I’m back with some more of my rankings, this time for the second season of The X-Files. Thankfully, there are only four truly bad episodes this season IMO (compared to something close to ten episodes in Season 1). Also, its interesting that this season is comparably easier to rewatch than a lot of other seasons because three of these terrible episodes happen one after the other so the rest of the season is breezy and entertaining.
#25. Excelsis Dei (39/100)
Season 2 has a slicker and more confident feel to it than Season 1, likely due to both the budget and the experience of the crew. There is one episode, however, that threads the needle and aims to bridge the gap between Season 2 and the shittier episodes of Season 1. Lets give Excelsis Dei a hand.
Whooboy. Where to begin? Lets start with the side cast. Their acting is deplorable. Every senior citizen in the episode feels like they belong in a totally different type of show. I can’t help but cringe during every Hal and Stan scene. Dorothy reprises her comedic role from Seinfeld but with a poorer performance and Leo is decent until he interacts with Gung who has a whole host of other problems associated with his character, not least of all being the ridiculously racist slant to the episode.
Next, lets talk the direction. I don’t think the director had an eye for…well anything. This is lazy storytelling with no dynamism whatsoever. At one point, when Hal is dying, Gung shows up in his doorway…and then literally backs up out of frame so that we can become fully aware that he is involved. Why not have him put his hands behind his back and start whistling?
Two additional shots stick out as embarrassments and both involve Scully. The first is when the orderly is attacked on the roof and Mulder dashes to help while the camera intermittently focuses on Scully looking up and conveying mild concern. Seriously, she doesn’t budge for two minutes during this crisis. This is the same woman who broke into a high security research lab to steal the alien wellspring? Damn, the aliens really did a number on her.
Then there is the climax when Mulder and Scully are walking down a hall when they hear screams. Mulder immediately dashes towards the source. Scully turns, hesitates, then begins to saunter on down the hall a full three seconds later, clearly because they didn’t want Scully to witness the paranormal stuff. These examples could have been avoided with some more creativity from director Stephen Surjik but alas, he did not come through.
But the most egregious crime from this episode is making Mulder into a complete sexist prick. He bizarrely does not believe in the paranormal aspect of this case (a case involving ghost rape) and, without any nuance or subtlety, whines and condescends towards Scully and Michelle Charters about how ridiculous believing in this is. It’s awful and, by itself, relegates this episode to the bottom of Season 2.
Also, I’m rambling because this episode is so bad but Mark Snow chose to rehash his worst score of Season 1, Born Again. Yeah nothing redeemable.
#24. Red Museum (46/100)
Deep Throat dying in The Erlenmeyer Flask was a seminal moment that elevated the stakes for the show. It’s too bad that Red Museum is such an inept follow-up. Sure the conspiracy tie-ins are interesting but the execution is so convoluted and muddled. Deep Throat’s killer is sent off to the afterlife with no dramatic pay-off for Mulder, Scully or Deep Throat.
It sucks because if Chris Carter had cut out maybe one or two of the seventeen subplots here, we could have had a decent episode. Instead, we have the Cult of the Red Herrings, a pedophile who peeps in on one family, bovine growth hormone injections, a mysterious doctor with a briefcase of money, child kidnapping and branding…the list goes on and on. It’s too much. Most troubling is the random plane crash. Mulder and Scully literally are at a dead-end…and then we switch to a thirty second scene of a plane with two characters we’ve never seen. The plane crashes conveniently and provides all of the answers Mulder and Scully were looking for. Is this really how the FBI conducts its investigations?
#23. Fearful Symmetry (48/100)
So when I think back on Season 2 and about the stupidest storylines, I desperately want to put Fearful Symmetry even lower on my list (either at Excelsis Dei levels or just above). But dammit, the opening ten minutes is not bad! The invisible elephant teaser is effective and Mulder and Scully have some decent banter right after the credits. Plus we have Scully doing an elephant autopsy. Of the four episodes in this post, Fearful Symmetry feels the most like a second season episode. Such potential!
And then the real plot starts and it all goes down the toilet. We get an embarrassingly saccharine subplot between Willa Ambrose and her pet human-wearing-a-laughable-gorilla-costume, Sophie. We get lots of cheesy dialogue from Lance Guest’s Kyle Lang (I name dropped Lance Guest because he’s in two movies that are super important to child me: Halloween II and the deplorable Jaws the Revenge). We get Mulder SOMEHOW memorizing the signs that Sophie the fake gorilla made to him in the dark and he’s able to recite it to Willa in yet another terrible scene. And finally, we have one of the worst voice-overs at the end of the episode as Mulder and Scully drive out of town, looking bored out of their minds.
Really the bad in this episode is some of the worst the show would do in it’s first two seasons but there is enough decent stuff to keep it from falling lower than #23 (out of 25).
#22. Firewalker (48/100)
In many ways, Firewalker is much more impressive than the other three episodes in this list. It’s decently directed, has some strong character beats (due to this being Scully’s first episode after being abducted), and is not obviously bad. The paranormal threat is creepy and disgusting and it seems like we have all the ingredients for a decent episode. However, nearly everything in Firewalker comes off as contrived and convenient.
The characters of Tanaka, Ludwig, and Jessie all apparently know they are infected…but other than some shifty glances at one another, there is no indication that they are aware of it. It just confuses me what their end-game was here or what the characters are supposed to know. Apparently, at the end the spore wanted to spread which is why Jessie tried to latch herself to Scully. But their behavior earlier in the episode didn’t seem in line with anything like this. They seemed to alternate between homicidal, nervous, and completely normal but the episode does a poor job of letting the viewer in on anything.
But really, what pisses this episode away for me is the finale with Mulder and Trepkos. Trepkos is built up to be this brutal villain with some parallels to Mulder. He seems unforgiving and completely convinced in his vision and view of how things are and should be. He’s not afraid to kill and isn’t slowed down by simple emotional plights. So why then, does he casually allow Mulder to leave his cave after killing Pierce and Ludwig and capturing Mulder? He threatens to not let Mulder leave and then Mulder turns and says to him “you’re going to have to shoot me because I’m leaving here.” THERE IS NO REASON WHY TREPKOS DIDN’T SHOOT HIM HERE!!! Other than David Duchovny is the star of the show but its like the writers wrote themselves into a corner and then did no work to get themselves out of said corner. They just had Trepkos randomly let him go.
And then the very end, Mulder tells the rescue crew that there are only two survivors, meaning he is letting Trepkos go. Now Mulder doing this I buy. But never, ever, ever, EVER would I buy that Scully would go along with this. Scully is not swayed by pseudo-emotional bullshit like this and she would have called Mulder out right here and held Trepkos accountable. Siggghhh, that ending sucked.
Thankfully, with these four episodes discussed, the rest of Season 2 has not a bad episode left. Hooray!!!