Sunday, December 11, 2016

Case 02, File 16: Colony

AKA: Attack Of The Clones

Samantha's abduction is pretty much one of the most important parts of Mulder's character, to the point it could be considered central to the audience's understanding of him. Which is why it's so odd that when the series teased him with Samantha's return (as it would do several times over the course of its 10 season run) it never seemed to know what to do with it. The teases never seem to have much long term affect on Mulder, and the series certainly doesn't devote a ton of time to each individual tease, which makes them all feel like a bit of a letdown.

After a brief in media res cold open which won't be resolved until the end of the next episode (in which Mulder is dying out on the Alaskan ice and Scully is insistent he not be warmed up, while Mulder's voice over waxes on about aliens), our actual story kicks off with some sailors in the Beaufort Sea catching sight of a UFO and going after it. The news a few days later reports that it was a fighter jet containing a Russian pilot, the sight of which alarms a balding doctor and causes him to run away. But it's too late, as the Pilot shows up, stabs him in the back of the neck (causing him to dissolve, dun dun dun) and burns the building down. Calm down dude.

While this isn't normally enough to get the FBI involved, Mulder gets some information about it, namely that the crime and victim are identical to two other fires. Mulder suspects clones, and begins trying to track down other possible victims, eventually tracking another clone down to Syracuse, and sending a local FBI Agent to find and protect him. His mission goes about as badly as it can however, as the clone ends up dead, as does the FBI Agent.

"Okay, I'll admit: I think this could have gone better."
Skinner is (perhaps understandably) upset about that, so he grounds our heroes. But when a CIA Agent shows up telling Mulder the clones are a result of a Soviet program, Mulder says "Nuts to that" and goes looking for a clone right there in DC. The clone bolts at the sight of the CIA Agent, who follows him and kills him, revealing himself to be the guy hunting the clones. Scully begins getting suspicious of the CIA Agent, and decides to investigate an address she found on one of the clone's bags, while Mulder gets called home by his dad, only to find that his sister has returned.

Scully meanwhile goes to the address and finds a weird lab, with the CIA Agent trashing the place. Back at the farm, Mulder is taking the return of his sister pretty well, who tells him she was abducted and raised by the clones, and that the man hunting them can shapeshift. Mulder tries to tell Scully, but she's out back at the lab, and she finds the remaining clones, whom she gets to protective custody. That's for naught though, as our shapeshifting friend gets in there and kills them, and the episode concludes with Mulder calling Scully while also arriving at the door, needing to talk. Dun dun dun.

I've never been that fond of the various Samantha returns episodes, as the eventual reveal of what had happened to Samantha rendered them all so much fluff, but this is probably one of the better ones. For starters, at this point they hadn't beaten the concept of Samantha returning to death, so this did feel shocking when I first saw it. And, even outside of Samantha's return, this is a damn fine episode. It's got a solid little mystery going on, the stakes are solid and it features the introduction of the Alien Bounty Hunter, who will become a recurring character as the series continues.

"Fuck this shit, I'm out!" 
But since Samantha faux-returning is still a big deal, let's start with that. Part of the problem I always had with the various attempts to have Samantha return is that they never devoted enough time or energy to them to make them feel meaningful. One that sticks out in my memory is a bit in season 5 (I think, correct me if I'm wrong) where the Cancer Man just drags Mulder and a fake Samantha out to a coffee shop for a talk, and then he leaves with her, and even when I was young, I didn't buy that for a second.

This one doesn't have that problem. Sure she doesn't wander onto the scene until the episode is nearly over, but when she's finally here, the episode devotes a ton of its remaining runtime to it, as well as actually trying to integrate her into the plot. Sure they tip their hand a tiny bit when we see her hanging around one of the clone's apartments before she arrives at Mulder's, but there's still enough energy devoted to it that it doesn't feel like a blatant red herring.

And then there's our major introductions. Mulder's parents make their first appearances here, as does our buddy the Alien Bounty Hunter. The Alien Bounty Hunter is a pretty straightforward character, since if you need him to do heavy acting (which they never do) you can just have him change into someone else. But that's not to undercut Brian Thompson, who is a great menacing figure every time he's on screen, even if the special effects department occasionally lets him down when he's changing faces.

Mulder's parents are a little more complex. Mulder's mother will hang around for the majority of the series, occasionally popping in to fill in some random backstory or serve as motivation for Mulder. His father on the other hand, will go through a lot of characterization and story influence, almost all of it posthumous, as he's going to die before the season is out, and it all of his influence in the conspiracy will be revealed after. Neither of them actually do much in this episode though, as Mulder's mother mostly just freaks out over Samantha's return and Mulder's father sits stoically on the porch.

"Two Mulders huh? I think I've had this fantasy..."
The best parts of this episode, to me at least, are the hunt for the clones and the Bounty Hunter. The mystery of what's going on is clever, and the action beats and chase scenes engaging. It traffics heavily in the gap of knowledge between the audience and our heroes, causing us to will Mulder and Scully to catch up with us. The only major issue is that the episode tips its hand a little too early and too often that aliens are involved, which means that the CIA Agent feels too much like a red herring, which makes the reveal of him being the Bounty Hunter kind of eh. Perhaps they could have concealed more info and kept the audience guessing at what was really going on, but that was what they did in Gender Bender and that episode is kind of bad, so maybe never mind.

It's also the episode that began to really crystalize the mythology of the series, although some more retcons and changes are forthcoming. It features the Alien Bounty Hunter yes, but also shapeshifting as a major plot point, toxic blood, even the weird ice pick thing that they use to kill aliens, all make their first major appearances. This is a good thing, since it means the series is beginning to get a proper sense of itself, and although the overarching plot will eventually collapse into a 12 car pileup of mishmashed subplots, half-forgotten characters and loose threads, this is when it was still new and exciting, like anything was possible.

If the episode has one major issue it's that it doesn't seem to know what to do with Scully. Admittedly this is not a problem unique to this episode; Most episodes where they're separated but both still active within the story tends to flail a little when it comes to finding stuff for one or the other to do, but this episode really has trouble with it. She finds the clones at the end, and spends some times getting chased, but the clones die anyway, so it doesn't amount to much. Of course she's going to get captured at the beginning of the next episode, so I guess she's kinda screwed either way.

If I were to list my favorite Myth Arc episodes, I doubt Colony would be among them. I tend to prefer the character focused ones like One Breath or the ones that actually still feel like horror episodes like the Tunguska/Terma pair. But that doesn't mean Colony isn't a fine enough episode. In fact, it's a very good episode, one of the better mythology ones.

Case Notes:
  • This is one of the more obtuse cold openings and Mulder narrations, especially since it won't be revealed what the hell is going on until the end of the next episode. It's all solid stuff though, and Gillian Anderson sells the hell out her part walking in part way through to tell the docs that Mulder needs the cold.
  • The Beaufort sea, where a good portion of this episode opening takes place, is just north of Prudhoe Bay and Barrow, both places I've been when I lived in Alaska. This doesn't give me some special insight into this episode, I just thought it was some amusing trivia.
  • Okay, here's some insight: Those guys on the ship are nowhere near bundled up enough to be outside on the Beaufort Sea at night. They're probably gonna lose some noses.
  • Heh, the doc who gets killed in the opening lives in Scranton, PA. I wonder if Michael Scott heard about the fire.
  • Speaking of sitcoms, when I watched this once with a friend of mine, he commented that the clones look like an older version of George Costanza, and it ruined my ability to take them seriously to this day.
  • The Alien bounty hunter in this episode has no chill. Just kills the doc right in public and then lights the building on fire.
  • Incidentally, if the Alien Bounty Hunters can look like anyone, maybe their should vary their default faces?
  • The fact that the doctors getting killed gets lumped in with other murders of abortion doctors is more than a little horrifying.
  • Mulder gets shaken down for money from the lady who owns the paper with the ad looking for the clone. Good stuff.
  • Poor Agent Weiss. He tried so hard and failed so badly.
  • Skinner is pretty pissed at Mulder after Weiss dies, but that's pretty understandable. I am amused by Mulder's defense of "I thought we had an understanding." What was your understanding? "I do what I want"?
  • According the (fake) CIA Agent, the Soviet Clones were all named Gregor. Is that a Kafka reference, or am I reading too much into this?
  • The gulf between what Mulder and Scully know and what the audience knows in this episode is so vast that our primary desire is for them to catch up with us so they can stop running in circles.
  • Okay, the part where Dr. Dickens hops straight out the window is halfway between intense and hilarious.
  • I am always very impressed by Gillian Anderson's ability to run in heels.
  • The effect where the Bounty Hunter's face changes works a lot better when it happens off screen, when it happens on screen it looks kind of silly.
  • Mulder and Scully's fight about how Mulder is taking things too far is good stuff, but it feels like it should have happened after the other agent died, rather than after a fairly routine chase and Mulder trusting the fake CIA Agent too much.
  • Not gonna lie, your blood thickening to the point where you die sounds like an awful way to go.
  • I'm surprised the Alien Bounty Hunter bothered to keep the CIA Agent face on to trash the lab. Ah well, I guess it was for the plot.
  • I think this is our first appearance of Mulder's parents. Mulder's dad won't be alive for much longer, but he'll be important for almost the entire rest of the series, and his mom will maintain a fairly important presence throughout most of the series.
  • There's a lot of effort put into the Samantha fake out, especially for a...well a fake out. The actress is putting a lot of effort, it eats up a ton of time, there's some actual thought put into the fake backstory. This is probably the best of the Samantha fake outs, except maybe Paper Hearts.
  • Mulder takes the news that his sister got raised by literal aliens pretty well. That would be a solid sitcom though.
  • The inability of Mulder and Scully to contact each other (to further the plot) begins to get comical by the end of it.
  • There HAS to be someplace more secure than the fucking stockade to keep the Gregors. And why are they all being kept together?
  • Okay, not gonna lie, the cliffhanger with Mulder in front of Scully and on the phone is pretty great.
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You know, maybe I should just omit these sections unless I have something to put in them, what do y'all think?

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