The X-Files #236: Redrum

"You said something about a second chance..."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A man lives his life in reverse so he can prevent his wife's murder.

REVIEW: Redrum is murder in reverse, and that's what we have here - a wonky time travel puzzle episode in which a man is killed on a Friday for his apparent murder of his wife, then wakes up Thursday, then Wednesday, and so on, until he can solve the mystery of who actually did it, clear his name, and perhaps even save his wife and set right what once went wrong. To make this work, the point of view is squarely with the accused man, Martin Wells, who at least counts Doggett as an old friend. Unlike the previous season's non-FBI POV episode, Hungry, which served as a spook commentary on the series and didn't really work for me, Redrum's structure justifies the sidelining of Doggett and Scully especially, and Joe Morton is engaging enough as a guest star to keep our attention too. He so takes over the show's perspective, he gets to narrate the coda's poetry.

Amusing casting, putting Robert Patrick's fellow Terminator 2 alumn Joe Morton in this other temporal paradox story. As friends, this time, but the director does still indulge in some subtle T2 riffs, shooting Patrick looking on ominously from behind fences or in elevators. You have to know your T2 quite well to catch them - it's not like he karate-chopping the air as he runs after a car or anything - but they're there. Danny Trejo is also in this and I think wasted in such a small role. As a angry thug out for revenge, his character could have been played by anyone, and I wish they'd used him as the main guest star in some other episode. Ah well. These two actors really do make the episode though, making the viewer rather more patient than normal with the leads' long absences. Trejo is a fierce presence, and though too briefly used, projects exactly what's needed, almost as short hand. Morton is such a soulful actor, we immediately feel for Martin Wells, and fear that he may indeed have killed his wife and blanked it out. We don't want that for him. And yet, when his actual crimes come to light, his suppression of evidence in cases he prosecuted, we can also believe the cold distance he puts between himself and third strike offenders. So part of this "quantum leap" includes his admitting his sin and paying for it.

Time travel stories are hard to write, and the flaw here is that the episode's logic doesn't hold up. I'm not too bothered that there's no explanation for it - trauma breaking space-time is as good a reason as any - but the spiderweb motif is an odd one to juxtapose on the story. Is the spider in Martin's cell only a coincidence, or is it playing a part in his paradoxical existence, actively trying to make him figure out the killer is the man with the spiderweb tattoo? Is it some kind of interdimensional creature whose web is a manifestation of the web of time, through which it can make others travel? It's not really explored, but it works as inference and thematic element. What I'm not sure works is the rule book for this temporal experience. The episode really wants us to believe history can't be changed, and that everything Martin is set in stone because then he couldn't have followed the clues back to that fateful night. We're seeing predestination at work. No deviating from it. And yet, every CONVERSATION he has cannot have happened in the ultimate (Friday) timeline, because no one ever remembers him raving like a lunatic about living his life in reverse. So he CAN change history, he just isn't allowed to until the optimal timeline is achieved (though you could argue he should have gone back until he didn't suppress evidence thus leading to the suicide of a wrongly-incarcerated man that triggered this whole drama). Again, who has agency here? What force is making this happen? If you don't think about it too hard, it just about works, but it doesn't stand up to the kind of scrutiny time travel fans are likely to apply to it, and doesn't really play fair with the audience, putting history back on track in some pretty convoluted ways at times.

Perfectly watchable, the strong guest-stars making up for Scully and Doggett being pushed to the sidelines, but I like my temporal puzzles a little more airtight.



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