“The Walk” marks the first solo offering from staple of The X-Files’ writing team, John Shiban. He teams up with the man who is already arguably The X-Files’ most famous director, Rob Bowman, to give us a story taken straight out of The Age of Aquarius – The 1970s.
Oh sure, it’s the Gulf War these veterans are tragedies of, but couldn’t it just as easily have been Vietnam? What with Astral Projection and backwards recordings making a comeback, I was just waiting for Mulder to make a joke about 8-tracks and John Travolta. It never happens, which is a sad waste, but combined with the distrust of government we see in the mythology episodes that no doubt comes out of the writers having witnessed the Nixon administration, “The Walk” only sharpens any suspicions about what generation the creative heads behind The X-Files are products of.
Everything starts out beautifully with a frightening teaser and some poetically filmed opening shots. The scene where we see maimed and wounded veterans gathered for a group psychology session is notably striking. But things start to devolve from there as we’re introduced to our antagonist for the next forty minutes or so, Leonard Trimble. It’s not a name most X-Philes even remember.
I thought long and hard about why I’ve never really liked this episode despite the fact that it contains some very pleasing moments and I’ve finally narrowed it down, mostly, to Leonard. Here’s a man who has lost not one, but two legs and not one, but two arms in service to his country. Even if the audience doesn’t like him, they should be able to feel for him. Certainly, most of us are unable to empathize with such a dramatic loss, but surely we can sympathize. It would be that identification with his situation that could potentially create a powerful dissonance; we know we shouldn’t side with the villain but part of us does. We want him to have some relief. The problem is, that doesn’t happen here.
Leonard Trimble has one note that he plays over and over. He yells and furrows his brow because maybe if he does it enough times everyone will know how angry he is. He doesn’t want pity, he doesn’t want healing, he just wants everyone else to lose too. But this character needed more than anger, he needed pathos. At no point did it really feel like he was hurt or suffering. As Mulder says, his bitterness has left him devoid of humanity. But as the super soldiers prove in later seasons, an inhuman villain isn’t nearly as interesting as an imperfect one. Instead of being frightening or compelling, Leonard Trimble is a punk.
Mulder: You’re a soldier! You knew what you were getting into when you enlisted. Now you want to blame everybody else. Why do you want to blame your C.O.s?
Leonard Trimble: I blame them for what happened to all of us! You don’t know what it was like. You… you sat at home and watched the war on cable TV like it was a damn video game. You have no idea about the guys that died, about the blood and the sand and what it feels like when a hit comes. The thing is you just don’t care, do you?
Now see, there’s a wealth of emotional material right there waiting to be mined. But alas, that’s as far as the episode goes on the tracks of that train of thought. With a more emotional backstory, that indictment of the American public could have been powerful.
This episode isn’t a lost cause, however. In fact, there are positively great moments that would compel me to put a sticker by Rob Bowman’s name if he were in my Sunday School class. The scene where the phantom Leonard Trimble attacks Captain Draper in the pool is a masterful one. It’s filmed like something out of a movie instead of a 1990s TV show. Then there’s the scene where poor little Trevor learns the danger of playing too long in the sandbox; it’s disturbing but wonderfully done.
And surely all who watch this episode point their fingers at the screen and say, “Hey!” when Roach’s character is introduced. Roach is played by actor Willie Garson who has guest starred on just about every television series known to mankind. In case you thought his guest spot here was too brief, he’ll be back in Season 7 for “The Goldberg Variation” (7×2).
One last note about Scully’s characterization: Now, I love no-nonsense Scully as much as the next fangirl. But some episodes it’s as though the writers scripted lemons into her diet and it’s impossible for her to unclench her jaw or unpurse (It’s a word. I made it up.) her lips. It’s noticeable particularly now because Scully so far has had a lot more color in Season 3 than she had in Season 2, more variation. In the episodes to come she’ll branch out even more.
…And the Verdict is:
X-Files fans are already familiar with mutants and monsters that prey on others out of physical need. We saw it in “Squeeze” (1×2) and even as recently as “2Shy” (3×6). But this is a new sub-genre where we have a monster not created by nature, but from disease or injury; a monster that clings to his ailment and chooses to be a monster. This one was so-so, but The X-Files will blow this concept out of the park in “Pusher” (3×17).
This is another episode where Mulder and Scully are helpless to prevent anything, instead they decipher events as they unfold. Is that bad? Well, it would take The X-Files to a whole new level of fantasy a la Dr. Who if Mulder and Scully always found a way to put an end to paranormal phenomenon. Heck, they’re not even trained in exorcism.
I don’t think we ever really understand why Leonard Trimble’s soul was so destroyed that he would be willing to kill innocent children for the sake of revenge. Maybe an answer to that silent question would have transformed the episode.
Whatever the case, I think we’ve had enough Revenge/I Shall Smite Mine Enemies episodes for one season, don’t you?
I know it’s Mulder’s job to make eerily accurate leaps in logic, but this one is just too much for me. How did he know to look for signs of Astral Projection before he even showed up? What was it that made him think what these men were seeing wasn’t a ghost or some far more obscure paranormal phenomenon?
What’s with the writers giving the name Trevor to young boys? They even go so far as to give a boy named Trevor his own episode. “Trevor” (6×17)
Come to think of it, what’s with the name Leonard? “Leonard Betts” (4×14)
This has nothing to do with anything, but Nick Chinlund just came on my television screen as a guest star on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and my heart went, “Donnie Pfaster! Aww!”
General Callahan: I want you to know I’ve had the Captain contact the Justice Department and let them know about the F.B.I.’s gross misconduct here.
Mulder: I guess this isn’t a good time to thank you for seeing us, huh?
Mulder: Sometimes the only sane response to an insane world is insanity.