For the second episode in a row, The X-Files boldly goes where it’s never gone before. Only this time, instead of clever camera moves what sets this episode apart is that it’s not really one episode, but two. You see, the duo of “Dreamland” and “Dreamland II” (6×5) is the first and only comedic two-parter and, for that matter, the only non-mythology two-parter The X-Files ever gave us.
In keeping with the quickly developing theme of Season 6 which is to throw Mulder and/or Scully into a strange and uncharacteristic environment and then sit back and watch the fireworks go off, Mulder is taken right out of the only environment he’s ever known, his own body, and dropped into that of Man in Black discontent Morris Fletcher, played to pitch perfection by television veteran Michael McKean.
Michael McKean is priceless. Do you hear me? Shall I put that in bold? Priceless.
What I love about the performances in this episode and his performance in particular is that the subtleties of expression keep on going past the point where the audience is even paying attention. For instance, during that phenomenal scene in Kersh’s office where “Mulder” first reveals his new obedient attitude, notice the ever so slight nuances in McKean’s expression the entire time the camera is on him. His performance doesn’t end merely because he’s finished delivering a line, the hilarity just keeps on giving.
Because more makes merrier, we’re blessed with yet another obscenely funny guest star in Nora Dunn of Saturday Night Live fame who plays the not so long suffering wife of Morris Fletcher, Joanne. The scenes between her and David Duchovny alone would make for memorable television. Personally, I think Mulder could use a little henpecking. Maybe then he’ll appreciate how lightweight a nag Scully actually is.
Speaking of Scully, can I just say how happy I am for her character? We’re already four episodes into the season and not once have the writers subjected her to a stereotypical treatment. Her default position is pursed lips and a poker face but instead she’s been alternately bold, brassy and bewildered. And, oh, the expressions she makes! There’s no crying beach ball sized tears over the children that never were, either. I could get used to this Scully.
Now, Scully’s out of the box characterization here isn’t merely because “Dreamland” is a comedy. I believe it has more to do with who’s doing the writing than the style of episode. I can’t prove it, and I know this episode is officially written by the John Gilnitz trio (John Shiban/Vince Gilligan/Frank Spotnitz), of which all three amazing writers deserve credit, but the distinctive odor of Vince Gilligan humor is all over this one. Never mind that he’s already used the body double motif in “Small Potatoes” (4×20), how about that he again takes a horrifying tragedy and turns it into a screwball comedy? He did it before by creating humor around rape in “Small Potatoes” and again by making Mulder’s mistaken murder the stuff of silliness in “Bad Blood” (5×12).
Here Mulder is trapped in another man’s body and in another man’s life with no foreseeable way out. On top of that, he witnesses a man whose own body has been gruesomely melded with a gas station floor and then watches as that same man is shot in cold blood, by a man charged with protecting the innocent, all for the sake of expediency. But no, our hero isn’t traumatized, he’s only a bit exasperated. Considering the magnitude and the implications of his situation, Mulder takes it all quite well.
As much as I love watching it all, I have no doubt that if I suddenly found myself in someone else’s body I’d probably lapse into a catatonic state… after they sedated me, that is.
Thirteen years after this episode originally aired and I’m still laughing out loud at it, heartily in fact. Whether that makes me incredibly easy to please or whether it means that the humor here is unusually enduring, who can tell? All I can say is that after much rewatching I’m still unearthing gratifying nuances and that keep this episode forever young.
When I hear read people complain about how light Season 6 is as a whole, how it’s lacking in freaks and geeks and bumps in the night, no one ever seems to complain about “Dreamland” or its follow-up. How can they when it’s one of the most successful comedic moments in The X-Files’ resume? No, this isn’t the type of story that made The X-Files famous, but I’ll take this over the likes of the blandly atmospheric “Schizogeny” (5×9) any day.
Oh, and for a comedy, the cliffhanger is impressively dramatic. Has Scully finally realized that Mulder lost his body and not his mind?
One of the more famous parts of this episode is when David Duchovny and Michael McKean reenact The Marx Brothers’ mirror scene from Duck Soup. But my favorite recreation of this scene is from I Love Lucy with Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx. Classic.
If I were Kersh, there’s no way I would have bought Mulder’s total about face.
I love the opening conversation in the car between Mulder and Scully, but it does feel a little pat. I realize it’s supposed to make their routine sound tired and predictable, it just might do too good a job.
Once again the production’s move to L.A. is being put to good use by placing much of the action of this episode in Nevada.
I’m sure the move to L.A… and the show’s current status as a pop culture phenomenon… is also responsible for the steady line of respected actors that come through and guest star this season.
When they’re first together in the car, how does Morris Fletcher as Mulder know to call Scully “Dana?” Mulder and Scully flashed their badges at him on the road, but it’s not like he took a good look and she certainly didn’t introduce herself.
Why is Mulder still tilting at the windmill of proof of extraterrestrial life when he already has it? Gibson, anyone? Hello?
I don’t get why the gas station looks like a bomb hit it. The U.F.O. didn’t crash there, it passed overhead. It’s not like it blew out the windows of Mulder and Scully’s car when it passed by earlier.
Scully: What is going on with you?
Morris as Mulder: Will you please stop trying to pick a fight with me?
Scully: Mulder, you are acting bizarre!
Morris as Mulder: [Knowingly glances back at Kersh’s secretary and then grins] Jealous? [Slaps Scully on the rear]
Morris as Mulder: Come on baby, be the hole… [Misses] Oh!
Morris as Mulder: I got a birdie!
Scully: Mulder… are you sure that’s the best thing to do?
Morris as Mulder: Look, little lady, I think it’s time you got your panties on straight. We’re federal officers. We go by the book.
Joanne Fletcher: That and you mumble something about Scully in your sleep. Who is Scully, Morris? Is it another woman?
Mulder as Morris: Does Scully sound like a woman’s name to you?
Mulder as Morris: Your full name is Dana Katherine Scully. Your badge number is… hell, I don’t know your badge number. Your mother’s name is Margaret, your brother’s name is Bill Jr., he’s in the Navy and he hates me. Lately for lunch you’ve been having… like this little six ounce cup of yogurt… plain yogurt… into which you stir some bee pollen because you’re on some kind of bee pollen kick even though I tell you you’re a scientist and should know better…
Joanne Fletcher: Cheater! [Throws Morris’ clothes on the doorstep]
Scully: Look, any of that information could have been gathered by anyone.
Mulder as Morris: Even that yogurt thing?? That is so you. That is so Scully. Well, it’s good to know you haven’t changed, that’s somewhat comforting.