The X-Files #293: Plus One

"You're all dried up. Not even half a woman."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Insane twins play hangman together, and if they guess your name, your double shows up to kill you.

REVIEW: The first true-blue, non-Mytharc, episode of the season, and not a moment too soon. It's a bit uneven, but it's what the X-Files do best - a creepy one-off supernatural mystery with an ironic ending that leaves the leads without full answers. In this case, there's the idea of dark doubles of people appearing out of nowhere and causing strange "suicides" (road accidents, hangings, falls from a great height, but weirder ones too) in a small town. Initially pegged as a contagious mass hysteria, Mulder and Scully soon meet an institutionalized woman who telepathically plays hangman with her twin brother (a prison trustee), the names they guess acting as a kind of sympathetic magic/psychic voodoo that creates the lethal apparitions. You get some natural suspense and creepiness from this, of course, especially once they decide to target the FBI agents. In the end, they get angry at one another and summon up each other's doubles, which puts a fatal end to their rampage. So pretty fun. "FBI! Put down the pencil!" indeed.

If the episode isn't entirely successful, it's that the acting is so variable. Karin Konoval is great as the sister, sometimes sweet, sometimes angry and evil, but as the brother - I had to double-check because she's unrecognizable, but yes, she plays her male twin - is comically over the top. I just don't believe "Chucky" as a character, and the show seems to know it, layering his scenes with twinkly music as if to say, yes we know this is ridiculous. It creates a tonal problem. But I also have problems with the gun nut, sword-collecting lawyer also overacted (by Ben Wilkinson), a sort of parody figure who doesn't really make sense in the story. If he's a small town lawyer, and Arkie is an example of his clientele, how does he afford dozens of katanas, antique samurai armor, and a barrelful of assault rifles? There are comedy episodes, and there are serious episodes, but the mix can be a little awkward unless it's very dark indeed, or comes naturally from the leads' normal dynamic. Though even here, the bit where Mulder keeps spooking Scully by standing over her bed (did he knock at all?) feels just a touch forced. Pick a tone and stick with it, guys.

There does seem to be a missed opportunity in Plus One regarding the dark doubles of Mulder and Scully, though perhaps none of the suicides/murders we see necessarily tell us something about the victim. Still, with all the talk about one's own demons, and self-destructive impulses, you'd think Fox and Dana's specific dark sides would have been explored. They're not. Their doubles are merely sinister presences, once of which is dispelled by a placebo (so Scully's own resolve?), while the other shoots (blanks?) at Mulder and bashes his against a wall until the twins stop playing that particular game. There's still some character development, with Scully wondering if she's old, and what will happen to them once they retire (or are fired as part of Trumpian cut-backs). We've seen hotel room shenanigans with these two before - the classic series was all about the will-they, won't-they - but at this point, it's almost silly, and one wonders what their retirement plan actually is. Can they only be a couple once they're out of the FBI? Well, life is too short. By the end of Plus One (the title does double duty), it's safe to say they're an item, or at least, lovers. How this ties into the theme of self-destruction isn't clear and makes me think the production didn't really understand the theme.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Entertaining, but thematically and tonally muddled at times.

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