The main thing that occurred to me as I sat down to watch this one is that I’m unlikely to watch anything like it again. “Unruhe”, “Tithonus” (6×9), heck, One Hour Photo… Short of finding a period piece, with the advent of digital cameras, the underlying creepiness of photography may be gone for good. Point and click cameras don’t give you that same eerie sound as they capture an image (or is it someone’s soul?). Gone is the sinister subtext of the dark room, where creepy men leer creepily at ghost like images forming on slick pieces of paper. And the Ye Olde One Hour Photo Shoppe has all but gone extinct. Instead of delivering your most personal memories to be ogled by a 40 year old man who still lives with his mother, you can print them out in the privacy of your home, should you decide to print them out at all.
Progress though this may be, it terms of entertainment, it’s a sad loss. This episode is part of the last dying gasp of film.
Fortunately for us, Vince Gilligan wrote this episode before the Revolution was complete. If Darin Morgan owned Season 3, Vince Gilligan is the stand out star of Season 4. His humor isn’t as poignant, but it’s memorable. And more than that, he could give us a classic thriller just as easily as a psychological study or a fantasy romp. He was always, always cinematic. And with “Unruhe”, true to his form, while the characters are exceptionally well written, you could squint your eyes and almost pretend you’re at you’re local theater. This story was built for Mulder and Scully and it serves them well, but you can see how they could be replaced and the story expanded to serve other needs. It’s barely contained at a 43 minute running time.
What they do manage to squeeze in is memorable and engaging. It’s amazing how an X-File really doesn’t need much fuss to be successful; A creepy idea, a villain with three names, a few memorable images, Mulder posing something ridiculous and Scully countering. It’s magic in a can. I don’t think lobotomies have been this frightening since One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Nowadays, when we think of serial killers we mostly think of men who brutalize prostitutes and crack whores. It’s a concept far more removed from the minds of everyday people than it was in the mid-90s when the collective memory of men like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer was still fresh and constantly refreshed in the media by news reports and movies like Silence of the Lambs. Gone are the days when single women watched their backs in the grocery store parking lot, but watching Schnauz stab a hypodermic needle into the flesh of an unsuspecting victim brings it all back.
Gerald Thomas Schnauz, Jr. isn’t one of my all-time favorite X-Files villains, probably because he doesn’t recognize or relish his own evil, but he more than does the job here. And for once, Scully is identifying with the victims and the killer rather than Mulder, our resident criminal profiler. It becomes more and more obvious that the case is wearing on Scully and I like that Vince Gilligan weaves in a little discomfort between her and Mulder throughout the episode, it makes the payoff of Mulder frantically trying to save her that much more satisfying.
And while I’m on the topic of Scully, did you notice the vague foreshadowing of what would come later in her Season 4 arc? It’s so quiet that it might be almost impossible to catch for the first time viewer, but that’s part of what’s so satisfying about rewatching The X-Files, being able to savor the subtleties.
I was able to make out one single word in German: Angst. Funny how that would become the theme of the season.
P.S. And as to Scully playing the damsel in distress, which complaints occasionally come up, I don’t even want to hear it. She just rescued Mulder in Distress the previous episode.
P.P.S. This is not the episode to watch if you’re trying to get over a fear of Dentists.
Tsk. Tsk. Isn’t Scully supposed to ask if there are any sharp objects she should know about before she pats down somebody?
This is the second closing field report/voiceover we’ve had in a row. I rather like that they’re trying hard to pretend that The X-Files isn’t leaving it’s early years far behind in the rearview mirror. And I missed those field reports.
More masterwork from the School of Rob Bowman. The tension in Scully and Schnauz’s first meeting is all in the way he shot it. And don’t even get me started on the glories of all that plastic tarp.
Six fingers = six headstones is rather a stretch, don’t you think?
Howard Unruh, part of the inspiration for this episode, was the first modern mass murderer. How’s that for a legacy?
Mulder: Stand back, Scully. It’s loaded.
Scully: She’s been given what’s called a trans-orbital lobotomy. It used to be called an ice pick lobotomy. It involves inserting a leucotome through the eye sockets.
Mulder: So we’re looking for a doctor? Someone with training?
ER Doctor: Not judging by this?
Scully: Whoever did this, Mulder, did it wrong.
Mulder: So… which one of us gets to use the stun gun on Bruno Hauptmann back there?
Schnauz: Great. Now they’ve got you talking like Sigmund Freud.