"Young at Heart"
Written by Simon Kaufer and Chris Carter
Directed by Michael Lange
In which Mulder’s first case as an FBI agent comes back to haunt him, and everything gets really ,really vague after that...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
"Are you as embarrassed to be here as I am?"
As the episode begins, it is 1989, and a wheelchair-bound prisoner named Joe Crandell roams the halls of the Tashmoo Federal Correction Facility. He notices an empty bed (in the middle of a hallway, no less), and then notices that someone is screaming. He investigates, and goes into a room where a doctor is obviously doing some very odd things to a man strapped onto an operating table. The man’s right hand has been severed, and his eyes look dead. The doctor tells Crandell that the patient, John Barnett, is dead, and forces him to leave. But as Crandell leaves, he sees Barnett blink…obviously still alive.
About four years later, Mulder and Scully are called onto an armed robbery case by one of Mulder’s former partners, Agent Reggie Purdue. When Mulder wants to know why they were assigned to such a normal case, Reggie shows him an evidence bag with a note in it, and gives a description of the robbery suspect. Mulder recognizes the note and the description as John Barnett.
Mulder explains to Scully, as they leave the scene, that Barnett’s original spree was the first case he had been assigned, straight out of Quantico. Reggie was Mulder’s superior, and disagreed with Mulder’s theories. In fact, when Mulder’s methods were applied to trap Barnett, the man began leaving notes to taunt Mulder him. When they finally caught up with Barnett, the situation ended badly, and another agent was killed. Barnett was sent to life in prison.
At the Bureau crime lab, Agent Henderson analyzes the handwriting on the note left at the recent robbery. She confirms that the note had been written within the past 48 hours, by someone right-handed, and there’s a 95% match to Barnett. Meanwhile, Reggie shows Scully a copy of the surveillance video taken when Barnett was captured. Barnett had taken the driver of an armored car hostage, and he had been surrounded, with Mulder sneaking behind him. But Mulder wouldn’t go against regulations to shoot Barnett, even with a clear shot. Instead, he waited until the hostage and another agent were shot.
Back in the basement, Mulder tells Scully about the results of the handwriting analysis, and then shows her a copy of Barnett’s death certificate from the prison records. According to the certificate, Barnett died of cardiac arrest on September 16, 1989. When Scully assumes that it must be a copycat crime, Mulder points out that the note was less than 48 hours old. But there are no prints, so Scully figures it must be something Barnett planned ahead of time. Mulder realizes that Scully must have seen the video, and angrily blames himself again for what happened.
In the wake of this conversation, Mulder goes to watch the son of the agent killed in the video at football practice. After a while he leaves, passing an oddly dressed man along the way. He finds a package of recent photos…all of which show him in moments over the past few days. Again, there is a note. Mulder calls out in frustration, and then drives away. He doesn’t see the oddly dressed man turn to watch him, with eyes that appear dead.
Mulder shows the pictures and second note to Reggie, and thinks someone is trying to convince Mulder that Barnett is alive, just to mess with him. When Mulder persists, Reggie points out that Mulder was once considered to be the most promising agent in years. But now, partly because of theories like this, he’s become an embarrassment. Mulder speculates whether someone in the Bureau could be behind it all, but they are interrupted by Scully. She’s gotten a copy of Barnett’s will, and everything was left to another prisoner named Joe Crandall.
A little later, as a technician in the computer lab uses an old photo of Barnett to work up an aged and disguised profile, Mulder recalls his testimony against Barnett. Once again, it’s reiterated that Mulder could have taken Barnett down, had he gone against regulations. When his testimony was done, he took a moment to lash out at Barnett, almost getting charged with contempt in the process. When he returned to his seat, Barnett turned to him and said, point blank, that he would get Mulder.
Scully interrupts his reverie with news that the prison medical records indicate that Barnett had no history of coronary problems, according to his last physical. He had gone to the prison infirmary for an infection in his right hand. Based on this odd information, Mulder and Scully visit the prison, and interview Joe Crandall. Crandall tells them what he saw on the night Barnett supposedly died, and identifies the doctor as Dr. Ridley.
Back at the basement, Mulder prepares to hunt down Barnett, sure that he is a target. But before he can do anything, Barnett calls him. Mulder records the call, sending Scully to get a trace. Barnett vaguely threatens to kill Mulder, saying that he’s right under Mulder’s nose, and he’ll prove to Mulder that he’s alive. When the call’s over, Scully informs Mulder that they couldn’t get a trace. Mulder plays back part of the call to Scully, and assures her that it’s Barnett’s voice.
That night, Mulder calls Reggie to tell him Barnett is alive. When Reggie is less than impressed, Mulder tells him about what Crandall witnessed on the night Barnett “died”. Mulder wants to know how, if the recent notes were written by someone right-handed, how could that happen if Barnett’s right hand had been amputated? Before Reggie can answer, Barnett steps out of the shadows and strangles Reggie, using a rather odd looking right hand to crush the man’s throat.
A few hours later, Mulder finds another note threatening his other friends and himself. When Henderson does an analysis on the new note, she confirms that it was written by someone right-handed. Mulder wonders if it could have been a prosthetic hand, but Henderson concludes that the script is too fluid for that. But it does occur to her that no prints were found on the note…yet it couldn’t have been written with a glove.
Scully catches Mulder on the way into the office, and tells him that Dr. Ridley was not really a doctor in 1989, having had his licence revoked for research malpractice. He had been conducting experiments on young children suffering from progeria, a rapid-aging disease. They visit the National Institute of Health and find a doctor who knows about Ridley’s research.
In 1974, Dr. Joseph Ridley began research into reversing the effects of progeria, and actually managed to get some promising results. When he wanted to begin human trials, his petition was denied. But he conducted the studies secretly, on an out-patient basis, and was eventually caught. Then he disappeared, rumored to have fled to South America.
Mulder believes that Ridley managed to reverse aging, using prisoners as test subjects. He figures that Barnett’s disguise is his unexpected youthful appearance. While Mulder has the computer technician develop a new profile to account for the new information, Scully goes back to her apartment to begin her status report. She hears noises, and picks up her gun to investigate. Of course, Barnett is already in the apartment, so when Scully opens the door, she’s surprised to find Dr. Ridley.
Soon, Mulder and Scully are questioning Ridley, completely unaware that Barnett is hiding nearby. Ridley tells them that Barnett is the only survivor from his experiments, or at least, he will be when Ridley dies. Like the other subjects, Ridley is developing the same fatal conditions that kill the victims of progeria. Barnett, on the other hand, shows no signs of developing the condition, though his eyes have failed to repair over time.
More than that, Ridley also used Barnett to experiment with an unexpected discovery. He discovered that he had found the mechanism by which cells could be stimulated to regenerate. While he had been unsuccessful in regenerating Barlett’s amputated right hand, he was able to grow him a new one based on salamanders. Now that his work is known, the government wants his research…which they funded after Ridley was censured by the AMA.
A bit later, Mulder contacts his mysterious informant (from “Deep Throat”). The man quickly admits that the government funded the research, and now Barnett has stolen that research. So the government wants to find Barnett so they can cut a deal. The possibilities within Ridley’s research are too good for the government to pass up.
The next morning, Scully runs out of the bathroom as her phone rings. Her answering machine picks it up, and she is alarmed when someone begins remotely accessing the messages. She takes it to the office, and soon informs Mulder that a fingerprint from Barnett’s left hand is on its underside. Before Mulder can react, Barnett calls him again. Once again, Barnett threatens Mulder’s friends. When Barnett hangs up, Mulder asks Scully about the messages on her machine. Scully tells him about a friend who’s meeting her before a cello recital.
Based on that information, Mulder helps coordinate an ambush for Barnett at the recital hall. It doesn’t take long for Barnett to make his way into the crowd with a revolver. Even with the help of Mulder’s profile photos, the other agents don’t recognize him. Barnett manages to shoot Scully twice at short range, once in the upper chest. Before Mulder can stop him, Barnett runs into the hall itself. Seeing to Scully’s care, Mulder chases after him.
He finds Barnett holding Scully’s friend hostage on the stage. Barnett mocks him, sure that Mulder will fail to shot so long as it’s against regulations. But even knowing how valuable the research is considered, Mulder shoots Barnett in the chest. Out by the entrance, Scully is relieved to find that her bullet-proof vest stopped Barnett’s shot from doing serious damage.
At the nearby hospital, Mulder watches as an unknown agent tries to get the location of the research out of Barnett, as doctors struggle to keep him conscious and alive. Scully arrives, bruised but otherwise all right. They watch as Barnett takes his secret to the grave. As they walk out of the room, Mulder wonders whether the research will ever be found again…and whether this will be the last time he encounters John Barnett…
This episode is one of those infamous X-Files episodes where a whole lot of things happen, and there’s an ominous hint at the end that we’ll see this again…and then it never, ever sees the light of day. Even more oddly, this episode is a classic example of taking the basic structure of a previous episode and cramming some new concept into the mold.
What we have in this case is “Ghost in the Machine” retooled with a new “cool idea”. We’ve got the apparently normal case with one of Mulder’s partners running the investigation. We have the mad scientist with visionary ideas creating a monster, which only he truly understands. We have the shadowy government attempts to acquire the research, regardless of the price. We have Mulder’s former partner getting killed. Oh, and of course, that supposed “open” ending that we’ve come to see as the eternal red herring.
In fact, it must have been so obvious that this episode already feels like a retread that Chris Carter decided to add bizarre additional details to the plot that don’t really fit well. The most obvious item is the regenerated hand. I’m still trying to figure out why this was necessary, or even a part of Dr. Ridley’s research. Sure, regeneration could have been seen as a possible direction in the “fountain of youth” research, but that’s not mentioned. Instead, it’s an afterthought, something to further confuse the investigation.
That’s too bad, because if it had been written with just the “fountain of youth” angle, it might have been a more straightforward effort. But even with the muddled concepts introduced in this episode, it could have worked, had the writing been much stronger. We see plenty of terrible dialogue from every character, though some of Mulder’s lines stand above the others as particularly bad. And then there’s Barnett, who just about ruins every scene where he opens his mouth.
I have to think that Chris Carter’s involvement threw off the dialogue, and even that might have been made the episode passable. But then there’s the direction. I’ve seen some simply rudimentary direction from time to time, but this is some fundamentally poor work. The pacing is completely off, and there are too many scenes that are so static in tone that they feel like a televised high school stage production. The courtroom scene is a disaster, and I challenge anyone to find anything redeeming in it.
Even the acting is less than inspired here, and it almost feels like, at any given moment, David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson will turn to the camera and apologize for subjecting the audience to this mess. They still try their best, but when half the lines are out of character, there’s only so much that can be done.
If there’s one good moment in this episode, which just about saves it from being as terrible as “Space”, it’s the conversation between Reggie and Mulder. It’s about time we saw one of Mulder’s old friends confront him about his recent choices, and the effect that it’s having on anyone who supports him personally. It’s clear that without the personal connection to the case, Mulder wouldn’t be involved in any fashion. At the same time, it demonstrates very clearly why the last episode, “Lazarus”, didn’t fit the pattern of Mulder’s fall from grace.
From a mythology standpoint, there’s not much to work with. Still, this idea of developing a way to reverse aging effects could be part of the general genetic engineering being conducted at this point. But it’s a stretch, and even with the involvement of Mulder’s infamous informant, there’s just nothing to say that this has anything to do with the larger scheme. I’m sure it could, but it’s tangential at best.
If anything, “Young at Heart” helps demonstrate the oddity that is the first season of “The X-Files”. On the one hand, we have episodes like “Beyond the Sea” or “Ice” that are simply perfect. But much of the season is filled with fare that varies between mediocre and downright terrible. If it hadn’t been for the strength of characterization in those perfect moments, this series would have fallen on efforts like this.
HENDERSON: “Ten minutes may be enough time for you, Mulder. Of course, I wouldn’t know from personal experience.”
(Yeah, that’s it. That’s how boring this episode was…)
- Was every one of Mulder’s former partners annoying?
- Nice to see a chink in Mulder’s former genius…granted, it’s just that first case, but it’s something!
- What a terrible football field!
- What’s with the tie, Mulder?
- Could the prosecutor in the courtroom flashback have been a worse actress? Well, OK, there’s the judge…
- When Mulder called Reggie about Barnett being alive, why didn’t he mention the phone call, rather than the more unreliable inmate testimony?
- Maybe I’ve been watching “Trading Spaces” too much, but man, that was one nasty green painted on Reggie’s bedroom walls…
- If I were another of Mulder’s former partners, I think I’d seriously reconsider ever calling him for help again!
- That chanting music sounds so cheesy!
- Yet another unfortunate appearance for Mulder’s informant…they just didn’t know when to use him, did they?
- Is it me, or was that not Sheila Larkin’s voice on Scully’s answering machine?
Overall, this episode felt like a complete mess. The plot started off in a straightforward direction, and then everything started crashing down by the third act. Much of the dialogue was plodding, the direction was boring, and even the cast looked tired and confused. This felt like a case of taking everything possible and tossing it together, and it didn’t work at all.
I give it a 3/10.
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