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The X-Files: Fire

Case: A series of murders in which members of the British parliament are burned alive in front of their families and no evidence is left at the crime scene.

Destination: Boston and Cape Cod, Massachusetts

With ‘Fire,’ we get the X-Files version of Firestarter. Mulder is asked by an old girlfriend from his Oxford days to help catch an arsonist/murderer who is targeting prominent British politicians. With no discernible ignition source, Mulder theorizes the suspect is someone with pyrokinetic abilities.

The freak of the week really made this episode for me. It may not actually be that strong an outing, but I really loved Mark Sheppard as Cecil L’ively (a.k.a., Bob the Caretaker). He was downright freaky and very memorable. He left so much of an impression on me in this role, that whenever I see him pop up on my TV screen (which is pretty frequently these last few years --- see below), I always remember when he first creeped me out in ‘Fire.’ The smile he gives Scully from behind the potted plant is just the skeeziest!

I also kind of liked Mulder’s ex, Inspector Phoebe Green. Sure, she was ultimately revealed as a manipulative, slutty bitch, but we pretty much knew that from the start given her “fun” little car bomb tape recording and from Mulder’s various comments. “I got in over my head, and paid the price.” “This is classic Phoebe Green. Mind game player extraordinaire. Ten years it’s taken me to forget about this woman and she shows up with a case like this.” “Phoebe is fire.” Still, I liked her general demeanor and attitude. She was a fun, cheeky change of pace.

Scully’s assorted reactions to Phoebe and Mulder were also entertaining. From amusement at seeing this side of Mulder, to mild jealously, to annoyance at him trying to hook up with his ex while she’s trying to work the case. I particularly enjoyed her gently teasing him.

Scully: “Mulder, you just keep unfolding like a flower.”

Scully: “Yeah, I noticed how you couldn’t drop everything fast enough in order to help her out.”
Mulder: “I was merely extending her a professional courtesy.”
Scully: “Oh, is that what you were extending?”

Those in the ‘shipper camp may interpret some of Scully’s reactions as romantic jealousy, but I thought she was simply reacting to the closeness in the dynamic between Mulder and Phoebe. It is usually just her and Mulder against the world and they’ve become close friends. I can see how having someone suddenly intruding on that would result in a bit of jealousy and irritation. Especially when that someone thought it would be amusing to make you think you were trapped in a car rigged to blow up!

Other Thoughts

We learned Mulder is deathly afraid of fire because, as a child, he had to spend the night at a friend’s burned out house to keep away looters. “Sooner or later a man’s gotta face his demons.” Between the fire and Phoebe, Mulder got to face lots of old demons in this one.

In addition to Mark Sheppard, this week’s guest roster also includes Amanda Pays. I’m amused by the irony that back when this episode originally aired, Amanda Pays was the known name (Max Headroom, wife of L.A. Law star Corbin Bernsen) and Mark Sheppard was a relative unknown. Now, Mark Sheppard is probably better known (at least in geek circles), having been featured in memorable guest roles on countless series, including Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Medium, and Burn Notice. He was also just on Warehouse 13.

I really liked the arson guy. He had a great sense of humor about him and was clearly one of those people who loves his work. “Well, I’ve seen fire bend around corners. Seen it bounce like rubber ball. Fire’s got a certain genius, you know. A certain … demon poetry. It’s like it’s got a mind of its own. But I’ve never seen one that can defy the laws of physics. Not when you figure it out.”

Why did it take them so long to find the burned up driver in the bathroom? The Marsdens knew he wasn’t feeling well. That’s why they had “Bob” drive them to the event in Boston. Why not look for the driver in his room or bathroom first? Did “Bob” look in those places for them and report that he couldn’t find him?

And why, when the upstairs room caught on fire, did Scully, Phoebe, and the Marsdens all just stand around watching Mulder try to put the fire out? Get the hell out of there, people!

Cecil’s non-death scene is this strange combination of awesome and cheesy. I love that he got completely engulfed by the flames he used to kill so many others, but his deranged, maniacal laughter was over-the-top and took something away from the impact of the scene. “You can’t kill me! You can’t fight fire with fire!” At least they turned it around a bit by ending with the reveal that he survived and was expected to make a full recovery in as little as a month. Shuddery!


Scully: “I forgot what it was like to spend the day in court.”
Mulder: “That’s one of the luxuries to hunting down aliens and genetic mutants --- rarely get to press charges.”

Phoebe: “Oh come on. Don’t tell me you left your sense of humor in Oxford ten years ago.”
Mulder: “No, actually. It’s one of the few things you didn’t drive a stake through.”

Mulder: “This is Phoebe Green. Terror of Scotland Yard.”
Phoebe: “Hello.”
Scully (with false cheer): “Hello.”
Phoebe (whispering to Mulder): “She hates me.”

Phoebe: “I figured my friend Mulder couldn’t resist a three-pipe problem.”

Scully: “So, Sherlock, is the game afoot?”
Mulder: “Afraid so, Watson.”

Mulder: “Doesn’t look like your arsonist is going to make an appearance.”
Phoebe: “That doesn’t mean there won’t be any fires to put out.”

Nurse (to the badly burned Cecil): “Can I get you anything, sir?”
Cecil: “I’m just dying for a cigarette.”

Final Analysis: I’ve always liked this one. Mark Sheppard is at his creepy, wonderful best, and Mulder got to deal with some of his demons. 'Fire' isn’t one of my must-see favorites, but I enjoy it every time I watch it.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.


  1. A so-so episode greatly enhanced by Mark Sheppard’s presence. Can’t be sure but I think this was the very first X-Files episode I ever saw and I just remember Sheppard’s creepy performance. Great guest star aside there wasn’t much else in this episode that stood out to me.

  2. My favourite characters are those with flaws, which is one of the reasons I love this show so much. I'm glad that we got to see some of Mulder's so early in the run.

    And, Mark Sheppard! Doesn't get much better than that.

  3. The UK made a big deal of this episode. All the previous eps had been shown on a fairly quiet channel at a quiet time but this one was well advertised and thrown into a prime slot. I guess they thought the Backdraft-eque fire stunts would be a good ep for people to grab hold of and get into the show.

    It is a decent ep, aside from the fact that Phoebe Green was hopelessly miscast. Mark Sheppard was brilliant though and I'm glad I'm not the only one who remembers the strange potted plant scene (funny also because why the hell was he even there?).

    I found the fire guy's backstory though a bit unclear and confusing, even after several watches.

  4. Better than Ice for me. Ffffire, fire, all the fffire at the end was so pretty... especially the way it looked when they had the shots of it on the ceiling... just these giant bumps like they were scales on a lizard or something. Hehe ye fire, ffffire... a shame there's no dynamic fire background on this page... then I could read the feedback... and look at the fire... mm, yeah


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