Skip to main content

I need to believe we didn't treat him like trash.

The X-Files
10.4: Home Again

Something isn’t quite working with regard to these valiant attempts at servicing the interpersonal histories of Mulder and Scully. I suspect the root is that this mini-season finds itself caught between two stools. Determinedly resuming the format for which the series was best known (monster-of-the-weeks book-ended by the conspiracy arc), it’s constantly checking itself, aware that this is an “event”, and business-as-usual is a lie, irrespective of whether Mulder assures Scully “Back in the day is now”. In Home Again Glen Morgan sandwiches one of his more thoughtful ruminations about loss and mortality between a crudely-fashioned killer plot concerning a crudely-fashioned killer. The result is neither fish nor fowl, and seems to confirm that the only X-Files veteran able to find his feet in 2016 is the one who least contributed to the show originally (Darin Morgan).


Morgan’s episode is well shot at any rate (surprisingly, this is his first TV work, having directed two features since the show’s original run), the highlight being a Trash Man stalk-and-slaying set to Petula Clark’s Downtown. Although, that perhaps isn’t the most innovative choice of tune, having cropped up on both Seinfeld and Lost (now that was a series with a facility for exceptional music cues). Unfortunately, Morgan has bolted together two ideas that don’t really want to mingle. The Band-Aid Nose Man is a sort-of-Golem for the disenfranchised, righting wrongs by slaying anyone who has it in for the Philadelphian homeless. On the one hand, the sight of this snotty-worm-ridden fellow climbing into a refuse truck compactor is quite arresting, on the other Morgan seems to think his nebulous, cock-eyed non-explanation for its activities is quite sufficient; it’s enough that it dovetails thematically with the Scully plotline.


He’s half-right. I half-liked that the monster isn’t the result of some science experiment or hazardous waste gone awry, but is flat-out metaphysical. Its unwitting Trash Man creator (punk rock musician Tim Armstrong) is even instantly beleaguered by a classic bit of Mulder theoretical combativeness as the FBI agent pedantically takes apart the idea that Buddhism gives any substance to the notion of thought forms being given substance. But the powers of the Trash Man are left vague, as if Morgan couldn’t be bothered to flesh them out (has he just materialised a Watchmen smiley with his last sculpture?); “I made them, I didn’t mean to, but I made them”. His basement appears to be awash with creatures manifested from his id, but the writer-director has no apparent interest in exploring this idea further, abruptly wrapping things up soon thereafter.


It’s unfortunate too that the homeless issue is addressed in such a carefree manner (some of the plot transitions are also glaringly transparent; witness the meal made of Mulder announcing he will examine the graffiti, just so he can get a plaster stuck to his shoe). Initially it’s a nice touch to discover that not only the redeveloper (Daryl Shuttleworth as Daryl Landry) but also the woman protesting him (Peggy Jo Jacobs’ Nancy Huff) are out only for their own self-interest (she doesn’t want the problem moved to the doorstep of her school). But then we get Mulder preaching platitudinously from the moral high ground (“What I don’t hear is who speaks for them?”). 


Ire is later reserved for those who would thrive off the homeless (profiteering graffiti makers; riffing on the industry springing up around the Banksy-esque Trash Man), but is Morgan’s shallow hijacking of the issue much better? Lip service is also paid to matters of ecology (plastic in landfills), but such cherry-picking of causes tends to make the makers seem rather out of touch with it all, typing away not-so-furiously from the comfort of their Hollywood mansions.


Morgan, who with James Wong was responsible for more meditative original series episodes including Beyond the Sea and One Breath, does significantly better with Scully’s plotline concerning her ailing mother languishing on life support. Here too he doesn’t feel the need to solve all the mysteries he poses, but it comes across as much more fitting (“I don’t care about the big questions right now, Mulder. I just want one more chance to ask my mom a few little ones”). We don’t know why Margaret Scully (Sheila Larkin, returning to the role) amended her living will to prevent resuscitation, although Scully deduces she asked about estranged son Charlie because “she wanted to know before she left that he’d be okay”, and her last words concerned William in order to ensure she and Mulder were duly responsible for theirson.


Mulder looks duly constipated throughout her outpouring, although I liked his sincerity when she first hears about Ma Scully. There’s an attempt to bring together the two storylines as Scully parses that the Band-Aid man is Trash Man’s responsibility just as William is hers and Mulders, but it’s rather over-didactic. And the last line on the subject is abjectly abysmal, as Morgan pulls a “Did you see what I did there?” when Scully surmises “I need to believe we didn’t treat him like trash”.


I doubt such diligence was on Chris Carter’s mind as he devised this mini-season’s grand design. While the focus on William might be seen as an apologia for making such a hash of things with the Mulder/Scully coupling and its repercussions first time round ("You are responsible, if you made the problem"), the truth is more likely that he couldn’t think of anything better as a hook. He really should have pulled out all the stops to make this must-see TV, to prove to those who dismissed the second movie that he could still knock the show out of the park when it counted. Instead, he seems to be letting the whole thing lollop along without a care in the world. The broader, ongoing story ought to have been a compelling, robust, and evidencing through its approach to character that he grasps the dynamics of the best of modern TV (remember when The X-Files was the best of modern TV? Now it looks nigh-on antique). Like the considerably younger nu-Who, the show has stagnated through the presence of past-their-best hands with nothing left to give to it.


As one who appreciates a good “real world” conspiracy, I was attracted by comments that the series’ return is in aid of engineering a partial disclosure narrative concerning the whole UFO/ alien/ suppressed technologies shebang.  I suppose, if those contributing to the series were presented with a remit, it might at least explain why they’re guilty of such sloppy writing. While the idea of human-posing-as-alien sanctioned abductions has gained currency of late, it’s curious that shows cited as playing this disclosure game (Stargate SG-1, Person of Interest) hardly represent the vanguard of quality storytelling. Perhaps that’s the perverse intent; dismiss a show as pap and so the message seeps into the greater consciousness with nary a murmur. Notably, alt-paradigm-weaver extraordinaire Ben Fulford reported (according to his usual Pentagon sources) that Fox “has been ordered to reboot The X-Files program to reveal truth in plain sight about alien technology, free energy, anti-gravity, 9/11, NSA, depopulation etc”. He added that Bush cancelled the show “to prevent it from exposing 9/11”.


I guess Mulder’s list of conspiracy subjects in My Struggle might be seen to qualify as the “truth in plain sight”, but one long-winded Mulder paragraph seems hardly worth the effort. The X-Files production narrative as presented by Fulford suggests a coherent, consistent series that knew exactly what it was doing (such clear intent and firm control being common/crucial to most conspiracy narratives, easier to assert after the fact), something the show had sacrificed all pretence at by the fourth or fifth season. If one were to accept the principle of such design, one would also have to accept intentional obfuscation (and where’s the line between that and sheer incompetence at telling a story?)


Anyway, Morgan may not be at the top of his game plot-wise, but he still sets up a few quality gags. Mulder and Scully investigating “spooky” cases is mentioned, and Mulder enjoys himself pointing out the absurd nature of the crime scene (“Which is impossible, by the way” he says of the toeprint-free evidence). A head has been dropped in the trash, “Not even the proper recycling bin”, and he greets the arguing Shuttleworth and Huff with “And who are these two fine representatives of the City of Brotherly Love?” Maybe jokes are the only way forward (some of them casting an favourable reflection on the new, such as Morgan calling this Home Again to make fans think it was a sequel to the classic Home),  as telling it straight doesn’t seem to be doing the trick any more. Scully observes at one point, “You’re a dark wizard, Mulder”. It’s a shame the showrunners aren’t.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps we’re both dead. And this is some kind of hell.

The Avengers 5.7: The Living Dead
The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy "haunted house" yarn, Scooby Doo style.

What if I tell you to un-punch someone, what you do then?

Incredibles 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Incredibles 2 may not be as fresh as the first outing – indeed, certain elements of its plotting border on the retread – but it's equally, if not more, inventive as a piece of animation, and proof that, whatever his shortcomings may be philosophically, Brad Bird is a consummately talented director. This is a movie that is consistently very funny, and which is as thrilling as your average MCU affair, but like Finding Dory, you may understandably end up wondering if it shouldn't have revolved around something a little more substantial to justify that fifteen-year gap in reaching the screen.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Well, in this case, the cats are going to kill the curious.

The Avengers 5.8: The Hidden Tiger
Another of the season's apparent run-on ideas, as the teaser depicts a character's point-of-view evisceration by aggressor unknown. Could this be the Winged Avenger at work? No, it's, as the title suggests, an attacker of the feline persuasion. If that's deeply unconvincing once revealed, returning director Sidney Havers makes the attacks themselves highly memorable, as the victims attempt to fend off claws or escape them in slow motion.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…