CTP Episode of the Day - 08.02.06

A short introduction to today's CTP from me. First of all, sorry for the late posting. Real life conspired against me in completing it. Second of all, I'm sure that many of you will take one look at today's CTP, see which episode it is, what season it comes from, skip over the comments, and add your post that you hate this episode. Well, that's okay. I have to say that in general, I hate it too, one of my least favorite episodes ever. So because I anticipated your reaction regarding this CTP episode, and because most of the time I feel like doing these little synopses -- especially for the majority of Season 8 and 9 episodes -- really isn't worth the effort (except for a few folks who enjoy them), I had intended this CTP to be short and sweet. So I hadn't intended to listen to Chris Carter's DVD commentary on this episode. But at the last minute, I did anyway. And though I didn't really change my mind about the episode as far as its likeability level, I do feel that I understand it better and have a better appreciation for its intent. So I thought perhaps the longer write-up might be of interest to a few people; and here it is. Everyone else, I just go ahead and post your general disdain for the episode and move along! Polly

Today's Cherished Episode: Improbable (9x14)
Original Air Date: April 7, 2002
Written By: Chris Carter
Directed By: Chris Carter

Studying case files from a recent murder and a series of unexplained past killings, Reyes puts her spiritual beliefs to use when she uses numerology to deduct that a single serial killer is behind a series of murders. Racing to find the killer before he strikes again, Reyes and Scully are subtly given clues by a mysterious stranger with an unlikely connection -- to both the agents and the killer.

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

"Sir, does it look like we're here to play checkers?"

Some "Improbable" Tidbits & Musings:

-- The episode title refers to the episode's subjects of numerology and probability. The episode premise is that everything in life is the result of a much larger and complex system, which can be understood through careful examination of numerical attributes and pattern recognition.

-- The episode was inspired by three things: Chris Carter's interest in the work of Stephen Hawking and books he was reading at the time about old physics vs. new physics (practical vs. theoretical); his interest in poker stirred by a magazine article he read about a man who entered the World Series of Poker; and the events of September 11, 2001, which occurred a few months before this episode was filmed. Carter noted when he started writing this episode, he felt it was definitely "improbable" that these three different and distinct subjects could be brought together for an X-File.

-- In his DVD commentary on the episode, Carter said, "We are all dealt genetic hands and maybe even numerological hands that give us the tools with which we deal and/or use for our lives. So the idea is that there is free will and there is fate and fate is somewhat determined by our genetics, but how much it's determined by our genetics is in question. The character of Wayne was dealt a bad hand at the table and in life and he acts on his bad impulses. Is it fate that Wayne is a bad character? This is what I was interested in exploring."

-- When the episode aired, there was much confusion and discussion as to exactly who the "mysterious stranger" was or was supposed to represent. In his DVD commentary, Chris Carter states right up front that this character is God (a "card-playing God" as Paul Rabwin described Him), and that Carter wanted to present God as someone who knows all the numbers/answers and runs the gaming casino -- that's why he uses the games he's shown playing (solitaire, three-card monty, dominoes, checkers) to help teach the characters life lessons or help them figure out what's going on. Carter said his perception was that God is trying to communicate to mankind how to understand His game, be good at His game, how to play the game correctly, so that ultimately they could win His game, i.e., be successful in life. Carter said similarly, if physicists could figure out God's game, they could figure out all the secrets of the universe.

-- Burt Reynolds' participation in the show was thanks to Robert Patrick. The two worked together in the film Striptease and remained friends; and Patrick asked Reynolds if he would consider doing an episode of The X-Files. Reynolds said in passing that he would love to do the show, and Robert Patrick took the idea to Chris Carter. Carter said he would think about writing something good for Reynolds, but then neither actor heard anything from Carter and assumed it wasn't going to happen. Until one day, Reynolds received a call from Carter "out of the blue." But ironically, Patrick and Reynolds don't really have any scenes together in the episode.

-- Carter said that Reynolds "meant something to me as a young man, and here was the chance to work with him. The whole experience was surreal. I took the script and the opportunity and presented it to him, and lo and behold, he said yes." He added he had a chance to work with many terrific actors over the course of the series, but Reynolds was one of the best, coming to work "with his bags packed, ready to roll."

-- After reading the story about poker, Carter said that he was fascinated by the abilities of the players to count cards and in a way predict the outcome of the game and he was struck by the similarity of something as simple as a game to what scientists do every day. Carter interspersed playing card terminology and numerology themes throughout his script. For example, "fifth street" (which Mr. Burt references when he is accusing Mad Wayne of bluffing him) refers to the final round of betting in flop games, and the fifth card dealt to each player in stud games.

-- At the end of the teaser, Mr. Burt is turning over cards, naming the cards just before they're shown. A woman enters the room screaming about a murder, and the final card Mr. Burt turns up is the ace of spades. In divination with standard playing cards (as opposed to Tarot), the ace of spades is the death card.

-- The usual "The Truth Is Out There" tagline at the end of the opening credits is replaced with "Dio ti ama" - Italian for "God Loves You," a reference to who Mr. Burt really is -- God.

-- Carter's brother, a professor and scientist at M.I.T., helped him immensely with this episode, especially with questions about what scientists think about the existence of God.

-- After almost nine years, the X-Files Division got a high-tech state of the art slide projector.

-- The names of three of the victims mentioned during the slide show -- Carla Maria Carpenter, Judy Ann Fuller, and Julie Frances Gresham -- were the names of girls that Chris Carter attended elementary school with.

-- Carter used numerical patterns throughout the episode to illustrate his story -- things like windows, groupings of people, surgical items on Scully's tray, numbers on a clock, etc., are all set in distinct number groups and patterns that the characters would need to pay attention to in order to solve the case. Each of the main characters found the connection in a way that Carter believed was true to their character: Monica with the kooky numerical connection, Scully through forensics, and Doggett through investigation and observation.

-- Carter felt that music was an important part of the episode because there are also patterns in music, represented by the rhythm. He recalled that when he was taking piano lessons, his teacher once said that God was the rhythm and called music "her religion," and he used that analogy in the episode, believing that God would see the same rhythms in music and in life. Carter felt that music was one of the elements that made this episode sweet and special; and he chose the classic, upbeat pieces because he felt this was music that "God might listen to, representing the happiness of the human spirit, beauty and lightness that we should all appreciate in His creation." The pieces used within the episode, "Ca Va Ca Va" (Remix by Le Tone), "Ponciana," "La Panse," "Inouois," "Torero," "El Bodeguero," "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons," and "Io Mammate E Tu" were all done by Karl Zero, a French personality and journalist who loved these classic old songs and redid them.

-- Parts of the episode were filmed on the back lot at Universal. The production designers took an entire street and made it into "Little Italy."

-- Feed me, Seymour, feed me! Actress Ellen Greene (Vicki Louise Burdick) is most famous as the lispy, bubble-headed blonde Audrey in the stage production of the cult favorite Little Shop of Horrors, which she played for two years (1982 - 1984) and then transferred to the film of the same name (1986). Carter saw her in the both the New York and L.A. productions of the show and always wanted to work with her, so he wrote the part with her in mind.

-- The name of Greene's character, Vickie Burdick, was the name of someone Chris Carter went to high school with. "So she must die," joked Carter. "Out of fondness, of course."

-- In the scene in Vickie's office after she is killed, Carter noted that he put the camera in the wrong place during filming and thus the episode would not cut together correctly in editing. He had to go back and reshoot Robert Patrick's close-ups for the scene because of his mistake.

-- Doggett re-confirms that his birth date is April 4, 1960. (April 4 is also the birth date of Vince Gilligan's girlfriend, Holly Rice.)

-- In the scene where God is playing dominos and talking to Mad Wayne, half of the scene was shot during the day and half when the sun was going down, so they had to change the lighting in order to make the scenes match.

-- On his DVD commentary, Carter notes that this was the "last autopsy scene I would shoot with Scully which was sad."

-- The scene set in the elevator in Vickie Burdick's office building was shot on a sound stage, but the lobby area where the characters exited the elevator was filmed in a hotel in downtown Los Angeles -- a very sleazy hotel in an area of the city where Carter said cast and crew didn't feel extremely safe. But he added that this particular hotel lobby location was special to him because it was used as a location in one of the episodes of the show that inspired Carter to create The X-Files,, Night Stalker. Carter said, "I happened to be watching an episode from one of the Night Stalkertwo-hour movies, saw that location, and decided to use it at some point."

-- The underground garage where Reyes and Scully meet Mr. Burt was also filmed on location in a parking garage in downtown Los Angeles.

-- In the parking garage scene, all of the automobiles were classic cars, which Carter felt would also be an "improbable" element in the show and add a visual joke. He added that one humorous drawback was that the older cars tended to have thick exhausts, thus filling the garage with smoke and smog every time they were moved. "So we tried not to move the cars," Carter quipped.

-- Carter recalled that during filming of the parking garage scene, Burt Reynolds spent a lot of time on the set with the crew. He said that after Reynolds read the script, he contacted Carter to find out exactly how Carter wanted him to play "God." "I wanted the Burt Reynolds charm," Carter said, "so I asked him to play the role just like that. He always has this mischievous look in his eye, and that's what I wanted. I think God would have that same look, that same charm."

-- Carter also spent a lot of time thinking about God's wardrobe, and ultimately chose a "really tacky floral theme" which seemed to be just the right thing for God, in his opinion. "Part of the theme of this episode was that God would have an appreciation for the beauty of what man has done with His creations, that mankind takes the elements and continues to create past God's vision of creation," Carter said. "I think God would appreciate wardrobe like this because it's something that even He might not have created."

-- Carter also felt God would love digital music, because again it was mankind taking one of His creations further, and that prompted the scene with all the CDs in the trunk of the car. In his typical deadpan humor, Reynolds said he loved that scene where his character opened "this Cadillac trunk, which Joel Grey could live in and have two or three children, and there are thousands of CDs in there, just thrown in, in no order. And that was absolutely right for them to be in no order. Because they all gave him joy." Reynolds also said he absolutely loved the line his character said to Scully, "Do you like them? Keep them. Thanks to the wondrous world of digital technology, I can always make more."

-- Carter also specifically included the shot of God looking at his empty wrist when Scully asks what time his friend is coming to the parking garage "to show that God doesn't need a watch; he always knows the time."

-- Checkers was the final game in the series of games God gets to play throughout the episode in order to provide the red and black clue to Scully and Reyes to help them solve the case.

-- As Reyes and Scully play checkers, Reynolds dances through the shot. "I told Burt, 'You gotta shake your ass right in front of the camera'," Carter said. "Some of my better direction. And Gillian's reaction made it precious."

-- "God doesn't play dice with the universe," is Reyes quoting Albert Einstein in a very loose translation. In Einstein's native German, the quote was "Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber bösehaft ist er nicht." A more literal translation of this is "God is clever, but he is not perverse."

-- Carter had included the "play dice" line in the script, but felt it wasn't quite right and he didn't know how to make it right. During rehearsal, when Reyes recited the line, Carter said that "Gillian seized on it immediately and added 'nor does He play checkers' and that made it perfect." Carter noted this was one of the great pleasures of the show, the give and take between the actors and everyone to make the best possible product. He added, "Gillian made it right, just as she has been so good at doing throughout the course of the show."

-- During the scene when Scully and Reyes apprehend the killer, Carter noted that some viewers noted it was pretty improbable that Doggett would figure things out and show up to save the day. "Exactly," said Carter. "Just one more improbable element of this case."

-- When that scene was filmed, Robert Patrick wasn't available for most of the shooting, so his stand-in was used for much of the action, and Patrick's close-ups were filmed later.

-- The phone call between Monica and Scully toward the end of the episode, where Monica interprets Scully's numerology, and the idea that the number "9" represents completion and culmination of a spiritual journey worked on many levels. It speaks to Scully's experience in "all things" and is surely an indirect commentary on Chris Carter's thoughts on the series itself and perhaps how he had come to realize that ending the show was the right thing to do.

-- Carter noted that the San Generro Feast and festival scene at the end of the episode may seem disconnected or "improbable" from the rest of the episode, but the idea for including it came out of the events of September 11. Carter noted that "September 11 tested people's faith in a horrible way. It made it hard for people to believe that God was listening or helping us, because many of the innocent people who died believed in God, and if God was pulling the strings, how could this happen?" Carter felt the episode conveyed his belief that "it's ultimately up to each of us, our free will and our ability to glorify God through His creation, to have this relationship with God. To show that no matter who we destroy, we can't destroy Him." Carter included the final scene in the episode as a tribute, because as a result of the World Trade Center bombings, they were unable to have the San Generro festival in New York in 2001.

-- The episode's final overhead shot of the carnival was done using a giant crane that towered over 100 feet in the air. Eventually the shot pulls even further back, and through the use of computer generated images done by Mat Beck, is turned into a version of Burt Reynolds face, complete with glistening teeth. Chris Carter felt this shot explained exactly who the character of Mr. Burt represented in the episode, and where He went after the case was solved: "Look carefully, He [God] is everywhere."

-- On the Season 9 DVD's, Supervising Producer Paul Rabwin shared the special effects secrets of how the final shot was made. He also said that at the end of the season/series, in order to pay homage to the man behind The X-Files, Mat Beck put together a version of the same shot that turned into Chris Carter's image, complete with the glistening teeth. On the DVD commentary, Rabwin unveils the shot for the first time to anyone outside the show and says, "Bye-bye, Chris." Very sweet.

-- To fit in with his numerology theme, particularly with regard to the number "3," Carter wanted three Italian girls to open up the scene at the San Generro Feast. He asked Ten Thirteen assistant Sandra Tripicchio and her two sisters, Cara and Christine, to work as extras in the show. The Tripicchios are triplets.

-- Props department crew member Tighe Barry plays a homeless man in the San Generro Feast scene.

-- Retread: Former Ten Thirteen Production Assistant Angelo Vacco made his fourth and final appearance in The X-Files as two characters in the episode; he played the bartender as well as Guido, the guy with the girlfriend at the San Generro Feast. Vacco also appeared in "F. Emasculata," "Talitha Cumi," and "Milagro."

-- Burt Reynolds' career goes all the way back to 1959 when he was a regular on the TV Western Riverboat, (which starred a fellow named Darren McGavin). He was a popular TV guest star during the 1960s, and found stardom as a regular on Gunsmoke as blacksmith Quint Asper from 1962 until 1965. He starred in several short-lived series including Hawk and Dan August and a critically acclaimed movie of the week, Run, Simon, Run with Inger Stevens which seemed to jump start his career. Shortly thereafter he won the role of Lewis Medlock in Deliverance and his film career was off and running. His films (usually made with a group of regulars who were his own little "rat pack") made him the King of the Box Office in the 70s and 80s: The Longest Yard, Gator, Smokey and the Bandit (I, II and III), Semi-Tough, Hooper, and The Cannonball Run (I and II) just to name a few. He won the People's Choice Award for Favorite Movie Actor five times in the late 70s and early 80s. But he also found critical success in films like Starting Over and he was always an extremely popular talk show guest.

-- Reynolds' film career eventually dried up and he returned to television in the laid-back comedy Evening Shade where he played Wood Newton, a former pro football player who retired and returned to his childhood home, the small town of Evening Shade, Arkansas, to coach the high school football team. The show ran for four seasons (1990 - 1994) and Reynolds won a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for his role.

-- Burt Reynolds continues to have a very busy acting career on both television and in films. He received kudos for his role as Congressman David Dilbeck in the Demi Moore film Striptease; and received numerous awards (including a Golden Globe and the New York and L.A. Critics Awards) for his supporting role in the film Boogie Nights, which also featured Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Ricky Jay ("The Amazing Maleeni").

-- Something you might not know about Burt Reynolds was that he created the TV Game Show Win, Lose or Draw which aired on NBC and in syndication from 1987 - 1990. He based it on a game (a combination of Charades and Pictionary) that he and his friends played at parties in his home. Two teams of three players each (one contestant and two celebrities) had one minute to give clues to a secret phrase by sketching on a large tablet without using letters, numbers, or verbal clues. Reynolds created the show with long-time game show host Bert Convy (Burt and Bert Productions), who hosted the syndicated version of the show (with Reynolds a frequent guest). Vicki Lawrence hosted the NBC version. The Win, Lose or Draw set was modeled on Reynolds' living room.

-- There's an Oscar winner in this episode, but it's not Burt Reynolds. Reynolds was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar in 1998 for his role in Boogie Nights; and though many thought he was a shoe in, the Oscar went to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting. The Oscar winner in "Improbable" is Ray McKinnon who played Mad Wayne. He won the Academy Award in 2002 for Best Short Film, Live Action for a film he directed called The Accountant. In fact, McKinnon won the Academy Award *while* filming this episode, so Carter said it was quite intimidating when McKinnon left the set one day and "came back the next an Oscar winner." McKinnon had a recurring role as the Reverend H. W. Smith in Deadwood.

-- Carrying the Italian theme through to the end of the episode, Chris Carter's "Executive Producer" credit at the end is in Italian -- "Produttore Esecutivo."

-- In his commentary, Chris Carter brought out lots of depth and layers to this episode, but on the surface, it seemed to be a whimsical story played for laughs and style. The episode actually bears a huge resemblance to many prior episodes including references to coincidence, fate vs. free will, and science vs. religion. It especially reminds me of "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"; Reyes even has a line about finding out why the killer does what he does when he does it, nearly identical to a line in CBFR.

-- Frank Spotnitz called "Improbable" "a very ambitious, very interesting, beautiful kind of story that only Chris could have written and directed." (Given the confusing plot elements and spiritual references, I'm sure many fans would agree. < g >) But the biggest problem with the episode from the fans' perspective seemed to be the fact that with the show about to draw to a close, fans wanted substance over style. With so many plot and character elements begging to be addressed in the final episodes, an episode featuring Burt Reynolds dancing, playing checkers, and lip synching old Italian songs just didn't cut it.

-- As noted at the beginning of this post, this was one Season 9 episode that I truly hated. First of all, I didn't "get" it; but that wasn't unusual -- I didn't "get" "The Post Modern Prometheus" either the first few times I saw it, yet eventually it became one of my favorite episodes. I saw "Improbable" a few times and I still didn't "get" it, and I didn't really make an effort to try and "get" it because it was lacking one thing that "The Post Modern Prometheus" wasn't: David Duchovny. Without David, there was really no incentive for me to make an effort where this episode was concerned. (In retrospect, it might have been kind of interesting to see David and Burt work together -- they each have a very dry sense of humor, extremely quick; that might have been pretty entertaining. But we'll never know.)

-- On a side note, prior to this recent "commentary on" viewing, the most interesting (and improbable) thing about this episode for me was this: I have two male friends who love the X-Files and both of them absolutely loved this episode. It was their favorite episode of Season 9, by far, and one of them ranks it as one of his top three ever. (One of them was stationed in Korea when the episode first aired, and I remember he emailed me after he saw it to ask if I had seen that "awesome" episode. I thought perhaps they were rerunning Season 3 or something.) Rewatching this episode still didn't educate me on the appeal that this episode has for male viewers (except perhaps Reynolds meant something to them as young men too). So I guess I have to assume it's a Smokey and the Bandit thing. < g >

-- So that's what I learned from sitting through Carter's commentary. (And anyone who has ever criticized David Duchovny's monotone has obviously never heard Chris Carter speak. I swear, the man has one tone, one speed.) But his commentary did affirm what I know in my heart: Chris Carter is an extremely intelligent man, a very spiritual man, and a very talented man (it's really not hard to see why he and DD would get along). While I might find episodes like this a bit too stylistic and overly cerebral for my taste, I still have to hand it to the man for creating a show that touched me (and challenged me) like no other. I may not agree with all Carter's choices over the course of nine years, but I still respect the journey and I wouldn't have missed the dance for anything.

-- This was Carter's last assignment as director; so thanks Chris, for nine wonderful years.

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