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The X-Files: Teso dos Bichos (1996)
Season 3, Episode 18
Personally, if someone digs me up in 1000 years, I hope there's a curse on them, too
6 February 2011
When people think of the worst episodes of The X-Files, it's pretty much a given that this is going to be listed among them. Episodes that sideline Mulder and Scully to talking heads automatically tend to be thin in substance; this was largely where "Space" failed back in season one. To that episode's defense, it aired very early in the series's run, and despite being poorly executed, it tossed around some relatively unique ideas. This episode fails because it's just crap.

And even then the premise could have worked, had it been approached from a comedic angle. Having aired amidst Darin Morgan's trinity of episodes, which were all quite hilarious in their own regard, it's quite surprising the writers opted not to do this. Instead the case is approached with the same level of seriousness as any standard monster-of-the-week, which is unfortunate because the case itself is utterly silly.

War of the Coprophages, which aired several months earlier, was also founded on a ridiculous premise, but succeeded as a send-up of classic sci-fi and also a self-parody of the series. There is no such attempt at cleverness in Teso dos Bichos. An artifact is stolen, a curse is invoked by means of some hallucinogenic concoction, employees at a museum die under mysterious circumstances, and the culprit leaves behind a trail of dead rats. The script initially sets us up to believe we're dealing with a p'd-off jaguar or some relative of the animal kingdom. Wrong.

Instead we're treated to a legion of housecats with sticks up their arses. Perhaps the writers were treated to some of Dr. Bilac's yaje in pre-production. Either way the result is an episode that should never have made it onto the screen, especially at such a peak era of quality in the series. Even episodes from the much-derided final seasons don't quite sink to this level of garbage. 3/10.
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Lost: Pilot: Part 1 (2004)
Season 1, Episode 1
"There's a certain gargantuan quality about this thing... "
20 December 2010
If we've learned anything about islands in historical fiction, it's that they're a hoarded wealth of intrigue, danger, suspense, spirituality and sensuality. From the economically-concerned survivalism of Robinson Crusoe to the web of love and retribution in Shakespeare's The Tempest, they are one of the commonest but most captivating plot devices. They are apart from civilized society. They are home to exotic fauna and foliage. Not all of that fauna and foliage is happy to have visitors. Murder and crime are more easily accomplished without the constraints of civilized society. I think you can connect the dots.

Lost is the brainchild of J.J. Abrams, who created the espionage thriller Alias and college drama Felicity before that. Based on his resume we can already predict character development and long-term plot arcs will be the standard. Add in that this two-part pilot was the most expensive ever produced for ABC (resulting in the truly ironic firing of former chairman Lloyd Braun, who had greenlighted the project in the face of dwindling network ratings), reportedly costing anywhere between $10 and $14 million. That this show was even given a second thought speaks volumes about the amount of faith the network put into it, as it easily could have been a colossal disaster.

Fortunately that faith was well-invested, because not only is the premiere of Lost viscerally and sensorially astounding, but it's also compelling, chronicling the plane crash and miraculous survival of 48 passengers (with fourteen being regular cast members). As if in real life, the individuals remain innominate until the situation demands their introduction.

We meet Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox, Party of Five), a spinal surgeon from Los Angeles who gets dropped in the middle of a serious crisis, risking himself to save the lives of others wounded in the crash. A more enigmatic but equally important character is Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly), who despite being out of her element is driven by a strong will and versatility. The scene where an anxious Kate stitches up Jack's wound is one of the most iconic of the series' run.

Few of the other characters are given little more than a fugitive introduction. There's the washed-up rock star Charlie Pace (Dominic Monhagan, The Lord of the Rings), whose shadowed eyes belie his comic disposition. There's a very pregnant woman named Claire Littleton (Emilie de Ravin, The Hills Have Eyes), who seems oddly cheery in spite of all the turmoil. There's an older man played by Terry O'Quinn (Millennium, The X-Files) who seems to be of importance but has little to do in this episode. More curious is an Asian couple (Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim) alienated not only by their lack of English but also antiquated gender roles. A Middle Eastern man named Sayid (Naveen Andrews, The English Patient), a foul-mouthed redneck (Josh Holloway), and a larger-than-life guy you just want to hug (Jorge Garcia) all beg stories to be told, while a pair of bickering siblings, the unnerved Boone (Ian Somerhalder, The Vampire Diaries) and the comparatively bitchy Shannon (Maggie Grace, Taken) are decidedly less inspiring. Rounding out the cast are the overprotective father Michael (Harold Perrineau, The Matrix trilogy) and son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley), and a soundless but sharp woman (L. Scott Caldwell) who Jack brings from the cusp of death.

It's awfully odd that all of these survivors would be so cushioned in the fall so as not to wind up with more than mere flesh wounds, but odder still are the grotesque noises heard in the jungle at night. From the get-go it is clear that there is something not quite right with the island, and while ABC's decision to split the pilot into two halves may not do its story total justice, it certainly serves as an engaging doorway into a storyline bound to be riddled with mysteries. A more comprehensive outline of the plot will follow in my review of Part 2.
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The X-Files: Pilot (1993)
Season 1, Episode 1
No one here but the FBI's most unwanted...
20 December 2010
"The following story is inspired by actual documented accounts," reads a title card as the debut episode of The X-Files begins. I always find this tidbit interesting because never again to my recollection did the show try to pass itself off as true-to-life. But that is just one thing that sets the pilot episode ever so slightly apart from the remainder of the nine seasons that would follow it.

The X-Files is a show I treasured and revered in my childhood, and even though (especially in retrospect), the series was never the most consistent, either narratively or qualitatively, the level of detail and depth that went into the characterization of its two protagonists was - and arguably still is - unrivaled. David Duchovny (Twin Peaks, Kalifornia) played FBI pariah Fox "Spooky" Mulder for the show's first seven seasons, returning as a recurring character in the final two. His deadpan manner and inclination toward the bizarre rendered him an iconic personality, balanced only by the collected, self-possessed rationale of parter Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Throughout the majority of the show Scully's scientific persuasion would complement Mulder's unrestrained pursuits of the unknown.

MULDER: Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials? SCULLY: Logically, I would have to say "no."

Such is the template that the pilot episode follows. Yeah, we get a bunch of omnium-gatherum about aliens and metallic implants and abductions of teenagers in the woods in Oregon, things that would become revenant staples of the series throughout its run, but these were all MacGuffins - plot devices that strengthened and, at times, disarmed the agents' relationship. While this episode establishes a baseline for a very convoluted mythology arc that would unwind over the course of several years, at its heart it's a character study. Looking through the back-catalog, the episodes that rank highest in the minds of fans typically were.

Although Scully is assigned to the Oregon case as a means of debunking Mulder as part of a sinister conspiracy, her steadfast loyalty and probable attraction to him render this effort not only futile, but dangerous (this fact would be reflected in a high-stakes plot line that would unravel in season two). Taken aback by what she considers pure bullshit, Scully counters his contentions. She adamantly dismisses the involvement of extraterrestrial presence in the case, yet perhaps in the episode's best scene, frightfully runs to Mulder's motel room after coming across two red pustules on her back, closely resembling the symptoms of the purported alien abductees. Underneath that hard exterior lies a permeant fear of the unknown: why admit the possibilities of such ethereal terrors when it is so much easier to deny? This is a concept the writers would play with at intervals throughout the show's lifespan.

At the episode's end it is revealed all the evidence and paperwork filed for the case has mysteriously vanished. In the final scene a shadowy cigarette-smoking man is seen stashing the implants away in a warehouse. Perhaps this is the show's scariest particular - that in spite of the enormity of the stakes of all involved, in the end there is still nothing to show. That a government can maintain such a citadel of unbridled power and use it against its own people without forbearance. The details of this episode aren't particularly essential, but the set-up it establishes would be a continuing factor in the years to follow.
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The X-Files: Excelsis Dei (1994)
Season 2, Episode 11
"Good. Because I put it back in that drawer with all those other videos that aren't yours."
12 December 2010
"Excelsis Dei" is a better-than-average episode that could have easily been a season two gem if not for a muddling storyline. Dana Scully finds the case, creepy settings are abound, ghosts and invisible rapists are on the loose, and the script is rounded out by an excellent guest cast. Unfortunately, Paul Brown's story is a little too ambitious for these high spots to beggar the myriad plot strands that undermine them.

It doesn't help that this comes on the heels of a particularly confusing mythology episode. Like "Red Museum" before it, "Excelsis Dei" dabbles in a lot of unsettling social themes: rape, abuse of the elderly, abuse of women, the encroachment of immigrant cultures - and twists them into a bizarre knot of conjunction and happenstance. A nurse at the Excelsis Dei convalescent home (Teryl Rothery) is strapped to a bed and violated by an unseen presence. A male Asian nurse (Sab Shimono) dispenses presumably illicit pills to residents that have invigorating effects. A creepy mushroom garden is found in the facility's basement. An elderly woman wheels the corridors conversing with ghosts. But where does it all come together? As one might imagine, this episode makes for some great imagery. The drab grays and greens of the building's snaking corridors lends to the eerie quality of the script. The scene where Mulder and Nurse Charters hall-surf out of a flooded bathroom is particularly delightful. Also, Gillian Anderson has some great lines of dry humor. Although there aren't a whole lot of intimate character moments between the two agents, their chemistry continues to shine.

Unfortunately this episode leaves the viewer with too many questions and too few answers. We don't know whether or not Hal Arden traveled out of his corporeal boundaries to rape Nurse Charters. We don't know how the magic mushrooms evoke the presence of spirits (or are they simply hallucinations?). Where is Leo dragged off to in act four? Ambiguity can and has worked in plenty of episodes of The X-Files, but it's hard to excuse a script that fails to offer answers to any of its questions. Still, "Excelsis Dei" is creepy and enjoyable. 6 of 10.
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The X-Files: Ice (1993)
Season 1, Episode 8
Before anyone passes judgment, may I remind you, we are in the Arctic.
8 December 2010
"Ice" was an episode that aired way back when The X-Files was still a fledgling series, and perhaps more so than any other episode at that time, proved what a powerhouse of actors and writers 1013 had in their arsenal. After a rather average stretch of standalones, "Ice" delves into the paranoia and un-solidified trust between Mulder and Scully. Paranoia had always been a driving force behind the scripts of early episodes, but not until this one did it really hit home run. In a script that puts Mulder and Scully at each other's gunpoint, the intensity of its scenes are thicker than the crystalline phase of water it's named after.

Morgan and Wong's premise is straightforward: a research team in Alaska is found dead, ostensibly having done each other in, and the FBI is called in to investigate, with the assistance of a doctor, toxicologist, professor and pilot. When a vicious dog attacks the pilot (Jeff Kober, who I always forget isn't actually Steven Tyler), and causes him to behave in a quarrelsome manner, it's clear that something out of the ordinary is going on.

Although the basic plot of "Ice" is not far removed from John Carpenter's classic horror film "The Thing," the addition of Mulder and Scully and the first real test of their partnership make for some memorable moments. The real crux of the dilemma is that everyone is a potential candidate for infection (of an acetylcholine-hungry arctic worm that coincidentally bears similar qualities to the black oil from later seasons). Scully's barely masked horror and Mulder's instinctive inclinations do not keep them from being potential suspects; they realize this. Ironically it is the team of Hodge (Xander Berkeley of 24) and Da Silva (Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives and Transamerica) who falter in their unquestioning trust.

Perhaps even more so than the web of mythology arcs that dominated the show's later years, "Ice" is really what the heart of The X-Files is all about. Trust, vulnerability, friction, the fear of the outsider on the inside. This script would serve as an archetype for a countless number of subsequent episodes ("Darkness Falls," "Firewalker," "Dod Kalm," "Agua Mala" and so on and so forth). All of those varied in quality, but it can be confidently stated that none matched the cutting intensity of this seminal predecessor. This is widely regarded as one of the series's finest hours, and with a plot that still provides chills (pardon the pun) some seventeen years later, it's not hard to comprehend why. 10 out of 10.
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The X-Files: Shapes (1994)
Season 1, Episode 19
They told me that even though my deodorant's made for a woman, it's strong enough for a man.
7 December 2010
"Shapes," like fellow early episodes of The X-Files such as "The Jersey Devil," takes a page out of existing folklore and spins it on its head. In this case it is the Algonquian legend of the Manitou that is the topic du jour. The Manitou, traditionally speaking, is viewed as a spiritual being that can take the form of animals or other objects, guiding the world without directly interacting with it. This incarnation of that legend is far less benign, and could either be accused of being an insolent mis-portrayal or a blatant lack of attention to detail, but it's probably best not to factor in the original legend at all and take the episode at face value. This is sci-fi, after all.

Many fans tend to disregard this episode because of its rather thin plot, but in doing so overlook its surprisingly thicker facets. Right from the teaser David Nutter's color-rich direction immediately sucks the viewer into the foggy gloom of "Montana." Nutter directed several of the highly-regarded "classic" episodes from the show's first three seasons, and the same magic touch of those is entirely present in "Shapes." The bleak, mountainous imagery perfectly suits the paranormal overtones of the plot, and the funeral of Joe Goodensnake is just off-kilter enough to leave a memorable impression. Although I can imagine the early Spring climate may not have made filming this episode (or the following week's "Darkness Falls") a bundle of fun, it certainly made for some riveting atmosphere.

That's not to mention the work of a highly-competent guest cast featuring Twin Peaks alumni Michael Horse as Sheriff Tuscany, a figure caught in the social rift between the government and the Trego reservation, and Jimmy Herman, whose presence as the spiritual Ish is very reminiscent of the late, great Floyd Westerman's (who would first appear in the recurring role of Albert Hosteen the following year) and offers some orphic insight into Mulder's character. His monologue is truly a cool moment.

Unfortunately, despite all of this momentum, "Shapes" is still a werewolf episode, and because of that it's disappointingly but expectantly short on surprises. While this isn't the best episode of the first season, it's far from the worst, and it still amazes me how much better this is than later, similar efforts such as "Alpha." So I'll give it a 6 out of 10. Unessential, but not without its moments.
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The X-Files: The List (1995)
Season 3, Episode 5
A woman gets lonely…sometimes she can't wait around for a man to be reincarnated…
3 December 2010
"The List" is a competent but ultimately less-than-memorable episode from the early part of season three. Although it holds its own as a relatively straightforward revenge drama, the episode is perhaps most notable for its adroit direction, helmed by Chris Carter himself, who had previously proved to be a capable cameraman in last season's "Duane Barry." Much like that episode, this one profits from tightly-packed claustrophobic settings: the corridors of a prison that appear to be as humid as a rainforest, a dark house with a similar ambiance that, instead of cell bars, is caged in Venetian blinds. Certainly in terms of look this is one of the most impressive excursions in the series up to this point.

Unfortunately the story doesn't quite live up to the visuals. More specifically, everything that happens in the teaser more or less spells out what's going to happen in the next forty-something minutes. Neech Manley (who, though seen only scarcely, is played powerfully by the late Badja Djola), a prisoner on death row, vows to return from the dead and seek retribution to five men who have wronged him. When a prison guard inexplicably turns up dead in Neech's cell, Mulder and Scully are called on to solve the case.

The problem is they never really solve anything. This is one of those infamous episodes (though far from the more egregious offenders) that relegates Mulder and Scully to audience members instead of participants. So while both provide insightful theories of their own to the nature of the crimes, neither of them walk away having learned anything (On a side note, if anyone can paraphrase that loquacious discussion at the end, please let me know just what the hell is going on!). Poetically speaking the script is as much of a prison as the plot's environs - we know, since this is of course The X-Files, that we probably haven't seen the last of Manley and that five men probably will end up dead by the episode's end. In the end it's all a matter of getting from point A to point B.

So what we end up with is an impeccably-acted, exquisitely-directed hour of television that's just a bit too linear to stand up to the upper echelons of the series's catalog. That this episode immediately follows "Bruckman," widely regarded as the pinnacle of the show's nine-year run, doesn't do it any favors. Still, "The List" is enjoyable, nice to look at, features a better-than-average cast, and gets better with repeated viewings. Carter would write better episodes as the series progressed, but in terms of aesthetics, this may be very well be his opus. 7/10
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The X-Files: Hell Money (1996)
Season 3, Episode 19
How many dishes do you have to break before your boss tosses you in an oven?
3 November 2010
With episodes like "Irresistible" and "Grotesque," The X-Files proved it could weave together some fairly interesting stories without steadfastly adhering to the canon of paranormal activity. "Hell Money" is one such episode and perhaps in this regard strays farthest from the status quo. The script, after all, isn't quite so interested in exploring the foreign on an extrasensory level than it is on a cultural level, with the Chinatown of San Francisco serving as an effective and mystical backdrop. Much of the dialogue is daringly, although brokenly, presented in Cantonese and coupled with subtitles, a convention that, though in the modern television world has been made common practice with such culturally-inclusive programs as Lost, was a far more courageous move in 1996.

The premise is interesting enough: a Chinese-American mafia operates an organ-bidding lottery that has been murdering its defectors. When the corpse of a living man is discovered in a crematory oven, the talents of Mulder and Scully are summoned to the case.

It is a shame then that this episode so easily falls between the cracks of the Clyde Bruckman's and Jose Chung's of season three. More shameful is that it falls victim to the exact same problem as the previous episode (though, very thankfully, to a CONSIDERABLY less extent). "Hell Money" does not feel like an episode of The X-Files, and curiously enough it has nothing to do with the absence of paranormal occurrences. Instead, it is the relative absence of Mulder and Scully in the resolution of the crimes.

The arguable protagonist of the script is Detective Chao, played by B.D. Wong. Chao is an amiable enough character to interest the viewer's attention but it becomes rather apparent early on that he has a personal stake in the case. Although this stake determines his fate by the episode's end, his dilemma is unique in that he is clearly caught in the rift between two cultures, one reflecting the plight of the immigrant and the other the requisite of universal justice. The racial tensions presented in this episode, though touched upon, are never fully explored in-depth.

Lucy Liu appears as the daughter of Mr. Hsin, a luckless participant of the lottery. Known primarily for her more abrasive roles in Kill Bill and Charlie's Angels, it's interesting to see Liu in a gentler, more diffident performance.

Ultimately, "Hell Money" is an intriguing, albeit thin, look at human savagery in a culturally-bound setting, playing out similarly to a procedural drama (much like writer Jeffrey Vlaming's earlier offering, "2Shy"). As such there is not a lot of breathing room for either Mulder or Scully. Despite the occasional red herring, there is not much in the way of paranormal manifestation, but the underlying plot is competent enough to compensate for this. Though not one of the more memorable excursions of its particular year, "Hell Money" is certainly one of the more overlooked. 6 out of 10.
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The X-Files: Duane Barry (1994)
Season 2, Episode 5
Krycek, have you got your notepad? ...Grande, two percent cappuccino with vanilla.
8 October 2010
The X-Files proved in its first year on the air that is was capable of doing drama, suspense, and intrigue all relatively effortlessly. Despite the ever-looming cancellation reaper following mere steps behind, the show managed to continue into a second season, largely thanks to its excellent finale "The Erlenmeyer Flask," which saw the death of a rather critical character and opened up new doors with the termination of Mulder and Scully's tenure on the X-Files. Although the hunger of the writers and the producers that drove the first season carried on, they too knew that the show could not continue without the actual X-Files to propel it forward. Thus, a critical turning point was required to get the agents back on track. This can be seen as that turning point.

"Duane Barry" is a curious affair in that despite its explosive script there is quite little in the way of explosive action. Steve Railsback plays the titular character and does so to the hilt. A former FBI agent who has been out of commission for thirteen years, Barry believes he is a multiple alien abductee, and escapes a mental institution with his unwilling psychiatrist as part of a plan to prove the veracity of his claims. This leads to a standoff at a travel agency, where the majority of the episode takes place, in which Mulder is called in to do damage control.

The episode primarily serves as a tension-builder for the next episode but is notable in its own right for its proficient guest acting and directing. CCH Pounder is impeccable in her role as Agent Kazdin, who in a world of justice would have been destined to become a recurring character. Railsback is equally competent as the crazed gunman with just enough humanity to reel you in. Chris Carter makes his directorial debut, with some assistance from vet David Nutter, and captures the claustrophobic hostage setting without flaw.

"Duane Barry" would serve as the precedent for various mythology elements in the years to come, in the form of implanted chips and human testing (it's interesting how similarly this was replicated in the "Within/Without" episodes). It also showed that the series was unafraid to raise its stakes by jeopardizing the fate of a main character. As a standalone and as a small part of a big whole it is an essential X-File and remains a classic. And who could say no to Mulder in a speedo?
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The X-Files: Salvage (2001)
Season 8, Episode 9
What are you saying, Ray Pearce has become some kind of metal man? Because that only happens in the movies, Agent Scully.
6 October 2010
Somehow I was able to tell fairly quickly that this was a Jeffrey Bell episode. Bell's relatively shallow scripts, hackneyed plots, and unfortunate tendency to fall into what has been coined the "cool idea trap" that plagued Chris Carter in his early episodes "Space" and "Fire" all resonate right from the teaser. Last season's "The Goldberg Variation" was the exception that proved the rule.

If you view "Salvage" purely as an homage to the Terminator franchise, perhaps you will see greater value here. Even so, I spent most of these forty-something minutes thinking about how much I'd rather be watching Terminator than this. At least character breadth was to be found there.

Wade Anthony Williams is a talented actor, and I enjoyed his run as Captain Bellick on Prison Break, but his central character here is, quite literally, lifeless. It's hard to sympathize with a character who rarely has any non-tacit responses and murders innocent people. Like "Surekill" before it, this episode allots too much time for the monster-of-the-week and precious little for Scully and Doggett, whose relationship had been the driving force between the first third of this season. Furthermore, Scully's breakneck inclination to jump to paranormal explanations lacks any believability and, even at this point in the series, undermines her scientific sensibilities.

It is also unclear who is really to blame for the metal-man's predicament. If his co-workers can truly be exonerated it is rather silly that one would be so trigger-happy upon his arrival at the salvage yard. His final line doesn't help.

There are enough decent special effects and subtle in-jokes regarding Robert Patrick's role in Terminator 2 that make this worth a view. Like the previous episode, however, there's too much filler and not nearly enough killer to make it worth a second.
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The X-Files: Miracle Man (1994)
Season 1, Episode 18
I think people are looking hard for hard that maybe they make themselves see what they want to see.
27 September 2010
The monster-of-the-week episodes from season one were, perhaps more so than any subsequent season, a mixed bag. Their quality was not determined so much by innovation ("Ice" was primarily an update of John Carpenter's The Thing and "Beyond the Sea" an abbreviated version of The Silence of the Lambs), but by the personal stakes the main protagonists had in them. The two aforementioned episodes were integral in the evolution of Mulder and Scully's relationship, and as such succeeded far more than say, "Space" or "Genderbender," which were not.

"Miracle Man" doesn't cleanly fit in either category, but it could be argued that it falls closer to the former. Like the earlier episode "Conduit," the plot dips in to the overarching MacGuffin of the search for Samantha Mulder. The two agents arrive in Tennessee to investigate Samuel Hartley, a faith healer whose touch has recently become a nail-in-the-coffin for his reverend father's congregation members.

The religion-based X-Files are seldom considered to be fan darlings, perhaps due to both religious sensitivity and their higher-level of open-endedness. Carter and Gordon's script does an admirable job of avoiding both of these potential pitfalls. Although the characters themselves are not fully able to piece together the puzzle by the end, it is fairly obvious to the viewer of Hartley's legitimacy. If anything, Mulder and Scully's confusion is too over-played, especially given Mulder's aversion to more pedestrian explanations. Perhaps this is part of his reaction to the visions of his sister, which although appropriate in the context of the episode, tend to throw off the pacing in parts.

I was trying to find a way to score this episode an 8 because it is certainly in the upper echelon of the season one catalog. For some reason I don't find it quite as captivating as several other episodes, but Gordon and Carter's first joint script is still a solid X-File that proved the show could move into more spiritual territories without meandering into ham-handed ones. Some excellent guest acting and a truly creepy villain played by Dennis Lipscomb make this a near-classic. 7 out of 10.
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The X-Files: Fallen Angel (1993)
Season 1, Episode 10
That story happens to be highly classified. A highly classified lie.
27 September 2010
Most of the Howard Gordon episodes never really tickled my fancy. Often they were re-treads of superior precedents ("Firewalker"), or centered around ideas too underdeveloped to carry an episode on their own, and thus cushioned by wanton detours into the mythology arc ("Avatar," "Teliko"). So it's interesting to see his name attached to one of the original mythology scripts – the third chronological mytharc script to be exact – "Fallen Angel," a much more competent work in a largely uneven premiere season.

Like most of the other season one mythology eps, the story is independent of future plot threads (excluding a two-part sequel that wouldn't air until the latter half of season four) and introduces UFO geek Max Fenig, played seamlessly by Scott Bellins, who Mulder meets upon being detained in an alleged restricted toxic spill site. Obviously there is more going on here than meets the eye, with a conspiracy of silence and indignant superiors still trying to eliminate Mulder from the X-Files. Fenig seems to be the missing piece of the puzzle, as a singular scar behind his ear leads Mulder to believe he may be an abductee.

I didn't care for this episode upon first viewing. I can't be certain whether it was the unusual pacing (the traditional two-parters wouldn't commence until season two) or just the fact that my taste buds were still soured from the previous episode. After three or four viewings, however, the strong characterization and guest acting won me over. Bellins captures a congenial awkwardness in his role very reminiscent of the then-imminent Lone Gunmen, and Marshall Bell is perfect as the nasty, callous general. It is a shame this character wasn't used in later episodes. Jerry Hardin reprises his role as the original Deep Throat in a closing scene that expands his character in more interesting directions.

Some of the soundtrack choices Mark Snow employs are quite curious. There is a score in the warehouse scene that sounds fit for a holdover 80s crime-drama. I'm not certain if it was used in any other episodes but it sounds kind of cheesy. The special effects in this scene are also very dated, but forgivable considering the time frame. It is interesting that the invisible alien creature is not used in later episodes, making this one seem further detached from the mythology.

This is a laudable Gordon/Gansa effort that fits in somewhat into the mythology puzzle, but unfortunately is barely touched upon in later years. In a way it can be considered a standalone, and in that category it surpasses most of the scripts Gordon would go on to write without Gansa. "Fallen Angel" is most notable for the introduction of Fenig, and also for providing a shadowy mystique that only the earliest mytharc scripts seemed to be able to do.
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The X-Files: 3 (1994)
Season 2, Episode 7
"Agent Mulder, all this time I've been putting raspberry sauce on ice cream."
15 September 2010
"3" is the first episode following Scully's abduction, and is one of few X-Files without any appearance from Gillian Anderson. The third Morgan/Wong script for this season, "3" finds an adrift Mulder obsessed with tracking down a trio of bloodthirsty killers in California. This episode is notable for starring the stunning Perrey Reeves, who portrays enigmatic Kristen Kilar and dated David Duchovny around this time. There is a very strong, believable sexual energy between them that is the highlight of a somewhat uneven script.

The episode starts with a well-directed teaser of a young woman seducing a much older man and proceeding to murder him with the help of two others in his jacuzzi. The premise is that this Unholy Trinity had pursued Kristen across the country to turn her into one of them, a vampire. Mulder captures one of the Trinity members who is subsequently killed in his sunlit cell, only to return to life in the episode's final third. He then encounters Kristen in a nightclub, in the episode's strangest scene, and believes she too is a bloodsucker until he spots a gore-filled bread loaf in her oven (apparently this has defensive properties in vampire lore).

There are some interesting ideas and new spins on vampiric mythology that are unfortunately presented in such a way that the audience becomes as lost as Mulder seems to be. Kristen, though an interesting character, is too ambiguous for much of her storyline to make any sense on first view. It is implied that consuming the blood of a believer and sacrificing a human life can convert one into a vampire, yet this is a detail touched upon far too late for the denouement to seem anything but convenient.

"3" gets a pretty bad wrap from hardcore fans for the lack of Scully and Mulder's eccentric behavior but is enjoyable when not viewed from an analytical lens. Though the script is a tad pedestrian from the writers who brought us masterpieces like "Beyond the Sea," there is still some good character study which is the trademark of any Morgan/Wong affair, with Duchovny's chemistry with Reeves and ability to play Mulder in a different yet believable way being the high spots.
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The X-Files: Wetwired (1996)
Season 3, Episode 23
I just watched thirty-six hours of Bernard Shaw and Bobbie Batista. I'm about ready to kill somebody too.
11 September 2010
How this episode continues to slip under the radar of season three favorites is beyond me, but "Wetwired" is a personal favorite and a strong mix of mythology and Mulder/Scully psychology that few episodes were able to entwine so flawlessly. Written by visual effects supervisor Mat Beck, the script borrows bits and pieces from previous episodes "Blood" (the concept of mind control) and "E.B.E." (the paranoia of surveillance). As good as those episodes were, I think this one is even better. There are enough twists and turns to keep the viewer asking questions, and it serves as a nice segue into the season three finale, "Talitha Cumi." One thing I enjoyed was the subtlety the writers and director used to portray Scully's descent into paranoia - just the way the camera zooms in creepily on a motel wall adds an interesting touch. We also see the returns of the Lone Gunmen, Informant X (Steven Williams), whose presence is integral to the show's final act, and Sheila Larken as Margaret Scully, who is always a delight. There are also some spooky special effects in the teaser and a scene with a running faucet. Revisiting this episode made me remember how much I missed the gray Vancouver backdrops and the eerie atmosphere they provided. All in all this is a great representation of a standalone/mythology hybrid and one of the better episodes of the series. 10 of 10.
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The X-Files: The Field Where I Died (1996)
Season 4, Episode 5
"I was here. As were you. This is the field where I watched you die."
9 September 2010
"The Field Where I Died," perhaps more than any episode from the fourth season, is one that fans either loved or hated. Loved because it was, as someone aptly put it, a poetic departure from the norm, or hated for its contradicting the mythology and the vocal fanbase of a yet- to-blossom Mulder and Scully relationship.

Many rank this among the lesser of the show's efforts, but this reaction is exaggerated. There is some beautiful writing to be found here from James Wong and Glen Morgan, two of the show's writers who spear-headed the series' character development department more than once with fan favorites like "Beyond the Sea" and "One Breath." This particular episode does not serve the same function per se, but maintains a similar emotional momentum as Mulder confronts his past lives and reencounters the soulmate he lost, Kristin Cloke's Melissa Ephesian, a member of a suicidal religious sect.

One of the strengths of this episode is its memorable acting on the part of Cloke, a talent Morgan and Wong had and would continue to work with on other shows such as Millennium. Though the portrayal of a dissociative identity disorder sufferer is largely exaggerated for spectacle's sake, Cloke is dynamic and charged in her multiple roles. Without a suspenseful plot for support, her acting manages to drive the episode from start to finish.

There is a distinct lack of an "X-Files" feel right from the get-go, calling into question why Mulder and Scully were dispatched to investigate Ephesian's cult in the first place. Other inconsistencies have already been noted, namely the impossibility of the Cigarette-Smoking Man living in WWII as a Nazi soldier, and that Melissa was insinuated to be the soulmate of Mulder rather than Scully, a revelation that blatantly opposes the events that unraveled in later seasons.

"The Field Where I Died" is not a great episode, nor is it an ideal representative of the show's usual motif. It also tends to drag a bit near the end of its second act. This is an episode best recommended to be viewed outside of the series' over-arching continuity, with enough journeyman acting to keep it fresh and some insightful character moments from Mulder and Scully.

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The X-Files: Sanguinarium (1996)
Season 4, Episode 6
Everyone wants to be beautiful...
9 September 2010
"Sanguinarium" is an engrossing (emphasis on gross!) albeit less-than-awe-inspiring episode that unfortunately fails to deliver much of anything noteworthy besides gratuitous gore. Which is a shame, given the presence of Twin Peaks' Richard Beymer, who is all but wasted in his thankless role as the evil Dr. Franklyn.

The plot begins simply enough: doctors in a prestigious plastic surgery unit are being driven to murder their patients in grisly manners. Stranger yet are the residual pentagrams left behind at the crime scenes. When our two agents show up to investigate, Mulder inevitably suspects the involvement of witchcraft.

The script was the first and only written by Mayhew and Mayhew, yet the unevenness of the plot just screams committee writing. Supposedly a good number of Wiccans were put off by their misinformed representation in this episode. The black magic that Mulder touches upon isn't wholly explained, and the character of Nurse Waite (O-Lan Jones) is equally confusing. How does she aim to protect patients by scarring them with leeches? Why the elaborate bloodbath in Franklyn's home? If the goal was to make her the "good" witch I feel like the mark was missed. Also, how was Franklyn able to manipulate the other doctors through their medication?

I often lamented The X-Files for not coming up with more occult episodes. This one quenched my thirst but did not leave a lasting impression. A creepy premise and decent guest acting save this one from the x-file toilet, but the lack of substance in favor of cheap thrills do not render this one of the show's greater efforts. If you like gruesome deaths however, "Sanguinarium" is for you. For those faint of heart, look elsewhere.

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The X-Files: Unrequited (1997)
Season 4, Episode 16
Invisibility applies to this episode in more ways than one.
29 August 2010
Season four, though one of the consistently better years of The X-Files, really suffered from helter-skelter scheduling and last-minute episode switching. Thus, a wholly self-contained episode like "Unrequited," airing just weeks after the momentous events in "Memento Mori," seems out of place and pallid in comparison.

The x-file in this case has to do with invisibility, specifically the paranormal ability of a POW escapee to induce some sort of blind spot in the eyes of others. I didn't really get it, and the writers probably didn't either, but the theme is appropriate: this is an episode largely forgotten amongst the season's pinnacles and for good reason.

As with numerous other Howard Gordon episodes, political overtones float around the script with the subtlety of a brick and a window. Nathaniel Teager, a man left for dead in Vietnam, has returned to the US to carry out his agenda to murder the men responsible for his predicament. Excess preachiness notwithstanding, don't forget this is a theme largely borrowed from season three's "The Walk," which featured basically the same scenario with a few blanks filled in differently.

The generals are not likable characters, the character of Teager is never explored (Peter Lacroix has few spoken lines in the entire episode), an opportunity to explore Skinner's character is all but wasted - despite a contrived mentioning of his time in Vietnam slapped onto the end. Somehow Marita Covarrubias shows up in the mess, reminding us how much Gordon likes to shoehorn his deep throats into plots that don't really necessitate their presence. Even Larry Musser, notable for his sheriff roles in "Die Hand Die Verletzt," "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" and "Chinga," falls flat in his static role of Denny Markham. And somehow at the end of the episode, notable for being one of the series' shortest, it is hard to meet the preceding events with anything but indifference.

There is one scene that I did like, when the agents arrive outside of Markham's compound, and Scully, scanning the perimeter, briefly spots Teager standing in the background. This is truly a creepy scene, and adds a distinguished touch that is unfortunately lacking just about everywhere else.

Overall, this is a fairly skippable episode. There are no particularly interesting characters, the plot has been seen in other episodes, the script is filled with political clichés and just seems far too reminiscent of other Gordon episodes. For the forty-something minutes I invested in this, I feel as though my reward was unrequited.

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The X-Files: Chimera (2000)
Season 7, Episode 16
We caught her, but she isn't a serial killer, nor is she a blonde, and she isn't even a she.
26 August 2010
Season Seven is widely regarded as the year that polarized the X-Files fanbase, perhaps more so than any other did. Though it wrapped up the series's long-running MacGuffin, the search for Samantha Mulder, it often - and more times than not - strayed from its blueprint by way of late-introduced myth-arc entanglements and bizarre one-offs. Thus, it is refreshing to see the series take a breath, so to speak, and return to its traditional monster-of-the-week format in "Chimera," in which mysterious deaths involving ravens and broken mirrors lead Mulder on a solo excursion while Scully handles a case of her own.

The script was written by David Amann, who had brought some interesting concepts to his previous episodes "Agua Mala" and "Rush," but for some reason never really wowed me. This one didn't either, but I liked it. Here, Amann strays from the awkward humor that crippled "Agua Mala" and builds a more interesting premise than the one from "Rush," this time telling a story of a woman's repressed anger and the frightening way in which she deals with her emotions.

The guest acting in "Chimera" is commendable. John Mese believably plays the shamefaced cop caged in an unhappy marriage, and the late Gina Mastrogiacomo is equally capable as the resentful homewrecker. Cliff Bole's (Small Potatoes, Bad Blood) artful directing highlights every prismatic nuance, starting with the excellent teaser, which shifts from a sunny Easter egg hunt to a nightmarish collision.

There are quite a few startling moments in this episode, starting from the teaser and continuing until Mulder's confrontation with Ellen Adderly (Michelle Joyner). Although Scully is absent for the majority of the episode, there is a poignant scene in which Mulder's feelings for her are called into question, and presents some nice foreshadowing of their post-platonic relationship which would emerge shortly after. Still, in another episode dealing with the victimization of women, a popular theme since season two's "Aubrey," putting a strong female character front and center may not have been a bad call.

"Chimera" is not an essential viewing, but it is a solid X-File and hearkens back to earlier seasons in its simplicity and creepiness. One of the better stand-alones of season seven, as well as one of the better scripts from Amann. 8 out of 10.
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The X-Files: Never Again (1997)
Season 4, Episode 13
Beauty is only skin deep, baby. I go all the way to the bone.
23 August 2010
"Never Again" is Glen Morgan and James Wong's swan song for The X-Files (despite their "farewell" episode, "Die Hand Die Verletzt" having aired two seasons prior) and reassures that after three and a half years two of the series's best scribes still had not lost their magic touch. Much like earlier Morgan and Wong outings, this episode is all about the character development, and who better else to put into the forefront than Scully, whose previous centric episodes are often lauded as some of the show's finest hours.

When Mulder is dragged into taking a vacation, an embittered Scully is dispatched to investigate a potential X-File in Philadelphia, where she bumps into heartsick divorcée Ed Jerse. The set-up for the plot makes perfect sense in the context of the series, and the frustration that hangs over Scully like a rain cloud is perfectly relatable to anyone who has been pushed into close quarters with someone for a lengthy time. This frustration makes even more sense given the events that took place in "Leonard Betts," in which Scully discovered that she had developed cancer as a result of her abduction (a fact that, due to unfortunate scheduling changes, was not referenced in this episode; nonetheless it does not disrupt the flow between that episode and the subsequent one, "Memento Mori").

Jerse suffers from auditory hallucinations that take physical form in the tattoo of "Betty," voiced brilliantly by none other than Jodie Foster. Whether the hallucinations stem from Jerse's psychosis or a chemical poisoning is not made clear, but it leads to a cool ambiguity throughout the episode. When he meets Scully at a tattoo parlor he persuades her to get a tattoo of an Ouroboros. The sexual chemistry in this episode is unrivaled by most and "Never Again" remains notable not only for its frustratedly handsome performance from Rodney Rowland, but also for one of the most widely circulated Scully screenshots of the entire series.

Quentin Tarantino was reported as having been contracted to direct this episode, but DGA red-tape prevented this from happening. Irregardless, Rob Bowman does wonders behind the camera, making a brooding jungle out of a claustrophobic apartment building. The directing in this episode feels quite different from his other works, but makes for some neat moments, including a rose petal that segues into a bloodstain on Jerse's bandage. With enough amount of rich character study for the "philes" to sink their teeth into, "Never Again" remains a highlight.

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The X-Files: Space (1993)
Season 1, Episode 9
We send those men up into space to unlock the doors of the universe, and we don't even know what's behind them.
22 August 2010
Oh "Space." Such a unanimously-maligned, easily discarded mess of an episode, often considered the worst of the series's nine-year run. Does it really deserve all the hate? Probably. But is it all bad? It's a subject of debate.

I could have easily rated this one star and found a way to justify said rating but I feel like that would be unfairly looking the episode's (few) highlights. Somewhere beyond this train collision of a script lies some unbridled ambition and a few kinda cool ideas from the mind of Chris Carter. Astronaut goes up into space, is possessed by a ghostly entity, comes back down and undermines future shuttle launch. Despite its ridiculousness it was an idea that could have worked, and had this script been preserved on the drawing board for five or six years, it probably could have spawned a decent episode.

Unfortunately this early in the game time was of the essence and funds were scarce. Allegedly Fox only gave the production personnel eight days to complete the show. Much reliance was given to stock footage, and the script itself just didn't live up to the caliber of previous episodes like "Squeeze" and "Ice," which, though completed on smaller budgets, proved to be much more compelling.

The guest acting doesn't do the show any favors, although it is not quite as bad as others would have you believe. Ed Lauter is annoying in his role as Colonel Belt, yet even his accent gives his character a certain charm from time to time. Michelle (Susanna Thompson) is equally horizontal, yet still not poorly acted per se.

I think the episode's biggest problem is that it confines Mulder and Scully as spectators rather than participants, and relegates them to the sidelines for the entirety of the episode. Is there a single scene without the two of them running around NASA like chickens sans heads? This was the first episode to make this mistake (and probably the biggest offender) and like future episodes that would repeat it, the end result is a crippled mess.

There were a few likable things strewn throughout: the wallpaper in Belt's office, the cleverly hidden "starwars.doc" that shows up on his computer, the scene where the "ghost" exits his body. Unfortunately these are just a few juicy spots in an undercooked slab of meat. On the whole this episode failed to provide any real sense of tension or character development, and as such it remains one of the weakest of the series. Maybe not THE worst, but certainly nowhere near the top 50%.

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The X-Files: Hungry (1999)
Season 7, Episode 3
"I get so hungry that I can't help myself..."
15 August 2010
Season seven, often seen by many devotees as straying from the series' roots, ironically harks back to previous episodes with it's third sequential and first stand-alone episode, "Hungry." Much in the same way that Eugene Tooms ("Squeeze, Tooms") required human livers, Virgil Incanto ("2Shy") fed on body fat, and the guy from "Teliko" needed pituitary glands for subsistence, Rob Roberts gets his calories from brain matter. While this could have made for a pedestrian re-tread of themes from the aforementioned previous episodes, writer Vince Gilligan (known for having penned classics like "Pusher" and "Folie a Deux") changes things up a bit by telling the story from the monsters' perspective. All Roberts wants is a normal life without the impulsions of a monstrous appetite, pardon the pun. This makes for an episode with greater psychological depth than the average MOTW, however, a few things prevented me from fully enjoying it as a whole. First, the psychiatrist character seemed awfully contrived, from her inexplicable purpose in the plot (what fast-food joint would be so generous as to hire a counselor for their minimum-wage employees?) to her corny lines in the final scene. Second, Mulder's goading behavior seemed annoyingly excessive and reminiscent of last season's "Terms of Endearment." If he had been any secondary character he would not have survived to the end of the episode.

When analyzing the stand-alone episodes it's essential to view them both within their own context and within the canvas of the series. When viewed in the former, "Hungry" would get a 6 from me. It's Gilligan's ability to take the premises of episodes past and re-work them into new and innovative formats that make this one more worthy of an 8. I'll go half way and give it a 7. No more drive-thrus for me.
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The X-Files: Lazarus (1994)
Season 1, Episode 15
Don't worry, baby. It won't make any difference in the dark.
11 August 2010
The Gordon and Gansa scripts of season one were admittedly not the finest moments of that particular year, and for every "Conduit" and "Fallen Angel" we were given a "Ghost in the Machine" and "Born Again." Episode fifteen, "Lazarus," falls somewhere in the middle of the pack, offering up a mildly interesting premise but failing to deliver the tension that made classic X-Files such delicious TV candy.

I think the concept of "body-switching," of transposing one consciousness independent of its physical body into another, is quite interesting. Even in more recent times, on shows such as Lost, the concept is used in various fashions. There have been enough reported cases of near-death and out-of-body experiences to give the phenomenon some sort of foothold in the backdrop of reality. It is certainly an idea that provides food for thought.

While "Lazarus" manages to execute this idea in a believable fashion, the pieces don't completely come together. The case revolves around Scully's ex-boyfriend Jack Willis. While it's nice to see the writers once again delving into Scully's pre X-Files life, our only glimpse of him is in the teaser, as he is shot during a bank robbery and subsequently "possessed" by the shooter, Dupre. Thus, we don't really have a baseline to compare his later actions. There are also quite a few gaps in logic, just in the hospital scenes alone. How anyone could not have noticed Dupre's body convulsing on the stretcher remains an X-File in itself, and it makes absolutely no sense that a physically and psychologically suffering Willis would have been allowed right back on the case.

Still, this episode earns points for Scully's scenes. Duped by Dupre/Willis during a chase of his girlfriend Lula, Scully is kidnapped (for the first of many times), yet never lets her situation get the best of her. There are some great Scully "backbone" moments here, including the final scene in which she attempts to resurrect memories in Willis's trapped conscience. It provides tension in an otherwise tension-lacking affair.

"Lazarus" earns points for a solid premise (that would later be revisited in a different manner in "Dreamland"), fine acting and for reminding us that Scully has a spine. If it were a more engaging, logically consistent episode, I would probably rank it higher. As is, I give it a 6 out of 10.
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The X-Files: Arcadia (1999)
Season 6, Episode 15
Honey bunch and poopy head.
4 August 2010
"Arcadia" is an episode that not only works as a suspenseful standalone, but also as a juncture for the "shipper" fans. Mulder and Scully enter a green-lawn-and-picket-fence community as Rob and Laura Petrie (like the dish!) to investigate a number of fly-by-night murders that no one else seems bothered to investigate. When the new neighbors act in suspicious manners, reprimanding the use of lawn ornaments and unlit lampposts, and others are attacked by a horrible creature, it is clear that the mysterious nature of the townsfolk runs deeper than their landfill's topsoil. The episode manages to work as both a horror story and a comedy (and, if you will, a satire of the American dream) and as such it tends to rank highly in the minds of fans. It also is a dry run at the later romance between Mulder and Scully, and makes for some of their funniest moments (Scully with a facial). While previous episodes tackled the ugly underbellies of private communities, this one arguably did it the most effectively. A season six highlight.

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The X-Files: Trevor (1999)
Season 6, Episode 17
I Want What's Mine.
4 August 2010
After what was arguably the worst episode of season 6, it's nice to see The X-Files kick things back into high gear with "Trevor," the story of a man named Pinker Rawls who has been given the supernatural ability to move through solid matter. Though this episode did not leave a notable impression on me the first time I watched it back in 1999, I enjoyed it much more on a repeated DVD viewing, and actually deem it one of the more underrated episodes of season six.

I liked the mysterious aspects of the episode, in that it was never clear what Rawls wanted until the last few acts. There are a few "redrum-ish" moments alluding to the object of pursuit, Rawls's son Trevor, that are relatively eerie, and also a few cool death scenes, including a man getting his face scooped out and the final scene involving a car windshield. My partner who watched this with me had more insight into insulators and conductors and thus gave me a marginally better understanding of the plot, but for the most part it's never thoroughly explained how Rawls obtained his unique ability. Still, it was nice that the writers opted out of covering up these plot holes with faux scientific drivel (*cough* "Soft Light" *cough*). Add in some laudable guest acting from Catherine Dent, John Diehl and Tuesday Knight, and you have a better-than-average X-File. Or at least certainly better than some would give it credit for.

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The X-Files: Agua Mala (1999)
Season 6, Episode 13
Bad water.
2 August 2010
I really wanted to like this episode. Right from the gripping teaser it had so much momentum, and even brought back Darren McGavin who had a fine if arbitrary stint in season five. The waterlogged scenery, creating a believable hurricane-stricken coastal town, lent itself perfectly for a spooky X-File. Yet somehow "Agua Mala" falls short of delivering any real substance and its unfortunate placement at a pivotal about-face for the series mythology only adds injury to insult. So many integral questions following the attempted murder of Jeffrey Spender, the demise of the Syndicate, and an impending alien colonization of Earth go completely ignored in this one-off (and would for a large stretch of episodes, indicating the weakness of the isolated MOTW story lines at this point in the series). In the context of the larger spectrum this episode is already at a significant disadvantage.

Unfortunately there are problems within the episode itself. Take for instance the monster: a washed-up sea anemone subsisting on salt water. While the special effects are commendable, the notion that this creature could have survived a season of hurricanes (it is asserted that the organism cannot be sustained in fresh water) is absurd. At various points the script sets us up for edge-of-seat action, only to abandon the tension in the following act. We do not know how Mulder escapes the tentacled mass nor how he escapes his predicament by the final act at all. There is a bizarre scene with a cat that seems entirely random and you'd be forgiven for calling to mind "Teso dos Bichos" (AKA the worst episode of The X-Files), as its importance is never explained.

Alas, every hurricane cloud has its less-murky linings. "Agua Mala" earns props for competent directing, stunning scenery and a building tension that made earlier ventures like "Ice" so fun to watch. In spite of lack of payoff, annoying stock characters and impotent stabs at humor, this is one of those guilty pleasure type of episodes that generally goes unmentioned among hardcore fans. Though it is certainly not an essential viewing, it has enough charm to make it passable. I will be lenient and give it a 6 out of 10. No more tap water for me.
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