PopCulture25YL looks back at the music, shows, comics, books and whatever else we want from the month that was September of 1994 to explore why they’re still relevant to us 25 years later. This week brings us The X-Files, Friends, Sonic & Knuckles, Taltos and Insomnia
VHS In The VCR
The X-Files- S02E06 Ascension by John Bernardy
25 years ago this Monday, October 21st, Agent Dana Scully was abducted right before our very eyes, in one of the best Part 2s television has ever given us. Watching it today, none of the wonder is gone.
“Ascension” starts on a rainy night. Mulder listens in his apartment to the voicemail Scully left him. Which means we get to see his face as he hears Dwayne Barry (Steve Railsback) break in an kidnap her. The next thing we see is Mulder’s car pulling up to a crime scene at Scully’s place.
We see flashbacks of what really happened as we see elements of the scene by way of the forensics team collecting evidence. Blood on the outside window gets us Barry entering. Blood on a table gets us Scully reaching unsuccessfully for her gun. The broken phone gets us Barry stomping on it with his foot. It’s all properly stylized and adds well to the tension. Margaret Scully (Sheila Larken) arrives and she and Mulder meet for the first time! A great opening sequence, leading into the second instance of word change in the title sequence. Today’s episode reads “DENY EVERYTHING”.
We get the continued scene with Margaret and Mulder, which is a monologue about how she was going to call Dana to warn her about the dream she had (“I know it’d happen this way. I had a dream about Dana being taken away), but didn’t because she didn’t want to scare her even though Dana doesn’t believe in that stuff anyway. One scene in and we already know Scully’s mom is open to psychic phenomena.
Next we’re in Skinner’s meeting room where Mulder and Krycek are two of the agents at the big table. Is Duane Barry a man with an injured prefrontal cortex or an alien abductee? Either way, Skinner tells Mulder to go home because he’s “too close to this case.” Except all Mulder is doing this episode is working this case.
We next see how I was introduced to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand” when it’s on Barry’s radio as he drives haphazardly in a forested area. He doesn’t know exactly where he’s going, just that he needs to get there soon. He doesn’t even want to turn the radio off for the cop who pulls him over. The cop notices blood on Barry’s hand, Scully make a noise in the trunk to alert the cop, and Barry shoots him. Then Barry opens the trunk and we see this all happening from the cop’s car camera as Mulder figures out Scully is in that trunk. “She’s still alive.” A tense scene, and great economic storytelling too.
Next we see Mulder listening to Barry’s psychiatrist sessions, when Krycek arrives Mulder connects the dots to Sky Ridge Mountain. On their way to the car, Krycek calls someone about the new information. Here’s some ominous words about just how much Krycek knows: “I’ll hold him off until they locate her.” After the call, CSM appears to be the person on the other end of that call.
Next Mulder’s driving with Krycek. We learn Skinner wasn’t informed about what they’re doing, and it could’ve been the implant or (as Mulder points out) someone could’ve given Scully’s address to Barry. Then we get a race to the top where Barry is driving the back way and Mulder forced the tram operator to start it up even though it’s unsafe. Hence we get our requisite action sequence. Krycek takes over by cold-cocking the operator and shutting the tram down. “I’ve got him stalled up there.” Except he turns the tram back on when Mulder goes onto the roof. But Mulder doesn’t fall off, just arrives at the top just outside of Krycek’s visual range.
Next thing we see, Mulder discovers Barry’s car. The concern on his face is palpable and we know he sees the blood on the steering wheel. The tram scene had empty intensity but popping that trunk was the real thing. The lighting on the bloody rope reminded me of the Twin Peaks rail car scene and so did the cross necklace, but we didn’t have time to linger there because of white light and helicopter sounds, which are followed by Duane Barry’s nearby laughter. “They took her!”
Next we get Duane Barry in custody with Mulder in the ski lodge. Mulder gets pissed that Barry hurt Scully, tries to figure out if Barry killed her, then strangles him in a genuine emotional outburst. He leaves the room and we see a white light.
The show goes into a crazy scene of Scully laying on a white table with medical equipment, a drill, then a device attached to her pregnant belly. Then back to the ski lodge as if it never happened.
Next thing we know, Krycek’s talking to Barry, Skinner arrives, and Duane Barry goes into a fit and paramedics can’t save him from dying right there.
Next, Mulder is with Barry’s body in Quantico but he can’t get toxicology results from the pathologist because she’s military. There wasn’t an available one from the FBI that morning (Because she was just abducted).
Meanwhile, a shifty-looking Krycek gets in a car with CSM and is told to confirm Mulder’s events to maintain trust. And when Krycek asks CSM why not just kill Mulder, we get one of those all-time classic lines: “kill Mulder and you risk turning one man’s religion into a crusade.” William B. Davis’ line deliveries, man. There’s nobody like him. Before the end of their chat, Krycek thinks because of all they’ve had him do he has a right to know more but CSM isn’t having it, and leaves.
We get some quick scenes where Mulder is investigated for possibly killing Barry, then leaves in Krycek’s car to ask his senator contact for help, but instead meets X, who says all his channels are closed. Back in Krycek’s car Mulder finds the cigarettes and connects the dots. All of them.
Next, Mulder’s in Skinner’s office giving him a report on his allegations against Krycek. Skinner calls Krycek in to get to the bottom of things, but they learn “Agent Krycek didn’t show up for work this morning. His home number’s been disconnected.” And Mulder can’t do a damn thing about it. But Skinner can: he’s reopening the X-Files. “Because that’s what they fear the most.” The old softie, worried about his Agents like that. Hoping Scully isn’t dead.
We go outside to a bench for a scene between Mulder and Scully’s mom. She had the dream again that Dana was being taken away, and it scared her. But Mulder said it’s “probably scarier when you stop having the dream, don’t you think?” It’s comforting, and we know for us it means the dream of finding the truth by way of the X-Files, but that it also means Scully is still alive and that is the icing on the cake.
Mulder tries to give Margaret the cross, then comments about how Scully was such a skeptic yet had that sign of faith. Margaret refuses to take the cross. “When you find her, you give it to her.” Properly powerful stuff.
Then it fades into a forest at night. Mulder ponderously stares into the starry sky, and the camera looks down from above and pulls away, showing the vastness around him as well.
To think this was the last episode we’d get until November, and that wouldn’t even resolve the situation Mulder and Scully were in…you could feel the upheaval while waiting for answers you never quite knew would come. But we had faith they would.
Friends- The One With the East German Laundry Detergent by Abbie Sears
On 20th October, The One With the East German Laundry Detergent gave us our first real peak at romance between Ross and Rachel when they do laundry together.
The episode begins with a classic coffee house scene, and I love this scene, it’s a classic, the gang hanging out on the couches talking about what men and women can do that the other can’t. Ross points out that women can perform one little maneuver and then bam! A bra, right out of the sleeve, isn’t that fascinating? And Rachel comes back with “you guys can pee standing up!” The argument comes to an end with Ross shouting out “multiple orgasms!” and that can’t be argued with. These coffee house intros make me so happy, it is one of the parts of Friends that makes you feel right at home!
Later on, as Ross and Rachel decide to do laundry. Ross stands up for her against a rude lady and helps her build confidence in herself. He helps her to the point where she confronts the woman herself (if you want this cart you’re going to have to take me with it!) and in the heat of the moment of celebration they both share a kiss. From the very beginning I have always rooted for Ross and Rachel and this still makes me as happy as when I first saw it and squealed at my television!
Meanwhile, Joey bumps into an ex girlfriend in the coffee shop and wishes he had her back. Her name is Angela, and when this woman smiles, doesn’t she look almost exactly like Laura Palmer? I can’t help but see this every time I come back to this episode.
Joey convinces Monica to go on a double date, by telling her Angela’s boyfriend is actually her brother. When she finds out on the date, however, the two team up to break the couple down and “keep the pieces for themselves.”
Chandler and Phoebe decide to break up with their significant others at the same time, and this is the first time in the whole of Friends that we are introduced to Janice. Phoebe breaks up with Tony in maybe 20 seconds, but lots of sweating and 10 cups of espresso later and Chandler is still heading down the path to disaster. In fact, at one point, after the classic breakup line “I’m like the bing bing bing, you’re like the boom boom boom” (which is hilarious by the way) he actually hits her in the eye. This is when Phoebe steps in and works her magic, we never find out what she says, but Janice left feeling fine, and little did we know at that time that this definitely wasn’t the last time we were going to see her.
For selfish Ross and Rachel related reasons, I think this is one of my favourite friends episodes.
Sonic & Knuckles by Sean Mekinda
The Sonic series has a special place in my heart. I’ve played most of them, some with genuine love, some dripping with ironic detachment. But none stand out to me like Sonic & Knuckles.
Sonic & Knuckles is far from the best Sonic game. I picked it up again to play it for this blurb and put it down pretty quickly. It’s got some goofy enemy placement and some wonky ideas, but that doesn’t really matter to me. What matters to me is my life around Sonic & Knuckles.
I grew up on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. It’s the first console I distinctly remember playing. I don’t know that Sonic & Knuckles was the first game I ever played, but it’s the first one I remember. Part of that could be the feeling of discovery. I didn’t often see new games in the house, so any newcomers were wildly exciting. However, it’s the dumb gimmick that really stands out to me.
You see, Sonic & Knuckles was essentially a glorified expansion pack. Sure, it had its own levels and bosses and whatnot, but it was also meant to have Sonic 2 and 3 plugged into it, which meant it had this goofy flip cover on top of the cartridge, hiding another cartridge slot. And it’s this goofy idea—this dumb tower of cartridges—that brings me back to the mid-‘90s.
I remember finding the cartridge. I’m still not sure if we always had it, tucked away within the small pile of Genesis games, or if we had picked it up earlier that day. I remember fiddling with the cover, flipping it up and down while my dad set up the Genesis. I remember playing Sonic & Knuckles for a while. It couldn’t have been that long. I didn’t recognize the third world. We must have given up and decided to try and get Knuckles into Sonic 2. I remember struggling for what felt like hours to get it to work. I don’t remember it ever working.
But I remember the good times with my dad, the times we spent laughing and struggling with it. My memories of Sonic & Knuckles take me back to simpler times, when my time spent playing video games was limited and exciting, when the only times I could play were with my dad on weekend nights. It never mattered how well or poorly we played. For me, playing video games was about spending time with my dad, sharing in something we both loved. And for whatever dumb reason, Sonic & Knuckles manages to embody that feeling in ways most other games can’t.
At the Bookstore
Taltos, by Anne Rice: A Study In Purple by Cat Smith
I discovered Anne Rice when I was in junior high. If you think about it, this kind of made me her target demographic, or at least one of them. Romantically inclined teenage girls who wanted to believe in the supernatural? Oh yeah. I devoured The Vampire Chronicles as they came out, even the ones of questionable quality. And I read her other books too, even her hardcore S&M porn series. I read them all.
Anne Rice’s strength as a writer isn’t in plot. That’s okay. Interview With the Vampire was a story of a life, with no particular plot to speak of, and that was just fine. Where Anne’s strength is lies in the beauty of her language, and at this, she is a heavyweight. I would be halfway through The Feast Of All Saints, her love letter to New Orleans (they are almost all love letters to New Orleans), and I would realise I had been reading for twenty minutes but had no idea what was going on or who most of these people were. And then I would realise that I was okay with that. Anne’s prose was pouring over me like a purple bubble bath, and all I needed to do was soak in its glory.
Taltos was the 3rd book in her Mayfair Witches saga. I had read the first one, and it was okay, and while I do own the second one, I don’t remember it at all. When Taltos dropped, my first instinct was “meh”, because this new breed of supernatural being she was trying to get me keen on wasn’t as engaging as her vamps. But then I happened upon the audiobook, and four magic words—“performed by Tim Curry”—took away all my hesitation.
Are you kidding me? That voice, reading those words? I don’t care what he’s talking about, it’s porn. I whipped out my credit card, and dove in.
The point of the series is this: there is an old family of witches who have been living in New Orleans for centuries, and they have a family ghost who has been knocking up their women, trying to give birth to himself and thus become flesh. The reason he can do this is that he is this type of supernatural being called a taltos, which is kind of like a seven foot tall, sort-of-immortal infant, with a fetish for breast milk? I know, it sounds weird. When Anne writes it, it is still weird, but boy does she make it sound pretty.
For all that Taltos is essentially bad (but so pretty), it wasn’t the book that made me break up with her. That came later. And sometime after that, I heard she found Jesus and stopped writing about the supernatural (or at least, the non-religious kind of supernatural). And then, still later, either she lost Jesus, or decided to go back to her roots, because apparently she is writing about the supernatural again. Anne, sweetie, you do you, whatever that is. I love you no matter what. But can I offer a suggestion? Get Tim Curry to do all your audiobooks. It helps a lot.
Trouble Sleeping – Stephen King’s Insomnia by Cheryl Lee Latter
King’s books of the early ’90s can sometimes be difficult to read. Not because of the suburban horror and existential dread that lies within, but because many contain the dark, heavy subjects of domestic violence, loss and bereavement.
Insomnia is just one of these. Following on from Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne, and preceding Rose Madder, Insomnia is one of a run of novels where, unlike many others, the protagonist doesn’t share the career or characteristics of King himself. Rather they are the passive participants in violent situations, who eventually take charge of things and attempt to fight back.
Ralph Roberts, an elderly resident of Derry, Maine, is grieving the loss of his wife, when he notices a neighbour has begun to act in an uncharacteristically aggressive and violent manner.
During this time, Ralph begins to suffer from insomnia, waking early and earlier and earlier every day until he is barely sleeping at all. In this sleep deprived state, he begins to see the colour of auras around the people he encounters, and soon realises that the fabric between worlds is a very thin one.
Ralph and his friend Lois, who is also beginning to see auras, find themselves drawn into a situation filled with different planes of consciousness, unreal beings, and a battle of souls that threatens their very real existence on the human plane.
Drawing heavily from Greek mythology, Insomnia is an average read, and by no means a King classic. The author himself was not wholly enamoured by it.
For hardcore fans, it is worth reading for the crossovers into King’s world, most notably the Dark Tower series. The Crimson King raises his satanic little head to orchestrate the otherworldly activities, while a young Patrick Danville, who will be so instrumental in King’s later work, makes a first appearance. This is five years before King’s near-fatal accident that made him violently aware of his own mortality and prompted him to race to finish the Dark Tower saga after luxuriating over it for 20 years.
If you are a collector of King’s crossover moments, and a fan of little bald supernatural doctors (with a possible connection to the Low Men in Yellow Coats), then Insomnia is worth a read. Personally, it isn’t a favourite, but an adequate enough way to pass a few sleepless nights.