"Roland"
Written by Chris Ruppenthal
Directed by David Nutter



In which Mulder and Scully investigate a series of murders related to a secret government project, all somehow related to a severely challenged man...

Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations


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"Now that's an Excedrin headache..."


Synopsis

As the episode begins, a learning disabled man named Roland Fuller cleans the floors at the Mahan Propulsion Laboratory in Colson, Washington. After some trouble, he gets into the control room for the turbine laboratory, where Dr. Keats joins Dr. Nollette and Dr. Surnow. They attempt to achieve Mach 15, but apparently the equations are incorrect and they have to stop the test.

Dr. Surnow stays behind, insistent on finding a solution. When he goes into the wind tunnel chamber to check the system, Roland locks him and starts the turbine. As Surnow cries for help, Roland gets up and writes an equation on a wipe board, and then calmly returns to work as Dr. Surnow is sucked into the turbine and killed.

The next day, Mulder and Scully arrive to investigate. Mulder is interested because the experiments are related to a long-denied government black project. They meet with Dr. Keats, who informs them that Surnow could only have been locked in the turbine chamber from the outside.

Mulder notes that another member of the project had been killed six months earlier: Arthur Grable. Mulder also notes that their project is the perfect target for industrial espionage. He notes the hastily written equation of the wipe board, and asks who wrote it. Keats doesn’t know, and Roland was the only other person in the room.

The agents visit Roland at the Heritage Halfway House, where Roland is sticking stars to an art project. His friend Tracy is also there. After Tracy is taken out of the room, they ask Roland some basic questions. It doesn’t go far, but Mulder notices Roland’s fascination with numbers. When he mentions it, Roland flips out. In the ensuing chaos, Mulder grabs one of Roland’s papers, which has a repeated sequence of numbers on it.

Mulder and Scully consult with a handwriting analyst, who determines from Roland’s paper and the handwriting on the wipe board that it’s not the same person. Scully, now fully aware of Mulder’s theory, doesn’t agree with Mulder’s contention that Roland might be some kind of special “idiot savant”.

That night, at the institute, Roland enters the control room while Dr. Keats is working on the turbine equations on the computer. Roland kills Keats by shoving his head into liquid nitrogen, and then dropping him to the floor. Roland then begins working on the equations himself.

When Mulder and Scully arrive the next morning, they notice that someone had been working on Dr. Arthur Grable’s old files for five hours. Mulder uses the number on Roland’s paper as the password to access the file, and they see that someone has been continuing the dead man’s work.

The agents check on Roland, and find that he slept in his clothes that night. Unknown to all of them, Roland has also been dreaming of being separated from a twin brother as a child. Mulder talks to Roland about his memories of Dr. Grable, who was very nice to him. Scully asks the woman in charge of the center for Roland’s file.

Mulder suspects that Arthur Grable is still alive, and is setting up Roland as the main suspect. A search through the records for both men shows a similar birthdate. Back at the center, Roland continues to have terrifying dreams and visions of killing Tracy.

The agents visit with Dr. Nollette, and find a picture with the entire project team dating back to the early 1970s. When Mulder tells him his theory about Grable still being alive, Nollette is sure it cannot be true. He points the agents to the nearby Avalon Foundation, while Grable’s brain has been kept in cryogenic suspension following his accident. Aside from some odd temperature fluctuations, there’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Back at the regional office, the agents determine from photos of Grable that he and Roland were twins, separated when very young. Mulder goes to speak with Roland, and asks him again about his dreams. When Mulder suggests to Roland that he’s being controlled, Roland flips out, locking himself in a restroom. Before Mulder can get to him, Roland breaks out of the building and runs away.

Mulder and Scully try to find Nollette, but he’s nowhere to be found. Mulder explains his theory to Scully, and she’s less than enthusiastic. As Roland frantically writes equations into a notebook, Nollette sabotages Grable’s cryogenic chamber. Roland becomes confused, but keeps writing.

The agents confirm that Roland and Grable were twins, and learn that the temperature of Grable’s chamber continues to rise. Meanwhile, Roland desperately races to enter the equations into the testing computer in the turbine control room. He succeeds in surpassing Mach 15, just as Nollette arrives to confront him.

Roland, controlled by Grable, overpowers Nollette and locks him in the turbine chamber. Even though Grable’s control is wavering, Roland starts the turbine. Mulder and Scully arrive and try to persuade Roland to shut down the turbine, and succeed just before Nollette is sucked into the turbine. At that moment, the temperature of Grable’s chamber climbs high enough to destroy the preserved brain.

Shortly afterward, Mulder and Scully arrive to see Roland taken to psychiatric custody. Mulder hopes to have Roland returned to the center, since he believes he can prove Roland wasn’t acting under his own volition. But all they can prove is that Roland somehow completed his dead brother’s research. As Roland is taken away, he and Tracy declare their love for each other.


Analysis

Much like last episode, the strength of this episode is the underlying ramifications to the X-Files as a whole. And similar to last episode, the concept of the non-corporeal nature of intelligence and life itself takes center stage.

The intrigue behind the control of Mulder’s investigations has been a high point of the first season, especially in the context of the much less well-rendered latter seasons, where such an ongoing grasp of the state of play was impossible to obtain. With the conspiracy watching every move Mulder and Scully make, the agents are caught between a rock and a hard place. Mulder cannot succeed too much, or his work is shut down. Yet, from a personal perspective, Mulder cannot abandon his quest.

Much like last episode, these ramifications are left completely to the audience to comprehend. However, it shouldn’t be difficult to realize that Mulder’s investigation of mysterious goings-on related to a secret government black project is a dangerous situation. It’s likely that the technology in development is related to the various military aircraft seen throughout the series, and is therefore tied directly to the interests of the conspiracy. Mulder, from the start, has learned something he was not to learn.

But perhaps more than that, he once again makes the connection between an altered or unverified state of consciousness and control over another organism. Given that the conspiracy is in collaboration with something that operates on the same general principles, Mulder’s discovery and validation of this kind of theory gives credence to something that the conspiracy cannot let anyone know is real.

This episode, like most of these final episodes of the season, portrays Mulder as someone gaining too much credibility for someone with the kind of access he has had. With the department already being threatened by Assistant Director Skinner (“Tooms”), ostensibly under the watchful eye of the conspiracy, it’s only a matter of time before the decision is made to shut them down.

It’s unfortunate, if symptomatic of the series as a whole, that there wasn’t a definitive effort to make the non-corporeal nature of intelligence more of a plot point over the years. It would have served to tie many of the elements of the series mythology together, and it would have helped make the concept of an “intelligent virus” more understood. As it stands, this is one of those ideas that constantly comes up, but never seems to be made into something more than presented.

This episode moves the overall concepts of an endangered X-Files department and the nature of intelligence forward better than last episode. However, the portrayal of the autistic Roland and his relationship with the similarly challenged Tracy was a bit too overwrought. In some places, it felt like something out of a poorly written TV-movie of the week. The actor did an amazing job with the role, but the writing could have been stronger.


Memorable Quotes

MULDER: “How was the wedding?”
SCULLY: “You mean the part where the groom passed out or the dog bit the drummer?”

MULDER: “I don’t think they’ll be performing this experiment on ‘Beakman’s World’…”

MULDER: “You’ve got a brother, don’t you, Scully?”
SCULLY: “Yeah, I’ve got an older one and a younger one.”
MULDER: “Well, have you ever thought about calling one of them all day long, and then all of a sudden the phone rings, and it’s one of them calling you?”
SCULLY: “Does this pitch somehow end with a way for me to lower my long distance charges?”
MULDER: “I believe in psychic connections, and evidence suggests that it’s stronger between family members…strongest of all between twin siblings that shared the same womb.”
SCULLY: “OK, maybe. But in this case, one sibling has closer ties to a frozen fudgesicle than he does to his own brother…”


Observations

- Does anybody else find it amusing that the institute in question was pronounced “man propulsion laboratory”, given the circumstances of the episode?

- Dr. Nollette is played by James Sloyan, who if nothing else has one of the most memorable voices in recent genre history. He’s also played several roles within the Star Trek franchise.

- I think it’s interesting that Roland could count all of the stars on Scully’s clothing, even though it was mostly concealed!

- You’d think, as often as Mulder and Scully set Roland off, the woman in charge might have asked them not to come back…

- I find the little X’s taped on the floor to be rather amusing!

- Mulder should know better than to mock the attire of the mentally challenged…

- So the genius thought that in the future, people could clone him a new body for his cryogenically frozen brain? I don’t know too many current scientific masters who would bank on such a claim!

- Of course Mulder is going to choose the remote-controlled UFO…

- So I wonder why Mulder was trying to find his father in his dream, instead of his sister?

Overall, this episode is not a bad way to bring the season towards its conclusion. In its own way, it puts Mulder right back in the center of controversy and very close to things he should not have seen. Still, the treatment of mental illness in this episode is a little questionable.

I give it a 5/10.


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