Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Case 01, File 01: Pilot

AKA The FBI's Most Unwanted

Most TV shows, with the exception of shows focused on large overarching plots (Breaking Bad, Twin Peaks, Battlestar Galactica reboot), tend to open kind of shaky. With the exception of a handful of good episodes, the first season of Buffy is basically unwatchable, the first season or so of Seinfeld does not resemble what we think of as Seinfeld in any meaningful way, TNG didn't find its feet until mid season 2 to season 3, etc. etc.

That doesn't seem to really be the case with The X-Files. While there are a solid number of duds in the first season, the series really seemed to know what it wanted to be, and more importantly how to be that, from the word go. Which is more than I can say for a lot of shows.

A lot of credit for the Pilot working as well as it does has to go to the writers, as well as David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, as both of them really get into their characters immediately. David's first line, "Nobody down here but the FBI's most unwanted," is such a perfect example of Flippant Mulder (my favorite variety) that it seems weird that it came from the Pilot.

Scully's characterization is a little less solid (I feel like the writers hadn't gotten as firm a grip on her as they would in the next episode or two; Note how quickly they dropped the 'Theoretical physicist' aspect) but her interactions with Mulder are gold from the get go, and Anderson is, as always, fantastic (she's pretty great on Hannibal, and people keep telling me I need to watch The Fall).

It's also decently well put together. It's not scary in the way certain later episodes would be, and it's doesn't get bogged down too much in the series' Myth Arc. It functions less like the horror focused later episodes and more like a fun little mystery. It's got a couple of well shot scenes (both scenes in the forest are pretty good and the first scene in the mental hospital escalates nicely) and the entire thing has a Twin Peaks vibe (small town, hiding secrets, you get the idea).

It's just that...well the plot doesn't really go anywhere. It meanders around for about 40 minutes until it kind of sputters to a close. Admittedly that's both A, kind of inevitable in a Pilot like this (as it's going to spend most of its time introducing the setting and the characters) and B, a recurring issue in The X-Files as a whole, but it feels especially pronounced here.

Maybe that's because there are a lot of scenes that don't seem to add anything. The weird little interlude where the plane Mulder and Scully are on nearly crashes doesn't seem to serve much of a purpose aside from acting as a buffer between DC and Oregon. The ape/alien/whatever body gets a lot of talk and is then dropped, leading me to question why they were keeping an ape/alien/whatever body in a hotel with them.

Still, it's a nice little mystery while it lasts. It may not be one of my favorite episodes or an all time classic or anything, but it's definitely solid as far as Pilots go, especially for shows as episodic as The X-Files. And besides, even if it's not their best, I shouldn't worry, they've got 9 seasons to figure it out.

Case Notes:
  • I can't prove it, but I am like 90 percent certain that the place where they find the X after losing time is not the same place where they originally sprayed the X when the radio stopped working. It doesn't look very similar, but then it was raining rather hard when they lost time.
  • This will come up again at a couple points, but I like the moments where we get to see the FBI's opinion of the X-Files project, in this case Scully's superiors wondering how on Earth you could prosecute this case.
  • Scully's 90s laptop (along with all the 90s tech in this show) makes me very happy.
  • On that note, Scully when confronted with their hotel on fire: "There goes my computer." I love Scully.
  • One of the features on my DVD set talked about the scene in the diner, and how they created the spontaneous nose bleed effect; By threading a tube around her face out of sight and letting their fake blood shoot out of it. It also talked about how easy it is to just cut away and cut back with the blood there. I think they were showing off.
  • Those do marks Scully has do not look like any mosquito bites I've ever seen. And I know mosquito bites; I grew up in Alaska. 
  • So that Sheriff is going to jail, right? Obstructing an investigation, assaulting a federal officer, something?
  • First appearance of Cigarette Smoking Man. He files things in the Pentagon! He smokes in the corner! He...leans on a shelf? He doesn't talk in this episode. He won't talk for a while (Season 2? I feel like it's either early Season 2 or late Season 1).
Current Celebrity Watch:

Not much here this week. I almost felt like I saw the police chief's daughter on Twin Peaks once, but I was wrong. The guy who played Detective Miles was apparently nominated for a Primetime Emmy the year earlier for...some TV movie I've never heard of (The Long Road Home? Has anyone heard of this?). He lost to James Earl Jones.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Nuthin. Slim pickings this time.

Audio Observations:

Again, nothing. They don't even have the theme song yet!

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