Small Potatoes 4×20: Should we be picking out China patterns, or what?

The "H" is silent.

This is where Season 4 really starts picking up momentum again. It’s time for one of the all time Vince Gilligan masterpieces – “Small Potatoes”.

It’s sometimes easy to forget given his knack for writing tension filled episodes like “Pusher” (3×17), “Unruhe” (4×2) and “Paper Hearts” (4×8) that Vince Gilligan started out writing comedies for the big screen. (Does Home Fries sound familiar?) But with this outing he suddenly inherits Darin Morgan’s crown as The X-Files’ comedy genius in residence. His style is definitely different from Morgan’s, more lighthearted and less philosophical I’d say, but it’s just as memorable none the less.

We get a couple of notable guest stars in this one, the first being The X-Files’ own Darin Morgan, back this time not as a writer but as an actor, giving a memorable turn as the King of all Losers, Eddie Van Blundht. The second is actress Christine Cavanaugh as Eddie’s onetime sweetheart Amanda Nelligan, who most will remember as the voice of Babe the Pig and of Chuckie in Rugrats among many other notable cartoon series. But me, I’ll always remember her first as Mona Tibs in Salute Your Shorts. That’s classic television, folks.

But back to the story at hand.

I’ve never questioned the hilarity of this episode; it’s always been one of my favorites. And for those of you out to convert your friends into the Cult of the Phile, this is an episode that easily translates into language a new viewer can understand. It’s prime example of how well The X-Files could do anything, even comedy.

It’s only recently that I’ve started to wonder in between guffaws, why doesn’t Eddie’s crime seem as evil as it really is? If we’re going to get technical, this comedy revolves around a man raping and impregnating women without their knowledge. His only (hypothetical) defense?

Eddie: Look, I’m not saying anything one way or another. I’m just saying hypothetically, if some women wanted to have kids, their husbands weren’t…capable, and everybody was happy and no one got hurt, well hypothetically, where’s the crime?

Oh, Eddie. True, this isn’t forcible rape and maybe therein lays the only caveat that keeps this from being a comedy in poor taste. Eddie figures, these women think they’re sleeping with their husbands anyway, so no harm, no foul. But it’s less easy to excuse his actions when these women are also unwittingly impregnated with another man’s baby. That he chose women who were trying to get pregnant in particular would seem to indict him.

Not only did he realize impregnating them was a possibility, he wanted to use that possibility to cover himself. To insert himself where he was unwanted in an effort to feel like he was actually a part of society at large.

But is that really so uncommon? A man lies about having money when he doesn’t, about being single when he isn’t. A man gets a girl drunk so that she’s more likely to say “Yes.” A lie/tactic that makes a girl willing when she otherwise wouldn’t be in order to prove to yourself and the world that you are who you aren’t. Does that sound familiar? Which line crossed is the point of no return? At what point does it become criminal? Eddie here waddles over a line that’s already toed around too often, so as much as he’s justifiably locked up by the end of the episode, it’s hard to take him seriously as a menace to society.


This is another one of those episodes that makes me laugh every time, and I won’t reveal the extent of my geekdom by confessing just how many times I’ve seen it. Let’s just say I haven’t quite approached Amanda Nelligan’s level of Star Warsian devotion.

There are so many memorable moments that I would get lost trying to chronicle them all and for the sake of brevity I won’t. Suffice it to say that this episode is one of my favorite performances ever from David Duchovny and the whole Eddie as Mulder bit never quite gets old. For her part, Scully’s already the straight man on this show and stoic looks are her specialty, but the look on her face as Amanda Nelligan reveals the identity of the baby’s father is a priceless moment.

Then there’s the autopsy scene. And, of course, the scene at the doctor’s office. Oh! And the seduction…

You didn’t think I’d forget that, did you?

So, I know we Shippers tend to love this one largely because of this scene, and how could we not? But I find two moments in particular absolutely hilarious:

  1. The look of panic on Scully’s face as Eddie/Mulder leans toward her: Okay, she loves Mulder, as a friend, so she doesn’t insult him by rejecting him outright, but did you catch the look that clearly reads “Oh no…” just as he starts to move in for the kill?
  2. Scully gets busted: The best part of Mulder bursting through the door is that all he does upon discovering this rather uncomfortable situation is stare at Scully. See? I cracked up just typing that.

Alright. I’m done. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? If it’s been a while, I suggest watching this episode again. If it hasn’t been a while, I suggest watching this episode again.


Random Comments:

It’s not Eddie we see mopping the floor at the end of the episode, but one of the inmates that keep stealing his hats.

Best Quotes:

Nurse: Now is there anyone you need us to contact? The father of the baby?
Amanda Nelligan: I’m not sure how to get a hold of him.
Nurse: If you give me his name I can try.
Amanda Nelligan: You know, he’s not from around here.
Nurse: Is he from out of state?
Amanda Nelligan: Another planet.


Amanda Nelligan: He dropped by my apartment one day and… one thing sort of led to another.
Mulder: But the baby’s father is an alien.
Amanda Nelligan: No, no, I didn’t say he was an alien. I said he’s from another planet. His name is Luke Skywalker. He’s what is known as a Jedi Knight.
Scully: Did he have a lightsaber?
Amanda Nelligan: No, he didn’t bring it. He did sing his song for me though. [Hums the theme to Star Wars]


Mulder: How would this happen?
Scully: Birds and the bees and the monkey babies, Mulder.
Mulder: Birds do it, bees do it, even educated MDs do it. All five women shared the same OBGYN didn’t they?
Scully: Well, yeah. He’s the only one in town.
Mulder: And four of the five women, the four married women, not including Amanda Nelligan, are on record as receiving insemination therapy as a means of conception.
Scully: So you’re thinking that the doctor might have something to do with it.
Mulder: So much for not putting all your eggs in one basket.


Mulder: I have a theory, if you want to hear it?
Scully: Van Blundht somehow physically transformed into his captor then walked out the door leaving no one the wiser?
Mulder: Scully, should we be picking out china patterns or what?


Scully: But what are you saying? That Van Blundht is an alien?
Mulder: Not unless they have trailer parks in space.


Skinner: Which one of you wrote this?
Eddie/Mulder: I did, Sir.
Skinner: You spelled “Federal Bureau of Investigation” wrong.
Eddie/Mulder: It’s a typo.
Skinner: Twice.

25 responses to “Small Potatoes 4×20: Should we be picking out China patterns, or what?

  1. Great episode! 🙂

  2. One of my all time favorites and I had just started watching a few episodes prior so I think some of the eddie-as-mulder humor was a little lost on me, but I still laughed my arse off. The look on Scully’s face when he goes in for the kill is still one of my all time fave moments. Can’t say enough about this ep! 🙂

    • That’s one of my favorite moments ever too! Just priceless!

      • Yep! Its a look of” holy crap, he’s not gonna… oh, he is…” and, a bit sappier, the moment she opens her lips a little, you know she wants it. Unfortunately, it would be quite some time before she actually gets it 😦

        • I definitely think she wants it, too. I mean, you can tell that she’s thinking, “Wait a second . . . he’s gonna what now?” and then she’s going through all of the reasons in her head why it would be A Bad Idea, but in the end, the fact that she doesn’t move away and parts her lips has to come down to more than just she doesn’t want to hurt him as a friend. Scully doesn’t seem the type to be kissed if she doesn’t want to be. And, come on, being partnered with someone who looks like Mulder . . . you know she’s thought about it.

          This is such a fantastic episode. There are so many moments that make me squeal like a fangirl, it’s embarrassing. And I appreciate it so much more now than I did 13 years ago. Although I surely squealed just as much back then.

  3. I never thought about the rape aspect of this episode because I was too busy enjoying Duchovny’s fantastic performance. This might be my favorite episode.

  4. Is there anybody out there that doesn’t like this one, because I’ve yet to meet them. A true classic, funny one of David’s all time best performances.

  5. I LOVE this one. I love when Mulder busts in and the whole thing unfolds. I just wanted someone to say “well this is awkward” out loud. LOL.

    As a side note, I find myself watching episodes after Memento Mori and waiting on the cancer to unfold. I forget the details, besides the big cancer eps and every close-up of Scully I nearly expect her nose to bleed. I think when I rewatched in 2007 I did not pay attention to the details like I did when the series first aired – I suppose this justifies my rewatch in the first place haha 😛

  6. NostalgicPhile

    Awww, such a good ep. I actually never thought Scully was ready to reject “Mulder” at the end … she catches the way he’s looking at her and seems shocked that the moment is really, truly approaching and this is … happening. And under the circumstances, (being at her apartment, the intimate conversations, the music, the wine) I think she gets this isn’t going to be just a kiss … this is agreeing to a trip to the bedroom. And when he leans in, she’s clearly nervous – but she makes no move to get away and looks more than willing to accept the kiss and all that goes with it. I love the way GA plays this … Scully seems incredibly vulnerable during this scene – particularly when she says, “I like it.”

    As for Eddie’s crimes … very interesting observations here. He is most definitely violating these women, though I guess one could argue they got a baby out of it. However, getting with his high school crush was to please him only and not cool, though at least he was in love with her. Attempting to put the make on Scully is far worse, since she is the only one of his known “conquests” that is not trying to get pregnant and that he was not in love with. He simply evaluates the situation (with amazing speed and perception, I might add) that this beautiful woman is partnered with this great-looking but repressed dude – and decides to go for it. Maybe he even thought he was doing Mulder a favour 😉

    In the end, it is quite hysterical and DD is fab in every scene.

  7. First of all, I love love LOVE these reviews! They clearly have taken alot of thought and are very well done.
    This episode always makes me smile, and I completely agree at being amazed at the casual treatment of the crime in question! After all this is a serial rapist but for some reason we can never quite hate him.
    In reference to the seduction scene, I have to agree with NostalgicPhile’s previous comment – when “Mulder” asks Scully if it’s a good thing that he’s showing her a whole new side of him and she replies, “I like it.” it was such a loaded few moments where I felt like she was admitting maybe for the first time that her feelings have grown deeper. Her expression as he moves in looks surprised for a moment, but then just nervous, as anyone would be when they’re about to take a friendship to the next level.

    Anyway, I mostly wanted to reply to thank you for such hilarious, poignant reviews. I am trying to read them in order but keep skipping around to my favorite episodes. Keep up the GREAT work!

  8. I starting watching “X-Files” after 6 long seasons of “SuperNatural” on Netflix. When I was finished I craved for more of the unknown and strange. I recalled watching a random episode of “X-Files” here and there and being too afraid of the scary monsters in the dark (As most six year olds lol). But now as a full adult in her mid-twenties I can’t help but kick myself for waiting this long! I love LOVE LOVE this show and the creative stands it held compared to shows during its running time and even today.

    Gilligan is truly a masterful writing. I have loved all his episodes I’ve seen so far. Always giving us a deeper look into who the characters are, the skills of the actors, and a different taste of x-file element!

    Salome, thanks for writing such great and entertaining reviews. After each episode- I literally get online to read your thoughts, the grade, and other “X-File” fans comments. 🙂

  9. Ha! I just found XF on Hulu and it has reawakened the obsession. 16 years later and there it is again! But no longer bound to wearing out the VHS tapes fast forwarding and rewinding and squinting to catch millimeters of lip touchage, now I can do so with the tap of a finger! Amazing. And Small Potatoes was the first episode I revisited, though I think I’m up there at Amanda Nelligan levels with my viewing counts. Now I’m about eight episodes through some of my favorites. I stumbled across your page while I was looking up some old sites. Glad to see the obsession (and the Shippers) are still out there!

  10. And what about that final scene after Mulder interviewed Eddie and he and Scully are leaving? She says, “Mulder, you’re not a loser.” and he replies “Yeah, but I’m no Eddie Van Blundht.” That fixed look on her face is priceless!

    • Oohhh yes live that little exchange between them at the end. David was too good in this episode especially when playing Eddie as Mulder. The expressions were priceless…

      • That last exchange was a “Pow! Right in the kisser” moment. I love it. And DD was on his game this episode, which is typical because he shines with comedy.

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  14. You know what I find interesting in this episode? Mulder’s behavior. Not Eddie as Mulder, but the real Mulder. Whenever Small Potatoes is discussed in light of the Mulder/Scully relationship the focus tends to be on Scully’s reaction to “Mulder’s” advances. Did she want to kiss him? How far would she let him go? And etc.
    What is often ignored is the fact that Mulder comes bursting through her door. Think about that… he comes bursting through her door! Why would he do that? Eddie isn’t a violent killer or torturer. He sleeps with women by posing as their husbands (or fantasies as in the case of his ex girlfriend). Ergo, the only justifiable reason Mulder would have for running over to Scully’s apartment and come bursting through the door without knocking is if he thinks it’s conceivable that Scully could be seduced by him (or someone she thinks is him). That to me say a lot. Mulder isn’t particularly confident when it comes to women His encounters with Diana, Phoebe, Bambi and Detective White more than prove he’s no swaggering player. He can be arrogant, but he isn’t cocky in that particular sphere of his life. He also knows Scully is no easy floozy. No, I think his actions demonstrate he realizes on some level that there is more between them than mere friendship and partnership, or at least he realizes there’s clear potential for more than friendship if someone were to make the first move.

    • Ha! I never thought of this point of view, but you’re absolutely right! I always thought in terms of Mulder, that he admired that boldness in Eddie, hence his remark at the end: “But I am not Eddie Van Blundht either, am I?” He is not brave enough to go for it with Scully, even though he knows she probably won’t reject him.

  15. Agreed all round, what a fabulous episode! Great review and great comments too.

    I am a sucker for anything that gives us a glimpse into their life outside work, so one of my favourite parts is the conversation between Eddie-as-Mulder and Scully on the staircase as they go into the office. Scully saying that she might ditch the paper she’s working on and go investigate a dead body instead because hey, it’s Friday! It’s such a cute and slightly melancholy glimpse into her lack of social life.

    I can never work out whether to feel a bit sad for her, or whether to believe that she’s ok with those being her Friday night options. She seems perfectly happy about it, but it does make me think back to S1 Scully who used to do things like go on dates and hang out at children’s birthday parties. It’s a little moment where I ask myself the same question that the characters ask on many occasions, about whether this is the life she wants/the life that’s best for her.

    Love love love the juxtaposition of Eddie, the ‘loser’, who somehow manages to bring out a side of Scully that Mulder has never… thought to seek out? Such a clever bending of each character’s roles and motivations. How Eddie literally can’t believe that Mulder has never popped over with a bottle of wine before. I guess this just underscores why we love the M&S relationship so much, shipper or no. It’s just so understated, slow burning and… pure, that they have had 4 YEARS (or more if you believe the wonky post-pilot timeline!) of mutual respect, trust and cosmic connection and they’ve never even hung out on a Friday night. As others have mentioned above, Mulder’s little comment at the end about being no Eddie is just pure gold!

    I also like to think of this as the first moment of build-up towards the FTF near-kiss. Like maybe this is the moment that Mulder realises that Scully would actually be up for taking it further. Even though he’s such a dork that it takes him another year to actually do anything about it. The near-kiss in FTF is totally Mulder’s doing… he follows her into the hallway, takes her face in his hands and moves towards her (she even has a tiny shade of the freaked-out face she had in this episode!). I reckon that this episode was the very beginning of the seed that allowed him to be brave enough to make that move. Maybe he was channelling Eddie in that moment, ha!

    On a side note, I am making my way through all your reviews on my re-watch and thank you – they are keeping me company on this journey! I know my comments are super late but I’m just going for it anyway in the hope that there may be others on re-watches sometime in the future who will enjoy reading them as I’ve enjoyed reading everything here 🙂

    • Yes, thank you! That’s just what I hope to see – a running conversation. Your insights are going to fan the flames of another’s fandom one day not too far from now, if they haven’t already.

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