January 21, 2021

Concluding “Reckoning of Joy”

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:51 pm by chavisory

A little over four years ago, I started a blog project called “Reckoning of Joy,” in order to keep track of whatever good in the world we could, as an antidote to the horror show that our news feeds and the world around us was quickly becoming, and to encourage and learn from each other about how good things happen even in bad times.

I was hugely inspired by Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark, which I read in the week after the 2016 election. I had no idea how big or small of a project it might be, or how long it might last. I originally only planned to keep going until Trump was out of office, one way or another. Not without serious consideration, I decided to bring it to a close yesterday. I’m thankful for everyone who read, and everyone who contributed to the success of every single victory in this list.

“Reckoning of Joy” is the only blog project I’ve ever both started and ended, but I hope we all keep dreaming and organizing for bigger and better things.

January 11, 2021

The great and underused characters of the X-Files

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 5:10 pm by chavisory

Image is of two identical strawberry-blond young men in lab coats, who are actually alien-human hybrid clones.

[For anyone reading who might be working through the series for the first time, this post should be considered to contain significant spoilers for seasons 1-4, and minor ones for seasons 6 and 10.]

The more time I spend re-watching the X-Files, the more I come to believe that something I found intensely frustrating about it as a kid during the original run is, in fact, a huge strength of the show, which is that a great deal of story is actually taking place off-screen, or in ways that we’re just not being explicitly told. I think it’s easy to call it a lack of continuity, and many people do, but the older I get, the more appreciation I have for how much story it’s actually possible to perceive just out of our direct line of sight as viewers, and that the show makes you work for it a little bit.

Generally, I feel it’s a strength of the show’s narrative construction that it leaves you wanting more.

Nevertheless, there are a handful of characters who I continue to feel were under-used for what they were to the story, even if only marginally—for whom my frustration at what we didn’t get to see outweighs my enjoyment of that frustration.

And for me, this set of choices is distinct from what my list would be simply of favorite secondary characters who I nonetheless think we saw the correct amount of (Skinner, Krycek, Mr. X, Chuck Burks), great characters who just got a raw deal (Melissa, Pendrell, or the Lone Gunmen), or whose total and conspicuous absence feels calculated to say something all its own (Charles Scully).

Of course any number of different and valid choices could have been made for any number of characters in a show with such a large cast of supporting characters as the X-Files, but these are the ones who, to me, feel more like underutilized opportunities for the story as a whole.

With that…

5. Agent Henderson, handwriting expert
One of the things that sticks out to me in re-watching season 1 is that even though he had already become known as “Spooky” Mulder and deemed himself “the FBI’s most unwanted,” Mulder actually used to have good working relationships with other agents. He didn’t start out as the social outcast of the Bureau. We see him at the very least have amiable relationships with Reggie Purdue, with the never seen but ever-appreciated Danny Valadeo, and that his leadership is respected in the situation room in “Lazarus” as the plan to recover Scully from Jack and Lila unfolds. And it makes Mulder and Scully’s growing sense of isolation as the show wears on even more striking and tragic, particularly in the wake of the deaths of Agents Purdue, Willis, and Jerry Lamana. We also learn in “Young at Heart” that Mulder felt responsible for the death of Agent Steve Wallenberg, though we don’t know how well-acquainted they actually were.

One of these early associations of Mulder’s is with a handwriting analyst, Agent Henderson, who he consults in “Young at Heart,” and from the playfulness and comfort of their banter and her clear pleasure at showing off to him, evidently not for the first time.

There was a Twitter discussion at one point of whether anyone thought Mulder and Henderson had a “thing,” and I don’t think that’s it, although they certainly had a rapport, and I think Henderson had a little bit of a crush on Mulder. I think they both found each other refreshingly brash.

I do understand the need to use the screen time available to establish Mulder and Scully’s relationship with each other. I do not understand resisting the temptation to give at least one more scene to the woman who spoke the line, “Ten minutes may be enough time for you, Mulder. Of course I wouldn’t know that from personal experience.”

4. Miller and Einstein
While I get that there was a lot to hate about “Babylon,” one of the things that I didn’t was the introduction of Agents Kyd Miller and Elizabeth Einstein. I hoped it would mark the start of a reversal of the process by which we saw Mulder and Scully’s world become more and more isolated, lonely, and devoid of support. By this point in the series, we’ve seen Mulder and Scully lose their relationships with basically everyone but Skinner, and their trust in him is on shaky ground. Mulder has lost his entire family. Scully has lost both her parents, her sister, one child to death and another to adoption, and seems to barely have a relationship with her surviving brothers or nephews. Deep Throat, the Lone Gunmen, and Pendrell are dead. Mulder’s alienated from Senator Matheson. Doggett and Reyes are nowhere to be seen at this point. We haven’t seen Scully have any ties of friendship to another woman in years. (We see that she has female colleagues at Our Lady of Sorrows in I Want to Believe, but it doesn’t seem like she has great relationships with them.) I so wanted to see them start to regain all they’ve lost, starting with restoring friendships or good professional relationships again.

I liked the way “Babylon” was structured as a geometric expansion of older episodes like “Field Trip,” “Folie a Deux,” or “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” the theses of which were that Mulder and Scully both actually need each other’s worldviews to survive, only this time it was all four of these people, deeply at odds with each other’s methods and beliefs, who had to accept that they all needed each other’s insights to succeed and ultimately to save others’ lives. We see Mulder and Scully, in deciding to ask the assistance of their younger opposites, kind of induct Miller and Einstein into the bond formed by seeking knowledge and putting trust in a point of view other than one’s own.

And notwithstanding that most of “My Struggle II” turned out to be Scully’s seizure-induced hallucination, I think one of the revelatory things about it was that she does actually like and trust Einstein, who initially doesn’t seem to have a lot of respect for her—that when she saw herself problem-solving her way to defeat of a global pandemic with someone, it was her.

I thought the characters had a lot of potential to grow deeper than the slightly comic doppleganger versions of Mulder and Scully they were introduced to us as, and I wanted Einstein especially to have some experience to lead her to a deeper understanding of why Scully has stayed with Mulder all these years (because obviously being in love with him wasn’t enough in the end) and the value of the X-Files.

And it’s possible that this was actually envisioned for the conclusion of the season 12 Chris Carter has said he’d assumed he would get to write, but I would have loved to see the series end with a shot of Miller and Einstein taking over the X-files office to pick up from wherever Mulder and Scully finally decide to conclude their own journey.

3. Duane Barry
I admit that though I’ve been entranced and frustrated by this particular subplot of the myth-arc for years, I am somewhat torn in this choice. Because on the one hand, he was such a compelling character, but I think it would also have been very easy to err on the side of over-relying on him to tell myth-arc backstory. And because there’s incredible power in just how earthshattering his single appearance in the narrative was, how much it’s actually possible to infer given how very little we really learn about him, even in how reluctant Mulder is to even talk about him ever again.

He’s kind of a third rail of the mythology of the X-Files in that it’s very difficult to overestimate just how much of a linchpin he is to the subsequent narrative, and pretty much no one in the story wants to openly address that. Even the fandom alludes to it so seldom that sometimes I have a hard time telling whether it’s actually so obvious as to be considered not worth mentioning, or whether it was established a bit too underhandedly.

The conflict of the episode “Duane Barry” is framed largely around the question of whether he’s a reliable narrator of his own abduction experiences, with Kazdin assuming he is not and Mulder assuming he is (until Scully enters the scene with information about the nature of his prior brain injury). But the vastly more important piece of information he possesses, though he can barely speak coherently about it by that point, is the existence of a “secret corporation” in league with the military and alien conspiracy. Something Skinner, Mulder, and we the audience don’t learn is actually true until almost three years later (in “Redux II”).

I had also misremembered him speaking the line “There were men” in that same conversation with Mulder, but he actually says “There’s a man,” by which I have a hard time believing he doesn’t mean CSM.

And the show never really circles back around to have Mulder and Scully, or, I suspect, much of the audience, put those pieces together: that he knew, possibly before anyone, what was going on with Roush.

And that, I think it fairly safely follows, the approximate chances that his shooting was really an accident rather than a botched assassination attempt, are pretty close to zero.

And that would actually explain a lot about how the Syndicate and its cronies in the FBI deal with the problem Mulder presents, going to elaborate lengths to keep him contained, discouraged, and discredited rather than kill him outright.

Because the last time they tried to just have an inconvenient FBI agent murdered, it went really, really badly.

(And I know it’s a readily available explanation that CSM is reluctant to kill Mulder because he’s his son, but I really wonder how far that goes. He shot his son Jeffrey in the face himself the moment he was no longer expedient.)

The more I re-watch the series the more I want to know about Barry’s short and tragic FBI career and how he found out what he found out. He knew at least roughly who CSM was and the basic outline of the whole conspiracy long before anyone else puts it together, what happens to him as a result is a complete horror (in ways that we see echoes of in what happens to both Mulder and Scully over and over and over again throughout the rest of the series), and I think the show could’ve brought those threads full-circle and reconnected them to the mythology in a way that could’ve been far more cathartic.

2. Kurt Crawford
I’m conflicted about this choice, too, but slightly less.

I’ve always found it strange how little Kurt Crawford is remarked on given that he, or the clones choosing to bear his name, is one of the most eerie and pervasive presences throughout the whole first half of the original run of the show. We meet him only ever as an echo, having no information at all about who he was before, and yet in a way, we see him grow up, from the boys we first see floating in tanks in the “Erlenmeyer Flask” to the child versions being used as worker drones on the bee farm in “Herrenvolk,” to the adults we finally meet in “Memento Mori,” and then never see again.

What’s his back story? If it’s anything like Samantha’s, he could’ve been a family member of a Syndicate member, handed over to the alien colonists as a hostage, and yet we don’t see anyone fitting his description in the scene in “One Son” when we see that happen.

He could kind of be anyone.

And the clones of this person are engaged in one of the most stupidly brazen, morally courageous acts of subterfuge we see in the series, working to try to undermine the Project and find a way to save the dying women who have been its victims (and their mothers) from within its own labs.

How did they come together in their conviction to try this? Do the women of the Allentown MUFON group know who or what their contact Kurt Crawford really is? Did Betsy Hagopian? Or as a multiple abductee since her teen years (as Penny Northern tells us), did she possibly know his original? Did he know Samantha?

Is he still alive?

These are the things that make his possible back story so rich and yet so wide-open for speculation and interpretation that I’ve always been baffled that fanfic writers aren’t all over it. And while there’s a powerful, simple elegance in the arc of horrible snapshots of his story we were allowed to see, I also think that like one more scene of character arc or origin story for him could’ve turned this character from intriguing to beloved.

1. Poorboy
Not even a little conflicted about this.

The little blond boy who we meet in “The Unnatural,” both as a fan of Josh Exley and the Grays in the 1940’s, and as an errand boy for the former Officer Dales in the 1990’s, wearing the same old-fashioned clothes and snarking about Mulder being “a regular Rockefeller” in a strangely sophisticated manner, is strongly implied to be an alien shapeshifter himself.

This would make him at least one of if not the longest-surviving defector from the colonization project. What has he seen over the course of five decades spent evading detection as a little blond urchin this way? What does he know? While I think it was probably the right decision to leave this character’s history largely in a state of mystery, I also think he represents a lost opportunity to connect dots or deliver exposition. And I realize that since David Duchovny wrote this episode, this is a character who Chris Carter likely never envisioned carrying forward in any way. But we’ve got a character who’s a nearly complete blank slate, who’s just been…around…for 50 years or so, who could’ve been anywhere, doing anything for a lot of that time. Virtually any message that needed carrying, any one piece of information that needed to make its way from the 1940’s to the 1990’s or any points in between, between virtually any two other characters, could’ve been transmitted by Poorboy.

It’s uncommon for me to argue that a character needed to be more of a plot device, but Poorboy and what was implied about him represented an almost limitless opportunity to increase intrigue and connection between characters and disparate threads of the mythology, while also leaving us with even more questions.