CTP Episode of the Day - 10.26.06 - Avatar

Today's Cherished Episode: Avatar (3x21)
Original Air Date: April 26, 1996
Story By: David Duchovny & Howard Gordon
Teleplay By: Howard Gordon
Directed By: Jim Charleston

In the midst of a marital breakup, Skinner becomes a murder suspect, while a clue to the case may lie in the form of a strange woman who appeared to him in dreams.

"Business must be booming."
"I think you mean banging."

Some "Avatar" Tidbits & Musings:

-- "Avatar" is a Sanskrit word meaning the descent to Earth of a deity in human or animal form. The word has also been popularized in recent years as a computer term for a person's on-line graphical representation (first used in Neal Stephenson's book Snow Crash).

-- Timeline -- This episode begins on March 7, 1996, which coincidentally or not, was the fourth anniversary of the beginning of Mulder and Scully's first case together.

-- In the best-laid plans department, David Duchovny said he suggested showcasing Skinner in an episode but that his ulterior motive backfired. "Actually, I conceived the idea trying to give myself a break," he joked, pointing out that episodes where Mulder and Scully get separated provided one of the few ways he and Anderson "could get a little time off" during production, in that one of them might take a break while the other was shooting. "If we were together, then there's no way," he said. "As it turned out, it was a very heavy episode for me." Still, Duchovny added, "It was nice for Mitch, and I think he deserved a nice episode after two years. He did a great job."

-- Duchovny and the show's publicist snuck onto what was supposed to be a closed set to watch Pileggi shoot his love scene. "He didn't really sneak," Pileggi corrected. "He just busted right in. He came in and he critiqued us a little bit." As for shooting the scene itself, the actor added, "We [Pileggi and guest actress Amanda Tapping] basically laid in bed and made out for four or five hours" -- surrounded, of course, by crew members trying to light, frame, and photograph the shot.

-- With Skinner's popularity increasing and in light of the more active role he played in "The Blessing Way" and "Paper Clip," Pileggi contended the episode helped reestablish some of the ground rules regarding where Skinner stood -- and didn't -- in relation to the X-Files unit and how far he would go in fulfilling its mission. "Chris Carter didn't want to just put him totally in bed with Mulder and Scully," he said, noting that Mulder reached out to Skinner within the episode "and he didn't really take it. He was still a hardass, but fair."

-- Thumbs up in the Continuity Department -- Skinner initially discussed his near-death experience during the second season in the episode "One Breath." And one of the men who warned Skinner away from the Melissa Scully case in "Piper Maru" (the all purpose villainous Gray-Haired Man played by Morris Panych) was the flunky who was trying to frame him in this episode.

-- Makeup artist Fern Levin used special ink and a fluorescent light to create the appearance of phosphorescence around the corpse's mouth. "I told the actress she was the coolest corpse we ever had," she said.

-- Composer Mark Snow also thinned out his usual score for this episode, feeling such an approach better suited the nature of the drama. "The sound was very unaffected," he explained. "There was less of the scary sounds and more straight-ahead music."

-- A scene where Cigarette Smoking Man offered Skinner a way out of his predicament was cut from the final version of the episode. The omission was mostly for time, but Chris Carter explained the scene was designed to heighten the tension, but ultimately it was felt that Skinner's situation was tense enough without adding CSM to the mix. William B. Davis was still listed in the episode's credits, even though he had no dialogue. The deleted scene appears on the Season 3 DVDs.

-- Another deleted scene on the Season 3 DVDs has a slightly different version of Skinner visiting his unconscious wife in the hospital, telling her he is not going to sign the divorce papers. In the scene, Sharon's doctor tells Skinner that she is going to be fine.

-- Another significant omission from the episode was a line from Skinner, who, when Mulder said he [Skinner] was finished at the Bureau if he wouldn't trust someone, responded, "That's hard to hear, coming from you." That response was deemed too combative.

-- Director James Charleston made his debut on the series with this episode, subsequently joining the regular directing rotation. Charleston had been an assistant director on other series, which came in handy, cinematographer John Bartley recalled, the day they shot the dead woman dangling from her alleged suicide leap. A.D. Val Stefoff was out sick that day, and Charleston himself was feeling under the weather. "I told him he never would have gotten through the day without that first A.D. experience," Bartley said.

-- Charleston also directed "Teliko, "Synchrony," and "Elegy."

-- The episode also demonstrated some of the smaller "fix-its" that got made during postproduction -- in this case, when it was noticed that the eyes of Skinner's wife fluttered during her coma scene. The visual effects crew went in and digitally removed the flutter. Although that wouldn't seem to be as elaborate as a morphing shot, making such changes still took considerable time and effort. "Such a simple, subtle thing, people who don't know think it might be easy," said Mat Beck.

-- Oopsie! They corrected Sharon's fluttering eyelids, but when Mulder and Scully were examining the dead prostitute, you could see her eyes moving beneath her eyelids.

-- If you scan the credits for this episode, you'll see Skinner's lawyer listed as "Jay Cassal." The character was originally intended to be male so when Tasha Simms was cast, the character was renamed "Jane Cassal" -- although not in the credits.

-- Mulder and Scully drove a Lariat rental in this episode even though they didn't leave their hometown. (OT: Speaking of M&S cars, I heard on the radio today that the very last Ford Taurus will roll off the assembly line next week. That makes me sad, doesn't that make you sad?)

-- Skinner's line, "I wasn't a choirboy; I inhaled," was a reference to the famous claim by President Bill Clinton that he had had a joint but never inhaled.

-- It was reported on the newsgroup that Gillian Anderson's daughter Piper was looking out of a window on the bus that sped in front of Skinner as he tried to cross the street, but you couldn't prove it by me.

-- Nice touch: Skinner with hair in his wedding photo.

-- Another nice touch: Scully calling Mulder on his cell phone and having him answer about ten feet away from her.

-- I really liked the scene where the Gray Haired Man hung up on Judy Fairly and the camera changed focus to reveal that he was sitting outside the restaurant watching her with Mulder and Scully. I thought that was one of those nifty little scenes that the show did so well.

-- Medieval demonologists and their counterparts had as many categories for supernatural beings as modern taxonomists have for insects or fish. Among them were succubi and incubi. A succubus was a lovely young woman who appeared to men in their sleep and seduced them; an incubus was her male counterpart, who appeared to women. While such a visitation today might be considered downright desirable, in the Middle Ages it was considered an occasion for damnation and regarded with fear and horror. However such visits were regarded, the succubus was always depicted as young and beautiful.

-- Which means that an "oopsie" is warranted since Mulder said in the episode that a succubus usually appeared as an old woman. (But David Duchovny knew that a succubus was supposed to be a babe -- see more on this below.)

-- Amanda Tapping (prostitute Carina Sayles) went on to become better known to sci-fi fans as Lt. Col. Samantha Carter on Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate SG-1.

-- Tom Mason (Detective Waltos) was a regular on Party of Five, playing Joe Mangus. He can be seen in Clint Eastwood's new film, Flags of Our Fathers.

-- In a roundabout way, "Avatar" was responsible for David Duchovny's Season 7 episode, "Hollywood A.D." "I was always wanting to write Mitch [Pileggi] stuff, because I thought Mitch was totally underused," said Duchovny. He pitched the idea for "Avatar" as a Skinner episode, but the final version of "Avatar" was far from what he had originally proposed. "I had this idea where a spirit, like a lilith, comes to Skinner at night. Basically it's a wet dream, because she doesn't exist, but then she falls in love with Skinner and starts to wreak havoc with anybody he gets close to. It was about how spirits don't understand the living, that they're threatened by any kind of closeness, and then Scully was going to come into jeopardy because the spirit was going to misinterpret Skinner's relationship to Scully. This spirit was supposed to be beautiful and sexy." But by the time "Avatar" went before the cameras, Duchovny's sexy spirit had been rewritten as a wrinkled old woman. "I told Mitch, 'I apologize. I had an idea it was going to be a succubus and they turned her into a crone!' I don't know what the story was about after that. So I felt like I owed Mitch."

-- To make it up to Pileggi, for his second script Duchovny thought about writing a Midnight Run-type episode for Mulder, Skinner, and the two Arthur Dales brothers. "The old guys wanted to go on the road one more time. So that's where I was heading, and then it turned into 'Hollywood A.D.' Originally it was supposed to be a show for Mitch, and then, as always seems to be the case for Mitch, it turned into a show about Mulder and Scully. So again I had to apologize to Mitch for it not being about him in the end."

-- Once & Future Retreads: Brendan Beiser made one of his 10 appearances as Agent Pendrell. Malcolm Stewart (Agent Bonnecaze) was Dr. Glass in the "Pilot," Commander Carver in "3," and Dr. Sacks in "Tunguska/Terma." Michael David Simms (Senior Agent) played the same role in "Ascension," "Anasazi," "The Blessing Way," and "Herrenvolk." Tasha Simms (Jane Cassal) was Ellen Reardon in "Eve" and Laura Kelly in "Excelsis Dei." Janie Woods-Morris (Lorraine Kelleher) was Ms. Lange in "Shadows." George Gordon (Neurosurgeon) was The Detective in "Kaddish." Morris Panych (Gray-Haired Man) was Dr. Simon Auerbach in "F. Emasculata" and the Gray-Haired Man in "Piper Maru," "Herrenvolk," "Memento Mori," and "Zero Sum." Colin Lawrence (Officer) was The Troop Leader in "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" and the First Officer in "Mind's Eye." Peter Nicholas (The Associate) had small roles in "Piper Maru" and "Travelers."

(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 "Avatar."