"Provenance"

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"Oh, sure, Frankie's gonna wrap up the mytharc..."



Ever since the “Full Disclosure” event of the sixth season, the supposed “explanation of the conspiracy” that we were promised and never came to be, I’ve been more than a little skeptical of the mythology-oriented episodes. They ranged from inspired (“Requiem”, “This is Not Happening”) to a mixed bag (“Closure”, “Vienen”) to downright pathetic (“The Sixth Extinction”, “Existence”).

Most of the problem has been a lack of direction, an obvious desire to continue beyond the confines of what had been more or less intended from the moment they decided to have a mythology in the first place. The first signs of this came during the “Sixth Extinction” arc, which began with the promise of revelations regarding the origins of both alien and man, and gave us a mush of “cool” scenes that went nowhere. The next arc was the supposed end of the Samantha Mulder arc, which left fans wondering what Chris Carter was thinking when he decided to drop a completely new explanation into our laps, and then never followed up on it.

Granted, they snapped back with a vengeance with the “Requiem” arc, launching the show in a new direction. But at the same time, they set themselves up for failure and a limited stay of execution. The introduction of John Doggett (and later, Monica Reyes) was exactly what the series needed…at the beginning of the sixth season. Waiting until David Duchovny was ready to leave the series, making any attempt at expanding the cast polarizing in the worst possible sense, eliminated any chance of the eighth season getting the attention it deserved.

Still, when the mythology (and Mulder) returned in force with the “DeadAlive” arc, things were looking strong. Sure, the return of Mulder was far-fetched, but no more than the rest of what we’ve seen over the years. The real disaster came after that arc, with the extreme lack of exploration into Mulder’s state of mind after coming back, as well as the forced ending caused by the combination of an uncertain renewal and the need to bring Mulder’s involvement to a relative close.

The “Existence” arc was, generally, a failure, but the final installment made up for it. The writers left things in a faux-“Redux” situation, where several possible explanations for William were offered: product of aliens, government experiments, or even a miracle of God. It wasn’t as clear as it might have been, however, because unlike a cure for cancer, William wasn’t going away.

The last mythology installment, “Trustno1”, pulled the threads forward, but answered few questions and butchered characterizations so badly that fans were left shaking their hands in disbelief. Was this the future of the “X-Files”, a series that promised new directions but couldn’t let go of the past? Fairly soon, it was clear that this was a moot question. 1013 came to the conclusion that whatever the reason, continuing the series would be a mistake, and now the remaining episodes are focused on bringing the series to a satisfying conclusion.

I’ll not debate too far, in this review, whether or not that is a feasible goal, other than to comment that I wouldn’t be writing fan fiction “explaining” the mythology over the past nine seasons, if I thought 1013 had the remaining creativity and resources to do it themselves. What I will say is that this episode represents the best mythology episode of the season. If it wasn’t for some of the poorly written dialogue along the way, and some slightly odd character moments, this would have been the high point of the season.

The plot is remarkably straightforward for a mythology episode. About six months ago, the FBI caught wind of a UFO cult in Canada. The case came through DD Kersh, but instead of passing it to AD Skinner and down to the X-Files, it would up in AD Follmer’s hands. All is well and good until the agent assigned to infiltrate the cult, Agent Comer, winds up “dying” in a border crossing accident. He was smuggling rubbings from a spacecraft over the border, as well as a small artifact from the ship itself. All of this, of course, points back to the “Sixth Extinction” arc.

Kersh and Follmer question Scully about the rubbings, and she stonewalls them. It becomes clear that the case was hidden from the agents for a reason, but that reason is unclear. As the agents try to investigate, Agent Comer makes an attempt to kill William. When he fails, the leader of the UFO cult makes it clear that he wants William taken alive and Mulder killed. What ensues is a tense attempt to get William out of the area before another attempt can be made, and as the episode closes, it is clear that the attempt fails. Doggett is badly injured, as are the Lone Gunmen, and William is abducted by the UFO cult.

Unlike “Trustno1”, the characterization in this episode is much more consistent with what we expect, and that truly takes this episode to another level. Scully is nothing like the weak and naïve woman that allowed herself to be played by the Shadow Man. Here, she is determined to protect her son, and willing to trust her fellow agents and friends to that end. She acts with a harsh view of reality, borne of years on the X-Files, and that is something to be applauded.

One of the real highlights of this episode is the scene between Scully and Monica Reyes. This is the kind of scene that has been missing from the mythology episode for far too long. It explores, in straightforward fashion, the amazement and horror of what they are facing. Remember how Monica said in “This is Not Happening” that she doesn’t believe in UFOs and aliens? That tracks right into this conversation, and Monica’s wide-eyed wonder. Even Scully is awed as she considered that once again, some guiding force has drawn her to this moment and these findings. It’s a wonderful, powerful scene.

Another highlight is the tension between Follmer and Doggett. I consider Follmer to be what Doggett might have been, if he had lost his morals and principles somewhere along the path to advancement. Follmer never would have sacrificed his career to do the right thing in “Without”. It even makes sense that at one time, Follmer was much like Doggett, back when he and Monica were working together in New York. Could it have been his decision to advance at all costs that led Monica to break it off with him and transfer to New Orleans? It’s another good example of reflective character building, because it is parallel to the similar relationship between Kersh and Skinner. If Skinner had been willing to compromise more, he could have been where Kersh is now.

If there is one character that is left unclear in this episode, in terms of motivation, it is Skinner. I find this to be highly unfortunate. His reasons for staying quiet are poorly rendered and examined, when it didn’t have to be that way. I would expect that the still-lingering surveillance tape of him shooting Krycek might have something to do with it. After all, his decision to assign Agent Comer to the case, rather than Doggett and Reyes, came soon after the events of “Nothing Important Happened Today”. It could easily have been a deal between Skinner and Follmer, “quid pro quo” to keep Skinner out of prison. There’s hope that this will come out in the conclusion to this two-parter, but considering how Skinner’s been treated in the past, I’m not that confident.

In terms of the plot, it’s not entirely clear what the rationale might be for killing either William or Mulder might be. There seems to be a definite trend suggesting that one must die if the other is kept alive, and the choice appears to be Mulder. So why does Mulder have to die, and why do they want William? My guess is that it has to do with the genetic code mapped out on the spacecraft. The super-soldiers want William because he might represent the attainment of their next step, while those in service of the aliens might want him for similar reasons. Obviously, they want to use William for some purpose related to their connection to human genetics and religion. I believe that it will tie into the concept of William being created by an unknown means to be what they have been trying to attain.

So just what is the connection of the spacecraft in Canada (and the one in Africa) in terms of humanity and religion? Did the aliens create humanity, and then guide religion as a means of co-opting the beliefs that would come when humanity sensed a higher power? I hope that next episode gives us more information, but for now, I’m intrigued (as I always have been) by the fact that the writing on the ship is in Navaho, maps out the basics of science and genetics, and includes critical passages of the holy books worldwide. The real question, I think, is not whether humanity is consequent to the ship, but whether the ship is consequent to humanity.

The weak point of this episode, if anything, was the way that characters referred to Mulder. It sounded a bit unconvincing in some spots, especially when they added the possibility that Mulder was dead. Scully’s reaction notwithstanding, this is hardly a viable plot point anymore, even if it was written before the news that Mulder would return for the finale. Would the writers kill Mulder off screen, and in such an offhand manner? Of course not.

Another possible weak point is a general complaint that I’ve had (and heard) since the season began. If Scully knows that William is a target in the same context as Mulder, then way does she stay in Washington? Why didn’t she go with Mulder, or even take off in her own direction? Stubborn pride only goes so far, especially when it’s been made clear that she’s under constant watch by her enemies. The practical answer, of course, is the fact that FOX wouldn’t allow Gillian Anderson out of her contract. Otherwise, they have yet to give a convincing reason for her presence in a highly exposed (and now several-times-compromised) location.

I loved the further evolution of Doggett’s character here. They played up his possible feelings for Scully in “Daemonicus”, but ever since “Trustno1”, that has changed. And that is a smart and realistic direction for the character to take. It also makes sense for him to slowly gravitate towards Monica, after “John Doe”, and unless I am reading the 1013’s intent incorrectly from what we’ve seen, this is what might happen. I’m not entirely sold on that, because there would be the huge hurdle of her insistence that he face down his demons. But could it happen? Certainly, and with the series ending and the future of the new characters in doubt for involvement in the future films, I wouldn’t be surprised to see their arc resolve in that direction.

We didn’t see much of the Lone Gunmen, but in keeping with the subtle references to their own series and past histories, it fit within the context of the episode. Langley’s reaction to William was priceless, as he was no doubt thinking of his last experience with a baby. Frohike was typically worried over Scully, and Byers was, as usual, selfless.

It’s interesting to note that even though there have been only a total of 9 episodes since November, at least half of which were excellent (or at least promising), the overall impression of many fans is discontented and negative. This episode is easily one of the best thus far, and a strong mythology offering to boot. I wouldn’t be surprised if the final season of the “X-Files” turns out to be the most under-appreciated season of the entire run.

Some other thoughts:

- Nice of Agent Comer to slow down his moped every so often, to let the border patrol catch up!

- Was it just me, or did the bike appear to explode prior to impact? Might have been a bad edit on the special effects.

- What’s up with Follmer’s hair in Kersh’s office? He looks like he took styling tips from “Something About Mary”!

- “…if you can wrap your brain around that…” Jeez, and here I thought Scully only got that snarky with Mulder. I guess it’s a bad thing to get in Scully’s path when she’s in a bad mood. Never mind that if you go by the episodes, she’s not pulled into these situations too often anymore!

- OK, I understand why Scully would be incredibly vague and noncommittal with Kersh and Follmer, but why all the evasions with Doggett and Monica? Just tell them what you found already!

- At the crime scene in North Dakota, Doggett asks another agent where he can find the AIC. The agent points…and then keeps pointing, even after Doggett is long gone!

- Don’t you just love Doggett’s “rolling eyes” look?

- Why did Agent Comer wait so damn long to heal himself? Did he just enjoy the feeling of dragging dirt into his burned flesh?

- Gillian’s getting very good at nodding ever so slightly with her eyes half closed…must be her standard “fount of wisdom” expression…

- It was great how that had Monica looking just a bit terrified at the implications of what Scully was telling her.

- Also, notice how Monica never actually disputes what Scully is suggesting, when Scully says she was meant to find the evidence…she accepts it, because she “knows” it to be true.

- “Forget our extension? Or you just can’t be bothered?” Great line, and very reminiscent of the kind of thing Mulder would say to Skinner in similar situations.

- I was wondering, the second time around, if Skinner was counting on Doggett to go through his files…leaving the door to his office and his desk unlocked…

- Isn’t it interesting how none of these people were flipping out like Mulder when they were exposed to the information in the rubbings?

- Is it just me, or is Ma Scully getting just a little tired of being a 24 hour daycare service?

- Nice continuity, having Ma Scully bring up matters of faith with Scully.

- What’s with Scully’s chest in this episode? If they keep this up, I’ll have to bring back the “Scully’s X-Ploitation Watch” again!

- So the UFO cult originated in North Dakota, then crossed over into Canada. Wasn’t Absalom’s group from roughly the same location, perhaps Montana? Could there be a connection?

- Now that I’ve seen this episode a couple times, I doubt that Kersh and the others knew about the first case involving the rubbings. They didn’t know about the ship, apparently, just the cult itself and the threats against Mulder. Kersh might have initiated the whole investigation, asking Skinner to keep Doggett and Reyes out of it in order to prevent the investigation from beginning again.

- It appears that Agent Comer actually wasn’t a cultist, because he seemed to be trying to stop the cult’s agenda by killing William.

- Scully finally put the kid in the nursery, instead of the living room!

- I loved the escalating hints of insanity coming from Scully after the attack on William. Her refusal to get help for Comer, and her mad justification of it, was more frightening than the rest of the episode.

- Why would Agent Comer’s shooting in Washington make headline news in Calgary? I think it might have to do with Follmer’s search for his body, which would have resulted in a gradually widening of the search perimeter. Note that they refer to the agents continuing the search until the attack on William, so by that time, Canadian officials would likely have been called into the search.

- That, of course, brings up the interesting question as to why Agent Comer was considered more important than Agent Doggett, in terms of rescue/recovery efforts.

- It’s good to see that Monica and Scully are developing a closer friendship. Scully clearly trusts Monica with William. However, there is still a distance between Scully and Doggett, which might go back to her behavior towards him in “Trustno1”.

- The shot of the artifact hovering over William’s face was simply awesome…and creepy as hell!

- Why didn’t Doggett try to get out of the path of the oncoming truck? If anything, he intentionally stood in the same damn spot, and then tried to take the impact!

- Using the cellular phones as suggested by Langly was a good move…and a nice nod towards the surveillance in “Trustno1”.

- Monica’s reaction to seeing Doggett wounded was very powerful…you could just imagine that she was reliving all of those emotions from “4D” as she was running to his side.

- As for Scully, it made sense, given the threat to William, for her to leave Doggett to Monica and Skinner. It’s consistent with what we’ve seen previously.

Overall, this was a powerfully intense episode with plenty of strong characterization and ties to former continuity. In short, this episode had something for everyone. I only hope that the next episode manages to live up to this beginning.

I give it a 9/10.


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