The X-Files: D.P.O.

Case: When five people are struck by lightning in the same small town, Mulder suspects foul play - and since this is The X-Files, he's right.

Destination: Connerville, Oklahoma

Of all the early X-Files episodes that guest star people who would later become really famous (Ryan Reynolds, Seth Green), this is surely (as TV Tropes would put it) the most triumphant example. Giovanni Ribisi has never had a better opportunity to do the twitchy, unsociable, slightly strange persona he's so good at than he has here as a teenager with a mysterious command over electricity, while his 'normal', jovial best friend and occasional conscience is played by Jack Black. It is perfect casting - the fact that both later became much better known is the icing on the cake.

Adult serial killers on The X-Files tend to be either people who kill because of whatever strange paranormal hoojamaflip they've ended up with, which means they can't survive without killing, or (probably more frequently) they're total psychopaths who would be serial killers anyway, but are able to carry out their evil deeds in especially sneaky ways thanks to their super-powers (people on The X-Files rarely use their powers for good, but then, Mulder and Scully are criminal investigators, so they don't meet those people).

Teenage serial killers on the show, however, often get pulled into a situation that spirals out of control as their standard teenage issues, problems, rivalries and so on get blown out of proportion. Darren Peter Oswald is not one of those teenagers. A stalker with a short fuse, D.P.O. is a scary guy under normal circumstances, and it's throwing in lightning power on top of that which makes him so brilliantly creepy.

This is one of my favourite episodes of The X-Files. It's a challenging one to review because unlike my other favourites, beyond Ribisi and Black's presences there's no special thing about it to mark it out - no Mulder/Scully shipping scenes, no super-clever twist or tragic denouement, it's not a comedy episode or a ghost story (I like those) and it doesn't feature creepy twins (everything should feature creepy twins. And a helicopter exploding). The story is fairly by-the-numbers X-Files, with a series of deaths, a local policeman who doesn't believe a word Mulder says, Scully doing an autopsy, our heroes telling a victim she's safe now when she's clearly not and a final shot that echoes Psycho in a similar way to the final shots of 'Squeeze' and 'Fire'.

So why do I love it so much? Well, part of it is down to the fact I was around 13 years old when I first saw it - I just responded to episodes about teenagers, and the wish-fulfilment aspect of wondering what it would be like to have lightning powers (obviously, I would not have used them to murder or stalk people). There's a twisted joy to the scene in which Black and Ribisi sit around blowing up cows and causing traffic accidents. Partly it's the fantastic casting - there's a reason these guys did well afterwards. Perhaps partly it's because there's something enjoyable and inherently satisfying about an episode that is simply a very well put-together 'standard' episode. The value of episodic (non-arc-based) series television is a bit of a pet thing of mine, and there's really a lot to be said for something that does a simple job well. If you feel like sitting down in front of a random episode of The X-Files, this one would be a good choice.

Other Thoughts

 - Firstname Middlename Oswald. The writers weren't feeling subtle when they came up with that.

 - Oh, the 1990s: much of the episode is set in an arcade.


Mulder: This local lightning is a lot more predictable than Teller realises. It seems to have a definite preference for the type of person it strikes.

Final Analysis: I just love it. Four out of four suspiciously similar lighting-strike victims.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


Heather said...

This one has always been one of my favorites, too. For many of the reasons you listed, especially the guest actors. I fell in love with Giovanni Ribisi when this first aired. And you nailed the idea that any time TXF did a misspent youth ep, there was a huge helping of wish fulfillment. Great review.
Hey man, nice shot.

ChrisB said...

This is an episode I usually skip during re-watches. The whole idea just seems silly and even more implausible than usual.

Your review, however, inspired me to watch it again. I understand why you love it. There are some small moments that work well and the acting is above the norm.

I still can't say it's one of my favorites, but I did enjoy it more than I have in the past.

Juliette said...

Thanks Heather! Chris, I'm glad you enjoyed it more this time! I think an awful lot of my experience of the first three seasons of The X-Files is completely determined by the fact I first saw them as a teenager. I stopped watching around season four so from season five onwards, my first experience of them was as an adult, an academic and an SFF columnist - it's almost like two different shows, the experience of watching them is so different!

WADEZILLA13 said...

I don't often comment, but I agree so much with this review that I just had to chime in - this is one of my favorite episodes! In fact, if I had to list my top ten X-Files eps, a majority of them would come from Season 3 - and they're all standalones. I'd go so far as to say that Season 3 of the X-Files is on the top ten list of best seasons of any show ever.

In regards to 'D.P.O.', it's the simplicity of the episode that makes it great, especially on the heels of the 2-part alien-centric season opener. Loved that it was a teenage simpleton who received such an awesome ability. Ribisi and Black killed it, as did you with this writeup, good stuff!

Juliette said...

Thank you! :) This was one of the episodes I always remembered as a favourite through all the wilderness years when I'd stopped watching The X-Files. Ribisi and Black are fab!

drnanamom said...

This has always been one of my favourites as well and I watched all of the X-files as an adult. Your review and some of the comments helped me to understand why it was a favourite (I don't always interrogate such things). I think as others have said that it was just a breath of fresh air after the heavy 3 parter before it and even as such it was well written, well-acted, well-everythinged. My love may also rest on the wish fulfillment piece. Who wouldn't want to be able to blow up those who annoy you? Not forever of course, just for a teeny tiny moment.

Jess Lynde said...

It's interesting to see so much love for this episode. It's very cool to learn what resonates with different people.

This one never left much of an impression on me, aside from Giovanni Ribisi --- who I always think of as "the creepy lightening kid from D.P.O." when I see him (even to this day). But that's all I remember about it. It’s definitely not one I usually rewatch, so I didn’t even remember that Jack Black was in it. Jack Black! That's crazy.

orfeo said...

I've just rewatched this one, and it just gets better each time. The casting is, as you say, outstanding. But the script is clever in creating the character of DPO as well. There's so much detail to him. He's a bored, obsessed showoff with little impulse control, but he's also powerful and the combination makes him dangerous and scary.