Change of Scenery: The X-Files pt. 2

This is our conclusion to X-files week, so here are my thoughts based on our introduction to the series (If you haven’t already seen Jordan’s thoughts, you can read them here).

Season 3, episode 17: “Pusher”

pusher

I watched Jessica Jones with Jordan when it first came out, so, like him, I was curious to see how X-Files’ use of a mind-controlling villain would stack up with JJ’s. Now, of course, Jessica Jones has David Tennant playing an egotistical sociopath who can destroy your life with the simplest of commands; that’s hard to beat. But I enjoyed Robert Wisden’s Pusher as well. I loved how he starts his first few scenes off so unassumingly before quickly establishing himself as the deadliest character in the room, using his powers to kill/maim FBI agents and easily evade the Justice system. I also like how there’s a bit more intimacy to his powers, as he uses his soft voice and vivid words to beguile his victims into submission like he already knows them.

I was also impressed with the tension in this episode. Far from being dated, it beautifully builds up as Pusher keeps raising the stakes. The best scenes are when he talks agent Frank Burst into having a fatal heart attack over the phone, he makes the meek, fragile agent Holly assault her boss, and when he forces Mulder and Scully into an intense game of Russian Roulette.

Speaking of Mulder and Scully, I was initially confused by David Duchovny’s and Gillian Anderson’s performances at first. I’d heard plenty of people rave about their performances on this show, but I was a little underwhelmed at first. At the start of the episode, their characters seemed a little stoic and emotionless to me. I didn’t see what was so special. Once the plot got going, I finally saw what everyone was talking about. Both the characters and the actors really do draw out the best in each other, especially the emotion I was waiting for. From the heated argument Mulder and Scully have in the middle of the episode, to the climax when Pusher forces Mulder to point a gun at himself then Scully, passion, fear, and rage can be seen and felt from their expressions and their voices.

Overall, I’d say this episode is a good addition to the general “Mind-control villain” trope we tend to see in a lot of sci-fi stuff. In fact, it may even be foundational to the trope as we know it today, like how Pusher is a quirky yet egotistical villain who could easily make you kill yourself on a whim, like Killgrave. What’s more, I’d say it shows what not to focus on now. X-Files dedicates a traditional courtroom scene with Pusher using his powers to sway the judge, an obvious result, but it’s not a scene you see happen as much nowadays as it did before. Jessica Jones (mild-spoilers) certainly doesn’t spend any time with Kilgrave in court, possibly because the writers knew that prior shows like X-files already treaded that path, making it all the easier to see coming.

I also like how “Pusher” can serve as a metaphor for the power and fragility of human connection, as well as its effect on even the vainest of us. Previously a below-average Joe, Pusher desires approval and recognition, which he can only get from others. Despite his selfish use of them, his powers rely on other people, forcing connections and impressing his will on them for his own gratification. Starved for recognition, Pusher’s willing to destroy himself to maintain and use those strenuous connections to attain the accolades he craves, but all he really does is push everyone away from him. His punishment: he’s left alone dying in a hospital bed to be inevitably forgotten (Scully: “I say we don’t let him take up another minute of our time”).

 

Season 2, episode 20: “Humbug”

x-files humbug

After watching such an intense episode, Jordan and I needed to watch something more lighthearted next, so we picked “Humbug,” which I heard was the show’s first comedy episode. In it, Mulder and Scully investigate the latest murder in a string of mysterious killings (comedy gold…?), located in a Florida town filled with sideshow freaks (because of course Florida has a town filled with sideshow freaks).

The comedy in this episode is great, and it’s especially striking considering, up till this point, I can only assume, Mulder and Scully were always dealing with intense adventures like in “Pusher.” This episode’s cast is filled with colorful, playful freaks that make great comedic foils to the two stoic, grey-uniformed government agents. That being said, there’s comedy in subtlety too, and the two FBI’s faces say it all as they try and process all of the weirdness around them. But Mulder and Scully get in on some of the wackiness too, once again proving their chemistry by cracking jokes  together or showing off magic tricks to each other (Scully:“My uncle was an amateur magician.”… Mulder: “Everyone’s uncle was an amateur magician”). I have to say, one of the best punchlines is how the monster is “defeated,” tying a bow on an oddly-wrapped episode that says life is gross, weird, and just plain freaky…

Seriously though, some disturbing things happen in this episode, so caution to the faint-hearted who have yet to watch it.

 

After watching these two episodes, I think I understand the hype behind this series. It’s dramatic, funny, and knows how to play with expectations (even just the opening scenes to both episodes have some good twists). I’d even go so far as to say that it’s foundational to many of the shows and stories we see today. Does a show about secret government-sanctioned agents investigating, and often coming to blows with, the supernatural and the unexplainable while dealing with their own personal drama sound familiar? Try asking Fringe, Men in Black, Torchwood, or even Agents of S.H.I.E..L.D. Sure, X-files probably didn’t start this trope, but it has over 10 years’ worth of content to contribute to it.

These two episodes make me exited to watch more, and maybe the new mini-series will be just as well-received as the original. I want to believe. Do you?

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