The X Files Revisited: 2.13 Irresistible

A deeply unsettling case that sets the standard of televisual psychological horror…

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.Next up is Irresistible with a particularly creepy, if very human killer, in Donald Addie Pfaster

The X Files has always been able to blend alien mythology with terrifying monsters and psychological horror and Irresistible is one of the latter; a stand out episode of the show’s second season that delivers a very realistic, really human monster in Pfaster. It might not wow audiences by today’s standards – but it is still a gripping episode that moves entirely away from the world of the supernatural with only a passing flirtation with something far more demonic.

In fact, Irresistible would make a very good episode of Criminal Minds, a death fetishist that is escalating from fantasy to murder, with Mulder developing a psychological profile to catch him. There is more than a touch of Patrick Bateman too in Pfaser, without any of the slick charm as his murder of a prostitute veers straight into American Psycho territory. But it is very easy to compare Irresistible to later films and TV shows of a similar nature; here The X Files continues to establish itself as a pioneer of television psychological horror that can be seen in anything from the later Millennium all the way to Hannibal.

Nick Chinlund delivers a very unsettling performance as Donald Addie Pfaster. Soft spoken, unassuming and coldly sinister when he needs to be, he is a killer to get under your skin. It is dark subject matter too – not quite necrophilia perhaps – but a man that starts by hacking off the hair of a dead girl in the funeral home to digging bodies and cutting off the corpse’s hair and nails through to murder. It is the grave digging that brings Mulder and Scully onto the case and while Mulder relies on his old profiling skills, Scully finds the subject deeply unsettling.

At least there is a touch of humour. Bruce Weitz is amusingly over-eager as Detective Bocks, latching onto cattle mutilations and alien interference as the closest, most reasonable explanation for the bodies dug up in his jurisdiction. Even when things grow more sinister, there is a wide-eyed enthusiasm as he helps Mulder on the case.

Scully starts to see herself in the autopsy photos, a sign that she is still struggling to deal with her own abduction a couple of months earlier and even compares it to child murder in its abhorrent nature. Her decision to return to Washington DC to examine the evidence further is a thinly-veiled attempt to get away from the dark nature of the case and Gillian Anderson continues to offer a nuanced performance as a woman suffering from PTSD after the events of Ascension and One Breath. It is almost unsurprising that she attracts the attention of another very dangerous man and finds herself abducted.

It isn’t quite at the level of last season’s psychological interplay between Scully and Boggs in Beyond The Sea but it is another episode that belongs to Anderson and in this instance, Chinlund, to the fore. Seeing his fascination with her develop into abduction, her vulnerability as she finds herself bound and gagged; it makes for gripping television and the supernatural-light suggestion that he is a demon, appearing before her so as a silhouette is apt.

Only this time, history doesn’t repeat itself. Scully fights back and despite being hunted through the spooky old house, her actions give Mulder enough time to locate her and take down Pfaster. Scully tells her therapist earlier in the episode that she needs her faith back and despite her ordeal we see a stronger Scully after this episode.

It is also an episode that is perfectly paced. Pfaster’s escalation to murder feels earned rather than contrived and that is in no small part due to Chinlund. The scene where he picks up the prostitute and runs her a bath is deeply unsettling; who knew asking someone what brand of shampoo they use could be so creepy? He rarely raises his voice, making his the emotionless void that is his character so chilling.

Unlike most X Files cases, Pfaster is someone who could exist in real life and if that doesn’t raise a few hairs on the back of your neck, I don’t know what will.


Updated: Sep 18, 2015

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