201 Days of X-Files – Season 1 Episode 2 – Deep Throat

As difficult as making a workable pilot that’s actually good and entertaining, making a second episode isn’t necessarily a walk in the park (though this could be said about all TV episodes and pretty much all television in general). While the pilot introduced us to the idea of the show and set up what it’s going to be about, this episode needs to keep people watching (again, this could be said about any episode of TV, but especially a second one). And Deep Throat does a great job of continuing this.

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Since the Pilot didn’t use the opening credits and theme song, this is the first time we get to see them in all their early 90s glory. Really I’d say that, aside from the cell phones and computers that Mulder and Scully use, this is the aspect of the show that has aged the poorest. If you produced a TV show with the writing or the cinematography of The X-Files today, it would hold up. If you produced a TV show with these opening credits, people would not take it seriously.

Yet, I say that with a ton of affection, because these opening credits (specifically the theme tune) are some of the most iconic and classic parts of The X-Files, and is one of the biggest influences on pop culture. All somebody has to do is whistle a tune similar to the iconic theme, and you immediately picture aliens and conspiracies. It’s a little cheesy, yes, but it’s really memorable and has lasted as a part of pop culture over the years. It’s cheesy, but it’s rightfully beloved.

deepthroat2Another tangent, but this year I was lucky enough to be able to go to a convention with Gillian Anderson as a guest and go to the Q&A panel. The entire panel, the audience and Gillian had a running joke about shoulder pads. And oh god, are there ever shoulder pads. Add fashion to the things that aged poorly from these early episodes.

The thing that I’m mostly getting from this episode, though, is less the paranormal angle and more of the government conspiracy. Both of those things walk hand in hand throughout The X-Files’ run, but the real intrigue in this episode isn’t what paranormal thing happened to Col. Budahas, a military test pilot, but instead the further exploration of the government conspiracy, in particular with the introduction of the character Deep Throat (obviously borrowed from the famous Watergate scandal informant using the same pseudonym).

This is even the case back in the pilot – the discovery of the metal implant is secondary to the shot of the Cigarette Smoking Man filing it away at the Pentagon. When I was a teenager, the paranormal aspects of the show intrigued me, but now, as an adult, I am finding the conspiracy angle much more compelling.

That’s not to say that this episode’s main plot isn’t compelling; it certainly is. I’m just drawn much more to the idea that the government is covering up what’s happening to these test pilots than to the potential UFO connection. This is a testament to the writing of the show – it utilizes the paranormal aspect, but the biggest strengths are in the writing and the characters. But while UFO technology is a core aspect of the episode, government cover-ups are the real core of this episode. Even though Mulder and Scully work for the government, they still have to fight against the government, a very compelling fight.

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For being a fairly episodic show, I enjoy how Mulder and Scully are slowly getting to know one another, starting to get close with one another but still not completely being on the same page. Their relationship is developing nicely, and these two characters are the heart of the show. They’ve gotten to the point where they can joke around and Scully can start using her patented “I can’t believe you’re actually saying this” look. This is also the first time where Mulder abandons Scully to go investigating on his own, despite the consequences – something that happens more than once on this show.

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With these two characters, this episode is a bit of a shift – while Scully is arguably the protagonist of the pilot, Mulder gets a lot more screen time in this episode. Since this is an episodic show it does work that both characters can be protagonists in their own right, but I generally prefer Scully as a protagonist. Still, this is hardly a complaint, but merely an observation that this episode made a shift to be in both Mulder and Scully’s perspectives, but especially Mulder’s. Scully’s part in this is honestly a lot cooler than Mulder’s, though, as she gets Mulder back by holding military personnel at gunpoint.

Ultimately this is a great follow-up to the great pilot, and does a lot to set up Mulder and Scully as characters as well as the overall conspiracy storyline as a whole. 8/10

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201 Days of X-Files – Season 1 Episode 1 – Pilot

As the new mini season of The X-Files is fast approaching, I’ve been wanting to do a rewatch but I’ve also been wondering how to do it. Luckily, Fox has done the timing for me, and is having an unofficial rewatch. They aren’t airing these episodes (they want you to buy the DVDs or do Netflix), but it is a nice idea to get fans back into the thing.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been wanting to do a rewatch and possible review series for a good long while now, but now seems as good a time as any to do so.

Reviewing a pilot is an interesting thing. There are so many considerations that go into making a pilot that it’s hard to treat it as a normal episode of television. It’s made to entice TV executives to order more episodes, but it’s also made to get TV watchers to keep watching the show. It’s supposed to be the start of the story but also is supposed to show what a typical episode might look like. Pilots are also notoriously shaky – some of my favorite TV shows have pilots that I would flat out tell people to skip, or insist “no it gets better, believe me.

With all that being said, The X-Files actually has a fairly remarkably good pilot. While it’s not a perfect episode (I think the “this is based off of true events” angle is a bit hokey), and there are certainly much better episodes throughout the series run, it does a pretty fantastic job of introducing the basic premise of the show and getting across the general feel of the show. The firs meeting of Mulder and Scully, for example, has dialogue where he’s explaining why he’s a believer and why she’s a skeptic, and it perfectly conveys what their interactions are going to be.

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The scenes featuring just Mulder and Scully, in particular their first meeting and when they bond in his hotel room, are the strongest scenes of the episodes. The chemistry between the two of them is already there in full force, which makes their partnership relationship wonderful to watch. Honestly, their relationship works almost TOO well right away; it feels like they are already trusting each other from the getgo, which doesn’t quite work with the narrative.

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The rest of the plot is pretty typical X-Files, but again goes a long way in establishing the tone of the show. Possible abductions! Lost time! Possible conspiracy! While the merit of the entire mythology arc has been debated a lot (I personally like them but I understand that there are serious flaws with the mytharc), this episode does a fantastic job of getting to the core of the mytharc and Mulder’s journey.

It’s also almost remarkable how the visual tone of the series is established. This show still looks great, and in part that’s because the cinematography (in particular the lighting) still looks wonderful. When I took a film production class in college, The X-Files was used as an example of effective lighting, and that’s not wrong. The use of shadows and chiaroscuro lighting gives The X-Files some unique visuals, and it looks great.

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The acting is pretty solid for the most part. Gillian Anderson is the¬†always wonderful and David Duchovny manages to hold his own with her. Some of the guest actors aren’t too great (Theresa Nemman’s actress is a little shaky) but, for being a TV show in the early 90s (before film actors and production started to migrate to TV) the acting is solid.

Ultimately this episode (and most of The X-Files) holds up remarkably well for being over 20 years old. The strong writing, characters and cinematography make it work really well. There are a few elements that feel dated (certainly the technology they use is quite dated), but as a show this holds up. I first became an X-Files fan in late 2005 – early 2006, and the show worked well on first watch then, but it still works now.

While there are definitely better, more ambitious episode of The X-Files, this is just about a perfect pilot episode and a great introduction to a great series. 8/10.