The X-Files #227: Hollywood A.D.

"She: Jodie Foster's foster child on a Payless budget. He's like a Jehovah's Witness meets Harrison Ford's Witness."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A case about apocryphal forgeries is turned into a movie about the X-Files.

REVIEW: It's Duchovny's turn to write and direct an episode this season, and he proves an able comedian in the Darin Morgan mold. Hollywood A.D. is full of great lines, makes fun of the program and its characters in an entertaining way, has something to say about the entertainment industry, and despite the detour into La-La Land, tells an interesting paranormal mystery that taps into Scully's system of belief. Its missteps are few and mostly due to production concerns (the high-profile Cardinal performing mass for, like, three people, and the cemetery set still up by the movie's premiere), though Skinner's character gets assassinated a smidgen, not so much because he becomes an eager associate producer ("sells out"), but because he doesn't want a wrongful death and a bomb maker to be investigated because of political pressure. Still, the episode is much too entertaining to dwell on these details.

The Hollywood stuff is highly amusing, from the writer-producer throwing puns and truth bombs around, to the absurd chaos of the set, to the stunt casting of Garry Shandling and Duchovny's real-life wife Téa Leone as the movie versions of Mulder and Scully, to the final product, an overwrought action-horror movie featuring an evil cigarette-smoking pontiff that might as well be a new Plan 9 from Outer Space (a movie with a similar plot and that plays a role in the episode), Hollywood A.D. delivers smiles, smirks and laughs. The fun isn't just relegated to the Hollywood satire either. The famous three-way bubble bath split screen (only Skinner is honest and comfortable enough with himself to admit that's what he's doing, nice), the bit about Sister Spooky, the Aramaic Beatles (they were bigger than Jesus, after all)... And then there's the flight of fantasy at the very end when Mulder's contention that the dead are everywhere becomes justification for a ghostly dance number. The perfect ending.

The episode also has something to say about how the way Hollywood manufactures a facsimile version of reality, and Duchovny's writer/director/actor anxiety shines through in Mulder's final speech. Was is the entertainer's responsibility to his subject matter? These theme is obvious in the Hollywood thread, but is also present in the case the movie is based on, which proposes a man who "becomes Christ" so he can create proper forgeries of heretical apocryphal texts and artifacts. Hoffman creates spawns Scripture, seems to rise from the dead, appears to the faithful in visions (Scully specifically), and is ultimately killed by Cardinal O'Fallon/O'Fallen who then, Judas-like, promptly commits suicide. History/Gospel repeats itself, but is THIS facsimile real? And if it wasn't Hoffman's body in the crypt, whose was it and why did it look uncannily like him? The episode abounds with mirrors and asks if the reflection is equivalent to what casts it. And all the way through, the metatextual notion that what is real on the show is still just a shadow of reality. Throw in some good character moments, like the impact this all has on Scully's faith and Mulder changing his tune about the annoying scriptwriter following him around when he realizes this could be a way to get the Truth out there, and you've got a real winner on your hands.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: They tried to pull this premise on Millennium somewhat less successfully in "...Thirteen Years Later", but it's hard not to see Hoffman's second coming as relating to the third Millennium. But like the rest, it's all metatext. The new age is all Hollywood (note the title), where the dead do rise, as per Revelations, but Judgment Day plays out on movie and TV screens, as we are the judges, leaving ratings on websites.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Huge fun that hides a real thematic depth. A hundred times better than Duchovny's baseball episode.


Todd Enoch said...

The scene where Scully demonstrates running in high heels in the background is one of my favorite sight gags of the series.


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