Saturday, March 17, 2018

X-Files (11th Season)

I was already approaching middle-age when the first nine seasons of the X-Files were broadcast.  Nostalgia, regret, and sorrow over forebodings of mortality provide much of the subject in the 11th season of the X-Files.  (This brooding sense of the imminence of dotage afflicted the 10th season when the show was rebooted after 20 years off-screen in 2016).   Accordingly, the show's pervasive autumnal cast makes me feel not just old, but ancient -- I am obviously ten or fifteen years older than the protagonists and if they are now long in the tooth and much afflicted by advancing age, a reader can, perhaps, imagine how I feel watching the program.  Even when the X-Files aims for campy horror and quotes itself in a post-modernist and ironic sort of way, the show isn't as much fun as it used to be.  Senility, it seems, is, indeed, creeping into the exercise.  That said, three of the show's episode were excellent and, even when the program is saturated in narcissistic self-pity, the program is still always pretty good.  Gillian Anderson is as beautiful as ever and the show's periodic gestures toward portraying her as a sort of wizened hag, of course, don't make any sense.  David Duchovny, truth be told, has not aged particularly well -- he look more Semitic than in days of yore and his face seems to have enlarged in an unbecoming sort of way:  the older we get, the bigger our faces, until, in the end, we are walking around with saggy masks of ourselves somehow tacked to our receding and grey hairlines.  This rule doesn't apply to the incandescent Ms. Anderson, but Duchovny isn't the dashing, saturnine leading man that he was once -- I'm not sure, for instance, that he is well-suited for a remake of his last show in "stud" mode, Californication.  He remains, however, a persuasive actor and the wry sense of humor that he shows in the program is one of its saving graces.

As everyone now knows, the so-called "mythology" episodes that amplify the shows's narrative arc -- something about humans bearing within them space alien DNA and a massive government conspiracy to repress this truth -- are generally dull, needlessly pretentious to the point of being sacramental, and incoherent to boot.  This was true when the show was in its first nine seasons and remains even more true today.  Accordingly, the first couple shows of the 11th season, programs that were suffused in stygian darkness and reprised the X-Files mythology, now even sadder and more grim because these episodes focus onan apparently irretrievably missing person, the son that Dana Scully and Fox Mulder conceived and, then, lost about 20 years ago -- the show  teases us with cameo appearances of the young man but he is forever being banished to the series' outer darkness much to the tearful dismay of his two now-aging children.  The mythology shows feature Mitch Pileggi as agent Skinner, Scully and Mulder's persnickety, curmudgeonly, but, ultimately, loyal boss -- curiously, Pileggi was cast as an elder to the principals because of his baldness.  He's still bald but, like many handsome bald men (my friend, Terry Dilley had this characteristic) hasn't seem to age at all; this makes him now look younger and more fit than the somewhat dissipated Fox Mulder.  Another reliable element on the mythology shows is the so-called "Cigarette-smoking man", the deepest of all deep State operatives and the program's leading villain.  Last season (season 10), the "cigarette smoking guy" was smoking through a hole neatly bored in his larynx, a horrible effect that has been (thankfully) abandoned in Season 11.  True to form, the "mythology" shows featured lots of whispered and tearful colloquies between Fox and Dana interspersed with slow-speed and inconsequential chases through the deepening darkness.  By contrast, some of "monster episodes", typically the programs by which the show demonstrated its quirky humor with campy, ironic homages to classic TV and movie "creature-features", have been highly successful, although even these shows haven't complete escaped the show's pervasive aura of sadness.  In one episode, Fox and Dana are dining at an upscale,  highly automated sushi place.  They are alone and communicate, like many long-married couples, by gestures and grunts.  (This show is almost completely silent.)  Fox's fish turns out to be inedible and, so, he refuses the automated waiter's request that he tip the "chefs" -- other machines shown to be industriously assembling sushi in the kitchen.  The "chefs" take umbrage and unleash various cyber-attacks on Fox and Dana, culminating by an assault on their respective homes by armadas of drones.  When Fox finally coughs up the gratuity, the drones all politely withdraw and a small robot thanks him for his generosity.  The entire episode is ingeniously plotted, beautifully shot, and turns the show's signature sense of dread into comedy.  (The episode is also similar to the pitch-black episode "Metalhead" in Black Mirror in which an implacable and lethal mechanical dog tracks the protagonists and eliminates them one by one for some infraction that we can't even exactly understand.)   In another episode, children are seduced into the woods by a grotesquely masked, chalk-white clown.  This show was a little too dire for my taste -- a witch was punishing adultery by dispatching a hell-hound to kill the small children of the offending parties -- but the program was effective.  In the old days, The X-Files, even if were a weak episode, almost always delivered one frightening and uncanny image in each show.  Here the children in the town are all addicted to watching something like the Teletubbies, except that no one seems to notice that the dancing figures on TV are bloated corpses with black holes where their eyes should be -- this horde of zombies led by the monstrously masked psychopomp.  In the last "monster" show of this series, a group of vampire lives in a cult in an old downtown apartment building -- a gruesome, decomposing structure that looks like something from one of Ed Kienholz's environments:  rotting floral wall-paper and lightless shabby, genteel rooms.  The vampires are high-tech -- they seduce their victims into the apartment and, then, surgically suture them to their own bodies, back to back, with a tap between the arterial blood system of the victim and the vampire.  This is all portrayed horrifically with big close-ups of surgical incisions.  It's an allegory for the ultimate in what used to be called "Co-Dependence" and the victims don't seem to mind being slowly exsanguinated hunched on the back of their parasitic vampire like a nightmare rucksack.  The leader of the cult is a faded TV star from the Seventies, famous for her rendition of "The Morning After" (from The Poseidon Adventure) on a network variety show.  Her horror of aging, resulting in the blood cult, is equated slyly to Fox's problems with his vision -- he has to use "bifocals" to read the messages that he receives on his phone, always characterizes the lenses in his glasses as "progressive" as a sop to his vanity.  The show was excellent in all respects, although like most of the "monster" episodes it doesn't make a lot of narrative sense when replayed in the mind -- it's more like a fever-dream.  True to form, the last episode of this season, not yet available to be seen, will add to the show's mythos -- I'll watch but don't expect much to come of that program.

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