"Improbable"

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"So, Dana...tell me...what was Mulder's 'number'..."



The trouble with reviewing an episode that is obviously meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek is that it falls to subjective tastes in humor. As much as I love the wackier side to the series, especially during the more surreal episodes presented in the first few seasons, there has been a tendency to attempt wackiness for its own sake. This is especially true for episodes written and directed by Chris Carter; “Fight Club” comes to mind almost immediately.

This episode unfolds on the premise that everything in life is the result of a much larger and complex system, which can be understood through careful examination of numerical attributes. In other words, numerology plays a big part in this episode. When several seemingly unrelated murders come to Monica’s attention (never mind how), she determines that the principles of numerology connect them to the same killer. She runs this past Scully, who disagrees with the premise, but finds her own connection between the victims. Let’s ignore, for the moment, that Scully’s connection is blatantly obvious to anyone studying the photos in even a cursory manner; I caught it during the slide show. What matters in this scenario is that Monica could be right.

Making the connection, one way or another, gains Monica instant recognition from the Bureau personnel assigned to the cases (or so I assume, it’s never made clear). At the same time, when the numerologist Monica consults winds up as the next victim, the basis for her conclusions comes under derision. Eventually Scully begins to come around, at least in a certain sense, and as they wind up tracking down the killer, Doggett slowly comes to a similar realization, against the expectations of the AIC.

The final piece of the puzzle comes when Scully and Monica wind up trapped in a parking garage, and when they go searching for any sign that the killer is still present, they find someone who appears linked to the case…a mysterious man played by Burt Reynolds. Earlier in the episode, we see him interacting with the killer, subtly trying to convince the killer to change his mind or stray from his path. He certainly knows more than he claims, and he seems to understand the underlying system within reality. Is he God, or something similarly omniscient? Perhaps, but he’s also big on bizarre dance music and numbers.

After being trapped for a while, a game of checkers winds up convincing Monica and Scully that they could be the next victims, and they remember that the killer could be down in the parking garage. They hunt him down, and while Monica is attacked, Doggett bursts in to save the day (how he knew to be there, I don’t know). Everything seems resolved, but the mysterious man (and his car) disappears, leaving the agents wondering what exactly happened.

If one were to distill this episode to the fundamental case and the ultimate resolution, there’s simply not much there. A woman gets killed. Monica reviews the case files and makes her analysis. She visits the numerologist, then the numerologist is killed. Scully autopsies the numerologist, and then visits the crime scene with Monica. The two women follow the suspect into the parking garage, where they get trapped. Killer attacks Monica. Doggett kills suspect. End of story, and if that were the only point to the episode, it would take about two acts to tell that story.

Granted, the inclusion of the mysterious Burt adds a layer to the episode that is intriguing, in terms of his conversations with the killer and then the agents in the parking garage. Unfortunately, Burt also brings along enormous amounts of filler. The first example of this comes in the first act, where for an amazing amount of time, we see how everyday life seems to follow the beat of the song Burt is singing/thinking of. Whether or not he is controlling the scene, or simply in tune with the pattern, is not clear, and I doubt it was meant to be. It’s impressive enough in terms of setting the stage, and quite a nice technical bit of directing, but it lingers far too long.

The real crime is at the end of the episode, which is just begging for more discussion on the numerology behind the characters. Think of what a three-way conversation between Monica, Scully, and Doggett could have provided both in terms of adding subtle meaning to the episode and pure comedic value. Instead, an unbelievable amount of time is spent on a retread of the earlier musical scene, wasting minutes of time. It could have been 1/4 of the length, and still would have made the same point.

And the less that is said about Burt dancing while Scully and Monica play checkers, the better. Sure, it was funny, but ultimately, a waste of time…especially when you consider that the killer is just sorta hanging around all the while.

I did like some parts of the episode, in terms of the concept. It’s nothing new, in many places a direct homage to episodes like “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and “Hollywood AD”. I have my problems with “Hollywood AD”, and generally, they fall along the same lines. Just as with that episode, the numerology premise underlying the case was intriguing enough to make me wish it was explored in more depth. The time wasted on the musical aspect could have been cut enough to give the numerology a little more explanation.

One thing that this series has always tried to convey, with varying degrees of success, is the idea that there is “a greater intelligence in all things”. The fact that I subscribe to this belief doesn’t hurt, because I tend to forgive some of the more cloying spiritual aspects of the mythology, which can be heavy-handed. But as with “Clyde Bruckman”, there is a certain value in exploring the lighter side of this concept, and numerology practically screams for it.

It makes sense that Monica would be aware of the concept of numerology and its practice, but I’m not so sure that I would expect her to believe in its utility so strongly. More to the point, I would have liked somebody, probably Doggett, to point out that it doesn’t matter whether or not numerology is valid, so long as the killer believes it to be so. Anyone familiar with profiling methods (and given the wonderful programs on the subject these days, that’s more and more likely) probably knows that determining a killer’s rationale doesn’t require belief in that rationale. If one considers that fact, it’s easy to see why Mulder would have had a mixed reputation even before taking on the X-Files. Mulder was a brilliant profiler because he could spot a rationale rooted in the unexplained, but at the same time, he believed in it. The reaction Monica gets in this episode reminds me of the reception Mulder used to get.

As the symbolism began to emerge, I found that some things were very subtle, especially during the checkers game. Scully and Monica are incredibly intelligent, but notice how both of them are maneuvered into the most unlikely and foolish checkers arrangement possible when they play Burt. It reveals how aware (or responsible) Burt is with regards to the numerical patterns underlying reality. At the same time, watch the moves and countermoves when Monica and Scully play each other. They seem to unknowingly mirror each other’s moves. If I weren’t so cynical, I might even say that there is an inherent symbolism in having Burt dancing around them as they proceed in this fashion.

The best part of the episode, for me, was the phone call between Monica and Scully at the end. Monica’s interpretation of Scully’s numerology, the idea that “9” represents completion and the culmination of a spiritual journey, works on so many wonderful levels. It speaks to Scully’s experience in “all things”, for instance, and could even be taken as a portent with regards to the current mythology. I would have liked to have heard Monica explain what her “value” was, or Doggett’s, as an element of foreshadowing perhaps. At the same time, it is an indirect commentary on Chris Carter’s thoughts on the series itself, and how ending the show now is the right thing to do.

There were some elements of the plot that were glossed over and even dropped, and that was somewhat disappointing. At the same time, this was an episode written mostly for style and laughs, so it’s hard to linger over those plot holes too heavily. Whether or not this episode truly represents something original is another story. It doesn’t, and given that many fans consider the later seasons to have far too many retreads for comfort, that’s not the best sign. It’s also a little disappointing to see so much time wasted on style, when there are so many plot and character elements begging for attention before the series comes to a close.

Some other thoughts:

- Gotta love RP’s face during the pre-teaser intro!

- That is some of the most bizarre dance music I’ve ever heard...

- God smokes Morley’s?

- Gambling away your entire paycheck and crying the rest of the week. Sounds like the American Dream to me...

- Nice overhead shots in the Hoover Building...and this time, Monica’s not showing off her endowments!

- Check out the new slide projector! Welcome to the 21st century, FBI...

- Hey, look, this case isn’t an assigned X-File either. Why do they even bother having the file cabinets, since they never actually investigate X-Files anymore?

- How does the killer know that Burt is outside? Notice that he acts as though he “feels” Burt across the street.

- Burt needs to work on his lip-synching!

- Burt does the “look of infinite sadness” rather well, every time Wayne-O fails to “choose better”.

- Nice use of the “domino” buttoned coat to maintain the overall theme!

- Is that how any agent who, oh...does their job...gets received by his or her fellow agents? And this is all it takes to launch one’s career?

- I love Doggett’s entire reaction to Monica’s explanation of her numerological theory!

- Pizza by the slice for $3.50? That better be some damn good pizza...

- Great line: “Go to hell!” “Are the reservations in your name?”

- “HER NUMBER WAS UP” Ha!

- How did the AIC rise to that kind of authority with that gigantic stick stuck up his...I mean, with so little imagination?

- Gee, could it have taken any longer for Monica or Scully to think of running down the stairs after the killer tricked them by stepping back into an elevator?

- Oh, and the same thing about realizing that the person who drove away might not be the killer?

- God downloads music from the Internet?

- “Next victim?” Heh heh...nice foreshadowing!

- I know Scully would know better than to shoot at a metal door, but it was so funny to see that look of desperation on her face.

- Really didn’t need to see Burt’s ass waving across my TV...

- “Keep your hands up!”
“Why?”
Pause. “I don’t know!”

- “I think she’s on to something!” “Wow!” “Go, girl!”

- “Oh, there’s no getting rid of me...”

- How can Scully sleep with those enormous pillows shoving her head to the side like that?

Overall, this episode was amusing enough, but there was nothing about it that would prompt me to rank it as highly as the more inspired “lite” episodes of previous seasons. And considering that the sixth and seventh seasons suffered tremendously from too many episodes like this, it’s a shame to see them do it again. Still, it was better than “Lord of the Flies”!

I give it a 6/10.


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