Saturday, January 16, 2016

Case 01, File 12: Fire

AKA: Good Lord, That Title is Generic

In early X-Files episodes, there almost seemed to be a fear that the viewers wouldn't care about secondary characters if they didn't have some connection with the two leads. I suppose this could have been born out of overthinking ways to get Mulder and Scully into the plot of the week, but the great thing about them being in the FBI, is that there are dozens of ways to get them into a case organically, without having some ex-lover from England wander in, hang around the entire episode, and then disappear without a backward glance. Which is a long form way of me saying that I'm not a huge fan of the woman who shows up in this episode.

This time, the plot kicks off when Mulder's ex from Oxford, Phoebe, shows up to ask Mulder for his help with an arsonist who seems to be able to make people spontaneously combust, and whose new target, a member of British Government, has left England to hide out in America (was Acapulco unavailable?) Mulder agrees, despite his fear of fire, and the two head off to Cape Cod to protect the family and do some investigating, leaving Scully to hang around and grumble.

But all is not well in Cape Cod; The pyrokenetic has anticipated their move and has already killed and replaced the caretaker, and is painting the house with rocket fuel. He then burns down a bar because...reasons, causing Mulder and Phoebe to figure out he's in the US and Scully to begin to work up a criminal profile.

A few twists, a few turns, a few deaths, and one kiss between Mulder and Phoebe later, and they've discovered the identity of the pyro. He traps his target's kids upstairs in the house and lights in on fire, forcing Mulder to face his fears to rescue them, while Phoebe lights the motherfucker on fire. He's captured, Mulder has conquered his fear, Scully is no longer jealous and Phoebe heads back to England without so much as a "Cheerio."

How oddly specific, thank you.

If this review winds up being somewhat shorter than usual, it's because there's just not too much to say about this episode. Fire is a hard episode to review, because there's not much to it. I was surprised at how many Case Notes I wound up taking, because the episode as a whole just makes so little impact (and as you'll see, most of my case notes are weird little observations). And that makes it a hard episode to review, because there's just not a whole lot of interesting things to say abut it.

I think the biggest issue is that the episode is counting on Phoebe to make the plot more interesting, and she really doesn't. I can't seem to quite pinpoint what exactly went wrong with her, although the fact that she doesn't really exist outside her relationship to Mulder might be part of it, but she's really a dull character. The episode makes a big deal out of her penchant for mind games, but then she never seems to play any. Making Mulder face his fear of fire isn't a deep, intricate mind game, it's what a subpar therapist might have him do.

How come everyone in the bar takes forever to notice his FUCKING ARM IS ON FIRE!?

And the amount of time that the episode spends with Phoebe doesn't just sideline Scully, it sidelines the villain too. Which is a real shame, because the villain is pretty solid. He's not a particularly deep or complex villain mind. I'm still not sure what his motives or backstory are, and he occasionally seems to do things without reason. But Mark Sheppard puts so much menace into his performance, that he becomes a reasonably compelling villain. Good acting goes a long way I guess.

The rest of the episode is like that too, up and down. Typically up on technicals and down on story. The script is overall pretty weak, with the plot forcing itself to keep moving through contrivance and coincidence (I am, to this day, completely unsure of why the villain goes and burns the Bar down, except to push the plot forward).

That said, the effects are pretty good across the board. Okay, so fire effects aren't the hardest in the world, but they look pretty solid. Plus, and this is a personal preference, but I've always been a big fan of flame suit stunts, and there's a pretty solid one at the very end of the episode...even if the villain yelling "You can't fight fire with fire," is such a cheesy moment I had to sink down in my seat. Just a little.

"Oh fuck it, I'm just going to shoot people until this case resolves itself."
So while Fire has its moments, moments where it's straining to be more than it is and fulfill its potential, it's overall a pretty dull episode, a bridging episode between two much better episodes. Maybe by excising Phoebe entirely, and focusing more on the villain, it could have been a genuinely great episode. But as is, it's sort of meh. I can't tell if its a good episode being dragged down by its bad elements, or a bad episode being held up by its good elements. Either way, they wind up cancelling each other out and leaving the episode, and unfortunately probably the review, mediocre.

Case Notes:
  • I love the first scene after the cold opening where Mulder and Scully are leaving court. I assume there was some court fallout from Eve, which is where they're coming from, but it's such an amusing little acknowledgement of how outside the normal FBI the X-Files are.
  • Scully is so jealous of Phoebe, I love it.
  • I can't tell if the original intent was to make Phoebe a recurring character, because they clearly put a ton of thought into her and Mulder's backstory and then tell us basically none of it.
  • The arson specialist is weirdly into fire, for reasons I'm not entirely sure of.
  • Oh for god's sake, the can's are labeled rocket fuel, how come no one caught this guy?
  • Did the villain...paint a picture of the wife and hang it up in the house? When? How? Why?
  • Mulder's fear of fire is actually kind of interesting, but I don't think it ever comes up again.
  • Mulder keeps going on and on about how dangerous Phoebe is, but I'm just not feeling it.
  • I'm not totally clear why he burns the bar down. It's a good lead into an ad break, and I guess it helps the push the mystery along, and the lady who sees him helps them identify them, but it's still a weird little scene.
  • Phoebe strongly implies she and Mulder banged on top of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's grave, but she says it's in Windlesham, whereas Doyle is buried in Minstead, 60 miles away. They're not even in the same county.
  • Also, why would they bang on top of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tombstone? I'm a fan of Stanley Kubrick, but I'm not going to have sex on his grave, Jesus.
  • I find it reallllllllllllly hard to swallow the idea that the driver drank rocket fuel without knowing it.
  • Any kids who might be reading this, if an adult tells you he wants to show you a magic trick, but doesn't want you to tell your parents, you might want to find a different adult.
  • Cecil (the villain, I just realized I've been calling him "The Villain' the whole review) took the elevator down when there was a fire. Totally not supposed to do that.
  • The composite artist's sketch morphing into Cecil's face is pretty arty for The X-Files.
  • The fact that Cecil L'ively is the name of a kid who was killed as part of a Satanic ritual is such a bizarre little footnote. I don't know what the purpose of mentioning it is. Is...he the kid who was sacrificed? Is that where he got his powers?
  • As is the fact that Phoebe is banging Mr. Marsden, this episode is full of bizarre little footnotes.
  • Mulder is super nonchalant when they find the dead driver.
  • I feel like they felt an ending where Scully just fucking shoots the guy was too anti-climactic, so they had him light himself on fire, which is pretty hardcore. Still, the flame suit stunt and the post-burn makeup were both pretty good, so I'll call it a win.
Current Celebrity Watch:

Amanda Pays, who plays Phoebe, was a fairly major character in the 1990s TV show of The Flash, as Tina McGee. I don't know if that counts as a celebrity, as it ran for only one season, but here comes the more amusing part: Amanda Pays also currently plays a very different version of Tina McGee on the current Flash series. Oh and she was on an episode of Psych, but that doesn't mean much. I'm pretty sure I was on an episode of Psych.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Here's one of the more well known ones: The villain is played by Mark Sheppard, who has had recurring roles on Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13, Supernatural, White Collar, Leverage, Firefly, 24... he gets around on TV. Which is good, because he's usually pretty good at whatever role he's called to do. Mind you I don't watch the majority of those shows...but I've heard he's good, and he was good on Battlestar.

Audio Observations:

Uh...I guess I kinda wish they'd used a song that had fire in it? There's a lot of them.

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