Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Providence's Garbage Can

The ninth season The X-Files two-parter "Provenance"/"Providence" is pretty much the series' last great Mythology installment, the remaining eight episodes being half done-in-ones and half housekeeping before closing up shop. So not the last of the Mythology, but the last of the story's forward upward thrusting momentum. The plot backbone of "Providence" has Baby William in extreme peril while captured by UFO nuts (who actually have a UFO!), and Scully being rude and closed off as she has been all year, trying to be supercop, scientist, protector, nurturer and mother to the Christ child ALL AT ONCE. She is cracking up, and her laconic chronic-masturbator BFF is still in hiding! As final battle cries go, this one rather has it all, or anyway has the best of the many pleasures of Season Nine for those helpless to its charms. An infant rescued from a flaming pit, Bible quotes, people not appreciating the Lone Gunmen's free services, Deputy Director Kersch being a tightass, A.D. Brad Follmer being an unctuous snot, and some weirdo baby-stealing motherfuckers getting burnt up by a spaceship!

These are just pictures of heads, and this is still the best-looking TV show.

Since something feels "important" about this one, there are a lot of beautiful giant-head heroic close-ups of the cast which seem to highlight their unforgettable faces with a kind of, I dunno, mythic aura. In these: Agent Reyes looks huge-featured, like a lioness, glowing and wide-hearted and a little manic. Poor Agent Doggett is stuck in a in a coma, of course, because 1) The X-Files puts everyone in a coma, usually several times, and 2) this show especially loves to hospitalize Doggett. Conscious and unconscious, he is chiseled and wound-eyed — a wood-carved self-flagellating saint! The B-story, such as it is, revolves around prayers and temptations offered in the tiny hospital chapel, all interesting but not the point of this missive.

A.D. Skinner is naturally gritting his teeth, glaring and/or pursing his lips through all of this. That is often Skinner's usefulness as a sort of surrogate for the potentially frustrated viewer — okay, I bought this and this, helped with X and Y, and now you're telling me Z? Come on already. So in the scene below, a task force has been assembled to retrieve Baby William, but Scully storms out because she doesn't trust Follmer and Kersh. After a confrontation with Skinner over this matter, Scully strides off to the elevators to pursue the matter through alternate channels and Skinner watches her go. This is not our last glimpse of the stoic Assistant Director by any means, but the shot in question has a stamped home, iconic quality, sums up this aspect of the relationship between Skinner and his X-Files teams: Scully needs to be unencumbered by traditional investigative technique, and Skinner is sympathetic but entrenched in the institutional culture of the FBI. That is why he is both useful to and forever divided from the X-Files. A nice minor but meaningful image, of Skinner alone in the corridor...

... or it would be, if there weren't a crew dude wearing shorts crouching behind the garbage can. A gaffe that flashes by but gives the shot a bit of dissonance — the first time I noticed it something just seemed off, and on rewinding it fully creeped me out. The point of the shot is that Skinner is left by himself, yet it is not at all outside the realm of The X-Files' themes that a faceless someone might be spying on a conversation. Here is A.D. Walter Skinner, a man of fidelity, bravery and integrity, who, despite it all, wants to believe in the FBI even if he is the last of his kind within its walls. And here is someone who should not be there, concealed by garbage, tucked in the corner, watching it all.

This is the typo that enriches the text.