REPOST - CTP Episode of the Day - 03.26.06 - Zero Sum

Today's Cherished Episode: Zero Sum (4x21)
Original Air Date: April 27, 1997
Written By: Howard Gordon & Frank Spotnitz
Directed By: Kim Manners

Walter Skinner makes a deal with the devil -- a.k.a. The Cigarette-Smoking Man -- in an effort to prevent Scully from dying of cancer.

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"I'm just enjoying the irony, Mr. Skinner. Only yesterday, you said you wouldn't be a party to murder and now here you are. Yours isn't the first gun I've had pointed in my face, Mr. Skinner. I'm not afraid to die. But if you kill me now, you'll also kill Agent Scully."

Some "Zero Sum" Tidbits & Musings:

-- The episode title, "Zero Sum," refers to the precept in game theory that a situation in which a participant's gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s). For example, we start with 10 dollars each; every time you win I have to give you one of my dollars, and you win when I lose all 10 of my dollars to you -- you win 10 dollars because I lose 10 dollars.

-- "'Zero Sum,'" said Frank Spotnitz, "was a fortunate accident." That's the short version of the story. The long version, complete with a typical (for the X-Files) semi-desperate struggle to surmount a formidable creative obstacle, began with the mid-season news that Gillian Anderson would be gone for a week in March 1997, filming her part in a theatrical movie called The Mighty with Sharon Stone.

-- Spotnitz said, "We needed to construct the story without her, and it didn't seem fair to make David work like a dog while she had the week off. So we tried to keep him light while still involving him in the story to some degree."

-- The solution: Bring in Assistant Director Walter Skinner -- and what had then become the annual tradition of writing an episode around Mitch Pileggi's recurring character. Bring in, too, executive producer Howard Gordon, the on-staff Skinner specialist with "Avatar" under his belt, as co-writer.

-- "After all, said Spotnitz, "Skinner had already made his Faustian bargain with the Cigarette-Smoking Man in 'Memento Mori.' This was a logical time to see it played out. It was also a good place to bring back the bees, which were introduced at the beginning of the season in 'Herrenvolk,' but which had never really been explained. The hard thing for Skinner was that we had to keep him in the middle."

-- "What we wanted to stay away from," Spotnitz added, "was taking the liberty of having something paranormal happen to Skinner. We'd done that once before -- in 'Avatar' -- and there was no reason for it to happen twice in a lifetime to a person."

-- Gordon had a slightly different take on the episode. Beating out a story without Scully and with only a minimal amount of Mulder, he recalled, was like working "with one hand tied behind our backs." He also remembered, with a weary shake of his head, that he and Spotnitz did the difficult deed over a marathon weekend writing session, during which his previous script, "Synchrony," was in the throes of a difficult shooting schedule.

-- "What we were trying to do, basically," Gordon said, "was preserve Skinner's integrity as a character while he made his deal with the devil, and at the same time allow us to better understand his character and his relationship with Mulder and Scully by taking him into the gray area between right and wrong. I mean, to what level was he willing to sacrifice himself -- and his integrity -- for them? Where did he draw the line?"

-- And where did Skinner draw the line? "Who knows," said Mitch Pileggi. "Nobody told anybody anything on that show." The actor reported that, as usual, no explanation whatsoever was offered to him for his character's on-screen behavior. Pileggi got only a few days' notice that he would be appearing before the American public in his underwear -- wearing jockey shorts instead of boxers. This gave him just enough time to hit the weight room and whip his physique into shape, but nowhere near enough to brace himself for the screen grab that TV Guide subsequently published. "That was not," said Pileggi, "a happy moment for me."

-- Neither was the news that The X-Files' most unloved recurring characters would be returning. By that time, everyone even loosely connected with the show knew the word "bee" in a script was synonymous with "trouble" -- and "Zero Sum" was no exception. As always, the insects were hard to handle on the set and showed up poorly on film. As always, too, the problem had to be fixed by the visual effects wizards in postproduction. "Laurie Kallsen-George had basically nine days to create full-blown bee sequences -- a job that for a feature film would take months," said Howard Gordon. "But she was unflinching. I think in that entire period she logged in maybe a dozen hours of sleep."

-- The schoolyard scene with the bees attacking the children and their teacher was an homage to the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds which contained a very similar scene involving birds.

-- "We had hundreds of thousands of bees that we had to release in a schoolyard full of kids," recounted episode director Kim Manners. "And their parents brought all these kids; there were probably sixty extra children. They released the bees, and we had paramedics standing by on the off-chance that someone got stung and would then go into anaphylactic shock. I'd say, 'Cut it; print it,' and a kid would come running out crying, and the mother would say, 'Get back in there; you're working on The X-Files!'"

-- Laurie Holden, who played Marita Covarrubias, noted that her final scene in "Zero Sum" gave her at long last some indication of where her character's loyalties lay -- although she knew all that might change when and if the U.N. operative returned during Season Five.

-- Kim Manners seemed to be the only person -- except for Anderson, of course -- who remained serenely above the struggle. "This was really a good show for me," he said, "because I had not had a chance to work with Mitch. And they wrote a great script, you know? It was really something he could sink his teeth into and he just did a great job. Bill Davis was fabulous in the episode too."

-- This was the second full episode to be filmed entirely without Agent Scully. The first was "3" in Season Two, when Gillian Anderson took a short leave right after giving birth to her first child, and she appeared only in flashback in Season Four's "Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man."

-- When Skinner was going through Mulder's files, viewers could see a file labeled "Foo Fighters" near the back of the cabinet he was searching. The term referred to unexplained flying objects observed by pilots during World War II and also to the rock band, which contributed a song to the X-Files "Fight the Future" soundtrack.

-- The entry in Mulder's Rolodex was Cottage Industries, 603 Sally Crescent, Washington, DC, (202)555-0113. The term "cottage industry" originally referred to subcontracting work, or work that is related to something bigger -- perhaps similar to what Skinner is doing in "Zero Sum."

-- This was the last episode written by Howard Gordon. He left the show at the end of Season 4, moving on to serve as a consulting producer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel before leaving those shows to serve as the co-executive producer of 24.

-- The episode was dedicated to Mitch Pileggi's father Vito J. Pileggi, who died in September 1993, before the series' first episode aired. Pileggi said that the character of Skinner was based a great deal on his father, who worked for the government as an operations manager on a defense contract. Mitch didn't even realize how he was physically imitating his father until his family pointed out how similar his walk and other characteristics were.

-- Once & Future Retreads: Paul McLean (Special Agent Kautz) played the same role in "Anasazi," and was Dr. Josephs in "Shapes" and a Coast Guard Officer in "Nisei." Don S. Williams was Elder #1 in this episode and 13 others. Barry Greene (Dr. Emile Linzer) was Bob Perkins in "Darkness Falls." Morris Panych (Gray-Haired Man) played the same role in five other episodes. Oscar Goncalves (Night Attendant) was an Orderly in "Teliko." Jason Griffith (Uniformed Officer) was Paramedic #1 in "D.P.O." Cheryl McNamara (Nurse) was Hostage #1 in "Folie a Deux." John Moore played one of the Elders in this episode and seven others.

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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 "Zero Sum."

Polly