CTP Episode of the Day - 12.07.06 Grotesque

Today's Cherished Episode: Grotesque (3x14)
Original Air Date: February 2, 1996
Written By: Howard Gordon
Directed By: Kim Manners

A serial killer maintains an evil spirit was responsible for his actions, as Mulder's own sanity comes into question when the murders persist.

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"My advice to you, Scully -- let Mulder do what he has to do. Don't get in his way. Don't try to hold him back. Because you won't be able to."

Some "Grotesque" Tidbits & Musings:

-- Title: The title is pretty descriptive of the actions taking place and of the drawings in this episode; and gargoyles, prominently featured in "Grotesque," usually have grotesque features (although some gargoyles were humorous, depicting monks or unusual animal mixtures -- also called chimeras). But the title of this episode most likely comes from the fact that a gargoyle that is not a rainspout (the original purpose) and serves only an ornamental or artistic function is more properly called a "grotesque."

-- Kim Manners identified "Grotesque" as his favorite third-season episode, with a great script and stellar guest performances by Kurtwood Smith and Levani Outchaneichvili. "I thought 'Grotesque' had it all," he said, also singling out Duchovny's performance in exploring the precipice of madness. According to the director, "David did some fabulous work in 'Grotesque.' David really drove himself into this mad world, and I found myself doing it too."

-- For his part, Manners listened to the music from Jacob's Ladder over and over, until his wife, as he remembered it, finally asked "'Do we have to listen to that (bleeping) CD again? It's so depressing.' But it's a way to accomplish these things -- to get into the head, into the psyche of these scripts," he said.

-- "I'm very proud of that episode," said Howard Gordon, "because I think it illuminated a lot of Mulder, but also all of this -- that there really is this line between madness and sanity. We sort of walk around and act civilized, but there's this thin membrane between us and people who walk into McDonald's and start shooting things up."

-- John Mostow and Bill Patterson weren't the only ones disturbed by gargoyles. A Catholic hospital proved reluctant to let the crew affix gargoyle figures to the exterior of the building for the teaser sequence, considering them a symbol of evil. An appropriate building (Heritage Hall, an old post office) was finally located, but crew members found themselves panicked upon returning from their Christmas holiday to discover the sidewalk next to the building had been ripped up by city workmen in the precise spot the camera would focus in on as it craned past the gargoyle down to the street -- what Manners called "my hero shot" -- a mere three days before the sequence was scheduled to be shot. The city responded immediately, double-timing repairs to restore the sidewalk in time for filming.

-- Assistant art director Gary Allen created the gargoyle sketches, one of which adorned a wall in the production office's casting room. "He just went nuts," said graphic artist Vivien Nishi, with only a hint of irony.

-- Cinematographer John Bartley was particularly proud of the episode's look, which earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cinematography for a series.

-- Mark Snow's score for this hour also generated inordinate attention on-line, though Snow admitted he had to hear about it second-hand. "I wasn't online," he said. "If I had done that, I wouldn't have gotten a thing done."

-- Hard to believe that this episode originally aired nearly 11 years ago. A small reminder of that fact is that Mulder is writing out his notes in longhand in the library -- no affordable laptops back in the day. How far technology has come in such a short time!

-- My research into gargoyles didn't turn up anything nearly as fanciful as Mulder's explanation. A gargoyle is a grotesquely carved human or animal figure found on an architectural structure, originally designed to serve as a spout to throw rainwater clear of a building (making a gargling or gurgling sound as the water flowed from the figure's mouth). They later became strictly ornamental and assumed many forms. As Mulder said, the word comes from the French gargouille which means "throat or pipe."

-- One of my favorite Mulderisms ever: "Well, I wouldn't want to disappoint you by not disappointing you."

-- When Scully said she'd be there in a "few minutes," she wasn't kidding; once again, she broke land speed records to get to Mulder's side. She arrived at Mostow's apartment to see Mulder holding a gun on Patterson no more than two minutes after hanging up the phone from her conversation with Mulder.

-- Agent Nemhauser was named for Lori Jo Nemhauser, at the time postproduction supervisor on The X-Files. She later became an associate producer and co-producer. Nemhauser left the show at the end of Season 6 to serve as co-producer on the short-lived ABC series Wasteland. From there, she moved on to the much more successful Six Feet Under, serving as a co-producer and producer through the series' run. Most recently she worked as a producer on an episode of Entourage.

-- Actor Levani Outchaneichvili (John Mostow) was listed in the credits simply as Levani -- perhaps they were afraid his full name wouldn't fit on the screen. He was born Levan Karlovich Uchaneishvili in Tbilisi, USSR (now Georgia). He was a successful actor in Russia before landing a small part in the U.S. TV movie Stalin starring Robert Duvall. His appearance on The X-Files was one of his first roles in the U.S. He went on to appear in the films Independence Day, Air Force One, and Blade and the TV series Millennium and JAG. He is engaged to Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina who competed in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Summer Olympics and together they have a one-year-old son.

-- Kurtwood Smith (Agent Bill Patterson) found greater fame during the eight-year run of Fox's That 70's Show playing patriarch Red Forman. Smith won the role after the original choice, Chuck Norris, had to bow out due to his commitment to Walker: Texas Ranger.

-- Interestingly, in a 1999 interview, Chris Carter cited That 70's Show as part of the reason for The X-Files's ratings dip in Season 6. Though still a major hit for Fox, The X-Files was down 16 percent in total viewers (averaging 16.8 million versus 20 million for Season 5). Carter blamed the network's schedule shuffling; Fox replaced The X-Files's old lead-in King of the Hill with the freshman sitcom That 70's Show, causing the 8:30 time slot to lose 34 percent in viewers (from its 8:00 p.m. lead-in The Simpsons). "Our nice lineup now has a hole in it," Carter said at the time. "Not to take anything away from That 70's Show -- they're trying their best -- but it is struggling." He also pointed to CBS' Sunday movie which was drawing big audiences (it ranked 9th among viewers; The X-Files was ranked 13th). "It changes the quality of the pie," Carter said. "The slices get smaller for everyone."

-- This episode's writer Howard Gordon (now one of the executive producers of the wildly successful 24) served as executive producer of the animated film Queer Duck which featured the voice of his old friend David Duchovny.

-- Once & Future Retreads: Greg Thirloway (Agent Nemhauser) was Dr. Mitchell Kaplan in "Sanguinarium." Susan Bain (Agent Sheherlis) was the County Coroner in "El Mundo Gira." James McDonnell (Glassblower) was Detective Van Allen in "Hellbound."

-- "Grotesque" was the second-highest rated episode of Season 3 with over 18 million viewers, second only to the season premiere "Paper Clip" which drew over 20 million viewers.

-- "Grotesque" (which could have been titled "How Spooky Got His Nickname") is one of my favorite episodes, definitely in my top ten all-time. Not only did David Duchovny give an outstanding subtle performance, but Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, and all of the guest actors were top-notch as well. As noted previously, the music and the cinematography were almost like supporting actors. Every time I watch "Grotesque," I go back and re-read "A Fragile Fortress" by Kronos, one of my favorite post-episode fics. I'm also a sucker for Profiling!Mulder, but you do have to be able to suspend belief and accept that there was a Fox Mulder before there was a Dana Scully (LOL) in order to enjoy some of these pre-XF fanfics. If you can do that, and you haven't read the mother of all BSU/VICAP Mulder fanfics, "Oklahoma," by Amperage and Livengoo, that's the place to go.

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(Thanks to chrisnu for today's episode pics.)

"We work in the dark. We do what we can to battle the evil that would otherwise destroy us. But if a man's character is his fate, it's not a choice but a calling. Sometimes the weight of this burden causes us to falter. From the fragile fortress of our mind, allowing the monster without to turn within. We are left alone staring into the abyss. Into the laughing face of madness."

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "Grotesque."

Polly