The X-Files #101: Dead Letters

"For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me. And what I dreaded has happened to me, I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes." - Job 3:25,26
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Frank works with a cop on the edge in a serial dismemberment case.

REVIEW: Dead Letters is really a game of mirrors. The character of Jim Horn (played by James Morrison, because all episodes written by Morgan and Wong that year must use Space Above and Beyond alumni, it's a rule) is a profiler on the verge of snapping, something Frank immediately recognizes as his past self. The difference between them (beyond the fact that one sounds over-written and the other under-written) is that Jim has lost his support system. It's Catherine who saved Frank from diving into the abyss, and Jim just got separated. The thing Carter's shows have always warned profilers about is the tendency to become the monsters they hunt, getting into their heads too deeply, or as Frank refers to it here, letting the killers IN. Jim has made it all too personal, and that's another mirror - not only does he start using the killer's own imagery (suffering a similar crisis of identity), but he sees his family in the victims. The production pushes this theme farther by making Jim's young son imitate Frank's daughter, and later, panning from the killer's photo to the child's, as if to remind us of a second danger - the child could grow up to be a victim, but more horribly, to become a monster.

Because the profiling is crucial to the story, there is a lot more of it, and Frank's intuition seems less supernatural than in the previous two episodes. The murders aren't apocalyptic either - though you can definitely say all this crazy violence is due to Millennial hysteria if you want - so if feels more like a procedural crime drama. That's not a complaint. I think the detective work is sound, and leads to a well-orchestrated sting, even though the real point of the story is to show Jim explode. The Millennium Group isn't interested in the case - it's intent on stopping certain kinds of crimes, clearly - but it nevertheless needs Frank to audition Jim for a job. Obviously, he fails. And it's obvious he will from the outset. Frank seems to stick around as a personal favor, to help a guy out by sharing his experience.

There is a point, early on, where you're almost supposed to believe Jim is the killer (and might not even know it). That's the mirroring at work, but the killer writes secret messages on silver hair, and Jim's hair is certainly silver. Soon, we're seeing the killer and know it's not. The killer lures a woman to a horrid death, and - mirrors again - Frank and Jim respond by luring the killer to her vigil by insulting him in the media. It doesn't work because Jim jumps on the wrong person, but clues eventually lead them to the next victim and they stage a sting that requires a policewoman to dress up as the targeted girl (do I need to mention the theme again?). By that point, Jim's fallen off the edge, seeing the killer and his orange VW van everywhere. Dead Letters' theme shows up everywhere.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: I have to wonder about Frank's daughter and her awful nightmares. In the previous episode, she had a seizure and was taken to the hospital. Are either of those events connected to Frank's violent flashes of insight? In other words, if they ARE some kind of gift (psychological or supernatural), could they have been passed on? Is this what Frank's childhood was like? Is this how it all started? A neurological event followed by bad dreams?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A well done procedural profiling episode, layered and revealing of Frank's past without actually going there. I wish there were more for Catherine to do, however.


Jeffry Willis said...

I have always thought that Frank's and Jordan's relationship felt unusually realistic as cinematic families go. I've always attributed this to the level of talent Lance works at. There several scenes throughout the series between the two and it was a joy to watch them act. But I always wanted more.

Siskoid said...

It looks like he's interacting with a child, which he is. The moments are engineered, but don't feel too scripted, it's true.


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