Sunday, October 11, 2015

Case 01, File 09: Space

AKA: Space Core's Favorite Episode


Wha-what? Oh right, the review. Ahem. I don't bring it up much, but I do research the production history of each episode when I review it. I'll bring it up as I find it appropriate,but in this case, I feel it's exceptionally appropriate, since this episode came about from studio mandate to have an episode come in under budget, and was therefore written to use a ton of cheap stock footage.

Hilariously enough, the NASA set went over budget and the episode wound up the most expensive of season 1.

Okay, plot rundown: A NASA commander contacts Mulder and Scully because she's afraid that the Shuttle is being sabotaged with her fiancee on board. Mulder and Scully wander on down to Texas where it turns out there are issues with the shuttle. And then...there's a whole lot of nothing. They just sorta hang out while there are issues with the shuttle.

Eventually it's revealed that the shuttle is being sabotaged by commanding officer and former astronaut Colonel Belt. He's been sabotaging NASA for years because he's...being possessed by a space ghost that looks like the Face on Mars. (it's a fairly famous case of it!) They don't explain that super well. Anyway, he eventually fights it off long enough to save the shuttle and then hurls himself out a hospital window. Roll credits.

"No, I don't think it looks like a face. That's dumb, and you're dumb for repeating it.

Saying this episode is the most expensive of the season is unspeakably hilarious to me, because it means that what is probably the worst episode of the season cost the most (next you'll tell me Beyond the Sea was the cheapest of the season). And it's not like the money wound up on screen either; The NASA set looks good, but most of the other effects are mediocre at best and extremely subpar at worst. The Mars Face Morph in particular stands out as probably one of the worst effects the series has ever tried to build a scene around (Jacob's Ladder was 3 years old at this point, vibrating face that shit).

Of course there's no particular reason why this concept had to suck. As The Martian proved, a procedural story about trying to keep astronauts alive could be quite fascinating. The problem (aside from some really wonky story beats) is that it wouldn't make a very good X-File. Neither Mulder nor Scully are much use to the story once the shuttle goes up, spending the majority of the episode standing around having stuff explained to them.

If nothing else, the episode seems painfully aware of this and keeps inventing reasons to keep them around or give them stuff to do. They wind up researching all of NASA's disasters at one point, which puts the episode in the amusing position of having someone inform them of how much material they have to shift through and then have them find what they need in the very next shot. I'd complain more about this, but it does lead to the most amusing moment in the episode, where Mulder gets Belt to concentrate on his finger to snap him out of Ghost Induced Dementia (which is eerily prescient of the lighter sequence of 1998's Godzilla).

This is the episode's big scary moment people. Take it all in, take it...all in.

On the other hand, it's not the like the episode specific characters are much use to keep our interest up either. The lady (Michelle? IMDB tells me her name is Michelle) seems to be intended as the main character, as she's the one who goes through something of an arc, and who is trying to bring personal interest into the story by having her fiancee on board, but her character is non-existent, and her actress is incredibly dull. Colonel Belt is a little better, as he's pretty well acted, but they never feel like explaining why the Space Ghost (Coast to Coast) was making him sabotage NASA, which just leaves his actions as a mystery that trails off without a resolution. Like The Mystery of Edwin Drood but without the funny stage musical.

There are the strains of a better episode peeking in around the edges of the script. The episode spends some time musing on Belt's lying to the press to keep NASA going, and Mulder's little sum up on Belt's death is deserving of a better episode preceding it. Chris Carter mentioned once in an interview that he wishes they could have used footage of the astronauts on the shuttle, and I do too since it would have made the entire episode feel much more immediate.

But, by far the biggest problem of the episode, is that it's boring. Since they can't show the shuttle, other characters have to be front-loading massive amounts of exposition, which just drags the episode down. Never mind that Mulder and Scully are never (NEVER) in anything resembling danger, gutting the tension, and the only character that is in danger is a character we don't get to see on screen until after the plot has resolved. Combined with all the slow motion NASA stock footage and the episode winds up kind of relaxing, which is probably not where you want your sci-fi/horror TV show to wind up.

I'm supposed to be at the emotional core of the episode. Why do I only appear right at the end?

Chris Carter once named this episode as his least favorite (not sure if he means of the first season or generally) and I can see why. Knowing about the cost and schedule overruns puts me in mind of Heaven's Gate; You spent a ton of time and money on something and wound up with an intermittently pretty bore, with only flashes of its true potential hidden underneath it. If nothing else, watching this episode will make the rest of the season easier to review; It can only go up from here.

Case Notes:
  • I write these notes as I watch the episode in question. Usually they're just observations I find amusing, that I edit in post. I tell you this because my notes might be sparse, cause this episode is so dull.
  • I saw The Martian the night before watching this episode. This does not work in this episode's favor. Incidentally, The Martian is awesome.
  • I love how Michelle drags Mulder and Scully back with her to Houston cause there's a problem with the shuttle. What precisely does she expect them to do?
  • I had completely forgotten about the part where Michelle gets in a car wreck cause the Mars Face thing attacks her in the fog. It has basically no bearing on the plot, and only gets briefly mentioned again.
  • Holy shit, they totally slapped Colonel Belt with the Challenger disaster. That is harsh X-Files.
Current Celebrity Watch:

Nobody. The cast is kinda thin on the ground this episode, but we do have a minor addition in the next set.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Susanna Thompson, who played Michelle, apparently plays Moira Queen on Arrow. I don't watch Arrow but I have some friends who are constantly assuring me it's good.

Audio Observations:


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