Monday, June 6, 2011

The Colony Exposed And One Of The Most Horrific Hours Of Television With "Herrenvolk"/"Home!"

The Good: Decent continuation of story and character for "Herrenvolk," Video bonus footage
The Bad: Almost everything about "Home," Medium issues
The Basics: An average season premiere is trumped by the unredeemably gross second episode which may be done well, but is not worth anyone's time.

It's interesting sometimes to see what we take from our experiences, especially the effect of art and media on our personal development. I say this because in the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, there is a scene where an officer mentions his objections to returning to Iraq because he does not like what he was exposed to there did to his person, his character. I never needed to go to war to know I would not like it (just like I don't need to go to Abu Ghraib to know I wouldn't like to be treated the way the prisoners there were treated!). But far from the political things, that phrase from that officer comes back to me whenever I encounter something so terrible that it disturbs me and I realize I never, ever want to subject myself to that experience again.

Since seeing Fahrenheit 9/11, there have been a number of movies or television shows I have seen that I will never again subject myself to. The only one I promised myself never to watch again before I saw that movie was an episode of The X-Files: "Home." "Home" is so graphically violent, creepy and outright disgusting that I will not ever watch it again in my life. Indeed, watching the footage of the episode included in the bonus feature on this video was enough to remind me why. The other episode on this tape, the fourth season premiere, "Herrenvolk" is one that is much better and I enjoy rewatching. But its quality cannot match the pure vileness of "Home."

In "Herrenvolk," a telephone line repair man dies from bee stings, despite not being allergic to bee stings. This death happens at virtually the same time that Mulder, Scully, and Jeremiah Smith are facing off with the shapeshifting Alien Bounty Hunter. After a prolonged chase and Mulder apparently killing the Alien Bounty Hunter, Mulder and Jeremiah head for Alberta, Canada and proof of the sinister agenda that the shadow conspiracy is working on.

Unfortunately for Mulder, the Alien Bounty Hunter was not killed by the coveted weapon Mulder jammed into the back of its head and it captures Scully, determined to find Jeremiah Smith and Mulder. Jeremiah, however, brings Mulder to a farm in Alberta where bees are being used to pollinate an alien plant and the caretakers of the farm are drones . . . one of whom is a clone of Samantha Mulder!

In "Home," Mulder and Scully investigate the Peacock family, an inbred family who keep their deformed mother under a bed and roll her out to have sex with her. The Peacocks are killing people and Mulder and Scully are part of a team sent into their house to capture them for prosecution while avoid being killed by them.

So I can get off the topic of "Home," this episode is essentially a haunted house story where Mulder and Scully fight for their life against mutants who are inbred and gross. If one has been subjected to the movie Wrong Turn, it is essentially like that movie. "Home" had a parental warning before it when it aired and might have the distinction of being the only episode to bear one.

"Home" was aired two weeks before the pilot episode of Millennium and was intended to prepare audiences for the graphic violence of that show. But what made Millennium so good was not its level of gore or how creepy it was (and it was!), but rather how effectively it used the chance to show serial killers, abductions and violence. Carter terrorized audiences with Millennium not by grossing them out, but by scaring them. It's like the difference between a horror movie and a gore flick. "Home" is a gore flick and it is a huge disappointment. It did, however, do what it set out to do so effectively that I know I will never watch it again. I do recall, however, that even at the time I thought it deserved to win an Emmy for Musical Direction as their use of the song "Wonderful World" enhanced the creepiness of the episode expertly.

But "Herrenvolk" is what most fans would want this video for anyway. Picking up where the third season finale, “Talitha Cumi" (reviewed here!) left off, "Herrenvolk" finally answers some key questions of The X-Files while asking new ones. The fact that Samantha Mulder ended up cloned is finally confirmed as the female alien drones are Samanthas. The viewer learns more about the Alien Bounty Hunter and the connection between it and Jeremiah Smith is more or less confirmed, especially in the episode's final moments. And, yes, this is not a safe episode! If the third season did not exactly end with a bang, the fourth season sure opens with one!

"Herrenvolk" continues the story of Jeremiah Smith, a defector from the secret agenda the U.S. government has in cahoots with the aliens Mulder has had hints of on Earth before now. And it's a good episode. Unfortunately, it is not a great episode. While it is arguably part of the essential mythology of The X-Files, it is not one of the best episodes in that arc. Mulder, Jeremiah Smith and the Alien Bounty Hunter spend the first act largely running around in a dark building. It is visually confusing; it is shot in a way and in lighting so dark that there are long stretches where it is almost impossible to tell what is going on.

As well, "Herrenvolk" is a bit light on character for my tastes. Mulder pays lip service to using Jeremiah to save his mother's life, but when push comes to shove, he and Jeremiah flee to Canada rather than actually saving Mrs. Mulder. The Cigarette-Smoking Man, whose own lung cancer was implied cured by Jeremiah in the prior episode, has only a bit part in "Herrenvolk." This is rather problematic when the episodes are played back to back and the vital character of the first part is only minimally in the second.

Scully's own search, one that leads her and Agent Pendrel to conclude that everyone with a smallpox inoculation is tagged and catalogued, seems to go nowhere and the implication of her discovery is buried. In other words, Scully picks up a vital piece of the mythology mystery, but it means little or nothing in the context of this episode.

Conversely, Gillian Anderson gives a pretty awesome performance in "Herrenvolk." In the scene where Scully tries desperately to warn Mulder to not give her any information over the phone, the staging of the shot tells seasoned viewers that the Alien Bounty Hunter is behind her. But long before that dawns on the viewer, it is Anderson's performance, the intensity of her eyes and body language that tell the viewer she is being menaced by something off camera. It is a perfect and intriguing performance that works wonderfully for her.

David Duchovny plays Mulder as exhausted and wounded throughout "Herrenvolk," something we've seen him play before a number of times. He does it well, though.

In "Home," there is little acting; it's mostly running, ducking, dodging and shooting. At least they don't put up a pretense of it being more than it is. Sadly, what it is is enough to sink this video enough for me to recommend strongly against anyone buying it. Then again, those who purchase it can choose to watch the episode that follows "Herrenvolk," but I suspect that the vast majority who do will only go that far in the tape once.

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

“Herrenvolk” – 7/10
“Home” – 0/10
VHS - 3/10

For other television episode reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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