Pusher 3×17: Samurais without masters have to advertise.

A recipe for madness.

“Pusher” is only writer Vince Gilligan’s second solo offering for The X-Files, his first being the solid if slightly underwhelming “Soft Light” (2×23). Legend has it that when he submitted the script to Chris Carter he predicted it would be the best work he ever did on The X-Files, an eerie declaration since, arguably, he was right. Although by the Grace of God he gave us some other episodes that might fit the bill. *cough* Small Potatoes” (4×20) *hack*

My understanding is that “Pusher” started out as an idea for a film before he translated it into an X-Files episode. You can tell. One of the features of his solo offerings on The X-Files is that his stories are like shortened movie scripts. You could almost take The X-Files’ characters out of the scenario and with some adjusting, the plot lends itself to a feature length film. “John Doe” (9×7), “Tithonus” (6×9), “Paper Hearts” (4×8), “Drive” (6×2), etc. These are the episodes you could show to someone who isn’t into the whole paranormal, supernatural, sci-fi thing and they’d still eat them up. And there isn’t a better example of one of his mini-movie episodes than “Pusher”. I was even able to show this one to my mother who would normally scoff at the likes of The X-Files. And well, she did scoff, but relatively little.

This is one of those episodes that define MOTW. As I watched this time I felt myself mentally ticking off all the boxes…

Clever Villain

I can think of less than a handful of other X-Files villains that are as memorable as Robert Patrick Modell. First off, he has three names so you know he’s bad. Only the likes of Eugene Victor Tooms, Donald Addie Pfaster and possibly The Flukeman could run against him for the title of Best Monster of the Week Ever. One thing he has over the other three is his humor and sarcasm. It’s an element of his character that makes the audience actually like him. Even in that amazing opening teaser with benign elevator music and a police raid out of nowhere, I don’t know who he is or what he’s done yet but I’m kind of rooting for him against the Police. Can you blame me? The man has style. He had to in order to be a proper match for Mulder.

Clever Kills

The first example I don’t even think he successfully killed, he just flambéed. Certain people aren’t as susceptible to Modell as others and Agent Collins resists lighting himself up to the point where it’s tragic. Oh, what a great scene as he begs and pleads for someone to stop him. It’s frighteningly convincing.

Detective Frank Burst, on the other hand, doesn’t resist. Instead he insists on listening to Modell until you can almost hear his arterial walls popping open. (No medical professionals were consulted for the making of this review.) What a fabulous, fabulous moment as Mulder and Scully are helpless to stop this man from getting himself killed. And then to hear seconds later that his death was in vain… I still shake my head every time… and there’s always a little twinkle in my eye that probably shouldn’t be there.

Clever Agents

This is one of those rare X-Files where Mulder and Scully solve the whole thing. Usually there’s a mix of investigative work and random happenings that lead them to a conclusion or, more often, a lack of a conclusion. But since “Pusher” is all about setting Mulder and Modell up for a final showdown, mano a mano, it’s important that Mulder proves he’s someone who can match this man in wits and sheer force of will. It’s a testament to the strength of Mulder’s mind that he’s able to resist Modell as much as he does in the Russian Roulette scene.

Scully isn’t exactly useless either. And while she famously shoots down Mulder’s suggestion of “The Whammy” as the cause behind Modell’s effect, she also confirms the pseudo-scientific basis for his condition. Then of course, all would have been lost if she hadn’t pulled that fire alarm in time. Scully may not always understand what’s going on, but she had enough integrity to act on the evidence.

Those are the building blocks, the DNA, of this episode if you will. But it doesn’t end there. There are all sorts of great moments sprinkled throughout such as Modell strolling into the FBI with nothing more than a piece of paper and a permanent marker as his credentials. Then there’s Skinner, another one not easily taken in by Modell, getting beaten up by a girl. And not just any girl, a mouse of a girl. Come to think of it, I’m not so sure that’s a great moment, but it’s certainly a memorable one. Didn’t Skinner just finish recovering from a bullet wound? That can be the only possible explanation for why a bear like him couldn’t take down little Holly. The man is quickly turning into a punching bag. I’m pretty sure he’s bruised in half the episodes we’ve seen him in since “End Game” (2×17).

And, of course, “Pusher” causes Shippers everywhere to rejoice. Not one, but two hand-holding scenes? I’m surprised Chris Carter let it happen. Joking aside, Scully’s concern over Mulder is nice to see and Gillian Anderson plays it with those doe eyes of hers so well. When Mulder suits up for a final confrontation with Modell she looks like a mother that has to let her son go off to war. And that single tear that comes out of Scully’s eye as Mulder points the gun at her… priceless. You can actually feel her horror as she realizes the true tragedy of the situation, that Mulder was about to be forced into the ultimate betrayal.


That’s Modell’s true sense of cruelty and part of why he’s such a successful Monster of the Week. He hones in on the fact that Mulder and Scully are close from the beginning and I believe it was his plan all along to force Mulder into hurting her. That they overcame that situation together is enough to warm any X-Phile’s heart. And you know they’re seriously shaken up anytime they’re willing to be openly affectionate.

If you’ve been following along, you’ve already heard read my complaints frustrations about the off and on tension between Mulder and Scully this season. I won’t repeat too much of it here. After all, my Season 3 analysis is just around the corner. But let me just say, God bless you, Vince Gilligan. There’s been so much distance between Mulder and Scully and with this one episode it’s all but forgotten.


Running Commentary:

Nothing. I was too busy enjoying myself to jot down superfluous thoughts.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Hey, I think you drooled on me.
Scully: Sorry.


Modell: You and your pretty partner seem awfully close. Do you work well together?


Scully: So he’s a killer and a golfer?
Mulder: Rings a bell, huh? Let’s go G-woman.


Modell: I believe you owe me five dollars.
Mulder: Oh, your shoe’s untied.
Modell: [Looks down]
Mulder: Made you look. How do you do it?


Mulder: Well, ninjas are said to have the ability to cloud the minds of their opponents.
Scully: Are we talking kung fu movies, Mulder?
Mulder: He certainly clouded the mind of that judge, Scully.
Scully: Even if Modell could, he didn’t need to. We barely had a case against him.
Mulder: Oh, we had enough to get past a simple preliminary hearing. Modell psyched the guy out. He put the whammy on him.
Scully: Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy.


Mulder: Hey, Scully, check this out. Mango Kiwi Tropical Swirl. Now we know we’re dealing with a madman.


Mulder: I think it’s like you said. He was always such a… little man. This was finally something that made him feel big.

28 responses to “Pusher 3×17: Samurais without masters have to advertise.

  1. I don’t think there’s anything else needed to be said here, it’s a great one, although I never viewed Modell’s motives in that way before, that his attempts at the end to have Mulder hurt Scully are as cruel as they are. Great reading of the episode and the character Salome.

    • I actually never noticed it before either. I just took that “You and your pretty partner seem awfully close” comment in passing with maybe an extra beat of my shipper heart. But considering how Modell attacked Frank Burst where it hurt and the way he was gunning for Mulder as a worthy opponent, I suspect now that he was aiming for a potential weakness all along and that Scully being a part of the final showdown was a part of his plan. I suppose I’ll have to stalk Vince Gilligan to find out the answer for sure, which really isn’t something that should be put past me.

  2. I forgot how epic ‘Pusher’ ended up being; fits perfectly with your analysis of Vince Gilligan’s contributions being “cinematic”.

    With regards to the picture you chose, I thought it showed a lot of restraint on the writer’s part that we had to wait almost the entire episode to find out what was up with the zillion cans that Modell is seen grabbing in the first minute of the episode.

    Is this the first episode to get an A+? Regardless, well spent. There have been a lot of good episodes so far, but this is easily the best single, self-contained episode so far.

    • I already bestowed the honor on a couple of Darin Morgan episodes and possibly Irresistible as well. Can you blame me? I need to start keeping track.

      • It would be a little arduous (in terms of the work for you), but it would be nice to have them on the season episode lists.

        With the data aggregated like that, we could generate GPAs for certain writers, seasons, etc., which would be both silly and perhaps a little interesting.

  3. I’d like to take a moment to express my fangirlishness, especially in regards to this episode. Aside from the fact that I love this ep, always have. Just a quick background though…

    After the series ended, I basically didn’t watch the show. I watched a bit the summer after the finale, but had too much going on after that to think about it (which probably explains why I laughed so hard at William when I saw it by chance about a year after it aired…I’d gained a bit of perspective). So, graduated college and moved on; bought the dvds when I found them on sale, but didn’t watch them. Anyway, at some point I must’ve put in a tape or the dvd, but I wound up watching Pusher. Well, imagine my excitement when I realized it was taking place practically in my own backyard. After college, I moved to the northern Virginia area, and lived about 30 outside of DC–while, logically, I knew that I was near the Hoover Building and all that good stuff, it didn’t click until I was watching Pusher. The best part, though, was when they were showing the map of the area near Fairfax Mercy Hospital…look at the map, they show. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    Got it? Okay, see where it says Chain Bridge Road? I lived right off Chain Bridge at that point. I thought my head was going to explode. Not only was the ep taking place near me, but they had an actual street that exists in the real world, and what’s more, there’s actually a hospital off of Chain Bridge Road. While I couldn’t guarantee what the hospital was called in 1996, it wasn’t called Fairfax Mercy when I lived there; it’s called INova, and the building is much more modern but still…I found this to be very exciting. It’s nice that I finally have a place to share my joy.

    How many fans get to say that they lived where an ep was taking place?

    • That is soooo cool! <—- Said in my best fangirl voice.

      Now if only we were West Coast girls we could take an X-Files road trip to see some real live landmarks using LAX-Files as our guide and wrap it up with David and Gillian's special charity event on the 30th.

  4. And not forgetting Dave Grohl’s ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo in the J Edgar Hoover building foyer just before Modell swiftly passes through the metal detectors…all amounts to a brilliant XF classic!

  5. I saw this episode not too long after I had first started watching the show. I loved it right away, and it remains one of my favorites. I always appreciated how accessible it was; having jumped in during Season 3, I spent a lot of time being confused about what, exactly, was going on in each episode (because, holy crap, there are a lot of mythology episodes in Season 3). I think this was the first episode in which I really understood not only what was going on in the episode itself, but also the dynamic of the Mulder/Scully relationship and a lot of the undertones there.

    And, of course, my little 12-year-old self was like, ZOMG these two are clearly meant to be together. CLEARLY.

  6. Love the nod to The Host – the magazine Modell picks up (and scoffs at) in the supermarket in the teaser has the Flukeman on the cover 🙂

  7. “Who does your decorating? The Grinch that stole Christmas?” I die. This episode is DEFINITELY A+. Loved the Flukeman on the tabloid.

    I love the look of “I don’t want you to go” Scully gives Mulder before he goes in to the hospital alone. Gah.

  8. Well, I just finished your season 2 reviews, (gosh am I having fun! You are brilliant!), but I had to skip ahead to Pusher, to see what you had to say, because this is my all-time favorite episode. It would be embarrassing to admit how many times I have seen it. And I’ll apologize in advance for what will surely be an embarrassingly long comment!

    You have mentioned before about certain episodes being perfect to show someone brand new to the X-Files? In my opinion, this is THE one. You just can’t go wrong. One viewing of this episode and someone will be hooked. If the entire episode can’t do that, there is the final stand-off alone. Just imagine, if you’ve never seen the Xfiles and don’t know who Mulder and Scully ‘are’, but have heard all the ‘hype’. Imagine seeing THAT scene played out….there is barely any speech going on between them….it’s all in the eyes! Yes, we’ve seen their bond in action before…we’ve seen the connection before, but honestly, NEVER like this. There was a magic brought forth in this scene that had not played out yet, and I’m not so sure we ever *really* saw it again, in this magnitude. Simply stunning.

    A couple of things and then I’ll shut up. 😀 Aside from the ‘russian roulette’ scene, I thoroughly enjoyed the scene in the van, when they’re making decisions of what they’ll do. Scully’s anxiety was palpable there. And when Mulder says, “We stand a better chance if we’re separated”, I swear he almost chokes on the word ‘separated’. It’s apparent right there that this isn’t sitting well for either of them.

    No matter where one stands, shipper or not, this episode is simply one great big revelation, through eye contact and action, how much Scully and Mulder mean to one another.

    All that and I haven’t even touched on the other aspects I loved…the whole concept, the amazing performances of the guest actors, the humor invoked even in an episode like this. This episode is quite simply perfect, and I’m so glad to see it received an A+ ! 😉

    • All this enthusiasm for Pusher is making my evening. I’m reliving it in my head!! I don’t have anything to add really except to second your emotion. Practically perfect in every way. ❤

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  14. “I say we don’t let him take up another minute of our time” Amen to that, for all narcissistic sociopaths!! Great episode , great review

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