Skip to main content

I told you they would take somebody else. They did!

The X-Files
2.6: Ascension

As noted, Ascension is something of an addendum to the originally intended solo Duane Barry outing. Consequently, it’s serviceably written by Paul Brown (also 2.11: Excelsis Dei) and Michael Lange, but it’s a victim to the “blockbuster” mentality that would ultimately favour attractive set pieces over coherent plotting in the arc episodes. Mulder trapped in a cable car! Scully gets snatched! The shortfall is perhaps more transparent in Ascension, since all that fine character work in Duane Barry leads to the character’s rather perfunctory demise in favour of shifting Scully’s abduction centre stage.

X: There are no answers for you, Mr Mulder. They only have one policy... Deny everything.

Quite a few of the series’ tics are becoming a little aggravating even at this early stage. Cigarette Smoking Man may have been intriguing and foreboding to many at this point, as a prelude to the mysterious face of the Syndicate, but in retrospect he feels like a cumbersome “heavy”, devoid of nuance and, worse, given to nonsensical reasoning. I’ve mentioned this before and will again, as it’s the backbone of much of the “logic” behind permitting Mulder’s continued activity, but his rebuttal of Krychek’s request to dispose of Fox with “you run the risk of turning one man’s religion into a crusade” is desperately weak. I can understand Carter needing it, because the series collapses in on itself without some voiced motivation from the bad guys. But unfortunately, it just doesn’t wash.

Krychek: If Mulder is such a threat, why not eliminate him?
CSM: That's not policy.
Krychek: It's not? After what you had me do?
CSM: Kill Mulder and you risk turning one man's religion into a crusade.
Krychek: What about Scully?
CSM: We've taken care of that.

I’d forgotten just how quickly Krychek’s suspect motivation is revealed. He doesn’t even wait around for Skinner to investigate Mulder’s frankly weak accusations, simply deigning not to show up for work after trapping Fox in a cable car, killing the operator and poisoning Duane Barry. Oh, and there were tell-tale cigarettes in Krychek’s car! Honestly, Skinner should have slung Mulder out of his office right then and there. I’m doubtful much could have been proved against him – Mulder’s culpability for strangling Barry is more black and white – but there’s no doubt his behaviour is ridiculously bull-in-a-china-shop throughout.

X: You've wasted a trip, Mister Mulder. There's nothing the Senator can do for you now.
Mulder: What?
X: Not without committing political suicide.
Mulder: Why? Do they have something on him?
X: They have something on everyone, Mr Mulder. The question is when they'll use it.
Mulder: I need his help.
X: No one can help you now. Your channels of appeal and recourse are closed.

There’s also X (Steven Williams), in his third appearance after 2.2: The Host and 2.4: Sleepless, informing Mulder that Senator Matheson (2.1: Little Green Men) will not be able to help him. Plus, he emphasises the episode’s change of tagline (Deny Everything). And the episode ends with Skinner reopening the X-Files, so announcing where his sympathies ultimately lie (even if he’s going to go back and forth in curmudgeonly fashion on expressing that volubly). Mrs Mulder (Sheila Larken) shows up. Twice. So already, the show is utilising its smorgasbord tendencies with regard to the arcs, throwing everyone and everything in there.

The thing is, Ascension begins very stylishly. The use of Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand, as Duane is pulled over by a cop and proceeds to deal with him, is creepy and atmospheric. Less so, the remarkable magnification properties of your average cop-car camera (able to provide a magnificently detailed blow up of Scully peeking out of the boot). Is it actually explained how Duane knows to grab Scully? I know it’s queried by Mulder (either the chip led him there or he was told where to go), but I’m not sure it’s pinned down.

Mulder: Don't move!
Duane Barry: I'm not going anywhere!
Mulder: Where is she? Where'd you leave her?
Duane Barry: They took her.
Mulder: Who?
Duane Barry: Them! I told you they would take somebody else. They did!

The problem is, once Mulder catches up with Barry, now sans Scully, the episode has little place surprising left to go. The rapport with Barry is gone, leaving Mulder threatening him and Krycek required to mop up the loose end. We see Scully experimented upon of course, but aside from her apparently being pregnant (well, she was, natch), this is already a passé nightmare effect (running with the previously noted ambiguity, Carter didn’t want it clear whether aliens, the military, or both had abducted here). Ascension works well enough on a surface level, but it’s a functional piece that leaves you wishing they’d given Barry a better send-off (he even dies off screen).

Popular posts from this blog

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

If this were a hoax, would we have six dead men up on that mountain?

The X-Files 4.24: Gethsemane   Season Four is undoubtedly the point at which the duff arc episodes begin to amass, encroaching upon the decent ones for dominance. Fortunately, however, the season finale is a considerable improvement’s on Three’s, even if it’s a long way from the cliffhanger high of 2.25: Anasazi .

My hands hurt from galloping.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) (SPOILERS) Say what you like about the 2016 reboot, at least it wasn’t labouring under the illusion it was an Amblin movie. Ghostbusters 3.5 features the odd laugh, but it isn’t funny, and it most definitely isn’t scary. It is, however, shamelessly nostalgic for, and reverential towards, the original(s), which appears to have granted it a free pass in fan circles. It didn’t deserve one.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

I’ve heard the dancing’s amazing, but the music sucks.

Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) (SPOILERS) At one point in Tick, Tick… Boom! – which really ought to have been the title of an early ’90s Steven Seagal vehicle – Andrew Garfield’s Jonathan Larson is given some sage advice on how to find success in his chosen field: “ On the next, maybe try writing about what you know ”. Unfortunately, the very autobiographical, very-meta result – I’m only surprised the musical doesn’t end with Larson finishing writing this musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical… – takes that acutely literally.

Out of my way, you lubberly oaf, or I’ll slit your gullet and shove it down your gizzard!

The Princess and the Pirate (1944) (SPOILERS) As I suggested when revisiting The Lemon Drop Kid , you’re unlikely to find many confessing to liking Bob Hope movies these days. Even Chevy Chase gets higher approval ratings. If asked to attest to the excruciating stand-up comedy Hope, the presenter and host, I doubt even diehards would proffer an endorsement. Probably even fewer would admit to having a hankering for Hope, were they aware of, or further still gave credence to, alleged MKUltra activities. But the movie comedy Hope, the fourth-wall breaking, Road -travelling quipster-coward of (loosely) 1939-1952? That Hope’s a funny guy, mostly, and many of his movies during that period are hugely inventive, creative comedies that are too easily dismissed under the “Bob Hope sucks” banner. The Princess and the Pirate is one of them.

Who gave you the crusade franchise? Tell me that.

The Star Chamber (1983) (SPOILERS) Peter Hyams’ conspiracy thriller might simply have offered sauce too weak to satisfy, reining in the vast machinations of an all-powerful hidden government found commonly during ’70s fare and substituting it with a more ’80s brand that failed to include that decade’s requisite facile resolution. There’s a good enough idea here – instead of Charles Bronson, it’s the upper echelons of the legal system resorting to vigilante justice – but The Star Chamber suffers from a failure of nerve, repenting its premise just as it’s about to dig into the ramifications.

You’re going to make me drop a donkey.

Encanto (2021) (SPOILERS) By my estimation, Disney brand pictures are currently edging ahead of the Pixars. Not that there’s a whole lot in it, since neither have been at full wattage for a few years now. Raya and the Last Dragon and now Encanto are collectively just about superior to Soul and Luca . Generally, the animation arm’s attempts to take in as much cultural representation as they possibly can, to make up for their historic lack of woke quotas, has – ironically – had the effect of homogenising the product to whole new levels. So here we have Colombia, renowned the world over for the US’s benign intervention in their region, not to mention providing the CIA with subsistence income, beneficently showered with gifts from the US’s greatest artistic benefactor.