Tuesday, February 16, 2016

(Some) Assorted Thoughts on: The X-Files, season 10, episode 4: "Home Again" (2/8/16)

As I write this, only about 20 minutes have passed since this mini-season's fifth episode, "Babylon", premiered. As I don't have cable (and even if I did, I would have gotten home from work halfway through it... as if such specs about my life matter to you...), I'll be watching it online shortly. But first, I'll get in my comments on last week's episode...

My litmus test for whether or not someone "gets" not just The X-Files but Ten Thirteen Productions' output as a whole is if they recognize how vital the creative team of Glen Morgan and James Wong -- if either was credited as writer, director, and/or producer, then nine times out of ten, the other was co-credited as same right there with him -- were to making The X-Files into The X-Files, in terms of its defining its main characters, jump-starting and expanding the Mytharc, and self-consciously playing with and pushing of the series genre-oriented stylistic narrative parameters. When the second season of Millennium was put entirely in their hands while Carter and other key Ten Thirteen personnel were working on the first X-Files feature film, the result was the single best season of any one Ten Thirteen show. 

But in the wake of said season, whatever the reason, Morgan and Wong together went their own separate way from Ten Thirteen. If in fact there was bad blood that had boiled over, I'm glad that matters have been reconciled so as to precipitate their participation in the X-Files revival of 2016. As said participation is major -- each has an entire episode to all to himself, single-handedly writing and direction -- it's nice to see that Carter indeed recognizes that the optimal way to do The X-Files is to do it with Morgan and Wong. 

Taken together, Wong's "Founder's Mutation" (covered in my previous post) and Morgan's "Home Again" are clear counterparts, and very complementary ones, at that, employing a similar narrative structure and embracing the very same theme and subject matter. Both function as a standalone Monster-of-the-Week, but woven into the proceedings are subplots (and I hesitate to call them that, as they arguably eclipse the doings of the ol' Monster-of-the-Week rigmarole... or at least I suspect they do for many longtime, die-hard fan) of the lasting -- and evidently worsening -- self-doubt and pained sense of absence and a certain incompleteness re: Scully having "given up" hers and Mulder's son, William, some 14 years ago so as to protect him from Super Soldiers by way of anonymity. In contrast to the dream-like, "What if...?"/"In another life..." sequences in Wong's episode, Morgan depicts her agonizing over the fear that not only was she forever rendered a horrible mother by her decision to put William up for adoption in and of itself, but all the worse, the possibility that knowing that he was rejected by his own mother has had a permanent, detrimental impact on William. The romanticized fantasies in "Founder's Mutation" of Scully walking William to his first day of school and Mulder showing William 2001 for the first time and joining him in launching a model were touching in a warm-and-fuzzy, pseudo-nostalgic way. But Scully's thoughts and emotions regarding her absentee son in "Home Again" hit us with -- and leave unresolved -- an unresolved existential bleakness.

"The Band-Aid Nose Man"

Lest I overlook the Monster-of-the-Week stuff, the case of "the Band-Aid Face Man" is of a nature polar opposite to "Founder's Mutation" scientific orientation (albeit a loose one at certain points -- though every idea incorporated into that episode had a basis in actual theory, research, and/or experiments, the flash-whiz-bang tricks performed by the unified psychic power of the Chimera siblings at "Founder's" climax was more Hollywood than anything). But based on when we saw him in action, by all appearances, the Band-Aid Nose Man seemed what could only be a supernatural entity, and when all was accounted for -- or at least, to the extent that anything was accounted for -- the scrappy artist living "the fringe" who appears to have manifested Bandy did so through a process of pure magic.

Even taking into the fact that we're dealing with a series whose history has included a man who can stretch and contort himself like Plastic Man (or Ralph Dibny, ha!) or Gumby and one of its leads spending an episode trapped in an "uprooted" building suspended at the heart of a maelstrom/tornado-like void of an alternate dimension, nothing here should in theory be testing our suspense of disbelief... perhaps it's the contrast with the grounded, wholly realistic scenes in which Scully sits at her dying mother's side and those in which she contends with the very mundane legal nitty-gritty of late changes to her mother's will that Scully was unaware of. 

Still, Morgan plays the Band-Aid Nose Man story just right: using a lot of close-angle shots and quick cuts -- the recurring motif that is the rear, up-angle perspective of a silhouetted Bandy's uncannily tall figure ripping apart his victims with sharp, outward right-angle thrusts of his arms are instantly iconic (even though the gore is in silhouette, because of said gore, I've chosen not to use screen shots of these particular visuals, are distinguishing as they are) -- sees to it that the murders, though played out in full before our eyes, such as they are, remain vague and elusive, and that we are in fact left not with not a full accounting but a suggested, yet ultimately un-nail-downable, explanation/fill-in-the-blanks backstory gleaned and inferred from what the "artist" disclosed is in fact a classic X-Files motif.

Mulder stands at Scully's side during her mother's final moments... 
in which painfully lingering doubts and potentially unanswerable questions 
re: their son are brought to the fore.

The pathos of Scully being faced with her mother's death evokes early episode in which she also weathered personal and familial crises of mortality, such as the first season's "Beyond the Sea" or the second's "One Breath" (which capped a multi-episode arc based around Scully's "abduction", alien or otherwise). NOT coincidentally, "Beyond the Sea" and "One Breath" were both Morgan-Wong episodes... and given the great extent to which this episode captures the spirit, characterizations, and themes of those episodes (in fact making overt references to the "One Breath" era, even jarringly using clips of  both a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Duchovny and Anderson!), at certain points, it was as surreal to watch this episode as it was to find one's self being sensorily-impressioned by the series original theme song/title sequence the first time watching "My Struggle". Until now, the 2016 X-Files' connection to the franchise's past had seemed loose, but here, Morgan not only brought things near-full-circle, but came as close as probably anyone ever can or will come to not merely rehashing or imitating those early days, but realizing a living, breathing, organic, speculative pseudo-real-time jumping-to-the-present continuation of that work. (Not an update, so much as a bringing-up-to-date.)

I would think that Mulder and Scully actually being reunited with William has to be in the cards... my instincts tell me not in the remaining two episodes of this current "season" (well, as much of the world has now seen "Babylon", which has now been sitting on my laptop waiting for me for over two hours, in truth, only one episode remains), but in the event that Fox orders more episodes -- which by all indications, all concerned parties very much want to happen; it's just a matter of making negotiations with the principles -- they could hardly put it off for long. They've handled the matter delicately and admirably in these recent episodes, so much so that one can't help but think that it might be best if they never take the plunge and attempt Star Wars-esque Epochal Event that the prospect seems to self-demand...

And so, "Babylon" and on. I burn with anticipation for "My Struggle II" next week, but I'm very curious to see what else Carter has offered with his return to the writer's-and-director's chair for tonight's episode... I'll get back to you on it soon!

-- Ryan

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