Skip to main content

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files
3.2: Paperclip

Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

Albert: My father taught me when I was a boy that this is how life is. That for something to live, another thing must often be sacrificed. This was my fear now for the young woman.

Albert’s at it again with his font of wisdom. Waxing stoically ponderous regarding white buffalo. Praying over Melissa, now reduxed as The Mummy. Worrying when the calf gets crook (raising as it does an interesting and potent concept for a flawed realm, whereby you can’t have anything positive without something negative transpiring somewhere else, very demiurgic). And then, rather triumphantly and in quite a rare and satisfying outmanoeuvre for the show, proving to be Skinner’s trump card when CSM smugly tells the Assistant Director he has nothing to bargain with; the knowledge of the files has been assimilated by Albert and if anything happens to Mulder and Scully or Albert, it will be disseminated high and low. The practicalities of this are less important than it sounding good.

Skinner: I'm sure you're thinking Albert is an old man and there are plenty of ways you might kill him too. Which is why, in the ancient oral tradition of his people, he's told twenty other men the information on those files. So unless you kill every Navajo living in four states... that information is available with a simple phone call. Welcome to the wonderful world of high technology.

Which is a bonus, as Skinner rather ballsed up in his previous attempt to bargain with CSM, getting kicked and beaten in a hospital stairwell by Krychek and a couple of co-assailant goons (my favourite moment in which regard is Krychek subsequently realising, just in time, that he is a loose end that needs tying off and scarpering just in time to escape a car bomb).

Mulder: The are truths out there that aren’t on that tape.

To be fair to Skinner, he’s not the only one doing underwhelming work at times here. Mulder announces himself with a huzzah of “I was a dead man and now I’m back” but the rest of his “rebirth” scene is, amusingly, entirely underwhelming. Sending Mulder and Scully to a disused mining facility in West Virginia to happen upon an extensive filing system in a mountain is an unlikely but engaging development, however. Particularly so when hybrids begin milling freely around (even if they’re intended to be snatched up by the UFO, the security thereabouts isn’t exactly conspicuous). Yes, there’s another UFO, and as these things go, what we see of it is on the clunky, nuts-and-bolts side (which would rather boost Season Five’s “Doubt everything you have seen” arc plotline).

This whole sequence is breathlessly dramatic, however, enlisting the thrill of discovery and the urgency of the chase when a hit squad arrives to hit them. Director Rob Bowman does sterling work in low-level lighting (often just flashlights to offer any sense of space and perspective). Carter, again performing script duties, knows there needs to be something vital to balance out the reams of exposition helpfully offered by the bad guys. First there’s Victor Klemper (Walter Gottell of Bond and, appropriately, The Boys from Brazil). Klemper represents the usual hissable Nazi, duly rehearsing The Boys from Brazil’s Mengele script of justifiable experimentation (Scully, as the benign voice of science, presents the prosecution). His orchid house is a nice touch, and one wonders if Minority Report wasn’t inspired for similar genetic experimentation.

Mulder: This file was originally mine.

When it isn’t Klemper, it’s the Well-Manicured Man as the exposition machine, helpfully filling us in on the connection to Paperclip and Bill Mulder’s reluctant involvement in these machinations. Frankly, Carter is very lucky to have John Neville on board, as he innately lends a sense of considered purpose when his motivation is, frankly, thin. There are yet further layers here in the ongoing sister quest, of course, with Mulder discovering he was originally earmarked for tests and that Bill made the Sophie’s Choice when Teena could not. Again, that’s a pretty solidand cogent development as these things go, providing explanations that fit with what we have already seen.

Byers: Together with Von Braun, Klemper helped us win the space race. Using his scientific data on the effects of high-altitude flying, we were able to put astronauts on the moon before the Soviets.

The Gunmen are also in service to the exposition engine, in the process of which they act like the good little limited hangouts they are. As serious-minded conspiracy theorists, they wouldn’t be taken in for a minute by the Moon Landing hoax, and while there’s a fig leaf of the fake history Albert previously spoke of (“Paperclip was supposed to have been scrapped in the 1950s…”) the episode is generally falling in line with every popular conspiracy trope (Nazis, Greys, deals with the aforesaid). The only really daring aspect – much less so at the time, admittedly – is connecting all this nefariousness to vaccinations (of the vaccination records: “They took tissue from everyone who received a small pox inoculation”).

Mulder: You're going to have to wait a little longer for my video collection, Frohike.

There isn’t a whole lot of room for levity in Paperclip (a reference to Mulder’s porn stash is about the extent of it), but the episode probably works a lot better than it should for a third part and one that is regular stopping off for some potentially turgid explanations. Which Scully, reverting to tiresome type, is having none of. Skinner winding up CSM is a great moment (“Do you have the damn tape?!”) while Well-Manicured Man essentially performs the role of Carter himself in setting out the series’ never-ending capacity for furthering its conspiratorial tentacles beyond the bounds of common sense or indeed comprehension: This is the series modus operandi:

Mulder: Why are you telling me this?
Well-Manicured Man: It's what you want to know... isn't it?
Mulder: Is there more?
Well-Manicured Man: More than you'll ever know.

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.

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989) (SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch , or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins . Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon.  It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy ( Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Bi

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