Skip to main content

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files
8.7: Via Negativa

I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth. For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa.

I wasn’t entirely wrong. A key scene here remains a doozy, and it’s engaging to see a still early-days, sceptical Doggett attempting to wrap his head around matters where Mulder would be a duck to water. But I’m instantly reminded of my issues with the change in line up. To be honest, I found the ever-sceptical aspect of Scully, much as it made sense for a character dynamic, to be an irritant after a certain point. So now, with Mulder out of the way, recasting her as the believer – pretty much – never washed. You even have Skinner fighting the good fight. And the irony is, when Doggett actually grapples with the case – having rejected Skinner’s “science fiction stories” – he does so with far more acumen than any barring Mulder would have.

Writer Frank Spotnitz is clearly aware of this big ask, which is why he incorporates a scene with the Lone Gunmen – amusingly messing about in Mulder’s files when Doggett walks in, as he pretty much represents “the Man” to them. They have him pegged as a slow joe, and patronise him accordingly as “in way over your head”. However, after Doggett is through outlining a near-enough note-perfect surmisal of what is going on, they have to admit “That’s not bad for a beginner” (Doggett has given the caveat that he doesn’t believe any of it, “… but if Tippet does…”)

The basic premise is your X-Files standby of a cult leader/killer leaving a gruesome trail of bodies in their wake (one might call it Manson-esque, if one wasn’t rightly dubious of the self-prescribed status of that engineer of the demise of the hippie dream). Anthony Tipet (Keith Szarabajka, also in a recurring role on Angel around this time) has figured out, rather vaguely it has to be said, a way to get closer to God through the titular path of “negative theology” – God’s unknowability, essentially – and copious quantities of hallucinogens (African tree bark iboga). Spotnitz’s idea is well and good – trying to reach to a higher plane of existence, but ending up somewhere lower – but it’s also very sketchy. Tipet’s cult aren’t allowed his drugs but somehow still come on board for his rather unremarkable “The body is but clay…” lectures.

So too, the third eye element is lent some memorable visuals when it becomes literalised in a dreamscape, but that’s by way of a rather blundering, gruey motive to hack at said place with an axe on the part of Tipet’s crazed alter. The Lone Gunmen proffer the dollar bill and reference MKUltra “failing where Tippet is evidently succeeding”. Which finds The X-Files, not altogether surprisingly given that it is only really going places it is allowed to go, toeing the party line. So, while I didn’t regard Via Negativa as a missed opportunity exactly, I did think, revisiting it, that it might have done much more with some quite fertile ground.

Doggett: I thought I woke up this morning. I thought I was awake, and then. He knows me now. He can enter my dreams.

The episode’s most memorable sequence, though, finds Doggett returning home after barely stopping a now comatose Tippet from putting his head all the way through a table saw. Which follows the prison death of illicit pharmaceutical chemist Andre Bormanis (Grant Heslov, Clooney’s producer partner and director of the very sanitised and approved psychic spies comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats, based on the very sanitised and approved book by trusted establishment sceptic Jon Ronson). We’ve already seen Doggett, in a wave of dreaminess, hallucinating that he is holding Scully’s severed head in his hands (told he should get some sleep he responds very drolly “Yeah, I just grabbed a few winks”). Now though, he “wakes” and walks into the bureau as if in a fug: “I’m not sure if I’m awake” he tells Skinner. This culminates in his dream self trying to axe himself rather than kill dream Scully; Scully-ex-machina wakes him just in time.

This is very much Doggett’s show – Scully’s barely in it, having tests on account of her not-yet-admitted pregnancy. Robert Patrick’s more than able to hold his own. Although, the truth is, Patrick’s a more interesting actor than Doggett is a character. He generally does the heavy lifting where Doggett is concerned. I should mention director Tony Wharmby here too, as it’s his first gig for the show at the ripe old age of sixty. He started out on Coronation Street in the late 1960s, added flair to Dempsey and Makepeace in the mid-80s, clearly got noticed for it and crossed the pond to take on the likes of The Equalizer, Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice. Notably, he’s eighty and still working, having been a fixture on various NCIS incarnations for more than a decade. I mention him in part because that’s fairly impressive all on its own, but also because he also helmed the second late-series episode I picked, one that turns out to be more up to the standard I recalled than Via Negativa...




 




Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.