Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The X-Files S1 Ep13: Beyond The Sea

"The original idea for Millennium actually sort of took shape over time... I had done an episode of The X-Files, which I liked a lot. It involved a serial killer. It didn't actually have a paranormal element. It had a kind of supernatural element, but it wasn't the paranormal. It got me to thinking about the sort of monsters that surround us – the people that are in the supermarket checkout line with us." -Chris Carter, Order From Chaos: Making Of Millennium Season 1-

It is documented that the seeds of Chris Carter's Millennium [1996-1999] began with The X-Files, Season Two, Episode 13, Irresistible.  Still, there is plenty here to suggest Carter might have been playing with the idea as early as The X-Files, Season One, Episode 13, Beyond The Sea [January 1994]. In fact, calling the piece Beyond The Sea To Millennium might have worked just as well.  Perhaps, at least, the leap of logic worked for writer Glen Morgan and James Wong in preparation for thir own The Thin White Line for Millennium.  There was no doubt something brewing here.

Additionally, if there was ever any hesitation about Anderson's ability in the role of Special Agent Dana Scully, and there was much to do and disapproval of her selection by some, Beyond The Sea proved beyond the shadow of a doubt she, Anderson, was Scully. Beyond The Sea exemplifies and illustrates her strengths as the right choice to breathe life into her special character. If there was ever any misgiving at all about Anderson's abilities, Beyond The Sea is affirmation of the actress' untested but credible range. She carries herself with a natural ease and grace and when the season begins she is clearly soft, but capable, young, but knowledgeable, quiet, but fearless. In this first season, it is clear Anderson is finding her way in the role. Not once throughout season one did I feel she was any less qualified to perform in the role than her male counterpart, David Duchovny. Both seemed to be exquisite choices. Together they were the perfect combination of chemistry, professionalism and sex appeal for which Carter could balance and build his enduring mythology upon. Anderson's performance resonated in much the same way Jodie Foster approached her role in director Jonathan Demme's The Silence Of The Lambs [1991], of which Beyond The Sea itself seems to echo and mirror to a degree.

But if there was ever a case for an artist to stick by his guns against the decisions made by the corporate office and suits that populate the world of television, Chris Carter's choice of Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully is the ideal masterstroke, a case of true conviction. The principled move stands tall next to Gene Roddenberry's efforts to employ DeForest Kelley as Leonard "Bones" McCoy in Star Trek: The Original Series [1966-1969].

Carter recalls in The Official Guide To The X-Files, "When she came into the room, I just knew she was Scully... I just felt it." Not everyone felt it, and even following her introduction within the series there were doubts. It does speak to the intensity and difficulty of casting. As I mentioned, Gene Roddenberry, Chris Carter, and even Gerry Anderson, share a certain genius in their eye for talent as all have selected casts that seemed to sparkle. All can certainly claim the good sense of their seemingly reasoned selections given the staying power of their series years after their conclusions. Star Trek: The Original Series [1966], UFO [1970], Space:1999 [1975-1977], The X-Files [1993-2002] and Millennium [1996-1999] all continue to resonate and influence long after their passing.

Carter admitted, I "had to put my career on the line to put Gillian in the show." He insisted to those who opposed him, "Look, this is the person I want. This is Dana Scully." Indeed, Carter was right that Gillian Anderson was Dana Scully. That fight against "negativity toward Gillian" continued following the Pilot as well. Season One gradually proved out the wisdom of Carter's choice and proved out the abilities innate within the unrefined beauty that was Gillian Anderson as an actress. She was a choice of strength. She wasn't just the pretty face. As Carter expressed in an interview with John Kenneth Muir, "She's a very, very independent person. Her strength is measured against Mulder's; it's not measured by Mulder."

The late, great Don S. Davis. As I immersed myself in The X-Files Season One, there was certainly a great sense of derivation and deja vu in some episodes. Tributes in the form of artistic homage were certainly in play in places. The episodes were still reasonably good, but not remarkable or wholly original. The Pilot, Deep Throat and Squeeze were generally strong outings and kicked things off in a big way for a title as seemingly offbeat and unexpected as The X-Files for serial television. A wonderful freak of the week-styled entry like Squeeze or Darkness Falls proved Carter was painting the context of a series as multi-dimensional or as Bob Greenblatt, Fox vice-president of series development said, a series that was more than "The UFO Show." I felt a little tepid toward Carter's attempts initially, but the aforementioned episodes began to win me over.

Granted, Carter himself admitted his team was working with a limited budget and greater network restrictions as the new series essentially had to wade into the television waters gently pushing the boundaries outward in the beginning. These restraints would inevitably loosen, as they did in Season Two and for later Carter projects like Millennium. Carter recollects, "The restrictive environment in which the show was introduced 'forced us to be better storytellers. We had to do everything off screen, imply things. I think it makes the show creepier." Indeed it did. And yet, even when Carter ultimately gained the gravitas to expand his vision and push the censorship walls of television entertainment, he still managed to maintain the creepy. We like that. Carter explained to John Kenneth Muir in a 2009 interview, "It didn't happen right away, but not long after we started, we were given what I call respectable budgets. We needed to tell these stories in interesting visual ways; we took an artistic approach."

In the end, for me, it was Beyond The Sea guest starring the always fascinating Brad Dourif [see his performance in Babylon 5, S3, Ep4, Passing Through Gethsemane] where I really felt some raw power in the writing and performances. Anderson's scope as Scully truly had the opportunity to shine beyond her subtle exceptionalism in the first twelve episodes. She became a little more forceful and decisive in key episodes from here, and Beyond The Sea was arguably the season's best.

Further, with no intention to sound shallow, Anderson seemed to blossom physically appearing that much more striking with each ensuing episode. Episode 13 was a truly strong piece of scripting by Glen Morgan & James Wong. Following their work on Shadows, this entry had a real sense of confidence. The walls really felt like they were coming down for me. Morgan & Wong were indeed key to Millennium's success and laid out a striking and original Season Two for that series. Coincidentally Episode 13 of Millennium, Force Majeure, also guested Brad Dourif. Does the work of Carter and company just play with your mind? It's kind of a real life X-Files moment. It's worth noting that Dourif would not be outdone by Anderson. He, too, turns in an inspired turn as a psychic serial killer named Luther Lee Boggs. His performance is gripping and even more potent than his work on the aforementioned Millennium entry.

So with Beyond The Sea I immediately felt a genuine power come to life within the series. It felt like it turned a corner. Apparently I wasn't the only one, it remains one of Gillian Anderson's favorite episodes [along with the influential Irresistible from Season Two]. Anderson admits the episode "required more of an emotional commitment, and more technical work from an acting standpoint." Chris Carter, also his favorite, remarked in the same book, "It really sort of showed what we were capable of." Absolutely, and while Beyond The Sea isn't as refined, organized and meticulous in its focus as say the similarly inspired Morgan & Wong story, Episode 14, The Thin White Line in Millennium, it still remains a positively searing look at The X-Files potential. In fact,without question, Morgan & Wong's The Thin White Line is the natural evolution of their work first begun on Beyond The Sea. With Beyond The Sea, Dourif and Anderson are television's remedy to Hopkins and Foster. With Millennium, Lance Henriksen and Jeremy Roberts would duel as Morgan and Wong's answer to Anderson and Dourif. But here, Dourif and Anderson deliver amazing performances in their short screen time or as Carter puts it in the DVD Extras for the episode, a "tour de force."

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Ironically, there is another connection between Luther Lee Boggs, played by Dourif on The X-Files, and Richard Hance, played by Jeremy Roberts on Millennium. Boggs killed five of his family members on Thanksgiving, while Hance himself described killing Frank Black's fellow officers like a Thanksgiving meal. You have to love the strange and fascinating connections of Carter, Morgan and Wong and the wiring in those minds.

Further, the character paths of both Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were marked as believer and skeptic/ scientist respectively. In Beyond The Sea, the first of a number of role reversals throughout the series, the respective characters undergo a conversion, learn and grow as a result of the other's influence. In essence, the two swap roles, walk in one another's shoes or are at least remain open to the other's viewpoint. That's quite a thing. The skeptic becomes the believer and the believer the skeptic.

Mulder begins with his scornful and contemptuous reply to Boggs' statements "Don't get me wrong, Luther, I want to believe." Knowing the character of Mulder as we do, the reality of the scene suggests Mulder clearly has doubt. Boggs asks, "How come you don't believe me?" Conversely, the opposite is true for the normally skeptical Scully. In fact, in the final minutes Scully addresses the Dourif character prior to his execution validating his life and his abilties with two words that lead into others, "I believe...." She recognizes the humanity within the monster, though her acceptance is ephemeral. It's an extremely insightful and powerful piece of television. The episode presents some major windows into these characters.

Thus, at its close, it's clear Scully explains away the typically inexplicable. Mulder asks Scully, "Dana, after all you've seen, after all the evidence, why can't you believe?" Scully confesses, "I'm afraid, I'm afraid to believe." Aren't we all? The damage sustained on the human psyche through time make it increasingly difficult to let go and believe without doubting or questioning all that we experience.

Carter mines the essence of our lives, trust, belief, faith and does so through the depth of his characters. These are touchstones or cornerstones to our own lives and he injects these facets into the heart of The X-Files like poetry. Still, take this final scene. Does Scully's embrace or acknowledgment of simply accepting the belief that her father was proud of her on faith alone, without actually hearing it from him, illustrate her belief after all? She clearly opts out of the possibility of hearing the truth from Boggs at his execution. Did the fear of the truth send her to Mulder's side or did she truly believe and accept and trust her faith beyond the sea of the unknown? Was it both?

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On the subject of faith, Chris Carter spoke of the subject to John Kenneth Muir regarding the release of the film The X-Files: I Want To Believe [2008]. Muir inquired about the film, "Father Joe is a really fascinating character in the film. And how you use him in I Want to Believe really challenges the audience. You tell us this is someone society has judged as irreedemable, and yet on the other hand, as the film points out, we have this little work called the Bible that preaches forgiveness and redemption. And our culture says it believes in those things. And so Father Joe is looking to be redeemed, and is doing positive things, so why can't people take that extra step and at least try to forgive him?"

Carter responded, "It's an idea I've been holding onto for a long time; the idea that Father Joe lived in this complex with these other men, where they sort of policed each other. I had read about that a long time ago, and I always thought that was so intriguing and relevant to the idea of redemption, the idea of forgiveness, of living life after the point of judgment." These same themes and this same belief for which Carter holds true resonate as far back as The X-Files, Season One, Beyond The Sea. Brad Dourif's serial killer is a variation on Father Joe. The idea of faith and redemption is always in play and the seeds of Carter's thinking for future projects like Millennium begin here.

If endings became a trademark of The X-Files, Beyond The Sea delivers. Carter fought executives who were looking to close episodes with tidier, neater conclusions than those intended by Carter. He argued and pushed back pushing those who would defy his vision, "There's no sense to make! You make the sense yourself!" These open conclusions infuse the show with one of its greatest strengths. But when The X-Files gets it completely right it is when it delivers an entire hour of riveting, satisfying storytelling and leaves some imprint on the viewer to mull for themselves. Beyond The Sea is a prime example of that success in Season One.

8 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

SFF:

Thank you for this beautiful reminder of what a great series The X-Files was, even starting out, in its first season.

You wrote: "Carter mines the essence of our lives, trust, belief, faith and does so through the depth of his characters. These are touchstones or cornerstones to our own lives and he injects these facets into the heart of The X-Files like poetry."

Beautifully written, and so true.

For me, Chris Carter remains the latter-day Rod Serling or Gene Roddenberry, a creator of uncommon sensitivity and intelligence who imbues his programs with tremendous humanity.

Great review!

And thank you for including that excerpt from the interview I did with Mr. Carter n 2009, which remains one of my absolute career high-points...

best,
John

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Well, thanks for the kindly comment John.

Gosh, Chris Carter is indeed from the mold of the masters like Roddenberry and Serling. True visionaries who bucked the system with their belief in intelligent stories.

And you should be proud of that interview. It was excellent along with a number of intriguing interviews like the ones with Johnny Byrne.

I always try to do my research and homework accordingly for these things and sometimes you find information that might seem an unlikely fit to the focus of a given piece, but in this case that interview regarding the new film seemed a nice fit here thematically.

Anyway, thank you and as always your work certainly inspires. Take care, sff

le0pard13 said...

Excellent examination of stellar episode and performance by Gillian and the always solid Brad. It's interesting you mention "director Jonathan Demme's The Silence Of The Lambs [1991], of which Beyond The Sea itself seems to echo and mirror to a degree." There is that aspect. However, the interview-the-brilliant-serial-killer arrived earlier than that as it came from author Thomas Harris novels' from the previous decade (both in Silence from 1988 and Red Dragon from '81). I'm sure they had an influence on Carter. This ep also shadows the interchangeable personas shown on-screen (Brad's Bogg's :: David Duchovny's Mulder) so prevalent in the underrated Exorcist III (1990), which was directed by William Peter Blatty (himself no slouch at writing about faith and its challenges) based on his novel 'Legion' from '83. The coincidence there is again Brad Dourif, as he portrayed the incarcerated and vicious serial killer, "The Gemini" in that '90 film. The man has gotten himself a good gig with such roles, it seems. And he's superb at it, never seemingly being the same person in each. Great look at all of this, SFF. Well done.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks as always L13 for your additional commentary.

I know you are a true fan of Thomas Harris and was certainly aware of that source material and by no means would want you to think my omission was through ignorance, but rather selective pop culture reference. : ) Though, I appreciate the additiona input to which you are much more knowedgeable than your humble Sci-Fi Fanatic.

Exorcist III is also interesting. I knew Brad Dourif was in that film but I have not seen it, but it definitely sounds as though he does a bit of channeling there.

Cheers L13!

The Film Connoisseur said...

Strange man! I've been having an X-Files revival at my house, trying to re-watch all those really good episodes, recently watched one called Jose Chung's From Outer Space, what a cool episode!

I will write this one down and watch it with my friends! Brad Dourif is one of my favorites, did you ever see him in Tobe Hooper's Spontanious Combustion? Where he plays this guy that burts into flames whenever he gets upset? Decent movie, great performance by Dourif, very intense as always.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I love all things Dourif myself Fran. Love him. He's so good. You're so right.

I have not seen the film you mention but, of course, he's got a huge filmography and I haven't seen it all.

You will love his performance here. He's a highlight. THis is hands down my favorite episode of Season One of THe X-Files, obviously in front of a handful of other very fine episodes.

Beyond The Sea is damn near X-Files poetry. Great stuff.

Cheers for stopping Fran
sff

The Film Connoisseur said...

Spontanious Combustion was Tobe Hoopers last "watchable" film before he went down into straight to video hell...so sad to see a great director fade away into crappy films. For Spontanious Combustion he still had a bit of good storytelling in him. Sadly the film has a terrible ending, but the rest of the movie is actually pretty cool. And the effects of Dourif bursting into flames are pretty cool to watch. Recommend it if your ever in the mood for a weird movie.

Adam Chamberlain said...

Great article. There are a few episodes of The X-Files that pre-sage Millennium - I would add "Grotesque" to those you mention here - and I think this speaks to the themes and dynamics that permeate through much of Chris Carter's work, right up to the superb X-Files: I Want to Believe.

Gillian Anderson was just wonderful throughout the entire series' run, but you're right that "Beyond the Sea" gave her an early opportunity to really shine as Scully. There was something of a perfect storm in the production of both The X-Files and Millennium, from writing and production through to cast, direction and cinematography, and it's wonderful how well received, widely discussed and relevant both series still are to this day.