Skip to main content

Then what can I say? How can I disprove lies that are stamped with an official seal?

The X-Files
1.10: Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel hits the ground running with Mulder on the ground, running around Wisconsin woods in pursuit of an alien craft before a crash-retrieval team gets to it first. As such, this is an early sign of action-Mulder that’s called into service every so often. Until a rifle butt to the face sees to his little fancy. The subsequent dynamics of the hunt for an alien are so-so, however, and the episode’s strengths revolve around the nascent mythos the show is building for itself.

Mulder: We both want the same thing, only you want it dead.

The series is again, at this early stage, resistant to the explicit confirmation of aliens, which means it instead doubles down on the hardware. Any unidentified craft might – if not a Libyan jet with a nuclear warhead – have a terrestrial origin. The Predator-esque camouflage of the alien might simply be hi-tech military gear. And Max’s scars… well, government abduction and experimentation sold as alien meddling is a popular reading of what goes on (and one 'Jose Chung’s From Outer Space' later had much fun with).

Colonel: You just made the worst mistake of your life, Agent Mulder.
Mulder: I think you just knocked out a filling.

This very literal realisation of a main arc story is underlined by Marshall Bell’s colonel, who could easily have stepped straight out of an instalment of The A-Team, hotly pursuing those Nam veterans who escaped to the Los Angeles underground. The military operation has been set up under the guise of a crashed plane carrying a toxic cargo and with it the threat of ecological disaster, so fitting very neatly into much broader conspiracy storytelling. Likewise, the Cheyenne Mountain officer being instructed to refer to the sighting as a meteor (“The meteor seems to be hanging over a small town…”) This makes for an object lesson in obfuscation of absolute facts to all but those at the very top of the hierarchal pyramid. The eco threat as a mask for the real agenda is particularly apposite, since we can readily see that nothing has changed there in the thirty years since.

This goes in tandem with Deep Throat’s very literal introduction, in which he explains the electric fence extending 15,000 miles into space, used to track and monitor “7,087 man-made objects that orbit the Earth” (yeah, right…) In common with the show’s modus operandi, Fallen Angel baits and switches with what we know; Max is clearly an abductee, and we assume, because the military is involved, they are after an alien. But there is also an intent to make the lines murky. Is Deep Throat on Mulder’s side, as we have hitherto been led to believe, and double-bluffing Section Chief McGrath (Frederick Coffin)? Or is he really hoodwinking Mulder to avoid “having him exposed to the wrong people” (Wiki interprets this as Mulder becoming a whistle blower, but it could surely mean one of several things). Whatever his motive – and we will see he is playing on Mulder’s team, albeit a dangerous and two-edged game – the rebuff of McGrath’s intention to shut down the X-Files always seemed desperately thin. But then, I never found the recurring threat to do so (and occasionally succeed) a particularly engaging one.

Where Fallen Angel is very much successful, though, is in emphasising how the show’s mythology is developing apace, and not so much in terms of the ET arc. Max is the prime example of this. A geeky member of NICAP (National Investigative Committee of Arial Phenomena) – what’s the betting he’s the sole and founder; perhaps not, if E.B.E.’s reference is indicative – he has a track on unexplained phenomena that is very much proto-Lone Gunmen, but for his own aspect of the unexplained. We’ll also see his reframing of the “caricatures” of Mulder and Scully to increasingly humorous effect as the series grows in familiarity and confidence (“the enigmatic Doctor Scully”). Mulder has his own nascent fandom (“We at NICAP have been following your career really closely”), and we learn how easy it is to keep tabs on someone (Max has been trailing Fox’s activities through travel expenses accessed via the Freedom of Information Act – if only the Act was always so forthcoming). We also learn of Fox’s extracurricular publishing under the name MF Luder (“And of course, I read your article in Omni about the Gulf Breeze sightings”).

Mulder: I didn’t think anybody was paying attention.
Deep Throat: Somebody’s always paying attention, Mr Mulder.

Mulder is revealed to take a dim view of the “latest crop circle photos from Project Argus” (which appears to be this instance of them, rather than general dismissal). Which at least suggests a degree of pouring over the minutiae. Unfortunately, that side is let down somewhat by Max plumbing for such obvious referential touchstones as JFK and Roswell; it would have been much more believable had he offered more obscure references to someone also versed in obscure references, as it makes him sound like an obsessive character written by people (Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa) who aren’t obsessive. A little like the piss-take unemployed would-be abductee in Jose Chung chanting “Roswell! Roswell!” as if it were “Attica! Attica!

There were a couple of extra-terrestrial themed episodes prior to Fallen Angel that I haven’t revisited as they are not part of the “official” mythology arc (this will also be the case later with the likes of 6.19: The Unnatural and 6.4/5:Dreamland). 1.9: Space is, obviously, an absolute stinker (a contender for the all-time worst), a muddle of Face-on-Mars lore and space shuttle guff. Dreadful as Space is, it does take the series’ less-travelled tack, of an alien presence as an energetic or spiritual force taking possession of a victim. 1.4: Conduit also favours blurring the lines between alien and psychic phenomenon, and it makes a significant early contribution to Mulder’s missing-sister narrative; there, it appears that the girl simply ran, or sped, off with some bikers, but Conduit also incorporates perhaps the season’s inexplicable highlight visual of the brother’s binary code drawings forming a picture of his sister’s face.

Mulder: You can deny all the things I've seen. All the things I've discovered. But not for much longer. Because too many others know what's happening out there. And no one. No government agency has jurisdiction over the truth.

Director Larry Shaw only worked on one other episode (1.12: Fire), and he furnishes serviceable results, although I’ve never liked the cheap-shock jump-frame effect used during the alien attack sequences. Bellis’ performance as Max deserves particular praise, a convincingly wired guy at the mercy of forces he doesn’t understand (it’s a nice touch when Mulder counters Scully’s reference to Max being delusional with “Max doesn't believe he was abducted by aliens, I believe he was”). It’s easy to see why his story was sequelised in Season Four. And while the series’ Mulder monologues could become increasingly repetitive (and at times downright laughable) his decrying of the investigative committee is an effective rallying cry to deception the world over, and will never get stale.



















Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef