CTP Episode of the Day - 11.28.06 Brand X

Today's Cherished Episode: Brand X (7x19)
Original Air Date: April 16, 2000
Written By: Steve Maeda & Greg Walker
Directed By: Kim Manners

Mulder and Scully go up against the twin horrors of cigarettes and big business when a government witness dies a grotesque death that involves mutant tobacco beetles and a human guinea pig who has become bigger than his experiment.

"Can't blow the whistle with a mouth like that."

Some "Brand X" Tidbits & Musings:

-- Title - the "Brand X" is in reference to Morley's "test" brand of "safer" cigarettes which didn't turn out to be so safe after all.

-- Morley was, of course, the cigarette brand the show's most beloved villain, C.G.B. Spender, a.k.a. Cigarette-Smoking Man, was famous for inhaling. It actually seemed a bit odd to have an episode focusing on Morley with CSM nowhere in sight -- cause on The X-Files, where there's smoke, there's usually a Cigarette-Smoking Man.

-- The episode took place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina -- a real city known for cigarette manufacturing and home to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

-- Newspaper and magazine articles frequently gave X-Files writers the subject matter for their episodes, but it was rare that an X-Files episode was torn, literally, from the headlines. But "Brand X" succeeded in walking the delicate line between reality and fantasy and -- at least for the space of an hour-long episode -- created a nicotine-stained world in which flesh-eating tobacco beetles and corrupt and greedy corporations combined to create a very real horror.

-- Adding to the equation that would ultimately become the episode "Brand X" was the appreciation among the writing staff, in particular Greg Walker and Steven Maeda, for the movie The Insider, which took a hard look at the tobacco industry. The early stages of the brainstorming process were spearheaded by Maeda's idea for a tale about the horrifying aspects of overeating. But since the early-season episode "Hungry" had covered similar territory, the consensus was that the corporate evil that populated the cigarette industry would be a better and more timely target.

-- The theme of tobacco addition was suggested by Vince Gilligan, who wrote "Hungry."

-- Walker wrote his portion of the script while listening to the soundtrack of The Insider.

-- Greg Walker recalled that the grotesque vision of people smoking cigarettes and then coughing up flesh-eating tobacco beetles was a popular notion among the writers. "But we did not want to make it complete science fiction but rather something that had a foot in the real world. We wanted to use 'Brand X' to take a look at the tobacco business but not go down the standard route of corporate evil. We wanted to find the emotional core of the story, the struggling scientist and the surviving experimental test subject. Once we found those two characters, the story came together quickly."

-- But the episode was not without some significant logistical obstacles. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had both recently directed ("Hollywood A.D." and "all things," respectively) and were, at the time "Brand X" was filmed, in active postproduction and so would only be available for a limited amount of time for the episode. In writing "Brand X," Walker and Maeda were faced with the challenge of constructing a story that would allow Mulder and Scully to be in fewer scenes together.

-- One of the episode's big plot holes was how Mulder got infected with the tobacco beetles after spending only a few moments with Darryl Weaver when the other victims had prolonged exposure to the "healthier cigarettes." You might say Mulder got infected out of necessity. "Mulder getting sick in Act Two and being in a hospital bed for Acts Three and Four was the direct result of Duchovny's limited amount of time," acknowledged Walker. "It was easier to shoot a bunch of stuff of him in bed than having him to be in a lot of different locations."

-- The result was that A.D. Walter Skinner was able to get out from behind his desk and into the thick if "Brand X"'s action. "'Brand X' was probably the most activity that I had that season," said Mitch Pileggi. "It was great to actually have Skinner getting out into the field and involved in a real X-File."

-- Production designer Corey Kaplan was handed a multifaceted challenge. With smoking as the overriding theme of the episode, a color scheme heavy on yellows and browns, in order to give each scene a perpetually smoky look, was required. But it was her long familiarity with the way episode director Kim Manners liked to shoot (they had worked together on nearly two seasons' worth of episodes over a period of five years) that gave Kaplan the idea to enhance the cigarette company's corporate offices with long hallways and sets heavy on texture and grit.

-- Needless to say, "Brand X" was most conspicuous for its "gross-out" scenes of bug-induced death. The showstopper was the sequence in which the Complaining Man was discovered with thousands of bugs crawling all over him. The 3,000 bugs crawling over the body of actor Michael Hungerford were real. Because of the challenge of working with live bugs, this brief sequence took a full day to shoot. Hungerford waited patiently for eight hours in full prosthetic makeup before shooting the scene where his body was found. The makeup on his mouth prevented him from eating. He completed the scene in one take, and an actual bug crawled into his mouth. Hungerford never complained once.

-- The bugs crawling out of the mouth of the dead Brimley and those sucked out of Mulder's throat were a combination of CGI and dummy bugs.

-- Producer Harry Bring recalled that the bug-infested sequences were often tedious, hours-long exercises in patience. "Bugs don't take direction very well, so you pretty much have to wait until they decide to get it right."

-- The tobacco beetle (Lasioderma serricorne), an unremarkable-looking, brownish red bug about 2-3 mm long, lives out its life on and around tobacco. These insects find dried tobacco a relatively cozy environment for laying eggs, which emerge as larvae, which in turn eat the tobacco to eventually become another adult tobacco beetle. Both the adult and larva form are considered serious threats by manufacturers of tobacco products, managing to cause millions of dollars of damage every year. Yet, despite companies' control efforts, tobacco beetle eggs still manage to survive manufacturing processes and end up in consumers' humidors. And be aware, that while they do no harm to humans, a happy family of tobacco beetles certainly will turn an expensive collection of cigars to a worthless pile of dust.

-- The first scene of the first act featured Mulder and Scully (or most likely their doubles) arriving, getting out of their car, and making a long walk across the lawn of the Scobie house. There were several other similar scenes, or scenes that went on twice as long as they needed to. This is generally a sign that the episode ran short and needed a bit of "filler."

-- Oopsie! When Mulder and Skinner enter the morgue, the legend said it was 8:02 p.m., but the clock over the doorway where they enter plainly said it was 20 minutes to nine.

-- The scene between Mulder and Scully in the hospital room should evoke sniffles, but I can't help but chuckle when I recall all of David Duchovny's comebacks to the "how do you feel" question in the Season 7 gag reel and in the dailies for "Brand X."

-- Point deduction for lack of continuity: When Scully said to Mulder, "You're not going to start smoking," it would have been a good nod to "Travelers" for Mulder to advise her that he used to smoke. (He could have brought up his wedding ring too, but that was probably too much to hope for. < veg >)

-- In both story concept and visual tone, "Brand X" was a throwback to the early seasons of The X-Files: moody, savvy, and an example of the "extreme plausibility" elements that went into the best X-Files episodes.

-- Steve Maeda and Greg Walker were both writers for Chris Carter's short-lived Harsh Realm and moved to The X-Files when Realm was cancelled. This was their first script for X-Files.

-- Steve Maeda also wrote "Redrum," "Vienen," "4-D," and "Audrey Pauley." After the X-Files ended, he wrote numerous episodes of CSI: Miami between 2002 and 2005, then moved on to write and serve as supervising producer for Lost. He wrote the November 22 episode of Day Break.

-- Greg Walker was a story editor on X-Files before writing for Harsh Realm. After "Brand X," he wrote "Surekill" and "Empedocles" before leaving the series at the end of Season 8. He went on to serve as co-producer and write some episodes of Smallville, and currently serves as executive producer and has written numerous episodes of the hit series Without a Trace.

-- After a long search by Paul Rabwin for the appropriate film clip for Darryl Weaver to be watching, a snippet from the 1943 war movie Guadalcanal Diary was used. Director Kim Manners chose it because it had a lot of explosions in it.

-- Dr. Libby Nance was named for The X-Files Script Coordinator Barbara Nance's sister, who is an entomologist specializing in beetles. Dr. Nance confirmed all the bug facts in the script.

-- The victim in the motel with the out-of-date Massachusetts driver's license, Thomas Gastall, was named after Ten Thirteen's Office Production Assistant. Gastall hailed from Massachusetts.

-- Morley Security Chief Daniel Brimley was modeled after the character that actor Wilford Brimley played in the 1993 film The Firm (and writers Walker and Maeda never got around to changing his name).

-- The writers had thrown around the idea of calling the "safe" cigarettes Morley Safers, another nod to the film The Insider and its 60 Minutes angle.

-- The artwork in the conference room of Morley Tobacco Company was created using real photos from tobacco plantations pulled from Corbis Images. Corbis had provided the production of The X-Files with numerous photos over the years.

-- The character names Voss and Scobie were taken from the 1963 Audrey Hepburn/Cary Grant film Charade. Greg Walker had seen the movie at the American Cinemateque Theater prior to writing the script.

-- Ashford Medical Center was named after writer Greg Walker's girlfriend, Michelle Ashford.

-- Weaver's drink of choice, Mickey's Big Mouth, is a fine malt liquor brewed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

-- Shannon O'Hurley (Anne Voss) played the district attorney in the Reese Witherspoon comedy Legally Blonde.

-- Actor Tobin Bell, who portrayed chain-smoker Darryl Weaver, was an avid exerciser who didn't smoke. He had a guest shot in the "Reunion" episode of Harsh Realm, which was written by Greg Walker and directed by Kim Manners.

-- Prior to X-Files, Bell appeared in many television shows and films including Mississippi Burning, Goodfellas, In the Line of Fire, and Ruby, in which David Duchovny had a small role. He also played Theodore Kaczynski in a TV movie about the Unabomber. After his X-Files guest appearance, he went on to roles in The West Wing and 24, and became best known as Jigsaw/John Kramer in the Saw trilogy of horror films.

-- In his spare time, Bell, who has played many menacing characters in his acting career, coaches youth football and baseball. He was recently featured in a Sports Chat interview in The Washington Post.

-- For the most part, the kids he coaches don't know about his "Jigsaw" character. "They have an idea, but they're 11, so it's from the kids that are two years older than them. Every once in a while, if I'm down at the baseball field, a kid from the Majors (the kids I coach are in the Middles) will come over and say, 'Hey, you're Jigsaw.' I think generally parents keep their kids away from that until they're older."

-- Bell played football in high school on both sides of the ball, as a receiver and a defensive back. "And I played at Boston University," he said. "I was a walk-on -- for about half a season. I was getting beat up pretty bad. These guys were big and fast, and they were using me for a tackling dummy. What really finished my career there was they sent a guy named Butch Byrd, who went on to play for the Buffalo Bills as a defensive back, through the line. He was about 240 pounds and he ran the 100 [yard dash] in 10.1 [seconds]. By the time he hit me, he was moving pretty fast. He gave me an elbow in the helmet and I woke up about five weeks later. I went from Boston University varsity to flag football on Thursday afternoons with my fraternity -- and happily so!"

-- Bell also played Little League and some high school baseball. "I grew up in Massachusetts as a Red Sox fan, and then I lived in New York for 28 years and went through the Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Greg Nettles era," he said. "So I'm a Yankees fan, but basically I'm a baseball fan. I'm out here on the West Coast, and it's hard for me to get into the Dodgers. I pick up the paper and I'm checking to see what's going on in the American League."

-- When coaching, Bell stresses baseball fundamentals to his players and wants them to hustle at all times. He thinks Derek Jeter is a good role model for young players. "I took my son to a Yankees/Angels game for his 11th birthday," Bell recalled. "They were playing at 4:30 in the afternoon. It's batting practice. We're standing next to the Yankee dugout and batting practice is almost over. Jeter comes down in the dugout. We're hanging there, and my son asked Jeter to autograph his baseball. Jeter takes his ball and as he's signing he says, 'Where you from, son?' My son said, 'West Coast.' He said, 'You play ball? And my son said, 'Little League.' 'Yeah? What do you play?' Jeter asked. 'Pitcher and third base.' 'Uh-huh.' Jeter finished signing the ball, and in his left hand is a bat. The pine tar is still on it. He had just used it in batting practice. He slides the barrel of the bat up above, because he's down almost in that alley that leads to the dressing room, and said, 'Here, take this.' And he handed my son the bat. We said, 'Thanks,' and he slipped away into the clubhouse. On the barrel of the bat it said, 'Derek Jeter' and it has inscribed 'New York Yankees' on it. We were beaming from ear to ear. We both looked at each other and decided we had reached the Mount Everest of autograph seekers. We were done. It was one of the happiest moments we've ever shared."

-- "Brand X" was the lowest rated episode of Season 7, with a 6.8 share and just under 11 million viewers.

(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 "Brand X."

Polly