The X Files Revisited: 5.03 Unusual Suspects
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. Ahead of the first episode of season 10 in the UK, we conclude the first half of our revisit of original episodes with the show's 100th - the Lone Gunmen-centric Unusual Suspects...
The 100th episode of any show is a momentous affair - and The X Files was one of the first 'genre' shows to make it to 200. It tends to go one of two ways - a dramatic, game-changing episode (think Buffy The Vampire Slayer season five finale The Gift) or a retrospective look back at everything that had come before. After the huge events of the previous Redux episodes (which argubly would have made for a great 100th episode) the show finds itself doing something much smaller - an origin of one of the key aspects of The X Files; Mulder's paranoia towards the US government and the foundation of the Lone Gunmen.
Unusual Suspects takes the audience back to 1989 and a police warehouse raid that finds a delirious, naked Mulder raving "they're here!" over and over again and the three Lone Gunmen the prime suspects. But what quickly becomes clear is that these aren't the cohesive unit that have helped Mulder and Scully so many times in the past; they have only just started working together and this is their first [failed] mission.
We then follow Bruce Harwood as Byers, the suited government stooge who finds himself interviewed by Detective John Munch. Yes. That Detective John Munch. Richard Belzer played the character in Homicide: Life on the Street and Law and Order (plus a couple of its spin-offs) and his appearance in The X Files brought it into a much bigger TV universe. Add appearances in The Wire and even Arrested Development and suddenly Mulder and Scully were sharing the same world as Lieutenant Al Giardello and Detective James 'Jimmy' McNulty.
This interview frames much of the episode as we follow Byers at a convention, representing the FCC. Drawn to a mysterious blond woman in sunglasses, he finds himself caught up in the shady dealings of Susanne Modeski (Signy Coleman), though at this point she is a just a frightened young woman called Holly hunting down her missing daughter while fleeing her violent ex boyfriend. Byers feels the call to arms and soon ropes in two rival electronic salesman at the convention - Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Langley (Dean Haglund). It's a fun premise, particularly we see that the violent ex-boyfriend who turns up at the convention is none other than Agent Mulder himself. It turns out he is working for the FBI's violent crimes division and he is hunting down a woman who stole government secrets from an advanced weapons facility and killed four people - Susanne Modeski.
While not necessarily worthy of a hundredth episode, it was fun to see Byers, Frohike and Langley work together for the first time and Byers' sense of honour allowing Susanne to convince him to hack into the Department of Defence and Frohike who is ready to kick Mulder's arse.
It's an episode that works well because the audience knows more than the characters. It is obvious Susanne took the name Holly from the sugar packet and Mulder obviously isn't a violent ex-boyfriend. But still, when she convinces them that she is being framed and she lied about her name and fake daughter to get the encrypted data, you genuinely feel for her and the awakening that begins. Her talk of secret government conspiracy against the American people, a key theme of The X Files is born. You can see the shock and wonder as she tells them JFK was assassinated by the government, there are listening devices in motel bibles, her dentist put a tracking chip in her tooth and she helped developed a poison gas that they are now planning to test against the population. Susanne's paranoia is the precursor to the Lone Gunmen and Agent Fox Mulder's and it is set up beautifully here.
Where things get really interesting is their break into the warehouse to steal the poison gas before it can be unleashed. Agent Mulder catches them just as they discover boxes of the gas concealed within Asthma inhalers - a rather insidious touch - and becomes exposed, shedding his clothes as he becomes delirious. The arrival of black ops men, led by none other than Mr X was a great surprise and a welcome one. While never quite measuring up to Deep Throat, Mulder's second informant was a strong presence in the show during the second and third years and his replacement Marita Covarrubias never quite measured up. I had completely forgotten that he was in this episode and it was a nice piece of series continuity that elevated the episode a little.
While Mulder hallucinated the men as aliens - starting his own quest towards the X Files - Byers continues to play the hero, challenging Mr X on his authority as he leads the clean-up operation. "It's all true what Susanne said, about Dallas, JFK." Byers mutters as he witnesses the conspiracy in full action, allowing Mr X to deliver the fantastic line "I heard it was a lone gunman." The twist on the origin of the group's name is another fine touch.
With Mulder verifying their story, the three are released by Munch and rush to help Susanne go public with her story. But her attempts to tell a local newspaper sees her laughed out of the office and after a parting kiss and another memorable line - "No matter how paranoid you are, you're not paranoid enough. Tell the truth, reach as many people as you can with it. That's your weapon." - she is taken by Mr X and they never see her again. The episode ends with Mulder confronting them about what really happened and we end with them telling him all there is to know about government conspiracies, tests and surveillance devices hidden in motel bibles. It is the beginning of a beautiful - and very paranoid - friendship.
Unusual Suspect is an episode better than I gave it credit for and serves as a quasi pilot for what eventually becomes the failed Lone Gunmen series. It works as an origin tale for Mulder and his three allies and the presence of Mr X is a nice touch and a great one-off return for Steven Williams. But was it worthy of the show's 100th episode? Not really. For a start Scully doesn't even feature and we learned very little from this trip into the past. But after the last few episodes, how many more revelations was Chris Carter prepared to give?
With this 100th episode, we conclude our The X Files Revisited for a few weeks as we focus on the new 'season 10' revival on Channel 5. Check out our weekly episode reviews and we'll pick up these revisited in March as we review selected episodes from the rest of season five all the way to the end of season nine - and the movies too.