"Hell Money"/"Jose Chung's From Outer Space"/"Avatar" S3 / E19-21
- A- Community Grade
"Hell Money" (season 3, episode 19)
Vaguely boring and filled with characters that are very nearly racist caricatures, "Hell Money" should be a whole lot more awful than it is. That it's not speaks to the heightened cinematic nature of the third season episodes. Even though Mulder and Scully are mostly on the sidelines of this one, it remains compelling just because so many of the sequences, as filmed, are so damn compelling. It also helps that the central idea of the episode - which reportedly came from Chris Carter himself - is a terrifically engaging hook to build an episode like this around. The idea of a gambling ring that plays for body parts is one that instantly draws the viewer in because it plays on any number of very basic fears and horrors, and while it's not a natural idea for an X-Files episode, it is executed with a kind of panache. The episode was also fairly bold for its time, providing a whole subplot that's mostly told through subtitles. Post-Lost, this seems completely natural in genre TV, but at the time, it was a pretty big step.
And yet "Hell Money" can never overcome the fact that it feels like a series of shocks that are strung together along a pretty standard story setup. The X-Files always excelled at presenting communities that were a part of the larger American community, technically, but were simultaneously completely separate from it. It's the element of the show's DNA that has the most in common with the CBS crime procedurals the series would heavily inspire. In every other episode of CSI, seemingly, the team in the lab is called upon to investigate a convention of furries or a bunch of people working at a bordello or something of the sort, and these usually turn as much into a sociological examination of what it means to be a sex worker as they do into straight-up mystery stories. The Chinese community in "Hell Money" should be another example of The X-Files pulling this sort of thing off, but it just isn't, not even with actors like Lucy Liu and James Hong (a journeyman TV guest actor probably most famous for playing the Chinese restaurant owner from Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant") along for the ride.
I think the major problem with "Hell Money" is that it feels, at times, like a backdoor pilot for a new series starring B.D. Wong as corrupt detective Glen Chao. Considering the episode ends with Chao dying in a crematory oven, this definitely isn't the case, but so much time is spent on him and on the game and on the Hsin family that it seems like Mulder and Scully are more or less just there to watch all the craziness unfold around them. From the little research I've been able to do, it seems that episode writer Jeffrey Vlaming had hoped that this would be a more Scully-friendly episode than some of the others in season three, a chance for her to crack a case that was mostly non-supernatural in nature (despite the overtones of Chinese mysticism), but the episode ends up being kind of a wash in this regard. So much time is spent on the guest cast - which is full of characters who already know most everything about the body parts lottery - that Mulder and Scully's process of plunging through the layers of the mystery feels less like them uncovering more and more of the conspiracy and more like them just getting lucky.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'd love to see a cop show set in an American immigrant community or on a Native American reservation or in some other out-of-the-way part of the country, and Wong does his level best as Chao (as do the other actors in the episode), but there's nothing terribly surprising about the storyline of the episode, and it too often reduces Mulder and Scully to tools to receive exposition the audience needs to piece the storyline together. This feels like a story about other characters that Mulder and Scully just happened to pop into, and that's not a feeling that has terribly gripped The X-Files very often in season three. These types of episodes were the worst ones in seasons one and two, but season three's clunkers have been full of weird mysticism or felled by bad production decisions - see immediate predecessor "Teso Dos Bichos" - so "Hell Money" seemingly feels like a throwback to the stuff the show was doing back in its first two seasons, and often in a bad way.
I mentioned in the first sentence that the characters here feel like they're very nearly racist caricatures. Honestly, I had remembered this being a far worse problem with the episode than it actually is, though I still think it hurts the episode to a degree. Too many of the Chinese characters are just outright scumbags or simply there to introduce some weird overtones of mysticism to the proceedings (though I have to admit those masked dudes are very, very creepy), and the very act of setting a story like this in a part of the country where the dominant population is full of foreign-born residents rides right up against the line of what's acceptable and not stereotypical, since the famous stories about people getting their organs removed always take place in foreign countries. There's a thinly disguised overtone of invasion throughout the episode that ties in to those urban legends, and while I'd say the episode thwarts it in the end (thanks to the portrayals of the Hsins and Wong, who simply essays a corrupt cop like any other), it's a near thing for much of the run time.
But there's still quite a bit to enjoy in "Hell Money" all the same. As I said above, those men in masks are such a great image that they pop up all over the season three DVD, even as this isn't one of the more fondly remembered episodes. The scene where the frog emerges from the corpse is a great gross-out moment, and, as mentioned, the whole idea of the game you play with your body parts on the line is kind of genius. And despite the fact that I think the episode loses track of where Mulder and Scully are in the storyline too often, I also find the episode's depiction of the Chinese community to be nicely textured and involving. The problem, I think, is ultimately that the story here is just too big for 45 minutes of television, and at times, I wished "Hell Money" had been the greatest X-Files tie-in novel ever, instead of an episode of TV that feels too rushed and undercut by its own ambitions.
- One of the things I like about the episode is that it gives you the sense that if you and your friends wanted to set up a game of body parts lottery in your spare time tomorrow evening, you could totally do so. This is one of the better portrayals of a completely fictional game that I've seen on TV, and it feels like we in the audience know most everything about it by episode's end.
- Lucy Liu is one of those weird, "on The X-Files before they were famous" cases, and she'd end up in the Ally McBeal role that made her famous in a couple of years. She's fine here, though she doesn't immediately grab your attention when on screen. Her scene with Mulder is nicely done.
- Being burned alive was a horror that The X-Files would return to again, if memory serves.
- Jeffrey Vlaming lasted only one season on The X-Files, writing just two episodes (this and "2Shy"). He's since spent the years wandering from show to show, often writing only a couple of episodes, though he's risen up the producing ranks over the years too. One of his most recent credits? The absolutely sterling "White Tulip" episode of Fringe.
- I know some of you were saying in comments last week that this episode is underappreciated. So what am I missing?
"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" (season 3, episode 20)
"He's stealing my memories." - Chrissy Giorgio
Think of yourself as a baby, perhaps in your mother's arms or pulling yourself up to crawl or lying on the floor, playing with a favorite toy. Do you recognize yourself? Can you see yourself in the eyes of that child? Do you remember those experiences directly, or do you remember photographs of them and stories others have told you?
Now think of your earliest memory. I can tell you mine. I'm a little under three years old, and my family is driving to the Twin Cities for a vacation. I'm crammed in the back seat between my mother and my aunt, who are having a conversation over my head I don't fully understand. Up in the front, my father and uncle are having similar conversation that floats around me, not really including me, when my uncle suddenly leans back over the seat, taking his eyes off the road, hands pinned to the wheel, and says, "Todd, do you want to see the REAL Jolly Green Giant?" Of course I want to see the real Jolly Green Giant. Even though it's a terrifying notion, my uncle assures me he's friendly.
And then we drive past him. A giant edifice, just like the man from the commercials and vegetable packaging, rising above Minnesota farmland toward the sky, just outside of Blue Earth. I look at him for as long as I can, my uncle slowing to allow me a better look, my mother and father laughing about how friendly he is to keep me from being terrified of this advertising mascot come to life (a very real possibility, for I am an easily frightened child). For a moment, he's there, larger than life, and even now, 27 years later, I can remember what the inside of that car smelled like and the heat of the summer's day and the way my brain split off in two directions, one part racing with the notion that the Jolly Green Giant was REAL and the other assuring me that, no, people had surely just built a giant replica of him. Surely such a man could not exist.
There's a difference between thoughts of you as a baby and your earliest memory. That difference is usually this: Those thoughts of your baby self are usually third-person thoughts, filled in by others around you who were actually there. With the exception of a few people with exceptional memories, the you that exists for the first few years of your life feels like another person entirely, an alien being dropped inside of your skin and looking out through it, waiting for you to take control. But that first memory, oh, that can be recalled from first person or third person. It's the version of yourself that eventually grows up to be you. I don't remember much else about that vacation, but when I see photos of it, it's not like it was a different person on that trip. It's like it didn't happen. I can't remember it, so it's a part of my life that has skittered away from me, never to return. The divide between those two places - between first and third person, between seeing your life as a movie and remembering it as a memory - is the uneasy land where "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," the best episode The X-Files ever produced and one of the ten or 15 best television episodes in history, resides.
"Jose Chung's" has most frequently been described as a Rashomon-style episode. What that means, briefly, is that we see the same series of events from multiple perspectives, and each new perspective gives us a better sense of what the real picture might be, with the constant sense that the actual "truth" is elusive, simply because the story is told through a series of highly subjective perceptions of events. (This is more or less the same principle behind the film of the same name.) Perhaps the most famous Rashomon-style episode in TV history is the All in the Family classic "Everybody Tells the Truth" (coincidentally, another episode that would be on my short list of favorite episodes of TV ever), where we see highly exaggerated versions of the story of how Archie Bunker treats a refrigerator repairman from the point-of-view of Archie and son-in-law Mike, then see the true story (or as close to the truth as we can get) from Edith's more objective point of view. This is a great device for a TV show looking to experiment with form, and it's a device The X-Files would return to in season five with "Bad Blood."
On the other hand, "Jose Chung's" isn't really a Rashomon-style episode. Sure, we see things from multiple perspectives, and half of the fun is seeing just how the many characters perceive the other characters they meet and picking out the various filters that are standing in the way of an unblemished account of the truth. Truman Capote-esque writer Jose Chung is on the trail of the truth about what happened to two kids who may or may not have been abducted by aliens or might have been abducted by the U.S. government or might have been abducted by the government and THEN by aliens, and though he starts out by talking directly with Scully about the case, the story twists and turns from there, and we get to see additional bits and pieces of information from various other characters. (Oddly enough, this makes the episode closer to the original film Rashomon, though the idea of a Rashomon-style episode has come to encompass something more like the All in the Family episode, where we simply see the same series of events interpreted through multiple viewpoints.) The episode's cruelest joke is that what happens to the two teenagers is never satisfactorily answered by any of the other characters, sometimes because they don't care and sometimes because the truth eludes them. Something tragic happened, and there can be no solace. All that's left is a boy carrying a torch and a girl trying to forget him.
Much of the analysis of "Jose Chung's" over the years has focused on two points: 1.) How much of what happens in the episode really happened as depicted and how much is created by the influence of either hypnosis or the wild conjecture of men like Fox Mulder (this may be the episode with the lowest opinion of Mulder of any X-Files episode)? 2.) How much of the episode is meant to be mocking X-Files fans for their passion for the show? While I'd like to engage with both of those questions directly, I think both are barking up the wrong tree. The genius of this episode is all in that final monologue, which could be overwritten by Darin Morgan or over-delivered by Charles Nelson Reilly (as Chung) but miraculously avoids both fates. Here, let me reprint it for you:
"Evidence of extraterrestrial existence remains as elusive as ever, but the skies will continue to be searched by the likes of Blaine Faulkner, hoping to someday find not only proof of alien life, but also contentment on a new world. Until then, he must be content with his new job. Others search for answers from within. Roky relocated to El Cajon, California, preaching to the lost and desperate. Seeking the truth about aliens means a perfunctory nine-to-five job to some. For although Agent Diana Lesky is noble spirit and pure of heart, she remains, nevertheless, a federal employee. As for her partner, Reynard Muldrake, that ticking timebomb of insanity, his quest into the unknown has so warped his psyche, one shudders to think how he receives pleasures from life. Chrissy Giorgio has come to believe her alien visitation was a message to improve her own world, and she has devoted herself to this goal wholeheartedly. Then there are those who care not about extraterrestrials, searching for meaning in other human beings. Rare or lucky are those who find it. For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet, we are all alone."
Here's where the genius of Morgan's script comes into play. The story has wandered off the tracks and looped along into some weird, wildly inventive territory, but at every turn, he's been introducing characters who are instantly identifiable to viewers. And in the final monologue, Chung (who is a proxy for Morgan throughout the episode) twists the knife in viewers. What we thought we cared about was the aliens, the idea that this might be the final explanation for the giant government conspiracy (and in some ways, the explanation for the conspiracy here works better than the ultimate explanation on the show ever did), but Morgan is reminding us in this final monologue that what we saw was a bunch of stories, told by people who were desperate and lonely and aching for something more, whether it was to get out of their hellhole town or to find a connection or to find the "truth" about aliens or to simply win back a girl they once loved who now has no desire to even look at them again.
The Mulder and Scully relationship is the most powerful thing about The X-Files. It's also the most powerful thing about "Jose Chung's," even as Morgan seems to hold Mulder in withering contempt. The connection between the two is real and powerful, to the point where it seems to destroy everything outside of the central duo. But the reason it's so powerful is because The X-Files inhabits a world of loneliness, a world where everyone is acting of their own accord and there can be no real human connection because everything from modern technology to shadows in the night stands in the way. The reason Morgan's scripts are so moving, in addition to being so funny, is because they're filled with people who long to make connections and then do, briefly, before seemingly forgetting how to do it again. Clyde Bruckman reaches out to Scully. The freaks in Florida build rapport with each other. And two teenagers named Chrissy and Harold have sex, and it goes poorly, leaving her emotionally closed off and him devastated with a love more like grief than passion.
Naturally there's more to "Jose Chung's" than this. The whole episode - suffused with hypnosis and mind control as it is - plays around with ideas of perception and filters for reality, driving most of the humor. When Blaine recalls his encounter with Mulder and Scully as though the two were Men in Black, it's funny precisely because it nails just how a regular person coming across Mulder and Scully out in the field might perceive the two to be. As Scully sanitizes Detective Manners' speech patterns for her discussion with Chung, it's funny because we know it's a sly dig at the limits of television's capacity to portray reality. And when Roky tries to share his message from Lord Kinbote, it's funny because Chung and Scully know the story has gone off the rails and been turned over to a complete fantasist, but everyone else keeps treating it as something worth talking about. All of this is wonderful fun and frequently hilarious, but what makes the episode work is the emotional core buried beneath all of the intellectual tumbling.
Many reviews or recaps of "Jose Chung's" try to piece together the true story of what happened to Chrissy and Harold based on the conflicting reports within the episode, but what strikes me every time I watch the episode again is just how little of this is left to interpretation. There's a pretty clear explanation for what happened. Chrissy and Harold were abducted by U.S. government operatives with a flying saucer, who then implanted them with memories of being abducted by aliens via hypnosis (again comes the idea of perception being driven by words). At some point, both operatives and both teenagers may or may not have been abducted by an actual alien, though the episode is always careful to leave itself an out to suggest this didn't actually happen. The only person who claims to have seen the alien monster is delusional, and the only person to take him halfway seriously is, of course, Mulder. The only place in the episode where two reports blatantly contradict each other is when the diner owner says that Mulder dined alone, while Mulder maintains he talked to one of the two operatives and got the full story, before returning to the motel to be interrogated by the two Men in Black (played, in the joke everybody remembers, by Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek).
There's enough haziness here to conform to the series' original mission statement - Morgan leaves plenty of room to be skeptical like Scully or a believer like Mulder - but most of the fun comes from the way that reality flits around the story like a trapped insect, frantically beating its wings as Chung tries to pin it down. The episode isn't as hard to understand as its reputation. There are more or less two solid interpretations of events, and both are remarkably similar to each other, with only a few key divergences, either of actual fact or of interpretation of that fact.
The other big debate surrounding this episode is just how much of a slam it is toward the X-Files fanbase. There's certainly the temptation to read the episode as such, particularly in regards to Blaine and Roky, both of whom exemplify certain types of fans the show had, more willing to engage with the sci-fi craziness than any sort of human story at its center. And the episode is not kind to Mulder at all (though it may be Morgan's greatest love letter both to Scully the character and the basic IDEA of Scully as a symbol of scientific sainthood). Most fans identified with Mulder more than Scully, and I suspect the episode's attitude toward him - again, a ticking time bomb of insanity who seems more and more unhinged in every new story told about him - drives some of this sense from the fans that the episode is meant as a slight against them.
But I would disagree. I think Morgan may be nudging the fanbase in the ribs, somewhat, but I also think he's telling us to stop our quests for weirdness in fiction and in places like UFO research circles and embrace the fact that we are, all of us, lonely and weird and standing outside of where we'd really like to be, looking in. If the final monologue is the episode's emotional Rosetta stone, then the opening shot is its intellectual counterpart. The camera softly glides past what appears to be a Star Destroyer from Star Wars until we see it's merely the undercarriage of Roky's crane lift. The world is weird enough without us pinning further weirdness onto it. Our fellow travelers are more interesting than any ghosts or monsters or Bigfoot footage. Our real mission should be to pursue those fragile connections we are able to find, but too often, we chase phantasms instead. What appears to be everyday is weird, and the weirdness is ultimately what's mundane. Look at a picture just right, and you can see anything you want.
"Jose Chung's" is one of the very finest episodes of television I've ever seen, but I'm not sure it's a terrific episode of The X-Files. It's like how "The Body" is a tremendous episode of Buffy that also seems to simultaneously stand outside of the series and comment on the rest of its concerns. If The X-Files were a Lord of the Rings-length novel, then "Jose Chung's" would be its first appendix, a source that is at once in love with the main text and critical of it, a place where real human concerns creep around the edges of the show's chilly implausibilities. This is Morgan's finest script, but "Clyde Bruckman" is probably a better script for the show proper (hence it being the one that won him an Emmy). But the very best episodes of television are like this sometimes. They push so far and press so much against the constraints of the shows they belong to that they cease to be episodes of that show and become something else entirely. "Jose Chung's" is an episode of The X-Files, but only nominally and largely because it features Mulder and Scully and aliens. Like "The Body" was Joss Whedon laying out in very precise terms many of the things he was interested in and obsessed with, "Jose Chung's" feels like a direct, personal statement to the audience from Darin Morgan. It's thrilling and funny and moving and intellectually rigorous. It's everything I want television to be.
After we'd driven past the Jolly Green Giant, and he was lost to me. I started to cry. I wanted to see him again. My uncle assured me we'd drive back and see him on the way home, but on our return trip, we went another route, and I didn't see him again for years and years, when it would become obvious that he was a statue, something my childlike mind had imbued with more will and purpose than concrete could actually have.
To a real degree, we are our memories. When Chrissy says the doctor is trying to steal hers, it's a key to the episode and to Morgan's view of life, where what's most important is the contents of our heads, not some crazy government plot to fake alien abductions. If the government agents steal Chrissy's memory of a nice night with Harold - which, to a real degree, they have - no one is around to clean up the emotional aftermath. The case simply remains unexplained, and two kids have to pick up the pieces on their own. And if anyone tries to take my memories, do they (and I, by extension) cease to exist? Or can there be some central truth, some core that remains, even after everything is stripped away and we're left alone, throwing rocks against the window to try to regain that one moment we felt close to someone else?
"Jose Chung's" is a massively important episode of television to me. I think it has more to say about the human condition than any other episode of this show, but what is most important is in that first shot and in that last moment. Stop. Look. The world is as weird as you'd dream it to be if you just wait a moment and breathe it in. You do not have to be alone.
"Avatar" (season 3, episode 21)
"Avatar" is another very good episode of The X-Files that takes a step up to another level because of its embrace of a personal narrative. This is the story of how Walter Skinner came unhinged, but it's also the story of how Vietnam made him a different man, and it's the story of how his marriage fell apart, then came back together at the last possible moment. The series had been building toward an episode for Skinner since at least the start of season three, and even if this one was arrived at purely because David Duchovny wanted a week where he had less to do, it remains a vital episode within the context of the series. It was the episode where the show realized it could toss off tales to characters who weren't Mulder or Scully and mostly make them entertaining. "Avatar" was an experiment. The next Skinner-centric episode would be one of the series' best, and the show would go on to do episodes centered on The Lone Gunmen, the Cigarette Smoking Man, and a former X-Files investigator.
In some ways, The X-Files feels like an anomaly as I go back and visit it now, even though it's only 15 years old. If you were going to put the show on the air nowadays, Skinner would be a regular, for sure, and then the Cigarette Smoking Man and Mr. X and probably even Krycek would all be regulars as well. There'd be little bits and pieces of the alien storyline floating through every episode, and the monster of the week episodes would keep getting interrupted by storylines for Skinner or Krycek or what-have-you. The reason so many X-Files imitators failed is because they tried to make the show more complex. At its heart, it's a simple show. But it can also expand when it really wants to.
Before "Avatar," I don't know that the show would have experimented with any of its other characters and made them the center of an episode. It wasn't a well the series went to more than once or twice per season in the future, but it was always a nice way for the series to recharge its batteries. It certainly helps that the central story of "Avatar" is one that's easy to develop some level of emotional investment in almost immediately. The show chose well in having its first extracurricular story be about Skinner, simply because he was the character at that point with the closest direct connection to Mulder and Scully. There's a fair deal of Mulder and Scully in the episode, but the storyline is as much about Skinner trying to deal with the fallout from his crumbling marriage as it is anything else.
To be perfectly honest, the central paranormal mystery of the episode is handled in a fashion that feels a bit muddled. In true X-Files fashion, it turns out that Skinner has been seeing an apparition of an old woman most of his life, and she pops up again when he's having sex with a prostitute he claims to not remember hiring and says he just ran into in a bar. Then, of course, she turns up dead in his bed. Mulder quickly determines the old woman may be a succubus, and Scully seems almost fine with this theory, given the weird phosphorescence she finds on the corpse's lips. Her atypical behavior is driven by the weirdness of the situation, to be sure, but it's also driven by the fact that she's desperate to save her boss.
Honestly, if The X-Files were on the air today, there would be copious scenes where we got hints that Skinner had a dark secret in his own past, and this episode would be filled with flashbacks to Vietnam and other key moments in his life. The sudden appearance of this old woman feels like a bit of an out-of-nowhere conceit primarily because it is exactly such a thing. We've been given no occasion to speculate that Skinner had such an affliction in the past, and even though the show does a mostly elegant job of writing around it (he figured she was a drug-induced hallucination in Vietnam), it still feels curious to have it come out of nowhere like this. But, again, that's as much a product of the time I'm watching the show in as anything else. At the time, the producers probably weren't even sure if they could do an episode without Mulder and Scully at the center and make it work, so giving Skinner a very traditional X-file must have seemed like a way to make it feel more like an episode of the show. That Mitch Pileggi is able to shoulder the burden here and never make you miss Mulder and Scully is a testament both to how much the character had grown and how good he was at playing the man.
But the best thing here is the depiction of the crumbling Skinner marriage. Mulder and Scully might have personal problems, but they tended to have them within the mythology episodes. (A notable exception, of course, is season one's brilliant "Beyond the Sea.") The story of Skinner's marriage falling apart, with his wife tumbling into a coma and then recovering all within the episode, feels surprisingly like something like thirtysomething wandering in and taking over The X-Files for an hour of its time. That it works is, again, testament to Pileggi, but also testament to how subtle and nuanced the writing of these scenes is. The writing on The X-Files could be a little hamfisted at times, but the scenes where Skinner is contemplating the end of his marriage are surprisingly deft for the time, outside of the occasional reminders to the audience of, "Hey, in case you hadn't guessed, Skinner MIGHT get a DIVORCE," which crop up here and there.
There are some good scares in the episode as well, mostly stemming from that old woman, who seems like a Don't Look Now homage at times and blends very uneasily with Skinner's wife. I think the episode might have gained some power had we learned that Skinner had been haunted by this specter ever since his near-death experience, and I suspect that's the direction the show would have gone had Skinner just been a guest star of the week, but the image of her popping up where she's not supposed to be is always, always just a little creepy. It helps that some of these appearances are accompanied by genuinely unsettling special effects, that make her look less like some old woman ghost and more like a demon from some other dimension entirely.
In the end, what makes "Avatar" work is just how pleasantly low-key it is. It could be a grand hour of Skinner flashbacks to Vietnam and the slow dissolution of his marriage, but it makes the choice to tell the story all in real time, to trust that many of the big emotional moments can be put over entirely by Pileggi delivering a monologue about that near-death experience or how he's come to miss his wife. The show would turn out a better Skinner episode later, and its experiments with episodes centered on other characters would also bear more fruit, but "Avatar" is a fascinating experiment nonetheless, and it remains a very good episode of the show.
- One of my chief complaints about this episode: I've always felt that the actual explanation for how the crimes were happening was a little improbable. I mean, yeah, it's The X-Files, but c'mon.
- It's nice to see Cigarette Smoking man turn up briefly, but I can't help but feel that his one appearance could have been nixed. It seems to point toward a larger storyline that the episode just couldn't contain.
- A good sign of how far Mulder and Scully's relationship with Skinner has progressed since the early days: They immediately take him at his word that he didn't do it and resolve to find the real killers.
And now, some thoughts on Space: Above and Beyond:
I only got to one two-parter this week, but it was a doozy, the Glen Morgan and James Wong-scripted "Never No More"/"The Angriest Angel." Both episodes take as their centerpiece the idea that there's a new, powerful alien spacecraft wandering the skies, and it needs to be blown out of them before the war can proceed apace. It's a good way to build an action-based premise around something that can be done on a very small scale, and both episodes contain a lot of great character development for Shane - who bumps into an ex-boyfriend in the first episode - and McQueen - who vows to take down the spacecraft on his own in the second. There are some truly harrowing sequences here, like McQueen's opening monologue from the second episode, and the whole thing lays out the entire Space: Above and Beyond universe in a way that's thrilling for those who are watching and self-explanatory for those who've never seen the show before. The first episode even features a new title sequence that tells the complete story of the series, as it were! This is a show that was really reaching its creative peak at this point, and I'm genuinely excited to see where it goes in the next few episodes. I'll try to knock them all off for Zack's final post next week and get them to him. Grade (for both): A-
Finally, I just want to say that it's been fun going over this series with you this summer, and, hopefully, we'll be back next summer or even sooner to talk about season four.
Next week: Zack takes us to the end of season three, with "Quagmire" and "Wetwired," two of my favorite standalones, and "Talitha Cumi," a fascinating and enervating finale.