July 18, 2017

SVT #97, Too Scared to Sleep: Don’t Close Your Eyes

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:08 pm by Jenn

I kind of like Liz’s shirt

Summary: This book is bookended (…heh) by scenes with a little girl angry that people are in her house. Though it’s not confirmed until the end, that house is the “old Sullivan house,” a mansion in Sweet Valley that’s been empty for a while. The twins are riding their bikes past it one day when they see that a family is moving in. The mother, Mrs. Riccoli, introduces herself and asks if the twins know anyone who can babysit her five kids. (Her husband is still back at their old hometown and won’t be joining them for a while. Mrs. Riccoli is a college professor who’s arranged to only teach at night so she can be with the kids during the day.)

Elizabeth is eager to help, of course, but Jessica isn’t as thrilled about the idea of babysitting. However, when the twins, Amy, Todd, and Winston go to Casey’s and don’t have enough money to pay for their ice cream, they realize they really need money. (By the way, Joe is now managing the place, and he’s nice enough to let them start a tab.) Elizabeth comes up with the idea of the five of them starting a babysitting service. The Riccolis become their first regular customers, and the twins take the first job.

Right away, things get off to a spooky start – the kids scare the twins before they’ve even met. Fortunately, the kids are pretty well-behaved and like the twins, which means the sitting job isn’t too difficult for them. The only real trouble is that five-year-old Juliana is scared to go to bed because she’s been having nightmares about a “monster girl.” Then, as the twins are leaving, they run into the gardener, Mr. Brangwen, who’s creepy. He advises them to never close their eyes in the house.

Since the Riccolis have a mishmash of furniture that Jessica thinks is ugly, she suggests that Mrs. Riccoli hire Alice to redecorate. There’s a funny moment where Mrs. Riccoli admits that she’d like to get rid of her husband’s beanbag furniture from college, and she decides to tell him it got lost in the move. Alice is happy to take the job.

Elizabeth and Amy watch the Riccoli kids together, and Juliana has another nightmare about the monster girl. Later, Elizabeth runs into Mr. Brangwen downtown, and he’s creepy some more, telling her someone will get her in her sleep. While sitting for the kids again, Todd and Elizabeth start to wonder if Mr. Brangwen’s spooky warnings are making Juliana’s nightmares worse. Liz mentions the dreams to Mrs. Riccoli, who, while obviously worried for her daughter, thinks they’re just due to the changes in Juliana’s life and will end soon.

Jessica takes Alice to the Riccolis’ house to meet Mrs. Riccoli, but as soon as Alice realizes where they’re going, she flips out. She completely refuses to go into the house. Her excuse is that she’s too busy to take the job, which Jessica finds strange since she wasn’t too busy when she first accepted it.

Mr. Brangwen dies, so now Elizabeth is spooked. Amy doesn’t see any connection to the Sullivan house, since he was in his 80s and died at home. Still, Liz can’t help but think that his warning not to close your eyes in the house is tied to his death. On the plus side, she thinks that with him gone, no one will put scary thoughts in Juliana’s head anymore, and her nightmares will end.

Wrong! The twins babysit again, and Juliana has a nightmare, saying that the monster girl scratched her. And just like someone in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, she has actual scratch marks all over her back. While Liz is tending to this craziness, Jessica finds a hidden room that belonged to a little girl decades ago. There’s a picture of the little girl with a teenager, and it’s labeled “Alice and Eva.” And yes, that’s Alice as in Alice Wakefield. What Jess doesn’t know is that the little girl is watching her, and she’s very unhappy that someone is touching her things…

In the B-plot, Winston runs into Charlie Cashman (who I once called “a huge waste of DNA”) while leaving a music lesson. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a big deal, but the instrument Winston plays is the uber-dorky accordion. Charlie threatens to tell everyone at school unless Winston gives him $25. Good thing Winston’s part of this new babysitting service, and easily gets a job sitting for the eight-month-old Karsten twins. Too bad he has no idea how to take care of children and feeds them soda and Jell-o.

Winston makes $15 and offers to pay Charlie in installments, but Charlie ups the price to $30. So Winston takes another job with the Karstens. For some reason, he doesn’t think to ask Elizabeth if he can help sit for the Riccolis, who need a sitter a lot more often, and don’t have any babies whose health Winston can ruin. Anyway, Winston microwaves a Tiffany bowl with metal in it, ruining both the bowl and the Karstens’ microwave. They fire him and refuse to pay him his $15.

Charlie comes to Winston’s house to collect his money, so Winston traps him in the dark garage while he tries to think of a way to get out of the blackmail. Charlie starts freaking out and admits that he’s afraid of the dark. With his own blackmail material in hand, Winston calls things even with Charlie and even gets his original $15 back. Then the Karstens ask Winston to sit for the twins again, since they apparently liked him a lot. I’m guessing what they really liked was the soda he gave them.

Thoughts: For once in his life, Todd makes an excellent point: No way would a college student take a class on a Friday night.

Mrs. Karsten is officially concerned about paying for a new microwave, considering she could afford a Tiffany bowl.

“My own mother, afraid of a haunted house – not that it’s haunted now, because the Riccolis live there.” So according to Jessica, a house can’t be haunted if people move in. Hasn’t she ever seen a horror movie about a haunted house?

July 15, 2017

The X-Files 5.15, Travelers: Patriot Games

Posted in TV tagged , at 1:32 pm by Jenn

Mulder is probably getting a glimpse of his future here

Summary: It’s 1990 in Caledonia, Wisconsin, and a sheriff is accompanying a landlord to a house where the tenant, Edward Skur, needs to be evicted. Skur won’t open the door, so the landlord lets himself and the sheriff inside. The two men brave a horrible smell to search the house, finding a long-dead body in the bathtub. Someone suddenly attacks the sheriff, which was a bad move, since the sheriff has a gun. The attacker tumbles down the stairs, and when the sheriff goes to him, the man says, “Mulder.”

In D.C. (still in 1990), Mulder goes to see a man named Arthur Dales, a former FBI agent. Dales opened a file on Skur in 1952 – a file that starts with an X. Mulder thinks that means it’s unsolved; Dales corrects that it’s just been designated that way. Mulder wants to know why Dales’ notes have been censored, and why someone wants the case buried. The report says that Skur disappeared 38 years ago while being investigated for a horrific murder. He’s the man the sheriff shot in the house.

Dales thinks that now that Skur is dead, there’s no reason to talk to Mulder. But when Mulder introduces himself, he notes that Dales recognizes his name. Dales mentions HUAC, the committee that investigated communists in America but found “practically nothing.” He thinks that’s exactly what they wanted to find. Mulder’s a little dense and doesn’t get the connection. Dales says maybe he’s not supposed to get it. He won’t be letting Mulder in today.

Mulder watches a newsreel about the HUAC while reading over the file about Skur. He finds a card confirming that Skur was a communist. As the narrator talks about travelers working as spies in the State Department, Mulder recognizes his father on the newsreel. He returns to Dales’ apartment the next morning, threatening to subpoena him if he won’t cooperate. Dales reveals that Skur worked for the State Department, like the elder Mulder. Mulder asks if his father was involved in the death of the man Skur was suspected of killing 38 years ago.

Dales finally lets Mulder in, telling him that Dales liked to remove his victims’ organs and tissue without tearing their skin. Mulder says the coroner can’t figure out how that was possible. Dales doesn’t know, but he does know why Skur did it. Mulder brings up Skur’s communist leanings, though Dales doesn’t consider that significant. Skur was “just another name on a list,” a suspected State Department spy.

We flash back to Leesburg, Virginia, in June of 1952. A young Dales and his partner, Agent Michel, go to Skur’s house and arrest him for contempt of Congress in front of his wife and young kids. Michel finds Skur’s card identifying him as a communist, but Skur claims Michel planted it on him. Dales has a moment of sympathy for Skur’s family, but Mrs. Skur just tells him to leave.

After work, Skur goes to a bar, where he gets a call from Michel telling him that Skur’s dead, having hanged himself in his cell. He thinks the communists’ leaders tell them to kill themselves if they’re captured. 1990 Skur tells Mulder that he wasn’t sure what to tell Mrs. Skur, so he sat in his car in front of the Skurs’ house and drank for a while. In the flashback, Skur returns to the house, alive and well. Dales chases him down the block, and Skur ambushes him, opening his mouth and letting out a probe-looking thing. A neighbor hears the noise and frightens Skur away before he can hurt Dales.

Dales returns to work in D.C. the next day and sees photos of a dead Skur. Michel is sure that Skur is really, truly dead, and whoever Dales saw at the house the night before was someone else. After all, he was drunk; this could be a case of mistaken identity. Michel urges Dales to leave Skur’s name out of his report, but the report has already been filed.

Someone from the Department of Justice calls Dales, summoning him to meet with Roy Cohn in the Attorney General’s office. (There’s another man there, looking very CSM-esque, but that’s never followed up on.) Dales knows that Cohn prosecuted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and is now working with Joseph McCarthy to rid the country of communists. Dales says he’s not political, but Cohn says everything is. He brings out Dales’ report and starts talking about secrets, especially ones that need to be kept from the public “for the greater good.” Dales catches on that Cohn wants him to take references to Skur out of his report.

He clearly doesn’t want to, but Dales amends his report anyway. He’s about to look at a heavily redacted file on Skur when Michel calls him away. They head to Chevy Chase, Maryland, to investigate a murder, though the scene is quiet, with no police officers around. They go into a house where a German record is playing; Dales recognizes the song playing as one he heard the day his military unit arrived in Berlin during World War II. They smell a “hospital smell” that Michel thinks might be formaldehyde, then find a dead body.

The police arrive, claiming that the FBI called them, not the other way around. The dead man is a doctor, and a nurse called the authorities when he didn’t come to work. Dales finds and pockets a note on the back of a bar coaster that reads, “Come alone.” He goes to the bar that night and meets with Bill Mulder. Dales thinks Bill killed Skur, but Bill says he tried to save him. If Dales isn’t careful, the killer will get him, too. Meanwhile, Michel goes home, and the music in the background tells me that something bad is about to happen.

Bill tells Dales that Skur isn’t a communist – “all of these men” are. Skur, Gissing, and Oberman are all patriots working in the State Department. Dales recognizes the other two names from a censored report. Bill tells him that Gissing and Oberman killed themselves because they couldn’t handle what they’d become. He thinks Skur was targeted for murder, but he escaped and now wants to clear his name. Bill is willing to risk his career and his family to make sure the truth gets out so Skur is saved.

Michel turns on his TV and watches a McCarthy hearing while his cat makes a mess. At the bar, Bill tells Dales that he can’t arrest Skur’s pursuers – “it’s…political.” This makes Dales think that McCarthy and Cohn are involved. Bill confirms that Skur wants vengeance for what McCarthy and Cohn did to him, but now he thinks Skur and Michael are part of the conspiracy. Dales rushes to the phone to warn Michel, but it’s too late – Michel can’t come to the phone because Skur is choking up something gross-looking that forcing it into Michel’s body.

Dales accompanies other officers to the crime scene, where the coroner is no Scully. Cohn arrives and tells the authorities to take Michel’s body to Bethesda, since he’s a veteran; he ignores them when they say they need to perform an autopsy. Cohn threatens to have Dales interrogated for ties to communism in order to keep him away from the investigation. “See?” he says, satisfied that Dales will keep quiet. “You’re a patriot again.”

Dales ignores the threat and goes back to his office to look into Gissing and Oberman’s deaths. He asks for their files, and though the clerk says they’re missing, she recognizes one of the names from an X-file. Dales wonders why unsolved names are filed under X instead of U. The clerk explains that she put them under U until she ran out of room; the X drawer has plenty of room. She’s familiar with the file and tells Dales that a German doctor was found dead in his office at the VA last week. Gissing was found dead nearby, apparently dead of suicide. Dales wonders how Gissing killed the doctor. “That’s why it’s an X-file,” the clerk says. “They don’t know.”

Gissing’s body is still at the morgue, so Dales goes to examine it. He has a scar from recent surgery, and Dales asks the coroner to cut him open, thinking that will help him figure out how Michel died. The coroner finds suture in Gissing’s esophagus, indicating that something was sewn into it from inside his body. The something is alive, and looks like a big spider, and will be featuring in my nightmares for at least the next two weeks.

Dales goes to Skur’s house to try to get Mrs. Skur to confirm that her husband is still alive. He thinks Skur was discredited as a cover-up for whatever was done to him, Gissing, and Oberman. They thought they were receiving surgery for their war injuries, but they really underwent xenotransplantation. Nazi doctors experimented with this method of grafting a different species into the human body – Dales thinks they continued those experiments on the three men. He wants to expose what happened, and he needs Skur to help him.

As Dales leaves, Cohn and Mulder arrive to whisk him away. Mrs. Skur heads into a bunker, where her husband is hiding. He’s getting worse and thinks it’s too late for Dales to help him. He can’t help himself anymore. Mrs. Skur is the unlucky next victim of her husband’s now-uncontrollable urge to kill.

Dales is taken to FBI headquarters to meet with J. Edgar Hoover. He tells Dales that in less than seven years, the Soviet population has grown by more than 400 percent. The U.S. is now outnumbered 8 to 5, and there’s a serious threat of the Soviets ruling the world. The U.S. needs to use the Soviets’ methods to ensure survival and scare their enemies. Dales gets only one chance to prove his patriotism.

Mulder sends Dales off to try to get Skur to trust him so the FBI can ambush him. Dales wonders if Bill’s plan all along was to use him to get to Skur. Bill just says he follows his orders. Dales waits for Skur in the bar, and the FBI use surveillance equipment to listen in as Skur says he’s been turned into a killing machine. Dales assures Skur that he doesn’t want to kill him, and Skur says he knows. Then he tries to employ his gross killing thing on Dales. Bill wants to go in and help, but he has to stay put in the car. Dales can handle himself, however, and he uses handcuffs to secure Skur.

In 1990, Mulder laments that Bill got involved with the bad guys. Dales says no one is really free to choose. If Mulder keeps looking into old X-files, he’ll suffer the same fate as Dales and be banished. Mulder still wants to know why Skur said Bill’s name as he died, but Dales doesn’t know. Mulder then asks how Skur got away and was able to hide out for 38 years. Dales says he heard various stories about Skur’s fate, and wondered if someone with a conscience let him go. A flashback to 1952 shows that that’s exactly what happened – and Bill was the one who set him free, in hopes that someday, the truth would come out.

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

  • 1990 Dales is played by Darren McGavin, who was the show’s first choice to play Bill Mulder.
  • 1952 Dales is played by Frederic Lane, who usually plays villains, so it was nice to see him as a good guy.
  • Skur is played by Garret Dillahunt.

I know this show can get pretty gross, but Skur’s method of killing is really up there on the list. I may not eat for a while.

I guess we’re supposed to see Bill as a hero, but…he let a killer go. If Skur kept killing people over the next 38 years, it’s Bill’s fault.

July 11, 2017

SVT Super Edition #7, Jessica’s Animal Instincts: In Case You Were Wondering, No, Elizabeth Is Not Smarter Than a Monkey

Posted in books tagged , , at 4:55 pm by Jenn

Bruce doesn’t look nearly scared enough

Summary: For the first two weeks of their summer vacation, kids from SVMS can do internships around town, either organized through the school or arranged on their own. SVMS probably should have restricted them to just ones on an approved list, because Jessica thinks working for Sweet Valley Makeovers is appropriate. But then Elizabeth surprises her with the news that she entered both of their names in a lottery to get internships at the zoo, and both of them have been chosen. Jess is justifiably angry that Liz didn’t tell her she was entered in the lottery, but unjustifiably angry about working at the zoo, because who hates the zoo?

Jessica is sent to the bear habitat, and acts like a jerk to her “boss,” Justin. He’s too nice/wimpy to call her on her behavior, whereas I would have sent her straight back to school and asked for an intern who actually wanted to be there. Jess tries to get an internship at Sweet Valley Makeovers; when that doesn’t come through, she goes to any interesting-looking store at the mall that might have her. None of them extends an offer. To add insult to injury, Lila is interning at the posh Briana Taylor’s, where she gets to be around nice clothes all day. Yeah, I’d still rather be at the zoo. I mean, retail. Shudder.

Jessica finally warms up to her internship when two grizzly bears, a mother and cub, are brought to the zoo. They were tranquilized after being captured outside a mall, but the mother was given too much of the drug and winds up dying. Jessica notices that she’s in distress and tries to find Justin, but she wasn’t listening when he told her where he was going, so she can’t get in touch with him. He assures her that there was nothing she could do anyway. Jessica tries to make up for her failure by comforting the cub. She names him Gus after her own teddy bear and spends all her time with him, since he’s traumatized and clingy.

The internship at Sweet Valley Makeovers comes through after all, and Jessica ditches the zoo for it. Unfortunately, she hates it. When she learns that Gus is heartbroken without her, she quits and goes back to the zoo. What a wonderful employee Jessica will make someday. She becomes obsessed with Gus, talking about him all the time and spending as much time as possible with him. Ned and Alice do nothing, of course.

Justin breaks it to Jessica that the zoo isn’t equipped to keep Gus full-time, so he’s going to be released back into whatever kind of wild is near Sweet Valley. Jess responds in the only reasonable way: She sneaks Gus out of the zoo in her backpack and takes him home with her. I’m not at all surprised that Ned and Alice are too clueless to notice an actual wild animal in their house.

The news comes out when Gus sneaks out of her room and invades the kitchen. There’s also a monkey (more on that in the B-plot). Alice’s demanding new clients, who happen to be over, are pretty distressed. Jessica has to ‘fess up to what she did (is grand theft bear a crime?), and Gus is ultimately released into the wild anyway, so it was a pretty pointless stunt. I guess the storyline was meant to make Jessica seem more compassionate, since she looked after a poor little orphaned bear, but in my eyes, it just made her look stupid. I mean, a bear in the house. Freaking A.

Elizabeth is much more into the internship than Jessica, and when she’s assigned to work with the monkeys, she thinks she’ll end up like Jane Goodall, like they’ll make her their queen or something. She laughs off her boss, Madeleine, when she says monkeys are just as smart as humans. We’re led to believe that a monkey named Spanky overhears her and escapes just to teach her a lesson. I like to think that’s true – a monkey was offended when Elizabeth called it dumb, and decided to make her look dumb in turn.

Liz spends the whole book looking around town for Spanky, spotting him, and failing to capture him. The zoo doesn’t seem too concerned with the fact that one of its animals has escaped, and it doesn’t sound like the public has been informed. I’m starting to think this zoo isn’t on the up-and-up. I mean, they let a 12-year-old cuddle a bear. Or maybe there were insurance and permission forms involved, and Ned and Alice were just like, “Eh, whatever. If something happens to Jessica, we have another kid who looks just like her.”

Since Spanky keeps showing up wherever Elizabeth goes, I imagine he’s following her around town and taunting her by popping up, then running off before she can catch him. Good job, Spanky. You’re a good monkey. Elizabeth finally tells Madeleine that she was right – monkeys are smart. Not long after, Spanky goes back to the zoo, I guess have decided that Elizabeth learned her lesson. But since Spanky willingly returned himself to captivity, can he really be that smart? He should have joined Gus in the wild.

The other two lucky zoo interns are Bruce and Melissa McCormick. Bruce is thrilled because he has a big crush on Melissa, and this internship gives him the chance to spend two full weeks with her. Then he’s less thrilled, because they’re working in the aviary, and Bruce’s secret shame is that he’s terrified of birds. He spends the two weeks trying not to show how scared he is, but embarrassing himself over and over in front of Melissa. The funniest part is that eventually she tells him she figured out his fear, so I imagine she spends the whole time secretly laughing at him.

A baby bird imprints on Bruce and starts following him everywhere. I guess we should be glad the bird (Bruce names it Drumstick) doesn’t escape like Spanky and follow Bruce around town. Bruce keeps rejecting Drumstick until a bunch of raptors pick him out for a meal, and Bruce has to climb some sort of pole (in his underwear, for reasons known only to the ghostwriter) to rescue the bird. Melissa sees everything and declares that the crush she already had on Bruce has now grown. They end up going on a date to Casey’s, but I can’t imagine that relationship lasts long, since Melissa seems like a nice person, while Bruce is…Bruce. Who’s afraid of birds. Don’t forget that.

Thoughts: Madeleine doesn’t know the exact number of monkeys in the zoo, which seems like a recipe for disaster.

Releasing a baby bear into the wild before it can take care of itself also seems like a recipe for disaster. Why didn’t they find a mama bear in the zoo to look after Gus? Or send him too a different zoo? He doesn’t even know how to find food!

Melissa: “Girls can always tell when animals are girls.” Huh?

July 8, 2017

The X-Files 5.14, The Red and the Black: Resist or Serve

Posted in TV tagged , , , , , , , at 1:01 pm by Jenn

Whoever’s responsible for this shot: Excellent work

Summary: Someone types a letter to his son as a boy trudges through snow. The letter is about magic and weapons and getting rid of monsters. The writer hopes he and his son will one day be able to reconcile. The boy accepts the letter and some money, then heads off to mail the letter to the FBI. A helicopter flies over a dam in Pennsylvania, where a bunch of people are dead on the bridge from “Patient X.” Mulder is on the scene as workers take away all the bodies (or at least the ones that aren’t burned to ashes). He thinks he sees Scully in a body bag, but when Skinner joins him, he reveals that Scully’s still alive.

Jeffrey Spender arrives and asks Mulder if his mother was there. Mulder and Scully can’t give him an answer. Meanwhile, Marita is also in some trouble; the Well-Manicured Man is overseeing her treatment at a hospital, but the black oil has already gone to work on her. In better medical news, Scully is awake and only has minor injuries from whatever happened at the bridge. Unfortunately, she doesn’t remember what that was. She sees news footage of the scene and realizes that everyone else on the bridge was burned alive. She doesn’t even remember why she was on the bridge.

Spender comes to the hospital to tell Mulder that Cassandra wasn’t among the victims. He doesn’t know how she got to the bridge, and he’d like to know why she and Scully were both there. Mulder is sure that Cassandra will be found, but Spender wants Mulder to stay out of it.

WMM has Krycek chained up on a Russian ship, where they talk about how Marita took Dmitri. WMM thinks Krycek was smart to infect Dmitri so he could in turn infect anyone who tried to find out what he knew about Kazakhstan. Now Dmitri’s dead, so his secret are safe. Krycek is the only person left who knows what Dmitri saw, but WMM isn’t interested in making a deal. He thinks Krycek only infected Dmitri because he knew he could cure him. The Russians must have a cure for the black oil, which means the colonists can keep up whatever they’re doing. Krycek denies that there’s a cure, and he’s not going to help Marita anyway. WMM says Krycek needs to be able to save himself, too. A UFO crash-lands on what we’ll later learn is a military base in West Virginia. Someone’s dead, but someone with a sewn-up face has survived.

Back at the hospital, Scully looks through photos from the bridge, but they don’t jog her memory. Mulder tells her that the other survivors don’t remember what happened either. He reveals that they found implants in some of the other would-be abductees, which he thinks is the reason everyone was led to the bridge. Scully doesn’t know why she was a target, or why she survived. Mulder’s more interested in finding out who created the implants and why one was put in Scully’s neck. Was she just being monitored, or is it a means of destruction?

Mulder thinks the truth he’s been looking for so long is in Scully. She reminds him that he’s always been looking for answers about Samantha’s abduction, and though she didn’t believe him, she followed his journey. He relied on his memories because they were all he had to guide him. Whether or not Mulder still trusts him, they’ve led the two of them here. Now Scully doesn’t have memories, and she can’t follow Mulder again. Mulder thinks he can find a way to give Scully back her memories and prove that he’s believed the wrong thing for so long. Scully isn’t sure that’s what he really wants.

The Syndicate passes around pictures of the survivor in West Virginia, thinking he was responsible for the deaths on the bridge. They label him a resistance fighter opposing the alien colonists. WMM is sure this is what Krycek has been trying to keep secret – a war has started. He claims that Krycek gave him the cure for the black oil, which is now being administered to Marita. This means “resistance is possible,” with the weapons and magic they now possess. If not, they can align with the resistance. The Elder disagrees – they need to turn in the resistance fighter. WMM wants to see if the cure works first.

Mulder takes Scully to see Dr. Werber so he can try to hypnotize her and help her recover her memories. He regresses her to the bridge, which he calls “the night place,” and she sees a bunch of lights in the sky. The lights all fly away, and then Scully sees everyone get set on fire. She’s distressed, and Mulder takes her hand. Scully says the fire-starters have no faces, no eyes, and they’re coming towards the group. More lights arrive, and it’s now clear that they’re shining from the bottom of a UFO. The UFO fires on the fire-starters, then hovers right over the people on the bridge. A beam comes down and pulls Cassandra up to the UFO.

Scully’s upset, so Werber stops the session and brings her back to reality. She confirms that Mulder stayed with her the whole time. Then he gets up and walks out. The two go see Skinner after he watches the tape of the session, and Mulder says everything lines up with other stories of regression. He’s sure that Scully witnessed something major, but he still thinks his memories of Samantha’s abduction are false. Skinner needs facts to work with while he heads up the investigation into what happened on the bridge. Mulder announces that the situation was staged to cover up some sort of classified military operation.

Skinner asks what happened to Cassandra, if everything else was staged. Mulder thinks she was taken aboard a military aircraft as part of the ploy. Skinner says he’s doubted Mulder a number of times, only to be proven wrong, but now he doubts Mulder only because aliens actually seem more reasonable than what Mulder thinks happened. Marita still has oil in her system, so the Elder doesn’t think the cure worked. WMM thinks they need more time, and can’t hand over the alien rebel yet. The Elder tells him he’s already done it.

Scully finds Spender in her and Mulder’s office, and he asks why she went to see Cassandra. He shows her a video of himself at 11 years old, undergoing regression hypnosis. He sees flashing lights in the sky, then watches Cassandra being beamed up. He admits to Scully that the story is a lie, just something he thought happened because Cassandra told him about it so many times. It wasn’t the truth, just a substitute. The truth is that Spender’s father left the family, and Cassandra lost it.

Spender calls Werber’s process “having a dream and then pretending it’s real.” Scully, however, thinks her story is real. Spender notes that Mulder could have planted ideas in her head, and Scully could have made herself believe that one of his abduction tales really happened to her. “Don’t let yourself be used,” Spender warns.

Mulder comes home to a note that says, “Things are looking up.” Suddenly he’s attacked by Krycek, who says he’s not there to kill Mulder, but to help him. He tells Mulder to pay attention because there’s a war coming, and everyone on Earth is in danger. The site in Kazakhstan, Skyland Mountain, and the bridge are all “alien lighthouses where the colonization will begin.” The war will be a battle between Heaven and Earth. Everyone will have to resist or serve.

Mulder laughs off Krycek and his claims that he wants to help. Krycek says someone sent him to enlist Mulder because he knows they can resist. The incinerations were attempts to rebel, and one of the rebels is in captivity. “If he dies,” Krycek warns, “so does the resistance.” He wishes Mulder good luck in Russian, then leaves. Meanwhile, the Bounty Hunter (hey, buddy! Long time, no see!) sneaks onto a military base.

Scully comes to Mulder’s apartment to tell him that she may have been wrong about her memories. Mulder shows her the note, which has the name of an Air Force base written on the back. Since the base holds hazardous materials, the agents have some trouble being allowed in. Mulder sends the soldier delaying them to talk to a superior, apparently planning to just drive in while someone else is leaving – someone Scully recognizes. So Mulder jumps on board the other driver’s truck and leaves Scully behind at the gate.

Scully finds a black-oil victim on the truck, which is being driven by the Bounty Hunter in disguise. The Bounty Hunter checks on his cargo but doesn’t see Mulder. Suddenly the truck is filled with a bright light, and the black-oil victim approaches the Bounty Hunter with his fire-starter. Mulder yells, “NOOOOOO!” really dramatically and pulls his gun. Elsewhere, Marita’s eyes show that she’s been cured. Military personnel collect Mulder from the truck, which is now empty. He’s reunited with Scully and tells her he doesn’t know what happened.

Skinner calls Spender to his office to warn that Mulder has opened an X-file about what happened to Cassandra. Skinner thinks Spender will do fine at the FBI; he also reveals that Spender has a “patron” with a high level of influence who’s in his corner. As he leaves, Spender receives the letter from the beginning of the episode, sent from Canada. The boy goes back to the letter writer with his envelope – Spender has had it returned to sender. (Returned to Spender?) P.S. The letter writer is a not-so-dead-after-all CSM.

Thoughts: Dear everyone in this show: A vaccine and a cure are not the same thing. You can’t call it a vaccine if it’s administered after the infection. It’s a cure.

A fun exchange:

Krycek: “You must be losing it, Mulder. I could beat you with one hand.”
Mulder: “Isn’t that how you like to beat yourself?” [Is this a masturbation joke??]
Krycek: *ready to shoot*
Mulder: “If those are my last words, I can do better.”

New rule: The title of the episode has to be explained in the episode.

July 4, 2017

SVT #96, Elizabeth the Spy: Elizabeth Commits Perjury, But It’s for a Good Cause, So It’s Okay

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:06 pm by Jenn

Did he stop to pose while he was fleeing the scene of the crime?

Summary: The SVMS girls’ favorite employee at Casey’s is Joe Carrey, a college student who gives them extra ice cream and treats them like regular people instead of little kids. He also likes to give them brainteasers, though Elizabeth might be the only girl who’s actually interested in them. He’s definitely nicer than Jeff Casey, nephew of the owner, who doesn’t care about good customer service and thinks Joe is a nuisance. He’s probably happy when Elizabeth accidentally kicks Joe in the shin, though Joe insists that he’s fine.

That night, Elizabeth is trying to enjoy the latest Amanda Howard mystery when Jessica comes to her, frantic because she’s just started her period and there are no pads in the house. Jess throws on one of Liz’s sweaters and insists that her twin accompany her to the drugstore. She’s embarrassed to have to buy pads (12-year-old me can relate), and I guess she thinks she’ll be less embarrassed if Elizabeth is with her. Or she just plans to make Liz get them and be embarrassed on her own.

While waiting in line to pay, the twins encounter a clown. Jess accidentally kicks him in the shin (what’s with the twins kicking people?), and he throws a fit. He then proceeds to pull out a gun and rob the cashier. After he runs off, the police are called, and the twins give their statements. Jessica is horrified that they were buying pads, and she tries to avoid telling the police why they were at the drugstore.

Joe is arrested for the robbery, since the clown suit was his (he has a side gig performing at parties and daycare centers). Jeff is pleased not to have to work with a criminal anymore, but Elizabeth thinks there was a mistake. No way is a nice guy like Joe actually a criminal. Lila thinks that if he was arrested, he must be guilty. If Lila keeps up that attitude until she’s an adult (and let’s face it, she will), she’ll never have to serve jury duty.

Inspired by her Amanda Howard book, Elizabeth calls the SVPD to try to talk to an officer about Joe’s case. I guess she plans to try to talk him into releasing Joe because he’s too nice to rob anyone. No one wants to talk to a 12-year-old, though, so she doesn’t actually talk to anyone. After talking to Mr. Casey, the owner of the ice cream parlor, who always liked Joe, Liz decides to learn more about the accused criminal. She goes to SVU and chats with a student named Wendy who has known Joe for a few years. She tells Liz that Joe used to run track, but he disappeared for a while, and when he came back, he left the team.

Liz makes Jessica go with her to visit Joe in lockup, because apparently 12-year-olds are allowed to do that in Sweet Valley. Joe doesn’t give Elizabeth anything that can help, so she turns her attention to Jeff, thinking he’s connected to the crime. She stalks him, but he doesn’t do anything suspicious. She goes back to Casey’s with Amy, and Amy accidentally knocks over her ice cream, so Liz goes to get a mop. She sees a set of Joe’s apartment keys there and steals them. Now who’s the criminal, Liz?

Elizabeth goes to Joe’s apartment and has to hide in a closet when a couple of police officers show up. She finds something in the closet that she thinks is a robot leg. The police find the gun from the robbery in Joe’s freezer (which makes me think of this exchange from Veronica Mars), so things are looking pretty bleak for poor Joe. But Liz is still convinced that he’s innocent, and if there’s one thing Elizabeth can do, it’s obsess about something until everyone does the right thing.

Thanks to all the brainteasers she’s been doing and all the Amanda Howard mysteries she’s read, Liz’s brain has started working a little differently. A brainteaser about a woman having a tooth pulled somehow directs her toward what Joe’s been hiding – the “robot leg” in his closet is really a prosthetic leg. She and Wendy do some digging in the library’s newspaper archives and discover that he was injured in a car accident and must have had his leg amputated. This explains why he left the track team, and why he didn’t even blink when Liz kicked him. This means the clown, who did react when Jess kicked him, couldn’t have been Joe.

Elizabeth shares all this with Jessica, but Jess is more worried about public humiliation than an innocent man’s freedom, and she refuses to testify. No way is she going to tell people that she was buying pads! Elizabeth decides to take her place in an after-the-fact twin switch – Jess was wearing her sweater, and no one can tell from surveillance footage which of them is which anyway. So Liz gets on the stand and testifies, pretending to be Jess, which means saintly Elizabeth Wakefield has now committed an actual crime.

But never mind that – Liz’s plan works, and when the jury finds out that Joe has a prosthetic leg and couldn’t have been the clown, they find him not guilty. Sometime later, Jeff is arrested for robbery, having framed Joe to get him out of the way so Mr. Casey wouldn’t leave him the ice cream parlor upon his retirement. Elizabeth tells Jessica that the maxi-pad company wants her to be their spokesperson because she inadvertently gave them such good publicity. I thought she was teasing Jess, but apparently this is for real. Jess could have been on TV if she hadn’t been so worried about embarrassing herself. Ha ha! Also, I hope Liz gives some of the money she gets from the company to Joe.

Thoughts: This book is basically that episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob frames Krusty for robbery. In other words, The Simpsons already did it.

I guess the police in Sweet Valley aren’t familiar with DNA testing, or they would have figured out that a second person’s DNA was on Joe’s clown costume.

Elizabeth: “I wonder who they arrested.” Jessica: “I hope it’s somebody we hate.” Okay, that was funny.

Sweet Valley has a daycare center called the Cute Little Kids Day-Care Center. Way to be creative, ghostwriter.

But it has to be a robot foot, Elizabeth thought. I mean, they don’t make metal chickens nowadays – do they?Actually…

July 1, 2017

The X-Files 5.13, Patient X: Krycek’s Back to Screw Stuff Up, Possibly Just for the Fun of It

Posted in TV tagged , , , , , at 1:28 pm by Jenn

He could do better. Her…probably not

Summary: This is one of those episodes that starts with Mulder giving a voiceover about something that isn’t really related to the episode. Specifically, he’s talking about the universe and gods. Blah blah, signs, revelations, destiny written in the stars. Somewhere in Kazakhstan, two teen boys see something in the sky and run off to spread the word. They smell fire and come across a bunch of burning cars. They yell for their parents but get no response. A man emerges, on fire, and the boys run off. They get separated, and one hears the other scream as the burning man approaches him.

A group of UN peacekeepers comes to the scene the next day, accompanied by Marita. While the peacekeepers put out the dying fires, the remaining teen hides nearby. He’s found by a small group of men, including Krycek. Once Krycek determines that the boy, Dmitri, saw what happened, he says it’s too bad. He takes Dmitri to Marita, who happens to speak Russian and tells Krycek she and her peacekeepers have the scene under control. Krycek tells her they have no authority there. Marita needs to go back to her people and tell them what she saw there, and that “it’s all going to hell.” When Marita asks if Dmitri saw what happened, Krycek gives her an additional message: “Tell them to kiss my American a%$.”

At a panel discussion in Massachusetts, people watch a video of woman talking about the most recent of her multiple alien abductions. They told her she was an apostle and will be ushering in an “age of supernatural enlightenment.” The woman is labeled Patient X, and a man on the panel (which Mulder is also a member of) says we don’t have the language or physics to grasp her experience. A woman on the panel disagrees – we talk about needing proof as if it would change anything. Instead, we should be trying to find out why aliens are here.

Another panel member talks about what alien visits mean for our relationship with God. He’s interested in the lighthouses Patient X talks about, which are headquarters for alien activity. Mulder doesn’t believe Patient X’s testimony – he doesn’t think she’s lying, but she’s been lied to and believes she’s telling the truth. The power of suggestion makes people think that the problems they have, like Patient X’s, are due to something paranormal rather than something physiological.

The woman on the panel asks Mulder if this means he doesn’t believe in aliens. He says no, but he’s questioning his own misbelief. Mulder continues that if you look too hard, you’ll go crazy, but if you recognize that there are lies, you become enlightened. He announces that the government is hiding the fact that they’re gathering biological weapons. It’s “a conspiracy wrapped in a plot inside a government agenda.” The audience finds this theory very interesting.

As Mulder leaves after the discussion is over, he recognizes an audience member, Dr. Heitz Werber. Werber once helped Mulder try to recover his memories about Samantha’s abduction, and he’s surprised that Mulder seems to have given up on his theories about aliens. Mulder says he just doesn’t trust those memories anymore. Werber wonders if Mulder’s doubts mean the two of them were believing in something crazy all along. He reveals that he’s Patient X’s doctor, and he thinks Mulder should meet her.

Poor Dmitri is taken to a Russian gulag, where Krycek gives the OK for him to be subjected to experiments. He snags a vial of something, then leaves Dmitri to his fate. Back in the States, Werber introduces Mulder to the wheelchair-bound Patient X, whose name is Cassandra Spender. She’s considered Mulder a hero since he helped Duane Barry. She says that story saved her life as it inspired her to seek hypnotic regression for her own memories. Mulder asks if Cassandra is Werber’s patient voluntarily, then encourages her to check herself out of the hospital and get back to her life.

Cassandra disagrees – this is an important time, as the aliens are gearing up for a battle. She thinks that she, like Duane, will be summoned somewhere to do something important. Mulder tells her that Duane died after being visited by men from the government. He tries to tell Cassandra that there’s doubt about things that happened, but Cassandra is sure that she was abducted and had an unborn child taken from her. There are “other forces at work,” and she’s going to play an important role. Mulder needs to pay attention because he’s the only one who can help her. He insists that he isn’t.

In Russia, Dmitri undergoes the same black-oil experiments Mulder and Krycek did. Two men talk about the site where he was found, and how Krycek is the only person who knows what Dmitri saw. They discover that another prisoner has killed himself. I’m not really clear on what happened, but I’m guessing that this was a distraction so Krycek could grab Dmitri, who he’s now tending to on a ship. Poor Dmitri’s eyes and mouth have been sewn shut, but Kryeck promises to take good care of him.

At FBI headquarters, Scully meets an agent named Jeffrey Spender, who’s concerned about Mulder’s conversations with Cassandra (who happens to be Spender’s mother). Neither knows why the two are talking, but Spender thinks his mother is troubled, and that talking to Mulder will cause her more pain. He’s worried that if his mother’s condition spreads, he’ll get a reputation, I guess as the son of a crazy woman.

Marita addresses the Syndicate at their lair, telling them that the people in the burned cars seemed to have been killed by a biological weapon. At least two victims had something on them that Marita now has in a vial (I think it’s a neck implant). The Well-Manicured Man guesses that all the victims had them, and the place they were found was going to be the scene of a group abduction. One of the other Syndicate members is surprised, since he thought that wouldn’t be taking place for years. Did the timetable get moved up?

Marita thinks this is an act of war. She mentions Krycek’s presence and thinks he knows what really happened. The meeting is interrupted when Krycek himself calls the Syndicate’s “batphone.” He tells WMM that they’ve been working on a vaccine against the black oil, and he wants their research. In exchange, he’ll hand over Dmitri.

In their office, Scully gives Mulder a copy of a newspaper containing an article about the panel discussion. She’s surprised that he’s being quoted as doubting the existence of aliens; now he sounds like her. They talk about Cassandra, who Mulder thinks is proof that they’ve been chasing their tails for five years. Scully jokes that Mulder seems to have invalidated his own work, which means her job is done. She tells him she talked to Spender, who agrees with Mulder that Cassandra is unwell. Mulder’s frustrated that no one believes him about the government hiding something.

Scully has doubts about Mulder’s doubts, though – Cassandra says she was abducted at Skyland Mountain, just like Scully, and has an implant at the base of her neck. She tells Mulder that Spender wants him to keep quiet about anything he’s discussed with Cassandra. Mulder has no problem with that. Meanwhile, a convoy of cars heads to Skyland Mountain, though at least one of the drivers doesn’t seem sure why he’s there.

Scully visits Cassandra, who recognizes her but can’t remember where she’s seen her before. Cassandra soon realizes that Scully is also an abductee. Scully warns her not to remove her implant, but Cassandra’s ready for the consequences. She thinks the aliens have a lot to teach them, and Scully, as a doctor, should want to meet creatures who are such great healers. Maybe that’s why they abducted her in the first place. The drivers head up Skyland Mountain, and a man runs toward a car, begging for help. Behind him, another man touches something to him that lights him on fire.

Mulder and Scully are called to the mountain the next day; there are dozens of dead bodies, all burned. Scully guesses this is related to her abduction, while Mulder won’t believe that without evidence. The Syndicate watches news footage of the investigation, wondering how this could happen without their knowledge. WMM thinks someone’s trying to sabotage their work. They need to move “before the colonists intervene.” Cassandra’s also watching the news footage when she asks the agents to come see her. She tells them she knew all the victims, who were all her friends from a long time ago. Things weren’t supposed to happen like this.

Cassandra asks the agents to stop what’s happening, though she doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. Spender arrives and pulls the agents outside to chastise them for talking to his mother again. He tells them that Cassandra was in a cult with the Skyland victims; they all thought a UFO would take them someplace where they could live forever. Mulder tells Spender that they’ll leave Cassandra alone. As they leave, one of the men who experimented on Dmitri enters Cassandra’s room.

Marita tracks down Krycek as he’s doing something to Dmitri. They start making out (Marita and Krycek, not Krycek and Dmitri, though that would be a twist), and he says that if the Syndicate gives him what he wants, he’ll “rule the world.” Marita assures him that they’re on their way to getting what they want. They head off to go make evil babies or something while Dmitri gets left behind.

Scully wakes up in the middle of the night, seeming to sense something outside. She gazes up at the sky and feels the back of her neck, where her implant used to be. Krycek goes back to Dmitri’s holding place but finds it empty. WMM surprises him and asks where Dmitri is.

Scully meets Mulder in their office, where he shows her x-rays from three of the Skyland victims. They all have implants in their necks. The victims’ families said they weren’t in cults, but two were in MUFON groups and underwent treatment for depression, anxiety, and paranoia. Mulder thinks the implants were triggered by the government to lead the victims to Skyland so they could be monitored. Scully points out that the people were all then killed. She thinks they should give more thought to what Cassandra has said.

Marita calls Mulder to tell him about what happened in Kazakhstan. She’s the one who took Dmitri, and she wants Mulder to talk to him about what he witnessed. Dmitri has a different idea – he unstitches his eyes and surprises Marita at the payphone she’s on. While Scully tries to pull herself together, Mulder tracks Marita’s call and finds the payphone off the hook. There are smears of something on the glass. Mulder calls Cassandra but gets Spender instead. Cassandra’s disappeared, and Spender doesn’t know where she might have gone.

The experimenter takes Cassandra to a bridge, where a bunch of other people are gathered, waiting for something. Dmitri is also there, and he could probably use some medical attention, so it’s good that Scully has arrived. Everyone looks up to see a bright light in the sky, flying over them like a plane (or, you know, a UFO). There’s a bright flash, and everyone is stunned into silence. Scully finds Cassandra just before two men with formerly stitched faces light Dmitri on fire. To be continued…

Thoughts: Cassandra is played by Veronica Cartwright, who got an Emmy nomination for this role.

This show is much more fun when Mulder’s the believer and Scully’s the skeptic. Skeptical Mulder = depressed Mulder.

Is there a connection between the name Cassandra and the constellation Cassiopeia, which Scully sees when she wakes up before going to the bridge? Discuss.

June 27, 2017

SVT #95, The Battle of the Cheerleaders: This Is Why the Clovers Thought They Should Be Called Inspiration Leaders

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:12 pm by Jenn

This is kind of excellent

Summary: The title of this book should really be The Battle of the Basketball Players, since The Battle of the Cheerleaders implies a battle between two squads. In actuality, the plot is about how the girls decide to start a basketball team but have trouble finding support. The twins have recently developed an interest in the sport (I could have sworn Jessica used to play on a team, but according to this book, no such team exists), and some of their friends show off their skills during a pick-up game. Since SVMS has no girls’ team, they decide to start one.

The season is almost over, and there’s no one available to coach them, and no place to practice even if they had a coach. The girls – the twins, Lila, Janet, Ellen, Maria, Amy, Julie, and a couple other Unicorns no one cares about – are really into their new idea, though, and decide to keep moving forward. Jessica comes up with their team name, the Honeybees.

Without a coach, the girls’ first practice doesn’t go well. They decide to ask Steven to help them out, but he laughs them off – he’s not going to waste his time helping middle-school girls who aren’t going to win any games. He’s right, as they play horribly in their first game. But Steven is trying to get a job coaching at a basketball camp that summer, and he needs experience, so he changes his mind about coaching the Honeybees.

Steven runs his practices like any other coach would, making the girls run and do calisthenics. They hate him for it, but it works. Meanwhile, the middle-school boys’ team, the Wolverines, are on their way to the finals. They’ve had a ton of fans at their games, and the Boosters are always on hand to cheer them on and drum up crowd support. The Honeybees think that, in exchange, the Wolverines should come to their games. The guys laugh them off – girls? Playing sports? How ridiculous!

Thanks to their coaching and the improvements they’ve made in their practices, the Honeybees play much better in their next game and only lose by two points. They still wish the Wolverines would come to see them, but the Wolverines still refuse. The girls decide to make a threat: If the guys don’t come to their games, the Boosters won’t cheer at the Wolverines’ games anymore. Plus, Elizabeth won’t mention their next game in the Sixers, so they won’t have the big crowd they usually do.

The boys ignore the threat, and the Boosters follow through, leaving the Wolverines without a cheering section at their next game. They lose, but Bruce refuses to back down. Meanwhile, the Honeybees win a game, and the Boosters who aren’t on the team (Winston, Grace, and Kimberly) agree to form a mini-squad with Mary to cheer at the girls’ games. With the Boosters all busy either playing or cheering at the girls’ games, the guys are really left on their own.

The guys finally talk Bruce into giving in and trying to get the Boosters to come back to their games. Awesomely, the girls don’t consider their non-apologies and passive-aggressiveness as enough of an olive branch. The Wolverines have to agree to come to the Honeybees’ games and cheer them on from the stands. They show up reluctantly, late and in disguise so no one will recognize them. I guess it’s a fate worse than death to be seen at a girls’ basketball game? The guys also leave early, missing the end of the game, which the girls win.

Bruce throws a victory party for the Wolverines, even though they haven’t won finals yet (I imagine there’s a “mission accomplished” banner on the wall). The girls show up and are upset that their accomplishments are barely acknowledged. Bruce just puts their name on the corner of a cake, but he puts “Bumblebees” instead of “Honeybees.” Jessica’s so mad that she throws cake at him.

Since the boys barely stuck to their end of the deal, the Boosters skip the Wolverines’ next game. Aaron and Todd tell Bruce that he needs to apologize to the Honeybees for real, or they’ll have no chance in the rest of the tournament. The girls happen to be practicing during the Wolverines’ game, so Bruce finds them, literally gets down on his knees, and tries to make himself look pathetic so they’ll have pity on them. It doesn’t work, because the girls really are awesome in this book.

Finally, the girls decide to take advantage of the boys’ desperation and make a new deal: They’ll cheer at the Wolverines’ game if the boys dress up and cheer at their next game. The boys win their game and stick to the deal, actually getting into it as the Honeybees’ game goes on. The Honeybees win, of course, despite having only been a team for a few weeks. Steven gets the summer job, thanks to his excellent coaching. And I hope the girls take lots of pictures of the boys so they can always have the memory of the time they were so awesome.

Thoughts: Maybe it’s just from being on a power trip but Steven is actually a good coach.

Dear girls from Johnson Middle School: The Violets is a bad team name. A very bad one. The Honeybees isn’t that great either, but it’s not as bad as the Violets.

Jessica to a girl she’s guarding during a game: “I’m all over you like ugly on an ape.” That’s a new one.

June 24, 2017

The X-Files 5.12, Bad Blood: “That Is…Essentially Exactly the Way It Happened”

Posted in TV tagged at 1:14 pm by Jenn

Don’t worry, Mulder, he’s not a threat. Well, not to your relationship with Scully, at least

Summary: A redheaded boy runs through the woods in Chaney, Texas, being chased by someone he says is going to kill him. He’s right, since his pursuer eventually catches up to him and stakes him through the heart. The pursuer happens to be Mulder, and when Scully joins him, he shows her the boy’s fangs. Mulder is horrified to see that the fangs are removable, and he just staked a human. When the agents return to D.C., Mulder struggles to write up a report, telling Scully not to talk about it and taking out his frustration on a trash can. The agents each wonder what the other will tell Skinner.

Mulder wants to know if Scully’s going to back up his story, since he’s the one who could go to prison. Scully points out that the family of the boy, Ronnie Strickland, wants to sue the FBI for $446 million, and she’ll most likely be Mulder’s codefendant. Mulder insists that he didn’t overreact – Ronnie was a vampire. He wants Scully to tell him her version of events.

Scully starts her story: The previous morning, Mulder told her they were going to Chaney, population 361, and was really excited to investigation “nocturnal exsanguinations.” Cows have been found in the area drained of their blood, with puncture wounds on their necks. Scully thinks this is the work of a cult, but Mulder suspects vampires. It’s only then that he mentions there was a human death.

The agents go to a funeral home in Texas so they can look into the death of Dwight Funt. They meet the sheriff, Lucius Hartwell, who seems to find Scully attractive. Mulder’s eager to get investigating and tells Scully to “get those little legs moving.” Funt has puncture wounds on his neck, just like the cows, and Scully thinks they’re looking for a killer who pretends to be a vampire. Hartwell agrees with her. He edges Mulder out to talk to Scully about medical stuff and call her Dana.

In the present, Mulder objects that Hartwell never knew Scully’s first name. Scully continues: Mulder notices that Funt’s shoes are untied, then asks Hartwell if there’s “an old cemetery in town, off the beaten path – the creepier, the better.” Mulder assigns Scully to stay behind and autopsy Funt while he and Hartwell go to the cemetery. Scully asks what she’s supposed to look for in the autopsy. Mulder admits that he doesn’t know. “He does that,” Scully tells Hartwell.

She starts the autopsy on Funt, “who is arguably having a worse time in Texas than I am, though not by much.” Everything looks normal, and she can see that Funt’s last meal before his death was pizza. She then checks into the Davey Crockett Motor Court, though Mulder corrects that it was the Sam Houston Motor Lodge. Scully puts some money in the vibrating bed and tries to relax, but a muddy, disheveled Mulder shows up to talk business. She tells him she found knock-out drops in Funt’s system, and she thinks the “vampire” doped his victim before extracting his blood.

Mulder announces that another person has died, so Scully needs to go do another autopsy. He’s happy to take over relaxing for her. She leaves just as the pizza she ordered arrives, delivered by Ronnie Strickland. Scully autopsies Paul Lombardo, a tourist from Florida, and discovers the same knock-out drops in his system. She gets a phone call but only hears breathing on the line. Lombardo’s stomach contents are the same as Funt’s, making her realize that the pizza delivery guy is the killer. That means Mulder could be in danger.

Scully rushes back to the motel, where she finds Ronnie next to Mulder’s unconscious body. She shoots at him but he runs off. Scully checks on Mulder, who sings a verse of the theme from “Shaft” as he comes to. In the present, Mulder objects to this part of the story. Scully continues that she shot out one of Ronnie’s tired, so he ran off on foot. She followed him into the woods but lost him, and when she found him, Mulder had already killed him. She plans to tell Skinner that Mulder was overexcited because of the drugs in his system.

Mulder says that’s not what happened at all – Scully’s just afraid to tell the truth. So she asks for his version of events. He tells her that she was grumpy when she got to work, and he was no more excited than usual. In Mulder’s version, he’s not nearly as insistent about this being the work of a vampire as Scully claimed. At the funeral home, Mulder notices that there are a lot of caskets for a town with so few people. The funeral director tells him it’s because of “repeat business,” then says he was joking.

Mulder thinks Scully didn’t hear this conversation because she was distracted by the attractive sheriff. Mulder remembers him as having huge buckteeth and an exaggerated southern accent. Scully doesn’t find that a significant observation, but Mulder says he’s trying to be thorough. The agents view the body, and Mulder talks about the history of vampires. Scully thinks the killer is a human who wishes he could be a vampire. Mulder notes that there are lots of different kinds of vampires; some are killed by sunlight, some have red hair, and some aren’t eternal.

He notices the untied shoes, and in the present, Scully wonders why that’s important. Mulder says he’ll get there. He continues his version, telling Scully about going to the cemetery with Hartwell. Mulder explains that cemeteries are a haven for vampires, so he wants to see signs that they’ve been there, like the lack of birdsong, broken tombstones, or the sound of a creature eating its death shroud in the tomb. Mulder needs a new hobby, guys. Ronnie passes by in his delivery car, and he and Hartwell greet each other. Mulder thinks if they wait long enough, the vampire will return to the cemetery.

Scully asks again about the significance of Funt’s untied shoes, but Mulder has more to tell first. He and Hartwell sit in the car, waiting for their killer. Hartwell questions why Mulder has sprinkled sunflower seeds on the ground. Mulder explains that vampires are compulsive about things like untying knots and counting seeds on the ground. He thinks that compulsion made the vampire untie Funt’s shoes. This leads to a conversation about Rain Man and counting cards.

Hartwell is alerted to a situation at an RV park, so he and Mulder drive over. They find a group of people (including Ronnie) watching an RV drive in circles in the parking lot. Mulder and the sheriff try to shoot out the RV’s tires, which proves harder than they thought. Plan B is Mulder grabbing on to the vehicle to try to slow it down manually. Eventually the RV stops, and the men find Lombardo’s body inside. No one at the scene saw anything.

Mulder goes to the motel, where Scully yells about having to do an autopsy. She’s especially annoyed because she’s hungry – all she’s had to eat all day is half a bagel with light cream cheese. After she leaves, Mulder takes a shower, then accepts Scully’s pizza delivery. He recognizes Ronnie but doesn’t find it suspicious that this guy keeps turning up. After dinner, Mulder notices that his shoes are untied and puts all the pieces together.

With the drugs in his system making it hard to function, Mulder rolls out of bed and calls Scully. He can’t quite talk, so all she hears is his breathing. Ronnie comes back to the room, baring his fangs. Mulder distracts him by throwing sunflower seeds on the ground, then tries to escape while Ronnie counts them, annoyed. But the drugs knock Mulder out, and he doesn’t wake up until Scully arrives.

Mulder thinks Scully’s bullets did hit Ronnie, but they didn’t affect him. He also says he saw Ronnie fly at Scully before running out. The chase begins, and Mulder stakes Ronnie. He thinks the boy’s autopsy will back up his story. But when the coroner removes the stake from Ronnie’s body, the boy revives. His eyes glow, and though his fangs are gone, that won’t stop him from biting the coroner.

Scully and Mulder wait together outside Skinner’s office (she tries to straighten his tie, because they’re married), still unsure of what each will say. Scully thinks Mulder needs to remind Skinner multiple times that he was drugged, which means he wasn’t thinking clearly. Mulder tells her to let it go, but when Skinner appears, Mulder immediately blurts out that he was drugged. Instead of interviewing the agents, Skinner tells them to go back to Texas: Ronnie’s not dead, and he chewed on the coroner’s neck.

The agents go back to the cemetery in Texas, since Mulder says a vampire has to sleep in “his native soil.” He thinks Scully was right about the killer being someone who’s watched a lot of vampire movies. It’s just that, in this case, he’s also a real vampire. Hartwell comes by to offer his help, so Mulder has him stay with Scully while he goes looking for Ronnie’s family. Since their mail comes general delivery, he thinks they live at the RV park.

Hartwell and Scully share some coffee and discuss vampires, which she’s heard are seductive and charming. Though, since there are so many different kinds, according to Mulder, she doesn’t know for sure. Hartwell apologizes on Ronnie’s behalf – “he makes us all look bad.” Now “we” pay taxes and make good neighbors. Ronnie just doesn’t know how to keep a low profile. As Scully realizes what Hartwell’s saying, the drugs in her coffee start to take effect, and Hartwell’s eyes start to glow.

At the RV park, Mulder finds a coffin in one of the vehicles and opens it to find Ronnie napping. He starts to read Ronnie his rights, sitting on top of the coffin to keep it closed. Other vampires approach as he handcuffs the coffin to keep it closed, then grabs two baguettes to use as a cross. The vampires aren’t repelled (maybe he should have tried garlic bread?), and they swarm and attack Mulder. The next morning, Scully finds him asleep in a car, his shoes untied. Scully just woke up in the cemetery and doesn’t know what happened. All the RVs in the park are gone – as Mulder says, “they pulled up stakes.”

Back in D.C., the agents tell Skinner their sides of the story, though they can’t confirm each other’s versions. “That is…essentially exactly the way it happened,” Mulder says. “Essentially,” Scully agrees. “Except for the part about the buckteeth,” Mulder allows.

Thoughts: Hartwell is played by Luke Wilson. Ronnie is played by Patrick Renna, who was in a bunch of stuff as a kid, including The Sandlot.

I feel like they only showed Scully weighing all of Funt and Lombardo’s organs to make Gillian Anderson touch gross-looking things.

I’ll admit, I laughed at “pulled up stakes” and “so we staked out the cemetery.”

Mulder only tips Ronnie 2 cents for the pizza, so Ronnie’s almost justified in attacking him.

June 20, 2017

SVT #94, Don’t Talk to Brian: This Is Really Taking Victim-Blaming Too Far

Posted in books tagged , at 4:56 pm by Jenn

This looks nothing like how I pictured Brian. Also, I don’t think he’d eat anything pink

Summary: Brian Boyd is still causing trouble at SVMS, only things have gotten worse as he’s now disrupting classes and generally being a tiresome jerk. He comes to school with a black eye and says he got in a fight with some other kid, a story no one doubts because that’s exactly the sort of thing that would happen to him. Mr. Bowman tells the twins’ English class that they’ll be studying families, and everyone will need to write an essay about parenting. The person with the best essay gets to read it at a reception for everyone’s parents. Brian finds this assignment ridiculous and heckles everyone throughout the class. He lands in detention for his behavior.

When Brian gets home, we learn why his attitude is so bad: His mother is an alcoholic and his father is abusive. Elizabeth hears him crying after his father hits him – apparently the Wakefields’ and the Boyds’ houses share an alley – and Liz tries to show Brian some compassion. He brushes her off, so she decides he got in another fight and doesn’t deserve her sympathy.

Mr. Bowman picks Liz, Brian, and Maria to do some role-playing in class; Liz is Brian and Maria’s daughter, and she’s just been caught sneaking in after curfew. Brian laughs off the assignment, then gives Liz a harsh punishment. Mr. Bowman should probably just not call on Brian anymore. On the way home from school, Elizabeth sees police cars outside Brian’s house and guesses that he’s finally gotten in trouble for fighting. Later, she reads an article in the local paper about a 12-year-old boy being removed from his home by Child Protective Services while they investigate possible abuse. She realizes it’s Brian and accidentally alerts Jessica to what’s going on with him.

Jess, of course, can’t keep her mouth shut, and she tells Lila and Janet that Brian has had to move out of his house (though she doesn’t tell them about the abuse). By Monday morning, the news is all over SVMS. Everyone thinks Brian got kicked out for fighting, and Maria, among others, has no sympathy. (I can’t really blame her, considering how he treated her in It Can’t Happen Here.) Some kids, however, try to be nicer to Brian – Ken, Todd, and Aaron invite him to play video games with them. When Todd says that everyone knows what’s happening with Brian, Brian takes off, accidentally flipping over a table Real Housewives-style. This lands him on Principal Clark’s radar.

The news about Brian spreads to people’s parents, and Elizabeth overhears some of them complaining to Mr. Clark about their kids having to attend school with a bully. We learn that Brian’s family life was fine until just the past few years, when Mr. Boyd’s problems at work made him mean and violent. His mother dealt with it by drinking and didn’t bother trying to protect her son. Brian’s staying in a group home until a foster family is found, but he doesn’t think anyone will want him. He also thinks Mr. Bowman knew he was being abused and did nothing, which is a whole other issue that never gets addressed.)

Brian’s situation starts to really affect Liz, who has a nightmare about being the next target of abuse. She and Maria attend a PTA meeting as student representatives, and learn that a number of parents want Brian to leave Sweet Valley. Apparently a kid who comes from an unstable home is too much for their delicate angels to handle. They have no sympathy for Brian and want to see him punished when he’s done nothing wrong. Liz is shocked that Maria agrees – she hates Brian and wants him out of the school.

Mr. Clark tells everyone that Brian will be placed with a foster family in Big Mesa, but since he’s going through so much upheaval, they’d like to keep him at SVMS. He has a petition for parents to sign to allow Brian to stay. The parents are completely divided, and to Elizabeth’s surprise (and dismay), Ned and Alice want him to go. She wonders who will look out for Brian if so many adults are going to just turn their backs on him.

SVMS has a special assembly addressing child abuse and how the victim is never to blame. The students learn that Brian is being sent to Big Mesa Middle School, and Maria still doesn’t care. Mr. Bowman reads Brian’s family essay in class; it’s about how his life started out great and then slowly fell apart, and he didn’t know how to stop it. He started to lose hope that his life would ever get better. Jessica feels horrible because she’s spent the whole book complaining about her parents and how they won’t increase her allowance or let her go to a sleepover on a school night. She’d much rather have love and security than money and popularity.

Liz wants to fight to let Brian stay at SVMS, so she takes a page out of Mr. Clark’s book and writes a petition. She reads it at the family reception and asks the parents to help Brian instead of letting him be sent away for someone else to deal with his problems. She emphasizes the fact that Brian isn’t to blame for the abuse, so he shouldn’t be punished. The parents change their minds and help Brian find a foster family in Sweet Valley. Brian is grateful, and suddenly a much more pleasant person. Even Maria makes an effort to be friendly to him. Yay, all his problems are solved! Sweet Valley is such a magical place that he probably won’t suffer any psychological damage or have any problems in the future!

Thoughts: Brian’s family is supposed to be rich, but considering their house is next to an alley that’s also next to the Wakefields’ house, I don’t know.

Fun fact: In the Sweet Valley-verse, there’s a TV show called Snob Hill 90214.

I assume Brian has a 180-degree personality change after this, because if he’s ever mean again, someone can just say, “Remember when we didn’t get you kicked out of our school? We can undo that.”

June 17, 2017

The X-Files 5.11, Kill Switch: Going Viral

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

Right back at ya, episode

Summary: A man is working on a laptop at a diner, trying to hack something. In Logan Circle in D.C., a drug dealer named Jackson gets a call from a man who wants to offer him some help. Jackson’s former partner, Kenny, stole his money, and the man on the phone wants Jackson to know he can find him at the diner. As Jackson heads over with a gun, the man on the phone places more calls, sending all sorts of criminal types to the diner to get revenge on various people who have wronged them. Men start arriving at the diner as the hacker finally succeeds at his hack. As he puts a CD in the computer, U.S. Marshals burst in and a gunfight takes place.

Mulder and Scully come in to find out what happened to the Marshals. They got a tip telling them a fugitive cartel leader was at the diner, though Mulder thinks it was a lie. All the other criminals in the diner were local drug dealers, not the types who would be in the company of a major cartel boss. Mulder IDs the hacker as Donald Gelman, a Silicon Valley “folk hero” who practically invented the Internet. He disappeared years ago, before he could make a deal with Bill Gates. Mulder thinks the shootout was planned to kill Gelman.

He takes Gelman’s computer from the scene, putting the CD he was about to burn in the car’s CD player. It plays the Platters’ “Twilight Time.” The agents take the computer to the Lone Gunmen, who tell them more about Gelman – he was in on all of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and that other guy’s work, but he was also under investigation by the NSA. They’re not familiar with his computer, which Mulder thinks is the reason he was killed. While Scully reads one of the Lone Gunmen’s newsletters, the guys try to hack his system. Scully’s the one who suggests that they check his email.

Gelman has one message in his inbox, from someone named Invisigoth. It’s a warning that someone named David is missing, and “the hunted has become the hunter.” Mulder guesses that a string of digits in the message belongs to a shipping container, so he and Scully track it down. There, they find a woman who tazes Mulder and runs away. Scully tackles her and gets tazed as well, but she’s not incapacitated enough to keep her from firing a warning shot that makes the woman stop.

Mulder checks out the woman’s computer setup and guesses she’s Invisigoth. Invisigoth isn’t very helpful and won’t answer any questions. She gets distracted when her computer lets her know that they’re being targeted by a DOD satellite, and they need to get out of there. Scully finds this ridiculous, but Mulder listens and rushes her off. The three speed away just before a missile blows the shipping container to bits. To his credit, Mulder doesn’t say, “I told you so.”

Invisigoth is still hesitant to give the agents any identifying information, but she does confirm Mulder’s theory that Gelman wrote some sort of sentient AI program. She says that he created a sequence of viruses and released it on the Internet 15 years ago. She compares it to primordial ooze. Gelman found her while she was working in Tokyo and offered her a job. Scully is, as ever, skeptical, saying that Invisigoth could have rigged the container to explode. She doesn’t think the DOD has the kind of technology Invisigoth says they have, like an armed satellite that could be controlled by an evil AI program.

Invisigoth says they’re off the grid now, and her little hideout must have been targeted because someone used Gelman’s computer to try to contact her. Only Gelman and a guy named David Markham knew where she was. They were tending to the AI, which went rogue one day. They’ve been trying to find it, but it won’t reveal itself, so it’s “wildlife” now. When Mulder tells Invisigoth that Gelman is dead, she says the AI must have arranged a hit to kill off its creator and protect itself. Next, it’ll target her and David.

Gelman was working on more viruses to bind the AI; he called it the Kill Switch. Mulder says all they have is the CD, which Invisigoth says is exactly what they need. The agents take her to the Lone Gunmen’s lair, and they ID her as Esther Nairn, one of their tech heroes. Scully mocks her as she starts to employ the Kill Switch. They can’t use it over the Internet; they’ll have to find out where the AI’s hardware is and “feed it the poisoned apple.” David was looking for the hardware when he disappeared.

The Lone Gunmen have some suggestions to help, noting that they’ll need someone from the government to help them access what they need. Lucky for them, they have a couple buddies in the government. Mulder goes to Fairfax to trace a T3 connector while the Lone Gunmen take a nap together. Esther frees herself from Mulder’s handcuffs and kidnaps Scully at gunpoint. They’re on their way to find David. Scully’s so calm on the phone that Mulder doesn’t sense any danger, so he continues his search.

Esther is saddened to find David’s house obliterated like her shipping container. While she’s out of the car, Scully frees herself from the cuffs Esther used to chain her to the steering wheel. Esther’s upset about David’s apparent death, but not too upset to grab the gun before Scully can. However, Esther welcomes being killed. Mulder’s hunt for the hardware takes him to an RV that houses someone – or something – who’s very concerned about security.

Esther tells Scully that she stopped working for Gelman after he learned that she and David planned to inject memory and consciousness into the AI. They wanted to put their minds into the AI so they could live together forever. Gelman was worried that others would want to do the same, so he shut them down. Mulder breaks into the RV, which is full of computers, a robot, and David’s corpse, which is connected to the computers through virtual-reality-type goggles. Mulder is suddenly pulled into a piece of equipment and electrocuted.

Mulder’s taken to a hospital where a very old surgeon calls for him to be prepped even as he begs the staff to call Scully. The surgeon ignores him and starts up some sort of drill. Scully can’t call Mulder because, according to Esther, it recognized her voice when she spoke to Mulder. They decide to continue Mulder’s search and see if they can shut the AI down at the source. Mulder’s out of surgery, and a nurse named Nancy tells him they were “able to save the right one.” His left arm, however, is now gone. Nancytells “Fox” that “they’re evil” and want something from him. If he doesn’t tell them what they want, he’ll lose his other arm. He begs for help, but Nancy smothers him with a pillow.

Scully and Esther get stopped on a bridge, and Esther guesses that the AI has found them. This is the worst possible time, since there’s a tanker trunk nearby full of flammable materials. While Scully tries to get the driver to leave his truck, Esther tries to use Gelman’s computer, then decides Scully’s right and she needs to throw it off the bridge. Back in the hospital, three nurses do something under Mulder’s covers, which I don’t think is any kind of appropriate medical treatment. Nancy tells him again that he needs to tell the doctor what he knows, or next his legs will be gone – his right arm has already gone the way of his left.

Suddenly Scully arrives and beats up all the nurses. She tells Mulder that they want the Kill Switch virus – “do we have it?” He says they do, then kicks her across the room. The room starts to glitch, and we see that Mulder’s been using David’s virtual-reality goggles this whole time. The real Scully is still with Esther, just now arriving at the RV. Scully shoots out the security system, and the women can hear Mulder calling for help inside. Robot pinchers grab at him and he loses consciousness.

The robot heads toward Scully, who again uses bullets to solve her problems. She asks Esther what the AI is thinking, but she doesn’t know – it created the whole system they’re looking at. A CD drive opens, and Esther guesses that it wants the Kill Switch. She doesn’t want to hand it over, since the AI could figure out how to defeat it. When Esther hesitates, Scully inserts the CD, freeing Mulder. Esther starts typing something, telling the agents to leave without her. She’s ready to take Mulder’s place and join David’s consciousness forever in the AI.

Hooking herself into the system causes a fire, and the RV ends up in little bits like the shipping container and David’s house. When the agents return the next day, Mulder wonders if Esther was able to create artificial life that’s now evolving. The Lone Gunmen get a message that says “bite me,” so he’s probably right. In North Platte, Nebraska, two boys in a trailer park go around an RV to retrieve a football, not realizing that a security camera mounted on the vehicle is watching them.

Thoughts: This episode was written by sci-fi/cyberpunk novelists William Gibson and Tom Maddox.

Jackson is played by Peter Williams, brother of Steven Williams (Mr. X).

For a high-tech genius, Gelman’s email system is really outdated, even for 1998.

Of course all the Lone Gunmen are in love with Esther. OF COURSE.

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