CTP Episode of the Day - 09.22.06 - The Beginning

Today's Cherished Episode: The Beginning (6x01)
Original Air Date: November 8, 1998
Written By: Chris Carter
Directed By: Kim Manners

A vicious creature -- possibly of extraterrestrial origin -- is cutting a murderous swath through the American Southwest. With Syndicate infiltrators in control of the X-Files, Mulder and Scully must find it --and determine its place in the alien conspiracy.

S: Mulder, I know what you did. I know what happened to me. But without ignoring the science, I can't ... Listen, Mulder. You told me that my science kept you honest. That it made you question your assumptions. That by it, I'd made you a whole person. If I change now, it wouldn't be right ... or honest.

M: I'm talking about extraterrestrial life alive on this planet in our lifetime. Forces that dwarf and precede all human history. I'm sorry, Scully, but this time your science is wrong.

Some "The Beginning" Tidbits & Musings:

-- The episode title was a fitting follow-up to the previous episode (titled "The End"), and brought many new beginnings to the show.

-- "The Beginning" was the 118th episode of The X-Files. It served as the narrative continuation to both "The End" -- the final episode of its fifth season -- and the X-Files movie. It was a major landmark in the evolution of the series' all-important mythology, the first installment in a grueling 22 episode season, and the first 46 minutes of the X-Files filmed in Southern California with an almost entirely new cast of behind-the-scenes artisans.

-- "The scuttlebutt was that the show was not going to be the same show because you couldn't come down to L.A. and create the same spooky atmosphere," said Chris Carter. "And that actually concerned me because you do have a lot of bright sunlight down in L.A. You don't have the same moodiness. You have palm trees and you have a kind of happier place. Everything is a little more syrupy sunshine there. But I just took the opportunity to use things that we didn't have in Vancouver."

-- Director Kim Manners said coming to L.A. from Vancouver was quite an adjustment. "It was challenging to try to keep the show as mysterious and dark and edgy, because the sun is always out and it's always bright and cheery in L.A. You want to cut to the bluebirds."

-- Rob Bowman (who would direct Season 6's second episode "Drive") said, "When we came down to L.A., I felt like I was solely responsible for redefining the look of the show, because we don't have the mood, we don't have the Sherlock Holmes. I went to Bill Roe, director of photography, and I said 'I think what we should do is go for very deep blacks and very specific half-light. And in day exterior we'll just try to chase the sun in the morning -- shoot east; and as the sun crawls overhead, shoot a little tighter so you don't have front light or top light, and as the day comes to an end, shoot west. And we'll just always have a black object in part of the frame."

-- "Bill Roe helped to make the show moody and atmospheric when sometimes we didn't have free atmosphere," added Chris Carter. "But that was also Corey Kaplan as the production designer. It was Michael Watkins who hired these people for the show, so it was a stroke of good luck hiring the right producer in Los Angeles who hired the right people in L.A. to make the right decisions and continue to make the show good even though we were shooting it in a different place."

-- "As one of our editors said," Frank Spotnitz remembered, "once the show came to L.A., instead of being dark and wet, it was dark and dry. It was still pretty much the same show, only less rain."

-- "The Beginning" was plagued with several serious -- perhaps inevitable -- production problems. It was also, according to most of the serious fans and TV critics who watched it with special intensity, a particularly artful and effective way to launch the series' new season -- and era.

-- "Obviously," recalled executive producer Frank Spotnitz, the main problem was to segue from a movie that some people saw and some people did not see, and bring back several characters like Agent Fowley and Agent Spender."

-- "What we needed to do," said Chris Carter, "was wrap up some important story elements. Gibson Praise needed to return. We needed to see an alien we'd seen in the movie. We wanted to reestablish some of the conspiracy elements, and we wanted to suggest that there was a blurred line between what is terrestrial and extraterrestrial."

-- According to Carter -- who said he began thinking about "The Beginning" even as the X-Files movie was taking shape two years earlier -- many of the plot points in "The Beginning" were designed to subtly prefigure the sweeping changes planned for three mythological episodes, "Two Fathers," "One Son," and "Biogenesis."

-- In an interview with the L.A. Times (August 28, 1998), Chris Carter explained that the first thing in the opening teaser of the premiere was a long look directly into a bright sun shining on a barren desert -- a scene the show would never have been able to do in Vancouver. Carter said that these opening images were a "wink to the audience that we are now in the land of sunshine."

-- On the other side of the picture tube, "The Beginning" was a serious search for the newly reconstituted production team. Most of the new hires, recruited and approved by Carter, Spotnitz, and Watkins, adapted quickly to the X-Files work style.

-- Newly installed costume designer Christine Peters -- used to working on comparatively slower-paced TV movies and feature films -- recalled realizing immediately "that none of us knew what we had gotten ourselves into. I'd told everyone who was working with me that this was going to be harder than anything we'd ever done. Then I realized I had no idea just how hard it would really be."

-- One of her X-Files rookie coworkers, property master Tom Day, spent the better part of his five weeks before filming began merely unpacking and cataloging more than 400 boxes of props sent down from the former X-Files production office in Vancouver. All he remembered of the first episode -- in fact, of the first four or five episodes -- was "a big blur."

-- The first nightmare was the facility chosen to play the nuclear power plant -- a conventional generating facility run by Southern California Edison in Long Beach. Allegedly a backup unit -- run only rarely at times of extreme power demand -- it would have been perfect, if it hadn't been rented in late July; the entire region hadn't been in the midst of an intense heat wave; and SCE hadn't chosen that particular week to fire up its generator and bring it online. Many of the scenes scheduled for the power plant location had to be filmed in temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit amidst noise higher than 100 decibels. Most of the actors' dialogue had to be re-recorded in the studio.

-- In addition, most of the sequences featuring the power plant's resident alien had to be reshot -- sometimes two or three times -- because of persistent problems with the nuclear core sets and/or the skin-molting creature. Despite heroic efforts by the X-Files second-film unit, plus the art and construction departments, the requisite scenes weren't finished until late October, almost two months after the episode "wrapped" and only days before the season opener's air date.

-- "We had an alien with an alien on top of it, a skin of an alien, and had it dissolve underwater on cue," said John Vulich, Special Makeup Effects Supervisor. "And actually we got an actress we'd worked with several times, I'd worked with her initially on Cocoon when I worked with Greg Cannom, Wendy Cooke, who's very waiflike, very skinny and had a very unusual physique. And we were lucky enough to get her on the show and we just did makeup on her, very minimal makeup, just finger extensions and colored her and airbrushed her to look like the gray alien. We had one of our guys, who was scuba-certified, Greg Solomon, was in there with a squirt gun underwater, actually squirting pieces of the skin off on cue, which worked surprisingly well."

-- Canadian actor Chris Owens who moved to Los Angeles shortly before the season began, remembered "The Beginning" mainly for an automotive adventure. "I'd just bought my new car," he said, "and on my first morning I realized I had to drive myself to Long Beach. I hadn't even been on the freeway yet. And guess what? I didn't have a map and I'd never heard of Long Beach."

-- At the specific request of Chris Carter and Michael Watkins, the part of Sandy, the Syndicate scientist who unwittingly incubates an alien inside him, was played by longtime X-Files casting director Rick Millikan. Supposedly, Carter and Watkins wanted Millikan because he looked a lot like the chest-bursted victim dummy used in the X-Files movie (which was reused in this episode).

-- Millikan was a former actor whose previous onscreen zenith was playing a rapist in Child Bride of Short Creek, a 1981 TV movie starring a teenage Helen Hunt. Millikan recalled spending most of his time on the shooting location on his cell phone, frantically casting "Drive." As for the obvious question: "I paid myself scale," he said. After the show ended, Millikan moved on to cast such shows as CSI: Miami, The Guardian, Bones, and the new CBS series Shark.

-- The scenes set in the Arizona suburb where Sandy lived were actually filmed in Valencia, a bedroom community north of Los Angeles. "They were looking for something really Edward Scissorhands," said location manager Ilt Jones.

-- In a bit of continuity, Sandy and the other scientists in the teaser worked for Roush Technologies, the same company that paid off Section Chief Blevins.

-- The lazy safety inspector for the Arizona nuclear power plant is named Homer, a reference to Homer Simpson from The Simpsons.

-- Another reference to the "big move" from Vancouver to L.A. was the use of the song "Put on a Happy Face" (from the musical Bye, Bye Birdie) playing at the power plant. The first line of the song is, "Gray skies are gonna clear up ... put on a happy face."

-- We'd already learned many episodes ago that the cold makes the virus slow down, so it really shouldn't have been a surprise when we learned in "The Beginning" that heat makes the virus/gestation speed up.

-- The underwater scenes of the alien in the reactor core were filmed in a Marina Del Rey water tank usually employed by the crew of Baywatch.

-- Researcher Lee Smith was assigned the task of finding out whether a child -- such as Gibson Praise -- could have brain surgery without anesthesia, be sewn up, and be ready to travel in an hour. He called the head of the American Association of Neurosurgeons, who turned out to be an enthusiastic X-Files fan. "He told me it was possible," said Smith. "The patient would be a little dizzy -- you wouldn't want him to drive or operate heavy machinery -- but he would be fine."

-- From this episode forward, Chris Owens was billed under the "Also Starring" heading.

-- "The Beginning" introduced Mulder and Scully's new boss, Assistant Director Alvin Kersh played by James Pickens, Jr. Pickens had recurring roles on the sitcom Roseanne and the legal drama The Practice before joining The X-Files. Of course, he's now enjoying great success as Dr. Richard Webber on Grey's Anatomy.

-- Reportedly Kersh was named after characters (Dr. Kersh & Anton Kersh) from one of Chris Carter's favorite movies, 1971's Vampire Circus.

-- Wendie Malick took time out from her role as Nina Van Horn on the sitcom Just Shoot Me to appear as A.D. Maslin in The Beginning. She was nominated twice for an Emmy for her role in Just Shoot Me, and won three Cable ACE awards for her role in the HBO sitcom Dream On. She appeared as Martin Crane's girlfriend on the last two seasons of Frasier and has recently done a lot of voice work including Father of the Pride, Racing Stripes, and Brother Bear 2.

-- A.D. Maslin was named for New York Times film critic Janet Maslin, and A.D. Bart was named for Variety critic Peter Bart (who both reviewed the X-Files movie -- in much the same manner as the two A.D.'s reviewed Mulder and Scully's exploits while on the panel -- and even using some of the same phrases!).

-- Benito Martinez who played an Orderly in this episode can currently be seen as Captain David Aceveda in The Shield.

-- It is generally the season premiere or the season finale that is the highest rated episode of any given season. "The Beginning" came close but no cigar -- it was the second highest rated episode of Season 6; the highest rated was "Rain King."

Once & Future Retreads: In addition to James Pickens, Jr. (Kersh), Chris Owens and Mimi Rogers reprised their role as Agent Jeffrey Spender and Agent Diana Fowley, now in charge of the X-Files. Wayne Alexander appeared as Agent Arnold in this episode and in "Monday"; he played a senior agent in "Via Negativa." Jeff Gulka played Gibson Praise for the second time, as he would again in "Within," "Without," and "The Truth." Don S. Williams played the First Elder again. Dean Chambers, who played the power plant supervisor, played an Air Force Major in "Dreamland I and II."

-- "'The Beginning' was great for the crew because they had a lot of different X-Files elements to cut their teeth on, to learn how to shoot 'The X Files,'" said Kim Manners. "And to their credit, they did one episode after that, with Robbie Bowman, called 'Drive.' And by the third episode, which was 'Triangle,' they were an X-Files crew."

(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 "The Beginning"!