The X-Files: The Walk

Case: Veterans are being haunted by a phantom soldier.

Destination: Fort Evanston, Maryland

“Sometimes the only sane response to an insane world is insanity.”

Is it just a coincidence that I am reviewing ‘The Walk’ the week before Memorial Day? (“If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?”) Thank you, The X-Files for continuing to add random magic to my life which gratefully lessens the tedium. I really mean that.

A few words about The X-Files and the military episodes (of which there are dozens without even including the role the military plays in mythology-driven arcs). Because of the nature of the investigations Mulder and Scully sought out, the US military seemed a natural adversary the show used to create conflict and dramatic tension. After all, on the surface, Mulder and Scully were frequently positing ideas that threatened logic and reason and their cousin, standard procedure. But in their core belief, (and why these episodes tended to work well, in my opinion) the office of the X-Files and the armed services were not at odds (and not just because The X-Files writers' world views about war and such and its personal costs were contained in these stories). Both believed strongly in their agenda and fought like crazy for a Truth. And generally, when military members (save the requisite upper level military antagonist(s) for any given episode) got past Mulder's sarcasm and Scully's 'never say die' attitude, and were able to work together, wonderful things happened.

Is 'The Walk' a scenario where wonderful things happened? Well, not per se. It falls in more middle of the road territory in terms of awesomeness in my book. It's no 'Deep Throat' or 'Fallen Angel'. But I never unwittingly disengage from a re-watching of it because it hits solid story-telling beats, especially as it rounds 3rd on its way to home base.

The story, at least by The X-Files standards, is pretty simple. Military personnel are being singled out by embittered soldier, Leonard Trimble, who is a quadruple amputee as the result of his tour of duty. He wants them to suffer as he still is, daily. Trimble has accessed the power/skill of astral projection. With the help of an orderly named 'Roach' (played by the fabulous Willie Garson) whom he is emotionally blackmailing to help him connect to his targets by stealing pieces of their mail as personal objects, he is able to systematically take out each member of his victim's family. When the colonel, general or lieutenant Trimble has set his cruel sights on tries to end their own life out of sheer despondency, Trimble is 'there' to prevent them from escaping their current plight. As the story unfolds, something special happens. Trimble's victims become aware of the reality of what's happening and Trimble admits to Mulder and Scully his deeper motivations and neither party involved is judged by the writing. The viewer is left to contemplate both sides of this conflict with as clear objectivity as possible. This is something I've always thought was so smart on the part of this series. And they did it time and again with extraordinarily memorable results.

The episode's writer, John Shiban, later shared that he had the hardest time with the Mulder/Scully interaction, especially the one that sets up their POVs in the opening scenes. That's evident. And frankly, great repartee and relationship beats between Mulder and Scully will save the most dire of episodes. Scully is neither dissuaded nor amused by Mulder's (of course correct) assumptions. Even her classic line of dialogue that takes Mulder's theory and makes it sound completely insane is still offered to him with some small sense of her taking him seriously. She just doesn't take that much convincing that astral projection is the right conclusion. In fact, she doesn't hold a strong opinion the whole episode which means Shiban left money on the table there.

There are several really fantastic SFX moments worth noting. I mean it's a trade-off since they come at the hands of horrible things happening in the story. A colonel tries to boil himself in a tub of water. The aftermath is gory on a molecular level thanks to the make-up work. In THE MOST AWFULLY GUARDED POOL ON THE PLANET, (though it does have a competitor in this episode of Hannibal) Captain Draper, a member of the Army who's only crime is that she's a trusted assistant of a general Leonard Trimble has marked, is attacked in the water and drowned. It's everyone's worst pool fear visualized in terrifying glory. And finally, an eight year-old boy is buried in a sandbox. It's scary, tense and devastating in its extremely well-done execution. Weird that these terrible moments are in some ways the most memorable of the episode? Well, maybe. But that's The X-Files for you.

Other Thoughts

*John Shiban’s first script!

*A child being killed in the story causes drama once again for the creatives (and also me who keeps getting these episodes to review, DAMMIT.) In the end, Shiban won since story-wise, it was deemed a necessary stake in the general's arc.

*Willie Garson! Any chance I could say enough about his presence?! NO!

*There are cool if only loosely alluded to poltergeist-like things happening to the soldiers Trimble is earmarking. Voicemail cassettes (!) play messages backwards, a presence in the room no one can identify clearly. It's all really creepy.

*Not a lot of memorable quotes in 'The Walk' but the one I opened with easily falls on my list of the all-time top 5 of the series.


General: “I want you to know I’ve had the Captain contact the Justice Department and let them know about the FBI’s gross misconduct here.”
Mulder: “I guess this isn’t a good time to thank you for seeing us.”

Scully: "What you’re saying is that this man, Rappo, is leaving his body and floating around town killing people?”

Final Analysis: A few standout moments, a good first offering, Mr. John Shiban and a solid story.


ChrisB said...

I've always liked this episode because of the character beats involved. And, for a change, not Mulder and Scully. Watching those whom Trimble have targeted is terrifying. And, you're right in your point about the horror of the deaths in this episode. Yuck.

Juliette said...

For some reason I can barely remember this one, and it's sort of mixed up in my head with an old episode of Quantum Leap guest starring Jennifer Aniston. Will have to re-watch!

drnanamom said...

This episode left me feeling conflicted. While I abhor the horrors of war and the fact that it is often the 'grunts' who take the brunt of the violence - not to mention civilians in other countries, I just couldn't accept that killing people's families equated. Bitterness to the nth degree made manifest was a particularly ugly sight and I couldn't feel any sympathy for Trimble at all. I guess if you go into war a psychopath you come out the same way was all I could come up with. Then again I could never blow away the family of an enemy either so I would make a very poor soldier.