Thursday, 27 October 2016

The X-Files Halloween Countdown | Season Four (10 Seasons, 10 Episodes)

And now for my favourite season of them all; here's day four of the Halloween countdown. 

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I'm so, so glad that I didn't watch this episode when it was airing. I don't think I couldn't have waited over the summer of 1997 for the outcome that 'Gethsemane' eventually comes to. 

Opening in medias res (my favourite kind of opening), the police are identifying a dead body in the apartment of Mulder, to which Scully identifies and confirms the body's identity and leaves (we don't know that it's Mulder until the end of the episode). 

'Gethsemane' helps explore the overarching mythology, whilst also setting up the beginning of Mulder's disbelief in extra-terrestrial life in Season Five. It involves Mulder being shown evidence of alien life which seems to be part of a government conspiracy to deflect interest in secret military programs, rather than the existence of aliens. 'Gethsemane' also features the ongoing storyline involving Scully's cancer, which continues on into the Season Five premiere. 

This episode received a lot of mixed opinions, and it's not hard to see why. Carter wanted 'Gethsemane' to be a 'big ideas' episode - which it is - but big ideas means over-convoluted plot-lines, which isn't uncommon for the show. Although, I love the callback to 'Deep Throat' in regards to Mulder's belief in extra-terrestrial life, to which writer Robert Shearman has stated, "As far back as Deep Throat, Mulder was asked why he stubbornly clung to his beliefs in the wake of so much proof to the contrary, and he answered it was because such proof was never convincing enough. Nor is it here." 

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'Small Potatoes' marks the return of my bae Vince Gilligan, this time with a humorous episode in a similar vein to 'Humbug'. Darin Morgan, the writer of 'Humbug', stars in this episode in a role that Gilligan wrote with Morgan in mind. 

The episode follows Mulder and Scully as they travel to a small town to investigate the birth of five babies born with tails. The duo eventually come across a janitor, Eddie Van Blundht (Morgan), who becomes a suspect but is extremely hard to identify. 

'Small Potatoes' deals with the idea of being able to shapeshift, something that would have been even cooler if it dealt with Mulder and Scully switching bodies. Alas, this episode has Blundht shapeshift into a variety of people, eventually targeting Mulder giving Duchovny a new challenge in portraying Mulder, but with Blundht as the brain. To which Gilligan praised Duchovny for his comedic performance, and Anderson's ability to play the 'straight woman' in the episode.

Even though this episode is hilarious - especially in regards to the regular occurrence of making fun of Mulder - it does deal play with rape for laughs. You can't deny it, the more you think about it, it's pretty horrifying that Blundht could do this to five women. It's something you can't overlook, which always dampens my love for the episode's humor. 

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One of the most depressing, feels-full episodes of the series, 'Memento Mori' explores Scully's inoperable diagnosis of a nasopharyngeal tumor; a diagnosis that Mulder refuses to believe that they can't save Scully from. This leads Mulder to investigate what truly occurred during Scully's abduction in Season Two, coming to the conclusion that the cancer and the abduction are related. 

'Memento Mori' never fails to make me sob; not only from the famed sequence of Mulder and Scully holding each other towards the end of the episode, but Mulder's refusal that this cancer will take Scully away from not only him, but prevent her from continuing living a fulfilled life. Mulder selflessly makes it his goal in 'Memento Mori' to find some sort of cure for Scully, leading him to her frozen ova from her abduction. 

And irritatingly enough, Duchovny and Anderson ad-libbed a kiss between Mulder and Scully within the hallway sequence; something the Carter felt that he wanted to showcase in Fight the Future rather than 'Memento Mori'. It would have marked the couple's first kiss, but that wouldn't come until further on in Season Seven, and partially in Season Six in the dream-episode 'Triangle'. 

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Again, the lovely Vince Gilligan created the dentist fear-fueled episode 'Unruhe', following another abduction for Scully from the hands of serial killer Gerry Schnauz. Schnauz kidnaps women and lobotomizes them, leaving clues in the form of distorted photos of the victims taken before they are kidnapped. 

In writing the episode, Gilligan was inspired by stories of serial killers that he read as a child, alongside the abhorrent fear of the dentist and the concept of thought-photographs. The episode itself is terrifying, especially in regards to the lobotomizing aspect of the episode. Out of everything that occurs in this episode, that will forever be the part that sticks out to me. Just the thought of it gives me chills. 

The word 'unruhe' translates to 'unrest' or 'anxiety', which applies to this episode extremely well. Not only for the victims of Schnauz, but for the viewer as well. And Mulder, since he has to go through the aspect of leaving Scully for what seems like the hundredth time. 

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One of my favourite season premieres of the series, 'Herrenvolk' deals again with the series overarching mythology, alongside Mulder's sister Samantha and her whereabouts. 'Herrenvolk' is the second part to the Season Three finale, focusing on Mulder being given more evidence regarding Samantha's abduction through Jeremiah Smith, whilst being pursued by the Alien Bounty Hunter. 

'Herrenvolk' features the first appearance of Samantha as a child (since the small scene at the beginning of 'Little Green Men'), as she was shown as an adult in the Season Two two-parter 'Colony'/'End Game'. Carter has long reffered to Samantha as the 'lifeblood' of the series; which is the best way to describe her character. Without her and her disappearance, Mulder would have no emotional/personal motive of pursuing The X-Files; rather just an interest in the paranormal and his selflessness to help people. Samantha gives Mulder another facet in his personality, a gaping hole that she has left within himself. 

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As you know by now, Mulder-centric episodes are my forte. Even more so when Mulder manages to get himself into stupidly dangerous situations. You'd think throwing yourself onto a train car is one thing, but here Mulder finds himself thrown into a Russian gulag alongside Krycek. 

Both episodes, 'Tunguska' and 'Terma' were conceived when the writers wanted to create a large canvas of which to create an episode on. They decided on the central location being in a Russian gulag, emphasized the Cold-War ethics that had only been shut down a few years prior; by insinuating that the Russian's were also created a vaccine for the black oil, but separately to the Syndicate. 

The gulag scenes themselves were based on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's books The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, whereas the rocks containing oil were inspired by NASA's findings that the Allan Hills 84001 could contain possible evidence of extra-terrestrial life. 

'Tunguska' and 'Terma' also help make the sails of the Mulder/Krycek ship fly a little higher. 

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Whenever I come across someone who has never seen The X-Files but knows of it, I always point them towards 'Home'. Not only because it is a fantastically shot and written episode, but because of its abhorrent gruesome nature. A lot of people overlook what The X-Files did for television, and this episode showcases how far you can get away with certain amounts of gore and violence on commercial television; especially in the 90s. 

'Home' follows Mulder and Scully as they investigate the death of a baby with severe birth defects in the small town of Home, Pennsylvania. Based on real-life events, Mulder and Scully discover the Peacocks; a deformed and incestuous family who have not left their house in decades. 

'Home' was the first episode of the show to receive a viewer discretion warning for graphic content upon broadcast, and the only X-Files episode to receive a TV-MA warning when broadcast. So much so that Fox refused to not repeat the episode - the only instance in the history of the show that this happened. 

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Why do all the characters I love get taken away from me? The last time we laid our eyes on the wonder that was Max Fenig was back in Season One in the episode 'Fallen Angel'. Fastforward to Season Four and he appears a somewhat unfortunate circumstance. Fenig is found dead following an airplane crash, which Mulder believes was caused by a UFO trying to abduct Fenig mid flight. 

'Tempus Fugit' is another one of the shows famous two-parters, with 'Max' concluding the story that is introduced in this episode. Obviously, any of the episodes involving a UFO are a win in my book, but it's the sheer amount of effort the crew put into the set design and effects that floors me in these two episodes. 

Especially when it comes to the plane crash. Special effects supervisor Dave Gauthier constructed a mock-up Boeing 737 rig during the production of the third season; Carter decided to save the rig to use in the fourth. The rig itself was extremely complex, requiring 400 U.S. gallons of hydraulic fluid with the ability to move across multiple axes to simulate turbulence. The producers also wanted the plane crash site - as well as the investigation - to be as realistic as possible, using a National Transportation Safety Board as a technical adviser to make sure everything was as realistic as possible. 

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Surprise surprise, my two favourite episodes of my favourite season are Mulder-centric. I'd say that 'Paper Hearts' and 'Demons' are on the same bar; but I have more of an affinity with 'Paper Hearts' since it comes before this episode, and that was definitely the first X-Files episode I fell in love with. 

'Demons' on the other hand is spectacular; especially in regards to it's unique use of flashback through Mulder's (again stupid) experimental brain procedures. We find Mulder in a motel room with no idea as to how he arrived there, covered in blood that isn't is. Scully has to help Mulder figure out what happened, whilst dealing with Mulder's incessant, vivid flashbacks to his childhood that allow him to see glimpses of important moments before his sister's disappearance. 

Two things occur in this episode that I will never shut up about whenever someone gets me to talk about this show. The first being writer R. W. Goodwin relying on the idea that Geschwind syndrome (the ability to recall every moment of a subject's childhood) could be administrated through technology and drugs. And the second being the way in which the flashback sequences were filmed through manipulating the camera and its film. The sequences were given an out-of-time feel by stopping and starting the camera through a shutter mechanism, and the colours of the film being manipulated by filtering the film's negatives with strobe lighting. 

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'Paper Hearts' is not only my favourite episode of the show, but thinking about it, it is a goldmine of an X-Files episode for me. It's written by Vince Gilligan, directed by Rob Bowman, is a Mulder-centric episode, it focuses on Mulder and his sister's disapperance and is heavily influenced by Alice in Wonderland. Literal heaven. 

A very sadistic, twisted heaven however. 'Paper Hearts' may be heaven for me, but it certainly isn't for Mulder. Mulder begins to have dreams of a red light leading him to the corpse of a young girl in a park in Manassas, Virginia. Once he wakes up, he goes straight to the site where his dream led him to and finds the skeletal remains of a young girl. He eventually finds that the girl is a victim to a child killer that he helped apprehend several years ago; a killer that had claimed more victims than he had confessed to. The main crux of the episode for Mulder is that the killer, John Lee Roche, is claiming that he killed Mulder's sister. 

Mulder is a character that is extremely susceptible into believing something that gets him the answers that he truly wants. And if that means believing that his sister was killed by a child killer rather than abducted by aliens gives Mulder the closure that he craves. That's what I adore about Gilligan's writing here; his ability to make a belief both we and Mulder believe to be true crumble to the ground so quickly in favour of a more plausible outcome. 
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