Skip to main content

And you're worried that all your life, you've been seeing elves?

The X-Files
2.1: Little Green Men

I well recall the slight disappointment when the second season opener arrived. Was this the payoff to all that palpable excitement of The Erlenmeyer Flask? A limp retread of previous plots (1.10: Fallen Angel, 1.17: E.B.E.) varnished with some up-against-it dressing in the form of our protagonists’ now ex-X-Files status? The passage of time has done little to change that response. Little Green Men serves its remit of reconfirming the show’s credentials to newbies, but that remit is disappointingly coy.

Glen Morgan and James Wong furnished an episode with the most Chris Carter-y Mulder monologues you ever did hear, which leads me to suspect Carter probably penned them himself. Their theme was “the idea that we all have to fight our own little green men and carry on”. Which is, well, sure… More interesting is how much they immerse the episode in the “factual” iconography and lore of NASA’s exploration of space as a means to project the feasibility of extra-terrestrial life.

Mulder: On August 20th and September 5th, 1977, two spacecraft were launched from the Kennedy Space Flight Centre, Florida. They were called Voyager. A gold-plated record depicting images, music and sounds of our planet, arranged so that it may be understood if ever intercepted by a technologically mature extra-terrestrial civilization. Thirteen years after its launch, Voyager One passed the orbital plane of Neptune and essentially leaving our solar system. Within that time, there were no further messages sent. Nor are any planned. We wanted to listen. On October 12th, 1992, NASA initiated the high-resolution microwave survey. A decade long-search by radio telescope, scanning ten million frequencies for any transmission by extra-terrestrial intelligence. Less than one year later, first-term Nevada Senator Richard Bryan successfully championed an amendment which terminated the project. I wanted to believe but the tools have been taken away.

Mulder’s paean to lost dreams of alien contact, as the authorities lose interest in and sight of the mission, has a certain poetic flair and zeal. But Voyager’s poster boy for alien contact is – as the accompanying recording illustrates – one Kurt Waldheim, a choice serving to emphasise that deceit and corruption are at the heart of both the UN and NASA, a tissue of lies as pervasive as the fake space graphics illustrating Mulder’s monologue. Mulder’s universe, for all his fascination with the unexplained, is defined by the explicable, and its underpinnings dictated by his masters and those who edict that parameters of the predominant paradigm.

Troisky: Ohio State has a radio telescope that conducts electronic searches for extra-terrestrial intelligence. In August 1977, my buddy, Jerry Ehman, found a transmission on the print-out like this. He was so excited, he wrote "wow" in the margins…. A signal thirty times stronger than galactic background noise. It came through on the twenty-one-centimetre frequency which no satellite transmitters are allowed to use.

Morgan and Wong – even in their soundbites concerning the episode – emphasise the importance of solid, grounded reality. They’re using core scientific exploration of the universe to lend weight to their extra-terrestrial theme. This is expressly intentional, even if, like the later Contact, the theme comes back to the importance of the universe within (or the family we hold closest). SETI is referenced later, of course, and again underpinned it in its ET projections through the “definable” science of satellite systems (“The ‘wow’ signal is the best evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence”).

Senator Matheson: This is the first selection of music on the Voyager spacecraft. The first. Four and a half billion years from now, when the sun exhausts its fuel and swells to engulf the earth, this expression will still be out there, traveling four and a half billion years. That is, if it's not intercepted first. Imagine, Fox. If another civilization out there were to hear this, they would think "what a wonderful place the earth must be." I would want this to be the first contact with another lifeform.

They double down on this when Mulder visits Senator Matheson (Richard J Barry, here ultra-sympathetic, but couched in his usually playing unsympathetic types). Mulder’s greatest benefactor – who joins the dots on the benefactor in high places referenced in Season One – shares his passion, at least on the surface. And again, the emphasis is on the poetry of the universe – the model that is infinite, and vast, and will continue being infinite and vast in a vast span of infinite time in the future when our insignificant and fragile forms have long since been blotted from the cosmic record – this time as suggested by Bach. The other takeaway here is that, as with Deep Throat, Mulder’s mission is ordained from reasonably high in the establishment, the corrupted establishment he knows not to trust but which so likes to bait the hook. We have a similar dependency on benefactors in Mulder’s later anecdote:

Mulder: Have you ever been to San Diego?
Scully: Yeah.
Mulder: Did you check out the Palomar observatory?
Scully: No.
Mulder: From 1948 until recently, it was the largest telescope in the world. The idea and design came from a brilliant and wealthy astronomer named George Ellery Hale. Actually, the idea was presented to Hale one night. While he was playing billiards, an elf climbed in his window and told him to get money from the Rockefeller Foundation for a telescope.
Scully: And you're worried that all your life, you've been seeing elves?
Mulder: In my case... little green men.

Mulder’s tale of George Ellery Hale and the elf has been “debunked”. It’s documented in Hale’s “Little Elf”: The Mental Breakdowns of George Ellery Hale, where it asserts (interestingly) that the appearances of the wee fellow were often associated with a ringing in Hale’s ears. The elf advised him “on the conduct of his life”. Now, fair enough, the letter referenced advises that “a little demon stands by my side, and every few minutes prods me with the suggestion that, after all, the book is not interesting, and that all my attention belongs to him”. Which lends itself to the figurative explanation for his neurosis. But it’s worth noting that W Sheehan and DE Osterbrock focus on this and disregard the referenced contributing remarks of Doctor Hunnicutt. Quite aside from recoil at the idea a man of science, even a man of science experiencing psychological problems, could legitimately see little green men, the most interesting element of this is Hale’s tie with Rockefeller.

We have a man espousing the rigours of material science who, on whatever level, is tied in with a much less scientifically plausible definition of reality. One who, in Mulder’s take, went to the Rockefeller Foundation, an organisation not insignificantly responsible for a stranglehold on western and thus global definitions of our – scientific – reality, both in body and the greater natural world, for a grant to build an observatory that would further – scientifically – define our reality.

With all this couching of Mulder’s quest in the “real” world, Morgan and Wong opt to make his emotional journey noticeably soft centred. He tells Scully his mission means nothing without evidence – something he has learnt from her – and that without it, even the fate of his sister comes into question. As well it should, since it later turns out not to have transpired as he believed. The inconsistency of Mulder’s flashback (in which we see his sister levitating prior to abduction) has been cited by Carter as relating to vague memories resulting from hypnotic regression, but my thinking would be that this seems to be a dream and is thus subjective: Mulder is shown to awake suddenly, directly following the sequence.

The meat of the episode finds Mulder given twenty-four hours to get to Vancouver-not-fooling-anyone-it’s-Puerto Rico. If that comfortable and highly convenient lead-in time sounds familiar, it would be because Mulder gets “twenty-four hours before the entire area is sanitised” in Fallen Angel. Quite how Senator Matheson is delaying the Blue Beret UFO Retrieval Team, authorised to use terminal force, is anyone’s guess, but it seems massively unlikely.

That might not matter so much if Mulder had something interesting to do when he got there. Instead, we he waffles into a tape recorder, encounters an idiot Puerto Rican native (that’s how he’s been written) and experiences a sub-Close Encounters light show complete with spindly ET apparition at the door. Which, I suppose, goes to confirm his projections in a rather elliptical way. And yet, Mulder turns out to have been very wrong in his conclusion: “They came, Scully. The ones who took her. They were here”.

Cigarette-Smoking Man: Your time is over... and you leave with nothing.

If this is really rather rote stuff – the heralded first sighting of an alien is ultimately bets-hedging – the arrival of the Blue Berets and Mulder and Scully’s escape is a top-notch piece of suspense from director David Nutter. Added to which, the subsequent scene, in which Skinner grows a pair and tells CSM to get the hell out of his office, is the first clear sign of an ADS on Mulder and Scully’s side, even if that will mix and match with strained relations over the years.

Answer Phone: Mulder... you hounded me to have lunch with you today and then you don't show. You're a pig.

Other elements of note. Mulder’s secret life as a would-be lothario isn’t up to much. I can’t figure out why there’s all these clock-and-dagger meetings between and surveillance of the duo, except that Morgan and Wong are pursuing their E.B.E. themes. I mean, what exactly are they being watched for? Discussing X-Files in their spare time? Scully doesn’t get much of a look in here, which will be common to the first part of the season, aside from guessing Mulder’s password. And being on the receiving end of a real stinker of a cute line: “Are you okay, Agent Scully? You kind of sounded a… little spooky” (OUCH).

Mostly, though, I’d have been much more interested in seeing a whole episode of Mulder in The Conversation/French Connection dog-end surveillance detail than this rather pedestrian affair. Little Green Man is quite engaging at its opening and closing, but it goes into moribund territory when it’s trying to restate the show’s essential values.


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