"Soft Light"
Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by James Contner



In which Mulder and Scully become embroiled in a strange case involving a man with a deadly shadow...

Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations


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Synopsis

For a short episode synopsis, please see the one provided at
Kevin's X-File Page.


Analysis

During the nine-year run of the series, there were more than a few outright impossibilities generated as p lot devices for a given episode. Usually those impossibilities worked once the logic and “science” of the series was applied to the concept. However, on occasion, there were episodes with concepts that were just so massively wrong that nothing could explain them away.

“Soft Light” is just such an episode.

It’s not just a matter of completely bogus science. Granted, not everyone is a particle physicist, especially when it comes to writing for television. However, one might hope that a plot device that hinges on something like “dark matter” would actually be based on the theories about dark matter. Not so in this episode!

For one thing, there are some basic problems with Dr. Banton’s explanations for the phenomenon. Any particle physicist worthy of the doctorate would know better than to say that the phenomenon “splits molecules into component atoms” or “reduces matter into pure energy”. If that were happening, then everything in contact with Banton’s shadow should be destroyed, and the resultant unleashing of energy would pretty much blow the planet apart.

What’s more, the phenomenon cannot be the result of interaction with dark matter. There’s a very good reason for that: dark matter doesn’t interact with normal matter. The only exception is that dark matter imposes gravitational forces on normal matter. So if dark matter were at the heart of the phenomenon, then it should have completely passed through Banton without any effect.

Granted, the argument could be made that the dark matter interacted with Banton’s body in some gravitational manner that caused his body to change, unleashing the phenomenon in his shadow. However, anything that would make the absence of light behind a person deadly would probably also kill the person in question.

Of course, Banton is shown as slowly losing his mind from the trauma, so it’s possible that he would completely forget everything about particle physics and common sense. What doesn’t make any sense is Scully’s sudden lack of knowledge regarding theoretical physics. By the time one is a graduate in physics, which she has already been established as being, basic particle physics is covered more than a few times. And a scientist like Scully would know better than to say that particle physics may not exist; it surely does, even if it’s in a form different than the current conception.

It doesn’t take that level of consideration to see that Vince Gilligan started with the idea of a person with a deadly shadow and went from there. The heart of the story, however, is what the fate of this man might be. Mulder becomes concerned with Banton’s safety, when it becomes clear that the government might want to study Banton for sinister purposes. Ultimately the drama evolves into something interesting by the time Informant X steps into the picture.

In some ways, this is the “Fallen Angel” for Informant X, the moment when the audience gets to see him using Mulder to further the goals of the conspiracy. On the heels of the last episode, where Mulder was taught a lesson about his involuntary role in the conspiracy, this episode seems to be emphasizing that once again, the conspiracy is concerned that Mulder is becoming too hard to handle. Twice now, Mulder has been warned, and after what happened to Scully the last time he ignored such warnings, Mulder should be thinking twice about his choices.

Odd, then, that Mulder lectures Scully about Detective Ryan and how Scully’s former student “put herself ahead of her work”. If only Mulder had that objectivity during his more self-centered moments. Mulder’s most terrible weakness has always been a lack of perspective, matched by a complete lack of recognition for the consequences of his actions on others. Scully has worked very hard to protect others from her mistakes, so much that her failures in that respect stick out like a sore thumb.

Characterization and particle physics are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the circumstances of the deaths prior to the episode. For instance, why would Banton chase down one of his associates into a hotel, knowing that his shadow is deadly? After all, Banton already knows enough to stay in the train station by that point, or he wouldn’t have shown up in the security videos. Even less explicable is the death of Margaret Wysnecki in her own home. What possible reason could Banton have had to follow a complete stranger home?

The answer to both questions, of course, is that circumstances had to lead the agents on Banton’s trail. But that is a perfect example of letting the needs of the plot dictate the behavior of the characters, regardless of whether that behavior makes sense. In fact, the episode strays dangerously close to one in which Mulder and Scully have no impact on the resolution of the case at all, until Informant X enters the picture.


Memorable Quotes

RYAN: “I’ve heard a lot about you!”
MULDER: (to Scully) “We’ll talk later...”

RYAN: “You don’t think anyone might have squeezed up there.”
MULDER: “You never know...”

SCULLY: “Let’s just forget for the moment that there’s no scientific theory to support it.”
MULDER: “OK!”

SCULLY: “For your birthday, I’ll buy you a utility belt.”

MULDER: “Why is he doing that?”
SCULLY: “Probably the same reason he spends his entire life in a train station...”

MULDER: “You can trust them as you trust me. I promise.”
INFORMANT X: “Dead men can't keep promises. The next time the blood and regret could be yours.”


Observations

- That is some seriously annoying music in the teaser...

- How did Banton’s shadow get that far under the door?

- The opening theme music sounds very odd for this episode, at least on the DVDs...

- Considering what happened the last time one of Scully’s friends from her academy days came looking for help, you’d think Mulder would be less enthusiastic!

- Detective Ryan is played by the same actress who played the female Marty in “Genderbender”...

- This is the first mention of the Morley Tobacco company, which is of course Cancer Man’s favorite brand!

- Mulder’s leap about the arm and the light bulb across the hall are pretty damn huge...

- And again with the leap regarding the train station, plucked from evidence found in a house that Banton had no reason to be in!

- What possibly reason would the police have to question Banton? He’s not a suspect at this point!

- During the scene in which two cops are consumed, the shadows appear and disappear depending on the camera angle...

- They look through the tapes long enough to be fatigued...yet as soon as they start again, Mulder notices Banton!

- Why would a company build an access door for a particle-accelerator that can’t be opened from the inside? That’s a massive breach of safety regulations!

- In the train station scene, it looks like Scully was waiting behind the column in the background until the cameras started rolling...

- How could Mulder possibly guess that Banton was worried about the lighting in the train station?

- Mulder’s meeting with Informant X takes place initially in the same place as it did in “Sleepless”...

- Based on the position of the emergency lights in the hallway, Informant X should be toast as soon as Banton steps out of the door!

- That shot of Informant X peering through the window of the particle-accelerator access is just plain awesome in its intensity...

- All of that study, of course, could have been useful if a weapon against the black oil had come out of it!

Overall, this episode falls short due to a completely ludicrous central concept, only partially countered by an interesting resolution highlighting the more sinister side of Informant X. Much like last season’s final few episodes, this season is ending with plenty of hints that Mulder and Scully are pushing the wrong buttons.

I give it a 5/10.


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