Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Case 01, File 22: Born Again

AKA: Like The Departed But With Ghosts

I mentioned last week that The X-Files' best conceit was reimagining staples of Americana or quintessentially American ideas and events, like Chemtrails or the Waco massacre, into horror movie concepts. This isn't really a new thing (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes both did it) but The X-Files did it more consistently and more successfully than anyone else. I mentioned The Hills Have Eyes above paritally because that movie got so thoroughly trumped by Home. But that's three seasons away, and The X-Files is still working hard to hammer itself into shape, so its attempt at reimagining the quintessentially American corrupt cop story into an X-File didn't go so well.

Okay, this is gonna take a few paragraphs, so bear with me: Born Again kicks off with a little girl named Michelle being found outside a police station in Buffalo, NY. Despite the fact that she's pulling a pretty solid Creepy Kid routine, no one seems to think anything is amiss, until the cop who's talking to her suddenly finds himself getting flung out a window. Another cop who knew him (Sharon) thinks that's a little weird, and calls in Mulder and Scully.

Upon arriving, they discover that the kid is weird enough to be in therapy, including saying there was another man in the room when the cop went out the window and messing up a bunch of dolls she was given in therapy, always in the same way. Also, she does origami and won't go in water. Soon, Mulder finds out that the man she described fits the description of a cop named Charlie Morris who was killed nearly a decade earlier, the way she's messing up the dolls fits the way the Morris' body was mutilated, plus Morris did origami as well, which gives Mulder his theory: Revenge from beyond the grave slash reincarnation.

That's her "Goddammit, Mulder was right" face.
The episode confirms this when we learn that the cop who died, along with two other men, stole some money from the local Triads after a big bust, and killed Morris to protect their secret. But after Michelle is present at the death of another one of the two survivors and the last one disappears, Mulder gets some hypnosis done on her, which confirms his theory (to him) and gives him a picture of a weird thing on the video. Michelle decides to start stalking the last survivor (who is also shacked up with Morris' wife, in case this wasn't weird enough), leaving origami on her doorstep.

When the last survivor shows up, Michelle breaks in and goes full Carrie on him. Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully have found out that Morris was drowned in salt water, and Mulder recognizes that the weird thing is from the bottom of Morris' fish tank and they head back to the house to find Michelle in the midst of her rampage. The last survivor confesses, Michelle relents and apparently loses her connection to Morris and Mulder leaves slightly unsatisfied.

By all accounts, this episode was not popular with the cast and crew (with Duchovny in particular saying he detested working on it) and its not hard to see why: It's a bad episode. Not mediocre, not subpar, just...bad. It has very little in the way of good points, and a lot in the way of bad ones, and most of what little it does well is done better in other episodes.

"Help! This is kind of similar to how Hector died in the Iliad."
The big issue is the central mystery, which is basically all the plot is devoted to. It's not necessarily a bad mystery, even if it's cliched enough that anyone reasonably well versed in the genre will figure out what's going. The problem is, the episode spills the beans on what's going on well before the halfway mark, and that leaves Mulder and Scully wandering around trying to catch up to the audience.

I'm not saying that keeping the characters in the dark while the audience knows something can't work (Off the top of my head, Prisoners did it really well) but it doesn't work here, because without there's no tension created by the asymetery of knowledge. Mulder and Scully don't know what's going on, but we never get the feeling that their lack of knowledge is causing problems. It's not like they'd be in a position to stop Michelle even if they knew.

That brings me to Michelle, who seems to be the main thing they're trying to use to differentiate this from their other Revenge From Beyond the Grave episodes (notably Shadows). Inserting a creepy little kid into the center of everything isn't a terrible idea, and the actress does a reasonably good version of the Village of the Damned state all child actors in horror movies are required to do by law, but there's nothing to Michelle. She is a complete non-entity.

"It's too bad she won't live, but then again who does?"
Maybe the idea was to have her personality be completely subsumed by Charlie Morris' but that's an even bigger failure, since we wind up knowing basically nothing about Morris' personality either. The X-Files always excelled at building up characters in its Monster of the Week episodes quickly, but it can't seem to do that at all here. We know more about the female cop who calls Mulder and Scully in than we do about Michelle. By the end the only question I really wanted answered is how she was getting around Buffalo on her own without anyone noticing.

So the mystery is undercut and the character who's supposed to be leading us through the episode is pretty much just dead space on screen, so what's left? The effects aren't exceptional (like the plot itself, most of the effects were done better in Shadows), the tertiary characters aren't interesting (I would like to know more about Tony, since he seems genuinely regretful about his role in Morris' death) and Mulder and Scully's dialogue and chemistry isn't enough to carry the episode, even if it was at its best, which it is not.

I said at the beginning of this review that this a bad episode and it is. The season is winding down, and while it will end strong with its season finale, this episode is probably only saved from worst of lists by the fact that most fans seem to forget it exists up until they're actually watching it. The next episode may be bad, but at least its memorable, which is always better than forgettable.

I may be regretting those words soon.

Case Notes:
  • First thing that happens in this episode is one of the male cops sexually harasses a female coworker. I will...discuss the sexual politics of The X-Files later (cough Excelsis Dei cough).
  • The female detective (Sharon? Is her name Sharon?)'s Noo Yawk accent is fucking killing me, especially how inconsistent it is.
  • Having Sharon's brother be a cop who worked on (or maybe just knew of?) the Tooms case is a paper thin way of getting Mulder and Scully there, but maybe the writers were tired of getting them places the FBI would actually go.
  • Given how much time they spend building up the Disturbed Child stuff, I wouldn't be surprised to find that was originally a bigger part of the plot in an early draft of the script.
  • Mulder straight up tells Scully to check for evidence of psychokenisis and Scully is just like "Fuck it, fine."
  • No one thinks it's weird that Michelle's shrink is keeping all of the dolls Michelle disfigured in a dresser?
  • Supposedly the dead cop was killed in Chinatown. I've only been to Buffalo a couple times in my life, but after some quick google searches, I can't find any evidence of a neighborhood called Chinatown there. If a Buffalo resident wants to speak up about it, I'd be glad to be better informed.
  • On that note, is Buffalo really such a crime infested city that its local gangs have a signature hit, that is so brutal it involves a chainsaw?
  • Nitpicky details about how his death actually worked aside, Felder's death is a pretty rough way to go. Not quite "Sucked into an escalator" gross, but still.
  • Mrs. Fiore keeps her husband's old hobby out in the living room, 9 years after his death. Is that weird? It feels weird. Then again, she's married to someone who was involved in her first husband's murder, which is even weirder.
  • I like Scully pointing out they can't really prosecute anyone based on hypnosis and reincarnation. This episode is pretty boring, so I'll take what I can get.
  • The first season is surprisingly light on Mulder narration, so it's nice to see it pop up here.
  • The giraffe origami being left on Mrs. Fiore's doorstep is probably a little more Blade Runner than the episode intended.
  • Mulder brings up the idea of projecting images onto undeveloped film with one's mind, which will come up in season 4 in a MUCH better episode.
  • Michelle is straight up creeping outside Tony's house.
  • Tony is packing up all his shit when he's planning on fleeing the country. You've got like 2 million bucks dude, you can buy new socks.
  • Mulder and Scully break a window to get into the house, but the front door is glass, so why not do it there?
  • I actually do like how Tony gets with the program of what's going on by the end of the episode and starts talking to Michelle like she's Charlie. It's a minor detail, but one I like.
  • The blue lighting at the climax makes me think an alien ship is there to abduct them. What, this The X-Files, that's usually what it indicates.
Current Celebrity Watch:

While whether she's a full on celebrity at this point, this episode featured Maggie Wheeler as the cop, who had recurring roles on everything from Everybody Loves Raymond to Friends and Ellen. More notably for me, she also appeared in an episode of Seinfeld and had a minor role on Archer.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Fairly solid hit here, as Michelle was played by Andrea Libman, who would go on to be a fairly successful voice actress. Her biggest roles are probably as two of the main characters on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Audio Observations:

Nothing this time.

No comments:

Post a Comment