Written by Howard Gordon and Chris Carter
Directed by Michael Lange
In which Skinner is assigned to protect a general who is being hunted down by a former POW, a man that Mulder seems to think can render himself invisible at will...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
Thanks to the decision to air “Leonard Betts” after the Super Bowl, the timeline of the fourth season was thrown into complete confusion. It was bad enough that the producers decided to air “Never Again” before “Momento Mori”, giving Scully’s psychology a rather bizarre flip week to week, but then there was the previous episode, “Kaddish”, which was produced before “Leonard Betts” and made no mention of Scully’s cancer at all. At least in that case, there was a solid excuse: the writers treated the episodes as if they were being aired in a specific order, and that didn’t happen.
Such an excuse cannot be made for “Unrequited”. The writers intentionally set this episode much earlier in the season, jumping back to just after “Unruhe” in the timeline so as to avoid any discussion of Scully’s medical condition whatsoever. This assumes that the audience is paying attention to the dates and times given in the episode, because otherwise, it would be very easy to assume that the writers were dodging the whole cancer issue in favor of less consistent storytelling.
It certainly doesn’t help that this is the second episode in a row written by Howard Gordon. Gordon’s insistence on making political statements, as if driven by some subconscious mandate, simply adds to a growing number of such episodes over the past couple seasons. Considering that every single one of those episodes has been a disappointment, one would think that Gordon would get the bloody point already and let the series stick to what it does best: explore the unknown.
Instead, Gordon wanted to speak to the travails of the Vietnam vet and the lingering stigma attached to those who fought in the war. It’s rather telling that even Gordon couldn’t make the concept entirely interesting, even after adding the paranormal element of “hiding in natural blind spots”. He had to ask Chris Carter to help pull the episode together, and by all accounts, it didn’t work out so well.
This episode is often cited as an example of 1013’s poor management of the writing staff. “Momento Mori”, easily a candidate for a two-part mythology epic, ran incredibly long when the story was confined to a single hour. This fact quickly made its way to the fandom, and as one would expect, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. This episode was salt on the wound; even with Carter’s attempt to add heft to the episode, the final product ran very short. As a result, the story was rearranged so that the final scenes could be used as a teaser. This left many wondering why this episode needed to exist at all, when they could have easily scrapped it in favor of a longer, more complete two-part version of “Momento Mori”.
It’s also rather surprising to hear that Gordon and Carter consider this episode to be an important character moment for Skinner. It seems rather clear that the opportunity to use Skinner’s experience in Vietnam was wasted; it doesn’t come into play at all until the final scene, where it’s mentioned more or less in passing. If the writers were looking for a way to pad the episode and give it more context, they could have easily made this a strong Skinner episode. Imagine if five minutes had been spent on Skinner’s struggles with this case instead of filling the time with recycled marching band footage.
One can always tell when the writers are having trouble getting a grasp on the phenomenon in question. Within the first ten minutes, Teager displays an ability to disappear that doesn’t match the theories being tossed out in the episode itself. It’s one thing for someone to understand where a person’s blind spots would be and to take advantage of that. It’s quite another to slip into the blind spot of dozens of people at the exact same time, when all of those people are looking at the same spot from different angles!
There is an attempt to make Skinner more authoritative, perhaps in keeping with his strong demeanor in “The Field Where I Died”, which was set in roughly the same time month as this episode. This is a likely example of what the writers meant by tying Skinner’s Vietnam experience into his reaction to the case. If so, it doesn’t entirely translate, since nothing new is revealed about the man. Character development is not reiterating what the audience knows; it’s building on established knowledge and delving more deeply into the underlying psychology.
Perhaps unintentionally, this episode brings up something that was never fully explored over the course of the series. The Right Hand is portrayed as a dangerous domestic terrorist organization, and in every respect, that’s exactly what it is. However, in rather short order, the government is taken over by a corrupt and inhuman element with complete control of the military. Groups like The Right Hand and their ilk would eventually take on a new and even positive role, serving as a potential underground to combat the conspiracy. That doesn’t take away from the fact that The Right Hand, in this instance, stands for the wrong solution to a lingering problem.
Markham is used to advance more than just an uneasy tone for the episode; he also gets to spout some exposition about the political issue that Gordon feels the need to trumpet. Of course, there are a lot of social and political problems that never see the light of day, and pointing them out is something of value. But there are also issues that are relatively well-known, and the inequities suffered by veterans of Vietnam is one such issue. There really is no reason to beat this dead horse, especially since the plot is centered on one former POW’s homicidal tendencies. That’s not a good way to remind people that Vietnam vets are just like everyone else!
If Teager is simply slipping into natural blind spots, then why would that cause physical harm to Renee Davenport? Scully points out that Renee was found to have a floating blind spot, but none of the medical conditions necessary for that to occur naturally. There are two problems with this. If Teager is using natural blind spots to hide in plain sight, how could he know where a floating blind spot would be? And if not, how is he making a person have a blind spot wherever he happens to be, without causing the symptoms exhibited by Renee?
One clear sign that the episode is in serious trouble is Marita’s completely unnecessary involvement. Why would Mulder go to someone working within the United Nations to find information about American POWs? For that matter, why would Marita risk exposure by helping Mulder in this instance, when it doesn’t gain her or the conspiracy anything? One could conjecture that Cancer Man is trying to draw Mulder back into a position of dependency as part of his gambit regarding Scully’s health, but that’s quite a stretch.
The point of assigning Skinner to the protection of the generals to be assassinated is supposedly to discredit him and, by extension, Mulder and Scully. This doesn’t make sense in light of Skinner’s bargain with Cancer Man. Why would Cancer Man want to reduce the possible utility of someone under his thumb? One could argue that Cancer Man is trying to ensure that Mulder and Scully won’t have the clout to find other options, but it was made rather clear that those options didn’t exist. So why discredit Skinner now?
Beyond the implication that the government has lied about the number of POWs still in Vietnam, covering up the truth to avoid the embarrassments of a previous generation, there’s not much to the episode. Teager’s ability is inconsistently portrayed and it takes less than half the episode to spill out the rather plain and simple plot. The rest of the episode is wasted, with opportunities for character development squandered at nearly every turn. The fact that the writers felt a need to backtrack in the timeline, rather than directly address the impact of Scully’s illness on her ability to work and function, is a complete mystery. There’s certainly nothing about this episode to suggest that it was a story begging to be told.
SKINNER: “Well, if I have to devise a strategy around that story, then there is no strategy…”
MULDER: “Well, given the facts of the case and Private Burkholder’s polygraph test, this is the closest thing to an explanation that we’ve got.”
SCULLY: “Or it’s just a clever story being proffered as a cover-up for what is actually an elaborately orchestrated conspiracy.”
MULDER: “Well, there is that possibility, too…”
MULDER: “Well, that might account for Teager’s vanishing.”
SCULLY: “I asked the doctor that…and he laughed at me…”
Overall, this episode was a complete waste of time. Instead of focusing on the effects of Scully’s cancer, the writers chose to jump back in time and tell a story that doesn’t add up and has no relevance to the characters. Skinner has some good scenes, but overall, opportunities to explore his character are tossed aside. Once again, the writers try to insert political and social commentary into an episode, and the result is a solid failure.
Final Rating: 3/10
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