The X-Files #23: Roland

"People can do anything in a dream, you know."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A mentally handicapped man is connected to the murders of rocket scientists.

REVIEW: Like Born Again just before it, Roland is a murder mystery where the killer is acting FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. It's another possession story, and while this one is more successful, I think, we may well wonder if the show is exhausting itself in the final lap of the season. One of the things that saves it is the now ubiquitous Željko Ivanek in the title role. He gives a strong, touching performance as a man with the mind of a child, who seems sympathetic even after we see him viciously kill member of a rocket propulsion team. It helps they were all jerks, but it's clear he wasn't in control, nor does he have the ability to understand what is happening to him. The possession comes from an unusual place - a genius twin brother, long since estranged and now dead, who psychically possesses Roland from inside a cryogenic tank. It's a completely ridiculous premise, but unlike Born Again's, it's ONE premise, not a greatest hits album.

The ridiculousness is used to the show's advantage too. It can't be denied that while Roland's struggles are viscerally real and his timid romance sweet, the murder and mayhem is unashamedly the blackest of comedies. If it wasn't clear from the sequence in which a scientist is sucked into an engine - it's directed to get a laugh - then surely, the chalk outline of the one who got his head shattered to bits after a dunk in liquid nitrogen should clue you in. In all cases, the murders offer a kind of poetic justice, and it seems Roland's brother Arthur was himself murdered so his team could take the credit. Don't feel too bad for him though. The fact that his thoughts "bleed" into Roland's mind and would have him kill his would-be girlfriend shows he's far from the nicest person around. No one weeps for his defrosting head.

A comedy it may be, but it's not a perfect one. The show's effects still rely on video speed-up too much, it looks so cheesy. The scene where Mulder and Scully have a computer technician turn Arthur into Roland on screen is both stupid (as are most computer scenes in the X-Files) and unnecessary (the two look alike enough to draw this conclusion). And the ending is a little confused, with Roland somehow "using" his defrosting brother's knowledge to prevent the last death. Meh. The final ambiguous moment - Roland has a strange reaction in a mirror, meaning Arthur may be looking back... shared head space? - gives the coda an added frisson. And that was my last refrigeration joke, guys.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An ordinary plot, but worth it for the performances and the gallows humor.

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