“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…
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.
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.
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.
Nothing. I was too busy enjoying myself to jot down superfluous thoughts.
Mulder: Hey, I think you drooled on me.
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.