The X-Files Magazine [US]
[typed by Donna]
Nestled conveniently out of the way of bustling crew members, a small machine noiselessly churns thin streams of smoke through a confined police station set’s cramped hallways. The severe light emanating from the set’s interrogation room cuts through the diaphanous haze, giving the busy corner of Stage Eight on the Twentieth Century Fox lot a spooky, surreal air that smacks of The X-Files. In fact, the hustle can indeed be attributed to production on the 14th episode of The X-Files’ eighth season, “This Is Not Happening.”
Suddenly, the hustle comes to a stop and the typical behind-the-scenes din fades to silence, as Kim Manners strolls into the interrogation room, his face tense with deep concentration. Taking a seat at the tiny room’s table, the director watches Gillian Anderson rehearse the upcoming scene. Anderson runs through her lines several times, stopping now and then to discuss her character’s demeanor through the weighty sequence. An easy dialogue springs up between the actress and the veteran helmer–who have worked together countless times throughout the past several years–concerning Scully’s fragile state of mind as she questions a man who may know Mulder’s whereabouts.
“This Is Not Happening” opens with the reappearance of abductee Theresa Hoese, who was taken around the same time as Mulder in the Season Seven finale “Requiem.” Other abductees have been turning up, many barely alive like Hoese, but many others dead. The man being interrogated, Absalom, has been seen at the sites of these discoveries but claims he’s only concerned with helping Jeremiah Smith [the shapeshifting alien healer from Season Three’s “Talitha Cumi” and Season Four’s “Herrenvolk”] nurse the abductees back to health. “And whereas Scully’s approaching it as there may be something to it, Doggett is approaching it strictly as a cop and wants to know why [Absalom] tortured Theresa Hoese,” Manners explains. “It’s kind of an interesting scene to see the different dynamic between Scully and Doggett.”
Yet the cause for concern over perfecting Scully’s every nuance lies not in her developing relationship with Doggett, but rather in her vulnerability as she prepares for a possible resolution to her search for Mulder. The cameras won’t roll until Manners and Anderson devise what seems most apt for the character.
“It’s an emotional story for Scully,” Manners says. “I mean, we’ve been looking for Mulder and we now have hope, seeing as Therea Hoese’s been returned, that we may indeed find Mulder. It’s an emotional roller coaster for Scully’s character, so I have to concentrate on what we’re doing with Gillian and her side of the story. [Plus], Doggett is a non-believer, but he doesn’t want to see Scully hurt, so I have to concentrate on what Robert’s doing. And Skinner’s got an investment in this, as well. At the same time, we’re also introducing a new character. So, I have my work cut out for me here, a lot of bases to cover. It’s tricky.”
The new character Manners mentions is Monica Reyes, an FBI special agent from the New Orleans field office who specializes in ritualistic crimes. Doggett, who worked with Reyes on a prior case, calls upon her expertise to help explain the source of the returned abductees’ horrific wounds. Scully resists Reyes’ help at first but soon begins to appreciate her open-mindedness. Partly created to, according to executive producer Frank Spotnitz, balance the believer/skeptic dynamic and prevent Doggett from becoming a third wheel once Mulder returns, Reyes is very much unlike the show’s other characters.
“I think she’s going to bring a lightheartedness [to the show],” Manners says. “Whereas Scully and Mulder have always been so guarded in their true feelings, this is a woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. She speaks the truth maybe sometimes too freely, too easily. She’s a free spirit. She’s not flaky, but she’s kind of by the cuff. She works spur of the moment. Maybe she and Doggett can find something interesting together.” Thrilled to sink her teeth into such a meaty, important role, the actress chosen to portray Reyes, Annabeth Gish (Buying the Cow, Beautiful Girls, Mystic Pizza), is counting on this enthusiasm to help her adjust to the series’ notoriously long days and nights of shooting. “My first night of shooting was on location in Simi Valley, sort of out in the middle of no man’s land,” Gish says. “And as I was driving up, I saw that little gathering of generators and the big crane that’s the false moonlight, and [I felt] all of the energy on the set. It kind of reminds you of why you’re an actor on movies or television. There’s such an energy to it that, no matter how many hours you’re working, there’s still that magical little excitement that we’re telling a story and we’re pretending. It’s really cool, and it’s kind of eerie and surreal.” Although Gish has so far signed on for only a three-episode arc, there is a good chance Reyes may become a recurring character. With this in mind, Manners has been paying close attention to how he handles her introductory scenes.
“I’m taking it slow and, with each performance, weighing every line,” he explains. “When I yell ‘action’ I literally try to concentrate on every line of dialogue and every expression and make sure that it’s right for the character–after talking to Chris [Carter] and Frank and Annabeth about who the character is. And we’re just trying to discover it together You can’t rush it.” Manners is not the only one to struggle with the episode’s many competing interests. Spotnitz, who co-wrote the episode with Carter, describes s number of concerns they wrestled with in crafting the compelling tale.
“We knew that everybody knew Mulder was coming back, so we didn’t want his return to be what you’d expect,” Spotnitz explains. “How do you make that unpredictable, despite the fact that everybody knows it’s happening? And aside from the desire to make it as suspenseful and surprising as we could, there’s the fact that we were cognizant we were reopening the mythology of the show and creating a new chapter with what the aliens are up to, and so we had a lot of long term thinking to do about that. It was a very complicated puzzle.”
Several tall lamps with large, circular heads shine brightly behind an immense backdrop, illuminating its Giegeresque design and bringing to life the alien spacecraft where we last saw Mulder-strapped to a demonic-looking chair and subjected to a host of tragic tortures. David Duchovny’s stunt double, Mike Smith, removes his robe and slippers and settles into the imposing chair, as Manners and stunt coordinator Danny Weselis discuss the camera movement for the next shot. Luckily for the X-Files’ crew members, Mulder’s story picks up right where it left off, so the so-called “limbo” set they toiled on for the season’s opening two-parter, “Within”/”Without,” gets to see at least one more episode of action before being indefinitely packed away in storage.
“[The limbo set] was a huge undertaking.” general foreman Billy Spires says. “It’s an intricate set that really involved everybody–special effects, company grips, construction, a lot of different crafts. That was probably our most intricate set so far this season.” Even though “This Is Not Happening” ranks as one of the toughest episodes this season from a writing/directing standpoint, it’s a relatively laid back one for the rest of the show’s team. Despite the enormity of the storyline, the series’ department heads insist it’s a fairly light, straightforward episode from their individual standpoints.
“Its not light in reference to the amount of work that needs to be done, it’s that there’s nothing outlandish,” property master Tom Day explains. “I’m not trying to figure out how to get 500 rats to all go from one jail cell to an other one on cue. That type of challenge isn’t there. But to be perfectly honest with you, after some of the stuff we’ve done on stand-alones, we don’t mind a little bit of a break on this stuff. We’ve had some bizarre things.” Of course, as with any episode, there’s still the occasional bump or two in the road. For instance, stage space has become an endangered species this year, and the only place to create the dilapidated cabin where Absalom gathers and cares for the unfortunate abductees is inside an already existing set originally created to house the nuclear reactor structure featured in Season Seven’s opening two-parter “The Sixth Extinction”/”The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati.”
“It’s been 30 to 40 sets since then, but we’ve always left it standing,” Spires says. “It’s our only huge, permanent set that we always turn into something else, whether it’s a basement laundry room, the hull of a ship or a Plexiglass prison cell. But this time we’re filling the entire set with an other set.”
“This compound is a really tricky thing,” set decorator Tim Stepeck adds. “We’ve got to put 60 people inside that one little space and try to make it look bigger than it really is, so we’re doing a lot of trick stuff with the set and hanging plastic and giving it depth.” Also tricky was staging the episode’s teaser, which features a high-speed chase between a beat-up old car and a UFO. Weselis worked with an aerial coordinator to make a helicopter and its bright “night sun” light double for the saucer–until it can be added later via CGI by the show’s visual effects wizards. “We had the helicopter pilot shining the night sun back and a stunt double for [UFO-obsessed character] Ritchie chasing it,” Weselis explains. “He was going about 70 to 80 mph down this dirt road chasing a helicopter that’s probably six feet above the ground. And we did close run-bys at high speed and numerous shots coming over rises.” Ambitious stunt sequences and set construction aside, what crew members really want to talk about–what they’re most excited about–is the return of Mulder and the show’s continuing storyline. After a string of stand-alones, everyone seems to relish the chance to create another installment of the X-Files’ mythology. And this episode’s shocking revelations and jaw-dropping cliffhanger had most of them feeling like X-Philes glued to the edges of their seats on a Sunday night. The consensus is clear: “This Is Not Happening” is an instant crew favorite.
“It is, in my humble opinion, a great episode,” Day says. “And that character Jeremiah Smith-cool character. As a matter of fact, one of the coolest things about episode 14 for me is that, when we do an episode like this, I need to research characters like that. So, I’ll get a hold of the tape from the office from the first time we saw this Jeremiah Smith character, and I’ll take it home and watch it in case there’s any personal props or any little insight I can gather. It’s a great episode, and my wife and I were watching it and got hooked 100 percent. But it gets to the end and says, ‘to be continued.’ And I don’t have part two! So every night when I get home from work now, my wife says, ‘Honey did you happen to get the tape of part two?'” Outside the protective confines of Stage Eight, a torrential downpour rages as the temperature steadily drops. Constant requests for umbrellas and parkas dominate CB discourse, but a drastic shortage of the desired items plagues hair, makeup and wardrobe technicians. Now adorned in soaking wet attire, the crew expresses shock and dismay over the nasty weather change.
When the show was filmed in Vancouver, cold rainy conditions were the norm. Certainly, there would have been no lack of umbrellas back then. But The X-Files has now been in Los Angeles for almost three seasons and, pampered by the land of sun and fun, cast and crew were caught unawares. The series has traveled a long and winding road since that move took place. Many of its successful conventions remain intact, but a great deal has changed–mostly during Season Eight alone. And “This Is Not Happening” marks a definite turning point in this transformation. Although the return of Jeremiah Smith links the episode to previous events in The X-Files’ mythology, its story takes the arc to the next level, opening new horizons to be explored. Obviously the addition of the Reyes character speaks volumes to the writers’ willingness to experiment with the show’s successful formula. Of course, it did help that the introduction of Doggett had already proven the fans to be open to new cast members.
“I thought that our fanbase would take a little while to warm up to Robert, but they didn’t,” Manners says. “I guess I shouldn’t be [surprised by that] because Robert really brings a lot to the character of Doggett. He’s a very likable character, he’s a hell of an actor, and I think he brings a really refreshing dynamic to the series. I know that he’s inspired myself and Gillian and all of us to reinvigorate our work, and it’s been exciting. I look forward to the same kind of thing with Annabeth.”
But the changes don’t solely involve new characters. As they did in Season Eight’s opening two-parter, Scully and Skinner again demonstrate a conversion, cementing the fact that they now, like Mulder, accept alien abduction as a possibility – automatically assuming this to be the cause of the episode’s strange events.
“It’s kind of a relief because for so many years we had to work so hard to maintain Scully’s skepticism,” Spotnitz says. “Once we let Doggett into the show, it gave us the latitude to relax that. And for Skinner, I think it’s just absolutely liberating for the character because he had been in the middle for seven years and finally gets to be on one side. And I think for Mitch [Pileggi] it’s been very gratifying to be able to play that.
“But I think Scully’s a believer in her own way still,” he continues. “We’re cognizant all the time as we’re writing these scenes of how she would say it. If you notice, when she talks about aliens like Jeremiah Smith, there’s still some qualification there. She believes, but she doesn’t but it wholesale. She doesn’t leap into things like Mulder does. So, it still feels like her character, even though she’s come a long way.” And of course, the manner in which Mulder is reintroduced will have a significant ramifications for the show. But that secret may not yet be revealed and so surely won’t be spoiled here. Suffice to say, it should defy any expectations.
“I think it’s a big surprise,” Spotnitz says. “There’s twists and turns about how he’s returned and what happens when he gets back. The show will not be the same old show once he gets back. I think it’ll be more interesting than it’s been in a long time because everything is up for grabs.”