Friday, June 10, 2016

Case 02, File 01: Little Green Men

AKA: They're Actually Grey, But Whatever

And thus we enter Season 2. Season 2 is an important step in The X-Files' evolution. It's not only the season where the series began to really develop the voice and identity that would carry it forward, but also the season where it began to shift from being a well reasonably well reviewed and watched cult show, to a full blown cultural phenomena. It's also got a solid number of the episodes that most fans consider to be some of the classics. And it all starts right here.

The season opens, after some monologue-ing by Mulder about the Voyager space craft, a few months after the last one concluded. Mulder has been reassigned to actual FBI work while Scully is teaching at the FBI Academy and conspicuously not being shot from the chest down. Mulder is deeply bored and descending into paranoia, only meeting Scully, even just to talk about their lives, secretly.

So when he gets info from his Senator friend, Richard Matheson (ha ha) that one of NASA's High Resolution Microwave Surveys has detected something, Mulder heads off to Puerto Rico to investigate, with the Senator trying to delay the Blue Beret UFO Retrieval Team. But the FBI is hot on his tail, watching his apartment and tailing Scully as she tries to figure out where he's gone.

But all is not well in Puerto Rico. When Mulder gets there, after poking around the deserted station, he discovers a terrified local, who doesn't speak English, but does speak the universal language of Bad Drawings of Aliens. After some futzing around the station and a brief cameo from the Voyager audio, Jorge dies, apparently of fright. Mulder begins to doubt himself, but stops when the actual aliens show up, and tries to shoot them. But fails, cause otherwise the series would be over.

"I feel like Woodward and Bernstein."
"Yeah, but their dad wasn't sitting the car reading Archie comics."
Scully arrives later to find Mulder unconscious, but the UFO retrieval team arrives and our heroes are forced to hightail it, sans most of the evidence. Back in DC, the Cigarette Smoking Man suggests Mulder be censured for breaking the rules, but Skinner decides it's a good time to switch sides, and returns Mulder to his surveillance job. The episode ends with Mulder still lacking any evidence (his one tape having been erased) but having reconnected with Scully.

The X-Files being closed in-universe may be because the writers needed to separate Mulder and Scully so Gillian Anderson could go off and be pregnant, but it worked out pretty well. The series will get a handful of good stories out of this development, notably the upcoming Duane Barry trilogy of episodes. And while Little Green Men isn't quite on that level, it's certainly a solid way to open the season.

The thrust of the narrative is about Mulder, his descent into paranoia and self doubt. This makes a certain amount of sense, both from a practical standpoint and from a narrative one; The series can't focus on Scully right now since they're restricted to chest up shots and body doubles, but Mulder also lost one of his biggest supporters and no longer has access to Scully. It makes sense he would begin to turn inward and doubt himself.

"Hey Samantha, you want to play Axis & Allies?"
"Nah, let's play Risk, we don't have 12 hours to blow."
The episode isn't entirely elegant about communicating this, relying pretty heavily on Mulder's faux-narration into a tape recorder to get across a lot of stuff, but I think they still do a reasonably good job. David Duchovny is pretty into the script, and Gillian Anderson does a good job of communicating her quiet worry about him.

So while the character work is pretty solid, the plot as a whole is pretty lackluster. Once Mulder gets to Puerto Rico, the plot basically runs in circles. Mulder hangs around the transmitter array trying to figure out what the hell is going on, Scully wanders around trying to dodge the people looking for Mulder, repeat. It's not a deal breaker, but it is kind of disappointing they couldn't find a more interesting plot to hang all this character development for Mulder on.

While I'm complaining, I will say, it's kind of frustrating that Scully is sidelined at the beginning of this season (something I'll keep bringing up as I begin to pine for her more) but that's pretty unavoidable given real world circumstances. The episode also isn't particularly intense, although t does have at least a couple genuinely creepy moments, such as when the aliens finally show up in the climax, and David Duchovny sells the fear he feels in those moments hard.

"Wait, I die of fright? Lame!"
But the strikes I can find against the episode are mostly in the details, and I'm given to like the episode for what it does for Skinner. Skinner is one of the more complex characters in the series, kind of like Krycek if he didn't live and breathe double crossing, and while in the previous appearance he was a pretty standard "Angry chief" archetype, here he begins his journey to unlikely ally, openly defying the Cigarette Smoking Man, while still returning Mulder to his humiliating low level position. It's not quite the epic smackdown he'll give the Cancer Man at the end of the season, but it's a start. Plus, I'm always on board with more Mitch Pileggi, he's pretty great in this role.

Season 2 is, as I said, the start of big things in X-Files land, and we've got some good episodes coming up soon. I won't lie and say that Little Green Men is the equal of Humbug, the Duane Barry trilogy or even The Host. But it is a solid enough episode and a nice way to return to the series after the season break.

I mean, I didn't have the season break, but you know what I mean.

Case Notes:
  • Some of you might notice I added a donation button to the blog. To put it bluntly, my financial situation is often pretty tenuous, and any help you might feel like providing me might help that not always be the case. Don't feel obligated or anything, it's not like I'm going to withhold reviews until I get donations. Just think of it as a Tip Jar, and if you feel like it, it would really help me out. On with the case notes.
  • Mulder's opening narration in this episode, about the Voyager spacecraft, is actually really effecting for reasons I can't totally verbalize.
  • Mulder looks super bored listening in on audio surveillance, but that's what the actual FBI actually does a lot.
  • Mulder attending Deep Throat's funeral through binoculars from 1,000 yards away is so him that I cannot help but love it.
  • Scully just wants to see if Mulder is alright, so she meets him covertly. Awwwww.
  • As far as I can tell from my (admittedly brief) research, the story about George Ellery Hale getting the idea for the Palomar Observatory from a hallucinatory elf, isn't true. Hale did suffer from numerous psychological issues, but nothing quite that extreme. If someone who is more of an expert on Hale would like to write in, I'd be interested in hearing it.
  • This episode contains the show's first real visualization of Samantha's abduction. This is the standard one, the on the show will use going forward, and it's pretty well realized.
  • Hey, one of only a handful of appearances of Mulder's senate friend. He's not a huge part in the show, but he's kind of important.
  • The scene in the Senator's office is pretty good. It's got a nice conspiracy thriller vibe to it, with Bach being used to fool surveillance and him giving Mulder info about the UFO finding. I think they were debating using him as Mulder's replacement for Deep Throat.
  • The scene with Skinner and CSM is a little more pointless, but at least it serves to let us know what's going on.
  • On that note, how did Mulder get to Puerto Rico without anyone noticing? I don't think the Amtrak goes that far.
  • Scully using "Feeding the fish" as her cover is so lame, I love it.
  • Jorge is probably the weakest part of this episode, in that he doesn't really do much other than hang around Mulder and then die.
  • Oh pre-9/11 air travel, where you could lie about your name and just get away with it.
  • The tackily dressed spies who are tailing Scully are really terrible at their job.
  • I really like Mulder's little rant into the tape recorder after Jorge dies. It's a nice look into Mulder's psyche.
  • The scene where the aliens start showing up, messing with the recording and all, is actually genuinely pretty scary, and a solid companion sequence to Samantha's abduction, I approve.
  • Scully says that they'll never be able to get Jorge's body out of the country, but Puerto Rico is in the USA so...?
Current Celebrity Watch:


Future Celebrity Watch:

I guess Raymond Barry, who plays Mulder's Senate friend, is a reasonably successful TV actor. He had a recurring role on Justified and popped up for a handful of episodes on The 100.

Audio Observations:

One of the most consistently amusing things about this episode to me is how they try to pass off what is clearly a Canadian forest as a Puerto Rican jungle simple by playing jungle noises in the background.

No comments:

Post a Comment