CTP Episode of the Day - 07.17.06

Today's Cherished Episode: Kill Switch (5x11)
Original Air Date: February 15, 1998
Written By: William Gibson & Tom Maddox
Directed By: Rob Bowman

A dying computer genius creates a murderous cybernetic life form. Mulder and Scully -- aided only by the dead man's disciple -- must somehow purge this predator from the Internet.

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

"Are you going to take off these cuffs, or do I have to do this with my tongue?" "You don't want to take a vote."

Some "Kill Switch" Tidbits and Musings:

-- A 'kill switch' is usually a button or switch that shuts something down completely, and may or may not be the normal method of turning something off (it is sometimes meant to be used only in emergency situations).

-- William Gibson was a Nebula and Hugo-award winning author of science fiction novels including Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and several other works that established him as the founder and master of the "cyberpunk" school of sci-fi writing. He had considerable experience working on screen adaptations of his own books and short stories, and since he lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, he flew back and forth between Vancouver and Los Angeles quite frequently. And he had a young daughter who was a huge fan of The X-Files.

-- Gibson met Chris Carter on one of those airplane flights between Vancouver and Los Angeles. His purpose in introducing himself to Carter was to wangle a set visit for his then-thirteen-year-old daughter. Gibson and Carter kept bumping into each other on those flights they shared; and one day, Carter approached Gibson about writing an episode for the show. Gibson was agreeable, but it took a long time before Gibson's participation in the show would actually happen.

-- To collaborate on what would eventually become "Kill Switch," Gibson -- who had written both story and script for the 1995 movie Johnny Mnemonic recruited his friend Tom Maddox, a novelist, essayist, and head of the writing program at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

-- The plotline itself was pieced together tail first. It started with Maddox pointing out a completely deserted house not far from his home. Its windows were shuttered and it was surrounded by a chain-link fence, right in the middle of a normal neighborhood. It wasn't too much of a jump for Gibson and Maddox to turn it into a house trailer filled with a big artificial intelligence.

-- As Gibson's readers know, he has written for many years about the interaction of human and artificial intelligence. The notion of the two "species" merging on the World Wide Web was something that had long been floating around cyber-futurist circles. "The Media Lab at MIT was crawling with upload freaks," Gibson said, and the character of Esther Nairn is a cross between a cyberpunk and a member of the alienated, extremely sunlight-averse Generation Y subspecies known as the Goth Movement.

-- All of this was extremely well received by the show's permanent writing staff, but in no way prevented the rewriting and revising process from becoming long and arduous, even for The X-Files. Gibson and Maddox kept working, turning out piles of paper; but months passed, then years. Several Vancouver story meetings with Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter were canceled at the last minute due to emergencies on other episodes and/or work on the XF movie. Finally -- and of course at the last minute and under incredible time pressure -- several plot and character development problems were ironed out. Chris Carter upped the attitude of the Esther Nairn character; Gibson and Maddox had been reluctant to make her a huge pain in the ass, which she needed to be to make her character work. "Chris made her quite abrasive and punky," Gibson said. "I think we had been using her too much as a big for sympathy."

-- Carter and Spotnitz also fine-tuned the attitudes and reactions of Mulder and Scully, resulting in the loss of one of Gibson's favorite vignettes. "Because Esther had a nose ring," he recalled, "we had written a little bit at the bottom of one page when Scully sees a piece of spare parts and kind of wistfully picks it up and models it for herself in the mirror. She holds it up to the side of her nose, sort of like a woman trying on earrings, until someone interrupts her and she guiltily tosses it back into the pile. It was deemed to play too fast and loose with the essential nature of Scully," added Gibson somewhat sadly. "Which I certainly understand. They're Chris's characters and he knows what they can and cannot do."

-- Fewer restrictions were imposed regarding settings, scenery, and pyrotechnics. No less than three major explosions -- an XF record -- were set off. The interior of the artificial intelligence trailer proved superbly cybercentric and claustrophobic on film (and so hot, airless, and confining to the human beings working inside it that Gillian Anderson described it as "the set from hell."

-- This was Rob Bowman's first directing assignment in Season 5, after wrapping up production on the XF movie filmed between Seasons 4 and 5 and released between Seasons 5 and 6. About "Kill Switch," he said: "'Kill Switch' was written by William Gibson -- a novelist. When you're writing novels, there's no budget, you just write and make stuff up, and puts lots of really intricate stuff into scenes. So when the script for 'Kill Switch' came, it was the biggest thing in terms of complexity -- not scale but complexity -- that I'd ever looked at for X-Files. The thing that I thought was compelling was the idea of uploading your personality and your intelligence onto the web and actually becoming a separate entity of yourself in that environment. In the story, Gibson had enough information and enough research and enough possibility that it made you think -- maybe in the future, could that happen?"

-- Jerry Schram, who played one of the federal marshals involved in the gun battle in the diner in the episode teaser, played Larold Rebhun, the only survivor of Max Fenig's ill-fated flight in "Tempus Fugit/Max."

-- In "Kill Switch," computer pioneer Donald Gelman is described as "writing internet software before there was an internet." In his novel Neuromancer, William Gibson coined the phrase "cyberspace" -- in 1984.

-- Oopsie! Although Scully is in D.C., she's driving a Lariat rental car -- apparently rented in Canada, as the nifty close-up of her dashboard shows us that the car's speedometer is in kilometers rather than miles per hour.

-- The original recording of "Twilight Time" by The Platters was used in the episode. The Platters were one of the top vocal groups in the 1950s, selling 53 million records. They were one of the first doo-wop groups to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Their first song to hit the charts was "Only You" in 1955, and their first number one single was "The Great Pretender" in 1956, followed by "My Prayer" the same year. "Twilight Time" hit number one the week of April 21, 1958, but stayed there for only one week. (It was knocked out of the top spot by the song "Witch Doctor" by David Seville -- who would later become the voice and mastermind behind Alvin and the Chipmunks). The Platters hit number one again in early 1959 with a song written in the 1930s -- "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

-- Actress Kristin Lehman (Esther) had a recurring role as Dr. Lily Reddicker on Judging Amy

-- To set the scene surrounding Esther Nairn's waterfront lair, picture car coordinator Nigel Habgood rented 45 intermodal shipping containers, trucked them to a Port of Vancouver container loading facility, and had them meticulously stacked according to the directions laid out by the art department. Filming of the action and dialogue proceeded smoothly; after that, unfortunately, the owners of the dock withdrew their permission to blow up Esther's container on the site. So Habgood trucked his entire container fleet to a huge empty lot in South Burnaby, and with a crane, hoisted them ponderously into place again in the exact same configuration. "It was like solving a puzzle, like doing a Rubik's Cube," said Habgood who'd never done anything even vaguely similar in his life.

-- To obtain authentic astronaut's eye photos of Washington, D.C., producer Paul Rabwin contracted with SPOT, the French-owned commercial satellite surveillance company.

-- Let's hope that the Lone Gunmen are only sleeping together in the same room because they were giving up their other sleeping quarters for their guests (but since Scully is sleeping on the couch, that seems a bit unlikely!).

-- But Frohike was probably thrilled that when Esther left the LGM office (with Scully in tow), she's wearing his jacket.

-- The AI facility provided us some info on Fox Mulder, some of which we knew before. The years he spent at Oxford (1983 - 1986) and when he entered Quantico (1986) match the info provided in "Unusual Suspects." We learned that Mulder entered the Violent Crimes Unit in 1988, and worked on the X-Files from "1990 to the present," which means he worked on the XF for two years before Scully joined him. We also find that Mulder was a summa cum laude graduate from Oxford with a degree in Psychology; and that he graduated with honors from the Quantico FBI Training Academy.

-- "Imagine being mingled so completely with another, you no longer need your physical self -- you're one." Yeah, that could describe another amazing relationship we know.

-- The nasty autonomous robot that attacks Mulder -- inspired by the NASA Mars Rover, according to special effects coordinator Dave Gauthier -- was battery powered and radio-controlled and cost $23,000 to build and operate. According to Rob Bowman, all the robots, gizmos, and doo-dads attached to the robotic arms worked. "I needed everything to work in the shot with David," Bowman said. "I couldn't have a shot of David's face and then do all the stuff on a dummy arm; I wanted it all to work on cue. So the crew built all the robotic arms and gizmos all from scratch. And they all worked perfectly."

-- To create a suitably impressive water geyser when the AI zaps Gelman's laptop from space, Dave Gauthier's crew sank a huge high-pressure air cannot in the Fraser River (next to a venerable turntable bridge that opened and closed ponderously via a miniscule three-horsepower motor) and fired it off on cue. Due to strong currents and tides, however, the effect was unsatisfactory. It was considerably augmented in post-production by visual effects coordinator Laurie Kallsen-George.

-- One of the highlights of this episode was the wacky Mulder AI dream sequence in which we get a little too much information about what's floating around in Fox Mulder's head, including a crucifix over his bed and the lovely Nurse Nancy with a cross necklace and an alien lapel pin. But surrounded by buxom nurses and the doddering doctor, Mulder still sought out his Dr. Scully. And leave it to Mulder's fantasies to conjure up Karate!Scully who could give Xena: Warrior Princess a run for her money. DD was great in this scene, his initial contentment interrupted by confusion alternating with terror; and I loved his pitiful "look" when he was looking for some Scully!Comfort and tried to get Action Figure Scully to notice his amputated arms. It's only when Scully blows the hair out of her eyes and starts to question him that he realizes this is not "his" Scully and fights his way, literally and figuratively, out of his computer enhanced dream state.

-- This was not the first double amputation in XF history. Special effects makeup artist Toby Lindala created the same effect (on Sergeant Leonard "Rappo" Trimble) in "The Walk" in Season 3.

-- William Gibson wrote the Scully fight scene as well as some other specific things into the script because as a fan of the show, "I'd always wanted to see Scully do more -- like shoot and drive and kick-box." So in "Kill Switch" we got Action!Scully. For example, throughout the episode, whenever Mulder and Scully are together, Scully drives. She displayed her sharp shooting skills when she took out the AI facility's alarm, and of course, she came in and did her "Scully-foo" (as Rob Bowman called it) to wipe out the sexy nurse brigade. Gillian Anderson said she always had a lot of fun doing the physical stuff and noted that "the concept of 'Kill Switch' was fun too, coming in to these bimbo nurses and kicking some major butt." On the Season 5 DVDs, Dean Haglund (Langly) called it "One of the great fight scenes ever. Scully punching out big blonde nurses." And with a wicked grin he added, "Hmm, I could watch that over and over."

-- Kate Luyben (Nurse Nancy) appeared in the Pilot episode of Millennium and also appeared in the "Levithian" episode of Harsh Realm. She had a small role in the 2005 smash hit The 40 Year Old Virgin.

-- It was computer whiz Laurie Kallsen-George who inadvertently set in motion the most startling special effect of all. Asked to create the sputtering computer-image breakdown when Mulder karate-kicks his "partner" and breaks out Nurse Nancy's virtual-reality hospital, she commissioned a freelance computer artist to create a 3-D cybernetic image of Dana Scully. "I had in mind a kind of wire-frame model," said Kallsen-George. "Like a gridwork in computer space, a fairly simple thing. And I thought I'd made myself clear, but when I came back four or five hours later, the very talented young guy had done a 3-D model of Scully naked." The schedule was tight, but not that tight. Despite her admiration for the work, she ordered his effort confined to her hard drive.

-- Frank Spotnitz said that "Kill Switch" was "huge." It had the longest number of shooting days of any single episode, and was probably one of the most expensive episodes the show ever did. It was certainly the most expensive single episode the show did in Vancouver.

-- Editor Heather MacDougall won an Emmy award for her work on "Kill Switch."

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

Polly