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.
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.
Munch: Start with your name and birth date.
Byers: John Fitzgerald Byers. 11-22-63.
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.
Frohike: Tell him about the hotel Bibles.
Byers: Yeah, I’m coming to that. It all started with Susanne Modeski…