Skip to main content

We predict the future, and the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

The X-Files
3.1: The Blessing Way

Chris Carter was probably right not to approach Ansazi as he meant to continue the story – always assuming he thought ahead at all – instead opting for a complete change of pace for The Blessing Way, shifting down a gear into a more reflective season opener. That doesn’t necessarily excuse him some of the episode’s more glaring issues, however, including a recourse to cod-Native American philosophising that teeters on the brink of patronising/glib and a resolution to the second season cliffhanger that may be explicable but not sufficiently so that it isn’t still commonly cited in a “Things that don’t make sense” context.

Scully: Who are you?
Well-Manicured Man: I'm a member of a kind of consortium. We represent certain global interests.

The answer there lies in the visual evidence of Mulder being found beneath some rocks near a hybrid body, and the flashback during his vision quest showing gassed hybrids attempting to escaped the boxcar from the rear; it isn’t answered explicitly, but there’s enough information to discern there was a way for Mulder to ex machina. Albeit, most probably not on first viewing.

My reading of the end of Anasazi was that CSM ordered the boxcar’s torching with the thought in mind that Mulder might still be in there. He doesn’t appear to be voicing that here, demanding Mulder and “those files”. Later, he is on a back foot, reporting the destruction of the files and Mulder to the Elders when he knows no such thing. Whatever the specifics of his intent regarding Fox, it is very clear his superiors want our hero dead, so it is likely both CSM and Krychek were acting towards this goal in Anasazi, and Krychek certainly is when he kills Melissa in this episode (while this is used to support the “everyone is expendable” idea Carter is so fond of, it might have carried more clout in both her and Bill Mulder’s cases if they’d had a stronger prior presence beyond a couple of episodes).

The Blessing Way is notable for the welcome arrival of Baron Munchausen himself, John Neville’s Well-Manicured Man. He distinguishes himself as a key member of this ruthless globalist consortium by appearing to offer a more moderate position, relatively. Although, his warnings to Scully are couched in the de rigueur fall back for keeping Mulder and Scully alive (“… your death will draw unnecessary attention to our group”). It’s one, as I have said previously, I find singularly unconvincing.

Nevertheless, this reframing of the mythology arc threat, so making CSM answerable in his own right comes at a very necessary and crucial point. Continuing the way things were would have been untenable, and the episode is indulging its fair share of standard X-tropes anyway (making Skinner seem suspicious – in part thanks to the Well-Manicured Man’s warning – and putting Scully on a mandatory leave of absence). There is a sense of genuine danger this time, at least, by virtue of knowing the different positions held within the same faction.

Albert: This place. You carry it with you. It is inside of you. It is the origin place.

Much of The Blessing Way, though, relates to Mulder at death’s door, undertaking a spiritual journey. It’s the kind of thing that rarely brings out the best in Carter, who just loves a wallow in the slightly facile embrace of the cosmic. Albert nurses the conceit that Mulder’s spirit “did not want to be healed. That it wished to join the spirit of his own father who had died and did not want to return to the world of living”. Cue a shot of Mulder beneath a bed of branches floating in the stars, with all the conviction of Elon Musk’s car.

If Carter had anything distinctive to offer with this, I’d be all for it, but instead, he predictably trots out the departed (Deep Throat, Bill) for some hokey blather and an inevitable prod in Samantha’s direction (“No” replies Bill to the question of whether Samantha is near, meaning dead). That Bill turns out to be mistaken in this suggests a rereading of Albert’s “Yes” in response to Fox’s “It wasn’t a dream?” is in order (yes it wasn’t a dream, or yes it was a dream?) Carter apparently did his homework on the Navajo here after getting some things wrong last time, but that doesn’t mean The Blessing Way ultimately feels less like the kind of thing Costner would show up for.

Doctor: Well… it’s definitely not buckshot.

Scully also has her spot of interior reverberation as Melissa persuades her to undergo regression hypnosis, in order to get to the bottom of the not-buckshot found in her neck after she keeps setting off the metal detector in the FBI building. This doesn’t go anywhere very interesting either, perhaps because there’s nowhere interesting to go in Carter’s conception. We aren’t talking Whitley Streiber here. Or even Darin Morgan, come to that. But still, the later consequences of her surgical procedure are reasonably well considered ones in terms of series and character progression.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Blessing Way comes at the very start, with Albert’s monologue on memory versus history. In a period in which the conspirasphere has extended its canvas to mudfloods and the potential fabrication of millenniums’ worth of recorded history (or the reframing/ renaming/ repositioning of vital parts of it), the advice “to trust memory over history” is especially resonant. Carter tends to the easy options in The Blessing Way – Duchovny cited it as the show’s biggest missed opportunity in terms of Mulder’s journey – even as he’s gesturing towards more expansive and elusive ones, but he’s still fashioned a season opener that avoids crapping all over its predecessor’s high quality.








Popular posts from this blog

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

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.

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.

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.

Whacking. I'm hell at whacking.

Witness (1985) (SPOILERS) Witness saw the advent of a relatively brief period – just over half a decade –during which Harrison Ford was willing to use his star power in an attempt to branch out. The results were mixed, and abruptly concluded when his typically too late to go where Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro had gone before (with at bare minimum Oscar-nominated results) – but not “ full retard ” – ended in derision with Regarding Henry . He retreated to the world of Tom Clancy, and it’s the point where his cachet began to crumble. There had always been a stolid quality beneath even his more colourful characters, but now it came to the fore. You can see something of that as John Book in Witness – despite his sole Oscar nom, it might be one of Ford’s least interesting performances of the 80s – but it scarcely matters, or that the screenplay (which won) is by turns nostalgic, reactionary, wistful and formulaic, as director Peter Weir, in his Hollywood debu

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.

Is this supposed to be me? It’s grotesque.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) (SPOILERS) I didn’t hold out much hope for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent being more than moderately tolerable. Not so much because its relatively untested director and his co-writer are mostly known in the TV sphere (and not so much for anything anyone is raving about). Although, it has to be admitted, the finished movie flourishes a degree of digital flatness typical of small-screen productions (it’s fine, but nothing more). Rather, due to the already over-tapped meta-strain of celebs showing they’re good sports about themselves. When Spike Jonze did it with John Malkovich, it was weird and different. By the time we had JCVD , not so much. And both of them are pre-dated by Arnie in Last Action Hero (“ You brought me nothing but pain ” he is told by Jack Slater). Plus, it isn’t as if Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten have much in the way of an angle on Nic; the movie’s basically there to glorify “him”, give or take a few foibles, do

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

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

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.