Posts Tagged ‘james wong’

Cinefantastique: Millennium: TV’s best kept secret improves in its sophomore season

Oct-??-1998
Cinefantastique
Millennium: TV’s best kept secret improves in its sophomore season
Paula Vitaris

The best kept secret on television last season was Millennium, which offered some of the year’s most thoughtful, imaginative, and suspenseful story-telling. Unfortunately, the second season received virtually no build-up— quite a contrast to the campaign waged by the Fox Network for the debut in 1996; since the noticeable drop in ratings after the premiere, the network no longer exerted a major effort to promote the show. The losers were the television audience, both first and second seasons.

For the second season, creator Chris Carter turned the show over to others while working on the fifth season and feature film of The X-Files. Glen Morgan and James Wong, who had served as consulting producers during the first season, were tapped for the job. New writers joined the staff. Glen’s brother Darin signed on and wrote and directed two episodes. Michael Perry, who had won an Emmy for an episode of NYPD Blue co-written with Steve Gagahn, had been recruited by Chris Carter. Morgan and Wong also brought on board writing partners Erin Maher and Kay Reindl. Held over from the first season were Chip Johannessen and Robert Moresco.

Both critics and the audience had expressed the opinion that Millennium’s first season was too grim, violent and monotonous, with the majority of the episodes devoted to serial killer plots and not enough time spent on Frank’s inner life or the Millennium Group. The network wanted changes, and Morgan and Wong were happy to oblige. “There was too much gore in the first season, and it was for shock’s sake,” Morgan said. “There was no humor. Everybody wanted to know more about the Millennium Group. What was Frank’s role with them? We needed to develop Frank. We had a good actress, Megan Gallagher, playing his wife, and what could we do with their relationship? Where can this go?”

Not everyone agreed with the changes, including some of the producing and writing staff who had been retained from the first season. “I think it was good to open the show up a little in terms of its tone,” Johannessen said. “To my taste, some of the stuff became much more adolescent, and it changed the center of gravity a little bit–but it did open up the show.”

Despite first year problems, Morgan and Wong believed Millennium possessed a number of strong elements. They had a strong leading man in Lance Henriksen as Frank Black. They were also intrigued by the symbolism of Frank’s yellow house, his ideal home. “What really appealed to me was that Chris had said that he had made the show because of the Black’s yellow house,” Morgan noted. “This year was an opportunity to make a hero-myth of the story; take the house away from Frank, have him go through the dark forest, and get back to the yellow house.”

At the beginning of the second season, Morgan and Wong sat down with Carter and explained their ideas. Carter told them to go ahead, and although they consulted with him during the season, he had very little input. Carter had been planning to write and direct an episode but eventually backed 6ff due to his X-Files responsibilities.

In the season opener, “The Beginning and the End,” Morgan and Wong quickly resolved the kidnapping cliffhanger from last season. Frank’s stalker, the Polaroid Man (Doug Hutchison), was now holding Catherine captive and taunting Frank. By the end of the episode, Frank has located them and killed the Polaroid Man, precipitating a crisis in Catherine, who is afraid of the feelings of hatred and anger she senses both within herself and Frank. She asks him to move out so she can gain some perspective. In the second episode, “Beware of the Dog,” Morgan and Wong introduced a character known as the Old Man (R.G. Armstrong, a long-time favorite of Morgan’s) who acts as a spiritual guide for Frank and begins to expose him to the arcane knowledge of the Millennium Group.

The third episode, “Sense and Antisense,” written by Chip Johannessen, was a government conspiracy about bio-terrorism that seemed more appropriate to The X-Files. “That didn’t quite come off the way I’d hoped,” Johannessen said. “That was one of those tortured things. To my mind, the rewrites got colossally worse, and part of that had to do with the fact that the first draft concerned a much more sensitive area–race–and Broadcast Standards had certain concerns.”

The fourth episode, “Monster,” about accusations of abuse at a day care center and the evil within one particular child, introduced a new recurring character, psychologist Lara Means, played by Morgan’s wife Kristin Cloke (previously seen in Morgan and Wong’s Space: Above and Beyond). Lara, like Frank, is a candidate for the Millennium Group and, also like Frank, experiences visions. Unlike Frank, however, her visions, often of an angel, fill her with fear, and by season’s end she suffers a complete mental collapse.

Morgan and Wong created Lara as a character who would both challenge and reflect Frank. “My biggest worry was that people would think we were trying to make them like Mulder and Scully,” Morgan said. “We wanted somebody with an incredible gift to counter Frank. Right from the beginning, the idea was to have Lara see these visions and know what the Millennium Group was saying was true. Knowing that would drive her crazy because if the world is ending, what’s the point of going on? Coupled with that, we had the Millennium Group saying, ‘We not only have the responsibility of knowing; we have the responsibility of doing something about it.’ The knowledge overloads her, and she goes insane. By seeing that, Frank Black will have a person to compare and contrast himself to: ‘This is my potential fate.’ And that took him back to the yellow house. Lara is a possibility of what Frank could be. If you’re going through the forest, you could be eaten by a troll, or you could get out. Lara did not get out of her dark forest. When the Millennium Group says to Frank, ‘Do you want to become an initiated member? You’re ready to move up a rank,’ he can look at Lara and say, ‘I don’t know.’ And yet, he believes in what she sees and that what the Group is after is right. It’s such an extraordinary responsibility. ”

Another new character was computer wizard Brian Roedecker, played by Allan Zinyk, who had been in Darin Morgan’s X-Files episode “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space.'” Roedecker was a sarcastic wisecracker created to serve as an occasional foil for the humorless Frank. Fans did not take kindly to Roedecker, who came across to them as a knock-off of The X-Files’ Lone Gunmen and totally out of place on Millennium. “I was surprised by the rejection of Roedecker,” Morgan admitted, adding that he wished the fans had given the character more time before pronouncing judgment. Roedecker remained a favorite with Morgan, however, and he and Wong were disappointed when Zinyk left the show to fulfill another acting commitment.

A major goal for the season was to give Frank’s life the kind of narrative drive absent last season, and many of the episodes dealt with his on-going relationship with Catherine, his estranged father, and his friendship with colleague Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn). Intertwined with all this was Frank’s growing knowledge of the Millennium Group’s true nature and the ethical situations their actions forced him to confront. These episodes made for some of the season’ strongest story-telling, particularly the extraordinary “The Curse of Frank Black,” a surreal, ghostly journey from uncertainty to renewed determination, played out on the silent, wind-blown streets of Frank’s neighborhood on Halloween night.

Since Frank is often alone in this episode (which was influenced by the Japanese ghost move Kwaidan), there is very little dialogue; much of the meaning is conveyed visually. “I didn’t want to do any more dialogue,” Morgan said. “Lance is so great with looks.” The director was Ralph Hemecker, whom Morgan praised highly: “Ralph came up with some beautiful shots, and I really have to credit him with a lot of the episode’s tone.”

Frank’s Halloween journey is as much through his memories as it is through the streets of his neighborhood. At one point, he recalls his Halloween encounter at age six with the neighborhood recluse, Mr. Crocell (OZ’s Dean Winters). Crocell is a World War II vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but all Frank and his friends know is that he is a figure of fear to them. Crocell had killed himself, but now he appears as a host to challenge Frank to give up his fight against evil, because he can’t beat the devil. “Frank’s journey is similar to Lara’s,” Morgan commented. “That’s where Frank could go, where he could quit and find a place for himself. He is at the brink–he goes back to his yellow house and throws eggs at it, like kids do at Halloween. He was on the brink of becoming Mr. Crocell. But he’s got to go back and clean up the mess; otherwise he would just be giving up. What I liked is that it did seem like a slip-up in his quest.”

The episodes by Erin Maher and Kay Reindl also highlighted Frank’s development. Their first episode, “A Single Blade of Grass,” sent Frank to New York City to investigate a death at a construction site that employed a Native American crew. The story included a ceremony where rattler venom induced hallucinations. At Morgan’s behest, Reindl and Maher restored Frank’s gift–his near-psychic abilities–which had vanished early in the season. “I felt last year those visions were a cheat,” Morgan said. “The camera would go to a coffee cup and Frank would say, ‘The murderer used a coffee cup.’ It drove me nuts. What we were trying to do this year was to elevate Frank’s visions to a dream-like state, so he would have to interpret what he’s seeing. There would be more mystical, symbolic imagery that might give him more of a sense of what’s going on. I had wanted to strip away the gift for a long time and see if the show really played well without it. But we got back into that. The Old Man in ‘Beware of the Dog’ was trying to tell Frank, ‘Your gift isn’t gone; it’s going to be different.'”

Maher and Reindl’s next episode, “Midnight of the Century,” examined Frank’s relationship with his emotionally withdrawn father (Darren McGavin). The two writers had drawn the assignment of scripting “a scary Christmas episode.” They rented every scary Christmas movie they could find, like Silent Night, Deadly Night. “We came up with the idea of doing ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Frank,” Reindl said. “The three ghosts would be serial killers of the past, present and future. We pitched our board, and after the first act, Glen said, ‘Did we talk about this at all?’ And we said, ‘Well, not really, just generally.’ He said, ‘Well, we have this scene in the Halloween episode.'”

The scene Reindl and Maher had written was a flashback where a youthful Frank discovered his neighbor was a murderer. While not identical to the flashbacks in “The Curse of Frank Black,” it was close enough that it was jettisoned. At that point, Morgan gave new instructions about the episode: while he didn’t want a scene that close to “The Curse of Frank Black,” he wanted the Christmas episode to be similar in that it would be a day in the life of Frank Black, rather than have Frank investigating a case. “It was Frank being guided along some kind of spiritual journey,” said Maher. “Since it was a Christmas episode, we wanted to deal with Frank’s family. It was a good opportunity to show some of his past with his father. Originally we had talked about Johnny Cash as Frank’s dad, but then he got sick. And then of course we were very jazzed to get Darren McGavin. The Night Stalker as Frank’s father! It was so perfect. We could not have asked for a better performance. “We were thinking about Frank’s visions, and we thought if one of his parents had visions, that would mean something, since his daughter Jordan has them,” Maher added. “It’s something that’s passed from generation to generation. So we decided that his mother would have visions too, mainly because last year in ‘Sacrament,’ the episode with Frank’s brother, we got a very strong impression that Frank and his father weren’t very close and that his father was very remote and very strict. We were wondering why that was. And Frank and his brother never talked about their mother. So we came up with the idea of Frank’s mother dying when he was six years old, and he really didn’t understand how deep his father’s love was, so he blamed his father for letting her die alone. We also thought about the idea that Christmas is always supposed to be this perfect family holiday, but Frank’s family has split up–he’s without his wife and child. He really doesn’t have a good relationship with his dad. It’s sort of the Christmas that you end up with, rather than the Christmas that you really want.” This time., Reindl noted, by reconciling with his father and enjoying with Catherine a Christmas pageant in which daughter Jordan appeared, Frank finally got the Christmas that he wanted.

Maher and Reindl also wrote the one episode this season, “Anamnesis,” in which Frank did not appear. Instead, Catherine Black and Lara Means team up to investigate the strange behavior of a group of high school girls. One of the girls, Clare (Genele Templeton), claims to have seen Mary. Lara and Catherine both come to the case as psychologists, and in their discussions with the girls, eventually realize that the Mary of Clare’s visions isn’t the Virgin Mary by Mary Magdalene. Maher and Reindl became thoroughly fascinated with Mary Magdalene while researching the early years of Christianity. “We thought, ‘Wow, she rocks,'” laughed Maher. They were surprised by what they learned, that Mary, although portrayed for nearly two centuries as a prostitute, was more likely a woman of good family and reputation. “She’s the apostle to the apostles. She’s the one who really understands what Christ is saying,” Maher said. “She was pretty much weeded out of the Bible. Women can’t be in any position of power, but when you look back at the history there were early Christian women who are priestesses. What happened to them? Why was that so threatening? We wanted to play with that a little bit.'”

The episode questioned the purity of Jesus, a divergent view of Christ that Maher and Reindl had also come upon in their research. Network Standards and Practices objected, and the two writers spent many hours on the phone trying ~ to explain their position. “They suddenly realized what the episode was about, and they were horrified,” Maher said, “because we’re implying that since Jesus was Jewish and a rabbi, he probably was married and had children. Standards said, ‘You’re implying that Jesus had sex!’ And we’re going ‘Yep!'”

The two writers enjoyed playing the rational Catherine off against the visionary Lara, who senses the breakdown that awaits her. “We got to do a little Mulder and Scully thing with them, because Lara is the spiritual one and Catherine is more scientific,” Maher noted. “But in this episode you really see Catherine opening up a little bit more to the possibilities.”

Added Reindl, “She has a really great strength in this episode. I think that one of the things she learns is that although she’s very protective of her family, she’s not protecting out of fear but out of strength, and she can do that for Frank and Jordan. Nobody is going to mess with those two when she’s around, and that’s what we really wanted to bring out in this episode;”

Another episode that traced Frank’s growth as well as his relationship with the Millennium Group was “Luminary,” written by Chip Johannessen. Frank defies Millennium Group orders and searches for a young man lost in the Alaskan wilderness who may have already died from exposure. “I wanted to write a story where Frank chose to stand up to the Millennium Group and do something he felt was personally important, based just on his instinct and his vision,” Johannessen said. “Although the Millennium Group was clearly pleased with him in the end, it wasn’t a task they set for him. And yet it was the right thing for him to do, and they were wise enough to see that. I wanted Frank to get out in the woods, having followed his inner voices, and have this moment where he realizes that the kid is dead and that he had been completely wrong to go on the search. It should be one of those moments in your life where you just feel lost. And then he’d realize the kid was still alive and that he was called there for a reason.”

Although serial killer plots were downplayed this year, one of the season’s best episodes, ‘The Mikado,’ centers around a particularly baffling serial killer who calls himself Avatar. Writer Michael Perry based Avatar on the Zodiac serial killer who had plagued the San Francisco area in the 1970’s. Like Zodiac, Avatar sends cryptic telegrams and coded messages to the police, wears an executioner’s hood and robe and, also like Zodiac, is never caught. He comes to the attention of the police and the Millennium Group when he displays his victim on a camera hooked up to a website and slays her in full view of thousands of people. Before Avatar cuts the on-line connection, a teenage boy manages to print the frame, and brings it to the police.

“1 wanted a crime that no police department would have jurisdiction over,” Perry explained. “Who’s going to go after it? Ordinarily, if there’s a murder down the street, the city is going to take care of it. That’s how our entire society has been built. With a murder that isn’t tied to a physical place, this guy can go on forever, unless there’s a Millennium Group. That was the sport of it. It also has the great beginning for a mystery. It’s articulated by Frank, who says, ‘We don’t know who the victim is; we don’t know where the crime scene took place. We don’t have any crime scene. We don’t have any evidence except for a blurry print-out.’ That’s such a tantalizing beginning.”

With the location of Avatar’s set-up unknown, Frank is unable to connect physically with the evidence of the scene, a concept that Perry enjoyed. “Avatar cut Frank off from what he naturally does; this also has to do with the demonizing elements of the internet. It’s both a character and a thematic element, because 4,000 people per hour are logging on, hoping to see this girl die. The dehumanizing aspects of mediated communication, the internet in this particular case, are a sub-theme, and it ties in to how Frank, being cut off from being in a real place, can’t do what he normally does. That was a fun thing to play around with, and it works for both plot and character.”

“The Mikado” also marked the last appearance of Roedecker, a character Perry had loved from the beginning. “Frank and his colleague Peter Watts are accustomed to dealing with the macabre, so as a viewer you think they’re much cooler than you are. They don’t have to flinch; they’re tough guys. What I like about Roedecker in: this episode is that he becomes an advocate for the audience. Roedecker is able to express the revulsion, the tears that Frank has to constantly hold back. For the first time, Roedecker has a chance to see this is what Frank and Peter do all the time. It makes Frank seem grander because, if nobody in an episode reacts to the gruesome and macabre things that are around, they don’t seem so terrifying.” .

Millennium mythology–the development of Frank’s relationship with the Millennium Group and the revelations about the group’s mission–also took up a number of episodes, particularly “The Hand of Saint Sebastian,” and two-parters “Owls” and “Roosters,” and “The Fourth Horseman” and “The Time is Now.”

In “The Hand of Saint Sebastian,” Peter Watts calls upon Frank to help him on an unauthorized mission that brings them to Germany to retrieve the long-lost, recently recovered, mummified hand of St. Sebastian. They soon realize that someone is working against them, and the traitor turns out to be Millennium Group pathologist Cheryl Andrews (CCH Pounder). Wong, who wrote the script, wanted to write a Watts-driven episode, which would showcase O’Quinn and develop the Millennium Group. “I felt that by revealing that the Millennium Group had existed for centuries and setting the episode overseas, that would give the story greater scope and weight,” Wong said. “I also thought it would be interesting to get Peter excited about something that was not sanctioned by the Group and to show that he will do something like that. Terry is such a great actor, and we thought he deserved something to do instead of just saying, ‘That’s right, Frank’…’You’re right again, Frank.’ I thought, ‘What’s a great way to divide the Group?’ I thought about doing a spy kind of show. I was doing research on the Knights Templar and the Masons, and it seems like all those groups had other groups who were against them and betrayed them. There was so much intrigue. I realized that this is how groups act, and I thought, why shouldn’t the Millennium Group have the same thing?”

The two-parter “Owls” and “Roosters,” revealed a new level of conflict among the Millennium Group, when an artifact believed to be a part of the True Cross is stolen. One faction, the Roosters, believes it was taken by another faction, the Owls, to weaken the Roosters. Morgan said that “Owls” and “Roosters” grew directly out of “The Hand of Saint Sebastian,” an episode he had loved. “It’s nice to be so influenced by something your partner did,” he said. “I wanted to break the split we saw in that episode into a secular one. How can you make people believe that the end of the world is in sight? I tried to look to a scientific possibility. In the two-parter at the end of the season, I tried to tie those together with a plague. I started reading about germ warfare and thought, “Here are scientific events occurring in our world, and they’re predicted theologically.”

The season’s two-part finale, “The Fourth Horseman” and “The Time Is Now,” showed the outbreak of a plague which builds on the division within the Millennium Group and Frank’s growing distrust. He is tempted by an offer to join a rival investigatory group called The Trust. Meanwhile, he and Peter investigate the outbreak of a deadly plague, while Lara, who has been initiated into the Millennium Group’s secret knowledge, begins her final descent into madness. At the end, the Blacks have taken refuge in the remote cabin of Frank’s late father, where a sick and probably dying Catherine sneaks off into the woods so that already inoculated Frank can use their one vial of plague vaccine on Jordan. The cabin, for Morgan, had become Frank’s yellow house, where the Blacks are reunited, even if death soon takes Catherine away. “I didn’t feel right leaving Frank without his yellow house. I think in life you sometimes search for a yellow house, but for Frank, it actually was that cabin.”

Morgan and Wong wrote the season finale not knowing whether Millennium would be renewed. They pitched several endings to Carter, who made a surprising suggestion that they kill Catherine. Morgan and Wong were taken aback, but didn’t object, especially when Carter said to leave her death ambiguous.

After thinking how to make Catherine’s death meaningful, Morgan discussed it with Megan Gallagher and described the scenario to her. “I told her the neat part will be that after Frank Black has done so much sacrificing for his family, ultimately it will be Catherine who makes the ultimate sacrifice. She liked that. So that had a big part in the decision to kill Catherine.”

Like so many plot ideas, the plague as millennial doom emerged from the writers’ research. “When I looked at the current research, I found the thing that was most likely to get us was some sort of plague or virus,” Morgan said. “I didn’t really pay much attention during the mad cow scare in England, but in reading about it I found it horrifying.”

One of the most striking sequences of the two-parter is the third act depicting Lara’s visions of the apocalypse and her breakdown. It was shot and cut much like a music video, accompanied by the Patti Smith song about heroin, “Horses,” which had been a college favorite of Morgan’s. He had always envisioned someone going crazy to it. “Editing was really difficult. Doing this was rather naive on my part,” Morgan admitted. “Music videos probably have a budget close to what one of our entire episodes costs, and we had only three days to put it together. I don’t think we competed very well with the kind of imagery you see on MTV. But I felt that this hasn’t been done on a primetime, network drama. I’m glad we did it, but it was really, really hard.”

With renewal confirmed last May by Fox, the responsibilities of running Millennium’s third season have been given to Chip Johannessen and Michael Duggan (Earth 2). Michael Perry, Erin Maher and Kay Reindl have remained on staff. Chris Carter also plans to be more involved than he was in the second season. Morgan and Wong have departed, satisfied with their work on the show. “I’m really proud of a lot of the episodes this season,” Wong said. “The frustrating thing was that we didn’t find a new audience. Some of the people who watched it the first season decided it wasn’t for them and didn’t come to watch it this season to see if they liked it better or see how it changed.”

Cinefantastique: Morgan and Wong Return to The X-Files

Oct-??-1997
Cinefantastique
Morgan and Wong Return to The X-Files
Paula Vitaris

In January 1995, Glen Morgan and James Wong, excited about the new show they were going to create for Fox, called Space: Above and Beyond, bid farewell to The X-Files. Although their contract called for them to return to the X-Files if Space was not picked up or was cancelled, they anticipated never returning to the show that had brought them a certain amount of fame, thanks to pivotal episodes like “Squeeze,” “Beyond the Sea,” “E.B.E.,” “Little Green Men,” and “One Breath,” and the creation of many characters – including The Lone Gunmen, Skinner, Bill, Margaret and Melissa Scully who instantly wormed their way into fans’ hearts.

Never say “Never Again.” Space: Above and Beyond struggled on for a full season in a dreadful timeslot (7 p.m. on Sunday), enduring numerous pre-emptions and basement-level ratings whenever it did air, until it was finally cancelled in May 1996, Angry at their treatment by the network, Morgan and Wong thought about jumping ship to another network, but struck a bargain instead: they would spend a half season on both The X-Files and Chris Carter’s new show Millennium, in return for 20th Century-Fox producing the pilot of The Notorious, a show they had wanted to do for nearly seven years. They also told Carter they wanted to use cast members from SPACE in their X-Files and Millennium episodes; Carter told them that was fine.

The first order of business for Morgan and Wong was catching up on episodes they had missed. They had been so busy on SPACE that they had not watching anything from The X-Files’ third season, except for the episodes written by Glen’s brother Darin, “It felt a bit like, ‘You can’t go home again; , like we were left behind, “James Wong said. “We were out of it, by the time we came back. It was like, ‘Hey, guys, do you remember who we were?’ and people were almost too busy doing their own thing to take a moment to acknowledge that, I’m exaggerating a bit for effect, but it sort of felt like that when we came back, especially when we went to Vancouver. We wanted to pile on , the work early in the season and help out as much as we could before going into The Notorious. I had thought Darin’s scripts were fabulous. I thought some of those mythology shows were incredible. The production values, were: ‘my god!’ Some shows were disappointing. But you have that every season. The X-Files became a huge success after we left, so they knew what they were doing.”

The pair agreed to write and produce, as consulting producers, four episodes for The X-Files, and two for Millennium (they ended up agreeing to write a third Millennium episode as a favor to Peter Roth, the newly installed network head). Because the schedule called for them to create a year’s worth of work in half a season, they decided to split the writing, to some degree, Morgan felt somewhat uncomfortable with Millennium’s bleak tone, so he worked more on X-Files scripts, while Wong concentrated on Millennium. To make life even more hectic, they signed a deal with Wong’s poker buddy Dean Devlin; and his partner Roland Emmerich (the pair responsible for the M-G-M hit Stargate and Fox’s smash Independence Day) to write the script for a remake of Fantastic Voyage, which would be due the same day in late spring they were scheduled to deliver The Notorious pilot to Fox.

Morgan was also going through some personal changes. His marriage, which had been unhappy for a long time, finally failed, and he became embroiled in divorce and custody proceedings. Morgan’s regrets about the divorce and loss of everyday contact with his children were reflected in his scripts, as far back as SPACE’s “The Angriest Angel,” which revealed that McQueen felt had once been married, to the enraged James Horn, suffering the guilt of a custody battle in Millennium’s “Dead Letters,” to the tormented Ed Jerse of “Never Again;” first seen signing divorce papers in court. Around the same time, Morgan’s friendship with Kristen Cloke, the female lead of Space, had blossomed into romance, and his feeling about that relationship inspired the writing of “The Field Where 1 Died.”

First, though, came “Home,” a slam-in-your-face monster movie that showcased Morgan and Wong’s more devilish tendencies. As Morgan liked to say, if “it’s a Morgan and Wong script, there’s got to be death.”

HOME

“I see James Morrison; Rodney Rowland and Morgan Weisser as three big freak brothers,” Glen Morgan told Chris Carter, Carter’s response: “Okay!” Morrison, Rowland and Weisser, of course, were three cast members from Space: Above and Beyond: Morgan and Wong wanted to write about three freak brothers because they had concluded, after their survey of the third season episodes, that The X-Files needed a kick in the pants, something that would be swift and shocking; an old-fashioned horror show. “We wanted to start off with a bang,” noted Wong. Freak brothers would do the trick.

Kristen Cloke suggested the two watch a documentary called Brother’s Keeper, about three mentally, socially and economically deprived brothers who lived in upstate New York — in fact, in the same county Morgan’s own family had lived in when he was a boy — and the legal fall-out after one of the brothers is asphyxiated in bed. Did the other brother deliberately strangle him, or was it an accident? How do you deal with people who are barely self-aware? Morgan and Wong also read a number of books about nature and evolution, including a volume called Dark Nature. “Dark Nature was all about the morality of nature; for instance, when a mother bird throws a baby out of the nest,” Morgan explained. “There are even instances of baby birds throwing themselves out of the nest when they knew they couldn’t make it. The human equivalent would be so horrid.”

He and Wong concocted a story about the Peacock family of peaceable Home, Pennsylvania, a town that takes pride in maintaining its traditional ways. When a dead, horribly deformed newborn is discovered buried in a field next to the ramshackle Peacock farm, Sheriff Andy Taylor (played by Tucker Smallwood, another SPACE cast member), calls in the FBI. Sheriff Taylor’s name, of course, is an homage to Andy Griffith’s popular TV character. The Sheriff Taylor of “Home” also has a deputy named Barney. “We had to do that!” laughed Morgan.. As it turns out, Sheriff Taylor, for all his affability, has something in common with the Peacocks; like them, he will do anything to maintain the status quo, even if it means not poking his nose into situations that require his professional attention.

“Thematically, Sheriff Taylor was doing the same thing that the brothers were doing. They didn’t want things to change,” Morgan said. Scully conducts an examination on the baby, and when the DNA tests come back, she is shocked to find results impossible to believe; they indicate the child had three fathers.

The Peacocks are completely cut off from the community, except as the butt of macabre speculations by the town’s children. “I think we all know a house like the Peacocks’,” Morgan said. “It didn’t have to be a farm like theirs, but everybody always has a house on their street where you didn’t want to go.”

Another source was a story from Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, which they had wanted to adapt for years into a script. Chaplin relates an incident that took place when, as a 16-year-old performer on tour in the English countryside, his landlord for the week asks him if he would like to meet “Gilbert.”

A half a man with no legs, an oversized, blond, flat-shaped head, a sickening white face, a sunken nose, a large mouth and powerful muscular shoulders and arms, crawled from underneath the dresser. He wore flannel underwear with the legs of the garment cut off to the thighs, from which ten thick, stubby toes stuck out. The grisly creature could have been twenty or forty. He looked up and grinned, showing a set of yellow, widely spaced teeth. “Hey Gilbert, jump!” said the father and the wretched man lowered himself slowly, then shot up by his arms almost to the height of my head. “How do you think he’d fit in with a circus? The human frog!” I was so horrified I could hardly answer. However, I suggested the names of several circuses that he might write to. He insisted on the wretched creature going through further tricks, hopping, climbing and standing on his hands on the arms of a rocking chair. When at last he had finished I pretended to be most enthusiastic and complimented him on his tricks. “Good night, Gilbert,” I said before leaving, and in a hollow voice, and tongue-tied, the poor fellow answered: “Good night.” – Charlie Chaplin My Autobiography’.

Morgan had hoped this tale could be used in his brother Darin Morgan’s first X-Files script, ‘Humbug,” but it didn’t work out. Instead, Gilbert ended up in “Home,” transformed into the limbless, proud Mrs. Peacock, who Mulder and Scully discover living under a dresser in the family’s filthy house. (The Peacock name belonged to a slovenly family that used to live next door to Morgan’s grandparents). Mulder and Scully have entered the house, acting under the suspicion the mother of the dead baby might be held captive there, but the only woman they find is Mrs. Peacock, who they eventually surmise is the mother.

According to James Wong, the Peacock family doesn’t engage in incest, but in inbreeding. “Inbreeding is this weird, freaky thing. People took ‘Home’ as a really perverse, shocking episode, more than we meant it to be. We intended to talk about nature versus civilization. What is the true nature of humans? Can you devolve, become animals? If taken away from the civilizing influence of society, what happens to you? We wanted to show what happens to people when they are outsiders.” Added Morgan: “Inbreeding was something that can occur in nature, unlike incest, which a guy coming in the room at night to his daughter or step-daughter, and saying, ‘We’ve got our special secret.’ This was about inbreeding.”

Fox Standards and Practices balked at the storyline, but finally agreed, with the proviso that the Peacock boys not just be odd-looking, but look like monsters. “They weren’t going to approve people that you could really come across,”

Morgan said. “They liked their idea, because they wanted a monster episode. Also, they didn’t want the Peacocks to talk.” With no dialogue and mounds of prosthetic make-up now required, the roles of the Peacock boys, Morgan and Wong felt, were no longer suitable for Morrison, Rowland and Weisser. “We said, ‘Okay, you guys gotta wait. Just wait.’ And we just went with the whole monster thing,” Morgan said.

The teaser became a bone of contention with the network censors. As lighting flashes and thunder crashes in the middle of the night, a woman gives birth to a baby, which is taken outside and buried alive by three lumpish men. One begins to cry as the grave is dug: The censor was particularly concerned about the crying sound the baby makes.

Post-production producer Paul Rabwin and sound engineer Thierry Couturier came up with a crying baby sound that, according to Morgan, made Rosemary’s baby sound like a cartoon. “It was the most horrifying thing you’d ever heard,” Morgan said. “It was great.” The network censor, a woman named Linda, did not agree. She wanted to hear a mutant baby sound. “Paul and Thierry had this mutant baby that sounded like a squeaky toy. I said, ‘That’s horrible!’ and she goes, ‘That’s the one I want.’ I said, ‘Okay.” But that first one was just so great.”

Of several shocking scenes in ‘Home,” the most shocking is the brutal murder of Sheriff Andy Taylor and his wife Barbara, midway through the episode. While the Taylors prepare for bed on a quiet evening, the Peacocks hop into their car and drive to the Taylor home, to the accompaniment of the Johnny Mathis song, “Wonderful! Wonderful!’

Taylor, who smells danger, considers taking his gun from its locked box, but decides against it. The Peacocks arrive and Taylor is now armed only with a baseball bat, but the Peacocks grab it from him and beat him and his wife to death. The sequence is cut for maximum shock effect, with much lifting and descending of the bat (although you don’t actually see it connect), accompanied by a relentless series of thwacks on the soundtrack. “We asked, how would animals attack?” Wong said. “The answer was, in packs.”

Morgan compared this scene to the famous scene in Psycho, when Janet Leigh is murdered in the shower. “That’s the reason why you spend an act and a half or an act so the audience will go ‘I really like this guy,’ If you like Andy Taylor, just think what it will be like when you get Mulder and Scully in a room with those guys, knowing that these people will kill anybody.” Morgan also wanted to write a scene like the ones in ‘Squeeze,’ like the one where Tooms crams himself down a chimney. “We used extended sequences that took up a lot of time. That’s something I think The X-Files lost in year three. They don’t do that anymore. They just open up a toilet and there’s a rat. So we wrote a long scene where these three big goons go off to kill the sheriff. We wanted to see those guys driving a big old car, with ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’ playing on the radio. I knew I wanted to use that song from the beginning, but we went through about fifty songs and then just settled on that. There’s something about that song that’s really creepy It’s too wonderful. It’s so wonderful, it really bothers me. And I just dropped it in there. (Producers] Kim Manners [who directed ‘Home’] and Rob Bowman would go, ‘The guys should talk,’ I said, ‘No, they don’t talk. They just come out with a club.’ It was all in the script and I said, ‘Here it is, give me bitching shots,’ and they loved that.”

In contrast to the murder and mayhem is a quiet scene between Mulder and Scully, sitting in the sunshine on a park bench, as they react to their examination of the dead baby. Their conversation, about their childhoods and desires for the future, grew out of Morgan and Wong’s looking ahead to where the characters might go in the fourth season and, even into the fifth. “At the beginning of the year, everybody was at the first meeting, and they said, ‘What do we do?’ “Morgan recalled, “and we said, ‘Well, you want to go year five,’ I told them, ‘Right now, Mulder and Scully are together. What we should do is start to sprinkle bits of conversation about the idea that ‘You don’t know me like you think you do,’ like in this scene, where Mulder says, ‘You don’t know me as well as you think. I’d like to retire.’ and Scully says she’d like to be a mother. And Mulder can go, ‘Really?’ It’s to show that you could be with somebody and not know them.”

The network considered the episode shocking enough that two days before it aired, they told Ten Thirteen it would have The X-Files’ first parental advisory. “I thought, ‘What for?’ ” Morgan said. “Then I went, ‘Yeah, absolutely, put it on there!’ More people will watch it. Jim and I were proud to have that. ‘Hey, mom! I got a parental advisory!'”

Reaction to “Home” was vociferous on the internet. The fans were divided down the middle. Some loved it, seeing it as a dark satire on family values; others thought it gratuitous and pointless. “It was much more controversial than we thought it would be,” Wong said. “Some fans were repulsed beyond analyzing the show; they were just kind of sickened by it. They were pretty turned off. Some people loved it. There was a lot of really, really negative reaction.”

“I have really been stung by that whole reaction,” Morgan admitted. “To me, the show must have become so big while we were away. I think a lot of people hadn’t been exposed to what we did when we were first on the show. They were going, ‘Oh my god, what are they doing?’ and we go, ‘But, this is what we always did!’ We had “Squeeze,” or episodes like Chris’ ‘Irresistible,’ these shocking, horrible shows. Act four of ‘Tooms’ I think is on a level with ‘Home,’ so we were going, ‘What is all the ruckus about?’ We figured a lot of people don’t know that earlier stuff, or certain tones that we were going after then.”

Is “Home” a comment on family values? Morgan is equivocal. “I went through a time where I lived at home with my wife and kids, but it wasn’t a good family. I think a family should be together, but it shouldn’t be together at any cost because then it’s not good. It’s kind of a comment, in that I believe in that family values, but it depends on the family. The Peacocks had family values. If there was a comment there, it was that.”

In the grand X-Files tradition of giving the audience something different every week, Morgan and Wong’s next episode, “The Field Where I Died,” was a complete contrast to the outrageous “Home.” The story, about Mulder’s fleeting connection with a doomed young woman, was openly emotional and tragic. The visuals were on the opposite side of the scale from “Home”: director of photography Jon Joffin shot the exteriors in gentle blue, pink and gold pastels, and the interiors in a nostalgic sienna tint. Rob Bowman, in his first collaboration with Morgan and Wong, turned in some of his most lyrical and intimate directing. Mark Snow composed one of his most melodic scores.

THE FIELD WHERE I DIED

“The Field Where I Died” begins when the FBI, acting on a tip from an anonymous source, raids a cult compound in search of illegal weapons. During the raid, Mulder is strangely drawn to a nearby field. He discovers, hidden in an underground bunker, the cult’s leader, Vernon Ephesian, and his six wives on the verge of drinking poison. Mulder finds one of them, a young woman named Melissa Riedel-Ephesian (Kristen Cloke) is oddly familiar to him, although he’s never met her before. The FBI can find no weapons, and Mulder and Scully’s interrogation of the fanatical Ephesian is equally fruitless. They next question Melissa, but the stress of the questions causes the agitated woman to snap. She begins to manifest a number of personalities, including that of a man named Sidney who claims Truman is president, and a small child named Lily. Scully believes Melissa may be suffering from multiple personality disorder; Mulder, disturbed by his feelings about Melissa, offers the theory that she is being invaded by past lives. Then the case takes on a personal twist: another personality; named Sarah, surfaces, to claim that she saw her husband, Sullivan Biddle, die in a Civil War battle fought in the field outside the cult compound, that she recognizes his soul in Mulder, and that they are soulmates bound together forever, even if they meet only briefly in this lifetime: To find out the truth of the situation, and to see if “Sarah” knows of any Civil War era bunkers in which the cult might have hidden weapons, Mulder calls in a hypnosis regression therapist. Both he and Melissa undergo harrowing hypnosis sessions in which they experience a series of past .lives, which lead to moments of truth between Mulder and Scully, as well as between Mulder and Melissa, and Melissa and Vernon Ephesian.

The creation of “The Field Where I Died” was an enjoyable experience for Morgan and Wong; the only problem they ran into was an initial cut of the episode that ran 20 minutes over, requiring them to shorten or eliminate entire scenes. The story had personal meaning for Morgan, and both writers loved working with Rob Bowman for the first time. “Rob is the greatest,” Morgan declared. “I regret not having done more with him earlier. He wanted to know how we wanted every single thing, whether it was an emotional or scientific point. The great thing with Bowman is that he always understands what you’re talking about. It was just Rob and me in the tone meeting for ‘The Field Where I Died,” and I was able to say, ‘I want this episode to feel like the part in Ken Bums’ Civil War documentary where they read the Sullivan Ballou letter.’ And he would immediately get on that phone and say, ‘Get me that CD!’ and he’d listen to that music all that time. You can say to Rob, ‘I want this to feel like this piece of music,’ and he’d go, ‘Okay.’ He works from a very similar place.”

This was also the episode Morgan and Wong planned to write for Kristen Cloke, who had been their leading lady in Space: Above and Beyond. For Morgan, an episode about reincarnation and eternal soulmates was not just a good story for Mulder, but a personal expression of the thoughts and emotions he had experienced during the past year, when his relationship with Cloke grew from friendship into romance (they are now engaged), “I had gone through a failed marriage in which I had really believed,” Morgan revealed. “I had always wanted to believe there is somebody out there for you, and I had been in a situation where that didn’t come true. And I thought, ‘It’s a lie. That person you think is out there for you is a lie.’ But then I met Kristen and I was rejuvenated by that. I really thought. that you can be reborn in this life, not just life after death. I regained faith that there is one person for you, one person who, by being in your life, can motivate you to change the crappy things you were doing before. In this case, it was Kristen. I knew she did a lot of characters and voices, so I wanted to incorporate that.. I wanted to write something for her that challenged her. Also, I wanted to write something for David Duchovny that challenged him.”

Apart from personal considerations, Morgan and Wong wanted to reorient the show’s attitude towards the paranormal, which they felt in the third session had been expressed far too often as something evil or wrong. “The paranormal isn’t about death or evil,” Morgan said. “It’s about wonder.” In line with this approach, he and Wong wanted to avoid writing a conventional villain; instead, the principal conflicts take place between Mulder and Scully or are internal, with both Mulder and Melissa haunted by their pasts, in this life, and perhaps previous lives. Morgan based the character of Vernon Ephesian on David Koresh, a man who many saw as a dangerous crackpot, yet many others found appealing. He and Wong cast Michael Massee, an actor they already knew, and who was also a friend of David Duchovny’s, as Vernon. “He came in, read and was great,” Morgan said. “Michael made Vernon very real. He had the intensity of somebody like Koresh or Charles Manson. He believed in what he was doing. In year three the villains were really just villains. They were nefarious and you knew from the beginning they were the bad guys, and that’s all they ever were. I wanted to write bad guys who were in a gray area, arid that includes even the Peacock brothers in ‘Home.’ In researching Koresh, I thought, ‘Here’s a Jim Jones type of guy.’ I read a book called Why Waco, and what I found interesting were the actions the FBI took and how they tried to muscle Koresh out of the compound. Nobody there really understood the Book of Revelations. If they had, there could have been a peaceful way out of it. Mulder would have understand what this was all. about. At Waco, the negotiators were negotiating as if Koresh were just a hostage-taker.”

Morgan had long wanted to write an episode about reincarnation, a topic he had often discussed with his father, who held a deep interest in reincarnation and had read a great deal about it. A, scene from Patton, one of Morgan’s favorite movies, was another inspiration. “I really love that scene in Patton where George C. Scott, as Patton, is driving with Omar Bradley, and they’re going to check out the battlefield where the Americans have been wiped out, and Patton says, ‘Turn here, turn right,’ and they say, ‘No, General, the battlefield’s up there,’ and he goes, ‘It’s over there,'” Morgan said. “They go to this field that’s all ruins, and George C. Scott starts saying, ‘The Romans came from this direction. The Carthaginians were fierce warriors, but they were not good enough for the Romans.’ And he goes on to describe the whole battle. Then he looks at the others, all choked up and he says, ‘I was there.’ And he recites a poem about reincarnation. It’s such a great scene. It always had an effect on me. And I thought I would like to do a whole piece that had that feel.” The Civil War seemed like the perfect period to draw on. It was a war that had taken place on American soil, and the era had recently experienced a rebirth of popular interest, thanks in good part to Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War. Morgan had been fascinated by Burns’ film, and was particularly affected by a letter read in the film from Major Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah, the real life models for the Sullivan Biddle and Sarah Kavanaugh of “The Field Where I Died.” “I’m forbidden to listen to the Sullivan Ballou letter now,” Morgan confessed, “because I just cry like a fool. I think Bowman has my CD of it now. It’s the greatest thing ever written. I really do believe it.”

The teaser to “The Field Where I Died” opens on a scene somewhat reminiscent of the scene in Patton where the general recites a poem. Duchovny’s voice is heard reciting some lines from the Robert Browning poem Paracelsus, while Mulder, unmoving, stands in a field, gazing at the pieces of a photo that has been torn in half. Something has affected him deeply, but the meaning of the teaser does not become apparent until the end of the episode, when the identical scene is repeated. Morgan couldn’t remember whether the scene in Patton directly inspired his use of a poem, but he recalled reading that passage from Paracelsus in a book on reincarnation literature. “That poem struck me as beautiful. It was Jim’s idea to bookend the episode. We wanted the teaser to be enigmatic and cryptic, so we wouldn’t give it all away in the beginning.” What makes this episode an X-file, though, is not the idea of reincarnation per se, but the possibility that Scully’s viewpoint is the correct one, that Melissa is suffering from multiple personality or dissociative personality disorder. Morgan hit on the past lives versus multiple personalities scenario after hearing an observation by Shirley MacLaine – well known for her own interest in past lives phenomena – about Peter Sellers. “I don’t remember the exact wording,” Morgan said, “but MacLaine said Sellers was a great actor, yet disturbed in his personal life because he was invaded by his past lives. I found that pretty interesting. I heard that before I was ever on The X-Files, and I always thought about that. For ‘The Field Where I Died,’ I thought, ‘That’s kind of neat. Is it multiple personality or is Melissa invaded by her past lives?’ It just seemed natural skeptic versus believer stuff. So I had that. Then I needed to get the FBI into the story, so I thought about why would the FBI be called in, and Waco came to mind. So I set Melissa in this compound, and she’s the kind of character who would make Scully say, ‘Her life is messed up.’ Melissa isn’t just messed up; she is the victim of childhood abuse, which bolster’s Scully argument that her personalities are psychological, not paranormal, in origin. Melissa’s background also explains her membership in the cult, and her subservience to Vernon Ephesian, and even why Mulder would be taken by her. “I took a class on cults, communes and alternative lifestyles when I was in college at Loyola, ” Morgan commented. “Cults attracted a certain type of person, someone who was a little directionless, probably had done some drugs in the past, didn’t have much of a family, and was looking for a family situation. They were people who were lost and sad. One reason why I wrote Melissa that way was my notion that if you’re Mulder and you found your soulmate, the love of all your loves, within the body of this unappealing person, what would you do? I don’t know if we totally explored that. I don’t know if Duchovny would agree with me – he knows more about Mulder – but I think Melissa is the type of women that Mulder would be attracted to. Someone like Bambi in ‘The War of the Coprophages’ is good for a joke, but I don’t really see Mulder going after her. There’s something sad about Melissa. There was a secret within her that was important for him to get at. That mirrors his life, and his own search for his sister. He is a character whose whole drive is to help everybody, but he’s so unsuccessful at that, and with helping himself. All he wants is to find one person that he can rescue – but he’s not too good at it.”

The action in “The Field Where I Died” halts in act three, for the back-to-back hypnosis regression scenes. Mulder’s nominal excuse for calling in the therapist is the hope that if they can call up to Sarah, Melissa’s Civil War personality, she may reveal the location of bunkers in the field where the cult may have cached weapons. But there is another motivation driving Mulder; he desperately wants to find out for himself the truth of the situation. When Melissa, speaking as Sarah, offers no concrete information, Mulder volunteers to be hypnotized, hoping he can access the past life that was Sullivan Biddle, who may also know where the bunkers are. Instead, what Mulder digs up is a past weighed down with loss and death. “Early on, when we were first on The X-Files, one of the rules to writing the show was that Mulder would always be three steps ahead of everybody,” Morgan said. “In his interrogations, he’d go to points A, B, C, D – and then he would jump to F. And everybody would go, ‘Who is this nut?’ But the audience would go, ‘Oh I know what he’s up to – wow!’ The way we looked at it, he was always ahead of the crowd. In ‘The Field Where I Died,’ he’s assigned to a case because he knows about the Bible and Ephesian’s claims about the paranormal. And then, all of a sudden, in the middle of an arrest, he follows this girl – Melissa – outside, and he gets this feeling: ‘I’ve been here before.’ So here’s a case where Mulder didn’t go looking for something. It came to him. And he just had to investigate that. He liked the idea of what he thought he would be finding out, and I think he wanted it to be true.” Under hypnosis, Mulder describes a scene of death and destruction from the Warsaw ghetto; in this past life, he is a Jewish woman, Scully is his father, Samantha is his son, and the Cigarette Smoking Man is a Gestapo officer. Next he becomes Sullivan Biddle, already dead in battle, Scully is his sergeant, and Melissa is there, as Sarah. He has no information on the bunkers, all he sees is death. Morgan wrote these scenes to express the overwhelming sense of loss that Mulder has felt his entire life. The scene was shot in extreme close-up, inspired, Morgan said, by his love of Ingmar Bergman’s films. “To spend three quarters of an act, six or seven minutes, in close-up, on television, is wonderful,” he said. “On TV, we’re always cutting back and forth. We’re always blowing stuff up. Jim and I participate in that. Act Four of ‘Home’ couldn’t be more different than act three of ‘The Field Where I Died.’ I’m proud of that. ”

Morgan’s enthusiasm for the scene was not matched by a good number of the show’s fans, who felt the scene was overwrought, both in the writing, and in Duchovny’s performance. “I think both Kristen and David did a great job,” Morgan said. “David just can’t win. If he walks around going, ‘Scully, I’m going here. Oh. Extreme possibilities,’ everyone says, ‘God, that guy just mumbles his way through.’ If he emotes, people don’t want to see that. People can say his acting was bad. I don’t think that it was, but some felt it was obviously ‘acting.’ It’s in a close-up, it’s a long monologue, so it points to acting. But you never hear anybody criticize his acting, one way or the other, when Mulder asks Scully, ‘If you had been told that we had gone through a lifetime together, would it change anything?’ David was fantastic in that scene. But no one ever says it’s great, because it’s hidden by a lot of other things in the overall story and the situation.”

Bowman’s director’s cut ran so long that Morgan and Wong were forced to trim twenty minutes out of the episode, including eliminating one of Melissa’s personalities, a crude loudmouth named Jobee, as well information that supported Scully’s viewpoint, and large sections from Melissa’s and Mulder’s hypnosis sessions. Mulder’s session originally began with his re-experiencing Samantha’s abduction, but Morgan cut it, figuring that if something had to go, that particular sequence was the most likely candidate, since it provided no new information about Mulder.

Morgan felt that the emotional impact of Mulder’s hypnosis session might have been marred by the cutting, since it interfered with the flow of Duchovny’s acting throughout the entire scene. “I called David and I said, ‘I’m cutting it this way.’ I could hear that he was upset. I know what actors go through to prepare, and then to have to sit in a chair for a couple of hours in front of a bunch of grips and gaffers and people that they hang out with everyday, and cry – it’s just like taking off your clothes. And then to find it’s been cut out. I had to come home and tell Kristen, ‘Look, this part is coming out.’ She was upset and David was upset. Jim was off prepping ‘Musings of Cigarette Smoking Man’ or doing something and I was just very alone.’

Another cut Morgan regrets is one that would have given some weight to Scully’s opinions concerning Melissa’s mental state and the unreliability of memories recovered through hypnosis. In the fourth act, Mulder and Scully drive past a sign pointing the way to Sullivan Field, and another sign indicating Kavanaugh Road. Scully tells Mulder that he could have seen the signs previously and subconsciously processed the names. “I wish I’d had an extra 20 seconds to keep that in,” Morgan said, who felt that Scully’s point of view was somewhat shortchanged in the episode. He also felt that if Scully’s side had been emphasized, it could have deflected the criticism that, to go by the teaser to third season’s” Apocrypha,” the Cigarette Smoking Man already was alive the year the Warsaw ghetto was destroyed and his soul could not possibly have occupied the body of a Gestapo officer. “If we’d focused on Scully’s viewpoint more, we could have thrown up the idea that maybe Mulder’s wrong, maybe this is just wishful thinking,” Morgan added. “I know this sounds really bad, but to me the hypnosis scene is more important than a teaser. I was desperate to cut out time, and in favoring emotional content over plot content, I might have blown it.”

Although Mulder’s attention is focused on Melissa in “The Field Where I Died,” his relationship with Scully also comes in for examination. When Mulder suggests to Skinner that Melissa be taken back to the cult compound to see if that will make her, or one of her personalities, reveal the location of hidden weapons, Scully is outraged; she feels that he is denying treatment to a sick woman. Mulder, who understands Vernon’s apocalyptic thinking, responds that they are responsible for the potential loss of fifty lives – the cult members – if Vernon is set free. Once Skinner is gone, Scully tells Mulder that he doesn’t feel responsible for the fifty lives, or even Melissa Riedel; he’s responsible only to himself. This brutally honest line, said Morgan, came out of Scully’s ability to look at an entire situation. “Here are fifty people. It’s like Waco, where you had all those people and cameras and the FBI agents. There’s so much potential danger, and if you had one agent who just wanted to talk to one person, like Mulder wants to talk to Melissa — well, that’s pretty selfish. Somebody had to call him on it, and Scully would be the one to do it.”

Scully’s attitude softens after the hypnosis regression session, where she witnesses first-hand the pain that lies behind Mulder’s obsessive behavior. “I wanted to sum up Mulder and Scully’s entire relationship with that question Mulder asks Scully afterwards, if we had known from the beginning that we had lived all these lives, would it change anything, how would you feel?’ ” Morgan said. “I just wanted to raise that question between the two of them. I’m not sure what the answer is. My feeling is that she is holding on to some scepticism. Her answer in the episode — “I wouldn’t change a day” – might be a little ‘tee-vee.’ ”

If Mulder and Melissa are really soulmates, what does that say about Mulder’s relationship with Scully, his best, and only, friend? Would it preclude Mulder and Scully being soulmates too? “Absolutely not,” Morgan declared. “My dad always said that you went through all these different lives and all these different situations, the goal is to reach perfection. So you had a hell of a lot of situations to go through. Ultimately you would want your lover to be your best friend. But what’s so bad if one of your soulmates is just a great friend? And how interesting, although there’s someone else he feels could be his soulmate, that Mulder and Scully have gone through many lives together. I read a post online asking why Scully was always a man in the past, and I hadn’t thought about that. I wish I had altered that; it was a mistake.”

Near the end of “The Field Where I Died,” Vernon Ephesian and the cultists have returned to their compound, after lack of evidence allows their release from custody. The FBI continues to search the field next to the compound for hidden weapons, and Vernon, believing he has no other recourse, compels his followers to imbibe a cyanide-laced drink, rather than face defeat by a government agency he considers to be “Satan’s Army.” Mulder, who alone realizes the effect so many federal agents close by could have on Ephesian, rushes with Scully back to the compound. He arrives too late. All the cultists are dead, and the camera pulls back to show Mulder walking among the mass of bodies. He is in search of Melissa, who has finally succumbed to Vernon’s will, and drunk the poison. “That’s a great shot Rob did,” Morgan said. “Mark Snow’s music really helped out there, too.” No matter how despairing Mulder is, Morgan said, he would not be tempted, like Melissa, to end his life. “I looked at Melissa as if she decided reincarnation might be true, and that if she had chosen this life, at that point she realized, ‘This is a bad idea. This is a miserable life and I’m not getting much out of it. I’m just going back to heaven and I’ll wait for you.’ She wanted out. But Mulder, as much as he’d love to go to the other side to see what’s there, is a life-affirming character. He’s going to keep on looking. He’s not going to quit. Mulder has questions for this life.”

Reception to “The Field Where I Died” was mixed. A number of criticisms were lobbed at it, but Morgan regards it as a meaningful and affecting piece of work, regretting only that he had to cut twenty minutes that he feels would have made it even stronger. The next Morgan and Wong episode, which Morgan wrote solo and Wong directed, turned out to be a much more frustrating experience.

MUSINGS OF A CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN

He’s always been around, the Cigarette Smoking Man. He first showed up in the X-Files pilot, silently smoking and watching from a comer as Section Chief Blevins assigned Dana Scully to work with that oddball agent in the basement, Fox ‘Spooky” Mulder. At the end of the hour he reappeared, stashing away in an enormous Pentagon storage room stolen evidence of alien visitation, He lurked menacingly around the fringes of the first season, saying nothing, until Glen Morgan and James Wong gave him four words, “Of course I do,” at the end of “Tooms.” Since then, the Cigarette Smoking Man has become a major player in the X-Files cosmos; even when you don’t see him, you’re sure he’s behind every cover-up and plot twist in the show. He is America’s favorite TV villain, according to a readers’ poll in TV Guide. Several of the scenes that contributed to the character’s growing popularity appeared in Morgan and Wong scripts; who can forget the barely repressed surprise on his face when Skinner kicks him out of his office in “Little Green Men” or his cold-blooded reaction to the gun a desperate Mulder sticks in his face in “One Breath”? Thanks to scenes like these – and many others, written by Chris Carter and other members of the writing staff – actor William B. Davis is now recognized wherever he goes and finds himself in demand for personal appearances.

You can’t help but be curious about such an enigmatic character, How did he come to devote his life to covering up, well, everything the government wants covered up? The answers to those questions intrigued Morgan and Wong when they returned to the X-Files, and they thought the time had come to do an episode about the life of the Cigarette Smoking Man. Morgan remembered reading a graphic novel called The Biography of Lex Luthor – a history of Superman’s arch-enemy – and he thought writing something similar for the Cigarette Smoking Man would make a great script.

Chris Carter agreed, and Morgan sat down to plot out and write his script. This would be his first solo writing assignment on The X-Files, and James Wong would make his directing debut. Wong had directed a few student films in college and done second unit directing on Space: Above and Beyond, but otherwise had not directed; it was never a burning ambition for him. But he was looking for something new to do when he and Morgan agreed to come back to The X-Files. “I felt, what’s the challenge here?”

Wong said. “I liked directing second unit on Space. It was fun, and I thought maybe as an additional challenge, I could direct an X-Files episode. Doing that on The X-Files was safe, in a way, because it was a show that was really well established, The crew was really good, they knew what they were doing. If I were a complete idiot, I would be bailed out. The X-Files is so well established I couldn’t cause a disaster.”

Although the script was Morgan’s, he and Wong held frequent discussions about the story, and Wong knew the material thoroughly. “Even though Glen wrote it, we talked together about what we wanted to do in the script and what I would do in directing it, what shots we needed,” he said. “It was a wonderful collaboration, and it was great to be able to go in and direct something that I was so familiar with. I thought it would be fun to direct a show without David and Gillian. It was like a clean slate, It wasn’t that I didn’t want to work with them; we thought it would be bit more of a challenge for me, because you don’t even have to direct them as Mulder and Scully; they know so much about their characters. Maybe that’s overstating it a little bit, but that is pretty much what they do. A part of me is sad that I didn’t get to direct David or Gillian. 1 really would have liked to have worked with them, too.”

Morgan decided to structure the episode as an extended flashback, with the Cigarette Smoking Man contemplating his past as he eavesdrops on the supposedly bug-free Lone Gunmen office. He hears a panicky Frohike tell Mulder and Scully he has discovered a magazine story he believes will reveal the identity of “him” – the Cigarette Smoking Man.

As the Cigarette Smoking Man listens in, his attention begins to wander, and his mind roams through the high and low points of his life, remembering his greatest and more painful failure, his inability to make his one real dream, the dream of becoming a writer, come true. He is so locked into his bitterness that at end of the episode, he takes all his frustrations out on the most harmless of human beings, the Lone Gunman Frohike, and shoots him as he steps out into the street.

Except that’s not what happened. This shocking finale did not go down well when the script reached Ten Thirteen. Morgan’s concern had been to re-establish the aura of danger to the Cigarette Smoking Man. He believed, upon watching the third season episodes, that the character had become largely ineffectual. “The Cigarette Smoking Man had become this guy who walks in with a cigarette, says a bunch of nonsense, and then walks out, ” Morgan said. “We thought, ‘Big deal,’ there’s no threat from the Cancer Man, but if he killed Frohike at the end, if the audience saw something that truly made them go, ‘Oh my God!’ they’d remember that even twenty episodes later.”

Chris Carter read the script, discussed it with producer Ken Horton, and summoned Morgan to his office. “They said, ‘We don’t think Frohike should get killed,'” Morgan recalled. “I told Chris, ‘Look, the Cancer Man is becoming a bore. When you get to episode one hundred and he and Mulder have the guns to each other’s heads, I’m not going to worry, because the Cancer Man has never done anything. I’m telling you right now, you’ve got the Cancer Man as a wuss ball. He’s nothing. He’s got to do something dangerous.'” When Carter remained adamantly opposed to killing Frohike, Morgan and Wong conspired to film both the original and the revised endings, believing they could sort it all out later in the editing room and convince Carter otherwise.

Another problem arose when William B. Davis announced he hated the script. “I thought Bill was going to be thrilled to have a show about him,” Wong said. “I had dinner with him, and basically he spent the entire time telling me, ‘This is a terrible script! This is horrible! I can’t do this!’ He didn’t like anything about it. He thought it didn’t make sense, that that he didn’t know who this person was, that it wasn’t him. He hated it.” Davis promptly called Carter to ask if this was the real history of the Cigarette Smoking Man (Carter told him no), and he continued to express his concerns with the script throughout the shoot. And then there were the timeline inconsistencies, which Morgan and Wong didn’t even know about until the episode aired and Morgan logged on and was bombarded with dozens of internet posts complaining that the events of “Musings” couldn’t be for real, because they contradicted the teaser to “Apocrypha.” In the “Apocrypha” teaser, which is set in 1953, a young Cigarette Smoking Man (already smoking), a young Bill Mulder, and a third man, all in civilian dress, question a horribly burned submarine crewman who had encountered an alien in a flashback shown in the previous episode, “Piper Maru.” Morgan’s version proposed an entirely different history, with the young Cigarette Smoking Man and Bill Mulder, both Army officers, first meeting in 1961 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Cigarette Smoking Man doesn’t even smoke, until he takes his first nervous puff late in the first act. Although Morgan and Wong had seen “Apocrypha,” they didn’t remember the events of the teaser. “Okay, we’re sloppy,” Morgan admitted. “But somebody should have told us. They all read the script. It was the same thing that happened to us on ‘Little Green Men when we showed Samantha’s abduction.'” Added Wong: “If somebody had said, ‘Hey, you know, in the third season, this was said and this doesn’t make sense anymore.’ And we would have changed it. But nobody told us that And the internet people go, ‘This doesn’t make sense,’ and now we look like idiots. We have part of the blame obviously; we didn’t know. We didn’t catch it.”

So how real is the story we’re seeing, if it doesn’t jibe with an earlier episode? Taking only the episode itself as evidence, the answer is inconclusive. Not only is the story told in flashback, but the identity of the narrator is uncertain. He could be the Cigarette Smoking Man indulging in arguably unreliable memories, or even sheer fantasy, as if he were writing another story in his head. Or the narrator could be Frohike, giving his interpretation of the magazine story he feels might have been written by the Cigarette Smoking Man. But for Morgan and Wong, the events are really the Cigarette Smoking Man’s history, even if they are related in flashback. “The Cigarette Smoking Man’s flashbacks were my idea, because I indeed wanted the episode to be a memoir,” Morgan said. But the idea that Frohike could be the real narrator was a Carter-imposed addition to the script, to make it seem as if the events of the episode were not real. Carter even changed the name of the script, from “Memoirs of a Cigarette Smoking Man” to “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.”

“The episode is a parody of conspiracy theories, yet in context of the television show, I would like to think that it happened to him,” Morgan said. “The episode does makes it like it could be Frohike’s or Cancer Man’s imagination, but to me I think it would have been the real thing. It’s just as believable as anything else we’ve seen on the show.” “I approached it as if the events were real,” added Wong. “It was kind of a self-parody, in that we were having a little bit of fun with the show, but I had to approach it like it happened. The script is written in such a way that you can take it for how you want it. It’s not rock solid that yes, this actually happened, but on the other hand, we’re not winking to or nudging the audience. It is ambiguous enough for the audience to go, ‘It could be his overblown memory of who he is or his overblown feeling of how powerful he is or what he’s done in his life” Or it could be Frohike telling who he thinks the Cancer Man is.”

For Morgan, tracing the history of the Cigarette Smoking Man was like tracing the history of the United States during the past 30 years, as seen through the eyes of conspiracy theorists. “The episode is to me, on one hand, a parody on the whole conspiracy buff thing,” Morgan said. “I wanted to find out what could possibly be driving the Cancer Man. When I started researching, reading the stuff about E. Howard Hunt, and his spy novels, I went, ‘God, that’s amazing.’ And it kind of went from there. Kennedy is top of the pyramid.” Morgan also wanted to include the Martin Luther King assassination in his script. “Martin Luther King has been incredibly forgotten about,” he said. “It’s only coming up again recently, with the news stories about James Earl Ray. I had read the William Pepper book, Orders to Kill. Reading the book, and doing the research, and seeing what’s happening now, it seems less likely that James Earl Ray shot King than Oswald shot JFK.”

The first act of “Musings of a CSM” opens in 1961 with the young Cigarette Smoking Man (played by Chris Owens) and young Bill Mulder as Army captains stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Morgan had read about military units based at Fort Bragg that supposedly carried out assassinations at the behest of the CIA, and there is a clear implication that the young Cigarette Smoking Man has already participated in several illicit operations. “I thought that’s where the Cigarette Smoking Man and Bill Mulder would have met,” Morgan said. We also learn that the Cigarette Smoking Man had been raised in an orphanage after the death of his mother and the execution of his father, a Soviet spy. He is summoned to a secret meeting where a major general (Donnelly Rhodes) tells him that even though the Cigarette Smoking Man’s father was a communist spy, he was an “extraordinary man” because he shouldered the responsibility for his existence and his country’s, and the major general knows this quality runs in the family.

The general then speaks disparagingly of the failed Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba, whereupon another man, dressed in civilian clothes, offers the young Cigarette Smoking Man a startling mission, the assassination of President Kennedy. “For men like the Cancer Man, communism was the enemy,” Morgan explained. “Everything America has done in the 20th century has somehow been dealing with the Communist threat, even as far back as World War I. I thought, why would the Cancer Man be against Communism? I’d heard about this really bizarre theory that Hitler’s grandfather was a German Jew, and that a lot of his hatred was really self-hatred. I don’t know that’s true, but what an interesting idea. Therefore, I made Cancer Man’s dad a Communist sympathizer. His incredible control over the world all stems from a very personal source, that his father had let him down as a boy. Then you get into gray areas: is he doing it to fight against his father? Does he believe that his father was the extraordinary man the general said he was?”

The moment where the Cigarette Smoking Man takes the assignment to assassinate Kennedy, said Morgan, is “the pivotal moment in the his life. He knew in his heart knew that he was a crappy writer, and somebody said, ‘You’re an extraordinary man.’ And he believed it, and had to live up to it.” Added Wong: “He was a young man who was led down that road by these powerful figures. He didn’t know his father, which is the reason why he hated him, and he was rebelling against him, and wanted to be part of that group in the office. He was trying to correct everything that was wrong about his father’s past.”

Since “Musings” portrays the Cigarette Smoking Man as the real assassin of Kennedy, Harvey Lee Oswald is shown to be a patsy, a the fall guy set up to be arrested by the police. Morgan drew on the conspiracy literature about Oswald’s whereabouts during the Kennedy shooting, and placed him at the soda machine in the Texas Book Depository when the Cigarette Smoking Man shoots the president. The part of Oswald was written for Morgan Weisser, who had played Nathan West in Space: Above and Beyond. “All I wanted out of that was for Cigarette Smoking Man’s first smoke to be from Oswald’s cigarette,” Morgan said. The Cigarette Smoking Man goes to the movie theater where Oswald hid after the assassination, and as the police arrest Oswald, the Cigarette Smoking Man takes out a pack of cigarettes Oswald had given him and lights up for the first time. “That first cigarette stemmed from his first heinous act, and he sensed there would be more,” Morgan said. “If you believe that Kennedy’s assassination represents this loss of innocence for the country, it’s almost like the country’s first cigarette.”

Finding the right actor to play the young Cigarette Smoking Man was vital. Morgan read a number of actors in Los Angeles, but it was Wong, already up in Vancouver, who auditioned and cast Chris Owens, a Canadian whose previous screen credits include small roles in Cocktail and the TV-movie Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story. “I wanted the actor to resemble Bill Davis, since half of the show was going to be this guy,” Morgan said. “Chris was fantastic. Now there’s a series I’d work on. Chris Owens and the life of the Cancer Man!” Wong had similar words of praise for Owens’ performance. “He was terrific, incredible. We asked him to look at Bill Davis’s work. Chris was the one who really humanized Cancer Man, just in the way he acted when he killed Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Because he was youthful, he was much more vulnerable. There was still a side of him where you could say, ‘He could have turned!’ When he’s older, I don’t know if the Cancer Man can change. But in his youth, when he thought he was doing the right thing, you could see, if he’d taken the other step, he might have been Bill Mulder instead. There’s that possibility in his eyes.”

Bill Mulder, unlike the Cigarette Smoking Man, has a family, and he proudly shows off his photo of his wife and his year-old son Fox. One of the episode’s most telling moments comes when the Cigarette Smoking Man steals Bill’s photo, which he holds onto as the years pass. The photo, said Morgan, has nothing to do with a possibility raised in other episodes of The X-Files that the Cigarette Smoking Man may have had an affair with Mrs. Mulder and that he may be Mulder’s father. It is merely symbolic of the family life the Cigarette Smoking Man would have liked to have, but was denied him. At first Morgan was just going to show the photo in act one, but it resurfaces in act two, when Cigarette Smoking Man looks at it before he leaves to assassinate Martin Luther King. “I thought, what if the Cigarette Smoking Man had that picture in his desk after all these years?'” Morgan said. “When he pulls it out in Memphis and he’s at the brink of shooting what he believes to be an extraordinary man, but here he is, just longing for a family, for this other life. It didn’t mean that Mulder was specifically his son, and Mrs. Mulder his mistress or whatever. He just was reflecting on what life would have been like otherwise. I saw it as ‘The Last Temptation of the Cigarette Smoking Man.’ ” By act two, the young Cigarette Smoking Man has become a leader in the netherworld of secret operations; he’s moved up so fast and so quickly he has no compunction about criticizing J. Edgar Hoover to his face. When the Cigarette Smoking Man hears a speech by Martin Luther King that he perceives as sympathetic to Communism, he determines that King must die, in order to quell civil unrest. He decides to do the job himself. At first the Cigarette Smoking Man was just following orders,” Morgan said. “Now he has power and he has to kill a man whose cause he believes in. He believed that Martin Luther King was an extraordinary man, and because of his respect for King, he himself must pull the trigger.”

The second act is also notable for being filmed in black and white. Morgan and Wong wanted to end the act by cutting to a well-known photo taken in the aftermath of the King assassination which shows some of King’s aides standing on the motel balcony where King was shot and pointing in the direction the bullet had come from. Morgan and Wong would have loved to film an entire episode in black and white, but they knew they’d never get approval, so they chose to shoot just the Martin Luther King act in black and white. “That’s how we saw the Civil Rights era,” Morgan said. “It’s very rare to see a color photograph of Martin Luther King. It would have been really gimmicky if the act had been in color and then, boom, we cut to this black and white image.” “The Kennedy act was an attempt to make the audience relate to the colors in the Zapruder film, which was a Super-8, oversaturated color, especially if you remember Jackie Kennedy’s pink outfit,” Wong commented. “We wanted to evoke that feeling within the whole first act. At one point, we tested scratching the film, to make it look more like the Zapruder film. After looking at a couple of scenes like that, we thought we’d give the audience a headache, so we nixed that idea and just went with oversaturated, blown-out whites and golden, pearly colors. We used smoke, so it had that kind of hazy look. For the Martin Luther King act, the image that is really ingrained in a lot of people’s minds is that famous photo where people are pointing. We decided very early on that because that was the pivotal moment, we would structure the whole act around the look of that. So that’s why we used black and white there.”

The Cigarette Smoking Man reveals a surprising side of himself in the second act: he longs to be a writer, and at night pours his soul into the creation of cheesy pulp stories about an action adventure hero named Jack Colquitt. “Being a writer is just what most people wouldn’t expect him to be,” said Morgan, who was inspired to make the Cigarette Smoking Man an author by reading about Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt, who wrote spy novels that allegedly described true events. “I wanted the Cigarette Smoking to reflect on his life in his writings. I wanted him to have a poetic side.” And, he added, “It allowed for some good inside jokes.” (Jack Colquitt, the name of the Cigarette Smoking Man’s fictional hero, is a character in the Space: Above and Beyond episode “Who Monitors the Birds.”) The writing, said Morgan, is the Cigarette Smoking Man’s true love. Ironically, the Cigarette Smoking Man’s day job is the one he’s successful at, but he cannot perceive the awfulness of his writing, the one thing he loves. “If one of his books had been accepted, been published, the Cancer Man have walked away from his work, no problem. He wanted that so bad. He’s living that line from Thoreau, about leading a life of quiet desperation. How he feels about himself lies in there.” As to why the Cigarette Smoking Man won’t wield his considerable influence to force a publisher into accepting his work, Morgan said, “That would be so easy. It wouldn’t be pure.”

“Musings” leaps forward in the third act to a time shortly before Scully is assigned to work with Mulder. The Cigarette Smoking Man’s face is once again the familiar visage of William B. Davis. This is where the episode begins to take on a parodistic tone: It’s Christmas Eve, the Cigarette Smoking Man is winding up a meeting with a roomful of eager beaver young operatives, reviewing the success of his machinations, like getting the Rodney King trial moved to Simi Valley and preventing the Buffalo Bills from winning the Super Bowl. Before he dismisses his junior conspirators for the holiday break, the Cigarette Smoking Man passes out gifts to each – identical ties – while declining their invitations, telling them he’s going to spend the holiday with “family,” although he’s really just going back to a bare apartment. On his way out of the building, he pauses before a familiar door which bears the nameplate “Fox Mulder.” The clack of a typewriter is clearly heard from behind the door. The Cigarette Smoking Man then moves on. The entire scene is funny and poignant; clearly, the anti-social Cigarette Smoking Man and the loner ~ Mulder, have a great deal in common. “On a professional level, things are going great for the Cigarette Smoking Man,” noted Morgan. “On a personal level, everything is horrible. It’s the kind of scene that takes you back to ‘One Breath,’ where he tells Mulder, ‘I have no wife, I have nothing.’ He has power and notoriety in the covert community, but he wants something else.

Morgan and Wong faced a problem in the third act. The Young Cigarette Smoking Man had killed the nation’s two most important leaders; what could he do in the third act that wouldn’t seem anti-climatic? “We asked ourselves, how do you top that?’ Wong said. “And that’s when we decided to kill an alien. We talked about how Deep Throat had once mentioned, in ‘E.BE.’, that he had killed an alien, and we decided to go back to that.” Deep Throat calls the Cigarette Smoking Man; a living alien has been retrieved from a crashed spaceship. The two old rivals hold a brief conversation, in which the Cigarette Smoking Man tells Deep Throat he never killed anyone, and Deep Throat responds, “Maybe I’m not the liar.”

“I thought the scene was about these two men who have been in this secret life together,” Wong said. “The line where Deep Throat says, ‘Maybe I’m not the liar’ was another change imposed on the script so you could make the leap that perhaps this is all. a dream, or the ramblings of Frohike. ” Deep Throat then shoots the alien, but, as Wong noted, “Basically, the Cigarette Smoking Man made Deep Throat do it.” The Cigarette Smoking Man’s life reaches what he thinks is a turning point, when he receives a letter from an editor at Roman-a-Clef magazine. The editor loves his story and wants to publish it, and the Cigarette Smoking Man is so excited, thinking his real career, his writing career, is about to begin, that he types up a resignation letter. The day the issue comes out with his story, the Cigarette Smoking Man runs to the newsstand to find a copy. “That’s the first scene I thought of for this episode,” Morgan said. “One Sunday morning, Kristen and I were reading magazines at a newsstand and there about 12 people there. Everybody was reading magazines, and the guy comes up to me – just to me – and says, ‘Sir, if you’re going to read it, I’m going to have to ask you to buy it.’ I looked at him, and Kristen started laughing, because that’s the kind of shit that happens to me. I put the magazine down and I said, ‘Come on, we’re never buying a magazine here again.’ We walked away, and she was laughing, because I was so mad that I got picked on. And I said, ‘You know what? That’s it. The Cancer Man, he’s a writer, and when he goes to the newsstand and the guy who’s running it says, ‘You gotta buy it.’ the Cancer Man kills him.” Of course Morgan didn’t quite follow through on that, but the Cigarette Smoking Man is indeed in a murderous mood when he breathlessly opens the new issue of Roman a Clef at the newsstand to find the editor has made drastic changes to his precious story, even altering the ending – a not-so subtle injoke about the changes ordered to Morgan’s script. He ends up on a bench, next to a bum eating the remains of a box of chocolates. The bum offers the furious Cigarette Smoking Man a chocolate, and instead of taking one, the Cigarette Smoking Man finally erupts, damning Forrest Gump, his homespun philosophies, and life in general, in a scathingly bitter and funny monologue.

“I liked Forrest Gump a lot better than I thought I would,” Morgan said. “I really liked Tom Hanks’ performance, I liked the direction and the feel of it. But ‘life is like a lot of box of chocolates’? It was just ridiculous.” The monologue took surprisingly little time to write. “It came out pretty much when I sat down to write it. Sometimes everything else is so difficult, but you get to the part that you want to write, and it’s over like that.” The Cigarette Smoking Man’s monologue turned out to be one of the episode’s most well-received scenes, but the scene almost didn’t make it into the final cut. According to Morgan, Chris Carter and Ken Horton watched it in the editing room, and Carter told him that it didn’t work, that it ruined the episode. “I didn’t say anything. Jim was doing a lot of the defending,” Morgan recalled. “Finally, I said, 1isten, I’m not going to get Frohike killed, so the Forrest Gump speech is in.’ Everybody looked at each other as if to say, ‘Well, Glen’s really a jerk.’ But no one could argue with it, so it stayed in. The Cigarette Smoking Man is the anti-Forrest Gump. I wanted, very much, to point to that idea, using that speech. ”

Immediately following the Forrest Gump scene came the short scene that caused the biggest disagreement between Morgan and Wong and Chris Carter. Morgan and Wong were absolutely convinced that the only way to end the episode was to cut from the Cigarette Smoking Man’s final bitter words, to a shot of him racking his rifle and shooting Frohike as he exits the Lone Gunmen office. Without it, “the episode just died at the end; it was lacking in a dramatic moment,” Wong said. Morgan exclaimed, “He should just be the most horrible human being; he should be horrifying. That was the whole point!” He saw Frohike’s murder as the symbolical last nail in the coffin containing Cigarette Smoking Man’s soul. “Frohike would have been the first person he killed for himself. It wasn’t on orders to try to control a civil situation. It was from him, just to kill somebody, because he just came off his Forrest Gump speech, where he says, basically, ‘Life is shit. And if life isn’t going to give me an out, I am just going to become what life wants me to be, a cold-blooded killer.'” Carter, on the other hand, felt that murdering Frohike would actually make the Cigarette Smoking Man less powerful, according to Wong. “He felt that Frohike too small a catch, too small to bother with.” Morgan and Wong felt so strongly about this issue, that they decided to try an end run around Ten Thirteen. They figured that if they filmed the scene their way, and cut it into the episode, it would be so powerful that Carter would have to agree with them. Morgan called Wong up in Vancouver and told him to take a few crew members while everyone else was at lunch, and get some shots of blood spattering on the sign to the Lone Gunman offices. Wong decided against the stealth approach; instead, he filmed William B. Davis pulling back on the trigger, and Tom Braidwood, as Frohike, getting a bullet in the head. Morgan nearly panicked when he heard what his partner had done; he was certain word of it would reach Ten Thirteen down in Los Angeles. His fears were justified. Wong recalled: “I was in the editing room, and I said to the editor, why don’t we print up the B negative? We’ll cut it in and show Chris. [The “B” negative was the negative with the footage of the Cigarette Smoking Man pulling the trigger and Frohike getting shot.] And the editor told me, ‘You can’t do that.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, we can’t do that? Just print the B negative.’ He said, ‘Well, it’s been taken out of the lab. It can’t be found.” In a move worthy of a scene from an X-Files episode, someone had deliberately removed the negative without telling Morgan and Wong, and they had no idea where it was. The two weren’t quite ready to give up. “We put up pieces of green board behind the editing building and we were splattering chocolate syrup on it. We thought we would manufacture the blood splattering on the Lone Gunmen sign and make it blow up with that one shot. Then we could turn it into the network and everyone would go, ‘Wow, how powerful!’ But,” Morgan sighed, “It just never worked out.” Although “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” didn’t turn out quite the way Morgan and Wong had envisioned, they still felt a great deal of pride in the final product. They were very happy with the look of the show, and Wong felt he had made a good directing debut. Despite William B. Davis’ intense dislike of the script, Wong was happy with his performance. “We got everything we needed from Bill and I thought it turned out quite nicely. This episode was, for me, about a guy who, despite all the power he has, really wants something else. He got his kicks out of doing his job, and he had a sense of duty about his work that made him do things that he didn’t necessarily want to do. But he had another goal, a higher calling in his writing. The problem was he wasn’t very good at it. So the episode was about lost opportunities, lost dreams. Here’s a person who, because of his ideology, sold and lost his soul.”

NEVER AGAIN

The final Morgan and Wong X-Files episode was yet another change of pace, a Scully-centered story concerning her dissatisfaction with her life, her career, and her relationship with Mulder. It was not the story the two writers had originally planned as their fourth episode. They had long wanted to write a story about Lincoln’s ghost haunting the White House, and thought this would work splendidly on The X-Files; finally, Mulder and Scully go to the White House! But their disappointment over the changes they were forced to make “Musings of Cigarette Smoking Man” caused them to withhold the ghost story and look for something else. “I had done a lot of research and I had always wanted to write a feature about Lincoln’s ghost,” Morgan said, “But I felt they didn’t want my heart and soul anymore, so I wouldn’t give this one to them. I thought it was time for a Scully episode and also time to do something for Rodney Rowland. ”

Although a Morgan and Wong script, Morgan did much of the actual writing, since Wong was working on a Millennium episode. Morgan carne up with a story about Scully investigating a case by herself in Philadelphia while Mulder is off on an enforced vacation, and her response to an attractive man she meets while tracking down some information. The man, Ed Jerse, would be played by Rowland, and he would turn out to be an X-file himself. Ed, despondent and angry over his recent divorce, gets a tattoo of a woman (called “Betty” in the script) on his arm, and before long, he believes because he hears the tattoo talking to him, railing against the women in his life and urging him to violence. The voice is so real and so insistent that he cannot resist it, and he kills a woman named Kaye Schilling, who lives in the apartment below him.

Morgan called Gillian Anderson and told her he wanted to write a story about Scully and a guy with a talking tattoo. Anderson not only liked the idea, but told Morgan she was anxious to have a “dark” Scully episode. Furthermore, she wanted Scully to have – finally, after three and a half years – a sex scene. “She said, ‘I want my head banging off the wall, I want fingernails, I want flesh torn,’ ” Morgan recalled. He told Anderson he’d be happy to write the scene, although privately he suspected it not pass muster with Ten Thirteen or the network.

“Never Again” was to be the “event” episode following the Super Bowl on January 26. It became even more of an event when director and writer Quentin Tarantino called and asked to direct an X-Files episode. Ten Thirteen immediately said yes, and scheduled him to direct “Never Again,” thinking Tarantino’s name on an X-Files episode right after the Super Bowl would bring in huge ratings. “David Duchovny is responsible for getting Tarantino interested,” Morgan stated. “David was at the Emmys the year before, and he tapped Tarantino and said, ‘When are you going to direct one of our episodes?’ I think David auditioned for Reservoir Dogs and Tarantino said to him, ‘You know what? I really like what you do, I just don’t want you to do it in my movie.’ So I think they’d known each other, and David said, ‘Come do one.’ And Tarantino’s the one that called Chris.” The Director’s Guild of America had other ideas about Tarantino’s directing an episode of The X-Files. Membership in the DGA is required of all directors working on prime-time television, and Tarantino is not a member. The DGA had granted him waiver to direct an episode of ER, with the expectation he would join, but he never did, and the DGA refused to issue a second waiver for The X-Files. Tarantino was off The X-Files as a result, but not before Morgan had rewritten “Never Again” for him. “I had been asked to write to Tarantino’s style, and I wrote these scenes that were four pages long. Then I heard he’s out and I went back and the scene would be one page. And then he was in again, and the script was long. I had looked closely at his movies. There’s no way I could do what he does, but I gave it a shot. Ultimately didn’t have to worry about it.”

Internet fans should be grateful to Tarantino, however, because his brief tenure on the show inspired Morgan to throw in to his script a number of pop culture references, including Scully’s comparison of Mulder’s current case to a Rocky and Bullwinkle episode where the two cartoon characters are searching for an Upsidasium mine and Boris Badenov alters the road signs; she thinks Mulder is being similarly misled. Mulder, who is something of a pop culture junkie himself, asks her if she is refusing an assignment “based on the adventures of Moose and Squirrel.” “Moose” and “Squirrel” also happen to be nicknames for Mulder and Scully on the internet. Morgan didn’t know that at the time, but was amused to learn about it while the episode was still in production, and decided to keep the dialogue, in somewhat shortened form, although Tarantino was long gone.

With Tarantino out (Rob Bowman took over as director), Morgan felt that another big name needed to be attached to the episode, since, at that point, it was still scheduled to follow the Super Bowl (eventually it was moved to the week following and “Leonard Betts” aired after the Super Bowl). He and Peter Roth, head of the Fox network, asked Randy Stone, Fox’s vice president of talent, if Stone would contact his good friend, Jodie Foster, and see if she would voice Betty, the tattoo on Ed Jerse’s arm. It turned out that Foster was a big fan of THE X-FILES, as well as a friend of Gillian Anderson, and she was delighted to perform, off-screen, as the voice of Betty. The creation of Betty the tattoo was inspired by Morgan’s observation of the crowds at San Diego Chargers games, as well as a story his brother, Darin, told him. “Kristen and I would go to Chargers games where it was hot, and everyone had their shirts off, and all we would notice is that everybody had a tattoo!’ Morgan laughed. “Also, Darin had told us about a friend who worked in a psychiatric hospital where there was a guy whose tattoos were telling him to kill people. He was trying to shut up the tattoo by putting his cigarettes out on it. And I thought, there’s a scene.” Sure enough, Ed jams a lighted cigarette into Betty at one point – a rather Freudian way to silence her.

Morgan and Wong also thought about Anderson’s request for a “dark” Scully episode, and they decided they could explore that side of Scully by raising some of the issues between her and Mulder that are often hinted at in the show, but rarely discussed openly. “I thought Scully gets jerked around a lot by Mulder, and this is time for her to stand up for herself,” Morgan said. He hit upon the idea of using Scully’s desk – actually, the lack of a desk – as a metaphor for her confusion about her role in the X-Files division. “The thing that came to me was, in four years, where does she sit? That issue becomes a big thing for people. ‘Where do I go?’ It seemed like a small but telling problem for Scully,” Morgan said. “When Mulder comes in, going on about his vacation, she’s sitting there, and he’s not even paying attention to her. The only way she can get his attention is to go, ‘Where is my desk?’ Sometimes friends suddenly seem troubled and you don’t know why and they won’t tell you. I think he is concerned, even though they get into a little fight. And he has some insight that a little time away from each other might be good. Scully doesn’t do a good job at telling him what’s wrong. She’s inarticulate about it, and I don’t think he understands what she’s trying to say. Mulder should have said, ‘Well, what’s making you feel this way?’ or ‘I don’t understand.’ But in the case of a lot of friends, he just gets frustrated, and sort of blows out. He’s a psychologist, but when it comes to his own life, it’s a forest for the trees type situation. It’s just too close to him.”

Morgan thought that since Mulder, an Elvis fan, had to go on vacation, the natural place to send him would be Graceland, although, Morgan joked, Mulder could just as well have gone to the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas or the Wax Museum in Orange County, California. Does that mean Mulder likes tacky places? “Of course!” Morgan laughed. “In all seriousness, I love the Paul Simon song, ‘Graceland.’ Paul Simon said that Graceland is about peace of mind. And it just stuck with me that that’s where Mulder would go. Duchovny stole that episode with his karate move in the Jungle Room at Graceland. It was great. David called me and said, ‘Listen, remember that karate move they cut out on me in ‘Shadows’? I did it again, and it better be in the show.’ I said, ‘I haven’t even seen the dailies and it’s in, buddy, or I’m quitting.’ I was ready to go to war to make sure that stayed. I wasn’t in the editing room when Ken and Chris looked at it, and I heard there was some complaints about it, but they knew I wanted it, and it stayed in.”

Ed Jerse, the third person in the character triangle that forms “Never Again” is, more or less, a Morgan alter ego. In the teaser, a despondent Ed signs his divorce papers in court. “It’s a really weird thing to write a scene and then go through it yourself,” Morgan commented. “Ed signs the papers and then four or five months later I was in court, going, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I suspected that Gillian, who was going through a separation at the time, would understand that. I didn’t want to be specific with her life, because a lot of fans are familiar with it. And nobody at the time knew my problems. So I used what I knew about Gillian on a general level, what I knew about me, and what I knew about Rodney. Rodney is the kind of actor who, if you tell him you’re going to give him a tattoo in an episode, will go right out and get a real tattoo unless you stop him. I guess this one was harder than the other episodes. I had the plot points and scary scenes I wanted to do, but it really became our trying to find the characters as we were writing them. I don’t know how well we did. There was a lot that we had to cut out.”

Morgan saw Ed not as a villain, but as a sympathetic character. Whatever the origin of the voice in his head – whether it’s his own rage talking to him, or a hallucination caused by a parasite infecting the rye grass used to make the ink in his tattoo – he doesn’t want to hurt anyone; he can’t help himself. “My dad taught me that the best monsters were the ones that didn’t want to be monsters,” Morgan said. “That was his definition. The WolfMan had been bitten. Frankenstein had been put together. Neither of them asked for what happened to them. That’s why my dad likes them better than Dracula, because Dracula was a conscious monster. I was thinking about that, and about all the nefarious villains in year three. Although Ed got the tattoo, he didn’t ask for it to talk to him and to tell him to kill people. It’s a case of, ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ because he didn’t ever want to forget the day of his divorce, or that memory of the heartbreak, but now he’d give anything to be able to move on.”

One of the episode’s most revealing scenes is when Ed and Scully go to a bar and have a heart to heart talk. Scully asks Ed why he got the tattoo, and he tells her it’s a memorial of his divorce, a comment that echoes back to the opening of act one, when Scully and Mulder go to the Wall – Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. – to meet a Russian √©migr√© named Pudovkin, who claims he is selling secret reports about crashed alien spacecraft in Russia. Scully’s attention is focused not on Mulder and his latest informant, but on the names on the Wall and the mementos left by the dead soldiers’ friends and families. Among the artifacts she spots a small bouquet of dead roses and takes a flower with her, leaving it on Mulder’s desk before going to Philadelphia. Morgan had visited Washington, D.C., and been deeply moved by the Wall. “I saw this letter that said, ‘Dear Johnny, we all believed that what you did was right. We miss you very much.’ I realized that this person’s memory must be at least 20 years old and I thought that Johnny, whoever he was, is frozen in someone’s memory in a certain way. Now Scully is currently at a stagnant point in her life. She sees this toy car, a memorial which marks a point in a dead man’s life, one he’ll never move on from. She takes the flower from the memorial as her own marker, or reminder, that she must move forward from this point or risk becoming like the name on the wall. The rose is like a little memorial of herself. That’s what the tattoos became for Scully and Ed. They marked this point in their lives. He got it the day of his divorce and she got it at a point where she wanted to feel she was her own person. She didn’t want to forget that.” The symbolic link between the rose and Ed’s tattoo is emphasized when Mulder finds the rose on his desk. The camera comes in on a close-up of the flower, then there is a shot of Mulder contemplating it, and then a cut to a Ed’s tattoo, also in close-up, and roughly the same size and shape as the rose.

Ed Jerse has the honor of being the first male character since first season to engage Scully’s non-professional interest. Morgan thought Scully would be attracted to a man she considered attractive and possessed an element of danger. He would not necessarily be the opposite of Mulder, but would, according to Morgan, “be someone who has more of his shit together.” And Ed, unlike Mulder, listens to Scully. “Rob Bowman and I talked about how men don’t listen to women,” Morgan said. “So we really wanted Ed to look like he was listening to Scully giving her thoughts, and then have him commenting on what she said.” Scully tells Ed that all her life she has simultaneously looked up to and rebelled against a series of father figures, and although she doesn’t mention Mulder by name, he is certainly included among that group. “My gut feeling is that Scully does see Mulder as a father figure,” Morgan said. “Sometimes he treats her like a younger sister, and an older sibling can teach you about the specifics; how to dress, who to talk to, what to say. But fathers and parents can teach you about the greater things of life. I think, when you get right down to it, that’s what Mulder has opened up in her. In ‘Never Again, ” I don’t know if she’s rejecting the message, but she’s rejecting the father. At times their relationship becomes so oppressive. When I was married and unhappy, I would just go through these things where things would build up, and then I would just do something stupid. And I’d go, What the hell is that? That’s not even me.’

If ever there was a scene where you could say, “That’s not Scully,” or at least, “this is a new aspect of Scully,” it’s when she goes with Ed to the tattoo parlor after they’ve been drinking and bares her back for a tattoo of her own. The image she chooses is the Ourobourus, the snake swallowing its tail. Morgan wanted the Ourobourus for Scully’s tattoo because he felt it possessed, with its traditional symbolism of eternity and rebirth, relevance to Scully’s situation. He was also aware that Chris Carter had chosen the Ourobourous as the Millennium logo, and that its appearance in “Never Again” might be perceived as a plug for Millennium, but he didn’t consider that a problem worth worrying about. That was the image he wanted for Scully. As for the sequence where Scully gets her tattoo, it is one of the most blatantly erotic scenes ever on The X-Files. Accompanied by Mark Snow’s eerie, hypnotic music, the camera carefully records the penetration of the needle into Scully’s flesh, the blood-red color of the ink, and finally the ecstatic look of mixed pain and pleasure on her face as she shares the moment with an obviously turned-on Ed. The eroticism of the moment is called for in Morgan’s script, but, he said, much of the atmosphere is owed to director Rob Bowman. “Rob gave Gillian four or five minutes worth of film, because she said it would take her that long to work up to that one moment Rob wanted, and he gave it to her. He played some music which is similar to what Mark ended up writing. And I think there was some chemistry between Gillian and Rodney that helped too.”

The scene that followed Scully and Ed’s trip to the tattoo parlor was to be the sex scene that Anderson had requested. Morgan wrote a short, but rather steamy encounter for Scully and Ed after they return to Ed’s apartment. No clothes were to be removed, but there would be some roughhousing, passionate kissing and rolling around on the floor. The sexual play, mild by the standards of Fox’s Melrose Place, proved to be too hot for Ten Thirteen, as Morgan suspected it might. Even as he was writing it, he was convinced the scene would never make it farther than Chris Carter’s desk, and in anticipation, he wrote it so that it could easily be cut out without disturbing the flow of the story. “I put in an escape hatch,” he said. “Scully and Ed can mess around and the camera would just pick them up on the floor and leave the room and shut the door, something like those backward tracking shots in Frenzy, which I had just watched.” The camera move Morgan planned for the scene was identical to a camera move earlier in the episode, when Ed, driven temporarily mad by Betty’s voice, killed Schilling. “My intention was for the audience to go, ‘Oh my god! That’s the same image I saw when he killed the woman. Is that what he’s doing to Scully? What’s going on?’ I wanted to have this really erotically charged scene, and then, boom, throw the audience this way and make them nervous. ”

Morgan and Wong argued to keep the sex scene in, but to no avail. “I said, ‘Why not film it? Gillian wants to do it. You tell her that if it goes overboard, we’ll cut to the door closing. You’ll have complied with something that she asked for, and who knows, maybe you’ll get something really wild.’ They said, ‘No way, it’s not even in the script.’ Morgan had the unhappy task of telling an understandably upset Anderson that the scene she specifically requested had been cut. As to why it was cut, Morgan said that Carter and the other writers felt that every other woman on television was jumping into bed, and they had worked very hard to differentiate Scully from other female television characters. Morgan’s response: “She’s different, but the way she is now, she’s not human.”

Something of the scene does remain, in that it ends with Scully embraced roughly by Ed, and at that point the camera slowly backs out the door, which shuts itself, as if by magic. Whether Scully and Ed actually have sex is ambiguous; they wake up in different rooms, both dressed. “I think that’s cowardly,” Morgan lamented. “If I knew I was going to stay and it was still my show, I would have put up a fight, but I was on the way out.” Scully finally learns how disturbed Ed is when two Philadelphia detectives investigating Schilling’s murder knock on his door while he is out fetching breakfast. She tells them she is an FBI agent, and the information they give her instantly makes her suspect Ed. She questions him when he returns, and under the stress of her suspicion, and with Betty’s taunts ringing in his ears, he loses control and assaults Scully, knocking her unconscious, then carrying her down to his apartment building’s furnace, where he plans to incinerate her, as he did with his neighbor. Scully regains consciousness and stabs Ed, who finally cannot bear his agony anymore, and thrusts arm – and Betty – into the flames.

Several days later, Scully and Mulder are both back at their office in FBI headquarters. Scully is on the way to a physical recovery, but feels she has learned something from her experience. Mulder is confused about her behavior. “He’s been caught off guard by not knowing something about her,” Morgan said. “A date with someone in Philadelphia, someone he’s never heard of, someone she’s never told him about. He’s unnerved by his lack of certainty about her, with her being wrong about Ed.” The episode ends with Scully telling Mulder firmly, “It’s my life,” and Mulder saying, “But it’s…” and suddenly stopping. Why didn’t he finish his sentence? “It was our way of saying to the other writers, ‘Here’s where Mulder and Scully are, and now the ball is in your court,'” explained Morgan. “That’s what I always felt was our role. In the first couple of years when we were on the show, we might hand it off and then have to pick up the ball ourselves a couple of episodes later, but knowing we were about to leave and would have no input whatsoever, we just said, ‘Well, here’s this thing, how about this? Now it’s yours.’ I feel that Mulder had come to respect that there’s more to this than just him, that Scully is now a part of his life and he’s a part of hers. I think that she learned the danger of exploring the rebellious side, and that it has to be accompanied by responsibility. What she did almost got her killed. So I think that she probably has it a little in check, and yet she’s always carrying the memory of it on her back. It isn’t anything for her to let go of. But next time she’ll be smarter about it, and she won’t let it get so far away from her.”

Morgan and Wong were frustrated once more when the network decided to move “Never Again” out of its post-Super Bowl slot, and substitute “Leonard Betts,” the episode that was originally scheduled to air after “Never Again.” “Leonard Betts” ended with the wrenching realization by Scully that she might have contracted the cancer that afflicted the other female abduction victims she met in second season’s “Nisei.” This revelation impacted the rationale behind Scully’s behavior in “Never Again” in ways never intended by Morgan and Wong. “I felt horrible,” Morgan stated. “Those are not her motives for her actions in this episode. The motives in ‘Never Again’ are completely altered by posing that she has a disease or a death sentence. But I was about two months behind on our pilot for The Notorious, and I just wanted to leave.”

For this and other reasons, Morgan says he felt the episode “got away” from him. He credits others for much of what he finds good in “Never Again.” “Bowman did a great, great job. If it’s any good at all, it’s because of Bowman. I was very proud of Rodney and Mark Snow did a really great job. It’s so tough writing for somebody else. That doesn’t mean that my themes or my views are superior, only that writers should write for themselves, and then hand the script off. With ‘Never Again,’ I started out writing for Tarantino, and at the same time I was trying to write for Gillian so that she could get what she wanted, and I didn’t want Chris to say no to what I was doing. With those three things, the script got so far away from me. I lost track of it. I was trying to get my pilot done and get out of there and I don’t think I kept the responsibility of supervising it all the way through. My favorite scene, besides Duchovny’s karate move, is the teaser, because that’s the only thing in there that really hits home to me. If it wasn’t for Bowman and Randy Stone getting Jodie Foster, that episode would be up with ‘The Jersey Devil.’ When The X-Files is finished and you’ve got the whole body of work and people watch reruns or think about it, we’ll see if they talk about it again. It’s been four years since the show started and people are pointing to ‘The Erlenmeyer Flask,’ ‘Beyond the Sea,’ ‘Colony’ and ‘End Game,’ as episodes that are what the show is all about. We’ll see in a couple of years if ‘Never Again’ gets mentioned.”

The broadcast of “Never Again” on February 2 marked Morgan and Wong’s final exit from The X-Files. Even though they knew they were leaving, they wrote “The Field Where I Died” and “Never Again” looking ahead to what they thought the rest of the fourth season, and a fifth season might be. “My understanding at the beginning of the year was that we were going to drive to a point where Mulder and Scully didn’t trust each other,” Morgan said. His own scenario for plotting out the season was somewhat different from what Carter and the other writers came up with this year, but the fundamental issue was the same: trust. “I would have slowly split Mulder and Scully up over the course of the season, then in the last episode have Scully put Mulder away for his own good, which he would perceive as the ultimate betrayal,” Morgan said. “And then the next season, they would have had an entire year’s healing to go through.”

Although it was an occasionally frustrating half season on The X-Files, Morgan and Wong don’t regret any of the time they spent working on The X-Files and Millennium. All their episodes this year were greeted by decidedly mixed reactions (often love it or hate it) but they certainly succeeded in creating scenes that got X-Files fans talking: Mulder and Scully discussing their genetic heritage in “Home” and later on, in the same episode, pushing on the rear ends of a bunch of hogs while Scully bleats “baa ram ewe;” the Cigarette Smoking Man spewing out the bile in his soul in his climatic anti-Forrest Gump monologue; the look on Mulder’s face at the end of “Never Again,” when he suddenly realizes he is not the only person in the world.

“I hope we helped Chris out,” Wong concluded. “I think we did a good job. It was a lot of work; we basically did a season’s work in half a season, but I hope that didn’t show in the quality of our X-Files and Millennium episodes. We have very fond thoughts of the people we worked with.”

Dreamwatch: Never say never again

Mar-31-1997
Dreamwatch
Never say never again
David Hughes

In The X-Files, things are hardly ever what they seem. Unfortunately, right now, things at the show itself are precisely as they seem, as the triple Golden Globe winning show suffers from what writer/producer Vince Gilligan would describe as ‘unruhe’ – trouble; strife; unrest. Hugh Davies reports on recent troubles at Ten-Thirteen, home of The X-Files and Millennium.

Signs on The X-Files first showed signs of going south during the preparations of the fourth season when creator and executive producer Chris Carter began to devote most of his time to launching his new show, Millennium.

Eager to shake off his one-hit-wonder potential (the ghost of Gene Roddenberry looming large in his eyes), Carter virtually handed The X-Files over to first season veteran Howard Gordon, despite the fact that the show had already lost Emmy award-winning cinematographer John S. Bartley, visual effects supervisor Mat Beck and writer Darin Morgan at the end of season three, and badly needed Carter’s direction.

Carter did manage to secure the brief return of the show’s ‘dream team’, Glen Morgan and James Wong, albeit with conditions. “Basically the understanding was that we were going to do four shows early on to get the staff squared away,” says Morgan. “I said [to Chris], ‘I’m doing four shows and I’m putting all our Space: Above and Beyond actors in ’em, and he said, ‘Okay.'”

Nevertheless, new executive producer Gordon was faced with not only following the series’ best season yet – a season in which its rating grew steadily, and it converted more of its Emmy nominations into awards than any other show – but overseeing its transfer to Sunday nights to make way for Millennium, a move Carter was less than thrilled about. “I wish it wouldn’t’ve stayed where it was,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “Friday night is a good night to be scared.”

Within a week of the Millennium pilot’s impressive performance, Friday nights began to give Carter his own reasons to be scared, as ratings plunged lower than Gillian Anderson’s neckline at a photo shoot. The audience halved between the pilot and the first episode proper, and began to slip further, a trend that alarmed the network which was sinking more than a million dollars into each episode, since every ratings point slip means a potential loss of $100,000 of advertising revenue.

Mark Snow, who was busy composing music for both shows, highlighted the problem, saying “They can’t keep doing the old story every week – going after bad guys, killers, and finding body parts strewn all over the place, and variations of that.” Aware that Millennium was in trouble, Carter began to spend more and more of his time shoring up The X-Files’ subsiding sister show, and less supervising the series that made Millennium possible, and pretty soon viewers began to notice.

The first signs that all was not well were the enormous problems Herrenvolk suffered at the hands of cinematographer Bartley’s replacement, Ron Stannet, whom sources close to the production say was fired mid-way through the season premiere’s shoot for “lighting the show like a soap opera”. John Hoffin eventually took over, but so much time had been lost that Carter ran out of script revision time, leaving Herrenvolk a confusing follow-up to the excellent Talitha Cumi.

The next indication that problems were mounting at Ten-Thirteen was the colossal continuity problems of Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. Stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were reportedly delighted to learn that an entire episode would be filmed without them, giving them a much-needed ten day break – “It’s like the fourth season and they’re really burned out,” commented James Wong at the time. “And we thought, wouldn’t it be great to do a show that they’re not even in?” – but writer Glen Morgan was less than happy, for several reasons. Firstly, that no-one on the staff had picked up on the errors; secondly, that Carter had changed the original ending, refusing to allow Morgan to kill off Frohike, whom Morgan had created; finally, that Carter had dismissed the entire story as being apocryphal as soon as the continuity issue was raised.

The fans, understandably, went ballistic, calling for Carter to come back and take control of The X-Files before it went completely off the rails. By this time, Millennium was an increasingly dirty word at Fox, the final damnation coming when a re-run of the pilot show scored the network’s lowest ever numbers for a prime time slot. It was likely that if it were not for the fact that Fox would not do anything to prejudice their relationship with Carter while The X-Files star was in its ascendancy – and the spin-off movie had yet to be made – they would have canceled Millennium at the mid-season mark. (They had, after all, taken the ill-fated LA Firefighters off after four episodes, as it was scoring the same kind of numbers as Millennium.)

A further blow came when the Directors Guild of America foiled attempts to have Quentin Tarantino direct Morgan and Wong’s final episode for the show, the appropriately titled Never Again. When Tarantino was on board, the writers abandoned their original outline – described by Wong as “sort of Lincoln’s ghost in the White House type of thing” – in favor of something more suited to the director of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. “It just didn’t seem like Quentin’s style,” Wong commented last November. “We wanted to do something more gritty…something he was familiar with.”

Instead, Morgan and Wong began work on a new story featuring a killer whose tattoos talk to him, a plot inspired by Gillian Anderson’s own tattoo. “Gillian has a tattoo,” Wong explains. “And she said, ‘Why wouldn’t Scully get a tattoo?’ And we said, ‘Let’s make it so she can – if you get the situation right, let’s see if we can get this character to the point where she can get a tattoo.'” They succeeded. “It’s just a tiny little scene, [and] it ties into the plot and everything.” The episode would eventually become a solo investigation for Scully, co-star Duchovny being rewarded with another week-long break, following his calls for a shorter season this year. And while it may have lost one ‘name’ participant in Tarantino, it does feature the voice of another star, Academy Award winner Jodie Foster, in a guest voice role.

By the new year, Carter was spending almost no time on The X-Files, and it should have come as no surprise when he announced his intention to leave both shows, The X-Files after season five and Millennium after season two (reportedly the most that Fox had promised him). “I think five years is a good length of time to do something,” he said. “I have said to David and Gillian that I just want to do five really good years and then be able to look back and say that we did our best work. Anything past that is gravy to me.”

Carter is leaving to take up one of the many offers he has allegedly received to direct feature films, the first of which may very well be The X-Files movie itself. “Fox would like to do the feature before the finish of the run of the show,” he said. “There are no real details, though I have some ideas as to how I want to incorporate a movie into the show’s mythology arc and also have it be a stand-alone [story] worthy of the big screen.”

Although Carter implied that he would prefer for the show to end upon his departure, Fox responded to his announcement by commencing a search for his replacement – after all, stars Duchovny and Anderson are contracted through to the end of season six, and although Fox has already sold the show into record-breaking syndication deals, it has no plans to kill the only series that continues to show growth.

Less than a week after Carter’s announced intention to quit The X-Files, Gillian Anderson ‘upstaged’ him with an announcement of her own: her separation from Clyde Klotz, her husband of three years, a former X-Files set builder. Anderson had expressed doubts about her marriage as early as last summer; holidaying alone in Italy, she made it clear to the local press that she was very unhappy. Nevertheless, Anderson’s announcement insisted that the split was amicable, despite typically scurrilous tabloid reports that the actress had left her “boring” husband and taken up with a “toy boy,” British actor Adrian Hughes – actually four years her senior – who had played one of the abnormal Peacock family in the early fourth season episode Home. Both parties insisted they were merely “good friends”, not lovers. “There’s nothing in these love stories – our relationship is purely platonic and nothing more,” Gillian was quoted in one newspaper while her alleged lover said bitterly, “Gillian and I are friends, but my relationship with my girlfriend and my relationship with Gillian may be coming to an end because of all of this.”

The show’s surprise triple win at the Golden Globe Awards – closely followed by three nominations from the Screen Actors Guild – did nothing to defuse the situation; on the contrary, the awards seemed to justify the acres of tabloid space being devoted to the private lives of the stars, rather than the show itself. The fact that less outlandish stories than those published around the world have been investigated by Mulder and Scully themselves does not seem to deter the publications in question from their wearying quest to find anything out there – truth or otherwise…

Details Magazine: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Nov-??-1996
Details Magazine
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
Gavin Edwards

Chris Carter is the man behind the creepiest shows on TV:

The X-Files and Millennium

Gavin Edwards crawls inside his nightmares.

Chris Carter is picking a murder weapon. He knows a lot about death and its tools, like how Glock handguns are growing more popular with detectives, or how it can be hard to tear off pieces of duct tape when you are trying to suffocate a victim quickly. But when he selects a weapon, he puts all that information aside for one consideration: how it looks. He doesn’t bother to handle the axes or the scythe, doesn’t test their weight, or experiment with how they feel in his right hand. He makes his choices quickly, collecting a pile of hand axes and a gun for good measure, never hesitating or second-guessing himself. After all, it’s not like it’s his first time in a props room.

Chris, the creator and executive producer of The X-Files, is busy launching Millennium, another show designed to turn your REM sleep into nightmares. It’s the story of a retired FBI agent named Frank Black who’s studied serial killers for so long, he’s started sharing their dark visions — a serious advantage on the job, not so much fun at home with the wife and kid. Next week, Chris and his crew will begin filming the third episode, which is why on a Friday morning, accompanied by director Thomas Wright, he’s choosing from the objects presented by prop master Kimberley Regent for an episode about a serial killer who paints his messages on strands of hair. Beer bottles, an Igloo cooler, a tool chest filled with lethal weaponry: all fine. Coffee mugs and a pair of scissors: rejected for looking brand-new.

“Do you want something more Edward Scissorhands?” asks Kimberley.

“Not to the point of Grand Guignol — they should just be well used.”

The killer in this Millennium episode, “Dead Letters,” hacks his victims into pieces, so the conversation turns to how the show will conceal the corpse cutlets. “The nice thing about a white sheet,” observes Chris in a chipper tone, “is that you can have body fluids seeping through.”

Chris’s company, Ten Thirteen Productions, takes its name from his birthday: October 13, 1956. Chris grew up in the L.A. suburb of Bellflower; his childhood was fairly normal, even if Chris’s construction worker father was a little on the strict side. After playing with the girl next door one night when he was eight, Chris came home late for dinner. This was forbidden in the Carter household. To emphasize the point, his father took Chris’s dinner plate out to the street, placed it on a manhole cover, and made his son eat off the pavement. Since the Carters lived on a dead end, Hegel Place, Chris was never in danger. But even when passing cars are going fifteen miles an hour, eating in the street is humiliating.

“My parents never broke rank,” says Chris. “Even when they were wrong, they would back each other up.” Confronted with an unassailable power that he knew was wrong sometimes, Chris lost faith in all authority figures. “Trust no one” is an X-Files slogan; it’s also Chris’s personal philosophy. He doesn’t trust anybody. With a dry chuckle he admits, “This is an issue between my wife and me.”

As a teenager, Chris loved the show Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” which starred Darrin McGavin as a hapless newspaper reporter who, whatever his assignment was, would end up stumbling across a zombie or werewolf and then try to convince the local authorities this wasn’t just any ordinary murder, dammit. The show lasted only twenty episodes, but Chris watched every single one and wished there had been more. Two decades later, financed by 20th Century Fox Television, he’d make his nightmares come true.

Chris’s Millennium office is barren; he hasn’t had time to decorate. The bookshelf holds only three volumes: a dictionary, a Bible (with the Apocrypha), and the Yellow Pages. Chris is sitting in his leather chair, talking on the phone with David Duchovny while watching dailies of The X-Files. On Chris’s TV, David and Gillian Anderson interrogate a suspect, over and over and over again.

Chris hangs up: It’s time for a “tone meeting” for the “Dead Letters” episode of Millennium, attended by director Thomas Wright, writer James Wong, and a couple of producers. The goal is to study the script scene by scene, to ensure that everybody is striving for the same effect. But since this is Thomas’s first time working with Chris, it also becomes a seminar on the Chris Carter Principles of Dramatic Episodic Television.

Chris believes: (1) That point of view is everything in television. He urges Thomas to think of the camera as another character, not just an observer of the scene. (2) That a show can only be as scary as it is believable.(3) That a script should never include a scene where characters are drinking any beverage; it only encourages the actors to take portentous pauses, and makes the editing much harder. (4) That an actor’s posture is vital. When FBI agents have their hands in their pockets, they communicate lack of interest in the crime scene — even if the reason is the cold weather. (5) That stuntmen will always want to stage overly elaborate fight sequences.

Chris eats sushi during the meeting, guarding the pages of his script with a cupped left hand. Scene 9 of “Dead Letters” has a problem. Learning that the serial killer covers his victims with his own feces, Frank Black says, “The only psychological release he could perform was defecation.” The Fox Broadcast Standards department is not happy about this dialogue, and have issued a memo declaring that “the reference to ‘fecal remains’ is unacceptable. We also will not accept references to urine, urination, or masturbation.”

“This is a very well-researched thing about defecation,” fumes writer James Wong. “Thieves burgle your home and leave behind a calling card. I find it unacceptable that they find it unacceptable.”

Chris takes action: He calls up Ken Horton, his co-executive producer in Los Angeles, and advises him to walk over to Broadcast Standards, rather than just fire off a countermemo: The personal visit might help persuade Fox that the scene is not meant to titillate. And as Chris hangs up to resume the tone meeting, he has final words of advice for Ken: “Don’t take any of their shit.”

Chris majored in Journalism at California State University in Long Beach, paying his way by working as a production potter. A typical evening by the kiln: cutting up a hundred four-pound balls of clay, each of which he then shaped into an identical pot. Where some people would find drudgery, Chris saw an opportunity to exercise mastery. He says that there are hundreds of thousands of pots in the world made by his hands. He saw one outside the studio only once, as a planter in a doctor’s office: All Chris could think about was how one day it would break, and how all his pottery would eventually disappear, unremembered.

After college, Chris went to work for Surfing magazine, where he was the greenhorn running through the hallways, colliding with the art director. He profiled surfers, profiled beaches, reviewed new equipment — whatever was needed. By age twenty-six, he had become a senior editor and had nearly drowned in Hawaii’s big surf seven winters in a row. He had also just seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, which made him realize that he wanted to work in the movies. Chris wrote a script about three kids heading off to the Vietnam War. It circulated around Hollywood, generating a buzz wherever it went, and Jeffrey Katzenberg hired him at Disney for a three-picture deal. At the time, Disney was experimenting with putting lots of writers near each other, in the hope that they would stimulate each other’s creativity. As Chris remembers it, everyone did congregate in the hallways — to bitch about deals and executives.

Chris got sidetracked into television when he discovered that the appetite for new scripts that would fill up airtime was so insatiable, he actually has a chance of seeing his words spoken by actors. Having a successful show is not a prerequisite to getting promoted at TV studios — sometimes you don’t even need to make it on the air. So Chris hopped from job to job, with credits like the Sunday-night TV movie Meet the Muncies (“a very funny Beverly Hillbillies kind of idea that would have been terrific, but they didn’t give us enough money or time to make it the right way”), Rags to Riches (a musical-comedy series on NBC about five dancing orphan girls), and the wholesome family sitcom A Brand New Life (“I was kind of manipulated into that project”). By 1992, his Hollywood reputation had grown sufficiently that Fox signed him to an exclusive deal. Remembering Kolchak: The Night Stalker and reasoning that there were no scary programs on the airwaves anymore, Chris managed to convince his bosses of the merits of The X-Files. (“I pitched it once and they didn’t buy it. I pitched it a second time and they bought it, I think, just to get me off their backs.”)

Fox thought they were getting a spooky reality-based program: reenactment of actual alien abductions. But The X-Files quickly became weirder and wittier than that, as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigated everything from cannibals to government conspiracies to cockroach invasions. Once a cult hit, The X-Files is currently the Fox network’s highest-rated show. And with the Pearl Jam-size success of The X-Files, the networks have shifted into Stone Temple Pilots mode. NBC offers three Generation X-Files shows in a row on Saturday night: Dark Skies, The Pretender, and Profiler. UPN has The Sentinel and The Burning Zone. Even Baywatch Nights is supposed to take a paranormal turn this season.

What they seem to be borrowing from The X-Files is what many people focus on: the sense of paranoia, communicated through old genre conventions like vampires and space aliens. What often gets ignored is the sense of religious desire. Mulder repeats the mantra “Trust no one” but he also says “I want to believe,” and “The truth is out there.” It’s a heady notion: that no matter how confusing the modern world may seem, there is a single unifying truth behind all its uncertainty — you just need to look in the right place to uncover the architecture. Mulder often seems less like an FBI agent than a pilgrim en route to Damascus. Always lacking the hard evidence he needs to confirm his theories of abductions, in the end all he has is his faith.

Last year, Fox reminded Chris that despite the epic proportions of X-mania, he still owed them another pilot under the terms of his development deal. (They may well have decided that if other networks were going to copy The X-Files, they should just go right to the source.) Chris remembered Frank Black, a character he’d been carrying around in his head for a long time: not the former Pixies singer, but a retired FBI agent who learns to understand wrongdoing so deeply that he gains quasi-psychic insight into criminals. With Millennium — starring Lance Henriksen as Frank Black and Megan Gallagher as his social-worker wife Catherine — Chris wants not to just xerox The X-Files, but to explore the nature and meaning of evil. Chris hopes the show runs long enough that it becomes an issue whether the millennium begins in 2000 or 2001.

With his broad shoulders and curly blond hair, Chris looks as wholesome as an actor in a soap commercial. But in his head, he sees himself as an outsider, with dyed hair and body piercings. He doesn’t let this side of himself leak out into anything but his scripts, however, and when pressed as to the origins of his black art, he sidesteps the question. He says that he thinks of his series as driven by character, not horror, or that he’s not really interested in showing blood and gore on the screen, or that he simply doesn’t know where his grotesque ideas come from.

All of us have unknown terrors, monsters inside our head. Some of us run away from them; some of us just pretend they don’t exist. Some of us try to conquer them, maybe paying a therapist for a talking cure. Chris copes with them in the way he’s learned best: by dissecting them into structures of four acts (plus a teaser), and then exiling them to your television set. Chris knows that he has good instincts for what scares people. “I think our lives are rather mundane, and we like to be shocked. We like the sensory burst.” It would be easy to peg him as a calculating Hollywood operator who recognized that a modern Twilight Zone would fill a market niche. But like Agent Mulder, he throws himself into his job until it swallows up his life. Unlike Mulder, Chris doesn’t make speeches about why he does what he does before we cut to commercial.

For all the grisly events on The X-Files and Millennium, Chris is surprisingly squeamish. A few years back, he went to a specialist to find out why his hearing had gotten so bad. He learned that he has a condition known as “surfer’s ear.” When you get pounded by big waves day after day, a lot of water enters the ear; to protect itself, the ear forms lumps of bone under the skin of the ear canal which block out the surf. The doctor told him the news and began probing the ear to make a precise diagnosis. Chris fainted. The creator of TV’s scariest shows woke up in the arms of his ear-nose-and-throat man.

Chris steps into the sunshine of a Vancouver parking lot. Both The X-Files and Millennium film up here: It’s accessible to L.A. but cheaper, and the local terrain can mimic just about any part of the United States. (Except for Southwestern deserts: To simulate a New Mexico ravine last year, the crew covered a local quarry with 1,600 gallons of red paint.) Chris has been asked to help with an X-Files casting decision; as he strides the fifty yards that separates his two shows’ buildings, Teamsters unloading a truck smile and wave at their boss.

“They’re casting a mutant,” Chris explains to me. “Well, not a mutant, exactly. More of a freak of nature, a woman with no arms or legs. She lives under somebody’s bed. Her own, I guess.” The director, Kim Manners, and the casting director, Coreen Mayrs, have narrowed their choices for Mrs. Peacock to three actresses. Chris examines the Polaroids of each actress, and then the women are brought in one at a time for their final callback.

Actress No. 1, Karin, turns her chair toward Coreen, who is feeding her lines, and does Mrs. Peacock’s monologue as a slow burn, hands behind her back, eyes bulging. Karin is completely focused on Coreen; I wonder whether she realizes that Chris has the only opinion in the room that really counts right now.

Chris already knows Actress No. 2, Barbara — she played a small part as a hostage in an X-Files episode he directed two years ago. He nicknamed her “my Canadian wife” because she kept bringing him homemade jam. She reads with a Southern accent, building into a scalding fury.

Actress No. 3, Lenore, tells us how she scared the children at the local mall while she was practicing the monologue. When she begins, we see why: She wails at the top of her lungs, rocks violently in the chair, and scatters her script all over the carpet. Chris watches with his hands folded in his lap.

A pause as No. 3 leaves the room. Coreen and Kim look at Chris expectantly. “Well, we have to send really nice cards to two of them,” Chris begins. “They all obviously a lot of work. Barbara did a great acting job, but she’s a little too robust for the part. Karin was doing some creepy stuff with her eyes at the end. Made me really nervous. That’s a good sign.” The decision is made, with no further debate: Karin is whisked off to wardrobe and makeup, to get fitted for clothes and prosthetics.

Chris’ staff have nicknamed him The Phantom because he appears and disappears in the office hallway when they least expect it. He skitters off to his X-Files office, decorated with props from the show and posters of the stage magician Carter the Great (“In Mid-Air, Carter Materializes a Bowl of Water Weighing 150 lbs!”). First he places a phone call to a Fox executive (Chris does most of his own dialing himself, only occasionally asking one of his assistants to get somebody on the line). Talking with the exec, Chris politely but decisively kiboshes a planned tie-in between Millennium and Domino’s Pizza. Now Chris has a chance to demonstrate his sterling-silver etiquette: He writes thank-you notes to the two actresses who weren’t cast as Mrs. Peacock. Most producers, if they thought to do this at all, would just scribble a quick sentence. Chris, however, fills up both cards: As always, compulsively writing.

If Chris Carter were a character on The X-Files, who would he be? Gillian Anderson: “Chris would be the Cigarette-Smoking Man, because he’s at the top, he knows exactly what he wants, and he can snap his fingers and people will obey his whims. I can imagine him standing in a corner with half-light, only he wouldn’t be smoking, he’d be doing something else. Maybe he’d be the Jellybean-Eating Man.” Chris Carter: “Mulder and Scully are equal parts of me. David makes fun of me; he says that means Mulder is only half a character.” David Duchovny: “Actually, Chris already played a character in the second-season finale: one of the FBI agents who was grilling Scully about my whereabouts. He was in the script as Other Agent, so we called him Agent Other Agent. He just had a few lines, but he felt like he was flubbing them. No recurring role.”

Although The X-Files and Millennium shoot in Vancouver, the writers work on the Fox lot back in Los Angeles. So Chris spends a lot of time shuttling between the two cities; he’s on a first-name basis with the Canadian Air flight attendants, baggage handlers and pilots. Canadian Air’s even been known to hold takeoff for a few minutes so Chris can get on the plane.

Aside from overseeing every episode of The X-Files, Chris writes eight episodes a season (and revises most of the other 16): a grueling workload, which he now plans to double. Says David Duchovny, “Chris is driven beyond all common sense, but at his core he’s just a really good, decent man. He’s loyal like a dog — but a little more intelligent.” Chris works until about eleven most nights, typing on his PowerBook, and then drives straight home in his Land Rover.

On the Fox back lot, every single parking space is labeled RESERVED, even the ones nobody ever uses. Ten Thirteen Productions sprawls over many buildings in what was once the Shirley Temple section of the studio. Monday mornings at Ten Thirteen begin with a Millennium meeting. Chris — wearing maroon shorts and a gray T-shirt — joins six writers and co-executive producer Ken Horton around a table piled high with doughnuts and pastries. One writer, Tedd Mann, is chewing a piece of nicotine gum and drinking tea out of a huge Pyrex mixing cup. Chris keeps the meeting moving briskly — except when he feels like he needs to share what’s on his mind, whether that relates to the nature of Bill Murray’s appeal or how Olympic archers eat junk food to speed up their heart rate. Other writers are allowed to derail the conversation in this fashion, but few dare. Each staffer reports on how his script is progressing, and Chris tells them about the “fecal remains” brouhaha.

“Would ‘poop’ be acceptable?” asks one writer.

Ken provides an update: “The guy we’re going to win the argument with is on vacation right now. So we’re going to shoot it, and then we’re also going to shoot a version without it.”

“Don’t tell him we’re doing that,” says Chris.

“Well, we don’t want to give them the big finger. They’ll figure out what’s going on anyway.”

An hour late, Chris walks to the X-Files meeting, held in co-executive producer Howard Gordon’s bungalow. (In TV, most successful writers end up titled as some variety of producer.) Seven writers crowd around a small coffee table, which holds a plate with five bagels.

“Year four, this is all you get,” Chris tells them. Everybody grumbles good-naturedly about how there aren’t enough bagels; nobody actually eats one. Howard’s working on a script about an albino who kills his victims by stealing their melanin. The writers debate plot mechanics, the racial implications of the story, hiding places for the killer. “The end-game should be urban,” Chris declares. “What if he’s under a bowling alley, and the balls start to back up?” More ideas are tossed around, including a mushroom farm and the crawl space under an escalator (both already used on the show), the pipes of an oil-drilling rig, and a big industrial darkroom.

“What’s that like?” Chris asks the writer who suggested it.

“Um, it’s dark.”

Chris improvises some Mulder-Scully dialogue as they try to revise the scripts third and fourth acts. It’s slow, frustrating work, but Chris keeps the plot twists flowing. He has another idea for the melanin killer: “If only he needed melatonin — you can get it at any health-food store.” Once the meeting has been going on for about an hour, Chris begins balancing his chair on its rear legs and drumming his fingers on the table. He’s got a script to revise and he can’t contain his anticipation. His tool is a laptop computer, not a surfboard, but he’s still itching for his daily adrenaline rush.

Starlog: X-Writers

Oct-??-1995
Starlog
X-Writers
Paula Vitaris

For Glen Morgan and James Wong, the truth isn’t out there. It’s in their word processors.

They lurk in the shadows, out of sight, silently watching to see if they can scare you, shock you and send you to bed with disturbing dreams. Could it be a case for those pursuers of the paranormal, The X-Files’ Fox Mulder and Dana Scully?

Well, no. The lurkers are two guys from sunny San Diego, California – Glen Morgan and James Wong, scriptwriters and co-executive producers for the Fox Network’s The X-Files, and lying low, says Morgan, is just what he and Wong should be doing. “Writers belong in some dark corner, watching,” he says, paraphrasing novelist Charles Bukowski – a fitting observation for a man who, together with longtime friend and writing partner Wong, concocts spooky stories about killer mutants, extraterrestrials and sinister government agents.

Morgan and Wong’s work has been so well-received in their year and a half with The X-Files that they have emerged from the anonymity in which many television writers exist to find their episodes anxiously awaited by the show’s fans, with their entries consistently winning computer bulletin board popularity polls. “It’s nice and it’s flattering,” Morgan says, but a following, especially an online following, is “a hell of a lot of pressure,” he sighs. Now that he has become acquainted with fans via computer. “It’s harder. It has gone beyond just an audience thing.”

What typifies a Morgan-Wong episode? “They’re gorier,” quips Morgan, the wise-cracking half of the duo to Wong’s straight man. In addition to the occasional rise in body count, one can count on a Morgan-Wong story to combine memorable dialogue for FBI Special Agents Mulder and Scully with a gripping plot. But Morgan sees another side to their writing. “Jim and I are more character-oriented,” he says, “Maybe Chris Carter would have a more epic show with spaceships and fire, but we focus on people.” They look to episodes like their favorite, “Beyond the Sea,” which links a personal story about Scully coping with her father’s death to the search for a serial killer, as an example of how to mix character development with an absorbing storyline.

Their sources of ideas are varied. Sometimes the impetus for an episode is comments from their audience on the computer networks or in letters, sometimes it’s a real-world event or interesting science fact described in a book, magazine or newspaper article. Sometimes they just throw out an idea and toss it back and forth until it turns into a story. They do some research, but Wong notes, “We’ll always lean towards whatever will best fit the story and the theme versus what’s the actuality in science. It’s important for us not to be so science-ignorant that we ignore the truth, but we’re not as concerned with the reality of that science as with what’s exciting, what’s scary. We take reality into consideration, but it doesn’t stop us from doing things that are wrong. ”

The writers themselves are not believers. Wong says he knows “there are people who believe,” and Morgan adds, ” I want to believe’ is like, ‘I want to believe in UFOs’. I don’t really. What we’re doing is what Chris likes to do: ‘weird science,’ that edge of science we haven’t figured out yet.”

Morgan and Wong are also responsible for producing the episodes they write. “On this series, it’s very much that whoever writes the episode, produces the episode. ”

“In pre-production, we cast,” Wong adds. “We’re allowed about three or four guest artists from Los Angeles. Then, we go up to Vancouver and approve the local casting. we talk to the director, look at locations and make sure they fit in with how we think the show should look. We approve the props and the wardrobe, and every element of the show, or at least we’re familiar with it. The biggest thing we do in pre-production is to have a tone meeting with the director, where we talk about what we would like and hope to see, and what his feelings are. We’ll either say, ‘That’s a great idea’ and do it that way, and in post-production, if it’s a very well-cut show, we just make minor adjustments. Otherwise we make major changes in reshooting.” Morgan and Wong also work closely with composer Mark Snow in spotting the music cues. “We’ve had the freedom to do the things we want to do,” Wong says. “We haven’t had the bad luck of having an idea we really wanted to do and not being able to do it. So what you see is what we wanted.”

Their first entry for The X-Files was “Squeeze,” the first non-UFO episode, with Mulder and Scully chasing down Eugene Tooms, the liver eating, elastic-limbed mutant from Baltimore. The shoot was a difficult one. “I felt the director had no respect for us or our ideas,” Wong says. “In fact, he had no respect for the script. He didn’t shoot coverage and we didn’t like the dailies that were coming back. Ultimately, we had to go back up and reshoot some coverage, shoot a scene he didn’t shoot, and add a lot of inserts to make it work. I’ll always be disappointed because of what it could have been, but I think it turned out OK.”

Despite these problems, the episode got high marks from fans, and Eugene later returned in “Tooms,” the first season’s only sequel. “We liked him a lot,” Wong notes of the character, who was voted Best Villain by X-Files fans on the American OnLine computer network. He and Morgan felt another Tooms episode would be their chance to do right by him. “The fans liked him and he was scary and we decided to finish him off.” Wong says, “That was the show that David Nutter directed. We thought, ‘What a perfect combination.’ We get Tooms -we like the character and the actor, and we had a great experience with David.”

One scene in “Tooms” raised the vague possibility that someday there might be more between Mulder and Scully than just a working relationship, but Morgan and Wong are opposed to any romance between the two. “We don’t see them having a relationship beyond the professional one,” Wong says.

X-Informers

Another very popular Morgan-Wong episode is ‘Ice,’ set at a science station in storm-swept Alaska. A locked-room, small ensemble piece, unusual for the X-Files, the story about a prehistoric alien worm discovered in ice core samples wound the dramatic tension up to an almost unbearable level, with Mulder and Scully even facing off against each other, guns drawn. Ironically, the excitement stemmed from a very mundane origin. “Our shows were going over budget and we needed to do a show that was more contained,” says Wong. “There was an article in a science magazine that said they were drilling down in Greenland to get to the ice cores. We thought, ‘That’s perfect. What if we do that?’ Because it’s the FBI, we decided to set it in Alaska to get jurisdiction.”

They were quite happy with the episode, and particularly loved the huge set designed by Graeme Murray, who had just joined the production staff. “It was much bigger than we thought,” Morgan says, adding that on film it nonetheless conveyed a sense of claustrophobia. Inevitably, fans have compared “Ice” to the two film versions of The Thing, and although Morgan and Wong admit there are similarities, they tried to avoid comparisons.

“E.B.E.,” one of the first season’s most exciting UFO yarns, shed some murky light onto Mulder’s enigmatic informant Deep Throat and his possible motivations. The inspiration again came from the show’s online fans, who sought more information on the character. The two writers also wanted to know more about Deep Throat, and first wrote the scene where Deep Throat confesses a past crime to Mulder. “The episode is built from that last scene,” Morgan reveals. “Deep Throat says he killed an alien, but you never know whether he’s lying or not. Everyone will ask, ‘Is he lying or not?’ I think that worked.” Morgan and Wong had other ideas for Deep Throat that never developed beyond the talking stage, like Scully investigating Deep Throat in an effort to find a missing Mulder, or a story involving the government’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. Killing Deep Throat in the series’ first-season finale, they say, was Carter’s decision. “That was a tough hole to fill,” Morgan admits. “Jerry Hardin was very good. Hopefully, we’ll come up with somebody or something to fill that.” (A new informant, “Mr. X. ” has emerged during the second season) .

All episodes are not written for what Morgan refers to as “the modern crowd,” nor are they sparked by a story that intrigues him and Wong. “Shadows,” a ghost story, came about at the request of a network executive who wanted to see a poltergeist tale. Morgan doesn’t regard the result with much fondness. “It was a little too ordinary. You’ve seen it before,” Morgan says. Wong notes that their original idea, once they agreed to write the episode, was a bit more shocking than what ended up on screen. “We started thinking about a masseuse in one of those sleazy places,” he confesses, but by the time the script was shot, their haunted masseuse had become a secretary.

Conversely, their favorite episode, “Beyond The Sea,” with a blistering guest performance by Brad Dourif as a psychic death row convict had a tough time getting network approval. “They nixed it twice until Chris marched into the office and said, ‘We’re doing it,'” Morgan recalls. He had recently read a book with some startling statistics about the number of women who see the spirits of husbands and sons soon after their deaths, and around the same time, several fans had written messages criticizing Scully’s character. They decided the fans had a point.

“We thought Gillian Anderson needed to show off her talents more,” Wong says, “And this was a perfect opportunity to dispel those notions that Scully will never believe. It was time for the character to grow, because she was just doing the same kind of thing too often.” The result was a story where Anderson could finally let out all the stops, and bring some humanity to Scully.

X-Assistants

Morgan, an admitted “TV kid, ” and Wong, whose parents wouldn’t let him watch television, have been friends since their high school days together in San Diego. They both attended Loyola Marymount University, with Morgan enrolling as a film studies major and Wong as “an engineering major for the first semester, before I realized that Glen was having all the fun” and he switched to film. After college, they went to work as production assistants for Sandy Howard, producer of B-movies like Vice Squad, Meteor, and Angel. When not fetching coffee, they found time to help some friends who were making a rock and roll horror film called Trick or Treat. Morgan, who had done some acting in college, stepped in front of the camera to play the protagonist’s best friend, but his advice to fans who want to search out the video is: “Don’t Watch IT! !”

When they were given the opportunity to take on more responsibility by cutting trailers for Howard’s overseas markets, they felt it was time to make a change. “The career path of a production assistant was really limited, ” Wong says. “We were friends, and we decided to try to write together. After work, we started writing a treatment that we thought Howard would be interested in. We got his attention with our treatment and he allowed us to rewrite an old script.” That script was shot, but the movie, The Boys Next Door, flopped, not to Morgan and Wong’s surprise.

They survived the next four years by writing movie scripts, all unproduced. After the writers’ strike in 1988 their agent suggest they write for television, and they joined the staff of a short-lived crime show called Nightwatch. From there, they went to Stephen Cannell Productions, primarily working on 21 Jump Street and later The Commish, but also contributing to Wiseguy and Booker.

Nearly five years later, Morgan and Wong were anxious to try something different from Cannell’s diet of action and suspense, and they had more or less agreed to join the writing staff of the Columbia Television romance/adventure Moon Over Miami. Then Peter Roth, whom they had known at Cannell and was now president of 20th Century Television, asked them as a favor to watch the pilot of the X-Files.

“We sat down and watched The X-Files and we wanted to hate it,” Morgan remembers. “We kept waiting for it to fall apart, and then when it was over, we looked at each other and said, ‘Uh oh…this is pretty good. Look. We’ll go home, we’ll watch the Moon Over Miami pilot, that will be really good too, and this problem will be behind us.’ We watched the first five minutes of Moon Over Miami, we looked at each other and went ‘Uh oh this is pretty bad.'” The choice was clear; they wanted to write for the X-Files. “Columbia yelled at us a great deal,” Morgan says wryly.

The appeal of the X-Files pilot lay in “the tone of the show and the leads,” says Wong. “David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are great on the screen. They draw your attention, whereas the Moon Over Miami leads didn’t. In television, it’s so important that you like the characters, and that you come back week after week to watch them.”

X-Agents

With the second season underway, there are new stories to tell. The season premiered with ‘Little Green Men,’ a Morgan and Wong script that found the X-Files shut down, and Mulder and Scully separated and reassigned. Originally, the idea had been to send Mulder to Moscow, with Carter writing the script, but that did not pan out. After some discussion, Carter told Morgan and Wong they could write the season opener. “It was a very nice gesture on Chris’ part in boosting our confidence and telling us how much he appreciates us,” Wong says.

The challenge was how to structure the show around Anderson, who was now pregnant. The solution: shut down the X-Files in the first-season finale, which would allow for less screen time for Anderson during the first few second-season segments. That, says Morgan, is “what you would normally do in a third year. In a second season, historically, you take your concept and drive it home. We should deliver what new viewers heard about the first season.”

“This is usually done to invigorate a series,” Wong adds. “Because we’re doing it now, it has given us the challenge of trying to woo new audiences, while at the same time, keep the old. I think we’ve done a good job of not changing that much. In some ways, this has given us a fresh outlook on what the X-Files should or could be.”

Morgan and Wong finally wrote their SETI episode for ‘Little Green Men’ with Mulder traveling to the SETI installation at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, hoping to find evidence of extraterrestrials. “I always wanted to do something with the SETI background,” Morgan says. “I hope that kids at school check out SETI, because it was factual as to what exists.” But the episode was about more than the SETI program. With Mulder undergoing a crisis of self-doubt, wondering if he has been chasing illusions, Morgan says one of the themes he and Wong wanted to convey is “the idea that we all have to fight our own little green men and carry on.”

Their second effort this year was “Blood,” an episode Wong calls “our attempt at portraying how some of these spree killers might have gotten their ideas.” In this case, the ideas were transmitted through the digital displays of machines and household appliances. “As we wrote,” Morgan explains, “we were thinking, what do you have in your house that you’re going to deal with every day that scares you? ‘Blood’ is very visual. Jim and I used the least amount of dialogue possible, because the episode deals with people receiving messages and looking at things. The fourth act is really intense, and William Sanderson, who plays Funsch, did a great job.”

Morgan and Wong wrote two additional episodes for the first half of the second season. “One Breath” resurrected Scully, who supposedly had been killed in an earlier episode. Fortunately for Anderson, who had given birth to daughter Piper the week before shooting began, her scenes were confined to a hospital bed, as Scully was in a coma and surrounded by life support equipment. Morgan says the writers attempted in every way to ‘take it easy’ on Anderson, who he describes as “just about the sweetest person on Earth.”

Morgan hoped “One Breath” would be on the same level. as of “Beyond the Sea.” “We wanted this episode to have something a little more uplifting and positive and spiritual,” he says, noting that this script introduced a sister for Scully played by actress Melinda McGraw, who worked with the team on The Commish. “Jim and I are friends with Melinda. She’s a wonderful actress, and we wanted to write something for her.”

The final Morgan-Wong show for the first half of the season, number 14, would deal with false memories and mass hysteria involving a possible case of devil worship. Morgan notes that computer fans have been asking, “When is Scully going to be right? When is there going to be a hoax? We thought this would be a good time to do it.”

For the moment, Glen Morgan and James Wong are far from the investigative arena examined in the X-Files. They’re now running their own TV show, Space: Above and Beyond. This new SF series chronicles the adventures of a group of young Earth heroes now engaged in intergalactic war. Their future ambitions also include writing features. But whatever they’re working on, they hope to do it together. “Like Scully and Mulder,” Morgan says, “we get something from each other.”

Cinefantastique: The writing and producing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong on helping define Carter’s vision

Oct-??-1995
Cinefantastique
The writing and producing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong on helping define Carter’s vision
Paula Vitaris

The writing and producing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong spent a year and a half on The X-Files before departing to create their own show for Fox (the upcoming Space: Above and Beyond), but during their time on staff they gave birth to some of the X-Files’ most memorable moments and characters. The Lone Gunmen, Tooms, Luther Lee Boggs, Skinner and William, Margaret and Melissa Scully are all Morgan and Wong creations. Their episodes also helped to define The X-Files as not just about UFOs and aliens, and they expanded the characters by developing their backstories and shedding light on their motivations in such episodes as “Beyond The Sea,” “E.B.E,” and “One Breath.”

Morgan and Wong also brought to The X-Files their talents in the post-production process, with Wong in particular acknowledged by the X-Files staff as a master of editing (an assessment Morgan is the first to agree with). Paul Rabwin, who supervises The X-Files’ post production, worked closely with Morgan and Wong in all aspects of the post process. “Jim and Glen are perfect editing team,” he said. “They each trust their partner’s instincts. I’ve seen them run a problematic episode, zero in on the offending problem, and turn it around. The natural cinematic flow of drama comes naturally to them. They love sound effects and music: it’s exciting to watch them ‘finish’ an episode. The Satanic atmosphere which they created in ‘Die Hand Die Verletzt’ was chillingly simple; most producers would’ve gone for the jugular, but they went for the cerebellum.”

The X-Files was Morgan and Wong’s first genre show. Friends since high school in San Diego, they studied film at Loyola Marymount University and then went to work as production assistants for producer Sandy Howard, whose output included Angel, Vice Squad, Meteor and the like. They saw a movie script produced – The Boys Next Door, directed by Penelope Spheeris and starring Maxwell Caulfield and Charlie Sheen – but they were not particularly happy with the result. After four lean years of writing more movie scripts, all unproduced, they moved into television, and joined Stephen Cannell Productions in 1989. Their time with Cannell was a productive one (Wong described it as “our graduate school”), where they absorbed everything they could about the craft of writing and producing for television. The shows they wrote for Cannell include Wiseguy, Booker and the obscure Disney/Cannell co-production, The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage (which starred Steven Williams, the future X), but their longest tenures were on 21 Jump Street and The Commish. Anxious to try their hand at something other than cop and action shows, they were on the verge of joining the writing staff of Moon Over Miami, when Peter Roth, president of 20th Century Television, asked them to watch a tape of The X- Files’ pilot. Immediately they knew this was the show they really wanted to write for.

“Die Hand Die Verletzt,” Morgan and Wong’s last episode, began and ended with messages to some of their favourite people. Die-hard fans of the San Diego Chargers, the two decided to show public support for the Super Bowl underdogs by changing their producer credits on the episode to read “James ‘Chargers’ Wong” and “Glen ‘Bolts Baby!’ Morgan.” And in the episode’s final scene, the message on the blackboard read, “It’s been nice working with you” – their farewell to cast and crew. “It just seemed perfect,” said Wong. “We wanted to make it fit within the show and for us, personally. I’m really happy with that.”

During Morgan and Wong’s last week on The X-Files, before they turned their attention full-time to their new show, they reflected on their time in the world of the paranormal. “We spent as much time as we could making it as perfect as we could. The attention to detail was so great because nobody was pushing us to turn over the show,” says Wong. Morgan attributed that artistic freedom to creator Chris Carter. “He really established, long before anybody else was here, that that was how it was going to be. He put his foot down when the money guys were going, ‘You’re done, move on.’ Chris will do that. He’s the one who established that’s how The X-Files was going to go.”

Writing for The X-Files, concluded Wong, “has been a great opportunity for us. We really are proud of the shows that we’re done and it’s been a great experience.