You know, I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, but rewatching the series this closely you start to pick up patterns and lietmotifs that you didn’t see before. Five minutes into this episode and I was thinking to myself, “This feels more like a Lone Gunmen episode than an X-File.” Sure enough, it’s written by John Gillnitz.
John Gillnitz, of course, being a portmanteau of Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban, the talented trio of writers that brought us the ever-entertaining “Dreamland” (6×4) and “Dreamland II” (6×5) and that was the driving creative force behind The Lone Gunmen spinoff series. Their hilarious tone is unmistakable. Though from what I’ve read, Frank Spotnitz had long campaigned for the concept while Vince Gilligan did most of the heavy lifting as far as the writing went. Frank was apparently one of those kids who was fascinated by magic shows and that fascination continued into adulthood, resulting in the series bringing in his favorite magician, Ricky Jay, to play the lead as Maleeni himself.
Now, I have to add a disclaimer before I give this episode an official grade. I was not one of those kids who was fascinated by magic shows. I was one of those kids who sat through them with head flopped back in undisguised disdain. It’s a trick and I know it’s a trick. How you managed it is irrelevant to me since it’s not real. Heal a leper and you’ll have my attention.
So I confess my bias towards boredom here at the outset. But I appreciate the risk that novelty takes, especially in a show where seven seasons in the formulas are solidified, if not fossilized.
And I do enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere of this episode, especially in the beginning during the scenes around the Santa Monica Pier. One of the advantages to the production moving to L.A. was that it allowed them to take Mulder and Scully across the country visually. The audience doesn’t have to take a typed note at the bottom of their TV screens at its word. We can see that Mulder and Scully aren’t in D.C. anymore. Since the episode is mainly about misdirection, that’s about the only thing that is clear.
That and that Mulder and Scully are incredibly relaxed this season. I guess freedom from cancer and conspiracies and new love life will do that to an agent.
If I’m going to be honest, and by now you can guess that I am, it never really feels like an X-File and more like a quirky who-dun-it. Mulder and Scully aren’t even pretending to investigate something supernatural or extraterrestrial. There’s never a question that Maleeni’s death involved a trick, the only questions were who did it, how and why. Not only that, but Scully reveals pretty early on that Maleeni, or someone posing as Maleeni, or a body that someone posing as Maleeni has planted, died from natural causes and there isn’t even so much as a murder to investigate. So why are Mulder and Scully still giggling their way around the pier? Why, to enjoy the show, of course. And to figure out what’s up and who’s up to it.
No, it’s not about a freak show and it’s on the opposite coast of Florida, but it’s hard to see the tricks and colors in “The Amazing Maleeni”, to remember a time when people were amusedd by simpler things, when we asked to be lied to, and not think of the obscenely entertaining funhouse that was “Humbug” (2×20). Sadly, “The Amazing Maleeni” comes up wanting in comparison.
Now, you know I like a good Mulder/Scully flirt as much as the next fangirl. Probably more. And I’m not averse to fluff. But, I’m not sold.
I’m getting antsy at this point in the season because I need… something. Something that’s more than the sum of its cute moments, funny one-liners and gorgeous screenshots. Something that moves me or makes me angry or makes my heart race or cracks me up to the point where my family thinks they’re finally going to have to have me committed. Something that separates the legends from the interesting outings, the Humbugs from the Maleenis. Something.
Mozart and Salieri. They sound pretty much the same to a layman. But they ain’t. You know what I’m saying? It’s about… originality. Style. And more than anything else… soul. Because that’s what separates the great ones… from the hacks. We can’t do this halfway. We’re dealing with powerful forces at work here. Energies far beyond our mere… mortal… understanding.
Did I mention this episode is gorgeous? It’s funny, I have a tendency to forget the plot. But certain visual moments from it are iconic in my mind, like that shot with Scully in a magician’s hat. She should keep one of those around.
The only other thing I ever remember is The Great Muldini.
So this is basically a bank caper with style, yes?
He felt like an actual magician to me so I checked and, yes, Jonathan Levit (Billy LaBonge) is actually a magician. I have to say, he played the cocky apprentice just right. I especially liked that bit in the teaser where he heckles with just the right amount of attitude.
LaBonge: Yo. Can’t you do anything that ain’t a hundred years old? That ain’t old school, that’s decrepit.
Maleeni: Young man, shall I come heckle you on your job? Make sure you count out the requisite number of McNuggets?
Scully: Why are you talking like Tony Randall?
Mulder: So, basically, he died of a heart attack, somebody crept up behind him and sawed his head off and then glued it back on all in the space of thirty seconds. Does that make sense to you?
Scully: No. Which makes it even stranger still because, as far as I can tell, this body has been dead for over a month. I see signs of refrigeration.
Mulder: And yet he performed yesterday. What a trooper.
Scully: Well, why did you lose? You could have manipulated the cards, right?
Maleeni: Cheat? You’re asking why I don’t cheat at cards?
Scully: Well, you could, right?
Scully: Of course I could, but how would I live with myself? Who raised you?