Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sundays with the X Files - Season 4


The big story in season 4 is without a doubt Scully's terminal cancer which is a result of her kidnapping back in season 2 and hence her work on the X Files.  This type of story line,  main-character-diagnosed- with-grave-illness, seems like a recipe for melodrama, but the X Files, as per usual, surprises.  It's a brilliant storyline that has implications on many levels of the show - opens up some really interesting plot directions and lets the characters evolve. Plus it is revealed in the most awesomely and  X Filesy of ways (Ep. 12 Leonard Betts).

The Mythology starts by introducing us to the sinister bees! The X Files may be single handedly responsible for the decline in pollinators! (That's a lie.)  Mulder finds the sinister bees and a kid drone version of his sister. Mulder's mom recovers from a stroke under mysterious circumstance but her illness and Mulder's distress over it will not stop him from being super suspicious of her relationship with the CSM.  We also get some back story on CSM and apparently he's been involved with every major shady happening that has occurred since the 1960's.  Krycek shows up again and leads Mulder and Scully to a mysterious meteor from Russia that has a lot of people worked up and infects them with the black oil. It is still unclear who exactly Krycek is working for.  Apparently Russia and the U.S. have been working on an inoculation for the Black Oil which in some cases seems deadly and in others it seems like it just takes people over and makes them do things. Later we'll learn it causes a new alien to gestate in whatever unfortunate human it contacts.  Basically, it does a lot of things and none of them good.   As stated above Scully's cancer descends mid-season and a bunch of mythology is centered around what the Shady Syndicate or Aliens or WHOEVER is doing to groups of women.  We also re-visit Max Pfennig who dies in a plane crash after the plane is stranded in time and aliens abduct and replace Max.  There is a radioactive "thing" that Max was bringing to Mulder and while they find pieces of it, they don't know what it is or it's origin.  Finally, to save Scully, Skinner makes a deal with CSM and has to do some dirty business for him.  It doesn't go well.  The season ends with Michael Critchgau from the Department of Defense telling Mulder and Scully that everything they believe they know about aliens is a fiction purposely orchestrated by the government to serve as a distraction from the Cold War. Mulder seems to have lost his faith and committed suicide. Phew!  

And that isn't all that happened this season!  Though it was heavy on the mythology.  Mulder and Scully also investigate one of the most disturbing cases of their tenure which involves inbreeding and a mother with no arms and legs who lives under a bed.  Also they investigate an African monster of myth who must eat parts of other people to live and maintain his pigmentation, a psycho killer that you might feel bad for if he didn't go around lobotmizing women, a plastic surgeon who is also a witch, the El Chupa Cabra which may kill people with fungus, a guy who can grow new body parts and even a whole new body by eating cancer, a guy with a tattoo that is making him kill people, a golem, a Vietnam war vet who can become invisible and is killing Generals, time travel, and a shape shifter who would be hilarious if he weren't raping women.  Also one of Mulder's past lives may have been a Union Soldier and his sister may have been taken and killed by a serial killer and not aliens.    Other Random Notes:

>>Deep throat #2 (Mr. X) is a goner, replaced by an attractive lady who is in the government and somehow attached to agriculture.
>> Agent Pendrill Dies :(
>> Mulder suspects he might be CSM's son.


Geez Louise there is a LOT of juicy character and relationship stuff in this season. Where oh where to begin.

Well, first I'll start with my conjecture that somewhere in late season three early season 4, Scully comes to terms with her feelings for Mulder.  I think she has realized that her feelings are not entirely platonic. I have a number of reasons for thinking this and since I'm convinced there isn't any  canon about this, I'll never be proven wrong:0).

First I pointed out a couple of places in season 3 where Scully pronounced her analyses of Mulder.  She does it again here in Ep. 18 Max: (comparing Max and Mulder)  “I think you are actually kindred spirits in some deep and strange way. Men with Spartan lives, simple in their creature comforts if only to allow for the complexity of their passions.”  To me this signals that Scully has been giving Mulder and his place in her life a lot of deep thought of late, probably coinciding with her budding disillusionment with and analyses of her job and life.  It is worth noting that Mulder replies to all of these analyses of himself with deflecting humor - typical Mulder.

Exhibit B could be Ep. 13 Never Again.  This episode is CHOCK FULL of angsty relationship/character stuff that I will come back to but I want to use it here to argue that part of Scully's bitterness and frustration may be because she thinks that Mulder is more important to her than she is to him on a personal level.  This episode aired right after Leonard Betts in which Scully finds out that she likely has cancer but it wasn't supposed to - it was originally scheduled to air before.  By happening after Leonard Betts, it gives Scully's bitterness and anger some context that it wasn't actually supposed to have.  Anderson even said that if she had known the episodes were to be reversed she would have acted Never Again differently.  If you take away the impetus of finding out she has cancer, Scully's behavior becomes more bitter and angry; at Mulder but also at herself for letting herself get so tied up with Mulder when she is convinced he only sees her as a tool.  If she were thinking clearly and not with a lover's heart, I don't think her discontent would be so violent and hardcore.

Exhibit C is her journal entries addressed to Mulder in Momento Mori. Not her mom, or siblings but to Mulder.  He's the one she wants to talk to and think about when faced with mortality.

Exhibit D. Small Potatoes where it doesn't take much to get Scully into a position where she is all on board with making out with her partner and best friend.

So where is Mulder in all this?  Pretty clueless I think at this point.  I think he realizes how essential Scully is to his professional life and his professional life is pretty much his life so she's important but I don't think he's gone much beyond that into the emotional realm.  I do find his response to catching the almost makeout session in Small Potatoes very interesting.  While I watched that scene, I was cringing in my seat at how embarrassing that must be for Scully.  However, in fact, it seems to be Mulder who is embarrassed by the whole situation.  In the final scene after Eddie has told Mulder that he (Mulder) is a loser by choice, and Scully reassures him by telling him he is not a loser, Mulder's reponse is: "Yeah but I'm no Eddie Van Blundht either." I think it is safe to say that it is definitely Mulder and not Scully at this point that is putting up the massive road blocks to he and Scully developing a romantic relationship (among other things).  My reading of his response is that at some level he recognizes this.  That he has not let her get closer and more personal with him.  The interesting question is why?  Does he sense that she wants more and he knows he does not? Is it just a rote reaction based on past experience?  Whatever it is and despite their professional intimacy he keeps her at arm's length by not talking about anything other than aliens and conspiracy.  Perhaps he's just too obsessed with his quest and job to really think about anything else like feelings for ladies?  But that's a personality thing and why hasn't that kept him from getting involved with other professional women in his life? Lots and lots of juicy, unanswerable questions!

And what about the main crux of Never Again?  I think this moment has been building within Scully but it takes Mulder COMPLETELY by surprise.  His behavior suggests that he realizes that Scully is not as invested in the cause as he is but he is kind of taken aback and upset when she confirms that she in many ways resents what her life has become.  That she does at least sometimes see it as her sacrificing huge swaths of her life in service to him. AND that Mulder doesn't give a lot back.  Not even the consideration or respect to make room for a desk for her.   I think both of them are being assholes here though Mulder likely a larger one mostly because he continues to be oblivious to the issues even after Scully has flung them all over his face. But you can't let Scully off the hook - she has played no small role in ending up where she has ended up and there are more constructive, mature ways to have addressed the situation.  Also, I do think  most of the anger she has is directed at herself and is about a cycle she has fallen into more than once in her life and her wondering why she must keep repeating it?  While the tension at the end of the episode is seriously high - Anderson and Duchovny play it like CHAMPS - I think that's what Scully is saying with her "Not everything's about you Mulder.  This is my life."  She's actually letting Mulder off the hook a little bit but he still doesn't know how to respond.

And speaking of good acting, I think by season 4, both actors have fully inhabited their roles and quite frankly just could not be better.  As I've said, I think Gillian Anderson is one of the best actresses out there and she was pretty awesome from day one.  David Duchovny was not so consistently amazing but by season 4 he is really kicking ass and taking names.  They are both at the top of their game and they haven't gotten bored yet. 

Finally, a couple of other miscellaneous character relationship things.  First, we find out in Ep. 2 Home that Scully really wants a kid and that Mulder (because of the whole clueless thing) has never thought of her as a mother.  Also, apparently, Scully and Mulder have known each other for multiple lives though some other random woman is Mulder's soul mate.  Boo and Hiss.


episodes with * are my favorites

Episode 1 Herrenvolk: Mythology episode that introduces the idea that there are drone copies of Mulder's sister out there stuck in her child state.  Also that there is something shady going on with bees and crops. Deep Throat #2 exits and Deep Throat #3 steps in.  Scully handles being held hostage by an Alien Bounty Hunter like a champ.  Mulder is basically a selfish asshole.  Oh, and Mulder almost loses his mom and even though he makes crazy cry faces about it here it will not stop him from being a HUGE jerk to her later in the season.  

*Episode 2 Home:  Arguably the MOST effed up of X Files episodes.  It doesn't pull punches and there is actually lots of good character/relationship stuff in this ep. Mulder apparently wants to live out in the country and Scully wants babies.

* Episode 4 Unruhe: This is a really great stand-alone with a nicely creepy and interesting serial killer at its center.  The psychic photography and the cool imagery of him on stilts and his ideas about howlers are good devices.  He thinks he's helping the women he abducts.  He's not.

Episode 5  The Field Where I Died: I hesitate to add this one because I don't love it but it is certainly a notable and memorable episode.  It posits that certain souls travel together through time encountering each other in different ways in each life.  Scully has apparently been Mulder's support and mentor through all of history (as his father in WWII and his Sergeant in the Civil War).  The other piece of that though is that this other random woman is apparently Mulder's soulmate. And Mulder TOTALLY believes it. I also thought he was kind of a jerkwad throughout while Scully is ultimately completely sympathetic to him even though she's gotta be a little upset about the connection he has to random lady.

Episode 7 Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man:  Again, not a favorite but it does give some history and perspective on how the CSM became the CSM.  He's a failed novelist!  My one problem with this, is that the picture and back story presented here doesn't always seem to jive with the back story we get elsewhere (i.e. that he had a wife, and a kid, that he raised Samantha etc...). But I guess he's supposed to be an enigma.

*Episode 8 and 9 Tunguska and Terma: Mythology episodes. The black oil becomes an even bigger plot point in these episodes and we think we learn that it's origin is likely a meteor.  In this episode Krycek shows up and starts leading Mulder and Scully on a merry chase - particularly Mulder.  Scully and Skinner are mostly left behind in Washington to face the music of a congressional hearing and Scully goes to jail rather then tell the committee where Mulder is.  Y'all - Scully is the bomb.  Meanwhile Mulder is in a Russian prison in the middle of nowhere serving as a test subject for a vaccine against the black oil.  The scene where he is strapped down with chicken wire and then has the black oil dripped on his face is a classic X Files moment.  Also when he walks into the hearing at the end of Terma and he and Scully are reunited is pretty sweet.

*Episode 10 Paper Hearts:Turns out Samantha may have been abducted and killed by a notorious serial killer that Mulder put away early in his career.  Somehow this serial killer is accessing his dreams and playing games with Mulder.  Mulder REALLY screws up in this one and Scully is pretty awesome about it.  In the end Mulder must choose between getting the last and confirming information out of the killer or saving a young girl.  He ends up doing the right thing and saving the girl but it leaves him with a sliver of doubt about what actually happened to Samantha.
Episode 12 Leonard Betts: "I'm sorry but you've got something I need." 'nuf said. 

*Episode 13 Never Again: I've already gone on ad nauseum about this episode.  The "monster" of the week isn't super interesting but there is so much good character stuff in this episode.  It's interesting that Mulder and Scully go quickly from being so at odds in this episode to the next episode (Memento Mori) where they seem closer than ever.  It's also nice just to see someone crush on Scully and be romantic  - to really be interested in her.  Even if he is a murderer.  

Episode 14 Momento Mori: Scully's got cancer and everyone's real upset.  She tells Mulder first before anyone and writes these personal journal entries to him.  The episode is split between Scully trying to figure out how she's going to deal with her cancer and Mulder running around trying to find out more about why she has cancer.  By the end of the episode Scully has decided she's going to try to live her life as normally as possible until she can't. Mulder reads one of the journal entries and then gives her the biggest and most awesome hug and forehead kiss.  I didn't love this episode because it felt very scattered but it is definitely significant.
*Episode 17 and 18 Tempus Fugit and Max: One thing I like about the X files is all the little mini-arcs they do.  Max was one of my favorite guest starring characters from back in episode 10 of season 1 and in this pair of episodes Mulder and Scully investigate his death (and life) after he dies in a mysterious plane crash.  Agent Pendril dies while taking a bullet for Scully.  Mulder finds an alien craft and a bunch of dead aliens at the bottom of a lake.

*Episode 20 Small Potatoes:  A humorous episode that stars Darin Morgan as a schlubby guy who happens to be able to change his appearance.  He's been using that talent to score with ladies he normally couldn't, resulting in a bunch of babies being born with tails.  In the end, he transforms himself into Mulder and Duchovny's performance of this is a highlight of the whole series.

*Episode 22 Elegy: The actual plot of this episode isn't especially great.  What is notable here is Scully really starting to struggle with her mortality.  Why is it important she keep working? Why when she sees the apparition does she not tell Mulder (because it's an omen of impending death and she doesn't want to believe)? She is at odds with Mulder here and seems very alone. Gillian Anderson, as usual, rocks it like a hurricane.

*Episode 23 Demons: It starts with Mulder waking up in an unfamiliar hotel room with blood all over him and no idea how he got there.  He calls Scully for help but as the mystery unfolds and becomes very personal for him he completely goes off the deep end. He suspects his mom had an affair with CSM because of flashes of memory. Scully saves him even though he threatens to shoot her. 

*Episode 24 Gethsemane: Essentially everything Mulder believes in is brought into question and he apparently loses all faith.  It's a pretty spectacular season ender!


Episode 2 Home>>

Scully when she realizes Mulder isn’t listening to her at all: “Meanwhile I quit the FBI and became the spokesperson for the ab roller.”  In response to which Mulder makes her smell a baseball.

Scully’s on a roll: “Mulder if you had to do without a cell phone for two minutes you’d lapse into catatonic schizophrenia.

SCULLY: (Discussing the murdered baby's long list of birth defects) Imagine all a woman's hopes and dreams for her child, and for Nature to turn so cruel... What must a woman go through? MULDER: Apparently not much in this case, if she'd just throw it out with the trash. SCULLY: (Sadly) I- I guess I was just projecting on myself. MULDER: Why, is there a history of genetic abnormalities in your family? SCULLY: No. MULDER: (Grinning) Well, just find yourself a man with a spotless genetic makeup and a really high tolerance for being second-guessed and start pumping out the little uber-Scullys. SCULLY: (Smiles back and asks perhaps hopefully:)) What about your family?  MULDER: Aside from the need for corrective lenses and the tendency to be abducted by extraterrestrials involved in an international governmental conspiracy, the Mulder family passes genetic muster.

Scully when Mulder says that he couldn’t make a home in the small town they're in because he couldn’t get the Knicks game:  “Just as long as brutal infanticide doesn’t weight into your decision.”

Episode 3 Teliko>>

AGENT PENDRILL: “Shouldn’t we wait for Agent Scully.  I don’t want to have to repeat myself.” MULDER: “She’s not coming.”  PENDRILL: “Why not?” MULDER: “She’s got a date.” Then seeing Pendrill deflate “Breathe Agent Pendrill. With a dead man, she’s doing an Autopsy.”

Episode 7 Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man>>

The CSM: Life... is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable, because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So, you're stuck with this undefinable whipped-mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there's nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while, there's a peanut butter cup, or an English toffee. But they're gone too fast, the taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits, filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts, and if you're desperate enough to eat those, all you've got left is a... is an empty box... filled with useless, brown paper wrappers.

Episode 8 Tunguska>>

Mulder describing Krycek: “You’re an invertebrate scumsucker whose moral dipstick is two drops short of being bone dry.”

Scully:  “What I’m worried about is you Mulder.  How far you’ll go.  And how far I can follow you.”

Episode 10 Paper Hearts>>  
“A dream is an answer to a question we haven’t yet learned to ask.”

Episode 12 Leonard Betts>>

Leonard Betts to Scully: “I’m sorry but you’ve got something I need.” 

Episode 13 Never Again>>

MULDER: "That contact we met last night at the wall who had the distinction of being present for a first, that being you abandoning me during questioning. In the future, I'll make sure that all those people being interviewed provide you with a multi-media laser show to keep your interest maintained." .... MULDER: “You were just assigned, this is my life.” SCULLY: “And it has become mine.” MULDER stops being a selfish asshole and in a plaintive voice  “You don’t want it to be?”.  SCULLY: “I wish we could say we’re going in circles but we’re not. We’re going on an endless line, two steps forward, three steps back. Meanwhile my life is standing still.”  MULDER:  “Well maybe its good we get away from each other for a while.”

SCULLY: "I’ve always gone around in this circle. It usually starts when an authoritative figure comes into my life . . .and part of me likes it and wants the approval but then at a certain point along the way I just . . . you know . . . " (hand pushing away gesture). 

MULDER (being an ass): "Congratulations for making a personal appearance in the "X" files for the second time -- a worlds record."

    Episode 14 Momento Mori>>  

    SCULLY'S JOURNAL: For the first time, I feel time like a heartbeat, the seconds, pumping in my breasts like a reckoning. The numinous mysteries that once seemed so distant and unreal, threatening clarity in the presence of a truth entertained not in youth, but only in its passage. I feel these words as if their meaning were weight being lifted from me. Knowing that you will read them and share my burden as I have come to trust no other. That you should know my heart, look into it, finding there the memory and experience that belong to you, that are you, is a comfort now as I feel the tethers loose and the prospects darken for the continuance of a journey that began not so long ago and which began again with a faith shaken and strengthened by your convictions. If not for which, I might never have been so strong now as I cross to face you, and look at you, incomplete, hoping that you will forgive me for not making the rest of the journey with you.

    Episode 17 Tempus Fugit>>

    Mulder’s diving experience: “Once I got a quarter off of the deep end at the Y pool. “ The man has some serious balls when searching for the truth.

    Episode 18 Max>>

    SCULLY: “What are these people dying for? Is it for the truth or for the lies?”

    Scully speaking of Sharon, Max’s “sister's” whereabouts: “In a mental institution.” She then deflates realizing Mulder wants her to go question Sharon. MULDER:”I’d go with you but I’m afraid they’d want to lock me up.” SCULLY: “Me too.” 

    Episode 20 Small Potatoes>>

    Scully to Mulder: “What else about this interests you?  Could it be visitors from Outer Space.” 

    MULDER: "I have a theory, wanna hear it?" SCULLY: "That Van Blundht somehow physically transformed into his captor, then walked out the door, leaving no one the wiser?" MULDER: "Scully, should we be picking out china patterns or what?" SCULLY: "Mulder, why can't you just go for the simple answer? With that blow to the head, the deputy might just as well have identified McGruff the Crime Dog as his attacker!"

    MULDER: "Hey Scully, if you could be somebody else for a day, who would it be?" SCULLY: "Hopefully myself." MULDER: "That's so boring. I mean, wouldn't you even be tempted to try on somebody else's existence for a day? Live your life as somebody else?" SCULLY: "*Looking* like someone else and *being* someone else are completely different things." MULDER: "Well, maybe it's not, I mean everybody else around you would treat you like you were somebody else. I mean, ultimately, maybe it's other people's reactions to us that make us who we are." SCULLY: "Alright then, Eleanor Roosevelt." MULDER: (does double-take and winces) "Aiiee. Can't be a dead person." SCULLY: "Why the hell not?" (Mulder is eyeballing guy doing yard work next door, he turns and walks back to door, letter H falling off the outside of the house) MULDER: "Because.

    Episode 22 Elegy>>

    Mulder after the bowling alley owner has told them an unbelievable story: “What is that look Scully?” SCULLY: “ I think after 4 years you’d know exactly what that look is.”

    The last couple scenes  - the conversation with Mulder and then Scully's breakdown in the car.  Amazing acting by both and powerful emotionally.

    Episode 23 Demons>>

    Scully's closing monologue:  Although cleared of any wrongdoing in the deaths of Amy and David Cassandra, Agent Mulder still has no recollection of the events that lead to their deaths. His seizures have subsided, with no evidence of permanent cerebral damage, but I am concerned this experience will have a lasting effect. Agent Mulder undertook this treatment hoping to lay claim to his past, that by retrieving memories lost to him he might finally understand the path he's on. But if that knowledge remains elusive, and if it's only by knowing where he's been that he can hope to understand where he's going, then I fear Agent Mulder may lose his course. And the truths he's seeking from his childhood will continue to evade him, driving him more dangerously forward in impossible pursuit.

    Episode 24 Gethsemane

    SCULLY: “This is your holy grail, not mine.”  MULDER: “What does that mean?”  Is he really that dense?  

    MULDER: “What the hell did that guy say to you, that you believe his story?” SCULLY: “He said that the men behind this hoax, behind these lies, gave me this disease to make you believe.”  Mulder's face is devastating and fantastic.  Good job Duchovny.  Then he just walks.  And then sits in his apartment watching old discussions on television about alien life while crying.  



    No not the real ones.  These are ones I made up.

    Best Episode: Again, I have to pick two.  Ep. 10 Paper Hearts and Ep. 13 Never Again though if you asked me on a different day I might pick a different two.  This is a strong season.
    Worst Episode: Ep. 11 El Mundo Gira It seemed like it was trying to mimic a latino soap opera in tone which is clever but it just didn't work for me.
    Most Paranoid:  Ep. 24 Gethsemane without a doubt.  The existence of aliens in our planet is turned into a massive government conspiracy designed to keep people distracted from the Cold War.  Mulder is a major pawn of this plot with horrible things done to all those around him just to keep him believing.
    Best Mulder Episode: Ep. 14 Momento Mori.  He's very supportive and relentless in this episode,  It contrasts especially with a particularly high number of episodes in this season where he's a jerk.
    Best Scully Episode: Ep. 9  Terma  Scully goes to jail for Contempt of Congress because she refuses to tell the committee where Mulder is and she keeps all her anxiety buried and keeps holds things together like champ.
    Best Episode for Shippers:  Ep. 20 Small Potatoes.  Scully almost lets Mulder kiss her except that he's not really Mulder.  And Mulder realizes he's kind of a jerk to Scully and he wishes he wasn't that way.  And yes, Momento Mori as well but for different more profound reasons.
    Worst Episode for Shippers: Ep. 13 Never Again  While I think this is a really important and elucidating episode for the ship, Mulder and Scully are seriously at odds. Also perhaps The Field Where I Died because some other random chick is Mulder's soul mate.


    It is probably a little too soon to call this but I think seasons 3 and 4 are my favorites.  I still have two and a half seasons left to re-watch but I can't imagine any of them surpassing all the awesome in these two seasons.  I found seventeen out of the 24 episodes to be notable or favorites in season 4. It also has one of the stronger season enders. They tackle what could have been a horribly sentimental and schmalzy storyline, Scully's cancer, and manage to make it so incredibly awesome, in no small thanks to the acting of the two leads.  And there's that.  Duchovny and Anderson are at the top of their game and not yet bored.  I also think this season sets up Mulder to get his head out of his ass and realize he has feelings beyond friendship for his partner but more on that in season 5....


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    So let's hear from you!  What's your favorite episode or moment in season 4?  Do you agree that it's one of the best seasons? If you're a shipper, what do you think of my assertion that it is early in this season that Scully gains clarity about exactly what Mulder is to her?

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