Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Two Bottle Episodes Sell The X-Files To Science Fiction Fans: "Fallen Angel" And "Eve"

The Good: Suspenseful and creepy, Acting, Decent enough plots
The Bad: A bit plot intensive
The Basics: Two episodes of The X-Files that effectively scared audiences are brought together on VHS. "Fallen Angel" and "Eve" still freak viewers out!

As I rewatch and perform more detailed reviews on The X-Files, I find myself recalling why I fell in love with the show in the first place. While the first season tends to be a bit rockier than most fans want to admit (given Fox's trigger-happy cancellation finger, it's amazing that the show was ever renewed for a second season, much less a ninth!) and it was far less serialized than it would later become. Indeed, in watching the recent The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There, I was reminded of how much the series was episodic - bottle episodes that were resolved in the single episode. In my reviewing of the entire series, I have often critiqued this as a weakness and it is: that the conspiracy the government was involved in was never clearly figured out by the writers before hand makes the show remarkably erratic when viewed as a body of work.

That said, in the first season of The X-Files, there were some pretty impressive bottle episodes that were remarkably good at what they set out to do. With "Eve," the point was to be creepier than pretty much anything else on television and "Fallen Angel" is supposed to freak the bejezus out of viewers. Creepy and freaky and, yes, both are remarkably successful at what they do.

In "Fallen Angel," Mulder acts on a tip from Deep Throat that sends him to Townsend, Wisconsin, site of a crashed UFO. As the town is evacuated, Mulder attempt to get evidence that the government is covering up not only a downed UFO, but also the presence of an alien life form running around the woods. Unfortunately for him, he is captured by the military forces sent to retrieve the craft and its occupant before he can get anything conclusive. In government holding, he meets Max Fenig, a UFO enthusiast who has been following Mulder's career.

The next morning after his capture, Scully arrives and Max is gone. Scully, deeply concerned over Mulder going AWOL because an FBI disciplinary investigation has been opened against him, tries to convince Mulder to return to Washington to answer for violating a federal quarantine. While leaving town, the pair run into Max, who seems to have a deeper connection to the downed UFO than either Scully or Mulder previously believed!

In "Eve," two identical murders happen on opposite sides of the country involving the exsanguination of the fathers of two little girls. Mulder suspects a cattle mutilation phenomenon related to extraterrestrials, but Scully suspects serial killers working in tandem. The case takes a turn for the bizarre when one of the girls is abducted and Mulder and Scully find the other, who appears to be her identical twin.

The FBI agents soon abandon their theories involving extraterrestrial phenomenon and while Mulder begins investigating a series of cloning experiments while Scully begins to suspect that the girls themselves might be involved in killing their fathers. As the case deepens, the other girl is abducted and the agents are in a race to save both girls' lives before a deranged scientist "cleans up" her past work!

"Fallen Angel" begins a quiet arc that is sustained through the end of the season and almost persists until the very end of the series, which is issues of professional review threatening the X-Files. Because Mulder goes AWOL using government resources, he becomes accountable to a board of review. This means most of Scully's place in the episode is to nag Mulder to return to D.C. so he doesn't get fired and the X-files don't get shut down. This adds an element of realism that is lacking from most science fiction shows, so one ought to be pleased with that. In general, it works, but it does limit Scully some and the way it is played out soon borders on the annoying. In other words, the viewer becomes tired with the supposed dramatic tension of the bureaucracy that holds Scully and Mulder accountable.

That said, these are remarkably tight episodes. "Fallen Angel" presents Max Fenig, someone so crazy and geeky he makes Mulder look normal. Actually, the pairing of these episodes is decent if for no other reason than it effectively illustrates the weakness of The X-Files for the writers who were stuck with the concept. Originally, The X-Files was about alien abductions, even though the writers soon got away from that rigid formula and did other paranormal "freak of the week" episodes.

"Eve" is one such type of episode and the insistence that Mulder find some potential UFO related phenomenon with it seems ridiculous now. Mulder tends to be literate on many different paranormal phenomenon and his insistence that the identical murders at the same time is somehow UFO related plays poorly upon review. In other words, Mulder and Scully are more slave to plot and original character outlines than actually vibrant beings in these episodes, especially "Eve."

But the episodes work other than that. Both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson seem more comfortable with their roles in these two episodes, making for a better sense of continuity on that front when watching the episodes now. Duchovny plays Mulder as smart and intuitive, if a bit insistent and close-minded. He's played without the pragmatism that defined his character early on, but Duchovny seems much more confident with the technobabble than in some of the earliest episodes.

Gillian Anderson is given a truly difficult task, which is to make Scully appear authoritative and in control without making her into a complete pain-in-the-butt or lackey. Anderson largely succeeds by keeping any shrillness from her nagging lines in "Fallen Angel" and contributing quite a bit more in "Eve."

In "Eve," though, it is Harriet Harris who steals the show. An always-busy character actress, she is perhaps best known as the unethical agent Bebe Glazer on Frasier (reviewed here!). She plays Eve in the episode and she is maniacal and twisted in the role. But more than that, she plays other roles which are not allowed to be openly psychotic and Harris gives a nuanced performance to create four different characters throughout the episode. She changes her posture and her vocal tones to sell the audience and she is incredible!

On VHS, there are snippets of "A Conversation With Chris Carter" discussing each episode. They are interesting and offer an interesting view of the episodes from while the series was still in progress. These episodes are for science fiction/horror fans more than those who simply like straightforward drama.

[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 the review is available by clicking here!
Thanks for reading!]

"Fallen Angel" - 6.5/10
"Eve" - 8/10
VHS - 7/10

For other television episode or boxed set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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