Tag Archives: Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose

Leonard Betts 4×14: I think I got the toy surprise.


"Did I mention that Mr. Betts had no head?"

This is what I’ve been longing for the past seven episodes or so now, a formidable MOTW horror tale.

Not that the main plot here is something we haven’t heard before: A genetic mutant comes along whose strange evolution requires that he kill/feed off of other human beings. Leonard Betts is the most recent in a long line of Mutant Monsters going all the way back to Eugene Victor Tooms in “Squeeze” (1×2). “Leonard Betts” has two main differences from your garden variety Mutant tale, however.

First, we have a mutant that kills only reluctantly. He certainly doesn’t enjoy his position in the food chain the way that Tooms or even Virgil Incanto does in “2Shy” (3×6). This adds a certain pathos to the proceedings. Second, and most importantly, this episode reopens a mythology plot line that had been all but forgotten and reintroduces it in the most memorable way possible.

To Leonard Betts’ credit, he’s a gentle man, who apart from a Darwinian mandate would rather save people than hurt them, choosing to survive on discarded cancers until circumstances force him into a corner. But I wonder, would his behavior be excused if, say, he was a starving man who killed someone for their food? Does needing something give you the moral clearance to take it? To be sure, Betts apologizes before a kill. But the fact is he’s hardly a self-sacrificing man even if he is the most compassionate of the “Genetic Mutant” Monsters of the Week. He could, of course, choose to die rather than become a serial killer. But I guess death is less frightening when it’s someone else’s.

As interesting of a character as Betts is, he’s more of a means to an end in this episode. The writers needed a circumstance they could use to bring our minds back to this:

Scully: I went to go see those MUFON members to find out about that woman, Betsy Hagopian.
Mulder: And what did you find?
Scully: I found out that she’s dying, along with a lot of other women who claim to be dying too. All of them who say that they’ve had these implanted in them. It’s the same thing that I had removed from my own neck.
Mulder: But you’re fine aren’t you, Scully?
Scully: Am I? I don’t know, Mulder. They said that they know me, that they’ve seen me before. It was freaky! They know things about me, about my disappearance.
Mulder: That is disturbing. But I don’t think you should freak out until we find out what this thing is.

This moment in “Nisei” (3×9) was the last word we had on the potential connection between Scully’s abduction and cancer. As far as we know, she never delved any deeper into the mystery of what happened to those MUFON women. Now, suddenly, and with one of the most memorable lines ever delivered on The X-Files, Scully is forced to remember.

“I’m sorry, but you’ve got something I need.”

The look of realization on Scully’s face is beyond memorable. Not only does she know exactly what he’s talking about, but it’s clear that despite all her protestations to Mulder, she believes in what Leonard Betts is whether science can explain him or not.

And as if that shocking moment weren’t enough, we launch immediately into Scully’s first ever real fight scene. Scully kicks butt and she does it in heels. It’s almost enough to bring a fangirl tear to my eye.

I could keep going but I won’t because I’ll just end up gushing over every funny and memorable moment in this episode, of which there are legion. This is one of those episodes, like “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) that are hard to watch without a blissfully empty head and a smile on my face. It’s just great television.

Conclusion:

This episode is definitely one of the highlights of Season 4, if not one of the series’ all time best. It’s the first in a long line of memorable episodes penned by the trio of Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz. The “John Gilnitz” crew will continue to create some formidable X-Files together.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Spotnitz was probably responsible for this episode’s mythology elements, Shiban for the science and Gilligan for the characterization and physical writing. But, hey, with magic like this I don’t care who did what, I’m just glad they kept going.

“Leonard Betts” was famously aired out of production schedule in order to be shown after the Super Bowl. Whatever the consequences this had on the story that would come next, can you blame them? I can hardly think of an episode that’s more quintessentially The X-Files. This is what the show does best; an inkling of scientific truth, gross imagery, gorgeous shots and dark humor. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

I wonder if Scully ever told Mulder what really happened. Doubtful. As then she’d have to admit that she believed in what Leonard Betts was. Maybe she’s not such a die-hard skeptic deep down. After all, she couldn’t cut into that head now could she?

A+

Random Thoughts:

Something about Elaine Tanner’s slavish devotion to her son has echoes of Mrs. Peacock in “Home” (4×3).

Are we sure Betts is dead? Are we supposed to assume that Scully killed him while he was too weak to regenerate?

Did Betts really have to start killing? Couldn’t he have gone a ways down the road to where no one knew him and snuck a few more brown bag lunches of cancer out of a hospital’s disposal system?

For that matter, if you were going to regenerate and live under an assumed name, wouldn’t common sense tell you to move far away from the people you knew before? So your mother’s sick. Move her too.

I know I said I wouldn’t gush over every single lovely moment, but that scene where Mulder and Scully go digging through bio-waste never quite gets old.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Let’s get a slice to go.

———————–

Mulder: Chuck, would you believe that this man’s head had been decapitated?
Dr Burks: [Laughs] Oh, come on. No way.
Mulder: Way.

———————–

Mulder: [Holds up Betts’ detached thumb] Siskel or Ebert?

———————–

Scully: But what you’re describing is someone so radically evolved that you wouldn’t even call him human.
Mulder: On the other hand, how evolved can a man be who drives a Dodge Dart?

———————–

Mulder: What did your examination uncover?
Scully: I haven’t actually performed an examination yet.
Mulder: Why not?
Scully: Well, because I… experienced an unusual degree of post-mortem galvanic response.
Mulder: The head moved
Scully: It blinked at me… I mean, I know exactly what it is. It’s residual electrical activity stored chemically in the dead cells.
Mulder: Blinked or winked? You’re afraid to cut into it. Scully, you’re not saying that it’s alive are you?
Scully: I am certainly not saying that at all.
Mulder: But has it crossed your mind that it is not quite dead, either?

Season 3 Wrap Up: Are you sure it wasn’t a girly scream?


On the Big Picture Front

Season 3 is a perennial fan favorite, for obvious reasons. It’s during this era that The X-Files went from a cult hit to a primetime sensation. Far from being a specific genre show, it proved it was capable of changing styles from week to week and still maintain consistency and continuity. One week Mulder and Scully are on the brink of discovering alien life, and the next they’re being overrun by mutant cockroaches. Season 3 is at turns a sci-fi show, a psychological drama, a comedy and a parody.

And more than anything else, it’s the Season of Darin Morgan. Sure he debuted back in Season 2 as the writer of the landmark “Humbug” (2×20) and even earlier than that he provided the story for “Blood” (2×3) and even donned a body suit to play The Flukeman in “The Host” (2×2). But three out of the four episodes he officially wrote for the series aired in Season 3. That’s not even counting his uncredited contributions to episodes like “Revelations” (3×11) and “Quagmire” (3×22), two episodes that delve deeply into the psychological background of Mulder and Scully, laying the basis for years to come for other writers who would take their characters even further.

His presence on the staff actually transformed the show into something that was pliable and therefore viable. How long would The X-Files have lasted if things had stayed as serious as they did in Season 1 and most of Season 2? I daresay there’s an audience for that, myself included, but Darin Morgan introduced an era where The X-Files could lovingly poke fun at itself; this meant that the audience didn’t have to. After all, if you bring up your faults before anyone else can, it serves as a first level of defense. “Fox Mulder is off his rocker, you say? We already know. We called him on it ourselves and beat you to it.” Once that’s out of the way, everyone can sit back and enjoy without their being an elephant in the room.

Self-parody is also a sign of success. “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) could never have happened in Seasons 1 or 2. The X-Files wasn’t set it its ways enough to exaggerate its own image. The audience could laugh at Mulder and Scully being ridiculous because they already take them seriously. And even though it’s not one of my favorites, this is a turning point in the show because from here on out, anything was game. Starting in Season 3, you can see how later episodes like “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6) would evolve from this series. The writers could stretch The X-Files and it wouldn’t break.

On the Relationship Front

If you’ve been reading and watching along, you’ve probably already guessed what I’m going to say. I’m no sentimentalist, but the tension that was written into Mulder and Scully’s relationship for much of this season isn’t exactly my bag. It’s true that they couldn’t go on in the hyper-idealized way that they were in Season 2, where the other could almost do no wrong. And it’s also true that a certain amount of tension and drama creates interest, and I’m all for that. But there were moments this season where I wondered why they were even partners at all since they didn’t seem to work well together. Heck, at moments they were downright antagonistic.

The good side of this is that when Mulder or Scully are divided, it almost invariably means that one or the other is about to benefit from some serious character development. Mulder moves beyond Samantha in “Oubliette” (3×8), even if he doesn’t move beyond the “Samantha Protocol”, and he shows off his criminal profiling genius in “Grotesque” (3×14), a skill that Scully can’t possess at the same emotional and psychological level. For her part, Scully matures in issues of faith in “Revelations”, a spiritual journey you’d think that Mulder would be able to relate to but instead is surprisingly antagonistic toward. And dividing them up for the mythology episodes was a wise decision. More information gets disseminated to the audience for one thing. And for another, Scully begins to develop her own methods of investigation. It’s a nice contrast watching them stumble upon parallel bits of information and come to wildly different conclusions. Neither one of them would get to the truth alone.

But after all that division, the writers reel it back in toward the end of the season and I’m forever grateful. “Pusher” (3×17) and “Wetwired” (2×23) remind us that Mulder and Scully still do have an almost spiritual bond that’s survived the losses and divisions of Season 3. It’s a sweet but brief respite, however. Season 4 will bring Mulder and Scully both closer and further apart than ever before, a rollercoaster I’m currently bracing myself for emotionally.

On the Whole

Season 3 is arguably when The X-Files hit its peak. Looking back, I’d say that it is… but it’s not when The X-Files hit its prime, a point of semantics that I’ll get into much later.

I say this is its peak because at this point, the mythology still feels as though it’s heading somewhere, that the answers we’re waiting for are just around the corner. Anticipation is at its highest point, I believe. Will Mulder lose his mother and soon be the only Mulder left? Will Scully be able to face the details of her abduction? Will they get to the bottom of this Smallpox vaccination drama? Stay tuned.

On the New Tip

I’ve decided to start handing out awards this season. So without further ado…

“Most Improved”
Revelations

“Desperately in need of a rewrite”
Syzygy

“Victim of too many desperate rewrites”
Teso Dos Bichos

“The Copycat”
2Shy

“The Sleeper Hit”
Wetwired

“It doesn’t matter how many times I see it I still won’t like it”
Oubliette

So now my question to you, dear reader, is which episode out of the Darin Morgan era is the one that speaks to you the most?  Is one the best but you hate it? Is one the worst but you love it? And if you have any awards of your own to hand out, please do so below!

Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ 3×20: I’ve just had a little alien experience.


"I know how crazy all this sounds, but I don't care"

This episode is hopeless.

Blasphemy, you say? Well, I said it was hopeless but I didn’t say it was bad.

Part of Darin Morgan’s genius is that he weaves some of the deeper questions of life into his comedies and that gives his work weight without bogging it down. “Humbug” (2×20) asks what it means to be an “other.” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) questions the intersection of free will and fate. “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) explores the limits of human suggestibility.

The key difference is that while all of those episodes subtly address an issue without offering up a solution, “Jose Chung’s” comes to a much more obvious conclusion and it’s not a happy one. The message is that if truth even exists, it’s elusive and you can’t know it. And without truth, there’s no meaning in life. Without meaning, we’re all isolated and alone. See? Hopeless.

Despite its obvious charms, something has never quite clicked between me and “Jose Chung’s”. Call it a glitch in the matrix. Either that or it’s a part of some covert agenda on the part of the military industrial entertainment complex. I’ve always assumed that the reason this episode didn’t jive with me was the humor barrier. I’ve found all of Darin Morgan’s other work on The X-Files hilarious, but the style of “Jose Chung’s” is more obvious and, dare I say, more juvenile. It feels like teenage boy humor to me (no offense teenage boys). That’s not a bad thing. I’m just more of a situational comedy type of girl. It’s about the humor of the absurd and I prefer the humor of the mundane. This whole episode is like a game, an exercise in storytelling more than it is an actual episode of The X-Files.

But I’ve realized the issue goes deeper than that. It’s Morgan’s worldview that’s tripping me up.

As I said, “Jose Chung’s” isn’t an exercise in subtlety. The philosophy of the episode is announced early when Chung tells Scully that, “Truth is as subjective as reality.” Since “the truth” is essentially what The X-Files is all about, or the search for it, anyway, Morgan is really taking loving dig at what he sees as a fruitless effort.

He brings the point home with the way he paints his characters. Take Roky, Faulkner and Mulder for instance. With all three the search for alien life is actually a metaphor for the search for meaning and purpose, the search for truth. Rory’s search leads him to a cult to try to make sense of the universe and chart it out in diagrams that he can comprehend.  Faulkner has a dead-end life that he’s trying to escape so he watches the skies waiting for someone to take him away, to make his life interesting. And Mulder is trying to ease the pain of past trauma and loss hoping that if he can prove the existence of alien life what happened to him and his sister will… what? Make sense?

In the end it’s all for nothing. Scully wastes her life away in the basement at a job that’s pointless since the search for truth is futile. The answers Mulder is looking for elude him once again. The two teenagers who not long ago had been groping each other in the back of a car searching for a connection find themselves more locked inside their own minds than ever. Everyone’s all alone just going through the motions because they don’t know what’s true and they can’t rely on anyone else to tell them because everyone’s perceptions are just as faulty as their own.

Whoo boy.

Verdict:

I was not looking forward to doing a write up on this episode because it’s so beloved by almost everyone else but I. But I am glad that I finally have more insight into my hum ho response to it than, “I don’t get it.” You see, I do believe in truth and that it’s knowable, an idea that’s rather passé in our post-modern age of relativism. Hope necessarily follows.

I suspect that a lot of the concepts in this episode and even in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” probably came out of Darin Morgan’s oft discussed depression and burn out at the time. I’d be curious to know how “Jose Chung’s” would come out if he were to write it now, but such things can never be. With the exception of a few story editing contributions this would be his last writing credit on The X-Files and I think we can all agree that he went out at his creative peak.

Just to clarify, I do like this episode, but it’s not the transcendent experience for me that it seems to be for other fans. Structurally it’s impressive, content wise it’s clever and I can’t say it’s not funny, even if most of its humor isn’t my style.

But, hey, as my father likes to remind me, “Comedy is tragedy.”

A-

Comments Worth Ignoring:

I like how the teaser is a mini version of the whole episode: A big fish came along and ate a little fish and then an even bigger fish came along and ate the big fish. A tale within a tale within a tale. It’s Rashomon run amok.

The whole teenage first love/cry for sex plot always makes me roll my eyes and sigh a little. Even Splendor in the Grass hasn’t cured me of that. Actually, it might have added a gag reflex to my aversion…

Now if only they’d been able to snag Johnny Cash as a man in black. It would’ve changed my whole perspective, I’m telling you.

I love that they use a cheesier version of the theme music during the alien autopsy scene. That’s a classic moment right there.

This whole episode is a joke at Mulder’s expense. I’m glad Morgan decided to take him down a peg or two in a non-mean spirited sort of way.

“I don’t mind making fun of Mulder,” Morgan said. “He’s presented as the seeker of the truth, and to me such people are always somewhat ridiculous.” – I rest my case. About everything.

Best Quotes:

*Editor’s Note: By now you know what I’m going to say. Darin Morgan’s writing should be enjoyed in context to get the true depth of his humor. Stop reading. Go watch.

Chung: Still, as a storyteller, I’m fascinated how a person’s sense of consciousness can be… so transformed by nothing more magical than listening to words. Mere words.

———————-

Mulder: Well, so what if they had sex?
Scully: So we know that it wasn’t an alien that probed her.

———————-

Jose Chung: Aren’t you nervous telling me all this after receiving all those death threats?
Blaine Faulkner: Well, hey, I didn’t spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.

———————-

Mulder: Have you ever found a metal implant in your body?
Cook: [Shakes head]
Mulder: Have you checked everywhere?

———————–

Jose Chung: Seeking the truth about aliens means a perfunctory 9 to 5 job to some, for although Agent “Diana Lesky” is noble in spirit and pure at heart she remains nevertheless, a Federal employee. As for her partner, “Reynard Muldrake”, a ticking time bomb of insanity, his quest into the unknown has so warped his psyche one shudders to think how he receives any pleasures from life.

War of the Coprophages 3×12: Dude, that’s some good crap.


"Waste is a Terrible Thing to Waste."

First of all, that opening monologue from the exterminator about the wonders of cockroaches is more satisfying than any purple prose ridden voiceover Mulder or Scully ever delivered. Once again writer Darin Morgan plays off of what we’ve come to expect from The X-Files by giving it to us and then flipping it over. But unlike the previous two Darin Morgan penned episodes, I’m not sure the underlying purpose/theme here is so clear.

Humbug” (2×20) juxtaposed normalcy versus otherness and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) covered fate versus free will. “War of the Coprophages”, while it hints at the fine line between reality and insanity, doesn’t explore the themes so much as it mocks them. Since we can’t be sure of what happened, it’s hard to condemn the people of Massachusetts for panicking when they very well may have had reason to. Overall, I’d have to concede that this episode isn’t quite as successful as his other ones. But it’s still incredibly fun.

The whole episode is an exercise in glorious repetition. Mulder seeks Scully out for her insight, Mulder hangs up on Scully. Mulder comes upon another body that was attacked by cockroaches, Scully comes up with another reasonable explanation. Mulder quotes Planet of the Apes… Bambi quotes Planet of the Apes. Not only that, as I said earlier, Morgan deftly plays with X-Files stereotypes. Mulder’s always ditching Scully and leaving her hanging, well, here it’s an almost compulsive ritual. And no matter how absurd and inexplicable the death Mulder stumbles upon, Scully comes up with an even more random and infinitely more plausible explanation.

So now for the oft discussed question: Is Scully jealous? To which I answer: It’s there, ever so slightly. It’s all in the way Scully says “She?” when she finds out Dr. Berenbaum is a woman. Dana Scully, M.D. surely wasn’t surprised at the idea that a scientist could be a woman. No, never that. Instead I think there was a sudden realization of what Mulder was actually up to while she slept restlessly with her phone on her pillow. Not that there’s anything to go overboard about. Any woman would be annoyed by that. And when Mulder asks to confess something to Scully, something both she and we as the audience suspect is going to be sexual in nature, she looks worried she’s about to be grossed out. She doesn’t look jealous, sad or angry. As for Mulder, once again, he’s flirting with another woman while confessing his fears and insecurities to Scully. It’s sort of like “Fire” (1×11) all over again. Poor Mulder. Like his relationship with Phoebe Green, he should’ve known it would never work; she’s not haunted, abandoned or misunderstood. With the exception of Scully, he doesn’t have an easy time connecting with well-adjusted women.

Not that I’m on his side. I myself want to kill him for leaving Scully hanging in a state of near panic but I’m so busy laughing that I can’t stay mad. She’s thinking he’s been attacked by killer cockroaches and meanwhile he’s macking on an entomologist named Bambi. I’d say you can’t make this stuff up but Darin Morgan apparently can.

Conclusion:

If this episode has a weakness it’s the lack of resolution. I know that’s one of The X-Files’ signature moves, but here we finish watching completely unsure whether the events even really happened. There are too many cockroach swarms for it all to be a coincidence, yet all the deaths have normal explanations. More importantly, where did the metal insects come from, why did they converge on this town and what made them leave? Who created these mechanical marvels? In the end, the unanswered questions are no big deal because it’s such a jolly ride.

It’s fun to see how Scully spends her evenings for one thing. She cleans her gun, eats dinner while watching the news, gives Queequeg a bath, reads a little Truman Capote and eats a tub of ice cream by herself. It’s so hilariously domestic considering she spends her working hours chasing flukemen and such. Scully had a few off episodes not too long ago, “Oubliette” (3×8) comes to mind. But between this and “Revelations” (3×11), her character is on the fast track to respectability again. Morgan’s version of her is both loveable and feisty. What a relief.

I’ll admit that the last moment between Mulder and Scully still annoys me a bit. He has his nerve. So Mulder loses the girl and Scully rubs his nose in it. But you know what? He deserves it.

A-

Random Musings:

The area is in a panic. The townsfolk are raiding the convenience store. There’s a Sailor stocking up on… pantyhose??

Bill Dow AKA Dr. Chuck Burks is back, only this time as Dr. Newton.

Ken Kramer AKA Dr. Berube AKA Dr. Browning is back too, only this time as Dr. Ivanov.

Scully’s vehement defense of the theory of Evolution feels slightly odd coming straight off of “Revelations”.

Best Quotes:

*Editor’s Note: You know the drill. It’s a Darin Morgan episode. Quotes won’t suffice. Break out your DVDs or pull up Netflix and get started.

Scully: Hello.
Mulder: I think you better get up here.
Scully: What is it?
Mulder: It appears that cockroaches are mortally attacking people.
Scully: I’m not going to ask if you just said what I think you just said because I know it’s what you just said.

———————-

Mulder: I see the correlation, but just because I work for the federal government doesn’t mean I’m an expert on cockroaches.

———————-

Mulder: Well, that all makes perfect sense, Scully, I don’t like it at all. Did you know that the federal government, under the guise of the department of agriculture, has been conducting secret experiments up here.
Scully: Mulder, you’re not thinking about trespassing on government property again, are you? I know you’ve done it in the past but I don’t think this case warrants…
Mulder: It’s too late. I’m already inside.

———————-

Mulder: They’re conducting legitimate experiments. I met an entomologist, a Dr. Berenbaum, who agrees with your theory of an accidental importation of a new cockroach.
Scully: Did he give you any idea of how to catch them?
Mulder: No, but she did tell me everything else there was to know about insects.
Scully: She?
Mulder: Yeah, did you know that the ancient Egyptians worshipped the scarab beetle and possibly erected the pyramids to honor them? Which may be giant symbolic dung heaps?
Scully: Did you know the inventor of the flush toilet was named Thomas Crapper?
Mulder: Bambi also has a theory I’ve never come across…
Scully: Who?
Mulder: Dr. Berenbaum. Anyway her theory is…
Scully: Her name is Bambi?
Mulder: Yeah, both her parents were naturalists. Her theory is that UFOs are actually nocturnal insect swarms passing through electrical air fields.
Scully: Her name is Bambi?
Mulder: Scully, can I confess something to you?
Scully: [Wincing] Yeah, sure, okay…
Mulder: I hate insects.
Scully: You know, lots of people are afraid of insects, Mulder. It’s a natural instinctive…
Mulder: No, no, no. I’m not afraid of them. I hate them. One day, back when I was a kid, I was climbing this tree when I noticed this leaf walking towards me. It took forever for me to realize that it was no leaf.
Scully: A praying mantis?
Mulder: Yeah, I had a praying mantis epiphany and as a result, I screamed. And not, not a girlie scream, but the scream of someone being confronted by some before unknown monster that had no right existing on the same planet I inhabited. Did you ever notice how a praying mantis’ head resembles an alien’s head? The mysteries of the natural world were revealed to me that day but instead of being astounded I was repulsed.
Scully: Mulder… are you sure it wasn’t a girlie scream?

———————-

Dr. Ivanov: Anyone who thinks alien visitation will come not in the form of robots but of living beings with big eyes and grey skin has been brainwashed by too much science fiction.

———————-

Mulder: Scully, if an alien civilization were technologically advanced enough to build and send artificially intelligent robotic probes to the farthest reaches of space, might they not have also been able to perfect the extraction of methane fuel from manure? An abundant and replenishing energy source on a planet filled with dung-producing creatures?
Scully: Mulder, I think you’ve been in this town too long.

———————-

Scully: Let me guess… Bambi.
Dr. Berenbaum: Fox told me to wait out here while he checked inside first.
Scully: [Mouths] Fox.
Dr. Berenbaum: Should I come along with you?
Scully: [Loads gun] No. This is no place for an entomologist.

Revelations 3×11: You never draw my bath.


Confession time.

I was looking forward to watching “Revelations” with a fresh pair of grown up eyes, a pair I apparently didn’t posses when I last watched it as recently as eight months ago. But I confess some trepidation about what I’d actually have to say about it and worse, what it might say to me about the inconsistent spirituality of The X-Files. Funny that it turns out I’m in love with “Revelations” right at this moment. I say all this to explain why I’m about to go into a long and rambling treatise about an episode I never much cared for.

As the episode begins, we think we might be in for another dog and pony show along the lines of “Miracle Man” (1×17) where a church service in the Deep South bears a striking resemblance to an Elvis impersonator’s concert. Similarly, the Reverend (played by R. Lee Ermey) in the opening scene of “Revelations” has a dressing room complete with a stage mirror rather than an office. Even the cross in the sanctuary is a lit up set piece. Therefore it’s no surprise when the Reverend’s stigmata turns out to be no more than a staged play.

The last time The X-Files addressed religion it did it through what was largely a caricature. Not that it was wholly ineffective, but I suspect the writers consciously tried not to take the plot too deep so as not to offend either their religious or secular audience with philosophical meanderings. Consequently “Miracle Man” was less about faith as a conviction than it was a Christlike allegory run amok.  It did plant an intriguing seed, however, because that episode is when we learn that Scully was raised a Catholic and while she doesn’t appear to be practicing, she shows some spiritual sensitivity that we hadn’t seen from her up to that point.

And yet, except for that brief moment, the series has never explored why or if faith is still important to Scully; Scully, who always wears her cross but acts more as though science were her god. We never find out what it was that caused Scully to drift from the church, but we can imagine it was the usual. Growing self-reliance, doubts, the desire to fit in with the culture at large, complacency, the distractions of life… any number of factors could have culminated in Scully, not walking away from her faith, but forgetting about it over time.

Suddenly she finds herself confronted by realities she wasn’t sure if she still believed in. And the one person she can usually turn to in her vulnerability, Mulder, is shockingly unreceptive to Scully’s desire to believe. Mulder! Mr. There Isn’t So Ridiculous a Theory That I Won’t Shout it from the Rooftops! It’s a puzzle, that’s for sure. But it’s a nice change of pace, even so. It’s so rare that Mulder’s the skeptic and Scully’s the believer and I confess I relish the fact that his almost inerrant intuition is completely off base for once. Still, why is Mulder so resistant to the idea that these so-called religious fanatics could be right? It’s not that he’s completely adverse to religion. He was appreciative enough of Albert Hosteen’s ministrations in “The Blessing Way” (3×1) and was quick enough to believe in Eastern European cult religious practices in “The Calusari” (2×21). So what gives? Could it be that Christianity is the issue?

This is such a massive topic that I’m going to turn to a source far more clever than I to make my point. A few months back I discovered the amazing reviews over at The A.V. Club (www.avclub.com). It’s by geeks, for geeks so if you’ve never checked it out, please do. Every television show and movie worth watching, and many that aren’t, are reviewed over there so there are hours worth of entertainment for any nerdy little heart. Zack Handlen wrote a review there on “Revelations” from a self-described Mulderish point of view that I think perfectly explains why someone like Mulder would be more resistant to this case than to the average X-File:

I have a hard time lumping Christian faith in with the usual kind of x-files we see. I’m guessing that’s partly to do with the prejudice I mentioned earlier. To me, Christianity is different than monsters, and less fun. (Although I had no problems with “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” which approached the problem from the other direction, which shows you what side I’m playing on, I guess.) Guys who can squeeze into weird shapes, flecks of light that eat unwary lumberjacks, punk kids who can control lightning, these are all weird, but they don’t suggest a comprehensive philosophy. They’re anomalies, and even if their existence implies a potential for greater occult possibilities, that implication isn’t restrictive. There really isn’t a “squeeze guy, light flecks, lightning punk” Bible out there, and belief in any or all of these creatures doesn’t require a massive overhaul of one’s notion of existence.

Having proof there are angels and demons and God, though, that’s a lot trickier. If there’s a Christian God in the X-Files universe, doesn’t that trump just about everything else that Mulder and Scully have spent their time on? (Maybe that’s why Mulder’s so pissy about it. Nobody likes discovering their pet cause isn’t the shiniest.)

Yet, with all Mulder’s talk about belief and faith and this massive search for the truth, for The X-Files not to explore religion and Christianity itself would seem like a gross oversight. But this does explain why Chris Carter never honed these themes to a fine point. How could he? The answers to such a monumental question, if he feigned to have them, would certainly outshine any alien conspiracy… well, he does try to join the two concepts in Season 7… and then largely backs off because religion and space aliens are tough bedfellows.

This also explains the resistance of someone like Mulder even though his life motto is “I Want to Believe.” Like all of us, he wants to believe in something, just within certain parameters. I find it refreshingly realistic that Mulder is open in some ways and closed in others, just as Scully is except in the opposite direction. He’s willing to believe the word of psychotic abductees, why not a religious zealot? And Scully, she’s usually preaching to Mulder about the sanctity of evolution and yet she’s almost never without her cross. Isn’t that how most people are? Full of contradictions? We wouldn’t be human if we weren’t.

It’s not a perfect episode. The reason behind all of these spiritual machinations is never explained. There’s a war between good and evil but we never find out why Kevin is involved or what spiritual encounter Gates had in the Holy Land that turned him into a flesh burning assassin. There’s also some flawed theology but there’s no use in nitpicking because that’s not what this episode is about. Whatever its shortcomings, it ends with a haunting and quietly powerful impression:

Priest: Sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth. Why does that surprise you?
Scully: Mostly it just makes me afraid.
Priest: Afraid?
Scully: Afraid that God is speaking… but that no one’s listening.

…And the Verdict is:

Mulder claims to be looking for miracles, but maybe sometimes he doesn’t find them because he’s only looking through a particular paradigm; the way that Scully often doesn’t see the same evidence he sees when they’re investigating because she’s looking through the lens of science. Never have Mulder and Scully seemed so far apart in essence as they do in this episode. Not in an antagonistic way, but it’s apparent that there’s a chasm when it comes to religious faith that neither of them can cross to reach each other.

Faith in God is the one aspect of Scully’s character that’s not accessible to Mulder. Even her science he relates to on some level in that he needs it to prove what’s never been proven. But Scully’s talk of catechism class is foreign to him and his immediate dismissal of it makes her uncomfortable. She looks almost sheepish as she suggests these things to Mulder. I can relate to her reluctance since I can remember having a similar experience in college. “You don’t really believe that do you? Not you.” By the final scene, she shuts him out.

We never get a reaction from Mulder in the end. Did he admit that Scully was right all along? Did he regret ragging on her a bit? It seems to me that he’s just a little bit sad. Maybe he too realizes that a gulf has opened up between him. But I guess we’ll never know exactly what goes through his head.

Funny how some of the least memorable episodes are the most interesting to discuss. Now please excuse me while I go break out some St. Augustine.

B+

Nitpicks:

St. Ignatius was not in the Bible. Scully wasn’t paying close enough attention in catechism class.

Once again, Mulder and Scully are at the crime scene way too soon, otherwise the coroner would have already discovered the fake blood.

Musings:

This was the final X-Files episode for director David Nutter who gave us such fabulous television memories as “Ice” (1×7) “Beyond the Sea” (1×12), “Irresistible” (2×13) and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4). With that resume, it seems fitting that his swan song should be a Scully-centered episode.

It’s also fitting that this is one of the few X-Files episodes penned by a woman, writer Kim Newton. She would also go on to give us “Quagmire” (3×22), another episode famous for delving into Scully’s background and psychology. I suspect if there had been a few more women on staff, Scully would have been more likable that she usually is in stand-alone episodes.

There was a great moment at the mental institution where Kevin’s father speaks in tongues and Scully understands her while Mulder only hears gibberish. I kind of wish they hadn’t shied away from keeping that scene in.

Mulder goes through a spiritual evolution himself over the course of the series, which is interesting as well, although it progresses at a much slower pace. It’s a bit satisfying that Scully has this corner of The X-Files to herself.

Gillian Anderson has one of her most effective moments ever in that final scene.

Best Quotes:

Owen Jarvis: I was only asked to protect the boy.
Mulder: By who? Who asked you to protect him?
Owen Jarvis: God.
Mulder: [Scoffs] That’s quite a long distance call, isn’t it?
Owen Jarvis: You don’t understand. Unless someone protects Kevin…
Mulder: It’s the end of the world as we know it, right?
Owen Jarvis: He who has ears, let him hear.

——————–

Owen Jarvis: You believe me don’t you? I mean, you must wear that as a reminder.
Scully: Mr. Jarvis, my religious convictions are hardly the issue here.
Owen Jarvis: But they are! How can you help Kevin if you don’t believe? Even the killer, he believes.
Mulder: And the townsfolk wonder why I sleep in on Sunday.
Owen Jarvis: Mass on Christmas, Fish on Friday… you think that makes you a good Christian? Just because you don’t understand sacrifice, because you’re unwilling, don’t think for a moment that you set the rules for me! I don’t question His word. Whatever He asks of me, I’ll do.

——————

Scully: Well isn’t a saint or a holy person just another term for someone who’s abnormal?
Mulder: Do you really believe that?
Scully: I… believe in the idea that God’s hand can be witnessed. I believe He can create miracles, yes.
Mulder: Even if science can’t explain them?
Scully: Maybe that’s just what faith is.
Mulder: Well I wouldn’t let faith overwhelm your judgment here. These people are simply fanatics behaving fanatically, using religion as a justification. They give bona fide paranoiacs like myself a bad name. They are no more divine or holy than that ketchup we saw on the murdered preacher. And I think that once you’ve finished your autopsy, you’ll come to the same conclusion.

——————

Scully: How is it that you’re able to go out on a limb whenever you see a light in the sky but you’re unwilling to accept the possibility of a miracle? Even when it’s right in front of you?
Mulder: I wait for a miracle every day… but what I’ve seen here has only tested my patience, not my faith.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose 3×4: Nobody does anything without a reason.


Darin Morgan has done it again. It’s another flawless X-File. He’s written an episode that’s so perfectly executed I find myself struggling to write anything about it at all other than, “Oh my word! So awesome!!!” I realize such outbursts don’t count as critique in the traditional sense, but it’s hard to review an episode that even now, many years after I first saw it, finds me laughing out loud at new moments. I’ll try, but I make no promises.

We can’t talk about “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” without giving homage to Clyde Bruckman himself, the marvelous Peter Boyle. Most will know him from Everybody Loves Raymond and sadly, he passed away a few years back. Fortunately, he left us with some great Television and Movie memories. I have to say, Darin Morgan’s legendary writing aside, Peter Boyle’s sardonically wise portrayal makes this episode. He’s equal parts sad and snappy. And while you’d think the ending would turn this into a dreary episode, we so relate to Bruckman’s witty struggle that even suicide can’t stop the party.

Bruckman is a dream come true for Mulder who initially worships his psychic power with the awestruck innocence of a little leaguer in front of Mickey Mantle. When Bruckman attempts to lead them to a body, Mulder is so over-eager during the car ride he might as well have asked, “Are we there yet?”:

Bruckman: You know, there are worse ways to die but I can’t think of a more undignified one than autoerotic asphyxiation.
Mulder: Why are you telling me that?
Bruckman: Look, forget I mentioned it. It’s none of my business.

Probably this is just Bruckman trying to shake a puppy dog off of his leg, but who knows? It would certainly be an ignominious end not out of character for Mulder. However, Scully’s responding smirk belies any seriousness.

The episode isn’t all jokes, though. Like “Humbug” (2×20) before it, it has some important life questions buried within the narrative. Questions, mind you, not answers.

Bruckman: Why does anyone do the things they do? Why do I sell insurance? I wish I knew. Why did this woman collect dolls? What was it about her life? Was it one specific moment where she suddenly said, “I know, dolls!” or was it a whole series of things, starting when her parents first met, that somehow combined in such a way that in the end she had no choice but to be a doll collec[tor].

That right there is the whole crux of the story. The killer, Puppet, did he choose his fate or did his fate choose him? Right at the beginning, we see the killer and Bruckman meet and dance a shuffle of fate. Was it by chance?

Do we live our lives hemmed in by destiny? Puppet refers to his life as “a mere formality.” He thinks that he does the things he does because he’s destined to. In truth, he does them because he’s insane. Is that fate or free will?

Bruckman: No, you don’t kill me yet.
Puppet: I don’t? Why not?
Bruckman: How should I know?

So which side of the debate is Bruckman on? On the surface, he makes it clear to Mulder that there’s nothing one can do to stop the future. As he so aptly puts it, how can he see the future if it doesn’t already exist. Yet, despite his protestations, he helps Mulder and Scully; if not out of any sense of moral obligation then in a final effort to do something more with his life than sit back and wait for the inevitable to occur. And who knows? Maybe by changing the future he can change his past.

…And the Verdict is:

Bruckman may not have changed his own fate, one that it appears he was aware of from at least the beginning of the episode and probably much earlier, but he did affect Mulder’s destiny. Or did he? Whether or not the killer’s visions were accurate or not, who can say? They had certainly come true up to that point so I’m inclined to think Bruckman did some good. After all, “That’s not the way it was supposed to happen.”

But what about Bruckman? You’d think a suicide would put a damper on the whole thing, but somehow, poignant though it is, it isn’t depressing the way it would read on paper. Does he kill himself out of obedience to fate? Or is it because his job is finished, he’s done his good deed and now there’s no need for him to put himself through the torture of knowing the future anymore?

Darin Morgan has an incredible ability to exceed the audience’s expectations about what an X-File is by mocking those very expectations. He raises questions without giving us answers. Me, I’m not so sure that destiny and free will are conflicting concepts. Is it unreasonable to think that one exists inside the other? Or even better, because of the other?

Like “Humbug” you can take a deeper message from it if you want or, my personal favorite, don’t take anything from it at all but just sit back and enjoy it.

A+

Comments:

So, does Scully die or doesn’t she? You heard the man. She doesn’t. You hear that, Chris Carter?? Don’t you pull a funny one in X-Files 3.

Mulder can read tea leaves? Like the Fiji Mermaid leap he makes in “Humbug”, Mulder’s powers of deduction are exaggerated for effect.

Best Quotes:

Editor’s Note: Most of the jokes in this episode are better in context, not as quotes. Either way, I’d have to transcribe the whole script to include the “best” and that still wouldn’t do it justice. Please, enrich your life and go watch it.

Madame Zelma: Mister, please, you’re hurting me.
Puppet: I know, I know, I’m sorry. But you’re a fortuneteller. You should have seen this coming.

————————

F.B.I. Photographer: They say the eyes capture the last image a murder victim sees before they’re killed.
Detective Cline: What do they say about the entrails?
F.B.I. Photographer: Yuck.

————————

Detective Havez: Is it true you asked for some help on this case?
Detective Cline: This guy’s supposed to be an expert at this sort of thing.
Detective Havez: I heard he was a bit… unorthodox.
Detective Cline: He comes highly recommended.
Detective Havez: Yeah. I saw him on TV.
Detective Cline: Hey, so he’s a publicity hound. As long as he gets results.
F.B.I. Photographer: I once worked on a case he did. Very spooky.
Detective Cline: As long as he gives us leads, I don’t care how big a kook…
[Mulder walks in]
Detective Cline: Who the hell are you?

————————

Detective Cline: Look, all I know is that, so far, Yappi has provided more solid concrete leads on this case than you have. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to get an APB out on a white male, 17 to 34, with or without a beard, maybe a tattoo, who’s impotent. Let’s go.

———————–

Detective Cline: It’s kind of creepy isn’t it? The Stupendous Yappi said the first victim’s body has been dumped somewhere, then we find it in a dumpster.
Mulder: Ooh. I just got a chill down my spine.

———————-

Bruckman: [Looking at Mulder’s badge] I’m supposed to believe that’s a real name?

———————

Scully: We can’t come up with suspects by having visions.
Bruckman: Jealous?

———————

Scully: All right. So how do I die?
Bruckman: You don’t.

———————-

Mulder: If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?

———————-

Puppet: There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you for some time now. You’ve seen the things I do in the past as well as in the future.
Bruckman: They’re terrible things.
Puppet: I know they are. So tell me, please, why have I done them.
Bruckman: Don’t you understand yet, son? Don’t you get it? You do the things you do because you’re a homicidal maniac.
Puppet: That… that does explain a lot, doesn’t it?