Monday, May 30, 2016

Case 01, File 24: The Erlenmeyer Flask

AKA: I Don't Know Why It's Called That Either

One of the more charming aspects of The X-Files to me is that it always seems to suddenly remember it has an overarching plot right at the end of each season. After 24 episodes of spinning the wheels and Monster of the Week episodes, it suddenly remembers it needs to move the plot forward and forces what amounts to half a season's worth of plot development into 45 minutes. But, if nothing else, it usually makes for an entertaining season finale.

This episode is pretty jam packed, so bear with me. We open on a police chase in Maryland, which ends when the cop shoots the suspect as he leaps into the river, but he appears not to notice, aside from bleeding green blood, which is weird. Mulder gets a call from Deep Throat suggesting he look into it. At first Mulder and Scully think it's a waste of time, until they notice that the police switched the cars involved and the original car is registered to a scientist involved in some sort of weird experiments.

Moving right along, the scientist (Dr. Berube) turns up dead (with the audience knowing he was killed) and it turns out the suspect (Dr. Secare) has been hiding in the river the entire time. The entire three days. That's also weird. While investigating Berube's death, Scully discovers a flask full of bacteria while Mulder breaks into Berube's house and gets a call from Secare, who gets some EMTs called because, you know, bleeding to death on the street. But when the EMTs try to work on him, some weird gas comes out of his body (avoiding the easy joke there), blinding them and allowing him to escape.

Meanwhile Scully finds out that the bacteria in the flask doesn't exist in nature and Mulder tracks Berube's movements to a warehouse full of people suspended in a weird green liquid, but he gets chased off by some dudes in suits. After Scully tells Mulder about the bacteria, Mulder takes her back to the warehouse, but the people in the tanks have been cleared out.

Come on Scully, you know better than to stick your fingers into an experiment monkey's cage.
At this point Deep Throat shows up with a tidal wave of exposition: Dr. Berube has been experimenting with an alien virus on terminal patients, one of whom was Secare. Secare's life was saved by the virus but he developed superhuman strength and toxic blood. So the government decided "Nuts to that" and decided to axe all the test subjects, but Secare escaped, and now the Government is cleaning up the loose ends, and only Mulder and Scully can get the evidence to expose them.

Scully goes to gather up the alien bacteria, but the scientist she was working with is killed in a car accident and the bacteria disappears. Mulder isn't doing much better, as he finds Secare, but he's immediately killed and Mulder is captured. Scully gets some instruction from Deep Throat on how to save him, which involves her breaking into a government building and stealing an alien body (not as intense as it sound). Deep Throat brokers the deal, but gets killed for his trouble and the episode and season end with the X-Files being shut down, but Mulder stating that he won't give up.

I've mentioned on a couple occasions throughout this first season of reviews that the series hasn't really nailed down the rules for the aliens yet, and that's still true here, but it's getting less true. A lot of elements that will become standard throughout the series, such as alien/human hybrids, toxic blood and the concept of the alien virus all made their first appearances here. We're still not totally to what would be the codified version of the aliens (for starters, Secare dies to a normal gunshot to the body, as opposed to the weird needle thing to the back of the neck) but we're getting to the point where I can recognize the elements that would define the aliens going forward.

"...okay, this shit just got super weird."
But that's merely a perspective on the rest of the series, this review is devoted to The Erlenmeyer Flask (which is still just an incredibly odd choice for the title. I mean, there's an Erlenmeyer flask in one scene, but it's hardly something to name the episode after). And the episode is...actually pretty solid. It's plotted somewhat awkwardly (mostly because it's super plot heavy) and it kind of loses steam towards the end, but it's a damn fine way to end the season.

The plot is the weak link here, and it's mostly because it's so ungainly. The episode is dropping a ton of exposition on us, most of it in short bursts, and while it's all pretty interesting, (between this episode and E.B.E, Jerry Hardin seems to have been hired for his ability to wander into a scene, drop a ton of alien related exposition and make it sound good) but it kind of causes the pacing to grind to a halt. It's essential information sure, and like the rest of the episode it's pretty well written, but I dunno if they deliver it in the best way.

The only reason that feels like an issue is the pacing of the rest of the episode is pretty on point. It opens up with a mini-chase scene, and just keeps on rolling. Scientists getting murdered, dudes hiding under water for three days, EMT's getting poisoned by a Secare's blood, Mulder getting chased by men in black, this episode has it all. It doesn't even have enough time to give Secare or Berube even the barest amount of characterization (although the guy who plays Secare does some solid acting in his brief screentime) but that's not so much a problem. Neither Berube nor Secare is the point of the episode, which is emphasized by their miniscule amount of screentime.

No, the point of this episode was Mulder and Scully's journey through the new information, beginning with Mulder's last call from Deep Throat, and ending with his death. Deep Throat's death hit the series like a brick to the face, emphasizing quickly and brutally the "No one is safe" atmosphere they wanted. At this point Deep Throat was the only non-Mulder and Scully recurring character (Skinner won't make his second appearance until the next episode, the Lone Gunmen won't appear a second time until a few episodes after that and the Cigarette Smoking Man hasn't spoken a single line yet) so killing him off was a big deal.

"Hey, what's up? See you in a super weird and kind of all over the place episode in season 2."
Deep Throat, and his death, cast a long shadow over the entire series. Mulder would go through a series of other informants and allies throughout the series, and most of them would die, but none of their deaths hit quite as hard as Deep Throat's (even while X's death was more epic). Never mind that Deep Throat's final words (Trust no one) would become one of the arc lines of the series. And given that Krycek is about to be introduced, probably good advice. Seriously, that guy betrays people like it's a bodily function.

Ah but I'm talking too much about the future of the series and not enough about where I am in it. If I'm discussing Deep Throat's death too much, it's because outside of a solid script and some good action beats, there's not too much to talk about. It's a good episode, one that will set the template for season finales of The X-Files going forward, and a great way to round out the first season. And given that I've already busted past 1,200 words on this episode I should probably call it.

Oh and one new feature for my season finale reviews: A recurring feature called Case Results, where I name what I think are the best and worst episode of the season. So, here we go:

Case Results:
  • Best Episode: Beyond the Sea
  • Worst Episode: Space
Case Notes:
  • The opening chase scene is actually pretty good all around. We don't know what's going on yet, and it's put together pretty well, so there's a solid sense of mystery.
  • Heh, Mulder uses a VHS tape to record the news at the beginning of the episode. I do love these weird moments showing the show's age so heavily.
  • Scully seems so totally uninterested in the case at the beginning of the episode. Later on she verbalizes that lack of interest, and questions' Deep Throat's motives. I don't think she trusts him.
  • Secare hides underwater for three days, but even outside of not having superpowers, I'd never be able to do that. I'd get too bored.
  • The way Scully looks at the purity control flask is gold, as is the "If this is monkey pee you're on your own," line.
  • Mulder just straight up breaks into Dr. Berbue's house. Never change Mulder, never change.
  • The storage place is on Pandora Street, which goes by so fast that I never noticed how heavy handed that symbolism.
  • You know, I get that they needed Mulder to leave for the plot to progress, but if I'd found the storage room full of people in tanks, my first instinct would be to call...well everyone possible. I mean, Mulder has a cell phone, right?
  • The lady at Georgetown just slams us with exposition on DNA when she finds out the bacteria is alien. I get that they felt the audience needed to know that, but couldn't it have been Scully explaining it to Mulder, Scully should know all this shit already.
  • Georgetown lady also says that she felt like she should call the government about the alien bacteria, but I'm not totally clear on why she didn't.
  • Mulder upsells the body room pretty hard. "When you walk into that room, nothing sacred will hold"? It's some dudes suspended in solution, calm down.
  • Deep Throat shows up in act 3 with such a huge exposition bomb that even Scully has to question why he's telling them so much.
  • I feel like they use a different exterior for Mulder's building than the one we see in this episode.
  • The climax of this episode amounts to Scully walking into a building calmly while trying not to be noticed. It's a little lame for an episode that opened with a car chase, but meh.
  • Who the hell puts their project password on the bottom of a random flask? What's that, I'm overthinking it? Shut up.
  • Deep Throat's death happens so fast and so suddenly, even to this day, it still gets me.
  • The alien body goes from being in the cool metal case to a fucking jar, that kind of sucks for it.
Current Celebrity Watch:


Future Celebrity Watch:

Nada. We're getting to some big names next season though.

Audio Observations:

Nah. There's a couple coming up next season that I'm looking forward to though.

No comments:

Post a Comment