The X-Files: Pilot

As with most of my adventures in narrative since 2005 my re-introduction to The X Files has been fairly serendipitous, mostly owing to the fact that I am nearly finished it's immediate predecessor Twin Peaks which ended two years before the pilot of The X Files aired. What makes Twin Peaks so significant to the X Files is that despite it's spiral into oblivion into the second season, David Lynch's first foray into television broke a great deal of ground in terms of what mainstream television audiences considered compelling as well as how malleable the standard genres of television truly are.

One hypothesis that I want to explore during the course of my X Files viewing is that the continued presence and guidance by series creator Chris Carpenter is what ultimately not only kept the series from spiraling out of control but allowed it to reach a point where it not only grew out of the fertile soil left behind by Twin Peaks, but flourished to create an even more enduring and influential series.

My first thought in approaching the pilot- which I did not originally see in 1993, but as a re-run somewhere in the late nineties after having seen several other episodes- was to make a mental note of how it compares to other Fox pilots over the intervening years; most notably Fringe, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Curiously there are no motorcycles present and the pilot was in fact aired first. But seriously it appears to be uncharacteristically untrammeled, which is seriously welcome considering my current familiarity with the kind of interference Fox is famous for saddling Joss Whedon with.

Curiously the pilot suggests to us that Scully is to be the protagonist (which had been Carter's original intent) but from the moment that we are introduced to "Spooky" Fox Mulder onwards, the episode takes place firmly in his world. While I felt pounded over the head by the initial cascade of spooky things that happen to Mulder and Scully before they even reach the Oregon town where their case is based and many of the details of the case reached a bit too far and presented this huge orgy of bizarre things from apes with metal things up their noses in coffins where there should be people to strange scars and time distortion, it still did a fantastic job of setting the tone for the series, establish the dynamic between Mulder and Scully, and clearly establish just what the series was going to be.

I can understand Marty's perspective that they made it a little too clear what the conspiracy was from the very beginning, but approaching it from my perspective of having just finished Twin Peaks, I think it was fairly important that they clearly establish that fact. I knew going in what Twin Peaks was going to be; that it was going to be really strange and that I would have to put my David Lynch hat on. The problem with that is of course that the original audience of Twin Peaks did not have the benefit of having seen Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, or Inland Empire and so the actual basis for what was happening in terms of Bob, the owls, and the other more esoteric elements were a complete surprise to the audience and something that contributed to it's downfall. Of course at this point we know that it's a government conspiracy. What we do not know is if there are real aliens involved, what they want, what the government has to do with it, and what the government's goals are which leaves us at about the same place that the Fringe pilot did in that we knew that there was a company called Massive Dynamic with connections to the DHS that run even deeper than Olivia's.

Continue the comparison between those two shows and you can see how much better and clearer we can see the protagonists in the X Files. Olivia is curious, she wants to understand why John Scott died and what he was up to. Well that's just dandy. With Mulder we have this life long obsession driven by his sister's abduction (that goes on to become central to the most electrifying revelations in the entire series) and this very sinister game that the FBI appears to be playing with one of it's own agents. Why does it make any sense to task Scully- who is suggested to be overqualified for her role at the FBI within the first five minutes of the pilot- with observing and assisting what appears to be a waste of departmental resources? We still have no idea who the factions in play are and how many there are.

Overall, it really is one of the best pilots I've ever seen but The Wire still takes the gold medal.

Jennifer's Body

Question: How do you market a subversive feminist indie horror-comedy from an academy award winning screenwriter?
Answer: You package it as an exploitation flick and only release footage of Megan Fox being slutty.

That's how the geniuses at Fox seem to operate anyway. Forget the fact that we just got through the media backlash against Megan Fox brought on by Paramount's carpet bombing publicity for Transformers 2, and just plaster her image everywhere. There's no way that could fail, right? Apparently that tactic failed so terribly that people think I'm making a dumbass joke when I tell them it's actually a great movie. Well Megan Fox's acting is fairly flat and Diablo Cody still needs to transition as a writer who delivers great short stories into someone who can deliver nuanced character studies that add dramatic weight to her unique insights and razor sharp comedic instincts, but it's still an indispensible slice of pop that turns the genre on it's ear.

Ever notice how in the oh so cleverly postmodern Scream franchise- whose killer app is discussion and deconstruction of the cliches of the genre it resides in- never bothers to question why most of the victims are women, that they exploit female weakeness, and punish them for stepping outside the bounds of conventional morality? I won't hold it against you if you didn't, because the point of Scream was a vindication, a justification for the morbidly self indulgent and systematically misogynist brand of film it represents.

There's no tedious metafiction to be found in Jennifer's Body, instead Cody's screenplay wisely leaps forward to show us what it looks like when the sexual predator is a woman preying on the stereotypical weaknesses and insecurities of teenage boys (primarily their sexual appetite), shining a very bright and uncomfortable light on the tropes that most mainstream audiences have become desensitized to over the course of three decades of screaming, bleeding teenage girls. It's viciously, gleefully exploitative in a way that is sure to offend and anger a lot of male viewers and makes no apologies for it.

What is probably most interesting and unique about Jennifer's Body isn't it's insights and commentaries on teenage sexuality or high school politics but Cody's manifesto of shit kicking take no prisoners feminism. Amanda Siefried's "Needy" transforms from spineless wallflower into a plucky self assured vigilante who refuses to appeal to male authority or muscle for help in a way that few contemporary teenage girl protagonists do. When the system, conventional morality and rule of law fail her Needy doesn't give in or let justice slip through her fingers. She rolls up her sleeves and gets shit done no matter what the personal cost. Perhaps it's fitting that the perpetually overshadowed and underestimated protagonist got completely lost in the signal to noise conflict between Jennifer's Body the film and it's marketing, the ultimate poetic justice in a film set in a world that is never fair and frequently punishes the unconventional.

I could talk some more about the film's feminist dialectic, Jennifer's character arc and her willing victimization or what the conflict between Needy and Jennifer has to say about the confrontation between sensible emotionally honest sex positive feminity and "female chauvenism," but instead I'm going to tell you to go out and buy a ticket. This movie needs you, and needs you badly if what it has to say is ever going to make any impact. It's smart, funny, hip, and will speak directly to you in ways that very few movies do.



Welcome to it.

These are my ramblings. Have a go if you think you're hard.