Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Case 03, File 13: Syzygy

AKA: You Guys Ever See The Craft?

The X-Files is a fairly adult show. I don't mean that there's lots of sex and violence (although it can get pretty violent at times). I mean that the characters are entirely adults, who have finished college, have steady jobs and have no children (and generally no desire for them). The only way the show could be more adult is if we saw them doing taxes on screen. This isn't a complaint but it does mean the moments where the show dips its toe into actual contemporary teen culture...odd.

Our episode opens with some students holding a wake for a fellow student who just died. Two girls, Terri and Margi, decide the best way to comfort the dead student's friend is to ambiguously propose a threesome, but in the morning he turns up dead and the girls seem unbothered. Since that's the fourth teenager to die in a New Hampshire town in a few weeks, Mulder and Scully get called in, a call that is immediately justified when the town turns out to be in the grips of a panic over possible cults and the corpse catches fire at the funeral.

They meet Detective Angela White, who believes the cult stuff, much to Scully's (vocal) consternation. Mulder and Scully interview Terri and Margi, who claim to have been involved in a Satanic ceremony that included the sacrifice of an infant and a mass grave. Mulder and Detective White wander around town to investigate, eventually getting into a conversation with an astrologist who offers to tell them why everyone is going crazy...during office hours. 

Meanwhile, the girls are at basketball practice where they gossip about guys until accidentally spills gatorade on them. They, being calm and rational psychics, respond by crushing him beneath the bleachers. Since we've got another death on our hands, a mob forms to dig up some guys yard, looking for the dead infants. They find some bones in a handbag and rush off to attack the doctor who the bag belongs to. But it turns out that all that was in the bag was the body of a dog that belonged to Margi, which doesn't teach anyone any lessons.

"Must...resist...urge to...roll...eyes."
While all this is going on, Mulder and Scully are acting weirder, smoking, drinking and getting more confrontational. As Margi and Terri's birthday party happens, they use their powers to kill the girlfriend of a basketball player they considered hot, but find that dead girlfriends are not exactly the aphrodisiac they though it would be. Mulder finally goes to visit the astrologist, who tells him that due to a planetary alignment, everyone is going kooky, and if you were born on January 12th, 1979, you're gonna go ultra-crazy. Hey, guess what Terri and Margi's birthday is?

Alright, last paragraph: Terri and Margi have a brief confrontation at the guy they find hot's house (I didn't catch his name) and in the scuffle, the guy winds up dead. They decide the best strategy is to tell Mulder and Scully, separately, that the other one did it. This leads them both to be back at the police station, where everything goes haywire and Mulder seizes on the idea of locking them in a room together, at which point everything calms down, and the episode ends with Mulder musing about planets and their affects, while Scully drives them out of town.

Syzygy is a bit of an odd episode overall. On the most basic level, it reads like an attempt to cross a Darin Morgan style comedy episode with a more traditional horror episode, and the crossbreeding is...imperfect. It's never as funny as some of the best Darin Morgan episodes can be, nor as scary as the series can be at it's peak. But it doesn't do either of those things particularly poorly, and it's certainly a memorable episode.

"Candyman, Candym-"
"No, guys, we gotta go with Bloody Mary, Tony Todd was already on the show."
The plot is a potentially memorable aspect of the episode, as it's ripe with both shipping moments (Scully is crushing on Mulder all episode), and possible subtext. Indeed, I knew a girl in college who would often go on at length about how she thought the episode was using the girls psychic powers as a metaphor for the burgeoning feelings for each other. And I admit, I can see where she's coming from, given that the powers seem to mostly lash out at guys and that they play a lot of their conflict like a lover's spat. It's also one of the only episodes I can think of that centers around teenagers.

But honestly, the episode isn't particularly interested in the actual plot. Oh it runs it through its paces very dutifully, but it never seems to have more than a passing desire to keep the plot running. It's much more interested in the other effects of the space...thing, which is causing everyone to act weird and out of character. Specifically, it's very interested in how the cosmic energy is effecting Mulder and Scully.

This is pretty fun because all of their weird annoying affects are extensions of their established personalities; Mulder is overly sarcastic and unprofessional, Scully is rigid and overly skeptical. This is already a great metaphor for the way being close to someone for a long time can accentuate their minor flaws, but it's also just a solid way of demonstrating what I think a lot of us know in our heart of hearts. That actually having to work with someone like Mulder or Scully would probably wear on you. I may love how Mulder's first instinct is to break into a house full of cockroaches, but in real life that would get old, fast.

But it's also just straight amusing to watch Scully seethe every time Mulder undercuts her, or watch Mulder shrug and abdicate responsibility every time anything happens. The episode mines some other humor out of it, such as the way Detective White keeps hitting on Mulder, or the mob that forms, but honestly, just watching Mulder and Scully snipe at each other is great, even if the plot as a whole kind of recedes into the background during those bits.

It's got its share of issues, most of them related to the somewhat odd attempt to graft humor into an otherwise serious episode. The Satanic Panic Mob subplot is interesting, but it kind of gets lost in the shuffle, and the stakes feel somewhat low all around. Yeah people are dying, but we never get to meet anyone who dies before they do, so I can never bring myself to care. 

It's a strange little episode overall, but it's not really a bad one, just kind of sloppy. War of the Coprophages is such a classic, almost anything would have felt like a step down, but I do usually enjoy this one. Overcoming some sloppy writing and tone shifts through good energy and some amusing lines isn't what we usually associate with The X-Files, but it's not that different from overcoming it with some scary scenes and good filmmaking, so I guess I can give this a pass.

Case Notes:

  • I dunno about you, but any wake that includes the phrase "Junk like that" is probably a bad wake, even if also includes the phrase "Kick some butt."
  • Syzygy: The episode where two girls propose a threesome to Ryan Reynolds. 
  • The mechanics of the two girls literally sitting within sight of the rope Ryan Reynolds hung himself with and not getting caught are probably weird, but whatever.
  • This is the second episode in a row that has made very unique use of Anderson and Duchovny's chemistry. I love their catty dialogue.
  • Honestly, the school's mascot is the most Satanic school mascot in human history. Is that Black Phillip?
  • I'm sorry, Ryan Reynolds' character goes by the nickname "Boom"? And we're all just okay with that?
  • Scully is slamming the sarcasm hammer down on the local detective about the Satanic cult stuff.
  • Gillian Anderson just sitting there during the interview with an increasing incredulous face brings me so much joy.
  • I dunno how anyone could think a town in New Hampshire could support a secret Satanic cult, given that there are 2 only cities with populations of over 50,000 in New Hampshire. Wouldn't everyone know everyone?
  • "I was hoping you could help me solve the mystery of the horny beast," is one of those lines that I feel shouldn't be funny, but Duchovny's delivery just sells it.
  • The psychic really amuses me, pretty much constantly.
  • The ADR on the cheerleaders on the basketball court is really bad, as is the effect of the girls knocking down the other girl with psychic powers. Do better X-Files.
  • I know it was the 90s and I'm too young to remember, but I refuse to believe any human being ever said "Hate him, wouldn't want to date him," unironically.
  • Getting crushed by bleachers is a pretty horrifying way to go honestly.
  • The sidebar with the mob digging up someone's yard is pretty pointless, but it fills out the setting and Scully's rant about having to drag Terri in to identify the dog's bones is pretty funny.
  • Scully is crushing hard on Mulder this episode.
  • The bit with Terri and Margi dancing gives me major vibes of the bit of the Buffy episode Bad Girls where Buffy and Faith danced together. Maybe that's where I'm getting my gay vibes.
  • Mulder drinking and Scully smoking are such great shorthand for "Not themselves.
  • I seriously, seriously love the psychic, she's hilarious.
  • The episode kind of loses steam a bit towards the final act, when it has to stop messing around and actually resolve the plot, which it was never that interested in.
  • "I've got your suspect and you've got mine, why does that make sense to me at this point?" I love you Scully.
  • Hey Principal dude, do you want to know what the penalty is for pointing a loaded gun at an FBI officer?
  • I'm not a huge fan of Mulder's voice over wrap up, since it's trying to impose a theme that hasn't been in the episode onto the events. You did a silly episode, own it.
Future Celebrity Watch:

We've got one of our big ones here: Our cold open victim is played by none other than Ryan Reynolds. He's not in the episode long enough to make an impression, and he's still a few years shy of Van Wilder, but it's unmistakably him.

Also, Terri is played by Lisa Robin Kelly who would go on to some success as Foreman's older sister on That 70's Show. She died tragically a few years ago from a drug overdose, but I recall she was pretty good on it.

Audio Observations:

The music playing in the finale, and on the movie Mulder watches, is the Sabre Dance, and the movie they're watching is one of the Keystone Cops movies (though I'll be damned if I know which one). It's good, silly, frenetic music, and I like how much effort the episode puts into setting it up.

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