The X-Files #86: Leonard Betts

"Why do I feel like Charles Darwin is rolling in his grave right now?"
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A cancer-eating mutant regrows his head and other body parts.

REVIEW: Airing after the Superbowl, this episode apparently got the highest ratings in the show's nine-year history. So what did its largest ever audience SEE? Gross Fangoria effects, to be sure, and a story that's not unlike other mutant episodes' (Tooms' two-fer is probably the easiest comparison). The twist is that Betts is not initially predatory, but rather heroic, showing that mutants may be icky, they don't need to be bad guys. Until he starts killing to protect his secret and/or to get at the juicy tumors he needs to survive, that is. Ah well, it was nice while it lasted. Like a goodie vampire, Betts works at a hospital where he can get at medical waste easily, but also help people with quick diagnoses and his paramedic skills. So I'm slightly disappointed the sympathetic Betts turns into a predator after all. He had one friend in the world, and I think he could have explained it to her instead of killing her.

Of course, LIKE other mutant episodes, the biology is completely absurd, even if you accept Mulder's "evolutionary leap" theory (which is more X-Men than Darwin). Betts is entirely cancerous, but it has no deleterious effects, not even on his looks. He can regrow a head, or even shed his entire body, which then can pass itself off as a corpse, even though it should just be a shell. The premise is one thing, but logic often escapes it. It's not even clear just what we're supposed to glean from the Kirlian photography sequence, which establishes the Kirlian effect will often "complete" the picture of an amputated element. That Betts' head radiates shoulders is well within the bounds of accepted factoid in this case. But then anything biological or medical is on shaky ground, including the ambulance's inability to control a green light, and Scully's very dangerous use of a crash cart as a weapon.

Whatever the plot's failures, the leads are in top form here. Mulder has a boyish grin on his face through most of it, gleefully enjoying seeing his crazy theory prove true, and getting all the best jokes ("Siskel's or Ebert's?" on the stray thumb, for example). Scully finds the whole thing charmingly unsettling, but gets her own moment of glee in making the more squeamish Mulder put his arm in a trash bin full of tumors. Their partnership is shown in a strong light despite her testiness; when she tells Mulder to come running, he does without asking questions, and the fact he arrives late only means she gets to do a bit of martial arts action. Plus shocker: Scully's alien abduction super-cancer is confirmed by Betts' sniffer! Her worry is evident - we didn't even need the late-night nose bleed - but she's not telling Mulder yet. In other words, we won't hear about it every episode until the resolution is resolved.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Linking back to the episode where Scully was returned from her abduction, "One Breath" (Season 2 episode 08), Bett's locker number is 208, and Scully wakes up with a cough at 2:08 AM.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Definitely one of the better mutant tracking episodes, and a reasonable showcase of the show's strengths, if not its most pervasive themes, for the Superbowl audience tuning in. The cancer cliffhanger is well placed, considering.


Anonymous said...

GoBots is to Transformers as Leonard Betts is to Larry Liverfluke.

Siskoid said...

Fair point.

Poor Tooms is just the Starriors in that analogy.

Anonymous said...

Well, Starriors did give us this:

The thing that video isn't showing us and I can't imagine why: when the dinosaur is just sitting there clicking, each "click" is the firing mechanism trying to fire an orange disc out of the dinosaur's mouth. Put the orange discs in the dinosaur's head so we can see it, dude! What the hell is wrong with you?

Siskoid said...

And I will admit to straight up loving the Starriors tie-in comic:


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