The X-Files: The Unnatural

Case: Mulder investigates the story of a Negro League baseball player who just might be an alien.

Destination: Roswell, New Mexico and THAT baseball field.

“I don’t want to be no famous man. Just want to be a man.”

Think about it for a minute. This is an episode about baseball players in the 1940s. They are not only black in a time when being so could be life threatening, they are aliens. Our two heroes are, for the most part, nowhere to be seen throughout this hour. This story should never have worked. It did and it does on every subsequent re-watch.

Written and directed by David Duchovny, this is an earnest hour of television. Duchovny took a premise that could have been silly and inane beyond the telling of it and chose to take the whole thing seriously. Because he does, we do as well.

The story is helped immeasurably by Jesse L. Martin as Exley. He takes moments in the script that would have been eye rolling in lesser hands and elevates them to something moving. The scenes between Exley and Arthur Dales are lovely to watch. The friendship and the respect are palpable and, as a result, we grow to respect and like a character we have only just met.

There is a great deal that is romantic and nostalgic in this episode. I would argue that baseball is the most romantic of American sports. It is the national pastime; it is the game of summer; it can be played almost anywhere by almost anybody. It has become so ingrained in our national identity that we call the championship match between two American teams the World Series.

It is for the love of this game that an alien being goes through what he does, simply to play. He even chooses to be a man of color, living a life under constant threat, so that he can’t play in the major leagues and have his secret discovered. He is content to play the game any way he can. That is romance.

It is through this game that the themes of friendship, segregation, and alienation are explored. These characters connect through their love of the game, yet these two very different creatures come together and discover things about themselves and about each other that resonate with us all. The final scene, when Exley is bleeding red blood, always makes me cry a little.

What resonates most, however, is the realization that Duchovny loves not only the characters of the players and Dales, but Mulder and Scully as well. When Mulder tells Scully why he loves baseball so much, it is refreshing to see him feeling so strongly about something other than conspiracies. Scully, on the other hand, is relaxed and fun around her partner. Their exchange of cliches makes me laugh every time I watch it.

Of course, the most romantic part of this episode is the final scene. It is among my favorites in the entire canon. I love the way Scully giggles; I love the way Mulder and Scully talk to each other; I love watching the baseballs hit into the sky as they become stars. Yes, it’s corny. I love it anyway. And, guess what you guys. Duchovny is the biggest shipper of us all.

Other thoughts

-- I’m sure you all know by now that Scully was named for Vin Scully, a baseball announcer for the LA Dodgers that Chris Carter listened to when he was a child. The announcer in this episode is, unsurprisingly, Vin Scully.

-- The X-Files episode that Arthur Dales is watching is “Colony.” The Alien Bounty Hunter was a large character in that episode as well.

-- The tagline is also one of my favorites -- In the Big Inning.

-- The music in this episode is exceptional, especially the choice of spirituals.

-- There’s just enough mythology to make the story interesting. Whether it ties into where the mythology is now is debatable, but it works.

Quotes

There are so many wonderful quotes and exchanges in this episode, I could have nearly quoted the entire thing. The following are my absolute favorites:

Scully “ Mulder!? You cheat. I can't believe that you've been reading about baseball this whole time.”
Mulder: “Reading the box scores, Scully. You'd like it. It's like the Pythagorean Theorem for jocks. It distills all the chaos and action of any game in the history of all baseball games into one tiny, perfect, rectangular sequence of numbers. I can look at this box and I can recreate exactly what happened on some sunny summer day back in 1947. It's like the numbers talk to me, they comfort me. They tell me that even though lots of things can change some things do remain the same. It's...”
Scully: “Boring. Mulder, can I ask you a personal question?”
Mulder: “Of course not.”
Scully: “Did your mother ever tell you to go outside and play?”

Exley: “What’s the matter, Arthur? You look like you ain’t never seen a black man before.”

Exley: “I didn’t know the unnecessary could feel so good. You know, the game was meaningless, but it seemed to mean everything to me. It was useless, but perfect.”

Alien Bounty Hunter: “Show me your true face or you will die without honor.”
Exley: “This is my real face.”

Mulder: “All right, what you may find is you concentrate on hitting that little ball... The rest of the world just fades away-- all your everyday, nagging concerns. The ticking of your biological clock. How you probably couldn't afford that nice, new suede coat on a G-Woman's salary. How you threw away a promising career in medicine to hunt aliens with a crackpot, albeit brilliant, partner. Getting into the heart of a global conspiracy. Your obscenely overdue triple-X bill. Oh, I... I'm sorry, Scully. Those last two problems are mine, not yours.”
Scully: “Shut up, Mulder. I'm playing baseball.”

Final Analysis: It shouldn’t be, but it is one of my favorite episodes of this show.

ChrisB loves baseball, especially home runs that turn into stars.

6 comments:

Mark Greig said...

Duchovny took a corny idea (alien plays baseball) and turned it into something beautiful. Bravo.

Billie Doux said...

I remember this one. It was just lovely, and your review brought it back for me, Chris. And Jesse L. Martin is one of the big reasons why The Flash is so good.

sunbunny said...

This was the first episode of The X-Files I ever saw. I caught it randomly as a rerun and I don't think I would've kept watching if I hadn't recognized "Ed from Law and Order." (ps. he and Lennie are the definite L&O duo imho). Such a sweet episode.

Juliette said...

I like this episode. Being British, and therefore feeling no connection to baseball, I don't quite love it. But the ending if lovely, the episode is a bit daft but nice, and I'm gonna have to watch it again now that I've actually been to Roswell!

Heather said...

Chris, I love your review. Especially the poignant thoughts on America, baseball and romance! This is one of the best eps the show ever produced. LOVE Jesse Martin. The storytelling is just sublime. This ep is a huge credit for Duchovny.

Mallena said...

Just Lovely. Jesse Martin's smile, the music, mood and the visit to a past era. Funny how I'm bored by baseball in person, but love it in the movies. A league of their own, The Natural, Bull Durham. Same thing with football movies. Cried all the way through We are Marshall.