Written by John Shiban
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Mulder and Scully investigate repeated suicide attempts at an army hospital and encounter a plot for revenge with an unexpected twist...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
John Shiban would take a beating for some of his less-than-inspiring efforts in later seasons, but his first episode for the series is actually a strong statement for the status quo of the third season. In particular, it highlights one of the underlying concepts of the series, further defining the nature of the spiritual world that would stand as the foundation for the mythology.
The premise of the episode is relatively simple. A wounded soldier from the Gulf War, thirsting for revenge after losing his limbs in a friendly fire incident, finds a way to inflict suffering upon the men he blames for the destruction of his life. The means of that destruction is at the center of the episode’s mystery: what is the nature of Rappo’s non-corporeal killer?
One possibility is that Rappo himself has crossed a threshold, gaining the ability to transfer his consciousness and develop a semi-corporeal form other than his own body. The fact that Rappo lost his limbs could even be seen as an aid to such development, since much of his energy would have no other outlet. Rappo could have focused so much on his desire for vengeance as to release his consciousness from the trappings of his own body.
Another possibility, suggested by Mulder, is that Rappo’s hatred and desire for revenge fueled some malevolent entity. In essence, this would be a malevolent consciousness seeking a source of energy for itself, a means of pulling itself through the barriers between the spirit world and the physical world. As facile as that seems, it actually fits the overall mythology very well.
After all, it has been firmly established that there are benevolent spiritual forces, represented by non-corporeal entities, aiding and guiding Mulder and Scully towards their eventual destined roles. At this point in the series, there hadn’t been much exploration of the opposing force, the one methodically driving the conspiracy. What is the nature of that malevolent force?
If the spiritual forces backing Mulder and Scully are working to prevent the success of the conspiracy, then those forces driving the conspiracy must have equally opposing goals. The benevolent spirits typically work towards a more aware humanity, slowly building and fostering a growing population of humans with psychic ability. This would tend towards a more unified awareness within humanity, essentially guiding the evolution of the species towards something constructive.
As a part of that, Albert Hosteen was directed to aid Melissa Scully in her transition to the spiritual world in “Paper Clip”. That smooth transition allows Melissa to aid Scully at critical junctures later in the series. The opposing forces, then, would seek to disrupt any transitions of spirit through murder and violence. With Rappo yearning to kill for vengeance, it’s likely that a malevolent entity would offer itself as a conduit to fulfill those desires, since it would also serve the purpose of destroying more potential adversaries in the process.
Mulder’s suspicion about biological agents used in Iraq during the Gulf War is an interesting observation. One of the unexplored aspects of the conspiracy was the use of the conflict in Iraq as a proving ground for several projects in development at the time, not the least of which was the culmination of the Super Solider project (which would be fleshed out, more or less, in the final two seasons). There were also experiments using the black oil virus, with soldiers being exposed after receiving prototypes of the vaccine.
Taking that into account, the possible rationale for the phenomenon in this episode fits into the mythology to an even stronger degree. If Callahan’s soldiers were part of the vaccination experiment, then they could have been exposed to the black oil virus without their knowledge. Since the black oil virus is the material form that the malevolent spiritual forces ultimately take, that could have been the mechanism by which Rappo gained his non-corporeal partner in crime.
John Shiban does a nice job of keeping those considerations out of the picture, while also giving the main characters some good material to chew on. Scully in particular shows much of her resolve, something that would come to typify the character in the minds of many fans. What’s interesting is that this strength is transitory at best, due to the nature of her relationship with Mulder and what would come in the near future. Scully has endured a great deal of personal tragedy, and as a response, she asserts herself in more overt manner. It’s mostly compensating for her growing sense of her world falling apart; the “strong” Scully wouldn’t last forever.
Mulder, on the other hand, is more willing to express himself, knowing that Scully is more open to his particular brand of insanity. He’s willing to hear what Scully has to say, using her opinions to hone and perfect his own theories. His psychology background comes into play in his confrontation with Rappo, even if he slips out of character in terms of his accusations.
The overall presentation is nicely self-contained, with a consistent plot and strong direction. The final act drags here and there, but it doesn’t take away from the overall presentation. If there is one thing that continues to be an annoyance, it’s the lack of continuity in terms of the season’s timeline. Based on the postmarks for Callahan’s mail, this episode apparently takes place in July 1995. As noted for previous episodes, this doesn’t make sense when the agents were supposedly desk-bound from May to September (according to “D.P.O.”).
While continuing to highlight the shift in the status quo in terms of the characterization of Mulder and Scully, this episode also underscores the strong spiritual presence that would recur often in the third season, building on what had been established during and following the abduction arc. Considering how important these elements would eventually be, it’s hard to understand why the writers failed to “connect the dots” and allow the characters to learn from their experiences.
DRAPER: “Protocol requires that all criminal investigation of military personnel to be conducted through military channels and their superior officer.”
MULDER: “What, we didn’t sign in at the front desk?”
MULDER: “You know, what I can’t figure out is why a man who so deliberately and methodically set out to commit suicide would leave the one entrance to the room unsecured. But then again, I obviously have a feeble grasp of Army protocol and procedure…”
SCULLY: “Find anything?”
MULDER: “No. But I’m really beginning to like the tune…”
SCULLY: “That’s insane!”
MULDER: “Sometimes the only sane response to an insane world is insanity.”
Overall, this episode was a strong example of a typical third season episode. Just about everything works, and even when the pacing begins to fail at the end, the other elements make up for it. In retrospect, the spiritual nature of the phenomenon connects well with the mythology of the series. Definitely one of the better episodes written by John Shiban.
Final Rating: 8/10
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