Unusual Suspects 5×1: Sure, baby. My kung fu is the best.


Do I look like Geraldo to you?

I have to say, as fond as I was of the Lone Gunmen, coming off of the emotional rollercoaster that was the “Gethsemene”/”Redux”/”Redux II” trilogy, I was not looking forward to sitting through an episode sans the Mulder/Scully dynamic.

It’s not that it wasn’t high time the Lone Gunmen got their own episode. Who didn’t look forward to their brief, two minute guest spots of comic delight? No, it’s just that I was dying to see what life was like now that the threat of Scully’s cancer had passed. What I wanted was a real meat and potatoes X-File and a good heart to heart between our leads a la the “conversation on the rock” scene in “Quagmire” (3×22).

Unrealistic expectations notwithstanding, I wasn’t disappointed in this episode. I was feeling impatient, yes, slightly irritated even. But that’s not “Unusual Suspects” fault. In retrospect, probably the wisest thing the 1013 Productions crew could have done was to give us a little comic fluff, a slight departure from the series’ norm in the wake of the drama that just went on. There’s no sense in trying to compete with the unrelenting tension of the previous episode.

Now we’ve covered why “Unusual Suspects” starts off as an underdog even before it airs, much like the Lone Gunmen themselves. So what does this episode have going for it?

1. The Lone Gunmen (Duh): Fans had been clamoring for a while to see the nerdy trio get their own episode. Skinner had one. Even Cigarette-Smoking Man had one. Surely the Gunmen had it coming. Honestly, their characterizations don’t disappoint. Byers was seemingly the least likely to be the focus of an episode, considering the popularity of Langly and Frohike especially, but that was a clever move from writer Vince Gilligan. Byers is the most normal of the bunch and watching him of all people turn paranoiac is satisfying and it grounds the events of the episode. In fact, it reminds me of how The X-Files is originally told from Scully’s decidedly normal point of view. That’s precisely where its sense of wonder came/comes from.

2. That Retro Swag: Maybe the desire not to compete with the emotional impact of “Redux II’ is part of why “Unusual Suspects” is not only a departure in content, it’s a departure in time. Off we go back to the days before Mulder opened is precious X-Files, back to the dark ages of 1989, when cellular phones were larger than the heads that cradled them. We even get to see Mulder whip one out in an understated moment of pure comedy. Truly this is where the Gunmen belong, surrounded by impossibly bulky and outdated computer equipment.

3. X: After just a full season, X is back. As Chris Carter famously said, “No one ever really dies on The X-Files.” X has returned to do what he does best, clean up a leak and protect a potentially dangerous advancement in science to make sure the government is the only one to profit by it. Isn’t that how we learned to love him in episodes like “Soft Light” (2×23) and “Wetwired” (3×23)? And I have to say, corny though it may seem to some, I enjoy the tie-in to the mythology here. I love that X knew Mulder long before Mulder knew him, that we get to see him when he already must have been working for Cigarette-Smoking Man, and most of all, I love that he indirectly names the Lone Gunmen.

4. Mulder’s Innocence: It seems clear from their introduction in “EBE” (1×16), though it is never directly stated, that Mulder knew the Lone Gunmen long before he met Scully. We never did question how or why. I guess I just assumed that he met them somewhere along the way, maybe in a MUFON meeting somewhere. We also knew that Mulder’s search for Samantha and his belief that she was taken by aliens was the foundation of his start on the X-Files, (You’ll note how Gilligan cleverly has Mulder make his way to the “Alien Life” themed booth), but we also knew that Mulder didn’t always believe in aliens, neither was he always such a pain in the backside of the establishment. So his hypnotic regression therapy sessions with Dr. Werber weren’t solely responsible for his mental and social downfall after all.

And the Verdict is…

Checks in the plus column aside, I’m not sure this episode is a resounding success. It’s fun, to be sure, but Susanne Modeski’s paranoia, the paranoia that was the catalyst for all the rest, is a bit of a hard sell in the end. It’s a little over the top… except for that part about not being able to trust your dentist.

Speaking of Miss Modeski, perhaps the issue is more akin to what went on in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5). We have an outsider in a stand-alone episode who the audience is suddenly required to accept as an intricate piece of the mythology puzzle. Here it works better because Susanne Modeski only inspires the X-Files in an indirect way and only has the briefest contact with Mulder himself – no eternal soul pact required.

Lastly, the Modeski character brings in some fun elements of Film Noir. Even though she turns out to be one of the good guys, she still plays The Femme Fatale by leading an otherwise law-abiding man down a dangerous and morally ambiguous path. Poor Byers never had a chance.

In the end, I enjoy it and I probably enjoy it more in retrospect just to relish as much of the Lone Gunmen as I can get.

B+

Miscellaneous:

Still not so sure why Frohike recruits Langley to help with the hack. I thought he said his kung fu was already the best?

This is our first Vince Gilligan solo script since the masterpiece that was “Small Potatoes” (4×20).

Nice touch having Mulder answer the phone with, “Hey, Reggie.” No doubt this is the era when he was still working under Reggie Perdue of “Young at Heart” (1×15) fame. Vince Gilligan always was a Phile at heart – he remembered the little details.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the series. There are 201 episodes of The X-Files and this is #100. Well, technically there are 202 episodes, but that’s only because the series finale is counted double.

Why are they selling bootleg cable right in front of representatives of the Federal Government? Was that legal back then and I missed it?

That “Holly’s” daughter’s name was supposedly Susanne Modeski should’ve Byers’ first clue. Well, second after the whole sugar thing. Susanne isn’t exactly a name you heard on many little girls in 1989.

One has to wonder why X bothers to let the Lone Gunmen live at all.

And, finally, how could I ignore the nice little guest spot by Detective Munch? My how that character gets around a television set.

Best Quotes:

Munch: Start with your name and birth date.
Byers: John Fitzgerald Byers. 11-22-63.
Munch: Seriously.
Byers: I was named after JFK. Before the assassination my parents were going to name me Bertram.
Lieutenant Munch: Lucky you.

——————-

Byers: You’re talking about a premeditated crime against the United States government!
Frohike: Hey, your second today. [Removing Byers’ FCC badge] Welcome to the Dark Side.

——————-

Langley: There’s no game here.

——————-

Langly: Government hack is a snap. Last week I got into the Maryland DMV, changed my endorsement so I could handicap park. [Byers stares] I got tinnitus.

——————-

Modeski: No matter how paranoid you are, you’re not paranoid enough.

——————-

Frohike: Now I’m sorry. You’re telling me that the U.S. government, the same government that gave us Amtrak…
Langly: Not to mention the Susan B Anthony dollar…
Frohike: Is behind some of the darkest, most far-reaching conspiracies on the planet? That’s just crazy!
Langly: I mean, like this guy [Byers] works for the government!

——————-

Mr X: Behave yourselves.
Byers: That’s it? You’re just trying to intimidate us, to scare us, so we’ll keep quiet!
Frohike: [Under his breath] Byers, I swear to god, I’ll shoot you myself.
Byers: It’s all true what Susanne said about you people, isn’t it? About John F Kennedy! Dallas!
Mr X: I heard it was a lone gunman.

——————-

Lieutenant Munch: Do I look like Geraldo to you? Don’t lie to me like I’m Geraldo. I’m not Geraldo!

——————-

Byers: You want the truth?
Mulder: Yeah. I want the truth.
Byers: You might want to sit down, this is going to take a while. The truth is… none of us is safe. Secret elements within the U.S. government seek to surveil us and control our lives.
Mulder: What?!
Frohike: Tell him about the hotel Bibles.
Byers: Yeah, I’m coming to that. It all started with Susanne Modeski…

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12 responses to “Unusual Suspects 5×1: Sure, baby. My kung fu is the best.

  1. I loved the episode, and you pointed out exactly most of my reasons for it. The LGM were so funny, and the fact that they were given an opportunity to do more than the cameo deal was great. I also really enjoy seeing them come back later on with their other episode. There’s such a great chemistry at work between the three of them, and each of them brings something unique to the table: Byer’s suit-and-tie attitude, a very intelligent paranoia; Langly’s laid-back matter-of-fact paranoia, and then Frohike’s loveable and quip-worthy paranoia. I think Frohike was always a favorite of mine, and seeing their origins was a blast.

    And I agree: seeing the “innocent” Mulder is a real treat. He wasn’t always shouting at the heavens, searching for little green men. Events and time shape all people, and this episode certainly proves that.

    • So, after this episode, two of my best high school girlfriends and I dubbed ourselves Byers, Langly and Frohike. How could we help it?

      3 guesses as to which one I was dubbed.

  2. I like this one a lot. I like origin stories.

    Now, I’m sure that you know about Tommy Whestphall, but this is the episode that turned me on to it because of the appearance of Detective Munch.
    It’s funny to think that Homicide, The Wire, all of the L&Os, the X-Files, Millenium, The Lone Gunman and St. Elsewhere all exist not only in the same universe, but, in many instances, simultaneously.

    The connections will blow your mind: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~kwgow/crossovers.html

    • I’d heard of the Tommy Whestphall thing but I didn’t realize it was that intense!

      I read somewhere that the guy who plays Munch, the week he guest starred in this episode, broke the record for either acting in three different shows that aired in the same week or playing the same character in three different shows in the same week. Something like that. Craziness.

      That being said, I can kinda see The X-Files existing alongside Homicide: Life on the Street, L&O, etc. TV in the 90’s was so much more… fulfilling. The characters weren’t so vamped up. No wonder Munch doesn’t feel out of place here.

    • I was hoping someone would bring this up; great link!

  3. It’s 10 different shows.!
    The character has spanned over 17 years and 18 seasons.
    …Munch has become the only fictional character, played by a single actor, to appear on ten different television shows. These shows were on five different networks: NBC (Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, and 30 Rock); Fox (The X-Files; Arrested Development); UPN (The Beat); HBO (The Wire) and ABC (Jimmy Kimmel Live!). Munch has also been one of the few television characters to cross genres, appearing not only in crime drama series, but sitcom (Arrested Development), late night comedy (Jimmy Kimmel Live!) and horror and science fiction (The X-Files).[35] He has also played a role in international television series, beginning with UK crime drama Luther where he is mentioned as an American contact for the series’ Serious Crime Unit (SCU). Notably Luther stars Idris Elba, the actor who played Stringer Bell in the HBO drama The Wire where Munch had cameoed previously.

    I want to make a T-shirt that says “It’s Tommy Westphall’s world. We just live in it.” And see if anyone gets it.

    • “I want to make a T-shirt that says ‘It’s Tommy Westphall’s world. We just live in it.’ And see if anyone gets it.”

      I get chills just thinking of the geek-on-geek recognition.

  4. With regards to wondering why X didn’t kill the Lone Gunman, I always got the impression that he frequently tried to subvert much of the nasty work that he was assigned to do. I think he hoped that by letting these three live someone would someday learn what they knew.
    And as far as quotables go, the whole D&D scene qualifies. “My diaper wearing granny would bet $50!” “Lord Manhammer!”

    • You have no idea how tempted I was to copy that entire scene, but I figured it wouldn’t be as funny unless you could hear it. “Lord Manhammer?” Priceless!

      That’s a great point, by the way. Probably X was working against the system he was a part of even then. And he did say back in One Breath that he used to be a man like Mulder. I guess the last vestiges of decency hadn’t been knocked out of him by CSM.

  5. I enjoyed this – I love anything the Lone Gunmen are in. However, I felt Mulder was just… I dunno, seemingly normal, what little we did see of him. This was not long before the X-Files was opened and in retrospect, it wasn’t much later that Scully starts working with him, chronologically. You hear that Mulder was always some nutcase, but he didn’t appear to be that same paranoid nutcase that people remembered in later episodes. I think this was a complicated puzzle piece to write, and to do it in only 43 minutes is tough, but eh… I dunno. I guess it’s hard to buy.

    Also, god, I love John Munch. But it’s funny that on SVU he is the big conspiracy theorist. haha.

    • See, it’s easy to forget Mulder was once the Bureau’s Golden Boy. There’s a quick reference in this episode to the fact that Mulder was still working under his mentor Reggie Purdue in the days before he lost his marbles. I guess when he fell, he fell fast and hard.

  6. Back when this first aired, I hated it. I hated any episode that didn’t have both Mulder AND Scully. I didn’t feel they were worth watching. It was bad enough I had to wait an entire summer (and at this point, most of fall) to see new episodes, and then, after two featuring Mulder & Scully, we get something like this. Sixteen-year-old Megan was NOT amused. I think I only watched it the one time until I did my full series rewatch before X2.

    However, time and age have helped me to change my opinion, and now I am thoroughly entertained by eps like this. The Lone Gunmen were awesome, and seeing their back story is entertaining as hell. I’m not a huge fan of Suzanne Modesky–I don’t know if I don’t like the actress in the role, or maybe just the character herself–but I can live with it.

    As a die-hard fan watching the series the first time around as a teenager, waiting week to week, a side story feels like crap. I wanted my characters and I wanted them NOW. Being able to watch the series without waiting for a new ep makes me appreciate the break in the pace of the show. When looking at it overall, you’re absolutely right about the intensity of the previous four episodes and that something like this was necessary and welcome. However, between the spring and fall of ’97, I don’t believe there was an intensity stronger than my urge to see JUST WHAT THE EFF WAS HAPPENING.

    Oh well. Still…enjoyable ep, I must say.

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