“D.P.O.” marks the first in a series of episodes revolving around adolescent turmoil that continues all the way to Season 9’s “Lord of the Flies” (9×6). Is something so pedestrian as teenage angst the right choice after the mythology has whipped The X-Files’ audience into a fan frenzy?
Personally, I’m not averse to it. With this episode the series slips right back into the status quo, only taking a brief moment from the mouth of Scully to acknowledge the events immediately preceding it. That might irk some and I can understand why it’s hard to accept it when the adrenaline stops pumping. But unlike later shows like Lost, The X-Files never intended for the mythology to evolve every episode but gives us breaks in between; not to mention there are several different genres contained within one series here and the episodes fluctuate between types. I admit I’m biased because I love Monster of the Week episodes and while this one may not be as memorable as earlier ones such as “The Host” (2×2) I do find it’s surprisingly good at times.
For that, I have to give credit mostly to guest stars Giovanni Ribisi and Jack Black, both of whom play younger versions of the types of roles they’ll later become famous for. Ribisi gives us a frighteningly convincing Darren Oswald, a brooding loser seemingly passed over by a life he was never interested in living in the first place. Jack Black is, well, Jack Black. Here they call him “Zero” but that’s merely a formality. Thankfully, he gives us a hint of his dramatic capabilities and, even more thankfully, he doesn’t sing. Actually, my favorite scene in the episode is Zero’s death scene which is surprisingly tragic. I actually pity the anti-freeze addled adolescent as he begs for his life in a voice edged with real panic.
Not that Darren cared. Darren didn’t care about anything or anyone besides the object of his obsession, Mrs. Kiveat. In fact, he’s so disconnected from reality that he doesn’t evoke the sympathy that underdogs typically do. He’s greasy and gross and one look at him almost compels you to snub him. One gets the feeling that before lightning transformed him into something out of X-Men, he got his kicks through porn and cow-tipping. Did it matter to him that Mrs. Kiveat was teaching him remedial math? He resents being thought so little of by his mother, but not with any sense of drive to prove her wrong but with the cold knowledge that he could zap her like a fly.
Darren kills just like he’s killing insects, without any more regard. Or maybe, more accurately, he kills as though he were defeating a video game opponent and with just as little expression. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t rank up there will villains like Tooms; he kills for amusement rather than for evil, like a bratty two-year-old who just learned how to annoy the cat.
Consequently, his obsession with Mrs. Kiveat doesn’t hold much emotional punch either. After all, it’s not as though he’s clinging to the one person who gave him hope or some such drivel; she’s hot and he’s coveting his neighbor’s wife and that’s that. The actress who plays Mrs. Kiveat is perfect for the role because she’s lovely enough that you can understand Darren’s teenage obsession but you can also feel her physical revulsion to him and her guilt as a teacher for feeling that kind of repulsion toward a student. She goes with him in the end at least in part to prevent him from being shot, but she goes as a lamb to the slaughter and ultimately can’t go through with it.
And who could blame her? For once, here’s a teenager who isn’t absolved of his guilt by parents being blamed or by casting aspersions on a neglectful society. Darren Oswald was just nasty to begin with and there’s no sense trying to rehabilitate him; his brain is already fried like an egg. The lightning is really a physical manifestation of his rebellion and anger, anger that empowers him and gives him confidence not to take part in society, but to act out his Mortal Kombat fantasies.
This is a very solid episode. Maybe it’s not what most were hoping for during the series’ initial run, but I think that looking back, without the urgency of solving the mystery of the mythology, it can be appreciated for what it is.
Darren Oswald may not be the most strikingly evil villain, but he’s memorable just the same. He causes destruction because it amuses him, as if he’s channeling every negative teenage impulse along with that lightning. And, really, what would be more frightening than a teenage boy with superhuman powers? A teenage boy who isn’t Clark Kent?
Come to think of it, I wonder if that’s how this started; maybe writer Howard Gordon thought about what would happen if wholesome farm boy Clark Kent were actually a hick pervert with too much boredom on his hands. Antifreeze: The New Kryptonite.
In the end, like a video game, he self-destructs, and it is a little unsatisfying that Mulder and Scully are powerless to stop him. That last shot at the end is one of the most creative final shots the series ever gave us, however, with Darren mindlessly changing channels as Chris Carter’s name pops up on the screen. At this point The X-Files was quickly becoming a phenomenon and it shows. The production value is better and Scully’s suits actually fit her at the waist.
If it wasn’t for the fact that the climax fizzles out so abruptly I’d grade it even higher.
Why is EMS about to jump-start a man’s heart when he hasn’t stopped breathing yet?
That car in the parking lot should have/would have been taken away long before Mulder and Scully arrived. For a while there the writers had Mulder and Scully on a semi-realistic timeline, but I see that’s over.
Scully: I don’t understand.
Sheriff Teller: That’s as clear as glass.
Scully: Feel free to jump in any time.
Mulder: Why? You were doing just fine.
Darren Oswald: Why do you want to watch all that stuff anyway? They’re all a bunch of losers.
Mrs Oswald: Cause they’re on TV. I don’t see you on TV.
Darren Oswald: Hey, you know, I think you ought to be some place else right now. Cause I’m in the mood for a little barbeque.
Bart Liquori: No, man, not the cows again.
Scully: Here we go. Well, considering it’s a partial imprint, there’s a lot of information here.
Mulder: That’s great, now can you make me a little cherub that squirts water?
Scully: The tread looks like a standard military boot. Men’s… size 8 1/2.
Mulder: 8 1/2? That’s pretty impressive, Scully.
Scully: Well, it says it right here on the bottom.