Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ten Thirteen: Saucers and Secrets in the Sunset

I have a strange fetish for the ends of things - pop culture things, that is. I call it the "LA Woman Phenomenon."

For some reason it seems as if creative endeavors define themselves as they close up shop. There's something poignantly self-aware about Abbey Road- it's as if The Beatles finally realized who they had been and what they were going to become, which the Let it Be sessions utterly failed to do. Jack Kirby's 80s work is on no one's favorite Kirby list but mine - there was something definitive about all of the unbridled, psycho-delic insanity of books like Captain Victory. The Clash were never more The Clash than they were as they were falling apart (and certainly my favorite performances from both lineups are in the 11th hours). It goes on...

And so it is with The X-Files. I actually didn't watch most of the final season when it aired (truth be told, I never truly got over the show leaving Vancouver) but going back and watching it a few years later I realized it was much, much better than most people would have me believe.

But it seems that even if Chris Carter was ceding control to his partners, there was something definitive about how he chose to respond to the chilling effect on dissent in the wake of 9/11 by doubling down and making The X-Files even darker, even more subversive and even more confrontational.

The zeitgeist made the show a phenomenon and now it was sending it to the glue factory, but no one can say they didn't go down swinging.

Even though the show boasted an embarrassment of riches on both sides of the camera, there were five basic elements that made The X-Files the cultural phenomenon it became in the 90s. First was Chris Carter, whose 70's-vintage shattered idealism and skewed vision (Carter would always go left where others would go right, and vice versa) was fueled by a ferocious work ethic. What's more, Carter hated the airless look of most TV drama and wanted to bring cinematic aesthetics to the small screen.

Second was the charisma, wry wit and Ivy League intelligence of David Duchovny, who had been kicking around Hollywood for a while but didn't find his voice until he landed the part of Fox Mulder. Third was Gillian Anderson, who exuded the intelligence needed for the role of an FBI pathologist, but also exuded a slow-burning sexuality that drew both men and women into the flames.

Fourth was the city of Vancouver, the only city where any show looking to create an alternate view of consensus reality should ever film. The X-Files production team- especially Carter and co-executive producer Bob Goodwin- found that the variable weather and lighting - as well as the architectural anarchy - of the Canadian metropolis was an endless source of inspiration. In addition, Vancouver was a city in which the ancient, now-discarded Protestant work ethic still applied, and the city's crews and endlessly-versatile character actors were a key component in the show's success.

Lastly, it was the zeitgeist that fueled the show's popularity. In the wake of Ruby Ridge and Waco, the marauding SWAT teams and anonymous intelligence thugs that ran rampant through the first season of The X-Files struck a chord with sensitives everywhere. The rise of the Internet- then still a network of primitive dial-up bulletin boards - was letting the genies of the conspiracy and UFO undergrounds out of the bottle, all of which was manna from heaven for 70s conspiracy-movie junkie like Carter. Alien fever would rise and crest right along with the show's Vancouver glory years. Even Time devoted a cover story to the atmosphere of what I call the "alien expectation" in the mid-90s.

But as with most TV shows, behind-the-scenes drama began to take its toll. Fox ordered a feature film at the same time it ordered a new Ten Thirteen series (the apocalyptic crime drama, Millennium) stretching the already-overstretched staff to the bone. Carter - a self-confessed control freak - said the workload nearly literally killed him. Orders came down to resolve some of the show's sprawling "Mythology" in the flim, resulting in a feature loaded down with exposition. The film wasn't a blockbuster, which tarnished its mystique.

But the first mortal blow came when citing a clause in his original contract, Duchovny threatened to drastically curtail his involvement in the show if production wasn't moved to LA for Season Six.  Carter ordered the writing staff to work up a string of high-concept novelty episodes for the first half of the sixth season, not only to get some buzz in the press (Carter's Wizard of Oz-Bermuda Triangle synthesis Triangle earned a feature slot on Entertainment Tonight), but also to keep his famously bored and increasingly rebellious star mollified. Fox's hiring of a Comedy Central executive to run the network may have had some influence on the string of "X-Files Lite" episodes frontloaded into the season.

But for me, the stunt casting of the novelty eps (Ed Asner, Bruce Campbell, Michael McKean, etx) shattered the documentary flavor that made the Vancouver era so compelling.

At the same time, UFO fever was waning. Lifelong Naval Intelligence asset Willam Cooper (who was "retired" in the old-school fashion in 2001) had come out and claimed that UFOs were all an intelligence scam (an meme Carter promptly exploited in the beginning of the fifth season with the deeply subversive Redux, which foisted the post-war catalog of mind control, human experimentation and military spending run amok on legions of innocent Mulder/Scully 'shippers).

The militia movement -- riddled with spooks as it was-- had no time for exopolitics. The corporate Evangelical multitudes were being conditioned to believe aliens were demons by fascist nutjobs within the Defense Department, and there was no landing on the White House lawn, and so Alien Fever faded once again.

In response, Carter and main writing partner Frank Spotnitz suddenly and unexpectedly ended the "Colonization" conspiracy at the heart of the Mythology with the epic two-parter, Two Fathers/One Son, the latter of which boasts a scorching parody of the Rapture mania that was rising among the Evangelical ascendency.

The reasons for this had nothing to do with the storyline itself but were dictated by outside pressures, not the least of which was the impatience of their star to leave and pursue a movie career. Costs had skyrocketed when the show moved to LA and the feature-film sprawl of the Vancouver Mytharc could simply no longer be afforded.

In its place was a Mytharc that was infinitely more subversive than the first. Starting with Biogenesis, Carter, along with Spotnitz and Duchovny, dove headfirst into a remarkably esoteric variant of Ancient Astronaut Theory (AAT had been a part of the Mythology all along) marrying it to Psychedelia (we meet "Dr. Sandoz" and his superpower-inducing alien tablets) and Spiritualism.

America's Sweethearts Mulder and Scully were now gleefully announcing that mankind was engineered by an alien race of godlike power and that all of mankind's beliefs (including Islam and Darwinism, in case you were wondering) were all a giant delusion, based on a childish, wishful misinterpretations of ancient alien encounters, concretized by a Godship that Scully encounters off the coast of Africa.

(Fans who wondered why the Biogenesis storyline was suddenly dropped should make note that it was picked up again as soon as Duchovny left the show. Gee, maybe there's a clue in there, you think?)

Not content with that chunk of subversion, the storyline of Mulder's sister's alien abduction was resolved in Sein Und Zeit/Closure. There it was revealed that Samantha was dead all along (something attentive viewers figured already, having been clued in with episodes like Paper Hearts) but that her soul had been transformed into pure energy by disembodied aliens known as "Walk-Ins" (whom Carter introduced us to in the pivotal, 2012-themed episode Red Museum) who travel the cosmos in starlight.

This was all straight out of the weirdest precincts of the UFO/New Age underground.
The usual trolls whined (which they'd been doing for years at this point), but I thought the two-parter was the greatest thing I'd ever seen on TV - easily an equal to similarly themed movies like Jacob's Ladder. The X-Files was now goring everyone's ox- the Left and the Right, the religious and the secular.

And it would pay for its transgressions.

The next axe fell and it was wielded by Duchovny, yet again. His contract was finally up and he planned to pursue his movie career, which ultimately ended up leading him back to television (strangely, his first launch after leaving The X-Files was an X-Files parody, Evolution). With Scully now firmly in the believer camp after her initiation by the psychotronic Godship, her new partner had to be a skeptic; enter John Doggett.

Doggett was played by the actor's actor Robert Patrick, who was an inevitable pick given his roles in Terminator 2 and Fire in the Sky, both of which had heavily influenced The X-Files from the beginning. A compromise was worked out with Duchovny, which allowed the new male lead to be established.

After a strange first two seasons in LA, where the show veered drunkenly from light comedy to pitch black horror, the new X-Files team staunched the bleeding and announced the show would be brought back to basics, working the rich horror/sci-fi vein of the Vancouver years.

After losing over five million average viewers in less than two years (many showrunners today would kill for five million viewers total), The X-Files stabilized to a rather enviable rate of attrition for a show its age (never mind a genre show with heavy competition in its time slot) losing about a half-million average viewers year over year with Patrick as new lead.

By contrast, Star Trek: The Next Generation lost over a million viewers from its sixth to its final season, in an environment with a lot less competition than X-Files faced.

With Anderson's and Carter's contracts both up at the end of the season and Duchovny only back on a guest-star basis, a nine-episode arc was devised which would send Mulder and Scully off into the sunset (Sunset Blvd., hopefully) and allow Doggett and his new partner Monica Reyes (played by Annabeth Gish) to launch the next generation X-Files.

The real finale

It was all wrapped up with a two-parter that mercilessly ransacked the Terminator mythos and ancient mythology from the Bible and other sources. The final scene in which Mulder and Scully smooch while cradling their newborn son was undoubtedly meant to be their farewell on the show. It was all meticulously orchestrated, something that no one had previously accused The X-Files of being. But then another axe fell, this time wielded by Anderson.

Anderson had felt she'd been underpaid for years, a legacy of the original contracts drawn up when Duchovny was an up-and-comer and Anderson was a total unknown. Fox suits were nervous that Patrick and Gish couldn't carry the show on their own, and were surely unhappy that Carter was presenting Monica as a lesbian New Ager in the eighth season's finale. Anderson reportedly got a huge raise to return for Season Nine.

But Scully without Mulder is like peanut butter without jelly. What made the Doggett-Scully dynamic work so well was the certainty that Duchovny would return to wrap up the story. Mulder and Scully should have fled with their son but only Mulder did, which made zero sense to anyone.

Worse, the writers were stung by criticism that Mulder was ignored entirely in the Season Eight standalones, and hence he was discussed ad nauseum in Season Nine. Which made less sense, since there was no reason to believe we'd ever see him again. And the believer-skeptic dynamic that undergirded the show now had to accommodate Scully, who fell between the cracks.

If the zeitgeist had bent against The X-Files in the late 90s, now it was kicking its head in. Dick Cheney and his cabal of neocons took control of the White House and as just as his frontman's approval ratings neared a terminal point, they shot through the roof after 9/11. Meanwhile, the already hobbled X-Files was up against the boutique cable drama The Sopranos and the pro-CIA Alias.

The only attention The X-Files was getting at that point is that the pilot episode of its short-lived spinoff The Lone Gunmen had foreshadowed 9/11, ascribing the attack not to Arab terrorists but a faction of money-hungry arms dealers and power-hungry spooks looking for a new enemy to exploit. Rupert Murdoch's secretary was probably very busy that following Monday morning.

Into all of this wandered The X-Files, whose chaotic two-part opener (Nothing Important Happened Today, parts I and II (X 1/2)-- an ill-advised title if ever there was one) briefly flirted with making the show a Law and Order-styled ensemble drama, an idea which seemed to be quickly scuppered once the two episodes were finished.

The Nothing Important Happened Today's are so overstuffed and frenetic that they play almost like an X-Files parody. You have a lot of interesting elements; a terrific teaser with a shocking climax, Lucy Lawless playing an interesting new villain (albeit one who was never seen again thanks to Lawless' pregnancy), British heartthrob Cary Elwes brought in as a new AD with uncertain loyalties, Reyes hitting on Scully during an autopsy (giving the SRR girls a thrill and the Fox suits a coronary, surely) and a twist in the alien conspiracy where a chemical is being put into drinking water in order to alter the DNA of pregnant women. A chilling, Vancouver-worthy sequence in which William's telekinesis comes to be made manifest. And production-wise there was a slicker, darker look and more sophisticated color palette.

But you also have a boatload of bad: New baby-daddy Mulder disappearing with no attempt at an explanation given other than that David Duchovny was no longer on the show. Reyes suddenly given a gender-preference reassignment via a particularly unconvincing backstory with the Elwes character, aforementioned Scully-flirtation notwithstanding. Doggett running an incomprehensible investigation of Deputy Director Kersh that goes absolutely nowhere. The recently-canceled Lone Gunmen and the recently-dead Knowle Rohrer appearing for no discernable reason than to give the XF bench airtime. A portentious and misleading subplot aboard a naval ship that unfolds like a particularly bad Tom Clancy novel.

And worst of all, the searing emotional violence the Mytharc perfected was replaced with over-rendered, whispery melodrama and way too many Scully crying scenes. I've tried several times to rewatch these episodes, thinking I didn't watch them in the proper frame of mind, and every time they just get worse and worse.

The weird, extremely un-X-Files use of salty language only serves to confirm my suspicion that the network was trying to impose its vision on Spotnitz and Gilligan (Carter didn't renew his contract until Season Nine was already in production), since it disappeared  immediately afterward with Carter's return.

I can only assume that the exhaustion left in the wake of the epochal Season Eight and the behind-the-scenes confusion kicked loose the bearings for a while. It would get much better.

The opening credits finally changed in Season Nine

And of course all of this huffing and puffing about government conspiracies against the American people arrived at the worst possible time; exactly two months after 9/11 and in the midst of the anthrax letter crisis.

The first standalone was Demonicus (XXXX), dealing with a imprisoned psychopath orchestrating a series of ritual occult crimes from his cell. Following the NIHT debacle, Demonicus was a very good episode. However, it was a very good Millennium episode (complete with Ouroboros reference), and seemed somewhat out of place in the X-Files Universe, despite the Vancouverite flourishes rendere onto the LA locations.

Even so, you had the gruff, weathered Robert Patrick filling in nicely for the the gruff, weathered Lance Henriksen and Reyes filling the Lara Means role. But then there's Scully, who was ostensibly the star of the show but was no longer working in the X-Files office. I know from the book interviews that having to service the Scully character made everyone's job more difficult, and probably did more damage to the season than would have done if Gillian had left the show. This would be the last XF episode I would watch in first-run until Underneath (another Millennium wannabe) and then Sunshine Days after that.

I think I made the right decision, since I was able to go back and watch the reruns a few years later with a fresh eye, without dealing with the fractured zeitgeist.

9/11 happened while Demonicus was filming, and the motif of evil forces making a game of deceiving the innocent seems grimly appropriate in retrospect. But if the Mytharc was shaky before 9/11, the country would be in no mood for it afterward. As we'll see, this only seemed to encourage the producers -- Carter, especially -- to ramp up the paranoia, ripping things like warrantless wiretaps and secret trials straight from the headlines. I can't say it made for classic X-Files drama, but maybe that wasn't the goal.

Continuing in the Millennium vein was Hellbound (XXX), a particularly explicit episode about a killer who skins his victims alive. As with most of the season, it would have worked better as straight-up Doggett-Reyes. Seeing Scully flit in and out of the action during the season only served to be distracting, even if Gillian Anderson was particularly gorgeous in these episodes. We get more Dark Monica here as well, which flies in the face of her original concept as a source of light.

Now I know a lot of us here are big Fringe fans, and as such I think most of you will appreciate the first killer ep of Season Nine, 4-D (XXXXX). Like a lot of others that year it would have had a lot more impact had it been a Mulder/Scully and not Doggett/Reyes, but even so it's pretty brilliant. The plot deals with a psychopathic momma's boy (played brilliantly by Dylan Haggerty, another of the many Millennium alums Ten Thirteen hired on for The X-Files) who discovers an interdimensional portal outside his apartment and uses it to cross over to slit women's throats with a straight razor.

Alt-Reyes is killed and Alt-Doggett is shot while staking out his apartment and falls through the portal, displacing Our-Doggett. I can't say for certain that it inspired the Fringe alt-universe arc, but let's just say I wouldn't be surprised, knowing what a X-Files fanatic JJ Abrams is. Even though I found Monica's hetero-makeover annoying (and redundant), I do have to say that Annabeth and Robert Patrick definitely had their own chemistry, Shippers be damned. If you want to explore Season Nine, I'd definitely recommend you start with 4-D.

Acid, Ancient Egypt and Aliens

Regular readers of The Secret Sun are familiar with the X-Files habit of blending psychonautics and alien revelation, so the next standalone won't be too much of a surprise. Lord of the Flies (XXX) revisits a episode from Season Five (Travelers) dealing with the creation of the X-Files office during the McCarthy witch-hunts.

Travelers had the HUAC hearings as a smokescreen for a series of gruesome human experiments, grafting alien insects into human hosts. Lord takes that ball and runs with it, throwing in a Jackass parody and a Syd Barrett-worshipping human-insect hybrid into the mix. Like so much of Season Nine, we see shapes of boutique TV to come: Jane Lynch guest-stars, essentially playing the same character she plays today on Glee and Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul apparently caught Vince Gilligan's eye here as well (Entourage stunner Samaire Armstrong also appears).

A lot of fans hate this episode but I think it's good fun and high hilarity (Rocky Bronzino is especially resonant for this Jerseyite). Aside from the Pink Floyd connection, Lord also features an image regular readers are familiar with; Scully staring at a poster of Isis.

The great Robert Patrick in John Doe

Speaking of Vince Gilligan, he wrote the next episode, John Doe (XXXXX). The ep takes big chunks of style from Soderbergh's remake of Traffic, but also adds in a fascinating subplot linking magick and the occult to Mexican drug-trafficking, a meme that's become even more of a story since, with the Santa Muerte cult and all of the rest of it. In it Doggett wakes up in a remote Mexican village with his memory erased and must reconstruct his identity piece by piece. His troubled past catches up to him in a crushing fashion...

It's a showcase for Robert Patrick's formidable acting chops and a showcase for TXF's cinematographer, Bill Roe. I always felt Roe had a tendency to over-render the show, preferring the subtler work of John Bartley and Joel Ransom. But there are shows where his Raphaelite approach worked like gangbusters and John Doe is one of them. Watch this one after 4-D.

The Mytharc is dragged out again for Trustno1 (XX1/2), which makes for mediocre entertainment but effective polemic. The jarring melodrama is back as well as the overly-Byzantine (if not incoherent) plotting and few dissonant bits of purple prose, but there is a definite point to be made here about the constant invasion of privacy and electronic surveillance taking place under the pretext of the "War on Terror." This ep shows us that not even FBI agents are immune to the intrusions of faceless bureaucrats who sit behind the monitors and coldly record everyone's most intimate details.

Televisually, Trustno1 offers up a nice goodie bag. If you can stomach the mush ("Dearest Dana?"), there is a lot to like. You get Terry O'Quinn as guest-star. O'Quinn was known as "Mr. Ten Thirteen" before he landed the gig in Lost, having co-starred in Millennium and the short-lived Harsh Realm and appeared in various X-Files stories. He doesn't have much to do here, alas.

"Ooh, Mama like..."

The surveillance theme is chilling, there's a operatic shootout on a crowded commuter train platform, and in keeping with Season Nine's sapphic undercurrents (see Lawless, Lucy), there's some UST between Scully and a troubled young woman she meets in a coffee bar, climaxing in a L Word-worthy scene in which a blushing Scully -- realizing she won't be getting any from Mulder any time soon -- invites the damsel-in-distress into her apartment. Fans howled that Scully should have known better than inviting a stranger into her home, but - as usual - they weren't paying attention to the subtext (or the long, meaningful glances, deep breaths and bashful smiles).

Seriously, watch it -- you'll see what I mean.

Remember, what's not said in The X-Files is usually more important than what's said. And all of this makes archetypal sense- Scully is an Irish Catholic military brat/tomboy with daddy issues who pursued a career in law enforcement. Being a Bostonian born and raised, I can tell you that mix doesn't necessarily spell out "exclusive heterosexual" for me. Was this conscious on Ten Thirteen's part? Or simply a bone (as it were) thrown to Gillian Anderson's sizable Estrogen Brigade? I can't say and they never will, but there's a whole host of fascinating sexual (and especially procreative) subtexts at work throughout the show's run (we'll leave aside Skinner's issues for another post).

In any event, Trustno1 all ends up as being less than the sum of its parts, which happens when you have to go back and do over something you already finished. Like, oh, say Mulder and Scully's story arc.

Now, I'll let you all in on a secret- the aliens in The X-Files are largely metaphorical, symbolizing the threat posed by the ever-expanding national security behemoth. The Syndicate of the early years snuck around and tried to cover their tracks but their supersoldier stepchildren don't even bother with the pretense. Step out of line and you can be easily silenced (or replaced) and anyone watching better look the other way and go about their business.

A lot of fans hated the supersolider arc, but as a lot of you know, it's a real, ongoing program (and had been refenced in TXF since Season One). And since the supersoliders were all concentrated in the police and military, the motif acts as an effective critique of the dehumanizing nature of rampant militarization. The Syndicate had human weakness, the supersoliders are the more perfect instruments of the Globalist agenda.

As I said before, I watched Underneath (XXXX) in its first run and it's another excellent Millennium episode. It might have made a good Season Eight episode as well, as this time it's Reyes who plays the fifth wheel. I can't help but wonder what might have been if Gillian left with David and let the producers start fresh. Seeing that the worst episodes of the season are the ones in which the already-completed-in-Season-Eight Mytharc needs to be dragged out of mothballs again, I think it would have made for a much better show, my Scully-love be damned.

Unearthing an alien SR71

Still, the S9 Mytharc wasn't a total washout for me
. Again, I know a lot of fans disagree, but I think the Provenance/Providence two-parter was a subversive classic, and right up there with my other favorite two-parters like Tempus Fugit/Max (which a lot of fans argue should have been the first feature film) and Sein Und Zeit/Closure.

With the Evangelical-friendly Bush Administration on the tear post 9/11, it probably wasn't the best time to shove some hardcore Ancient Astronaut Theory down America's throat, but with the show nearing its end there was nothing left to lose. As always, Chris Carter's response was to double down.

Scully's ova might have been destroyed when she was abducted by the military and experimented on by the old Unit 731/Paperclip butchers, but her exposure to the Godship in Sixth Extinction brought them back, resulting in the birth of her and Mulder's lovechild, William. With Mulder having been inoculated with the Black Oil and Scully's DNA having been altered by the Godship, their child's junk DNA was switched back on, making him a wildcard to the alien colonists.

Fans had complained that the Biogenesis/Sixth Extinction storyline had been dropped without explanation but its reappearance at this point in the show's history should give a pretty good idea why it disappeared and why it returned.

In Provenance (XXXX1/2), an attempt on William's life by a rogue FBI agent (who fears William is the alien Antichrist) drives a Raelian/Dominionist synthesis of a cult (led by a supersoldier-worshipping retired Army colonel) to abduct the baby and shelter him on their compound in Canada (where a new Godship has been discovered).

Despite some of the usual Season Nine whispery dramatics, this two-parter succeeds for me where all of the other S9 Myth eps failed because it's basically about one event (the kidnapping of William), not this, that and the other thing and the kitchen sink, besides. There are no confusing red herrings or triple-crosses.

Kneeling before the "Word of God"

Provenance offers up some Shootin' Scully (when she busts caps into her son's attempted murderer) and some Sapphic Scully (some breathless UST scenes in Monica's apartment which the SRR gals swooned over) and some Sassmouth Scully (when she sassmouths the FBI brass). In short, a much more aggressive and proactive Scully than we saw in most of the season.

Von Daniken's favorite Bible quote

Directed by Carter, Providence (XXX1/2) (episode 9x11) opens up with an somewhat prescient battle scene in Iraq and cannily depicts the rogue colonel as a man whose fanaticism keeps him in a narcotic - even erotic - state of bliss. It also piles up the mawkish religious cliche and sentiment, all the while deviously subverting it by having the characters ascribe the power of the alien Godship to Yahweh and his angels. Doggett isn't revived by prayer; he's revived by the alien radiation that Scully absorbed from a Godship fragment. He doesn't hear the voice of his guardian angel; the radiation temporarily instills the same psychic powers that Mulder possessed in The Sixth Extinction. Jesus doesn't save William, the baby's alien DNA does.

The two-parter has profound personal resonance with me, some of which I wrote about here. Bonus Sync: just the other day I discovered an outtake from Provenance, featuring an actor whose second-ever role was playing a guy named Tiger Knowles. The main shortcomings here are a bit too much Monica/not-Monica, a bit too much melodrama and too many inert hospital scenes, all of which is in keeping with the old XF two-parter tendency to shoot its load in the first half. Fantastic teaser, though.

One of the shortcomings of Season Nine is how it put Doggett and Reyes into comas and whatnot in a number of different episodes. As it was, we didn't really know these characters well enough for these situations to have the required impact. Again, all of this would have so much more impact had it been Mulder and Scully. But then again, those same episodes are all really good, so I can't really complain. Plus you very much get the feeling the writers were clearing the decks of favorite unused plot ideas as the show came to a close. Audrey Pauley (XXX1/2) is one of them and features Tracey Ellis (who was such a revelation in 'Oubliette') in the title role.

Here, Reyes is placed into a coma by an "angel of death" ER doctor and enters an imaginary hospital that is psychically created by Audrey, a disabled nurses aide. It's more of the Twilight Zone XF ep than canon, but it works beautifully as a mystic tone poem (despite the DRR stuff).

...but the little girls understand; a SR 'shipper's Photoshop job
Now, a lot of people dump on Annabeth Gish and the Monica Reyes character for "ruining The X-Files" but the criticism is unfair (anyone who watched the New England-noir series Brotherhood knows she can act like hell). The culprit here is the zeitgeist, yet again. I thought the character was fantastic in Season Eight (her awkward introduction in This is Not Happening is one of my favorite scenes in the whole series).

She was created to bring light into the show, with her New Age ditziness and her sexual ambiguity, yet still function as a (reasonably) capable agent. She was to be the Mulder to Doggett's Scully, and an explicit reminder to Scully of the martyred Melissa.

No one at Ten Thirteen will ever admit to it, but I'm certain that Fox didn't want their new lead female character in their top-rated drama to be a breezy, crystal-clutching, whalesong-crooning lesbian, and her makeover in the S9 opener just screams network notes ("Chris- give Monica a boyfriend immediately").

But the show got a lot darker in S9 and Carter admitted that the character as originally conceived didn't work for either the tone or the zeigeist. Whereas a sunnier character would help add balance to the dark stories, Monica instead became a cipher, a character without an identity. She never seemed to do much that any lady-cop on any other TV show might not do, other than "sense the presence of evil" ever other episode.

All of which makes the return of the original Monica in Carter's Synchromystic manifesto, Improbable (XXXXX), such a treat. Aside from being a brilliant treatise on the mystical powers of symbology, numerology and pattern recognition (Carter's Neoplatonic vision of God - as opposed to his doctrinaire AstroGnostic vision of the Demiurge - uses number and pattern to guide us along, if only we'd learn His language), it's also incredibly funny and joyous. Which come to think of it, is another poke in the zeitgeist's eye.

Improbable has God (played by Burt Reynolds) intervening directly to prevent a serial killer from doing his dirty business. God tries to teach Wayne the joys of pattern and symbol as a way out of his rut, but the lessons don't take. Having failed in that, GodBurt then introduces himself to Scully and Reyes and uses an impromptu game of checkers to teach them game theory. If any Synchros out there haven't seen Improbable, you really owe to yourself. It makes Jake Kotze look like James Randi.

Even better is Carter's director's commentary in which he unleashes his Neoplatonic theurgy in breathless detail. Pound for pound, this is the best episode of the season, and one of Carter's best high-concept excursions (and a favorite vid source for the SRR coterie).

Seeing that inconsistency was Season Nine's bugaboo, the triumph of Improbable was followed by Scary Monsters (XXX), a classic X-File with a classic XF evil psychic child that's diminished by the incredibly annoying Leila Harrison, my least favorite character in the history of the series. But the episode makes good use of the Doggett-Reyes dynamic, and even the Scully fifth-wheel motif makes sense.

I've been all over the map with this episode but now I see it as another good, solid Season Nine standalone. The reason for my ambivalence is that this episode starts off feeling kind of annoying and goofy, but quickly gets into old school XF horror once the silliness is done away with. Seeing how experimental the writing staff was until the end, that may have been exactly the point.

Some strong editorializing about fan resistance to the new characters, most likely from Vince Gilligan, is peppered throughout. As I referenced in the book, Gilligan was absolutely furious over the criticism being aired on the Internet about the ninth season, and it took it all very badly. It was especially wounding to him since he was the de facto showrunner on the short-lived Lone Gunmen series and took its cancellation hard as well.

Then there's Jump the Shark (XXXX), which a lot of people hated and I love. Killing off the Lone Gunmen, who'd been around since the first season, was never going to be a popular decision. But with their underappreciated series canceled, Mulder long-gone and the Mothership sailing off into the sunset, the move was inevitable.

The episode brings back Area 51 MIB Morris Fletcher (played by Spinal Tap's Michael McKean), and the spinoff's token eye candy, Jimmy Bond and Yves Adele Harlow (an anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald). It's essentially a Lone Gunmen ep guest-starring Doggett and Reyes, but adds intentional discordant notes by repeated references to the then-current anthrax panic.

With the Gunmen sent off to the glue factory, it came time to wrap up business and resolve storylines, but the spirit seemed to go out of it all. The subplot of Doggett's son's murder is resolved in yet another Millennium stowaway, Release (XX). The story revolves around a young Frank Black wannabe who feeds Doggett clues about a generic mafiosi who moonlights as a serial killer.

It should work- Jared Poe is suitably Millenniumistic and carries off an improbable-bordering-on-impossible role. But that ordinary network TV vibe keeps creeping back in; that Law and Order network cop show feeling we started to see way back in Season 6 but thought we (mostly) lost by the Vancouverish Season 8, despite the fact that there's an obvious effort made to harken back to the look of eps like 'Grotesque'- as well as Millennium itself.

But there are fatal flaws that just sink it- Cary Elwes' character is totally rewritten for no good reason. Monica undergoes yet another personality transplant, this time as a Scullyesque skeptic. And Sal Landi as the mobster is just terrible- I mean, facepalm awful.

The whole thing is ostensibly well-produced but jarringly un-X-Files, and the Mafia angle almost seems like a egregious dig at The Sopranos, which was getting all of the attention in The X-Files' traditional timeslot. Only Robert Patrick's wonderful performance lifts it from the network TV doldrums.

The Season Eight eps that referenced the Luke subplot - Invocation (mostly Carter's) and Empedocles (mostly Spotnitz's)- were so stunningly revelatory (especially so for a brand new character) that the mundane resolution of Luke's death seems like nothing less than a betrayal. Robert Patrick did such a great job on the show that he really deserved a meatier resolution to his character's backstory. I don't know if anyone much cared at this point, which seems to have been the problem to begin with.

Chris Carter said he was depressed over the show's fate in the wake of 9/11 and with it limping to its death, these last handful of episodes can be understood as the work of a dispirited team.

As was William (XX), a Duchovny-directed episode in which Mulder and Scully's baby was simultaneously de-alienized and put out to pasture. I can see the rationale, in that the plan to launch a movie franchise would be bogged down if our heroes had to change diapers while fighting the Greys, and Duchovny openly scorned the William storyline (so it's appropriate he returned to do away with it). But if Scully's story was resolved with 'Existence' like it was meant to, the fans wouldn't have been so put out by William and he could have been dropped off with Momma Scully.

The episode brings back Jeffrey Spender, who left the show too soon (probably because he was very unpopular with fans, just like with poor William, or possibly because his character had no point with the Syndicate prematurely done away with) but Duchovny also brings in some very un-X-Files Lifetime-brand melodrama. The whole thing struck a sour note with me (being someone who believes that babies, along with dogs and cats, are the secret to happiness in life).

Luckily, Vince Gilligan's Sunshine Days (XXXX) came in as the penultimate episode. Here again the Lost connection- Days tells the story of Oliver Martin, the "Mozart of telepaths" who recreates the Brady Bunch house in his nondescript bungalow. Oliver is played by Michael Emerson, who became a major player on the island. As in all of the comedy eps this season, Monica is considerably more appealing than she was in the more serious stories. The Doggett-Reyes chemistry finally gels, only it's too late.

Then there's The Truth (XXX). I've been all over the place with this episode over the years - I absolutely loved it when it first aired. Be advised that my opinions and feelings on all of these shows is based on repeat viewings. In fact, aside from the Nothing Important Happened Today, Part One disaster, I found all of these episodes were at least watchable once. I rewatch very few shows, in point of fact. I've yet to rewatch an episode of Fringe, for example. In all fairness, a show should be judged on a single viewing and in that regard The Truth was a success.

The main problem with The Truth for most people is the trial sequence, which was more famously used on the Seinfeld finale. And the trial was not Carter's first choice- the original plan for the finale was an Amor Fati-type series of dream sequences, which I know I would have preferred. But there was always a feeling upstairs that the Mythology needed to be explained to the dimmer viewers, and I very much get the sense that the episode was a reunion party for the cast and crew, bringing back a lot of old friends, many of whom appear as ghosts.

Of course, the finales of Battlestar Galactica and Lost have since displaced 'The Truth' as famous disappointments for long-suffering fans. But I would argue that it's impossible to wrap up a series - as Chris Carter said, you don't want your characters to end. And in all fairness to the X-Files staff, 'The Truth' is a second finale- a coda, really. They did wrap up the Mulder-Scully story -- perfectly, in my opinion -- with the Essence/Existence two-parter.

The only reason 'The Truth' itself existed at all was that Gillian Anderson signed on for Season Nine to get a large bonus. I think in retrospect that was a major error, for all involved. A Doggett-Reyes X-Files would have stood or fallen, but the Mulder-Scully X-Files could have hit the big screen while it still mattered, not six years after the show faded after struggling against the zeitgeist.

Even so, 'The Truth' continued Chris Carter's war against the War on Terror, putting Mulder in a Guantanamo-like military prison and subject to psychological torture, sleep deprivation, and finally a kangaroo court in which a guilty verdict (and death penalty) was a forgone conclusion. This surely made him no friends in Rupert Murdoch's inner circle of arch-neocons, and one can't help but wonder if all of the legal harassment he dealt with after 'The Truth' - and then watching his underfunded and wildly underrated X-Files 2 thrown under The Dark Knight Working bus- might not have been coincidental.

Dubya himself makes a cameo appearance
as a lackey of the evil aliens in this Truth outtake

And with the Bush-era zeitgeist at least beginning to fade I have to admit that I enjoyed a recent rewatch of 'The Truth'. The trial sequence seemed a lot shorter and less obtrusive than it did over the years and the drama before and after seemed a lot more momentous.

The silliness you see in the media about this catastrophic decline in The X-Files is just that- silly. And a lot of that seems to come from people who never actually watched the season but heard somewhere that The X-Files wasn't "hot" anymore. That will change, there's no question about it. I've seen it happen time and again. When you dominate the culture in one decade you have to take your licks in the next. The zeitgeist giveth and the zeitgeist taketh away. Just ask the Bee Gees.

Season Nine is not perfect by any means, it's pretty typical of an aging show nine years on. It's not nearly on the level of the Vancouver years (none of the LA seasons are), but it was certainly no worse than your typical hour-long network dramas (even though it felt as if the melodramatic riffs of mainstream television were beginning to invade).

But God help us all, it's still miles above The Event or V or Threshold or any of the innumerable shows that have tried to follow in The X-Files' wake. Even Fringe- the best of the lot by far (Supernatural is more a Millennium clone)- is about on par with Season Nine (and borrows liberally from it) and is nowhere near as compelling as XF Seasons One through Five.

All of this will come out in the wash eventually. In fact, Carter's great sin in I Want to Believe was that the film too accurately captured the miserable, hopeless zeitgeist of our times, as opposed to offering up a trip down Memory Lane to the carefree 1990s. Mulder and Scully were no longer the young, sexy heroes valiantly trying to stave off the New World Order, like all of us they got crushed beneath its wheels.

No one wanted to see a movie about people trying to hold on to scraps of hope in the face of official indifference, they preferred to be hypnotized by the neoconservative wishdream of The Dark Knight, even if no one actually seems to remember that film. Carter and Co. told us something we didn't really want to hear about catastrophic terrorism all those years ago, and The Dark Knight- as if channeling Dick Cheney and Pamela Geller's deformed lovechild- told us that terrorists are just a bunch of psychotic crossdressers who blow shit up because they don't know how to do anything else.

Never underestimate America's need to hear a comforting lie over an uncomfortable truth.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Exegesis: Childhood's End

Sometimes history converges in a way to kick our understanding of the world into a new plateau. Oftentimes it's not recognized until much later, but those with their ears low to the ground usually see it before others.

As we all sit agog with the Roland Emmerich-scaled destruction left in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the NatGeo channel is running a documentary tonight that couldn't be more appropriately-timed:

NORTHAMPTON, Mass (Reuters) – A U.S.-led research team may have finally located the lost city of Atlantis, the legendary metropolis believed swamped by a tsunami thousands of years ago in mud flats in southern Spain.

"This is the power of tsunamis," head researcher Richard Freund told Reuters.

"It is just so hard to understand that it can wipe out 60 miles inland, and that's pretty much what we're talking about," said Freund, a University of Hartford, Connecticut, professor who lead an international team searching for the true site of Atlantis.

To solve the age-old mystery, the team used a satellite photo of a suspected submerged city to find the site just north of Cadiz, Spain. There, buried in the vast marshlands of the Dona Ana Park, they believe that they pinpointed the ancient, multi-ringed dominion known as Atlantis.

The team of archeologists and geologists in 2009 and 2010 used a combination of deep-ground radar, digital mapping, and underwater technology to survey the site.

Freund's discovery in central Spain of a strange series of "memorial cities," built in Atlantis' image by its refugees after the city's likely destruction by a tsunami, gave researchers added proof and confidence, he said.

Atlantis residents who did not perish in the tsunami fled inland and built new cities there, he added.

The team's findings will be unveiled on Sunday in "Finding Atlantis," a new National Geographic Channel special.

We've been conditioned for years to believe that Atlantis was a myth, much like our ancestors believed that Troy was a myth. If these finds turn out to be true, none of the Atlantis-mythicists will be even slightly inconvenienced for their unfounded beliefs. Only those who hold unpopular -- or unsanctioned-- beliefs can be held into account. But no historian worth his tenure should dismiss the possibility of Atlantis - certainly no geologist would. This is a incredibly dangerous planet, and this relatively placid period we are presently enjoying is only a whisper in the night of geological time. Even in our own history, there are earthquakes, volcanoes and countless other disasters that have brought entire civilizations to their knees.

The Japanese are a brave, clever and resourceful people -- in fact, their cultural influence is in the very lifeblood of this blog. There's no doubt in my mind that this disaster will bring them together and bring the best out of this powerful race, in fact it may be one of those moments of crisis in which a people rediscover themselves after a period of uncertainty. They have a lot of experience with this sort of thing -- orthodox (read: government) scientists try their best to wish it all away, but there's powerful evidence of an earlier super-civilization off the coast of Japan, well-documented by Graham Hancock, among others. Now that we are seeing the fury of our wicked stepmother Earth, all of a sudden we reach a point in which only the most willfully-ignorant refuse to believe that everything can be taken away from us literally overnight.

An uncommonly benign armistice in Stepmother Earth's war upon her children has conditioned many of us to become inhuman and inhumane. Surplus economies have created an overclass of bloated parasites, who differ from outright gangsters only in their shrewdness. In fact it's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate so-called legitimate and illegitimate economic enterprises. But without warning the snake can bite them as well, as Poseidon can claim their opulent waterfront palaces for his own domain. There's no doubt in my mind that a lot of rich and powerful people who see themselves as gods believe they can escape the Sun's wrath, or the Ocean's, or that of the tectonic plates. The violence of nature -- like its companion, Death -- is a great equalizer.

Or maybe they think the gods themselves will return to save them. Maybe that's the enigmatic message of the Dubai Atlantis ritual, and several others. I wouldn't count on it. When you look at the parade of carnage of history and prehistory, it becomes abundantly clear that any race with say a 500-year technological head-start on us would steer clear of this violent planet, orbiting the Sun in a particularly violent cosmic neighborhood. This is what farsighted scientists have been telling us -- there have been five great extinctions on this planet already and no sign that this process is over. If someone else -- the Anunnaki or whomever -- was here and left, it's a good chance that one of Stepmother's temper tantrums (say, the Minoan eruption) scared them off.

For the time being, we have the capacity to cope with our fragile state. We can (and must) prepare but more importantly, we can care. Care about people who are suffering (and not look at the footage of other people's misery as some kind of sick pornography), because there's a very good chance that we're all waiting in line for the snake's bite. We need to ask ourselves if the 1950s suburbia model is still meaningful or desirable, or if the "socialism for the rich, social Darwinism for the rest of us" economic model will do anything to improve the human condition or ensure it's survival and success.

We could be at the very start of a long period of crisis and calamity -- a crisis that will act as our crucible. The survival of the human family may be at stake. Strangely enough, those of us who cut our teeth on sci-fi and comics and the rest saw all of this rehearsed a thousand times. The question is do we act like the heroes of those stories or head for the hills while everyone but a tiny handful of over-privileged sociopaths carry on with only the slightest inconvenience in their Rocky Mountain tunnel cities.

It's beginning to stir -- a spark that's fueled by every calamity will become a bonfire that will change the course of our evolution. The ability to experience the suffering that our brothers and sisters are going through and the constant stream of communication is only fanning the flames. Everything will be different, everything is about to change. Change is never pretty -- true change, that is -- it's always painful. But we've been dithering for far too long; rudderless, uninspired, self-absorbed. All that's going to change. Childhood is nearing its end and it's none too soon. Destiny is calling.

Monday, March 07, 2011

AstroGnostic: Memento-Mirror-Matrix

There’s a metatextual sequel to The Matrix that isn't recognized as such. The film in question features two of that blockbuster’s lead characters in prominent and analogous roles, and it tells much the same type of story that The Matrix does. Only in reverse.

Mirror, mirror

Memento was the breakthrough film by Christopher Nolan, who needs no introduction around these parts. As befits a parable of a inverse-messiah, the film‘s chronology is reversed, and the converging story-lines are separated into color and black and white. The twisting and turning storyline is far too complex to recount here, and if you haven’t yet seen the movie, you really should.

Simply put, Memento is the story of Leonard Shelby, a man whose ability to form short-term memories was destroyed when he was attacked during a home invasion. Or at least that’s what he believes. And he believes his wife was killed during the same event. Or was she? As Leonard struggles to find his wife’s killer, he is accompanied by a crooked cop named Teddy Gammell (played by The Matrix’s Joe Pantoliano) who takes advantage of Leonard’s handicap by using him as his personal enforcer and Natalie (played by Carrie Ann Moss aka Trinity), a drug dealer’s moll who is using Leo in a similar fashion.

Leonard's memory is lost when striking a mirror

Memento deals with the same loss of memory issues that form the crux of Dark City, but in a far more insidious way. In Memento, memory is not merely elusive, it’s an enemy. Shelby is not only unable to form memories, he’s unwilling to. He is the Gnostic messiah from The Hymn of the Pearl in reverse- he becomes evil intentionally and uses his handicap to as a crutch to relieve his conscience.

Natalie as Agent Smith/Samael

The theme of borrowed clothes in the Hymn also plays an important, literal part in the plot of Memento as well. Joe Pantoliano and Carrie Ann Moss play their Matrix roles in reverse. Leonard comes to sees Teddy as his enemy, but in fact he is giving Leonard the emotional outlet he needs to relive his hopelessness and guilt. Leonard sees Natalie (“Christmas Day”) as his friend, but she has every reason to hate him and is using him to do her own dirty work.

And he doesn't want to.

Leo-nard is the anti-Neo. He is condemned to endless repetition, to a hell of of forgetfulness and self ignorance. In this regard, he is the ultimate Gnostic antichrist, willfully ignorant, purposefully forgetful. Like a caricature of a Fundamentalist, he surrenders himself to the written word, going so far as to tattoo his personal mythology on his skin. He trusts only the words, but the words are empty, intentionally robbed of meaning, or are in fact outright lies. He is the ultimate biblioidolater.

But that’s what Leonard Shelby wants to be. All he wants to do is go back to sleep, to return to the Matrix. In his previous incarnation, he was a heartless bureaucrat robbing people of their hope by denying their insurance claims. He was the parasitical Agent destroying the lives of the innocent victims of circumstance. If Christopher Nolan didn’t intend Memento to complete that trilogy, then Destiny surely did it for him.

I have no idea if Memento was planned as some sort of anti-Matrix or reverse Dark City, but it couldn’t possibly fill that role any better than it does. Even the seemingly mundane, non-sci fi, non-mythological aspect of the story fits the arc of our little triptych perfectly. Memento seems to say, don’t you see? Don’t you see where denying the mysteries leads you? It robs your life of all magic, of all transcendence- you become nothing but a blind tool of a corrupt system.

Or did it? It's very hard to square any kind of Gnostic message with Nolan's more recent work, which boasts an increasingly authoritarian, inhumane and collectivist mindset. Not content with the neocon agit-prop of The Dark Knight (Working) (a film everyone saw but no one remembers, as if it were all some bizarre mass hynopsis experiment), Nolan set to work creating a mind-controlling hero in the 2010 hit Inception, an anti-Gnostic Matrix if ever there was one. Or more accurately a film that champions the Matrix, since it's useful as a tool of corporate terrorism. Inception seems to gleefully inform us that not even our dreams are safe from clever, greedy thugs. So shut up and let them rape your mind already.

Before those were the cruelty and brutality of The Prestige and Batman Begins, which like The Dark Knight, starring Patrick Bateman in a glaringly blatant example of revelatory casting. One can't blame Nolan- after all, he's giving an increasingly desensitized public what it wants. But in the context of these later films, I've come to realize that maybe I had it wrong. Maybe Nolan is holding up Leonard Shelby as an example for us all to follow.
Time will tell.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Quake, Rattle and Roll

After a five-month marathon junket for The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll, I wrapped things up on Nashville's finest chatfest, FutureQuake. I had a ball talking with hosts Doctor Future and Tom Bionic and we took the conversation very far afield, from covering the talking points of the book to exploring the very dangerous elements that have been infiltrating the Church for the past 40 years. Like Derek and Sharon Gilbert, Doc and Tom are that rarest breed of Americans - true Christians - who are even more worried about the Dominionists and Snakehandlers than secular folk, because they realize the first bonfires would take place in churches that don't sign on for the overarching agenda. Just like they always have.

This was a rollicking good time for me and I hope the same goes for you as well. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of the Dark City/Matrix opus...

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

AstroGnostic: Matrix Revelations

The Matrix has any number of pop culture antecedents, but the most significant - and by far the most well-known - of them as far as the basic plot is concerned is 'The Cage' (aka 'The Menagerie'), the original Star Trek pilot that was reworked as a two-part episode during the original series' first season. We have three nearly-omnipotent figures with the power to alter a person's (specifically, an abductee's) perception of the physical world and do so while their subjects are imprisoned.

Men wearing black, from Dark City

As in Dark City, the Talosians' motives are a bit abstract (as are all sci-fi "dying races"), but in The Matrix the illusory world is maintained to keep human beings occupied while Skynet the machine-thingies use their bodies as living batteries.

As with the Terminator franchise, The Matrix is essentially using robots as stand-ins for aliens and both series draw extensively on alien-themed sci-fi for plot points (note that The X-Files brought it all full circle with its numerous borrowings -- the bounty hunters, the supersoldiers, Robert Patrick -- from the Terminator films). More so The Matrix, however, in that the Agents are no one but the men-in-black from UFO lore and that the entire human race has been abducted.

The Agents (and the Strangers) match the visual descriptions of the MIB to a tee, even their somewhat odd, not-quite-human eyes and behavior. From
The Men in Black get their name from the fact that they like to wear, well, black. They have pale, greyish skin, and some have been reported to have blonde hair. Their clothes seem to have been made of an unknown, thin, shiny material. It seems like the stereotypical Man in Black wears a suit with a black tie and black sun glasses.
The Strangers in Dark City operate a bit differently in that they're responsible for constantly changing the landscape and people's identities, but they also make sure that anyone who notices them are dealt with, usually put to sleep and reprogrammed. The Agents act more like the Men in Black -- they are there to ensure that the Matrix hums along merrily and any human avatars that notice something's awry are dealt with, never mind any of the rebels who are trying to hack the program. Which sounds a lot like the MIBs in UFO literature:
A typical Men in Black (story) goes a little something like this; a man is out minding his own business when suddenly he comes upon something strange. He sees a mysterious object floating through the sky, followed by what appear to be military aircraft. He goes back home, eager to tell every single person on the face of the Earth about the incredible sight that he stumbled upon.

Before he gets the chance to tell anyone, he is visited by odd-looking men that tell him the smallest details about his experience, even though he has yet to tell anyone. There are reports that the Men in Black have sometimes posed as salesmen or something else not very threatening. The Men in Black will then make it clear to the witness that he is to keep what he saw to himself. Or else. They will then erase any evidence of the strange activities that have occurred, and leave.
UFO sightings are kind of like the glitches in our reality matrix, only our own Agents have trained most people to ignore them (or they program insecure individuals to do their work for them). Of course the topic is a lot less verboten than it once was, which might have something to do with the rise of digital photography and the Internet bypassing the usual gatekeeper apparatus.

Woke up with a monster

Not being totally conversant with UFO lore, I'm not sure what part the MIBs play in abduction reports. But again we see a nice analog of abduction phenomena in The Matrix. Neo wakes up and might as well be on a spaceship, and is soon confronted by an insectoid robot (a phrase often used to describe alien greys), presumably to be put back to sleep and told it was all a dream.

The Black Sun, of course.

Given the parallels I can't help but wonder if the Skynet bit wasn't originally part of the plan. We have the very strong direct parallel to Star Trek here, and all of the hardware and vehicles are familiar from any number of space operas (the most compelling parallel comes to us again from Star Trek - the Borg, Jean Luc Picard's great nemesis). By the same token, the AI villains are consonant with the strong William Gibson influence (and the general Cyberpunk trend Hollywood was trying -- largely unsuccessfully -- to mine during the 90s), but things are never cut and dried when it comes to creating these kinds of cultural phenomenons.

Even so, the parallels are there and the story resonated with an awful lot of people. And the mission of these AstroGnostic posts is trying to figure out why. Are we processing realities that we are consciously unaware of? Certainly unconscious processing is a large part of creative thinking, but why does one film succeed and the next one fail? The Matrix probably succeeded where Dark City failed because it offered a more plausible reality simulacrum and a more fashionable (though not necessarily more plausible) author of it.

I'm also fascinated in how The Matrix parallels thoughts I've had on alien abduction. I very seriously doubt that everyone who's claimed to be abducted is a liar or a nutcase. There are a number of explanations for the phenomenon, all of which can speak to trauma or another kind of extreme duress, ranging from the entirely plausible (sleep paralysis, dissociative amnesia) to the more speculative (manipulation of brainwaves through electromagnetic means).

The birth bit again, just like in Empire Strikes Back

But there's a much more important point to make here- not every significant experience takes place in Meatspace. In fact, many significant experiences that do barely register at the time and are only understood in retrospect, when the subconscious is able to process and make sense of the event. Life-changing events can come out of nowhere and take years to understand. Sometimes they are never explained, never mind understood.

As many of us evolve into a virtual life, we will experience things those on the outside will never understand. And if we can conceive an immersive virtual environment (even if we can't quite create them), it's not hard to imagine a race with a thousand year head start on us (not even a fart in the wind in cosmic time) it's also not hard to imagine them being able to broadcast these environments into random individuals through interstellar means.

None of which is to dismiss meat-and-potatoes abduction phenomena. There seems to have been a cluster of abduction reports in 70s and 80s, a time that presaged some pretty profound changes on our planet- the dawn of the Information Age, the rise of the New World Order and the Warfare State, bioengineering, the human genome project, etc etc etc. Which brings us back to those other insectoid robots again...

Now if somewhere in our consciousness we're aware of the presence of another set of actors phasing in an out of our lives and lurking at the corners of our awareness, might that not explain why a sci-fi allegory of them might not resonate deeply with us? Let's take it a bit deeper into AstroGnostic territory, and look again at some old friends of ours:
AAT scholar Jason Martell notes that the Anunaki had a servant class called the Igigi, whom he believes could actually be the Greys of UFO lore. These creatures have been described as a kind of wetware, biologically-engineered androids: Today's modern UFO's and Alien Contacts being reported have a strong similarity to the Ancient descriptions of the "anunnaki" Android Beings.

When we look at the descriptions of our modern "grey alien", we can clearly see that they do not look like us, or the anunnaki. Rather, they look like the ancient humanoid depictions of Figurines. The majority of Abduction cases usually have a similar story to them in that the Aliens abducting them will perform medical examination and sometimes experiments having to do with human reproduction.

Is it possible that the Greys were created by the anunnaki as "Watchers" to oversee their experiments here on earth?- xfacts.research
Here we are again, staring at the Archons. Renegade Gnostic scholar John Lamb Lash takes up the cudgel:
It is startling to find vivid and detailed descriptions of predatory aliens in obscure texts dating from the 4th century CE, but the revelations of Gnosis are nothing if not startling. Some ancient reports of "UFO sightings" do exist, but Gnostic material on the Archons does not merely present "reports." It explains their origins in the cosmic order, their nature (inorganic, imitative, without intentionality), their appearance and tactics, their attitude toward humanity, and more. A more clear and coherent solution to "the Phenomenon" (the ET/UFO enigma) could hardlly be imagined.

The Nag Hammadi material contains reports of visionary experiences of the initiates, including first-hand encounters with inorganic beings called Archons. Gnostic teaching explains that these entities arose in the early stage of formation of the solar system, before the Earth was formed...
Remember again the AI in a very early Star Trek episode ('Return of the Archons,' no less) that acted much like the Agents, keeping people in line in a simulated reality. And here we are again in UFO lore (whatever your opinion of it), dealing with this invisible control system lurking at the edges of our vision. Lash again:
Interestingly, this Gnostic insight accords closely with the view of Jacques Vallee, who maintains that ET/cyborgs probably belong to the local planetary realm. Vallee also proposes that the ET/UFO enigma is a “spiritual control system,” a phenomenon that “behaves like a conditioning process.” (Messengers of Deception). This is exactly what Gnostics said about the Archons: they can affect our minds by subliminal conditioning techniques.
And the way humans are exploited in The Matrix also reminds me very strongly of Charles Fort's most infamous quote, one that a lot of his fans wish he never said:
"Would we, if we could, educate and sophisticate pigs, geese, cattle?
Would it be wise to establish diplomatic relation with the hen that now functions, satisfied with mere sense of achievement by way of compensation?
I think we're property.
I should say we belong to something:
That once upon a time, this earth was No-man's Land, that other worlds explored and colonized here, and fought among themselves for possession, but that now it's owned by something:
That something owns this earth—all others warned off."
Fort's use of livestock metaphors is appropriate in that humans are literally the livestock of the AI/Skynet/whatever that controls the Matrix. But who will save us from the butcher's block? It's time we look at the Maitreya of the Matrix, Keanu Reeves.

Or should I say Ki-Anu?

Aside from this many semiotically-charged roles (ranging from the Buddha to John Constantine) and his band named in honor of Sirius, Keanu Reeves' very name is loaded to bursting with AstroGnostic significance:
Ki is the Sumerian Goddess of the earth. In Sumerian mythology, she is the daughter of Nammu, Goddess of the primordial sea...she is the sister/wife of Anu, God of the sky, and mother by him of the Anunnaki, including Enlil, God of the air. Ki was eventually supplanted by Ninhursag as the Great Mother. Her name means “earth."
So "Keanu" breaks down to Ki-Anu, mother/father of the Anunnaki. What a coincidence. We also saw the links to Anu and Sirius in I Am Legend (that film's star's wife appeared in the Matrix sequels), but I'm starting to wonder if we'll find all of this lurking in every blockbuster that followed in 2001: A Space Odyssey's mighty footsteps.

So yet again, we have a film that seems to tell one story but once you peel away the surface trappings you discover it's telling THE Story. But most of us really, really don't want to hear that story and a good deal of those go out of their way to make sure that everyone ignores it and looks the other way, or at the very least puts it out of their minds. Forgets it, you might say.

One of the central tenets of Gnosticism is memory. Thom Yorke of Radiohead had this to say about his band's 2002 album Amnesiac:
"I read that the gnostics believe when we are born we are forced to forget where we have come from in order to deal with the trauma of arriving in this life. I thought this was really fascinating. It's like the river of forgetfulness."
It's no surprise then that one of the songs recorded for the sessions for Amnesiac (though released on Kid A) was featured on the next film we'll look at, as was a song by another famous rock 'n' roll Gnostic. The next film is the antithesis of The Matrix, in both theory and practice. And it's about us, or most of us. The parallels to The Matrix are so direct and potent, you can't help but wonder what the hell is really going on among the cognoscenti in Tinseltown....