X-Files Flashback: ‘Hollywood A.D.’

Season 7, Episode 19
Director: David Duchovny
Writer: David Duchovny

The mind of David Duchovny must be a completely bizarre and esoteric place to visit. After directing “The Unnatural,” Duchovny returns to write and direct “Hollywood A.D.,” a better blend of his apparent signature sense of humor and traditional X-Files story.  In his earlier effort, the merger of incognito aliens and 40s-era race relations evolved into an incredibly uncomfortable experience. In “Hollywood A.D.,” though, Duchovny takes a standard X-File and imbues it with a comedic and extremely meta side story about a film based on their exploits. The juxtaposition of the two tones works well here, far eclipsing that of his awful earlier effort. Things nearly fall completely apart in the last 45 seconds, though.

The episode stars with “Mulder” and “Scully” battling the “Cigarette Smoking Pontiff” in The Lazarus Bowl, a Hollywood take on their career exploits in which Mulder is played by Gary Shandling and Scully by Tea Leoni. We cut to the real Mulder and Scully watching the film, disgusted by what they see. We then flashback sixteen months to Mulder and Scully’s first encounter with the film’s writer, a former friend of A.D. Skinner. The writer tags along with Mulder as he is tasked to investigate the bombing of a church. This story becomes a little difficult to follow as it is quickly ditches satisfactory plot resolution in favor of the Hollywood angle. Effectively, Mulder and Scully investigate the bombing where they uncover a body thought to be that of a missing counter-culturalist.

During the investigation, the tag-along writer witnesses what appears to be a series of bones assembling the pieces of a clay pot. When the pot, thought to be “the Lazarus Bowl” – a bowl inscribed with the words Jesus Christ used to raise Lazarus from the dead, is studied, it appears to indeed contain an engraving of instructions to raise someone from the dead. However, the counter-culturalist originally thought dead appears in the church, and Mulder and Scully are thrown off the case. They spend time in Los Angeles helping Leoni and Shandling understand their characters. After seeing the disastrous film, they share a quiet moment and walk hand-in-hand to dinner, using the FBI corporate card.

“Hollywood A.D.” is an odd, odd bird. The meta sequences dealing with the filmmaking are well handled, funny, and just self-effacing enough to work wonders for the show. The opening sequence is kind of a joy to watch for fans of the show, particularly with the constantly smoking pontiff figure. Then, we shift into standard X-Files mode with a few inspired touches. The sequence where the skeleton assembles the clay pot reminds me of the feeling I had when the African-American baseball player was revealed to be an alien back in “The Unnatural.” Both are totally bonkers, off-the-wall moments of television that you either find completely asinine in their creation or you go with the flow. I had my problems with the baseball story, but I went for it with the dancing skeletons. I will grant you that the sequence sticks out like a complete sore thumb… until the end. Before that, though, the construction of the X-File and the supposition that the missing counter-culturalist is a modern Jesus Christ is slightly out of left field. It’s never fully explored or detailed in depth, and, by the end, it’s just swept under the rug.

The end is my biggest problem with the episode. Mulder and Scully walk away together, Mulder placing the prop “Lazarus bowl” on an angel statue. The wind (where the wind comes from on a non-functioning sound stage, I dunno) scrubs against the bowl, causing zombies to rise from the dead and dance a sultry tango. Yes, that happened. Clearly, it’s Duchovny’s skewed sense of humor manifesting in oddities and flights of fancy, but, aside from the reconstructing skeleton, it has no business in the episode. It’s a throw away moment that has no anchoring connection to the rest of the episode.

Duchovny has the tone right, sure, but his close partnership with Chris Carter has resulted in a weird postlude to the episode that wasn’t required at all. It reminds me quite a bit of the end of “The Post-Modern Prometheus” where a Cher impersonator sings to the crowd. You don’t really mind it being there, but you’re not exactly sure why it is. Still, I appreciated the meta sequences of the film that dove into the filmmaking process. It is enough to merit a recommendation for Duchovny’s second outing as director, thankfully free of baseball playing aliens.

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