The X-Files: Dreamland

Case: Mulder experiences a body swap after visiting Area 51.

Destination: Area 51, Nevada; Washington, D.C.

Scully: “Mulder, you are acting bizarre.”
Morris as Mulder: “Jealous?”

Body swap episodes can be done simply for humor or they can be done to grow characters, to enable them to see themselves as others see them and learn from the experience. This episode, the first of two parts, tries to do both.

The cold open is extremely well done. We get a brief sense of where both Mulder and Scully are emotionally. Scully is worn out, tired from the constant battle that she never gets to win. She wants to get out of the car (a strong metaphor) and begin living a normal life.

Mulder is re-energized. His experiences with Crump and on the Queen Anne have convinced him that there is more to this story and that, if he just keeps driving, he will find his proof. He doesn’t need the house and the kids and the dogs. In that car, he has everything he needs -- his life’s passion and the woman he loves. But, then suddenly, a light appears and Mulder is no longer Mulder.

He is Morris Fletcher, a man whose professional life is not dissimilar to his own, but whose personal life is the polar opposite. Mulder spends the first part of this episode trying to figure out this man, trying not to be too Mulder and trying to be enough Morris to pull it off. But, he also spends it trying to get in touch with Scully to let her know what has happened. He wants to be himself again.

Morris, on the other hand, sees this all as a huge vacation. He can now play golf at his desk and hit on pretty women with immunity. It is through Morris that we get a reminder of just what a good guy Mulder is. He may be obsessed with finding the truth and he may take it too far, but he works hard. Even more, however, Mulder respects women and treats them as equals. He would never tell Scully to keep her panties on straight and he most certainly would never slap her on the butt.

Just as we think that Morris is truly disgusting, we begin to see why he is the way he is. His job requires him to be hard, to be emotionally removed from the world around him. The scene where the gas station attendant is shot is terrible to watch. We experience the same horror that Mulder does and it makes Morris just a tiny bit more relatable.

There is a great deal of humor in this episode, yet few laugh out loud moments. It is because the humor is trying to hide the dark truth. Morris’s job is in fashioning the conspiracies that Mulder has spent his life trying to uncover. The irony that these two men have switched places is never too far from the surface and rather dulls the impulse to laugh.

It’s impossible to review this episode without commenting on the mirror scene. If you’ve ever taken an acting class or a dance class, following someone else’s movements exactly is an exercise you’ve done. It is extremely difficult to do. Duchovny and McKean pull it off with grace, style, and a great deal of humor. In fact, there is a story floating around that it took the two actors all day to do the scene because they kept making each other laugh.

As this episode is the first of two, it is hard to judge the story as a whole. In this hour, there is a great deal of set-up, a great deal of exposition, and a great deal of humor. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal of character development or any kind of resolution. We shall have to wait and see next week.

Other Thoughts

-- Michael McKean was the perfect choice for Morris. His comedic timing and his ability to convey disdain are sublime at every turn.

-- We’ve seen a body swap episode before. Sort of. "Small Potatoes" is one of my favorite episodes of television ever, mainly due to the humor. There is more than a small amount of humor in this one, but the underlying story and themes are much more serious.

-- From the vantage point of 2015, the photos on Morris’s office wall are interesting choices. Ronald and Nancy Reagan, not to mention Saddam Hussein, have all taken their places in history.

-- The images of the co-pilot and the lizard stuck inside the rock are terrifying.

Quotes

Scully: “Mulder, it’s the dim hope of finding that proof that’s kept us in this car, or one very much like it, for more nights than I care to remember. Driving hundreds, if not thousands of miles, through neighborhoods and cities and towns where people are raising families, and buying homes, and playing with their kids and their dogs and, in short, living their lives. While we... we... we just keep driving.”
Mulder: “What is your point?”
Scully: “Don’t you ever just want to stop? Get out of the damn car? Settle down and live something approaching a normal life?”
Mulder: “This is a normal life.”

Chris: “I hate you! I wish you were dead.”
Mulder as Morris: “Well, my work here is done.”

Final Analysis: A good, but not great, start to a two-parter that promises more than it delivers.

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.

2 comments:

Heather said...

Chris,
I really enjoyed this review, thank you. I think that Vince Gilligan is a/the master at using humor to hide dark truth as you said so well, and I agree that this tone is all over these two eps with a mostly successful outcome. I love love love Michael McKean as Morris. They swung for the fences with this two-parter which deserves acknowledgment but maybe got a double instead. :)

Billie Doux said...

Chris, you said: "It is through Morris that we get a reminder of just what a good guy Mulder is." I think that's the point of the episode. Mulder even slept in a chair both nights.

They might have taken an entire day to shoot it, but that Groucho/Harpo mirror scene was absolutely worth it. Could not stop laughing.