The X Files Revisited: 4.12 Leonard Betts
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. Leonard Betts is one episode you probably shouldn't watch on a full stomach...
Some of the most memorable episodes of The X Files are the 'monsters of the week' ones. Eugene Victor Tooms, the Flukeman, these terrifying mix of man and monster are are as iconic a part of the show as the Cigarette Smoking Man. And yet, coming to the halfway point of season four and the character of Leonard Betts represents the first decent monster in quite some time. The Peacocks of Home were certainly terrifying but what made them so memorable was that there was nothing supernatural about them, just a horrific case of inbreeding.
Leonard Betts is a monster in human clothing, a man who regrow limbs - including a new head - at will and feeds off cancer; the premise is truly grotesque but the vulnerability and humanity in Paul McCrane's performance make him a largely sympathetic character. He continues to work as a paramedic to help others, only killing when his chilling secret is discovered and in the grand scheme of things he does far more good than bad. But that is what makes this such an interesting episode. The love of his mother for her monstrous son, his ability to help others versus his decision to kill his colleague when she realises he is alive; it is an episode with many grey areas.
It has a great opening. Leonard and his colleague Michele are involved in a tragic accident that seers the back of their ambulance torn apart and Leonard beheaded. It isn't long before his headless corpse wakes up inside the morgue and leaves. So naturally Mulder is intrigued and despite bad CCTV footage that strobes where Bett's head should be and Scully's assumption it is a sinister cover-up for the stealing of human cadaverous the evidence soon becomes disgustingly clear.
Scully examines the head and in one of the episode's most skin-crawling moments the eyes and mouth begins to move. "You don't think its alive, do you?" Mulder jests to Scully over the phone as he searches for Betts in his apartment, unaware that the dead paramedic has regrown a head and is lying in a bath of iodine behind him.
And things get even nastier; Michele discovers that Betts has returned to work under a new identity and when she rushes to confront him he kills her to protect his secret. Pursued and captured by a security guard he evades capture by ripping off his finger to escape the handcuffs, confident that he can always grow another. But even then I was not expecting the gruesome scene where he stands in the locker, growing a new head out of his throat. The reveal of the Peacock mother in Home might be known as the nastiest moment in season four but I think this is actually worse - Flukeman worse.
There is also a great little mystery at play too. The discovery that Leonard Betts previously went by the name Albert Tanner, adds depth to the titular character and that aforementioned motherly love is taken to extremes when she covers up her son's actions and sacrifices herself, letting him feed on the cancer within her to ensure his survival. The idea that he needs to feat on cancerous waste to survive, that he has risen out of the evolutionary need to fight cancer is a gruesome but intriguing premise and leads to a shocking conclusion and the start to a pivotal story thread for Scully.
"I'm sorry, but you've got something I need." Leonard chillingly tells Scully after a tense battle between them inside the ambulance. With those words she becomes a victim in more way than one, not just the subject of Bett's violence but something more terrible within. It is a great way to start off her cancer arc - even if wouldn't be consistently followed through over the course of the season. The episode ends with Scully waking up with a nosebleed, confirming her - and our - worst fears...
Leonard Betts is one of season four's classics and proof that The X Files can still deliver a great monster of the week episode and plenty of shocks and surprises. It also signals a change in the series as Scully is confronted with her cancer in a shocking twist of events. We'll jump to the continuation of that story next with Memento Mori in our next The X Files Revisited...