CTP Episode of the Day - 08.30.06

Today's Cherished Episode: 731 (3x10)
Original Air Date: December 1, 1995
Written By: Frank Spotnitz
Directed By: Rob Bowman

Mulder is caught on board a speeding train with what might be alien cargo and a government killer while Scully seeks her own solution to the conspiracy.

"Don't you see, Mulder? You're doing their work for them. You're chasing aliens that aren't there, helping them to create a story to cover the shameful truth. And what they can't cover, they apologize for. Apology has become policy."

Some "731" Tidbits & Musings:

-- The title: During World War II a special unit of the Japanese Army experimented on prisoners of war, including Americans. These prisoners were exposed to disease and extremes of temperature; they were operated on without anesthesia. Like their Nazi counterparts, they may have been given refuge in the United States to continue their experiments. This group was known to top Japanese Army officials as Unit 731.

-- The tagline is changed for the fourth time to "Apology is Policy." Chris Carter wrote the scene that led to the tagline change, inspired by U.S. government apologies regarding secret radiation experiments. Carter indicated that there was no set criteria for changing the tagline, explaining that some of the considerations were, "If there's an idea that really interests me, and it contains a wonderful truth, like I believe these things do." In addition, the tagline change must resonate with the show and not be a cliche. "It is also the advertising gene I have in my DNA," added Carter. "I tend to like these pithy epigrams. They appeal to me, and I think they set the show apart from other shows on TV as well. They help to define what it is. 'The truth is out there' has found its way into the sort of cultural vocabulary, and so have some of the other ones, too."

-- According to Mat Beck, visual effects supervisor, that was really David Duchovny on top of and on the side of the train that's rocketing along. "He had a great big ugly safety strap that we had to digitally remove in post-production," Beck said. "We try to make things as safe as possible yet look way more dangerous than they really are."

-- The mere idea of setting most of the action aboard a train entailed numerous production difficulties. "Any time you use such a large prop as a train it presents a problem," producer Joseph Patrick Finn said, noting that the show had to build train car interiors for the special car where the alien was kept as well as sleeper cars. The sets were then floated on inner tubes to create the feeling of a rocking movement.

-- The train car that Mulder is trapped in is numbered 82517. 5/17 is the birth date of producer/writer Frank Spotnitz's wife.

-- The name of the doctor, Takeo Ishimaru, and his alias, Shiro Zama, is an amalgamation of the name of the real head of Unit 731, Dr. Shiro Ishi.

-- The Japanese book that Mulder flips through early in the episode (in the doctors train compartment) contains the exact same text on every page.

-- Yes, everybody loves Scully, especially those "doofs," the techno-nerd boys!

-- Hansen's Disease is indeed leprosy, named after Gerhard H. A. Hansen (1841 - 1912), Norwegian physician.

-- The mass grave represented one of Toby Lindala's biggest assignments of the year, with 25 masked actors (mostly children) having to fill the open grave on top of an equal number of prop bodies. Lindala and his 8-man crew had to create those 50 different makeup pieces and bodies in just 5 days, adapting some existing masks from previous episodes to get the job done in time. "It was complete pandemonium here," he said. "We had two crews going day and night."

-- Mulder drops his gun for the 15th time (with good reason) but he gave his spare away.

-- The Red-Haired Man tells Mulder that the entry card to the train car is 1111471; that number reappears later as the aircraft registry number on the downed P-51 Mustang in "Piper Maru." Although most of the numbers that appear in The X-Files have some hidden meaning, this number, which first appeared as part of Mulder's badge number in "F. Emasculata," and recurs throughout the third season, has NO significance. It is, if anything, the ultimate in-joke -- a sly tease for the fans who hang on every detail.

-- "The thing that sticks in my mind about this episode were the scenes with David and Stephen McHattie inside the train," said Bowman. Allowing those two actors to play longer scenes using a Steadi-cam was "almost like a stage play" showcasing two fine actors, he noted. "That's a change from what we're usually doing, which is filming little eighths of a page, and let's get out of here."

-- Viral hemorrhagic fever is the collective name given to the diseases caused by a group of viruses such as Ebola virus and Marburg virus. Viral hemorrhagic fever begins with fever and muscle aches and can result in a relatively mild illness or can lead to death.

-- The lovely Iowa mountains seen outside the stopped train car rival the lovely Oklahoma mountains seen in "D.P.O."

-- Oopsie! When Mulder runs the keycard through the door scanner, he swipes it the wrong way, scanning nothing but plastic.

-- So simple but so effective: "Tick, tick, Scully."

-- 1013 reference: The combination Scully gives Mulder to free him from the boxcar is #101331 (10/13 is Chris Carter's birthday).

-- The producers took a real train car that had been decommissioned and blew it up. In order to produce the desired blast effect, the stainless steel was cut out of the train, which was blown up with 120 black-powder bombs and 45 gallons of gasoline. That prompted considerable concern from the park service where the scene was shot about where all that debris was going to end up, but as usual, the producers cleaned up their mess.

-- Director Rob Bowman set up seven cameras prior to the train car explosion to catch the shot from that many different angles. "When it was all over he called me and said, 'Dave, I used them all,'" recalled David Gauthier, special effects coordinator, who salvaged a bell from the train and had it engraved for Bowman.

-- A green-screen visual effects matte shot was used to superimpose the two actors over the explosion, as X carries Mulder to safety. "When it comes to live explosions," said Mat Beck, "they don't like to have any people around where things are blowing up." And while the guy slung over X's shoulder had a very fine ass (much better than the guy in the shower in "Nothing Important Happened Today"), that very fine ass did not belong to David Duchovny.

-- According to Steven Williams, X's heroic actions in this episode helped endear him more to the show's viewers. "X was starting to get a little bit irritating to the fans," he said. "He'd come on and say some nebulous s**t, some ambiguous sort of thing, and people would say, 'Come on! Just give him the information!'"

-- Rob Bowman took considerable ribbing after the episode for inadvertently destroying two cameras -- a running joke featured later in a gag reel for a Fox executive, where Bowman earnestly said he planned to drive a truck through a trio of cameras and then throw two more cameras at the truck as it went by.

-- David Duchovny once said that David Nutter (who directed "Nisei") and Rob Bowman (who directed "731") were his favorite directors on The X-Files: "They let me do what I want. An actor's relationship with a director is a very odd one because you really have to trust them. And in television, you're thrown this new director all the time. Here's this new guy, you don't know anything about him. You don't know if he's going to screw you, you don't know if you can trust him -- and your work suffers accordingly. So if you get somebody that you trust and knows how to move the camera around and wants you to do the best that you can do, you do better work and it's more comfortable to be with that person. Every time they bring in a new guy, you have to feel him out and by the time you've felt him out, it's six days into the shoot and you've only got two left. So it's tough."

-- Once & Future Retreads: "731" was chock full of reappearances by actors with recurring XF roles. William B. Davis as the Cigarette Smoking Man; Steven Williams as X; Don S. Williams as Elder #1; and Brendan Beiser as Agent Pendrell. Other retreads were Michael Puttonen who was the Conductor in this episode as well as the Motel Manager in "Deep Throat," Dr. Pilsson in "Sleepless," and Martin Alpert in "Elegy." Colin Cunningham (Escalante) was Lt. Terry Wilmer in "End Game" and Dr. Stroman in "Wetwired." Sean Campbell (Soldier) was a Cop in "Leonard Betts."

-- Inexplicably, "Nisei" was one of the lower rated episodes of Season 3, and "731" was one of the highest.

-- Director Rob Bowman called this episode "one of my all-time favorites." He said, "'731' follows 'Nisei' so the episode has a great endgame. You see that Seven Williams, Mr. X, the meanest, nastiest, most lethal killer on the planet has got Agent Mulder in his arms, walking away from the train and in the background the fabulous David Gauthier explosion of the train car. It's like a little movie. It really felt like a movie. It didn't have a lot of scare in it, it wasn't a 'boo' episode, it was a 'big' episode. And the end of this story is that Chris Carter saw my cut and called me at home and said 'I just watched your cut of 731 and I just want you to know that I would be really thrilled if you directed the movie for me.' I guess he must have really liked it."

(Thanks to chrisnu for today's episode pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "731"!

You haven't seen the X-Files till you've seen it from a train.