Monday, November 18, 2013

1x06: Shadows

I am the key figure in an ongoing blogger project; a project to review each episode of The X-Files in chronological order.It's a global project, actually, with awesome readers in the highest levels of nerdiness and hopefully it will be read by every man, woman, and child on the face of this planet.

As we go forward with these reviews, I'm going to keep the following themes in mind:

1. The show is as much about Scully's journey toward becoming a believer as it is about the paranormal events she and Mulder encounter.

2. Scully is only a skeptic when viewing things from a clinical distance; when the shit hits the fan, she acts on Mulder's crazy beliefs because she knows it will keep her alive.

3. Mulder isn't right nearly as often as he thinks.

4. The evolution of the Mulder/Scully relationship - not just the romantic involvement that eventually occurs, but their dynamics of trust and distrust, the changing ways they view each other, and the friendship that grows over time.

5. Assault on a federal officer never seems to lead to jail time.

6. Mulder is kind of a dick.

7. Hotels, car rental places, and apartment landlords must be crazy to rent to FBI agents.

8. The enormous top-secret government conspiracy actually really sucks at keeping things quiet.

9.There are some serious homoerotic undertones in this show.

10. The X-files department is super toxic to anyone who comes close to it.

11. Mulder and Scully are both terrible at their jobs.

12. Local law enforcement is protrayed in an extremely negative light.

I reserve the right to add more items to this list as the series progresses and you can't stop me!

Warning: If you're watching the show for the first time while following along with these recaps, that's awesome, but I've seen this whole series a bunch of times and will probably mention things that happen in the later seasons.Please keep that in mind if you're the kind of person who hates spoilers.

Before we start, I want to thank those of you who have left comments on this blog over the past week. I was feeling really crappy and your words of encouragement were a big help.

HTG Industrial Technologies

Philadelphia, PA

We open on the office of one Howard Graves (according to the desk's nameplate).The camera pans across a wall of photos of a man we presume to be Howard hobnobbing with presidents and bigshots, all the while hearing a woman sniffling and crying.She comes into frame, pulling the photo of Howard and Bill Clinton off the wall and putting it in a box, and we see that the rest of the room is filled with more such boxes. A coworker enters to give her her paycheck and, in comforting her, we learn that Howard killed himself a few weeks ago. The coworker tells Lauren to go home and she turns to leave, but as she reaches the door, a plaque on Howard's desk (which reads "One To-Day is Worth Two To-morrows") slides across the desk on its own.Lauren plucks it from the desk and takes it with her.

Later that night, Lauren is at an ATM withdrawing money when two men attack her. They drag her into an alley and the scene fades to black as she screams.

Two hours later, a couple teen hoodlums walk by the alley and decide climb the fire escape to "crash" in one of the apartments. The girl climbs on the boy's shoulders to pull down the ladder, but it's stuck - on a body, which falls almost right on them as a second drops onto the dumpster next to them. It's the two men who attacked Lauren earlier. Screaming, the two kids run away.Is it just me or does that girl look exactly like Becky from Roseanne?

Opening credits roll.

Bethesda Naval Hospital

Bethesda, Maryland

Mulder and Scully head to a morgue where two bodies are lying on the slab, and their own ethnic counterparts are waiting for them.

Who knew the large man / tiny woman partnering technique was used across all government agencies?

And y'know what, I think this is the first time a black person has actually had a line on this show. There was one black MIB back in Deep Throat who never spoke, and I seem to recall a few background characters who were not-white, but Ethnic Mulder and Scully (hereafter referred to as EMS) may be the first non-white people to actually speak.I seriously doubt this was intentional, but I'm going to add this to the list:

#13. THIS SHOW IS WHITE-WASHED AS FUCK. AND ALMOST ALL THE NON-WHITES ARE VILLAINS OR STEREOTYPES. See Kersch, see the voodoo episode, see the melanin-sucking African monster episode, see the stereotypical "goat sucker" Mexican episode, see the angry Latina in Agua Mala... and on and on. Even X is kind of a dick.

Anyway, EMS are hoping that regular MS will be able to help them figure out what the hell happened to these two dead dudes. Their bodies are still twitchy and warm even though they've been dead for 6 hours. EMS are hella shady about offering details until Mulder reminds them that he and Scully are the experts here, and if they wanted answers so badly they're going to have to give them something to go on. EMS admit that the men's throats appear to have been crushed, but with no external trauma - like they were crushed from the inside.

Mulder claims to have never countered anything like this. EMS make it clear that if anyone asks, this meeting never happened, and Mulder and Scully leave.

Out in the hallway, Scully asks Mulder why he lied to them, and he says he only willfully participated in a campaign of misinformation (thus giving my teenage self a snarky new line to use whenever someone accused me of lying).He has X-files like this one, involving psychokinetic manipulation.Scully, intrigued for once instead of purely skeptical, asks how they're going to investigate when they got zero info from EMS. Mulder whips out his smart glasses and breathes on the lenses, where he managed to get perfect fingerprints off the bodies.

Little known fact: Mulder actually exhales fingerprinting powder.

Wow. I'm actually really impressed.Normally I poke fun at Mulder and Scully for kind of sucking at their jobs but that was a fairly smooth maneuver right there, big guy. Though I'm a little disappointed you weren't wearing your smart guy glasses just to make me swoon. It's like you don't even care anymore.

Also, I just love the look on Scully's face when he pulls her in close to look at the prints.

That look just screams, "Who are you and why are you so close to me right now?"

HTG Industrial Tehcnologies

Philadelphia, PA

Next Morning

Lauren walks into the office and is almost immediately accosted by a mouthy secretary who informs her that Mr. Graves may have let her get away with coming in late but the new guy in charge, Mr. Dorland, won't stand for such nonsense.The secretary gets a cup of coffee spilled all over her desk by some non-corporeal entity - karma, bitch!

For best results, read that last bit in Jesse Pinkman's voice.

Mr. Dorland comes out of his office to see what all the commotion is (because seriously, that secretary is acting like Lauren straight up shat on her keyboard), and Lauren asks to have a word with him.He invites her into his office, where she gives him her two weeks' notice. He tries to tell her how and and Howard were like brothers, so he understands her pain, but that the company really needs her.He reaches down and grabs her face and says "I won't let you leave," which isn't fucking creepy at all.

Luckily for Lauren, that hideous gold bracelet on Dorland's wrist suddenly tightens and he flinches away from her. That'll teach you to dress like Mr. T, Dorland. You are not a big enough badass to wear gold chains.

After that, he grudgingly gives her two weeks.

FBI Headquarters

Washington DC

Mulder has found some info on one of the corpses - Mohamed Amalaki, who's got a rapsheet that would basically guarantee he could never get on a plane these days. Scully whips out her own file, revealing that the guy had ties to an extremist group call the Isfahan, operating out of Philadelphia.

Broad Street

Philadelphia, PA

Moose and Squirrel are walking down the alley where Lauren was attacked, talking to the beat cop (who is black and has lines - wow, 3 for 3!) who found the bodies "last Wednesday." ... How the hell long did it take them to find the info on the two dead terrorists? They saw the bodies and lifted the prints a mere 6 hours after the dudes died.Damn, the dial-up connection at the Hoover building must have been slow as balls.

Anyway, Mulder notices the ATM across the street:

Back at the FBI Office, Mulder and Scully run through the surveillance video from the ATM. Maybe this whole investigation is taking so long because you two keep jumping back and forth from Philly to DC - an hour flight or a nearly 3 hour drive. These two must have played so much license plate bingo as they crisscrossed the country looking for crop circles.

Scully suggests that they're going to have to interview everyone who hit the ATM before the bodies were found, but just then footage of Lauren being attacked pops up on the screen.Scully consults her file (the bank just gives that shit out? Don't they need a warrant or something?) and gets Lauren's name and address. the Mulder spots this on the screen:

And then Scully, my dear sweet practical Scully, says the one thing that no one on any crime drama after TXF will ever, ever say: "The resolution is too poor. It won't help much to enhance it."

I fucking love you, Scully.Thank you for not pretending that you can take a grainy image composed of, like, 50 pixels and blow it up a million times and still see anything recognizable.

At her home, Lauren is packing up all her belongings. She stops to look at the plaque she took from Howard's office, when there is a knock at the door. Mulder holds up his badge and does the whole "mind if we come in oh never mind I'm just gonna squeeze in through your door" move.Rude AND unprofessional. #6, #12.

"Excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me..."

Scully pulls out photos of the two dead men and asks if Lauren recognizes them; when she claims not to, Scully calls bullshit and ships out a still frame from the surveillance footage.Lauren says they grabbed her as she was depositing her paycheck and she just ran, she didn't want to file a police report. Finally, Scully shows her the spectral image from the footage. Lauren seems pretty shake but says she can't tell who it is. Mulder gives her his number and says to call him when she's ready to talk.

M&S head back out to their car, Scully expressing her doubt as to a woman Lauren's size breaking free and outrunning those two dead men. Mulder seems more interested in how she crushed their necks, but they both think she knows who the ghostly figure is and wonder what she's packing up and running from. They both buckle up for safety, and good thing, too, because their rental car goes all Christine on them - speeding off on its own, ignoring Mulder's attempts to steer or brake, and promptly crashing them into another car.

Hope they got the extra insurance against ghostly vehicular possession.#7.

Mulder notices Lauren watching them through her window... even though there is no possible way her house would still be visible after the car drove itself all the way down the block and the spun around in the crash. Call me a nit-picker but that kind of shit really bothers me.

Cut to a repair shop, where Mulder crouches to examine the the massive dent in the side of their car. Scully, cleared by the paramedics, suggests someone tampered with the car while they were in the house, but Mulder assures her the mechanics have found nothing out of order. He points out that the lights are on despite the engine/battery being off - charged up with massive levels of electrostatic charge, just like the bodies at the morgue.He thinks Lauren might be psychokinetic, maybe unaware of her abilities, but Scully is of course skeptical.His only other theory is that it's a poltergeist.

She actually mocks him with a Poltergeist impression. "They're heeeeeeere."

Scully is far from convinced - after all, Lauren works for a company that manufactures parts of the Defense Department (first time we're hearing about this, thanks for sharing) and then got attacked by two middle eastern extremists. She thinks Lauren must have had an accomplice, who is the figure in the ATM footage.

Lauren pulls up to the HTG Industries building, unaware that M&S are watching her from their brand new rental car... which I'm sure they got from a different agency, because no way the same place is going to give them a new car when they totaled the last one.

Scully is flipping through a file on Lauren and - wait, how the hell did she get that?? They're working with no jurisdiction or authorization here.Every other time they've gone poking their noses in without approval, said noses have been promptly punched and then stripped of all evidence. You'd think EMS and whatever cryptic shadow agency they work for would be keeping an eye on this whole thing and squashing their efforts. Or maybe they're just sitting back and letting M&S do all the work for them so they can take credit at the end.Yeah, that last one sounds about right.

Mthe man runs to the door but is flung back, unseen hands punching at his face and drawing blood. Lauren keeps screaming but can't move.

Mulder rushes in just in time to see this:

While Scully, always a step behind, sees nothing but crumpled bodies and a terrified Lauren huddled in the corner.What the hell, Scully, your door was curbside and closer to the house. Did you get stuck in your seatbelt or something?I'm a little bit shorter than Scully and I can keep pace with my 6'4 brother when he's at a light jog over short distances; there is no reason she should have been a full 10 seconds behind Mulder in entering this house except plot dictates she never see anything conclusive.

In some nondescript interrogation room, M&S question Lauren to figure out what happened and who the people who attacked her were. Before she can say anything, EMS show up and pull them away. There's a brief pissing contest in which no one will tell anyone else anything, so Mwhatever they're looking for, it's on there.

Back at Lauren's house, she putting the last box into a U-Haul U-Move trailer. Scully tells her that US Attorney's office is going after Dorland with everything they've got, including the murder Howard Graves. Lauren's all, "Yeah, that's great, I'm outta here bitches, be back to testify," and drives off.

Mulder asks Scully if she believes in the afterlife, and she answers that she'd settle for a life in this one.And he asks her to come with him to see the Liberty Bell because he's never seen it, and life is short.

I'm counting this as their first day, y'all. We never see it on screen, we don't even know for sure if it happened, but Mulder invited Scully to go somewhere fun with him for non-case reasons and dammit, I'm calling that a date.

Monroe Mutual Insurance Co.

Omaha, Nebraska

In the final scene, Lauren is at her new office, already fucking it up by delivering a report way late.The head secretary tells her that punctuality is a virtue here, and Lauren gets really scared when the coffee cup on her desk starts shaking... Until the head secretary tells her that the whole building shakes every time a truck goes by.Lauren sighs with relief and goes back to her desk, smiling at the plaque she kept from Howard's office - content that he is at peace now.

Overall this is a pretty decent episode, especially for the first season. That bathtub scene remains one of the creepiest moments in the X-Files to me.They'll return to the whole "staged suicide" thing several times, most notably in Emily/Christmas Carol, but those later incidents didn't creep me out half as much as the sight of Howard's ghostly blood filling Lauren's tub as he shows her his own murder.

I'm not going to make any comment on the fashion choices made here, because they're all terrible - from Scully's 8-foot-wide shoulder pads and white nylons to Mulder's paisley tie to Lauren's unfortunate taste in sweaters.

I'm a plot guesser, and the first time I ever watched this episode I thought that maybe the recipients of Howard's organs were acting on his feelings, or that Howard was so attached to Lauren because she was possessed by the spirit of his dead daughter... Two things that would have been awesome to explore in their own episodes. I know Supernatural did the first one, and Born Again sort of covers the little-girl-possessed angle but damn I wish we could have gotten one of those plots at some point instead of Space or (shudder) Fight Club.

Firsts: a non-white character has spoken lines, staff/crew names used onscreen, staged suicide, their first date.

New themes:

#13. This show is white-washed as fuck. And almost all the non-whites are villains or stereotypes.

#14. Bathtubs are scary, terrible places that should be avoided at all costs.
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