Sunday, March 12, 2017

Case 02, File 25: Anasazi

AKA: No, No, No, Anansi Is The African Spider God

Ah, the X-Files cliffhanger finale. At this point The X-Files figured out it was safe from being cancelled and started writing their finales with their planned season premiers in mind, rather than as possible series finales as well. So with that in mind, they began planning increasingly elaborate finales and premiers, often multi-part epics with big impacts on the plot and characters going forward. And with us about to hit the third season, big impacts are just what we need.

After a cold open involving a Native American kid in New Mexico discovering a train car full of alien corpses underground and then another post credits cold opening (lukewarm open?) where a hacker known as The Thinker grabs some Department of Defense files and bolts with them, pursued by the Conspiracy. Mulder is contacted by the Lone Gunmen to help get the files and protect them, but he's acting touchier than usual, and when Skinner confronts him about him having the files, he socks him in the face.

While Scully is trying desperately to smooth that little indiscretion over, Mulder's dad gets a visit from the Cigarette Smoking Man, while Mulder finds out the documents are in Navajo. Scully goes and tries to find a Navajo speaker, while Mulder gets a call from his dad and has to go see him. His dad seems kinda broken up, and hints he knows about the documents but a sudden cameo by Krycek sees him dead, wah wah. Mulder is understandably a little upset about that, and phones Scully, who has been hanging around his apartment getting shot at.

Our heroes reconvene at Scully's apartment, but Mulder arises to discover Scully has taken his gun, believing he's being set up and determined to prove him innocent of his father's murder, which Mulder takes...poorly. Scully hits his apartment and finds out the water in his building is being poisoned, hence his increasing paranoia and rage. He heads back to his apartment to confront her, but runs into Krycek and is about to kill him, when Scully intervenes, shooting him in the shoulder. Oh and Krycek gets away, because he is genetically immune to consequences.

You know Mulder, I too would like to be held by Skinner's big strong arms, but that was the wrong way to go about it.
Scully, rather than take Mulder to a hospital, takes him to New Mexico where he meets the man who can translate the documents and who shows him where to go to find the undergound train car full of dead aliens. But the CSM shows up, and when he doesn't find Mulder, blows the train car up, leaving us with a cliffhanger for the next season.

Anasazi isn't a perfect episode, but in terms of coming up with an engaging cliffhanger ending for the season, it gets the job done pretty well. It also sets the stage for the way The X-Files will handle its season finales going forward, both good and bad, so in that way, I guess it's kind of important to our understanding of the show. So let's quit stalling and analyze this sucker.

If I had to identify an issue with this episode, it'd be the reason why my plot summary is so long and crowded: This episode is jammed full to the brim with event and plot, so it feels like it's moving at breakneck speed. That's not necessarily a terrible thing, as a lot of intense excitement can be good for a show in its final episode of the season, but here it feels more like they want to drop the setups for two episodes worth of payoffs into one episode...which is more or less what's happening.

Suddenly Krycek is standing beside you.
Which isn't to say that the episode doesn't have its own little self contained stories, the most notable being the rise and fall of Mulder's psychosis, which is a good subplot, it doesn't really have the room it needs to breathe here. It gets precious little preamble or buildup (there's a random murder at the very very beginning and the episode keeps conspicuously putting water in the frame with Mulder) and then hits overdrive very hard. Still, the idea of some outside force turning Mulder and Scully against each other is a solid source of tension, one that speaks to the core appeal of The X-Files, and one which other episodes will use to great effect.

Aside from that, the primary source of forward energy from the episode is the Department of Defense file, which is a good way of keeping the episode moving, but it's one which only gets intermittent attention, as other elements of the episode (such as Mulder punching Skinner or the train car) take over. But, like most of the other elements, this will only get paid off in the next season, as part of our two part season premier.

The script isn't going out of its way to make things easy for me to discuss it either. There's a lot of mystery, a lot of weird stuff going on, but no interest in making it make sense. Now, part of me knows that the series as a whole is going to either drop or rearrange this stuff on the way to the finale, but another part of me know that most of the stuff they're setting up is just getting all their ducks in a row for the next two episodes.

I uh...woof. Lost my train of thought there.
Really, that's why I'm having such a big problem reviewing this episode. There's a lot of good stuff set up in this episode, but it won't come to a head until our big, two part season premier, so I'm having trouble reviewing it in isolation. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since the episode is clearly intending to be a cliffhanger, but it does mean I'm kind of at a loss for what to say. It's a good episode that leads into two other good episodes.

...Okay, the train stuff could be better established, I mean it shows up right at the beginning and then gets dropped until the very last scene, come on guys.

Case Results:

  • Best Episode: Humbug
  • Worst Episode: Three

Case Notes
  • I like that the glimpse we get to see of the Native kid's home life seems pretty normal. Except for the grandfather spouting some mystic nonsense, no cliches.
  • "Leave the snakes alone" is always good advice, no matter what day it is.
  • What did the Conspiracy do, bury the train car under like 1 shove full of dirt, come on!
  • The opening moments of this episode are pretty mysterious for a Mythology Episode, but it sells the tension pretty well. 
  • Oh snap, I'd forgot the hacker in this episode got referenced briefly before this episode.
  • The "Someone is poisoning Mulder's water supply" subplot gets a lot of really heavy foreshadowing in the opening scenes.
  • I love how the hacker just wanders in, drops off the info Mulder wants and bolts from the plot.
  • Scully just recognizes the Navajo right off the bat. Of course I did too when I was a kid, so I guess I shouldn't complain.
  • Mulder punches Skinner like once and Skinner immediately just stops him. Don't fuck with Skinner, he hits very hard.
  • Hey, it's the first recognition that Bill Mulder and the Cigarette Smoking Man knew each other. It comes out of nowhere, but it becomes realllllly important later.
  • The number of times Mulder is shown in proximity to water is really obvious once you know what's going on.
  • Scully just lets herself into Mulder's apartment. D'aw.
  • Less d'aw is their confrontation, although I feel like Duchovny is underselling his growing anger issues from being poisoned.
  • Mulder's meeting with his dad is the height of being mysterious for the sake of being mysterious.
  • Seems like the thing to do instead of moving your dad's corpse to the couch and staring at it would be to get the hell out of there? I guess his brain isn't working super great.
  • Mulder in his underwear stirred feelings in me as a kid, as I have to imagine it stirred feelings in Scully.
  • Krycek is an awful assassin, I'm just throwing that out there.
  • Even now, no matter how well she knows him, Scully still solves her problem with Mulder by shooting him.
  • Rather than take him to a hospital, Scully just drags him out to New Mexico. I love this show so much.
  • I like how much the episode reinforces the bond between Scully and Mulder in the last few scenes. It's so central to the show that it's good they make sure we remember it.
  • Anasazi actually means "Ancient Enemies," not Ancient Aliens, and modern Natives aren't super fond of it, but good job giving a shitty History channel show its name.
  • Mulder gets reception out in the middle of the New Mexico desert, while in a box car that was buried underground. Given how my cell reception is when I'm in the wrong part of Brooklyn, fuck off?
  • I don't recall if they ever explain how Mulder got out of the box car or survived the explosion. I guess we'll see in the next episode. Also, dun dun dun.
Current Celebrity Watch:

Our elderly Native grandfather is played by Floyd Westerman, who is probably best known for playing Chief Ten Bears in Dances With Wolves. He also released an album of Johnny Cash covers after Cash's death that was pretty good.

Pushing our definition of Celebrity is the fact that the lady Scully goes to see about finding a Navajo translator is played Renae Morriseau, who you may remember played Gwen in the episode Shapes.

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