Written by Vince Gilligan and Tim Minear
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
In which Robert Modell escapes from prison and those responsible for his defeat begin dying, but when the investigation proceeds, Mulder believes the killings are from a different suspect...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
After an “introduction” phase that eschewed stand-alone episodes for mythology and character development (and even some “non-canon” fare), the writers return to the well for a few episodes while working out where to go next. With the series at its critical peak, especially in terms of the popular culture, there must have been some desire to touch on the themes and concepts that were popular in season past.
According to Tim Minear, the story editor for the most acclaimed period in the series’ history, the original story concept was something more in tune with “Millennium”: a serial killer who escapes prison, supposedly on the “word of God”, to stop someone else from committing murders. The idea was to have Mulder go against his own instincts and believe in the killer’s conversion, because the evidence would suggest that the “word of God” was in fact real. Scully, on the other hand, would find herself denying something that her faith insists as possible and miraculous.
That episode could have fit rather easily into the mythology of the series, especially since divine intervention has been on the agents’ side since the very beginning. Instead, Vince Gilligan suggested that the character of Robert Modell, the antagonist from “Pusher”, be cast in the role of the killer. Thus his motivations change dramatically: it’s not the “word of God” that matters, but rather, his knowledge of a sibling who has decided to kill in his name.
Right away, this introduces complications. Modell was supposed to be dying and permanently out of commission. He was also completely unrepentant. It’s interesting to note that the writers avoid this little problem by giving no explanation whatsoever for Modell’s change of heart. Nor is it at all clear how Modell learned of his sister’s plans to exact revenge. Since the episode begins with Modell’s escape from prison, there’s not even an indication that Linda Bowman contacted Modell with hints of what was to come.
Character motivation is everything, so when the writers force Modell into the mold that Minear originally cast, it doesn’t fit very well. As the meeting with the marshals suggests, Modell’s mindset was firmly established in “Pusher”. Referring to that gives the audience reason to suspect Modell and thus generate conflict when Mulder believes differently, but the seeds of Modell’s motivations should have been intact. They are not intact, and as a result, the episode never quite comes together the way it should.
It also seems odd that Mulder would emphasize the dangers of dealing with Modell, only to ignore his own advice several times over the course of the episode. Mulder is used to placing his own life on the line for his theories, but this is a bit ridiculous.
The plot is so thin that there’s no hidden meaning in Modell’s desire to contact Mulder. He’s trying to warn everyone about his sister, apparently out of a desire to get to her first and convince her to stop the killing. That’s literally the extent of the story. All of the important and ground-breaking character work in “Pusher”, the real reason that episode was so popular, is missing. Instead, the writers place Mulder and Scully at odds, apparently on the hopes that the episode will culminate in a compelling confrontation.
There are some interesting images along the way. “Death by house paint” is a particularly memorable image, and one must admit that “kitsunegari” is inspired, never mind Scully shooting herself in the head. Bowman’s slow and methodical use of the “push” to induce Modell’s death is a great use of the ability.
But then there’s the list of things that aren’t so impressive. Bowman’s hint-laden conversation with Mulder is somewhat silly, since Mulder is forced to pin his suspicions on those hints and it only serves the purpose of getting him off the case. Even after Mulder’s theory becomes more tenable, the writers make sure that Mulder and Scully are at each other’s throats.
The worst flaw of the episode is the final confrontation. Mulder is lead to the address where Bowman is apparently waiting for him. Bowman has apparently staged this little event to ensure that Mulder kills Scully, under the belief that Scully is Bowman and that Scully has already been “pushed” into killing herself. There’s just one problem with that. Why would Scully have gone to the building where Bowman is waiting for Mulder? Scully doesn’t believe Mulder at all, and there’s nothing to indicate that Mulder shared the address that he found on the back of the “Nurse” badge.
More importantly, this is the easy way out. Instead of having Mulder and Scully threaten each other against their will, like in “Pusher”, it comes across as a random act of revenge. Nothing that happened up to that point in the episode was building to that confrontation. It’s just a bit too conveniently staged and there’s not enough explanation surrounding the whole event. In the end, Bowman’s existence doesn’t have the same impact as Modell’s.
The final scene is meant to bring the events into some kind of focus, as if Mulder’s near-killing of Scully was somehow his responsibility. Granted, he went hunting after Bowman on his own, and that led to the confrontation, but that was largely Skinner’s fault for isolating Mulder in the first place. It would have been more logical, however, for Mulder to wait for Bowman to come for him. If he really believed that Bowman wanted revenge, then he would have realized that Bowman only killed when it served that purpose. Mulder could have waited for Bowman to make a move out of impatience, and it would have been over.
What this episode lacks is a sense of depth. The story is relatively thin, and the events just happen as one would expect. Sure, the writers make Modell out to be the villain, but once Mulder draws his conclusion, it’s rather obvious that Bowman will be the true enemy. The character work of “Pusher” is completely absent, and that makes all the difference. Add to that a few plot conveniences, and this is an episode that doesn’t quite match the potential of either writer.
Ironically, Tim Minear would move on and begin working with Joss Whedon, who would use a very different storytelling method with “Buffy”, “Angel”, and “Firefly”. Minear would deliver some of the best episodes of his career while working on those series, and his post-“Mutant Enemy” work has been equally impressive. One can only assume that he learned what not to do when working with Chris Carter and 1013.
SCULLY: “A serial killer makes us believe that he’s guilty, in turn diverting the suspicion away the real estate lady…well, he had me going…”
Overall, this episode was a disappointing sequel to one of the most popular episodes of the series. Bringing back Modell for this story was an ill-advised attempt to capitalize on impressions of continuity, especially since the character aspects of “Pusher” were completely absent this time around. It’s hard to believe that Vince and Tim, both strong writers on their own, were responsible for this material.
Final Rating: 4/10
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