Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The X-Files - "Deep Throat" (season 1, episode 2)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The X-Files - "Deep Throat" (season 1, episode 2)


Welcome to my viewing diary for The X-Files. Every day, except Saturday, I will offer a short review of another episode until I finish the first season. Future entries will cover the remaining seasons, breaking to review the feature films where chronologically appropriate, and eventually reach the recent miniseries. I have seen very few X-Files episodes, though I was utterly fascinated with the concept as a child, so for the most part this will be a first-timers' perspective. There will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on September 17, 1993/written by Chris Carter, directed by Daniel Sackheim): Another week with the X-Files investigating team, another trip to a slice of quiet Americana, where ordinary people are experiencing extraordinary, inexplicable occurrences. This time Mulder and Scully are investigating the mental breakdowns of several test pilots near a top secret Air Force base. The latest, Col. Robert Budahas (Andrew Johnston), was taken into custody after hijacking a vehicle, locking himself inside his home, and breaking out into strange rashes. When he returns, his wife (Gabrielle Rose) is horrified - he looks the same, but something fundamental is missing. "That's not my husband!" she screams, and sure enough he can't remember much of anything about his piloting experience. Sneaking onto the base with the help of a couple of goofy stoner teens (Monica Parker and Seth Green, who seems even more 90s here than he usually does), our agents witness strange flight patterns; Mulder begins to believe that the Air Force has been developing advanced technology using pieces from the downed spacecraft at Roswell. However, nobody wants the FBI around and eventually Mulder is snatched and Scully is forced to hold an undercover military operative at gunpoint in order to discover where he went. A befuddled Mulder is released to her, his memory erased like the pilots', and the agents return to headquarters even more uncertain about what they've seen than they were in the last episode. Meanwhile, the episode takes its title from a minor, foreboding character who tries to warn Mulder off the case. At the end of the episode, he reappears, cryptically confirming "they have been here for a long, long time."

My Response:
First, the most important point. I'm not sure how it aired originally but on Netflix this is the first episode to include the infamous theme song, over the montage of spooky images. That's huge. I can't stress enough how iconic that music was for me when I was about nine or ten - probably more than anything else, save the concept (with which it was inextricably bound), this made me want to watch the series, and is a huge reason why I am catching up with it today. Man, it sums up everything I love about the spirit of this endeavor; there's something just uncanny about that eerily synthesized whistle that gives me goosebumps. I also have to admit, though, that I like the quick zap of it featured on the show more than the longer version. Go, listen to it again now.

Ok, on to "Deep Throat". Mulder and Scully dabble with alien lore again, in a small town again, establishing a definite pattern. Hey, I'm not complaining; as a kid who grew up in a small town dreaming of UFO sightings, this is exactly the sort of thing that drew me to the series in the first place. But it does make me wonder how long they can keep up the gambit of "not knowing for sure." The show goes for ten seasons but it can't indefinitely tease us with highly suggestive yet noncommittal hints at paranormal activity - can it? Already, in the second episode, the writers are forced to take recourse in memory erasure to keep Mulder uncertain. They can't erase our memories though, and it's pretty clear to us that the phenomena is real. Eventually the characters, even the skeptical Scully, won't be able to deny their own experiences. Another interesting contradiction highlighted by this episode is our protagonists' status as insiders/outsiders. They're FBI agents for God's sake, but the way the Air Force treats them here you'd think they were enemy spies. Bureaucratic rivalry explains some of this, but even inside their own organizations they are looked at as pariahs. Carter has done something pretty savvy here: marry a traditional respect for legal authority with Americans' healthy suspicion of powerful institutions. Even more than Twin Peaks' Agent Cooper, who may have broken protocol but was almost always supported by his peers and superiors, Mulder and Scully (the latter more ambivalently than the former) are weaving back and forth across a very perilous borderline. It's an enticing premise, even if at times it invites an arched eyebrow. I'm also curious to see how frequently X-Files employs the sneaky-small-town scenario. That's a rich environment to mine, but it's also a big country out there so I look forward to the traveling investigators exploring other types of locations too (to be fair, this episode's more stolid suburban feel differs a bit from the wooded rural environment of the premiere).

Next: "Squeeze" • Previous: "Pilot"

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