The X-Files: Kitsunegari

Case: One of Mulder and Scully's most memorable arrests has escaped from prison.

Destination: Lorton, Virginia

"How come I feel like I lost?"

Only three of The X-Files' Monsters of the Week were ever given sequels: Eugene Victor Tooms, the first of all who returned later in the first season; an earlier villain who returns season seven, which we won't spoil here; and Robert Patrick Modell, the 'Pusher'.

Sequels are tricky things, and there are a couple of different ways to approach them. 'Tooms', the highly successful and acclaimed sequel to 'Squeeze', went with the simple template of doing the same thing over again but developing the character interactions and raising the stakes. Dealing with the same villain again offered a perfect opportunity to show how far Mulder and Scully's relationship had progressed during that first season, and the general skepticism of the authorities concerning Mulder's theories made it harder for them to apprehend him. Tooms himself, however, was much the same as he had been in his first appearance, with the primary development of his character being his wonderfully grisly death-by-escalator.

Robert Patrick Modell was another memorably creepy villain from an outstanding earlier episode, but the writers opted for a different approach in returning to his character. In this case, they're gone for a sequel that offers a twist on the original story, turning the original plot on its head to offer a new take on the material in the style of 2010 or Terminator 2. The original plot from 'Pusher' is inverted by making Modell more sympathetic and introducing a new villain with similar abilities, thus maintaining a sense of mystery and an element of whodunnit in a manner not possible if the story is simply about re-apprehending a known villain.

How successful this is, is debatable. In real life, people are made up of shades of grey and no situation is completely black and white, nor is any human being purely evil (well, maybe Hitler). On TV, however, we like to see completely monstrous villains from time to time. The power of 'Pusher' came partly from how supremely creepy Modell was, and this power is diminished if he becomes conflicted or even sympathetic. The other strength of 'Pusher' was its fantastic final act, in which Modell tries to 'push' Mulder into killing Scully, agonizingly aware of what he's doing and desperately trying to resist. This episode tries to recapture that, but Linda Bowman uses trickery to try to get Mulder to shoot his partner; while this would clearly be equally traumatic for him, it's less compelling for the audience.

There are some great scenes in this episode. The stand off in the shop with the poor guy who thinks he's holding a snake is fun, and Linda Bowman gets in one great kill, drowning her husband in Cerulean Blue paint in tribute to one of her brother's impressive murders. The episode as a whole, however, tends to dilute the power of the original, and the temptation for long-term fans is surely to quietly ignore its existence.

Other Thoughts

 - The modus operandi of both villains in this story is slightly different to the original. Although Modell showed some ability to make people see what he wanted them to see in 'Pusher', he tended to favour the titular 'pushing', forcing them to do something they don't want to do but leaving them with some awareness that they're doing it. Here, however, both tend to favour tricking their victims with hallucinations including snakes and making them believe they are other people, though Modell uses the original 'pushing' technique to escape and Bowman uses it to euthanize him.

 - The episode's other major flaw is sheer implausibility. The X-Files always asks its audience to suspend their disbelief and the audience is happy to do so, but part of what makes that possible is that the series' villains are one-offs, individuals in extreme, bizarre and unique circumstances. Suddenly revealing a long lost twin with the same brain tumour causing the same mysterious powers is stretching it, even for this show.

 - Irrespective of the episode's flaws, Robert Wisden's performance as Modell is just as great as in his first episode.

 - According to the show, 'Kitsunegari' means 'fox hunt' in Japanese.


Mulder (gesturing at Japanese symbols painted in Cerulean Blue on the walls): I'm going to take a wild stab here and guess this is a clue.

Final Analysis: If this were a completely stand-alone Monster of the Week, it would be pretty good, but as a sequel to an all-time classic episode, it's a bit of a disappointment. Two out of four tubs of Cerulean Blue paint.

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


Heather said...

Your analysis of the curse (?) of the sequel is spot-on. Loved Wisden though, too. And there were a few standout moments particularly surrounding Mulder's swagger. Great review.

Juliette said...

Thanks :) Wisden is great, and I do love that death by paint scene.

ChrisB said...

You absolutely nailed the problem with this episode, Juls. I've never really liked it all that much and you articulated beautifully why I don't.

The shot of Scully lying in a pool of blood always makes me shiver, however.

drnanamom said...

As Chris B. said you nailed the issues with this episode. As I was watching it again, it felt kind of blah but I couldn't figure out why exactly and I had the same feeling you mentioned of - ya, I'll suspend disbelief but be reasonable people. Thanks for a great review.