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 David Nutter directed and Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon written fifteenth episode! (Notes can be read here)
In all truthfulness, this episode is not a great one for The X-Files. There have definitely been better, and there have definitely been worse, but this is more of the lackluster variety that seems too impersonal to really be remembered. This week Mulder and Scully go head to head over the possible spookiness of near death experiences, though the actual near death experience seems to pretty (fairly, in tv show terms) cut and dry. We are introduced to Scully’s ex, sort of, to little emotional effect. Ah well, better luck next week.
In the cold open, we see Scully and Agent Jack Willis (the ex, played by Christopher Allport) lying in wait for some robbers in a bank. Willis has been chasing them a long time. When Dupre (Jason Schombing) enters the bank and shoots Willis, Scully responds in kind by shooting Dupre. In the hospital, we see Willis go into cardiac arrest surrounded by doctors, nurses, and Scully, all trying their utmost to save him while Dupre goes ignored on another table. As charge after charge is fired into Willis’ body, we only see Dupre’s body reacting. When it appears that Willis’ heart has been revived, Dupre’s is wheeled away to the morgue. But when Willis wakes up, he starts acting like Dupre, stealing his wedding ring and trying to find the whereabouts of Dupre’s wife and partner in crime, Lula (Cec Verrell).
It’s weird for an FBI agent recuperating from a near-fatal shooting in the middle of a case to wander off from the hospital without a trace, both Scully and Mulder agree on that. Where they differ is what causes this behavior in who they believe to be Willis. Mulder lines up a near death experience expert, who tells stories of electrical surges in the body after a near death experience, and transfers of memories from those who died and nearly died at the same time and place. Scully believes it to be less a biological process and more of a pyschological one, where Willis underwent severe trauma and comes out the other side totally dissociating with who he is. The episode seems to be trying to make more of a difference of opinion than these two options really are: a near death experience seems to count as a major trauma to me, and as far as “special powers” go, Willis seems to be behaving like a person he’s studied and followed for a long time rather than exhibiting anything that far out of the ordinary.
We witness far more of the strange phenomena on display in this episode than Mulder and Scully do, which makes their argument sort of frustrating. It’s clear from how the cold open is shot that at least part of Dupre’s consciousness is now in Willis’ body, and Dupre’s tattoo surfacing on Willis’ arm seems to confirm that. It’s clear to the audience that Willis is just not Willis anymore, but when Dupre/Willis shoots Lula’s brother in an attempt to find her, meeting up with Scully and Mulder at the crime scene, he is able to play Willis quite sucessfully. Either that or Scully chalks so much of his behavior up to post-traumatic stress that he could basically get away with anything.
The other main thread of the episode is the relationship between Lula and Dupre. They met in prison, he was a guard and she was an inmate. They got married and now rob banks. They have sort of a Bonnie and Clyde sex and violence thing going on, and in a scene where Mulder reviews Willis’ notes, it’s clear he was taken in by the image they presented. Towards the end of the episode when Lula confesses that she betrayed Dupre and left him at the bank robbery, Dupre’s personality starts to come into conflict with Willis’ and he remembers details of his and Scully’s relationship. This gives some creedence to Scully’s theory, that Willis’ obsession with the case combined with post-traumatic stress leads him to identify with Dupre. Once he finds out the Dupre and Lula relationship is a construction, he starts to come back to himself.
Though Mulder is characteristically reaching for some sort of fantastical explanation, he does a fair amount of legitimate police work in this episode to prove it. Whereas Scully is more along for the ride, talking to Willis/Dupre and arguing with Mulder’s theories, Mulder collects a fair amount of fingerprints, analylizes a phone call, and uses a bit of trickery to show Willis’ handwriting has changed. None of it really directly proves his point; it’s too bad he didn’t get a look at the tattoo.
Maybe it’s because Scully is sort of in back seat this episode, maybe it’s because the relationships in this episode aren’t that compelling, or the spookiness is just not that spooky, but I’m just really not feeling this episode. It seems to let the audience get too far ahead of its characters. In all fairness, it’s not bad, just not that spectacular either.
“It means…. it means whatever you want it to mean.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
Click here to read my review of next week’s episode, “Young at Heart”