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.
- 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.