The X Files Revisited: 3.08 Oubliette
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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 we delve into a fascinating psychic link between a troubled woman and a girl abducted by the same kidnapper in this dark, psychological tale...
The X Files can be quite a dark show, but in season three it went really dark. After the joys of Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, audiences are treated to one incredibly grim episode after another. In The List the enemies of an executed prison inmate die one by one, 2Shy uncovered the horrors or online dating and women stripped of their flesh, The Walk a phantom amputee soldier stalking his victims and then Oubliette deals with child kidnapping. Not easy viewing then; previous great episodes like season two's Irresistable have obviously made their mark on the show at this point but without a balance of light and dark and any monster of the week like Tooms or the Flukeman (both early season episodes) it made The X Files somewhat grim, joyless viewing.
But given the high standards of the third season, I felt at least one of these tales needed a rewatch, and is generally given that Oubliette is the best of them all. It certainly has an intriguing premise; a woman Lucy who was abducted by a mysterious assailant as a child develops a psychic connection when another girl is kidnapped by the same man. Is is The X Files delving into the nature of psychic abilities in a very different - and much more grim - way to the season's earlier hilarious adventure Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose.
In truth though, for much of the episode the psychic element is downplayed; like last season's excellent Irresistable it feels much more like a precursor to modern shows like Criminal Minds. In fact, take out Lucy's psychic link and it would fit right into a case for the FBI's Behavioural Analysis Unit. Upon rewatch I realised that a number of episodes - particularly those with dark subject matter - involve cases about particularly nasty individuals, like this episode's Carl Wade. It doesn't shoehorn in over supernatural elements for the sake of it.
And Oubliette is thoroughly dark, grim and often uncomfortable viewing. The kidnap victim Amy (a very young pre Jewel Staite who fans of Firefly will instantly recognise) is subjected to some disturbing ordeals. Kidnapped from her bedroom, trapped in a cellar while Carl Wade repeatedly photographs her, dragged back to her prison after making a desperate escape through the woods and then almost drowned by her captor. We often think of The X Files as dark drama, but seen this inflicted on a 13-year old girl is not lively viewing.
Fortunately the episode doesn't dwell on this too much (and wisely chooses for Wade not to inflict physical harm on Amy except for the river at the episode's end). Instead the focus is on poor Lucy, the woman abducted as a child herself by Wade. While the episode never explains how the link happened, the spiritual nature of the connection serves the episode well and drives a surprising wedge between Mulder and Scully.
Being surprisingly cold in this episode, Scully is as much a distant figure as the field agents working with Mulder on the kidnapping case. Like his co-workers, Scully suspects that Lucy is suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome, working with the kidnapper who abducted her. She even works against Mulder to have Lucy arrested when the blood on her face from the time of Amy's abduction is revealed to be Amy's despite Lucy being across town at the time of the kidnapping.
While she tells Mulder that he is too close to the case, viewing Lucy as a surrogate victim for his own sister Samantha, is is still surprising to see her so cold and adversarial, particularly given what she has gone through in the last year in episodes like Duane Barry and Paper Clip. She even had her own encounter with a possible psychic Boggs in season one's Beyond The Sea so here the writing paints her somewhat out of character, which is disappointing.
Though for Mulder - and David Duchovny - it is an episode that allows him to shine. Duchovny delivers a nuanced, subtle performance as Mulder tries to help Lucy, not only to use her psychic link to find Amy but also to help overcome her own personal trauma. While Scully views Lucy's drug problems and arrests for prostitution as evidence of her darker nature, Mulder views it as a sign of Lucy's own struggles.
Tracey Ellis delivers an engaging, sympathetic performance as troubled Lucy, terrified of reliving what happened to her as a child and exhibiting the physical symptoms of Amy's torment. From her cuts and nosebleeds to the exhaustion of Amy's run through the woods, her link gives Amy the strength to survive, even if she doesn't know she is doing it. It is why she goes to the cell in Wade's cabin and why she starts to drown in the backseat of the police car when Wade drags Amy into the river. Her knowledge of Amy's ordeal allows Mulder to find the victim in time, even when the police are looking for Wade's car elsewhere and the tragedy is that she finds peace by dying, allowing Amy to survive.
While poor Amy survives and Wade is shot and killed Oubliette (meaning dungeon) ends on a rather grim note, Mulder sitting in Lucy's bedroom in the halfway house, looking at photos from her innocent, non traumatic childhood. The fascinating psychic link between Lucy and Amy drives the episode, making it more than just depressing TV, even if Scully isn't presented in the best light. But as a Mulder episode, it really works, delving into the motivations over his sister but giving him something altogether different to on-going story arc to focus on. It isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it shows that The X Files was, and still is, one of the best and most varied TV dramas in the last twenty-five years.