The X Files Revisited: 7.19 Hollywood A.D.
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The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the pilot episode and then carried on throughout the series, covering the best and most significant episodes of the show including the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. We've covered the season seven episodes written by William B Davis and Gillian Anderson and we look at David Duchovny's contribution...
Hollywood A.D. perfectly sums up the seventh season of The X Files as a whole. It tries to be a little bit experimental, a bit self-referential, acts like a swan song in what could possibly be a final year and has both great moments and crushing disappointments. I've already looked at William B Davis and Gillian Anderson's writing contributions to season seven and now it is David Duchovny's turn to write and direct.
The opening is spectacularly good and very funny as the episode opens on a graveyard where machine gun-toting zombies have cornered Mulder. Only this is isn't the usual Mulder...it's actor Garry Shandling playing the FBI agent in a big screen adaptation, while Téa Leoni (David Duchovny's wife at the time) dons a red wig to play Scully as they battle the villainous Cigarette Smoking Pontiff (Tony Amendola). After a dramatic showdown as fake Mulder smashes the Lazarus Bowl, and with it the villain's shot at eternal life we cut to the screening of the cinematic The X Files (only far more B movie) as an audience laughs - an audience that includes Chris Carter, rather randomly Minnie Driver, Skinner and a mortified Mulder and Scully.
Unfortunately the opening is the best part of the story. The episode then cuts back 18 months earlier and immediately it is a struggle to work out where this story fits chronologically. Mulder and Scully are reporting into Skinner - so it sits somewhere after Two Fathers / One Son - but only just and Skinner's character immediately feels out of place. In fact, everything about their boss is 'off 'this episode, even if it is fun to see Mitch Pileggi let loose for once. The idea that he would let his old filmmaker buddy from college trail Mulder and Scully on a case is a bit of a disconnect with the no-nonsense, by-the-rules, career-driven aspect of his character.
And while the final film version is a lot of fun, Mulder and Scully's investigation isn't particularly thrilling. Studying the explosion in a crypt of a church, they discover a dead body and the remains of a very old bowl, which may or may not be the Lazarus Bowl Jesus used to raise the dead. It's an intriguing premise, with guest star Harris Yullin delivering a morose but compelling performance as Cardinal O'Fallon. Comedian, actor and writer Wayne Federman appears to play himself, the old friend of Skinner who trails the agents. It isn't an over the top performance, his observations and comments on the events taking pace amusing but there doesn't feel as if enough his done with his 'character'.
The trouble with the 'real' events taking place is that the episode doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a fully comic episode or present a serious drama juxtaposed against the hilarious movie adaptation. Federman encounters dancing bones in the crypt and jokes that it is CGI, but it is more weird than Darin Morgan-esque funny. And the resurrection of the corpse of Micah Hoffman (Paul Liber) again feels jarring as he wakes on the morgue table, much to the surprise of Scully. The idea that he could be a resurrected Jesus Christ is just as odd but the most frustrating aspect is that the relationship between Hoffman and O'Fallon - the cardinal 'murdering' Hoffman' off screen before killing himself is frankly annoying. Duchovny apparently never intended for the this to be resolved on screen but it does make everything that takes pace eighteen months earlier feel a bit of a waste of time.
It's not all bad though. Bill Dow makes a welcome return appearance as Chuck, helping the agents to study the broken bowl from the crypt and the heavenly Aramaic language emitting from it. And Scully's observations about the Lazarus Bowl and the ravings of the mad nun from her school days makes for an interesting twist on Mulder having all the observations. And after the over the top, out of character rant from Skinner as he suspends the agents for falsely accusing the Cardinal O'Fallon for the murder of the now alive Hoffman, the focus shifts back to the Hollywood production and the fun really resumes.
The set visit is hilarious. Téa Leoni asking Scully how she runs in heels and then running back and forth in the background as Mulder chats to Garry Shandling is one of the best comic moments in the show's history. Scully telling Mulder Téa Leoni likes him was amusing at the time but admittedly a little sad post their divorce. And the bath scene is very, very fun; Mulder and Scully have bubble baths, chatting while sipping wine, pretending to each other that they are not enjoying the luxuries of Hollywood life is amusing and Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny are clearly having a great time. The split screen addition of Skinner though, also enjoying a bubble bath is comedy perfection, particularly Mulder's failing attempts to call him Skin-man. After always playing his character so seriously, Mitch Pileggi was clearly having the most fun.
Hollywood A.D. is a love letter to the show and David Duchovny's script and direction really does make the most of the Hollywood-based scenes. But unfortunately it is mixed with a confusing, sometimes dull plot, with 'comedy' moments that feel out of place and an-off screen resolution to the case that is frustrating. I would have much preferred the episode to be fully Hollywood-based. Perhaps an adaptation of an earlier classic story?
And I have no idea what was going on with that zombie dance sequence at the end...