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

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.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

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.

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 .

You have a very angry family, sir.

Eternals (2021) (SPOILERS) It would be overstating the case to suggest Eternals is a pleasant surprise, but given the adverse harbingers surrounding it, it’s a much more serviceable – if bloated – and thematically intriguing picture than I’d expected. The signature motifs of director and honestly-not-billionaire’s-progeny Chloé Zhao are present, mostly amounting to attempts at Malick-lite gauzy natural light and naturalism at odds with the rigidly unnatural material. There’s woke to spare too, since this is something of a Kevin Feige Phase Four flagship, one that rather floundered, showcasing his designs for a nu-MCU. Nevertheless, Eternals manages to maintain interest despite some very variable performances, effects, and the usual retreat into standard tropes, come the final big showdown.

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.

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

I think it’s wonderful the way things are changing.

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) (SPOILERS) The meticulous slightness of Driving Miss Daisy is precisely the reason it proved so lauded, and also why it presented a prime Best Picture pick: a feel-good, social-conscience-led flick for audiences who might not normally spare your standard Hollywood dross a glance. One for those who appreciate the typical Judi Dench feature, basically. While I’m hesitant to get behind anything Spike Lee, as Hollywood’s self-appointed race-relations arbiter, spouts, this was a year when he actually did deliver the goods, a genuinely decent movie – definitely a rarity for Lee – addressing the issues head-on that Driving Miss Daisy approaches in softly-softly fashion, reversing gingerly towards with the brake lights on. That doesn’t necessarily mean Do the Right Thing ought to have won Best Picture (or even that it should have been nominated for the same), but it does go to emphasise the Oscars’ tendency towards the self-congratulatory rather than the provocat

You’re the pattern and the prototype for a whole new age of biological exploration.

The Fly II (1989) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg was not, it seems, a fan of the sequel to his hit 1986 remake, and while it’s quite possible he was just being snobby about a movie that put genre staples above theme or innovation, he wasn’t alone. Fox had realised, post- Aliens , that SF properties were ripe for hasty follow ups, and indiscriminately mined a number of popular pictures to immediately diminishing returns during the period ( Cocoon , Predator ). Neither critics nor audiences were impressed. In the case of The Fly II , though, it would be unfair to label the movie as outright bad. It simply lacks that *idea* that would justify the cash-in.