X Files Pilot Review

“Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?”

It could be a scene out of a Victorian ghost story. A girl in a long white nightdress tumbles through a dark forest, terrified of what’s following her. As she falls to the ground, the wind begins to whirl around her, and light begins to shine, brighter and brighter. A dark man stalks towards her as the wind hurls leaves in a circle, and girl and man vanish as the light overwhelms them.

So begins the X-files, the classic paranormal drama of the 90s. The show went far, far beyond its origins, becoming virtually unrecognizable by its end. It is thus easy to forget that it all started with a brilliant piece of television, a pilot episode that promised that the Truth is out there, and it will be revealed.

The town in Oregon, the zip code where the laws of physics don’t apply, is “based on documented events” and deeply creepy. As each reveal comes, one on top of the other, Mulder and Scully are perfect representations of the audience’s dual fascination and fear, as Mulder runs around with a camera and Scully freaks out about mosquito bites. Every single one of the town’s inhabitants seems to be hiding some desperate secret, a secret which has cost the lives of four members of the class of 1989. Little things, innocuous things that in most scenarios would be bits of everyday life, take on terrifying significance, from nosebleeds to turbulence to dirt in the woods.

The directing is fantastic, giving the whole episode the feeling of reality, a vaguely documentarian air. The camera becomes a character, zooming in and out on the characters, the bodies, and the alien spaceship. It too is affected by lost time, as the screen changes color and the scene cuts straight out. The viewer is given a sense of participation, of involvement.

The plotting is perfectly executed, attaining a beautiful balance between answers and questions that, in later years, the X files would have so much difficulty reaching. We know that aliens probably kidnapped kids, we know why they kidnapped them, how, and have some idea of what happened to them. At the same time, specifics are elusive, and the smoking man’s pentagon connection tantalizingly dangled in front of us. The box, one of thousands, labeled simply “evidence” offers spectacular possibilities.

Of course, this is the pilot episode for two classic characters as well. First introduced is Scully, a dinky but strong woman sitting before three old white men using her to spy on a fellow agent. She is carefully set apart from these men, smiling at their frowns, openly revealing that her parents think the FBI is an act of rebellion to men who don’t even speak. We are given her measure at the same time we are introduced to Mulder, by reputation only. We are told that he will be brilliant and a bit crazy, but through Gillian Anderson’s acting, we know that he’s the good kind of crazy.

When Mulder arrives on the scene, he stands in stark contrast to the buisnesslike atmosphere of the ground level FBI. He’s having the time of his life, cracking jokes to a woman he’s well aware has been sent to spy on him by unknown forces. Duchovny imbues Mulder with delight at every turn, whether he’s teasing Scully about her thesis or the existence of UFOs, or calculating how many minutes of time have vanished from reality. Things that freak the viewers, and Scully for that matter, make him jump around like a little boy. And his joy is infectious—it seems that half the time he turns his back, Scully is grinning at him.

The character development that takes place in these 48 minutes is astounding, as we are exposed to Mulder and Scully at their strongest and at their most vulnerable. Scully is forced to question beliefs she once took for granted, and is so overwhelmed she even thinks for a few minutes that she may be an abductee. At the same time, she holds her own arguing with Mulder, demanding proof and searching for answers. It is their desire for answers, their desperate need to know the truth, which makes the bond between these characters so instantly believable. Scully may have been sent to spy, but Mulder trusts her instantly because he recognizes in her that same drive. Mulder’s vulnerability too is revealed, his desperation to find out what he’s not supposed to know, to connect the pieces of his life that he’s forgotten and to find his sister. The motel scenes are beautifully acted and written, beginning a partnership that would become the stuff of TV legends.

I usually hate pilot episodes, preferring to skip to the point at which the show had matured enough to know what the hell they were doing. But this episode is simply brilliant, a classic piece of creepy television that proves that, though there were many missteps (Fight the Future, anyone?) this was a damn fine show, and one of the best.


Rule One: The Doctor Lies

 In “The Girl Who Waited,” Rory and Amy were compelling and wonderful, the directing was flawless, the acting was pitch-perfect, and the timey-wimey plot made absolutely 0 sense (I still don’t get how you sit here for a day and the people on the other side live out their lives of one day, since they’re infected). It was certainly a wonderful episode on every level. But what I found most interesting was that it was one of the most brutal yet explorations of Rule One.

The Doctor’s rampant fibbing was certainly present pre-eleven, but I don’t remember it being anywhere near as pronounced as it is now. It seems that the Doctor is lying left and right these days, and when called on it he tends to just shout “That was a clever lie!” When he lies, it is usually to his companions, be it short term like the fellow in The Lodger or long term like Amy and Rory. Usually, these lies are with the best of intentions—to reassure them, to make them back off so he can do something dangerous without them, or in the best of his lies, to give them the strength to do what they need to do.

These lies are necessary, and often do what they need to do. The world gets saved, most everybody lives. But in “The Girl Who Waited,” the Doctor lied purely to deceive his companions. He knew from the beginning that he could not take both Amys, and he led on the old Amy, failing her yet again.

Did the Doctor make the right call? He knew he couldn’t really bring both Amys, but by lying he was able to save the young Amy. He made a difficult call: that the Amy he knew was more important than the Amy he didn’t know.  If he hadn’t lied, the Amy who would have lived would have been the old Amy. The Amy he had failed yet again.

It was an essentially selfish act, but not in an immoral way. He chose the Amy he knew, and he did what Rory and Amy couldn’t do. In “Amy’s Choice,” he told them that the evil-feeding pollen “Would have starved to death in a second on the evil inside you; I choose my friends carefully.” These friends keep him human, they keep him good. And we believe that the Doctor is good, because we, the viewers, love the Doctor just as much as his companions.

But every once in a while, we get these painful, heartbreaking reminders that the Doctor is much older and much less human than we usually notice. He is the one who can make the choices no one else can stand to make. They pain him greatly, as we saw when he locked old Amy out of the Tardis, but he makes them nonetheless. And he always will. And in spite of these moments when he seem so alien and cold, we will always love him, because he is just too damn wonderful.

Torchwood-Death is Cheap

Death has never been cheap on Torchwood. With the exception of Jack, when characters die, they die for real, and nothing can bring them back. They will be buried and left dead, and often never mentioned again (I’m looking at you Steven). This whole mini-series was supposed to be about the weight of death, about the weight of that pain, and about why it is important and necessary.

So why does death feel so cheap at the end of the Miracle? Because no one who really matters died. Esther was a totally uncompelling character—we already killed Tosh, we didn’t need an American Googler to replace her. She had little effect on the story, and had even less to distinguish her as a character. And what was Gwen’s father’s name, anyway? Why should I care about his death? And for the love of God, why did Torchwood make me put up with Oswald Danes for ten freaking episodes?

Jack Harkness should have died this time. Gwen would have been acceptable too, but we all know that the Wesley never dies. Don’t get me wrong—I freaking adore Jack, and when I thought he was dying for real (fool on me), I cried my eyes out. But his death would have had resonance, it would have had an effect on the show forever, it would have changed the world of Torchwood. Esther’s death left the world of the team essentially unaltered, because she wasn’t there long enough to integrate into it, much less change it. Tosh, Owen, and Ianto’s deaths all changed everything, and Jack’s death would have done that.

And of all the characters this show has, of all the characters they have killed off, why is Rex the one who was made immortal? Rex is even less compelling than Esther, he is loud, angry, spiteful, nasty, and uncaring. He is also supremely uninteresting. How on earth does this character description lead to the idea that he should be the only character, aside from Jack, in the show forever?

On to Oswald—what was up with this character? Was his death supposed to be the culmination of some sort of redemptive arc? “Keep running Suzie I’m coming after you”?!?!?  Was he supposed to be an anti-hero, balance out the cast of do-gooders? An example of how stupid Americans are when they get put on TV? Proof that some people really do deserve to die? His true motivations were never clear; I for one was really confused about whether he was suicidal at all, because I figured that’s Jack was convinced Oswald wanted to die because he was transferring his guilt about Steven. So what was the point of Oswald, in the end?  Honestly, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion he was what half the screentime this year was: filler.

The new character arcs this year were clearly a big old failure, with the new people give boring and confusing arcs (except Jilly Kitzinger, who I will love forever). How about the old character arcs? Well, after being an integral member of the team in Children, Rhys was shunted sideways again to make room for the Jack/Gwen plot. This is a ship that is so unpopular I couldn’t find shipper shirts on  Cafepress. I can find Xander/Spike easily, but not Jack/Gwen. Yet once again, after being laid to rest in season 2 it was brought back to the forefront, and Eve Myles compared it to Mulder and Scully, which I will never forgive here for. Gwen bounced between her love of Torchwood/Jack and her love of her family, and she never really did seem to choose. It was boring in season 2 and it’s boring now.

Jack’s arc can be summed up with “I’m haunted and stuff but I’m not going to mention it and I’m just going to throw myself back into what got  everyone I love killed in the first place.” He murdered Steven. He murdered his grandson. AND THEN WE ALL FORGOT ABOUT IT. Jack left earth broken, apparently forever, but when he came back it took him the space of an episode to heal. If it had been revealed in the final few episodes that he was still haunted by this guilt, if he had had a death wish or a secret hatred of Torchwood, some secret plan, then I might have believed it. This sudden return to form just didn’t ring true.

Now for the plot post-mortem. Apparently, the earth has a giant loving vagina which will make everyone on earth have a certain lifespan if the right type of blood is poured into it. The families are the least sinister villains since Grey (don’t get me started), and apparently their master plan was to just take over the world. This is what took 10 episodes to build to. It sure ain’t no cocaine kids.

I was absolutely thrilled about Miracle Day. I spent a ridiculous amount of time watching trailer after trailer, trying to find something, anything. I hunted down every one of those 1minute character trailers. And what I got was filler after filler, with circular plots and weird detours, and a pedophile I was told gained a positively religious following, because if the Tea Party is popular why not pedophiles?

But at the same time, I felt very leery of anything continuing Torchwood after Children of Earth. I think Torchwood essential ended with the end of Children, because Team Torchwood is over. At the beginning of season 2, after Spike tried to kill everyone, Gwen told him that “You can beat us, poison us, shoot us, and we will always come back stronger than ever.” At the end of season 2, Tosh and Owen were dead, and Ianto and Gwen were leaning on Jack for support, but they were still standing. But at the end of Day Four, Gwen and Jack were on their knees, sobbing, and Ianto was dead. With the end of Day Four and the death of Ianto Jones, Team Torchwood was broken. There was no more Torchwood: there were just the survivors of Torchwood.

I hoped that the survivors may regroup, may save the world one more time. I hoped that they could return, haunted but alive. I was wrong. Torchwood ended with Children of Earth, and it should have been allowed to rest in peace.

Hello internet world

Hello fellow internet dwellers! I’m gonna be writing some awesome tv reviews about old and new (mostly) geeky tv. I usually don’t read my opinions in other reviews, so it should be fun and a bit different. Enjoy!

Doctor Who and Torchwood

“Rory, go put Hitler in that cupboard.”

After a summer of waiting for fans on both sides of the Atlantic, Doctor Who returned with the madly titled “Let’s Kill Hitler,” meeting and perhaps exceeding all expectations, while its little brother Torchwood continued its downward spiral into a contrived excuse for a show. Where Doctor Who fixed all the problems of its last dark, over-hyped episode not a moment too soon, Torchwood compounded its problems right in time for the climax of what is sure to be its last season. Spoilers Ahead!

In Britain, it’s been all summer since River Song was revealed to be the Time Lord child of the Ponds (a twist that half the internet had already guessed). The show begins with Rory and Amy making, of all things, crop circles to get the Doctor’s attention.  The Doctor may be a sort of God, but the best way to get his attention is definitely to do something absolutely nuts, as Melody Pond did by hitting him with a car. As my neighbors will attest, the moment Mels, the Pond’s childhood friend, was introduced I started shouting at the screen that she was obviously River, but the characters never listen to me.

As the episode unfolds, Doctor Who blends its trademark recipe of hysterical marvelousness with deep poignancy. The writing was absolutely brilliant, with gems like “I was just on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled when I thought “Gosh, the Third Reich’s a bit rubbish, I think I’ll kill the Fuhrer.” Although the greatest war criminal of them all featured only for a few minutes, proving the title to be a bit of a cop-out, I think the choice to limit Hitler’s screen time was perfect: the Holocaust does not belong on Doctor Who; it should be left for Torchwood.

Alex Kington’s Melody Pond here was incredible, a resolute psychopath rather than the older, wiser incarnation we’ve been dealing with since season 4. She sold a potentially disastrous development perfectly and somehow clung to her awesomeness straight through it. Yet the real prize goes to Matt Smith, who ricochets from wrath when Hitler approaches the Tardis, to fear at dying, to smarminess and flirtatiousness dueling with River. As what he believes are the final minutes of his life unfold, the Doctor’s mixture of pain, determination,  terror, desperation, love, and betrayal are perfectly etched on Smith’s face. Tell me again, why didn’t he win the BAFTA?

The episode also rewards long-term viewers, featuring a reversal of the episode in which River Song was introduced. Then, she knew more about the Doctor than he did, and was clearly in love with him, where he had no idea who she was. Now, the Doctor knows her name, and she doesn’t, and he is in love with her while she tries to kill him. The episode also includes callbacks to previous companions and the return of that wonderful line “Fish fingers and custard.”

In contrast, Torchwood threw its long-term viewers a single bone,  mentioning  for only the second time Ianto Jones, a character so popular that his death resulted in the building of a shrine in Cardiff bay.  The fact that the main character killed his grandson last year still has not been mentioned, and we’re coming up on the finale fast.

All the promise of the premise that the human race can no longer die has been wasted; frittered away in ham-fisted metaphors about how faceless government agencies are evil and throwaway lines about once-interesting cults and politics. A character the show spent the entirety of the last episode introducing never utters a word before being shuffled off. The plot continues to meander, and it has become clear that most of this series is about filling in time with circular writing, wooden acting, and inexplicable illogical twists.

Both of these episodes put the lead, an unkillable character, in mortal peril, as Jack Harkness is shot and the Doctor is poisoned. I spent Doctor Who on the edge of my seat, terrified the main character on a show that never kills regulars would die. When Jack was shot, I’d gone on Facebook out of boredom. The difference is clear: one show makes you feel, one show makes you bored.