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Archive for June, 2010

Since my dog died, it has been crucial that I distract myself when I’m at home. If I’m not actively distracting myself, I can’t help but focus on how empty the house is without him. I’ve relied on the few escapes I felt like would both comfort me and allow me to forget that I was missing him. So, I’ve brought out my DVDs of The X-Files.

The X-Files was my primary form of escapism between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. I came to it right before the first movie came out, when there was a substantial fever pitch building in pop culture for the show. I loved it. I could watch it for hours. Sometimes it was hard for me to think about anything else. I drove my mom completely crazy with how consumed I was by it. I still have a shoebox full of old X-Files magazine clippings and old TV Guides (which I carefully wrapped in plastic wrap in an attempt at preservation), along with two sets of X-Files action figures–one in the original packaging and one out of it–and countless other material testaments to my devotion.

I’ve never in my life watched all of X-Files continuously. I started watching it over again a few years ago, but only made it partway through the third season. Currently in my re-watch, I’m more than halfway through the second season. Watching it now is a much different experience for me than it was when I watched it as a teenager. In particular, watching The X-Files directly after having watched LOST in its entirety, I can’t help but notice something interesting.

The X-Files kind of sucked.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a great deal to love about it. One cannot ignore the many brilliant elements of the show. Dana Katherine Scully is one of the most fascinating characters ever to be on my television. The scores of monsters that were used week after week were inventive and scary. The myth arc, screwy though it may have been, was compelling. And the Cigarette-Smoking Man was a deeply creepy villain. There were some brilliantly funny episodes, particularly some of those written by Vince Gilligan and by Darin Morgan. Best of all, the relationship between Mulder and Scully was extraordinary friendship and unresolved romance (and then resolved!!) at its very finest.

But it’s hard for me not to compare The X-Files and LOST, given that they were both science fiction shows with a complicated myth arc. In fact, in some ways, LOST reminds me of what The X-Files stylistically could have been.

I learned recently that The X-Files didn’t have your typical writer’s room, and OH DOES THAT EXPLAIN A LOT. With LOST, it’s clear that almost everything that’s done is in the service of the larger story arc and the development of the characters. The continuity is extraordinary. It’s obvious that this care came out of a writer’s room that tended to every detail of how the plot and characters would be advanced.

Apparently on The X-Files, there was no writer’s room. The writers for the show would consult with Chris Carter, and then go off and do their own thing. The result is that continuity on X-Files was kind of a mess. How did Scully get her cross necklace? Well, it depends on what episode you watch. In one episode it says she got it for her birthday. In another it say she got it for Christmas. It seems like a small detail, but Scully’s necklace was one of the show’s most prominent and enduring symbols, and that lack of attention to detail carried over into the larger development of the story. While LOST fans may have complained that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were making it up as they went along, all you have to do is watch the mythology arc episodes of The X-Files to see what “making it up as you go along” REALLY looks like.

LOST was able to secure an end date to the show in order to tell exactly the story they wanted to tell–no more, no less. The X-Files dragged on for several seasons longer than was at all necessary and became an ugly shadow of its former self. The show’s pacing was terrible, because they didn’t know at what pace they needed to be moving. The myth arc was warped and twisted (and not in the good way), because they somehow needed keep the mysteries alive while giving the audience at least a little bit of payoff. Worst of all was continuing the show after David Duchovny’s departure. Like so many of my favorite shows, I stopped watching XF well before its end, because I couldn’t stand what the show had become. It made me mad when X-Files took me for this complicated ride, only to throw it all away in the final seasons. In the final episode, we supposedly got answers, but they were just thrown out there, and who could even remember what the questions were in the first place?

And to an extent, you can’t really blame XF for that. LOST’s ability to negotiate an end date with ABC was brilliant and unique. I’m sure when Chris Carter pitched the show, his focus was more on creating a spooky show that would capitalize on fascination with the paranormal and distrust of government–not a show that would create an intricate myth arc. That’s the problem inherent with scripted television. They’re almost always making it up as they go along.

The most recent X-Files movie was wonderful, because it went a long way toward repairing my feelings toward the show. I had the lowest of expectations for it, but it was lovely. It was an old friend come back to see me, and we picked up right where we left off. Most importantly, it gave me the closure I needed from the show. I got to see Mulder and Scully together. And they’re doing okay.

Going back to watch the show from the start, it’s hard not to feel sometimes like I’m reliving my high school years, even though I am more apt to notice the show’s faults. Despite its problems, I love it completely. It still brings me comfort. Both now and in high school, I needed The X-Files to escape when life got lousy. And providing an escape is one thing that it does very, very well.

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Felix

When I was eight or nine, someone broke into my house. We had so little of value that the would-be robber didn’t actually take anything, he just rifled through our things and left. The police officer told my mom that she shouldn’t be living in a house alone with two kids. “You need either a husband or a dog,” he told her.

First, my mom tried the husband. That was short lived. So then she tried a dog.

At the time, if you had asked, I would have told you that getting a dog was all my idea. I very much wanted a puppy of my own. I did my research and discovered that there was a hypo-allergenic breed of dog–the Bichon Frise–which would be perfect for me, considering my allergies.

My mom found a woman who was selling Bichon puppies, and we went to take a look. Almost all the puppies were, of course, rambunctious and adorable, but there was one very quiet little dog who was keeping to himself. Thinking that his calmness meant he would grow up to be a very even-tempered dog, we picked him. And he became Felix.

After a couple of years, we realized that we had confused “quiet” with “shy and socially anxious.” Rather than growing up to be a calm, sweet dog, Felix grew up to be a nutcase. It was as if Felix knew that my mom had gotten a dog as an extra source of protection, because Felix was determined to protect us WITH ALL HIS FURRY MIGHT. Felix would protect not only against robbers, but against ALL strangers. And friends. And family. And squirrels.

Felix was afraid of the world outside of me, my mom, and my sister. He was afraid of the dog house we built for him, and he was afraid of his dog bed. He hated water. He hated when people touched his paws. He hated cats. He hated other dogs. He hated when someone dared walk on the sidewalk in front of our house. Most of all, he hated when men dared come into our house, especially carpet cleaners or repairmen or the like. He bit a couple of people–some who had irresponsibly provoked him, and at least a few who were doing nothing but minding their own business. He barked and lunged and growled at strangers.

At the worst times, my mom thought that we weren’t going to be able to handle him. I remember, after one particularly bad incident (and I can’t even remember what the incident was, now), sobbing and pleading with my mom not to send Felix to the Humane Society. He was so much trouble, but he was so wonderful and so perfect, and so worth the trouble.

Eventually, the vet prescribed a daily dose of diazepam to help calm some of Felix’s boundless anxiety. While the diazepam did calm him some, his energy was unstoppable. Felix was notorious for running in large, impossibly fast circles in our backyard. He would chase his tail, then catch his tail, and then gnaw lightly on it. Any sort of stuffed dog toy we gave him would be destroyed in short order.

There were plenty of things that Felix loved. He loved going for walks more than anything. He loved sweet potatoes and potatoes. He loved treats so much that he didn’t get them too often, because he easily slipped into bad begging habits. He loved having his belly scratched.

And we loved him. Felix was almost always sweet with us. How can you not love someone who is so hell-bent on protecting you from the threats posed by mailmen, cats, and close friends? With us, he was nothing but a typical, excited, faithful friend. He was a constant presence. On the rare occasions when he had to go to the groomer for the day, the house was strange and sad and empty without him. A cliche, sure, but the house wasn’t home without Felix there.

He was a constant during our turbulent teenage years. He was company for my mom when both my sister and I went off to college. When I came home from college, I struggled with the adjustment. Being in school gave me an identity, and without school, I felt lost. During that time, Felix and I both latched on a little closer to each other. Even when my days felt pointless and I felt like my life was going nowhere, I still made sure that Felix got his food and his medicine and got outside, and he made sure that every night, he curled up next to my bed and kept me company. He was my pal, my buddy boy, my baby, and an excellent conversationalist.

I loved his doggy smell, and I loved how he snored, and I couldn’t help but feel loved when Felix wanted to be wherever I was. I could never feel completely lonely when Felix was there. I could never feel completely worthless when he needed me to take care of him.

The past few years, Felix calmed considerably. Did he have a stroke that caused a personality change? Was he so blind and deaf that he didn’t know what was going on around him? Did he finally understand that the world wasn’t out to get him (or us)? Was he just too tired to care? We don’t know. But instead of the crazed protector, he became the calm, quiet version of himself that we saw as a puppy. We took him off the diazepam. I could have small groups of people over to my house, and he would barely blink an eye.

Felix would have turned 17 on September 2. Despite his age, he always seemed to be in great health. I knew, intellectually, that he was aging, but maybe because I saw him every day, I didn’t realize how much. I thought he had another year. Maybe two years. Maybe more. Dogs live to the age of 20 all the time, right?

In the past, whenever we tried to have Felix sleep on a dog bed, he would do nothing but bark at it and try to attack it. When I moved into my new house, we tried again, knowing that ceramic tile would not be comfortable for his old joints. For a few days, Felix thought his new dog bed was the biggest and best toy from the pet store. He tried to throw it around and play with it. Finally, though, we taught him that it was a bed, and it was not for playing, and he came to love his bed. Throughout the course of a day, I would move his bed all over the house, so he could be close to me, and still be comfortable.

Felix had to have a minor surgery a few weeks ago to remove a benign cyst from his head that was draining and causing some problems. He did very well during the procedure, but afterward, the strain of being under anesthesia was too much for his tired heart. We went back to the vet and discovered that there was fluid in his heart and lungs. We brought him home from the vet with medicine that was supposed to try and clear some of that fluid out. Then, I laid him down on his bed, and with my mom and I sitting by his side, he died.

He lasted a lot longer than that husband did, and he meant a thousand times more to all of us. Thank you, Felix, for being a best friend to me for almost 17 years. I miss you every single day.

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