Monday, June 20, 2011

Eulogy To Fallen Guest Stars: "Tempus Fugit" and "Max" On The X-Files" Improves With Age!

The Good: Plot, Moments of performance, Concept
The Bad: Nothing extraordinary on the character front
The Basics: When alien abductee Max Fenig returns, he is killed along with an airplane full of people and Mulder and Scully must *yawn* investigate why.

Sometimes, I think that being a guest star on a science fiction television series is the way to go. After all, on the average science fiction show, it seems if your character is killed off, it virtually guarantees you another three appearances. Then again, on The X-Files, with the clones, abductees and the sheer number of bottle episodes, there are so many loose ends that could be picked up at any moment to give a guest star hope for more work it must have been a very exciting series for guest actors to appear on.

Take for example Scott Bellis, the actor who played Max Fenig in the first season episode "Fallen Angel" (reviewed here!). After a three year absence from the show, his character is resurrected not for one episode, but for two. Good deal! Of course, in the case of Max Fenig, he was such a popular guest character that when he reappeared on the series in the episodes "Tempus Fugit" and "Max," the writers and producers do not even bother with reminding the audience of the circumstances under which Fenig entered and left the series before. This, however, is a curtain call for the beloved character and rewatching the episode again for review, I was struck by how much more I enjoyed the episode on the last (approximately third in my lifetime) pass and how average the episode is, despite having big things happen to a number of recurring characters.

In "Tempus Fugit," a flight carrying Max Fenig crashes in Upstate New York and on Scully's birthday, Mulder and Scully are approached by a woman claiming to be Max's sister who clues them into the idea that Max may be the reason the flight went down. Joining the NTSB investigation, Mulder stands out by immediately postulating that Max is involved in the crash (instantly discounted because Fenig used an alias on the flight, this soon becomes more and more likely). The investigation takes a turn toward the paranormal when Mulder discovers a nine-minute discrepancy between the claimed time of the crash and the watches of those aboard the flight.

Soon, though, it becomes clear that Mulder and Scully are not the only ones searching for Max and other people aboard the flight - including an assassin working for people out to thwart the investigation. When the military becomes involved, Mulder and Scully become privy to new details: stress patterns on an emergency door that show that the door was removed from the outside and the presence of a second aircraft, the existence of which sends Mulder searching for a second crash site and Scully to attempt to protect a military officer from an NTSB assassin!

In "Max," the FBI agents lose an ally when an agent takes a bullet for Scully while protecting the air traffic control officer. Mulder is captured by the military after finding the second crash site at the bottom of a nearby lake. Convinced now that the original flight was brought down as the result of the government shooting down a UFO, Mulder begins searching through Max's possessions for some clue as to what the radioactive device he was carrying was.

The clue comes in the form of Max's "sister" and fellow abductee who reveals that Max did, indeed, steal a piece of alien technology and one more piece still exists. This sends Mulder to Syracuse, NY to recover the final piece in the puzzle, unaware that he is being hunted by an assassin who will stop at nothing to recover it!

I remember pretty much loathing this two-parter when it originally aired, but rewatching it now, I'm less bothered by it and more unimpressed. I'm sure with the body count in this episode the producers were not exactly aiming for indifference from their audience, but that seems to be where I'm falling more than into the camp of enthusiastic viewer. I'm deciding - as always - not to ruin the surprise of which recurring guest star bites the dust in this two-parter on top of Max, but there is a pretty significant body count in these two episodes.

What there isn't is a whole lot of sense. I live right near Syracuse, New York and I drive down to Washington, D.C. a couple of times each year. I can make it in about six hours. I mention this because the resolution to "Max" involves such a gap of sensibility on Mulder's part that he ought to have had his FBI credentials revoked for his stupidity. In fact, for a man determined to hunt the truth so that the deaths of those on the civilian plane that was downed are not wasted, Mulder essentially replicating the conditions in the last act of the second episode is so foolish as to make one wonder if the writer was high, stupid or on such a timetable that they forgot what show they were writing for! The X-Files was well-known for having fans who pay attention to all sorts of things . . . like details and what is actually going on. Trying to suddenly make Mulder an idiot or unthinking is an utter disappointment.

Moreover, for two episodes that on the surface focus on a character from the first season, there is remarkably little in the way of character development in these two episodes. Instead, this is a very plot-intensive two-parter and it is much more about piecing together the plot than any deep character work.

Moreover, what little character work there is in the episode falls drastically short of sensibility for the Scully character. Scully has been watched by a fellow agent for over a season and we are meant to believe that she never knows that he is pining for her. That's good, that works. Given that, the emotional reaction to him being shot at in this two-parter is absolutely baffling. There is care for a comrade and then there is care for a friend or someone you know is pining for you and Scully exhibits the latter when all prior episodes she was more indifferent to him.

That said, the most significant character in this two part episode is that this is where Scully (more or less) comes around. If one needs a point where Scully accepts the overwhelming evidence Mulder always seems to come up with for the existence of extraterrestrials and UFOs, "Tempus Fugit" and "Max" is the point where there is enough scientific evidence to sway Scully. In these episodes, Scully supports Mulder when he begins to elaborate on the conspiracy aspects of the flight being brought down and when Mulder and a video of Max explaining what is going on involve alien technology, Scully does not discount the existence of it.

That said, this two part episode is still a tough sell. There are decent chase scenes and the idea is not a bad one - but the episodes seem to mortgage important character elements in favor of simply explaining an elaborate plot. While those who love The X-Files will certainly want these episodes, those who have never heard of Max Fenig will easily be able to pass on the experience.

Because of the detailed crash reconstruction, this two-parter ended up with the distinction of being the most expensive episode(s) of The X-Files. Sadly, it does not make them better and next time, the producers ought to invest a little more in the script writing than the sets.

[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!]

"Tempus Fugit" - 5/10
"Max" - 5/10
VHS - 5/10

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

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