September 24, 2016

The X-Files 3.21, Avatar: More Like Suck-ubus, Right?

Posted in TV tagged , , at 1:19 pm by Jenn

In a shocking plot twist, Grandma was Little Red Riding Hood all along!

In a shocking plot twist, Grandma was Little Red Riding Hood all along!

Summary: It’s March 7th, 1996, in D.C., and Skinner’s about to sign some paperwork. (We’re not supposed to realize he’s signing his divorce papers, but it’s kind of obvious.) He can’t bring himself to do it, telling his lawyer he’ll sign tomorrow. He goes to the lounge at the Ambassador Hotel, where a woman joins him at the bar, trying to avoid a conversation with another man. They end up having sex, and let me tell you, if there’s anything I never wanted to see Skinner do, it’s that. He sees his new bed buddy as an old woman, for some reason. When he wakes up, she’s dead.

The police are called, and Mulder gets the lead detective, Waltos, to let him talk to Skinner. Apparently Skinner’s having trouble remembering everything that happened. Scully calls (“Mulder, it’s me”), having heard that Skinner called in a homicide. Mulder tells her that he seems to have been there at the time of the murder. Skinner tells him not to get involved, which, of course, Mulder won’t listen to. Waltos tells him that Skinner only remembers taking the woman to bed, but since he won’t take a polygraph, it’s a little suspicious.

The victim has no ID, and Mulder’s eager to find out who she is. Waltos tells him the police are doing their job. Mulder asks Scully to meet him at the coroner’s office so they can check out the woman’s body. Scully agrees with the county coroner that the woman’s neck was broken without a struggle, and most likely in a “manual trauma.” She also may have had a mild allergic reaction to latex, so now Mulder and Scully get to think about their boss using a condom.

Mulder tells Scully that the victim was named Carina; she was a legal secretary who was recently fired for moonlighting for one of her firm’s clients. Specifically, she was working as a prostitute. As Scully turns off the light to leave, she notices a glowing substance around Carina’s nose and mouth. The agents head to Georgetown to chat with Lorraine Kelleher, the very successful madam Carina worked for. Lorraine’s surprised to hear that her upcoming meeting with Carina won’t be going forward. She first declines to reveal who Carina was hired by the previous night, saying that she works for the government just like the agents do, but she confirms that Skinner hired Carina.

Mulder’s mad that his boss was so indiscreet, but he knows there isn’t enough evidence to prove he’s a murderer. After all, someone could have stolen his credit card. Scully’s like, “To pay for the prostitute who died in his bed?” That happens all the time! It’s just a coincidence, Scully! She points out that they don’t know anything about Skinner’s personal life. He could be murdering hookers all over the country, for all they know! Mulder reminds her that Skinner has put his career on the line for them multiple times, so they owe it to him to try to help.

Skinner’s released, so Mulder and Scully meet him at the police station to ask him what happened the night before. Skinner tells them they’ll have to investigate without his help. He clearly didn’t know Carina was a prostitute when they hooked up, so that’s something. He sees an old woman in a red jacket nearby, and nearly gets hit by cars when he tries to run across the street to her. She mouths something at him, then seems to disappear. Skinner finally makes it across the street to someone in a red jacket, but she’s younger. She also knows him – she’s his wife, Sharon.

The agents go inside the police station with Sharon, who confides that she and Skinner have been separated for eight months. She doesn’t like that he’s built a wall around himself to keep people out. They felt more like roommates than spouses, and she didn’t want to live like that anymore. Sharon tells Mulder that Skinner’s talked about him and clearly respects him. She thinks Mulder can tell her if Skinner’s a murderer. He says no, but if you have to ask someone if your husband of 17 years killed someone, that probably won’t ease your fears.

The agents go to Skinner’s office, where an agent named Bonnecaze has taken over. There’s a hearing the next day to determine if Skinner should keep his job as assistant director. Bonnecaze tells the agents to stop investigating, and to present any evidence they’ve already found at the hearing. Mulder tries to tell Skinner as Scully says he’s acting like he’s guilty. If he’s unstable enough to hire a prostitute, “what else is he capable of?” Mulder wants to give their boss the benefit of the doubt. Plus, Skinner didn’t seem to know that Carina was a prostitute. Scully thinks he just doesn’t remember.

Scully shows Mulder a video of a man having a form of night terrors called REM sleep behavior disorder. People commit acts of violence while dreaming. Scully reveals that Skinner’s been receiving treatment at a sleep-disorder facility for the same disorder for months. He has a recurring dream about an old woman who talks to him (though he can’t understand her) and sometimes straddles his chest. Scully thinks Skinner may have accidentally killed Carina in his sleep, thinking she was the old woman.

Mulder tells Scully that in the Middle Ages, people reported the same behavior, attributing it to a succubus. If the succubus became too attached to the man with the behavior, she would kill any woman she thought was a romantic rival. Sometimes a luminous substance was left behind. Hmmm, just like the glowing substance Scully saw on Carina! She takes Mulder to see Carina’s body, but the substance is gone. Fortunately, Scully got a sample. Unfortunately, the lab claims there was nothing analyzable in the sample container. Mulder wonders if Skinner suspects himself as the killer and is running because he’s not sure.

Sharon visits her husband to check on him and have a lovely conversation about how their marriage has collapsed. She wants Skinner to let her help him, or at least comfort him. He declines, so she leaves. He finds their wedding picture (he had hair!) and falls asleep holding it. He wakes up after dark, hearing screams, and sees the old woman in the red jacket. Moments later, Waltos comes to his door to tell him that Sharon was in a car accident – someone ran her off the road. And not that there’s any connection or accusation, but Waltos would like to see Skinner’s car keys.

Mulder meets up with Skinner at the police station while Sharon undergoes brain surgery. Skinner isn’t being charged (yet), but Mulder knows the police are building a case against him. Skinner wants to know if Scully thinks he’s innocent. Mulder admits that she wants to know why he’s not doing more to defend himself. Skinner replies that he can’t do that when he doesn’t know what’s happening. Mulder asks about the old woman, and what the police might discover in their investigation.

Skinner says that he started seeing the woman “again” a few months ago. He first saw her in Vietnam, but since he was using drugs, he thought she was just a hallucination. Skinner thinks the woman was watching him when he killed people, and she kept him from being killed. Mulder wonders if she’s trying to protect him. However, only Skinner can figure out what he needs protection from. If I were him, I’d start with CSM, who’s watching the conversation through a window.

Mulder and Scully go to see Skinner’s impounded car, which sure looks like it hit another car. Skinner’s prints were the only ones found on the steering wheel. With half an hour to go before Skinner’s hearing, Mulder cuts off the airbag and takes it to Pendrell (yay, Pendrell!), who’s able to find an impression of the face of whoever was driving the car when it crashed. From the impression, he should be able to create a replication of the driver’s face.

Scully goes to the hearing and testifies that there’s no conclusive evidence that Skinner killed Carina. She puts forth Mulder’s theory about a “visitation,” though she won’t say whether she believes this. The man running the hearing asks if Skinner might sometimes bend the rules a little for Mulder. Has Scully’s loyalty to Skinner led her to conceal anything? Scully says no, but the people in charge are done listening to her.

Mulder and Scully meet up, and she announces that Skinner’s been announced. Mulder thinks he’s being set up – the impression from the air bag shows a face that isn’t Skinner’s. Scully wonders why the people behind this setup don’t just kill Skinner. Mulder thinks they can use the driver (who must have hired the prostitute, as Scully says in a voiceover that was obviously added in later for clarification) to find the people behind the conspiracy.

The agents return to Lorraine’s apartment, but she’s dead, apparently having jumped from the roof. They spot Judy, one of Lorraine’s other prostitutes, and take her to a diner to ask her questions. She recognizes the driver’s face and confirms that he hired Carina. The agents convince Judy to arrange a meeting with the driver at the Ambassador Hotel, pretending she wants money to leave town before the FBI asks too many questions.

Skinner visits an unconscious Sharon and tells her he’s not signing the divorce papers. He kept himself closed off from her for years because he didn’t want to tell her about all the horrible things he’s seen, or about the things he couldn’t explain. He wishes he’d told her before that the thought of ending each day with her got him through his work. As Skinner’s kissing her goodbye, an alarm on one of Sharon’s monitors goes off. He leaves to call a doctor, but when he looks back, the old woman is in Sharon’s bed, beckoning him. When he goes back in, she’s Sharon again, and she has something to tell him.

Mulder and Waltos stake out the lounge at the Ambassador Hotel while Scully and Judy wait in a room. Scully hears a noise and tells the men to come upstairs. The driver has somehow gotten into the room, where he knocks out Scully and aims his gun at Judy. Mulder and Waltos hear gunshots as they race toward the room. When they arrive, the driver’s dead and Judy’s okay, thanks to Skinner.

Skinner quickly gets his job back, but not everything gets wrapped up. The driver still hasn’t been ID’d, and Skinner figures they’ll never get answers. Mulder wonders how he knew something was going to happen at the hotel. Skinner says whatever happened can’t go in an official report. Mulder asks for the info off the record, but Skinner won’t give it even then. After the agents leave, Skinner puts his wedding ring back on and gets back to work.

Thoughts: This episode was co-written by David Duchovny.

Waltos is played by Tom Mason (Joe on Party of Five). Carina is played by Amanda Tapping, who’s done all sorts of sci-fi/fantasy TV shows.

Sharon seems pretty together for someone who’s ending a miserable marriage with a possible murderer.

This episode makes no sense. Obviously they just wanted to give Skinner something to do. Thanks for trying, guys!

September 20, 2016

SVT Magna Edition #1, The Magic Christmas: “Game of Thrones” for Preteens

Posted in books tagged , at 4:57 pm by Jenn

I guess this is cute

I guess this is cute

Summary: It’s almost Christmas, and Elizabeth is excited about her present for Jessica. She found a picture of the two of them at their seventh birthday party and has written a story about that day. I don’t know why she thinks Jessica would like this more than, say, a sweater, but okay. Jessica has also gotten her twin a great present – tickets to a big concert in L.A. on New Year’s Day. Considering this is Jessica, who doesn’t usually plan ahead, this is pretty big. But Jess thinks Liz’s present is dumb, and Liz is mad that Jess didn’t remember she’s been planning a big brunch for the Sixers staff on New Year’s Day. They have a huge fight about selfishness.

Alice’s parents come for a visit and give the twins family heirlooms, two harlequin dolls that belonged to Samantha and Amanda. The dolls have medallions that are somehow big enough to contain poems. Elizabeth’s:

Together apart,
Wheels on a cart.
Unite all these things:
Eyes, feet, and wings,
Scissors and socks,
Hands found on clocks.
Dolls harlequin.

Jessica’s:

Together apart,
Joined from the start.
Answer this well,
Escape the dread spell.
Answer again,
And magic’s your friend.
Add a good rhyme,
Escape one last time.

The twins don’t really care about the dolls, since they’re too old for them, and they’re more caught up in their fight than anything else. But that night, they wake up at the same time and realize that Elizabeth’s poem is about things that are usually found in pairs. When they say this out loud, the dolls suddenly come to life, then disappear. There’s some sort of gold haze that makes the twins disappear as well.

Elizabeth and her doll end up in a meadow, where she learns that the doll is really a preteen boy named Prince Adair. He’s from the Hidden Kingdom and was turned into a doll by Medwin, a wizard who wanted to take his throne. Elsewhere in the Hidden Kingdom, Jessica learns the same from her doll, Adair’s brother Dorin. Medwin put a spell on the princes that could only be broken by two people solving the riddle at the same time but in different places. The princes have been dolls for a hundred years. Wow, that sucks.

To get back to Sweet Valley, the twins have to go through a Labyrinth (no David Bowie in this one, sadly), but that means going to the palace, where they’ll inevitably run into Medwin. The princes don’t want Medwin to know they’re back, which means they can’t use magic, because doing so would immediately alert Medwin to their return. Wait, what, magic? Yes, magic. Everyone in the Hidden Kingdom can do it, including the twins, even though they’re just visiting. All they have to do is imagine what they want – clothes, food, weapons, whatever.

As the story gets more Princess Bride-y, Elizabeth and Adair are cornered by bloodrats (think ROUSes) while Jessica and Dorin are chased by a Serpasaur (it’s described as looking like a dragon, but I can’t help thinking of the shrieking eels). Elizabeth and Adair head up a mountain to some snow, since ROUSes hate snow. Elizabeth realizes that she can conjure a weapon, but all she can come up with is a cardboard sword from an elementary-school play. Thanks for trying, Liz. Then she conjures a match, which allows Adair to make a torch and burn a bloodrat. The bloodrat’s shrieks cause an avalanche and kill most of the other bloodrats.

Meanwhile, a mermanon (whatever, it’s a mermaid) rescues Jessica from the Serpasaur. She and Dorin are sent underwater in giant bubble fish to meet with Merelantha, the mermanon queen of Zerasharb. Now we’re getting into Game of Thrones territory, with all these weird names. Merelantha doesn’t like Dorin much, so she has him and Jessica held captive so she can hand them over to Medwin. Dorin calls her bluff, knowing that Merelantha hates Medwin because he killed her sister. He’s right, and Merelantha offers to let him and Jessica spend the night in Zerasharb before they head to the palace to take out Medwin. What was the point of that?

Elizabeth and Adair are stuck in a cave for the night, but the accommodations aren’t too bad. In the morning, Elizabeth uses her newfound magical abilities to accidentally conjure up breakfast. Now that’s a superpower no one ever thinks about. Adair gives her a history lesson – he and Dorin inherited the Hidden Kingdom from their father and planned to rule together. Dorin would do the administrative stuff that kept the kingdom running, while Adair would do the fun stuff like planning parties. In case you haven’t guessed, Dorin is like Elizabeth and Adair is like Jessica.

Underwater, Jessica and Dorin learn that Medwin is throwing a ball, and with all the activity going on around the palace, they should be able to sneak in undetected. Things are tense in the Hidden Kingdom since Medwin is going to attack everyone any day now and kill a bunch of people. Blah, blah, winter is coming. Merelantha has someone give Jessica an emerald key, warning her not to tell Dorin about it. Jess and Dorin start heading for the palace, taking a ride on some unicorns. Dorin’s like, “You don’t have unicorns where you’re from?” Jessica’s like, “Yes, but they’re just annoying girls who like to wear purple.”

Elizabeth and Adair continue their trek up the mountain, where Adair hopes they can chat with Toramon, the wise man who lives at the top. He remembers a nursery rhyme from his childhood about how Toramon, Merelantha, and Medwin (pre-evilness) are the three wisest people in the land. Elizabeth hopes Toramon hasn’t gone bad like Medwin. Luckily, he hasn’t, but he’s a little nuts, and it’s hard to get a straight answer out of him. But the good news is that he can see everything in the kingdom and even events in the future (Three-Eyed Raven, anyone?), so he knows Jessica’s hanging out with Dorin.

Toramon gives Elizabeth a brief glimpse of the kingdom, which lets her know that there’s a ball that night. Adair realizes what Dorin did about being able to sneak into the palace while everyone’s running around, getting ready for the festivities. Before he and Liz leave, Toramon gives Liz a ruby key, telling her to keep it secret from Adair. Then Elizabeth and Adair try to speed up their journey by riding huge leaves like hang-gliders, though Liz almost gets killed in a freak tornado. The two sets of twins spot each other from sky and ground but are too far away to recognize each other.

Jessica and Dorin make it to the palace first, and it’s not a very welcoming place. Medwin has tapped everyone’s magic to make himself more powerful, so everyone’s depressed and poor. Jessica conjures fancy clothes for herself and Dorin, and they sneak into the palace. Dorin’s plan is to get Jess in the Labyrinth so she can go home while he fights Medwin. But Elizabeth and Adair learn that the Labyrinth is locked, and only three people have keys – Medwin, Toramon, and Merelantha. Adair thinks he’ll have to kill Medwin and get his key. Elizabeth decides to keep quiet about the key Toramon gave her. The two of them dress as servants and enter the palace.

Dorin and Jessica find the Labyrinth but also learn that it’s locked. Dorin makes the same decision as Adair about getting Medwin’s key. But before anyone can make a move, Medwin recognizes Adair in the ballroom and attacks him. Adair uses magic to fend off all of Medwin’s weapons, which is pretty impressive for a guy who hasn’t used magic in a hundred years. Medwin finds a way to slow Adair down, and Adair has trouble holding on to his strength. Dorin tries to fight Medwin but doesn’t have much better luck.

Medwin, thinking he’s going to kill the princes and earn the throne for real, taunts that there’s another mystery to solve surrounding the way the spell he put on them was broken. Jessica remembers the part about the poem that said “answer again and magic’s your friend,” and realizes that the things in Elizabeth’s poem aren’t just in pairs, but are also things that work better together. Obviously, the princes need to work together to beat Medwin. Why didn’t they think of that themselves?

Wonder Twin powers, activate! The princes win the battle against Medwin, who disappears. The fight drains the princes and they’re confined to bedrest for a few days. This allows Elizabeth and Jessica to hang out and make up with each other. They tell each other about their keys to the Labyrinth but don’t want to tell the princes; they think Medwin’s in the Labyrinth and the guys will want to go after him again. The girls debate staying in the Hidden Kingdom to be with the preteen princes they’ve known for three days. But ultimately they know they have to go home.

The girls plan to leave without saying goodbye to Dorin and Adair. After one last unicorn ride, they create goodbye presents for the guys. The twins are fighting again, though, still mad about each other’s Christmas presents. Guys, you were almost killed by bloodrats and Serpasaurs and an evil wizard. Get some perspective.

Time to head to the Labyrinth! Inside is a cottage surrounded by roses that look like Alice Larson’s wooden rose. While Medwin hangs around, watching, the twins knock on different doors of the cottage to chat with the Guardian of the Labyrinth, who will give them a test before they’re allowed to enter. The Guardian takes a different form for each girl – Jessica sees Amanda and Elizabeth sees Samantha. But their test is the same, and they just have to answer one question: What’s the most important gift they’ve ever gotten?

The twins have learned the big lesson from the book about appreciating each other, or whatever, so they name each other’s Christmas presents. Unfortunately, that’s not what the Guardian was looking for. No Labyrinth for the twins, and what’s worse, Medwin wants to kill them. The girls make up, thinking they’re going to die, but Elizabeth remembers that Jessica’s poem ends with “add a good rhyme, escape one last time.” Liz’s poem ends with an unrhymed line. There has to be another answer.

Jessica’s solution for a rhyme to “dolls harlequin” is “a pair of aspirin.” Yes, Jessica. The solution to saving yourself from an evil wizard in a magical kingdom is aspirin. Fortunately, the girls’ brains kick in and they finish the poem with, “My very own twin,” meaning that they’re the best gifts each has ever gotten. This is the right answer, and they’re allowed to enter the Labyrinth. First, though, the princes find them, turn Medwin into a doll (poetic justice!), and ask the girls to stay in the Hidden Kingdom. Sorry, boys. Sweet Valley is just too awesome to leave behind.

The twins are magically transported back to Sweet Valley, where it seems no time has passed (though their parents noticed that they were missing). In the morning, Steven announces that he’s solved the riddle in the dolls’ poems. But now they’re different. (Also, the princes sent the twins back with new dolls, I guess so no one wonders what happened to the originals.) Jessica’s new poem:

A place far away
Where unicorns play,
Where a mermanon dives,
And magic survives.
Two princes the same,
Each with his own name.
Say both names together,
And return here forever.

The girls officially make up when Jessica reads (and loves) Elizabeth’s story, and Liz cancels the Sixers brunch so she can go to the concert with Jess. All’s well that ends well! Actually, all’s well that ends awesome, as Lila has received a confusing present she wants to tell the twin about: an ugly doll with a poem on its medallion. The twins know it’s Medwin, though they don’t tell Lila how they know his name. His poem:

As a doll he’s been set.
Free him now? Not just yet.
He lived none too well,
To escape a dread spell,
But all in good time,
You’ll find a true rhyme
To send him back to his kingdom.

But why send him back to the Hidden Kingdom to torture people when he can spend eternity stuffed in the back of Lila’s closet?

Thoughts: After Jessica’s told she might have to wait a year to get home: “‘A whole year?’ Jessica repeated faintly. She would miss the rest of Christmas vacation – and summer vacation too. She would miss dozens of Unicorn meetings, and hundreds of episodes of Days of Turmoil. By the time she returned, her whole wardrobe would be out of date!” Oh, Jessica. We need to discuss your priorities.

“Unicorns are creatures of goodness and light. In a way, they’re like small children.” Clearly Dorin hasn’t spent an extended period of time with small children. They’re more like creatures of destruction and screaming.

There’s a character of Days of Turmoil named Flame. I wonder if Bambi got the part.

“The Hidden Kingdom was beautiful. But it wasn’t Sweet Valley.” Yes, folks, Sweet Valley is better than the magical land where you can use magic to get anything you want.

Stop saying “impetuous,” Elizabeth. Be a 12-year-old.

It’s always bugged me that I can’t come up with a rhyme for “kingdom” to finish the last poem. I guess that’s the point, that there’s no good rhyme, but still.

September 17, 2016

The X-Files 3.20, Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”: “This Is Not Happening”

Posted in TV tagged at 1:34 pm by Jenn

He's just upset because he doesn't have any pants. He's cold, that's all

He’s just upset because he doesn’t have any pants. He’s cold, that’s all

Summary: Look, stars! And a…spaceship? No, just the underside of a cherry-picker being used in Klass County, Washington. Two teens, Chrissy and Harold, are on their first date, and he’s already in love. Their car suddenly loses power and stops in the road. A spaceship descends and two aliens approach the teens. “What are those things?” Chrissy asks. “How the hell should I know?” Harold replies. The teens pass out and are dragged down the road just as another spaceship arrives and a monster exits, growling at the aliens. “Jack, what is that thing?” an alien asks. “How the hell should I know?” the other alien replies.

Mulder’s “I want to believe” poster gets a close-up as a man named Jose Chung tells Scully that he never gave alien life much thought before. Mulder has refused to talk with Chung, but Scully’s excited to meet him, since he wrote one of her favorite novels. Now he’s writing a book about an alien abduction. He wants to create a new literary genre: “non-fiction science fiction.” Scully hopes he writes the truth, but Chung’s having trouble putting together all the witness statements from Klass County. Now he wants Scully’s version of the truth.

Scully tells Chung that she first heard of the strangeness when Chrissy returned from…wherever, with no memory of what happened to her. Her clothes were on inside-out and backwards, and she showed signs of abuse. Chung and Scully debate whether they should use the term “experience” or “abductee.” Scully says it doesn’t matter – Chrissy was probably raped, not taken by aliens. But that night, she claimed she had a “visitation.”

In a flashback, Harold comes to Chrissy’s window to try to convince her that he did what he could. Chrissy’s father hears Harold and calls the police, who question him at his house. Harold says he and Chrissy were abducted by aliens, and he passes a lie-detector test when questioned. But the investigating detective thinks Chrissy’s telling the truth about Harold raping her. Mulder and Scully question Harold, then Chrissy, and the latter makes Mulder think there was an abduction, and that Chrissy has “post-abduction syndrome.” Scully thinks it’s just stress.

Scully tells Chung that Mulder convinced Chrissy’s parents to let her be hypnotized, but Scully doesn’t like the use of hypnosis – she thinks it actually makes things worse. People in a hypnotic state are prone to making things up. Chung researched CIA mind-control experiments for a Manchurian Candidate-like book, and is surprised that so little is understood about it. Just hearing words can transform a person’s state.

Chrissy undergoes hypnosis, seeing her parents, Mulder, Scully, and the detective turn into aliens. She describes being on a spaceship with Harold and little gray creatures. The aliens seem to be arguing, but Chrissy can only understand the leader. He tells her through ESP that this is for the good of the planet. She remembers feeling like the alien was stealing her memories. After the session, Mulder tells Scully that Chrissy has described a textbook abduction scenario. Scully thinks that’s the problem – it’s so textbook that anyone could come up with it.

Scully censors some of Detective Manners’ words as she tells Chung how upset he was with the agents. Manners disagrees with the agents that Chrissy and Harold’s stories are exactly the same. Apparently Harold’s story involves being locked in an electrified cage with a captive alien nearby. Mulder questions Harold, who says the alien smoked a cigarette and ignored him. Chrissy was then beamed up from their cage, just after Harold promised to protect her. He tells Mulder that the alien repeated the same thing over and over (in English, and not telepathically): “This is not happening.”

Harold tells Mulder that he was beamed up next, but he’s not sure where he was taken. He felt like he was a bug having its body parts torn off. When he was returned to…wherever, he checked on Chrissy. Scully gets tired of the questions and asks Harold if he and Chrissy had sex that night. He admits that they did, but he’s worried about Chrissy’s father finding out. Scully thinks they’re dealing with two teens who don’t know how to deal with the aftermath of sex, rather than two alien abductees. But Manners has found another eyewitness.

The agents meet with a guy named Roky who has spent the past 48 hours writing down everything he saw. He warns them that they’ll put their lives in danger if they read it. Last night, while he was writing, a car drove into his garage and a man told him the planet Venus is often mistaken for a flying saucer. Roky felt like he was in a trance, and he can’t remember what the man and his partner looked like, other than that they were wearing black. Mulder guesses these were the legendary Men in Black, who often visit abductees after their return.

Chung tells Scully that the Men in Black have featured in stories for centuries, so this isn’t that surprising. Scully disagrees. One of the Men in Black tells Roky that Jimmy Carter once thought he saw a UFO, but again, it was Venus. “I’m a Republican,” Roky replies. The Man in Black continues that Venus was at its peak last night, so that’s definitely, 100 percent, unequivocally what Roky saw, no matter what he believes. The other Man in Black says nothing as the first warns Roky to keep his mouth shut.

Roky turns over his work to Mulder, then announces that he’s going to disappear so he can’t be found. Mulder reads Roky’s statement to Scully in a hotel room, describing how Roky saw the aliens with the monster from the second spaceship. In flashback, the monster approaches Roky to tell him, in language usually used by angels in the Bible, not to be afraid. He wants to show Roky his spaceship. So Roky goes aboard and travels toward “innerspace,” to the Earth’s core, to meet another alien, Lord Kinbote. Mulder angrily realizes he’s reading some really bad fan fiction.

Chung agrees with Scully that Roky’s a nutbar. Mulder, however, thinks that Roky was just inspired by something he really saw. He wants to have Chrissy hypnotized again. This time, her story matches Harold’s. She remembers being taken somewhere by men in suits and Air Force uniforms. A doctor tells her she’s feeling sleepy and relaxed as the Air Force officers suggest questions to ask her. They mention looking for others. One man says they should give her the usual spiel they give abductees. The doctor tells her this is for the good of her country. Chrissy feels like he’s stealing her memories.

After the session, Scully accuses Mulder of feeding Chrissy leading questions. Manners interrupts again to announce that someone claims he found the body of an alien. Chung meets with this witness, Blaine, who says he wants to be abducted and taken someplace where he doesn’t have to find a job. He tells Chung he was out in a field that night, hoping to stumble across some aliens. The police showed up with a couple of Men in Black, though one of the Men in Black was a poorly disguised woman whose hair was too red to be believable. The other was so expressionless that he might be a mandroid.

Manners IDs the alien as an alien, and Scully orders it wrapped up. She tells Blaine that he didn’t see anything and better not say he did. Scully’s shocked that Blaine told Chung she threatened him, especially since they let him view the autopsy. In her version of events, he bursts into the autopsy room with a camcorder, declaring that people have a right to know the truth: “Roswell! Roswell!” Mulder has him record as Scully performs the alien’s autopsy.

Someone has gotten hold of the footage and edited it for what most likely turned out to be a disappointing Fox special hosted by the Stupendous Yappi. For instance, they cut out the part where Scully finds a zipper and pulls off the alien’s head. It’s a costume being worn by a dead human. Blaine realizes he’s been dealing with a dead person, and he runs off. The agents ID the man as Air Force Major Robert Vallee, who recently went AWOL. Mulder tells the Air Force that they can’t take Vallee’s body, but they can speak to his partner, Lieutenant Jack Schaefer. No, wait, they can’t, because he’s still AWOL. When the agents take the Air Force officers to see Vallee’s body, it’s gone.

Blaine gets a visit from the Men in Black, one of whom he finds familiar. He gets knocked out, only waking up when Mulder slaps him and demands the autopsy tape. Blaine claims that Mulder threatened to kill him if he lied about the tape being taken. Chung tells Blaine he was brave, which Blaine credits to all his years playing Dungeons and Dragons. Scully tells Chung that Mulder was driving back from Blaine’s house when he encountered a naked Jack Schaeffer on the road. “This is not happening,” Schaeffer insists over and over.

Mulder takes Schaeffer to a diner, where he does a Close Encounters of the Third Kind with some potatoes and tells Mulder that most people lose time after seeing a UFO. He doesn’t know much about abductions, but he’s had some experience flying a UFO. He takes the abductees to a base, where they have their minds messed with until they believe they were taken by aliens. Mulder wonders what abducted Schaeffer. Schaeffer’s sure that he, Vallee, Chrissy, and Harold were all taken, but he doesn’t know by what – and he’s not sure what’s real anymore, or if he even exists.

Air Force officers arrive to collect Schaeffer, so Mulder only has time for one more question: What was the monster everyone saw with the aliens? Schaeffer IDs it as Lord Kinbote. Chung tells Scully that he ate at that same diner when he was in Klass County, and the cook told him about the night Mulder and Schaeffer were there. Mulder identified himself as an FBI agent, ordered sweet potato pie, and asked the cook about UFOs and abductions. He ate a whole pie, asking one question with each piece, and then never returned. The cook never saw Schaeffer or other Air Force officers there.

Scully tells Chung that Mulder then came to her hotel room, where the Men in Black were waiting for him. The one who talks warns him to keep quiet. The other, who looks like Alex Trebek, tells him he’s feeling sleepy and relaxed. Scully admits that she was there but doesn’t remember the encounter. She woke up the next morning to find Mulder asleep on her couch, though she didn’t remember letting him in.

Manners calls the agents to tell them the UFO has been found. But, of course, it’s being called a “top-secret experimental plane” the military didn’t want anyone to know about. The pilot’s dead, and Mulder recognizes him as Schaeffer. Manners recognizes the other dead man as Vallee. Scully knows that Chung isn’t thrilled with the ending of her story, but at least this case has more closure than a lot of the X-files.

Mulder visits Chung to ask him not to write his book. He’ll just make a misunderstood phenomenon seem even more ridiculous. Also, Chung’s publisher is owned by a company that may be part of the military industrial complex. Chung just wants to know what really happened to Chrissy and Harold. “How the hell should I know?” Mulder replies.

Chung asks him to leave so he can finish writing and take over the episode-ending voiceover. He says that people like Blaine will continue to struggle to be content on Earth, since they haven’t yet been abducted. At least Blaine has a job and gets to ride in a cherry-picker. Roky has basically become L. Ron Hubbard.

Scully reads Chung’s book, From Outer Space, where she’s called Diana Lesky and has to suffer a 9-to-5 job while she searches for aliens. Reiner Muldrake, her partner, probably struggles to get any pleasure out of life. Maybe footage of Bigfoot will help. Chrissy is now focused on bettering herself, while Harold is still focused on her. Chrissy wonders if love is all men think about. Chung thinks that people who find meaning and happiness in others are lucky, since really, we’re all alone. Cheery!

Thoughts: Chung is played by Charles Nelson Reilly, who the cast and crew gushed over and considered their favorite guest star. The Men in Black are played by Jesse Ventura and, yes, Alex Trebek.

Detective Manners is named for Kim Manners, a longtime X-Files director. The show also paid tribute to him in season 10, putting his headstone in Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.

This episode was so difficult to recap. Just know that everything that happens outside of Scully and Chung’s conversation (and then Mulder and Chung’s) is a flashback.

If you watch nothing else from this episode, you have to watch Blaine’s version of Mulder’s reaction to finding the dead “alien.” It’s in my top 10 X-Files moments of all time.

September 13, 2016

SVT #64, The Charm School Mystery: Don’t You Know By Now That Elizabeth Is Always Right?

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:02 pm by Jenn

This isn't suspicious at all

This isn’t suspicious at all

Summary: For some reason, a bunch of girls at SVMS are excited to learn that a charm school is opening in Sweet Valley. I’m not sure I even knew what a charm school was when I was 12. No, wait, I knew about it from A League of Their Own. The school is run by a Ms. Monique Beaumont, who has come all the way to little Sweet Valley from Switzerland. She wants to teach her students about all of Europe’s beautiful things and how to live gracefully, or something. She’s also opening an art gallery. She’s working with her husband, as well as a guy named Richard. They have different accents but supposedly both hail from Switzerland.

While the Unicorns are thrilled about the charm school, Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria don’t see the point. I guess Elizabeth already has enough charm. Maria’s cool with or without it. Amy’s hopeless either way, so why bother? Besides, girls have to be invited in order to attend. And first, their parents are invited to the opening of the art gallery, which will allow the Beaumonts to see what kinds of families live in Sweet Valley. Poorer families like the Millers and McCormicks are overlooked.

Ned and Alice go to the opening with Jessica, while Elizabeth and Amy hang out at home. Elizabeth wants them to put their hair in beehives, the style that was all the rage when Alice was in school. They look at one of Alice’s high school yearbooks and spot a girl named Margaret Rudenthaler who looks an awful lot like Ms. Beaumont. Meanwhile, Jessica realizes that the Beaumonts have only invited rich families to the gallery opening (which makes sense to her, since poorer families aren’t going to buy any art). She gives Ms. Beaumont the names of a couple more girls to invite to charm school. Later, Elizabeth asks Alice about Margaret, but Margaret didn’t spend a lot of time in Sweet Valley, so Alice doesn’t remember her much.

Maria (whose family went to the opening even though she’s not going to charm school) tells Elizabeth that her sister Nina chatted with Ms. Beaumont in French but told Maria that her accent sounded strange. Maria chalks this up to Ms. Beaumont being Swiss, not French. That night, Elizabeth sees a newspaper article about phony art and antiques, and she starts to get the idea that the Beaumonts are conning everyone in Sweet Valley. Keep in mind that at this point she has absolutely no evidence of this. But she, Amy, and Maria are suspicious enough to decide they need to attend charm school and gather more information.

How to do so when they’ve told their parents they’re not interested? Convince their parents that they need some charm. Maria’s on her worst behavior at a dinner with one of her mother’s clients, and her punishment is charm school. Amy acts overly clumsy, which would make me think she had a neurological disorder if she were my daughter, but what do I know? Elizabeth pretends to let Jessica change her mind about going, and somehow, no one’s suspicious.

Charm school is just as awesome as the other girls (read: the Unicorns) hoped. At the end of the classes, someone will get the Mademoiselle Manners/Queen of Charm award, which means wearing a tiara and having bragging rights. Jessica and Janet each think they’re a lock for the award, and they decide to make a bet. Whichever of them doesn’t win has to curtsy to the other for a week. No word on what happens if neither of them wins.

Because Europe is full of beautiful things, and Ms. Beaumont wants the Sweet Valley girls to recognize the beautiful things in their own lives, she tells them to write down all the expensive things in their homes for homework. Sure, that sounds completely unsuspicious. Then the girls work on their posture by walking around with books on their heads. Jessica and Janet bicker, then act overly gracious and polite to each other so they don’t risk losing their chances at the Queen of Charm award.

Jessica and Lila work on their homework assignments together, though Jessica has trouble completing hers, since her family doesn’t have a lot of fancy, expensive stuff. Really, all they have is Alice’s jewelry and some things her ancestors brought over from Sweden. Richard arrives with a painting Mr. Fowler bought from the Beaumonts’ gallery, and Jessica tries to impress him by telling him about all the expensive things the Wakefields have. According to her, they’re about three times richer than the Fowlers. She’s so caught up in her lie that she doesn’t see the cartoon dollar signs in Richard’s eyes.

At the next class, Ms. Beaumont expresses concern over how the Wakefields safeguard all the fabulous things in their home. Jessica has apparently forgotten all her lies already, so she tells Ms. Beaumont that they just keep Alice’s jewelry in an old tennis shoe. The best hiding place I’ve ever heard of is a plastic bag under the liner in a litterbox. No burglar is going to look there. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is goofing off in class, so Ms. Beaumont tells her to stop wasting everyone’s time. She humiliates Liz in front of the rest of the class, causing her to run off in tears.

Really, though, Elizabeth is just taking advantage of the situation to check out the Beaumonts’ office. She doesn’t have much time to look around, but she does overhear Mr. Beaumont on the phone, talking about how Mr. Fowler isn’t suspicious about his new painting. He pretty much confirms that the charm school is just a front so he and “Margaret” can pull some con. So Elizabeth thinks she’s right about Monique being Margaret, and about the Beaumonts selling fake art.

Elizabeth shares the news with Amy and Maria, who agree to help her gather more evidence to take to the police. They sneak back into the office and learn that the antiques Alice bought from the gallery for a design client are fakes. Ouch. Liz tries to warn her mother, but Ned and Alice dismiss her suspicions.

As a plan B, Liz asks her art teacher about authenticating paintings. Then she has Maria call Mr. Beaumont, pretending to be Alice, to ask him to meet her at the Fowlers’ to help her get some ideas for a design client. “Alice” also calls Mr. Fowler to ask if she can come over that weekend, and Alice (as Ms. Beaumont) to get her to show up as well. Everyone shows up at the Fowlers’ as they’re supposed to, and Elizabeth announces that she thinks the Beaumonts are crooks who sold Mr. Fowler a fake painting. Unfortunately, she’s wrong – a museum curator she called comes and authenticates the painting.

Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria are all in trouble with their parents for their stunt, and Elizabeth is even told she can’t read Amanda Howard mysteries for a year, since they’re making her so suspicious. Since Jessica and Lila were present during the accusations at the Fowlers’, they gleefully spread word to the school, and Elizabeth becomes a laughingstock. She still thinks the Beaumonts are up to something, though, and she’s not about to give up her investigation.

Elizabeth sneaks into the office again and overhears the Beaumonts talking…with American accents. They’re thrilled that everything is going as planned. During the big, fancy dinner the charm students are attending with their families to celebrate the end of classes, Mr. Beaumont and Richard will rob their houses. Since the girls so helpfully provided the Beaumonts lists of their expensive belongings, the cons know exactly who has what, and where it is. One house in particular has them very eager to get on with things. The Beaumonts know Elizabeth is suspicious, so Monique is going to give her the Queen of Charm award, which will somehow keep her from interfering with their plans.

Now Elizabeth has more than enough evidence to convince her friends that she was right about the Beaumonts…but they don’t want to listen to her anymore. Jessica’s especially skeptical since Liz says the Beaumonts plan to give her the Mademoiselle Manners award. Elizabeth notes that if they do, Jess will have to believe the rest of her claims, so Jessica agrees to help her out of Liz gets the award. They come up with a plan.

Steven pretends to have a headache so he can stay home while the other Wakefields go to the dinner. I thought this would mean he’d catch the robbers in the act, but it doesn’t really serve a purpose. Elizabeth does, indeed, get the title of Mademoiselle Manners (Ms. Beaumont claims that it’s because she made so much progress in a short amount of time), so Jessica realizes that Liz’s suspicions were right.

The twins enact their plan, with Jessica pretending to be devastated over losing the award. When Elizabeth goes to “comfort” her, Jessica puts on Liz’s clothes and returns to the dinner as Elizabeth, pretending Jess is too upset to see anyone. Elizabeth heads off to the Fowlers’, thinking she’ll be able to catch Mr. Beaumont and Richard in the act there and call the police on them. Jessica brings Amy and Maria in on things, telling them to make sure one of them is by a pay phone in the building every 20 minutes. If Elizabeth doesn’t call, she’s in trouble.

Elizabeth follows Mr. Beaumont and Richard around town, but they don’t stop at any of the houses Liz thinks they will. She can’t figure out which family they think has the most things to steal. Meanwhile, Jessica goes back and forth between being herself and pretending to be Elizabeth so no one wonders where Liz is. Her parents are dumb enough to fall for this.

After this goes on for about an hour, Elizabeth makes a pit stop at the Wakefields’ to call the payphone and give Maria or Amy an update. She catches Steven leaving with a friend and overhears him saying that the same van has driven past a bunch of times. Somehow, Liz doesn’t get that this means Mr. Beaumont and Richard are targeting their house. While she’s calling Maria, the robbers show up and lock Liz in a closet. They decide to take her with them when they head to Mexico (to pull their con again), so she can’t rat them out.

Maria tells Jessica and Amy that something happened while she was on the phone with Liz, and she thinks Elizabeth is in trouble. Jessica figures out that the robbers broke into the Wakefields’ house, thinking they could steal a bunch of nonexistent treasures. Fortunately, Elizabeth has the real treasures (Alice’s jewelry) in her hands. Her sister and friends call the police, who arrive just before Elizabeth can be spirited away to Mexico.

Jessica uses her acceptance speech as Mademoiselle Manners to call out Ms. Beaumont for being a criminal. She also takes the opportunity to boast to Janet that she’s Jess, not Elizabeth, so she wound up with the Queen of Charm crown after all (sort of). The Wakefields are upset that Elizabeth took such a big risk, but they’re proud of her for taking down some criminals. I guess the ban on Amanda Howard books is off?

Thoughts: “We also hope that Sweet Valley will learn to appreciate the art of gracious living.” The what now?

“I have been in countries far, far away where your head would be cut off if you tripped and fell in front of their queen.” Westeros?

If all the mysteries Elizabeth has read turned her into a good detective, then that book I once read about brain surgery should come in REALLY handy.

Imagine coming up with this whole big con and getting outsmarted by some 12-year-olds. Imagine having to live that down in prison.

September 10, 2016

The X-Files 3.19, Hell Money: Another Swing and a Miss for Cultural Sensitivity

Posted in TV tagged at 1:25 pm by Jenn

"True Detective," season 3?

“True Detective,” season 3?

Summary: There’s a celebration going on in San Francisco’s Chinatown. A man ducks into an alley and finds Chinese characters freshly painted on the door he wants to enter. He ends up in what looks like an apartment, where a man confronts him. The second man pulls a knife, but the first man attacks and slashes the second. In a funeral home, a security guard spots people in masks and finds the crematory…thing…on. That wouldn’t normally be strange in a funeral home, but it is pretty strange that the person inside it is still alive.

Scully’s the lucky person who gets to examine the body of the not-dead-at-the-time-but-definitely-dead-now victim. This is the 11th Chinese man killed in this manner across the country. A local detective thinks they were lucky to get the body before it was too burned to examine. The detective tells Mulder that they haven’t been able to tie the deaths to anyone or any group.

Mulder finds a character written in ashes in the crematory and asks the detective if there’s someone who can translate. Luckily, the San Francisco P.D. employs Detective Glen Chao, who’s fluent in both Chinese and English. Chao translates the character as “ghost.” Mulder finds part of a piece of paper inside the crematory, and Chao identifies it as hell money, an offering used during the Chinese Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. It’s given in exchange for good luck.

Since there aren’t a lot of places in Chinatown that sell hell money, it doesn’t take long for Mulder and Scully to trace it and determine the identity of the burned man. He’s Johnny Lo, and he moved to the U.S. from China just six months ago. Scully thinks he was killed by a gang, but Mulder thinks they should focus on the ghost aspect of the crime.

The agents meet up with Chao at the place where Johnny was attacked the night before. Mulder asks Chao to get the characters on the door translated, since Chao doesn’t recognize them himself. Scully thinks things have been taken from the apartment. The agents note that there’s new carpeting, but it was laid down quickly. They find herbal medicine and charms, including a dried frog, used for prosperity and luck. Mulder finds blood under the new carpet and notes that the good-luck charm didn’t come in very handy for Johnny.

Elsewhere, a man named Hsin makes tea for his daughter Kim, who’s sick in bed. He tells her he needs to go see someone so he can make money and pay for her to get better. Kim worries that the operation she needs is too expensive, but Hsin doesn’t want her to think about money. Hsin then goes to a crowded backroom location where people place tiles inside a vase. One is drawn, and the person it belonged to gets to draw another tile from another vase. Hsin isn’t pleased with the results.

Chao takes Mulder and Scully to an herb shop, telling them about all the different things that can be purchased there. A woman in the shop identifies Johnny’s herbs as painkillers and remembers selling them to him. She tells Chao that the characters from Johnny’s door mean someone branded his apartment a haunted home. It’s connected to the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. Believers leave hell money outside their homes to keep ghosts from entering.

As the man whose tile was drawn is examined by a doctor, Chao says that some spirits ignore the offering. The really vengeful, powerful ones find doomed men and drag them to the Chinese version of Hell. Chao tells the agents that he’s not really a believer in Chinese traditions like offering hell money, but he doesn’t bother arguing about them.

A night watchman at a cemetery spots men in masks and calls the police. Mulder and Scully check out the burial plot where the men were seen, wondering why he was hanging around an empty grave dug in advance of a funeral. Mulder jumps in and does a little digging, finding a body in the dirt. It looks like it belonged to the man whose tile was drawn.

Scully examines the man, who has undergone a number of surgical procedures for seemingly no reason. She thinks he was selling his body parts for money. Scully cuts open the man’s sewn incisions, remarking that he left his heart in San Francisco. Just then, a frog crawls out of the incision. Mulder isn’t nearly as freaked out as he should be. Hsin attends another meeting of the Tile-Drawing Club, and this time, he’s the big winner.

The agents take the frog to Chao, wondering if it’s a symbol of something other than luck and prosperity. She asks if Chao has heard anything about people selling body parts on the black market. Chao doesn’t have much information to give the agents, and they’re not sure he actually wants to help them. Is he resentful that they’re on his turf, or is he trying to protect the local Chinese community?

Chao says that the people who live there see him as white, not Chinese, and a white cop at that. He may speak both languages, but speaking Chinese isn’t very useful when no one will talk to him. He gives the agents the name of the company that installed Johnny’s new carpet, telling them he’s been working on the case even if they think he’s been sitting around, doing nothing.

Chao and the agents end up at the apartment of the man who installed the carpet: Hsin. He has a bandage over his eye and explains it away as a workplace injury. Since Hsin’s boss doesn’t have a record of the work order for Johnny’s apartment, Hsin must have taken the job on the side. As Scully questions Hsin, Chao tries to ease Kim’s fears. Hsin denies knowing anything about Johnny or the circumstances of the job.

The agents leave the apartment first, so Chao gets a few seconds to chat with Hsin alone. He says he was warning Hsin about keeping a back window blocked up. Mulder shows Chao a tile he took from the apartment, and Chao says it shows the character for “wood.” The agents think it’s connected to the sudden loss of Hsin’s eye.

Kim is also curious about her father’s injury, noting that when he came home from work the night before, he was fine. Hsin tells her it has to do with getting money to heal her. He worries that their ancestors are using her to punish him for leaving China. Maybe he’s being foolish. If Kim can’t get better, Hsin is responsible. Chao goes home to find the “haunted house” characters painted on his own front door in red paint. Inside, people in masks are waiting for him.

Scully finds Mulder staking out Hsin’s apartment and tells him that Chao was attacked in his home. They head to the hospital, which means they miss seeing the supposed doctor from the Tile-Drawing Club arrive to see Hsin. He wants Hsin’s payment, but Hsin says he’s out of the game. The doctor says he just had one bad draw, and he needs to take the chance because he could win $2 million. Hsin doesn’t think he’s that lucky. He’d rather stay with Kim. The doctor tells him he can’t leave the game – if he tries, he’ll go to Hell.

The agents go to the hospital to see Chao, but he’s taken off. Mulder wants to see Chao’s chart to find out his blood type. He thinks Chao could be involved in Johnny’s death, and really has been dragging on the case to keep them from finding out. Chao’s blood type matches the blood found on the carpet in Johnny’s apartment, so Mulder might be on to something. He thinks Chao got Hsin to install the carpet, and they were discussing this during their recent visit.

Mulder and Scully go back to Hsin’s apartment, where Kim tells them she doesn’t know where her father keeps going at night. She has leukemia, but Hsin can’t afford the treatment she needs, so Kim thinks he’s done something illegal to get the necessary money. She only knows that he wants out of whatever he’s gotten involved in. Mulder asks her about the tile, and she says the character for “wood” corresponds to the eye. Other characters correspond to the heart and flesh.

Scully finds some medical paperwork and figures out that Hsin was ruled out as a donor for his daughter. A month ago, Hsin had a number of organs measured. Mulder figures out that the tiles have to do with some sort of game. While Hsin returns to the Tile-Drawing Club, Mulder and Scully meet with a woman at an organ-procurement organization. She tells them a number of Chinese men have come in for workups, but when a compatible recipient is found, the agency is told that the men have left the area.

A tile is drawn as Mulder and Scully try to find the doctor dealing with the organ-procurement agency. They spot Chao heading inside. Hsin is the tile-drawer again, but when the results come up, he tries to run. Chao’s there to see him taken away. The agents break in through the front door and find a puddle of either rubbing alcohol or sterile ice (used to preserve organs for transplantation) in the medical facility. They also find Hsin’s missing eye, just as his remaining eye is about to be removed.

Chao confronts the man in charge of the vase, but Vase Guy doesn’t have any sympathy for Hsin or his daughter. He reminds Chao that the Tile-Drawing Club has paid him well to keep quiet about their activities. Chao decides it’s time to shut things down. He smashes the vase, sees that all the tiles are the same, and shouts to the participants that the game is rigged. The participants rush to get their money back.

The agents hear the commotion and head to the backroom as the doctor prepares to take Hsin’s other eye. Hsin has a vision of Kim and asks her to forgive him. The doctor is about to take the eye when Chao bursts in and orders him to stop. The doctor won’t listen so Chao shoots him in the shoulder. As the agents arrest Chao and the medical personnel, the doctor says that Chao should have killed him. Chao tells the agents he really said, “The game’s not over.”

The doctor does his best CSM impression at the police station, telling Scully that the ghosts of the Chinese people’s ancestors show them the path to take. He insists that promising prosperity and taking lives isn’t a crime. Death isn’t something to be feared, but life without hope is “living Hell.” He gave the Tile-Drawing Club participants hope as a gift. Scully, basically: “I’m going to give you a gift, too. It’s a really, really long prison sentence.”

Kim’s been placed on a list to get a transplant, so maybe at least she’ll get a happy ending. However, the Tile-Drawing Club is keeping quiet about seeing anything illegal. Chao was supposed to testify at a grand jury hearing, but he’s “vanished like a ghost.” That’s because he’s about to become the 12th man burned alive in a crematory.

Thoughts: There are three special guest stars in this episode:

  • Chao is played by B.D. Wong, AKA the best part of Mr. Robot.
  • The doctor is played by James Hong, who I guarantee you have seen in at least three movies or TV shows in your life.
  • Kim is played by Lucy Liu, who was apparently dating David Duchovny at the time of the episode. (I know!)

I can’t remember where I read about the idea, but burying a body in someone else’s grave is smart. No one’s ever going to find a body buried under another body.

Scully: “Do you know how much the human body is worth, Mulder?” Mulder: “Depends on the body.” Me: “Just make out already.”

September 6, 2016

SVT #63, Poor Lila!: Riches to Rags

Posted in books tagged , , at 4:37 pm by Jenn

It's embarrassing to admit, but we really did dress like this in the '90s

It’s embarrassing to admit, but we really did dress like this in the ’90s

Summary: Lila’s planning a huge bash called the Unicorn Founding Fling, to celebrate the anniversary of…well, the founding of the Unicorns. It’s such a big deal that even non-Unicorns are invited. Lila even sent the mayor an invitation, for some reason. (If I were the mayor, I’d totally go. Make some kids happy + free food = good times.) Lila is going way overboard with caterers, souvenir T-shirts, and, she hopes, a purple hot-air balloon. I don’t think her father knows anything about this.

While shopping, Lila’s credit card gets declined, something that’s never happened to her before. I feel horrible for the clerk who has to deal with this diva 12-year-old’s tantrum over not being able to spend Daddy’s money on a sweater she’ll probably only wear once. Lila tries to tell herself that it was a tech error and the credit card is fine. But when she gets home, she learns that her chauffeur is being fired. The housekeeper doing the firing says it “has to do with the money.”

When Mr. Fowler says no to the hot-air balloon at the party, Lila starts worrying that they’re having money problems. Why else would her card get declined and her father have to make cutbacks like getting rid of the driver and not paying for ridiculous expenses? Lila tries to distract herself with a good deed, donating some of her old clothes to a local homeless shelter where Elizabeth and Melissa have been volunteering. Lila thinks Melissa, the only poor person she knows, should claim some clothes for herself. Melissa doesn’t exactly appreciate the charity.

Lila hears her father on the phone, talking about losing a fortune on a business deal, and her worst fears are realized: The Fowlers are no longer stinking rich. This is a fate worse than death for Lila. It doesn’t help that she now has to walk home from school (life is hard for a girl with no chauffeur). Melissa and Andy run into her on one of those walks and offer to give her a ride home. When they learn that she’d be eating dinner alone, they invite her to their place. Lila enjoys spending some time with a happy (though poor) family.

Jessica can’t believe Lila would voluntarily spend time with Melissa. Lila worries that, without all her money, her friends won’t have a reason to spend time with her anymore. Instead of realizing that she could ensure her friendships by actually being friendly, Lila decides to learn how to be poor so she’s ready when the time comes. Melissa can be her Yoda and teach her the ways of the lower-middle-class. Melissa may be a saint.

Melissa’s also doing good deeds over at the shelter, volunteering with Elizabeth to spend time with the kids in the shelter’s daycare. They take interest in a boy named David who keeps sneaking an extra sandwich at snack time, even when they tell him he can eat as much as he wants. They learn that he’s taking the food for his dog, Charlie, which he and his father had to give up when Mr. Lowell lost his job, then their house. They were supposed to give the dog up, but David tied him up somewhere in hopes of getting him back once he has a house again. Elizabeth offers up the Wakefields as a doggy foster family until then.

Despite promising to keep Lila’s financial crisis secret, Melissa confides to Jessica that the Fowlers are soon to be dirt-poor. Jessica assures Melissa that the Unicorns will still want to be friends with Lila no matter how much money she has. Of course, she can’t come up with any reasons WHY they would want to stay friends with a self-centered, snobby princess. But still, good news for Lila. Jess tells the other Unicorns, and they decide that since Lila has to cancel all the fancy stuff for the Founding Fling, they’ll organize the rest of it themselves and surprise her.

Since the girls keep their plans to themselves, Lila isn’t sure what’s going on when they suddenly start acting weird. She turns to Melissa for friendship, and the two of them come up with bargain ideas for the Founding Fling. Melissa’s only repayment is getting Lila to volunteer at the shelter. She almost enjoys herself, even though she has to do normal-people things like clean. Lila starts to think the other Unicorns are acting weird because they’re throwing a Founding Fling that she won’t be invited to. She decides to invite the kids from the shelter to her party so she’ll still have some guests. Plus, she actually feels bad that they can’t afford things like hot-air balloons and personal drivers.

Mr. Fowler finds Lila baking cupcakes for the Founding Fling and comments on how weird it is to find her making food instead of letting the housekeeper cater to her. Lila tells him that she knows about their money troubles and is prepared to make adjustments so she can handle being poor. Mr. Fowler’s very confused. They’re not poor at all – the credit card is fine, the chauffeur was fired for stealing (and sucking at his job), and though Mr. Fowler did lose some money on a deal, he turned around and made a bunch on another deal. In fact, the Fowlers are probably richer than ever. Oh, happy day!

The pared-down version of the Founding Fling goes forward, and the kids from the shelter have a great time. Melissa admits that she told Jessica about Lila’s soon-to-be-poorness, and Jess must have told the others. Lila realizes that she’s better off without friends who only liked her for her money. Even though she didn’t enjoy thinking she’d become poor, at least the situation taught her who her real friends are (you know, the girl she’s only spoken to once and would have never given the time of day if she didn’t think they’d have to slum it together).

But then the Unicorns arrive with their own food and decorations, and let Lila know that they like her no matter how much money she has. Lila’s thrilled to be both rich and surrounded by friends. Things get even better when David’s father proves to be a great mechanic, and Mr. Fowler hires him as a mechanic/chauffeur. This means the Lowells can get a new house and take their dog back. Jessica pretends to be upset about this, since the dog has become obsessed with her. The mayor even comes to the party, which is kind of cool. And Mr. Fowler surprises Lila by renting the hot-air balloon.

The end of the book is a tiny bit heartwarming, especially by Sweet Valley standards and super-especially by Lila Fowler standards. She and Mr. Fowler donate the leftovers from the party to the shelter. Then Lila buys a bunch of sweaters and donates them as well. Maybe she’s finally decided to use her riches for good? Yeah, probably not.

Thoughts: Lila doesn’t know how to use a microwave. I am sad.

Why did the Unicorns invite so many non-Unicorns to the party? I can’t believe they’re willing to lower themselves to spend time with the unwashed masses.

Pin the Tail on the Unicorn? Lila would never suggest that even ironically. And she comes up with this idea before she even invites the kids from the shelter, so she was going to have preteens and teens play it. Whatever.

September 3, 2016

The X-Files 3.18, Teso Dos Bichos: Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

Posted in TV tagged at 1:18 pm by Jenn

I don't envy the person who had to wrangle all these cats on the set

I don’t envy the person who had to wrangle all these cats on the set

Summary: A team in the Ecuadorian highlands is participating in an archeological dig. A man alerts the rest of the group when he uncovers something described as “muy malo” (very bad). Dr. Roosevelt, who’s in charge of the dig, is summoned to the site as it starts snowing. They’ve found an amaru, the body of a female shaman, and Roosevelt is excited to take it. One of the diggers warns that it’s sacred, and they can’t disturb the burial site. Roosevelt says he’s “saving her.” A shaman in a red poncho watching from a hill seems to disagree.

That night, the diggers hold a Native ceremony around a fire. They all consume some sort of substance that appears to have hallucinogenic properties. The one English-speaker among them isn’t thrilled by the taste. In his tent, Dr. Roosevelt is mauled by something that looks like a large cat. And that’s why you always listen to warnings from indigenous people.

Three weeks later, a security guard checks out the Hall of Indigenous Peoples at the Boston Museum of Natural History. He’s looking for someone who may be working there late, but instead he finds a lot of blood. Nearby is the amaru from Ecuador. Mulder and Scully come in the next morning to investigate the death of Craig Horning, who may have been killed because of his connection to the dig in Ecuador. The Secona people demanded the return of amaru, but the people in charge of the dig refused.

Scully talks to Dr. Lewton, who tells her that he and Roosevelt organized the dig when an Ecuadorian company wanted to place a gas pipeline in the Secona burial grounds. While authorities said Roosevelt was killed by a wild animal, Bilac disagrees. So does Mulder, who thinks they’re dealing with a Secona curse – anyone who disturbs an amaru will be killed by a jaguar. Lewton thinks someone’s just exploiting the curse to pressure the museum to return the remains.

Mulder wants to see the remains, so an assistant named Mona shows them to him and Scully. Mona wishes they’d never been unearthed. She also doesn’t think Roosevelt had any feelings either way about the ethics of removing them; he was just following his superior’s orders. Scully asks about protests and letters from the Secona, including one from Alonso Bilac, the English-speaker in Ecuador. The agents would like to talk to him next.

Bilac’s back at home now, but he’s not looking so great. Scully wonders when Bilac, a liaison between Roosevelt and the Secona, first protested about Roosevelt taking the amaru. Bilac says he spent months living with the Secona, learning about their culture. He in turn taught them about “the joys of American bureaucracy,” and they’ve used that knowledge to write letters to the State Department demanding the return of the amaru. Bilac thinks that whatever happened to Horning will happen to others until the amaru is returned to the burial grounds.

Scully wonders if Bilac is behind Horning’s death. Bilac says no, but he doesn’t have an alibi, so Scully isn’t exactly swayed. Mulder notes that they don’t even have a body, so they have no way of knowing what happened to Horning. Scully’s like, “Oh, maybe the spirit of a jaguar ate him! Of course!” Meanwhile, Mona talks to someone on the phone, asking why he lied. Lewton catches her and asks if she was talking to Bilac. He reminds her that they have a responsibility as historians, and Roosevelt was only doing his job. Mona should be careful who she aligns herself with.

After Lewton leaves, Mona’s door opens, seemingly on its own. She’s spooked, but it’s just a dog. Lewton, however, encounters something much worse – a car that won’t start because there’s blood in the engine. Also, an attack from what’s probably the same thing that killed Roosevelt. Scully finds the remains of a rat in the engine, which would most likely explain why the car wouldn’t start. (A police officer wants to know how to label that as evidence. Scully’s like, “‘Partial rat body part,’ of course. Is this your first day or something?”

Mona tells Scully that Lewton seemed normal when she saw him the previous night. She also claims that he didn’t say anything about Bilac, so she can’t really be trusted. As the killer watches from a tree, Scully finds Mulder with a search team looking for Lewton’s body in the woods. Scully thinks the rat thing is inconsequential – the museum has had a rat problem for a long time – but that Mona knows more than she’s let on. She might be trying to protect Bilac. Mulder feels what he thinks is a raindrop, but it’s red. He and Scully see something wrapped around a tree branch, dripping blood.

Mona goes to Bilac’s house, letting herself in when he doesn’t answer the door. He’s in a dark room, looking even worse than he did when the agents visited him. She tells him Lewton’s dead, but he’s more concerned with the fact that she ignored his orders not to come see him. She thinks he knows something about the murders. Bilac has cooked up the same substance he took in Ecuador, which she realizes is yaje, a plant with psychotropic properties. Mona tells him he’s sick and needs help. He doesn’t want it from her.

Scully takes the thing from the branch to a test and identifies it as Lewton’s small intestine. She can’t figure out how his body was eviscerated, partly because some small animal chewed on it. Mona calls to tell her that Bilac is acting strange. She left him at his house and came back to the museum, but she feels like someone’s watching her.

While Scully sends Mulder over to get her, Mona decides to work on the amaru. Her dog thinks she should check out the bathroom. Something’s rattling in a toilet, and poor Mona is too curious to just run away without seeing what it is. She’s rewarded with the sight of dozens of rats. Scully goes back to Bilac’s house, where she finds the yaje but no Bilac.

Mulder arrives at the museum and runs into the security guard. Before they can look for Mona, Scully calls (“Mulder, it’s me”) and reads to her partner from one of Bilac’s journals. He wrote about seeing a creature with “the eyes of a scorpion and the jaws of a jaguar.” Mulder’s like, “Well, a jaguar attacking people from trees would explain how Lewton’s guts got up there.” Scully thinks Bilac has been using the yaje in a ceremony to pray to the amaru.

Mulder spots blood on the floor outside the bathroom, which contains even more of it. Mona’s not there, but Bilac is. He tells Mulder that Mona’s dead. Scully joins her partner to question Bilac, who says he came to the museum because “the amaru would not be appeased.” He tried to push Mona away to protect her because she was an innocent party. Scully thinks Bilac, not a jaguar, is the curse (and the drugs can’t be helping). Bilac tells her that the spirit of the amaru isn’t something she’ll be able to detain like him.

Back in the bathroom, Mulder notices water everywhere and wonders what happened. He finds now-dead rats in all of the toilets. Being an FBI agent is so glamorous, isn’t it? A security guard lets the agents know that a body has been found – not Mona’s but her dog’s. A vet determines that the dog died from ingesting rat poison. There’s also a feline intestine and rat fur in his stomach, making Mulder and Scully think that the rat ate poison, a cat ate the rat, and the dog ate the cat.

Mulder notes that rats have been associated with a number of deaths at the museum. Somehow he then jumps to transmigration of an animal soul. The rats were trying to escape from the jaguar, which must be in the sewers. “Have you been drinking yaje?” Scully asks. The two learn that Bilac has escaped the room he was being kept in, even though the officer outside his door didn’t leave or see him. Mulder finds a hidden passageway that leads to a steam tunnel and guesses that something dragged Bilac down there.

Field trip to the tunnel! The killer watches as the agents decide to follow a rat, because why not? It leads them to Lewton’s body. Mulder spots a cat and follows that, too, finding a bunch of cats. Suddenly the killer attacks Scully, clawing at her. All the cats escape as the agents run through the tunnels. Scully finds Bilac’s body in a vent, and even crawling up there is a better option for the agents than turning back to face a bunch of angry cats.

Once Mulder and Scully are back aboveground, Bilac, Mona, and Lewton’s bodies are pulled out, but Animal Control can’t find any cats. There are miles of tunnels, so it would take weeks to search them all. Mulder says it doesn’t matter – the Ecuadorian ambassador is finally paying attention to Bilac’s protest letter. The museum will close until the amaru is returned to the burial grounds.

In Mulder’s end-of-episode voiceover, he says that the curse or whatever hasn’t been explained. The museum wanted to preserve an artifact from a dying culture, not realizing how powerful it was. The Secona people rebury the amaru in Ecuador as Mulder says that some things shouldn’t be disturbed. The shaman in red looks on, his eyes becoming cat’s eyes, as the killer is laid back to rest.

Thoughts: “Teso dos bichos” is Portuguese for “animal burial ground,” even though…you know, Ecuador isn’t a Portuguese-speaking country. Apparently director Kim Manners hated this episode so much that he gave it exactly the nickname you would expect for something with the word “bichos” in it.

The clothes the Secona wear during the dig are the most South American clothes I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been to South America.

So Mona was allowed to bring her dog to work at the museum? Awesome. (Thanks a lot for killing him, writers. You suck.)

I’m disappointed that no one in this Boston-set episode has a Boston accent. Then again, I’m disappointed by a lot in this episode. Like that it exists at all.

August 30, 2016

SVT #62, Sarah’s Dad and Sophia’s Mom: The Parent Un-Trap

Posted in books tagged at 5:03 pm by Jenn

You okay there, Liz?

You okay there, Liz?

Summary: The twins’ art class is split into groups to create murals to hang up in the library. Elizabeth goody-two-shoeses her way into heroically coming up with recycling as a theme. I guess “books” would be too obvious a theme. Elizabeth is teamed with Sarah Thomas and Sophia Rizzo, which is fine with her, since she likes them both. Unfortunately, Sarah and Sophia don’t know each other, and when they meet, they immediately clash. Sarah is immature, spoiled, and prissy, while Sophia is tough and outspoken. If one of them were a boy, this would probably end in a love match. (In another series, it could end in a love match without one of them being a different gender, but there are no lesbians in Sweet Valley.)

The project doesn’t get off to a good start, despite Sophia’s art skills. The girls keep baiting and taunting each other, making Elizabeth tell them they’re both acting like children. When the girls decide to work at Sophia’s house one afternoon, Sarah gets nervous because the neighborhood isn’t gated and there are no maids and stuff. Sophia, on the other hand, thinks Sarah is a snob because her father can take time off work to drive her places. Girls, girls. You’re both awful.

Things get more and more heated, until the girls are working in a studio after school one day and Sarah and Sophia get into a paint fight. Their teacher, Mr. Sweeney, ends up in the middle, covered in paint. Elizabeth is let off the hook, since she stayed out of the fight, but Sarah and Sophia’s parents are called in to speak to Mr. Clark, the principal. Despite basically being fluent in English, at least from the dialogue we get from her, Mrs. Rizzo has trouble following the conversation. It turns out that Mr. Thomas, who has traveled to Italy a lot on business, speaks the language and is able to help her out. Sarah and Sophia are assigned to clean up the studio and get it ready for repainting, which seems like a pretty minor punishment.

Mr. Thomas clearly wants to spend more time with Mrs. Rizzo, so he invites her, Sophia, and Sophia’s brother Tony to have dinner with him and Sarah. The girls are furious and fight the whole time. Their parents, however, are smitten with each other and want to hang out more. The families go to a baseball game and picnic together, basically ignoring Sophia and Sarah as they continue to act like children. Even so, they notice that their parents are happy with each other, and each girl starts to like the other one’s parent. Plus, Tony gets along really well with Mr. Thomas, and he definitely needs a positive male figure in his life.

On the picnic, Mrs. Rizzo talks about a pink dragon kite she had when she was a kid. Mr. Thomas asks a bunch of questions, mentioning that he likes to make kites as a hobby. Obviously this will be important later. The girls are so obnoxious that their parents and Tony throw them in the lake. The girls almost let go of their rivalry, seeing how dumb they’ve been acting, but they quickly realize that their parents’ relationship might be going somewhere serious, which means they could end up stepsisters.

The girls team up, for once, but not for anything good: They’re determined to split up their parents. They try to sabotage their parents’ dates, but they fail. They should have asked Lila for help. She’d rock this plan. Anyway, Sarah finds some pictures of Mr. Thomas and his ex, Annie, and the girls write notes on them telling Mrs. Rizzo that Annie and Mr. Thomas are engaged. Mrs. Rizzo falls for it and dumps Mr. Thomas, who’s completely clueless.

Both parents are miserable now, which doesn’t exactly make Sophia and Sarah happy about their plan being a success. Sarah finds a kite Mr. Thomas was making to give to Mrs. Rizzo, and she realizes how much her father really liked her. She confides in Elizabeth while Sophia confides in Tony. They’re advised to come clean so their parents can make up. The girls also start chatting with each other and slowly get over their rivalry. It’s time for them to team up again, this time for a good cause. Sophia and Tony take Mrs. Rizzo to Secca Lake, where they see Mr. Thomas flying the pink dragon kite. Suddenly everything is good again, and everyone’s happy. At least until Sarah and Sophia inevitably get into another fight and tear the families apart, or something.

B-plot: Jessica lies to Charlie Cashman that she’s related to a famous baseball player, Quake-Field Wakefield (what a horrible nickname). When some kids pressure her to get in touch with him so they can include him in their art project, she says their great-great-great-grandparents (she keeps forgetting how many “great”s she put in there) started a feud, and their sides of the family don’t speak anymore.

Some of the guys in the twins’ class write up a petition for Quake-Field to come to Sweet Valley so the two sides of the family can work things out. Jessica tries to avoid the whole situation, even refusing to answer the phone at home so she doesn’t have to answer any questions. But she also can’t let her parents answer the phone, since one of her classmates might bring up her lie.

The boys eventually send Quake-Field a letter begging him to set aside the feud. Quake-Field admits that his real name is something long and German; he’s not actually a Wakefield. The lie comes out, but Alice realizes that SHE is related to Wakefield, as some relative on her side of the family has the same German last name. She gets a hold of her long-lost eighth cousin (or whatever), and he ends up agreeing to come to SVMS and pose for a mural. So remember, kids: Sometimes lying pays off.

Thoughts: Somewhere between her last book and this one, Sarah became unbearable. I don’t blame Sophia for not wanting to hang out with her.

Sophia: “This is all your fault.” Sarah: “My fault. How do you figure it’s my fault?” Sophia: “Well, it’s somebody’s fault. It’s not mine – so it must be yours.” Uh…good one?

Quake-Field got his nickname in Little League. Who nicknames a kid Quake-Field? It would be dumb even if Wakefield were his real last name.

August 27, 2016

The X-Files 3.17, Pusher: How to Win Friends and Influence People

Posted in TV tagged at 1:33 pm by Jenn

But...why do I find this so hot?

But…why do I find this so hot?

Summary: It’s a (seemingly) normal day in Loudoun County, Virginia, and a man is shopping for groceries. He gets a bunch of cans of energy drink, then more cans, then even more cans. Another man follows him to the checkout counter, where the first man picks up a tabloid with Flukeman on the cover. He notices a police car arriving outside and says, “Let’s get this show on the road.” The man pulls on a flap on the jacket of the man in front of him, revealing that he’s with the FBI. Suddenly, agents swarm him and arrest him, calling him Pusher.

The lead agent, Frank Burst, wants to stick close to him. In the car on the way to the police station, Pusher (who won’t give his real name) tells the deputy driving them that his uniform is “the most soothing shade of blue.” He talks about how calming that shade is. He thinks it’s called cerulean. Pusher says “cerulean” a bunch of time, repeating that it’s like a gentle breeze. As a truck from a company called Cerulean drives toward them, the deputy pulls out into the road. Pusher braces himself in the backseat as the truck hits the car.

Burst survives the crash and is able to tell Mulder and Scully what happened. The deputy was injured and eventually died, but just before he did, he unlocked Pusher, who escaped. A month ago, Pusher called Burst to confess to a bunch of contract killings. He was just bragging, not wanting to turn himself in. Burst got interested because the killings had been ruled suicides, but Pusher knew enough details to seem suspicious.

Scully wonders why the deputy freed Pusher. Burst tells her about Pusher repeating “cerulean,” as if he was somehow able to will the deputy into causing the crash. Burst shows the agents a picture of the wrecked car – someone has written “RO NIN” in blood. Mulder recognizes this as Ronin, a masterless samurai.

A search of Pusher’s home turns up a bunch of copies of American Ronin. Holly, the woman who brings the magazines to the agents, has a bruise on her face and explains to the agents that she was mugged over the weekend. Mulder thinks Pusher uses American Ronin to advertise his services, then induces people to do certain things. In other words, he’s called Pusher because he pushes his will on people. Scully doesn’t get why he would cause the crash while he was in the car. “Maybe he really didn’t want to go to jail,” Mulder replies.

The agents find an ad that simply states, “I solve problems. Osu.” The ad appears in all the magazines for the entire time span of the murders. Mulder looks up “osu” in a Japanese/English dictionary and sees that it means “to push.” They call the phone numbers listed in the ads and go on some stakeouts at pay phones. They stay at one in Falls Church, Virginia (whoop whoop, my hometown!), for so long that Scully falls asleep on Mulder’s shoulder.

Finally, the phone rings and Pusher asks if Mulder and Scully are going to stay there all night. While Scully traces the call, Pusher notes that the agents seem close. How do Mulder and his “G-woman” get along? He taunts that Mulder has to prove his worth by following Pusher’s trail in order to learn more about him. Mulder asks if this is all a game so Pusher can be found. Pusher replies that the next clue is right in front of them; they need to let their fingers to the walking.

This is an obvious clue, so Scully figures they just have to look in the phone book. (Remember phone books, guys?) But Mulder thinks they really need to find out the last number dialed on the pay phone. Scully gets another agent to hook that up for them, and they’re connected to Teetotalers Golf Driving Range and Pro Shop. “So he’s a killer and a golfer?” Scully says. “Rings a bell, huh?” Mulder replies. “Let’s go, G-woman.”

The next morning, Pusher hits a few balls, then notices some agents hiding in the greenery outside the fence. An agent in SWAT gear finds him trying to hide, but Pusher is easily able to overpower him with just his voice. When Mulder, Scully, and Burst find the agent, Collins, he’s dousing himself in gas and is about to light himself on fire. He screams for the agents to stop him, but all they can do is get ready to put out the fire as he says “light up” over and over.

Mulder hears a horn going off and finds Pusher semi-conscious in his car. “Bet you five bucks I get off,” Pusher says. He’s taken to a bail hearing, where he reveals that his real name is Robert Patrick Modell. Mulder testifies that Pusher has confessed to 14 murders and knows details that no one would know unless he was present. Pusher’s lawyer argues that one of the victims jumped off a train platform; no one saw her get pushed. Mulder states that he thinks Pusher talks his victims into killing themselves.

Since Pusher has confessed on tape, the prosecution wants him held for trial. Pusher admits that he made the confessions but doesn’t remember. His lawyer chalks them up to drunken pranks. Mulder reminds the hearing judge that Pusher knew details that indicate he was at all of the crime scenes. But Pusher’s clearly influencing the judge, who decides he’s not guilty. Mulder owes Pusher $5. As Mulder pays up, he tells Pusher his shoe’s untied. It’s not. “Made you look,” Mulder says. “How do you do it?”

Now that the agents know Pusher’s real name and where he lives, they can keep an eye on him and look into his past. Scully learns that he served in the military; Mulder guesses that he wanted to be a Navy SEAL and a Green Beret but couldn’t complete the training. Scully reports that Pusher also applied to the FBI but was cut for being “acutely ego-centric.” He doesn’t care about people’s feelings, seeing others as objects. He’s also very suspicious of authority, especially governments.

Scully continues that Pusher lied a bunch during the interview process, saying he trained with ninjas in Japan. Mulder notes that ninjas are known for “cloud[ing] the minds of their opponents.” He thinks that’s how Pusher was able to get cleared of all the charges – he put the “whammy” on the judge. “Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy,” Scully requests.

Mulder thinks that Pusher uses a cadence or timbre in his voice to influence people. Scully disagrees: “He is just a little man who wishes that he were someone big.” If he really could influence people that much, he’d be a Green Beret or FBI agent like he wanted. Mulder wonders if the ability came to him more recently. He notes that Collins set himself on fire; how does Scully explain that? Scully agrees that Pusher is somehow responsible for the killings, but she’s looking for a scientific explanation.

Pusher pays a visit to FBI headquarters, using a piece of paper with “pass” written on it to gain access. He comes across Holly and gets her to access some personnel files for him. He tells her that if he found the guy who mugged her, he’d get revenge. Skinner catches them together and gets suspicious. He grabs Pusher and tells Holly to call security, but Holly’s still under Pusher’s whammy. When Pusher tells her that Skinner is her mugger, she maces him. “Hurt him back,” Pusher says, leaving Holly behind to beat up the assistant director.

Once Holly’s unwhammied, she tearfully apologizes for pounding on Skinner. I don’t think he’s going to hold it against her. She tells Scully that she felt like she was watching herself from across the room. It was like Pusher was inside her head with her. Mulder pulls Scully and Skinner aside to tell them that Pusher entered and exited without anyone noticing him. He and Scully both think Pusher was behind Skinner’s attack. Skinner tells them that Pusher left with Mulder’s personnel file.

Since Pusher now knows where Mulder lives, Skinner tells Mulder to go find him first and arrest him. When a SWAT team bursts into Pusher’s apartment, they find it empty, but Pusher has left the TV on, playing Svengali. Mulder checks the fridge and finds dozens of cans of energy drink. The bookshelves in the apartment are full of books about psychology.

Scully finds medication Pusher’s taking for epilepsy, possibly caused by a tumor. Mulder thinks that could have caused his pushing abilities – maybe it’s really psychokinesis. The energy drinks could be his way of replenishing his strength after he uses his abilities. Scully doesn’t think someone in Pusher’s condition would be well enough to play games with FBI agents. Mulder thinks that’s exactly why they’ve been able to catch him. Maybe he’s dying and is playing one last game.

Pusher calls and chats with Mulder, Scully, and Burst. He asks Burst how much he weighs, then talks about how unhealthy Burst must be. Mulder realizes what’s going on and tells Burst to hang up. Burst’s determined to keep Pusher on the line so they can trace the call, which means he’s forced to listen as Pusher wills him into having a heart attack.

While Scully tends to Burst, Mulder asks Pusher what he wants. Pusher just wants “a worthy adversary,” and he hopes it’s Mulder. Mulder throws out his guess that Pusher’s dying, then asks where Pusher is. Pusher gives up his phone number instead, saying he’s at a pay phone and will be gone in two minutes anyway. Mulder’s angry that Pusher called just to kill Burst. “They all kill themselves,” Pusher protests.

They FBI traces the call to a gas station parking lot on Chain Bridge Road (real place!) right near Fairfax Mercy Hospital (not a real place, though there is a hospital on that road). Scully remembers that Pusher’s medication came from that hospital’s pharmacy. The SWAT team takes a trip over there, figuring he went to the hospital for treatment. Mulder decides he should go in alone so Pusher can’t turn any of the SWAT members against each other.

Mulder gets suited up with a hands-free microphone so he can stay in contact with Scully and the SWAT lieutenant, and a camera so they can see everything he sees. Scully wants him to take a gun with him, but Mulder’s afraid that Pusher might make him point it at an innocent person. He enters the hospital and soon hears a couple of gunshots. His surveillance tech goes fuzzy, then clears as he finds two bodies – a security guard shot an MRI technician, then himself. His gun is missing.

Scully sees Pusher’s MRI on a computer monitor and is able to confirm that he has a tumor. Mulder reads Pusher’s chart and learns that he is, in fact, dying, which means he has nothing to lose. Scully urges him to get out, but it’s too late – Pusher’s right there with the security guard’s gun. Scully and the SWAT lieutenant go in after him, though the lieutenant thinks they’re giving Pusher just what he wants, more innocent victims.

Scully finds Mulder and Pusher in a patient’s room, sitting at a table and staring at each other. As she joins them at the table, Pusher picks up his gun, talking about budo, the Japanese way of war that teaches a warrior to leave himself outside of battle. The budo warrior always wins because he doesn’t fear death. Pusher passes the gun to Mulder and says they’re going to play a modified version of Russian roulette. There’s one bullet in the gun, and Mulder gets one shot to take down Pusher.

Mulder’s ready to play, but Scully notes that there’s oxygen in the room – firing the gun could blow everyone up. Mulder pulls the trigger anyway. Nothing happens, but it looks like Pusher’s claim that he’s not afraid to die isn’t as truthful as he lets on. Pusher lets Mulder go again, and as Scully tries to talk her partner down, Mulder turns the gun to his own head and pulls the trigger. Nothing again.

Scully demands the gun from Mulder, who turns it on Pusher, then Scully. She tells him she’s stronger than Pusher. Mulder wavers as Pusher notes that this could be payback for when Scully shot him. Mulder tells Pusher he’s going to kill him, then orders Scully to leave. She runs out, pulling the fire alarm. Mulder shoots Pusher, firing the gun over and over even after he’s spent the single bullet.

Pusher survives the shooting, though he’s not expected to every regain consciousness. Mulder tells Scully that his tumor was operable until recently, but he kept refusing treatment. He thinks Pusher liked having a condition that made him feel big. They take each other’s hands as Scully says they shouldn’t let Pusher take up any more of their time.

Thoughts: Dave Grohl makes an uncredited appearance in this episode (though I didn’t see him). Rachel Miner is also listed in IMDb as an “injured FBI analyst,” even though she was only 16 when this episode was done. She was later on David Duchovny’s show Californication.

If there isn’t already a driving range called Teetotalers, there needs to be.

Poor Collins. Poor Holly. Poor Burst. Poor Skinner. That beatdown couldn’t be good for his recent gunshot wound.

Mulder in a white T-shirt and Kevlar = nice.

August 23, 2016

SVT #61, Jessica the Nerd: A Girl Who’s Good at Science? What Kind of Bizarro World Is This??

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:11 pm by Jenn

Nothing says nerd like an E=MC2 shirt

Nothing says nerd like an E=MC2 shirt

Summary: A new program called SOAR! (Science Offers Awesome Rewards) is coming to SVMS to offer some students two weeks of science, science, and more science, AKA my worst nightmare. The students all take an aptitude test to determine who gets to miss regular classes for all the science-y goodness (i.e., the smart kids) and who has to miss out on beakers and microscopes and frog dissections (i.e., the losers). Jessica has no interest in this and figures only the nerds will get into SOAR!.

She’s wrong. Yes, all the known SVMS nerds score high enough to get in, but Jessica does as well. She’s shocked – though the questions on the aptitude test were more like puzzles than test questions, she hates science. Amy is also shocked, and upset that she didn’t get in, since she loves science. Janet’s crush, Denny Jacobson, gets in but Janet doesn’t consider him a nerd. Only girls who like science are nerds. Well, and nerdy guys. Janet has very strict qualifications for who is and who isn’t a nerd.

The Unicorns vow to help Jessica get out of the program, but their ideas are all dumb, and Jess has to go to the first SOAR! class. The teacher, Mr. Baker, is like Bill Nye and David Tennant’s Doctor rolled into one. He teaches through fun experiments like finding out which of two water balloons (one small, one big) will fall on the twins’ heads first. Jessica’s surprised to find herself enjoying it, even with all the school’s nerds around. Of course, she won’t admit that to the Unicorns.

Janet can’t believe that Aaron doesn’t think Jessica’s a nerd for scoring well on the test. She thinks Jess should downplay her basketball knowledge because guys don’t like it when girls know more about something than they do. $5 says Janet was a Rules girl in the ’90s. Mary clarifies that Janet thinks Jessica should dumb herself down so a guy will like her. Well, of course.

As things in SOAR! get more fun, and Jessica gets recognition for saying smart things, the Unicorns get more and more annoyed. She’s spending so much time with the nerds that she misses Unicorn meetings and Boosters practices. How dare she talk about life on Venus when she could be watching music videos and painting her nails! Amy’s also getting more and more upset, since all the nerds are having such a good time without her.

The Unicorns come up with a plan to get Jessica out of SOAR!: They start a rumor that she cheated on the aptitude test. Jessica is horrified when the principal accuses her of cheating, and even offers to retake the test. He backs off and doesn’t bring it up again, so it’s kind of a waste of a plot. The Unicorns can’t believe that Jessica didn’t take advantage of her chance to get out of SOAR! Then Janet gets even madder when Denny strikes up a conversation with Jessica. She announces that Jessica has to choose between SOAR! and the Unicorns. (Never mind that SOAR! is mandatory, or that it’ll be over in just a few more days.)

Jessica confides in Elizabeth that she’s been enjoying SOAR! and has realized the nerds aren’t so bad after all. In fact, she has some things in common with them. She’s worried that she really is a nerd. After Jessica misses a basketball game because she’s planting a tree with the class, she tells Mr. Baker all about her problems. He helps her come up with some ideas for how to win over the Unicorns.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth, Sophia, and Maria (all of whom are in SOAR!) decide to have a sleepover so Amy will know they still want to be friends with her. Amy ditches them because she’s a whiny baby. You couldn’t pay me to go back to the drama of middle-school friendships. They’re probably better off without Amy pouting all over their sleepover.

Jessica tries to make up with the Unicorns by pointing out how much they use science, especially electricity. Mandy even chimes in, noting that medical science saved her life when she had the world’s shortest battle with cancer. The Unicorns are sold, but Janet remains stubborn. Since Jessica won’t give up science, she’s out of the club. This is a fate worse than death, of course.

But Mandy comes by the Wakefields’ to tell Jessica that Janet’s just upset because she thinks Denny likes Jess. She thinks that if Janet knew that Jess doesn’t like Denny, things will go back to normal. Jessica takes it upon herself to approach Denny, who makes it clear that he doesn’t want to date Jess. But he was thinking about asking out Janet, so he’s happy to hear from Jessica that Janet likes him, too.

Just when it looks like Janet will get a boyfriend and basically be forced to back down from Jessica, Janet does an actual mature thing. She tells Jessica that a recent struggle with the family VCR made her realize that boys aren’t the only people good at science. Her father and brother told her not to try to fix the VCR since girls aren’t science-y (Joe? Sexist? No!), but then they couldn’t fix it either. Now Janet knows that your gender doesn’t determine your scientific aptitude.

So Jessica’s allowed back in the club. She gets a little revenge on Janet with some makeup that turns to mud, but since Janet ends up with Denny, I don’t think she’s too mad about it. Amy randomly gets over her issues by performing an awesome baton routine. I’m not sure what the connection is, but she stops moping, so I’ll take it.

In the B-plot, Steven is a huge sexist. He thinks guys are better than girls at science and sports, especially ping pong. The Wakefields have just gotten a ping pong table, and Steven’s obsessed. He gets upset when Cathy beats him, because girls aren’t supposed to be good at stuff like that. They have a rematch, and when Steven wins, he becomes unsufferable. Cathy secretly tells the twins that she let him win so he’d stop moping. But the bragging is worse than the pouting, and Jess ends up telling Steven the truth. After another rematch, which Cathy wins, Steven calms down. Yay, sexism is over!

Thoughts: This book isn’t exactly the best way to let girls know it’s okay to like science, but it’s a start.

“I wish I’d never taken that test. I could have gone my whole life without knowing I was smart.” Jessica Wakefield, ladies and gentlemen.

Ellen once tried to get out of doing a project on fruit flies by saying she was allergic to bananas. Sounds about right.

“You are smart. I mean, it’s only natural. You’re my twin, after all.” I wish Elizabeth were smart enough to shut up.

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