The X-Files #16: Young at Heart

"Mulder, I know what you did wasn't by the book..." "Tells you a lot about the book, doesn't it?"
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A killer seeks revenge on Mulder from beyond the grave. Has someone found the Fountain of Youth?

REVIEW: Mortality and immortality. That's what the episode is about, and pleasantly, it explores that theme in a number of ways. On the first level, we of course have a killer who has been given a treatment that has imbued him with incredible regenerative powers and reversed the aging process. The creepy mutant hand and the nasty doctor that experimented on him tie all this up in Dr. Frankenstein's own attempts to defeat death. Mulder's own youth comes back to haunt him, as this killer might not still be alive if he hadn't made the wrong call as a rookie FBI agent years ago. So while some men attempt to keep a tight hold of the past or return to it, Mulder means to escape it. And there are those who won't live to see the present become the past. The episode always makes sure to tell us what the dead leave behind, unfinished, and in keeping with the theme, he even visits a football game in which one of the victim's kids plays.

And the past tends to repeat itself. Just as Barnett killed an agent and a hostage years ago - the events that haunt Mulder - he must reenact these crimes in the present. Scully becomes one target, and there's really no question she's wearing a bulletproof vest - we can't be fooled into thinking one of the protagonists was killed - but the hostage is another matter, and Mulder gets a second shot at making the right call. So like Barnett, he revisits his youth. Unlike Barnett, he goes another way. Speaking of revisiting the past, some might unkindly notice this is another instance of Scully's home being invaded. It happens a lot. The FBI should really do something about that. Another agent - Mulder's old mentor/partner - gets killed in his home as well. Stop giving out those addresses, Bureau!

All kidding aside, the episode's strong thematic underpinnings are further supported by a strong atmosphere. Barnett is a creepy Batman villain, stopping just short of comic book ridiculousness. There's a great play of light and shadow, The X-Files' house style already honed to perfection by this, only its 16th episode. Director Michael Lange also underscored his set pieces wit striking colored backgrounds, which I found interesting - green for Purdue's murder, red for the attack at the concert hall, etc. While the past is represented in shadow or often in black and white, the story progresses towards vivid color the closer we get to the climax. Compare to Mulder's courtroom flashback, also in warm colors atypical of the program. I believe we're to understand Mulder is reliving this moment as if it WERE more vivid than the actual present. He certainly shows more passion there than he normally does as a "hardened" FBI agent.

Deep Throat makes an appearance to reveal the government is negotiating with Barnett behind the scenes to get its hands on Dr. Ridley's stolen research. That tracks, as a lot of "mutants that are the result of "alien" experiments seen on the show seem to have extended life spans. Is immortality one of the Holy Grails of the Conspiracy? But Deep Throat isn't the only recurring character to show his face, though the other one is uncredited. That's right, the "CIA agent" that debriefs Barnett on his death bed is the man we will come to know as the Cigarette-Smoking Man or Cancerman. He hasn't been seen since the pilot, where he had no name or even lines. Chris Carter is really playing the long game with this one.

- Another winner, with themes and mood working well together. I just wish they'd find another trope to exploit than psychos breaking into Scully's apartment.


LiamKav said...

Apparently the CSM isn't actually identified as the CSM in the script. So you could argue that "officially" it isn't the same person. That would involve ignoring your lying eyes, obviously. (In every other script he's identified as "Cigarette Smoking Man".)


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