17 April 2018

The X-Files: Nothing Lasts Forever (Spoiler Rant Review)

So, we've come to this: the bottom of the barrel. Season ten had "Babylon". Season eleven has "Nothing Lasts Forever". Luckily, neither does this episode.

Written by Karen Nielsen and directed by the show veteran James Wong, this second to last X-file takes us to the Bronx where a series of what looks like ritualistic murders attracts the attention of our heroes. The victims were surgeons who were harvesting organs when they were staked through the heart by a young woman – Juliet, who was quoting from a biblical psalm. The woman then left the harvested organs at the door of a nearby hospital with a note that said, "I will repay". 

Turns out, the surgeons were part of a cult of cannibals who have been prolonging their lives and fixing their physical deformities by consuming human flesh and blood. One of the cult's latest recruits is Juliet’s sister, Olivia, and now we know the cause behind Juliet’s crusade. 

All the mystery is thrown out the window once we know who the bad guys are, and all we can do is wait until Scully and Mulder make the right connections, ask the right questions, and find the cult. In the meantime, we are treated to a series of boring, gory and poorly acted scenes of the cult lead by a discount Goldie Hawn from the movie Death Becomes Her.

I have a hole in my stomach!

Her second in command is Dr. Luvenis. He is the mastermind behind the gruesome beautifying technique and he has surgically conjoined himself to a young woman so that he can feed on her bone marrow to prolong his own life.

Discount Goldie gets mad at him for not providing her with organs, kills his bone marrow donor and eats her, prompting the good doctor to find another donor. He picks Olivia.

Some more stuff happens. Mulder and Scully go to a church, which happens to be the same church that Juliet is a part of. They find Juliet who tells them that she will avenge her sister.

Finally, they locate the cult in a rundown apartment building and as they are questioning the deranged cult leader they are attacked by her disciples. Scully gets thrown into an elevator shaft (I wonder if she dies?), and Mulder faces off with Dr. Luvenis who threatens to kill Olivia. Just then Vigilante Juliet springs out of the shadows killing both the mad scientist and Discount Goldie. Mulder finds Scully who has landed safely into a pile of garbage. Mulder tells her that she stinks. 

Scully, you smell bad!

Juliet then tells the agents that she has accepted her fate and as long as her sister is safe she is okay with spending the rest of her life behind bars.

The episode ends on an optimistic note in the same church with Scully and Mulder discussing their relationship and the possibility of them getting back together. Scully the whispers something into Mulder's ear. We can't hear her words, but that's what the fan theories are for.

I'm in love with Assistant Director Walter Skinner!

In the season two episode, "Our Town", Mulder and Scully's investigation of a missing person's case leads them to a cult of cannibals who prolong their lives by consuming human flesh and brains.

In, "Nothing Lasts Forever" Mulder and Scully's murder investigation leads them to a cult of cannibals who prolong their lives by consuming human flesh and blood. Both episodes are dark and pessimistic, but where "Our Town" downplays the gore and focuses on creating an atmosphere of paranoia that leaves you with a bitter aftertaste long after you finished the episode, "Nothing Lasts Forever" throws all subtlety and atmosphere out the elevator shaft, and doubles down on the gore and the pornographic violence. The result is a cheap and gimmicky episode that easily earns its spot among the worst episodes of the whole series.

I'm not saying that this gore fest is entirely without merit. Unlike "Followers", this episode does have a place in the season arc and it does its fair share in progressing the arc as well. But the main story as well as the writing itself successfully bury all ambition under this steaming pile of brains and intestines.

For instance, there is the age theme that runs throughout the whole season. Our heroes are now middle-aged, meaning that they have to redefine their place on the X-files, but also their own relationship. This has been one of my favourite themes of the season mostly because it makes our characters more relatable and helps to place them in this brave new world.

In this episode, Nielsen takes the theme of ageing to a new extreme. Discount Goldie and her vampire cult take to gruesome means in their attempt to cheat time and be beautiful. And on the other side of the spectrum you have Mulder who has been prescribed progressive lenses, and Scully who has been dealing with her own fears of getting older since "Plus One". But unlike the cult members, our heroes don't let their age define them, and they accept their wrinkles and their progressive lenses as a natural part of life.

In her interview with Den of Geek, Nielsen said that she wanted to explore the topic of beauty and aging specifically within the context of Hollywood. 

"I think being alone in society you just feel the pressures of appearance. We live in such a consumerist society and everything is just about how we look because that's how we can prey on people's insecurities and sell things. I'm susceptible to it just like the majority of people—not just women, but people—are in the world. And if you're a woman and an actress it's like quadruple all of that. If you're over thirty you almost become a write-off, which is horrible."

Discount Goldie is a former TV actress and she becomes the embodiment of this unhealthy obsession Hollywood has with youth and beauty. I get what Nielsen was trying to say. Unfortunately, the gratuitous violence and the cheesy acting make it difficult for me to take the message seriously. Especially considering that there are movies and TV shows that have done a far better job exploring this theme.

The thesis that aging is a natural part of life and that trying to reverse it violates the laws of nature (or God) is painfully on the nose. To add insult to injury, the villains in this one are so evil that there is no way we can sympathize with them or even understand their plight.

Another theme that Nielsen wanted to delve into was that of religion, cults and faith.

[...] when I wanted to touch on Scully's religion in that respect, Glen [Morgan] brought up the angle of cults because they're sort of like a really messed up religion. That's where it started from, where Glen came in with the angle and I came it from character. Then you mix in a little James Wong and some American Horror Story for good measure and you get something special."

So, this episode also tries to explain why Scully - a skeptic and scientist - believes in God. It's an inside joke among fans by now, but a question that is not without value. Scully's dichotomy raises many interesting questions about faith; about the personal experience of faith, and the indoctrination in organized religion. Is Scully's plight that of a person who is trying to reconcile the truths she has been indoctrinated into with the truths she is learning on her own?

To this day we haven't had a story that successfully explained how Scully can be a devout Catholic and a woman of science. I'm not saying that the two are mutually exclusive, but the fact is, I have had some interesting discussions with other fans about this topic that offered far more insight than "Nothing Lasts Forever".

I don't know if this episode was supposed to start a discussion about faith vs. science, but if that is the case, then the story offers no valid arguments and no wisdom one way or the other so the whole thing falls flat on its ass. The whole thing is muddled and there is no real conclusion. No lessons to be learnt. Nothing to take away from this experience. 

The reason this exploration of cults and religion fails is because these questions are explored through the characters, and these characters are not good. Vigilante Juliet is a Catholic girl who is using God to justify her violence, and the ageist cannibals use "science" to prolong their lives. Both sides are murdering other people so any argument you can make in favour of religion or science loses all meaning because these people do terrible things. And the very fact that Juliet is using God to justify murder makes her more dangerous than this cult.

Of course, the questions of faith serve as a set up for something that will have a pay-off in the season finale so I'm going to save those moments for when I'll be talking about the finale.  

This episode doesn’t even feel like an X-File. It’s like American Horror Story meets Arrow, and Mulder and Scully are there for some reason. How's that for a fanfic idea?

Dr. Luvenis, you have failed my sister!

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