Monday, August 8, 2011

Review - The X-Files Season 4 Episode 9 Terma / 10 Paper Hearts


I've watched "Terma" about five times in total and still have little clue what the hell is going on. Watching the episode is an uncomfortable experience, as the episode jumps from scene to scene, from plot to plot, without any coherence. I kept wondering whether I had missed a scene or two, or had forgotten something from a previous episode, so I went back and started rewatching scenes. But it was all there, and rewatching the scenes, attempting to glean more information from the dialogue, only confirmed hat I already knew: The mythology of The X-Files is a mess and the writing behind it is also a mess. It's all very frustrating, because there are good ideas buried deep in the episode, but Chris Carter just didn't focus on anything.

The generalities of the episode are very clear, but the details, which people seem to be discussing throughout the episode, are vague at best. More unsettling is the lack of continuity from the previous set of mytharc episodes. Where are the aliens, exactly? Why are there all this new plots?

I'll try to break the plot down to the best of my ability, though I'm sure I'll fall sort. The Russians are developing their own cure for black oil--what they call black cancer--and send an agent to kill a doctor in the United States, affiliated with the Syndicate, who is also working on a cure and apparently experimenting at a nursing home. There's stuff about the Cold War still going on, arms getting chopped off, and Mulder magically appearing in front of Congress, which makes for a crowded episode with more questions and no answers. The rock is burned at the oil refinery, once again leaving behind no physical evidence for Mulder's beliefs. Behind the scenes, CSM and Well-Manicured Man seem to be at odds, but the dialogue explains their feelings, not what's going on.

As an individual episode, "Terma" isn't that bad. The dark, uneasy atmosphere is the same as in the other conspiracy actions, and the action scenes are nice. In the larger picture, however, the episode only serves to muddle an already muddle story. It leaves behind far more questions than answers, and forces us to plod forward into the unknown, hoping there may be answers one day.

Score: 8.0/10

"Paper Hearts"

An apt counterpart to "Paper Hearts" is the earlier episode "The Field Where I Died," in my opinion, a failed episode. Both have similar goals in that they are Mulder-centric and pack an emotional punch. The difference, though, is that it is abundantly clear in "Paper Hearts" why the issue is so important to Mulder, whereas   "The Field Where I Died" floats the nebulous idea of past lives in order to make it seem relevant.

If we remember all the way back to the pilot, Mulder's motivation for the X-Files is his sister. He has believed all these years that his sister was abducted by aliens. It is this belief that fueled him through all those mythology episodes, what dragged Scully into his big mess. When Mulder realizes that it may have been Roche who abducted his sister, this is a highly significant moment, bolstered by Mulder's volatile reaction. This is serious business, fundamental to the core of The X-Files.

Central to the episode is David Duchovny who displays the single-minded conviction we know Mulder has. The reveal that Roche probably wasn't involved is one of the most powerful scenes of the entire series, Mulder confronting Roche over the fact that they are in the wrong house. After all the pressure Roche put on Mulder, it is release as Mulder unloads on him, affirming his central belief that Roche is a liar.

Even if Roche is liar, episode places a nugget of doubt in the audience and Mulder's minds. I mean, Roche could have forgotten the location of the house, instead remembering the details of the girls he fixated on. With the emotional gravity, "Paper Hearts" works as well as any standalone episode of the show, even if there is no progress by the end of the episode.

Score: 9.3/10
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