The X-Files: Leonard Betts

Case: An EMT thought to be killed in an ambulance accident actually has the power to regenerate.

Destination: Pittsburgh, PA

Are you familiar with an XF writer named John Gillnitz? He’s credited for writing some memorable episodes of the series. The name also shows up connected to a character in each episode written by Gillnitz. Is this interesting at all? Well, John Gillnitz is actually John Shiban, Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotinitz. (Oh, writers.) Why is this significant in ‘Leonard Betts’? Because when it comes to Scully’s cancer, it's all hands on deck.

Rumor had it that a faction of TXF writers constantly strived to be good enough to write for Gillian Anderson. This arc, which ‘Leonard Betts’ touches off, is a love letter to the actress from the writers. One that she takes to heart in the way only she can. And because David Duchovny is no slouch himself, he shines here, (and in the coming episodes that deal with this crisis) and beautifully, as well.

The show has grown up. When you look at the longline for 'Leonard Betts', from one angle the episode is about a tumor-eating, cancer-riddled mutant with the capability to grow a new head (played by the specifically sensitive Paul McCrane from Fame and ER.) Leonard doesn't sound so different than Eugene Victor Tooms. But this story is far more personal, tender and sympathetic. There's even a faint parallel to partnership when Leonard's partner, Michele (memorably played by Jennifer Clement), describes her feelings and thoughts and observations about not really knowing this brilliant person with whom she works every day. Where we were once seeing a pair of agents find out what they're about, together and separately, while running around investigating the paranormal, we now get two people, enmeshed, whose internal lives are in sync with what they see around them. And in profoundly interesting and touching ways.

I'm sorry, but you've got something I need.

I guess Scully’s up to her ass in alligators now. It's pretty much the most perfect thing that the last four minutes of 'Leonard Betts' exacts the most devastation the audience has felt to date. After four acts of extraordinary circumstances looking ever more of this world, Scully is hit with the most private experience of that which she won't believe is true, the fact that she has cancer. The way the details of Betts' life are metered out throughout the episode, each one more unbelievable than the last and all inexplicably true creates the best kind of tension -- the kind where we're pulled through each scene at breakneck speed to what we hope will inevitably be an emotional pay-off heretofore unknown. And it is. And Scully, perhaps too tired anymore from her effort to disavow, doesn't want to have the fight in her to meet Mulder at every threshold ready to challenge, disprove or reason with his usual brand of explanations. Or maybe in order to face the future, in her heart of hearts she knows she has to start to surrender... to the things she's seen around her as real (if hard to believe) and to her need to love and be loved, in a way she hasn't so far.

Other Thoughts

* The teaser really goes for it, doesn’t it?

* The reflection of Leonard, shadowy and headless in the steel cabinet doors, is an extra lovely touch.

* Love how the first shot after the credits is Scully looking into a empty locker in the morgue.

* The opening banter between Mulder and Scully hits a high note. It’s so dry and unemotional and perfectly characteristic of how they interact but without the need to prove to the other their own personal stake. It’s just utterly comfortable and efficient.

* Yet, not mundane or routinized which is exactly why Scully can say at one point, “Mulder, I don’t even know how to respond to that.”

* Storage unit – a subtle nod to SotL? Or a subversive obsession of Vince Gilligan’s?

*Just kill me now, Mark Snow. In the last scene when Scully wakes up coughing, there is the faint but unmistakable introduction to Scully's theme.

* Less devastating but just as memorable is Snow's use of the plucky oboe which immediately, when used, shifts the tone of the episode to vaguely -- dare I say, playful. Somewhere in that choice is the assurance that we're going to be okay with what's to come.

* ‘Leonard Betts’ has the honor of being one of the Super Bowl episodes, aired specifically as a badge of honor to a much larger audience than usual. It was the most-viewed episode of the whole series.

* Leave it to The X-Files to steer into the skid so to speak, with the chance to gain access to a whole new group of viewers, they didn’t shy away from a weirder, more gruesome and outrageous plotline.


Mulder: “I think I got the toy surprise.”

Scully: (when Betts’ eyes open) “Oh. God.”

Scully: “Are you ever asked to defend this as a legitimate scientific process, Doctor?”
Chuck: “Only if you’re not happy with the results.”

Mulder: “Chuck, would you believe that this man's head had been decapitated?”
Chuck: “Oh, come on. No way.”
Mulder: “Way.”

Scully: “Mulder, I don't know what you're getting at here. Regeneration of an entire body? I don't know why I'm listening.”

Mulder: “You did a good job, Scully. You should be proud.”
Scully: “I want to go home.”

Final Analysis: Very powerful episode full of metaphors to convey what's to come for Scully, personally, and Mulder, in the rest of the season.


drnanamom said...

Great review Heather, thank-you. I found this episode extra creepy because Leonard seems to be a nice guy who is good at his job who just happens to regenerate and eat people's cancers. The things we don't know about our co-workers....While I agree with what you are saying about the other angles to this episode the MoW is pretty interesting. Seeing cancer in a positive light was a bold way to go. I think I also particularly like the episodes that posit possible evolutionary jumps for humans.

Heather said...

What a great thing to say it about the show's conceit (along with a great way to say it). The show really was hopeful at its core about humanity.

ChrisB said...

I've been putting off my re-watch of this episode as it gets to me every time. The look on Scully's face as she sits in the car and faces the inevitable is heartbreaking.

Great point about the parallel working partnership between Leonard and Michele. There is something very sweet about both of them, as odd as it may seem.

Heather said...

This section of S4 is a killer!

NomadUK said...

Wonderful episode, for all the reasons given. Anderson and Duchovny are just so good. Lucky writers that they get to write a love letter to Gillian Anderson!

There are only two things that bug me, really: One is that Leonard has to go and kill his partner. Why? Just to keep her from telling anyone? Would she? Does he know that? Would anyone believe her anyway? I don't know -- it just seems a bit cruel, is all.

And, two: With all those handy cancer tumours in the cooler and readily available, does he really need to be killing anyone? Why not just dip into a packet of snacks? His real troubles begin when he starts offing folks; he would probably have otherwise been able to disappear and resurface again somewhere else had he not done that.

My partner keeps hoping for kinder, gentler episodes where there's a monster but nobody actually gets killed! This one, it seems to me, could have done it.

Nonetheless, I totally agree, it was great. Every expression on Scully's face -- flawless. I could watch hours of nothing but Anderson emoting silently and be happy.

Carolyn said...

This may be a bit of a tangent but is enmeshment a good or bad thing in semi romantic relationships?

Heather said...

I think it's highly unhealthy but dramatic as hell to watch!!! :)