Saturday, 29 October 2016

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

Halloween is edging closer and closer, and so is the countdown sadly. Here's the season that picks up the remnants of Fight the Future

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The only full episode of the show that my Mum remembers – and is consequently her favourite episode – ‘Arcadia’ sees Mulder and Scully depict every shippers dream…going undercover as a married couple.

The episode takes place in my kind of hell – a planned community. Whenever I’ve been on holiday to Florida, we’ve always spent one week in one of these communities (a mixture of residential and holiday homes) and there’s just something eerily terrifying about it. Everything looks the same and they’re usually gated off making it feel so isolating to even stay a week in.

So when we stayed in around Champions Gate in Davenport in 2014, I couldn’t help but imagine myself in the middle of ‘Arcadia’. And again, ‘Arcadia’ brings forth the funnier side of the show, especially between Mulder and Scully…or should I say Rob and Laura Petrie (another nod to The Dick Van Dyke Show). 

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Okay. As much as I love this episode, it is shit. I can barely remember the plot of ‘Agua Mala’, only the visuals, a few lines between Mulder and Scully and the sheer amount of water used. Which is pretty similar to a majority of the reviews of the episode when it was aired, one Todd VanDerWerff of A.V. Club has noted that “the worst thing about ‘Agua Mala’ is that it comes so very, very close to working that it’s frustrating to see just how little it actually does.”

It seems as though more thought was put into the production of the episode rather than the story itself. Rob Bowman (who directed Fight the Future) is known for going all out when directing, and here is no different. ‘Agua Mala’ is notable for the sheer amount of water used and its lack of natural lighting. In fact, none of the episode was shot in daylight, rather relying on the low lighting of flashlights and emergency lighting used in the episode.

But as forgettable as the story line is, it does what every good monster-of-the-week episode does; it gives you an irrational fear of going to the bathroom during a rainstorm or hurricane. 

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Reading into these episodes rather than just going into them by memory is extremely insightful, especially in regards to ‘The Rain King’. The episode was written by a then-new X-Files writer Jeffrey Bell, who had sent three scripts to the production crew as he was a fan of the show. The producers eventually went with Bell’s ‘The Rain King’, which obviously went through multiple changes by writers Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban and Vince Gilligan to flesh out the story.

This ultimately led to Bell coming up with an emotional parallel between Mulder and Scully with Hardt, something I hadn’t realized before. He states, “Here you have a guy who’s affecting the weather because he’s repressing his emotions […] and who better to help him than two people whose emotions are repressed and never express their feelings for each other?”

The episode itself borders on cheesy at certain points to me from being so used to the show’s usually dark undertones, but thinking about the parallels between Hardt with Mulder and Scully brings a new layer to the episode that I didn’t have before. The way in which Mulder and Scully react to Hardt’s situations was one of my favourite aspects of ‘The Rain King’, which has been further accentuated for me by that quote. 

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Directed and written by David Duchovny, ‘The Unnatural’ is a strange episode within The X-Files canon. It’s mostly a flashback episode, it rarely sees Mulder and Scully together, its unconnected to the shows overarching mythology and tells the exuberant story of a black baseball player who played for the Roswell Grays in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947; the year of the famed UFO crash. He goes under the pseudonym of Josh Exley, as he is actually an alien who falls in love with baseball.

Duchovny was inspired by the story of baseball player Joe Bauman. In a newspaper story he read that even though Bauman had hit 72 home-runs during the 1954 season but had never made it to the Major Leagues. Bauman played for the Roswell Rockets, in which Duchovny connected to the 1947 Roswell Incident, later saying that “[he] just made the association … What if this guy was an alien? And [he] just started working on that idea.”

The episode’s title ‘The Unnatural’ is a reference to the 1952 novel The Natural by Bernard Malamud, a novel following the story of a baseball prodigy injured in a bizarre shooting incident. The episode itself contains many other references to literature; unsurprisingly since Duchovny has a B.A. in English Literature.

The different tone Duchovny takes with the episode is what makes it so successful and ultimately beautiful. He has an intimate understanding of the show and its characters straight off the mark, so he is able to leave his mark on the episode as he sees fit whilst working around Mulder and Scully. It was a highly praised episode at the time of its broadcast, and even Anderson commended Duchovny saying, “I was proud of David for writing the script. I thought it was wonderful. He was kind and gentle and respectful and humble, and always tried to do his best.”

And that ending though. It’s so beautiful and heart-warming and can only lead to one conclusion: Mulder and Scully are totally bangin’. 

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One of the only times The X-Files has incorporated a haunted house, ‘How the Ghosts Stole Christmas’ was written and directed by Carter and featured Mulder and Scully on a stake out on Christmas eve at a reputed haunted house. Of course, this stake out is Mulder’s idea, explaining that during Christmas of 1917 a young couple agreed to a lovers’ pact, one killing the other and the remaining person committing suicide; with the moral of the story being that this lovelorn couple want to show people how lonely the holidays can be.

The cast of the episode is the smallest cast ever for an episode of the show, only featuring Duchovny, Anderson, Lily Tomlin as Lyda and Ed Asner as Maurice. ‘How the Ghosts Stole Christmas’ was also only filmed on one set, meaning that the episode was fairly cheap; but meant more strain on Duchovny and Anderson to carry the episode.

‘How the Ghosts Stole Christmas’ carries a mixture of tones, but is ultimately one of the best holiday episodes of a television show. I watch this episode every Christmas Eve without fail. It’s full of classic lines (“Wait – is that a hound I hear baying out on the moors?” “No. Actually that was a left cheek sneak”), comedy, romance and horror. Everything you need for the Christmas season in true X-Files fashion. 

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Ohhhh, if only I’d known an episode of The X-Files was filmed on the Queen Mary when I went on that ship in 2011. I started watching the show properly in 2013; up until that point I’d only seen snippets of episodes as a kid when it was airing, and vaguely knew who Duchovny and Anderson were. When I watched ‘Triangle’ for the first time, I sat there trying to pinpoint where I’d seen the interior shots before. I proceeded to look it up, and lo and behold the majority of the episode was filmed on the Queen Mary.

Written and directed by Carter, the episode itself is a rare occurrence within the show; it’s a time-travel episode. Mulder finds out that a luxury passenger liner from the 1930s had suddenly appeared on the edge of the Bermuda Triangle and races to it. Once there, he realizes that he has traveled back in time to September 3, 1939 during the outbreak of World War II. German soldiers have taken over the ship in search for ‘Thor’s Hammer’; something that may ensure their victory during the war.

‘Triangle’ is meant to play out like The Wizard of Oz, with Mulder being a Dorothy-like character stumbling across characters who are identical to their contemporary counterparts, portrayed by Anderson, William B. Davis (CSM), Chris Owens (Jeffrey Spender), James Pickens Jr. (Kersch), and Mitch Pileggi (Skinner). It is filmed, however, in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope, with many shots filmed and edited to appear as one single take. 

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If you’re a fan of Breaking Bad like I am, than you have a lots of thanks to owe to The X-Files and this episode. Partly a homage to the 1994 film Speed, ‘Drive’ follows Mulder as he is trapped in a car by a seemingly deranged individual played by Bryan Cranston, who has to continue driving at a certain speed to prevent his head from exploding, due to a secret experiment performed on him.

The episode itself came from an idea that Vince Gilligan had featuring a man holding someone hostage on a Tilt-A-Whirl. Originally lacking any mystery as to why someone would do this, Gilligan added that after the ride was shut off, the man’s head wold explode. This then led onto Gilligan researching into the outcomes of low-frequency waves in the military. The secret experiment performed on Patrick Crump (Cranston) is inspired by two military experiments; Project HAARP and Project ELF.
Cranston’s involvement in the episode was down to Gilligan needing an actor that could humanize an antagonist (sound familiar?) When it came to being cast for Breaking Bad, AMC executives were unsure due to only knowing Cranston from his role in Malcolm in the Middle. After viewing his performance in this episode, they were convinced that he was the right fit for Walter White.

‘Drive’ itself is definitely one of my favourite episodes of the series. It’s cinematography of the Nevada desert is beautiful, it’s tense as hell, Mulder’s deadpan humor is on point and Cranston delivers his best performance before White. 

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Named after one of the names used for the Area 51 facility, ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Dreamland II’ was the first non-mythology narrative to be spread across two episodes. Written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners (‘Dreamland’) and Michael Watkins (‘Dreamland II’), the episodes follow Mulder and a member of the Men in Black after they switch bodies after meeting at Area 51, whilst unbeknownst to others.

Michael McKean portrays Morris Fletcher, who was originally meant for comedian Garry Shandling. Shandling and Duchovny were good friends, but Shandling was unavailable due to filming Town and Country. McKean however was at the top of Gilligan’s list of potential actors – an actor who would eventually star in Gilligan’s Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul.

The episodes themselves incorporate many in-jokes surrounding Area 51 and the conspiracy theories that connotes, but it’s the humor of seeing Duchovny and McKean playing their respective characters that carries ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Dreamland II’; much to some reviewers behest. One stand out moment being a scene in which Duchovny and McKean reenact a scene from the 1933 Marx Brothers film Duck Soup. Duchovny and McKean each watched the film and practiced for a week and half to perfect their synchronised choreography. In order to portray the idea that Mulder is seeing himself as Fletcher in the mirror, the set was two bedrooms, both mirror images of each other with Duchovny and Fletcher performing their rendition on either side. 

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Writing this, it’s funny to see how many of my favourite episodes are written by Gilligan. ‘Monday’ is often regarded as being inspired by the 1993 film Groundhog Day; however Gilligan and John Shiban were inspired by the 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone entitled ‘Shadow Play’.

‘Monday’ sees the world trapped in a time loop, with only one woman, named Pam (Carrie Hamilton) aware of the situation. The episode follows Mulder mainly as he goes through the same Monday over and over again, with each Monday playing out slightly differently each time, but ending with the same outcome; Mulder and Scully being trapped inside a bank robbery until the eventual bombing of the building by the suicidal robber, who is also Pam’s boyfriend.

As each Monday repeats, each time Pam speaks to Mulder he becomes closer to being able to remember who she is. She eventually is able to convince him that that specific Monday is repeating over and over again, to which Mulder begins to repeat the phrase ‘he’s got a bomb’ to himself so he can recall it the following iteration of the Monday.

One of my favourite aspects of the episode is the slight differences each time Mulder wakes up after each explosion. Kim Manners, one of the show’s best directors, achieved this by diagramming every camera angle and move to make the scenes both different and visually appealing to the viewer each time around. 

Image via Fox

Exploring the themes of alternate reality and abductive reasoning, ‘Field Trip’ explores what happens to Mulder and Scully when they are exposed to a giant fungal growth that causes the duo to have two separate hallucinogenic episodes; eventually merging into one shared hallucination. Similar to ‘Bad Blood’, the episode allowed the audience to see Mulder and Scully’s separate viewpoints of each other in their individual hallucinations. This time to the point where if they knew the other was saying something out of character, they knew that they must be in an alternate reality; i.e. trapped underground by a giant mushroom.

Written by Frank Spotnitz, ‘Field Trip’ was thoroughly researched to the point of a researcher for the series travelling to a body farm operated by the University of Tennessee’s Department of Anthropology to witness how different conditions effect human bodies when decomposing.

Alternative reality and abductive reasoning are two areas that I’m not quite familiar with so I won’t explain them here. But if you research them, you can see how both Mulder and Scully get to the conclusions that they do in the episode through these means, which is a highly sophisticated way to both get to the conclusion of a television episode and an exciting layer to let play out in the narrative.

I also feel really bad for Duchovny and Anderson in this episode, since they had to be covered in a vegetable-derived food thickener with yellow food colouring for the fungal secretion, whilst also being buried underground – literally. Duchovny and Anderson were placed in large pits with scaffolding that the two wore wetsuits and were then covered in the vegetable fluid and soil. 

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