CTP Episode of the Day - 08.09.06

Today's Cherished Episode: Agua Mala (6x14)
Original Air Date: February 21, 1999
Written By: David Amann
Directed By: Rob Bowman

A deadly creature is slithering through the water system of a seaside town. Mulder and Scully are called down to investigate -- and arrive in the midst of a killer hurricane.

"If Agent Scully had not been there with you I shudder to think what would have happened to you. I'd say you owe her your life. It takes a big man to admit this, but ... if I had had someone as savvy as her by my side all those years ago in the X-Files I might not have retired."

Some "Agua Mala" Tidbits & Musings:

-- Spanish for "Bad Water," the term "Agua Mala" is also a slang name for a particularly nasty type of jellyfish (the Portuguese Man of War) in the Caribbean. This jellyfish has tentacles that can spread out over a large area of water, the clear *arms* unseen until it has wrapped itself around a person's limb or limbs, leaving welts that look very much like acid burns.

-- The episode is set in Goodland, Florida, which is a real place -- located on the outlying portion of Marco Island on Florida's Gulf coast. It has about 300 year-round residents.

-- "Agua Mala" was the second script by executive story editor David Amann (the first was "Terms of Endearment"). He was asked to come up with a story with Arthur Dales in it, and he originally pitched an idea to Frank Spotnitz about a monster loose in an abandoned cave with a gold mine inside. Amann conceded it was not a great idea, but Spotnitz liked the notion of a monster shut up in an enclosed space. Gradually they came up with the idea of the hurricane and the sea monster and a group of people shut up inside a building with it.

-- "After that," Amann said, "most of the rest of our work involved solving certain problems of logic. For instance, how do you get a sea monster onto land? There were early versions where the winds actually blew it onto the beach and it crawled up to the building and worked its way inside. But that gave way to coming into the water pipes and through the light fixtures which was subtler and ultimately more scary. Then we had to get Mulder and Scully into the building; the Shipley's disappearance sprang from that. Then we came up with the subsidiary characters and their problems. And since nobody caught in this trap was really getting along with each other, this gave us various tensions we could bring to bear and work with, and some moments of humor when we needed it."

-- Amann said that when he was writing the script he didn't really consider the problems he was causing when he typed the word "rain" in it. "I didn't fully appreciate what I'd done until I went on the set one night. They were shooting exterior stuff, and they had six or eight rain towers, and a rain bar hanging from a crane, and were showering everything in sight, with wind machines all over the place blowing water, almost horizontally. It was truly a sight to behold. Awesome."

-- "Very dark and very wet," was how most of the XF cast and crew remembered the filming of this episode. "We just got drenched," said Gillian Anderson. "It was like we were back in Vancouver."

-- "I don't think I shot anything for that episode during daylight, or with anything brighter than a flashlight or an emergency lamp in the hallway," said director Rob Bowman. "And dealing with all that water on a television production schedule? Unbelievable. Because every time somebody got wet we had to stop everything to dry them off. In particular, David and Gillian were constantly waterlogged. I have to hand it to them for working so well with us under such really terrible conditions."

-- "The 'Agua Mala' script had a couple of tricky elements to it," Bowman said. "The first was the big squid. I didn't know if it was going to look scary or not. The second was the rest of the story. I didn't know if it would be compelling enough. But, in the end, we wiggled the camera and had the creature come in and out of the light quickly to make it scarier. Then we played up the humor to let the audience know that not all of this was supposed to be hard-edged drama -- and I think it all came out very well; a hell of a lot better than I was afraid it might."

-- Finding a Florida-style condominium complex that could be bombarded inside and outside with thousands of gallons of water wasn't possible. So the exterior scenes were shot at a surprisingly upscale apartment building at Belmont Shores, near Long Beach. All of the condo interiors -- including an impressive 120-foot-long corridor -- were built inside one of the XF sound stages. "I got the script for 'Agua Mala' in the middle of Christmas vacation, and realized we had to build everything from scratch -- a huge project -- so I'd better get the crew back early," said production designer Corey Kaplan.

-- Construction coordinator Duke Tomasick recalled, "You sure wouldn't want to move into that place one we'd finished filming there. All those sets were pretty trashed and waterlogged by the time we were done with them."

-- Also heavily absorbed in "Agua Mala" was special effects makeup supervisor John Vulich -- the man in charge of creating the translucent tentacles of the ravenous sea monster. "That was probably the single most difficult thing I did all season," said Vulich. "It's hard to make limbs that are both transparent and flexible, but we came up with a combination of silicon and urethane and some other kind of vinyl -- the kind they use to make fishing lures. The tricky part was getting the mechanics inside invisibly. We painted the mechanics and wrapped them in rubber, and if we lit the tentacle just the right way, it sort of worked. We also used an old trick, quick and dirty, which was to take some hollow tentacles, wrap them around the actors, pull them away, then run the film in reverse to make it look like they were getting grabbed."

-- To keep Anderson, Duchovny, and the other actors from getting their skin completely dried out from constant exposure to water, makeup department head Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf sprayed their faces frequently with a special solution of Vitamin E. She also glued tiny rubber "octopus bite marks" -- 130 of them, a ninety-minute job, minimum -- on Duchovny's face and neck. "We did that a couple of times," said Montesanto-Medcalf, laughing. "He seemed to like it."

-- Doing her best to keep pneumonia at bay, costume designer Christina Peters brought to each set six dry copies (instead of the usual two or three) of every wardrobe item scheduled to be worn by a wet actor.

-- When David Duchovny appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in April 1999 (to promote "The Unnatural") he told a very cute story about working with the cat (Reggie) in this episode. I couldn't find a transcript, but he talked about telling the cat trainer how impressed he was with the cat's "acting" as the cat was able to pick up his paw to seemingly point Mulder in the direction of solving the case. The cat's trainer told Duchovny that the cat specialized in putting his paw on cans of cat food in commercials, and since cats hate to be wet, the cat was just trying to do the trick it thought the trainer wanted so it could get out of the rain.

-- In the spare time she had, Peters talked with the then 77-year-old Darren McGavin, "the sweetest man in the world." Peters said, "I'm a big fan of his, and was pleased to meet him, but since to save his energies he didn't like to come in for fittings, I had all kinds of pajamas and bathrobes for him to try on his first morning on the set. Well, we did all that, but about a half hour before his first shot he was sitting in his trailer with a shy little smile on his face. He said to me, 'You know what I'd really like? A seersucker bathrobe.' Thank God we were on the lot that day. We raced back to Main Wardrobe, dug through their vault of bathrobes, and came up with a seersucker bathrobe that fit him. And Darren was happy. So far as I was concerned, the day was saved."

-- McGavin, whose Kolchak the Night Stalker character was one of Chris Carter's influences in creating the X-Files, reprised his role as retired FBI Agent Arthur Dales, a role he created in Season 5's "Travelers." McGavin returned in the same role later in Season 6, in the David Duchovny written and directed episode, "The Unnatural." But after two days of filming, McGavin suffered a stroke serious enough to prevent him from completing work on that episode. So "Agua Mala" was his last appearance as Arthur Dales. McGavin passed away earlier this year, on February 25. He was 83 years old.

-- In the first act, we get a vermin-eye-view of much of Mulder's apartment, including his kitchen (where he has a TV, which means he must spend some time in there occasionally). We also see the guitar player sculpture on his desk for the first time. We also see a huge answering machine that looks like it would be a good mate to Scully's old white 20 pound cordless phone.

-- Arthur Dales called Mulder an "X-Files man," but had Kersh put M&S back on the XF? Well, yes. We just missed it because "Arcadia" was shown out of order, and in that episode, Mulder notes that it was M&S's first catch back on the XF. "Arcadia" should have been the first episode aired after "Two Fathers/One Son."

-- It's the Big Ass Flashlights! It's the Little Ass Flashlights! It's Oral Flashlights!! It's a Plethora of Flashlights!!

-- The inept Deputy Greer in assigned to Car 54, which is probably a reference to the 1960s series, Car 54, Where Are you? which featured two inept and buffoonish police officers in New York City.

-- Best Scullyism: "I don't need my mettle tested."

-- I loved seeing Mulder serve as Scully's medical assistant; and I always laugh as Scully gathers her baby-delivering supplies (remember the bloopers).

-- Silas Weir Mitchell, who played Dougie the looter, can now be seen as Haywire on Prison Break.

-- Diana_Maria Riva (Angela) appears in the highly-touted new series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

-- Valente Rodriguez (Walter Suarez) is a regular on The George Lopez Show playing Ernie.

-- "Agua Mala" probably isn't on anyone's "top-ten episodes" list, but it's an episode that has a lot more going for it than might appear on the surface. Yes, the story wasn't too original, it had cookie-cutter stereotypes, didn't make great use of Arthur Dales, and too many of the important dramatic moments happened off screen. Yes, it's a story that we've seen a zillion times before on this show. But that's what makes it wonderfully nostalgic. It harkens back to the formula of those early X-File episodes -- some genuinely scary moments nicely offset by subtle humor, darkness, more rain than even Vancouver could muster, big flashlights, a half-seen creature that attacks when its victims are most vulnerable, great banter between Moose and Squirrel, a third party stating the obvious about the 'ship, and people dying in the bathroom. Who could ask for anything more?

-- Last but not least, "Agua Mala" contains a hidden treasure that I discovered when I was re-watching the episode to write the "Theatre of the Mind" for it. I got interrupted while watching the episode and pushed the "mute" button on the remote, which activated the closed captioning. The credits and commercials rolled by, and the Act One VerminCam started. As it did, the closed captioning said: "[phone rings] Hi, this is Fox Mulder. You can leave me a message after the beep." The usual Mulder message. But then something quite unexpected happened. This appeared on my screen: "If this is you, Scully, call me on my cell phone. I think you know the number." I double checked the episode with audio on, and just the usual Mulder message. The little addition only appears in the closed captioning. I'm not sure why, but the added line tickled me down to my little toes. Perhaps because it couldn't have come at a better time than after the rough seas of "Two Fathers/One Son" nearly capsized the 'ship. The line was playful and sweet, and the kind of message you leave on your answering machine for someone you love (IMBO).

-- That discovery proved to me that no matter how many times I have watched an episode, there is still always something new to find, maybe hiding in plain sight or hidden just beneath the surface. (Putting together info for these CTP Eps of the Day has underscored that fact.) Someday, I may go back and watch every episode with the closed captioning on to see if I can find any other little hidden gems. Because they're probably out there -- you just have to know where to look.

(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 "Agua Mala"!

I just made it! It is still 08.09.06 where I am -- well, just barely. Polly