The X-Files and the Monsters of That Week: Triangle
Season six of The X-Files was the last truly great year of the show, yet no-one thought so at the time.
This season marked a couple of creative changes to the show, especially since it was the first season since the release of The X-Files movie. One of these changes was the move from Vancouver to Los Angeles, which saw the show get a lot brighter with some loss of the atmosphere that shooting in a place with actual weather gives you; it will surprise nobody that the show moved back to Vancouver for the revival seasons. The second choice was to begin the season with a series of overtly comedic episodes.
After the season premiere and the stellar Drive (which was almost my pick for this season) there was a group of episodes: Dreamland parts one and two, The Ghosts Who Stole Christmas, and The Rain King, which had fans of the time wondering if the show had lost its edge. This run of episodes has gained a reputation of high quality in the ensuing years, especially since season seven’s return to more horror-based stories proved that the writers had become a little jaded with The X-Files formula. The best of the bunch, though, is undoubtedly Triangle.
That’s right – the unbeaten run of Vince Gilligan episodes is finally over; though the Breaking Bad creator has a bunch of contenders in this season, and after roasting Chris Carter last week, it’s only far to give the show’s creator credit when he gets something right. Carter, despite being the show’s creator, is not particularly good at monster of the week episodes. His best effort until this point was season two’s terrifying Irresistible, but he’s more likely to be behind middling efforts like The List, or downright duds like Fire. The mythology is where he’s most comfortable, though season six is the last time the show’s main story is good or even coherent.
Triangle would be a classic X-File if it only had its continuous tracking shots that capture each section of the episode until the ad-break. It’s roaming camera, as well as some creative editing (much like Birdman, Carter uses darkness to hide cuts and create the illusion of continuity), shows how both Mulder can be carried along in his incessant quest for the truth, and how Scully can be carried along by having to save Mulder’s ass.
The story is simple: Mulder searches the Bermuda Triangle for a ship named the Queen Anne, finds the ship, only to be caught in the same time-loop that trapped the ship in the first place. This means that Mulder unwittingly finds himself in the midst of World War Two on a boat that has just been captured by Nazis. If that wasn’t all, the Nazis resemble the enemies to Mulder’s own quest: Jeffrey Spender, The Cigarette Smoking Man, and a predictably cagey Skinner (who’s really a good guy). Okay, maybe it’s not really that simple. The Nazis are looking for a scientist, who happens to be protected by an American spy with a striking resemblance to our favourite sceptic. It’s a thrilling ride, and a brilliant experiment that only The X-Files (again, at the height of it’s popularity) would even think of trying.
Even so, even with all of the bells and whistles of the past, it’s Scully’s mini-quest through the FBI to get Mulder’s location in the present that provides the best part of the episode. What’s so great about this sequence is that it dramatizes what Scully usually must go through to save Mulder: deals, actual investigation, and staying one step ahead of the enemies inside her own organization. Carter’s masterstroke is to show the part of Scully’s work that mostly ends up on the cutting room floor. It goes without saying (though I’m saying it anyway) that Gillian Anderson is astonishing in this episode in her dual roles. It’s her talent, more than the directorial choices, more than the nods to The Wizard of Oz, that raises Triangle above Vince Gilligan’s efforts this season.
Only just, though.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via TV Tropes)