The X Files Revisited: 1.13 Beyond The Sea
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The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we'll pick the story highlights of each year. This time, Scully takes centre stage in this memorable season one episode...
Some of the very best episodes of The X Files were the serial killer stories. Eugene Victor Tooms (who had already featured in this season's Squeeze), Donnie Pfaster, Robert Patrick Modell, these are some of the most terrifying killers in the TV, let alone the show's history. Squeeze was certainly memorable, also delivering the first monster of the week episode of the show, but it was Beyond The Sea that delivered tapped into the kind of serial killer that gets under your skin, that feels like it could almost exist in our world. That is down, in no small part, to Brad Dourif delivering one of his greatest ever performances as the monstrous Luther Lee Boggs.
It all begins with Scully at Christmas with her family - it never ends well, see season five's Christmas Carol / Emily - and the end of a happy meal with her parents. Again, she is still relatively 'normal'; not only does she has other friends and colleagues, she can cook too! But that happiness is cut short when Scully wakes up in the dead of night to receive that dreaded call from her mother. "Dana, we lost your dad." Moments before she sees her dad sat in the chair opposite her, mouthing silently, a moment she struggles to handle as the episode progresses. A paranormal event? Beyond The Seas certainly suggests this, leading Scully into a very conflicted path later on.
After a brutal kidnapping of two students by a fake cop two days ago, a traumatised Scully, is pulled into the case with Mulder (she has just buried her dad to the sound of the titular song 'Beyond The Sea'). But this isn't a standard kidnapping case. Mulder has been contacted by a serial killer, Dourif's Luther Lee Boggs, who claims to be psychic after a previously aborted trip to the electric chair gave him abilities which he now claims can help find the missing students. The race against time to find the students feels very much like the latter FBI show Criminal Minds (indeed, Mulder tracked down and caught Boggs by using his skills to identify the killer), while the idea of the agent being called back to consult with a former killer he captured in order to stop another feels very Red Dragon. It is an exciting premise.
But most fascinating of all is the idea that Mulder is skeptical while Scully might be the believer. It has happened occasionally, usually in terms of religious experiences, but this is perhaps the most successful attempt at the lot. When Mulder storms out of the interrogation with Boggs, convinced he is playing them to bide time before his next trip to the electric chair, Scully stays behind a moment longer.
She is already struggling with the 'encounter' with her dad on the night of his death, looking at old X files cases about encounters with the beyond, but Boggs drags her in further. "Did you get my message Starbuck?" he calls out to her before singing Beyond The Sea. It is a chilling moment, with Dourif knocking it out of the park as the vile, creepy killer. He talks in third person, seemingly relieving victims torture. Up to this point both the audience and the agents wonder if his performance or rea. Mulder even plays him in a great twist where he pretends a piece of material from one of his shorts belonged to the victim. But then, like Scully we ask ourself; how could he know about her dad?
With the premise already turned on its head and Scully believing, she begins to see real life clues to the mad ramblings of Boggs. The waterfall sign. The angel. It leads her to the warehouse the victims were fast taken to, giving the authorities their first big break through. But Scully, still torn over her beliefs, tells the police she saw something suspicious, only revealing to Mulder afterwards that she followed the clues Boggs gave them. In one the episode's most powerful scenes, Mulder argues why Scully believes now, while she is filled with angst at his lack of understanding of how she could have finally opened herself up to extreme possibilities.
Gillian Anderson is mesmerising in this episode, beating perhaps even Dourif to deliver the standout performance. Her character is pushed further than she has ever gone before as Scully continues get caught up in a game of cat and mouse between Boggs and Mulder, one that ends with Mulder near death after he is shot pursuing the killer at the docks. Again Boggs draws her in, warning them of the 'red cross' beforehand, something she sees above Mulder as he lies dying. Does she see what she wants to see or is it real? It is something you continually ask yourself as the episode progresses, even if the evidences Boggs presents becomes more and more compelling.
In another stand out scene, Scully rages against Boggs for the incident that leaves Mulder in hospital. Utterly alone, she is lured closer. Boggs relieves her life as teenager stealing one of her mother's cigarettes. She desperately tries to believe that could be anyone's childhood memory but her face tells her he is telling the truth. And that is when he gets her. He knows what she wants...to talk to her dead father.
The manipulation is complete and she begs for an appeal on Boggs' life in order to save the students but knowing full well this is her only chance to say goodbye. Mulder literally tells her not to deal with the devil, a symbol that becomes all too apparent when she leads the raid that catches the killer and saves the students. Avoid the blue devil Boggs rasps beforehand and indeed she notices the image painted above the rickety staircase in the warehouse. She stops herself from pursuing the killer and he plunges to his death and the stairs beneath the painting gives way. Boggs, it seems, has saved her life.
It is an incredibly dark and moving episode with Scully making the ultimately painful choice. She choses not to honour Boggs' last request and attended his final moments in the gas chamber. In doing so she forces herself not hear her father's final message. Scully in the closing moments of Beyond The Sea reverts her scientist self, rationalising that Boggs found out she was Mulder's partner and had someone discover her secrets before their first meeting. With everything done Mulder asks her why can't she believe? Scully's reply speaks volumes. "I'm afraid to believe." she tells him, still caught between science and fact and the possibility that Boggs' abilities were real.
For me, Beyond The Sea is one of the finest episodes in the show's history, with phenomenal performances from Brad Dourif and Gillian Anderson. It may even be the standout episode of the season, even though the competition is tough. Deeply moving, deeply chilling and riveting throughout, Beyond The Sea is quite simply a masterpiece of television.