The X-Files #122: Redux II

"Have the Father say a few Hail Mulders for me, okay?"
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: The Cigarette Smoking Man tries to seduce Mulder. Mulder flushes out the mole in the FBI. Scully's cancer miraculously goes into remission.

REVIEW: Taking advantage of the show's new widescreen format, director Kim Manners fills the screen with dynamic camera work, lyrical imagery, and loving close-ups. And with the recap opener behind us, we can move forward again, making what feels like a long stride in the meta-arc, and pushing the emotionalism of the cancer story. There are three major threads to follow. Mulder's is the A-plot, navigating the Conspiracy as both the Cancerman and Blevins try to seduce him to the dark side. Cancerman offers him three things he wants in exchange for his soul - which gives it all a very mythical feel - the restoration of his world view (aliens are real), his sister (who has been adopted by Cancerman and told her family was lost, but do we really trust that she's the real thing?), and the cure to Scully's cancer (though they didn't have it mostly due to the Lone Gunmen's inattention). If any of it is "real" - and Cancerman plays a game of now you see now you don't with at least two of these, the same strategy Michael Kritschgau claims the government uses to fake alien sightings - the Cancerman is really making himself vulnerable, but he doesn't manage to build trust "no matter whose father" he is. As for Blevins, he simply needs Mulder to name Skinner as the mole, which pushes Mulder's intuition button pretty hard. Ours too; Blevins is the only other FBI official we know by name, so if we trust Skinner (he's not acting shifty, he's just got a lot going on, guys!), we know it has to be Blevins.

It's not clear if the Roush Group is the Syndicate's public face, which would put both these bad men on the same "side", but that's at least the implication. The second thread is what's happening with the villains in the deeper background. Because the Syndicate/Roush is tired of their failures. The episode teases us with a sniper hunting Cancerman, but the audience thinks, nah, not him, maybe the assassin is waiting for him to meet the FBI mole and shoot them before they're exposed. Or Mulder's the real target. But no, Cancerman is shot, and if there's any truth to the offers he made Mulder, it's in his reaching for the childhood picture of Fox and Samantha with his dying breath. Dying? Sorry, no body was found, so he's alive. But the Syndicate has definitely cut its ties with him, and quite right too. He was running his own game behind their backs, and now is even more free to do so as we head into the back half of the series. We're distracted by the man hunting Cancerman, so Blevins' murder comes as something of a shock. It's sudden and violent, and at least includes the confirmation (through his nervousness) that the allegations are true. OR ARE THEY?! Faking a suicide would certainly ensure Mulder's accusation stuck, while the real mole is left running the FBI... Hm....

What takes strong meta-arc episodes over the top, however, is emotional resonance. We don't always get it, but with Scully's cancer in the mix, we certainly do here. She's terminal. She's accepting of her fate. She's willing to sacrifice herself for a man who will not let her. Even on her death bed, she's Mulder's conscience, and he goes to her to check his instincts, to be told if he's on the wrong track, the way he's always done, even if he didn't always seem to listen. Mulder and Scully's scenes are never short of wonderful, their platonic love tangible in those panoramic close-ups, even if Scully's brother can't appreciate it (Bill isn't completely wrong either; the quest for the Truth has cost him a sister already). At its core, The X-Files is about the nature of faith - Mulder's that the Truth can be found, and Scully's in science - and in her final days, Scully turns to an older faith, her Catholic upbringing which she now admits she rejected. Integrating religion and science is difficult for her, but we see that she manages to, and though we're teased with a technological cure - a chip that might control her cancer the way her "alien" implant perhaps once did - they never implement it. Her cancer goes into remission and we don't know why. Mulder's reaction to this says it all. It can't be explained, and that's what this show is all about. A great twist I don't think we saw coming.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Every time we see the Syndicate Elder, he's watching congressional hearings on human cloning, which is obviously meant to be ironic given that we know cloning exists in this universe, albeit secretly from the world at large. But why lay this in so heavily except to cast doubt on a number of things? Is Samantha the real Samantha? We know her to have been cloned repeatedly, so probably not. Does Cancerman die from blood lost, only to be resurrected as a clone? Or was this a clone? Can they program clones with memories? A Cancerman-Sam father-daughter clone team who actually believed their cover story but are dead now? Even Blevins could return from the grave.

REWATCHABILITY: High
- A lot of shocks, twists and surprises, and a terrific episode for Mulder. What makes it better than your regular meta-arc episode is its focus on the two leads' complicated and yet so simple relationship.

4 comments:

S said...

I'm not sure if it's the DVDs you're watching, but the X-Files wasn't being broadcast in widescreen yet (if ever) - Season 6's "Triangle" was notable for being broadcast as widescreen.

Siskoid said...

It's the DVDs. They seem to have at least FILMED in widescreen.

LiamKav said...

All TV on film was capable of being converted to widescreen. The difference was whether they planned for it in advance. Shows like Friends, ER, Babylon 5 and Buffy did (with caveats for the last two). Others, like TNG, didn't. There is extra information to the left and right of the screen for TNG, but there are props, bags and other stuff left there, as they never considered it would get used. At some point in the 90s it seems like directors realised that widescreen was coming, and so started to make sure that there was nothing visible to the left and right of the screen, so that they COULD get a widescreen image without having to zoom in and crop the top and bottom.

The UK started to request widescreen versions of US shows during the mid to late-90s. Things like Angel were always in widescreen over here, and Buffy started being widescreen by season 4 (although Joss Whedon doesn't like it for Buffy). I'm guessing that starting with this season, the X-Files did the "film in widescreen but don't put anything important at the sides and then we can just cut them off when we send them to the stations that still want a 4:3 image" thing. I often find it slightly distracting. People bunch around in the middle of the frame leaving the sides empty.

Siskoid said...

Thanks for the TV history lesson, Liam!

Whatever the impetus, as you can see from the few screenshots I've used for Season 5, the frames are usually pretty full and well composed, taking the sides into account.

 

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