OH THIS EPISODE. The crown jewel of season 1 so far, absolutely. I just… don’t even know where to begin with its awesomeness.
This is another one that has stuck in my brain since childhood. There is just so much about it that is iconic. The scene with Scully’s dad wordlessly mouthing in the chair has always been one that made me shudder, and it’s such a classic X-Files scene in the sense that it barely has to employ any traditionally used tactics to scare the crap out of you. Brad Dourif is brilliantly cast as Luther Lee Boggs. Mulder and Scully swap their roles of believer and skeptic for the first time ever. And Gillian Anderson gives one of her best freaking performances.
Above all else, I love how much this episode managed to accomplish in the way of adding so many dimensions to Scully’s character. We got to see, no matter how briefly, some tender moments between her and her parents. We got to hear a bit more about her insecurities, her doubts, about the career path she has chosen and whether her parents — her dad, primarily — are proud of her. We got to see her travel through some deep, visceral grief after losing not only her father but one of her heroes. We get to see the beginnings of the semi-conflict between Scully’s resistance to believe in the paranormal unproven but willingness to believe in the spiritual unproven. We get to see her in such a raw, vulnerable state. She vacillates between quietly determined, knowing she must continue working to keep herself busy, and set on saving the captive teenagers; consumed with rage as she feels betrayed by logic, thinking that Boggs set them up and caused Mulder’s injury; emotional to the point of tears, shedding her tough outer shell in view of a complete stranger.
Scully has always had many similarities between Clarice Starling’s character in The Silence of the Lambs, but probably most so in this episode as she is the only one who can truly connect with the disturbed but brilliant serial killer. She sees some of herself in him, and she knows he has things to offer her, both professionally and personally. And try as she might, she believes him.
The most fascinating is the swapping of their largest character attributes. Mulder, who is normally so quick to believe no matter how improbable, is stubbornly and angrily closed-off from Boggs. He’s convinced from the beginning that Boggs is a fraud, that he is coordinating with someone on the outside to both commit the crime and to get his sentence reduced. He’s been on death row before and just barely escaped, and he didn’t like the demons he would have been forced to deal with. He’s desperate. Mulder even reprimands Scully at one point for going into the warehouse alone, angry that she could have been killed, saying “What you’re really saying is that you didn’t want to go on record admitting that you believed in Boggs! The bureau would expect something like that from “Spooky” Mulder, but not Dana Scully.”, and she responds “I thought that you’d be pleased that I opened myself to extreme possibilities.”
Scully, on the other hand, is drawn in by Boggs’s intimate knowledge of her personal life. Of the song that played at her father’s funeral. Their nicknames for each other — Ahab and Starbuck. She is caught at her most vulnerable. She’s too emotionally exhausted to put her guard up. She lets him in, no matter how reluctantly, and it saves not only her life but the life of the tortured kids.
But the complexity comes in with the fact that despite her obvious belief, or at least her desire to, she can’t accept it. She’s as invested in her skepticism as Mulder is in his faith. She’s afraid of the truth in many ways. In the last scene, after Scully finishes rationalizing everything she’d experienced with Boggs, Mulder asks her “Dana. After all you’ve seen, after all the evidence, why can’t you believe?” and she responds “I’m afraid. I’m afraid to believe.”
The two of them have a couple of tender moments, namely when Mulder gently caresses her face after she insists that she needs to work and he apologizes for the loss of her father, and again at the end when he gently puts his hand on her shoulder. Just deeply emotional, bonded moments. Also, a very different moment, when Scully lets loose on Boggs, angry that him potentially turning on them had resulted in Mulder’s hospitalization… easily her best moment of the whole season so far.
ALSO, I’d be remiss to not mention the episode’s several references to Twin Peaks, a show it no doubt takes a good amount of inspiration from. Not only does Don Davis — who plays Scully’s father — also star in Twin Peaks, but the armchair sequence is highly reminiscent of something straight out of David Lynch’s creation, as well as another that shows Scully sitting, dead-eyed, on the edge of a bed. The music even takes an eerily similar turn at one point.
Just… a brilliant, fantastic episode, top to bottom.
Director: David Nutter | Writer: Chris Carter, Glen Morgan, James Wong | Music: Mark Snow | Cinematography: John S. Bartley | Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Brad Dourif, Don S. Davis, Sheila Larken, Lawrence King-Phillips