Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Case 02, File 07: 3

AKA: Breaking Yawn

Oddly enough, for the most part, The X-Files avoided vampire episodes. There are probably a lot of reasons for that; The X-Files is primarily concerned with Americana, and vampires are rooted in European and Asian mythology, and vampires were very in at the time (due mostly to Ann Rice's work getting a startling amount of popularity), plus Buffy would begin a few years into its run, and I'm sure they didn't want to appear unoriginal. But I also think it had a little something to do with the fact that their first crack at a vampire episode just plain sucked.

The episode opens with a guy (I forget if they give him a name) having sent his wife and kids away to have a tryst with a beautiful woman in his southern California house. But it goes sideways when the woman bites him, hard, and before you can say "Safe, sane and consensual," two more dudes have shown up to also drink his blood. 

Mulder finds out about this murder...somehow and realizes it matches the MO of a group of murderers he's been tracking. So Mulder jets out, and immediately tracks one down to a blood bank. This particular guy calls himself The Son (his companions going by The Father and The Unholy Spirit), hates sunlight and claims he's going to live forever. Mulder thinks he's full of shit, but locks him in a cell facing the sun to try and get information out of him. That doesn't go super well, as the sun fries him more or less immediately.

"I miss Scully. I bet the audience does too." 
Mulder is surprised by this, but not particularly put out, and after discovering an ink stamp on The Son's (burned) hand, he heads off to a local nightclub to investigate further. There, he meets an odd woman, whose makeup kit lacks a mirror and who invites him to sample her blood, which he refuses (as he points out, it's the early 90s, AIDS man, come on). She leaves the club with someone else, but Mulder, being the stable sort, elects to follow her and peep in on them banging in a restaurant kitchen. Her partner doesn't take this super well, and beats the shit out of Mulder. But when he returns, he is attacked by the vampire gang.

Mulder uses some evidence found in the kitchen to track down the woman (who is named Kristen, incidentally) he met, but despite her being in the other cities where the previous murders took place, he realizes she's not actually one of the vampires, but that she's being hunted by them. She rambles a quick bit of backstory (her dad was abusive, she started dating a guy named John, also known as the Son, who also beat her, they got into bloodsports (ew), he hooked up with the other two of the trio and she bolted). Mulder tries to get her to go into protective custody, but she says she's tired of running, so Mulder decides to stay with her to protect her...and they bang, I guess.

But while Mulder is a good lay, he's not a super good protector, cause Kristen has barely gotten out of bed before a resurrected John has her by the throat. He drops an exposition bomb to end all exposition bombs: Only vampires can kill other vampires, and the only way to become a vampire is to drink the blood of a believer and take a life. How oddly specific.

"Isn't interrogating a vampire with the sun a little Buffy for this show?"
"Buffy doesn't start for another 3 years, try again."
Anywho, he suggests that she kill Mulder to become a vampire, but she's read The Portrait of Dorian Grey and decides on stabbing the Father, who was lurking. She and Mulder try to evacuate the house, giving the Unholy Spirit the beatdown on the way, but she ditches Mulder with the car. When he catches up to it, he finds that she's returned to the house, drinking her own blood and blowing up the house, to become a vampire, die and kill all three of the other vampires in one fell swoop. And with that the episode just kind of ends.

3 is not an episode with a great reputation, and it's not hard to see why. It's just plain not a very engaging episode. It has some moments, and a plot that should work in theory, but just never comes together. I'm not going to say it's the worst episode in the series, but it's got some fairly big problems. Really, it just goes to show, you let Gillian Anderson wander off for even an episode and it all goes to hell.

The big issue is a lack of engagement across the board. Duchovny is choosing to play his sadness at Scully's disappearance as a withdrawn depression, which makes sense on a broader story level, but not for this episode. Meanwhile, I think Kristen is supposed to come off as seductive and in control, but the actress is just making it come off as mildly disinterested. Even the cops don't seem super put off by all the weird goings on; The cop who interrogated Jerry about liking Melrose Place in that one episode of Seinfeld seemed more weirded out.

"How did you know The Father was standing there?"
"I dunno. I don't think even HE knew he was standing there."
Not that a cold, clinical vampire story can't work; Let The Right One In had that, and it's one of the best vampire movies ever made. But Let the Right One In is set in a cold climate, and its film-making and themes emphasize that, with themes of distance and isolation weaving throughout the story. 3 on the other hand is set in sweltering southern California, and its story is (theoretically) intense and erotic, all, sweat, sex and bloodsports, with the setting based around then-current goth culture, leather and pounding techno. Having a distant and cold story doesn't fit the setting and style. Mulder and Kristen have a conversation that is literally about sex and blood, and neither of them seem particularly into it. The tonal dissonance would be too much for a much better episode to overcome.

It almost makes me wish we could be spending more time with the Vampire trio. The actor playing John is wildly over the top, chewing on the scenery every chance he gets, but he's at least on the right wavelength for the story. And while neither the Father nor the Unholy Spirit get much in the way of lines or screen time, at least they're imposing and engaging screen presences, which is something this episode could desperately use.

This isn't helped by a script that...well I feel like I overuse the word sloppy, but it really does feel very slapdash. The fact that vampires can only be killed by other vampires is a bit of info that comes right the fuck out of nowhere at the 11th hour, and in the form of a huge pile of exposition that John has no reason to give. And it's not like they didn't have room to put it in, up until the big climax, the episode is just wandering around.

There are bright spots, in particular the direction. The director was David Nutter, who directed some of the best episodes of the first 3 seasons (including Irresistible and Beyond the Sea) and his experience shows. He has some great camerawork and does some good stuff with darkness and shadow, especially when it comes to concealing the fact that the Unholy Spirit and Kristen are not the same person. It's not enough to save the episode, but it's enough to give us a glimpse of what the episode could be with a little better script.

Without much in the way of forward motion, the episode just sort of lounges around, moving forward in fits and starts, until it manages to get to its climax. It's out-of-nowhere ending and sudden stop give the impression of an episode that is barely holding itself together until it collapses as the end credits roll. As I said, this isn't the worst episode I've seen, but its placement in the middle of a really great arc of episodes just makes its flaws stand out all the worse.

Case Notes:
  • The guy in the opening is surprisingly nonchalant about his wine getting ruined by ash in the air.
  • Is it a cliche for a dude cheating on his wife to say that he's not the kind of dude to cheat on his wife? What an odd cliche.
  • The scene in the opening escalates from "Jacuzzi sex" into "Murder orgy," really fast.
  • The bit with Mulder taking his office out of plastic wrap does actually stir some emotions in me.
  • Mulder looks so sad putting Scully's badge into the filing cabinet. Although he shouldn't handle evidence with his bare hands.
  • Not gonna lie, Mulder wandering in with the sick burns on big haired Preachers and owning the cop who wants to keep him out is pretty awesome.
  • The cop pointedly asking why Mulder doesn't have a partner is SUPER obvious, come on writers, be better.
  • The janitor says that the vampire night watchman (hey, there's a story premise) has been breaking all the lightbulbs, but wouldn't that just get you fired?
  • The scene where the Son goes up in flames is actually pretty solid. Kinda gross too, but that's okay.
  • Mulder says that he dismissed the idea of vampires existing. Mulder, are you feeling okay? Believing in weird shit is like what you do.
  • Mulder is straight up spying on Kristen having sex. It actually makes a fair amount of sense that her sex partner beats the shit out of him.
  • The occasional references to the wildfires burning across CA at the time seem intended to be topical, but really, that could be any time in CA. The AIDS reference is much more topical.
  • Mulder: "No mirrors." My girlfriend, who was watching with me: "How does she put on that dark red lipstick without a mirror?"
  • I guess vampires in this world don't come with super strength, because both John and the Father go with barely any effort.
  • Mulder looks kind of disappointed by this ending too.
Current Celebrity Watch:

The lady who played Kristen played the love interest in the third Child's Play movie, alongside fellow X-Files alumni, Brad Dourif. I can't stand the Child's Play movies, so I have no idea if she's good in it or not.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Uh...the guy who played John produces NCIS? I dunno, not a lot in this episode.

Audio Observations:

The music they play in the club is emphatically not what I associate with goth culture, but then, it's not Evanescence, so maybe I'm too young to get it.

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