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'X-Files' Fridays: Are you familiar with subliminal messages?

Season 2 | Episode 3 | “Blood” | Aired Sep 30, 1994

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 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, did you know that Mulder played right field?

KELLY: After all of that time we spent discussing Flukeman last week, “Blood” goes in the exact opposite direction. There is no creature to catch here—there’s just fear and mankind’s own capacity for destruction, with a possible assist from science. Weaponized paranoia: That’s the real X-Files monster.

ANDREA: I wasn’t sure if we needed to watch this one, but I think you made a valid point that it was worth talking about. Because when it comes down to it, this is what The X-Files is built on: paranoia, mankind’s own worst enemy. Even though we won’t get to it for another season, it kind of echoes “Pusher,” in a way—although this is a machine telling people what to do rather than a person. Somehow, that’s more terrifying. Especially if you look at the way the world has evolved, which is always fun to do in cases like this, when the show tackles something outside of aliens.

KELLY: I might challenge you on the idea that a machine is more terrifying than a person, because it’s the humanity in a killer that I always find most unsettling—I think the scariest thing about this particular set of machines is the people behind them, relaying messages (“Scully, are you familiar with subliminal messages?”) through everyday objects. But maybe all machines are only frightening because at one point there were people behind them. What’s scarier: that we might lose control over what we created, or that we wanted to create it in the first place?

It’s not even clear by the end of the episode exactly how these subliminal messages work. Mulder says that they’re relayed purposely, but has the technology evolved to the point where it sends the right messages on its own, or is there a team of people watching everything, typing “ALL DONE, BYE-BYE” directly to him? It’s the second possibility that makes me shiver. Mulder has been worried about surveillance all season, and “Blood” offers even more proof that his paranoia is justified. Which brings us to a big question: If the L.S.D.M. heightens people’s fear to the point of violence, what is Mulder’s fear, and why doesn’t he react the same way?

xfiles blood mulder

ANDREA: Fair point—which I feel goes back to what I think about sometimes when I consider the show in relation to the world today. I think that’s why I’m so intrigued by a lot of the revival. The things that were scary at that point have escalated to things that are even creepier, and how does that change what cases they deal with and how they react?

I like that you brought up the fact that Mulder has been paranoid and how “Blood” plays into that. Especially with losing the X-Files, knowing that there’s someone shady at the FBI behind keeping him down, and worrying about Scully, the episode pretty much plays into his fears. And if we go by this episode, we can assume (unless it’s just a plot hole) that Mulder’s fear isn’t paranoia. So maybe it’s the fear that he’ll lose Scully, which, aside from his work, is the only other constant thing in his life. Because Mulder is confident in his ability to solve cases … but losing Scully is a whole other ballgame. Then he truly is on his own.

KELLY: I think his relationship with Scully does play into it, but I think it’s less a fear of losing her than a fear that he never really had her in the first place. They were put together in order to push each other apart, and when that didn’t work, someone pulled them apart instead. I think he’s afraid of being a pawn. He says, “If you’re distracted by fear of those around you, it keeps you from seeing the actions of those above.” Mulder’s fear is the actions of those above. Which saves him, because it’s a self-defeating prophecy: If you’re afraid that you’re being controlled, then fighting your fear is also fighting what controls you. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle. “ALL DONE, BYE-BYE” theoretically sets him free, but it also proves that he’s still being watched.

ANDREA: I think if we consider everything that’s coming up, including Scully’s abduction, it really does add a certain level of intensity and creepiness to the whole theme of the episode. And when you think about the way Mulder has been used by the FBI, especially with the Smoking Man, there’s that level of “pawn” as well. Mulder has never been a killer. He’s always been the guy who has sacrificed everything to save the people he cares about. Maybe that’s part of it too.

KELLY: Right! Mulder gets violent only to protect or defend other people, and even then, we know he doesn’t like to take the shot if he can help it. He actually yells “NO” as Spencer is shooting Mrs. McRoberts, even though she’s coming at Mulder with a knife. His inclination is always to put himself last. One of my favorite moments of the episode (aside from “He’s probably one of those people that thinks Elvis is dead,” which is the actual best) is when he does speak up for himself—Winter brings up his “Spooky” reputation, and Mulder tells him not to start diverting blame. There’s a sense that he wouldn’t have been able to say even that much before Scully. You just can’t keep them apart; she flies 300 miles in the middle of the night for him.

xfiles blood scully

ANDREA: We like to think of Mulder as confident, brash, and direct. And he is! But I think Scully makes him that much more confident. She allows him to accept his stature as “Spooky Mulder.” I don’t think he even cares that much about what people think of him in the long run, because this has been his life for so long. But now he can embrace it, in a way. He stands up to people who are doing wrong things. He’s much harsher, but not in a mean way. It’s only season two, and he’s come a long way from the person we met in the pilot. They both have.

KELLY: Mulder is more vocal now, for sure. It’s happening in stages—I like that he kind of mutters his defense of right field under his breath. Speaking up for himself in service of the truth is one thing. Baseball is going to take a little longer. And speaking of baseball, Morgan and Wong are almost bringing us “Home” lite with this one. They’re playing into images of the ideal small town only to shatter it. Spencer uses the old “things like this aren’t supposed to happen here” cliché, but it obviously it did happen. The only difference—the only way this episode preserves a bit of innocence—is in the implication that these things were all inflicted on the town from the outside. It’s a watchful presence above them making them do this, not something hidden below the surface.

ANDREA: And it sets the stage for so much to come. Because after all, isn’t that really what the Syndicate and the FBI are? They’re not hiding. They’re right there in plain sight, trying to do everything they can to bring Mulder down.

KELLY: As long as they never bring down his jokes: “She wouldn’t come. She’s afraid of her love for you.”

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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