Thursday, September 24, 2015

Case 01, File 08: Ice

AKA: John Carpen-who?

It is inevitable that, over the course of The X-Files' epic 9 season run, that it would repeat itself. That's not a complaint, not really. There are over 200 episodes, and it's really unavoidable that scenes and concepts would pop up multiple times, even unintentionally, or from entirely different writers. This has the unfortunate side effect of meaning that episodes that might be pretty good or even great on their own merits tend to get overlooked because their best scenes were done better in other episodes.
Ice's plot, which is either an homage to, or a ripoff of, John Carpenter's 1982 sci-fi/horror classic, The Thing, sends Mulder and Scully up north to Alaska to investigate a team of scientists who went crazy and killed each other, alongside their own group of scientists. And a pilot. Named Bear. Whatever After some misadventures (and Bear getting killed) it turns out the culprit is a parasitic worm that has survived for millions of years under the ice and that gets into its victims via...actually I wasn't totally clear on that, bodily fluids I think?

Anyway, this worm attaches itself to the victim's brain and makes them go super aggressive, but if you yank it out via, say, impromptu surgery, it'll kill the victim. There's some long form arguing over who is and isn't infected, some deaths, a handful of paranoid standoffs and eventually it's revealed that the lady scientist is infected. They figure out that the only way to cure the worm without killing the host is to introduce another worm so they'll kill each other. They cure lady scientist, and get rescued, but the government, having also seen The Thing burns the research facility to the ground. Cue disappointed Mulder.

Appearing in this episode was the best, the best Jerry!
This is not, by most definitions of the word, a great episode, but I've always been fond of it. Part of that is merely geography: I was born and raised in Alaska, and we have a tendency to love anything set there (because nothing is set there). I wound up seeing The Simpsons Movie opening weekend in Anchorage while visiting my dad over the summer, and when Homer announces they're going to Alaska, the entire theater erupted into spontaneous applause, that is how desperate we are.

But it's more than that. My affection for Alaska-based media is not boundless (the 1996 movie simply entitled Alaska can bite me). It is a pretty well staged episode overall. The paranoia aspect may be lifted bodily from The Thing but it works pretty well, and both Anderson and Duchovny are pretty into their performances. The show has gotten to the point where it can count on its audience being aware enough of the two leads and their bond to start hanging tension on that bond being threatened, a thread it will explore later to great effect.

"What's this at the bottom about 'Drums in the deep'?"
The episode is also pretty good at establishing character quickly, even if Dr. DaSilva does suffer from a deficit of character traits...I think the episode fell into the, annoyingly common, trap of assuming that having her be a woman meant she already had a character. The secondary cast did surprisingly well after this episode (see the Future Celebrity Watch) so they're all on top of their game. I was actually surprised by how Dr. Hodge and Dr. Murphy managed to work some fairly cliched character traits and moments into full characters, even if Hodge comes across as more than a little unreasonably paranoid of Mulder at times.

This episode is pretty light on direction and special effects, but the bits that show up are pretty good. The effect used to realize the worms underneath the victim's skin is actually genuinely unnerving and the midpoint confrontation between Mulder and the rest of the group is pretty tense and well paced.

Of course that's where my opening paragraph comes in; Most of what this episode does well is done better in other episodes. A lot of episodes would be good, or even great, at building up a small group of people before they start knocking them off, the Mulder and Scully standoffs would serve as the climax of a couple really great episodes (Wetwired comes to mind, as does Pusher but for different reasons). Hell, other episodes would even do the trapped setting, and as I said above, much of the plot is lifted from a movie that was already a decade old when this episode aired. About all this episode has that makes it truly unique are the Alaskan setting and a dude named Bear. 

Not that I don't appreciate it, but this is no time for your sensual massage!
Still, it's a good episode, often unfairly overlooked. Good acting and writing go a long way to selling the story and some solid effects get us the rest of the way there to being a solid, if not remarkable, episode. Usually when I revisit things I remember being fond of when I was younger, I'm disappointed, but I'm actually pleased by how well this episode has held up overall, despite it not being particularly well remembered.

...Even if the CGI worms in the ammonia tanks have aged terribly and kind of look hilarious.

Case Notes:
  • The guys playing the scientists in the opening scene are totally ripped, and kind of hot. This adds nothing, I'm just saying. 
  • Even growing up in Alaska, I never knew anyone who went by 'Bear.'
  • Scully's hair is in casual variant (ponytail) this episode, which is one of my favorites.
  • I lived in Barrow for a while when I was very young, which is actually farther north than the Icy Cape (where the episode takes place) so I can tell you, the weather deciding to fuck them by changing suddenly? Totally a thing that happens all the time.
  • On that note, there is no such place as Doolittle Airfield. The Nome airport is called...well Nome Airport.
  • I said it in the review and I'll say it again, the CGI used to create the worms in motion is hilarious to me.
  • Hey, Mulder makes a Shrinkage joke in front of a future Seinfeld cast member.
  • This happens a lot in this show, but they just fall ass backwards into their solution in this episode, don't they?
  • Jesus, they also fall ass backwards into finding out who the infected one is. Dr. Hodge sucks at this.
  • Incidentally, having Dr. DaSilva be infected is a little cheap to me, since she had no way of becoming infected. I dunno, given her relatively small role in the episode, it feels a little Scooby Doo-ish to me.
Current Celebrity Watch:

Nothing this week, but we hit the jackpot in the Future Celebrities.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Most people know that Dr. Murphy, AKA Quirky Scientist Who Will No Doubt Be Fine is played by Kenny Bania from Seinfeld. But what most people don't know is that Dr. DaSilva is played by Felicity Huffman, who was nominated for an Oscar for Transamerica and played Lynette on Desperate Housewives, a show I've never watched, but have heard good things about. AND Xander Berkeley, who plays Dr. Hodge, was on 24 a lot and apparently plays a main role in Salem.

Audio Observations:

Nothing. I might be kind of regretting including this section a full season before we get to including interesting music.

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