The X-Files #47: Soft Light

"If I die, there could be nothing left to tether this thing."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A man's shadow is disintegrating people.

REVIEW: Hey, it's the first X-Files script by Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan! Would that it were a winner. Oh, it's watchable enough, mostly thanks to Tony Shalhoub who is very good at playing anxiety, but the premise is preposterous. A scientist gets Doc Manhattaned - so to speak - and his shadow gains the properties of a black hole, sucking people into it and turning them into dark stains. Question is, why doesn't it affect inanimate objects? And that's the question I come back to when I accept the premise, which I really shouldn't. It would work for a supernatural event, but couched as mad science, it's absurd. It's also an episode that doesn't have enough money behind it. The verboten experiment takes place in a bargain-basement particle accelerator, and the dark matter effect looks ridiculous. There's a chilling moment when Shalhoub's character decides to use his power for killing, and it's immediately undercut by the silliness of the effect.

It doesn't all hinge on Shalhoub, of course, there's also some pretty fine direction from James A. Contner. The guest character's anxiety translates as strange lighting and angles, fish-eyed perspectives, and odd, off-putting soundscapes. The regulars are good too, Mulder acting as the world's greatest detective at times and Scully trying to solve a locked room mystery by looking at the vents in a near bit of continuity. And the dodgy premise is bolstered by some good old-fashioned paranoia. Each lead has one character that seems untrustworthy for this purpose: Shalhoub's partner turns out to be the government mole who would sell him out; the young detective Scully once taught is trustworthy, but betrays her mentor for ambition (not that Scully takes it personally); and X lies to Mulder about knowing about the killer shadow, and uses him to get his hands on a human weapon. Trust no one, remember? But does the Conspiracy subplot do enough to distract from the episode's weaknesses?

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: X, and thus Deep Throat's faction, doesn't seem any nicer than the Smoking Man's. In fact, they may be worse. If one faction is working with aliens and the other is trying to find weapons to fight the aliens AT ANY COST, then X belongs to the latter. Is Mulder one of these "weapons" (albeit one without cool powers)?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - A ridiculous pseudo-scientific premise and silly effects cannot be entirely saved by a strong guest-star, cool direction and the Conspiracy riding in as the Cavalry.



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