Season 7, Episode 19: “Hollywood A.D.”
Original Airdate: April 30, 2000
“Hollywood A.D.” is not so much an X-Files episode as it is an X-Files pageant, a presentation put together for Parents Night or whatever. And we’re the parents in this scenario, so that’s fun. Tucked full of in-jokes and fairly unconcerned with having a cogent plot (or a plot, period), it oughta be excruciating to watch. But it isn’t. It’s sweet, actually, it’s all your favorite people getting to have some fun. God, when was the last time we all had some fun?
The episode is written and directed by David Duchnovy, completing the season’s trinity of actor-authored episodes. But while William B. Davis and Gillian Anderson used their episodes to give themselves Emmy reels, Duchovny uses his to poke fun at the show that made him famous—and to give his two most frequent costars the unusual opportunity to play some lighthearted moments.
The plot is whatever the plot is, something sort of Lazarus and something sort of Da Vinci Code and something sort of “wouldn’t it be funny if a 60s-era radical thought he was Jesus.” None of these elements are bad, but then again, none of these elements are really executed. Here, I will show you. Skinner sends Mulder and Scully to investigate an explosion at a Catholic church; they find a body; the body belongs to the aforementioned radical. Turns out the radical had forged some religious artifacts and that the church’s cardinal had purchased them ‘cause they made him sad and he wanted to hide them.
During their investigation, Scully and Mulder are shadowed by Wayne Federman, who is playing himself, sort of, an old friend of Skinner’s (“The Skinman”) who is now writing-slash-producing a movie that is sort of based on Mulder and Scully. How this movie is made and what sense it makes in the context of the show’s world (really, you could make a movie about these people and not endanger anyone or anything that they have worked with or for?), is not important at all, and we are not encouraged to think about it. As Wayne himself says, while watching our agents: “I like the way you guys work—no warrants, no permission, no research. You’re like studio executives with guns.” So be it.
Anyway, they dig around some catacombs, they find some artifacts, and Wayne sees a bunch of bones trying to put together a piece of pottery. A bunch of bones! In a cute little animation. This prompts Scully to tell Mulder a fairly charming story about a “wacky nun” she knew in Catholic school, one they called “Sister Spooky.” Sister Spooky used to tell the kids about something called a Lazarus Bowl, a bowl that was being made while Jesus was busy bringing Lazarus back from the dead. Not sure why you would not stop making a bowl while that was happening? But who knows, the idea is that Jesus’ words are somehow pressed into the bowl, like a record. And maybe, just maybe, the pottery from the catacombs is the bowl of legend.
Scully does an autopsy on the radical, and midway through this autopsy, she has a vision of the radical alive and talking to her. She shakes it off, but when she and Mulder go to arrest the cardinal, she has another vision of the radical, living, and then the guy flat-out walks through the church, alive as can be, and Skinner flips out at the agents for investigating the murder of a guy who wasn’t dead. Roundabout here, the X-File just…sort of…halts. Skinner takes them off the case and puts them on leave and, oh right, the bowl they found is probably a forgery? Or at least a wacky trick, as half the Aramaic words scratched into it are Beatles lyrics. And eventually the cardinal kills the radical, then himself, but it happens months after the investigation is over, and not on screen.
So the rest of the episode is just an indulgence, a summer camp sketch about Mulder and Scully and Skinner going to Hollywood and all of them taking bubble baths and talking on the phone together. Also there’s a lulzy section where Mulder is being played by Gary Shandling (Duchovny frequently appeared on The Larry Sanders Show) and Scully is being played by Téa Leoni (Duchovny’s real-life wife), and Shandling asks Mulder in which way he, ahem, dresses, while Scully shows Leoni how to run in heels. And look, if you are not laughing at a scene where Duchovny and Shandling are trying to out-deadpan each other while Anderson runs around in the background and Leoni just watches, you are being silly. Cheer up.
The best part of the episode is the material that Duchovny gives Anderson and Mitch Pileggi. Both get jokes to play, and both rise way to the occasion—particularly Anderson, who gives a performance that is so natural, it’s borderline un-Scully-like. She laughs her own laugh, nails all the humor (my favorite is the line where Mulder tells her he’s seen Plan 9 From Outer Space 42 times: “Doesn’t that make you sad? It makes me sad!”), and has such ridiculously strong chemistry with Duchovny, it’s clear what a damn tragedy it is that the show has so often depended on dividing the agents in order to bring them together. These two are destined to be together because there is absolutely no one else who’s gonna get them. No one else who’s gonna call them up at all hours to talk about repressed cannibalistic and sexual fears and desires. You know?
The big joke is, of course, that the movie made about our agents is completely inaccurate—it’s loaded with goofy zombies and capped off with a make-out scene that Movie-Scully ends because “I’m in love with A.D. Skinner.” Mulder leaves the premiere in a huff and Scully finds him cooling his heels in a movie-set graveyard, teeing up the episode’s thin, uniting concept: the Lazarus Bowl is to Jesus as the movies are to us. We as a Society are allowing our history to be recorded in a medium that wasn’t meant to handle it. And, you know, not untrue! You need only check the list of this year’s Best Picture nominees to see Hollywood covering all sorts of historic events that maybe many of us only had a half-assed picture of, before going to the pictures. But those are movies, those are entertainments. They are cracked bowls with Beatles lyrics.
Still, Duchovny allows for some romanticism, even as Mulder complains that the stories of today will “become oversimplified and trivialized” in the hands of filmmakers. He holds in his hand a plastic prop version of the Lazarus Bowl, tossing it to the side as Scully drags him off to dinner on the company dime. Behind them, the bowl rattles, and ghost-zombies (!) rise from the ground of the set, in old-timey Hollywood garb, dancing old-timey dances. Does it mean anything? It doesn’t really mean anything. Sometimes the entertainments are just that.