CTP Episode of the Day - 08.01.06

Today's Cherished Episode: The Goldberg Variation (7x02)
Original Air Date: December 12, 1999
Written By: Jeffrey Bell
Directed By: Thomas J. Wright

Henry Weems is the luckiest man in the world. But as Mulder and Scully investigate his near-death experience, they discover that Henry's attempts to do a good deed may result in his luck running out.

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"What if he got really, really lucky? That's your big scientific explanation, Scully?"

Some "The Goldberg Variation" Tidbits & Musings:

-- The title of this episode could be the result of two influences. Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, sculptor, and author Reuben (Rube) Lucius Goldberg's (1883 - 1970) whimsical insights into modern inventions earned him a place in our vocabulary. He began his cartoonist career in 1904 satirizing complex inventions that were supposed to save time and increase efficiency. For the next half-century his drawings illustrated machines that were a "symbol of man's capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results." (The board game "Mousetrap" uses a Goldberg contraption as its main feature.) The "Goldberg Variations" is the last of a series of keyboard music J. S. Bach published under the title of "Clavierübung," and is often regarded as the most serious and ambitious composition ever written for harpsichord. The pieces were written at the request of Russian Count Keyserlingk who was sickly and often had trouble sleeping; his friend Goldberg, a brilliant harpsichordist who studied music under Bach, played the amazing compositions to help the Count get through his sleepless nights. (I live for Bach.)

-- "The Goldberg Variation" was the brainchild of staff writer Jeffrey Bell. The writer had always wanted to do a story about the luckiest guy in the world, with luck being the X-File. "I pitched the episode as a teaser of a guy falling thirty thousand feet out of an airplane into the ground and walking away unharmed. I wanted the whole thing to be about good luck and bad luck. From the beginning I saw the whole plot functioning as a Rube Goldberg device, with luck centering around the kid he's trying to help. I knew that the bad guy would die at the end and that his organs would be a perfect match for the kid. When you already have an ending, it helps."

-- Frank Spotnitz recalled that Bell's pitch was met with a lot of enthusiasm. But it was enthusiasm tempered with a certain amount of caution. "The episode had a lot of humorous moments that we were afraid of doing because as many people who like the funny ones hate the funny ones."

-- Bell set to writing the script, goosing up the "life as a Rube Goldberg machine" with an ersatz Mafia storyline and replacing the fall from an airplane idea with a more budget-friendly fall from the top of a hotel. It was quickly apparent to Bell that the Rube Goldberg-like devices would be the biggest production challenge, and potentially, the biggest headache, embodied in his quirky script. Bell consulted early on with Corey Kaplan and the rest of the art department to give them a head start on constructing both the toys and the real life set pieces that triggered various elements of the storyline.

-- Thomas J. Wright also directed the Season 7 episodes "Millennium" and "The Amazing Maleeni."

-- Filming "The Goldberg Variation" at various downtown Los Angeles locations was a welcome change of pace. The stunts, which included a sixty-foot fall from a building, a trampoline jump flying by the camera, and hanging a man from a ceiling fan blade by his shoelaces, were appropriately low-key and consistent with the comic proceedings.

-- Bystanders watching the sixty-foot fall from the hotel were shocked when the stunt man hit the side of the building before crashing to the ground. They were relieved when they discovered it was only a dummy.

-- This was the third episode in a row where Mulder was already at the crime scene and Scully joined him. In this case, Henry did his nose dive after 10:30 p.m. and Mulder was on the scene the next morning well before 9:17 a.m. (as he had already checked things out before meeting Scully at that time). So why was Mulder compelled to fly off to Illinois without his partner? Perhaps she had some in vitro procedures scheduled. < g >

-- Scully must be a big Roadrunner fan since she mentions Wile E. Coyote in this episode and again in "Hollywood A.D."

-- Rick Millikan remembered that casting the episode was relatively easy. He found the perfect thug types in Ramy Zada and Tony Longo. Casting the lucky guy, Henry Weems, caused Millikan to break a long-standing rule for the first time. "We don't like to repeat people on this show," he said. (To which I reply, since when?) "But Willie Garson, who appeared previously as Quinton 'Roach' Freely in the third season episode 'The Walk' was literally the best person for the job."

-- In addition to being an unusual Vancouver to L.A. X-File Retread, Willie Garson has crossed paths with David Duchovny a time or two. Garson was a guest star on Twin Peaks, though not in an episode in which DD appeared. Garson played Lee Harvey Oswald in the 1992 film Ruby, in which DD played Officer Tippitt. (And in a strange twist of fate, he also played Lee Harvey Oswald in a two-part episode of Quantum Leap and in a sketch in the very first episode of Mad T.V.) Garson is perhaps best known for his role as Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City (in which DD made a guest appearance during Season 6). Garson had a small role in House of D, playing a ticket agent; and he also has a role in DD's recent film, The TV Set, which will hopefully be released later this year.

-- Ramy Zada, who played thug Joe Cutrona, played a college professor in the horror anthology film After Midnight and an unscrupulous doctor in the fright film Two Evil Eyes.

-- Nicholas Worth, the high-stakes card-playing Mr. Haas, also appeared in a number of horror films, including Don't Answer the Phone, Swamp Thing, Darkman, and Dark Angel.

-- After "The Goldberg Variation," Shia LeBeouf (Richie) found fame playing Louis Stevens on the Disney Channel's popular show Even Stevens. He won a Daytime Emmy Award in 2003 for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series. David Duchovny reportedly considered him for the role of young Tommy in House of D.

-- In a fine bit of continuity, Scully utters the immortal line, "I like baseball too." I just bet you do, hon. If I got a lesson in the batting cage like you got, I'd arrange for batting practice every day.

-- Although the entire episode took place in Chicago, the lottery tickets sold at the convenience store were from the Wisconsin lottery.

-- Gillian Anderson recalled that working with the Rube Goldberg contraptions often required a lot of patience. "We loved working with the machines, but because they were machines, we ended up doing a lot of takes to make sure they would do what they were supposed to do."

-- Although "The Sixth Extinction" and "Amor Fati" were the first episodes aired in Season 7, both "Hungry" and "The Goldberg Variation" were filmed before them. This was because neither David Duchovny nor Gillian Anderson were available when shooting for Season 7 started, as each was putting the finishing touches on their summer film work (Return to Me and House of Mirth, respectively). The actors were used very little in "Hungry" and filmed the lighthearted "Goldberg Variation" before moving to the more difficult subject matter of the season opener.

-- While on the surface "The Goldberg Variation" was a rather uneventful shoot, behind the scenes there was a growing tension that something was not quite right with the execution of the promising idea. "We were biting our nails as we were watching the dailies," recalled Spotnitz. "In the back of our minds, there was the question of whether this was going to work." "When they were first cutting the show together, there was an element of disappointment," said Chris Carter. "I kept hearing that the episode wasn't cutting together well and that there were many things that just didn't work. Too many alarms were being sounded throughout the post process, which was lengthy. I started getting nervous because it was looking like we were in trouble and that we were coming out of the gate with a limp." So the decision was made to push the air date for the episode even further back. (It would eventually air as the sixth episode of the season.)

-- Paul Rabwin remembered that the episode had to be reedited "so that it would move like we wanted it to. Unfortunately," Rabwin said ruefully, "when we finally came up with a cut of the episode we liked, we discovered that it came up four minutes short of the running time of a one-hour episode." Fortunately, the schedule allowed time to bring the episode up to the demanding standards of The X-Files. Additional insert shots of the Rube Goldberg devices were filmed. An additional scene was also written and shot for Act 2 in which Mulder and Scully are sitting in a car discussing Henry's back story.

-- By the time the additional scene of Mulder and Scully sitting in the car was shot, it was months later and Gillian Anderson had changed her hairstyle. For the reshoot, she covered her now shorter hair with an unfortunate ill-fitting wig; and that's why her hair looks extraordinarily different in that scene. When the end scene of "Amor Fati" was reshot, also months after the original episode was filmed, Scully appeared with shorter hair, no wig.

-- Finally, many months after its inception, "The Goldberg Variation" aired; and Chris Carter's confidence in the idea of luck as an X-File was ultimately rewarded. "It was tight, funny, touching, and quirky," he said. Bell was also satisfied. "We really had to reach to find the X-File in the story and, when all is said and done, there is nothing paranormal about it. What I tried to say with the story was that coincidences in life may not be coincidences at all but rather hidden forces and that luck may have a design all its own."

-- It may not have been raining sleeping bags, but I'd say that Henry Weems wasn't the only one who was getting lucky in this episode. From their initial scene together (featuring exceptionally Good Phone), Moose and Squirrel were jokey, smiley, flirty, affectionate, teasing, mischievous, good-humored, and playful. And don't tell me that Scully (obviously fiddling with his tie out of camera-range) didn't have an ulterior motive for getting Mulder back to D.C. before sunset. Some additional batting practice, perhaps? These two are *so* doing it. < veg >

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(Perhaps Gillian's reaction to the wig she had to wear in this scene)
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(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 "The Goldberg Variation"!

Polly