The X-Files S1, E16: “Young at Heart”

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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 Michael Lange directed and Scott Kaufer and Chris Carter written sixteenth episode!

...and is a reverse aging lizard-handed man!

…and so is a reverse aging lizard-handed man!

“Young at Heart” is your average monster-of-the-week episode (how many times have I started a review with that sentence?) that manages to give you some solid freaky moments for the hour and gives you a bit of insight into Mulder and Scully, but without going deep enough or spooky enough to put it in the pantheon. There are a lot of ideas floating around in “Young at Heart,” which makes it seem kind of crowded. It still works well enough for me to give it a pass though.

In the cold open, we see a prisoner stumble upon something he probably shouldn’t. A doctor is amputating a fellow inmate named Barnett, and pushes a scapel against the prisoner’s neck, telling him Barnett is dead. But the prisoner sees him blink. In present day, an old boss of Mulder’s, Agent Reggie Purdue (Dick Anthony Williams), calls him and Scully in on a bank robbery with a murder that at first seems routine. Mulder and Purdue both see the similarities to Mulder’s first case on the job, in which a bank robber kills bystanders and hostages just for spite. The spooky thing is, the robber has already been caught years ago and died in prison: Barnett.

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Obviously he’s not as dead as our heroes previously thought. Mulder has a lot of struggle over the reappearence of his first case, which he feels he botched by failing to shoot Barnett when he had the chance because it was against protocol. Something I’ve noticed about The X-Files overall is that Mulder and Scully really don’t have a problem shooting people who have taken human shields, as compared to the heroes of most other police procedurals. I absolutely do not have the data to back that up, but it feels like it to me. I feel like this episode kind of explains why, becuase the one time Mulder followed protocol and didn’t do that, Barnett killed his friend.

The best part about this episode is that we see Mulder’s past of working in the Violent Crimes section. It goes beyond us seeing his ex or Scully’s ex and we actually see the people he would work alongside everyday, who all kind of wonder what happened to Spooky Mulder over the years. We see him chat up the handwriting expert (Christine Estabrook) and his old boss confronting him over his career choices. It’s not super rivetting stuff, but it’s always nice to see Mulder at least slightly in touch with reality, not always holled up in the X-files office conspiracy theorizing to himself.

The worst part about this episode is Barnett himself. He’s supposed to be this unstoppable psycho killer who’s relentlessly going after Mulder no matter what the cost, leaving him scary notes that are stupid puns on the name “Fox,” inexplicably turning up in places Mulder happens to be, etc… These serial killer tropes really didn’t work for me for some reason. I don’t know if it was the performance or the surplus of other ideas in this episode, but Barnett didn’t feel very threatening. I did like the choice to keep him in mostly shadow until the end, when the full effect of his reverse aging can be revealed.

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The spooky elements of Barnett’s characterization work a little bit better than his unstoppable serial killing force characterization. He was expirimented on in prison by a Dr. Mengele-type, Dr. Joe Ridley (Robin Mossley), who was originally trying to cure advanced aging in children but really that was an excuse to invent some kind of fountain of youth drug. The morality of experimenting without consent is touched upon, but ultimately the government doesn’t care. Our old friend Deep Throat shows up saying the government wants to buy Ridley’s research from Barnett, though I gotta say Ridley showing up just to explain things to Scully seems a bit unbelievable if he’s been hiding out in Central America (the Nazi parallels continue). And the “science” that explains Barnett’s condition seem pretty darn abitrary. If someone’s already imortal, do we really need to give him a lizard arm too, on top of everything else in this episode?

So I think they crammed a bit too many ideas into this episode and it starts to fall apart when you try and unpack them, but nevertheless I don’t hate the episode. I don’t think it’s that bad to watch, especially if you pay attention to how Barnett is shot throughout. I liked the look into Mulder’s past (more the mundane details rather than his crippling guilt, because that kind of makes him like every FBI agent on tv, ever), Scully doesn’t pretty well for herself in this episode, but ultimately there’s too many elements rattling around to make this episode a stand out.

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Long story short: 3/4 stars

Click here to read my review of next week’s episode, “EBE”

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