The X-Files #53: Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose

"They say the eyes capture the last image a murder victim sees before they're killed." "What do they say about the entrails?" "Yuck."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully enroll a psychic in finding a psychic killer (of psychics).

REVIEW: I love a good, dry X-comedy. And don't let the tinge of sadness fool you, this is most definitely one. And smartly done too. You see, the episode is constructed like a joke, albeit a cosmic one. It keeps leading us one way, only to pull what I like to call a "classic switch". Wheras the fake psychics all get killed and don't see it coming, the real ones suffer from existential angst because their power makes them believe the future is inevitable. For the killer this means he can't explain his homicidal behavior; he sees it happen in the future, and goes through the motions. For Peter Boyle's character (awesome casting), it means an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness as he is bombarded by violent images of each person's death. But that's where the classic switch comes in. In the end, Clyde Bruckman overcomes his anxieties and changes the future. It's done comically, with him fearing that any change he'd make might mean the end of his existence (through a preposterous notion about time travel), and realizing it might fulfill his death wish, he decides to take a hand. In a story where everything is foreordained, there can be no surprises. And after proving that point several times, there's immense relief in the surprises he manages to create by subverting the written future.

And that structure is foreshadowed over and over again. We're bombarded with it. Writer Darin "Flukeman" Morgan keeps making us think one thing before revealing another is true. It's as simple as having a psychic know something amazingly prescient, then revealing he found it out through conventional means. Or discussing Mulder's impending death, yet returning to a small detail like the smashed pie in that same vision. The cops wait for a showboating kook/expert and Mulder shows up, but no, not him, some TV psychic. That kind of thing, and plenty of more standard jokes besides (and for X-Files, that usually means gallows' humor). Some are meta-textual too. Bruckman's contention that Scully doesn't die, for example, is a knowing smile at the immortality of a TV show's leads, for example (yet, watch for how prescient this will be in the future of the series).

Morgan's Humbug reveled in this kind of subversion as well. What Final Repose adds is poignancy. Boyle is perfect in the role. His scene with Scully where he predicts they will share a moment in a bed could easily have come off as creepy sexual harassment in lesser hands, but instead, it's about intimacy, and about Scully gracefully allowing the man some dignity. And obviously, it comes true, in a way she hadn't understood it (again, in line with the episode's theme). Bruckman goes to his death willingly. It's a release from pain. Sad, but not depressing. Like the rest of the episode, it pulls us in two directions at once, just as the image of his "final repose" was at once beautiful and revolting. Scully and Mulder gave him something, a sense of purpose and an end to the futility of fate (the end of Paper Clip looms large throughout), so he gave them something back. To Mulder, his life. To Scully, a dog, and we'll see the Pomeranian pup again.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Darin Morgan is, early in, my favorite X-Files writer and I'm disappointed to note he wrote so few episodes. Then again, you can't have offbeat episodes all the time; that would defeat the purpose. Funny and touching, it's totally deserving of its Emmy nod.


snell said...

The episode also has a lot of nice callbacks, such as Mulder doing the "New York Knicks T-shirt" trick from Beyond The Sea (but getting caught!). There's also a tabloid in the background in one scene declaring with a bold headline "Flukeman Lives!"

Yes, every episode can't be offbeat and taking the piss out of themselves. Then again, if only more series had the courage/talent to do that once in awhile...

American Hawkman said...

Such a great episode. Boyle deserved his Emmy here.


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