Destination: Martinsburg, West Virginia
"Did he have a lightsaber?"
I think 'Small Potatoes' is that universally-agreed upon episode where when asked about it, all XF fans have hearts in their eyes. Written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Cliff Boyle, Duchovny and Anderson are at the top of their comedic game in this charmer.
It's very early on in the hour that the entire tone of 'Small Potatoes' is manifested. Mulder and Scully visit Amanda Nelligan's hospital room, post-labor, to interview her. Beat by beat, Duchovny, Anderson and company (you too, Mark Snow) hand to the audience, on a platter, the ingredients that make this episode great. Mulder's micro-expression of hope and longing that Amanda was impregnated during an alien abduction certainly stands out. But Scully's long beat before asking Amanda (who has asserted that it's not an alien at all that is the father of her baby, but rather Luke Skywalker) if "Luke" had a lightsaber is among my favorite moments in TV history. Gillian's comedic timing and dry delivery after a pause that you could drive a truck through easily rivals the high degree of difficulty of anything dramatic she repeatedly pulled off (and continues to within the TV multiverse). Because in Vince Gilligan's XF universe, Mulder and Scully not only regularly access the wild and varied inner workings of their minds, they also communicate them to the other with the most elegant efficacy. This is a level of sophistication at work that is ecstatic in its subtlety. Mulder and Scully's attachment, essentially, is electric. (Tonally, 'Small Potatoes' also paved the way for Season 5's 'Post-Modern Prometheus' and 'Bad Blood', in my humble opinion.)
In some way, this no-frills, by the book story is a tribute from one writer to another. Gilligan had the idea of writing the character of Eddie Van Blundht to give Darin Morgan a proper, authentic yet unexpected send-off since it was clear at this point in the show that Morgan was not going to write any more episodes. Gilligan wrote an homage to Morgan in several ways. He honored the tone Morgan first imbued the show with in earlier episodes like 'Humbug', but he also tipped his hat to Morgan's proclivity to subvert the series and some of its concepts. Van Blundht is a literal foil to Mulder's life's choices just as Morgan's previous episodes have overtly poked fun at the quest that fuels the show's foundation. But Gilligan goes further allowing Morgan's Van Blundht to morph into Mulder for the show's fourth act and really feel what it's like to have his life. A big step from merely editorializing the character of Fox Mulder. Alternatively, this gave Duchovny an opportunity he'd never had before, to play someone else playing him. (This was toyed with in Morgan's 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space' when Duchovny got to play Mulder through someone else's perception.) 'Small Potatoes' results in some of Duchovny's finest work on the series because, in short, it was multifaceted. And again, the episode provides another suave example, and it shares this trait with the upper echelon of the series' offerings, of an incidental story that's paramount in showing the psyches of Mulder and Scully. Gilligan was masterful at making the plot serve to deepen our investment in the characters. It's really the kind of upside-down thinking that makes his episodes so meaningful and memorable.
As for Eddie Van Blundht, I think he goes down in XF history for being our proxy to the Mulder and Scully relationship, and a great one at that. After all, he asks them to stop and consider the nature of their relationship. His request to speak with Mulder after he was incarcerated shows real self-possession, a self-confidence that bolsters his validity on our minds. We never see Eddie through the eyes that Amanda or his court-appointed therapist do (as a loser with low self-esteem). Not for a moment do we underestimate or deny the sheer audacity that underpins all of Eddie's significant actions. Writing the character this way makes his transformation into Mulder more subversive because there is a stark contrast we must reconcile (and so must Mulder) between Eddie's moxie and Mulder's. Eddie's chutzpah is infectious and fun, we wish Mulder had some of it, too. So does Scully and both she and Mulder know it. Bringing Scully into it -- well, that's quite a fine point to put on this philosophical concept.
* Amanda Nelligan is played by Christine Cavanaugh, one of the most gifted voice actresses ever. Perfect casting here, too.
* There's an extremely veiled reference to an earlier S4 Vince Gilligan episode in the post-teaser scene. Scully is looking at the front page of a tabloid paper and one of the stories is a reference to ETAP, the kind of film used in 'Unruhe', Gilligan's episode about psychic photography.
* It took awhile before The X-Files inserted a reference to Taxi Driver but here it is!
* I cannot believe I didn't process the fact that the final shot of an inmate mopping the floor behind Mulder and Scully isn't Eddie but rather another inmate who previously beat him up for the SUPERSTAR hat. I always thought it was Eddie. Wow. That's so great.
Doctor Pugh: "Good lord, not another one."
Scully: "I think there's more going on here than Luke Skywalker and his lightsaber."
Eddie: "They spelled my name wrong. It's Van Blundht, with a silent H. B-L-U-N-D-H-T."
Mulder: "We'll get right on that."
Mulder: "Scully, should we be picking out china patterns or what?"
Mulder: "Ultimately it's other peoples' reactions to us that make us who we are." (A great encapsulation of the Gilligan world view.)
Amanda: "He's one of those guys you look back on and you go, 'Oh my god, what was I thinking? WHAT was I thinking?'"
Skinner: "Which one of you wrote this?"
Eddie as Mulder: "I did, sir."
Skinner: "You spelled Federal Bureau of Investigation wrong."
Eddie as Mulder: "It was a typo."
Eddie: "You should live a little. Treat yourself. God knows I would, if I were you."
Scully: "I don't imagine you need to be told this, Mulder, but you're not a loser."
Mulder: "But I'm no Eddie Van Blundht, either. Am I."
Final Analysis: I love this episode with the fire of 10,000 suns.