Thursday, May 21, 2009

Not quite a debriefing on The X Files

Well, I've finished nine seasons, one movie, and thirteen "Lone Gunmen" episodes, and overall I was pleasantly surprised at how well The X Files held together.

When the show was in the thick of its conspiracy plot -- say, in 1998 and '99 -- I watched and re-watched it obsessively, looking for hidden connections and other clues. However, after the Syndicate was wiped out, there didn't seem much point; and I could never connect the subsequent "super-soldier" plotline to the black oil, bees, etc. Accordingly, I have been watching those later episodes for the first time since they aired, over seven years ago. (In fact, the final episode aired on May 19, 2002.)

The show became famous, or perhaps infamous, for its complex mythology. As I remember, a lot of fans felt cheated that Chris Carter and company were apparently making stuff up as they went along. Personally, with "The Truth" fairly fresh in my memory, I'm glad the show turned out as coherent as it did. Still, "The Truth" left a few significant cliffhangers on the table, including the fates of Skinner, Kersh, Doggett, Reyes, and the X Files themselves. (I still haven't seen the second movie, so if it offers any clues, please don't spoil 'em.)

Finishing up the final season has also affected my perspective on the shift in Scully's character. With Mulder definitely out of the picture (teases notwithstanding), Scully is free to become the "senior partner" with regard to Doggett and Reyes. Apparently Season Nine was also going to be Gillian Anderson's last, regardless of what happened to the show, so it shifted focus to the new pair. (It also played up the possibility of romance between D & R, which I found rather forced -- but more about that later.) Season Nine did have its share of funny Scully moments ("Lord of the Flies," "Improbable," "Scary Monsters"), as well as the heart-wrenching "William" (where events compel her to give up her son for adoption). Indeed, Scully's roles in "Lord of the Flies" and "Scary Monsters" elevated episodes which I would otherwise have dismissed as remakes of better installments.

While I didn't actively dislike Annabeth Gish as Monica Reyes, I thought the character suffered from an excess of backstory contrivance. She wasn't a Mary Sue, but she did seem to be in the right place at the right time, dramatically speaking, a little too often. Whereas Doggett's skepticism was tempered by acceptance of the phenomena he'd actually experienced, Reyes was more of a "token" believer. She was filling a slot which the show needed, but not in a particularly organic way. It's ironic, considering that she was introduced gradually into the show in order to establish her relationships with Doggett, Scully, and Mulder. I don't even remember her having any practical connection with the X Files unit (like Mulder investigating his sister's abduction, Scully's "debunking" assignment, or Doggett's search for Mulder) prior to her assignment. What's worse, arguably, is that we are told it's her dream job -- which is a very tricky thing to assert if you're trying to endear the audience to your new co-star. Reyes' history with Doggett (and also with Cary Elwes' AD Brad Follmer) also runs counter to the other characters' relationships, since Mulder, Scully, and Doggett had no such prior connections. The implication that she and Doggett would eventually fall in lurve seemed similarly convenient. In short, it was hard for me to like Reyes, because she just popped up and happened to hang around. Maybe, given time, she could have grown into the part, but she had a few years' worth of development forced on her almost from her introduction.

Anyway, over the life of the show, I found myself enjoying the standalone "monster" episodes more than the mythology. Sure, the mythology was fun, but the exceptional episodes tended to be standalones: "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," "War of the Coporophages," "Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man," the two-parters "Dreamland" and "Tempus Fugit"/"Max", "Post-Modern Prometheus," etc. Writer Vince Gilligan turned out quality episodes like clockwork, especially the hicks-gone-wrong "Small Potatoes" and "Bad Blood."

As the series drew to its close, it tended to dwell on its characters' isolation (and attempts to avoid same). At first, in "William" and "Release," our heroes said goodbye to their sons -- Scully to her infant, and Doggett to the murdered Luke. However, "Sunshine Days" and "The Truth" were about reunions -- a lonely man with his father-figure, and Scully with Mulder. In both cases the reunion comes at a cost (Oliver loses his powers, our heroes go on the run), but in light of the bonds renewed, they are costs worth bearing. (Again, please no spoilers about Movie #2.)

Thus, the series isn't so much about "the truth," or belief therein, as it is the connections and commitments which come with those beliefs. Over the course of the series, Scully becomes less of a skeptic, but for his part Mulder learns lessons of faith from Scully. Don't know when I'll embark on this journey again, but I found it worth taking.
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Friday, May 15, 2009

It's the post I just had to call ... "Face Front!"

So there I was, barely having started this week's Tales Of Asgard #1, when I learned that the Aesir squared off originally against "the totally evil FRONT GIANTS!"

Naturally, I checked the (earlier) reprint in Essential Thor Vol. 1, and saw that somewhere along the line, the text had been edited to read "FROST GIANTS" -- which, of course, makes more sense, since the rest of the story features those kinds of giants.

Indeed, it seems to me based on the lettering styles that the mistake was in the original, and that Marvel's quality-control people were more concerned with the new computer coloring than with Smilin' Stan's natty narration. I presume the new reprints worked from a different copy of the original art. Still, you'd think a single issue would be easier to check than a thick Essential volume.

Anyway, no big deal. At least it's faithful to the original (well, except for the new coloring). I even learned a valuable gymnastics term!
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A dubious anniversary

Unfortunately the day is almost over, but I couldn't let it pass without mentioning this.

Ten years ago today, on Wednesday, May 12, 1999, I got up earlier than sane people should (actually, around 4 a.m.) to (gasp) stand in line for tickets to Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This was at Lexington, Kentucky's Woodhill Movies 10 (represent!), then the nicest cinema in town, but which I understand has been supplanted by newer movie palaces further out in the 'burbs. It probably goes without saying that I had taken off from work to do this. (The day of the movie was pretty calm until the afternoon, when I got seriously worried that I'd have to work late, and by all that is holy I was not doing that.)

Anyway, I got there at 4:30 a.m. and was 147th in line, which by that point snaked around to the back of the building. It was a festive atmosphere, like tailgating for nerds. One band of ticket-seekers had brought a video projector (VHS, I presume, but it could have been laser) and was showing the Holy Trilogy on the side of the building. I got there for the last 15 minutes or so of Return of the Jedi.

As for me, I traveled light, with just a paperback. Seems like it was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but it could have been another Tom Wolfe or maybe a Hunter Thompson. Eventually I made some small talk with the guys around me in line, but none of us really bonded for life. After a while, though, this was not a particularly thrilling event, no matter what the "nerd tailgating" nickname suggests. The local new-rock radio station did a live broadcast from near the head of the line, and people were pretty cool about saving each other's places. I was almost interviewed by one of the TV stations, but then I remembered I hadn't exactly told the office why I was taking off that day. I even got a break to get lunch and new comics (it was Wednesday, remember). It was sunny too, so that was a plus. I got a good tan -- fight the pasty stereotype! -- without getting burned.

It seems strange now to think that standing in line for movie tickets was a big deal just ten years ago. I remember The Onion did a story about it and there were editorial cartoons contrasting the lines with the exodus of refugees from the Balkans. However, I didn't know when the box office would open (it opened early, at 3:30 p.m., so I was in line for some 11 hours), and it only took cash (I was getting 10 tickets at $6.25 apiece).

I did the same thing for Episode II three years later, except I got to the theater at about 7 a.m., it rained a little, and I was only there until the b.o. opened at a little after 11:00 a.m. Also, I was about 20th in line.

So yeah, while it was a bit dull and not exactly the kind of thing I'd want (or need) to do again, it was still kind of fun to see all those years of fan expectations personified in this pre-dawn exercise. Naturally the atmosphere for the actual movie (a week later, on May 19) was pretty charged, although I'm sure one's feelings about the movie itself probably overwhelmed whatever goodwill that nerd camaraderie generated. Good times, good times.
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