The X-Files: Theef

Case: Dr Robert Wieder's family are targeted by a murderer using voodoo.

Destination: Marin County, California.

"You can't hurt a man who ain't got nothin' left."

As I sit down to review this episode, I'm thinking two things: One, I don't want to have to follow Heather's great review of 'First Person Shooter', and Two, I have literally no memory of this episode. Granted, when I watched through all of the later seasons of The X-Files on DVD, many years after I followed the show through seasons 1-4 as they aired on British television, I had the flu, so I may actually have slept through it. But I think the content of the episode is at least partly to blame as well.

Some critics feel this episode is underrated, and it's true that, unlike the previous episode, there's nothing objectively terrible about it. However, there's really nothing very interesting about it either. The story isn't terribly interesting, and Billy Drago somewhat overacts as villain Orel Peattie. The great Kim Manners' direction is fine, and very classic X-Files, pleasingly reminiscent of season 1 - but it's reminiscent of some of the duller, more pedestrian moments of season 1, unfortunately.

One of my pet peeves in television criticism is the slamming of standalone stories in long-running series as "filler" episodes, that are by their nature not as interesting as story-arc based episodes. I don't believe that's true. Many of my favourite shows are composed primarily of stand-alone stories (Star Trek's The Next Generation and Voyager, for example) and many of The X-Files' finest hours were Monster of the Week stories. A great short story, told well, makes a really satisfying episode of television.

However, I wonder if it's episodes like this one that get standalone, or Monster of the Week, stories such a bad reputation. The primary story in this episode, the short story that makes up the Monster of the Week tale, is rather dull and bland, a basic case of Hollywood voodoo. As a viewer, you're left wishing that this bland story was lifted by some more entertaining Mulder and Scully interaction and perhaps a movement in the overall story arc, fitting the episode into the bigger picture so that it doesn't feel like a waste of time. A stronger Monster of the Week story wouldn't leave the viewer feeling that way - but a weaker one like this one does.

Other Thoughts

 - The bit where Scully is blinded by voodoo is quite scarily effective. And then she kicks ass anyway, of course.

 - There is a really interesting moment at the end where Scully seems to wonder whether Peattie could have saved his daughter's life with voodoo. She seems, finally, to have left her entirely sceptical days behind.

 - Scully mentions eating brains as a bad idea. If I recall correctly, Mad Cow Disease came about partly because cows were fed sheep's brains (or something). Conclusion: eating brains is bad and may bring about the zombie apocalypse.

Quotes

Scully: Kuru.
Mulder: The disease New Guinea tribesmen get?
Scully: From eating the brains of their relatives.
Mulder: And I thought my grandpa slurping his soup was bad...

Final analysis: Meh. Two out of four brains.

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

3 comments:

magritte said...

Another problem with this episode is that it struck me as a bit of a retread of the more memorable "Our Town" from season 3.

Mallena said...

Stand alone monster or villain episodes are only bad when they are written just as a way to fill out the episode commitment, with little effort put into making the story great. I can also tell that the actors seem a little bored when doing those episodes. A monster of the week episode gets a bad rap, sometimes, but it is really fair to only call them filler when they are dull and uninspired. The stand alone X-Files episodes can be so wonderful, but not this one. The only part I liked was blind Scully saving the day.

magritte said...

Actually, I think I would go so far as to say that most of the X-Files best episodes were stand-alones. It was a different time in television. Other than Twin Peaks, long narrative arcs were pretty much the preserve of soap opera when the X-files began. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural are built around season-long (or even longer) narratives, so it's easy to view episodes that don't advance those stories as "filler". But for the X-Files, Mulder and Scully working weird cases was the meat of the show.

This just wasn't a very good one.