Skip to main content

According to the magazine ad I answered, it's an alien autopsy. Guaranteed authentic.

The X-Files
3.9: Nisei

I have to admit, I’d forgotten how good this two-parter is. It’s that rarest of rarities in the show (or indeed, most shows): a story where the second instalment noticeably trumps the first. It also plunges the show back into the murky terrain of just what it is Mulder is dealing with: aliens, or simply an entirely corrupt and obfuscating government? We know how that ultimately goes in series lore, of course – and short of the alien Bounty Hunter being Tartarian, it’s been very clearly established by now that ETs are present and peppering the continuity – but it speaks to the makers’ relationship with the “truth” that they’re still willing to debate its meta-content rather than doubling down.

Scully: Mulder, this is even hokier than the one they aired on the Fox network.

Nisei functions as your classically building opener, and despite being credited to Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz and Howard Gordon, shows little sign of a troubled realisation; it was planned as a single mythology episode, expanded when the logistic difficulties of the train action led to Goodwin suggesting it should be nixed altogether. Structurally, the trail of government-sanctioned experiments leading Mulder and Scully on a trail is a very familiar one (1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask), all the more so for the now-explicitly volunteered/sighted presence of living human-alien hybrids, an alien craft under a tarp, and the cover-their-tracks actions of the Red-Haired Man (Stephen McHattie) – see also the likes of the Alien Bounty Hunter and 2.10: Red Museum. That the tape Mulder buys – $29.95 plus shipping, and not his usual fare – leads to an explicit link to Scully’s abduction is, shall we say, on the convenient side. But I guess it’s a small and exclusive world of human-hybrid collaborators. Mostly, however, this two-parter functions at a pace and with an action movie gait that makes positives of its more standard tropes.

Mulder: It’s widely held that aliens don’t have blood, Scully.

At this stage, Carter et al are clearly spreading the net of US government complicity further afield than the most famous example of Operation Paperclip. The story specifically namechecks the Japanese Unit 731 that conducted horrific biological and chemical warfare research on human test subjects during the Sino-Japanese War and World War II, whereby those perpetrating these war crimes were granted immunity by the US in exchange for information gathered (Carter et al would later take in Russian gulags for good measure). In a sense, this represents the global community Mulder references in respect of the satellite scam. At the uppermost level, they’re all in this together, whether nominally perpetrators or perpetrated upon, and any gesture towards past atrocities being in the past is recognised for the lie this is (even in fictionalised form).

Lottie Holloway: Did you have an unexplained event in your life last year?

With regard to the Scully plotline, the only way to impact her blithe rejection of the facts is to make things personal for her, so she meets a MUFON group whose names were in a briefcase of the “high-ranking diplomat” Mulder detained (in one of the two-parter’s “Action Mulder” scenes, he gives chase and even manages, despite encountering some persuasive martial arts, to apprehend him). Here, we see a doubling down on science as the instrument of disease and distress, all those who have received implants now ravaged by cancer. Despite this, Scully concludes “Mulder, that’s still a fantasy” when confronted by his conviction of an alien-human hybrid. As we shall see, though, the second part offers a decent parry to Mulder’s proposals, and it’s made plain as day that, however much classic abduction imagery is utilised in respect of Scully’s experiences (and relating back to those of 2.5: Duane Barry), her encounters have very much been with humans.

Scully: Believing's the easy part, Mulder. I just need more than you, I need proof.
Mulder: You think that believing is easy?

Indeed, in terms of the show’s lore, the Japanese scientists may be working for the Syndicate, but as with the (suggested) nuke lie, every nation wants a piece of the alien pie. The episode is intentionally playing with the essential unreliability of perception and reported information. As ever, all that can be construed for certain is that the government cannot be trusted. Even the key train car autopsy is presented in the context of fakery due to the then-current Ray Santilli alien autopsy video (later mocked in 3.20: “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”). On the one hand, it’s in the show’s interests to be very literal regarding ETs, particularly if it is one day to the ends of faking an alien invasion (“The bright white place”). On the other, it wants to emphasise that the truth is endlessly layered (both Senator Matheson and next episode’s X emphasise the limits to what they know, specifically with regard to the all-important alien-human hybrid).

Mulder: I get tired of losing my gun.

As noted, this is an Action-Mulder fest, whereby we see him giving chase, dropping in a harbour, and in a great gung-ho cliffhanger, leaping onto the roof of a train against the warnings of X and Scully. While the profusion of rail cars in the episode is accounted for by the presence of a secret railroad (and has form going back to 2.25: Anasazi), keeping a (train) track isn’t helped any by the switching of car numbers (82954 to 82517), unless intentional (the latter is the one they end up going with, which inevitably adds up to 23).

Skinner: This is bigger than me, you, or the FBI, Agent Mulder.

The correlation between the first car (the alien corpse sourced from the crashed craft) and the second (containing what Mulder believes to be the alien human hybrid is also thus unclear. Other than both involving the Japanese and centring on the same shipyard, and that the contents of the briefcase pertaining to both; additional to which, elements here (a salvage ship looking for a submarine) will soon resurface in 3.15: Piper Maru. Robert Shearman made some valid criticisms of this one, on the side of the internal logic of Mulder pegging about the place, dodging black-ops teams, but I think they’d land more resoundingly if Nisei didn’t ultimately amount to much. Skinner’s here, of course, in perma-grouch mode, on the one hand rebuking his agents but on the other, apparently keeping very loose tabs on their movements and lacking any interest in the specifics of why he’s copping so much grief over their case.

Popular posts from this blog

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Gizmo caca!

Gremlins (1984) I didn’t get to see Gremlins at the cinema. I wanted to, as I had worked myself into a state of great anticipation. There was a six-month gap between its (unseasonal) US release and arrival in the UK, so I had plenty of time to devour clips of cute Gizmo on Film ’84 (the only reason ever to catch Barry Norman was a tantalising glimpse of a much awaited movie, rather than his drab, colourless, reviews) and Gremlins trading cards that came with bubble gum attached (or was it the other way round?). But Gremlins ’ immediate fate for many an eager youngster in Britain was sealed when, after much deliberation, the BBFC granted it a 15 certificate. I had just turned 12, and at that time an attempt to sneak in to see it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. I’d just have to wait for the video. I didn’t realise it then (because I didn’t know who he was as a filmmaker), but Joe Dante’s irrepressible anarchic wit would have a far stronger effect on me than the un