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THE X-FILES RE-OPENED: 2.03-Blood/2.04-Sleepless

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KILL. KILL NOW. Sorry about that.

Based on a story by Darin Morgan (his first writing credit on the show, and not his last thankfully) and with a teleplay from Morgan and Wong, Blood is a literally pounding thriller at times, pounding in the sense that Mark Snow utilises a throbbing beat throughout that makes many of his set pieces deeply and brilliantly uncomfortable.

Centred around the theme of subliminal messaging, Blood is pretty much a “meat and potatoes” thriller from Morgan and Wong, but it’s a damn enjoyable one. Not one of the all time greats from the show, it is, however, one of those episodes that when you come to it on re-watches always ends up being more entertaining that you imagine it ever having been and as such is always a joy to revisit.

With a central guest performance from William Sanderson (Blade Runner, Deadwood, True Blood), Blood is an episode that is brimming with great ideas about its central theme, but has to good sense to place a great guest character at the heart of it, thus meaning that the episode carries more weight than just being a series of well constructed set pieces of people going crazy when electronic displays prey on their deepest fears.

The pressure cooker environment of those set pieces are superb, with great staging from David Nutter, with a claustrophobia sufferer being pushed to murder in a packed elevator (of which we see the moment before the crime takes place, with the level of violence only hinted at by the time Mulder gets to the crime scene) to a woman fearful of rape having her worst fears relayed to her via a computer during a visit to the creepiest car mechanic in history, but none of this would work if it didn’t get to you on an emotional level and Morgan and Wong have compensated for it with great characterisation, the best of which comes from Sanderson.

It all builds up to a glorious final set piece set in a clock tower involving a sniper rifle that plays on a terribly uncomfortable and realistic level that still has resonance, if not more so, in this day and age. The idea that someone pushed to the edge in the way Sanderson’s character is can easily obtain a rifle and do some damage feels like a subtly hinted at political message, not rammed down the viewer’s throat or anything, but it still feels very damning and gives the final set piece an extra layer of charge that elevates its sci-fi thriller trappings into something even more powerful and layered.

The episode for the most part follows Sanderson’s character, Ed Funsch, as he is laid off in the teaser, and who then proceeds to ignore or turn away from the messages trying to make him kill until he finally snaps in the episode’s final scenes. An unfortunate encounter with the worlds’s worst blood tester turns into a scene of unbridled, uncomfortable horror as a never ending doorbell then turns into a mass shooting from a clock tower, Mark Snow’s music and the use of never ending jump cuts as Funsch slowly goes crazy is probably one of the most intense sequences the series had attempted up to this point in time and is handled by David Nutter and editor Heather MacDougall fantastically. The never ending jump cuts from MacDougall and the increasingly intense performance from Sanderson combine to devastating effect.

Let’s take this moment to, once again, say hello Nicholas Lea, this time as fan favourite Alex Krycek.

The following episode, Sleepless, also concerns itself with people seeing things that are somewhat subliminal, but not to fear, this is no retread of season one repeating two reincarnation episodes one after another, because Sleepless feels genuinely different and is every bit as powerful.

Like Blood, the threat of seeing things that aren’t there stems from a government experiment, but whereas in the previous episode it was test on a grander scale involving pesticide that induced an LSD like effect, the threat in Sleepless is both more epic, taking in the history of the Vietnam War, but also a touch smaller, since it involved a small number of soldiers in the war, with a central theme of sins of the past being paid for in the present.

Much like the previous episode also, it features a wonderful guest starring turn, in this case Tony Todd, a Vietnam veteran killing those he served with but who was part of an experiment to eradicate sleep from those fighting in a war the country was losing and as such made decisions and took part in actions were downright objectionable.

Of course, since this was a government project, the episode has a very conspiratorial angle to it that makes it very entertaining, featuring the first fully fledged appearance of X, Mulder’s new informant, having been teased at in The Host, and already promising to be much different to his predecessor on his first appearance here. Originally set to be a female character, in actuality Mulder’s side of the conversation is actually David Duchovny conversing with actress Natalija Nogulich, with Steven Williams’ side of the conversation a re-shoot that was done later, not that you’d notice as it’s actually done pretty seamlessly.

In fact, for a stand alone episode, Sleepless features many firsts for the show. Not only do we have our new informant, the show introduces a new partner for Mulder in the shape of Alex Krycek, played to perfection by Nicholas Lea. Engaging, eager and very sympathetic to Mulder’s ideas and beliefs, he even says “I want to believe” at one point, he of course turns out to be a traitor reporting to the CSM in the episode’s final moment, the last line of dialogue hinting at the trouble to come over the next few episodes.

Over time I have always come to feel that it would have been better if Krycek has been introduced earlier, maybe in Blood or even The Host, and have the show go a few episodes before making the reveal here. It says a lot about how well done Lea’s performance is, and Gordon’s writing of the character, that when the reveal comes it still carries a massive charge after allowing the audience to slowly come to like the newbie to the show over the course of this forty five minutes, but just imagine how much more shocking it would have been had we had one or even two episodes to really come to love him before we see him conversing with the CSM?

Gordon’s script to the episode is comfortably one of his best. It’s very fast paced, has a brilliant mystery at the centre of it, has an arresting teaser that makes one ask what the hell is going on and is all brought to screen to absolute perfection by Rob Bowman’s direction, returning to the series after GenderBender and looking as if he is genuinely enjoying getting to play in the sandbox of The X-Files with a great script this time out.

There are wonderful uses of the camera throughout, as is always the case with Rob Bowman the episode looks legitimately cinematic and in fact I don’t know if there was something in the air for this episode or it all stems from Bowman himself, but aesthetically the show is on fire with this hour. Mark Snow’s music is superb, some of which recently appeared on La La Land Records recent Volume Three soundtrack release, whilst John S Bartley’s photography, especially in the final moments, is wonderfully atmospheric, making superb use of those beams of light stemming from Mulder and Krycek’s flashlights.

Although the story of the episode itself is a stand alone, it’s emphasis on the new working dynamic for Mulder, his new informant and a treacherous new partner are all a wonderful setting up for future episodes, thus making it a subtly important part of the show’s history, and its final moments will no doubt make the wait for the next episode for newcomers that little bit unbearable, even though all they’ll have to do is click on “play next episode” as opposed to waiting a week like we all had to do back in the day.

Possibly the geekiest man in all of Ireland, I have consumed too many television shows, movies, books and comics to know the difference any more between being geeky and not geeky. Very proud of my geekdom, it brought me together with my one true love, and if that’s not a great reason to be geeky, I don’t know what is. Could also beat anybody in an X Files trivia contest. True scientific fact.