If Season 4 was good for anything it was experimentation. Most of it came from the minds of Morgan and Wong who gave us the non-formulaic “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” (4×7) but also the highly unusual teaser in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5). In that episode, we open with the end of the story, Mulder standing alone in a field crying, feeling sorry for himself, and reading a poem. It’s not my favorite episode by any stretch, but I always appreciated how striking and memorable that teaser is. It sets up the tone and content of the entire episode very, very quickly.
“Unrequited” tries to experiment with its teaser too, it’s just less successful at it. We open at the climax of the story, but unfortunately the climax isn’t very climactic. And it doesn’t get any better when the episode begins in earnest and we work our way back to that scene chronologically. The sequence drags on to the point where all tension is lost and what’s worse, by then the audience is only watching out of obligation anyway rather than interest, the rest of the episode not living up to the implied “Hey, isn’t this exciting!” message behind the teaser.
Like “Teliko” (4×4), except much more so, this is a political X-File. Oh, there’s an undercurrent of political subtext to the mythology itself, it becoming clear early on that the men behind this show are probably products of the 1970s when Americans progressed from being suspicious of the government to being distinctly jaded. But usually those themes are in the background as implied food for thought. When The X-Files tries to turn undertones into overtones it usually either succeeds marvelously or fails miserably. “Unrequited” is one of the latter.
One of the dangers of this type of episode is finding a really good rationale for why Mulder and Scully are in on a mission like this in the first place. Hunting down militia is not exactly their area of expertise. Which leads me to the next danger: this type of episode has little to do with the paranormal or the frightening. Teager’s ability, which is poorly explored, is almost incidental to the plot. The point isn’t how scary an invisible man would be, it’s how “invisible” our soldiers have become socially and politically. A noble sentiment, but I generally tune in to The X-Files for an adrenaline rush.
Speaking of a lack of adrenaline, or a pulse, it’s official: Marita Covarrubias is useless. They needed to give her a niche, a specialty, some area of government secrets that she had particular access to. Instead Mulder comes to her for a hodgepodge of information of the most superficial sort. Something makes me think that The Powers That Be decided to make Marita Covarrubias the assistant to the Special Representative to the Secretary General of the United Nations because they weren’t exactly sure what role she would play and they thought that having her work for an institution as broad as the United Nations would mean that she could provide Mulder with all kinds of answers. She gives him all kinds of answers all right, but it feels forced and her information is nearly useless. Every time she shows up I get the feeling the writers are trying to remind me she exists, whereas her predecessors, Deep Throat and X, were anticipated and looked for and when they showed up out of the blue it was a gratifying surprise.
For an episode whose scare factor had such an inherently frightening and historically successful motif to fall back on as “The Invisible Man,” this story should have worked much better. Instead, ham-fisted political overtones drag down the pace and the impact that it should have had is lost. Both the message and the story lose their power and nobody wins. The X-Files just isn’t the proper vehicle for this sort of thing. Thankfully, Howard Gordon would go on to write for 24 where politics and action make much better bedfellows. He finally got to put all those ideas to good use.
By way of finding something to put in the plus column, I’d say that at least they took Skinner out of his box so he could play, but while he’s put to practical use his history as a Vietnam veteran only earns a veiled reference at the beginning and a brief mention at the very end of the episode. Yawn and you’ll miss it… and most likely you’re yawning by that point.
If “Kaddish” (4×12) was good but quiet, with this episode the series’ gears are grinding to a halt. The X-Files needs something or someone to shake things up, someone like Max Fenig perhaps?
How come Mulder and Scully’s eyes never bleed? Teager worked their blind spots often enough.
Mulder calls the circumstances of Teager’s pronounced death “inconclusive.” But dare I say that’s ridiculous? Deaths are regularly declared on nothing more than teeth when bombings and explosions are involved. The marks on Teager’s tooth could have been made in any number of ways.
On that note, the implication is that the Viet Cong staged the scene so that the American government would believe Teager, and the other soldiers, were dead. Which would mean that they planned to take them prisoner and keep it a secret, an odd thing to do in the middle of a war for a soldier of no particular political importance.
Why would Teager agree to work for the men who, while not directly involved, were responsible for leaving him behind in Vietnam? Why would he agree to kill certain Generals, knowing that by doing so he’d be covering up forever what happened to him and men like him? That connection needed much more than a passing mention because to call the situation unlikely would be generous.
Scully: Was that for the benefit of the General or have you been able to develop a real strategy?
Skinner: Right now I’m flying by the seat of my pants.
Mulder: You mean there’s no procedure outline for an invisible assassin?
Skinner: You heard his story, Mulder?
Mulder: Yeah, I found his story compelling personally, but then again, I believe the Warren Commission.
Mulder: Don’t let them do this.
Skinner: Let it go, Agent Mulder. You did your job.
Mulder: So did Nathaniel Teager.
Skinner: You found the man that you were looking for, but now he’s dead. It’s over.
Mulder: Is that what you believe? Is that what you really believe? They’re not just denying this man’s life, they’re denying his death. And with all due respect, Sir, he could be you.