REPOST -- CTP Episode of the Day - 04.27.06 - Alpha

FYI: Periodically, I will edit and repost the CTPs that were done early on last year, since they were done a bit differently when we started out. Hope you enjoy them!

Today's Cherished Episode: Alpha (6x16)
Original Air Date: March 28, 1999
Written By: Jeffrey Bell
Directed By: Peter Markle

"Yeah, he doesn't listen and he chews on the furniture." Some "Alpha" Tidbits & Musings:

-- The episode title referred to the canine alpha-male, or leader of the pack. The dog in the episode is referred to as exhibiting "classic dominant-alpha territorial behavior."

-- "Scary Dogs in the City." Thus read the index card hanging for several months in first-year staff writer Jeffrey Bell's office. By the late fall of 1998, however, those four little words were well on their way to becoming a fully formed X-Files stand-alone episode.

-- Explained Bell: "The whole thing started when I saw a pack of dogs hanging out near a freeway in downtown Los Angeles. I thought, Nobody owns those dogs, yet those dogs are somehow surviving. How?"

-- Having pitched this rather open-ended concept early in the season, Bell looked up from his computer one day to see that his embryonic idea was scheduled as the sixteenth episode of the season. He frantically began writing on several different story ideas that he pursued "doggedly" to dead ends.

-- "One of them," recalled Bell, "was a reversal of the movie Incredible Journey, in which a desperate family moved three thousand miles to get away from their killer pet -- who was waiting for them at their new house, really pissed. Another one, which was a little like 'D.P.O.' and a little like 'The Rain King,' was about a kid who worked at the dog pound and who didn't get angry; the dogs got angry for him. The pack of dogs was his id. But neither one of those had enough really cool visuals. Then Frank Spotnitz came up with the idea of the dog escaping from the ship."

-- Spotnitz also came up with the idea of Mulder's online "romance" with the canine expert Karin Berquist. But by that time it was January 2, and preproduction on "Alpha" was scheduled to begin January 21.

-- In a classic case of X-File-ian brinkmanship, Bell started writing the script from scratch, while just about every other member of the writing staff massaged his hastily produced pages at one time or another. Indeed, "Alpha" was still being rewritten right up to the start of shooting on February 2. And in the meantime, the rest of the behind-the-camera staff was struggling to figure out how to transfer this rather hairy project to film.

-- "It was a nightmare," groaned executive producer Michael Watkins, shuddering at the memory of auditioning dozens of supposedly "trained" German Shepherds, wolves, and wolf hybrids for the part of the killer Wanshang Dhole. One trainer, he remembered, demonstrated "control" of her beasts by pulling on their massively linked choke chains and brandishing an ax handle; another suggested serious that the X-Files cast and crew members be wrapped with electrical wires -- to be zapped with current when necessary -- for their own safety while working around the animals. At virtually the last minute a skilled, humane trainer-handler named Clint Rowe -- who, in his capacity as a breeder had sold border collies to Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter -- was hired, along with his three wolf-Malamute hybrids Flame, Eli, and Ki-che. For several close-up scenes a puppet dog head was used; all of the animal sequences went safely and smoothly.

-- "We saw many, many women," sighed casting director Rick Millikan of his exhausting search for an actress to play the difficult role of the enigmatic, somewhat androgynous Karin Bernquist. (The day before Karin's first scene the experienced actress Melinda Culea -- wife of the episode's director, Peter Markle -- was selected. Nepotism aside, she was deemed by all concerned to have done a fine job.)

-- "The script called for an actual freighter to be filmed. But on a television budget, how do you get one to film at sea and sit at the dock where and when you want to shoot it?" lamented locations manager Ilt Jones. Early in the production process the decision was made to create the exterior freighter images digitally. For the opening shot of the ship at sea, special effects producer Bill Millar commissioned a matte painting of the vessel -- based on a twenty dollar model obtained through mail order -- and inserted it into a real-world ocean filmed separately. The shot of the freighter tied up at the wharf was even more complex. After shooting an empty berth at the Port of Long Beach, then, without moving the camera, filming separate images of police cars arriving, forklifts maneuvering, etc., Millar "docked" his virtual freighter via computer.

-- Bill Millar was a native of England. One of his first jobs was on the animation staff of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind; he also supervised special effects for many television series including Blue Thunder, Dark Shadows, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

-- Thankfully, some aspects of "Alpha" proceeded relatively painlessly. In searching for a suitable residence for Karin Berquist, Ilt Jones lucked out and located an uncannily appropriate ranch-style residence in Calabasas, an affluent suburb less than an hour's drive northwest of Los Angeles.

-- Said Jones, "The place belonged to a lawyer and his wife, a special education teacher who'd traveled the world, mountaineering and doing all sorts of other outdoorsy things. They'd brought back all these cool shrunken heads from New Guinea and death masks from Angola, and we actually left a lot of the decor just as it was. There was also a glorious canopy of trees around the house, and it was in a beautiful rustic setting. I fell in love with the place."

-- Rick Millikan had no trouble at all casting the unfortunate Chinese sailors Woo and Yee; there were ample numbers of Mandarin-speaking Chinese immigrant actors waiting for their big break in Hollywood.

-- Costume designer Christine Peters found it an interesting challenge finding the right wardrobe for Karin Berquist. "To me, she was a cross between Margaret Mead and Georgia O'Keefe," and when it came time to find the light-sensitive character a hat, Christine discovered serendipitously that the wide-brimmed model she herself schlepped around in the back of her car did the trick perfectly. "And believe it or not, I even got it back afterwards," beamed Peters.

-- Researcher Lee Smith, ranging even more widely than usual, provided some real-world underpinnings to the plotline by providing background data on ancient Chinese mythology; the disease lupus; the ethical use of animal tranquilizer guns; and apropos of animal-related crimes detected in foreign-registered merchant vessels docked in the United States, the jurisdictional boundaries between the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, L.A. Harbor Police, U.S. Customs Service, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

-- Special effects makeup supervisor John Vulich manufactured the latex appliance that enabled the kindly veterinarian Dr. Riley to have his throat bitten out.

-- Composer Mark Snow, in creating the score for "Alpha," made liberal use of the Shakahachi flute, an ancient Japanese musical instrument.

-- Among his many other duties, producer Paul Rabwin supervised the dubbing of animal sounds onto "Alpha's" soundtrack. On other episodes, Rabwin had hired human voice actors to do the barking and growling, but this time it was deemed that the real thing was sufficient.

-- This was Peter Markle's second X-Files directing effort. He previously directed "Christmas Carol" and would later direct "Redrum." In 2006, Merkle directed the TV version of the events that occurred on Flight 93, the story of the heroic passengers that took back their plane in an effort to stop a 9/11 terrorist attack. Recently, Merkle has also been directing episodic television including Without a Trace, Runaway, and Numb3rs.

-- Jeffrey Bell wrote four other episodes of the series: "The Rain King," "The Goldberg Variation," "Signs and Wonders," and "Salvage." He served as an executive story editor on the show through the end of season eight, then left to serve as writer, director, and executive producer on Angel. After Angel ended, he moved on to Alias, again writing, directing, and serving as executive producer. Most recently, he was serving as executive producer of, and had written one episode for, the now cancelled ABC series Day Break.

-- Parts of the episode took place in Bellflower, California, which is Chris Carter's hometown.

-- Characters Dr. Ian Detweiler and Karin Berquist were named for friends of writer Jeffery Bell. In real life, Detweiler and Berquist were married to each other and played in a Cincinnati band called Over the Rhine.

-- T'ien Kou, the name of the Chinese freighter in the episode, translates to "Heavenly Dog," a colloquial Chinese term for "shooting star."

-- Mulder and Scully must have caught the red eye to get to California so quickly. It was 7:10 p.m. when they were feathering the nest in the XF office and they were on the case in San Pedro at 7:42 a.m.

-- Through "Alpha" we learned that Mulder once had a dog. We also learned that Scully could indeed sleep anywhere -- and that she snored.

-- What is the Ogopogo? It's Canada's most famous water monster, similar to Scotland's Loch Ness Monster, found in Lake Okanagan in the south central interior of British Columbia.

-- The dhole (Cuon alpinus) is a species of wild dog from southern Asia with red fur, and looks similar to a fox. It's an unusual canid, living in highly social packs. The dhole has some extraordinary vocal calls -- it can whistle, scream, mew, and even cluck like a chicken. It can also urinate while doing a handstand on its two front legs.

-- Karin Berquist was another in a long line of people who got to call Mulder "Fox." You could say that there's a hint of Jealous!Scully in this episode, but she actually seemed to be more "territorial" than "jealous." That would make Scully the "alpha" in this episode.

-- Along with her wolf and canid books, Karin also had a copy of "Nice Girls Do ... And Now You Can Too" on her bookshelf. Published in 1980, the book, written by Dr. Irene Kassorla, was once considered an important book on female sexuality.

-- As Scully pointed out, Karin suffered from Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus), which is a chronic autoimmune disease that is potentially debilitating and sometimes fatal as the immune system attacks the body's cells and tissue, resulting in inflammation and tissue damage. SLE can affect any part of the body, but most often harms the heart, joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels, liver, kidneys, and nervous system. The course of the disease is unpredictable, with periods of illness (called flares) alternating with remission. Lupus can occur at any age, but is most common in women and particularly non-Caucasian women. SLE is one of several diseases known as "the great imitator" because its symptoms vary so widely that it often mimics or is mistaken for other illnesses, and because the symptoms come and go unpredictably. Lupus is treatable symptomatically but there is no cure.

-- As is also noted in "Alpha," lupus is Latin for wolf. The name is thought to derive from the crude similarity between the facial rash that some lupus patients develop and a wolf's face, though other explanations have been proposed.

-- The name of the Saint Bernard in the episode -- Duke -- could have been an in-joke. The movie Beethoven about that loveable Saint Bernard, was one of David Duchovny's early films, and one of Duchovny's nicknames in school was "Duke."

-- A Sort-Of Oopsie: When Scully found the attacked Dr. Riley, she took his pulse and said she would call the paramedics. Then she and Mulder just wandered away. If Riley was dead, there wouldn't have been a need to call paramedics. If he was alive, Dr. Scully might have tried to administer a bit of first aid.

-- Sort-Of Oopsie #2: Scully carried an umbrella in this episode when it wasn't raining, and doesn't carry an umbrella when it was raining.

-- It appeared that the Fish and Wildlife people could only afford one vehicle. Both men who were attacked were driving the same car with the same license plate.

-- Actual Oopsie! The deadbolt on the veterinarian's office door was missing from the shot when the policeman walked up to the door, but was back in the close-up when he opened the door.

-- Another Actual Oopsie! When Mulder met Scully at the hospital he told her it was "not yet dark," but the exterior shot of the hospital shown in the previous scene proved that it was pretty darn dark.

-- Yet Another Actual Oopsie! When the deceased Detweiler morphed from dhole back into his human form, he also morphed himself a pair of pants.

-- As he had in several other episodes, in the final scene Mulder fiddled with his letter opener that he often used as a nail file.

-- "Alpha" marked the return of a replica of the I Want to Believe poster to its rightful place in the X-Files office; but when the episode first aired, many were disappointed by the way the poster -- one of the show's most important and meaningful props -- was returned. Many felt that Scully should be the one to return the poster to Mulder, much as Mulder had returned Scully's cross -- another important and meaningful prop -- to her several times. FWIW, I prefer to believe that it *was* Scully who arranged for the poster to be delivered to Mulder. Karin hardly had time to tube it up and run it to the post office between the last time she looked at it (when Mulder called Scully from Karin's house) and when she successfully carried out Detweiler's demise.

-- The episode had an alternate ending, which can be viewed on the Season 6 DVD's deleted scenes. The alternate ending showed Cahn in his hospital bed, turning his head toward the camera to reveal his red eyes and the secret that he had been inhabited by the dhole. Executive producer Frank Spotnitz noted that although it was the subject of many discussions, it was ultimately decided to end the episode with Mulder looking at the returned I Want to Believe poster because it was "more emotional." "The original ending scene felt like something we had done many times before on The X-Files," said Spotnitz. "'The episode's over but it's not over' kind of thing. The ending we used in the episode as it aired felt more unique to the episode and it was definitely the right decision."

-- Melinda Culea (Karin Berquist) might be best remembered for her co-starring role on The A-Team, but she was also a regular on Knot's Landing. She also guest-starred on numerous other shows including St. Elsewhere, Civil Wars, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

-- Andrew J. Robinson who played Dr. Detweiler was an accomplished actor who made his film debut as the Scorpio Killer in the Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry (1971). He appeared in a 1975 episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker and found fame as Frank Ryan in the ABC soap opera Ryan's Hope. He also gained notoriety for his appearance in the title role of the 1988 TV movie about the life and career of Liberace. He was also a regular on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine playing Garak. Robinson is also an accomplished writer and director, and directed several episodes of Judging Amy.

-- Of his X-Files appearance, Robinson joked, "They didn't give me a morphing shot! It's unheard of! How can you make a film about a werewolf and not have a morphing shot? Even Lon Chaney had a morphing shot!" On a more serious note, Robinson said, "Other than that, it was a lot of fun. I especially liked working with David Duchovny."

-- "The evening we were filming Detweiler's death," recalled Robinson, "was when I became aware of David's enormous capacity for remembering everything he's ever seen -- every film, every scene. That night he basically started giving me my curriculum vitae. He remembered just about every film I'd ever done, including specific scenes and lines, which he would quote to me -- stuff I'd even forgotten."

-- Michael Mantell (Dr. Riley) played the recurring role of Howard Sewell in the Morgan & Wong series Space: Above & Beyond.

-- Once & Future Retreads: Mandy Levin (Angie) was Ellen Persich in "Release."

(Thanks to chrisnu for today's 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 "Alpha"!