Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chris's Comic Corner 1

There’s a fresh face that I’d like to introduce: Christopher Irish will be helping with a group of articles about the IDW publication of The X-Files: Season 10 comics, which were created by Joe harris with the blessing of Chris Carter. The comics have been a great success for IDW and I realize The X-Files Lexicon and it’s sister blog have been remiss in addressing them. In order to approach this in a way that is unique, and keeping with the values of The Lexicon Blog to not follow convention, the blog will regularly feature, in groups of three, reviews of the comics in chronological order, and we hope to get caught up with this seasons current issues soon enough. But this series will eventually cover the brief Wildstorm run, highlights from the old Topps comics, and an occasional exclusive surprise in due time.

Chris’s informal prose style is very different from mine, but I find his boundless enthusiasm to be refreshing, I hope you will find it relatable. I will be continuing other articles on this Blog of course, but I hope you will welcome him with open arms, as I am excited to have him on board. Until you hear from me next, enjoy! –Matt Allair

The X-Files Season 10

Issues #1-5 “Believers” *spoilers ahead!*

Issue #1

Welcome to my blog on IDW’s The X-Files Season 10 comics. These reviews will span each series of comics that makes an “Episode.” It’s been a few years since the last installment of The X-Files hit the big screen, so my excitement for this new comic series ran pretty high. I’ve been a fan of The X-Files since I was a kid, so any chance to see Mulder and Scully in action is always nice.

Knowing that Chris Carter is involved in the storyline made it that much more exciting. IDW Comics is a brand I wasn’t too familiar with to be honest, but reading these comics has made me a fan (and if you love The X-Files, you’ll be happy to know Millennium is joining the shelves as well!). So far there are the Season 10 issues along with a couple of side issues, “Year Zero” and “Conspiracy.” I’ll review those ones later on down the road, but for now, I will be focusing on Season 10.

The first issue starts off with former Special Agent Dana Scully running from a dark figure in an alleyway, struggling to reach F.B.I. Headquarters through her cell phone. She has a visible injury to her arm and is in obvious danger. Once she gets through, the operator calls her “Dr. Blake.” Scully tries to convey a message, but it’s too late as she is closed in on by a group of ominous, hooded individuals with glowing eyes. That is the last thing we see before the title panel (and The X-Files theme kicks off in my head)
Right off the bat, the comics get in the swing of things! The comic is set up in the familiar structure the show used with the introduction portion leaving us wanting answers. It starts off on the next page with Scully (or Dr. Blake?) examining a little girl in her clinic when a familiar face arrives. It’s A.D. Skinner. Right after we see Skinner make an appearance, we see Fox Mulder outside of a house. He catches a stray ball a group of kids are throwing, does a quick magic trick, and provides a few lines of Mulderesque banter before going inside. One of the kids calls him “spooky.” He hasn’t lost his touch. So far we’ve been reintroduced to three familiar characters. I commend the artists for their accuracy with the characters. They’ve done a great job making them all instantly recognizable.

Once Fox enters the house he sees Skinner with Scully. Skinner calls him Mulder, but Fox corrects him in his usual smartass manner as Anthony Blake. So they are in the witness protection plan or something like it, apparently. Skinner lets him know that his title is no longer Assistant Director, but Deputy Director now. Skinner then notifies them that there was a breach in F.B.I. security and their information was targeted along with The X-Files. They think it might be related to their son, William.
We know from the TV show that Scully and Mulder’s son, William, had to be given up since the Alien-Human hybrids wanted to take him for their own sinister purposes. He was adopted out with the understanding was that no one would be able to find him. With this security breach, William’s safety might be at risk along with Mulder’s and Scully’s.

Later that night after they talk with Skinner, Mulder is working on his memoirs with the iconic “I Want To Believe” poster in the background. As he’s working on that, he gets a strange phone call from D.D. Skinner, whom we see in a panel, is surrounded by the same hooded creeps that chased Scully in the opening scene. Mulder has a hard time figuring out what Skinner is trying to say, though Skinner does try to warn him from going to his hotel. There is obviously some mind-control going on with these hooded folks. Mulder then heads out to see what’s wrong with Skinner.

While this is happening, Scully is back at her office tracking down any info she can find on what was leaked. She is met by the same little girl she saw earlier in the day, and then is surrounded by the same hooded people that were with Skinner. The girl grabs Scully’s gun and shoots her in the arm. We catch up to where the intro started us off at with Scully running from the hoods trying to use her phone. (Phone difficulties seem to be a common problem in the world of The X-Files,)
While this is happening to Scully, Mulder arrives at Skinner’s hotel and finds him hanging by a noose. This panel looks particularly creepy. Well done again, artists! Mulder gets Skinner down just in time to save him. That means he couldn’t have been up there very long. Mulder then tries to find out who did this to Skinner.

Back to Scully. The group is closing in on her when a bright light flashes and a hood that looks like the others shows up. This ends the first issue and leaves us hanging, wondering whether or not Scully is out of danger or what.
I liked this first issue. It jumped right into the story and the cast was written true to character. I like how it brought old elements and tied them in with new ones to further the mythology of The X-Files. The artistic elements were great, too. It looks a little minimalistic, which I like. Just enough detail so you don’t get stalled looking at any one panel too much, which aids in propelling the story. It is very well drawn and colored, so don’t take it as a slight! The characters all resemble who they are supposed to and the bad guys really put off the creepy vibe they should. It left me wanting more!

Issue #2

This issue starts with a pipeline in the wilderness of Wyoming. There are workers and people protesting in the background, a nice nod to current events regarding pipeline controversy. The pipeline is called “Blackstone XL.” Another old face makes an appearance, Special Agent John Doggett. He is present at the pipeline to investigate a possible threat against it. He lets his feelings on that subject known to the foreman who obviously doesn’t take it well. As Agent Doggett walks along the pipeline, his metal ID chain gets yanked off his neck and sticks to the pipeline.

True to Agent Doggett’s nature, he investigates further and opens an access door where his ID got stuck. Inside he finds the “oil” is a glittering substance that is clearly not oil. Behind Doggett, the Foreman enters the access door, and in the next panel it’s revealed that it is actually one of the hoods like the ones that attacked Skinner and Scully. The hood attacks Agent Doggett and the next panel has an explosion. This leads to the title panel. Could they have killed Agent Doggett off?
Next, we catch up with Mulder and Skinner who are at what is now a crime scene where Scully was shot and subsequently taken by the hood. They follow the blood trail to the alleyway as Mulder spots each stain by saying “blood.” (This reminds me of the season 2 episode “Blood” with the postal employee that has a severe case of hematophobia.) Skinner reveals to Mulder details about the people who hacked the F.B.I. systems. It seems they might be the ones who took Scully and are after William. Mulder does what he does best and leaves Skinner to work on finding Scully because he can’t trust him. This trust theme has been with The X-Files since episode 1, “Pilot.”

The next panels are a flashback of Dana giving birth to William with Agent Reyes in attendance, as the Alien-Hybrids are watching. The Hybrids look like normal people, but in the flashback they turn into the group of hoods that jumped Scully in the alley. This causes Scully to startle awake in a cabin. It’s in the middle of a snowy forest, a far cry from the city alley she last was in. She leaves the cabin and we see that there is a gigantic pagan-looking symbol drawn around the cabin. She is confronted by the hooded strangers who attack her again when she crosses the symbol. She gives one a quick elbow to the jaw, chops another, and throws one over her shoulder (got to love Scully!) One raises an odd-looking knife to kill Scully and chants in a strange language that the comic translates as, “We have found the bringer” before a familiar blue flash melts them. Quite literally. The next panel has one of the hoods’ heads melting, reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The hood that seemingly saved Scully in the alley has returned, but Scully isn’t sure about him and attacks him with the crooked blade. The hood waves his hand and the knife flies out of her hands. She yells at the hood asking if it is an Alien Bounty Hunter or another Hybrid. He tells her that they are “Acolytes.” I find this interesting in that the story has brought common elements from the X-Files history and now introduces a new one. They seem similar to the Bounty Hunter, but now this bunch has some sort of psychic powers on top of strength and speed. Even more dangerous.
We catch back up with Mulder now, who is at the Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC. There is a tour going through it, but he is obviously not there for sight-seeing. He’s holding a map that reads, “In case of emergency, break glass – TLG”. This was surprising to me since the last time we saw TLG, or The Lone Gunmen, they were trapped in a room full of gas poison and died in the episode “Jump the Shark.” I always loved the Lone Gunmen and hated to see them go so this was a very interesting twist to the story.

Mulder is then shown later at night shoveling in a grave site. I would like to note that I enjoy seeing how the comic artists and storytellers figure out accurate onomatopoeia for various actions. The “shukt” they used for the shoveling was something that stood out to me for some reason. This furthered my appreciation for the work they did, though it may or may not matter to most readers. I have always found that aspect of comics interesting.
As Mulder is digging, he is hit by a light as a guard appears. To our surprise, it’s Frohike. Mulder continues to dig as he’s talking to Frohike, whom he thought was dead. The hole reveals an underground passage. Frohike explains what happened and how they faked their deaths as they walk through the passage. Apparently the F.B.I. has aided them in staying “dead” in exchange for their help troubleshooting technological security problems for the government. Now with Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and the Lone Gunmen, this series has almost a full reunion.

They jump right into their old routine and start helping Mulder do some research on the leak to track down clues to find Scully. We also see on a screen that Agent Doggett is “unaccounted for” when they trace F.B.I. activity at the pipeline in Wyoming. Mulder asks the guys to look into any adoption records leaked with the name “Van De Camp”. He tries to connect the pipeline events along with Scully’s disappearance with any involvement with William. The comic has a quick montage between what Mulder is saying and Scully confronting the Acolyte and passing out with a nosebleed. Mulder is left to put the pieces together with the help of the Lone Gunmen in their underground lair (if anyone deserves an underground lair, it’s TLG). Mulder asks them how they got tipped on the pipeline lead and the comic ends with a very ominous individual above ground smoking a cigarette in the shadows. The last panel has a crumpled Morley cigarette pack on the ground.
This is crazy! The last time we saw Cigarette Smoking Man (or Cancer Man or CSM or C.G.B. Spender, depending on your preference) he was smoking his Morleys through a hole in his throat while black helicopters launched rockets at him in the desert (in the final X-File episode “The Truth”).

 Issue #3
The cover of issue 3 puts any doubts about if it’s the Smoking Man or not. He is back. On the first page we are back at the ranch where the adoptive parents of William live. Agents Reyes and Hendricks stop there to check on William’s safety in light of the security breach.

The Van De Camps try to suggest that William is fine and he is at school to get them to leave, but Agent Reyes asks to take a look around. While going up the stairs, Reyes whispers to Hendricks that William hasn’t been at school in two weeks. While they’re going upstairs, the Van De Camps follow them quietly upstairs with glowing blue eyes. As they split up to look around, Agent Reyes sees flies buzzing in a room and notes a bad smell. She opens the closet door and sees the real Mr. and Mrs. Van De Camp’s decomposing corpses stuffed in the closet. Agent Hendricks stumbles into the room and collapses with a nosebleed as the imposters follow behind. Agent Reyes raises her gun, but soon collapses with the same nosebleed as Agent Hendricks. Enter the title panel.

After seeing the two Agents fall to the Acolytes, we rejoin Mulder leaving the underground bunker to get in his car. Upon getting in, he is surprised by his old nemesis, Smoking Man, in the back seat smoking (what else?). I see that cancer and a couple rockets can’t even kill this guy! Or is there more to him than it seems?

As that is happening to Mulder, we rejoin Scully and the Acolyte that saved her. He is carrying her on his shoulder along the pipeline. Visibly weakened for some reason, he drops her. As he’s dropping her, she wakes up. She begins to run, but upon seeing him clearly injured or exhausted, she does what any self-respecting medical field employee would do and asks if he needs help. As he’s answering though, she takes the crooked knife from him and holds it to his throat demanding answers as to why he’s after William. Once again, the knife gets yanked from her hand, but this time it’s because of the pipe’s magnetism. She quickly recognizes that is why he is having problems and drags him away from the pipe despite his objections. Apparently, the pipe’s magnetism is what kept the group of Acolytes from getting to them and the group emerges from the forest.

Back to Mulder, he is now at a diner with no one but Smoking Man, a waitress, and one other customer. Smoking Man tries to start explaining in the shady way he always has but Mulder isn’t buying it. He pulls his gun out, covers it with a napkin, and aims it at him under the table. The waitress passes by and tells Smoking Man he isn’t allowed to smoke in the diner, so he puts it out, which saves him from a possible shooting by Mulder for the time being.

Smoking Man reveals that he knows what the Acolytes are and that they have Scully. He also tells Mulder that their goal is the Alien re-population of Earth as he lights up another cigarette.

The story jumps back to Scully in the woods with the injured Acolyte surrounded by the group that has been after her. The one helping her uses his power to push the group back and starts to hold them off, telling Scully to run. Scully sees a fire hose on the pipeline, quickly hooks it to the pipe, and turns the magnetite to the Acolytes, attacking the one helping her. When the magnetite hits them they burst into flame and disappear. As this is going on, the text boxes follow Mulder’s and Smoking Man’s conversation at which time Smoking Man tells him about the magnetite in the pipeline.

Mulder calls Smoking Man out regarding his last warning of an Alien invasion that didn’t happen (I’m glad they addressed this since the date of the invasion was supposed to be December 22, 2012). He continues to berate Smoking Man until he catches a stiff backhand from him, knocking him out of the booth. Smoking Man stands up after hitting Mulder and seems to have some sort of seizure. Smoking Man then leaves a small box on the table after he gets a hold of himself and leaves.

This whole exchange is classic Mulder vs. Smoking Man. They’ve had a long, storied history of incidents with Mulder narrowly escaping him. Smoking Man has had more than a few near death experiences, but he seems to be more tenacious than a cockroach.

After Smoking Man leaves, Mulder gets a call from Skinner. He tells Mulder about an accident dealing with blood samples from Scully’s clinic. The panel shows a van that got in a wreck with a box broken open and green substance eating through the van. It looks exactly like the Alien Bounty Hunter’s blood whenever people would shoot him in the TV series.

Mulder tells Skinner that he can’t deal with that and he’s heading for Wyoming in search of Scully. He tells Skinner what he learned about the Acolytes. Skinner doesn’t seem to follow, which is nothing new. Mulder always was a step ahead of the game, just never a step ahead of the bad guys. As Mulder is talking we see what Smoking Man left in the box for him. It’s an Alien stiletto used in the series to put down Alien Bounty Hunters by stabbing them in the base of their skulls. Looks like Smoking Man is actually helping Mulder this time.

More reviews to come. -Matt

Special thanks to XScribe for editorial assistance.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Death of a Poet

Oh, Captain, My Captain

This past week has been one of the most profound and strangest weeks I could have had to deal with, some of the news has been something I didn’t expect to deal with for another twenty or thirty years. While it’s hard to utter the words, Robin Williams has died from a suicide in his Tiburon home, August 11th, based in the bay area. This is a seismic event, on par with the death of John Lennon, and I wonder how many people have processed the ripple effect this will have for decades. To the casual fan outside of California, or the bay area, and to the generation that grew up in the 70s and 80s on the icon’s work, this will be a major loss, but to those of us who are from Marin County and San Francisco, this takes on an intimate feeling to that loss. Robin Williams wasn’t born in the Bay Area, but to many who live in this region, he always felt like a son of the bay area. But of course, Robin became an everyman on a broad level.

I question if people really understood what a vast intellect Robin held behind those eyes. He was well read, and on par with George Carlin. This makes this an even greater loss. All of the great comedians have to be smart, but there’s only a smaller percentage that have the depth, as truth tellers, to look at the world from the kind of fresh perspective that manages to reveal hard truths while being accessible and guiding the audience along with them. That’s a rare juggling act and talent to undertake. Robin could do that in his comedy, setting aside that manic freeform jujitsu he would perform from moment to moment. His best moments always had a profound truth about them, and why he’s on par with a figure like Richard Pryor.

How does any of this connect to X-Files fans? Robin manically appeared in Terry Gillian’s The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, which starred John Neville, and then Robin worked on the project helmed by David Duchvony in 2004, House of D, with Anton Yelchin. But of course Robin’s appeal was very wide-ranging; even people who didn’t care for his brand of Comedy, often liked or admired his dramatic work. Marc Maron (another figure I’ve admired since 2004) just repeated his incisive podcast interview with Robin from 2010. It is probably one of the most real, unassuming, and interesting interviews Mr. Williams had done in years. Plenty of people are offering up platitudes, which feel like a disservice, so I am going to try to contextualize this from my own memory, and the in-direct connections I have had with Mr. Williams as a resident of the Bay area.

Career overview

The legend of Robin Williams goes something like this. Having trained at Julliard for several years before dropping out, he came back to San Francisco as an out-of-work actor, started taking some improvisation workshops in 1976 / 1975, and moved through the Bay area comedy circuit. By 1978, the writing team of Happy Days wrote a script about the Fonz meeting an alien. Gerry Marshall’s son suggested Williams and he was cast at the last minute as the humanoid alien Mork from the planet Ork. That appearance became seismic. No one had seen, other than Jonathan Winters, a comedian that could riff on ideas at such a speed. It was breathtaking to process between the laughs. The spin-off, Mork & Mindy, became a juggernaut. At the end of the 70s, people of a younger age group, who know of Williams as the film actor, might not realize just how big the series became for several years. Mork became ubiquitous within pop culture, and it almost seemed like the character was going to overshadow Williams, in a similar way that Bond overshadowed Connery for a period.

Williams first starring role in Robert Altman’s Popeye was perfect casting, but Altman’s haphazard tactic made the film a misunderstood anti-musical, musical that initially flopped. Williams’ follow-up, The World According to Garp, co-starring a young Glen Close and John Lithgow, wasn’t a huge success, but is now held in higher esteem than it was in 1982. It was seen as odd and off-putting. In spite of another good turn in Moscow on the Hudson, Hollywood seemed to have had trouble utilizing his freeform talents. It wasn’t until Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987, where a balance was struck between his freeform talents and acting chops. It was a huge smash, giving him the clout as a bankable star, and loosening up his ties to the Mork character in the public consciousness. He made his manic appearance in The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen in 1988, then appeared in Dead Poet’s Society, an award-nominating turn that stayed in the consciousness of the public at large to this day. He followed this with Awakenings in 1989, a film about the early research of Oliver Sacks. It would make sense in hindsight that Williams would develop such an affinity for Sacks, as they shared a similar altruistic curiosity.

I feel I have to step back and talk about my memories of hearing his first 1979 comedy album,” Reality, What A Concept!” in the early 80s. There are entire skits from that album I still remember by heart. One often quoted:

Soviet Imitation of a New York echo – ‘Hello?’… (Heavy reverb) ‘Shut the fuck up!”

There were moments of real altruistic observation that could be found in his humor. He would often end his show with the germ of an idea – allow for a little bit of madness in your life, just a touch. Not ‘madness’ in the sense of mental instability or anger, but the willingness to think outside of the box, to be brave enough to make connections about the world, about life, that others hadn’t considered, to live freely, as a child. Often his early 80s comedy tours sustained him until his film career took off.

After appearing in Dead Again, Williams appeared in two films that resonated for me in 1991. Hook, as I have written before, being  Spielberg’s good-bye to childish things, and his starring turn in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King.

That film still seems as relevant today as it did in 1991. It dealt with apathy, anger, disconnections, a desperate argument that there is no such thing as ‘cause and effect’ when that simply isn’t true, redemption, forgiveness, and the value of having a greater purpose. Jeff Bridges plays Jack , a Howard Stern-type shock jock, who has a caller that commits a mass shooting at a yuppie bar. His career in tatters after the fallout, Jack is living with a girlfriend, Anne, who runs a video rental store, and spends his time drinking and is full of self pity, all of which Anne tolerates. Jack drunkenly wanders out one night and is attacked by some callous kids. Then Parry appears, a homeless schizophrenic who fancies himself a knight and saves Jack. Parry suffers from hallucinogenic visions of a red knight who stalks him. Parry reveals he is on a grail quest, and needs help to steal the cup from a castle owned by a wealthy man in Manhattan. Jack learns that Parry was one of the victims of the shooter of that club, and that Parry witnessed the savage killing of his wife– the love of his life– by a bullet. Once a college professor of medieval studies, Parry is beyond repair, but Jack tries to redeem himself by helping Parry connect with Lydia, a mousey and clumsy woman.

Things seem to take a turn for the better, and Jack gets another shot at his radio career, after becoming callous towards Anne and reverting to his old ways. Parry is attacked by the same kids. Wounded, but not dead, Parry is catatonic from the trauma. Jack is forced to live up to the grail quest, breaking into this castle for the ‘grail’, a simple award cup. Jack triggers the building alarm as the only way out– not realizing that the rich owner tried to overdose on pills– and leaves. Parry recovers, is united with Lydia, and Jack resolves his issues with committing to Anne. While Parry might remain hopelessly damaged, at least the love of Lydia might make him a little more whole, and one hopes that Jack has gained a little more compassion for the less fortunate. The idea of indirect ‘cause and effect’ is an important point, and illustrated by Jack indirectly saving the rich, elderly man who is suicidal. The religious allegories about redemption speak to those who feel hopeless. Parry has turned his horror, rage, and pain inward and tortures himself, while Jack lashes outward with his pain. Both are dealing with their own emptiness. The film still holds a power over twenty years after its release. Williams’ Parry is raw nerve, and his performance is stunning in how disturbing it is.

Williams turn at voiceover animation came with ease in 1992 with Aladdin as the genie. In 1994 he would follow this with the beloved Mrs. Doubtfire. He continued to grow his range with Being Human, and such faire as Jumanji. After years of Williams playing gay queens in his act, Williams took the benign  role over Nathan Lane as a gay couple in Mike Nichols The Birdcage (Williams was simply following in the tradition of Bud Abbott to Lou Costello, Or Dean Martin to Jerry Lewis, by playing the more grounded character). He appeared in Kenneth Branagh’s excellent Hamlet in a supporting role, then won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Some of the Disney projects he was involved with weren’t my cup of tea like Flubber, and he could fall into sentiment with films like Patch Adams and August Rush. Films like What Dreams May Come have had a great effect on some who saw it. Films like Bicentennial Man dealt with his abiding interest in Artificial Intelligence, and he appeared as the voice of Dr. Know in Spielberg’s futuristic fable A.I. – Artificial Intelligence. But Willams matured to work on darker material in the 2000s with such dramas as One Hour Photo, and Chris Nolan’s Insomnia. Death to Smoochy is one of the blackest comedies Williams is known for being attached with and the interesting film, The Night Listener hinted at an underside I intimately understood (but won’t go into here). While he could have fun with light fair like RV, Night at the Museum, and the better Happy Feet, Williams could misfire with projects like Old Dogs, and had his memorable turn as Eisenhower in Lee Daniel’s The Butler. The darker material hinted at his underlying sadness, and a quiet rage that could bubble over, but it often reinforced his complexity. Many of the films he was most involved with held an underlying theme at their best--a faith in the better angels of humans, to do what was right, what was best, and to set an example.

The house used in Mrs, Doubtfire, On Steiner and Broadway Street.

Some have already suggested his career was already in a decline when he signed on to work on The Crazy Ones for CBS, but if that were true, it would only have been recently, as his relevance had been just as potent in the early 2000s. Publically, Williams was known for being involved with a great many charities and telethons, But his work with the Comedy Relief shows will likely remain the most remembered.

Personal connections

Robin attended the same high school in Marin in the late 60s, that I attended– Redwood High. To my age group, my fellow alumni, there was a kinship, if not a little point of pride, that Williams was an alumni. Yet it was known through the grapevine of my peers that Robin’s view of his Redwood experience was ambivalent. I have read accounts from classmates from that era, when he graduated, Williams wasn’t popular there. He was thought of as a quiet geek, who was nominated as ‘the most funny’, and the ‘least likely to succeed’. Robin, like myself and friends of mine, ran on the Cross Country / track team. A number of times our coach Doug Basham would regale a story when pressed by team mates, that while running, Robin could be heard using funny voices. A great many classmates had indirect encounters or knew Robin’s mother in Tiburon.

I have classmates from Redwood that remind me of Robin. They share of the same qualities, a keen sense of observation, altruism, and a high level of intelligence, yet they manage to remain relatable. There are other high schools in America that cultivated a circle of important figures, but Redwood High left unique in cultivating intelligent, driven, caring, and memorable individuals. I need to qualify that of course the school represented the upper crust of Marin, which made it demographically probable that it would draw upon a higher caliber of people. I need to contextualize the above points. In terms of districts, Redwood represented Ross, Kentfield, Larkspur, Tiburon, and lower income areas like Corte Madera. When I state ‘lower income’ I need to qualify the point by adding that many people in Corte Madera were homeowners, aside from renters, so we are not talking about the same kind of class hardship that exists in other parts of America, like Detroit. But Redwood, when I attended, was a very good melting pot that allowed individuals to safely find themselves, regardless of class distinctions, and inspire each other to aspire to something more. To take a broader view of the world. Many friends have gone on to become successful, or important figures on some level, and many went on to just lead interesting lives. But I think for many alumni, there was a rarely spoken connection to Robin. I was privileged to be a part of that environment, and grateful to the friends I remain in contact with.

Dock at Tiburon, Bon Voyage.

In Terra Linda, just past San Rafael, my grandmother had neighbors move in to the house beside her, a couple with children. The husband worked as a soundman for features like On the Edge, and television programs like Desperate Housewives. His wife warmly told me several tales of being entertained by Robin on the set of a film. One friend who runs a comic book store has commented that Robin would come in for comic books, and news is coming out about Robin’s connections to the gaming industry, and his geekish love for computer gaming. I had one indirect connection to a Robin Williams film, having worked for a few days, pre-production on Bicentennial Man, which wasn’t particularly a good experience for me. My one encounter with Robin, other than seeing him in comedy clubs, was crossing paths with him at a local diner called Miz Browns on California Street in the early 2000s. He was with his wife, and I believe, Cody Williams. He was very quiet, unassuming, and dignified. I simply gave him a ‘hello’ and keep up the good work. That diner is gone now, a by-product of changing times. A lot of Bay area residents were in the know enough to keep their distance from him out of respect for his family. Many felt an abiding respect for him for everything he had done for the community, as well as the knowledge of what an exceptionally nice man he was to everyone who encountered him.

Over the past week, I did my own pilgrimage to sites where people were offering flowers, condolences. I began on Steiner and Broadway, at the house that was used in Mrs. Doubtfire. I visited the coastline of Tiburon, at a dock fittingly named Bon Voyage, and another display in the town square. I was aware of where Robin lived in Tiburon and Mill Valley, but I feel it would have been too ghoulish to exploit that, and lastly, I took shots at the front of Redwood High. Those pictures are featured here.

The Price

A lot have often written about the dangers of the Hollywood machine, and celebrity, and how easy it is to lose one’s bearings and perspective. Once an exceptional talent earns millions, they are told to maintain the image by buying mansions, ranches, as many cars, motorcycles, and planes as much as possible, then in turn they have to hire handlers, and staffers, and then the talent has a entourage dependent on their career. Money comes with pressure. With lesser talents it becomes easy to see them crash and burn, but it is no less true for the great ones. Robin’s drug problems have been well documented, and he has been very candid about them. But Williams was sober for twenty years at the height of his career, yet the narrative was somewhat different than for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Williams seemed wise enough to see the mechanizations behind the indulgences of Hollywood. It had been documented for decades that the death of John Belushi scared Williams sober, as well as the birth of his son. Williams had seen the price paid by Richard Pryor and Sam Kinnison, and in his Marc Maron interview he had observed the side of fans that wanted to see Williams self-destruct. We seem to have this morbid instinct to slow down and watch the accident. Fame bites back, and it bites hard, and fans build up expectations that are a double-bladed sword. Williams had matured to become an elder statesmen to comedians on the issue of excess.

“Being angry at a drunk is like bitch-slapping a cow.” – Robin Williams

But it has always been my observation that highly creative people are wired differently; they have a different brain chemistry that cuts both ways. Creative people have receptors that take in everything at once, the physical world, and emotions, and they use this to aid their art, but it is a duel-edged sword, which is why artists really need to take care of themselves, stay healthy, centered, focused and grounded. This is also the reason why I suspect many fall into drug use, to numb those stimuli. I have found that creative geniuses have an existential sadness, and an implicit understanding that the world isn’t fair or just. Robin seemed to have the wisdom to understand this, which makes his death so unnerving on a certain level. I feel there so many factors to consider yet.

There’s also another point to consider: The high price of celebrity divorces. Williams had been married three times, and a natural component to being involved with a celebrity is the expectation of maintaining a certain lifestyle. If the relationship ends, even in cases where the relationship is amiable, the cost is in the multi-millions in most cases. I won’t go into the issue of whether the spouse is, or isn’t deserving of such settlements, but I also don’t doubt that Robin wasn’t an easy person to live with.

I haven’t really been comfortable with the rapid narrative that the media jumped on when news of his death circulated. The equation of a comedian being depressive is too much a generalization, and seemed done to avoid a certain culpability with some issues the media would rather sidestep. While it’s nice that focus on depression is in the forefront, and should be, the medical profession might have to be held in account as far back 2010, which I’ll get into in a moment. I have written about the health and mental illness profession’s woeful lack of ability to take preventative measures with mental illness. We react when something tragic occurs, but we continue to not offer the resources that could prevent such tragedies. Statistically, when someone suffers a heart condition and has to experience surgery, the percentage who suffer from postoperative depression is staggering for men and women. Yet medical doctors often do not co-ordinate with health care professionals for patients to get treatment. This is a staggering lapse in a field that prides itself over its scientific advances. Millions are spent to renovate hospitals tied to universities, yet is there a financial incentive to improve this cross-communication? It angers me to ponder the possibility that this could have been avoided if Williams could have gotten help to deal with postoperative depression. We will never know.

There is also the new revelation that Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s, a cruel disease. While Alzheimer’s takes away a person’s mind, Parkinson’s takes away a person’s body, and I am fairly certain that it didn’t escape Robin that such a disease would strip away his dignity in time, or that would be the perception. Yet again, he wasn’t in his right state of mind, as it’s been statistically shown that the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s leads to depression.

Robin Williams was highly eccentric, like many eccentrics from the Bay Area, and what has troubled me with the media narrative has been what’s been implied – there is something wrong about being eccentric, and that is simply not true.

I wanted to address the most likely explanations first before I address the final points, and some of my earliest gut observations. My first thoughts went to– “I hope the increasing levels of bad news around the world, the growing disillusionment in America, and this aimless anger compelled Robin to lose hope.” The two prior articles just published had warned about growing feelings of despair, disillusionment, and the kind of aimless anger that causes people to lose their bearings. There’s a real cause and effect to that kind of energy. When I see people on the blogosphere write with such detachment about the collapse of the American Empire, as if somehow they will be separate and immune, and not take into account that real people are paying and will pay a real price for this social disintegration, then it just isn’t enough to point out the problems. You have to find workable solutions, and tell the truth about the kind of work it will require.

If there is any good that can come from his death, I am hoping it acts as a reset, a re-calibration, a re-pivoting. That we will all re-examine how we approach each other, that we can re-think our anger and confusion about the world. That we will start to reject, really reject, anger as a form of identity, or branding, or messaging, that we will reject the celebration of ignorance, or accepting crassness as the norm, or jaded and cynical attitudes as a form of branding–as opposed to them as attributes within a person’s make-up. This isn’t to suggest that someone shouldn’t have a certain degree of cynicism or pessimism, as it is healthy and needed, but these attributes have been taken so out of proportion. I recall a lot of cynicism in the 70s and 80s, but it was never at the proportion that I see now, and it has become breath-taking. All of the above points have reached toxic levels and it can’t be sustained. We have reached a turning point here. We have to admit we are killing ourselves with these attitudes that are being fostered upon us.

I have one last point to everyone who reads this blog, as I know it’s fairly wide-reaching around the world. To the young artists in any medium and especially aspiring comedians, YOUR TIME HAS COME. We need artistic voices of substance, we need those ‘bleeding heart’ truth tellers to help keep us sane, and give us bearings. Be real, be unwavering, have the tenacious self-belief to do your thing. Don’t let anyone tell you your brand of art, or humor, isn’t marketable. Find a city, region, area that allows you to foster your talents and thrive while you seek out and find your own voice. Robin Williams had the fortune of finding a city and community that allowed him to find his voice. Don’t let any obstacle get in the way of getting your unique point of view out there. Don’t accept those roadblocks. Find positive ways to overcome them.  Frequently, it is the people who think outside of the box that have the greatest impact. Don’t forget this, for it is the best way to honor Robin Williams’ legacy.

Robin was wise enough to see these days would come. Over the coming years, heed that wisdom. It was always what he gave so freely.

Profound thanks to XScribe for editorial assistance, and to Belis for the ‘head’s up’ about the Marc Maron interview. Please give to the suicide prevention organization of your choice.

Monday, August 4, 2014

If I May...

(The Coming Storms and Shelters)

I have a piece I intend to release soon that will run counter to some colleagues within the alt research community. It stands to reason this will be viewed in an explosive light, but when I see so many missing some key connections, then I can’t really sit idle, as it’s become pretty evident that a gauntlet has to be thrown down. Having stated that point, I do intend to have the Lexicon blog go back to its regular features – the Deconstructing series, the Esoteric studies, X-aminations, and wrap up the final points of the Ophiuchus Code series, which was written with a sense of impending strife’s, storms, and challenges back in 2010, and done with the filter of seeing that there’s really nothing new under the sun, both on a social level and a karmic level. Much of the same strife we saw in the 1930s around the world is repeating itself. I’ve lived long enough to recall seeing the same patterns, as well as being a keen student of history, I have come to understand it all really boils down to choices – to wise up and not repeat the same mistakes.

I won’t do myself any good, and I won’t do others any good, dear reader, to just go along with consensus thinking, either in the mainstream, or the alternative research community, or left or right factions. No one should get complacent by what they are told, on any side of the social sphere. One should take hold of their own future and become it’s master, meaning don’t resign yourself to one narrative about fate or destiny, all actions have a cause an effect, both the negative and positive ones.

The X-Files dealt with the theme of finding the light in the darkness. In the past, some have compared myself to Scully, but I have always been able to identify with Mulder. While headstrong, Mulder was also capable of processing new information and adapting in his search for something greater.

Back in the period around 1994-1995, I went through a personal transitional period, I felt trapped in a situation that felt bound by obligation, right out of college, and I had a friend who’s father was dying of cancer. I was doing a lot of self-evaluation over what I wanted to become, how to become a different person that wasn’t bound by the baggage of their parents – and mostly to become brave enough to take risks and make a better life happen, this culminated in my move to Los Angeles in 1995 to pursue my creative career and open myself up to relationships. While it might sound strange, I was listening to Seal’s “Prayer for the Dying”, and it had a big impact, helping me to solidify my resolve to take those risks, as it reminded me that life is finite and you have to grab what you can. Many of those songs hold as much of a global relevance today as they did a personal one back then.

Once someone has gone past the point of fear, there’s nothing left to lose. People have to learn to become fearless in their own way.

Seal with the effervescent Joni Mitchell

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Shadow Self: Within and Without

I have been taking a break from this blog and re-evaluating a lot of the remaining objectives of what needs to be said. Let me begin from the psychological maestro himself.

There’s a lot of rage that I see, a lot of frustration, a lot of inability to process what is going on in the news media, a healthy mistrust that has dovetailed into someone aimless. Anger without direction serves no purpose, and one must be wary of any self-appointed expert, or self-appointed guru, that merely drives one to lose their bearings, and their way. Jung had written extensively about the shadow self, that aspect of our personalizes that drives us to self destruction without our knowledge, but I find the shadow self also applies to us collectively as a society.

Much of what I am seeing, I saw coming about two years ago, certain articles I haven’t followed up with, due to a lot of external conflicts which I won’t go into, I will attempt to tackle shortly, as the evidence is mounting, dear reader, that we are at a crucial juncture in America and the world. Some conspiracies are not conspiracies when they are right in one’s face. For all the preoccupation with “False Flags”, crypto-conspiracies, and obfuscation. One always needs to base conclusions on the facts, and making sound connections to base a theory.

Often when one make decisions in anger, you make poor choices, that also applies to disseminating the flood of information that exists, one must keep their bearings in this world. There are those, whom through their own anger, or baggage, or hubris, are more invested in issuing their point of view at the expense of a dialog, that they are more than happy to appeal to your shadow self, and publically offer up anger as a kind of branding, image, or stick.

Dear reader, be mindful of keeping your bearings at this time. Do your own research, don’t just trust one figurehead, become your own leader, you have the answers within yourself, for each of us that guru might just be within. Keep guard of those from without. A lot more thoughts are coming on some vital issues.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Documentation Entry 2014

One of our staffers, the editor who works tirelessly to edit all material for the main site, The X-Files Lexicon, and this blog, XScribe, shared with me the following two accounts. While I am redirecting my energies elsewhere, as well as focusing on material for the main site, I thought I’d share these two accounts on the sightings of ghosts. Aside from accounts of ghost videos seen on You Tube, and which are to me always debatable, most real ghost sightings are never documented, as they act as fleeting moments that validate a sphere of reality, or consciousness, that can’t be explained in a linear sense for many. Therefore, it not is always advisable to just dismiss someone’s experience as an act of imagination, or misconception, especially in cases of multiple sightings from witnesses that have no connection to one another, whereby it becomes difficult to argue these cases as personalized – their experience is always valid to them, regardless of what the facts might be -- one should be prudent to recognize that aspect. I hope others will enjoy this. - Matt

I was going home, driving westbound on historical Route 66, just a block north from my house. It was late afternoon, but visibility was still good.

It had been a perfectly clear day. That section of Route 66 is heavily traveled, with a lot of businesses along the way. It's now a six-lane highway, with three lanes on each side. Around that same time I'd noticed that more and more pedestrians had taken to ignoring the crosswalks, and tried running right through traffic, instead. Which is crazy, considering how busy it is and that the speed limit is 45 - 50 mph.

On that particular day, I saw a young guy wearing a long-sleeved, striped shirt and dark pants, walking on the left side of the road. Suddenly, he ran right out into the middle lane almost in front of me as I neared him, startling me. Because of the heavy traffic, I couldn't immediately check my review mirror to see if he'd made it to the other side of the road. I was relieved not to hear any screech of brakes or tires or worse; still, when it was safe, I glanced back over my shoulder, expecting to see him racing to the right curb. No one was there.

Soon after that, I heard that someone had been killed in the same vicinity, on Route 66. Then I never saw any more pedestrians trying to cross that road outside of the crosswalks. Recently, I read something online that really got my interest. Apparently, there have been many other sightings of a young guy fitting the exact same description, on exactly the same stretch of road, who would appear and then vanish.

* * *

Right on the outskirts of the small town we used to live in when I was a kid, was an old road. It was called Agua Mansa, because it was on the edge of the Santa Ana River. The name means "gentle water." It used to be a small community in its own right, colonized in 1842, but was swept away in a huge flood in 1862. Not so gentle. Though the little community was completely wiped out, the dilapidated street remained, and thus was called Agua Mansa Road.

My dad used to drive down it as a short cut to any place west of our house nearby. Being kids, we loved when he drove that way because it was so creepy. It’s a completely rural road--no street lights and only one or two buildings or houses along its stretch. It has a lot of blind curves and broken asphalt that hadn’t been repaired in ages, yet people usually drove fast along it, despite the risk. Somewhere around the half-way point was a duck farm that provided a very feeble source of light at night on the south side and on the north side, was a steep, steep embankment down which thick rows of large, creepy, old, gnarled grape vines grew. No one tended those grape vines, so they were a mess. At the summit of the steep embankment, stood the gates to an old cemetery. It's the oldest cemetery in the county, I've since discovered and there's a lot of history to it, I also learned much later. People vandalized the cemetery and left headstones broken and overturned and dug up coffins, leaving bones unearthed.

To make it even creepier, our older cousin used to tell us frightening tales of homeless vagrants who would hang out at the cemetery. He said they’d hide in the grapevines and jump out and snatch children who misbehaved or just happened to be unlucky enough to be out there at night. I know he was just trying to scare us, but obviously vandals and vagrants actually had hung out there.

Many, many times while we were driving down that road, even after we moved away, I'd see a man walking down the road with his dog. I used to imagine stories as to where he was going. Perhaps he worked at the duck farm or the cemetery and was allowed to take his dog with him. Perhaps he lived at the one very old house that still stands at the corner of Agua Mansa and Rancho and just liked taking walks with his dog. I never knew. He was perhaps middle-aged and wore a dark jacket--perhaps flannel or wool--with an indistinct plaid design, and very beat up, faded dungarees--maybe a pair of overalls. He also wore a beat up, light, khaki brown hat with a brim. I could never see his face that well because his head was always down, but in back where I could see his hair, it was whiting, so I guessed at his age. The dog was medium-sized with fairly short fur, of a light color. Maybe light brown or dirty white. As I said, I saw him so often, I thought nothing of him. I even saw him later on when I worked in a town east of Agua Mansa Road and had to pass by that corner where the house stands. I was with my dad and I thought to myself, that guy must be old now, but he's still walking pretty well for his age. He had a dog with him--one I thought was just similar-looking to the one he used to have.

A couple of days ago, I read on the internet that this man had been sighted since way before I ever saw him. One guy reported that he used to drive down that road in the 1950s as a teenager and saw the man and his dog. Most of the other sightings reported that the man would step out in front of their cars, then just as they hit the brakes, he would disappear.

It turns out that my sisters saw him, too--we just never discussed it until I read that article. When asked, I described him and his dog. They were shocked, because they said that was exactly what they'd seen. One of my sisters said she remembered seeing him twice and both times he seemed to disappear. Once, in what she thought was a cloud of dust that must have been raised by a truck driving off-road through the dirt, and the second time on a foggy day. She said she thought the fog had closed in around him.

Over the years, there had never seemed to be anything strange to us about that man and his dog. Until I found the story of him on the internet.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Where things stand with "The After"...

The following is not a review of the Pilot, but more a contextual advocacy. To those who follow this blog and in case anyone here is unaware, just over a week ago there was rapid press build up, with teaser clips, and another teaser clip from X-Files News for Chris Carter’s Pilot, The After from Amazon studios. Within a day, the Pilot was released to be viewed at Amazon and Amazon Prime for free streaming. But, of course, there’s a catch. Five pilots were financed and the one (possibly two) with the highest ratio of positive reactions from the public and get green light with more episode ordered for a season. This is an unprecedented development with entertainment media, and Amazon is trying to compete with the original content produced by Netflix. All of which means that fan support for Chris Carter’s pilot is crucial. We are in the middle of something that could end up being historic, depending on the outcome. With numerous segments of fandom-active players in this development–and fittingly, a kind of interactivity with Philes that we haven’t exactly seen for a long spell–this outcome could be sweeping when you consider the development of another show by Chris Carter from AMC, and the status of a third X-Files movie, and the status of a (hopeful) Millennium feature film or TV movie. Undoubtedly there’s a certain act of goodwill on the fan base, which I am well aware of.

Personally, I have advocated for the past three years supporting any new projects by Chris Carter. I have taken the longview that new projects that are a hit can only enhance the value of The X-Files, and Millennium. Developments with the film that was to follow I Want To Believe –Fencewalker--seems to be in a holding pattern, which has always seemed unfair in that the public hasn’t been given the opportunity to access it on its own merit. As of this writing, it is uncertain if Fencewalker will even get a direct to DVD release.

Yet demographics continue to shift and one never really knows when a time is ripe to reach the public consciousness. It almost determines itself, but it does feel like a good moment for Chris Carter to come back into the fold of television. Back in the 90s, and the retrospective critique that has followed, there were endless comments about how The X-Files captured the Zeitgeist of the era. Many found it appealing due to the chemistry of Mulder and Scully, while others found the subjects of the paranormal and alien abductions to be fascinating. I suspect the appeal was often more sub-textual than people realized, both with The X-Files, Millennium, The Lone Gunman spinoff, and Harsh Realm. These shows reflected a real unease with modern society, not only a mistrust of the Government and all established institutions, but the Utopian ideal of technology and progress, that having a disconnect from the cosmos, from spirituality, can have real consequences. None of Chris Carter’s work offered easy answers to modern society, and mostly raised questions, but the themes of the work seemed to offer a few road maps with how to navigate in an increasingly disjointed world.

In spite of the 90s being fairly placid in the Clinton era, excluding the partisan battles of the decade, the economy grew and many seemed outwardly optimistic, but there were whole circles of younger people, college-aged students, that felt this unease, and tuned into The X-Files on a regular basis through the bulk of the decade. For example, one could compare The X-Files phenomenon to the epochal Pink Floyd album “The Dark Side of The Moon” from 1973, an album that also addressed issues with the same kind of unease with modern society. Things have fundamentally shifted globally since the 1990s; one only has to look at the evidence to see that our society is in a mess.

For decades there have been complaints about the decline of society. Many argue that always been the case with each generation, but there seems to have been a shift, a decline that most can’t ignore. We see a growing mistrust of government bureaucracy, with a highly dysfunctional congress and inertness in America. A growing disillusionment with scientific research–evidenced by more corruption and fraud and a lack of faith in profit-driven university academia–we see growing divides within intuitional religions with fundamentalism taking far too great a hold, and driving decent people to abandon places of worship. We see misplaced priorities within Wall Street over Main Street–we first saw pensions in the private sector eliminated in exchange for the promise of 401Ks, which turned out to be worthless. Now we see the gutting of pensions in the public sector being gutted by certain State Governors under the guise of austerity. The cutting of as many safety net programs as possible under the guise of austerity, and ignoring rampant unemployment. We also see a health care system corrupted by too many high costs, where the share holders of profit-driven hospitals take priority over the needs of the public. As well as the manufactured revolt by partisan sides over the passage of a flawed health care bill to control costs.

We see the byproduct of a lack of regulation on the environment, more toxic spills, or the digging of materials through fracking which is causing unexpected and unintended consequences, unexplained earthquakes for example, and a rise in extreme weather in America. As well as more extreme conditions in various parts of the world. We see more of a shift toward plutocracy than ever before in my lifetime, with a barrage of false accusations, hyper-patriotism, and other mis-directions to distract the public. Some of these distractions include the rise of the technology base: gadgets to sooth the public, such as smart phones, Ipods, Ipads, smaller laptops, hand-held games, social networking, and apps. All of which can isolate people, aside from, or opposed to the argument of bringing them together. An education system that has just about eliminated critical thinking skills, and has become more effective in stifling individuality, through standardized testing and learning by rote and conditioning. You also have a growing demographic of people in their twenties that can see through all of this, and are trying to create their own pockets of a social movement and are finding greater difficulty in doing so. In addition to rising tensions in Europe and revolts against the European Union, with several key countries that seem to be modeling themselves on China, the benchmark for oligarchy and plutocracy, notwithstanding the growing problems in Latin America and some of the real crises that the media doesn’t report on.

Ironically, most pop culture venues are in bad shape. The print publishing industry is in trouble, with many established contemporary writers finding it harder to get works published, with growing cuts to budgets, and the downsizing of publishing staffer, as well as a shift to digital publishing like Kindle. The music industry is also in trouble. While MP3 file sharing is often made the scapegoat, it is the industry’s indifference to consumers, the inflated price of merchandise, and the price of live concert performances reaching such obscene levels as to demonstrate a real disconnect with the working class, that have all triggered a revolt against the industry. With just about all of the significant acts of the 90s, the grunge and alternative explosion that The X-Files had such an affinity with, gone. Including most of the mainstays for decades, your Stings and Phil Collins put out to pasture. Rock has been replaced on the radio playlist, first by Hip Hop, and then by some of the disposable pop acts--your Justin Beibers, Lady Ga Gas, or Miley Cyruss--that only a tiny sliver of underground music exists. Most of which is less artist-driven than producer driven, and the Svengalis that people so feared have come to fruition. Leaving the average listener feeling empty, and with little to connect with. Even the film and television industry are in growing trouble. With the demise of countless small studios–and the co-opting of genre pictures into the kind of tent pole events that just over saturate the consumer–and out of control budgets that many now admit are not sustainable. Most genre fans of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and superhero comics should feel satisfied, but many fans feel the satisfaction is hollow. The decline of alternative forms of art leave many people with no means to get their barings in the world. Many of the issues with television we’ll get to in a moment.

There is a growing feeling that all of this is culminating into a key crossroad, with a set of choices that many fear will reach a point of no return. In essence, to summarize, the world is in a mess.

Therefore it seems like the apt moment for Chris Carter to offer up a new statement on modern society. Since 2002, countless shows have surfaced to replace the spirit of The X-Files. Some of those shows like Lost featured X-Files alumni, I know people who watched Fringe as a way to satisfy their ‘X-Files Jones’, but for myself, it just never had much impact. You had shows like Supernatural, and Warehouse 13 (a show where I personally know one of the producers and writers as we were high school classmates), that are satisfying to a degree I guess, but still just don’t capture the elements that made The X-Files so important. Many of these shows, and new incarnations always coming up, sound the notes without playing the music. Mind you, many of these shows are well done, with an exceptional pool of talent attached to them, but they just seem like imitations. I have no idea how’s Chris’s new offering will be received, but one has always suspected that Chris Carter has always been Hollywood’s ultimate outsider. Personally, I am happy he is that outsider, we need those kind of figures and writers of substance, be it Rod Serling, Leslie Stevens, Gene Roddenbery, or Chris Carter.

A spate of interviews and features have already circulated here and here, and IMDB already conducted its own poll about which series Amazon should pick up. The X-Files Lexicon has just released its own interview with Chris Carter. Speaking for myself, and the efforts of others, gambling on Chris Carter and advocating his work, is a far better bet to place, and something I’m not regretting, whatever happens.

Special thanks for XScribe for editorial assistance.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

X-aminations: Space: 1999

Space 1999 : Pilgrims Through The Void

(My apologies for the long spell, this required a lot of research, and outside circumstances, which I won’t go into, have delayed its completion. –MA) 

The ‘what if’ scenario of science fiction and man’s reaction to cataclysm was always remained prevalent in the genre, as well as the theme of adaptability and evolution, these ideas were explored in interesting ways during the first run of Space: 1999.

Often it seemed that Chris Carter would cast certain characters based on childhood shows that must of left an impact, and while it’s not especially surprising, the selection of acting talent was frequently revealing. While the casting of Darren McGavin as Arthur Dales in “Travelers” was pretty self evident due to his involvement with Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the casting of Roy Thinnes as Jeremiah Smith, was revealing when you consider Thinnes role in the seminal mid 60s series, The Invaders, a show that had elements that would be featured on The X-Files, conspiracies, covert alien colonization, and questions about identity. Another telling casting decision was Martin Landau as Alvin Kurtzweil in the first feature Fight The Future. While the casting decision might have been motivated by Landau’s role in Mission: Impossible, as well as the high caliber of his acting work, one also has to wonder if Landau’s work on Space: 1999, playing commander John Koenig, was another factor.

In the history of Science Fiction television, there seems to be a common thread, that Science Fiction that deals with metaphysics tends to resonate more with the public than programs that deal with hard science, and lean secular. The overall excellent first season of Space: 1999 explicitly dealt with metaphysics, with scenarios that constantly forced the characters to accept the other, and to accept and embrace intangibles. This does not mean the first season didn’t have it’s flaws, but the production values, the set design and the visual effects were fairly impeccable for it’s time, but the uneven scripts undermined the season.

Gerry Anderson has an interesting history, Born in April, 1929, Bloomsbury, London. His brother Lionel served in the Royal Air Force at the start of World War II, Lionel’s experiences in America influenced Gerry. He began his career in Photography, earning a traineeship with the British Colonial Film Unit after the war. In 1947, he was conscripted for national service with the RAF. After starting his career as an editor for Gainsborough Pictures, he moved into several projects in the mid 50s, utilizing his skills with puppets and miniatures, Once Gerry became involved with Sylvia Anderson in the early 60s, he had a series of hits, Supercar, Fireball XL5, and Stingray, the first British children’s television show in color. Thunderbirds would go on to be his greatest success, he followed this with another success Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

The early template for Space: 1999 could be found in Gerry Anderson’s 1969 film Doppelganger, also known in American as Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, starring American actor Roy Thinnes, played an astronaut who travels to a newly discovered planet on the opposite side of the sun, which is revealed to be an exact mirror image of Earth A thoughtful and measured film that came right at the heals of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Anderson followed this feature by developing UFO. While the premise has a few elements that reference the usual Abduction UFOlogy, - earth is visited and attacked by aliens from a dying planet and humans are covertly harvested for their organs, a military organization set up to combat the invaders, SHADO - But the show was more of a wild and wooly adventure, with a Thunderbirds flavor, than a series that seriously explored such esoteric subjects, that ran from 1970-1971.

Problems between Gerry’s wife, Sylvia, started to develop around this period, deciding to branch out on his own, Gerry Anderson’s next project was The Protectors, with Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter. In spite of the success of The Protectors, UFO experienced a drop in ratings both in the UK and US, due to Gerry’s ideas within UFO, to expand the SHADO moonbase, he wasn’t willing to let certain ideas die. Being that Sir Lew Grade had stipulated that UFO should primarily be based on the moon, and such episodes set on the moon had been the most popular during the series run. Anderson approached Grade’s number two man in the New York division, Abe Mandell, and proposed taking the research and development done for UFO, while Mandell was open to the idea, he stipulated he didn’t want any earth-bound settings.

The first attempt for the pilot script, “Zero-G” had some similar elements that could be found on UFO, but writer George Bellak would end up establishing many of the elements to be found in “Breakway”. A deal was arranged, Group Three Productions with a partnership with the Andersons and production executive Reg Hill would produce the series, ITC Entertainment and RAI would provide the funding. Grade, while aiming for a US network sale, insisted the series have American leads, and employ American writers, and directors. Hence writer Bellak was brought on board, as well as Christopher Penfold and Johnny Byrne. Several writers credit Bellak for setting up the writers guide to help define the three lead, the facilities for the moonbase, and potential storylines.

It’s interesting to note that in 1966, several effects crew members working on Thunderbirds were convinced to defect the show and work on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and one could note the eventual influence. As a key figure in the development and influence of the first season, Penfold wrote 16 of the 24 episodes. Born the son of a vicar in Bristol, educated at Cambridge, Chris Penfold joined Australia’s ABC, becoming a writer and producer in radio and television. He eventually returned to England to work in industrial documentaries, before becoming story editor on the series The Pathfinder. Penfold commented in a 1997 interview:

"I was certainly interested in the idea of making popular the kind of science fiction which dealt unashamedly with metaphysical ideas, And in the first series of Space: 1999 a lot of the episodes, not all of them, but a lot of them, confronted those issues head on. I think they make very good programmes."

Penfold elaborated in a 2002 interview.

"Space fiction stories are mainly thought of as action adventure. What we were engaged in [with] Space: 1999 was of course action adventure, but it was also ideas adventure. We weren’t afraid of big ideas in series one, it was what drove us on day to day, it gave us a huge sense of excitement."

This explicit metaphysics was one of the strengths of the first season, and one could argue that each episode acted as an initiation rite for the moonbase crew, as they were headed into something transformative.

Episode summations

“It’s the struggle for survival that makes monsters of us all.” – Dorzak, season two

The premise is established in the pilot, newly appointed to Moonbase Alpha at the end of the 90s, Commander John Koenig heads the team, with Paul Morrow the second in command. Doctor Helena Russell is the head of the medical section, and a long time associate of Koenig, Victor Bergman is the science advisor, Alan Carter is the third in command and heads the massive squadron of Eagles that operate on the base. Sandra Benes is the data analyst. David Kano is the computer operations officer, and doctor Bob Mathias is Doctor Russell’s deputy. The following sequence is not based on broadcast air dates, but production dates. Yet I tend to feel this sequence makes sense in revealing the progression and development of these characters as they condition and accept the situations they find themselves in.

In “Breakaway”, Commander Koenig is sent to Moonbase Alpha to insure that a deep space probe ship to readied to send to a planet that has sent an intelligent signal to earth, Meta. But an unstable nuclear disposal area explodes and blasts the moon out of earth’s orbit. In “Force of Life”, A form of alien energy enters Moonbase Alpha, and inhabits a crew member, the force needs heat to survive, and starts to kill crew members, this type of story is frequent to the first season, and I’ll explore in a moment. In “Collision Course” The Alphan’s, after destroying an asteroid that is in their path, discover a massive planet, Koenig, on an interception, meets an alien embarsary from the planet who convinces him to do nothing to stop the collision, but the alpha crew challenges him, a test of faith. In “War Games”, an episode that would be re-cut into a feature, The alphans are tested from an alien planet they cross paths into believing they are under attack, but the attacks are projections to test their fear. Koenig and Helena visit the planet, learn about the race, and have to make a choice. The next episode featured Brian Blessed, “Deaths Other Dominion”, where the Alpha team come across a frozen planet, and meet fellow Earthmen, a team living under the planet that were part of a Uranus probe mission from 1986. But there is a price on Ultma Thewley, all of the humans are immortal, impotent, and can only remain that way if they stay on the planet.

The next episode seems to be a commentary on Colonial expansionism and the unforeseen genocide of native Americans due to exposure to diseases, In “Voyage’s Return”, The Moonbase Alpha team encounter one of the Voyager probes, but the probes drive system is destructive, yet the original inventor of the drive system is on Alpha. . A fleet of ships, the Arkons, have been tracking Voyager, and threaten to destroy Alpha and eventually Earth, due to the drive technology of Voyager destroying two worlds. The next episode which featured Julian Glover, “Alpha Child”, dealt with the first male baby is born in Alpha, and who is taken over by an alien entity named Jarek, a fleet of ships arrive, as the baby rapidly grows to five years old, before growing to adulthood. Jerek’s people intend to take over the souls of the Alpha crew, until another alien ship arrives to deal with Jerek and his people who are renegades. The next episode, A modern day retelling of the fable of George and the Dragon, has been written about by John Kenneth Muir, “Dragon’s Domain”, As recounted by Helena, an alpha crew member who is a friend of John Koenig and Victor, had encountered, on a deep space probe mission to an earth like planet in 1996, a graveyard of ships and an alien space dragon that killed the crew for blood. The Alpha crew find the same graveyard, that same crew member confronts the alien beast. In the next episode, which featured Joan Collins, “Mission of the Darians”, The Alphans encounter a massive space city, a kind of Ark for the Darians, whose planet died off ages ago. The Darians were split into a distinct class system after nuclear explosions destroyed parts of the space ark, a small circle of elites survived, and the rest were mutants, nine hundred years later, The Alphans discover the truth, the elites uses mutants and primitive humans as food to survive.

In “Black Sun”, Moonbase Alpha encounters a Black Hole, and has to initially create a reverse shield to protect the base. It soon becomes apparent the odds are slim and a survival ship is loaded with a crew of six, three men, three women including Helena. Ultimately, the episode deals with mortality and faith, and the thin line between science and metaphysics. The next episode featured Catherine Sheel who would go on to play Maya in the second season, The episode, “Guardians of Piri”, has been argued by some to be a retelling of the story of the Island of the Lotus Eaters, with Koenig cast in the role of Odysseus. The Alphans encounter a strange, surreal planet, Piri, where it’s main computer created an idyllic life, which led to the extinction of it’s people through apathy. Koenig must fight to save Alpha and his people from the same fate. There’s a minor subplot with Kano, whom had electrodes implanted in his brain years before, due to an experiment on Earth, predating VR, and the premise of the film, The Matrix.

In “End of Eternity”, a fairly weak entry, the tone of which is similar to “Force of Life”, a horror tale. The Alpha team come across an asteroid they discover is hollow, blasting the inner chambers open they release an immortal alien named Balor, whom was shunned from his home world for being a sadist and psychotic, Balor’s ultimatum is to control the Alphans for his own experiments. In “Matter of Life and Death”, Helena’s presumed dead husband, Lee Russell, reappears during a reconnaissance mission to a passing planet that the alphan’s believe could be a new home. But Lee Russell is an anti-matter copy of her husband, it’s presumed, a spirit to warn the base to not colonize the planet, after the copy dies, the warning is ignored with disastrous results, and Helena is given a choice. The episode plays as a parable about humans reentering Eden, the paradise that men were expelled from. In “Earthbound”, a crew of Alien pacifists, with a ship that is programmed to be bound for Earth, crash lands on Alpha, the crew greet and support the aliens, except for Commissioner Simmons (From “Breakaway”) who sees their vessel as a means to return home. Simmons blackmails the base and get’s his just deserts, featuring the great Christopher Lee.

In “The Full Circle”, A very sub par episode, the Moon passes an earth-like planet, dense with jungles, a strange mist causes a number of reconnaissance crew members to disappear, crews lead by Bergman, discover the mist transforms Alphans to a Nethanderthal state. The episodes feels like an excuse for the production team to shoot on location, and there’s an overall feeling of slumming it, in spite of an attempt to comment on man’s primal allows Sondra to play the victim. In “Another Time, Another place”, A distortion in time produces two separate moons with two separate alphans from different eras, one female crew member seems connected to the two eras, and tries to warn of danger when Alpha discovers the ruins of Earth. A slow, and somewhat interesting philosophical episode, that takes a nod to the spirit of Rod Serling.

In “The Infernal Machine”, An all-powerful spaceship visits the Alphans, it’s inhabitant Delmer Plebus Powells Gwent is an old man, and the ship is an extension of his genius and ego. After luring Koenig, Russell, and Bergman onto the ship, a militarized cat and mouse game ensues with the ship demanding supplies and companions. Leo Mckern delivers a sympathetic performance as the old genius who had placed his worst traits into the machine. The episode touches on another on going theme using reason and compassion as opposed to using military offense when dealing with the unknown. The episode thematically is similar to the V’Ger plot of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a sentient machine that has the development of a child. Similar plot points are also found in the next episode, “Ring Around The Moon”, where a crew member is possessed by an orange glow, which ultimately kills him, it transpires it comes from a giant energy probe originally sent from the planet Triton, the probe which captures the Alphans and insists that Helena should become the eyes of Triton. To rescue her, Koenig must convince the probe that it’s home has long been destroyed and it’s mission to collect data serves no purpose.

In “Missing Link”, While on a recon mission to an alien world, Koenig and crewmates are on an Eagle that is destabilized, the Eagle crashes back on the moon and Koenig appears to be dying, his spirit is captured and scrutinized by an resident alien and his daughter on Zenno, due to the fact that humans appear to be the Zenno’s missing link. Pensive and psychological, although a little uneven in the characterization, it features Peter Cushing. In “The Last Sunset”, While Eagle’s do another recon mission to an oxygen rich planet they are heading into orbit, a probe attaches itself to the lead eagle. Back on Moonbase Alpha, while studying, the probe unleashes a gas, followed by a fleet of probes that gives the moon an atmosphere, and a weather cycle, but the develop causes a new set or problems for the crew, and it’s more than bargained for.

In “Space Brain”, The moon crosses paths with a massive space brain, a recon ship is destroyed, reduced to a rock as the brain emits anti-bodies. The brain tries to communicate with the alpha’s with massive amounts of data the crew can’t understand, on a second recon mission, a crew member is used as a conduit between the brain and the bases computer. A solution must be found or both the moon and the brain could be destroyed. “The Troubled Spirit”, A botanical scientist in the middle of an experiment has triggered and unexplained event. A psychic entity appears and kills a couple of crew members close to the scientist, but the entity might or might not be the future spirit of the scientists demise. The crew has to make a choice. This is in essence a ghost tale with an O’Henry twist.

By the next episode, the alpha crew seems to have learned the lessons from “War Games”; In “The Last Enemy”, The moon crosses paths with a sun with two worlds on opposing sides of the sun, both worlds and it’s alien races are involved in a age old war, and moon base alpha are caught in the middle as the moon is the perfect tactical location for both sides, the base has to stay neutral or face destruction from either planet. In the season closer, “The Testament of Arkadia”, The Moon is mysteriously locked into orbit around a dead, alien planet, and the power reserves of Moonbase Alpha mysteriously start to drain away, the crew must visit the planet Arkadia to discover the mystery, where they find the mummified remains of humans, and after finding Sanskrit writing learn of an alien holocaust and that earth are the decedents of this planet. A choice must be made, to create a new Adam and Eve, or face death with a dying moonbase.

Missed Opportunities

Leading into the second season, several shake-ups would change the nature of the series original intent. The break up of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, factored into some of the changes, when ratings for the first season dropped in the United States in the Autumn months, Lew Grade canceled production for further work on season two, Gerry Anderson and Fred Freiberger were able to rallied the situation and do a re-pitch with the alien Maya. arguing that the dynamic would shake up the interaction of the characters, and re-spark viewer interest in the states. But it also in essence helped to dumb down the series. Setting aside the criticism of the scientific implausibility of the pilot episode, regarding how the moon blasted out of Earth’s orbit, a point that Isaac Asimov was highly critical of, there is also the missed opportunity of having a more compelling, biblical story arc. If the event of the breakaway had had to do with a massive commit or meteor has struck the earth, with something to the effect of shattering the planet in two, and causing a blast wave that broke the Moon from it’s fixed orbit, then you eliminate any hope of ever getting back to earth, and the Moon and Moonbase Alpha becomes a kind of Noah’s ark, with the survivors searching and waiting to find a new home. Certainly, the scale of the moonbase, suggests a city and miniature society. If the bio-chambers, envisioned as bio-domes, featured a range of animal life, this would reinforce the Noah’s ark meme.

When considering the civilian aspect of this society, unless one assumes this base was strictly a military industrial operation, then the lack of a civilian vs. military hierarchy, then the lack of development with Commissioner Simmons, who only appears in “Breakaway” and “Earthbound”, is another missed opportunity as far as a recurring character. A dynamic between Commander Koenig and the Commissioner could have been set-up; a tension between civilian and military needs. Such dynamics were put to great effect with Ron Moore’s Battlestar: Galactica, between Adama and President.Roslin

Writer Christopher Penfold was able cast some light on the inconsistent quality within the first season, in an interview from 1997:

"As the series developed, the increasing concerns of ITC for a kind of science fiction which I felt very alien to me began to have the effect of undermining the scripts which were being written. We had very good scripts which had to go back to the drawing board to meet a requirement which had come from Abe Mandell, who didn’t appear to have any understanding that if you take one strand out of a script, it effects everything else in the script. So a lot of rewriting, needless rewriting, went on and this had the effect of bringing the scripts further and further behind schedule. The difficulties came to a head and Gerry asked me to leave the series. I don’t remember having any severe falling out with him, but I realized the way the wind was blowing as far as story content was concerned and I was, at that point, utterly exhausted anyway."

Most people, when they reference their memory of the series will recall Catherine Sheel’s Maya from the second season, but I have found myself always underwhelmed by season two, and often found it inferior. Some of the reasons for the poor quality have everything to do with significant cast changes that changed the tone of the series. Barry Morse apparently had grown dissatisfied with the treatment of his character, Victor Bergman, and opted to not return. Undermining the trifecta of Koenig, Russell, and Bergman - a set of character arcs that shared similarities to Kirk, Spock, McCoy from Star Trek, or Harry, Ron, and Hermione from the Potter series. If the writers had allowed Bergman’s character to be more developed in season two, and progressed his arc to something more satisfying, and allowed for his demise at the end in the second season – he was an older man with an artificial heart – it could have resonated. The inclusion for Maya for a third season would have made sense other than the abrupt change at the start of the second season.

The other baffling change was the absence of the second in command Paul Morrow, and the appearance of Tony Verdeschi as the second in command, as well as the eventual love interest for Maya in the second season. Being that Tony never appears in the first season, it is a complete break from continuity, we are left to assume he was deep in the bowels of the moonbase, and moves up in rank with no explanation. It would be revealed that Fred Freiberger held a certain dismissive attitude about certain characters in later years, but many of the inconsistencies in the second season would merely help to diminish the reputation of the show. Fred Freiberger became notorious for cutting corners with the production, the look of the sets and costume design. Martin landau has commented:

"They changed it because a bunch of American minds got into the act and they decided to do many things they felt were commercial. Fred Freiberger helped in some respects, but, overall, I don't think he helped the show, I think he brought a much more ordinary, mundane approach to the series."

Critics of the first season often comment on the scientific implausibility of many episodes, yet they fail to recognize the season one series might not be realistic, it works in terms of it’s dream imagery – touching on some very primal psyche issues – the show, and each episode seems to act as an initiation rite, compelling the characters to accept, adapt, and transform from their accepted understanding of the universe, consciously or not, the series works within the purpose of alchemy. But another aspect that is referenced in the episode “Dragon’s Domain” when Helena Russell observes about the crew ‘inventing their own mythology’ in the closing moments, touches on the idea of mythologies reinventing themselves anew as our complicated understanding of our existence evolves.

All of this makes the first season worth more of an reexamination then some might have assumed. Some of these retellings like in “Guardians of Piri”, are interesting in context. In Odyssey IX, Odysseus describes the tale of the Lotus-eaters thusly:

"I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars."

The theme of the tale can be seen as a comment on man’s nature to be easily distracted away from our true purpose. Certain conclusions can be drawn by the origin of the “Dragon’s Domain” episode – George and the Dragon. Of course the way that the tale is retold is interesting when you take into account the known variations of St. George. In the earliest account, the Golden legend, the king is forced to sacrifice his daughter from a lottery to appease the dragon, when livestock offerings fail. St. George passed by the lake per chance where the Dragon dwelled, after wounding the beast, the princess helps George subdue the beast, George persuaded the city folk of Silene to convert to Christianity with the promise the slay the beast, which he did. In later accounts based in Libya, a poor hermit tells George of the beast that has ravaged the country, and this leads to his quest, not by chance, but by choice. Another alternative version from Essex tells of St. George losing the battle with the dragon early on in the encounter. St. George retreats, and wanders down the river, prays over his challenges, removes his armor to melt it down and forges it into a metal box. He places his fears, doubts and lack of faith into the box, faces the dragon again with no armor and then slays the beast. This leaves a curious comment about the meaning of “Dragon’s Domain”, is Tony Cellini’s demise due to a lack of faith or an inability to overcome his personal demons from the first encounter? Regardless, like St. George, Cellini manages to convert them into the idea of believing in ‘belief.’

Christopher Penford wrote both “Guardians of Piri” and “Dragon’s Domain”, and he certainly pointed a way to reexamine classic mythologies and religious allegories and present them in a contemporary setting, which the why the abandonment of these memes all the more baffling. It has been rumored that a new series is being developed, Space: 2099. If this version comes to pass, and if the producers take pages from Ron Moore’s approach, perhaps some of the promise and potential of the idea can be fulfilled. Nevertheless, the first season is worth examining as it represented a time when the Science Fiction genre on television was allowed to intelligently explore the subject of metaphysics. We might not see the allowance of such subjects, or it’s like, for a long spell.

Special thanks to John Kenneth Muir, and Harry Craft for their insights.