Hell Hath No Fury: The X-Files S11x8 “Familiar” Review

March 11, 2018 at 7:26 PM | Posted in TV | Leave a comment
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SPOILER WARNING: This review contains major spoilers of The X-Files season 11. Read at your own risk!

 

The eighth episode of The X-Files season 11 titled “Familiar” feels like a “back to basics” sort of story as it deals with old supernatural horror, specifically witchcraft. The show has already dealt with this kind of story in its previous seasons. In fact, when I watched “Familiar,” I immediately thought of the show’s old episode “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” where it was also about a witch wreaking havoc in a small town.

“Familiar” treads on the same territory as we see Mulder and Scully investigate the killing of a young boy in a small town in Connecticut. A boy’s body is found in the woods with bite marks of an animal. Mulder suspects a hellhound is responsible for the killing. According to him, a hellhound is a wild dog that guards the gates of hell. Scully thinks it’s the child’s father who might be their suspect, and not a supernatural being.

Eventually though, Scully rules out the dead boy’s father and instead provides the town’s police chief with a profile of the suspect – an adult male with a possible previous criminal record. The dead boy’s father, who is also a cop later finds out about the profile of the suspect and sets out to find him. Mulder still thinks a supernatural being is at work.

What differentiates “Familiar” from “Die Hand Die Verletzt” is that it introduces a character that may possibly be the culprit. And it’s not a witch. It’s a character straight out of a children’s show – a cartoonish character named Mr. Chuckleteeth, who more or less look like a creepy clown. Mr. Chuckleteeth shows up in a scene shortly before someone is about to die.

Later, the cop dad finds the suspect and beat him to a pulp while an angry mob watches. The suspect claims he’s innocent of the boy’s killing but the cop dad and the crowd refuse to believe him. The suspect is shot dead by the cop dad.

THE X-FILES: L-R: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in the “Familiar” episode of THE X-FILES airing Wednesday, March 7 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

We later find out that the police chief’s wife has put a curse on him using witchcraft after she finds out he’s having an affair with the cop dad’s wife. But the spell backfires as the hellhound or “familiar” she unleashes into the town kills a little boy and even her own daughter. The spell has also summoned fictional characters like Mr. Chuckleteeth to stalk children and lure them into the woods. The police chief’s wife tries to correct her mistakes by casting another spell but it’s already too late.

The episode shows how mass hysteria could cloud people’s judgement and wrongfully accuse those who are actually innocent. While I do agree with Mulder’s argument that suspects should be treated as innocent before being proven guilty, I don’t think it’s unfair to think that a convicted felon will not commit the same crime again.

This episode just doesn’t work for me as it feels like it’s all been done before, which the show already did. The story isn’t new and frankly, witchcraft is a tired trope and the episode doesn’t even scare me at all.

 

Tipping Point: The X-Files S11X7 “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” Review

March 5, 2018 at 10:20 PM | Posted in TV | Leave a comment
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SPOILER WARNING: This review contains major spoilers of The X-Files season 11. Read at your own risk!

 

It’s been a while since The X-Files had an episode centered on the dangers of modern technology. In the legacy seasons of the show, we had episodes like “Ghost in the Machine” and “Kill Switch” that tackled on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and how technology can inevitably be a menace to society.

While the show’s central themes may be about government conspiracies, alien abductions and paranormal investigations, it doesn’t shy away from doing tech-centric episodes such as the recent “Rm9sbG93ZXJz.”  The title of the seventh episode itself is a mouthful but it’s not something gibberish. “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” is actually a Base64 code which means “followers.”

This was the episode previously announced during the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January where the only cast would be Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny and no one else. It’s also the episode where the dialogue would be very minimal, at approximately 250 words.

It’s rather bold and risky for The X-Files to take on this kind of episode but it worked surprisingly well. “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” is sleek, fresh and satirical. It’s The X-Files like we’ve never seen before.

In the episode, Mulder and Scully go on a dinner date at a fancy, ultra-modern sushi restaurant where food is prepared by robots. They order food via a tablet and are served by machines. Mulder doesn’t like the food they served so he decides not to tip the machine. That’s when trouble starts.

Photo credit: recapguide.com

They are locked inside the restaurant but eventually managed to get out. They go home separately, with Scully ordering an Uber-like driverless car service while Mulder drives his GPS-enabled car. Thereafter, it seems that whatever they do and wherever they go, the smart machines are after them. With each of them at their homes, they are constantly being pestered by the smart machines.

Scully constantly gets notifications from her smartphone and smart gadgets to either rate their service, buy more products or friend them on social media. And when she refuses, the machines act up. Meanwhile, Mulder gets locked out of his online bank account, stalk by drones and eventually chase out of his home by mini-drones.

The two agents pair up eventually after Mulder visits Scully at her fancy smart home. The machine-stalking stops when Mulder is forced to tip the machine from the restaurant via his smartphone. The story ends with Mulder and Scully eating breakfast at a simple diner with people around them.

Photo credit: bloody-disgusting.com

This episode felt like it doesn’t want to be taken too seriously. For one, it doesn’t have much of a plot – just a premise of Mulder and Scully being hunted down by devious AI machines. Secondly, it felt like it exists in a different dimension because some of the scenarios in it just didn’t add up to what we know of the characters.

Case in point:

  1. There’s no way Mulder and Scully would spend much of their time together fiddling with their smartphones and not talking to each other. It’s not like them to be so immersed in their smartphones.
  2. Scully living in a smart home is so unlike her. The house looked cold, sterile and so different from the one she had in previous seasons. Granted, she might feel more secure with the security features of a smart home given that she was previously attacked in her home in the legacy seasons of the show but years of handling weird and sinister cases at the FBI would show that not even high-tech gadgets can keep you safe.
  3. As an FBI agent, Scully is trained to be on guard at all times about any suspicious activity. A drone sending her a Roomba with no indication of where it came from is suspicious enough and the normal Scully would never have opened the box much less use the Roomba in her home.
  4. Mulder not having been in Scully’s house is unbelievable.

In itself, it’s still a good and refreshing episode because it went on a bold direction that fans have never seen before. And it’s also worth noting that the episode was written by two women, Kristen Cloke-Morgan and Shannon Hamblin – a rarity in the show. This episode served an important lesson to us in this day and age of smart gadgets: that human touch and verbal communication are still better than having smart machines.

Monster from the Past: The X-Files S11x6 “Kitten” Review

February 9, 2018 at 6:51 PM | Posted in TV | 1 Comment
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SPOILER WARNING: This review contains major spoilers of The X-Files season 11. Read at your own risk!

 

This has to be the weakest episode of The X-Files season 11 apart from “My Struggle III.” I was actually bored while watching “Kitten.” The episode delves into the past of FBI assistant director Walter Skinner, specifically his time in the Vietnam War as a teen and how that life-changing event affected him years later.

While “Kitten” is a Skinner-centric episode, it still manages to put Mulder and Scully right in the heart of the story. Also, FBI deputy director Alvin Kersh is back and still has misgivings about Mulder and Scully being back at the bureau. The last time we saw Kersh, he helped the duo escape in season 9.

In the episode, Mulder and Scully are summoned by Kersh who tells them to find Skinner. Apparently, Skinner has gone AWOL. Mulder and Scully’s investigation lead them to a small town in Kentucky called Mud Lick. That’s where they found Skinner who is trying to make things right with his old platoon-mate named John “Kitten” James.

There’s no actual monster or supernatural being in this stand-alone episode. The monster that’s been constantly referred to here is just hallucination. Skinner’s time in the Vietnam War exposed him and his friend John to a weaponized gas from a secret military project called MK Naomi. The gas makes a person hallucinate and see “monsters.” However, the gas didn’t seem to affect a young Skinner that time as his exposure was minimal. It’s his friend John who has had a lot of exposure to the gas. A military cover-up led John to be institutionalized years later and Skinner has been racked with guilt since then that he couldn’t help his friend.

Photo credit: xfilesarchive.com

However, instead of finding John in Kentucky, Skinner meets his friend’s son Davey who lives in a nearby forest. Davey turns out to be the “monster” who wants to avenge his father’s sad fate. He dons a cattle skull mask and kills Vietnam veterans around town by luring them into traps.

Davey’s claims of the government using crops to infect the population with the gas is a trope that’s already been done before in the show. It’s not surprising anymore. Remember the infected bees from previous seasons? And honestly, the pacing of the episode is dragging. Even Skinner’s monologue at the end feels like it doesn’t hold much weight.

“Kitten” is underwhelming and anti-climactic. There is no thrill, no sense of danger. The atmosphere of the episode lacks dread or fear. Davey doesn’t even look and sound threatening. The episode just kind of goes by that it feels like a filler more than anything else.

Photo credit: bleedingcool.com

Open Holes:

  1. If Davey wanted to avenge his father’s misfortune, then why did he hang him to the tree? Was he dead before Davey hang him to the tree?
  2. If Kersh wasn’t happy with Mulder and Scully being back at the bureau, then why didn’t he protest in the first place? Why didn’t he try to prevent it? This was my problem with the season 9 finale when Kersh helped them escape from the corrupted bureau. It just didn’t make sense. Correct me if I’m wrong but as far as I can remember, he was hell-bent on destroying Mulder and Scully in season 9. But towards the series finale, he suddenly helped them escape. Then now, he’s back to hating them. I don’t get it.
  3. So Skinner was already divorced? He used to be married in earlier seasons.
  4. Skinner got out of the hole that quick despite his wound and managed to get ahead of Mulder and Scully to attack Davey? Not buying it.
  5. The mail containing a severed ear just happened to be lying around in Skinner’s home for any intruder to find?

Cloak and Dagger: The X-Files S11x5 “Ghouli” Review

February 5, 2018 at 10:16 PM | Posted in TV | Leave a comment
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SPOILER WARNING: This review contains major spoilers of The X-Files season 11. Read at your own risk!

 

The fifth episode of The X-Files season 11 titled “Ghouli” is a mix of Monster of the Week and myth arc story, with Mulder and Scully’s long-lost son William at the core. It’s worth noting that after the show ended in season 9, it has never fully addressed the story of William even when the second X-Files movie came out in 2008. Not until the series came back in 2016. Even then, we have seen only glimpses of Scully’s guilt of losing William and flashback scenes of what might have been if Mulder and Scully didn’t give up baby William for adoption.

Thankfully, “Ghouli” took that subject head on in this episode. It started out as a simple case that Mulder and Scully were called upon to investigate. Two teenage girls attacked each other at an abandoned ferry in Virginia. What’s weird about this case was that each teenage girl claimed to have seen a monster in the ferry called Ghouli – an urban legend they’ve read online. But somehow, they ended up attacking each other with a knife, each believing that the other was Ghouli.

Meanwhile, Scully started experiencing sleep paralysis where she dreamt that she’s sleeping on a bed at a stranger’s house but unable to move. A dark figure hovered behind her and led her through the house. This might seem unrelated to the case that Mulder and Scully were handling but Scully found out later that the two girls who attacked each other dreamt the same thing as her. Mulder and Scully also found out that the girls were unknowingly dating the same boy. The teenage boy’s name was Jackson Van De Kamp. When Mulder and Scully went to the boy’s house to investigate, Scully realized that it was the same house in her dream.

Unfortunately, things took a sudden turn as the boy’s parents were shot to death just before Mulder and Scully went inside the house. The duo heard another shot upstairs upon entering and that’s when Scully saw Jackson’s dead body on the floor covered in blood. While police were called in after the incident, Scully suspected that Jackson might be her long-lost son William. Call it a mother’s instinct if you will. Also, in season 9, Scully knew that the family who adopted her son William was named Van De Kamp.

Photo credit: io9.gizmodo.com

Gillian Anderson delivered one of her best performances yet as Scully in this episode during that heartbreaking scene in the hospital morgue. Jackson’s dead body was laid on a table in a body bag in the morgue while Scully took a sample of her DNA as well as his. Alone with Jackson’s body, Scully poured out her heart and soul to him, not even sure if he’s actually William. But she let him know that she gave him up for adoption to protect him, to keep him safe. She also let him know that she’s never forgotten him. Mulder happened to have heard half of what Scully said when he came inside the morgue and the two shared a touching moment and held each other for comfort.

William had always been a special child as he possessed supernatural abilities as shown in season 9. So it came as no shock when Jackson/William suddenly got out from the body bag after Mulder and Scully left the morgue. It turned out that Jackson/William had an ability to “cloak” himself and control people’s visions. Jackson wasn’t shot to death. He only made Scully, Mulder and the others see (and hear) what he wanted them to see. He’s projecting images to people and making them believe that what they’re seeing was real.

Photo credit: cinemablend.com

Later in the episode, we learned from Skinner that there was a secret government project headed by the Cigarette Smoking Man years ago called Project Crossroads. Apparently, Scully unwittingly became part of that project when CSM injected her with alien DNA in season 7 which got her pregnant with William. This directly connects to the running myth arc in the series. It was also confirmed during Mulder’s exchange with Skinner that Jackson was indeed William as proven by the DNA test that Scully took earlier.

Photo credit: joblo.com

We also learned later that the monster Ghouli was all made up by William. He admitted this when he visited his girlfriends who were recovering at the hospital. He created a website about the monster he made up and projected the image of Ghouli to his girlfriends to scare them as part of a prank. But he didn’t intend for them to attack each other.

I was disappointed that X-Files writer James Wong wrote William this way. Given that William has had seizures and visions of the future just like Scully – visions that’s been haunting him as what he said in one of his entries on the Ghouli website – one would expect him to be a troubled kid. But I didn’t expect him to be a player, a kid who’s dating two girls at the same time. I imagine Mulder and Scully would be disappointed as well. What’s more, he played a cruel prank on his two girlfriends that almost got them killed. If William was raised by Mulder and Scully, I doubt that he would behave that way.

The episode ended with Mulder and Scully dropping off at a gas station with a windmill that looked very much like the one in the snow globe that Scully took from William’s room. While refilling their car’s gas, Scully encountered the same man again from the hospital – the one who accidentally bumped into her while she was heading out. There was a sense of warmth and friendliness between their exchanges, and when the strange man drove off, Scully thought that there was something familiar about him. That’s when Scully and Mulder realized that something was up.

Photo credit: cinemablend.com

When they reviewed the tape from a CCTV camera at the gas station, they saw on the monitor that Scully was talking to William the whole time instead of the strange man. William “cloaked” himself the first time he saw Scully at the ferry and once again at the hospital. He did it the third time at the gas station.

Could it be that William was seeking Scully all this time and led her and Mulder to Virginia through that Ghouli prank? Now that William is on the run, will Mulder and Scully see him again? Will he be willing to help prevent the pandemic in the future? Will he eventually accept Mulder and Scully as his birth parents?

In a way, “Ghouli” delivered a satisfying story that finally addressed the William story arc – a story that has been problematic since season 9.

As much as I’m looking forward to episode 10 of the season where fans can see William again as previously announced, I’m worried that series creator Chris Carter might mess up the story again. I can only hope that the season finale will be much better than expected and would fix the mess from that part of the myth arc.

False Memories: The X-Files S11x4: “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” Review

January 27, 2018 at 2:01 PM | Posted in TV | Leave a comment
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SPOILER WARNING: This review contains major spoilers of The X-Files season 11. Read at your own risk!

 

This episode felt like a self-parody of The X-Files in its entirety as it poked fun of the things that the show were famous for. It’s light and entertaining at best, given that it’s written by X-Files veteran Darin Morgan – the same writer who gave us classic comedic episodes like “Small Potatoes” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.”

However, there wasn’t anything substantial in “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” in terms of plot. There was no crime for Mulder and Scully to solve; no UFO sighting to investigate. There was just this jittery guy named Reggie Something who asked Mulder to help him prove that he’s real. Reggie claimed that he used to work with Mulder and Scully but that “they” (a shadowy “group”) erased the duo’s memories so Mulder and Scully couldn’t remember him. According to him, there’s a government conspiracy that were trying to erase him from people’s memories.

The episode took on the popular Mandela Effect theory, in which groups of people misremember the same things. The theory is relatively new and is a popular Internet urban legend.

At first Mulder regarded Reggie as crazy during their first secret rendezvous. Reggie tried to prove his case by saying that Mulder’s favorite episode of The Twilight Zone called “The Lost Martian” never existed. It was just a false memory. Mulder tried to search for the episode in his collection of VHS tapes to prove him wrong but to no avail. Reggie also reached out to Scully and handed her a box of Goop-O ABC – her favorite childhood jelly. But according to Scully, when she tried to find it in stores over the years, people often told her there was no such thing and that she must be looking for Jell-O 123 instead.

Later in the episode, Mulder and Scully met with Reggie in the parking garage where most of their interactions happened. Reggie shared more of his discoveries about a cover-up by “they” on altered memories. When Mulder suggested that he’s experiencing the Mandela Effect theory, Reggie corrected him and claimed that the term was actually called Mengele Effect. He also revealed the real identity of “they.” It turned out that a guy named Dr. They was the mastermind of the Mengele Effect. Apparently, Dr. They altered people’s memories years ago that’s why they couldn’t even remember him.

But Mulder and Scully were not buying Reggie’s story so he dropped the ultimate bomb on them: he was part of the X-Files division in the FBI. Mulder and Scully were shocked of course.

Photo credit: x-files.wikia.com 

Now the episode took the comedy in the story further by cutting the scene midway and showing The X-Files’ opening credits, but this time with Reggie in it. Not only that, the succeeding scenes showed Reggie inserted into scenes taken from the show’s classic episodes such as the Pilot, “Tooms,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Home,” and “Small Potatoes.” I found this rather self-indulgent and overkill (Darin Morgan wrote two of these episodes and also guest-starred in one) but most fans thought it was a funny homage to the show.

When a frustrated Mulder tried to make sense of what Reggie said, he suddenly got a call from Dr. They himself who decided to show up and meet him at a public place. Reggie’s claims about Dr. They were validated when the doctor himself admitted to Mulder about masterminding the Mengele Effect and twisting the facts. To what end? Apparently, to control the future.

Photo credit: bloody-disgusting.com

The episode got a bit serious when Mulder and Dr. They had a deep conversation about what constitutes truth when there’s a proliferation of fake news in this day and age. Dr. They claimed that no matter if people are presented with the truth, they’re still left with a choice whether to believe it or not. People choose what they want to believe.

Does this mean that Reggie was right about everything all along? Not exactly. Mulder and Scully later found out that Reggie was actually a former government employee who served under various agencies including the National Security Agency (NSA). Apparently, Reggie had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized. He only knew about Mulder and Scully and the X-Files division because he illegally wiretapped them in their office. In short, Reggie was mentally ill before he escaped from the hospital and made contact with Mulder. He was never a part of the X-Files division.

But what I don’t get here is that if Reggie’s claims were just a product of his mentally unstable condition, then where did Dr. They factor in all of this? Mulder had a personal interaction with the doctor himself so there might be some kind of truth in what Reggie said. Unless Dr. They was a mental patient himself in the same hospital as Reggie and escaped with him. That could explain it. As for Skinner knowing Reggie, I really think he could’ve met him through his various interactions with the other agencies in the government.

What I didn’t like about the episode was the ending where Reggie recounted his “last case” together with Mulder and Scully. The “last case” involved a UFO landing on Earth in which Mulder, Scully and Reggie had an encounter with the alien. It was all rather silly for me and there was too much Trump reference in the episode in general.

Photo credit: imdb.com

I didn’t love “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” but I didn’t hate it either. I guess it wasn’t just as funny as season 10’s “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” or Morgan’s episodes in previous seasons.

But I love what Scully said in the end when she said, “I want to remember how it was.” For me, I’d like to remember the show how it was:  just Mulder and Scully solving paranormal cases together – no Reggie in the picture.

Side Notes

  • I loved the opening scene where Mulder just arrived from “squatchin’”.
  • Mulder got indignant when Scully assumed he confused The Twilight Zone with The Outer Limits. I loved The Outer Limits by the way.
  • That scene of Mulder’s head on an eight-year-old boy’s body — fantastic shot.
  • Mulder’s idea of a date was a stake out in a parking garage. Oh come on Mulder, you can do better than that!
  • Spotnitz Sanitarium, the name written at the back of the ambulance – an obvious shoutout to fellow X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz.
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