731     *     REVELATIONS     *     WAR OF THE COPROPHAGES     *     SYZYGY     *     GROTESQUE

731

Directed by Rob Bowman. Written by Frank Spotnitz.

RATING: ***1/2

Despite Scully's warnings, Mulder jumps aboard the train that he believes contains a captured alien. Soon, he discovers a crucial Japanese scientist murdered, and locates the killer (McHattie). The two become trapped together in the train car containing the alleged-alien and exchange in a battle of wits. Mulder has more to worry about when he learns that a powerful bomb is also there with him. Elsewhere, Scully attempts to gain answers to the question of what exactly was that chip in her neck, which soon leads her to an unknown leper colony, where most of those who dwelled there were recently executed. It appears that this was the work of Japanese scientists who who transported to America following the end of WWII, and continued their experiments on human subjects, under the control of the US government. Mulder, still trapped on the train with the bomb and killer, dismisses this theory, and sticks to the belief that the deformed figure before him is evidence of alien life forms.

Although 'Nisei' had it's charms, it’s the sequel that really delivers the goods. In fact, it's one of the most suspenseful shows of the season. The X-Files thrives on providing memorable and fascinating bad guys, and like this season's 'Pusher' and '2Shy', we get a humdinger in McHattie as the nameless enforcer who's cleaning up the government’s deadly loose ends. Unlike the villains of the aforementioned episodes, McHattie's character has no superpowers and is not a monster, yet he's never less than menacing. We learn little about him, yet he oozes a magnetic, ruthless intensity. The way McHattie and Duchovny play off each is wonderful to watch. Don S. Williams makes his best appearance ever as one of the conspiracy "Elders", revealing all, or perhaps nothing, to Scully. His explanations for the government's actions, the creature on the train, and what really happened to Scully when she was abducted is both intriguing and logical. Spotnitz's script is one of the tightest and most convincing of the year, giving us possible answers and posing thrilling new questions. Steven Williams does another fabulous turn as Mr. X, and Brendan Beiser gets a nice, light moment as Scully's fellow agent and admirer Pendrell. The brief, wordless cameo by Cigarette Smoking Man is a good touch too. Bowman’s direction is remarkable throughout, and doesn’t let the excitement get bogged down by needless sidetracks and pointless red herrings.

'731' is a dynamite X entry, that flawlessly combines intelligent writing, strong acting and thrilling situations, and leaves you hungry for more.

Frank Spotnitz on 'Nisei' / '731': "I wanted to do a train show very badly. I wrote that as a single, stand-alone episode, but that was unable to produce it because it was simply too difficult and expensive. So in a very short period of time, we reconfigured the story to be a two-parter and it ended up being better than it ever could have been as a stand-alone. I was pleased with those shows."


REVELATIONS

Directed by David Nutter. Written by Kim Newton.

RATING: ***1/2

In Pennsylvania, an alleged Stigmatic reverend (R. Lee Ermey) is killed, and he isn't the first. There's been 13 of them in all, and Mulder and Scully have finally jumped aboard the investigation. In Ohio, young Kevin Kryder (Kevin Zegers) himself experiences signs of stigmata in the middle of class. Mulder gets wind of this event, and fears that Kevin may become a target for the killer himself. They meet Kevin's father (Sam Bottoms), who's in a metal institution, and he tells them that a force of darkness wants to destroy Kevin and bring about the end of the world. Kevin kidnapped shortly thereafter, and the evidence points to creepy gardener Owen Jarvis (Michael Berryman). However, it soon appears that Jarvis is not the villain at all, and instead the one the agents should be after is businessman Simon Gates (Kenneth Welsh).

'Revelations' is a wonderful piece of work, and freshingly lowkey to boot. Nutter and Newton seem more interested in building intriguing character developments than going for cheap thrills and jolts. This, like season ones compelling Miracle Man deal with the theme of religion and faith, and, thankfully, those involved get it right again. Despite raising questions on the subject, the show never mocks it or takes easy shots. The basic premise is engaging, and the plot is intelligent. Like Mulder in 'Oubliette', here Scully forms a kind of bond with the victim of such unusual happenings (young Kevin) because of her own religious upbringing. Anderson’s performance is wonderful to watch, even when she’s not speaking; she says so much with her facial expressions. Her exchanges with Duchovny are terrific as well.

The guest cast is of a high quality, including veteran character actor Bottoms (Apocalypse Now’s surfing GI) and ex-soldier-turned-actor Emery, who's acting highlights include a brilliant drill Sgt. turn in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. It’s rather odd that Emery only appears in the pre-credits sequence and gets killed off, but it’s nice to see him anyway. Berryman, the unmistakable actor known for his B-to-Z grade horror flicks, does a great job as the mysterious Jarvis, and Welsh is menacing as his opposite. Kudos to Zegers for his centerpiece role of Kevin as well.

It’s a credit to The X-Files that they could move from such a thought-provoking, introspective installment like this to the insane, over the top antics of the next episode, and do it with such ease.


WAR OF THE COPROPHAGES

Directed by Kim Manners. Written by Darin Morgan.

RATING: ****

Mulder, off the clock, is in the town of Millers Grove to check out reported mysterious lights in the sky, and unwittingly hooks up with the local law enforcement to investigate a series of bizarre deaths, where the killers appear to be cockroaches. With Scully aiding him via the phone, he starts his own snooping and meets sexy bug expert Bambi (Bobbi Phillips). Scully eventually shows up, and witnesses first hand the town's paranoia of an insect invasion. Are these roaches genetic mutations? From outer space? High tech robotics? Whatever the answer, our heroes are going to end up in the shit.

The second of Darin Morgan's remarkable triple header for the season, 'War...' is a wild and wacky outing. Like the later 'Jose Chungs From Outer Space', it starts with a brief, fascinating teaser that seems to suggest something epic or profound, and seconds later we have the rug pulled put from under us...and it's funny! The story is in all directions, and wonderfully so. Manners and Morgan throw so much at us that we're constantly kept off guard. There’s not one scene that doesn’t contain a visual gag or unusual twist. The performances are delightfully offcenter, including Phillips as the sexy entomologist, Naked Gun veteran Raye Birk as man with a fear of insects (with good reason) and Ken Kramer as a wheelchair-bound robotic whiz. One of the minor characters is even called Dr. Bugger! The hint of romance between Mulder and the dow-eyed, sexy Bambi is nicely subtle, and actually had me wishing we’d see the character appear again somewhere down the line. Alas, this never happened.

This show could have been complete screwup, but, it IS Darin Morgan and Kim Manners, so instead everything falls into place with ease. From it's beginning to it's amusingly messy climax, this episode is a hilarious piece of work.

For more on this episode, check out my 'War Of The Coprophages' page!


SYZYGY

Directed by Rob Bowman. Written by Chris Carter.

RATING: **1/2

Mulder and Scully travel to the small town of Comity after the death of a high school boy has been linked to a possible satanic cult. Working with local police detective Angela White (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), the agents interview a pair of teenage girls, Terri Roberts and Margi Kleinjan (Lisa Robin Kelly and Wendy Benson) who claim they witnessed a satanic ritual, although Scully is doubtful of their story. Soon after, both girls are there when a fellow student dies in a gym accident. Everyone in town begins to have emotional outbursts, and even our heroes seem to be experiencing tension...made worse when Mulder and White appear to have formed a mutual attraction. A psychic by the name of Madame Zirinka (Denalda Williams) reveals to Mulder the two girls may have tremendous supernatural powers thanks to a planetary alignment, and their abilities are reaching a fever pitch.

'Syzygy' is considered by many to be one of the worst episodes of The X-Files in general, and, yes, there are there indeed script problems. The characters of Terri and Margi are underdeveloped, and it’s hard for the audience to really understand them, much less their supernatural connection to the planetary alignments. The script just doesn’t click overall, with unanswered questions and poorly defined character relationship. For example, why don’t Mulder and Scully immediately investigate the coffin that bursts into flame at the wake, instead of coming back to it later? The episode also walks a line between comedy and drama, but it would have been better served if it picked a style and stuck with it. The climatic sequence in the police station, involving firearms going amok, is played for laughs, deflating the suspense building up to it.

Despite such flaws, the episode does manage to develop some effective moments. What works for me is the apocalyptic atmosphere the show (occasionally) hits, most notably in the scene in which White and Scully confront a town lynch mob on a moonlit road cluttered with dead birds. I’m intrigued by end of the world scenarios, such as the underrated chiller The Seventh Sign, which featured a number of elements as 'Syzgy', only done far better. Wheeler-Nicholson comes across well as the detective, mainly because she plays the role very straight, unlike, say Anderson. Williams’ turn as business-minded Zirinka is also amusing without being silly. Also making an appearance here is Ryan Reynolds, the actor who made a name for himself in the comedy series Two Guys And A Girl (originally Two Guys, A Girl And A Pizza Place) and the recent movie Van Wilder. He plays the pre-credits victim.

Although muddled and misguided, this installment is certainly not the maligned stinker reputation suggests. In my opinion.


GROTESQUE

Directed by Kim Manners. Written by Howard Gordon.

RATING: **1/2

In Washington, an artists model is found dead, and brutally cut up. All signs point to John Mostow (Levani Outchaneichvili), who it seems was responsible for several other such homicides. Mostow tells Mulder and Scully that he was possessed by a demonic force that made him murder those people. His apartment is also fill of drawings of a monstrous creature. The killings begin again, even though Mostow is still in police custody. Mulder himself becomes a suspect when Scully thinks he's going off the deep end, obsessed with the images of the gargoyle-like creature Mostow has depicted. However, the truth may lie with agent Bill Patterson (Kurtwood Smith), a former colleague of Mulders who is also on the case.

A decent episode that benefits no end from the superb, shadow-drenched cinematography of John S. Bartley, who received an Emmy for his work. Moody and atmospheric, this is one of the best looking show of that period. One sequence, where Mulder is pursuing an unseen figure, is especially well filmed, with lots of striking blues from behind windows. The art work and sculptures of the gargoyle demons are rather unsettling themselves, which adds a creepy feel to the episode. Having Smith in the guest cast is another merit; the actor (known to the masses for his role as the father on the middling sitcom That 70s Show, but will always be RoboCop's repulsive killer Clarence Bodicker to me) has great presence, and adds an interesting piece of history to the character of Mulder.

On the downside, Gordons script is somewhat uneventful and flat. Theres never a real sense of danger despite the murders and the possibility of demonic forces. Nor does there seem to be drive in the action…its mostly just the characters sitting around, not really doing anything. And for me, the idea that Scully suspects Mulder may indeed be the copycat killer himself doesn't fly; it’s the same problem I have with a number of other X shows…she seems to have too little faith in him. The same thing (minus Mulder being a murder suspect) occurred in the fifth season show 'Folie A Deux'.

Howard Gordon on 'Grotesque': "John Bartley won an Emmy for his cinematography, which I was incredibly happy about, and Kim Manners did a great job. It was also good to see David Duchovny sink his teeth into something, to learn a little bit about Mulder and his time before his work with Scully. I think people appreciate those little windows into his character. It's like what Nietzsche said, 'When you stare into the abyss, the abyss will stare back at you.' "


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