The X-Files: Irresistible

Case: An escalating death fetishist who has begun killing the living to collect “trophies” from the dead.

Destination: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Mulder and Scully are called to Minneapolis to investigate an unearthed and desecrated corpse, which an agent from the local field office believes may be the work of aliens. Mulder quickly deduces that the case is not paranormal, but instead the work of a psychologically disturbed human. The agents stay on to investigate as the situation escalates to murder, but Scully has trouble coping with the horrific nature of the crimes.

‘Irresistible’ is notable both for its incredibly creepy freak-of-the-week and for its exploration of Scully’s post-abduction trauma. Donnie Pfaster is one of the series’ most memorable villains for me. He is just so, so disturbing. The way that Nick Chinlund speaks in that soft, ingratiating tone and the way he’s shot throughout the episode enhance his freakiness tenfold. It was almost laughable when the prostitute told Agent Bocks that he looked like a “normal guy,” because absolutely nothing about the way he was presented to the audience made him seem normal. He was a lurking, evil presence. A predator on the prowl. We literally see him as a monster. If you met this guy, you wouldn’t help him get a job at your company or let him into your house with your teenage daughters, and you certainly wouldn’t tell him you leave your back door unlocked when you aren’t home. No! If you saw him coming toward you, you’d instinctively reach for your pepper spray and cross to the other side of the street. What’s wrong with all these people thinking that he looks like a nice normal guy?! He’s obviously a creeper!

Interestingly, while I find Donnie, as presented, an intensely disturbing and creepy person, I didn’t actually find his crimes to be as horrifying as the show makes them out to be. Yes, stealing parts off the dead is gross. And, yes, brutally murdering someone and taking their nails, hair, and fingers is disturbing. But is it so disturbing that agents with 20 years of field experience would fall apart? Is it so bad that Special Agent Dana Scully --- having seen all she’s seen in the last year --- would have this degree of difficulty coping with it? Scully writes in her report that “It is also my opinion that outside of child homicide, which may be more tragic and heinous, this is one of the most angry and dehumanizing murders imaginable,” and my immediate reaction was “Really? It’s that bad?”

I suspect that when I first saw the episode, I didn’t have this cognitive dissonance. Television violence has gotten considerably more graphic and horrifying in the intervening years, and I’ve likely just become desensitized to all manner of depraved crime on screen (thanks, CSI and Bones and The Wire and Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones and Sons of Anarchy and ...). Quite frankly, what we were shown here seemed positively tame compared to the horrific death tableaus I witnessed on Hannibal this season, so it was rather jarring to hear them described as the most dehumanizing murders imaginable. (Maybe I should find it comforting that this murder might genuinely be one of the worst things some of these investigators had seen.)

Of course, whether or not this is the worst crime Scully has ever faced, it isn’t necessarily the specifics of this case that are getting to her. Rather, it seems that something about the nature of the violation is causing the trauma from her recent abduction and near death experience to finally surface. She sees herself both as a dead body and as a victim of some unidentifiable monster --- all of which makes perfect sense, considering that she was abducted from her home, held gagged and bound in the trunk of a car, and then subjected to unknown horrors while she was missing. She has no idea what happened to her while she was gone, or how she ended up in the hospital hovering near death. Is it any wonder that her fears would come bubbling up at some point?

I’d been starting to wonder, in the wake of ‘One Breath,’ if they were just going to completely brush her trauma under the rug with the briefest of acknowledgements in ‘Firewalker.’ She said she just needed to get back to work, and Mulder was trying not to be overprotective, and that was that. But it sort of defies reason that she could have an experience like that and just move on with no lingering aftereffects. I understand why Scully would cling to work and continue to try to maintain her composure with Mulder --- “I don’t want him to feel like he has to protect me” --- but I was glad to see the show acknowledge that she would not simply be “fine,” as she claims to be. And I was deeply relieved that the writers allowed Scully to recognize that she needed some sort of support and to take her own steps to get it. The scene with the FBI counselor was quite powerful, and Gillian Anderson was simply riveting.

“You think that you find a way to deal with these things. In med school you develop a clinical detachment to death. In your FBI training you are confronted with cases --- the most violent and terrible cases. You think you can look into the face of pure evil. And then you find yourself paralyzed by it.”

She projected this wonderful combination of control and vulnerability. So quiet and measured, but you could see every bit of the deep anxiety, grief, and helplessness beneath the surface. So perfectly Scully.

Some might quibble with Scully’s subsequent breakdown in Mulder’s arms as a sign of weakness for a strong character, but I thought it took tremendous courage and strength for her to allow herself to be so vulnerable with him. To trust him not just with her life, but with her pain and her fears. Her abduction was traumatic for both of them, and I think they both desperately needed that tearful hug. She needed his support, just as much as he needed to be able to support and comfort her. That’s what friends and partners do. I hate that she had to be victimized again to push her to the point where she could open up, but I'm very glad it got her to stop repressing her trauma and to start dealing with it. (And at least she got to reclaim some of her agency by being smart and fighting back against her abductor this time.)

Other Thoughts

Loved Bruce Weitz as Agent Moe Bocks. (He’s the go-to guy in the Minneapolis area for “freakazoid.”) Interesting that his name is reminiscent of an inverted version of “Fox Mulder.”

Why was the football game on Saturday? Was it a playoff game? Professional football is typically played on Sundays, Thursdays, and Monday nights. (For some reason this really bugged me.)

People still keep their doors unlocked in the Twin Cities, huh? I find that hard to believe. Even in 1994.

Always interesting to see Mulder in profiler mode. And Agent Bocks seemed really happy to have the assist!

I think the trash can scene with the hair was the grossest thing for me in this episode. Even worse than the finger in the frozen peas! What does that say about me?


Bocks: “You’re saying some human’s been doing this.”
Mulder: “If you want to call him that.”

Mulder: “Some people collect salt-and-pepper shakers; fetishists collect dead things. Fingernails and hair. No one quite knows why. Though I’ve never really understood salt-and-pepper shakers, myself.”

Scully (voice over): “It is somehow easier to believe, as Agent Bocks does, in aliens and UFOs than in the kind of cold-blooded, inhuman monster who could prey on the living to scavenge from the dead.”

Mulder: “There’s a deeper psychosis at work here. It’s an almost unfathomable hatred of women. Probably going back to his mother.”
Bocks: “I’d say she’s pretty fried at him, too.”

Mulder: “I just don’t want you to think you have to hide anything from me. I’ve seen agents with 20 years field experience fall apart on cases like this. I have.”
Scully: “I’m fine. I can handle it.”

Scully: “I know that the world is full of predators, just as it has always been. And I know that it is my job to protect people from them. And I have counted on that fact to give me faith in my ability to do what I do. I want that faith back. I need it back.”

Final Analysis: A bit heavy-handed on the “human monster” metaphor and imagery, but a really disturbing villain and a great exploration of Scully’s psychology and trauma in the wake of her abduction.

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


Juliette said...

I had the same reaction when Scully and others kept going on about how awful these particular crimes are - especially at the beginning, before they realised Pfaster was murdering fresh victims and it was just dead bodies. It's gross, but if you're already dead, surely that's pretty low on the horrific crimes scale?!

I love this episode though, on of my season 2 favourites. And I think Scully, milder and the audience all really needed that hug. Platonic or otherwise, they're very close and needed some release after the abduction trauma.

lisa menaster said...

I thought I was the only one who didn't understand why Scully had such a hard time handling the crimes. Btw, the original script had Donny being a necrophile.

Emerald Green said...

Don't worry, it was factually correct, many people in the Twin Cities leave their doors unlocked even to this day. I wouldn't recommend going on a crime spree though, there are too many hunters in this state:)

ChrisB said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who wonders why the level of violence in these cases is deemed so horrific in the script. They are horrible, but we've seen worse -- even all those years ago.

But, as you point out, Jess, the best part of this episode is Scully's PTSD. And, while we may not think these crimes are particularly horrific, it doesn't matter. What does is that Scully thinks they're horrific and it sends her into a tailspin.

That final embrace is one of my favorite moments of the second season, and among my favorites of the whole series. Mulder, who has been trying to get her to open up throughout, finally gets it to happen simply by touching her. What gets me every single time is when she wraps her arms around Mulder, sobbing. I always, always tear up.

Emerald Green -- LOL.