All right. We’re here. We’ve reached what is arguably the best beloved X-Files episode of all time, penned by Master of the Pen Vince Gilligan and consistently named as a favorite of Gillian Anderson herself. It’s “Bad Blood”.
That means it’s also time for a full confession: I didn’t care much for “Bad Blood” the first time I watched it.
Go ahead. Choke.
Don’t kill yourself.
Now, if you’re quite finished…
The problem was that I really didn’t know how to take this one at first. The situation they’re in is too deadly serious for Mulder and Scully to be taking it so lightly, hilarious though their reactions are. If I were potentially going to jail for impaling a minor and if the Federal Government were being sued for $446 million dollars due to my idiocy, I wouldn’t be kicking a trash can I’d be banging my head against padded walls in the mental institution I’d been hauled to after my breakdown. But that’s me taking this too seriously so I’ll stop now.
About halfway through my initial viewing I loosened up. But I still had to watch it a few times to get the full effect.
Please don’t be afraid. A baker’s dozen worth of years later and I still laugh out loud at this episode. Loudly.
Unlike other famed X-Files alum Darin Morgan’s “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) which also shows one set of events from multiple perspectives, “Bad Blood” doesn’t carry a subtly serious undertone in its similarly Rashomon style storytelling. Instead of a despairing sense that the real truth will remain forever buried within the bias and faulty memories of those who experienced it, “Bad Blood” proves that yet again, despite themselves, Mulder and Scully do uncover the truth and neither of them could ever do it alone. The truth consistently lies somewhere in between their two versions of reality.
But then, lightheartedness is one of Vince Gilligan’s strengths just as Darin Morgan’s underlying sense of seriousness is his. One specializes in screwball comedies while the other draws comedy organically out of the sadness in life. For instance, if you compare Gilligan’s “Small Potatoes” (4×20) and Morgan’s “Humbug” (2×20), both us the social and physical outcast for our comedic enjoyment, but Gilligan lovingly pokes fun at his misfit while Morgan uses his misfits to poke the eyes of society at large. One is secretly social commentary while the other is pure entertainment. Me, I’ll take a double scoop of both.
I actually consider “Bad Blood” The X-Files’ first true slapstick comedy. “Small Potatoes” was close, but while it crossed a humor line in terms of silliness that the show hadn’t crossed before, there was more of a sense of the events occurring in the real world than we get here where “reality” is peppered by green-eyed nomadic vampires populating trailer parks. This isn’t a funny X-File or an X-File that happens to be humorous so much as it is a pure comedy, which makes sense considering Gilligan took his inspiration for this one from The Dick Van Dyke Show. But how did he do it and still remain true to the show and the series at large? It’s as though Gilligan took all the rhythms of a typical X-File and then multiplied them to the tenth power so that you can recognize in every hilarious moment where if it were scaled back a notch it would be just another meat and potatoes episode. For example:
Mulder: Sheriff, you say this man is exactly as you found him?
Sheriff Hartwell: Yes, sir. To the letter.
Mulder: Have you noticed that this man’s shoes are untied??
Sheriff Hartwell: Yeah, they sure are.
Scully: Mulder, what’s your point?
Mulder: This means something. Sheriff, do you have an old cemetery in town, off the beaten path, the creepier the better?
Sheriff Hartwell: Uh, yeah.
Mulder: [Snaps fingers] Take me there. Now!
Mulder: Scully, we’re going to need a complete autopsy on this man, the sooner the better.
Scully: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! What am I even looking for?
Mulder: [Grabs Scully by both shoulders and looks her seriously in the eye] I don’t know. [Leaves abruptly]
Scully: [To Sheriff Hartwell] He does that.
Mulder notices some random clue that no one else thinks is a clue? Check. Mulder can’t or won’t explain its significance? Check. Mulder sends Scully off on an impromptu autopsy? Check. Mulder expects Scully to find something but won’t tell her what? Check. Mulder leaves abruptly without an adequate explanation? Check. Check.
Sometimes I wonder if Gilligan didn’t take a script he was already working on for a regular, serious episode and out of boredom one day decided to amplify it for fun because Mulder and Scully and a third party have had that same exchange, beat for beat, more times than I can count.
But, of course, the real joy of “Bad Blood” isn’t watching Gilligan cleverly poke fun at The X-Files’ own formula, it’s watching Mulder and Scully coyly turn each other into mental caricatures and in so doing give us insight into how they see themselves and each other. More than likely, Mulder and Scully don’t even believe their own tales with total sincerity. Instead, they’re emphasizing and exaggerating certain facts in order to better irritate the other.
Gilligan always did have an amazing grasp when it came to characterization and here I think he understands Mulder and Scully better than they know themselves… I mean, assuming they actually existed and could know anything at all. That said, watching them morph themselves into innocents in turn is revelatory and while Mulder’s idea of himself is way off, I’m not so sure his version of Scully isn’t too far from the truth…
I’ve searched and searched for a clip of Fox’s promo for “Bad Blood” but I haven’t been able to find it. You see, I’m trying to satisfy my curiosity as to whether or not I was warned about the comedic tone of this episode the week before or whether I had any excuse for coming to my first viewing of it wholly unprepared. Alas, YouTube has failed to answer my question.
It really doesn’t matter anymore, however, and thank goodness. I enjoy “Bad Blood” and no distinct lack of reality is going to ruin suspension of disbelief for me. No siree Bob.
All I can say is that when I think that I’m already well past the halfway point of Season 5, I get a little sad.
“One of my favorite things about ‘Bad Blood’ was that Agent Scully gets to smile.” – Vince Gilligan
I remember when I first saw this episode easily recognizing Patrick Renna, AKA Ronnie Strickland, from that classic television gem called Salute Your Shorts. But he’s better known to most from The Sandlot.
Maybe Ronnie Strickland tried to kill Mulder because he left him a $0.02 tip. Miser.
For those keeping score, this is the second episode in a row where Scully comes to Mulder’s rescue.
I don’t think motels like the Davey Crockett Motor Lodge/Sam Houston Motor Court even still exist. What happened to the seedy motels of the American landscape?
How does Scully get those toxicology results back so fast all the time?
I’m trying, probably too hard, to remember the last episode where Mulder used a slideshow and I can’t.
May I just say that the discomfort Sheriff Hartwell causes Mulder makes my day… and again points to the fact that Mulder nurses a little schoolboy crush on Scully Season 5. Not that he takes it so seriously that he isn’t willing to leave her alone with the man, though I think that points more to his comfort level with Scully than to jealousy or a lack thereof.
Scully: First of all, if the family of Ronnie Strickland does indeed decide to sue the FBI for, I think the figure is $446 million, then you and I both will most certainly be co-defendants. And second of all… I don’t even have a second of all, Mulder! $446 million! I’m in this as deep as you are, and I’m not even the one that overreacted! I didn’t do the [stabbing motion] with the thing!
Mulder: I did not overreact. Ronnie Strickland was a vampire!
Scully: Where’s your proof?
Mulder: You’re my proof! You were there! [Scully sighs] Okay, now you’re scaring me. I want to hear exactly what you’re going to tell Skinner.
Scully: Oh, you want our stories straight.
Mulder: No, no, I didn’t say that! I just want to hear it the way you saw it.
Scully: I don’t feel comfortable with that.
Mulder: Prison, Scully! Your cellmate’s nickname is going to be Large Marge, she’s going to read a lot of Gertrude Stein.
Sheriff Hartwell: [In flashback] You really know your stuff, Dana.
Mulder: [In present] Dana?! He never even knew your first name!
Scully: You going to interrupt me or what?
Mulder: No. You go ahead… Dana…
Scully: What do you mean you want me to do another autopsy? And why do we have to do it right now? I’ve just spent hours on my feet doing an autopsy, all for you. I do it all for you, Mulder. You know I haven’t eaten since six o’clock this morning and all that was was half of a cream cheese bagel. And it wasn’t even real cream cheese it was light cream cheese. And now you want me to run off and do another autopsy…? [Notices Mulder is covered in mud] What the hell happened to you?