Saturday, February 13, 2016

The X-Files Lexicon Interviews JKM


The X-Files Lexicon has just published a very in-depth interview that Christopher Irish conducted with me on the subject of The X-Files, and my book: The X-Files FAQ.

The interview is called "Belief and Skepticism" Part I, and you can check it out at the following link:



I would like to thank both Christopher and Matt Allair for featuring my work (and opinions) on the site.

I hope everybody enjoys the interview!

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Beyond the Stars" (October 6, 1979)


"Beyond the Stars" is a lot of fun, and a bit stronger than the previous few episodes of Jason of Star Command's second season.  In particular, this episode by Samuel A. Peeples lays the groundwork for a multi-episode arc regarding Dragos (Sid Haig) and his strategy to control the civilized galaxy using a strange discovery.

That discovery is the "star disc," a stone that "contains the wisdom and power of the lost, ancient civilization of the Tantalutions," the greatest culture "ever to exist."

Unfortunately for Dragos, the Star Disc is damaged and unreadable, except to the galaxy's greatest mind, Dr. Parsafoot.

Accordingly, Drago sends a young, hot shot mercenary -- self-named "Matt Daringstar" (Clete Keith) -- to infiltrate Star Command, posing as a cadet. His mission: to abduct the good professor and deliver him to Dragos.

Once the professor is captured aboard a seeker by the "cadet," Jason launches a Star Fire to rescue him. But Dragos releases a "warp dragon" to destroy Jason, an act which leaves Jason stranded in outer space as Parsafoot is delivered to Jason's mortal enemy.




Jason of Star Command is a kid's show, and as such, generally avoids real character development. Here, however, the episode features not only more of the Jason/Commander Stone rivalry, but effectively involves a deceitful person, Matt, tricking Parsafoot into his custody.

The episode's final scene explains, rather nicely, how the heroically-named Matt Daringstar is actually quite different from a real hero, like Jason. Jason nearly sacrifices himself to save Parsafoot and Daringstar from the warp dragon, but when given the same opportunity, Daringstar leaves Jason to die.  In his own way, he's a coward.

The message is that real courage is much more than a neat-sounding or colorful name.


"Beyond the Stars!" also does a fine job establishing better the routine at Star Command. We learn here that Parsafoot is actually a lecturing professor (!), and that he teaches classes on Seeker computer systems from the docking bay. This is something we haven't seen before, and harks back to the days of Space Academy.

We also see fighters scrambled for battle with attacking pirate warships, but oddly Samantha and Jason are the only two pilots to launch, and neither one is an official member of Star Command.

Certainly, there must be some actual Star Command pilots aboard the station, right?  But the special effects sequence involving twin Star Fire maneuvers is beautifully rendered, and certainly rivals the special effects of Battlestar Galactica, though produced on a fraction of the budget.



As has also steadily become the case, the high-point of this Jason of Star Command episode is a stop-motion animation interlude showcasing a monster, here the warp dragon, a creature that "eats energy," and once unloosed isn't easily controlled.

I just love that Jason of Star Command depicts these fantastical, menacing monsters, and again, I'm pleasantly reminded of the cinema of Ray Harryhausen. I should also add that these stop-motion alien creatures gives JOSC a distinct look and feel, one unlike any TV contemporary (Space: 1999, Buck Rogers, BSG).  

With "Beyond the Stars!" I was really engaged and interested in what was going to happen to Jason for the first time since the premiere episode of the second season, and I'm counting that as a good sign of things to come.  I hope so, anyway...

Next Saturday: "Secret of the Ancients."

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Flash Gordon: "To Save Earth" (October 13, 1979)


This week on the Filmation animated series Flash Gordon, our stalwart hero from Earth has brought together Thun the Lion Man, King Vultan and Prince Barin as "brothers in arms" against the despot, Ming the Merciless. 

Flash -- the exceptional American/Earthman -- muses that it would be nice to speak with Dr. Zarkov - who is still trapped in Mingo City with Dale,and lo and behold, Zarkov conveniently appears courtesy of a little astral projection. It's just his big floating head, however...

Unfortunately, Ming busts into the transmission to tell Flash he's launching an attack on Arboria with his "aerial navy." 







No sooner said than done, but Barin's "leaf fighters" repel the assault. 



From beneath Arboria, Ming then attacks again...dispatching evil mole people and a burrowing device to cut out the roots of the tree-laden metropolis. These Mole Men look suspiciously like evil clones of the McDonald's Grimace; they're porcine and purple. 

Anyway, they're defeated in short order thanks to a remote control which can activate tree roots (?) and make them attack on command.  Flash learns that "in Arboria men and trees are one."






Then Flash uses the mechanical mole driver to tunnel through the magma beneath Mingo City so he can rescue Dale.

Meanwhile, the tension is rising. Dale is about to marry Ming the Merciless and the planet Mongo is now rapidly approaching Earth, wreaking havoc on Terra's weather.

Yes, it's a busy week for Flash Gordon. But he gets the girl, unites the planet, and defeats Ming. Only problem: by saving Earth, he's set Mongo on a course for deep space and now he, Dale and Zarkov can never return home. It's a Pyrrhic victory.

There's a lot of silly action this week, as you might guess. For instance, Ming apparently has the capability to teleport whenever he wishes, yet he doesn't use this device/power when threatened by Flash; or when Flash follows him into the bowels of the city. In fact, Ming takes the elevator.

Still, it's virtually no matter, for "To Save Earth" features some of the most dynamic visualizations of the series so far.  There's a great look at tree-covered Arboria, and its central metropolis, for example. Mist hangs over the city, and it is back-lit by a kind of force field.



And the episode also features several glorious shots of Earth looming over the skyline of Mingo City.



Visuals such as these represent one reason I love the series so.  They are amazing, and capture the flavor of the Flash Gordon universe beautifully. These gorgeous shots help sell the idea of the spectacular and epic nature of the story line.  Shots such as these could not be accomplished as well in live-action, I believe.

Next week:  "The Beast Man's Prey."

Friday, February 12, 2016

Found Footage Friday: Muirhouse (2012)



Well, first things first: Muirhouse (2012) is a great title, isn’t it? For some reason I can’t totally fathom, it really appeals to me.

Kind of rolls off the tongue, right?

All joking aside, Muirhouse is a clever and often-creepy found-footage horror film set in Junee, South Wales, at “Australia’s Most Haunted House:” the Monte Cristo Estate.


This house is real, and you can even take a tour of it if you wish. It looks as though the house also functions as a bed-and-breakfast, so you may even be able to spend a night or too there.

After watching this movie, you may have the desire to do just that, but not the courage to do so. The fully-decorated Monte Cristo house makes a splendid and creepy location, and the movie shows it off to generally good effect.

However, Muirhouse the film is practically a one-man show, which may be a deal-breaker for some audiences. There’s the inescapable feeling here that the movie had a behind-the-scenes crew numbering approximately two people.

And yet the lead actor, Iain P.F. McDonald, is quite good in the titular role, and the fact that he spends so much of the film alone in Monte Cristo contributes to the sense that he is vulnerable to the dark forces he encounters. At times, when he is inside the lonely house, the distant lights of a nearby town are visible. They might as well be on Mars.

Muirhouse actually features a rather clever construction, and that may be the main reason I enjoyed it so much. The film opens with a number of talking-head interviews wherein the audience learns the serious business of ghost-hunting, as well as the rules governing such ghost hunters.

Then, later, our lead character, Phillip Muirhouse -- who has shared the rules with us -- goes inside the famous haunted house, and proceeds to make a bunch of mistakes; or at least mistakes according to those aforementioned rules.

Some mistakes he is responsible for and others…not so much. But those mistakes are made anyway. And accordingly, Muirhouse finds himself in great and mortal jeopardy.

Muirhouse wears out its welcome in the last ten minutes or so. I won’t deny it. This found-footage film just finally collapses from the incredible strain of featuring but one person on camera for so much of its running time. 

Yet as one reviewer noted of me recently, I have a positive bias in terms of reviews.

Thus I remain staggered that Muirhouse works so well for as long as it does, rather than feeling unduly disturbed that the denouement can’t live up to the build-up.

But considering the ever-growing sweepstakes of one-man-show-type found footage horror films like Optica (2013) and The Woodsman (2012), Muirhouse is the finest of this format. It gets a lot of little things right.

Soon enough, you forget the film’s inherent cheapness, and get pulled into the story of a man alone inside Australia’s most haunted house.



“We are intruding on their space, not vice versa.”

In 2007, police discovered author Phillip Muirhouse (McDonald) wandering the grounds of a famous haunted estate, Monte Cristo, and recorded “actual video evidence of the acts leading to his arrest.”

Some days earlier, Muirhouse was promoting his new book, The Dead Country.And as a promotional effort, he was seeking to create a DVD documentary to accompany his text. Part of the plan involved visiting Monte Cristo and exploring the house to determine if it was really haunted or not.

Although the first rule of paranormal research is to never to go into a haunted house alone, Muirhouse ended up alone in that very frightening house for a night of terror and chills.



“You’ll get yours.”

Muirhouse presents a great deal of information about the “science” (or is pseudo-science?) of ghost-hunting, as well as background information on a real life “haunted house,” Monte Cristo. 

Much of the film’s success stems from its early scenes, wherein Muirhouse and other researchers take pains to describe the paranormal study of haunted terrain as “very scientific,” and eschew the likes of “proton packs” and “exorcisms.

These researchers discuss audio, photographic and video equipment in detail, and even show the audience still photos of “ghosts.” EVP (Eletronic Voice Phenomenon) is also discussed at length, and the whole production takes on a non-sensational tenor that makes it feel more like a documentary than an opportunistic horror show.

But there’s an old saying that wartime battle plans don’t survive their first contact with the ground. The same comparison could be made in Muirhouse, as the second half of the film -- set in the Monte Cristo house -- unravels Muirhouse’s scientific, reserved demeanor. He does his best to hold it together, but is absolutely incapable of doing so, once he stares the darkness in the face.

We have witnessed him reporting that one should never threaten, tease, or dare an entity. And that one should never seek out an entity on his or her own. Most importantly, Muirhouse has warned us that an investigator should always maintain contact with the outer world. In other words, he or she should not be alone in a haunted house for any length of time.

Step by step, moment by moment, the house breaks Muirhouse down, and these rules fall by the wayside. Pretty soon, Muirhouse is yelling at the spirits in the house, attempting contact alone, and failing whatsoever to maintain contact with the outer world in the person of his agent…who should have shown up at the house hours earlier.

Man proposes, and God disposes, right?


The idea underlining Muirhouse is that the entities or entity in the haunted house come to know the vices and flaws of those who enter, and can thus start hammering away at their visitor’s psychological armor, a chink at a time. This approach works nicely, and helps explain the film’s prologue, set after Muirhouse’s bad, bad night inside the Crawley house.

I understand that one common slam against the found footage format is that the (mostly very cheap…) films of this formula are all build-up and no pay-off.  Muirhouse conforms to that cliché. You never see demons, ghosts, or poltergeists on-camera. If that's what you seek from a horror film, you will be disappointed.

Yet much of the build up is quite effective. The movie charts a slow-burn approach that never really gets a true pay-off in visual form but is successful in keeping the viewer on edge. Muirhouse is quiet and creepy, but it doesn’t end with any real bang, or with any revelation about what evil lurks inside the house’s heart.

An immediate experience thus becomes, finally, a cerebral one. 

I don’t mind that outcome, and I suppose I would rather see a movie with a lot of build-up but no pay-off than one that is all effects and “show,” but no real atmosphere.

A one man show of surprising effectiveness, Muirhouse has creepy atmosphere to spare.

Movie Trailer: Muirhouse (2012)

Superheroes of: The 1960s

1


Identified by: Pierre Fontaine. Underdog.

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Batman and Robin

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: The Green Hornet and Kato.

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Captain Nice.

6

Identified by Anonymous: The Wild World of Bat Woman.

8

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Space Ghost.

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Frankenstein Jr.

Identified by Anonymous: Birdman.

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Wonder Woman (Pilot).

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Batgirl.

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Iron Man and Mighty Thor.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The X-Files Lexicon Reviews The X-Files FAQ



Christopher Irish at The X-Files Lexicon has written a review of my latest book, The X-Files FAQ. The review is titled "The Old World Falls Away."


"Overall, the book was very useful and I enjoyed reading it. It covered a lot of subjects that influenced the show, as well as the show itself. Muir's writing conveys that he is a big fan of the show, not to mention an expert on the subject. This is a good book that any fan would benefit from owning..."

Guest Post: Hail Caesar (2016)


By Jonas Schwartz

If you polled twenty Coen Brothers fans and asked for their favorite and least favorite Coen Bros movie, you'd barely get the same answer for either question, and several would be on both lists. 

The Coen Bros' films are divisive, tapping into different experiences for different people. I personally loved the daffy brutality and nutty characters of Intolerable Cruelty (2003), but I've seen it on many worst lists of all times. Their latest film, Hail, Caesar (2016), a spoof of the Hollywood Studio Machine, is a visual buffet of bright colors and striking camera movements with pitch perfect deconstructions of genre films. This script is fluff though, with nothing substantial enough to provoke more than a passing interest.



Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) runs Capitol Studios and is the ultimate fixer. An ingénue has a proclivity with taking naughty pictures? He slaps her into shape. America's sweetheart is knocked up? A sanctioned husband can be immediately ordered.


But when Capitol's biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped from the set of a lavish Roman epic, putting the studio finances in jeopardy, Mannix begins to lose faith in his job. Could the sweet deal Lockheed has offered be worth a change of scene?

The Coen Brothers have captured the look and feel of the studio system, from the manipulative money-men to the flaky stars, from the salacious-seeking gossip columnists to the horny foreign directors. The vibrant colors of the shooting films are a stock contrast to the noir world behind-the-scenes of rainy streets and naughty behaviors.

Several genres are lovingly reflected in the movies shot at the studio: A frothy drawing room comedy where everyone's dressed to the nines, an Esther Williams water escapade with Busby Berkeley-esque kaleidoscope images and Scarlett Johansson in a mermaid costume, a tap dancing extravaganza with dainty sailors and a bright smiled Channing Tatum, and the title movie, a huge Roman spectacle with enough columns, bacchanals, and messiahs to make Ben Hur look like an elementary school pageant.


The all-star cast is a delight. Clooney is all bluster and ego as the befuddled celebrity. Tatum gives Gene Kelly a run for his money as a tap dancing, singing dynamo with a secret agenda. Johansson, with a sparkling smile and a guttural accent, is zany as the swimming star. Tilda Swinton steals the film (as she does every one) as twin sister versions of Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, who are always stealing each other's scoops and have a predilection for feathered hats. Newcomer Alden Ehrenreich is charming as the Tom Mix-like singing cowboy who's forced to swap his lasso for a tuxedo and star in a movie that actually requires line readings.


The film revolves around Brolin and he's stalwart as the movie executive, but he's also the character audiences are forced with whom to identify. He's a bully, who smacks women, infantilizes actors, and treats his position at the studio with delusions of grandeur. He's a noir hero version of Louis B Meyer, a tyrant who believes the studio is the most treasured asset, and all humans are there to serve the beast. The film's enjoyment will predicate if one wants to spend two hours with this man.

The script goes in so many directions, so it's difficult to invest in anyone. The stories become vignettes, always returning to Mannix, a character worthy of secondary status, not as the protagonist. There are many clever touches and hysterical lines, including a conspiracy that realizes all the fears that Joseph McCarthy stirred up in the 40s and 50s.

Roger Deakins' cinematography and the production design, led by Jess Gonchor, are a movie geek's wet dream. Mary Zophres' costumes are a crash course in Hollywood Studio expertise.

Hail, Caesar should be seen by anyone who reveres old Hollywood. The glamour hides the chintz and corruption. But nothing resonates after leaving the theater. The experience is over by time the credits roll. 


Jonas Schwartz is a voting member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics, and the West Coast Critic for TheaterMania. Check out his “Jonas at the Movies” reviews at Maryland Nightlife.

Cult-TV Flashback: Hemlock Grove (2012 - 2015)


Earlier this week, a reader here on the blog asked me for my thoughts about Netflix’s Hemlock Grove (2012 – 2013), the Eli Roth-produced horror TV series based on Brian McGreevy’s novel.

I have watched the first half-dozen episodes of the first season twice, so my knowledge is based on those episodes and my double viewings of them.

My conclusion at this juncture is that the series is somewhat inconsistent in tone and approach.

Sometimes it is well-acted; sometimes not.

Sometimes Hemlock Grove is fascinating and visually-daring…even crazy.

And sometimes Hemlock Grove qualifies, actually, as droning and tedious.

There were times I had a hard time staying tuned to the action on-screen, which is why I watched the episodes twice.

At this juncture, I cannot report accurately whether this sense of muddled inconsistency or uneven-ness recurs later in the series’ run… only that the episodes I saw vacillated wildly between curious strangeness and tiresome cliché.

I will readily admit that perhaps I didn’t watch enough episodes to find the series' “vibe” resonant, or to fall in love with the characters. The central mystery is pursued with such haphazard, variable, irregularity that it did not hook me, either.

Again, this is my critical evaluation based on what I viewed. The aforementioned blog reader made n interesting case for the program’s virtues, and two pod-cast hosts that I know and respect greatly lauded the series to me as well. 

I made the mistake of dismissing The Vampire Diaries (2009 - ) after the pilot episode, some years back, and don’t wish to make the same error here.

All I can write is that based on my admittedly-limited viewing of the first season, Hemlock Grove proved more uneven than enticing.



Hemlock Grove is the tale of two young men in a Pennsylvania town: a 17-year old gypsy werewolf, Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron), and Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard), an “upir” or vampire. 

They become uneasy friends and soon work together to solve a mystery: a series of vicious animal-attack style murders in Hemlock Grove.

The series, which ran for three seasons, is a soap opera in its structure and narrative development, and also concerns a young woman, Letha (Penelope Mitchell) who believes she has been impregnated by an angel. Others fear she may have been raped.


Meanwhile, there’s a deeper background to the story as well.

Roman’s sister, Shelley (Nicole Boivin) is a deformed young woman and outcast. And Roman’s mother, Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen) is having an affair with her former brother-in-law, Norman Godfrey (Dougray Scott), who works at the mysterious Godfrey Institute of Medicine.

Meanwhile, Peter’s mother, Lynda (Lili Taylor) also seems to possess some secrets, as well as a healthy dislike for Olivia.


What I admire most about Hemlock Grove is the series’ setting. 

The town itself has become a zombie, or undead.

The rust belt location once thrived as the home of a successful steel mill. But once the economy took a down-turn, industry and manufacturing died, thus leaving the town’s denizens stumbling on futilely, trying to figure out where they belong and how they can live. 

The new “industry” in town, --which hovers on the cutting edge of bio-medicine/and bio-abomination “science run amok" -- has replaced the rust belt soul of the town with something, then, that the citizens fear and dread.

There are a few shots in Hemlock Grove which reflect this new reality. 

We see the apricot, autumnal nature of the town and its lush landscape, but then this strange, white, high-tech ominous tower occludes the sky-line. It’s like a cyborg growth or blot on the town’s natural horizon.


The “feel” of Hemlock Grove, based on my viewing so far, is part-Twin Peaks (1990-1991), part film-noir. 

The episodes I watched seem to embody the notion, oft-seen in noirs that though you may be done with the past, but the past is not done with you. 

The older, established generation here -- represented by characters played by Janssen, Scott, and Taylor -- seems dissolute, corrupt, and trying desperately to overcome old secrets and old hatreds. 

The past, in some sense, is the “real” monster portrayed in the series.

The younger generation, though embodied literally by vampires and werewolves, seems like Hemlock Grove’s best hope for a better future.

The friendship between Peter and Roman is intriguing, and it doesn’t progress predictably, which is a quality I appreciated very much.  

Roman, for example, learns that Peter is a werewolf, and asks to watch him transform.

Peter -- for reasons not entirely known even to himself -- agrees.There’s a certain homo-erotic tension in the relationship overall, but certainly in that moment of transformation, featured in episode 2, “The Angel.” There’s an electric feeling of discovery between the two characters, and it isn’t exactly platonic.

Instead, Roman watches, wide-eyed, as Peter strips down nude, and the transformation occurs. 

Then, in a perfect example of how Hemlock Grove shifts tones radically moment to moment, the werewolf Peter devours his own cast-off human flesh right on camera. The series is erotic one moment, and visceral Grand Guignol the next.


That equation probably sounds like it could be terrific, but the pace and plotting are so damn languid. 

Individual moments are spiky and weird and memorable, but overall the series feels like it is on David Lynch-styled cruise control or automatic pilot, only without benefit of Lynch’s guiding intellect or strange sense of humor. The series even flirts with his trademark "dream sense," but again, it feels applied haphazardly.

Hemlock Grove is definitely of the Wolf Lake (2002), Twilight (2008 – 2011), Vampire Diaries (2009 - ), Teen Wolf (2011 - ) monster school or genre, but it also attempts to distinguish itself from that  competition through its off-kilter sensibilities. 

Two things result from the series’ off-kilter nature, I reckon.

One, Hemlock Grove doesn’t feel teeny-bopperish, as one might legitimately fear, considering the milieu. The show is many things, but the vampires aren’t glittery, and the werewolves aren’t mere boy toys.

The other result is that Hemlock Grove feels off-putting and impenetrable at times -- at least as far as I got into the continuity. I found this approach distancing.

Hemlock Grove ended after three seasons of about a dozen episodes per year, and my understanding is that those who stuck with it really enjoyed it.  

That's as it should be.  

For me, the episodes that I watched had some great promise, some amazing scenes, and a hell of a lot of weirdness for, apparently, weirdness sake. 

Hemlock Grove?  

Not your average destination spot, but a little too bizarre and sleepy for my tastes.



TV Promo: Hemlock Grove (2013 - 2015)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The X-Files: "Home Again" (February 8, 2016)


In “Home Again,” Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the brutal murder of a HUD official, Joseph Cutler (Alessandro Juliani) who was attempting to forcibly relocate a group of homeless people in Philadelphia. 

His body was discovered… pulled apart…with his head discarded in a trash can.

While Mulder pursues a lead involving a street artist, Scully is called back to Washington D.C. because of terrible personal news.

Her mother, Margaret (Sheila Larken), has suffered a devastating heart attack and is near death. But efore slipping into unconsciousness, Margaret asks for Charlie, her estranged son, and Scully’s brother. This request mystifies Scully.

While Mulder attempts to console Scully, the murders in Philadelphia continue unabated. Those who have sought to exploit the homeless for their own gain are dying in gruesome, bloody ways.

Margaret’s final words to Scully and Mulder remind Scully of their absent son, William, and their parental responsibility to care for him; a life they brought into this world together.

While she considers that idea, Scully and Mulder confront the artist, Trash Man (Tim Armstrong), who has created from his own rage a work of art that may have come to life…



This 2016 X-Files revival is proving itself a “dark wizard” of sorts, again striking pay-dirt this week with writer/director Glen Morgan’s creepy and emotionally-affecting installment: “Home Again.” 

This tale beautifully resurrects a classic series institution -- murder-to-pop-music montage -- at the same time that it develops significantly the major character arc of these six new episodes: Scully’s crushing regret and guilt over giving up her son with Mulder, William, all those years ago.

Beyond these remarkable touches, “Home Again” reaches for and attains greatness via its careful and even-handed social commentary.

Once you pry away all the violence and pathos, Morgan’s episode concerns something quite significant: the role and responsibility of the artist in the public square.



Specifically, no one in “Home Again” will help the homeless of Philadelphia out of the goodness of their hearts. There are safety concerns and profit concerns about the homeless, but no real caring or empathy for them. We glean this understanding not only from the dialogue, but from a powerful image captured in the teaser.

After being in the proximity of the homeless, the first victim uses hand-sanitizer, washing off “the germs” he associates with those who live on the streets. The image is perfectly disdainful, and perfectly apt.  You can’t “sanitize” away a lack of conscience, can you?


Just about the only person who does see the truth about the homeless is a street artist called The Trash Man. He understands that the homeless are largely powerless to help themselves, yet are judged a problem, not people to help.

In this case, however, the artist’s indignation at the heartlessness he views in his society proves so powerful that the emotion manifests a violent life of its own. Trash Man creates a thought-form, or “tulpa” (a Tibetan word for “phantom” or “conjured thing”) that carries out his agenda of rage.


To describe it bluntly, “Home Again” gazes at art, and considers both how it can enact social change, and -- frightfully -- must simultaneously be responsible for the change it enacts. 

This is not a small or inconsequential idea. 

Indeed, I have had many interviewers in the last few weeks ask me if The X-Files “created” the culture of conspiracy and is, therefore, somehow responsible for birthers, truthers, and so on.

My answer is always negative. I accept as an axiom the notion that art reflects life, and that The X-Files simply comments on and reflects those things detectable in the culture by the artists involved. 

What this episode seems to remind audiences is that works of art such as Star Trek, The X-Files, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead must not only address social concerns, but -- in shaping the culture -- showcase a sense of responsibility for the ideas they introduce.

I have never had any concern about The X-Files walking that fine line, because it never mindlessly espouses one point of view or another. The series mantra has always been “The Truth is Out There,” not “I Know What the Truth is, and it is Liberal and/or Conservative.”

“Home Again” re-affirms the series’ long-term commitment to gazing at issues through various filters, or lenses, and asking audiences to consider -- with an open mind -- all possibilities.

Here, we understand and sympathize with the artist’s rage at what he sees as the selfishness of the culture at large. He sees the terrible people who live in their McMansions, and don’t want their precious children going to school anywhere near “riff raff” like the homeless.

But at the same time, we see that the artist’s “anger” as a point of creative inspiration boasts murderous drawbacks.

Perhaps just that anger is a legitimate response to injustice, yes, but it is not a strategy for making things better.

Instead, it is an emotional response. It is not an answer in and of itself.

Once more, The X-Files appears to have captured the national moment in which we live, both acknowledging the rage that so many people feel, and noting, simultaneously, that it isn’t a productive emotion. 

As Scully trenchantly notes in “Home Again:” “we’re all responsible” for that which we create; that which we stoke; that which we put out into the world. 

Even the yellow notices posted on the streets of Philadelphia reinforce this idea: “You are responsible,” they read.


There are some politicians out there who are running for President right now and might very well learn this idea of responsibility the hard way if they continue to play to the anger and resentment of an embittered population instead of the better angels of our country’s nature. 

Anger isn’t a strategy for governance, nor one for tightening frayed national bonds.

“Home Again” thus considers how art -- and even speech -- takes on a life of its own once it has entered the world.  

And because this is The X-Files and not some run-of-the-mill horror show, Morgan’s script also boasts the wisdom to tie the idea of societal responsibility to Scully and her sense of personal responsibility.

Morgan's direction also makes it clear that this is Scully's story; her journey. When she flees a crime scene to see her sick mother, the camera gazes at her from inside her personal "bubble," and we get a close-up, jittery look at her anxiety. It's the perfect technique to make us understand what she is going through, and that her feelings are paramount.


Before long, Scully's mother helps Scully to understand that she made a mistake when she gave up William.  He is still out there, and even if she is not with him, she is responsible for bringing him into the world.

Even “Home Again’s” murder set-piece is a comment, in a way, on responsibility, or lack of responsibility. The Band-Aid Nosed Killer (the aforementioned tulpa or phantom) stalks an obnoxious lawyer to her suburban McMansion to the tune of “Downtown,” a 1964 song performed by Petula Clark and written by Tony Hatch.

Now, The X-Files possesses a long history of coupling music with horror.  In Morgan’s “Home,” we had the Peacocks attack to the tune “Wonderful.”  The song “Twilight Time” was utilized ironically in “Kill Switch,” and “The Hokey Pokey” informed brutal murder sequences in “Chinga.”

So this approach -- like the long, personal soliloquy of the voice over narration -- is a legitimate X-Files technique. I'm happy to see it resurrected in such style.

But more importantly, the tune “Downtown” is an ode or paean to not talking responsibility. The singer urges the listener to “forget all your troubles,” “forget all your cares” and visit “downtown.”  

There, you can enjoy “the music of the city” and feel all right, ostensibly.  But -- here's the rub -- Morgan's teleplay also refers to the homeless, euphemistically as "Downtown People."   

If you say it that way, it doesn't sound like you're such an awful person, right?

Of course, the city as depicted in “Home Again” is a heartless, caustic place, where the homeless are pawns to be moved around, hidden away, and “handled.” So “Downtown” knowingly pushes up against the episode’s depiction of the modern metropolis and its callous vibe.  The city is not a place to forget troubles or cares. It’s not a place where the music is happy. 

It’s a place where bad people are harming other people, and now a monster is murdering those bad people for their trespasses.

As an aficionado of the horror genre, the “Downtown” sequence in “Home Again” is everything that I would have hoped for and dreamed about regarding an X-Files revival. It’s a ghoulish, wicked scene, that generates scares and rights the scales of cosmic justice. I love when The X-Files hits such notes of irony and humor, with plenty of blood and guts to go along. These montages are scary and cerebral at the time, and "Home Again" lives up to that tradition.

For those who aren’t in The X-Files for the horror, or the social commentary, “Home Again” works superbly in terms of its fidelity to series history and its commitment to growing the characters, particularly Scully.  

Morgan and partner Wong gave us such early episodes of the series as “Beyond the Sea” and “One Breath,” both of which went a long way towards informing our understanding of Scully’s family of origin. It’s appropriate that Morgan should return to that terrain here, and use imagery from various episodes (including “One Breath”) to help us recall what Dana and the family have endured.


Also, I must confess, I love that “Home Again” -- and indeed, episodes such as “Founder’s Mutation” -- are operating on the belief that the last two seasons of the original series are also, legitimately, The X-Files.  

Some creators or writers run away from material that didn’t meet total fan approval. The X-Files, by bringing up William, and the events of the last two seasons, reminds fans that William’s story is The X-Files too. The revived X-Files doesn’t try to shake off those last two years (which I loved).  

Instead, it embraces those years, those characters, and those stories, and has weaved one of the most heartbreaking character arcs imaginable for Scully.  She grieves, throughout these episodes, for what she has lost; for what she has given away. Her mother’s words in this episode help her to understand her responsibility, vis-à-vis William, and I hope we will see her doing everything in her power to find him, in upcoming episodes and in upcoming seasons.

Again, this dynamic, heart-felt arc for Scully -- which has left my wife bereft and in tears on at least two occasions -- would not be possible without those last two seasons. 

I am so glad the creators of the series decided to embrace series history and not run away from it, just because of stupid conventional wisdom.



“Home Again” is -- like the three preceding episodes of this revival -- a triumph in terms of its literacy, its social commentary, and its character arc. Beautifully filmed, and emotionally resonant, "Home Again" brings the revival to a four-for-four tally.


Next Week: "Babylon."