Sunday, January 30, 2011

Scully Gets Her Chance To Believe With "Beyond The Sea!" ("E.B.E." Is Good, Too!)

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting stories, Moments of character development
The Bad: Somewhat slower ("E.B.E." especially does not hold up so well upon review), Minutiae
The Basics: One great, one average episode makes for a video that is good, but not enduringly great with The X-Files - "Beyond The Sea" and "E.B.E."

The X-Files - I have often argued - had a much rockier first season than some fans like to admit. Much like the obsession in the first season of Star Trek (reviewed here!) to demonize computers and technology (wow, Gene, is it another "computer takes over a planet story?!"), the first season of The X-Files has patches that makes one wonder what Chris Carter thought he was getting away with in terms of his fan base. After all, there are spurts in the first season: two episodes about conspiracies involving huge corporations developing futuristic technologies, three episodes involving the dead speaking to the living or otherwise not staying completely dead, mixed in with the more standard U.F.O. conspiracies. One of the problems the first season of The X-Files had was that the Earth seems to be the stomping ground for an inordinate number of alien races.

As the series went on, the alien races become much more specific, but in the "Pilot," there are unseen time-stopping aliens that remain unshown, in "Fallen Angel," there is an invisible being recovered from a downed U.F.O. And in "E.B.E.," we have another U.F.O. crash and a body that is recovered. This is paired with a serial killer episode (there are a number of serial killers in the first season of The X-Files as well), "Beyond The Sea," on VHS. And these episodes are good, no denying that, but after years of rewatching them, "Beyond The Sea" may still hold up as great (certainly above average), but "E.B.E." is a lot less engaging upon multiple viewings.

In "Beyond The Sea," Dana Scully's father abruptly dies and the usually sober and rational Scully sees a vision of him. Rattled by his death, Scully returns to work - much to Mulder's surprise - to find Mulder working to stop a serial killer who has abducted a boy and girl and all indications point to their death in a few day's time. Those indications come from Luther Lee Boggs, a death row inmate scheduled for termination. Boggs hopes by helping to get the kidnaper, he might get a stay of execution.

Mulder, usually prone to believe such things as Boggs and his professed psychic ability, is convinced Boggs is a fraud. Mulder has good reason to believe Boggs is a fraud, too; his profile of Boggs was what led the killer to be put on death row. Scully, though, follows an apparently fraudulent vision of Boggs' to a real crime scene and she becomes convinced that he is legitimate and he can channel her recently-dead father for her.

In "E.B.E.," a U.F.O. is shot down over Iraqi air space and the body of an Extraterrestrial Biological Entity is rumored to be recovered by the U.S. military. Sent to the United States for study, Mulder finds himself drawn in when a truck driver has what appears to be a close encounter with another U.F.O. When the driver is set loose with his rig, Mulder learns that the truck most likely was the one carrying the E.B.E. across country.

Spied upon using electronic surveillance, Mulder turns to Deep Throat, who lies to him about the truck and the mission. On one hand, he seems determined to get Mulder to find the truck and with the information he presents him. Mulder and Scully head out on their own in an attempt to find the truck, the driver, and the truck's destination, tracking it by nightly U.F.O. sightings, believing that the sightings must be tied to the contents of the truck and leading Mulder to a bleak conclusion!

"E.B.E." marks the notable first appearance of The Lone Gunmen, who would eventually be granted their own spin-off. The trio is introduced as uber-paranoid magazine publishers who have just enough resources to help Mulder on his quest to find proof of extraterrestrial life on Earth, as well as the ability to forge documents to get Mulder and Scully into an installation that Deep Throat seems to want to keep them from. They make for an instantly intriguing group and it is easy to see why they became fodder for so many writers. As Beyers notes of Mulder, ". . . your ideas are weirder than ours." Mulder connects some dots The Lone Gunmen do not - in this case Gulf War Syndrome being tied to U.F.O. encounters - while they otherwise seem so paranoid they make Scully unsettled.

"E.B.E" suffers because it is essentially a conspiracy story that spends the majority of the episode with Mulder chasing his own tail and Scully following, suggesting he stop chasing dead ends. The first three viewings of it, it seems like a taut thriller, but as one watches it more - even over years in between viewings - they begin to feel dragged along by the episode as opposed to it leading somewhere. Mulder is basically being yanked around and the contradictory directions Deep Throat seems to be pulling him in make one wonder what his agenda is or why the episode seems deliberately complicated in regards to what is actually going on.

"E.B.E." does, however, open with some of the show's most intriguing and fun dialogue. As Mulder and Scully scour the scene of the truck's incapacitation, Scully forms endless hypotheses about what could have plausibly happened on the road the night before. As she rationalizes every piece of evidence, Mulder very calmly collects evidence and dismisses her observations with whatever equivocating word Scully uses in her explanation: "possibly," "hypothetically," etc. It's actually an amusing and meaningful scene.

The episode also works well on the idea that Mulder's devotion to finding extreme solutions could be manipulated by outsiders. That theme is played the opposite way in "Beyond The Sea." In that episode, Mulder is absolutely skeptical of the abilities of Luther Lee Boggs, who is terrified of dying. "Beyond The Sea" has an interesting problem: it is the first of several psychic ability stories and as most of them will come to be, they are like a typical television "prophecy" story. Television "prophecy" stories tend to be rather formulaic in that there is always some doubt as to whether the prognostication is real and then after events occur, there is a certain way to view everything that would seem to indicate that the prophecy actually happened.

What makes "Beyond The Sea" so clever is that there is always the very probable chance that Boggs is manipulating events to create the prophecies. The killer on the outside is rumored to be Boggs' partner and if that is true, rather than predicting his next moves or activities, there is the chance that Boggs is simply exposing his serial killing partner in order to try to get clemency. This adds a depth not usually found in this type of story and as a result, the episode seems a bit more fresh than most tales of this type.

"Beyond The Sea" is one of the first great Scully stories. As Dana deals with the death of her father - played too briefly by the recently deceased Don S. Davis - she becomes open to the possibility that Boggs is for real. The level of detail with which he makes his predictions makes the rational Scully consider his words. Moreover, Scully appears to see her dead father after his death and that works well more than just for this story. After all, at some point, the viewer has to wonder why all of the extraterrestrials and freaks only expose themselves to Mulder.

"Beyond The Sea" also has one of Gillian Anderson's most deep performances. Unlike a number of first season episodes of "The X-Files," Anderson does more than whine or appear as a sounding board for Mulder's exposition. Too often in the first season, Anderson stands and waits for Duchovny's Mulder to explain things to her. In "Beyond The Sea," Anderson is given the chance to be emotive and articulate. She presents Scully as a passionate and realistically-motivated individual who is dealing with some big-time grief issues and she makes it work beautifully.

"Beyond The Sea" is accessible to anyone who likes great drama and who is willing to be truly creeped out, whereas "E.B.E." is pretty much reserved for fans of science fiction conspiracies. On VHS they are accompanied by snippets of an interview with Chris Carter discussing trivia about each episode and that adds a little extra value to the tape.

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be The X-Files - The Complete First Season, reviewed here!
As well, those who already love The X-Files will find The X-Files - The Complete Series to be an even better buy and my review may be accessed by clicking here!
Thanks for reading!]

"Beyond The Sea" - 8.5/10
"E.B.E." - 5/10
VHS - 6.5/10

For other television episode and DVD reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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