Written by Tim Minear
Directed by Kim Manners
In which a blind woman with a colorful record seems to have killed a man with uncanny precision, leading Mulder to believe that some other ability might be at play...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
Even as the series mythology was undergoing a questionable transition, the writers were doing everything possible to keep the stand-alone episodes fresh and interesting. Of course, that also meant dealing with the constant interruptions and scheduling nightmares caused by reshoots for “Fight the Future”. This episode had similar challenges, but in the end, they were handled well.
One advantage was the superior casting of Lily Taylor as Marty. Much ado had been tossed around over the “guest writing” by Stephen King and William Gibson during sweeps, so it was a surprise to see this episode with such a strong and well-regarded guest star relegated to a relatively quiet part of the season.
The series had started with the sensibilities of a cult show, and while the focus shifted more and more to its place within the popular culture, there were many on the writing staff who still thought of themselves as outsiders. Lily Taylor was one of the better “independent film” actresses of the time, with a very distinctive look, and casting her in an episode was a brilliant move to maintain credibility. (Much of which was quickly lost by the end of the season, when Mimi Rogers was cast in a thankless role in an attempt to jumpstart dramatic elements.)
This episode was one of the few written by Tim Minear, who would later collaborate with Joss Whedon on a number of projects, most notably “Firefly”. Minear has a proven track record as a solid showrunner and story editor, and it’s probably no mistake that the most popular and consistent period for “X-Files” coincided with his tenure as story editor on the production. This episode is largely a capstone to that tenure, as it would end shortly thereafter.
One thing that works well for the episode is the chemistry between Duchovny and Taylor. The two work well together, to the point where the story actually works better when Scully is out of the picture. Marty is a character with a great deal of depth, and Taylor manages to make the character seem real. In short, the point of the episode is the character this time around, not simply the paranormal ability that drives the action forward.
That being the case, there are no connections between this episode and the larger contextual concerns of the season arc as a whole. Unlike the fourth season, which was clearly designed to take the mythology into darker territory and explore those themes independent of the conspiracy, the fifth season was hobbled by the demands placed on it by the film and the desire to extend the series beyond its natural endpoint. Thus the fifth season becomes, in retrospect, an example of a season where strong pieces dominate a weaker whole.
For instance, one of the themes in the fifth season, in terms of arc, was the journey of personal faith experienced by Mulder. He was meant to lose his faith, only to have it slowly but surely restored in time for the film to complete the circle. That never materialized in the scripts themselves, and this episode is a good example. If Mulder’s faith has been partially restored by the events of “The Red and the Black”, then why does that inner struggle not materialize in the episodes that followed?
If anything, Mulder is right back to where he began. He approaches his theories about Marty with a bit more maturity than, say, he would have circa “Deep Throat”, but he’s still the same old Mulder. Scully is back to tossing out rationalizations that seem more ludicrous and unlikely that psychic ability, which similarly serves to undermine the overall point of Scully’s side of the journey (which was a more balanced approach to exploring extreme possibilities).
Some will argue that much of what makes the “X-Files” work, as a concept, is the amount of context and character development that takes place off the screen, within the mind of each audience member. Within the fandom, there are character traits and even histories that, in retrospect, were more part of the fandom’s collective unconscious than anything derived from an on-screen revelation.
When it comes to the mythology, that’s not a bad explanation. The audience was invited to develop a rationale for the “mere pieces of the whole” that were tossed out, season after season, and never really seemed to come together. The series, to a certain extent, evolved with the emergence of the internet as a pop culture icon, a place to share and debate to the nth degree. (In today’s world, this has further evolved into the kind of multi-level experience that “Lost” offers: the series is the cornerstone of an entire multi-media conceptual immersion, with clues and world-building buried on “secret” websites.)
However, should that happen with character development? Should the audience have to piece together a character arc that should have been more closely maintained? Minear is not to blame for that decision, since Chris Carter famously didn’t even bother to have a series bible to maintain consistency. The intent was more iconic: create two leads and a concept that can, week by week, reinvent and re-energize itself within its own mythos.
This is a strong example of a successful use of that philosophy. Self-contained almost to a fault, one doesn’t need to know much about Mulder or Scully to understand where they’re coming from, what they’re all about, and how much Mulder cares about those who live in the world he seeks to understand. This could have easily been a film in and of itself, which may explain why Taylor is able to give Marty such nuance. Imagine this as a film centered on her character, with Mulder and Scully as supporting characters; it’s not very far to jump.
All of which may sound like an odd way to praise an episode. But it should be noted that many episodes over the course of nine seasons failed due to lack of context. Left with only a central theme or concept, isolated by the episodic nature of the series’ structure, episodes rise and fall based on the strength of the idea and character work. This episode has both.
More than that, there’s a neat exploration of predetermination vs. free will. Marty found her life caught in a prison not of her making on two levels: her blindness and her psychic connection to her father. One prison she could overcome, but the other was impossible to avoid; thus, her insistence on dismissing anything that might suggest that her blindness was a weakness.
Given the chance to choose, to make her own fate, she took it. There is an irony in the fact that she wound up in prison, but for her, that’s not what it was. She had given herself a freedom that she would otherwise have been denied. Where she was had little to do with it, because for her, it was breaking free of a curse, the real disability. Mulder gives her choices a tragic empowerment, and as a result, this episode manages to rise above its contextual weaknesses and succeed on its own.
SCULLY: “Mulder, don’t make me state the obvious. She’s didn’t see anything.”
MULDER: “Not with her eyes.”
SCULLY: “Well, how else did she see? Bat vision?”
MARTY: “Let me guess…your killer is OJ Simpson.”
PENNOCK: “Looks to me like it fits.”
MARTY: “Somewhere, Marcia Clark weeps.”
PENNOCK: “You are one skeptical guy, Agent Mulder.”
MULDER: “I’ve been called a lot of things. Skeptical, however, is not one…”
MARTY: “I hate the way you see me.”
Overall, this episode is a strong stand-alone installment. The chemistry between Duchovny and Taylor is powerful enough to overcome Scully’s relative absence from the story, and there are some interesting philosophical themes at work. The lack of context within the season arc itself could have worked against it, but the episode manages to stand on its own.
Final Rating: 8/10
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