Conduit [1x103]

Overall Rating: 8/10
Fright Factor: 6/10
Acting: 7/10
Mytharc Relevance: 9/10
Re-watchability: Medium-High
Connections: Poltergeist, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Summary: A midwestern girl, Ruby Morris (Taunya Dee), is camping with her family along Lake Okobogee, Iowa when she is abducted in view of her mother and younger brother, Kevin (Joel Palmer). The disappearance makes the supermarket-aisle tabloids, capturing Mulder's attention but not the ears of either Scully or Skinner. After a little research, Mulder discovers that the missing girl's mother Darlene (Carrie Snodgress) was herself abducted by aliens as a girl - and suffered much ridicule through her life because of it. The boy, Kevin, has begun acting strangely - he sits for hours silently in front of the family television, scribbling an endless series of orderly 1's and 0's on sheets of white paper. When Mulder asks the boy what he is doing, Kevin points to the television and says, "it's coming from there."

The local police chief has dismissed the mother's claim of abduction outright, saying Ruby is a delinquent teen and most likely ran away from home. The agents find a note under their windshield wiper, reading "I'm across the street" - the local library. Mulder and Scully go inside and talk through the bookstacks with a mysterious young blonde woman, Tessa (Shelly Owens), who claims to know something about Ruby's disappearance. Tessa tells them that Ruby found out she was pregnant and ran away with her boyfriend Glen, a bartender at a local biker joint called the Pennsylvania Hotel Lounge. There, Mulder chats up a burly, tattooed manager who tells him Glen didn't show up for work two weeks ago and hasn't been seen since. When Mulder asks about a UFO tattoo on the manager's bicep, he is told about a "hot spot" at Lake Okobogee - the site of Ruby's abduction. The barman pulls back his long hair and reveals a shriveled, burn-scarred right ear and cheek: "You get one hell of a sunburn there at night!"

Soon thereafter, another agency - the National Security Administration - barges into the Morris family's home in Sioux City. Apparently, the digital data Kevin has been "channeling" contains highly classified spy satellite information - as well as other coded material, such as the sequence of DNA in the human genome, passages from religious texts, and classical music (a la the "postcard to the stars" sent out on the Voyager mission). The family's home is ransacked and turned upside down by NSA agents in search of a source of the secret information.

Later, Glen's body is found buried beneath a shallow rock grave alongside Lake Okobogee, revealed after Mulder encounters a pack of white wolves digging at the site. Evidence points to Tessa, who is charged with the murder. She was actually the one pregnant with Glen's child - not Ruby - and it was she who shot him in a jealous rage the night of Ruby's abduction.

Eventually Ruby is "returned" to the spot of her abduction about a month later: pale, disoriented, and suffering from a host of physiological symptoms consistent with prolonged exposure to weightlessness. Darlene Morris doesn't want her children to have any further contact with Mulder and Scully, because she doesn't want her daughter to have to deal with the shame and ridicule she herself suffered after her childhood abduction. "As far as I'm concerned," Darlene says, "she just spent the past month on the back of a Harley-Davidson." "Is that what you're going to tell Kevin?" responds Mulder.

Report: An important episode because it contains the first account of Samantha Mulder's abduction, and we get an early taste of Mulder's obsessive devotion to searching for his missing sister - highlighted by the fact Ruby's case is also of a young girl whose abduction was seen by her brother. The script is well-written, although I find the subplot dealing with Ruby's boyfriend's murder at the hands of a jealous pregnant friend somewhat extraneous - but a case can be made that it establishes a mundane norm for the boyfriend's disappearance, thereby contrasting the extraordinary nature of Ruby's "true" alien abduction. If you watch closely, you can catch glimpses of better-developed, later-season Mulder/Scully interaction, unlike the somewhat stilted presentation we see in much of Season 1.

Some good spine-tinglers are served when Kevin runs towards a growing eerie light behind the trees at Lake Okobogee, only to have the "ship" turn out to be a roaring motorcycle gang on a UFO-seeking mission (a scene replayed in various ways throughout the series). Another "ooh!" moment takes place when Mulder and Scully enter the family's empty home; a tea-kettle starts to whistle, so they could not have been gone long. Several sheets of the "0's and 1's" papers have been arranged randomly on the floor in a square. Scully goes upstairs, takes a peek over the balcony and sees what a different perspective reveals: the zeroes and ones form a startling black-and-white image of the missing girl, Ruby.

Overall, Conduit is a satisfyingly creepy essential X-files "origins" story - a must-see (at least once) for both fans and newbies.


John Doe [9x07]

Overall Rating: 6/10
Fright Factor: 5/10
Acting: 7/10
Mytharc Relevance: 3/10
Re-watchability: Medium - this episode has a very different mood from the typical X-Files show.
Connections: Mexico City (R, 2000), Memento

Summary: Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick) is stranded in a small Mexican town suffering from amnesia, thrown into jail, and bailed out by a mysterious man named Domingo on the condition he work for his bail money. The job: helping smuggle illegal aliens. Doggett has no passport, no ID - he doesn't know how he got there, or even who he is. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the FBI's search for the missing agent goes nowhere until Doggett himself starts to put together the clues from half-glimpsed memories from his past life; he sees flashes of himself in a sunny bedroom, and a young boy who might be his son asking him to come outside and play.

Doggett sees that he has a Marine tattoo on his left arm, and a strange crescent-shaped scab on each side of his forehead. He calls the Marine Corps public affairs office to file a missing person's report using his own physical description. Eventually the word of a missing Marine gets to FBI headquarters, and Agent Reyes recognizes the false name Doggett gave - Detective "Ladatel" - as the name of Mexican telephone calling card. Putting two and two together, she suspects it was Doggett himself who made the call from Mexico. She asks Kersh to send a search team south of the border, but he refuses, saying it's out of the FBI's jurisdiction.

Doggett is a desaparecido - a "disappeared one" whose memory has been erased by a evil-looking ganglord, the "Caballero", and he has to rebuild his identity from clues in his environment and the remaining shreds of his recollections.

Report: When I first saw this episode on its inital airdate (January 13, 2002) I didn't much care for it; the atmosphere was very un-"X-Files" and I found the dialogue rather slow-paced and draggy. On second watching it's noticeably improved, perhaps because I've been taking a Spanish class, and some of the Mexican dialogue now makes sense! There is a painful emotional locus in this show when Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish) rescues Doggett, but must reveal that his son Luke (the boy he has been seeing in his flashbacks) is dead. The revelation strikes a chord in Doggett, triggering a memory flood of the boy's kidnapping, murder, and the discovery of his body.

The camerawork is noteworthy for its use of contrasting extreme lighting conditions, as in the outdoor Mexico scenes where the sunlight is so intense the entire scene is washed out - almost "dry bone" in quality. The makeup on the characters in Mexico is dirty, greasy and sweaty - you almost feel like you need a shower after watching this ep! On the other end of the scale, the indoor scenes in the cantina and jail are the typically dark, somber low-key shots where only highlights are clear. The overall effect is gritty, primitive and authentic, but very different from the typical clarity and transparent quality of a traditional X-Files show.

It's also an atypical X-Files show because the structure is more a police procedural missing-persons plot than an exploration of the supernatural; the only time we suspect something other than human evil is afoot is when we see the "Caballero's" eyes flash red, and we realize he is not what he seems. The memory wipe he performs on the desaparecidos is done by pressing his hands against the skull of his victim, hence the two crescent-shaped scars on Doggett's forehead.

Is "Caballero" an alien? A demon? We never really find out.


Beyond The Sea [1X12]

Overall Rating: 9.5/10
Fright Factor: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Mytharc Relevance: 4/10
Re-watchability: High
Connections: Silence of The Lambs, William Peter Blatty's Exorcist III

Summary: Scully's parents are visiting with her in Georgetown; after they leave, she falls asleep in front of the television. Scully wakes up and sees her father sitting in her living room chair, speaking to her - but there is no sound. She doesn't immediately comprehend what she sees - didn't her parents leave hours ago? Then the phone rings, and she realizes she must not have been completely awake - or was she? It is Scully's mother, very distraught. She tells Dana that her father has just died of a heart attack.

That night, two teens are abducted from their car by a man posing as a police officer - a serial killer who tortures his victims and kills them five days later. Meanwhile, convicted serial killer Mulder helped put away, Luther Lee Boggs (Brad Dourif), is scheduled to die in the gas chamber - but he tries to cop a deal with Mulder and Scully, claiming he has "psychically transmitted" information on the kidnapped pair that could save their lives.

At the funeral for Scully's father, at his request his ashes are scattered from a boat although as Dana mentions, he qualified for a full military burial at Arlington. "It's exactly the way he wanted," Scully's mother replies. The music emanating from a tinny player is Bobby Darin's "Beyond The Sea" - the song that played when the senior Scully's ship returned from a naval mission, and he proposed marriage.

Scully's skepticism of the unknown is shaken by her strange vision, and she is momentarily inclined to believe Boggs may have clairvoyance and the power to channel the voices of the dead - incuding her father. Mulder insists Boggs is a fake, somehow in league with the serial killer on the outside. Time is running out for the kidnapped teens - and for Boggs.

Report: It's been about two years since I've last seen Beyond The Sea, and it's lost none of its power over several viewings. Both creator Chris Carter and many of the actors involved with the show call this episode one of the series' finest. The acting performances are easily some of Season One's best, the story is creepy and suspenseful, and the action is extremely 'dense': you come away with the feeling you've somehow watched a feature-length film, not an hour-long TV show.

The episode is deftly peppered with religious imagery - angels (a statue outside an abandoned building where on of the victims is held), a cross, and a "blue devil." This show packs an emotional punch as well, with the death of Scully's father (Don Davis) and her mysterious vision of him - paralleling Luther Lee Bogg's similar visions of his victims, as he was being walked to the death chamber - before a last-minute stay of execution. At one point, Boggs (in "medium" mode) warns Mulder to "keep away from the white cross...your blood will spill there." When the agents track down the kidnapper - a disheveled drifter named Lucas Henry - to a boat dock, Lucas fires a shot at Mulder, striking him in the torso. Scully shouts for aid, and when she looks up she sees the "white cross" - two dock poles lashed together.

Dourif's performance as Boggs showcases his skill in rapid-fire morphing from one character to another seamlessly, as Boggs "channels" the spirits of both the living and the dead. More recently, we've seen him as the toxically unctuous Grima Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. He's been stereotyped as the "dangerous lunatic" since his earliest acting career (1975's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), and few can match his sweaty, red-faced portrayal of criminality or madness - as in his portrayal of James Venamun, the "Gemini Killer" in William Peter Blatty's Exorcist III - which is almost spot-on with his X-Files role as Luther Lee Boggs.
The Truth Is Out There

Welcome to the X-Log, an online journal of X-Files (TM) commentary and reviews. It's primarily intended as a blog of personal thoughts and connections for the episodes, and I should warn you it contains spoilers.