Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The X-Files - "Eve" (season 1, episode 11)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The X-Files - "Eve" (season 1, episode 11)


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 December 10, 1993/written by Kenneth Biller & Chris Brancato, directed by Fred Gerber): Teena Simmons' (Sabrina Krievens') father has been killed in Greenwich, Connecticut; two puncture wounds on his neck suggest exsanguination, or slow draining of blood. He's found sitting on a swingset. So is Mr. Reardon in Marin County, California whose time of death matches Mr. Simmons'. Mulder and Scully visit the west coast crime scene after Teena has been kidnapped and they're shocked to see a girl who looks identical to her open the Reardons' door. This is Cindy Reardon (Erika Krievins), the product of in vitro fertilization supervised by Dr. Sally Kendrick (Harriet Harris), a disgraced fertility clinic supervisor who apparently tampered with her patients' ova in eugenic experiments. Deep Throat fills in some gaps for Mulder, noting a Cold War program called "the Litchfield experiments" in which U.S. intelligence tried to manufacture supersoldiers with extra chromosomes that lead to abnormally high intelligence, strength...and psychosis. The boys are called Adam, the girls are called Eve (interestingly, we never meet any Adams in Episode 11 - is a follow-up in store?).

At an institution for the criminally insane, Mulder and Scully meet Eve-6 (also Harris, leading them to understand that Dr. Kendrick, or Eve-7, was one of these original clones). It turns out that Eve-8 is the one kidnapping the two girls created by Eve-7; squirreling them away at a motel in Port Reyes, she explains her purpose. She knows that they killed their fathers, which the girls readily admit (asked how they knew that one another existed, Teena and Cindy - or rather, Eve-9 and Eve-10 - explain, "We just knew"). Eve-8 hopes to cure them of their unstable homicidal tendencies, but they've outsmarted her, poisoning her drink and leading her to die just before the FBI agents burst in to "rescue" the two children. Playing their new guardians for fools as they share conspiratorial smirks, the two Eves request a rest stop where one of them poisons Mulder's and Scully's sodas. Only when Mulder accidentally spots the residue of the same extract that killed Eve-8 does he realize who the culprits have been all along. Following a chase through a truck stop, the girls are captured and sent to the same institution as Eve-8. As the episode closes, Dr. Kendrick/Eve-7 arrives to rescue her progeny/siblings; curious, she wonders how they knew she'd come get them. Smiling as ominously as ever, the latest Eves - having apparently orchestrated all of their actions through this episode to lead to this point - answer, once again, "We just knew."

My Response:
So far it's been a lot of fun revisiting The X-Files. I say "revisiting" because even though these are first-time viewings, they take me back to my childhood, when I was fascinated with the show for several reasons: a sense of mystery, the diversity of topics, the nostalgia of the theme song. The best episodes so far have conveyed a certain eeriness alongside the more charmingly genre-bound, even borderline campy, elements. And yet there's an element I was aware of and thrilled by at the time which doesn't really manifest in the early X-Files entries; despite the creepiness of the killer in "Squeeze" and the uncanny if rough effects in "Space," I'm not sure I'd call any of these episodes scary...until now. Back when the series premiered, I was not allowed to watch it; I can't remember if this was a formal rule or a tacit understanding I was too nervous to test. Quite possibly it was the latter, given my age (ten when this episode aired) and other violent or frightening films I'd already seen (although I wouldn't see my first R-rated movie until the following year). For the most part, these episodes don't really seem to justify such an approach, but "Eve" contains genuine nightmare material. There are plenty of jump-scares and disturbing imagery (the mysterious figures approaching the children's rooms at night, the slow approach to the dead father on the swing - and it doesn't help that his name is Joel!). Perhaps most unsettling are the girls' sneaky smiles as it slowly dawns on us that they're the villains, rather than the victims, of the story. There's something uniquely terrifying about evil children and Episode 11 taps into that conceit with gusto.

Even before that twist, the opening reinforces the series' effective juxtaposition of anxious strangeness and reassuring structure. On a show like The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, we're exposed to uncanny phenomena without any real security blanket other than, in the latter case, Rod Serling's clipped introduction. The X-Files, on the other hand, loves to hit us with an inexplicable phenomenon, with unfamiliar characters in an all-American location all the more uneasy for its normality before bringing in the familiar hero and heroine. This is where the "inside" quality of the "inside/outside" dynamic I noted yesterday comes into play - it isn't just their week-to-week presence that lead us to rely on Mulder and Scully, it's their official, lawful status which at other times the series subverts. Even as that delightfully spooky theme kicks in during the opening credits, the images of the agents intercut with cheesy but creepy paranormal imagery let us know that at least someone's on the case. This episode goes the farthest toward stretching and challenging the stability these agents can provide (not only are they sometimes in over their heads, at certain points we know much more than them about the danger they face), while also highlighting the gap between the comfort of their cop-show presence and the unmoored terror of the horror-film cases they work on.

This was also a very well-directed episode, with Gerber using unusual camera angles and frequent movement to keep us on edge. I particularly appreciated the shot - obviously, I chose it to head this piece! - in which one of the girls stares directly at the viewer through Scully's binoculars. This was one of the signature moments in the episode where I began to suspect that perhaps the kids themselves were the big bads. I can't put my finger on why exactly, but there was a seventies vibe about "Eve," evoking some combination of The Amityville Horror, Don't Look Now (maybe the children's coats), and particularly Brian De Palma's films like Sisters. The bold yet sparse color palette is particularly great - I love the way the child Eves' reds and the adult Eve's black stand out against the nondescript motel room, or how the green dust denotes the poisoned sodas. This was definitely the most notable aesthetic scheme on the series thus far, especially at a time when TV tended to eschew such formal flourishes. For reasons I also can't exactly explain, the episode also felt Hitchcockian, both visually and narratively. In the latter case, the decision to show us the girls' duplicity long before it threatens Mulder and Scully adds a flair of suspense to the already surprise-laden horror.

And it must be said that the Krievins are absolutely marvelous as the little Eves, as iconic a presence as the show has ever established outside its leads (with only Tooms from episode 3 as a competitor, and a second-place one if forced to choose). They are both chilling and fascinating, almost sympathetic for contradictory reasons - partly because their crafty, calculating intelligence is kind of transgressively thrilling, and partly because, despite their monstrous status, they still look like children and so the adults' near-callous dismissal of them rankles a bit ("She was never my daughter," one mother scoffs while cutting the girl she raised for a decade out of a family photo and burning it in the fireplace). Hopefully we see them again, though their role here was so effectively chilling that it might be stronger as a one-off.

Next: "Fire" • Previous: "Fallen Angel"


No comments: