REPOST - CTP Episode of the Day - 05.01.06 - Piper Maru

Today's Cherished Episode: Piper Maru (3x15)
Original Air Date: February 9, 1996
Written By: Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter
Directed By: Rob Bowman

A French salvage ship finds mysterious wreckage from World War II that unleashes a strange force causing radiation sickness and leading Mulder into a web of intrigue.

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"You're in the basement because they're afraid of you, of your relentlessness and because they know that they could drop you in the middle of the desert, and tell you the truth is out there, and you would ask them for a shovel."

-- The third season mythology two-parter "Piper Maru/Apocrypha" would likely have turned out much differently had Frank Spotnitz not attended an X-Files convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

-- Chris Carter assigned story editor Spotnitz the task of coming up with a story based on two images Carter had conceived and wanted to connect within an episode. "Chris just knew he wanted a guy in the cockpit of a World War II plane banging against the glass," explained Spotnitz, who at first struggled with writing the script. "He didn't know how he got there; was this guy alive or dead, was it an illusion. Then Chris wanted a flashback to World War II about a submarine. I was stuck on that story for weeks. I had no idea how I was going to connect those, or when that image was going to come."

-- "I went to an X-Files convention in Minneapolis," recalled Spotnitz. "And this was one of the few times in my career with The X-Files that this happened, but a fan asked me about Scully's sister Melissa, who had been murdered at the beginning of that season, what was going to happen with that, and what effect was Melissa's murder having on Scully. And it occurred to me that we had not followed up on the emotional consequence for Scully of losing her sister. That was sort of the demands of the characters, dealing with the emotional baggage they were carrying around; and we dealt with it in that hour when her sister died, but we hadn't touched on it since."

-- "So literally on the plane ride back from Minneapolis the story for 'Piper Maru' started to come to me," Spotnitz said. "I had no paper, I just had a pen. So I took the airline magazine and I started writing all over it in the margins around the ads, filling up all the white space, and by the time the plane landed in Los Angeles, I basically had the entire story outlined. That was probably the fastest anything ever happened for me on the show."

-- "'Piper Maru' came out of a story line and a thread that had been set up earlier, at the end of season two," said Chris Carter. "A digital tape was stolen, and it contained something called the MJ documents, which in UFO lore were very important documents held by the government that talked about the existence of extra-terrestrial life, of extra-terrestrial technology. And those documents then had disappeared on our show. They turned up in the form of this episode."

-- "This episode also introduced the black oil," continued Carter, "the substance that would come to play an important part in the larger mythology. This was something alien that wasn't a little green man or a little grey man, was something new to the show, but it expanded the mythology, and created new, I think, new interest in what the conspiracy was."

-- Filming the teaser underwater sequences using the Newtsuit -- a 900-pound deep-sea diving apparatus resembling the suits worn by lunar astronauts -- provided its own highlight, working in conjunction with a company that performed underwater salvage expeditions. Among those particularly enamored with the underwater sequences was special effects coordinator David Gauthier -- a certified diver (he and director Rob Bowman vacationed after the season in Micronesia) for whom the French character first inhabited by the alien presence was named.

-- The diving scenes were principally shot in a 12-by-12-by-24 foot tank, with the actor seen inside the plane remaining underwater within the shell of the cockpit for two hours while filming that scene, breathing through a diving regulator. Robert F. Maier, the man who played the downed World War II pilot, was also the series' construction coordinator.

-- "The pilot against the glass was me," Rob Maier confirmed. "I asked Rob [Bowman]: 'Hey, can I do that stunt, I think I could do that, it sounds really cool.' And he said, 'Well, I don't know. We'll have to talk to Chris.' So he talked to Chris and Chris said yeah, but they both said, 'You know, you're going to have to cut your hair.' Back then, I had quite long hair. And I said, 'That's okay, I don't care. I'll do it.'"

-- "For me, that all sort of came together because I don't know how many hours we spent together, either agreeing, disagreeing, or blowing things up," recalled special effects coordinator David Gauthier. "As Rob [Maier] built it, I would burn it down or blow it up. So we spent many hours together putting whatever Chris wanted together, so it was nice to see him on screen with the black oil in his eyes. It sort of completed the whole thing for me."

-- The black oil effect in the eyes was created with a combination of balsamic vinegar and engine oil.

-- In the teaser, when the support crew lost contact with Gauthier in the submersible, the communications technician was told to "try another frequency" (a statement verified in the subtitles). However, since radios don't work underwater, there are no frequencies to change; the only communication is by wire, which may carry more than one channel, but a disruption in cable-based communications affects all channels simultaneously.

-- Title: "Piper Maru" was named after Gillian Anderson's daughter, whose middle name means "calm and gentle" in Polynesian. The reference also fit well given the episode's context, since the term also loosely translates to the Japanese word for ship.

-- Timeline: The timeline of the "Piper Maru/Apocrypha" two-parter is typically murky. In breaking the news to Scully that her sister's case was being closed, Skinner indicated that it had been five months since Melissa's death. While "Paper Clip" aired about five months before "Piper Maru," the episode was actually set in April 1995, making it more like eight months since Melissa's murder.

-- Skinner addressed his secretary by the name "Kimberly" in this episode. Later in the episode, a call informing Scully that Skinner was shot came from Kim Cook from the Director's office; but presumably this was not the same Kimberly.

-- Continuity! Mulder mentioned that the French salvage ship was located in the same area as The Talapus, which was the ship Mulder investigated in "Nisei."

-- Gauthier's apartment was actually the home of X-Files location manager Todd Pittson's neighbor.

-- The scene where Mulder and Scully examined the Piper Maru at the U.S. Naval Station in San Diego was filmed at Vancouver's Ballantyne Pier, on the north foot of Heatley Street.

-- The Big Ass Flashlights returned!

-- Drop Dead Red, the inscription on the side of the Zeus Faber, was a tribute to the "drop dead gorgeous redhead" Gillian Anderson.

-- The call numbers JTT0 11470 on the Zeus Faber meant absolutely nothing. Although similar to numbers used for Mulder's badge number in "F. Emasculata" and for the boxcar entry code in "731," according to Trust No One: The Official Third Season Guide to The X-Files, there was no significance to the numbers 111470 or 111471 or the letters JTT0; they just kept appearing in many episodes.

-- Vancouver Detachment, CFB Chilliwack at Jericho, 4th Avenue and Highbury Street, was used as the location for the Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, California, where Scully visited Commander Johansen.

-- Oopsie! When Mulder was looking through papers in Gauthier's apartment, he picked up an envelope. The name on the envelope when he picked it up was Marcel Gauthier, but when the envelope was shown in close-up next to another piece of paper, the name on the envelope was Bernard Gauthier.

-- In her conversation with Commander Johansen, Scully reminisced about playing a game called "beckons wanted" as a child. Searches to find information on this game have been unsuccessful.

-- The scene at the Kallenchuk Salvage Brokers Office, located at 3702 Medlock Street, San Francisco (according to the on-screen legend), was filmed beneath Vancouver's Second Narrows Bridge on the north side.

-- The cruise ship terminal at Ballantyne Pier stood in for San Francisco International Airport and Hong Kong Airport, due to construction at Vancouver's airport at the time this episode was filmed.

-- The scene where Skinner was threatened by government security officials and later shot was filmed at The Meatmarket Restaurant, located at One West Cordova Street in Gastown.

-- Then unknown Michael Bublé appeared in this episode and "Apocrypha" in an uncredited role (as one of the sailors in Commander Johansen's flashback). Bublé was born and grew up in Burnaby, British Columbia, located near Vancouver (and also a favorite location spot for X-Files filming). He was introduced to swing music and old standards by his grandfather, who offered his services for free as a professional plumber to musicians who were willing to let Michael sing a couple of songs with them on stage. Bublé got his big break in show business after 10 years of struggling, just as he was considering giving up a career in music to take a job in media. After his performance at a corporate gig in summer 2000, he told Michael McSweeney, speech writer/right hand man to former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, to feel free to use his independent CD as a coaster if he didn't like it. McSweeney gave the CD to Brian and Mila Mulroney, which led to an invitation to sing at their daughter's wedding. At the wedding he was introduced to music producer David Foster, who took Bublé under his wing. His self-titled debut album came out February 12, 2003, and Bublé went on to incredible worldwide success.

-- The scene where Mulder tracked down Jeraldine Kallenchuk in a Hong Kong restaurant was filmed at Ho Ho Chop Suey located at 100 East Pender Street in Vancouver's Chinatown.

-- One of the things that Spotnitz wrote down in his outline for "Piper Maru" on the flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles was the idea of bringing in Krycek. Nicholas Lea's name didn't appear until the closing credits, trying to preserve the sense of surprise regarding Krycek's return.

-- Oopsie! When Skinner walked into the cafe before he was shot, another man was walking out, leaving a table with a used glass and coffee cup. The waitress was in the back, getting Skinner a cup of coffee (she couldn't have cleared the other table yet), but when the camera shot was over Skinner's shoulder, the other table was cleared and had a clean coffee cup (turned upside down) on it.

-- Mulder and Krycek took flight 1121 back to the U.S. November 21 (11/21) is Chris Carter's wife's birthday.

-- "My favorite black oil moment still, even after years of black oil, was in 'Piper Maru,'" said John Shiban. "When Krycek went into the men's room at the airport, looked down, saw a pair of women's shoes, and looked up and there was Mrs. Gauthier who had been taken over by the oil. The oil left her and went into him, but it was just a great scene and Nick Lea was terrific in that."

-- "Krycek walked out of the bathroom, and it was written in the script, 'as they walk out of frame' or something," recalled director Rob Bowman. "And it was kind of hard, because it just existed in the eyes, the oil, this little place where we had shown that it was visible. And I remember calling down to Chris or Frank and saying, 'I think I need to shoot this differently. What I'd like to do is I'd like to have the last image of the episode be one that I think is good but I think will help see the oil, is have Krycek walk right, completely, into the lens and go to black.' I think the next day they saw the dailies and dug it. But it was one of those where it seemed like, when I watch the shot, well, of course, that's the only way you could do it, when it was instead on the set standing there scratching my chin thinking, 'What am I gonna do to make the end of the episode not suck?'"

-- "The creepiness factor was pretty high in 'Piper Maru,'" said visual effects producer Mat Beck. "One of the things we had to do was have something in the eyes that looked like it was really there, but at the same time was really disturbing and really creepy. And we put them digitally on the surface of the cornea and we actually moved them in such a way -- you know, the sense you get of floaters in your eye, how they move this way and stop and drift back the other way. We actually made the oil goop more that way, so when he or she blinked it would follow the blink and then keep going with a lag in it as if it's really a liquid, it's really a fluid. It's incredibly creepy; it creeps me out looking at it years later."

-- Gillian Anderson considered "Piper Maru" one of the more emotionally difficult episodes she had to play during Season 3. "The episode was challenging," she said, citing her scenes with the colonel, which forced Scully to deal both with feelings about losing her sister and growing up as a Navy brat. "There was something about it -- having to pull from the past ... how it brought the present and the past together. It was just good to play."

-- For this episode, Gillian Anderson received her first Best Actress Emmy Award nomination.

-- Interesting Factoid: Piper Maru was also the name of the icebreaker ship used by Weyland Corporation's retrieval team in the 2004 movie AVP: Alien vs. Predator.

-- Stephen E. Miller (Wayne Morgan), who appeared in the "Pilot" and "Duane Barry" in addition to this episode, recently appeared as the Feed Store Proprietor in X-Files: I Want to Believe. Once & Future Retreads: Robert Clothier (Commander Johansen) was the Old Man in "Red Museum." Morris Panych (Gray-Haired Man) played the same role in "F. Emasculata," "Avatar," "Herrenvolk," "Memento Mori," and "Zero Sum." Stephen E. Miller (Wayne Morgan) was Coroner John Truitt in the "Pilot" and the Tactical Commander in "Duane Barry." Paul Batten (Dr. Seizer) was Brother Wilton in "Gender Bender." Lenno Britos (Luis Cardinal) played the same role in "The Blessing Way," "Paper Clip," and "Apocrypha," and played a Janitor in "Fearful Symmetry." Kimberly Unger (Joan Gauthier) was Karen Koretz in "Fallen Angel." Tom Scholte (Young Johansen) was Michael Sloan in "Detour." Tegan Moss (Young Dana Scully) played the same role in "One Breath." Peter Nicholas (Younger Man #1) was The Associate in "Avatar" and an FBI Agent in "Travelers." Cameron K. Smith (Marine Corp Duty NCO) was Special Agent Travis in "Leonard Betts."

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(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 "Piper Maru."

Polly