I’ve been delving into the popular sci-fi series The X-Files for a while now, making many attempts and failures to engage with its first season. Since the summer, and I’ve been weaving in and out through the series various episodes, trying to piece the gigantic enterprise together. It may seem strange for me to go back and recap an over two decades old television show, in some ways that type of thing is what the blog was built for. Join me this week for the Larry Shaw directed and Chris Carter written twelfth episode! (Notes can be read here)
And we’re back with another mediocre monster of the week episode. Yay, season one. This one has a high point in that it guest stars a “that guy” actor, Mark Shepard, even though his performance may not be that much of a high point. He plays the monster of the week, a man who can control fire, though unfortunately the episode is somewhat more concerned with Mulder’s ex-girlfriend.
In the cold open, we see the fiery menace in question, Cecil Lively aka Bob (Mark Sheppard), stare down his aristocratic employer to the point where his arm catches fire. It’s one of the more succinct cold opens on the show, mostly just featuring Sheppard’s staring face, but it works alright. Next thing we know, Mulder and Scully are brought onto the case by Mulder’s old college girlfriend now working for Scotland Yard. Inspector Pheobe Green (Amanda Pays) doesn’t really have much to go on other than a bunch of mysterious fires that killed some British nobles and one such noble that’s still alive and vacationing in Cape Cod, but that’s enough to get Mulder talking about pyrokinesis.
A frequent complaint of the more lousy X-Files episodes thus far is that sometimes they give a bit too much to the guest stars, dragging Mulder and Scully helplessly along rather then allowing them any agency or real detective work. While I wouldn’t want this to be taken to mean that I think the episode has any sense of urgency or suspense, at least Scully is allowed to figure out a thing or two this episode. Though it turns out to be false, she comes up with a slightly more plausible way for how the fires got started, and more importantly, identifies the fiery menace by combing through immigration data. It’s not glamorous or psychologically scarring like Mulder’s half of the episode, but I gotta admit I’m a sucker for good old fashioned police work.
Mulder’s half of this episode is where the show really falters. First of all, Carter in scripting the episode gives him a fire phobia that has not been heard about before or since (though I guess you can’t just fault this episode for that). Second of all, Phoebe Green as a femme fatale out of Mulder’s past is just weird. I don’t know if the show is bringing her in to make Scully jealous or just to make the show more exciting, but either way it doesn’t really work. Their relationship is apparently all about her manipulating Mulder and Sherlock Holmes references, and it is baffling and tiresome.
The monster of the week part is alright, but nothing to write home about. It seems that Lively/Bob’s firepower is driven out of frustrated sexuality, so we get a scene of him failing to pick up a woman at a bar and then setting fire to the place, and then one of him creepily watching his boss’s wife in slo mo through the window. It’s kind of a cliche approach that they don’t dig enough into for it to mean much. The firepower itself is not very threatening either. I mean, no one wants to be burned to death of course, but as portrayed in the episode it’s just not as chilling as say, crawling through sewer grates and eating people’s livers as in “Squeeze.” Lastly, Sheppard plays Lively as more of an over-the-top practical joker rather than anyone to be actually feared.
The episode offers a little bit of cheesy fun, and Scully comes out of it looking pretty good, while Mulder conquers his phobia (I guess?). Phoebe Green is a gigantic misstep whereas Lively is a minor one, and all in all it results in a pretty lackluster episode. It’s not quite as bad as the ghost of Mars, but it’s down there. Thankfully, next week the show moves into 1994 we get the first real Scully-centric episode with “Beyond the Sea.”
“You can’t fight fire with fire!”
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars
Click here for my review of next week’s episode, “Beyond the Sea”