Thursday, May 11, 2017

Case 03, File 06: 2Shy

AKA: Let The Right Fat Vampire In

The X-Files is usually, if we're being honest, a show with a lot of female empowerment motifs. Scully is never talked down to by Mulder (at least when it's actually Mulder, and he's in his right mind) and she's honestly a lot tougher than he is. Mulder may have 9 inches on Scully, but if the shit is about to go down, Scully is the one I want watching my back. I normally feel like this stuff goes without saying, but it only feels like it needs to be verbalized with the show kind of fails to live up to it.

Our story is devoted to Virgil Incanto (which I can't believe we needed Mulder to inform us is a made up name), a guy who lures lonely women to meet with him in order to um...okay this is gross, so I'm going to sum it all up once quickly, like ripping off a band-aid; He regurgitates acid on them in order to melt down their fat and consume it. Ick. Anyhoo, he's elected to prey primarily on heavier women, and as the episode opens, he's on a date with a woman in Cleveland, where he proceeds to um, do his thing. The cops who find her acid soaked body decides that it's a little above his pay grade and calls in our favorite fighting FBI agents.

Mulder comments that he had a similar case in the past and goes to go do Mulder stuff, while Scully does the autopsy and dodges sexist remarks from the cop assigned to the investigation. They discover that the acid covering her body contains a digestive enzyme and that her body lacks much in the way of body fat. They discover this, incidentally, when her body has mostly melted into goo. Meanwhile, Incanto hangs around online chatrooms, hitting on more lonely women and dodging the attentions of his landlady, while Mulder goes and talks to the first victim's roommate, who reveals that she met Virgil on an online chatoom.

Mulder decides that the best way to try and deal with this is to send out a region locked alert to everyone in the chatroom in the Cleveland area which know, whatever, I'm sure it works fine. This causes his latest date/victim to stand him up, which means he's got no meal for tonight. He decides to remedy this by going after a prostitute, but she injures his hand and he gets interrupted before he can um...finish? Gross.

"Do you hate natural light because you're a vampire?"
"No, I just don't like going outside, fuck off."
Anyhoo, when our heroes find the body, Mulder reveals that some poems Incanto quoted in his chat messages to the last victim are obscure enough that only a handful of people would know them, and begins making a list of people in the area who might. Meanwhile Incanto tries to re-woo the last lady he was working on and continues to dodge the affections of his landlady, whose blind daughter doesn't like him. List in hand, our heroes and the local cops head out into the wilds of Cleveland to investigate all the people that might know these poems, but our sexist investigator gets the short straw, and winds up alone in the room with Incanto, recognizing his hand injury too late.

Incanto goes back on the date with the lady he was wooing, and has her all ready to come up for coffee, but irony of ironies, his landlady has decides she's going to wander into his apartment to give him some of her poetry, and she gets caught by him and killed. Her daughter, smelling her mom's perfume in the room when she confronts Incanto, calls the cops who find her body and the cop's in the room. Incanto goes off to try and see the woman he's been working on, but Mulder and Scully get a list of all the people he's been online stalking, and are hot on his heels, stopping him just in time. He briefly gets the better of Scully, but his last victim shoots him, and the episode ends with a conversation between him and Scully about how he was making sure these women weren't lonely anymore.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way: Yes, it is kind of awful that the main thrust of the narrative is about how lonely and pathetic women over 150 pounds are, which does kind of ruin a lot of the fun of the episode. The story tries a tiny bit to hedge its bets, having a sexist cop get schooled by Scully before getting killed, obviously sympathizing with the women and giving the last woman the opportunity to shoot Incanto, but the awfulness is embedded pretty deep into the episode's DNA. I guess we can't blame it TOO much for not living up to modern sexual politics (given that the episode is over 20 years old) but it still makes the entire thing a little uncomfortable.

"Goddammit, what am I going to do with all this human goo?"
But, what makes this much more forgivable than say, Excelis Dei's similar slip ups in the sexism department, is the fact that once you put that stuff out of your mind (and you can be forgiven for not being able to do that) the episode is pretty damn good. It's not the best episode ever, but it's much better written and structured than say The List, and it has a couple of really solid concepts and elements that carry the episode through some of its bumpier turns.

The main one of those elements is Incanto himself. I'll talk a little bit more about his abilities and why they're great later, but Timothy Carhart completely kills as the villain. Other critics have compared him to Eugene Tooms or Donny Pfaster, and while I don't think he reaches those untouchable heights, he certainly manages to give a memorable "Monster in human skin" performance. One of my favorite small scenes is his conversation in the car with the last victim. When he realizes someone is in his apartment, his seductive aspect turns off like hitting a light switch. It's a small touch, but it's one of the things that makes his character work.

The other thing that makes it work is, well, the monster and its abilities are just incredibly freaky. We only a get a couple on screen visualizations of how they work, but each of them are incredibly unnerving and their general off screen nature only adds to how disturbing they are. What always sticks out to me is the opening of the morgue drawer to reveal the first victim's body melted into goo, but all of it is just well put together, by both director and special effects department.

Insert your preferred onomatopoeia for the Metal Gear Solid alert noise.
The direction is also good, if not ground breaking (it's a little too reliant on the blue light trick) but at least it has a good grasp on which scenes are important how to handle them. I really like the small, but crucial, scene where Incanto has the confrontation with his landlady's blind daughter. It emphasizes the power imbalance well, and it has some solid tension, especially given that it's based around danger to a relatively minor character.

This leads into what might be my biggest complaint, aside from the aforementioned weird sexual politics, and that's how it juggles its secondary characters. I'm not complaining about the screentime devoted to his final victim, she's in the story up to its final minutes, so she needs to be established. No, the episode has two tertiary characters, the blind landlady's daughter and the sexist cop, and it kind of fumbles their screentime. The sexist cop gets a good amount, and while he gets his comeuppance in death, I just do not care. On the other hand, the daughter is well played, and gets some strong characterization in her limited screentime, and I really wish she had more of it.

Ultimately though, the episode is pretty solidly constructed, and while it lacks any major, incredible elements, it also lacks any major issues (aside from the gross sexual politics). It's miles ahead of The List, and contains some good stuff, but I kind of wish it wasn't as tame as it is, when it comes to the gross out stuff. The series didn't get ultra-gory or gross until season 4, so maybe this episode just rolled in a season too early. Still, you can do a lot worse than "Well put together, enjoyable X-Files episode."

Case Notes:
  • We're gonna hear the phrase "Fat Vampire" used a lot in both this review and these case notes, so get your giggles out now. We good? Moving on.
  • Okay, this entire episode is about how lonely and desperate any woman over 130 pounds is, which is gross, but I don't have time to go into it every time it happens, so I'm gonna be pissed about it this once and move on.
  • Given how the date in the cold open shifts, do I detect something approaching a rape metaphor here? If so, that can work (It Follows did that, and that movie is fantastic) but it never goes anywhere.
  • The cop in the opening is pretty unobservant. I'm pretty sure a blind guy could tell that the person in the car is not doing well, without wiping off the condensation. Whatever, reveal gotta reveal.
  • Okay, post death body effect is really good and really gross, props to the uh, props department.
  • Oh man, I'd forgotten how much of the episode is based around 90s computer chat rooms. Good stuff, good stuff.
  • The guy playing the fat vampire (laugh it up) seems really annoyed that his landlady is hitting on him and asking him for writing advice, which is awful, but kind of relateable.
  • The weird sexism from the cop comes out of nowhere, and feels like it MIGHT be intended as a commentary on the rest of the proceedings, but doesn't really go anywhere.
  • "I'm not being sexist here, I'm being honest." You're being sexist asshole, you can do both.
  • I wonder if Vince Gilligan got the idea for the body falling through the ceiling due to acid in Breaking Bad from the liquidized body in this episode (I know Vince worked on The X-Files).
  • I don't care what decade it is, if a woman is going to meet a guy for the first time, she's going to tell her friends and family who he is and where to find her.
  • I love the shot of Scully getting the call while standing in front of the liquidized body, she just seems so totally fed up.
  • Being nervous about meeting a dude you met online saves lives appears to be the message of the episode.
  • Again, given the rate of violence against sex workers, I feel like they'd keep better track of each other, especially if they're all close enough to work apparently be friends.
  • I love how Mulder knows, off the top of his head, that the poems the fat vampire (stop laughing I said) is quoting are obscure enough that you could get a shortlist of people who would have access to them.
  • The blind daughter of the landlady needed to show up before the 20 minute mark.
  • "It's not the finely detailed insanity you've come to expect from me" is the line of the episode, even more than Scully coming up with the term fat vampire (still laughing huh?)
  • The sexism subplot does get a couple more lines here and there, but it's so thin that it seems like wasted space. Cut that stuff and give it to the blind girl, she's great.
  • I doubt a city the size of Cleveland doesn't have some kind of public transportation outside of buses, unless it's LA. Google informs me that it does have a light rail, but I have no idea when that was built.
  • I love the shift in the actor's voice from "Seductive" to "I have to go kill the lady snooping in my apartment."
  • Also, the landlady is straight up breaking in right? Not allowed to enter someone's apartment without cause and notice, even if she is the landlady.
  • The creepy confrontation in the dark between the fat vampire (it's not that funny!) and the blind girl is solidly creepy and I approve. The dark blue lighting and framing is aces.
  • Oh man, a time of history when you could be a person without any proof you exist, and still have a chance of getting on an airplane.
  • I've been mocking the 90sness of the computer, but it has a slightly better understanding of how computers work than most shows. I dunno if you can resurrect a reformatted hard drive, but I like that the episode acknowledges it's not going to be 3 keystrokes and "I'm in."
  • Going from having a guy in your apartment to e-mail your friend is pretty weird and unrealistic, but it's an acceptably contrivance for the story, so I can accept it.
  • Another good bit of acting is how the last victim tries to pretend everything is normal before collapsing into tears. It's not a lot, but it adds to the tension of the scene.
  • Mulder getting drawn away by a random graffiti kid is pretty transparently a setup for a Scully in Peril finale, which is a little lamer.
  • The last victim being the one to shoot the fat vampire (last reference so get it all out now) is an acceptable conclusion to all the weird sexual politics, so I'll take it. 

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