The X-Files #183: The Unnatural

"I don't want to be no famous man. Just want to be a man."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Another Arthur Dales tells Mulder a story about an alien baseball player.

REVIEW: David Duchovny's debut as a writer/director is something of a misfire, partly because it is centered around a character who couldn't actually be in the episode. In The Unnatural, we go back to the late 40s where the first X-Files agent, Arthur Dales, had his first encounter of the third kind. Sadly, Darrin McGavin took ill after filming only a couple of scenes (included on the DVD), so the framing tale was reshot with M. Emmet Walsh, apparently Dales' brother also called Arthur (who looked just like the other Arthur when they were young and now lives in his old apartment), a harebrained conceit to be sure, but one that robs the story of two crucial things. First, it's now no longer about someone we know; and second, how the tragedy affected Dales and his enrolling in the FBI is no longer an issue - the scene that would have packed a punch of pathos was thus excised. Judging from the alternate scenes with McGavin, he played the part much more subtly than Walsh and was much more affecting. It's my belief the episode worked as an Arthur Dales story; it just doesn't as an Arthur Dales 2 story.

Even so, there are some serious issues with pacing. The teaser, for example, is about as slow as any baseball game I've seen, and it takes forever for the Gray Klansman to arrive. It's a bit like that throughout. I'm not very interested in baseball, I'll admit, so the way some writers like to sanctify it (as a Star Trek fan, I know this pain well) is completely beyond me. In this case, there's an attempt to at least talk about the era before black players were allowed in the pro leagues, but the idea that all the great players were, in fact, aliens muddies the idea. I liked the concept that their humorless culture has no room for games, and that certain "rebel" elements would want to join humanity, having fallen in love with our culture, but it's still baseball. Like, whatever. Given how silly the story sometimes gets, it sometimes seems like it's a tall tale, a put-on, but Dales' reaction to his alien friend's death is genuine and heartfelt. Is some of it embellishment? I think it must be. Did Exley's blood really turn human because he identified so strongly as human? That seems like metaphor. The ice pick device we already know to neutralize the green blood's acidity. Point is, is so often feels preposterous (like the bit where Exley turns into a beautiful babe and sits on Dales' lap) that Mulder should be right to dismiss the whole thing. And if he is, why shouldn't we? If it's all symbolic for brotherhood between races, well, it just makes me feel a little uncomfortable to equate blacks with cannibalistic grays.

The Mulder and Scully scenes are, however, exempt from my complaining. It's the weekend, and Scully is letting her hair down. She doesn't take Mulder seriously, laughs more than she has all season, eats ice cream. And Mulder, in response, teases her, wrestles the cone away from her, and in the closer, shows her how to hit a ball. It's all a little awkward, physically, but it's fun. The banter is funny, and like baseball to an alien, it's unnecessary, yet lovable.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: So the Bounty Hunter was on Earth in 1948? Was this the same Bounty Hunter? Because I thought it was pretty clear that he landed on Earth just before his first appearance; there was talk of a craft falling into the ocean or something. Perhaps "Bounty Hunter" is a common face worn by aliens on Earth. After all, a shapeshifter could look like anyone, so why consistently return to that one unless it's a default of some kind. So this may be an entirely different individual.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Sunk by the temporary loss of Darrin McGavin, the episode wouldn't have risen above Medium anyway given content so marginal to the lead characters.