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The X-Files Magazine: Brand New Day

The X-Files Magazine [US]
Brand New Day
Chandra Palermo

[typed by Donna]

“One of the nice things about Mulder is that you have that character to push the paranormal envelope.” Maeda says. “If Mulder were in this episode, he would immediately be putting out a theory that, ‘I think I know what’s going on here.’ And he might be partially right, he might be totally right. Without him, you have to go through a different path to arrive at the same place. It’s tough, no question about it, but it’s also an interesting challenge to try and get there in another way.”~ Steve Maeda

Convicts playing basketball on a church rooftop would make a strange sight – anywhere but in L.A. The equipment trucks, catering vans and security guards surrounding the base of the eight-story building are a dead giveaway to native passsersby: Must be a location shoot. In this case, The X-Files’ crew has claimed the structure for the fifth day of shooting on Season Eight stand-alone “Redrum.”

The heat is oppressive. But as the sun beats down with the characteristic intensity of a late-August afternoon, the prison inmates continue shooting hoops and lifting weights until director Peter Markle calls “Cut.” After several takes, Markle finally dismisses the heavily costumed extras for a short break, and they head straight to the cooler, all the while bemoaning the absence of their true desire: cold beer.

“The last thing a bunch of convicts need is beer,” one of the extras joke. But none of the others has any energy left to laugh.

Yet, Markle and the rest of the crew are chomping at the bit to get to the next scene. The excitement is palpable. Season Eight promises to be a time of incredible change and experimentation for the series, and the powers that be have chosen to dive in with one of the most ambitious storylines to date: the tale of a man who awakens each day to find himself thrust backward in time to the previous morning.

“We had talked about doing stories in a more non-traditional format,” writer Steve Maeda says. “We’re in the eighth season now and [have done] 160-some-odd shows. Not that the show’s getting stale, but we thought, ‘We’re pushing in new directions with characters now, let’s try some new things with structure.’ So that sort of spawned the idea of the backwards story.”

“Redrum” protagonist Martin Wells wakes one morning to find himself in a jail cell, being held for the murder of his wife. But he has no memory of the past several days’ events. He’s treated coldly by his old friend John Doggett, denied bail and shot by his father-in-law in just a few hours’ time. The next morning he awakens in the same prison, alive, and learns yesterday’s events are set to take place tomorrow. On top of that, no one else seems to have any cognizance of the apparent time flux – though Agent Scully seems at least to be sympathetic to his claims. Realizing his unique situation puts him in a position not only to find out who really perpetrated the crime but also to try to prevent it, Wells sets to the task, though his inexplicable actions cause him to come under even more suspicion.

The episode’s clever, original conundrum might be fun for viewers to tackle, but the creative minds behind “Redrum” found it torturous. “It was a big headache to try to put it all together,” Maeda says. “It was really difficult trying to figure out what does he know on this day, what does he know on the day before and what do the other characters know. Martin is learning things about this murder that he does not remember over the course of this story, but Doggett and Scully and other characters in this story are actually unlearning things as they go backwards through the story. So, they know more at the beginning of the story than they do at the end. And in the beginning of the story, they come to Martin and tell him things he doesn’t know about because he has no memory of the past three days. At the end of the story he has to go to Doggett and tell him, ‘You don’t remember me, but my wife is gonna be murdered today.’ So, it’s pretty twisty.”

Got all that? Executive producer Frank Spotnitz swears it’s worth the bit of brainteasing to figure it out. “It’s like the satisfaction of solving a very difficult puzzle,” he says. “We felt very good when we finally got to the end and saw that it all made sense in some way. But it’s a real change of pace. I’d say we’ve only done episodes like this, which are not in the mold of The X-Files, really two or three times in the life of the series. So, it’s a gamble, which is always worrying and exciting at the same time.”

Actor Joe Morton, probably best known for his roles in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Speed and this summer’s What Lies Beneath, has taken on the formidable task of carrying the audience along with Wells on his voyage of discovery and redemption. Though he seems to delve into the paranoia and confusion of his character with relative ease each time “Action” is called, between takes he’s equally as ready with a handshake and a hug for an extra who’s wrapped his work on the episode.

“He’s such a strong actor,” Markle says. “You know when you’re looking at an actor like Joe, there’s always something going on inside. It just reads on the screen whether he has dialogue or he has no dialogue. So, this is a perfect role for him because the drama this particular character is going through dealing with the death of his wife, trying to change the event, living his days backwards, waking up in jail, being a prosecutor treated like a criminal – I think Joe’s the type of actor you need to be on camera with that range of emotions.”

Maeda says he knew Morton was the man for the job even before he finished the script. “Sometimes when you’re writing, you start to picture an actor playing in a particular role,” he explains. “You hear people say this all the time, but in this case it’s actually true that as we [were] thinking of who could play this character, for some reason Joe Morton kept coming to mind. So, when they asked me, ‘Well do you have any ideas on casting?’ my first thought was, ‘How about Joe Morton?’ And then we didn’t know about his availability and we looked at other people, as well. But then, when he became available, it was like ‘Fantastic. That was who I had in my mind from the get-go.’ So, I was really lucky.”

The casting of Martin Wells was an especially important one, as Wells drives the story himself, discovering the X-file and solving it on his own with only brief interludes with Scully and Doggett. Although this device conveniently addressed actor availability issues, Maeda says it was not intentional.

“As we started doing it backwards, it seemed to us [to be] the only way to tell the story, because it was from this guy’s particular point of view and he was the only one experiencing what was going on,” Maeda explains. “To cut away to Scully and Doggett and have them appear more didn’t feel right. It felt better that we stay with him and the audience knows what he knows, and that we’re part of his confusion. And then when he starts to understand things, we’re part of understanding them. It certainly, I think, has worked out well, and it’s nice that this is the kind of show where you can do something totally different like this and really have a great guest character carry an entire show.”

Morton’s increased role also gives the crew a bit more breathing space in creating the John Doggett character. Introduced in the season opener as the special agent in charge of a task force created to search for Mulder, Doggett will become a lead on the show alongside Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Although a Chris Carter-penned tale, about bats, will air before this episode, scheduling demands placed “Redrum” third on the production slate, making this the first time many precedents have had to be addressed. By the time “Redrum” airs, viewers will have already gotten a glimpse of Doggett and Scully’s new partnership, but the episode marks the first time the crew has had to take a crack at showing the ex-marine and former cop teamed up with Scully. Luckily, since Doggett mainly remains in the background of the episode, department heads could take their time shaping the little details of his character.

“I’ve already started doing what they call a closet for him,” costume designer Enid Harris says. “He happens to be fabulous. I mean, he’s got a great look, he’s got a great body. He’s been a dream to dress. We want to keep him conservative, like an ex-marine or policeman would dress. So, basically, it has to be a two-button suit. However, two-button suits always come with pleated pants, which is not a great look. So, I’ve had to redesign the suits to do a two-button jacket with a flat-front pant, which basically you can’t buy. So, we’ve had to redo all these pants.

Though shot entirely on location for “Redrum,” the interior of Doggett’s apartment – seen for the first time in this episode – will eventually be replicated on stage and become a standing set.

“Doggett is a cop, and we got to pick a really interesting house,” production designer Corey Kaplan explains. “It’s in a grungy neighborhood where everybody has fences and barking dogs, and everybody’s house is turn-of-the-century and totally cut up and revamped. And just that choice is kind of cool. He’s a cop and he’s willing to live in a bad place because he can handle himself. We’ll be developing his house and the things we put on his wall as [the writers] start writing about him. I don’t remember the episode where the ‘I Want to Believe’ poster landed on Mulder’s wall, but that’s how we came to this really rich character. All the scripts that passed by and the evolution of situations formed his office and his fish and his porno magazines and his closet – all those things that make him what he is. We don’t have that for Doggett yet. We’re slowly getting there.

“I like him already,” she continues. “He doesn’t have an attitude. He’s really straightforward. And it’s interesting how he’s going to be broken down into believing. It’s kind of fun watching, ‘Oh, my god, how can he not believe this,’ like we watched Scully being transformed through Mulder and his realizations.”

Property master Tom Day shows a similar amount of enthusiasm about the collection of items he has begun to gather for Doggett. “First off, Robert’s just a gem of a guy, so it’s made it really groovy for everyone,” he says. “This for us will be an ongoing process for the first few episodes because he gets himself in different circumstances, and that’s when a particular little personal prop will demonstrate itself, whether it be his wallet or his holster or a photo that says something about him. [It’s fun] developing those little nuances.”

One of the most challenging props to come by for “Redrum” was the knife Doggett uses to cut through the crime scene tape on the door of Wells’ apartment. Day chose a sleek, military-style blade to fit Doggett’s already established personal history. “There’s a lot that goes into what kind of knife a guy carries,” Day explains. “I’ve got five guys in my prop department, and we all carry a different kind of knife. So, you don’t just go, ‘Ok, give [Doggett] this and let him cut it with that.’ No, this is something that we’ve actually talked to the executive producers about. What do they want for him? What exactly do they want to say with this knife? And once that’s been said, then we’ll take this knife and we’ll have a whole bunch of them made. We’ll have rubbers made, and we’ll have ones with safety blades on them made up. And then we will have established that prop for him that will say something about him.”

Meanwhile, outside of Day’s Stage Six office on the Twentieth Century Fox lot, Mulder’s apartment set stands empty, darkened and locked. Directly opposite, a black curtain reaching from floor to ceiling covers an area dressed up to reveal Mulder’s current location in the two-part season premiere. Its contents are to be kept secret until the episodes debut in early November.

Though Duchovny does make a brief but powerful appearance in the opening two-parter, “Redrum” is the first entirely Mulder-free episode in The X-Files’ history.

“[In] ‘Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man,’ you heard Mulder’s voice. I think you may have seen his lips, Spotnitz says. “And in ‘Three of a Kind,’ the Lone Gunmen episode, you only heard his voice. I think this is probably the first episode without Mulder in any way, shape or form. [But] it’s such an oddball episode anyway, it didn’t really hit us. I think episode four, which will actually be broadcast as episode three, [is] probably when it will hit us how weird it is that it’s without Mulder because that’s really the first true case where Scully and Doggett are partnered up.”

That’s not to say Mulder’s absence had no impact on “Redrum.” In fact, Maeda says it made it easier to take the chance on a guest star-driven storyline. If Mulder were around, it might have been tempting to take the road more traveled and play it safe.

“One of the nice things about Mulder is that you have that character to push the paranormal envelope.” Maeda says. “If Mulder were in this episode, he would immediately be putting out a theory that, ‘I think I know what’s going on here.’ And he might be partially right, he might be totally right. Without him, you have to go through a different path to arrive at the same place. It’s tough, no question about it, but it’s also an interesting challenge to try and get there in another way.”

Maeda insists, however, that turning The X-Files into an anthology show by having guest leads every week isn’t the only way to deal with this issue. But fans should expect more episodes, like “Redrum,” outside traditional X-Files formulas.

And of course, there’s always Scully to consider. Though she started the series as an ultra-rational scientist, her knee-jerk skepticism has been tempered by her years in the field with Mulder. No one’s calling her “Spooky” yet, but she no longer dismisses the paranormal as superstitious nonsense.

“She’s seen enough over seven years that she doesn’t walk away from the tall tale immediately,” Day says. “She actually sees it more based upon her experiences with the Mulder character. Still, she’s more rooted in the science. But there’s just an openness. Experience has taught her not to immediately discount things.”

The challenges The X-Files’ producers face, like establishing a new character and developing a device by which the leads are brought to the paranormal each week, are very similar to those of the first season. And with all the changes in store, it seems The X-Files, like Martin Wells, is getting a chance at a fresh start.

“There’s a little bit of a sense that we’re almost doing a new show. And there’s a part inside of you that wonders how well this is gonna go over,” Day says. “I mean, you’ve got a show that for many years has had people invest their time into these characters. These two characters have been there for seven full years. Now, you wonder, are those people who have been the loyal fans of the show for seven years, are they gonna revolt, are they gonna have issues? Or can you just hope, ‘Hey, they’re gonna like the new scripts, they’re gonna like the direction it goes in and they’re still gonna enjoy it. Because let’s face it, the stories themselves are coming from the same sources. So, hopefully, that bridge is crossed, everything goes well, everyone’s happy and Season Eight is a successful one.”

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One Response to “The X-Files Magazine: Brand New Day”

  1. […] The X-Files has been increasingly class-conscious since the move to Los Angeles at the start of the show’s sixth season. The characterisation of Doggett arguable reflects this, coming from a much more blue-collar background than Mulder or Scully. Indeed, Redrum marks the first appearance of his home in a less up-market neighbourhood: […]