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Cinefantastique: David Duchovny on “The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.”

Apr-??-2002
Cinefantastique
David Duchovny on “The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.”
Paula Vitaris

“Written and directed by David Duchovny.” These were the credits for two eagerly anticipated episodes — sixth seaon’s “The Unnatural” and seventh season’s “Hollywood A.D.” — of the popular Fox television series The X-Files. As the show’s wry, deadpan FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder, Duchovny had already made a permanent impression not only on the show’s fans, but on popular culture itself, with Mulder and his partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) referenced constantly throughout the ’90s in magazines, newspapers, books, the internet and even other television shows. But Duchovny, whose father is a writer, had always had writing ambitions himself, and wanted to do more than play Agent Mulder; he wanted to participate in the show as a storyteller. With the broadcast of “The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.,” Duchovny revealed himself to be also a writer and director of great promise. “The Unnatural,” a warm, gently humorous and ultimately moving story about baseball and aliens, clearly was the outstanding episode of the sixth season. In “Hollywood A.D.”, Duchovny turned a Hollywood producer loose on a tantalizing mystery investigated by Mulder and Scully, and the resulting “movie” is one of the funniest spoofs yet of the show. Although “The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.” seem like completely different stories, they both share a fascination for exploring characters who live passionate lives, whether they’re playing great baseball or making grade-B movies.

David Duchovny grew up in New York City, the son of playwright and novelist Avram Ducovny and teacher Margaret Ducovny. His father’s work exposed Duchovny to the worlds of theater and literature, leading him to define himself as a budding writer. He envisioned a life spent writing either full-time, or even part-time while working at another profession. In high school he took creative writing classes in poetry and he wrote throughout college, although his formal studies were primarily in literary analysis (Duchovny has a bachelor’s degree in English from Princeton and is A.B.D. — All But Dissertation — from Yale). He wrote a novel which he still keeps in a drawer. While at Yale, he began pursuing more seriously his ambitions to become a playwright and began spending time with students and faculty at the university’s famed drama school. He adapted Charles Bukowski’s short story “The Copulating Mermaid of Venice Beach,” for an off-off-Broadway production. He decided as a playwright he needed to learn about the acting process, enrolled in an acting class, and consequently he became so interested that writing — and academia — slipped onto a back burner. He dropped out of Yale to join the ranks of aspiring actors, moved to Los Angeles, and after an initial spell with no work, began to win roles for himself in independent films (Venice/Venice; The Rapture; Kalifornia) and studio movies (Chaplin; Beethoven). He also won the hearts of Twin Peaks fans with his performance as Denise, the cross-dressing DEA agent, during that show’s second season.

But it was his complex performance as the obsessed FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files that catapulted Duchovny into high profile fame. He garnered much acclaim, not only from the show’s fans, but from critics and colleagues, winning a Golden Globe Award and receiving several Emmy and Screen Actors Guild nominations. Acting on The X-Files wasn’t enough for Duchovny, though; the writer in him soon resurfaced and he started thinking about writing a script for the show. He had originally become interested in screenwriting about 10 or 15 years ago, and as one of the leads of a prime-time series, he felt he could make a contribution towards the show’s storyline. In the second season, he shared story credit with the show’s creator and executive producer Chris Carter on two episodes, “Colony” and “Anasazi” (on the latter he also participated in the plot break-down). Other episodes for which he received story credit include third season’s “Avatar” and fourth season’s “Talitha Cumi.”

Several seasons went by before he began thinking about actually writing a script of his own. “I didn’t have the surety, the confidence in my mind that I could write a teleplay,” Duchovny said. “Writers and directors like to keep scriptwriting a very arcane enterprise so that dilettantes won’t try to get involved and realize that it is actually just lightning and luck. If you have talent you can do it. Other than that, you can take all the McKee screenwriting courses that you want,but you’re still not going to write a decent screenplay. I was 34, 35, and I thought, ‘I’m never going to get it. I have decent ideas and I’ll just pitch them to the writers.’ It took me to the sixth year of the show to actually sit down and write one of my ideas. Being on The X-Files gave me a great advantage in knowing that I could pick that up really quickly. That’s when I got focused on it. It was really a matter of realizing that I could do it.”

Duchovny’s first “written by” credit was shared with Carter for the seventh-season episode “Amor Fati.” Mulder falls into a coma when stricken by a potentially fatal brain disease, and Duchovny suggested Mulder confront a situation like that faced by Christ in Martin Scorcese’s film version of Kazantakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ. Mulder dreams that, instead of having spent his life looking for aliens, paranormal creatures, and his abducted sister Samantha, he has spent it as a family man, married to Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers). “I really was attached to that idea,” Duchovny said. “The Lamentation of Christ is about how we’re all Christ, about how every single person on this planet has to make this heartbreaking choice between a life in the world and a life of the family. That’s what makes Christ so heartbreaking in that movie and in that book: his struggle is not only godlike, but also profoundly human. People ask, ‘when is Mulder going to get a personal life?’ Well, this is the equation. This is what it’s all about. Mulder is a guy who’s been given the same problem. You either have a life or you sacrifice it all and you become this guy who’s running around chasing aliens and has no life. I wasn’t saying Mulder is Christ; I’m not inflating Mulder. What I’m doing is using the very human model of Christ to make Mulder an everyman.”

Despite eight years of training in literary analysis, Duchovny does not analyze the story during the writing process. “I do that much more as an actor. I think one of the problems with studying great literature at a young age is that it intimidates you and you just go, ‘What’s the use?’ When you’re 17 and reading Shakespeare and you have thoughts of being a writer yourself, it’s like having one week of boxing lessons and going in against Mike Tyson. You say to yourself, ‘I’ll never be a boxer.’ It’s not necessarily true. So there was some of that: “Well, if it’s not Shakespeare, why should I even try?’ ”

By sixth season Duchovny was ready to write his first solo script, and decided he should direct it, too. His episode, “The Natural,” is about an alien who falls in love with baseball so much that he will do anything to play the game. Duchovny wrote the script without input from the X-Files writing staff until he was ready to show them the first draft. “The satisfying thing about it is that I had no help at all,” he said. “The mentoring was done through having five years of well-structured teleplays to guide me through. I wouldn’t have known the teaser, four-act structure. That’s not an intuitive thing to figure out. Above anything else, The X-Files is a really well-structured, story-telling mechanism. So I had that as my mentor. It’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.”

The episode’s teaser opens on a night game in 1947 between a Negro Baseball League team and a white team in Roswell, New Mexico. The players are attacked by hooded horsemen. A player unseats one of the horseman, and when his hood is removed, we see the face of a gray alien. The first act begins one Saturday morning when Mulder, working in his office, spots a familiar name, Arthur Dales (this character first appeared in the episode “Travelers”), in a caption to an old newspaper photograph. Mulder goes to Dales’ apartment and finds not the Dales he expected (who had been played by Darrin McGavin in “Travelers” and subsequently in “Agua Mala”) but his identically-named brother (played by C. Emmet Walsh). Mulder asks about the photograph, and the crotchety Dales finally agrees to tell him its story. The episode then flashes back to 1947 Roswell, New Mexico, where a much younger Dales (Frederic Lane) was a policeman assigned to protect Josh Exley (Jesse Martin), a member of the Negro League team The Roswell Grays from potential racist attacks motivated by major league interest in Exley. Exley and Dales strike up an unlikely friendship, and eventually Dales learns, to his shock, that Exley is actually an alien — a Gray alien, to be precise. Exley has fallen in love with baseball and all he wants to do is play the game. He’s so good that scouts from the major leagues — which have just been integrated — show up. But Exley doesn’t want attention; he shapeshifted himself into the form of an African-American man in order to play in the Negro leagues and avoid mainstream publicity. Exley’s dream of spending his life as a human baseball player takes a tragic turn, though, when an alien Bounty Hunter (Brian Thompson) tracks him down and demands he submit to the ultimate punishment for passing himself off as human.

Duchovny and X-Files executive producer Chris Carter, both devoted baseball fans, had wanted to write an episode about baseball for several years, but had never been able to find the right story. Carter had suggested a story about an Indian burial ground under a baseball stadium, but that idea didn’t pan out. Duchovny, who had reached the point where he felt he was ready to write and direct, and very much wanted to do a baseball story, kept searching for the right idea. One morning he was reading the newspaper — much like Mulder is looking at a newspaper in the beginning of the episode — and spotted an article about a minor-league player named Joe Bauman. (In 1954, Bauman, a gas station owner who had played for the now-defunct Roswell Rockets in the long-forgotten Longhorn League, hit 72 home runs, and drove in 224 runs, for an overall slugging average of .916). “Bauman was like a Bull Durham character,” Duchovny noted. “I don’t think he ever made it to the majors, but I read this article during the McGwire -Sosa home run race, and it mentioned that Bauman had more than 70 home runs in a year in the minor leagues. And he played in Roswell, New Mexico, which I found hysterically funny. So I thought, ‘What if this guy’s an alien? He’s hitting 70 home runs and he’s an alien. There’s my story — we’ve got an alien baseball player.’ I told my wife [actress Tea Leoni] the idea and the next day I woke up and said to her, ‘What if the guy’s black and he’s an alien and the reason he’s black is because he doesn’t want to go to the pros because he doesn’t want to be discovered?’ After that it just all fell into place.”

Exley’s race also dictated the flackback structure of the episode. “Once Exley became black, the story wouldn’t make any sense if it took place after the integration of baseball, because after integration he would be discovered, whether he wanted to or not,” Duchovny said. “I liked the sense of loss that is part of the legacy of black ball players in this country. There were players whose names we don’t know who were every bit as good as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and all the names we do know. Josh Gibson was the prototypical Negro League ballplayer who never got a shot to prove to the world how good he was. So I liked this idea of an invisible history that we don’t know. But this wasn’t something I could do in a story set in the present.” A flashback story also lessened Mulder’s presence in the episode, giving Duchovny time for pre-production and directing.

In Duchovny’s original script, the Arthur Dales who relates the story of Josh Exley is the same Dales The X-Files audience first met in “Travelers,” also a flashback story, this time set in the 1950s. Darrin McGavin had played the current-day Dales, and Frederic Lane (who also appeared in flashback scenes in “Travelers”) his younger encarnation. Duchovny brought back Dales because “it just made sense to me. Rather than have to create a whole new character and introduce him, I thought anytime you can use a character who has a history, you don’t have to waste precious time telling the audience who he is and what he does. You get more time to tell the stuff that matters.”

McGavin agreed to play Dales once again, but three days into the shoot, he fell sick and had to drop out. Duchovny was urged by the writing staff to change Dales into another character entirely and then have the new character tell the story of Dales to Mulder, but Duchovny resisted introducing a third person not directly involved in the situation. His solution was to make the character into the brother of the original Dales — a brother with the same exact name. Veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh came in to take over the role. “It wouldn’t have worked if Dales were telling the story about somebody else. That’s why I couldn’t let that happen and opened myself up to the ridicule of that stupid scene where the guy says he’s got a brother by the same name,” Duchovny said. “Fortunately it went by so quickly. The whole story fails if it’s not this guy’s primary experience. He can’t be telling the story about somebody else, because he has to feel it, not just tell it about somebody else. That one-step removal would have taken away all the emotional immediacy of the piece.”

Walsh’s performance as the grumpy, hermit-like brother moved to tears by 50-year-old memories turned out to be one of the highlights of the episode. “It was intimidating because I was asking him to do so much so quickly,” Duchovny recalled. “He came in the day after he got the script, and he had tons of what I thought would be fun dialogue if you had a couple of weeks with it, but he only had a day. I felt bad for him to come in and make the stuff work, because it was written kind of floridly. It’s very hard to ask an actor to inhabit that way of speaking after a day, but Emmet was great. You somehow believe that he and Darrin McGavin could be brothers. They’re both kind of cantankerous. Emmet made a mistake in the dialogue that I kept in because it was so funny. ‘ I think My Best Friend’s Wedding was in theaters then. He had a line in the script, ‘I was chasing aliens while you were watching My Favorite Martian,’ and he said, ‘You were watching my Best Friend’s Martian.’ That cracked me up.”

One of the episode’s most powerful moments is an overhead shot of young Dales holding Exley as he dies that match dissolves back to the present day of the old Dales, crying, while Mulder sits by him and tries to take in everything he’s heard. This shot of Dales and Mulder was Duchovny’s very first as a director, but Duchovny had to reshoot it when Walsh replaced McGavin. “Darrin did it beautifully, by the way,” Duchovny remarked. “As for the shot itself, I knew exactly what I wanted. It was all about preparation. I told Bill Roe, my director of photgraphy, that I wanted a crane shot and then a little pivot, and then we come down and do a close-up. Basically all that means is that when we got out to the baseball field, we had to match it. Actually, the second shot always is the harder one. I just told Bill the effect I wanted and he went out and did it.”

One of Duchovny’s favorite moments in the episode came in a scene where the Roswell Gray team is traveling on the bus to their next game and begin to sing a spiritual. Duchovny had first written the scene with Exley revealing a terrible singing voice. He had wanted to make a comment, in a humorous way, about the stereotype that all African-Americans can sing, which would be doubly humorous because Josh was really an alien attempting to sing. “It was going to be this anti-stereotyping, racial ha-ha, ‘black man can’t dance’ joke,” Duchovny explained. “But Jesse Martin turned out to have a beautiful singing voice and I decided to put him in there singing. I’m not going to make him sing badly.”

The song was a spiritual chosen by Maggie Jacobson, a former girlfriend, and still good friend, of Duchovny’s. (Jacobson, who is an actress, appeared with Duchovny in his first film, New Year’s Day, and in the first season X-Files episode “Born Again.”) “Maggie is the only Jewish gospel singer in captivity,” Duchovny said. “She teaches gospel workshops. She’s a wonderful singer and has a great love of that music, which I don’t know very well at all. I called her when I had that idea, and I said, ‘Can you find me a song about home?’ I told her the story that I was writing and I said I needed to reflect this issue. And I knew it wouldn’t be hard because most spirituals are about longing for home, or for rest. She sent me a tape of three songs that she thought would be relevant, and I chose “We’ll All Be Together in That Land.” It’s a beautiful song.” The song recurs at the end of the episode when Dales hold Exley as he dies and plays throughout the dissolve back to the present-day, where we see Mulder meeting his partner, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) at a ballfield for some nightime batting lessons. “I wanted at that point to have that feeling bridge us back from the ballfield where Jesse’s dying to Mulder and Scully at the ballfield, and also as a bridge to the scene on the bus. I wanted to bridge the two eras. [Editor] Lynne Willingham and I tweaked the song so that as soon as Mulder puts his arms around Scully, they’re singing, “I got a sister in this land.”

That nighttime scene where Mulder instructs Scully on the finer points of batting is one of the most charming finales in an X-Files episode. On one level, watching Mulder teasing Scully and Scully laughing at their fun together is utterly endearing. But there is another level to the scene, a subtext in the words that they do not say: Mulder’s desire to communicate to Scully what he learned from Dales. The scene also complements beautifully their first scene together at the beginning of the episode’s first act, when Mulder is spending his Saturday researching in the office and an unhappy Scully, brandishing a fat-free tofutti cone, longs for weekend freedom and asks Mulder if he ever wants to get out of the office. (One of the scene’s funniest moments comes when Scully discovers that Mulder isn’t really researching X-Files; he’s got a baseball book hidden among the papers on his desk; he then wrestles Scully for the toffuti cone he had just disdained.) Duchovny saw these Mulder and Scully scenes as his opportunity to write something warm and funny for the two characters, something less formulaic than their usual back and forth style of dialogue. “I was tired of hearing the conversation between Mulder and Scully where Scully would say, ‘Well, I’m a scientist. I believe in science and science tells me this,’ and then Mulder would say, ‘Well, I go with my gut. My gut tells me this.’ I wanted them to have a conversation in which they are actually ‘in’ their dialogue rather than saying who they are, to let the way they speak say who they are, and to let them inhabit themselves than perching outside themselves.”

Although the show’s writing staff had urged Duchovny to end the episode with the dissolve from the ballfield where Dales holds the dying Exley back to Mulder and Dales in present day, Duchovny resisted taking out his epilogue with Mulder and Scully. “It was very important that there be something like an old-fashioned moral. The whole story is about how it affects Mulder and Scully. What did we learn? It was really important to me that Mulder and Scully have communication on this issue, but that it not be literal and that the audience realize Mulder has called Scully up to the ballfield because he’s learned something about life. I wanted him to impart it to Scully without telling her what it is. At first he’s going to tell her, but the last line belongs to Scully, who says, ‘Shut up, I’m playing baseball.’ As usual, Scully gets it, and tells him to shut up. Here’s Mulder, he’s learned this big lesson, he’s going to tell Scully all about it, and she just intuitively grasps it and tells him to shut up because she’s playing. What he’s supposed to have learned is the value of just loving the game.” Mulder, by sharing his knowledge with Scully, is a contrast to Dales, who keeps to his apartment and doesn’t want to let the world in (including

Mulder, who only is granted entrance after passing a baseball pop quiz). However, that kind of contrast doesn’t fascinate Duchovny so much as who the characters are and how they react. “That stuff is not so important to me. I don’t think of Mulder as a character. I think of him as an opportunity to tell a story. I don’t really believe in character — I believe in situations. I believe people’s character comes out of their responses to situations, but I don’t believe that that character exists before the situation exists. As a writer, I think all that stuff about character is bullshit. Screenwriting is storytelling; you put a figure in a story and have him react the way you want to tell your story. When people get outraged and say, ‘Oh, Mulder would never do that!” Well, yeah, he would, it’s written right here. I’ve got it in writing. Look: Mulder wears a dress. Says right here that he would do that. But people don’t get that. Read Mamet on character; he’s very smart on that.”

When Exley realizes that the Bounty Hunter is on his trail, instead of fleeing, he stops and plays one more game. “He knew he was found out and they were going to come and take him away. He wanted to set his record, he wanted his one last chance to be remembered by the game,” Duchovny said. What sets Exley the alien apart from his fellow aliens is his love of humanity, symbolized in the joy of the game of baseball, but also in other human pleasures such as laughter and song. For Duchovny, Exley — who at the end truly becomes human and bleeds red blood, instead of alien green — is a Pinocchio figure. “He lives the fantasy not just of wooden boys, but of all men and women. You want something to make you real — authentic. Exley becomes real. I spared you the dialogue where he could have said, ‘I feel real,’ but you get to see it [when he bleeds]. The beauty of movies is that you can actually show things instead of telling them. You can have a very tidy — as my former teacher Harold Bloom would say — ‘trope’ of humanity: ‘Oh my god! You’ve become a real person out of your love of the game!’ I’m being ironic but this is moving to me and it meant a lot to me. If I were to sit down and look at that hour of television, I would say it has more of me than anything else I’ve ever done.”

As director, Duchovny had first cut of the episode, so for the first time he found himself working in the editing room. His editor for “The Unnatural” was Lynne Willingham. Duchovny found the experience greatly rewarding. “It’s fun if you have enough footage to make your show make sense,” he said. “I think I did pretty well both times in getting footage. We often start to shoot scripts that are still in progress — that’s just the nature of the schedule — but I had my script far in advance because I was only doing one, so I was prepared months before and I knew what I needed. Lynne [who began editing while shooting was still in progress] would call me if I missed anything, so I had the chance to go back and get something. When you’re out there shooting, you really do have an infinite amount of possibility for where you’re going to put the camera. The great thing about the editing room is that for better or for worse, once you’re in it, you only have the shots you took, and you have to make it work from that. There’s less panic in editing, because even though you’re dealing with something diminished, something no longer infinite, at the same time you’re dealing with something concrete, and you’ve got to make it work. It’s kind of like growing up. You’re like, ‘Okay, well, fuck, I’m not going to be an astronaut, let’s just learn how to fly a plane.’ ”

The editing process did not see any major changes from the the final script, although Duchovny remembered one alteration suggested by X-Files writer/producer John Shiban that helped clarify the story. Shiban suggested that Duchovny add a fourth-act recap of the teaser, right before the episode advanced beyond the teaser’s attack on the ballplayers by the horsemen. “I had written it so that you go back just to the point where you left it off, to the unmasking of the alien, and John and some of the producers felt that the audience needed a reminder about what’s going on. I thought that was a really good editorial decision.” Duchovny’s favorite post-production experience was working with X-Files composer Mark Snow, who has composed and performed the music to every episode. “I talked to Mark about the feeling that I wanted, which was this Ry Cooder-guitar, Paris, Texas sound. I just loved the music in the beginning of the epsiode.”

Duchovny’s decision to direct “The Unnatural” grew out of his occasional frustration with the show’s storyline and his lack of control over his character, something he acknowledged an actor “has to give up” in a television series. He saw directing as a way of protecting his script. “Directing is a part of the writing process. It’s the completion of the writing and making sure that your vision gets carried through all the way. I guess I’ve been disappointed in the show’s execution. It’s a little like music. You can tell somebody this is how this should be and this is how it goes, and they nod, and you figure, ‘We’re on the same page, we’re speaking the same language,’ but it never works out that way. It doesn’t. So you just go, ‘For better or for worse, I’m going to be the guy that executes it all the way. I’m not going to leave it up to somebody else.’

Duchovny admitted that as a director, he has his weaknesses, especially in his ability to conceive a shot visually. “I’m spatially backwards. I have no competence at all. I can’t draw. I can’t even conceive on a flat piece of paper in three dimensions. I wish I could. So I was really nervous going in thinking how am I going to move these people through three dimensional space. I also always feel nervous that I’m not always getting enough pieces to cut it together. What I do have is a kind of non-linear sense of how images reveal a story. I guess in ‘The Unnatural” it would be the moment when Exley bleeds red blood, and in ‘Hollywood A.D.’ it’s the final moment when a piece of plastic makes zombies dance on a sound stage. When someone would say, ‘This doesn’t make any sense. Why is this here?’ I would say, ‘Because.’ It makes poetic sense and I think that when you tell a story visually you’re telling it poetically. You’re not telling it like a literal narrative. I feel very comfortable creating an image that is poetic. I feel very uncomfortable in those three dimensions. That just comes with experience, that you go, ‘OK, that’s how everything cuts together.’ I think I was more comfortable the second time around with “Hollywood A.D.”

Although “The Unnatural” was his first directing assignment, Duchovny felt he did not receive any help beyond what is usually given any new director on the series. “Traditionally, as a sop, TV producers will let long-time actor on a series direct, but it’s letting a monkey paint,” Duchovny laughed. “The idea is, ‘Oh, we’ve got this mechanism of The X-Files in place and we won’t let you fail,’ which is encouraging, if also condescending. When you actually go through it, you realize both that you can do it, and secondly, that you do need a lot of help. Everybody who comes in to direct gets a lot of help, not just dumb actors who think they can direct. Every director who goes in there has the benefit of a great director of photography, a great script supervisor, and actors who have been doing their roles for years. But I got no more help than anybody else. The illusion is that you have these directors who come in and run the ship, but the ship runs itself and the ship knows where to go. That comes from people like the director of photography, Bill Roe, who’s so important, and the set designer, Corey Kaplan, who’s phenomenal; in “The Unnatural,” which is a period piece, it was just perfect to have that baseball field and that old bus. I don’t know the uniforms, any of those things. I just went, ‘OK, I want to set it in the 1940s,’ and then everybody else helped me out. [Producers/directors] Kim Manners and Rob Bowman helped me a lot. My first assistant director, Barry Thomas, held my hand and sat up till three in the morning making up shot lists with me so I wouldn’t feel naked going in there. Michael Watkins, who is a director and was a producer at the time of ‘The Unnatural,’ was there all the time. So it was really Michael and Kim on the first one and then Rob and Kim on ‘Hollywood A.D.’ I storyboarded everything with Alex Hill, who is fantastic. Then I’d bring my storyboards to Kim and I’d say, “Do you think this is going to work?” and that’s the kind of help I got.”

“The Unnatural” was an instant hit with X-Files fans, some of whom compared the episode’s visual puns and occasionally mocking tone (particularly when Arthur Dales was on screen) with episodes by former X-Files writer Darin Morgan, the show’s self-referential humorist par excellence. Duchovny claimed that Morgan, who wrote “Humbug,’ ‘The Final Repose of Clyde Bruckman,’ ‘War of the Coprophages’ and ‘Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space,’ ” wasn’t as big an influence as one might think, although he greatly admires Morgan’s work for the show. “Darin comes much more out of the history of film,” Duchovny commented. “He’s seen everything. I come more out of literature. In that way we’re very different, but I do think we are both kind of hellbent on subverting the seriousness of the show. [Former X-Files writers and producers] Glen Morgan and James Wong opened the door to deflation of the show’s archness, and then Darin kind of destroyed the show from within. I was a real fan of that, so Darin paved the way for this kind of tone.”

The tone in Duchovny’s second episode as writer and director, “Hollywood A.D.,” moved away from the pathos and low-key humor of “The Unnatural” towards something more outrageous and satirical, creating a story with a dual focus — a super-serious case investigated by Mulder and Scully — and a satiric look at Hollywood — that is tied together by an hilariously bad cinematic version of the case and the episode’s final image of dancing zombies.

The teaser of “Hollywood A.D.” takes place at a movie premiere at the 20th Century-Fox lot. Among the glittering group celebrities sits Mulder, Scully, and Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi): the movie is based on one of their cases. What they see so embarrasses Mulder that he bolts the auditorium. The episode proper begins 18 months earlier, when Skinner tells Mulder and Scully that his friend, a movie producer named Wayne Federman (played by actor/comedian Wayne Federman!) has permission to accompany them on their latest investigation in order to research his latest cinematic venture. Skinner, as it turns out, is an old college chum of Federman’s, so he is happy to comply. Mulder and Scully instantly consider Federman — who constantly interrupts them by talking into his tape recorder and making annoying observations — a total nuisance, but they’re stuck with him. Their case concerns a bombing in the crypt of a local Catholic cathedral. Cardinal O’Fallon (Harris Yulin) shows them around the church and tells them he is mystified why anyone would bomb it. While investigating the crypt, Federman wanders off and observes an amazing sight: bones dislodged by the explosion dancing around and trying to put together pottery shards to form a bowl. But before Federman can tell Mulder what he’s just seen, they make a disturbing discovery: a body is under the rubble. The corpse is identified as that of Micha Hoffman, a former campus radical, current-day explosives expert and forger who (Mulder and Scully learn) had sold documents derogatory to Church doctrine to O’Fallon. The Cardinal had hid the documents to avoid the repercussion of their discovery and is utterly dismayed when Mulder tells him they are forgeries. Scully and Mulder puzzle about the broken bowl in the crypt and Scully tells Mulder and Federman about the Lazarus Bowl, which a potter was making just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and recorded his words in the groves of the clay. When Mulder and Scully take the bowl to their scientist pal Chuck Burks (Bill Dow) for analysis, they hear some words that sound very much like Aramaic. Could the bowl be genuine? The case takes a surprising turn when Hoffman (Paul Lieber) turns up alive just as Mulder and Scully are about to arrest O’Fallon for his murder. Skinner is so furious by the misidentification of the corpse that he removes them from the case and put them on suspension. Federman, now back in Hollywood, invites the two agents to California to observe the shoot of his movie, and with nothing much else to do, Mulder and Scully accept his offer. A visit to the set proves that Hollywood is about as bizarre as anything else they’ve ever seen.

The episode returns in the fourth act to the premiere of Federman’s movie. Mulder and Scully watch in horror as they see up on the screen the O’Fallon/Hoffman story turned into an action-packed exploitation film, with a “Cigarette Smoking Pontiff” and his zombies battling it out in a cemetery with “Mulder” (Garry Shandling) and “Scully” (Tea Leoni, Duchovny’s wife). The scene ends with “Mulder” and “Scully” tumbling into a coffin, realizing their love for one another, and kissing passionately, which is enough to make a mortified Mulder bolt the theater. He takes refuge on a still-standing set, where Scully joins him and tells him she just learned O’Fallon killed Hoffman and then committed suicide. (The corpse in the Church’s crypt is never identified.) After some musings, the two depart for a night on the town. “Hollywood A.D.” ends with a movie tie-in Lazarus bowl – mass-manufactured to hold popcorn — coming into contact with a fake branch on the film’s still-standing set. Music issues forth, bring to life the movie’s zombies, who celebrate their brief existence with a tango.

Duchovny’s original idea for a second episode was to write a story centering around Assistant Director Skinner. “I’m always wanting to write Mitch stuff, because I think Mitch is totally underused,” Duchovny said. A few years ago he had pitched a Skinner idea which was used for the episode “Avatar,” but the final version was far from what he had originally proposed. “I had this idea where a spirit, like a lilith, comes to Skinner at night. Basically it’s a wet dream, because she doesn’t exist, but then she falls in love with Skinner and starts to wreak havoc with anybody he gets close to. It was about how spirits don’t understand the living, that they’re threatened by any kind of closeness, and then Scully was going to come into jeopardy because the spirit was going to misinterpret Skinner’s relationship to Scully. This spirit was supposed to be beautiful and sexy.” By the time “Avatar” went before the cameras, Duchovny’s sexy spirit had been rewritten as a wrinkled old woman. “I told Mitch, ‘I apologize. I had an idea it was going to be a succubus and they turned her into a crone!’ Duchovny lamented. “And I don’t know what the story was about after that. So I felt was like I owed Mitch.”

For his second script, Duchovny thought about writing a Midnight RUN-type episode for Mulder, Skinner and the two Arthur Dales brothers. “The old guys want to go on the road one more time. So that’s where I was heading, and then it turned into ‘Hollywood A.D.’ Originally it was supposed to be a show for Mitch, and then as it always seems to be the case for Mitch, it turned into a show about Mulder and Scully. So again, I had to apologize to Mitch for it not being about him in the end.” Even so, Skinner has several stand-out moments in “Hollywood A.D.,” particularly when he and Mulder and Scully all end up in bubble baths in their respective Hollywood hotel rooms and engage in a three-way split screen phone conversation a la Pillow Talk, or when he’s happily grinning with a hot babe on his arm at the movie premiere.

Like “The Unnatural,” “Hollywood A.D.” moved into high gear with another suggestion Duchovny made to wife Tea Leoni one morning. “I woke up — this is how all my ideas start — and I said to my wife, ‘What if Skinner was working with a Hollywood producer on one of Mulder and Scully’s cases to make a movie?’ She said, ‘That’s funny!’ And, all right, here was the one I’m going to do this year.”

Duchovny’s Hollywood producer, Wayne Federman, appears at first blush to be the stereotypical notion of such a creature: slick, fast-talking, unable to view the world as anything but one big movie. Naturally, the super-serious Mulder and Scully wish Federman would go back to where he came from (Mulder asks Skinner if he’s pissed him off “in a way that’s more than normal” to merit Federman’s presence), but they eventually realize that words of wisdom may emerge even from the mouths of Hollywood producers, especially when Federman paradoxically states that Mulder is crazy for believing what he believes and Scully is crazy for not believing what Mulder believes. “The idea was Hollywood satire, but that’s too easy,” Duchovny said. “There are a lot of philistines out here, but there are a lot of smart philistines here, a lot of people who know what people like and have an intuitive grasp of storytelling. They couldn’t tell you why something is good, but they can make it good. And that’s what makes Hollywood a crazy town. Wayne is a little like that. He’s a boor, he’s rude, but he’s got this ability sometimes to cut through the bullshit. That’s real for me out here, even though Wayne’s a caricature and kind of a stock Hollywood character. I wanted to make him insightful, even when he didn’t know he was being insightful.”

Duchovny couldn’t resist naming his prototypical producer Wayne Federman after the actor who played him. “I love that name,” Duchovny laughed. “Wayne’s a friend of mine and Garry Shandling’s. He’s a stand-up comic and he’s got this great voice and this great delivery. I was going to write the script over Christmas and just by chance, Wayne called and said, ‘When are you going to get me on that damned show of yours?’ I said, ‘Let me write you a part,’ and I did. It was like one of those things where you go, ‘This is waaaay too fuckin’ easy.’ So I had Wayne’s voice in my head and I thought, “Well, that voice is so ‘Wayne.’ I’ll call the producer Wayne Federman. I love that name. It’s a great Jewish last name with this really crazy first name Wayne. What Jew is named Wayne?”

Although the episode’s teaser is set at the movie’s premiere, Duchovny didn’t want to bring Mulder and Scully to Hollywood until the fourth act of the episode. He knew he needed a “really good caper” to keep the agents busy in Washington — and viewers intrigued — through the first three acts. “The case had to be good enough to sustain a whole episode, even though I was only going to use it for half or three-quarters of the episode,” Duchovny said. “After I had the idea of Skinner and this Hollywood frame, then it became just a search for the caper, the X-File. When I conceived the episode and wrote the teaser, I had a different caper — I hadn’t come up with the Lazarus Bowl yet. The caper was about the Tetragrammaton, whichh is the name of God — Yahweh. The caper was about this thing that was God, so it was like, ‘Hand over the Tetragrammaton!’

Duchovny added that he took pride in “throwing the case away, because I knew people would want to see the whole story. I like it that it’s so good I’m going to throw it away. Originally I had the news of the death of Hoffman and O’Fallon delivered when Scully comes to Mulder’s apartment in the third act when he’s watching an Ed Wood movie. They take that in and then they go to Hollywood, so that the X-File was wrapped up at the end of act three. The rest of the show would be a lark, until it was hopefully all brought back together by the final image. The producers felt that that ended the show there and they wanted to keep the O’Fallon/Hoffman story open until the very last possible moment. But the news of O’Fallon’s and Hoffman’s death was always going to happen off-screen. There was always going to be a sense, I think, in which people were going to feel cheated because it happened off-screen. I didn’t set out to cheat or confound anybody, it’s like I didn’t know how else to do it and still make the turn into the story I wanted to tell. If I was to rationalize it, I would say, here’s just another example of storytelling getting in the way of what really happened. But to be honest, it was just to be expedient.”

Duchovny drew his caper from the real-life story of historical documents dealer Mark Hoffman, who forged documents detrimental to Mormon Church doctrine and proceeded to sell them to Mormon officials, who then kept the papers from the public eye. Like Cardinal O’Fallon, the Mormon Church officials did not realize that the documents had been forged. (Hofmann was eventually convicted of murdering two business associates.) “That idea has probably been in my head for 15 years,” Duchovny said. “Hoffman was fascinating to me, because he claimed that he could become [Mormon Church founder] Joseph Smith. He certainly could write like him. And he was a very talented forger and murderer. He exploded himself with a bomb in order to make it look like he was the target. So you had all these things.” The Micha Hoffman of “Hollywood A.D.” is also a prankster and former campus radical, which brings to mind another Hoffman: the real-life campus radical and prankster Abbie Hoffman. Duchovny hadn’t initially thought of Abbie Hoffman as a source for his Hoffman, but eventually realized there was a more than a little similarity between Abbie and Micha. “That was like the moment when I realized Jackie Robinson and Roswell were the same summer. It’s like, ‘I’m so smart! The name is the same!,’ ” he laughed. “Sometimes the world helps you out with coincidence. Also, Micha is [former X-Files writer and producer] Howard Gordon’s son’s name and I always liked it.”

Duchovny cast Paul Lieber, who played Hoffman, after he saw him in a short film called Parking, which had been directed by James Morrison (best known to genre fans as Colonel McQueen in Space: Above and Beyond; he also guest starred in the X-Files episode “Theef”). “Jim had seen ‘The Unnatural,’ he knew I was going to do another one, and he wanted to read the script,” Duchovny said. “He also showed me a short film he had done about a guy in a parking lot. Paul Lieber was in that, and I said, ‘That’s the guy I want!’ I called Paul and I explained the character and he said, ‘That’s funny, I just played Abbie Hoffman!’ There’s a noticeable resemblance between Duchovny and Lieber, of which Duchovny is not unaware. “People were saying we both have some Richard Gere thing happening,” he joked. The enigmatic character of Micha Hoffman provokes an unexpectedly strong response in Scully, who is startled by visions of a dead Hoffman rising from the autopsy table to speak with her, and Hoffman crucified on a cross in the cathedral where Cardinal O’Fallon officiates. Could Hoffman have actually transcended death, might he be Christ? The episode does not answer these questions, but these moments leave Scully deeply shaken. “Scully sees visions because the subject matter seemed more personal to her,” Duchovny said. “She’s been established as some kind of active Christian, but her faith has never been anything more than salad dressing on this show. I thought here’s a chance where her faith can be seen as a similar field of magic or delusion to Mulder, who’s constantly seeing things. It made more sense to me and it made the story better to have Scully tested in that way, rather than Mulder, who is hard to test because he always wants to see the vision. Nothing is going to test Mulder because he’s always going to believe in anything; nothing is going to shake him. So this was a way to get to what I felt was the truth of the Micah Hoffman character: that he was legitimately powerful and charismatic religious figure.

Although Harris Yulin as Cardinal O’Fallon has only a few scenes on screen in “Hollywood A.D.,” he makes an indelible impression, in great part thanks to a sense of humor dryer than the Gobi Desert. “I think humor is a real sign of intelligence,” Duchovny said. “If I can give a supposedly serious character an awareness of what is funny, to me it says ‘this is an intelligent person.’ When I was writing Cardinal O’Fallon, I said to myself, ‘Okay, he’s a stock, high religious character, you’ve seen it before. He’s probably done something bad. But what if he has a great cell phone line? What if he’s in the crypt and says, ‘I never get reception down here?’ This shows that he’s not stuck, that he has an idea of what people are expecting him to be, and he’s confident enough to go against it. Harris is a great actor. It doesn’t get any dryer than that. Also, he played that scene so beautifully when he tells the story of why he hates Micha Hoffman. Harris had two scenes to create a character that you have to feel for. The weakness of the episode is that it has so many characters, whereas in ‘The Unnatural,’ you really had two, Arthur Dales and Josh Exley. In ‘Hollywood A.D.’ you have Federman, Hoffman, O’Fallon, you have Shandling as ‘Mulder’ and Leoni as ‘Scully,’ you’ve got a ton of stuff happening. So it’s much less centered. It’s probably more ambitious in that way and therefore prone to failing more.”

The Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov served as another inspiration for O’Fallon. The Grand Inquisitor explains in a long monologue that he believes the evil acts he commits are justified because they are the means towards an ultimate good.) Duchovny had brought the character of the Grand Inquisitor to Chris Carter’s attention for the X-FILES episode “Talitha Cumi,” where dialogue for scenes between the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) and Jeremiah Smith (Roy Thinnes) was inspired by the Grand Inquisitor’s monologue. “I told Chris I saw The Cigarette Smoking Man as a Grand Inquisitor figure, because he has seen the truth and he is damning himself in order to save people. In his own twisted way, he’s a very moving figure to me: the man who will go to hell so that other people may live more freely. Those scenes in ‘Talitha Cumi’ didn’t work to my satisfaction, so to me O’Fallon is really the Inquisitor. He is a guy who says, ‘I know the truth and the truth is too much for people to bear. So I will destroy the truth and take the heat and save the people.’ In that way, Duchovny added, O’Fallon is related to Federman, because they both share a sense of commitment and passion to their respective professions. “Silly as Federman is, he’s completely committed. And that’s something that I value and that I try to treat with respect. Every character in ‘Hollywood A.D.’ — Hoffman, O’Fallon, Federman – has it.”

Duchovny underscored that theme in the scene where Scully comes to Mulder’s apartment after Skinner has removed them from the case and and finds a discouraged Mulder watching Plan Nine From Outer Space, the “masterpiece” of Ed Wood, often described as the worst director ever. The choice of film on Mulder’s TV is not an arbitrary one by Duchovny; Ed Wood symbolizes the qualities Duchovny admires in characters like Federman, whose enthusiasm for his terrible movie never wavers. “I would never have done that scene had not Tim Burton made his movie Ed Wood,” Duchovny said. “I didn’t know about Ed Wood before that movie and I never would have conceived of Ed Wood as a heroic character without seeing it. I love Burton’s take on that character, which is: who cares about how bad the movies were? This is a guy who believed. He believed in movie-making more than all these people who had the resources and the talent. There’s something beautiful in Ed Wood. To me, passion is a gift. I only discover it every now and then in my life, so when I see people who have that gift, I respond to it. I worship it. To me it’s something genetic, because I don’t have it. It takes a certain lack of self-consciousness which I don’t seem to have, so I love it, even when the product is bad.”

“The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.” share a similar narrative structure; the teaser takes place during the time-frame of each episode’s fourth act, so that their first acts open during an earlier time (in “The Unnatural,” this is even more complicated, since the teaser is part of the story Arthur Dales begins relating in the first act) and the story eventually returns to the events seen in the trailer and then proceeds beyond them. Both end with Mulder and Scully together, sharing information (non-verbally in “The Unnatural;” with dialogue in “Hollywood A.D.”) about what they’ve witnessed and what it means. Duchovny felt that despite the similar structure, each episode’s conclusion showed Mulder and Scully in a different light. “They are two separate stories that dictated to me how they should end,” he said. “They’re slightly different in that ‘Hollywood A.D.’ ends on its own [with the zombie dance] and ‘The Unnatural’ ends with Mulder and Scully. ‘The Unnatural’ is more integrated into the frame of the characters in the show. ‘Hollywood A.D.’ is more of a release and happens behind their backs; they sum up the story in the way they think it was, and then the story sums up itself with the way it is. In ‘The Unnatural,’ it’s Mulder and Scully who sum up the story the way it is. They get it. In ‘Hollywood A.D.’ they think they get it, but then it goes one more step. Mulder and Scully get what they need to get, but they still underestimate the power of Hollywood. Of course, they would, because they don’t really care about it. They get what they need to get, and whoever gets to tell the story wins. They got to tell the story, they got to remain true to their own version of what this life is. ‘We can’t let this bother us, let’s go out and have fun. We know what we do, we know who we are, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.’ ”

The zombies of “Hollywood A.D.,” first seen in Federman’s movie, have the final word after they are brought to life by the inadvertent contact of the plastic Lazarus Bowl and the fake tree on the soundstage that Mulder and Scully have just left. Duchovny likens this dreamlike, illogical coda to similarly illogical scenes in “The Unnatural” — images of Dales’ memories turning out to be pictures on his television set; the same boy both delivering liquor to the older Dales and hanging out at Roswell Grays’ baseball games; the alien Exley bleeding red blood when he should bleed green. “It’s a non-linear sense of how images reveal a story,” he said. “In ‘The Unnatural’ you can see that in the moment when Exley bleeds, and in “Hollywood A.D.’ it’s the final moment when a piece of plastic makes zombies dance on a soundstage. These scenes makes poetic sense. It’s like when you’re talking about a poem and you go, ‘What does this poem mean?’ Well, a poem is. It doesn’t mean. That’s really what I feel like about the best images. The most recent literalization of that would be in American Beauty, where Wes Bentley shows the video of the plastic bag. That’s almost a manifesto of ‘here’s an image, it makes me feel everything — I don’t know why, it’s just a plastic bag floating in the wind’ — and whether or not that works for you. That’s all about movie-making, that moment in American Beauty with the kid who is a filmmaker. To me, they’re all these little plastic bag images and they work or they don’t. I had the feeling for some reason people didn’t get the last image of Hollywood A.D. They just thought it was fun. But to me it was really the whole reversal of the episode. If I were to literalize it, it would be to say, ‘Here we are on this Hollywood soundstage and we have the mass-produced plastic replica of a ceramic bowl that may or may not have the voice of Jesus on it, and this plastic bowl, even this far removed from the source, has the power to raise the dead. And more so, it has the power to raise dead people who aren’t even there and make them dance and show us what life is really all about. Mulder talked about this earlier in the bathtub scene, where he says, “Why is it that dead people are always attacking the living?’ I say, ‘They’re hungry first’ and if we stayed with them longer, they would get drunk and make love and dance. It was an imagistic reversal of the whole show but because it wasn’t literalized, maybe it wasn’t successful. For me it was the big circle of what it’s all about. It’s non-existent dead people laughing, dancing, sexy, making love. I feel very comfortable creating an image that is poetic. I think directing is the same as poetry.”

Duchovny limited his appearances for The X-Files’ eighth season to the second half, choosing instead to spend that fall working on the Ivan Reitman SF comedy Evolution. When the eighth season concluded, he had no more plans to write and direct for the show, or even return to play Mulder. Instead, he worked with director Steven Soderbergh on Full Frontal, and this summer begins shooting My Dark Places, based on crime novelist James Ellroy’s memoir of his mother’s murder and his troubled childhood and young adulthood. But he changed his mind, and returned briefly for the X-Files’ ninth season, directing the episode “William” (for which he received a story credit) and playing Mulder one more time in the two-hour series finale, “The Truth.” He is also amenable to making more X-Files movies. His preference, though, would be to move into directing his own feature scripts. “The great thing about THE X-Files is that I could cut my teeth on what’s about as close to movie-making as you can get on television,” he said. “I don’t know if I have the stamina or the kind of creativity that somebody like Chris Carter has. I don’t have the need to do the same characters in a serial format, probably because I’ve done it as an actor. So I don’t see myself going into television to try to create characters that could sustain seven years’ worth of hour-long shows. I’d love to write and direct two hours at a time. I feel that’s what I should do with my life.”

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 émigré 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.”

Cinefantastique: The X-Files leading genre Emmy winner

Dec-??-1996
Cinefantastique (Vol.28, No.6)
The X-Files leading genre Emmy winner
Paula Vitaris

ER may have won Outstanding Drama Series at the 1996 Emmys last September, but for genre fans, the real winner was The X-Files, which took a total of five statues when it added Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series to the four won the previous night at the Creative Arts Awards ceremony. Gulliver’s Travels tied with The X-Files for a total of five Emmys, the most awards given to any show this year. Also, The Outer Limits episode, “A Stitch in Time” won for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, Amanda Plummer.

At the Creative Arts Award ceremony on September 7, Director of Photography John Bartley won an overdue award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cinematography for the episode “Grotesque”. Thierry J. Couturier and 12 colleagues at West Productions in Burbank won for Outstanding Sound Editing. Michael Williamson, also of West Productions, and 3 colleagues, won for Outstanding Sound Mixing for “Nisei”. And guest star Peter Boyle won for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”. The only X-Files nominees to come away empty handed that evening were art director Graeme Murray and set decorator Shirley Inget, nominated for art direction on “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”.

At the main ceremony on Sunday, September 8, The X-Files was up for three more awards. For the second year running, the show was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, and Gillian Anderson received her first nomination as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama series.

Peter Boyle read the list of nominees for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series and then announced the winner: Darin Morgan, writer of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, the episode for which Boyle had received his award a mere 24 hours before. “I didn’t even hear them call my name,” said Morgan, who had never met Boyle until he joined the actor on stage for his acceptance speech. “I just heard ‘The Emmy goes to Da~’ and everyone leaped up and was screaming.” The loudest screamer was his older brother Glen Morgan, a writer and producer on The X-Files. The elder Morgan happily kidded, “Of the greatest thrills in my life, Darin’s Emmy was just a notch under Steve Garvey’s Game Four home run against the Cubs in 1984.”

The eight nominations and five wins represented a particularly sweet accomplishment for the show. Not only did it win in the creative arts categories that usually bring genre shows their only Emmys, but with the writing awards, The X-Files broke through the glass ceiling to win in a category usually reserved for mainstream fare (Rod Sterling won for The Twilight Zone in 1961.)

Darin Morgan had no expectations that “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” would net him a nomination, let alone a win, although he felt certain Boyle was a shoe-in. “Most people don’t think of The X-Files as a writer’s show; they think of it as a special effects, science fiction thing. It’s looked down upon by mainstream TV in several areas,” he said. When his nomination was announced, his first thought was “Oh God, I’ve got to get a tux,” an outfit he found only slightly less constricting that the latex suit he wore when he played the Flukeman in “The Host”. But with the Emmy in hand, he admitted that he felt “good”.

The list of nominees included some surprising omissions, including lead actor, David Duchovny. “David got screwed,” Morgan stated firmly. “At least John Bartley won. He should have won last year. You look at the other shows and you go, ‘Well, it’s obvious that he should have been winning all this time.’ My only complaint is they gave an award to the writer of the episode, but they didn’t even nominate the director, David Nutter. And if he directed both the actor and the script to an award-winning status, then he should have at least gotten nominated.”

The lack of nominations for the shows directors is curious indeed. Morgan believes that Emmy voters won’t give serious consideration to a series about aliens and the paranormal, citing the Academy’s neglect of director Rob Bowman’s work on his episode ‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space’ as an example. “That’s one of the best hours you’ll ever see on TV. But there are people who see a story with an alien and say, ‘Ob, it’s an alien thing’, and they will completely disregard the content of the episode.”

David Nutter, who directed the Emmy winning “Nisei”, as well as “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, credits the lack of nominations to the remoteness of the X-Files shooting location in Vancouver and the fact that while the show’s directors are members of the Director’s Guild of America, the assistant directors and production managers are members of the Directors Guild of Canada. “We’re further away from the real action in Los Angeles where a lot of the voting takes place,” he noted. But he was delighted with the “Nisei” and “Clyde Bruckman” wins, adding that “I feel like I got a little piece of the statue.”

Darin Morgan, who has departed the X-Files to work on feature film scripts, watched a videotape of the Emmy broadcast after he got home. To his dismay, he thought he “looked and sounded like a Peter Sellers character – a cross between Claire Quity in Lolita and Dr. Strangelove. You see something like that and you say, ‘Oh man, never again. I’m going into hiding.” The biggest thrill was watching the reaction of all our producers. They were so goddamn happy. I’ve never seen all those guys that happy over one single thing. It was great just to watch.”

Cinefantastique: Darin Morgan

Oct-28-1996
Cinefantastique
Darin Morgan
Paula Vitaris

The X-Files’ court Jester on Turning the Show Inside-Out

There’s a scene in the X-Files episode “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space”‘ wherein a teenage girl wakes up after a possible alien abduction to find she is wearing her clothes inside out or backwards. “Inside out or backwards” also serves as a fitting description for the comic X-Files episodes written by Darin Morgan, author of “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space”‘ and three others: “Clyde Bruckman”s Final Repose,” “The War of the Coprophages,” and last season’s “Humbug.” Morgan’s episodes are all bonafide X-files, with cases to be solved and creepy monsters and aliens on the prowl, but like any good court jester, he has no hesitation in sticking a pin into the inflated balloon of X- files convention, be it Mulder’s reputation as a well-dressed genius, Scully’s ultra-professionalism, or the show’s thoroughly serious tone. The person behind all the hoopla is a self-effacing 30-year-old man with a love for the work of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, and Billy Wilder. The younger brother of X-Files producer-writer Glen Morgan, he was offered two jobs during the X-Files’ second season: to play the mutant Flukeman in “The Host” and to help work out the story for the “Blood” with Glen and James Wong. Morgan’s work on “Blood” earned him a spot on the writing staff, which he accepted even though he was unsure of his ability to turn out a script due to his slowness as a writer and his natural bent towards comedy. When he finally turned in “Humbug,” the staff and the network were understandably apprehensive, since the episode was so unlike anything done before. Even though “Humbug,” his first produced script, turned out to be massive hit with the fans, to this day he is unsatisfied with the final result, lamenting the loss of a number of good gags. Morgan got the feeling he was on the wrong show. No matter how much he tried to be serious, he kept turning out funny stuff. “At least on The X-Files, there always was a point to why I was being funny. I tie it into the show in various ways,” he said. “The thing I was always careful of was to make sure I had a real investigation, with theories from both Mulder and Scully. I was aware I was doing things differently, but I also wanted to make sure I was doing all the things the show would normally do. In ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,’ each time Mulder says Clyde is psychic, Scully had a legitimate reason to say he’s not. I did even more in ‘Coprophages,’ where, in the end, Scully was wrong, but she was right in the beginning, and that’s what the whole show is about: different theories, how to explain certain phenomenon. My scripts had that, and I always had stereotypical ‘boo’ scenes or act-outs [ending an act] with a dead body. I was proudest of ‘ Jose Chung,’ in which only two people died, and I didn’t have a death on an act-out. You get in the habit of saying. ‘Okay, here’s a dead body,’ cut to commercial. But you usually have to have those. The X-Files is a kind of horror show, so you have to have those moments of genuine terror or grossness. ”

His lingering disappointment with “Humbug” took him in another direction, a story that would become his second episode, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” about a weary middle-aged insurance salesman with the ability to see people’s deaths. When Mulder and Scully ask his help to help solve a series of murders of fortune tellers, Clyde, played by Peter Boyle, is reluctant. To his mind, there is no altering the future. “I felt I had done ‘Humbug’ wrong, so I watched ‘Beyond the Sea” [Morgan’s favorite X-Files episode] again to see what the show is really about. I decided to try to write one that was much more serious and much more depressing. I really was trying to write a show with no jokes in it at all–but I failed.” The character of Clyde Bruckman was named for a comedy writer and director who had committed suicide in 1955. “I was so depressed after ‘Humbug’ that I felt suicidal,” he recalled. “So I said, ‘I’m going to write about a character who will commit suicide at the end.’ You hear these things about people’s careers going downhill, and Clyde Bruckman always struck me as being the ultimate Hollywood horror story. He worked with Keaton, Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and W.C. Fields. There was a ten year span that must have been the greatest. I can’t think of a greater series of jobs. Yet the guy obviously had some problems. He was an alcoholic, and ending up killing himself.”

Another source of inspiration came from Morgan’s insurance salesman father who is, said Morgan, “kind of a depressive guy,” like the fictional Clyde. Morgan was also intrigued by the notion of an insurance salesman who can foresee the future. “Insurance is about what will happen to you. You don’t know, so you have to take out insurance, and to have a character who actually does know trying to sell people that was kind of amusing.” The episode’s exploration of free will versus determinism, and coincidence versus fate grew out of Morgan’s difficulties with plotting. “I’ve always been really bad with plot and trying to figure out twists,” he said. “So Clyde Bruckman and the killer character act in ways that were really easy to plot, but which make the story seem complicated. Stu Charno, who played the killer, asked me, ‘Why does the guy kill?’ I told him ‘Because I needed him to.’ He really doesn’t kill for any specific reason. I had come me up with this idea of the killer as a puppet, someone who doesn’t feel in control of his own life. That’s why I like the story so much. It’s so contrived, that if you think there’s a future out there that you can see, you have to assume it was contrived or plotted that way by someone.”

Morgan researched fortune tellers and psychics, learning about their tricks to delude the public. Out of that grew a memorably over-the-top character, “a cross between Uri Geller and the Amazing Kreskin,” according to Morgan — the Stupendous Yappi, played by Jaap Broeker, David Duchovny’s stand-in. “Jaap is such a bizarre character,” Morgan said. “He has a very interesting facial structure, and he’s mesmerizing. I based Yappi’s speech patterns on him. Japp really talks like that, very fast, and sometimes he doesn’t stop.”

The first act opening scene, when Mulder, Scully and Yappi all show up at the scene of the latest murder, is Morgan’s favorite of all his episodes “Even though it was just a series of one-liners, a lot of information was conveyed. It was all done so fast that it seemed to work. Also, the other cops bought into Yappi’s explanation, which separated Mulder and Scully from the other investigators. I like the fact that it was Mulder who was making those points. Even though he believes in psychic phenomenon, he’s smart enough to know the difference between a charlatan and a real psychic.”

Besides Clyde Bruckman, the episode also demonstrates Morgan’s care in delineating Mulder and Scully. “Everyone looks at Mulder as having all the answers, he said, “Most of the other episodes present him as usually right. I’ve always found that the things he talks about, if a normal person talked about them, you’d go, ‘This guy’s crazy.’ He’s supposed to be a smart guy, but I’ve never looked at him as such. He’s just more lucky in some of his explanations. And Scully, although skeptical, has the right approach when she says, ‘I don’t believe this.’ Before I wrote for the show, Mulder always seemed like the more interesting character, but once I started writing for it, I found that I liked Scully more.”

The result is that Morgan often shakes up Mulder’s image, as at the end of “Humbug,” with Mulder unwittingly striking a GQ pose. “I don’t mind making fun of Mulder,” Morgan said. “He’s presented as the seeker of the truth, and to me such people are always somewhat ridiculous.”

Mulder’s and Scully’s attitudes toward Clyde also demonstrate Mulder’s views of their characters. “My pitch to Chris was that Mulder is so involved in psychic phenomenon that he’s interested in Clyde only for his abilities. But Scully, doesn’t believe in these abilities, so she can consider this man as a person and see how, even though he believes he’s psychic, it’s ruined his life. That was one of the main points of the episode. Everyone considers Mulder to be the one who has all the answers, but I think sometimes he’s so narrow-minded that he doesn’t do some things properly. He never really considered Clyde Bruckman as a person only as a phenomenon. The note Clyde leaves for Scully is written to her, because Bruckman knows that she’s treating him as a person.”

“Clyde Bruckman”s Final Repose” contained several lines of dialogue that sent fans into a frenzy pondering their meaning. The first came when Bruckman told Scully she wouldn’t die. “Some people took it to mean that Scully was immortal, but the meaning was that Clyde knows how Scully’s going to die, but he likes her so much he’s not going to tell her, because telling her would ruin her life, whether she believed it or not. Telling someone they’re not going to die is one of the nicest things you can say. That’s why he says it to her. It had nothing to do with whether she was immortal or was going to be hurt in the show.”

The other line of dialogue that transfixed fans came when Bruckman says offhandedly, “I’m sure there are worse ways to go, but I can’t think of a more undignified one than auto-erotic asphyxiation,” and Mulder quickly demands, “Why are you telling me this?” Is it just another joke, or is there some deeper meaning? “Well, yes and no,” Morgan hedged. “I think that’s what Mulder will die of A homicide investigation book I read had several pictures of people who died in that manner. There’s something in those pictures that is so disturbing, in the sense of going back to the ancient Greeks, and their idea of ‘don’t dishonor my body after I die.’ It’s bad enough to be found dead, and suicide is tragic, but then you see these people who have these really complicated, almost Rube Goldberg type set-ups. It would be humorous if it wasn’t so disturbing. This ties in with Clyde’s dream about what your body looks like when it dies. How will it be found? In what condition and what manner? That was the gist of that character. The autoerotic asphyxiation is obviously a joke line, but it came about from studying those photos.”

Third season post-production for Morgan was a much more pleasant experience than it had been with ‘Humbug.’ “On this show, you’re really regarded as being a producer of your own episode,” Morgan said. “No one trusted me on ‘Humbug,’ because it was my first. But on ‘Clyde Bruckman’ and the cockroach episode, it worked out that both David Nutter and Kim Manners had to start prepping another show immediately. They each had one day of cutting and then I was allowed to be in there with the editor.”

“Clyde Bruckman”s Final Repose” won Morgan praise from an unexpected quarter, when the science fiction author Harlan Ellison called to express his admiration. Morgan not a science fiction fan, had no idea who Ellison was. “He was the childhood idol of some of the writers on our staff and they were all pissed off that I didn’t even know who he was, and he called me,” he laughed. “I’ve since learned about him, although I’ve yet to really read his stuff. He really liked the episode and thought Peter Boyle was great.”

‘The War of the Coprophages, ” in contrast to the more measured, meditative “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” was Morgan’s lightest, fastest, most farcical episode. “There were some serious, actual ideas in this one, so I felt free to be a little bit lighter,” Morgan explained. The episode opens on a weekend with Mulder up in Massachusetts, hanging about UFO hot spots, and Scully at home doing those mundane things everyone does during the weekend. The X-File arrives when Mulder is pulled in by local law enforcement to help solve the mystery behind some strange deaths caused, according to witnesses, by swarms of roaches. Mulder traces the roaches–which he believes, naturally, to be robotic alien probes–to a factory that produces methane from dung.

The episode worked, Morgan feels, but it’s another script with which he is unhappy, although he can’t put his finger on what bothers him. ‘I don’t know!” he laughed. ‘I had less time to do that script than any other one. I wrote it in a week. I was a couple of days late with the last act, the only time I was ever late with a script. Fortunately [ director] Kim Manners really liked it a lot, even with just the first three acts, so no one was mad at me.”

Morgan conceived the idea of alien robot insects from his research into robotics and artificial intelligence. “Everyone assumes that if there are extraterrestrials visiting us, that they would look like gray aliens,” he said. “There is this idea that our own future in space exploration is going to be robotic. It would make sense that other alien forms, if they do visit us, would also be robotic. There is a roboticist at M.I.T., Rodney Brooks, who has devised robots in the forms of giant bugs a foot long. They operated much better than other robots, because he had decided that instead of trying to duplicate the way the human brain works, he would make his robots’ brains work the way an insect brain works, purely on reflex. The other idea in the episode was how we think our brains are so complicated the highest level of evolution, and yet so many of our actions and beliefs and thoughts are dictated solely by reflex responses, much like a cockroach’s. That was the idea behind the mass hysteria: that people don’t think about what’s happening. they just hear something and react, and scurry around like insects.”

The big “scurry around” scene in “The War of the Coprophages” was a hilariously slapstick mini-riot staged in a convenience store where the indefatigable Scully has stopped to buy a road map. Morgan’s source for this scene was the famous 1938 radio adaptation by Orson Welles of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (the X-Files episode is set in Millers’ Grove, Massachusetts, a tribute to the radio show’s Grover’s Mills, N.J.), which Morgan considers a fascinating case of mass hysteria. “Nothing like that has ever happened in my lifetime. War of the Worlds is an example of people reacting by reflexes rather by complex thoughts. I always wonder what I would have done–you always like to think of yourself as being clearheaded. There are so many inconsistencies in the War of the Worlds radio broadcast that if you actually listen to it, it doesn’t make any sense. But I’m sure at the time and the moment, I would have been as terrified as anyone.”

Mulder and Scully prove to be immune from the panic gripping the town, but they have their own unique ways of reacting. “Although Mulder never reacts to the hysteria he has his own mindset, so whenever he hears killer cockroaches, he goes, ‘Oh my God!’ without thinking,” Morgan said. “Scully keeps telling him, ‘Oh no, it’s probably this other thing.’ She’s always right. But because Mulder has his own way of perceiving things, he keeps trying to convince himself that he’s on to something bigger.”

Another memorable character makes her appearance halfway through the episode, Bambi Berenbaum (Bobbie Phillips), possibly the most luscious entomologist on the face of the earth. “I thought it would be amusing if Mulder found another woman partner.” Morgan explained. “All of sudden Scully starts going, ‘No, this isn’t just cockroaches! This is something big! I’m coming up there!’ I thought it was amusing, that she would abandon some of her beliefs in order not to lose Mulder to another woman. We received some letters from people who were displeased that Mulder could find Bambi attractive. On the other hand, she is a very intelligent woman. So I don’t see why people got mad at that, but just the idea of Mulder having an interest in someone other than Scully put people into shock. You kind of forget Mulder is a man, because he’s so interested in the paranormal. But he’s a man, nevertheless, and I thought it would be interesting to have him be attracted to a woman.”

Morgan’s final verdict on “The War of the Coprophages” is resigned: “It’s never boring. It moves really fast. And there’s a certain achievement in centering an episode around cockroaches and dung.”

Morgan’s last effort for The X-Files was “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” an episode rooted in the show’s most basic premises, going all the way back to the pilot and “Deep Throat”: the government and the military are covering up proof of alien existence and while they’re at it, they’re deleting and altering your memories of whatever you think you witnessed. It’s also the show’s most baroque, flamboyant hour, as Scully relates to a cheerfully cynical writer named Jose Chung the events of a most unusual alien abduction case involving – possibly – the government abduction and hypnotizing of innocent citizens.

When Morgan joined the X-Files, he knew very little about alien abduction or UFO lore, so he bought some books on the subject. “There was actually a lot more information about typical alien abduction in ‘Jose Chung’ than there has been in most X-Files,” Morgan commented. “Usually the episodes that deal with abductions are about the Cigarette Smoking Man and the conspiracy. That has nothing to do with standard abduction stories. I thought there’s so much more out there about extraterrestrials, and these things should be mentioned. Even Roky, the character who goes to inner earth, is another aspect of that, because UFO people think there are inner earth people. And the published accounts of Men in Black are actually more ridiculous than what I had in the episode.”

Director Rob Bowman had to read the script 15 times before he understood it, Morgan said, grateful that the director gave it the extra attention. Although Morgan was interested in exploring the nature of reality in “Jose Chung,” the convoluted narrative design is also his strategy to maneuver around the problems he has with plotting. There’s always a practical reason behind the deeper thoughts,” he observed. It’s often a search to find a way to ease out of having to explain your plot. The coincidences in ‘Clyde Bruckman’ and the weird things about aliens and government involvement in ‘Jose Chung’ had to do with my needing an out. That out was the hypnosis angle. I felt like I could do anything. Unlike saying it’s all a dream, I could always go, ‘It’s all just memory implantation.’ Even though the episode is all about aliens and the government conspiracy, it actually has more to do with hypnosis and how much we can actually know and remember. I always thought it was more interesting to have some of your memories changed than to have them completely wiped out, so this show was more along the those lines. ‘They’ have the ability to change what you remember. To me, that’s more terrifying than being abducted by aliens. It’s kind of confusing to talk about, I know, but all this stuff was invented to avoid a specific plot. In terms of the multiple storytelling, I wanted to do something like Rashomon, where everyone had a different memory. I originally wanted to do it with Jose Chung interviewing a different person for each act. That still happens in the third act, when Chung talks to Blaine.

But it was too complicated, so I stuck with Scully. But I find it appealing to use tales within tales, where someone is telling a story and then a person in that story starts telling another story. The whole episode is really that, because even when Scully is telling her story, she’s actually telling everyone else’s account.”

Lord Kinbote, the hulking red creature who abducts Chrissy, Harold. and the two Air Force pilots, is a double tribute to stop-animation genius Ray Harryhausen and to Morgan’s favorite writer, Vladimir Nabokov. “We didn’t have the time or money to do a proper stop-action model, ” lamented Morgan. “Toby Lindala (special effects makeup supervisor] built a suit. The scene was shot, speeded up and then slowed down by computer to give it a jerkiness. Mat Beck [visual effects supervisor] had to do a lot of work on it. I hope it looked like stop-animation.” The name Kinbote is taken from Charles Kinbote, the possibly mad scholar of Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire. “In one of his interviews, Nabokov made the point that reality is a word that should always have quotes around it, because everyone’s reality in a sense is different,” Morgan said. “People will look differently at the same object, depending on their backgrounds and past history. That was a direct influence on this episode.”

Morgan could not resist adding his own satire of Fox’s alien autopsy show. The X-FILES’ second re-creation of the program this season. “We were all watching the alien autopsy tape one day, and it was so ridiculous!” Morgan recalled. “The Bigfoot footage at the end of ‘Jose Chung’ is just so damn phony, but you have no idea how much it costs to get the rights to that thing. You think about how much money has been made on that footage, and it’s a crime! And I feel the same way about the alien autopsy: it’s a swindle, and it’s almost disturbing to see how many people take it seriously.” Morgan expressed his sentiments by having his alien autopsy hosted by the Stupendous Yappi, his fake psychic from “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.”

The episode ends on a poignant note, with Jose Chung wistfully reading from his book that “in our own separate ways, on this planet, we are all…alone.” “It was quite touching,” Morgan remarked. “It felt right. I didn’t want to end on a wacky note. The scene is humorous, but you also have certain points or feelings you like to express, and I guess the loneliness of human existence was one of the them. When Chung goes on about how some people don’t care about extraterrestrials, that is, I guess, my own summation about working on the show. I want to write about people rather than about aliens.”

“Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'” is so confusing that one’s initial reaction, besides laughter, is to rewind the VCR and watch it again–precisely the effect Morgan wanted. “I think it worked, for the most part, and even if people are confused–because it is confusing, and purposely so–I hope that they would recognize that for being part of it and enjoy it even more. I just want to get a reaction. I don’t care if they learned anything or got anything out of it. I hope they thought it was funny and moving, and were entertained on whatever level they needed.”

After the X~Files’s third season, Darin Morgan left the show, burned out by the relentless pace of writing for television. “I did only four episodes, but they took a lot out of me,” he said. “There’s still a chance I might come back and write another one, but right now I have certain things I would rather write, rather than a couple more Mulder and Scully stories. I want to do something that’s more romantic-comedy, rather than those scary things.”

The X-Files Magazine: Brother from another planet

Oct-17-1996
The X-Files Magazine [Manga/UK]
Brother from another planet
Paula Vitaris

You might say that writer Darin Morgan became the proverbial overnight success – after a decade toiling away on unproduced scripts – on March 31, 1995, the day the Fox Network broadcast “Humbug”, the first X-Files episode from his pen. Although fans had already learned his name earlier in the third season – he played the ‘Flukeman’ in “The Host” and received a story credit on the subsequent episode “Blood”, written by his brother Glen and James Wong – it was Morgan’s comedic take on The X-Files that instantly struck a chord with fans. It also earned the fledging writer a place on The X-Files staff.

Humbug” was a weird experience,” he recalls. “Everyone thought it was going to be a disaster up until the time we aired it.” Then, almost immediately after its premiere showing, Morgan knew the response was far more favourable. “(Co-producer) Paul Rabwin called to tell me about the online response back East, and how everyone liked it.” Only one person seemed to have been somewhat disappointed with the show – Darin Morgan himself. As an unproven writer, Morgan had little to say in the episode’s editing process, and found that some of the character interplay didn’t make it to the final cut. “There was this funny bit with Mr. Nutt, the hotel manager (Michael Anderson),” he says. “it was a gag David Duchovny came up with on the set. The manager goes through his big long spiel about making judgements based on people’s appearances, and then Mulder goes, ‘But I am an FBI Agent.’ and shows his badge. The manager says, ‘Sign here, please,’ and you see a close up of a hand ringing a bell. That’s how it ends now. But when we shot it, the manager turns to Scully to say ‘And you’re an FBI agent as well?’ Scully nods, and then he says, ‘But you’re a woman.’ Gillian reacted as if to say, ‘WHAT? I’m going to KILL you!’ but before she could speak, Duchovny leaned over quickly and rang the bell. It was a wonderful little bit of business for both David and Gillian, but people were concerned that we were being too funny, and the decision was made to cut that out.”

Lucky for Morgan, in the wake of “Humbug’s” success, the writer was allowed much more freedom in the editing room with his three subsequent third season episodes. “I love editing,” he enthuses. “this will sound like a schmaltzy one-liner, but I told the other staff writers – who came from shows where they weren’t allowed in the editing room – that (that’s) where you do your final rewrite. All my scripts were too long, which in one respect is bad, because they had to shoot more footage, but as (editor) Stephen Mark said, it’s always so much better to trim that to have to add on.”

As a boy, Morgan had no ambitions to be a writer. He describes himself as a “regular kid” whose goal was to be a professional baseball player. He liked watching TV and went to the movies regularly with his father, a film buff. But when elder brother Glen decided to try acting in high school, Darin saw “how much fun he was having” and also became an active participant in high school dramatics. When Glen enrolled in the film school at Loyola Marymount University, Darin would visit and help his brother create student films. Eventually, Morgan the younger enrolled in the same course, discovering the classic filmmakers who would become his principal inspiration.

“I saw Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL for the first time in a theatre that had an organ,” Morgan recollects, “and I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but seeing THE GENERAL changed my life. I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do! I had a similar experience with Charlie Chaplin, when I saw CITY LIGHTS for the first time. I’d always heard Chaplin was a genius, but I hated the image of him as the Little Tramp. Watching the boxing scene in CITY LIGHTS, I realized he really *was* a genius.” Morgan’s film studies, particularly the physical comedy of silent film and the screwball genre, provided invaluable instruction in how to think visually. “I think of slapstick as a way of positioning the camera, to make a bit of business funny to look at, rather than someone having someone say something. That sounds very simple, but you mention slapstick to most people nowadays, and they just think of someone being conked on the head. The only time I write camera movement and angles is when I have a specific gag requiring the camera to be positioned in a particular way. Some gags just aren’t funny if they’re shot wrong. So in that way silent film has influenced me – you have to think about how the scene is going to be filmed. The X-Files’ visuals are mostly atmospheric. I’m told that when other television writers read our scripts, they hate them, because there’s so much description, whereas other shows don’t have *any* description. But the directors on The X-Files don’t mind being told specific things that need to be seen or shown because we are a visual show. I’ve heard stories of some directors on other shows getting very upset when a writer puts in too much description, and just to show the writer up will intentionally shoot it differently. On the X-Files, the directors are willing to have the writers put in as much as possible so that they knew exactly what we wanted.”

Morgan began writing in college, but dropped out after selling a script to a film studio. “I thought my career had started,” he says, “and that was part of my decision to leave college. I felt I’d already accomplished what I was hoping to get started there.” Then after an embarrassing attempt at writing a studio conceived “cross between BEVERLY HILLS COP and POLICE ACADEMY” which ended his Hollywood career as abruptly as it started, Morgan found himself without a job or a diploma. By this time, his brother Glen was working, with partner James Wong, for producer Stephen Cannell, and helped his brother land some guest roles on THE COMMISH and 21 JUMP STREET (which also starred Steven ‘Mr. X’ Williams). Then, in 1993, Morgan and Wong left Cannell to become writers and co-executive producers for The X-Files. “Glen showed me the pilot before it had been picked up for a series… and he was all excited about it.” But at the time, Darin, who has never been a sci-fi or horror fan, couldn’t appreciate his brother’s enthusiasm for the show. That was all soon to change. Glen, who was enjoying success on The X-Files first season, had great faith in his brother’s writing abilities, and suggest that he work on a script for The X-Files during the hiatus between the first and second seasons. Glen would then present the finished script to executive producer, Chris Carter, with a view to get it into production. Darin’s first idea was for a ‘teaser’ – TV parlance for the sequence before the titles of each episode – about two kids in a car, which eventually became the teaser for “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” At the same time, Glen and James Wong were suddenly faced with an unexpected assignment to write episode three (Blood), and Glen asked Darin to come up with a story idea about postal workers. Darin suggested a postal worker who goes berserk from reading subliminal messages on a sorting machine’s digital display screen, and when the amount of time allotted for writing “Blood” was cut, Glen asked Darin to come to Los Angeles to help him and Wong storyboard the episode, for which he would receive a story credit.

X-Files producer Howard Gordon, who had sat in on a Morgan and Wong story meeting which Darin had attended, proposed that Darin join the writing staff. “I guess Howard thought I understood the show,” Morgan surmises. However, Morgan himself wasn’t sure that his preference for writing comedy would suit such a serious show. “I had learned from my other job at the movie studio that I always wanted to make sure that I could do a good job on what I was writing. And I was so slow a writer back then that I was terrified of the idea of being on a staff, where you have specific deadlines. But they contacted my agent directly and my agent said, ‘Yeah, okay, he’ll do it.’ And then my agent called and said, ‘You start on Monday. you’ve been out of work a long time. You need to start somewhere again. why not do it?’ I thought that made sense.” The first contract was due to run for nine weeks, but Morgan was unconvinced that he would last even that long. “Once I started I knew right away I was in trouble,” he say. “I was trying to figure out what I could do to fit in. Fortunately, everyone assumed that Glen was supervising me – but he wasn’t. He let me go off and make up my own stories.”

The first such story was “Humbug,” after which expectations suddenly skyrocketed. And Morgan more than lived up to them, with three more outstanding third season episodes, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, “The War of the Coprophages” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”. By the end of the season, he felt burned out from all the deadlines and distressed that his episodes upset some fans, who didn’t agree with his off-kilter view of the show. Most of all, he was ready to step away from the worlds of Mulder and Scully and return to fashioning worlds in feature scripts that were wholly his own. “I prefer doing a story that stands by itself,” he explains. “With a series, you have to consider how your episode affects everyone else’s episode. I don’t want to have to worry about that anymore.”

The reputation this remarkable writer earned during his residency on The X- Files – and the nominations of his “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” script for a 1996 Prime Time Emmy Award (this article is a bit dated as we all know that Darin won too!!!) – suggest that, whether his scripts end up on film or television, The X-Files was anything but Darin Morgan’s final repose.

The X-Files Magazine: Stretching as an actor

Apr-??-1996
The X-Files Magazine [Manga, UK]
Stretching as an actor
Paula Vitaris

Panic struck America’s Fox Network when heavy-weight boxing champion Mike Tyson broke his thumb and cancelled a match scheduled for last November 4th. What should be substituted for the highly publicized fight? EUGENE VICTOR TOOMS to the rescue! A liver-gobbling genetic mutant even Tyson would be loathe to race, he remains, two years after his appearance in The X’-Files episodes, “Squeeze” and “Tooms”, one of the show’s most popular monsters. With a two hour hole in the schedule, the network reached into its storage cabinet and offered up a ‘Tooms Night’ to the surprise and delight of the audience – including Tooms himself, actor Doug Hutchison.

“It’s a trip!” exclaims the vegetarian Hutchison, still amazed that an acting job has linked him forever with raw human livers. Tooms was spawned in Baltimore, but Hutchison’s own breeding ground is Detroit, where he grew up intending to become a rock musician. When a teacher convinced him to try acting, he moved to New York to study at the Julliard school. But the free-spirited actor soon realized he wasn’t cut out for formal study, and dropped out of school, becoming active in New York and regional theatre. A disastrous musical, “Shout and Twist”, brought him back to L.A., and he decided to remain there after that “nightmarish” experience to pursue film work. He soon landed roles in episodic television and in the feature films Fresh Horses and The Chocolate War.

Hutchison became Tooms when his agent sent him to read for the role in “Squeeze”. “I went into the room, and Harry Longstreet, the director, and the producers were there,” he recalls. “We started to plunge into this interrogation scene, and Harry said, ‘I’d like you to do this without any emotion.’ So I’m thinking, ‘Oh great, I’m just. going to sit here and say yes, no, and be emotionless.’ So I did it. And afterwards he said, ‘Okay that’s very good, and now I’d like you to show me that you can be this serial killer. Pretend that you’re stalking your victims. I just want to see your potential for evil.’ And I’m thinking, ‘What is this? This is ridiculous! What does he want me to do? Make a face, or what?’ So I sat and pondered his direction and as I was thinking about it, he [must have] thought that I misunderstood and he said, ‘Do you understand what I’m saying?’ And it just jumped out of me before I knew it came out, but I said, ‘Yeah, I got it – you want me to stalk you, you motherfucker???'” ‘The director may have been taken aback, but producer/writers Glen Morgan and James Wong loved Hutchison’s repressed intensity.

Hutchison came to fall in love with the character. “It was a very sweet challenge for me,” he says. “I’m a very animated person, and I tend to bring a lot of animation to my roles. This was a particularly good challenge because I felt there was a stillness to this character. I had been intrigued by stillness for quite a while since seeing Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter.” – another fan of raw human livers – “in The Silence of the Lambs. He captured the art of stillness so well, and I was inspired by his performance.”

In fact, Hutchison so enjoyed playing Tooms that he was determined to reprise the role. A writer and filmmaker as well as an actor (a documentary Hutchison and his brother Eric made about their grandfather won second prize at a Seattle film festival), he wrote a sequel script entitled, “Dark He Was and Golden-Eyed” and sent it to executive producer, Chris Carter. “I was adamant about coming back on the show,” Hutchison declares. In return, he received a phone call from one of the network lawyers informing him that legal ramifications prevented his script from even being read. By then it was moot anyway, shortly after he sent his script to Carter, his agent called with the news that The X-Files wanted him back for “Tooms”, an eponymous sequel written by Morgan and Wong.

Hutchison’s ideals differed quite a bit from Morgan and Wong’s script. “The fly in the ointment for me was how Tooms hibernates for 30 years if he gets 5 livers,” he says. “I wanted to figure out a way to have him around forever. So, in my script, Tooms was in an experiment to find out how I could remain so young and immortal; he was infused with a drug that backfired and ended up escaping the asylum. So now he’s eating livers like M&Ms – he’s on a rampage! I also dealt with where Tooms might have come from” – Hutchison’s script suggests he is an incarnation of a ravenous, liver-eating Central American Indian God – “So it had a lot of flashbacks. And Tooms talked a lot at the end, because Scully and I had a confrontation.”

Hutchison has kept busy since his time on The X-Files. He has appeared in guest spots on several television shows and made a pilot for Fox, though sadly not one that was picked up for a full series. He also has two feature film roles in the can: he plays a child rapist in Warner Brothers’ upcoming A Time To Kill, based on the popular novel by John Grisham, and a drugged up robber in the independent film All Points Between. More importantly for X-Files fans, he also has a recurring role in Morgan and Wong’s new science fiction war series on Sky, Space: Above and Beyond.

A third episode featuring Eugene Victor Tooms has been suggested, but Hutchison feels that, no matter what, the character will always be a part of him. The fan mail keeps flowing in, and Hutchison has been a guest at X-Files conventions across the USA. “I was aware of the Star Trek conventions,” he notes, “but I had no concept of what they were really about and how many people actually show up. My first X-Files convention was in San Diego. There were over 2,000 people – I signed autographs for five and a half hours!” His insistence on greeting each autograph seeker personally resulted in the convention personnel finally giving up and leaving him to find his own way home.

Hutchison says he loves mingling with the crowd; his current “long-haired and scruffy” appearance is a disguise that permits him to talk to fans without their knowing who he is. “I’m having a riot being this anonymous dude,” he laughs. “I’ll talk with people and jam with them, and then go up on stage, and they’ll come up to me afterwards and go, ‘I didn’t know you were Tooms, man! I talked to you for twenty minutes!’ That’s been a real thrill.”

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.

Cinefantastique: Family Ties

Oct-??-1995
Cinefantastique
Family Ties
Paula Vitaris

The show’s basic premise turns on a family tragedy, tracing Mulder and Scully’s backstory.

I once had the opportunity to ask what Glen Morgan thought about Chris Carter killing off Melissa Scully, because personally, that REALLY pissed me off! He told me that most networks have what’s called “character payments”. If a character that a writer created returns in another episode, they get a couple hundred bucks. This doesn’t happen on FOX, so there goes any cash for the Lone Gunmen, Skinner, Tooms, Scully’s Ma…etc. “If we did get character payments, I would have been more bummed that they killed Melissa. Now I just feel bad for Melinda who is a wonderful actress and a really nice person … sorry if I sound greedy but it’s sort of joke between Jim and I.”

Anyways, just thought I’d share that little anecdote since this article was written before Melissa’s unfortunate demise. – Sensation

Although the main focus of The X-Files is the cases Mulder and Scully solve every week, the show’s basic premise turns on a family tragedy, the disappearance of Mulder’s sister, Samantha. Although the writers have wisely refrained from overplaying Mulder’s quest for Samantha, it is inevitable that they (and the viewers) would want to see both Mulder’s and Scully’s families worked into the storylines. Mulder’s parents did not appear until late in the second season, in the two-parter “Colony/Endgame” and the finale, “Anasazi,” but viewers met Scully’s family early on in the series with the first season’s “Beyond the Sea”, and subsequently in the second season’s” Ascension” and “One Breath”. Even though their presence has been brief overall, Scully’s family has become much loved by the show’s audience.

The conception for “Beyond the Sea” originated with a desire on the part of scripters Glen Morgan and James Wong to write a “Scully episode” with the goal that such a story would both highlight Gillian Anderson’s acting ability, and humanize the dour Scully. They believed the best way to achieve that was to tie the episode’s X-File case to her in a personal way: by introducing her parents and having her father die before the teaser ended, and then linking her need to speak once more with her father to a psychic prisoner on death row.

Morgan recalled that, “In the pilot, Scully mentioned that her parents didn’t want her to become an FBI agent. We found that interesting. So many people want their own lives, and yet need their parents to accept that life, and we thought it seemed to be a common phenomenon around us. So we put it into the story and hoped it would connect with people. And we thought maybe Scully’s parents lived in Washington. And if they live in Washington, what could her father do? It was kind of obvious to us he was in the government and we put him in the military. Then we thought, ‘OK, he has to be a higher rank, a Navy captain’s kind of neat. And we just worked backwards from that.”

Director David Nutter cast Don Davis, familiar to genre viewers as Major Briggs in Twin Peaks, as William Scully, and Sheila Larken as Margaret Scully. “Scully needed to have a father and mother both of real strong qualities and charisma and three dimensions,” he said. “I felt that Don David and Sheila Larken would bring the required weird to the parts.”

Davis, who has a Ph.D. in theater, moved to Canada in 1981 to teach in the theater department of the University of British Columbia. He started doing extra work during the summers, and eventually found himself doubling for Dana Elcar in Macgyver He won a leading guest role in that show, with more series work to follow, and was able to give up teaching for full-time acting. Nutter had worked with Davis previously on several shows, including Broken Badges, and called him personally to ask him if he would accept the role of William Scully, despite its brevity.

“The character is very similar to Briggs on Twin Peaks,” Davis noted. “William is a military man who, although he loved his child deeply, was unable to verbalize that love until it was too late. It was very much along the line of the Major Briggs character, that this was a guy who was at the top of his field and the way he showed his love to his family was to give his children an example to follow and to provide them with great security. That’s kind of where I started off from with the character.”

Although William had died, on The X-Files anything can happen, and he reappeared in “One Breath” to deliver to the comatose Scully the paternal message she had longed for in “Beyond the Sea”. David said that director Bob Goodwin’s concern was that his monologue would not “become maudlin. He wanted me to be on the verge of being overcome, but he didn’t want it to happen. He wanted the character to be strong, to be very much the man that had fathered Dana. So what I tried to do was to show a man holding himself in, a man who was filled with emotion but who, as a military man, controlled the emotion. We did a few takes and each time Bob was bringing me down.”

In between “Beyond the Sea” and “One Breath” David made an uncredited, off screen appearance as a dialogue coach for “Miracle Man.” As a native of the Ozark Mountains region, and a former theater professor, he lent his expertise to the guest cast to help them properly pronounce Southern accents.

Scully’s mother Margaret was portrayed by actress Sheila Larken, and in the X-Files world, where almost everyone has a hidden agenda, Larken’s maternal warmth and sincerity was a bright spot within all the bleakness. David Nutter had met Larken when he auditioned her for his 1985 film Cease FIRE, and although he didn’t cast her, she made an impression on the director.

Larken’s husband, X-Files’ co-executive producer Bob Goodwin, mentioned her at one point to Nutter, and Nutter immediately thought of her for Margaret. “She was perfect. She was the one, and I hired her.”

Larken was reluctant to take on the role of Margaret Scully. The New York native had left acting several years ago and had obtained a master’s degree in clinical social work. But after moving to Washington state with her husband, X-Files’ co-executive producer Bob Goodwin, she found herself busy with acting offers. Her hesitation stemmed, she said, from her own father’s death the year before from a heart attack.

“It wasn’t really something I really wanted to do or pull up,” she said. “But I did it anyway. I never thought the part would repeat. My interpretation when I did that scene at the funeral was of a woman so involved with her own pain, she couldn’t even react to what her daughter was asking her. And they allowed that, even though the daughter was the lead in the show.”

Larken saw Margaret as “a military wife, married before I graduated college, someone who never gets to finish her college degree or find a career for herself, but mainly gets enmeshed in her family. You know, the Everymother. Part of her emergence in becoming self-sufficient was during the course of this show with Dana. I think Margaret is ever-evolving. ”

Larken’s favorite scene came in “Ascension, ” when Margaret and Mulder meet at a park and talk about the missing Scully. “You explore a scene and try to find what you’re thinking, and what you’re not thinking, and that one just jelled together. There were just so many little itsy-bitsy things that came together and they came together on camera.” She found working with Anderson and Duchovny to be a particular treat. “Their depth is multi-layered. A lot of times you work with actors, and when you look into their eyes, they’re a blank. You’re working alone. But when you get to work with Gillian and David, whatever you send is received and vice versa.”

Larken said that as Margaret she usually does not draw on her own experience as a mother, because “it’s almost too vulnerable to let in. ” She did admit to an exception: “There’s one scene where being a parent did work. In ‘One Breath’ where Margaret says to pull the plug on her daughter, Mulder doesn’t want her to do it. He moved away on me, and I called him his first name. I just went, ‘Fox!’ I could hear that ‘mother’ voice. And David stopped cold, he stopped in his tracks. It was like the voice of every mother; in that sense, the mother did come through.”

The arrival of Scully’s sister Melissa, in ‘One Breath’ was an unexpected one. Scully’s two brothers, of whom she spoke in ‘Roland,’ were glimpsed in “Beyond the Sea” and were seen as children in a flashback of ‘ One Breath.’ Yet the sibling who turned up in that latter episode was a previously unheard of sister, Melissa, played by Melinda McGraw. McGraw, who had trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, had spend several years as Syd Madison on The Commish, where she had become friends with Morgan and Wong, and they had wanted to write a part on The X-Files specifically for her. “Melissa was someone who had to understand Scully and yet be different to challenge Mulder’s actions,” said Morgan. “Who better than a mother or a sister? Considering where Mulder was at that time, we thought it would be interesting to see Mulder’s reaction to a believer of ‘positive’ ideas. So, again, it was a character that was created from the needs of Mulder and Scully’s characters. Most importantly, we wanted to write a good part of Melinda McGraw, with whom we shared a frustrating time on The Commish.”

Coincidentally, McGraw said, she brought up the idea of making Melissa a psychic, and found Morgan and Wong had already had the same thought. McGraw enjoyed playing a softer role after several years as a police detective. “It was really great for me to play a different character,” she said. McGraw felt that Melissa “was the black sheep in this family, probably a very difficult teenager, in trouble, very curious. She experimented, I’m sure, with drugs and boys, was very political and was always a bit left of center and always pretty conscious of developing her psychic ability.”

Morgan and Wong had also played around with making Melissa a girlfriend for Mulder, and although that idea was jettisoned, McGraw said she felt the element of attraction was still there, “Certainly from Melissa’s side. We had talked about that, and I think that for various reasons it wasn’t to be. Mulder had just had a romance the week before (in “3 “). McGraw felt that in the end, it was a good idea that the relationship “didn’t go that far, because that left grounds for something later. I think they wrote Melissa in a neat way, because she wasn’t all pure and light. She had this dark side to her, and this slightly jealous side, of being jealous of Dana.” But, she concluded, there is also a “total love. The bond of sibling love is so intense. It’s an age-old dramatic theme, and it’s one of the greatest loves that human beings have. It’s undeniably bigger than any other connection, because you’ve shared not only the same parents, but the same actual physical experience of being born to that mother.”