Two weeks ago, I featured post from the wonderful website Apt. 42 Revisited. X-Philes of course know that’s Fox Mulder apartment number. The team of Apt. 42 has done an amazing job of putting together a review of every episode of the show that are currently available (yay for Season 10 starting in January 2016!)
Another set of X-Files reviews that I really enjoy reading are Darren’s essay like ones posted on The M0vie Blog, so much so that they will not be featured on this blog on the third Saturday of the month. These essays are filled with information, a lot of which I have never seen put together like this before. Just like with the review on Apt. 42 Revisited, the reviews featured will be of episodes that are being concomitantly featured in my X-Files Facebook Project. And stay tuned: forthcoming are many more posts about this amazing show that continues to attract followers over 20 years after it first aired!
Written by Howard Gordon and directed by Rob Bowman, Fresh Bones is a superbly constructed piece of television. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that Fresh Bones is the best “traditional” episode of The X-Files produced since Scully returned to the fold. While episodes like Irresistible and Die Hand Die Verletzt have been bold and adventurous in their attempts to expand the show’s comfort zone, Fresh Bones is perhaps the best example of what the show was missing while Gillian Anderson was unavailable – proof the familiar formula still works.
It’s a great example of what might be termed “the standard X-Files episode” – a demonstration of how all the moving parts come together to produce an episode of the show, offering an example of the series’ standard operating practice. If you were to pick an episode of the second season to demonstrate how a “standard” episode of The X-Files should work, Fresh Bones would be perhaps the most appropriate example. (Aubrey and Our Town are perhaps the only two other examples.)
In keeping with Bowman’s approach to the series, Fresh Bones feels like a forty-five minute movie. The show atmospherically shot with some wonderful kinetic sequences – such as Mulder’s pursuit of Chester on the pier or Scully’s attack in the car. The Voodoo subject matter lends Fresh Bones a wonderfully pulpy atmosphere, although it seems like Howard Gordon has done his homework. The script to Fresh Bones averts many of the awkward stereotypes you’d expect in a show about Voodoo starring two white leads produced in Vancouver.
The result is a superb piece of television, an example of what The X-Files is capable of.
As a rule, the third season of The X-Files tends to be regarded as stronger than the second. There are a number of reasons for this. The mythology seems a lot more confident in the third season, with Carter and his team cultivating a sense of forward momentum and continuity. The third season is also able to keep Mulder and Scully together for the entirety of its twenty-four episode run, while the second season takes longer to settle into a familiar groove.
However, the third season also benefits from a set of stronger episodes as a whole. The third season is packed with stand-alone episodes that are able to work from a certain baseline level of quality and consistently knock the ball out of the park. Even the generic monster-of-the-week shows feel a little more confident and comfortable than they did during the first two seasons. Even the season’s weaker episodes feel like isolated missteps, rather than show struggling to figure out what works.
The second season is a little more uneven when it comes to monster-of-the-week stories, perhaps hindered by the fact that it can only really begin producing “standard”episodes of The X-Files from about half-way through the season. For a variety of reasons, Excelsis Dei and Red Museum are not really examples of what the show should be aspiring towards, and are unfortunately produced almost immediately after Gillian Anderson’s return, right at the point where the show needs reliable and engaging monster-of-the-week shows more than ever.
All of this is a roundabout way of arguing that Fresh Bones is really the first time it feels like The X-Files has cracked the technique for producing a successful monster-of-the-week case. While the show has done successful standalone horrors before (like, you know, Squeeze, the show’s third episode), Fresh Bones stands out as an example of an episode that probably would have been an unmitigated disaster earlier in the show’s run.
It’s a story that is packed with the sorts of familiar horror tropes that The X-Files has struggled with in the past. Given how The Jersey Devil struggled with cryptozoology,Shadows bungled ghosts, Shapes messed up werewolves and 3 screwed up vampires, an episode about Voodoo, ghosts and other apparitions really should be a spectacular misfire. It’s also an episode about another culture. Given how Shapesbasically twisted Native American mythology into a very western werewolf story, a show about Haitian Voodoo should give everybody pause.And yet, despite all these concerns, Fresh Bones works beautifully. It’s not that the episode represents The X-Files doing anything particularly novel, it’s that the the episode proves that the show can do familiar things better. Fresh Bones is an episode that establishes a level of quality for standalone monster shows that the series will hit pretty consistently over the next two (or three, if you’re feeling generous) seasons.
Of course, this is something of an over-simplification of Fresh Bones. As much as it remains an exemplar of the stand-alone X-Files format, it also has a considerable contemporary resonance to it. If Die Hand Die Verletz is a rather scathing satire of certain attitudes towards religion, then Fresh Bones feels like a horror story ripped from the headlines. Fresh Bones was broadcast in early February 1995, while United States forces were still deployed as part of Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti following a military coup d’etat in late 1991.
In late 1994, the United States deployed a military force to help manage a transition of power from the junta back to the nation’s democratically elected officials. United States military forces remained in Haiti until late March 1995, when their peacekeeping role was assumed by the United Nations Mission in Haiti. Although only a single American serviceman was killed during the operation, three others committed suicide. A report concerning two of these suicides prompted Howard Gordon to write Fresh Bones.
Operation Uphold Democracy was an interesting experience from the perspective of the United States. It was one of the first times that the military confronted the difficulties unique to peacekeeping as opposed to combat, demonstrating the challenges posed. As Carrie H. Kennedy and Jeffrey A. McNeil note in A History of Military Psychology:
Peacekeeping missions have their own unique characteristics and impact on military personnel. Stress control units have been regularly utilised for those deployed for peacekeeping operations since Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992, given that peacekeeping forces often face an unfriendly populace, come under fire, live in unhygienic conditions, and are separated from their familiar. In addition, peacekeeping missions put more strain on individuals who may be vulnerable, have a preexisting mental health condition, abuse alcohol, or are experiencing relationship problems. These have been deemed risk factors for suicide in peacekeepers specifically.
Given the political realities of the post-Cold War era (which Charles Krauthammer described as “the unipolar moment”), the United States would arguably see itself dealing with these issues on a more frequent basis.
Read the rest of the review here.