Friday, 11 September 2015

X-Files Rewatch | Shapes & Darkness Falls

It's Mulder and Scully against nature in these two episodes; one with a werewolf like creature, the other with ancient insects.

Mulder and Scully are finally faced with their first (and only, I think?) werewolf episode. 'Shapes' is a variation of the typical werewolf story, though. It borrows heavily from Native American mythology through the real-life concept of the Manitou. Writers Glen Morgan and James Wong conceptualized the Manitou as being similar to a werewolf, but instead being an evil spirit that possesses a man and is capable of turning them into a beast once their blood lust reaches a certain point. 

This means there aren't any stereotypical werewolf myth tropes attached to this episode. No silver bullets, no full moon, not even the word 'werewolf' is mentioned. 'Shapes' isn't a masterpiece within the X-Files canon, but it's none the less memorable due to its distinctive take on a famous myth such as the werewolf. 

Mulder and Scully find themselves in Montana investigating a reservation homicide. Scully is surprised as to why Mulder volunteered to take the assignment, as any field agent could have investigated this. But in true Mulder fashion, the reason why the duo are there - and why Mulder keeps expecting every piece of evidence that comes up - is because he believes the homicides may be linked to the very first X-File, initiated in 1946 by J. Edgar Hoover. In the original case, it involved a series of murders in which victims were ripped to shreds by what seemed to be an animal. However, whenever investigators managed to corner said animal, shoot it and retrieve the body, they never found the carcass of an animal, only a man. Because the cases ended up being unsolved and so bizarre, Hoover locked them away hoping people would eventually forget about them. 

In this homicide, Jim Parker and his son claim to have been shooting at what they believed to be an animal, but similarly went to retrieve the carcass and found the body of Joesph Goodensnake instead. Mulder believes in both cases that the men killed were shapeshifters, and could change into wolf-like creatures.

 (via foxanddana)

Seeing as this was the early 90s, a lot of the effects in this episode are extremely cheesy. Especially in terms of the wolf-like creature. The combination of the growling and the obvious rubber mask make for more hilarity rather than sheer fear, but I really like the cold open for this episode. It's so cinematic, with the darkness and lighting. The X-Files is one of the only TV shows I've seen where they manage to make each episode feel like a mini film, whether they were just MOTW episodes or  linked together in the larger mythology. 

I also like the focus that The X-Files seems to have on Native American history. I'm not entirely sure if it's all accurate, but being someone from England it's interesting to learn about their history and culture. We learn nothing of it in school, and it's always been an interest of mine. In this episode's case, you learn a lot about the struggle between reservations and 'the white man', with a lot of reservations dwindling to small settlements due to the white man thinking they own everything. 

Like I said, 'Shapes' isn't the most ground-breaking hour of X-Files that's been put to television, but it's none the less a memorable episode in terms of its mythology and subject matter. And apparently, we're getting a second werewolf related episode in the revival titled 'Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster' (A reference to 'Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein'). Which involves one of my favourite comedians/actors Kumail Nanjiani. The man has been blessed recently through living out his X-Files dreams. He talks about the show on an awesome podcast you should all listen to (The X-Files Files), is now appearing in that episode and is hosting a Q&A with David Duchovny and Chris Carter at this year's NYCC in October. 

Michael Horse appears in this episode portraying a similar role that he has in Twin Peaks, a sheriff. Duchovny was also in Twin Peaks for three episodes as a DEA officer.

The transformation sequence is kind of reminiscent of the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London.

Scully sympathising with Lyle as her father recently died. I love how in the show; the writers never forget what Mulder and Scully have gone through. Such as who they've lost. It impacts not only their characters, but also is mentioned a lot in passing to remind the audience.

Mulder is like a child, honestly:
SCULLY: "Well, there doesn't seem to be anything unexplainable about this case."
MULDER: (Holding up a layer of skin) "Nope, not a thing." 

After David and Gillian pointing out that Mulder and Scully never even solved one case, they honestly never do. Even in these cases, Scully points out even if it's true their evidence is dead and is being destroyed. Mystery - and the case - solved.

Scully literally gets attacked by a furry arm. HOW DOES SHE NOT BELIEVE. "Something jumped me downstairs." DEAR GOD. She thought it was a mountain lion, too. She is literally there for the whole of it yet still has to rationalize it. 

Manitou: Manitou is a term used among Algonquian groups to designate spirits. It refers to the concept of one aspect of the interconnection and balance of nature and life. It's similar to the East Asian term of Qi.

In this case, the Manitou is an evil spirit capable of changing a man into a beast. It overtakes the man by night, not by full moon. Once bloodlust reaches critical level, the man changes into the beast. Once the man goes back to being himself, he doesn't remember the transformation. The curse can be passed along bloodlines or through being bitten by someone who is possessed.

Wounded Knee: The 71-day shootout between federal authorities and militants of the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The activists chose the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre due to its symbolic value. Both sides were armed, resulting in the deaths of a Cherokee and an Oglala Lakota in 1973.

Teeth - "Well, there are cases of calcium phosphate salt developing with age."

Lycanthropy - A type of insanity where an individual believes he or she can turn into a wolf. According to Scully, no one can physically change into an animal.

"They told me even though my deodorants made for women, it's strong enough for a man."

MULDER: "Charlie, do you believe in shapeshifting?"
CHARLIE: "This is a funeral."
*Sound of an eagle*

ISH: "I sense you a different FBI, you are more open to Native American belief. You even have an Indian name, Fox. You should be 'Running Fox' or 'Sneaky Fox'."
*Mulder laughs*
MULDER: "Just as long as it's not 'Spooky Fox'."

"Red eyes and fangs." Mulder only has to look at Scully a certain way and both we and she know he believes what he's saying, and she's like *sigh* "Not again."

Mulder looking for Scully in the house. You hear he's worried, with seeing claw marks on the walls and not being able to find her straight away.

MULDER: "But,"
SCULLY: "...Here it comes,"

Mulder ensures Scully that he's taking her on a "nice trip to the forest" to find thirty loggers who have vanished without a trace. On the surface, it looks as though the culprits for the missing loggers may be at the hands of 'eco-terrorists' in Northwest Washington, but after the team find a body suspended in a cocoon, the X-File begins to unravel. 

I've noticed within the first two season there are three similar episodes - 'Ice', 'Darkness Falls' and 'Firewalker'. Each of them pit man against nature in three different ways, with man ultimately succumbing to nature. Mulder and Scully never manage to defeat whatever they're up against, it just goes back into dormancy so to speak. Even if on some occasions (like in this episode) the culprit seems to be exterminated, c'mon. It's The X-Files. Of course, the monsters are still there. 

I remember the first time I watched this episode, it had me gripped like 'Ice' did. But on multiple viewings later, it doesn't hold that same sense of fear and dread that I had the first time. This episode is layered with social commentary towards man vs nature, especially between Spinney and Humphreys, that it ultimately plays on a rudimentary fear within us all - the dark and insects. But the social commentary takes away a certain aspect from the fear that Mulder and Scully are facing throughout the episode from being killed by swarms of insects whenever there isn't any light. 

That isn't to say that this episode doesn't hold up, it's extremely important in regard to Mulder and Scully's growing relationship towards one another. This is the first time the both are pretty close to facing death together. They're constantly faced with death throughout the episode through the sheer amount of apprehensiveness of them starting at that lone light bulb, waiting for it to eventually burn out. They get cocooned by the insects, but somehow manage to (barely) make it out alive. 


'Darkness Falls' also displays one of Mulder's major flaws. He has an extremely headstrong personality, and does things more so on a hunch and by what he thinks is right rather than consoling it with anyone else first. Probably because he's gotten so used to being on the X-Files by himself, rather than having a partner working with him like Scully. A case in point being when he gives the gasoline to Spinney without talking to Scully or the Ranger Moore first. They don't know if Spinney will ever come back for them like he said he would to Mulder, and they're going to run out of gasoline for the generator in the long run. It cements the ideal that I mentioned in my rewatch of 'E.B.E.'. For a man who believes and wants to trust no one, he trusts people way too easily. 

Even though Mulder makes this rash decision by himself - resulting in an argument between himself and Scully - Mulder says that they'll figure something out. Which is something Mulder and Scully always do. They rarely plan ahead, they do everything on the go to save themselves and those around them from whatever force they come up against. Working on the X-Files isn't something that you're able to plan for daily. 

The theory surrounding why the bugs can kill like they do is by far the episode's strongest point. It's extremely disheartening to think about all the different kinds of mutated insects out there and they exist, with this episode proving my point as to why I always get freaked out by the after places of places like Chernobyl. It wasn't even a nuclear disaster in this case. Mulder theorizes the abnormal ring that they find in the tree stump being from a strange event, in this case a volcanic eruption that secreted a large amount of radiation. The swarming insects are similar to the brain sucking amoeba found in Spirit Lake by Mt. St Helens. These ancient insects could have been lying dormant in the tree ring until the loggers cut down the tree, initiating them to swarm and kill. 

I think I probably would appreciate 'Darkness Falls' more if I wasn't constantly reminded of the similarities between 'Ice'. 'Ice' worked on a much more claustrophobic and psychological level than this episode does, and because of its similarities it's easy to pick out the weaker plot points of this episode. Although, it still does bring some sort of claustrophobia to the forefront through Mulder and Scully. They have to deal with the fact that they're not going to be able to leave the cabin without being attacked by a swarm, whatever they manage to do. 

It must have been hilarious to film that sequence in the car. The bugs are obviously CGI, so they would have had to be swatting away at nothing. 

I don't know why but I can never take the last scene seriously. I think it's what Mulder's wearing, especially the hat. 

Another Californication actor appears in this episode, Jason Beghe. Beghe portrays Ranger Moore and portrays Richard Bates on Californication. He attended the same school as Duchovny (the Collegiate School in New York City) where they became best friends and have been since. 

Look at that 90s wardrobe on Scully - the coat, the denim. I think my Mum still has a coat like that. 

Scully's face when she's getting lynched up to the cocoon. Hilarious. 

Whenever Mulder and Scully go investigate something in the middle of nowhere, the radio either doesn't work or has been busted. 

Whenever an early episode is situated in a forest, it always makes me want to go to Vancouver. 

Monkey Wrenchers: Not alluding to the Foo Fighters classic. Monkey Wrenchers are eco-terrorists (such as Spinney) who are environmentalists that sabotage logging equipment and place driving spikes on the road. All activities they perform are illegal in most places. 

The body in the cocoon - Desiccated, hard and dry. Almost preserved. All the fluids have been bled from the body. Almost like it's been preserved. 

Bugs - Dead in the light. Scully only knows as much about insects from what she's learned from biology courses. They are the foundation of our ecosystem. Insects would take years and years to evolve, the insects killing people here could be down to some sort of mutation. 

Oxidizing enzymes - Just like fireflies. That's why the insects in the sample they have are glowing green. 

"Thirty loggers working a clear-cutting contract in Washington state. Rugged manly men, in the full bloom of their manhood." 

SCULLY: "Right, but what am I looking for?" 
MULDER: "Anything strange, unusual, unlikely...a boyfriend." 

SCULLY: "And what do you suspect, Bigfoot?" 
MULDER: "No, that's a lot of flannel to be choking down, even for Bigfoot." 

SCULLY: "What kind of insect could have got a man all the way up into that tree?" 
MULDER: "Itsy Bitsy Spider..." 

They're both so intelligent. It lends to them being able to come to similar conclusions when theorizing something in a case - i.e. with the bugs. 

The argument between the two of them. They rarely ever shout at each other, which is what happens here. Scully gets extremely pissed off with him, which I would be to in that situation: 

MULDER: "Look, Scully. What would you have done?" 
SCULLY: "You mean, would I have made a decision by myself that would have affected the whole group?" 
MULDER: "Oh, will you cut the sanctimonious crap?" 

It's the first time we see Scully losing it. When she can see the bugs in the shadows and on her clothes. Mulder has to calm her down. They then proceed to sit with each other on the bed. Mulder comforts Scully (not drastically, just by his presence) and asking if she feels okay.
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