Monday, January 31, 2011

Top Of The Game Early On: "Darkness Falls" And "The Erlenmeyer Flask" Are Only Brought Down On Video By The Medium!

The Good: Plot, Character, Acting, Effects
The Bad: None that come to mind . . . with the content, medium issues with VHS, the dying medium.
The Basics: Scary and intelligent, a pair of episodes that all television - not just science fiction - ought to aspire to are brought down on the rating by medium issues.

Someone in the Fox Video Department did something terribly right when they made this video. "Darkness Falls" and "The Erlenmeyer Flask" are easily two of the top ten best episodes of The X-Files ever. Putting them together on the same tape was some sharp marketing. Basically, the tape is a pair of perfect episodes and if they're not perfect, I've yet to figure out where they go wrong. In fact, only the fact that VHS is an almost dead medium make me rate the video anything but perfect. That said, the episodes are amazing and anyone still using a VHS ought to pick them up; anyone more hip ought to digitally download them (there are links below for that!).

"Darkness Falls" is an amazing "bottle episode" wherein Mulder and Scully travel to the woods of the Pacific Northwest to try to discover what happened to a logging team that disappeared. The answer (which we, the viewer, know from the teaser) are creepy little phosphorescent bugs and they are easily the most disturbing scenes in the episode and one of the best, most subtle visual effects ever on television. Anyone who can make little glowing pixels terrifying is pretty cool.

"The Erlenmeyer Flask" is the seminal mythology episode in which the basic running theme of the rest of the series is introduced. Until this episode, the government seems to have been in collusion with covering up a U.F.O. conspiracy, here we learn what the government might actually do with such materials. It's a cool episode and it involves a man fleeing arrest that the Deep Throat character brings to Mulder's attention. Baffled about what the mystery is, Mulder and Scully are ready to give up . . . until they get solid evidence of what they've each been looking for.

The strength of both episodes is the level of character. Mulder and Scully are perfectly defined, intelligent, often witty in each episode. But the peripheral characters are all compelling. In "Darkness Falls" the U.S. Marshal and the environmentalist both are strongly independent, they are vivid beings not merely caricatures of what we expect government workers and eco-terrorists to be.

In addition, the acting is solid. Jerry Harding as "Deep Throat" in "The Erlenmeyer Flask" plays the character as amazingly torn between betraying his position and helping Mulder. And David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson aren't bland or unemotive in these episodes (which was part of what plagued their acting near the beginning of the series).

There's a lot to enjoy here. "Darkness Falls" is just plain scary and the final lines of it are easily some of the most creepy and psychologically devastating in television ever. "The Erlenmeyer Flask" is the intellectual's solution to the brainless action film. It's fast paced, smartly written and - being near the beginning of the mythology of "The X-Files" - it's remarkably accessible to any viewer.

[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!]

“Darkness Falls” – 10/10
“The Erlenmeyer Flask” – 10/10
VHS – 8/10

For other television episode and DVD boxed set reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2011, 2008, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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