CTP Episode of the Day - 07.04.06

Today's Cherished Episode: Triangle (6x03)
Original Air Date: November 22, 1998
Written By: Chris Carter
Directed By: Chris Carter

Hauled onto a World War II era ocean liner trapped in the Bermuda Triangle, Mulder must get his bearings, fight off Nazi raiders -- and ensure that democracy survives in the twentieth century.

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

"You saved the world, Scully."
"Yeah, you're right. I did."

Nearly every motion picture and filmed TV drama is photographed in basically the same way. A single camera shoots a single scene numerous times from various different angles; afterward, short snippets of the best "takes" shot from several or all of these angles are edited together into the version of the scene we see on the screen. Typically, the director and cameraman begin with a straightforward, wide-angle "master" shot, then move in for close-ups, over-the-shoulder shots, "two-shots" (of two individuals interacting in the picture frame), etc. Between each camera "set-up," the scenery and people being filmed must be laboriously relit, and for editing purposes the action and dialogue must be identical no matter where the camera is pointed. In this method, rehearsal time can be minimized, and "coverage" -- the number of options available for the editor and/or the director -- are maximized.

There is another way to make a movie. This is to shoot it in single, fluid takes -- limited in length only by the amount of film in the camera -- with the cameraman following the action as it unfolds before him. Ideally, the very long takes can simply be pasted together to form the finished edit; in effect the film is edited as soon as it passes behind the camera lens. In this method, planning and rehearsal time is maximized (one blown line, sloppy camera move, or dropped prop usually means that the entire scene must be restarted from the beginning) and the number of postproduction options -- for a nervous movie producer say, or network executive -- are minimal.

For obvious reasons this method is used very rarely; most notably by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1948 thriller Rope. Two more recent movies, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes contained lengthy segments filmed this way. However, doing an hour of episodic television in this manner was absolutely unheard of. Until The X-Files, Season 6.

Some "Triangle" Tidbits & Musings:

-- "Triangle" was the most ambitious -- and audacious -- episode of the sixth season -- a tour de force of innovative camera techniques and editing, imaginative storytelling and intricate plotting, period costuming and scenic design, high-energy acting and high-wire directing. And yet, in its very early stages, Chris Carter envisioned "Triangle" as an innovative way to, among other things, save money -- or more precisely, to save film.

-- Carter explained that during filming of "The Red and the Black" in Season 5, he hit the dubious mark of shooting more film doing an episode than any director had ever done before on the show -- except one, Kim Manners. So the crew presented him with a funny-looking second-place trophy. At that point he had a brainstorm. He learned that one of the show's big film magazines holds about 12 minutes of film, and suggested that they try filming an episode using just one magazine, doing just one shot, for each of the show's four acts. The crew laughed, but Carter realized this was a chance to do what Hitchcock did in Rope, which was to film continuous action, or at least try to make it look like that. Carter had also always wanted to do a Devil's Triangle episode and the show's move to Los Angeles made that possible. So all these things fell together and became "Triangle." Eventually.

-- Since much of the Los Angeles crew was new, "Triangle" meant that they not only had to adjust to the rigors of a brand new show but also to an entirely new way of making motion pictures, with cavernous new pitfalls to avoid and problems to solve. It meant that six or seven hours of preparation and rehearsal were often followed by the filming of a single pressure-packed scene. For director of photography Bill Roe, in particular, it meant that much of what he knew about movie lighting was useless. Since the camera would be pointing in all directions, the usual banks of lights and reflectors couldn't be set up out of camera range, and nearly all of the light available to him was from the real lights dressing the interior sets. "It helped that a lot of the episode was intentionally dark and gloomy," said producer Paul Rabwin. "Bill and Chris used the dark shadows and doorways, when the camera focused on them, as optional editing points -- just like Hitchcock did."

-- For Steadicam operator Dave Luckenback, who executed most of the minutes-long, intricately choreographed camera moves in the episode, it meant a week and a half of extraordinarily intense physical and mental effort. For the actors -- from Duchovny and Anderson down to the extras in the crowd scenes -- it meant the realization that mistakes would be costly and retakes precious. For many of the behind-the-scenes crew members, who were used to the hurry-up-and-wait rhythms of even the briskest filmmaking, it meant a new appreciation of the term "real time."

-- For example, during the first half hour of "Triangle," as Scully moves frantically through the FBI Building searching for answers, she enters the elevator several times to travel to another floor. Since the elevator was merely a four-walled set with a grip-powered sliding door, it meant that the "other floor" was in reality a single set being frantically redressed while Anderson was saying her lines -- and being filmed and recorded, of course -- in the elevator. Several times during the shooting of this scene the elevator doors opened right on schedule -- to reveal a mortified crew member clutching a prop or pushing a piece of furniture.

-- Because of the way this episode was shot, it was quite evident there was no time to place "Scully's Box" (the box Gillian Anderson stood on during filming) into a scene. Thus the height difference between Anderson and Duchovny seems more pronounced than usual.

-- "Triangle" was also one of the most logistically complex episodes in the series' history. This stemmed from Chris Carter's early decision to forego creating the fictional Queen Anne on his sound stages and use a real pre-World War II British ocean liner instead. Much of "Triangle" was filmed on the Queen Mary, the legendary retired Cunard liner moored permanently in Long Beach, California, as a floating hotel and museum. Altogether, The X-Files' first and second units spent a total of 11 days filming on the historic 75-year-old ship.

-- At various times during filming, swarms of L.A.-based crew members accomplished the job of blacking out an entire side of the ship (without disturbing the hotel guests who were asleep in their cabins); floodlighting its parking lot and erecting circus tents to house hordes of extras, caterers, and other temporary personnel; and for the scenes in which rain lashes the Queen Anne's deck, constructing a latticework of sprinkler pipes hooked up to portable water pumps powered by four semi-trailer-borne diesel generators.

-- To keep the sights and lights of Long Beach out of Dave Luckenback's viewfinder, rigging grip Damon Doherty (son of key grip Tom Doherty) blacked out the Queen Mary's bridge by means of a wraparound scaffolding erected 55 feet above deck level. For the scenes in which Mulder is rescued and dives back into the ocean, special effects "green screens" -- one 30 feet by 40 feet, the other 20 feet by 80 feet -- were hung precariously over the giant ship's side.

-- When Chris Carter decided that the Queen Mary's corridors had been renovated too recently to be usable, production designer Corey Kaplan had the portions of it that were to be filmed stripped to the bare walls and floors, then completely recarpeted and redecorated to authentic late-1930's style. The ship's ballroom was given the same treatment, with the added bonus that a present-day derelict version had to be designed and constructed in the same place as well.

-- Securing authentic props, or reproductions thereof, was a challenge for XF staffers. Set decorator Tim Stepeck launched a desperate search for a genuine, canvas-covered pre-World War II's ship life ring -- and someone to reproduce a couple of them by the time they were needed on camera. Property master Tom Day provided the Cigarette Smoking Man with his historically accurate Nazi SS cigarette lighter. He also commissioned the construction of the (nonworkable) short-wave radio in the Captain's cabin. They couldn't use a real one because David Duchovny and Chris Owens were scripted to bump into it during their fight; but the crew made sure that the tuning window lit up and was attached to a rheostat -- not just for authenticity but also because each scene needed as much light as it could get.

-- Costume designer Christine Peters supervised the clothing of dozens of German soldiers (renting their uniforms from two large Hollywood costume houses); British merchant sailors (with ex-Titanic costumes from the Fox wardrobe department), and ship's passengers (with genuine period apparel).


-- Makeup department head Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf did "tons of research," then hired 10 extra helpers to apply old-fashioned pancake makeup to most of the extras and supporting players. Hair department head Dena Green was just as busy, arranging the mass application of Brylcreem to crew-cut Nazis on one hand and hot marcelling irons to the curls of sophisticated ladies on the other.

-- While writing the music for "Triangle," composer Mark Snow listened for inspiration to the records of drummer Gene Krupa and the music of Big Band-era superstars like Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Harry James. He readily concedes that the episode's most memorable composition -- the bouncy instrumental played during the split screen chase scene -- was kickstarted by "Sing, Sing, Sing in Swing," by Louis Prima (for Benny Goodman) and John Williams's earlier retro swing tune composed for the fight scene in the movie 1941. So Snow's piece was the third generation of the same inspiration.

-- Among many other tasks, producer Paul Rabwin supervised the recording of a special arrangement of "Jeepers, Creepers" sung by vocal artist Sally Stevens (who also warbled "Rainy Days and Mondays" in "The Rain King"). He also hired an actor who spoke BBC-accented English to record the exact wording of the 1939 radio bulletin of the declaration of war between Germany and England.

-- It's the Andrews Sisters -- Patti, Maxine, and Laverne -- singing "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen."

-- With his computer, visual effects producer Bill Millar replaced the green screen hung over the side of the Queen Mary during filming with the Atlantic Ocean eventually seen by viewers. He also helped plan, calibrate, execute, and tweak the excruciatingly complicated shot where 1939 Scully appears to cross over 1998 Scully during the split-screen sequence. "It's the work I'm proudest of all season," Millar said.

-- As many viewers and TV critics noted, Chris Carter inserted numerous affectionate references to The Wizard of Oz into "Triangle." The classic movie was released in 1939, the same year much of the action in "Triangle" takes place. As did Dorthy Gale, Fox Mulder confronts familiar faces from his "real" world -- renamed but with similar character traits -- in his "dream" world. Mulder's motorboat was named The Lady Garland after Judy Garland who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. The band performing in the Queen Anne's ballroom was "Elmira Gulch and the Lollipop Guild" after the mean Kansas spinster who turned into the Wicked Witch of the West and one of Oz's more prominent Munchkin reception committees, respectively. Captain Harburg was named after E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, the talented lyricist who wrote the words to all the songs in the film. Skinner gives a definite nod to the movie with his "me and my dog Toto" line. And, of course, in the final scene of "Triangle," Mulder discovered (like Dorothy) that if he ever has to go looking for his heart's desire again, he needn't look any further than his own backyard, because it's right there standing beside him every day. Mulder learned that there is indeed no place like home.

-- The episode title seems rather straightforward since the Queen Anne is stuck in the Devil's Triangle. But there has been speculation that the title also may be a reference to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" (1973) (which features a hollow triangle and a rainbow on the album cover) and its link to The Wizard of Oz. Legend has it that if you synch up the beginning of the CD with the beginning of the movie at the right spots, out comes an eerie relationship between the landmark album and the classic film. (You know the synchronicity will work if the music kicks in just as "Produced by Mervyn Leroy" pops up on screen.) Members of the band have neither confirmed nor denied this legend.

-- The familiar "The Truth is Out There" tagline was changed to "DIE WAHRHEIT IST IRGENDWO DA DRAUßEN," or "The Truth is Somewhere Out There" in German. Some have suggested that the additional "somewhere" in the phrase is yet another Wizard of Oz homage (as in "Somewhere Over the Rainbow").

-- The episode gives us the first timeline goof of the season. "Drive" took place on November 15 and 16, but Mulder informed us in "Triangle" that the date is November 16th.

-- In perhaps a bit of a wink to the fans, Scully calls Spender a "little weasel," a popular nickname for his character on the newgroups at that time.

-- The internet was abuzz the day after the episode aired -- not only about the Mulder/1939 Scully kiss but also the Scully/Skinner elevator kiss. This was Mulder's dream so why was he fantasizing that kind of relationship between his former boss and his partner? < g> At least it was the beginning of some continuity, as Skinner's feelings about Scully were played for chuckles in "Hollywood A.D." and "Existence."

-- When Mulder is being manhandled by the ship's crew in the first act, one of them says to him, "Deutschland Uber Alles" (Germany over all). These are the opening words of the first stanza of the German National Anthem.

-- Mulder says the ship is in The Devil's Triangle, the vast three-sided segment of the Atlantic Ocean bordered by Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It didn't receive its more famous nickname, The Bermuda Triangle, until 1964.

-- Mitch Pileggi was the only regular XF cast member who really spoke German. He attended college in Munich for two years in the early 70s.

-- Arlene Pileggi (Mitch Pileggi's wife and Gillian Anderson's former photo double) reprised her role as Skinner's assistant. She was first seen as Skinner's assistant in Season 5's "Bad Blood."

-- Speaking of "Bad Blood," Mulder gets another chance to almost-utter his favorite expletive in this episode. "Oh, shi ....."

-- "Thor's Hammer" was not the name of America's pre-World War II atomic research product. In fact, it was called something "deceptive and uninspiring, like The Office for Research and Alternative Metals," said researcher Lee Smith, who had a long telephone conversation with the historian of the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington.

-- Another piece of historical license: Scully could not have been an agent of the O.S.S. in 1939. The Office of Strategic Services, direct forerunner of the C.I.A., was started after the U.S. entered the war.

-- Real Oopsie! When Scully comes out of Kersh's office, you can clearly see the body mike on Gillian Anderson as she does her "what was I thinking" bit.

-- Almost Oopsie! Mulder's grasp of the German language improves during the scene in the ballroom, and so does his "grasp" of something else, as he almost grabs Scully's breast as he's forced to his knees.

-- Chris Owens' girlfriend Tara Parker spent a day playing one of the evening-gowned dancers in the Queen Anne's ballroom. That night, David Duchovny lent the couple his suite on the Queen Mary. Recalled Owens, "It was incredibly generous of him. We had a wonderful time."

-- "Triangle" was broadcast in "letterbox format" because Chris Carter filmed it in the same height-to-width ratio used for big-screen motion pictures. His reason: to get more action into each frame, especially during the split-screen sequences. All of the later seasons of The X-Files were released on DVD in letterbox format.

-- "Parts of it were excruciating," said Gillian Anderson. "But parts of it were exhilarating. By that I especially mean the scenes where I was running through the FBI. It was like live theater. We were taking risks, doing things differently, learning. You just go here and do this. I was resonating on a whole different level."

-- Bill Roe may have solved his lighting challenges, but I'm sure all shippers wish that one scene had been lit just a bit better: the big kiss between Mulder and 1939 Scully. Where is a full moon or the Big Ass Flashlights when you need them? It was a fabulously sweeping, swashbuckling old movie sort of kiss and just perfect for this episode; if only M&S had been able to have a similar opportunity in the WELL-LIT present!!

-- The last scene in the hospital was so wonderful. I love the way Mulder taps at Scully's arm as he's trying to convince her she saved the world. Then when the two of them are alone (accompanied by the beautiful piano variation on the XF theme -- just about my favorite little snippet of Mark Snow music!), Mulder's awe that Scully believed him, to Scully's gentle teasing, to their long gaze into one another's eyes, to Mulder's heartfelt and genuine "I love you." Even Scully's "Oh brother" didn't really kill the mood. Finally there's Mulder's sweet touch to his jaw where 1939 Scully gave him that "love tap," and his oh-so-goofy grin remembering that blissful kiss. This scene in particular says to me that the "ship" is about to come in -- and I ain't talkin' about the Queen Anne.

-- Triangle was probably Chris Carter's last best bid for an Emmy Award. He got a Director's Guild nomination, but no Emmy nomination; and that's too bad, cause I think he deserved one. (The sound editing team did receive an Emmy nod but not a win.) Television is about being entertained, and I think this was truly an entertaining hour of television. It's an episode that holds up well viewing after viewing in spite of the "gimmicks" rather than because of them, and each time I see it, I'm more astounded that a TV series in its sixth season would still be finding fresh and innovative ways to tell its stories. Carter had long said that there would never be any "relationship" between Mulder and Scully besides deep friendship; and since he wrote this episode (and the equally shippy "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"), I believe early Season Six was evidence that he was finally ready, willing, and able to move forward with what he started in the movie but couldn't seem to continue in "The Beginning." Mulder's "I love you" didn't necessarily mean romantic love, of course, but the fact that he kissed 1939 Scully just in case he never got the chance with the real thing told us that he definitely wanted to give kissing his partner a try. Of course there would be roadblocks tossed in (see "Two Fathers/One Son"), but I believe this episode paved the way for bigger and better things on the shippiness front, sanctioned by CC himself. (Though maybe the bad lighting was proof that he wasn't quite ready to take the final step just yet! < g >)

So was it all a dream? Or an alternate universe within the Devil's Triangle? Discuss. And please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy!) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "Triangle"!

Happy Independence Day!

(Behind the scenes pics from about dd)