Friday, March 31, 2017

Case 03, File 02: Paperclip

AKA: Oh, So That's Where All The Plot Went

I said in the last couple reviews that a lot of my estimation of the previous two episodes depends on how it resolves. That wasn't me being facetious for the sake of my own amusement, several details about the resolution to this little trilogy had escaped my memory. I am not perfect, and as I've indicated several times, the Mythology Episodes aren't usually the ones that make this my favorite show of all time, so they sometimes fade a bit. Which is a shame, because some of them are legitimately awesome.

After a mostly unrelated cold open (involving the Native guy, whose name finally stuck in my brain as Albert Hosteen, giving some narration about a White Buffalo being born), our episode kicks off where our last one left off, with Skinner and Scully pointing guns at each other. I initially tried to make that last bit more alliterative, but I kept hitting a brick wall. Anyway, that gets resolved as quickly as it arose when Mulder walks in and breaks it up by adding another gun to the mix. Skinner reveals he has the tape and Mulder tells Skinner what's on it, IE the government and aliens. Mulder demands the tape, but Skinner decides that a guy who's gone crazy and nearly died in the last 48 hours is probably not the best person to hold onto it.

Our heroes visit the Lone Gunmen, and show them the photo Mulder got from his mom last episode (which was such a minor scene that it slipped past my recap). They recognize both Deep Throat and Mulder's dad, as well a Nazi scientist named Klemper who started working for the government during Project Paperclip. At this point Frohike shows up and tells Scully that her sister got shot. Scully obviously wants to go see her, but Mulder convinces her she's vulnerable there, and Scully's mom shows up alone, though she's eventually joined by Hosteen. Skinner meanwhile gives CSM the business over him having the tape, and CSM responds by threatening to murder him if he doesn't turn it over.

The Syndicate is understandably upset that Krycek is such a fuck up, and doubt that CSM has the tape, while Mulder and Scully go and visit Klemper. He hedges and bullshits about his crimes but gives them the location of the mine where the picture was taken and a code. When they get there, they discover a bunch of locked vaults, one of which opens with the code Klemper gave them. Inside they discover a huge number of files, with different people's names on them, including both Scully and Mulder's sister. Trust me, this scene is more interesting than I'm making it sound.

"Alright, it's like the end of Reservoir Dogs."
"Mulder, everyone dies at the end of Reservoir Dogs!"
Anyway, a UFO arrives along with a horde of aliens and do...something? Or maybe nothing, I dunno, that scene is weird. Anywho, then some solider types show and try to gun down Mulder and Scully, but fail due to contractual lead character immortality. They escape and call Skinner, who convinces them to deal with the tape as leverage in another scene I'm underselling. Skinner goes to the hospital to see Melissa and is there mugged by Krycek who takes the tape.

But all is not well within the CSM's entourage, as Krycek's accomplices try to kill him and he escapes just in time. He gives CSM a call to express his gratitude and heads off to go betray more people. Mulder and Scully go visit Klemper, but he's died (probably not naturally) and a member of the Syndicate is there to tell Mulder what's everything is about: Alien/Human hybrids! CSM meanwhile goes back to Skinner, basically to gloat, but surprise: He's got Hosteen, who's both memorized the tape and told it to other people and man, I really need to find a way to stop underselling these scenes, this scene is awesome. And our episode closes out on Scully in her sister's hospital room, after her death, planning on finding answers to why her name was in those files.

After two episodes of whining about the lack of event, I'm pleased to report that Paperclip does a good job of justifying the previous two episodes lack of action and very existence. Paperclip is what a season premier should be, an intense roller coaster ride of an episode, with just enough in the way of actual depth and character moments to keep us emotionally engaged. Honestly, I'm pretty much willing to forgive the previous episode for its lack of event, since it was setting up all the event in this episode.

"Man this is cool. I'd hate to be stuck in the mine with a bunch of random aliens running past me."
While there's a lot of action in this episode, when I think back on it, it's the small character moments or the dialogue scenes that stick out the most in my memory. Obviously Skinner's final confrontation with CSM is legendary, but there's a lot of them in there. Skinner's earlier confrontation with him is also a great scene, if only because CSM is clearly off kilter and it's so rare to see him like that. William B. Davis and Mitch Pileggi didn't get to stick around for 9 seasons because they're bad at their jobs, and it's great to see Davis selling his character's unspoken panic and desperate attempts to regain control of himself so well. I also love the bit in the mine, even if, on paper, it sounds very boring (Mulder and Scully hang around a mine reading files).

But the scenes that I love the most are the ones between the characters I'm here to see; Mulder and Scully. This episode is riddled with small moments between them, from their first scene together outside Mulder's apartment, to the final scene in the hospital. I've been saying for like 50 reviews at this point that Mulder and Scully's bond is one of the most central elements of the show, without which it would be pretty generic, or at least boring, and this episode showcases that.

But then there's the action, and it's pretty excellent too. I really, really like the shot of Krycek bolting from the car right before it explodes, a low angle dolly shot moving incredibly fast, which sells (at the most basic level) a pretty straightforward action really hard. I'm less enthused about the gunfight in the mine, since it feels kind of superfluous (and it stretches credulity that these guys can't hit Mulder) but it's well realized and it doesn't eat up too much time, so I shouldn't complain.

I don't have any particularly funny caption here, I just love Hosteen.
Really, at the core, Paperclip is an episode about story and characters, and it succeeds at that more than anything else. I said back in the last one that Mulder's dad's death didn't have much in the way of impact, since he was barely in the show, and Melissa's death was at risk of being in the same boat. But they wisely put the weight of that death on Scully and her mom to communicate and they do great. And that's the episode in a nutshell, real human emotions supporting a solid narrative. And it's a great way to properly kick off season 3.

Case Notes:
  • The Previously On in this episode is more helpful than in The Blessing Way, but only marginally.
  • The narration from the Hosteen is still wandering up to the line of cliche, but at least the montage this time includes some bears.
  • I know that the Gila Monster is actually a really interesting lizard, but Hosteen saying that Mulder reminds of the story of the Gila Monster is just killing me.
  • The idea that all First Nations people are in contact with each other is not sitting well, but at least they acknowledge they have different beliefs.
  • Also that white buffalo is a fucking cow, stop lying to me show.
  • Not gonna lie, all the actors sell the hell out of the standoff in Mulder's apartment, especially Gillian Anderson.
  • I'm sure I'm not the first person to say this, but out of context of the show, Mulder would sound like a raving lunatic.
  • Melissa Scully is too thin of a character and her death too sudden for it to have much impact on its own, so the only way to sell it is via other characters. Bringing in Scully's mom is a great way to do that.
  • I like Mulder and Scully's reunion scene in the hallway. I am sentimental about them, sue me.
  • Operation Paperclip was a real thing, but Victor Klemper was not (although he seems to be a mix of Joseph Mengele, who fled to South America, and Hubertus Strughold, who was part of Operation Paperclip). Unfortunately for the naming department, there really was a Victor Klemperer, who was a scholar in Nazi Germany, and whose diaries are incredibly valuable insights into the day to day workings of the Third Reich, and I highly recommend them, especially I Will Bear Witness.
  • The photoshop on the fake picture in this episode is atrocious, come on guys, you painted a whole rock quarry red, you can do better.
  • John Neville calls the Cigarette Smoking Man's assassins "Ridiculously ineffectual," and I totally agree.
  • Scully is 100 percent not here for Klemper's bullshit about why the crimes he committed were acceptable, and I fucking love it.
  • The fact that the mine in this episode is called the Strughold Mining Company confirms, to me, that Klemper is based on Hubertus Strughold.
  • They fucking flew Hosteen to DC to have him hang out in Melissa's room. I actually totally dig that, not gonna lie, and not just because I love Hosteen.
  • Other things I love: Scully just knowing Napier's Constant off the top of her head. I love Scully so very much.
  • The edit of Mulder opening to the door in the mine to CSM walking into Skinner's office is a good edit. Good job X-Files, good job.
  • I'll be damned if this show doesn't make Mulder and Scully searching through files intense and engaging. Also? First indication that Mulder's dad had him and his sister switched, which will become important later.
  • Mulder (and later Scully) staring at the approaching lights is good, hell great, stuff, but the horde of aliens running past Scully does not land at all. I guess it just reads as silly.
  • Oh shit, is that the first appearance of our main UFO design? This episode is full of firsts.
  • The chase scene between our intrepid heroes and the guys sent to kill them is very intense and well directed, even if its superfluous. This whole episode is pretty great.
  • The lighting in the diner scene is really odd, for reasons I can't pinpoint.
  • Scully telling Mulder that she needs to see her sister is a really great small moment that shows their bond. I say again, I am allowed to be sentimental about them, shut up.
  • The white buffalo stuff is so disconnected from the rest of the plot that it feels like it comes out of nowhere whenever it shows up. Probably should have hit the cutting room floor gents.
  • Hey, Krycek managed to not screw something up. Skinner is gonna fucking destroy him the next time he sees him though.
  • Oh shit, this is also the beginning of "Krycek, Lone Agent." Honestly, I'd be very surprised if no one ever pitched a spinoff about Krycek wandering around betraying everyone in sight. 
  • And this is the first drop of alien/human hybrids. This episode basically sets up the entire rest of the series.
  • I like the conversation in the greenhouse a lot. John Neville is a great screen presence and I like Mulder and Scully's back and forth.
  • Hey, I totally failed to notice that Teena Mulder lives in Greenwich, CT. That a handful of miles away from where I live.
  • I love, love, love Skinner's confrontation with the Cigarette Smoking Man. I love Albert coming out being a great, silent presence, I love CSM's panic, I love "Here's where you pucker up and kiss my ass." I love it.
  • Ending the episode on the quiet moment between Mulder and Scully at the hospital is such a great choice.

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