Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Case 01, File 13: Beyond the Sea

AKA: Wormtongue the Wizard

When I say that the early seasons of The X-Files were better than might have been expected, I'm not saying there weren't any bad episodes. Some of my previous reviews should indicate to you pretty definitively that this season had it's share of duds. No, what makes this season so good, and so well remembered among fans, is that this season has several of the series out and out classics in it, which is pretty rare for shows of this style. And no episode from season 1 better encapsulates this one, a perennial member of the "Best of The X-Files" lists.

The episode kicks off with our first appearance of Scully's family, when her mother and father stop over to have dinner, say hi, and not talk about their feelings. It's a shame that they don't talk about their feelings though, because right after her parents leave, her father has a heart attack and dies, even as Scully has a vision of him in her living room. But there's no time to mourn! In North Carolina, a pair of teenagers have been kidnapped by someone who has done this before, and they have only a week to find them before they're killed.

Their only lead on the case though is Luther Boggs, a serial killer who was put away by Mulder in the past, and is sentenced to death. He claims to have psychic powers that will help them find the kids, in exchange for his sentence being changed to life in prison. Mulder, for a change, thinks he's bullshitting and is on it with the kidnapper, but Scully, still wondering if her father was proud of her decision to become an FBI agent and vulnerable after he father's death and her vision, is inclined to believe him.

My last message is: Turn off your TV, you're wasting electricity.

His advice eventually leads to them finding the first kid, but the kidnapper shoots Mulder and escapes. When Scully confronts Boggs, thinking he set a trap for Mulder. He finally convinces her he's for real after offering to channel her father and hear his last message to her, and she tries, without success, to secure a deal for him. He decides to help him anyway, and she catches the kidnapper...well catches is a strong word. She shoots him and then he falls to his death. But, despite all that, Scully decides to not hear him channel her father, and the episode ends with her certain that he was proud of her.

As I said a moment ago, this episode is fixture of any list of Best Episodes of The X-Files, and if I were to make a list of my favorite episodes, this one would be at, or near, the top. It's one of the episodes where everything came together, where a solid concept was wedded to a great script and good cast. This is easily the high water mark of the first season, and an episode for the series to live up to going forward.

While there are a lot of good elements, the one that requires the most attention is the one at the center, Brad Dourif as Luther Lee Boggs. Boggs is one of the more iconic X-Files villains and he's overall he's one of the most memorable. Brad Dourif invests so much menace and intensity into a villain who, overall, never does anything. His scenes, especially his scenes with Scully, are easily the highlight of the episode.

Hello from the other side!

Not that the rest of the cast isn't up for the task. Gillian Anderson is great in this episode as well, and I find it easy to understand why she might believe him at this particularly vulnerable moment in her life. It's a tough bit to make work, but Anderson sells it hard, giving it just the right amount of emotional potency, that we can buy her being unstable, while still letting us see her trying to keep it under control. Duchovny isn't quite as good, mostly cause he gets sidelined early on, but he still manages to subtly convey his contempt for Boggs quickly.

The direction, while occasionally a little on the nose occasionally, in the way The X-Files can be, is really good. The only moment that really stuck out to me as bad was the moment where Boggs was strapped into the chair and the ghosts start literally entering him. It's a weird visual, and I get what they were going for, but it just doesn't work on screen. The rest is good though, playing a lot with light, especially in the scenes where we see the kids being held captive.

The writing is a lot more universally solid, keeping a solid pace going throughout the entire episode, despite having to juggle Scully's storyline and the kidnapping subplot. The dialogue is pretty believable, establishing Scully's relationship with her father quickly and cleanly, without feeling like it's dumping exposition on us. Her dad is dead less than 2 minutes into the episode, but we get to know a ton about both her father, and their relationship to each other, in that time.
I've said Brad Dourif is really good in this episode, right? Cause Brad Dourif is really good in this episode.
Honestly, the only element of the episode that really falls down, in my opinion, is the mystery. Not the investigation to track down the kidnapper, that's fine, if a little on the sideline. No, I'm talking about the question of whether Boggs is actually psychic. The episode never feels like it's actually considering the possibility that he might be making it up. I'm not certain how I'd approach making the audience believe that he could be lying, but this episode isn't doing it.
Still, that's a comparatively minor quibble in an otherwise incredible episode. Beyond the Sea is often cited as one of the best episodes in the entire series, and upon rewatching it, I have trouble arguing with that. It would be a long time till the series has an episode that I like nearly as much as this one.

...Okay maybe Darkness Falls.

Case Notes:
  • I know that Scully's dad giving her shit for leaving her tree up is supposed to to help establish how rigid he is, but this episode first aired January 7th. Take down your goddamn tree Scully.
  • The scene with her ghost dad is still kind of spooky to this day.
  • This episode proves my premise that banging in a car is never worth. Not just because I'm worried about being kidnapped, but because god, the damage you'll do to your back. 
  • The male kidnap victim takes WAY too long to ask for ID from the cop.
  • Even in mourning, Scully is bringing the snark, I love it.
  • They spend a lot of time building Boggs up before we ever get to see him, I like it.
  • Hey, that's Max's NICAP hat in Mulder's office. Cool.
  • I first saw this episode on VHS from a library, and the audio was kind of messed up in parts, so I didn't recognize that they were playing Beyond the Sea at Scully's dad's funeral until they talked about it. This is relevant to anything, just a fun little note.
  • Scully's sister, who becomes a fairly important character later, is totally not at the funeral.
  • Boggs mentions that the kids are tied with packing twine, which seems kinda flimsy to be tying up your kidnap victims, but what do I know.
  • The (fairly vital) Angel statue is not actually located in North Carolina. It's a World War I memorial in Vancouver.
  • The scene where Boggs call's Mulder's cell phone is actually solidly creepy as well.
  • The serial killer escapes on a goddamn boat. That is way more silly than the episode thinks it is.
  • The serial killer in this episode is named Lucas Henry. I wonder if he's related to famous real serial killer Henry Lucas.
  • Scully's confrontation with Boggs in his cell is one of the best scenes in the entire series, it really is. Gillian Anderson is great, Brad Dourif is great, writing is great, even the directing is really great.
  • The visual of the spirits actually walking into Boggs is a little cheesy, but overall the scene where Boggs remembers his first walk to the execution is also a great scene.
  • Scully straight up lies to Boggs about him getting a deal. That has to be some kind of illegal, right?
  • On that note, lying to a serial killer about him having a deal in exchange for information is probably a litttttttle closer to The Silence of the Lambs than you wanna get.
  • Scully has absolutely no patience for the serial killer. He looks like he's about to resist and BAM she just fucking shoots him.
  • The ending is a tiny bit anticlimactic, but given how good the rest of the episode is, that's more than fine.
Current Celebrity Watch:
I don't know how much this makes him a celebrity, but the actor who played Scully's dad, Don S. Davis, also played Major Briggs on Twin Peaks. As will become clear over the course of this review series, The X-Files borrows about 2/3rds of the cast of Twin Peaks at one point or another. Hell, we all know Mulder played Denise in Twin Peaks, right?

Future Celebrity Watch:

We've got one of our biggest hits here: Brad Dourif plays Luther Lee Boggs. While I suppose I could have put this in the previous column (as Dourif was known at the time as the voice of Chucky from the Child's Play movies), I elected to put him in this one. This is partially because Dourif received much more mainstream recognition from his role as Grima Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings and partially because I hate the Child's Play series.

Audio Observations:

This is the first time a song appears prominently in the episode, and even got to name the episode. Which I find a tiny bit odd, because it doesn't actually play a huge role. Songs that played much bigger roles in the episode they're featured in don't get the title. Oh well.

No comments:

Post a Comment