Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Lackluster Episode And A Killer Season Finale: "Small Potatoes" and "Gethsemane!"

The Good: "Gethsemane" is riveting and intense, "Small Potatoes" is amusing and well-acted
The Bad: "Small Potatoes" is somewhat pointless with a terrible special effect.
The Basics: A fair episode and a great one define the final VHS for The X-Files, leaving viewers hanging... or searching for DVDs!

Years after a series rises and falls, it is sometimes hard to go back through and recapture the excitement of what it was like to see it the very first time. As I speed through The X-Files, I have been caught both by how wonderful a show it was and how quickly it descended into the formulaic. But there were episodes that defied expectations even at the time and one of those was the fourth season finale, "Gethsemane."

For those who have not seen much of The X-Files, "Gethsemane" is a knock-your-socks-off type season finale where everything about the series is left hanging in the balance. The tagline of "Believe The Lie" made most of us figure - well before the final credits rolled - that Mulder could not and would not have killed himself. But rewatching the episode, it is only the fact that Mulder was the lead character on The X-Files and that the series was network television that kept some of us from believing: 1. Mulder would kill himself, 2. Scully was on death's door with her cancer, and 3. Everything Mulder had believed was a lie, perpetrated by the conspirators who were hiding even more insidious government plots than what Mulder believed they were concealing about extraterrestrials and alien life on Earth. On video, "Gethsemane" appears alongside "Small Potatoes," a much more fun, but also strangely blase episode of The X-Files.

In "Small Potatoes," Mulder and Scully head to a town where five children have each been born with a tail. Mulder's interest is from a tabloid article and the latest woman, a single mother, claiming her pregnancy came from a man from another planet. When she claims Luke Skywalker is the father of the baby, Mulder checks out, but Scully is intrigued when some of the elements of the woman's story do not add up. They soon discover that four of the women, all married, used the same fertility doctor and the agents investigate him.

There they find a janitor, Eddie Van Blundht, who appears to have had a tail and had it removed, which makes him the instant suspect for the inseminations. He is unrepentant and soon the case takes a turn for the weird when it appears he can mimic anyone and he escapes custody. Mulder and Scully begin a hunt for Eddie, only to have Mulder ambushed and Eddie replace him, which leads him to begin pursuing Scully . . .

"Gethsemane" begins with the end: Scully identifying a body in Mulder's apartment. Scully then begins to tell the story of how she and Mulder have, essentially, parted ways with one another over the x-files. To a professional review board, she begins to tell the story of an associate of Mulder's finding the holy grail for his cause: an alien body frozen on a mountaintop in Canada. When the team of excavators there are killed, Mulder becomes more convinced of the reality of the corpse and he witnesses an autopsy performed on the body.

Scully, skeptical as always, becomes increasingly skeptical when the alien body disappears and everyone associated with the find is found dead. She is further disturbed by the appearance of an agent, Michael Kritschgau who details exactly how much of a pawn Mulder has been in the plans of the government and the conspiracy of misdirection designed to keep the populace looking in the other direction as it rules the world. Convinced Kritschgau is telling the truth by his knowledge of how Scully has contracted cancer, Scully abandons an increasingly distraught Mulder . . .

"Small Potatoes" is a very simple "mutant-of-the-week" episode and it is actually one of the less inspired comedies of The X-Files. Most comedies that the series did tended to be humor around the obvious or having fun with the narrative technique. The latter stories worked very well because the "mutant-of-the-week" stories quickly became formulaic and the more fans watched, the more familiar they became.

"Small Potatoes" is a simple idea hampered by an even more ridiculous special effect. In fact, the only real point to the episode seems to be to get Mulder (well, Eddie as Mulder) on a couch with Scully drinking wine and coming a hair's breadth away from kissing. Fortunately, the scene is brought to a resolution before anything problematic like a Scully rape by Eddie as Mulder can occur.

But what redeems this video is the presence of "Gethsemane." After all of the evidence that has been shown on The X-Files to attempt to illustrate to the willing fans that Mulder is right, extraterrestrials are amongst us and we ought to be fear the government, an even more insidious idea is brought forth: what if the cover-up is a cover-up to hide a very different truth. Kritschgau is both convincing and intriguing and the story he spins about the government experimenting on the populace, blaming it on aliens and letting then letting themselves get caught covering up alien life on Earth is a compelling one.

"Gethsemane" works because it is equally plausible as all of Mulder's weird stories and the intense aspect that works so well in the episode is that Mulder comes around to the hard science Scully has always demanded from him. Even more intriguing is what that hard science tells Scully!

"Gethsemane" is supposed to be a Mulder story and truth be told, it is one of David Duchovny's more interesting performances in The X-Files. Actually, "Small Potatoes" allows Duchovny to act like Darin Morgan (who plays the natural Eddie) and that seems like even more of an acting challenge than playing Mulder with real dramatic gravitas.

But it is Scully who has the chance to shine in "Gethsemane" and she delivers. She is strong and has a firm boundary she refuses to step over with Mulder and that works. Gillian Anderson gives a compelling performance as Scully with a steely reserve that we have not seen from her before.

This is the final video that was released for The X-Files before DVD took over and it is enough to make one want to hunt down the fifth season of The X-Files on DVD, just to see how it ends!

[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!]

"Small Potatoes" - 5.5/10
"Gethsemane" - 8.5/10
VHS - 7/10

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

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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