Skip to main content

I’m not impressed by your miracles or moved by your trickery.

The X-Files
3.24: Talitha Cumi

Well, that’s a relief. A bit of one, anyway. Talitha Cumi is more engaging and more engaged than its myth arc predecessor, possibly by dint of Duchovny coming in with a co-story idea – although, the alien bounty hunter was his too, lest we forget – but mainly because its diving into Chris Carter’s favoured arena of quasi-spiritual rumination. Only, crucially, largely avoiding the heavy-handed stodge he usually mixes up with such endeavours. Which isn’t to say there’s anything enormously special about the third season finale – indeed, the most striking thing is how innocuous it is for a season climax – but it ticks along in a reasonably involving way, and benefits hugely from Roy Thinnes’ underplaying introduction as Jeremiah Smith.

The opening finds a crazed gunman (Hrothgar Matthews), either having recently checked out Falling Down or undergone a spate of persuasive MkUltra-ing, shooting a welter of people at a fast-food restaurant before being shot himself. Only for Smith to announce – Steven Moffatt would later take this as his creed – “Nobody’s going to die”. By the time the authorities enter, however, everyone’s back up on their feet. Inevitably, this yields religious responses (“God spared my life today”), and leads in turn to the centre-point discussion of the episode.

This occurs between the captured Jeremiah and CSM, and it’s an episode where the assumed cachet of CSM – I may have made clear by now that I consider him at best a limited-trick pony, certainly one underserving of all the attention lavished on him – is burgeoning; this will “inspire” a special dedicated flashback episode the following season. So by the time he has a cosy chat with Jeremiah, we’ve already seen CSM confront Mrs Mulder, initially making small talk (“He was a good water skier, your husband”), before leeringly alluding to a past affair and his own studly prowess in the sack, in comparison to Bill (yes, it’s all a bit “Ewwwwww!”)

I don’t find this mining/retconning Fox’s family backstory overly impressive, mainly because it detracts from the idea that Mulder is just a guy with an obsessive thing (well, that and a missing sister). It makes him a key to the mythos, a chosen one for whom there was no other way. That doesn’t matter in the majority of the series’ episodes, but such closely collected clutching of motives and persons makes for an increasingly limited tapestry for mythology arc exploration. We see it here with an indulgent shapeshifting sequence where CSM is taunted by ghosts of the past – Jeremiah becomes Deep Throat, then Bill Mulder – as if to say “This is what you love fans, this nostalgia”. And we’re not even three years old yet.

Carter et al resist the urge to kill Teena Mulder at this point, but using the character – to suffer a stroke and leave an evidence trail – is pretty cheap really. Now she’s someone who knows where to locate hidden alien stilettos (in lamps). It’s consequently a surprising moment, conjuring visions of Spooky’s mom viciously stabbing Brian Thompson in the back of the neck. The palm/lamp thing did make me wonder if the series’ 2012 date might also have been rearranged, however…

There are other good moments here. I like the video tape analysis, where Jeremiah is there one moment and then not (“It’s like he’s gone, but there’s somebody else in his place”). Although on the other hand, Mulder should really be able to make four from two and two by now, such that when (fake) Smith disappears in a sea of limbs, he ought to be grabbing the one (or ones) with a matching suit out of the bodies.

Elsewhere, there’s one of Mulder’s tediously inevitable blow ups at Skinner, who looks confused and possibly constipated in response. There’s also a fight with X, where Mulder manages to emerge intact, perhaps surprising given X’s prior kick-ass-ness. And as noted, the episode ends with Mulder meeting Jeremiah and Scully at an industrial site, and the alien Bounty Hunter arriving. It’s very much a “Is that the best you could come up with?” Season Two concluded on a blinder, so if it couldn’t have given us something dramatically edge of the seat, Three might at least have presented an idea. But no, it’s a bit of a misfire (nevertheless, the first episode of Season Four brought the series to a new high in the ratings).

That central discussion, though. It may rather overcook things in typically Carter-esque style, but there are some reasonable ideas here. One might infer Jeremiah’s caring, sharing cog in the system role of Social Security Advisor indicates one who’s in favour of state dependence, in a Hegelian sense, but what he’s arguing against, and what CSM is for, is dedicated science-based materialism, and “the authority to take away their freedom in the guise of democracy”. Further still, the counter challenge “Who are you to give them hope?

One might address this in terms of the subtext of deceit, of course. Jeremiah allows lowly humans to believe a lie, that he is a god or an emissary thereof. What he’s closer to, leaving aside that he’s an alien, is a fallen angel (or a Nephilim. A good Nephilim?) He states “I no longer believe in the greater purpose”. That being, of course, the debasement of humankind through whatever means (eventually, in X-lore, a mass cull). CSM angrily denounces him, exclaiming “You're a drone, a cataloguer, chattel!” – hives and hive minds will later figure strongly in the colonist subterfuge – before being visibly affected by news of his medical condition. The key to this episode’s positive points is less in the overstatement of The Exorcist III-esque cell scene shapeshifting than the subdued, beneficent performance of Thinnes, imbuing Jeremiah with a quiet dignity that makes the piece as a whole feel like it possesses more gravitas and elegance than it actually does.

Rob Shearman called the Brothers Karamazov-inspired debate between Jeremiah and CSM (actually Duchovny’s idea, not Carter’s) “worthy and pretentious and utterly undramatic” and at least some of that is fair. Nevertheless, I think the substance of it is thematically on point, and its greatest sin is the dread indulgence of fan service. Shearman hated the episode, though, focussing on flaws in the writing that can be found throughout any and every Carter script for the series. He concludes that Talitha Cumi is about nothing, and advances nothing”, but if he thinks the “grandiose swagger” (I’m not entirely sure what he means, but I suspect that’s invoking Dostoevsky) is its greatest problem, it’s one the series is shot through with at the best of times.


Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

We’re looking into a possible pattern of nationwide anti-Catholic hate crimes.

Vampires aka John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter limps less-than-boldly onward, his desiccated cadaver no longer attentive to the filmic basics of quality, taste, discernment, rhyme or reason. Apparently, he made his pre-penultimate picture to see if his enthusiasm for the process truly had drained away, and he only went and discovered he really enjoyed himself. It doesn’t show. Vampires is as flat, lifeless, shoddily shot, framed and edited as the majority of his ’90s output, only with a repellent veneer of macho bombast spread on top to boot.

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

Maybe I’m a heel who hates guys who hate heels.

Crimewave (1985) (SPOILERS) A movie’s makers’ disowning it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of worth therein, just that they don’t find anything of worth in it. Or the whole process of making it too painful to contemplate. Sam Raimi’s had a few of those, experiencing traumas with Darkman a few years after Crimewave . But I, blissfully unaware of such issues, was bowled over by it when I caught it a few years after its release (I’d hazard it was BBC2’s American Wave 2 season in 1988). This was my first Sam Raimi movie, and I was instantly a fan of whoever it was managed to translate the energy and visual acumen of a cartoon to the realm of live action. The picture is not without its problems – and at least some of them directly correspond to why it’s so rueful for Raimi – but that initial flair I recognised still lifts it.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.