I shall cut by episode this time, as there’s quite a bit I want to discuss…
Mostly I want to talk about "The Post-Modern Prometheus", which is probably one of my all-time favourite episodes, if not THE favourite episode. It has so many great elements that I couldn't let its re-watch go un-discussed. I bought Cher's "Greatest Hits" compilation album off the back of it purely to get hold of "Walking in Memphis" (and “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”, to a lesser extent), so that says a lot to start with. :D
It would be quicker to list what ISN'T great about this episode, and… I can't actually think of anything. It's filled with subtle intricacies as well as the in-your-face / laugh-out-loud moments that make it stand out in the first place. Also, as the only episode shot in black and white, I imagine they wanted it to stand apart from the crowd. Every series does something like this: Buffy had its musical, and it’s almost silent episode, and the episode with no music; Farscape had “Revenging Angel” and “Unrealised Realities”. Aside from the deliberately funny episodes (“Humbug” was first, then “Jose Chung’s…” and “Small Potatoes”, amongst others), X-Files has generally stuck to what it does best. Which is why “Post-Modern Prometheus” stands alone as one of the best episodes ever, being both humorous and a break from tradition.
Things I especially love about it are listed below.
- The monster movie (or monster comic, I suppose) format of it, from the lightning storm and mad scientist to the mob with flaming torches. Given that the series has tackled typical horror themes before (vampires, ghosts, werewolves, all in the early days when it was “monster-of-the-week” and there was little to no mythology), it seems especially apt that “TPMP” should be shot in black and white and contain all these typical / cliché horror themes. In a way, it’s subverting its own conventions, verging occasionally on the edge of cheesiness but remaining a tightly-written and generally well-made episode.
- The soundtrack’s mix of Cher and Mark Snow, which shouldn’t work, but totally does for reasons unknown. I also love that Cher initially refused to do the episode, but then watched it and wished she had. (In retrospect, it’s SO OBVIOUSLY a drag queen at the end, all wide shoulders and overblown gestures; I’m reminded of that episode of Will and Grace where Jack teaches Cher how to do an impression of herself, thinking she’s a man… :D)
- The sudden realisation when they subtly reveal who Izzy’s father is, and thus a few select other townspeople. The reporter has GOT to be some kind of reference to the Chicken Lady from Kids in the Hall, but if not, she’s still vaguely disturbing.
- The way the townfolk treat Mulder, based purely on what they read in the local paper, switching from fawning admiration to contempt. I like the little glimpses we get of the headlines, too. It’s an episode which makes you figure things out for yourself, whilst giving you all the answers if you look hard enough.
- The half-eaten sandwich. :D
- Also, Jerry Springer, and Mulder’s name being mentioned by one of his guests. Made of awesome, and so ridiculous that it’s completely believable.
- That sequence after Mulder and Scully wake up from their drugging and Mulder is stumbling all over the place like he’s half-drunk. X-Files very rarely resorts to physical comedy, unless you include facial expressions (both Gillian and David have fantastic comedy timing; so does Mitch Pileggi, for that matter), but that scene cracks me up every time…
Of course, I couldn’t let this episode pass without a mention of the final scene, which will always remain my very favourite sequence from the show. I’ve heard it several times over from various different sources, but it’s still true now: if the series had ended on that final image, it would have been absolutely perfect. (Obviously, it didn’t end there, and the ACTUAL final scene was more than adequate…)
There is so much that is brilliant about the “Walking in Memphis” sequence. The ‘monster’ boogying in the back of the car and then later on in the audience. The song itself, lending to Mulder’s Elvis-like pose before he offers his hand to Scully. The lighting is fantastic, and the black-and-white filming gives the entire thing an almost unreal, dream-like atmosphere. If the sequence had been in colour, I think its effect would have been less poignant.
And the dance itself, of course. It’s adorable and gorgeous in equal measure. The way Mulder can’t look at her when he offers his hand, and her surprised / amused expression. There’s a sense that she’s humouring him, yet secretly overjoyed. These are typical reactions from both – Mulder’s insecurity, Scully’s constant internalisation – all laid out in the subtlety of the actors’ interpretation of the scene. (No matter how well the series is scripted, their interpretations have made it ten million times better more often than I care to mention… a trait I’ve only been able to compare since with Ben Browder and Claudia Black in Farscape, where the expressions say more than the words. James Marsters was pretty good at it, too… there’s that bit in “End of Days” when you can literally see the split second Spike’s heart breaks. But I’m getting off topic.) The way he pulls her nearly off-balance and catches her is also oddly symbolic.
The dance itself just goes on and on… and on some more, with the two of them just gazing unabashedly into each other’s eyes. GAH. It absolutely kills me every time. It’s so squeeworthy that no squee ever emerges. It’s SILENT squee, reverent and misty-eyed and never, ever getting old, infinitely rewatchable.
There’s a point just before they turn to camera where Mulder dips his head like he’s going to kiss her, and every single time, it makes my heart stop. (I’ve watched that scene about a hundred times… :P) The music (an instrumental in the song) is absolutely perfect. There are a hundred oblivious people behind them, focusing on Cher; the home audience are totally focused on our heroes. That contrast is amazing, and says so much: they’re lost to each other, and perhaps under any other circumstances, the dance might not have happened. They only feel safe to be that close when they’re sure nobody’s watching, and that in itself is a testament to the private nature of their off-duty relationship. Aw.
The audible squee* comes later, after the credits start rolling, in a deluge of “OMGWTFDANCING!” and absolute disbelief. The ending comes completely out of left field and takes you by surprise, but it’s done with such slowness that you find yourself completely drawn in and entranced until it’s over, and then you’re like “Hang on, what WAS that?!”, waiting for the credits to end so you can rewind the tape and check it actually happened. Or that might just be me. :P
*I kind of want to name a band ‘The Audible Squee’…
Okay, that’s enough on that one. Most people who have never even seen a full series of X-Files or followed it with any conviction seem to have seen or remembered this particular episode, so that alone says a lot about its effectiveness. You don’t need to know anything about the series or the characters or the canon, it’s just a lovely little standalone. Never. Gets. Old.
As for the rest… “Bad Blood” is very similar to “Jose Chung” in the way it’s put together, though this time we get Mulder’s account of things rather than just Scully’s. Their interpretations of each other are quite telling; Mulder comes off as somehow worse in his own version, constantly stumbling over himself around Scully. She comes across as abrupt in her version and whiny in his, and also his jealousy is laughably obvious in his description of the Sheriff. Not that Scully’s version does anything to dispel his concern, of course. ;)
Favourite line? The bit from Scully (in Mulder’s version) about how all she’s had to eat was some toast and cream cheese: “…and it wasn’t even real cream cheese, it was LIGHT cream cheese!” I also like “Mulder, if there’s a point, please feel free to come to it…” and this, after he requests she perform an autopsy on their victim…
S: What am I even looking for?
M: [grasps her firmly by the shoulders, then seriously:] I don’t know. [walks off]
S: [to Sheriff:] He does that…
I love the “I was drugged!” bit when they’re about to go into Skinner’s office, and that little moment just before when Scully is fussing over Mulder’s tie and he bats her hands away, which is adorably matrimonial.
I admittedly watched this whilst I was off sick and that probably made it funnier than usual, but I was giggling like a loon for most of it. See above re: their comic timing.
Also, a quick note on “Travelers”, another which before now I’d not taken much notice of. It’s a very strange little episode, really. The mystery of Mulder’s wedding ring is never explained, and as far as I know never has been. The majority of the episode is set in the 1950s and it’s shot in a very film noir fashion, quite stylised. The cast all look very much of the era, too, which is often hard to do. The episode’s plot is very strange indeed; I can’t remember if the ‘traveller’ alien/whateveritwas ever makes a reappearance later in the show.
I’ve also quite enjoyed “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, which was some episodes back, specifically the part where it is revealed that he’s not just Bad Guy, but a human being: a man with a dream, a failed author. His childlike excitement when one of his stories is accepted actually makes you feel for him, and his disappointment at discovering the story’s ending has been changed; the years of rejection go a long way to understanding what makes him tick, why he’s so bitter. I like the idea that the force of pure evil within the mythology is a man who chain smokes, more so that he was a non-smoker before becoming embroiled in the JFK conspiracy as a young man. I love that the very idea of being a published writer makes him give up, if only for a day. The cigarettes are an extension of his personality – at least, the bad traits – more than they are a symbol of his evilness. Like Farscape’s Scorpius, X-Files often succeeds in making the bad guys more than a stereotype, giving them humanity and motives and turning the whole thing on its head. Marvellous.
I think that’s more than enough. I have one season 5 video to go, and then need to dig out the first movie from the cupboard upstairs… Hopefully by the time I get to the end of season 9 (and there are a lot more episodes I shall no doubt ramble nonsensically about in the interim), I’ll have the new one on DVD. :D
I was going to make an icon in the wake of “Post-Modern Prometheus”, but my usual screencap site doesn’t have that episode done, alas. I found some other screencaps but haven’t decided which of them to use as yet… watch this space. I definitely need an icon to use on these posts. :)