe she never wanted to be an astronaut. She’s a scientist, how is space not interesting to her? Who can watch a space shuttle take off, from the command center no less, and not be moved? Is Scully a robot?

Third, the cardinal sin of X-Files, this episode is completely lacking in humor. There’s a distinct lack of witty repartee between Scully and Mulder. Without the give and take of its two leads, the X-Files magic just isn’t there.

Also, since Dahakha pointed it out, I can’t help but notice Mulder invades the personal space of so many women on the show. How did I not see it before? At one point he’s trying to calm down and get information from Generoo, and he rests his hands on either side of her waist as he talks to her.  Whyyyy?

In the end, it seemed that Captain belt had been possessed by Mars face during a previous trip to space, who was making him sabotage operations. And it did this because…? Mars face also:

  • appeared in a ceiling
  • appeared outside a car and caused it to crash
  • took over Belt’s face
  • broke the space shuttle

Mars face is watching you masturbate

The concept of being possessed by some astral force while exploring space is not a bad one, but the decision to have the Mars face represent this made it hard to take the episode seriously.

Revisiting The X-Files – Ice

“Before anyone passes judgment, may I remind you, we are in the Arctic.”

Cold open. Literally. It’s dark and blustery. A whining dog walks through a research station, passing bodies as it goes. A lumbering man with a gun turns on recording equipment and begins to speak – “We’re not who we are” then is attacked by another man. The ensuing struggle leaves them pointing guns at each other, in a standoff. Reaching a silent understanding, they slowly point their guns at their own heads. A quick cut to outside, and two shots are heard. It goes no further than this. Or does it?

After a few middling episodes, Ice offers a breath of fresh, cold air and is the first episode that really showed X-Files as something that could be great. Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate the disappearance of the Arctic Ice Core project team, who haven’t been heard from since the video recorded in the opening. Some scientists and a helicopter pilot are also along for the ride (one of whom is played by Felicity Huffman), meaning the agents will be trapped in the arctic with a group, rather than just each other.

From the start, paranoia is rampant. Doctor’s Da Silva and Hodge request everyone show ID so they all know everyone is who they say they are. These two are also immediately suspicious of Scully and Mulder, assuming they know more than they’re letting on because they work for the government.

X-Files season 1 - Ice

We start discovering what happened when a dog attacks the helicopter pilot, Bear. The dog shows symptoms similar to bubonic plague and Bear, in secret, discovers he has the same symptoms after he’s been bitten. He immediately becomes paranoid and aggressive and the doctors soon notice a worm wriggling around under his skin. When the worm is removed, he dies. Things devolve into chaos as the survivors wonder who else may be infected. Who’s not really who they are? The influence of The Thing is plain to see.

This is a really great Scully and Mulder episode, and a standout for Scully in particular. While everyone else is losing their heads, Scully is the only one who keeps a semblance of cool. She stays scientific and analytical, while everyone else engages in a witch hunt. As Mulder’s paranoia grows, we think he may be infected but really, that’s just Mulder. The pair get a couple great scenes together, as their trust in each other is tested but ultimately grows.

X-Files season 1 - Ice

One of the more dramatic scenes has Scully and Mulder pointing guns at each other after Mulder is found with the body of Dr. Murphy, a reflection of the scene from the intro. Mulder is the  one to lower his gun first, as Scully suggests that he may not be who he is. He’s locked away and its up to Scully to find a solution to their problems, which she does very quickly. It turns out the creatures causing the infection will not tolerate each other and will kill one another if a second specimen is introduced into the host.

Scully, unsure that Mulder really is the one infected, goes to talk to him alone.  The agents inspect each other for physical symptoms in a scene that’s slightly reminiscent of the examination scene from the pilot, but much less gratuitous. It comes down to Hodge and Da Silva vs. Scully and Mulder, each pair convinced the other is infected. But it’s Da Silva who, at the last minute, is discovered to be the one. The agents work together to hold her down and she’s given the last worm.

Aside from being one of the more well-written and thrilling episodes of The X-Files so far, I really like how Ice showed much more respect to Scully than she had gotten previously. Her scientific background comes into play when she realizes how to cure the infection, and her skepticism ensures she never gives in to the hysteria being experienced by the other characters. Scully finally gets to be the hero here.

Revisiting The X-Files – Season 1 episodes 3-7

My intention of reviewing every single X-Files episode might have been a bit ambitious. So rather than try to stretch the episodes I don’t have a whole lot to say about into whole posts, I’m going to combine a few.

Conduit

“I want to believe…” -Mulder

This episode is rather Mulder-centric as it deals with a young woman being abducted by aliens, a cause near and dear to his heart. The most interesting part of the episode is the titular conduit, the woman’s young brother who seems to be receiving messages from aliens. Mulder takes to the kid and projects on him a little bit before the woman is eventually returned, but refuses to say what happened to her.

X-Files - Conduit

The thing that stuck out to me most this episode, unfortunately, was an immensely creepy scene near the beginning while the agents are talking to the mother of the missing girl. Mulder sees a picture of the girl from when she was very young. Note to writers: don’t ever write a scene that involves a man stroking a picture of a child in a bathing suit. Just don’t. I know, the picture reminds him of his own sister, but this could have been communicated in 7000 other, better ways.

Other than this, the episode is decent.

Jersey Devil

“Unlike you Mulder, I’d like to have a life.” -Scully

As far as paranormal content goes, this is the first weak episode. It deals with a mountain man (who turns out to be a woman) who has been attacking people outside of Atlantic City. City officials don’t want to cooperate for fear of driving off tourists, making the case harder to solve, yada, yada, yada.

However, this episode does have some interesting Scully and Mulder content. This is our first glimpse of Mulder’s apparent porn habit, when Scully walks in on him reading a nudie magazine in their office. He is reading an article about alien abduction though, so at least it’s somewhat work related, I guess. Scully gets glimpses of a life outside the FBI as she visits some family and even goes on a date. As for Mulder though, it’s made abundantly clear that work is his entire life.

Shadows

“Psychokinesis? You mean how Carrie got even at the prom?” -Scully

This episode deals with a ghost who is sticking around the mortal plane to protect his secretary/daughter proxy and help her solve his murder. It’s not a particularly memorable episode. Not bad, but not great either.

This episode starts to feel a bit like Polkaroo. There is plenty of unexplained phenomena going on – Mulder gets to witness a man being suspended in mid-air, objects moving by themselves, and an office being trashed by unseen hands. Scully is always just outside the door when these things happen and walks in just as they stop. She’s got to maintain her skepticism somehow, I guess.

Ghost in the Machine

But there’s plenty of kooks out there. Data travelers, Electro wizards, techno anarchists. Anything’s possible.” -Wilczek

The series takes a bit of a break from the paranormal this week, as the villain ends up being a supercomputer with artificial intelligence. Sadly, it isn’t done very well. The episode comes off as low budget and the script is weak and lacking humour. Witty banter between Scully and Mulder is what makes this show so good, and its absence is palpable.

X-FIles Ghost in the Machine - Scully saves Mulder

So after a strong beginning, these episodes were a bit of a slump. Luckily, one of the best episodes of the season is up next.

Revisiting The X-Files – Squeeze

Do you have any idea what liver and onions go for on Reticulon?

The camera pans over a modest city skyline at dusk. A man walks out of a restaurant; the camera follows and slowly zooms in on him, occasionally cutting away to a storm drain across the street. As the man comes more into focus, the background colour bleeds away. A pair of yellow eyes are revealed within the storm drain, as the creepy-crawly music we’ll eventually hear a lot of ramps up. We follow the man into an office building, while the camera keeps cutting away to something unseen that seems to be stalking him. A screw on a small vent is shown being undone from the inside, as fingers squeeze out from under it. The man is suddenly and violently attacked by something inside his office. Pan back to the vent, which is being closed and screwed back in place by something unseen.

Ah, the first monster of the week episode. Now we’re in my wheelhouse. Though the mythology of The X-Files provides much of the backstory and driving force of the series, I’ve always enjoyed the standalone episodes, with their casts of odd and interesting characters, more. This is also the first episode written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, two of the more entertaining writers on the series.

After the opening credits, we get to see Scully having lunch with someone she used to work with at the FBI Academy. He manages to disparage her, Mulder, and their work all while asking for a favour. Smooth. The lack of point of entry in a rash of killings and liver extractions is stumping law enforcement and Agent Colton is determined to crack the case. With a little help from Scully, whom I’m sure he would give credit to, because he doesn’t seem like a self-serving jerk at all. Colton and Mulder get along about as well as expected, and Colton gets very salty when Mulder uncovers some actual evidence from the crime scene – elongated fingerprints from the vent. The fingerprints are common to crimes reaching back as far as 60 years, which also involved victims with missing livers. Looks like Mulder is proposing some spooky ideas again.

Scully presents a profile of the killer that, while it misses the killer’s true motivation, is pretty on the nose. She suggests they stake out past crime scenes because the killer is likely to return. Colton’s unit run with her plan, but not before snidely chuckling about her work on the x-files some more. They’re pretty hauty for a unit that didn’t have a single lead on the case before Scully got involved.

Mulder shows up unannounced to Scully’s stakeout location because she’s pretty much his only social connection at this point. I love Mulder, but he’s not a very FBI agent. Who sneaks around underground parking lots at night when they know armed agents are on a stakeout looking for a serial killer? Though Mulder insists Scully is wasting her time and that the killer will not come back here, they end up finding and detaining Eugene Victor Tooms, a member of animal control who was climbing around in the vents. At night. Without alerting security.

I savour it when Scully is right. One of the shortcomings of the whole series is that Scully almost never gets to be right about the big stuff. She’s this brilliant scientist, but whenever she states an informed scientific opinion like “No Mulder, it wasn’t aliens, they don’t exist” or “No Mulder, it’s impossible for this serial killer to be 100 years old” she usually ends up being proven wrong. In a show like The X-Files, the truth is stranger than fiction so the skeptic usually loses.

Doug Hutchison as Eugene Victor Tooms in Squeeze

Doug Hutchinson does a great job with this character. He’s so diminutive and soft spoken, but still manages to be quite terrifying.

After passing a lie detector test, with the exception of the questions Mulder added which would place him at the crime scenes from 60 years ago, Colton’s unit lets Tooms go. And of course he immediately goes and rips out someone else’s liver, getting into their house by squeezing down the chimney.

S&M decide they’re going to solve this case, Colton’s narrow minded ideas be damned. While tracking down info on the killer, they find a detective who had worked the murder cases in the 60s who shows them a picture of Tooms looking exactly the same as he does now. The agents travel to Tooms’ apartment (the shot of them entering the premises is the one used in the intro credits) where they find a nest made of newspaper and bile (ick) as well as trophies from previous victims. Mulder’s theory is that Tooms is a mutant who feeds on livers in order to keep himself alive and un-aging through the years. As they leave, a hidden Tooms lifts Scully’s necklace (which Mulder had awkwardly called attention to in a previous scene).  Looks like he’s found his next victim.

Here we get to see Scully’s apartment for the first time. All she wants is a nice, hot bath to ease away the tensions of the day but, no, she has to get attacked by a mutant, contortionist, liver eater. Mulder bursts in just in time to intervene, distracting Tooms from the overpowered Scully. She, in turn, saves Mulder from Tooms’ attack by handcuffing him to the faucet. Of course, everything we’ve seen from Tooms indicates he could squeeze out of those cuffs in the wink of an eye, but we’ll just ignore that. We’ll also ignore that the action scenes at this point in the series are really poorly done and a bit laughable.

Tooms is institutionalized and immediately goes about building a new nest. His intense gaze at the slot in his cell door indicates we may not have seen the last of him.

Revisiting The X-Files – Deep Throat

Daylight. The episode opens on a group of military police surrounding a house. They take down the door, spreading out through the house. Looks of shock appear on their faces as they find a man, shaking and covered in burns, huddled in a corner. He’s going to need a doctor.

Scully sits at a bar, wearing some terrible 90s eyeglasses and flipping through notes. Mulder appears and it almost looks like he’s going in for a kiss, which is a little weird. He stops short and offers to buy her a drink. Scully, ever the professional, refuses to drink at 2pm. Mulder goes on to tell her about a military pilot of experimental aircraft who had a psychotic breakdown, was taken in for hospitalization and hasn’t been heard from in 4 months. I love the sly amusement in Scully’s face and voice whenever she questions what Mulder is telling her. She clearly thinks he’s nuts.

The X-Files s01e02 Deep Throat - Mulder sees Deep Throat for the first time

This is the episode in which we first meet Deep Throat (kinda obvious from the title), the man who will become the agents’ contact and giver of sometimes reliable information, who warns Mulder off the case. This is the first episode that really opens up the X-Files mythology. Conspiracy is afoot and Mulder’s interest in this case gets rewarded by someone having his phone tapped.

No one wants to talk to anyone. That seems to be a theme of this episode. Military refuse to talk to Mulder and Scully about the missing pilot. Another pilot’s wife refuses to say anything about the military, and admonishes the wife of the missing pilot for bringing in outside forces. It’s the ‘ufo nuts’ who end up being the source of the best (and only) information, directing the agents to Ellens Air Force base.

This episode is full of UFOs, which Mulder thinks have been created by reverse-engineering alien technology. When nearing the air force base at night, Mulder and Scully see two points of light in the sky, moving in ways aircraft couldn’t possibly maneuver. They also find a couple stoners, one of which is a very young Seth Green, who end up providing more information than anyone.

Besides possible alien technology, this episode introduces the idea that the military is able to wipe people’s memories or re-wire their brains. The missing pilot comes home but his wife calls the agents for help, insisting that this man isn’t really her husband. He doesn’t know things he should know, and he doesn’t remember where he’s been for the last months. After this, the chilly reception the agents received from the military gets downright hostile, as men in black accost them, destroying photographs they had taken and telling them to gtfo.

The X-Files s01e02 Deep Throat - Scully holds Air Force security at gunpoint

Mulder doesn’t like being told what to do so he lies to Scully and runs off to explore the air base in secret. Good move, hot shot. He sees a UFO (not necessarily alien, but definitely unidentifiable) up close and then is immediately captured, strapped to a gurney, and injected with drugs, while Scully has to go rescue him. It’s actually a nice reversal of what tends to happen in future episodes. Scully gets captured a lot in the coming seasons. Scully lays the smack down (shut up, it’s the 90s) on airforce security personnel, holds him at gunpoint, and demands he bring her to the base to find Mulder. Before they can get into the base, Mulder is sent out, looking like a lost, drugged up puppy. He doesn’t remember anything.

You’d think being federal agents would afford Scully and Mulder some degree of safety or respect but this episode makes it clear that if they keep pursuing the alien / government conspiracy thing, they will never be safe. At least Mulder gets thrown a bone at the end when Deep Throat visits him and confirms that “they (aliens) have been here for a long, long time.”