"Fire has got a certain genius, you know. A certain demon poetry."
REVIEW: Since the show was filmed in Vancouver, it was only a matter of time before Mark Sheppard put in an appearance, though of course, this is a very early role for him. He's joined by 90s TV queen Amanda Pays AND, if you're into Canadian TV, Lynda Boyd from Republic of Doyle! A big episode for guest-stars... and for effects, too! The fire is often up close and personal with the actors, and has some nice chaotic movement that keeps it visually interesting. Sheppard's Cecil L'Ively is something of a star-making role, genial yet creepy, and presenting a threat to both kids and a small dog raises his scenes' tension considerably. He does magic tricks in camera, tries to seduce small children into smoking, worms his way into a family's affections, and survives a full body burn then asks for a cigarette. In short, he's memorable. So I'm a little bit disappointed we never really understand what his motivation might be. Why is he going after MPs exactly and why does he love their wives so? (See The Truth for a possible explanation.) He's clever in the way he commits his murders, but the "why" isn't really addressed beyond psychotic behavior.
One might also wonder why neither Pays' Phoebe Green, nor Mulder's pyrophobia are ever seen or mentioned again, given that Chris Carter himself wrote the episode. Did these pieces of back story not work, in the end? That might be so, but they both had potential. Phoebe tortures Mulder with a threatening Mission Impossible tape, and all the inside jokes with her old beau are Sherlock Holmes-related, for example, which makes for an interesting dynamic. It also bugs Scully, what with the "unresolved sexual tension" and all. Phoebe is also a bit of a skank, reigniting (oh, clever) her old romance with Mulder while also apparently carrying on with Lord Marsden. It's just a small moment that isn't then referred to (the two let go of an embrace when Mulder barges in), which could have been a sort of cheat to let Mulder off the relationship hook, but I like that the X-Files throws in small details and character quirks, simply as texture, and doesn't feel the need to discuss them (other examples includes the arson expert who looks at fire and sees art, and the bodyguard's cold, which - surprise! - actually gets used in the plot). And though we don't need Mulder to turn into the Martian Manhunter, must we believe he simply confronted his fear and is cured from this point on? It would have been better to see him struggle with flames whenever they occurred, which wouldn't have been THAT often, would it?
Structurally, things are set up early that pay off a bit late for the audience to necessarily catch until a second viewing. The initial briefing goes by quite fast, so that the painting that looks eerily like Lady Marsden, for example, seems a strange detail. But despite my criticisms, the episode is well acted and directed, has some blackly comical gore, convincing effects, an entertaining villain, etc. It's quite watchable. Just don't stare at it too hard, you'll just find yourself asking all sorts of awkward questions, like what Phoebe is doing in the States, and if she's protecting Lord Marsden, why isn't she ever at the house, and that's not to mention why the hotel in Boston is trying to beat the Towering Inferno is a fire code violation contest.
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: If I were to guess at Cecil's motivation, I'd say it has to do with the Satanic cult that tried to burn him alive in 1963. In the X-Files' world of conspiracy, it wouldn't be surprising to find aristocratic politicians being members of such cults (Freemasonry, druidism, etc.), which might give a budding arsonist a clear target. Beautiful wives might be a further filter to help him choose the next victim.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Rather entertaining, but the lack of follow-up means it's not as important as it first appears.