Thursday, December 22, 2016

Case 02, File 17: End Game

AKA: We've Got Like 7 Seasons Left, Calm Down Title Namer

There would come a moment in every single Samantha fake out where the series had to bow its head and fess up to the fact that it had been full of shit. How it handles that moment would often go on to define any given fake out in the minds of the audience, since it tends to be how they remember the event. Well that, and how they hint that Samantha might still be out there.

This particular episode opens with some dudes on a submarine, about to blow up a mysterious thing and getting their submarine disabled. We then jump right back in to Scully confronting fake Mulder, and subsequently getting her ass kicked and kidnapped (aliens'll do that to ya). Samantha then reveals to Mulder what's going on: The clones are alien/human hybrids working to create a colony, and the Bounty Hunter has been dispatched to stop them, via violence.

Skinner chooses this moment to return to the plot, telling Mulder that the clones Scully found are missing (read: Dead) and the Bounty Hunter calls Mulder with a suggestion that he trade Scully for Samantha. Mulder agrees to the trade, with FBI Snipers prepped to pop the Hunter at the base of the neck. Shit goes sideways and both Bounty Hunter and Samantha take a tumble off the bridge.

Mulder has to then tell his dad that he lost Samantha, finding that she left some clues for him, while Scully finds Samantha's body and notices that it starts uh, melting. Mulder finds some extra Samanthas, who tell him that they're also human/alien hybrids and lied to him, but that they know where the real Samantha is, and that they'll tell him in exchange for protection. Mulder turns out to not be such great protection though, as the Bounty Hunter finds and kills them immediately.

"Yes sir, it appears we're part of an X-Files cold open, and you know what that means for our chances of survival."
Scully meanwhile learns more about the virus that killed the FBI Agent from the last episode (remember him?) and that it's inhibited by cold. Mulder gets some info from X, namely where the Bounty Hunter's ship is. Scully grows worried when Mulder disappears so she enlists Skinner, then X, then Skinner beating up X, to get info about him. Mulder meanwhile has headed off to Alaska to confront the Bounty Hunter before he leaves Earth which goes..about how you expect. When Scully finds him, he's nearly dead and she manages to save his life with her knowledge about how the alien blood virus is inhibited by cold. And thus, the episode ends with Mulder's desire to know the truth renewed.

In my estimation, a lot of how well a multi-part episode arc will be regarded will be based on how it ends, how it sticks the landing if you will. A good ending can elevate any nonsense that came before, and a bad one can render even the good elements of the previous episodes moot. So I'm happy to announce that End Game does manage to stick the landing, providing a satisfying conclusion to the setup presented by the last episode.

If there's one thing this episode does exceptionally, it's provide David Duchovny with some opportunities to show off his acting chops. From the opening where he has to be the Alien Bounty Hunter in disguise, to the moment where he has to break down under his father's gaze, to the finale where we get to see his rage and despair in equal measure, Duchovny is on fire the entire episode. Duchovny is a good actor, but we don't usually get a chance to see it (since Mulder's general affect is one of detached sarcasm) so it's always nice to see him get to be intense.

How are you guys so calm about this, I would be FREAKING OUT!
On that note, the main thrust of the narrative is Mulder's journey to try and reclaim his sister after losing his her to the Bounty Hunter (of course it was never Samantha that he lost, but never mind). Keeping the story focused on that very personal journey does a lot to make it more interesting than it might be otherwise, even if the intense focus sidelines Scully a bit. That, more than anything, makes Mulder's despair at the end feel real; We know, from context, how far he's come for information about his sister, and watching the Bounty Hunter toy with him in the finale is fantastically cruel, even if it does end with one of the better closing lines from a villain in this series.

There are other minor narrative throughlines, such as the great scene where Skinner and X have a fight in the elevator (X's comment of "I've killed men for far less," is once again proof why he works so well) and Scully's figuring out of the virus that killed the Agent last episode, but they ultimately get swallowed by the larger plotline. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, a strong central narrative can do a lot to make an episode strong, but some of them do feel like wasted opportunities. I'd love to have seen more of X and Skinner, for example.

"Hey, doubling effects are expensive, okay?"
A far bigger problem is the fact that the clone plotline from the previous episode just sort of jerks to a stop, without anything really getting resolved. Fake-Samantha drops an epic load of exposition on the audience in the first couple scenes, but it all just of gets dropped after the female clones get killed. I get that the plotline necessarily hits a bit of a dead end after all the clones are dead, but no one seems that bothered by it and it just gets quietly dropped. Maybe something closer to a proper denouncement would make it seem less like it's just getting tossed aside.

Still, minor hiccups in the plot structure aside, End Game is a solid episode and a good conclusion to Colony, and perhaps most of all, a good establishment of the series' lore going forward. We've still got some aspects to nail down (we've yet to get our first Black Oil sighting) but the series aliens are beginning to take shape and we're actually going to get things going.

...Hey didn't Samantha turn out to have been dead the whole time? I genuinely forget how they resolve that.

Case Notes:
  • This "Previously On" does not give us much information frankly.
  • While I get that it's providing context for our finale, I feel like this week's cold opening is just wasted space so we don't get to Scully and fake-Mulder too quickly.
  • Scully has a problem and her first instinct is to go for her gun. I love you so much Scully.
  • I forgot they went for the "Piercing the base of the skull with anything" as the only way to kill Aliens, rather than the specific ice pick thing.
  • Man, fake-Samantha just drops an ocean of exposition in this episode. Clones, alien hybrids, colonies, bounty hunters, she's just letting Mulder (and the audience) in on everything.
  • Skinner takes Mulder sitting in the dark with his gun and then demanding sniper support to help rescue Scully way too well.
  • The scene on the bridge is crazy tense and incredibly well paced. Good stuff Rob Bowman, good stuff. I can see why they let him direct the first X-Files movie.
  • Mulder is refreshingly direct to Scully about the fact that the Alien Bounty Hunter is...well an alien.
  • Mulder's dad treats Mulder like shit after losing Samantha. I get that you're pissed, but Mulder doesn't look so happy with it either.
  • I love how the EMT lady tells Scully that "Something strange is happening" rather than, you know, freaking out about the body melting.
  • In the scene where Mulder meets the clones, the camera angles and editing are working overtime to keep them from having to use any doubling effects. They use only one, and it's a pretty heavily divided shot, visually, so it's probably easier to do.
  • Mulder fails at protecting the clones so very very hard. He opens one door and BAM he's on the floor.
  • The episode seems to be heading towards a denoucement when we still have like 15 minutes left, mostly to drop some exposition about how the virus is inhibited by cold temperatures.
  • I like Mulder meeting X outside the opera. X in a tux is fun.
  • They're dispatching a fleet from Anchorage to the Beaufort Sea? Literally other side of the most massive state in the country? It's gonna take them weeks to get there.
  • I dunno what it is, but I really like the conversation between Skinner and Scully about finding Mulder. It reveals a lot about both their characters and their interpersonal conflicts, as well as Scully's devotion to Mulder.
  • Hey, X's and Scully's first scene together. It's also pretty great. So is Skinner walking into the elevator and beating X until he tells him where Mulder is. Good ensemble this episode.
  • I love the ambition, but the submarine on the ice set looks WAY too much like a sound stage. Which it is, but they should be doing more to disguise that. I mean, Mulder's breath isn't even visible, come on guys.
  • They keep saying that Mulder is going to Deadhorse, but I think Prudhoe Bay is closer to where Mulder wants to go. Also bigger and more well known, so I think he'd be better advised to go there, Deadhorse is basically just a place for the Oil Company guys to stay when they're up on the North Slope... Sorry, you don't care about Alaska trivia, shutting up.
  • I like that Mulder instinctively knows that the guy in the submarine is the Bounty Hunter in disguise.
  • "She's alive. Can you die now?" is a goddamn classic line for the Bounty Hunter to exit this episode on. I think it wound up being a lie, but still, kick ass.
  • I am 100 percent unclear on how the military found Mulder before Scully did in the middle of the goddamn Beufort Sea, but nevermind.
  • Scully's ending monologue about the importance of science. Love it.
  • This time around, I'm going to try omitting the Current/Future Celebrity Watches and Audio Observations unless I have something to include in them, just because it seems easier. If I miss them, I'll bring them back.
Future Celebrity Watch:

This is a minor one, but one of the crew of the Submarine is played by Colin Cunningham, who went on to play John Pope in a TNT series I've never heard of called Falling Skies. It apparently hit 5 seasons, so that's not nothing.

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