Friday, September 30, 2016

Case 02, File 10: Red Museum

AKA: I'll Name It When I Figure Out What The Plot Is About


The X-Files' plots are usually pretty straightforward. That is not a complaint, nowhere near it. Not everything can be Twin Peaks and even if they can be, it's good to have something easy to watch. House and Psych are both predictable that I can set my watch to them, and that's part of what I like about them. The downside of that is that the series isn't always prepared for plots that aren't straightforward. Sometimes they manage to handle the turns well. Other times...well...

Out plot opens with a series of mysterious kidnappings in Wisconsin, with teenagers being taken from their homes and found the next day, hysterical with fear and with the words "S/He Is One" written on their backs. Mulder and Scully are brought in because the sheriff thinks its possession, brought on by the local weird church, the Church of the Red Museum, who believe in Walk Ins (IE, enlightened beings taking over your body) and vegetarianism.

After interviewing the victim, and stopping some local teens from harassing a Red Museumer (I have no idea how to write out that), Scully discovers the kids were dosed with scopalamine, an anti-nausea drug that can be used as a knockout drug in large doses. Mulder decides that since the leader of the Red Museum (who is going by Odin, because he's not weird enough) used to be a doctor, they should go talk to him. Before they can get very far though, a fracas starts at the local BBQ place, with the Red Museumers (seriously, how do I write that out) protesting and the local douchey teens pulling a Carrie on them. Well it's cow's blood, but the principal is the same.

After the scuffle is broken up, Mulder and Scully get some advice from a local farmer that the cows around here have been getting hit with weird hormones and that coincided with an uptick in aggression and violence. Directly afterward, a plane crashes, carrying a local doctor with a weird vial and a stack of dollar bills. Mulder and Scully go back to interview the kid and discover a really weird room behind the mirror, through which the building owner has been compiling a set of *ahem* tapes. Meanwhile, a weird (but familiar) dude is wandering around, eliminating one of the people working on the cows as well as the sheriffs son.

"I think I'm lost, can you direct me to the auditions for The Craft?"
It turns out the building owner has been spying on the kids because he's a pedophile (which is so gross that I do not have time to stop for it), but he's also the one kidnapping and writing the words on their backs to point out how awful they've become. Scully discovers the contents of the doctor's vial were the same stuff as in the Erlenmeyer Flask, and remembers that the dude wandering around is the same dude who shot the Deep Throat dude. Dude.

Okay, home stretch: Mulder deduces that the kids were being experimented on by the doctor injecting them with Alien DNA just to see what would happen, but that the building owner has nothing to do with it, and leaves to go catch the guy, while the families hide out at the Church of the Red Museum. But when the guy is cornered, the sheriff shoots him in revenge, and the episode closes out on Scully musing that the case remains unsolved, the dude remains unidentified and whoever was doing this was probably using the Church of the Red Museum as a control group for their experiments.

As my disjointed plot summary above indicated, the plot of this episode is, quite frankly, a mess. It resembles nothing more than a set of half finished X-Files spec scripts slapped together with duct tape. The plot lurches forward awkwardly, forcing itself to keep going with contrivance and exposition before collapsing the moment it hits the finish line. It has something in the way of themes and metaphors, but nothing that adds up to anything, and certainly nothing that would justify abandoning coherence to shove these plots together.

"Hey, why is your religion called the Church of the Red Museum?"
"Cause the writers thought it sounded cool, now shut up."
The most awkwardly included, and frankly redundant, element of the plot is the Church of the Red Museum. I can't tell if they're based on anything in particular (they have elements of a couple of New Age movements in them, but dress like Sikhs for...some reason) but they add almost nothing to the plot as a whole. They amount to a lengthy red herring, with all the characters looking at them, hoping that we'll be surprised when the mask is pulled off the episode by the meddling FBI agents to reveal the Conspiracy's hand in everything.

Maybe they got shunted off to the side because the writers realized they don't make a very good antagonist. Sure they're weird and kind of mysterious, but they're not particularly threatening. The not-Amish from Gender Bender were scarier. But that begs the question, if they're not the antagonist, who is? Sure there's the dude who shot Deep Throat, but he doesn't show up until the episode is nearly over. The pedophile? He turns out to not actually be that involved, just old and creepy and needing to go to jail. The Conspiracy as a whole? They barely figure into the whole thing, and like the guy who shot Deep Throat, only get referenced when the episode is almost done. So for the majority of the episode, who are we supposed to be afraid of.

Maybe the problem with the antagonist can be traced back to the general messiness of the episode, which is probably due to the episode having originally been planned as a crossover with Picket Fences, but was cancelled at the 11th hour. At one point, after the plot stalls out, it starts up again with a plane crashing. This plane has never been referenced beforehand, neither have the characters who are on it who die. If the implication is that it was sabotaged by the Conspiracy, they never say it explicitly, and as a story device it only exists to get Mulder and Scully their next bread crumb to keep the plot moving, and the fact that I can say that it's that obvious means that it could have used another pass from the writers to make it fit in better.

Eh, don't mind him. He's just annoyed about all the parts he's going to lose to Jack Black over the next few years.
So it's not a good episode, which is why it's fine that the cast is eh. None of the actors are bringing their A-Game, not even Gillian or David, which means they have no chance of rescuing the episode from its script. The only bit of any of the performances that was genuinely affecting was the sheriff after his son dies, but that's such a small part of the episode that it hardly ends up mattering, or helping the episode as a whole.

So it's a bad episode, but I have trouble getting angry at it. It's partially due to circumstances beyond its control (its completely kneecapped by its severed connection to Picket Fences) but it's also because it's an inoffensive sort of bad. It doesn't strut about, loud and proud in its badness. It stumbles on stage, quickly works through its routine, quietly apologizes and then is whisked off, to the Recycling Bin of our collective memories. I always forget this episode exists until I arrive on it during a rewatch, and I doubt I'll remember it in a few days.

Case Notes:
  • As cold opens go, this one is pretty meh, but at least the final shot is solid.
  • This episode is so all over the place that the fact that the original reason for getting Mulder out there was possession was completely dropped from my memory.
  • I gotta say though, the bit with the lady reading the prophets word as he types them out is pretty weird.
  • I'm not sure if the implication is supposed that the kid is being coached by someone to blame the the Red Museum, since what turns out to be going on doesn't have a whole lot to do with the story the kid tells.
  • Mulder wiping Scully's mouth is such a relationship tease, especially when the kids take Scully for Mulder's wife 20 seconds later. I should be mad at being so shamelessly pandered to, but I'll allow it.
  • I love how the Sheriff says that the Red Museum people aren't harassed by the locals and is then immediately contradicted in the next scene. By his own kid no less.
  • So the kids were prepped to give Mulder some shit until they say that Scully has a gun. What exactly was their gameplan before that, beat up Mulder?
  • The two teenagers making out seem to be under the impression that the goal is to consume your partner's face.
  • The guy drives his girlfriend back to the same building as the first family lived in. Does everyone just live in the same building? What is this, Whitier?
  • The girl's dog is named Pupperdog. That is adorable.
  • Oh man is this episode failing to make the hallucinations scary. The crow bit was okay, but the bug bit just falls flat, especially since War of the Coprophages will do it so much better.
  • Okay, the entire church popping up behind Mulder and Scully when they're questioning Odin is pretty disconcerting, I'll give the episode that.
  • When Scully is questioning Odin, he responds to her questions by rattling off facts about how cows are treated by farmers. Don't be that guy Odin.
  • Okay, feeling that people should stop eating meat, go for it. Blocking the entrance to a BBQ place and not letting people in as a protest? Dick move Red Museum, dick move.
  • I love how this episode just has Mulder and Scully drive out to the middle of nowhere to get a long lecture about how the farmining business has changed and growth hormones from some rando. It sort of ties back in, when we get the stuff about rising crime rates, but it's such a weirdly isolated scene.
  • The plot more or less collapses into a jumble of nonsense after the plane crash, so my notes go kind of dead.
  • Wait, why is this doctor dude even on a mini-plane? This is Wisconsin, not rural Alaska motherfucker.
  • And then the plot hinges on Scully randomly seeing the assassin's face a second time. God this episode is sloppy.
  • The fact that the pederast guy only started kidnapping the kids because he felt they'd become awful is such a weird plot turn, especially when Mulder refers to him as a "Poor soul who blew their cover."
  • Having the kids who are in danger go to the Red Museum to be safe is such a cheap way to resolve their conflict. Not sure why they'd be safer there either.
  • After the sheriff shoots the assassin dude, the episode just sort of jolts to a stop, with a rare Scully Voiceover to close us out.
Current Celebrity Watch:

Nope.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Uh, I guess the guy who plays Brad, Tony Sampson, would go on to voice Eddy in Ed, Edd and Eddy but that's about it. You'd think a cast this size would have more future famous people in it.

Audio Observations:

The soundtrack is meh too.

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