Sunday, June 11, 2017

Case 03, File 09: Nisei

AKA: Aliens On A Train



By this point The X-Files has settled into it's comfort zone when it comes to mythology episodes: Two linked, plot heavy, episodes somewhere in the early part of the season, two linked, plot heavy, episodes somewhere late in the seasons, plus season premiers and finales. It's a good comfort zone to be in, as it means the series can get a lot of stuff done in a couple episodes and get back to what the series does best.


After a cold open involving some dudes on a train performing an alien autopsy (who get interrupted by some soldiers), our story kicks off with Mulder receiving a videotape of that autopsy and Scully questioning it's authenticity. Our intrepid heroes head off to the house of the guy who sold it to Mulder, but find him dead and a Japanese guy in his basement, who bolts when they arrive. Mulder captures him, and his briefcase, but it turns out he's a Japanese diplomat.

Before he gets whisked off by diplomatic immunity (and also get murdered for...some reason), Mulder manages to grab his briefcase, which has a list of random people's names on it with woman named Betsy's name circled, plus a bunch of pictures of a ship going through the Panama Canal for some reason. Mulder takes the pictures to the Lone Gunmen, who identify the ship (natch) and even tell Mulder where it made port (in Virginia). Mulder heads off to the Naval Shipyard there to investigate, and because he's Mulder, elects to sneak onto the boat.

"Oh shit, I have to run. I look terrible running!"
Back on land, Scully is investigating the list of people, only to find a group of abductees who claim they know Scully, and that the lady who's name was circled is dying of...I'm sorry, but the way they phrase it makes it sound like super-cancer. Anyway, after being chased off the boat by some soldiers (different ones from the cold open) Mulder returns home to find the place ransacked (one more time and he gets a free sundae) and Skinner waiting for him and wanting the contents of the briefcase. When Mulder refuses, Skinner says he's not gonna help him anymore.

Mulder goes and sees his Senator friend (remember him?) who tells him that the whole thing is related to Unit 731, a group of Japanese scientists who did horrific things in Manchuria during World War 2. Scully, back from the abductee group, recognizes one of the scientists in the video from her abduction, while Mulder figures out they're on a train on...a secret railway (I didn't get that part). As Mulder heads off to go literally jump on the train, Scully gets a visit from X who tells her that Mulder must not get on the train. But you know Mulder, he can't resist doing what he's not supposed to. Plus we need a cliffhanger, as the episode ends there.

There's a lot of event in this episode, which manages to disguise the fact that it's mostly a holding pattern to wait for the next episode. Much of what is actually vital for us to learn could be summarized pretty quickly (Japanese/Unit 731 are involved, there's a weird train, Scully meets the abductee support group), and much of the rest of it is mostly just filler. Still, I read in my research that the episode was originally intended to be a single episode, and I guess I'll take a pair of meandering episodes over a single overstuffed episode.

I'm sorry, this boat name is distracting me. Is a guy who wrestles oceans? Is it someone who wrestles IN this ocean? Is it an ocean that wrestles? Tell me dammit!
The big issue isn't that the episode doesn't know what it's doing, or where it's going, it's that it has too much time to fill, and fills it with mostly unimportant nonsense. The boat is the most egregious, because it just sort of fills time between when Mulder leaves Scully and finds his apartment trashed. You could probably excise it entirely and miss only a Lone Gunmen cameo. The entire episode is like that, mostly just getting its pieces set up, and prepping for the second episode. The series will eventually get better at setting up plots that deserve the double episode treatment, but currently it's still stumbling on how to fill the time.

The other issue, which is admittedly a personal issue is that dividing our heroes kind of makes the writing and pacing wonky. First off, Mulder and Scully are always at their best when they're together, which means separating them just sort of makes the episode not as fun as it could be. But it also throws off the rhythm of the whole thing. Mulder is spying on alien spaceships and jumping on to trains, Scully is hanging around a house in Pennsylvania and confronting personal demons. Not saying both can't be engaging, but they don't compliment each other well.

That doesn't mean there isn't stuff to like in it, it's just that most of what I like about this pair of episodes is relegated to the second episode. I do like Scully meeting the support group and how it strikes a balance between kind of familiar and weird and creepy (even if it's mostly just to set up Scully's season 4 cancer subplot). There's also a lot of entertaining individual scenes and dialogue, but it's just hanging off a skeleton that never really grabs my interest.

"Sir, why aren't you wearing your mask?"
"So Agent Scully can remember my face in a flashback later. Duh!" 
I've said that I'm not all that into the series Myth Arc episodes, since they're not really what I come to The X-Files for, but there are episodes in them that I remember liking. Others are relegated to vague snapshots in my brain, rather than the play by play I could do in my head of episodes like Tunguska or One Breath. Finally there is the category of Myth Arc episodes that genuinely surprised me, that never made an impression on me, but that I was shocked by how solid they were, like End GameNisei is in the category of vague snapshots, a handful of snippets and ideas that never really come together, or are waiting for the next episode to pay off.

Case Notes:
  • I don't know what the train situation is like in Knoxville, but here in Connecticut, I can't imagine anyone waving merrily at the conductor. I guess cause they're just an hourly occurrence here, rather than a novelty.
  • Videotaped Alien Autopsies were apparently big in the 90s, but for the life of me, I cannot understand why.
  • For some reason, Scully's line read on "You spent money for this?" always cracks me up.
  • I love how much of their first scene Mulder and Scully spend bashing Fox's alien autopsy. I'm a huge fan of biting the hand that feeds you humor.
  • Man, the guys who killed the dude in Allentown didn't even TRY to make it not look like an execution.
  • Hey, the first appearance of Mulder's ankle gun. I love how he comments that he got tired of losing his gun, good stuff.
  • The stretch after when they capture the Japanese guy is full of really great quips. Mulder, Scully, even Skinner are all throwing out sarcasm left and right.
  • Hey, Lone Gunmen sighting. It's been too long.
  • Has anyone reedited the scene where Scully meets the other abductees to be about them thinking she's a lesbian? Cause if not, I gotta get on that?
  • Based on what I'm seeing in this episode, the guy who got murdered was the only guy to be abducted in this chapter of Abductees Support Group.
  • I love how the naval shipyard guy takes his eyes off Mulder for 2 seconds and Mulder's first instinct is to sneak onto the boat.
  • I genuinely do not know how the series expects us to buy that Mulder, a 6 foot tall, lanky man, managed to escape detection on a boat the size of a small house, but whatever.
  • All of the ladies pulling out the bags/pill bottles holding their chips is a little creepier than the episode intends it to be.
  • Scully is hanging around Allentown, finding out that there are other abductees and that they get tumors. Mulder is running around a naval shipyard, sneaking onto boats and spying on UFOs. I'm not SAYING Scully got the short end of the stick, but I'm implying it.
  • I know very little about the actual FBI, but I have to assume it's not customary for Assistant Directors to just wander into their Agents' apartments.
  • Holy crap, Mulder's senator friend, we haven't seen him in like a season. Also, didn't he play music last time, in order to cover the possibility they were being listened to.
  • Oh boy, we're bringing up Unit 731. That's some heavy stuff for this show.
  • I do love Mulder calling out Scully for still not believing despite all the shit she's seen.
  • The discussion Scully and Agent Pendrell have about what microchips are used for and how amazed he is by how small it is kinda dates the episode a bit.
  • Everyone at the trainyard is just ignoring Mulder running through it. I don't know why this amuses me, it just does.
  • Mulder's solution when he misses a train? Just fucking jump on it.
  • X shows up at the last second to talk up how much Mulder shouldn't get on the train. Good to see you man, but maybe you shoulda brought this up before now?
Future Celebrity Watch:

The guy who assassinates the Japanese diplomat is played by Stephen McHattie, who would later to go on to star in Pontypool, which is stretching the definition of "Celebrity" but whatever, Pontypool is awesome. He also played Dr. Reston on Seinfeld...you remember, the creepy psychiatrist she dates at the beginning of season 4?

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