Often an actress’s ill-timed pregnancy can scupper a perfectly good series, by literally benching one of its main characters and forcing the production team to draft in an inferior substitute. Well, I say “often”, but I’m really just talking about Life there… although you could argue that Seinfeld suffered without ‘Elaine’ and Will & Grace suffered without ‘Grace’ for a few episodes too. Gillian Anderson was already “with child” when the second season of The X-Files began, but her maternity leave didn’t really kick in until ep #2.06 (“Ascension”), when Scully is double-abducted, first by an escaped mental patient, and then by the test-happy aliens who drove him crazy in the first place. Two episodes later, she mysteriously reappears in a hospital bed, comatose and dreaming… allowing the recuperating actress to spend most of her scenes either lying flat on her back, or sitting in a symbolic rowboat. After that she’s back on her feet, cocking a sceptical eyebrow at Mulder’s implausible hunches, just like old times! Bless her. Unlike the detour that Sarah Shahi took in Life, I think this abduction plot was actually a pretty elegant way of dealing with the actress’s absence, and subsequent convalescence, while also giving David Duchovny a chance to stretch his acting muscles, and adding to the show’s overall mythology. The shot of Scully lying prone on an alien operating table, with a strange instrument attached to her bulging belly was especially striking and creepy… and presumably pays off later down the road, in ways I’ve fortunately forgotten at this time.
But enough of this… on with the laundry list! Kimberly Patton (aka Kimberly Ashlyn Gere) appeared in ep #2.03 (“Blood”), as ‘Mrs. McRoberts’, a seemingly harmless housewife who kills the mechanic working on her car, when a diagnostic machine in his garage plays on her fear of being raped, and urges her to launch a pre-emptive attack with a tyre-iron. Apparently Patton was an award-winning “porn star” at the time she appeared here, and pornography isn’t a genre that’s generally praised for the quality of its acting, but I think she does a great job of selling her character’s sweaty terror and psychotic breakdown. This is one of my all-time fave episodes, and I often think of it when I see an LED/LCD display in a shop or on a bus or wherever (the little “Bye Bye” message on Mulder’s phone at the end is especially adorable). CCH Pounder appeared in ep #2.5 (“Duane Barry”) as ‘Special Agent Lucy Kazdin’, the woman in charge of a Hostage Rescue Team, tasked with (safely) extracting the eponymous alien-abductee from the travel agency where he’s holding four people at gunpoint. Her fantastically hard-ass performance here earned Pounder an Emmy nomination… although I like to think that was mostly for the way she gave Krycek her coffee order! Since then she’s played supporting roles in such primo genre hokum as Face/Off, End of Days, and Orphan, as well as voicing ‘Mo’at’, the Na’vi clan’s spiritual leader, in James Cameron’s box-office-busting Avatar. Sarah Strange also appeared in the same episode, as a hostage named ‘Kimberly Monroe’, who comes to believe Barry’s tall-tale, and even sympathise with him. Strange first came to my attention in the Canadian bio-terrorism drama series ReGenesis, which also featured pint-sized acting prodigy Ellen Page.
Perrey Reeves appeared in ep #2.7 (“3”) as ‘Kristen Kilar’, a young woman who is implicated in a series of vicious vampiric murders… though that doesn’t seem to stop a Scully-less Mulder falling in love with her, while investigating the case. D’oh! Apparently Reeves was Duchovny’s real-life squeeze at the time, though unlike Maggie Wheeler, she doesn’t seem to have worked with him again since… presumably because she’s been too busy playing Ari Gold’s wife in Entourage? Melinda McGraw appeared in ep #2.8 (“One Breath”) as Scully’s sister ‘Melissa’… a role that was written specifically for the actress, and which she would reprise in several later episodes. Normally I’m a big fan of “hippie chick” characters, but I thought they laid her New Age-y-ness on a little thick here. That said, I totally agree with her assertion that “Just because [a] belief is positive and good doesn’t make it silly or trite”. Right on! Aside from her cameo as Lt. Gordon’s wife ‘Barbara’ in The Dark Knight, my most recent exposure to McGraw’s work was her recurring role on Ben & Kate, as Ben’s “Rail Mall” business-partner (and domineering girlfriend) ‘Vera Everson’. Shawnee Smith appeared in ep #2.9 (“Firewalker”) as ‘Jessie O’Neil’, a graduate student working with a team of seismologists, who accidentally extract a malevolent silicon-based life form from the depths of a volcano (in a story that’s suspiciously similar to “Ice”, from the previous season). Smith is currently being punished for her sins in a previous lifetime by starring as the ex-wife of Charlie Sheen’s character on Anger Management…. but she’s also sought redemption by co-founding a country-rock band that with actress Missi Pyle, called “Smith & Pyle”!
The late Frances Bay appeared in ep #2.11 (“Excelsis Dei”) as ‘Dorothy’, a sparky nursing home resident who could see the angry/horny spirits that haunted the building. Apparently Bay didn’t even start acting professionally until she was already in her 50s, but she worked constantly from then on, and racked up credits that actors half her age would kill for… including several appearances in David Lynch’s oeuvre (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and Twin Peaks), and a memorable role in Seinfeld (as the irritable old woman Jerry steals a loaf of bread from, who returns in the final episode to recount her story and condemn him to jail… after already quashing his father’s dream of running for condo board president, in an intervening episode). And it’s easy to see why she was so sought after for so many prestigious projects, because she totally steals the show here! Sarah Jane Redmond appeared in ep #2.12 (“Aubrey”) as a ‘Young Mother’ seen fussing over her daughter. Obviously it’s a very minor role, and I only mention it because Redmond subsequently returned in a later season as a totally different character, as well as appearing in the first The X-Files movie, its sister series Millennium, and Chris Carter’s other, far less successful creation, Harsh Realm (as the show’s enigmatic ‘Inga Fossa’). Besides her work with Twenty-Twelve productions, she also played ‘Tibby’s Mother’ in The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, and Lana Lang’s ‘Aunt Nell’ in the first two seasons of Smallville.
Christine Willes made her first appearance in ep #2.13 (“Irresistible”) as ‘Karen Kossoff’, a disappointingly straight and serious government counsellor, who recurs in several episodes. Besides appearing as the classic Jack Kirby villainess ‘Granny Goodness’ in Smallville, Willes is best known for her role as ‘Delores Herbig’, an aggressively-perky supervisor at the Happy Time employment agency in Dead Like Me. Speaking of which, another of that show’s stars, Laura Harris, appeared in ep #2.14 (“Die Hand Die Verletzt”) as ‘Andrea’, one of two teen girls lured out into the woods by a couple of highschool boys, hoping to impress/seduce their dates by dabbling with dark magick. It doesn’t end well, as you might imagine… so sadly, most of her screentime is spent running and praying.
On the manly side of things: Anderson’s absence resulted in the expansion of Mitch Pileggi’s role as ‘Assistant Director Skinner’, as well as the assignment of a new partner to Mulder, in the form of a fresh-faced young agent named ‘Alex Krycek’. The part was played by Nicholas Lea, who had appeared in the first season as a victim of a “gender-bending” killer, whose weapon of choice was hardcore sex (ep #1.6). When he first appeared, Krycek kinda reminded me of ‘Kenneth’ the Page from 30 Rock, though that may have just been his voice…? I don’t know. I thought it was a shame that they revealed his true allegiances at the end of his very first episode, because it could have been fun to tease that out for a while, playing on Mulder’s paranoia and making the eventual reveal far more powerful… still, Lea gives a good performance in the “Jekyll and Hyde” role, and I think it was a neat way of covering the cracks caused by Scully’s sabbatical. William Sanderson appeared in ep #2.03 as a jittery ex-postal worker, slowly being worn down by a secret experiment to make him, er, “go postal”. Tony Todd appeared in ep #2.04 as a Vietnam vet, who was part of a sleep eradication experiment, which has given him the power to project nightmares into reality. Bradley Whitford appeared in ep #2.09, doing his very best “Colonel Kurtz” impression as a strung-out, mud-and-blood-stained seismologist. Terry O’Quinn appeared in ep # 2.12 as a gruff police lieutenant having an affair with a woman who turns out to be the unsuspecting grand-daughter of a local serial-killer (much like Redmond above, O’Quinn would go on to make several appearances across the Carter-verse). Dan Butler appeared in ep # 2.17 as a senior member of a cabal of highschool faculty members, who secretly worship Satan. Michael J. Anderson appeared in ep #2.20 as ‘Mr. Nutt’, the diminutive manager of a trailer park where various circus “freaks” are being murdered by a rogue semi-conjoined twin. Tony Shalhoub appeared in ep #2.23 as a frazzled physicist with a lethal shadow… and Gary Grubbs appeared in ep #2.24 as the sheriff of a small town which is home to a cannibalistic cult!
[Embarrassing confession: I still giggle every time Scully announces herself as “a medical doctor”. The smarter part of my brain knows full well that there are all sorts of “doctors” around, and that she’s perfectly sensible and right to make that distinction… but I still giggle all the same]