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 summer, 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 as I review/recap the David Nutter directed and Glen Morgan and James Wong written thirteenth episode. (Notes can be read here!)
After “Fire” I’m glad we got a good one again. “Beyond the Sea” is notable mainly because it’s the first episode in the show that makes Scully the main character and puts Mulder in the background. Usually it’s the other way around, or even better, they share the spotlight. Here we get some insights into Scully’s character and what she stands for and believes in, as well as a really chilling story. It might be a little bit too inspired by The Silence of the Lambs, but who cares when it works this well.
The cold open features Scully having dinner with her family. This is the first time we meet her mother Margaret (Sheila Larkin) and her father Captain William Scully (Don Davis). They leave, and Scully falls asleep in front of the television. She seems to wake up and see her father sitting before her again; his mouth moves but she can’t hear him speak. Then the phone rings and her mother delivers the news that Captain Scully has just died of a massive coronary.
It’s a little bit strange to see more traditional cold open material after the theme song, of two kids making out in a car kidnapped by someone pretending to be a police officer. It doesn’t slow the episode down, as we then head straight to the X-Files office and Mulder introduces the case. There’s a prisoner on death row in North Carolina, Luther Lee Boggs (Brad Dourif), who claims to know the details of the kidnapping case through his psychic abilities. They are duty bound to go check it out, even though in a reversal on a popular theme, Mulder is convinced Boggs’ psychic abilities are a sham. Scully tags along, needing to work to avoid her grief, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. Among the many dead and living Boggs’ is able to “channel” is Scully’s father, and she finds it hard to be skeptical about this monster of the week.
The skeptic/believer dynamic is at the heart of The X-Files‘ identity. In the less interesting episodes, we can rely on Mulder coming up with crazy theories (which usually turn out to be right somehow) and Scully being unsure (or outright incredulous) that Mulder’s conclusions are correct. As I noted in the pilot, it’s much more interesting to me to see them work together to get the right answer than becomes slaves to their own worldviews. This episode continues to reveal seeds of characterization for both Scully and Mulder that have been sewn in previous episodes, Mulder will sometimes seem to be stubborn and arrogant (though he comes off as mostly okay in this episode and is genuinely worried, with good reason, about Scully’s emotional well-being), clinging to his version of “The Truth” that he assumes stands for everybody. It sometimes has less to do with evidence or experience and more to do with what he’s already convinced himself is true. In this episode, we don’t actually know the full story of why Mulder doesn’t believe Boggs, so we more or less have to take his word on it. Scully, somewhat surprisingly, ends up being the more open-minded one because of her emotional fragility in the wake of her father’s death.
In the end, Mulder challenges Scully to believe in Boggs because of “everything [she’s] seen,” even though Mulder has been telling her not to believe in him the whole time. It’s very strange that he tries to push his worldview of believing in strange things on her at the end of the episode even though he isn’t subscribing to it in this case. It is heartening to see Scully put all of it behind her, realizing she doesn’t need to hear what Boggs said her father need to tell her because she is confident in her relationship with her father even though he is no longer there.
The episode is very rooted in Scully’s perspective, which is a really nice change from the more anonymous episodes where the guest star kind of seems to take over. We get a very unsettling scene where Scully is talking to Boggs and she sees him take the shape of her father, and then of Mulder. There’s a lot to be mined from the later, as in large part the early seasons of the show are about Scully slowly coming to realize that there might be things science hasn’t prepared her for and the erosion of her career as she always saw it. When Scully sees Mulder as Boggs he says something to the effect of “but you’re the one who believed in me.” Scully takes on Mulder’s usual viewpoint, arguing for an inexplicable phenomena rather than against it, possible damaging her career and sense of self in the process. Though Mulder and Boggs are opposing forces in the episode, they both are united in pushing Scully to reexamine herself and her skeptic role.
There are a lot of spooky moments in this episode that are really well crafted. When Boggs’ is channeling the kidnapper, there’s some nifty editing that bridges the space between them so they seem to be acting in concert in the same location (though it’s obvious they are not by the backgrounds). I’m a little less crazy about the B&W shots from Boggs’ perspective because it just seems a bit much, but anyway it gets the job done. Dourif does a really good job portraying both Boggs’ (he’s one of those southern criminals who always seems to be covered in snot) and Boggs’ version of everybody he channels. It makes for more than a few unsettling moments, making this one of the creepier episodes we’ve had so far. I also loved the surreal touch of Captain Scully appearing to Scully in the cold open, dramatically lit from above and moving his mouth without speaking (reminds of me of Twin Peaks, especially in the choice of actor!).
I’m almost always gonna like Scully more than I like Mulder, so I really appreciate this episode. It’s got a lot of creepy moments and a memorable monster of the week in Boggs. We get a lot of insight into Scully’s character, especially at this specific moment in the story. She’s having a lot of her identity worn away by all this spookiness, but as we see at the end, it ultimately doesn’t affect what she’s sure of: that her father loved her.
“Open up yourself to extreme possibilities only when they’re The Truth”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
Click here to read my review of the next episode, “Gender Bender”