The X-Files: Beyond the Sea

Case: Two kidnapped college students, apparently abducted by a serial kidnapper/murderer who tortures his victims for a week, then kills them.

Destination: Raleigh, North Carolina

When two kids are kidnapped around the holidays in what appears to be a serial incident, Mulder is asked to speak with Luther Lee Boggs, a serial killer he put on death row who claims to have information about the case. Boggs says his information comes from psychic transmission, but Mulder is skeptical, believing that Boggs is orchestrating the kidnapping from the inside to scheme his way into another stay of execution. Scully, on the other hand --- reeling from the recent, sudden death of her father --- finds herself in the atypical role of believer.

‘Beyond the Sea’ is one of my very favorite X-Files episodes. The story perfectly blends a compelling “freak of the week” with a fantastic character piece. Moreover, it is the first episode centered on Scully, and Gillian Anderson is simply outstanding. She ran the gamut of emotions from shock and disbelief to hollowed-out grief to fear and anger. The way she conveyed Scully’s barely repressed grief was so real and raw, and very in keeping with the character we’ve come to know. I thought she was particularly strong in her confrontation with Boggs. I was really moved by her delivery of “I’ll believe you … if you let me talk to him.” So understated but emotionally exposed. Her hesitant smile when Boggs seemed to become her dad for a moment was fantastic. In that instant, she was a little girl happy to see her beloved dad come home. Very poignant.

Brad Dourif was also outstanding as Luther Lee Boggs. This is another case where I always think of this role when I see the actor. Boggs was a truly heinous criminal, complete with “KISS, KILL” tattoos on his knuckles. “When he was 30, he strangled five family members over Thanksgiving dinner and then sat down to watch the fourth quarter of the Detroit-Green Bay game. Some killers are products of society. Some act out past abuses. Boggs kills because he likes it.” One of my favorite aspects of Dourif's portrayal is that I never quite knew if Boggs really did have psychic abilities, or if he was playing them. The episode seemed to come down on the side of his abilities being real, but Brad kept me guessing throughout by balancing Boggs’s over-the-top channeling with quietly compelling moments that seemed eerily real.

Overall, I thought it was a great change of pace to have Scully as the believer and Mulder as the skeptic. For once, she actually got to experience most of the “out there” phenomena, starting with her visionary encounter with her deceased father. By the end, she convinced herself it was nothing more than an opportunistic villain playing on her grief and regret, but the change up certainly led to some interesting exchanges between the partners about belief in extreme possibilities.

Other Thoughts

It was nice to see Don Davis as Scully’s dad, Captain William Scully. I loved the brief glimpse of their relationship in the opening scenes. “Good sailing, Ahab.” “Good night, Starbuck.” In those few moments, they managed to convey the great deal of love and fondness between them, but also the awkward strain her work choices had created.

I’ve always wondered what Scully’s dad was trying to tell her. He was so cold and robotic, it just didn’t seem like he was trying to tell her he loved her and was proud of her. Was it something else? Was it anything at all? From a story-telling perspective, I think it was better to leave us with whatever Scully chooses to believe about his message, but I’ve still always wondered.

The episode gets its name from the Bobby Darin song played at Captain Scully’s burial. Mrs. Scully’s story about how it was playing when he walked off his ship and proposed to her was quite moving. Great performance by Sheila Larkin.

It was weird to hear Mulder call Scully “Dana.” He did it multiple times in this episode, and it just didn’t sound right. It seemed to throw her for a loop, too, the first time he did it.

I love the bit where Mulder gives Boggs a piece of his New York Knicks t-shirt to see what he can "read" from it. Boggs put on quite the performance. I’ve always wondered if he really was "seeing" the information, even if he wasn’t getting it off the T-shirt. Especially since he saw through Mulder’s fake newspaper and Scully’s lie about getting a deal for him. “Luther, if you really were psychic --- ” “I’d have known you lied. That there never was a deal.”

What a shocking moment when Boggs first channels Scully’s dad. “Did you get my message, Starbuck?” I had almost the same reaction she did.

I liked the flashback to Boggs’s first walk to the gas chamber (except for the souls rushing into his body, which was slightly cheesy). “I know my hell’s gonna be going back to that chair over and over again for all of time. But in this life --- my one and only life --- I don’t ever wanna go back again! Ever!” It really added weight to his dead man walking and execution sequence at the end.

The transition from the Blue Devil on the brewery wall to Boggs’s face was an awesome shot. I wonder if they just found an image that resembled Brad Dourif, or if they purposely created one.

Our two serial killers were Luther Lee Boggs and Lucas Jackson Henry. Apparently their names were derived from real serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Lucas was once believed to be America’s most prolific serial killer, although many of his confessions were later debunked (per Wikipedia).

Quotes

Scully (to Mulder): “Last time you were that engrossed, it turned out you were reading the adult video news.”

Scully: “Mulder, do I detect a hint of skepticism?”
Mulder: “I believe in psychic ability, without a doubt. But not in this case. Not with Boggs.”

Scully: “I know that you and Dad were … disappointed that I chose the path I’m on instead of medicine. But I need to know --- was he at all proud of me?”
Mrs. Scully: “He was your father.”

Mulder: “Don’t get me wrong, Luther. I want to believe.”

Scully: “Did Boggs confess?”
Mulder: “No. No. It was five hours of Boggs ‘channeling.’ After three hours, I asked him to summon up the soul of Jimi Hendrix and requested ‘All Along the Watchtower.’ You know, the guy’s been dead twenty years, but he still hasn’t lost his edge.”

Mulder: “Why did you feel you had to lie on your police report?”
Scully: “I thought it would be a better explanation under the circumstances.”
Mulder (bitterly): “What you’re really saying is that you didn’t want to go on record admitting that you believed in Boggs. The Bureau would expect something like that from ‘Spooky’ Mulder, but not Dana Scully.”

Scully: “I thought that you’d be pleased that I’d opened myself to extreme possibilities.”
Mulder: “Why now? After all we’ve seen? Why Boggs?”

Scully (to Boggs after Mulder is shot): “Well I came here to tell you, that if he dies, because of what you’ve done, four days from now nobody will stop me from being the one to throw the switch and gas you out of this life for good, you son of bitch!”

Scully: “I don’t believe you.”
Boggs: “Oh well there’s plenty of room in that cold, dark place for liars, Scully. You go ahead and play it like you need to, but I know you believe me.”

Boggs: “Scully. Avoid the devil. Don’t follow Henry to the devil. Leave that to me.”

Mulder: “Dana, after all you’ve seen. After all the evidence. Why can’t you believe?”
Scully: “I’m afraid. I’m afraid to believe.”
Mulder: “You couldn’t face that fear? Even if it meant never knowing what your father wanted to tell you?”
Scully: “But I do know.”
Mulder: “How?”
Scully: “He was my father.”

Final Analysis: ‘Beyond the Sea’ is a fantastic and emotional episode that perfectly meshes a memorable villain with a character-driven story. Gillian Anderson and Brad Dourif shine. One of my all-time favorites.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.

7 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I love this episode. It's one of my favorites, and one of the few X-Files episodes I've seen more than once. The story was so compelling, everyone was so good, and Brad Dourif was brilliant. He was also terrific an intense one-shot Babylon 5 episode called "Passing through Gethsemane."

Lovely review, Jess. Thank you.

Billie Doux said...

Have to add, now that I'm thinking about it -- Billy Bibbitt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Doc in Deadwood. Dourif has done some bad B-movie stuff, too, but give him the material, he excels.

Laurence said...

This is my favorite episode of Season 1. Everything about it was fantastic - Scully, Mulder's reaction to Scully's sudden beliefs, and of course, Luther Lee Boggs, whose "channeling" I imitate sometimes for my friends for laughs. :)

I loved Brad Dourif. He was also Wormtongue in the Lord of the Rings movies, and he was excellent.

ChrisB said...

One of the best of all time. My favourite scene is the one at the end. Gillian Anderson's delivery of "He was my father" gets me every time, and I love how Mulder just puts his hand on her arm -- all the comfort she needs. Simply lovely.

ChrisB said...

I was in Walgreens (of all places) today and this song started playing over their sound system. How sad does it make me that I immediately thought about this show???

Scott said...

Another effective tactic about this episode is that there is no musical score at the opening of the teaser, or at the very end of the show when Scully states, "he was my father." This approach is used minimal times in the history of the series. Also see "Never Again."

Billie Doux said...

Had to rewatch this one because the performances by Brad Dourif and Gillian Anderson are just so exceptional. This time, I noticed that in nearly every one of his scenes, Boggs is silently crying.

One odd note -- on Netflix, when the ashes are being poured into the water, we don't get Bobby Darin's version of 'Beyond the Sea' -- we get the original French version, 'La Mer'. Cost-cutting? Availability problems? At least it was sort of the same song.