Written by Stephen King and Chris Carter
Directed by Kim Manners
In which Scully attempts to take a vacation in Maine, but despite her best efforts, she can’t seem to keep herself away from the case of a murderous doll, or for that matter, Mulder’s boredom
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
It sounds like the perfect combination: “X-Files” and Stephen King. It’s almost as perfect a combination as “Millennium” and Stephen King, but for a lot of people, the thought of one of the most popular horror writers contributing to the series was just about perfection. For others, it was a sign that the series had gone from an underground cult favorite to a pop culture icon. Few, if any, saw it as an opportunity for a colossal train wreck.
Coinciding with the February 1998 sweeps, this episode was hailed in the media and put forward as an example of how creative synergy should work. That left a lot of people wondering which episode the critics were watching. Like so many of the other episodes in the fifth season, only one of the two leads could dominate the story. That could have been another chance at character development, but those moments were overshadowed by warmed-over Stephen King staples that quickly became annoying.
The episode shows signs of trouble right from the beginning. The presence of the doll isn’t even an attempt at misdirection; it’s clear before anything goes wrong that the doll is behind the bizarre rash of self-mutilations (which involve lots of fake blood, but oddly, no visible wounds). Melissa’s vision wasn’t scary in the slightest, and while the “knife-in-eye cam” was slightly disturbing, there was really no reason to care.
The episode shows signs of life when it turns more towards a commentary on Scully’s total lack of a social life. In essence, it continues (in a more humorous vein) the kind of character exploration that marked episodes like “Never Again”. At this point, though, Scully isn’t rebelling against Mulder’s authority, so much as seeking a little time for herself. As this episode demonstrates, Scully is definitely aligning herself with Mulder’s mindset; despite herself, she’s seeing “extreme possibilities” where before she would be demanding a rational interpretation.
She jumps into the “vacation” (in what world is a weekend without work equal to a vacation?) with the purpose, it seems, of convincing herself that she’s on vacation. She rents herself a convertible to go visit Maine in the middle of winter (odd that the town is devoid of winter weather), wears a “Maine!” T-Shirt (requisitely and wonderfully super-tight!), and she constantly tries to remind others (and herself) that she’s not on the job.
Part of that struggle, of course, is trying to separate the “Mulder” in her life from the “Scully” in her life. The fact that she needs to get away from Mulder to get “out of her own head for a few days” speaks volumes. Mulder, of course, finds life without Scully to be incredibly boring. He perks up when she calls, even though one of his favorite videos happens to be playing in the background. When Scully demonstrates that Mulder’s “extreme possibilities” are definitely still in her head, he’s stunned in all the right ways. It’s a wonderful moment, and these scenes turn out to be the only bright spots throughout the hour.
Supposedly King wrote the episode with a lot more of a darkly comedic edge to it, and apparently, in many initial takes, Gillian responded to how well Captain Bonsaint was played in that regard. Unfortunately, for the episode, Chris Carter objected, wanting the deadly situation in the episode to be taken seriously. That’s a huge mistake, because the whole case is clearly not something that should have been taken seriously. It works far better as an ongoing farce into how impossible it is for Scully to get some time off!
As the story takes the predictable turns through witch hunt territory until the characters catch up with what the audience already knows, typical Stephen King elements slip in. Beyond the doll with the disturbing catch-phrases, there’s the incessant (and therefore clearly evil) use of “Hokey Pokey”. It gets old very, very fast. And as the deaths and other incidents become more and more ludicrous, one is left to wonder if the point is a commentary of sorts on parents who are terrified at what would happen if they reprimand their disobedient children.
According to the episode, Polly is supposed to be autistic. Apparently the writing staff didn’t know how to depict an autistic child, because while Polly is certainly different and a bit withdrawn from reality, she doesn’t show the signs of a child with true autism. There are variations, of course, but it might have been better for the writers to suggest that Polly’s personality had more to do with the effect of the doll than a pre-existing condition.
One of the highlights of the episode is the bubble bath scene. Beyond the joyful thought of a slick and naked Scully, there’s the fact that she’s finally doing what normal people do on a vacation. And of course, it’s interrupted (as is her reading of “Affirmations For Women Who Do Too Much”), and once again, she’s pulled into her endless role as Mulder’s acolyte. What’s most amusing is that she actually thinks that she wants it any other way.
On Mulder’s side, of course, he’s bored out of his mind. If Scully can’t escape living in Mulder’s head, then Mulder can’t escape sharing his every thought with her. The two act like a married couple throughout the entire episode. If Scully has to try to fake the “expected” version of a vacation, Mulder’s even worse: he has to fake having a life. He calls her up on any possible pretext…just to dismiss her theory as soon as she actually turns to him for ideas!
The case ends with about as much fanfare and originality as it began, though it’s fun to watch the doll go up in flames in the microwave. (It’s almost enough to inspire an experiment on a home version of “Mythbusters” for other kids’ toys that won’t shut up!) Adding that last parting shot, unfortunately, prevented the episode from ending where it really should have: with Mulder valiantly trying to pretend that he wasn’t counting the seconds until Scully’s return, and Scully being utterly horrified at the thought.
By playing up the “case” in such serious fashion, Chris Carter lost some of what King was trying to accomplish: a Darrin Morgan episode with his own trappings of style. Had King written an episode of “Millennium” and gone for the gut-wrenching terror, it might have been a better match. Instead, King tried to work within his style but well outside of his format, and then Chris Carter came along and tried to force seriousness upon it. The case, as a result, becomes a failed experiment.
The character work, on the other hand, should have been the primary focus. When it’s on-screen, it gives the episode considerable lift. Both Mulder and Scully have been forced to recognize that they have lost touch with anything approaching normality. Scully doesn’t know what it’s like to have a weekend off, and Mulder doesn’t remember what it was like before Scully came along. Had the case been allowed to emphasize its quirky aspects, then it might have gelled as one of the stronger Scully-centric episodes. As it was, the episode feels like something of a mess.
SCULLY: “Mulder, I’m hanging up. I’m turning off my cell phone. I’m back in the office on Monday.”
MULDER: “You shouldn’t talk and drive at the same time. Are you aware of the statist…hello?”
SCULLY: “What are you watching, Mulder?”
MULDER: “Oh, uh…’World’s Deadliest Swarms’…”
MULDER: “Marry me.”
SCULLY: “I was hoping for something a little more helpful…”
MULDER: “I thought you weren’t answering your cell phone.”
SCULLY: “Then why’d you call?”
MULDER: “You didn’t find a talking doll, did you, Scully?”
SCULLY: “No, no…of course not…”
MULDER: “I would suggest that you check the back of the doll for a...a plastic ring with a string on it…that would be my first…hello?”
MULDER: “There’s got to be an explanation.”
SCULLY: “Oh, I don’t know…I think some thing are better left unexplained…”
Overall, this episode is quite a disappointment, considering that Stephen King would appear to be an obvious match for a series like this. Unfortunately, the final script doesn’t seem to be a true horror story or the whimsical character study that it clearly wants to be, and so it fails to satisfy on either account. There are some great character moments, but it’s not enough to save the episode.
Final Rating: 4/10
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