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'X-Files' Fridays: Three-pipe problem

Season 1 | Episode 12 | “Fire” | Aired Dec 17, 1993

It’s been over two decades since The X-Files made its debut, but the series is as relevant as ever, and with a revival series on the horizon, there’s no better time to revisit it—or to discover it for the first time. Community assistant editors Andrea Towers, who watched in its original run, and Kelly Connolly, who was introduced to the show last summer, will be here each week to talk it out. Next up, Mulder extends a professional courtesy.

KELLY: Welcome to the first and only episode to feature Gillian Anderson’s British accent!

ANDREA: But it was totally warranted! You know, with people lighting themselves on fire and all. (I love how, to Mulder, THAT’S an X-File. Or at least, one he’s excited about.)

KELLY: He just has an instinct about these things. He smells that “paranormal bouquet.” And he won’t let up, even though he’s terrified of fire, because he knows people need his help. Mulder can’t be stopped by old nightmares—or by a manipulative ex who once had sex with him on Arthur Conan Doyle’s grave.

ANDREA: PHEOBE. Oh, Phoebe Green. Speaking of green, notice Scully’s expression when she sees the two of them kissing. How’s that for a little payback for her frilly blouse date, huh? But look, at least Mulder recognizes Phoebe’s game and tells Scully about it straight away. He’s honest and open with her, because he trusts her and respects her, and I think that says a lot. And in a classic Mulder way, it’s kind of setting up a safety net of, “I will probably need help later, so if anything happens that seems strange, remember this conversation.”

KELLY: He trusts Scully’s judgment more than he trusts his own. Scully gives Mulder the ability to take a step back and see himself as she sees him, and that saves his life all the time. It’s no mistake that he ties his robe when Phoebe shows up, but walks around in his boxers with Scully in the room. They’re so much more intimate, in their own way. But they’re also still cementing their partnership, which is why Scully’s insecurity feels really true to me in a way that her jealousy in future seasons sometimes won’t. She and Mulder are getting to know each other, and as far as she’s known to this point, he’s all about his quest. That’s it. Now she finds out that he’s capable of getting caught up in other people, even when they hurt him. (“Mulder, you just keep unfolding like a flower.”) That makes her protective.

xfiles fire scully wave

ANDREA: Yes! I love Scully’s insecurity here for the reasons you mentioned. It’s so … real? It’s not, “Oh my god, someone is hitting on my partner, because we’re two people of the opposite sex.” Which is what I feel like it would immediately be taken as today in the relationships that we’re given for shows like this. She’s learning about him and he’s learning about her—just like she turned down her date to go with him, he turns down Phoebe because he realizes what makes him happy: This life. Being with Scully. And not in a romantic way. But his cause has always been important, and he’s finally found someone who is genuinely happy to be along for that ride. (Well, mostly.)

KELLY: I love how Scully co-opts Mulder’s “inside joke” with Phoebe; Phoebe makes reference to a three-pipe problem, so Scully calls Mulder Sherlock. And he calls her Watson. That’s the life Mulder wants—an equal exchange of ideas. And, of course, he’s the Sherlock to her Watson, because he’s entirely in his head while she’s out in the world. Mulder looks for an arsonist by standing alone in an empty wing of the hotel and letting Phoebe put the moves on him, while Scully—who shows up of her own accord, because she wants to help—is over there watching the alarm switchboard and getting things done. He does redeem himself eventually, though. Mulder is always so down on himself when he falls short, but he keeps trying. He faces his demons.

ANDREA: (Side note: Please tell me how much you flailed internally with the Sherlock and Watson exchange.) I think that’s one of the things I love most about Mulder. He’s flawed. He’s so damn flawed, it should be outlawed. I know I have a history of loving flawed fictional characters, but I think by now, we’re used to that trope. As a character who needed to be likable in a show that was kind of unsteady in terms of how it would be received, it was important that the viewers felt they could latch on to the characters. Both Mulder and Scully were people we could identify with. I think a lot of that is due to Gillian and David’s acting, but for me, as someone who is going back and watching this after having seen it 20 years ago, I’m really struck by how “in your face” that was.

xfiles fire scully mulder

KELLY: So true—there’s something alienating (I DON’T KNOW IF I’M PUNNING) about the concept of The X-Files. The only people we can trust are Mulder and Scully, so we really have to trust them. We have to identify with their characters, and the early years do well at drawing us in while maintaining some mystery. We don’t know everything about them yet, but we support them, because they’re up against the impossible and doing their best to make sense of it. Mulder is right more often than not about what’s going on in the case. Scully is right more often than not about people. They make a great team.

(I flailed a lot.)

ANDREA: ALIENATING. You win this round.

I also think the stories in this first season were a good mix of random and also kind of believable. I mean, in season two we get circus performers. In season four, we get inbreeding. Season one was a lot of good cases of random things that could be legitimate but also were a little outlandish, and I think it was a good foundation for the show. It wasn’t just an alien show, but it didn’t just ground itself in, “Oh, there’s this insane case that would never be believable in real life.” But it’s also not a crime show, something like Castle, where there are murders every week.

KELLY: It’s like they venture just enough into the unknown that everything starts to seem plausible. How do we know that there’s not a guy out there who can set things on fire with his mind? There could be. We could just as easily find ourselves in Scully’s shoes, surprised by this world of possibilities that we didn’t know existed. Although I do wish they’d actually trapped Mulder and Scully in a car for an episode. Imagine the tension.

ANDREA: You think they went left? Or right?

KELLY: Straight ahead, all the way to the cornfield.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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