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The X-Files: Roland

Case: Death of Dr. Ronald Surnow, an aeronautical engineer killed by a top secret experimental jet engine.

Destination: Colson, Washington

While investigating the death of a research scientist found mutilated by an experimental, next generation jet engine, Mulder and Scully encounter Roland, an unassuming, mentally challenged janitor at the research lab, who is haunted by vivid dreams and visions. After another member of the research team is found brutally murdered, the agents discover that Roland may be the “long lost” twin of Dr. Arthur Grable, a third member of the team who died in an auto accident six months prior. When it appears that Roland is finishing his brother’s sophisticated fluid dynamics research, Mulder begins to suspect the unwitting janitor is being controlled by the cryogenically frozen remains of his brother.

‘Roland’ is another episode that I didn’t remember very well. Before I re-watched it, seeing the title only triggered the thought, “Oh, that’s the episode with Ed Danvers as a mentally challenged man who has an evil twin.” (Danvers is Zeljko Ivanek’s character from Homicide: Life on the Street.) Turns out this “evil twin with a twist” story is actually a pretty good episode with some seriously freaky stuff going on. Given the number of grisly, horror show demises, I’m kind of surprised I didn’t remember it. Plus, a guy being psychically controlled by his dead brother’s frozen head is extremely bizarre, even for this show. You’d think it would have stuck with me. Strange.

My biggest quibble with the episode is that they never effectively explain why Mulder and Scully are investigating Dr. Surnow’s death in the first place. They pretty much stumble upon the paranormal weirdness after they start investigating. When the episode was over, I had to re-watch the beginning to find out why they were called in, but unfortunately all we got was this:

Scully: “OK, but how is this an X-File? Mulder, you don’t think this has anything to do with U.F.O. technology?”
Mulder: “There’s something unexplainable here, Scully, but it’s certainly not unidentifiable.”

What exactly does he think is unexplainable? The identity of the person that sealed the wind tunnel? That seems like a question for a standard police investigation. Why would the FBI’s top paranormal investigators be called in for that? Because the research was top secret? Seems pretty flimsy. Ultimately, the case is a very interesting X-File, but they didn’t know that going in.

Other Thoughts

Zeljko Ivanek did a really great job playing Roland. Very believable. If I didn’t know otherwise from his extensive guest acting work (including recent recurring roles on Damages, Heroes, Big Love, and True Blood), I might have believed he really was a mentally challenged actor.

James Sloyan (Dr. Nollette) guest-starred on a couple episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, one as a Romulan, and one as a Klingon. He also appeared on Deep Space Nine as Dr. Mora (the Bajoran who first studied Odo). I barely remember these episodes, but whenever I saw him this episode I kept thinking I recognized him from Star Trek and picturing him as a Romulan. Weird.

Roland’s scattering stars were a great visual allusion to what was in store for Dr. Keats. When I saw the stars hit the floor, I thought “Wow, they look like something shattering after being frozen in liquid nitrogen.”

On that subject, Dr. Keats’ death was really gross and disturbing until they transitioned to that tape outline of the corpse. Freaking hilarious! Way to kill the mood, guys.

It seemed pretty clear from Roland’s vision of two little boys being separated, and from the agents’ discovery that Roland and Arthur shared the same birth date, that we were headed down the twin road. But until they did the photo alteration, I was very confused about why, if they were twins, people wouldn’t have noticed that Dr. Grable and the janitor looked the same. Turns out they did look very different.

I didn’t quite understand why Dr. Grable was driven to murder Surnow and Keats. He thought they were all trying to steal his work? He was dead, for crying out loud! Did he find out they weren’t going to give him partial credit posthumously? Does being a decapitated head with unfinished business just make you crazy and homicidal?

Mulder was so gentle and understanding with Roland. Very kind and empathetic. It feels like we haven’t seen that vulnerable side of Mulder in awhile. He’s been in angry, strident mode lately. This was a nice change of pace.

I liked Dr. Nollette’s MacGyver trick with the gum wrapper on the pass card. All that scene needed was a little Michael Westen narration (Burn Notice).

The closing scene with Roland giving Tracy his stars and the two saying “I love you” was very sweet. I actually thought, “Awww ...” Then they made things all ominous and disturbing with Roland’s mirror scene. So X-Files.


Dr. Keats: “Let’s just say Roland isn’t exactly a rocket scientist.”

Roland: “People die. They go away. And they’re not supposed to come back.”

Dr. Nollette: “One afternoon we decided to take his car apart and put it back together again in his office and left it running.”
Mulder: “Mmmm. An egghead classic.”

Avalon Rep: “… we could only preserve the head.”
Scully: “Wouldn’t your client find it somewhat inconvenient to be thawed out in the future only to discover he had no functional mobility?”

Mulder: “You’ve got a brother, don’t you, Scully?”
Scully: “Yeah. I’ve got an older one and a younger one.”
Mulder: “Well, have you ever thought about calling one of them all day long, and then all of a sudden the phone rings and it’s one of them calling you?”
Scully: “Does this pitch somehow end with a way for me to lower my long distance charges?”

Mulder: “I believe in psychic connections, and evidence suggests that it’s stronger between family members. Strongest of all between twin siblings that shared the same womb.”
Scully: “OK. Maybe. But in this case, one sibling has a closer ties to a frozen fudgesicle than he does to his own brother.”

Final Analysis: Another solid episode, but strangely, despite some rather grisly deaths, not terribly memorable.

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


  1. I love this episode. Zeljko Ivanek did a fantastic job and the end gets me every time (I know, I'm an old softy!).

  2. That wind tunnel is pure horror wasn't it? Imagine working around something like that knowing what it could do to you.

    A small thing but I find the treatment of Roland by the scientists extremely depressing. Not to mention their condescending attitudes towards each other!

    Am I the only one who thinks this episode is similar to "Born Again" but repackaged and restuructured slightly? Someone dead works through someone alive to kill people. Sound familiar? It's like the writers were told to pitch some ghostly posession stories, and when these two got dreamed up, some exec said 'the hell with it, shoot them both'.

    That said, I just about prefer this one to Born Again.


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