The X Files Revisited: 3.17 Pusher
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. Here we cover the thrilling season three episode Pusher with one of the most twisted games of Russian Roulette ever seen on TV...
What would happen if Derren Brown turned evil and decided to go on a sinister killing spree? Well that's essentially the premise of season three fan favourite Pusher that introduces audiences to Robert Patrick Modell, a man who can coerce people into killing themselves with the power of suggestion.
Robert Wisden delivers the same level of smug confidence that you might observe of Derren Brown; he is utterly in control of the situation even when the FBI arrest him in a supermarket and he finds himself arrested in the back of a police car. All it takes is for him to convince the deputy driving the car to relax at the sight of an approaching cerulean blue lorry and drive into it and he makes his daring escape. And that is just in the pre-title sequence.
Naturally the poor, injured FBI Agent Frank Burst can't capture the 'Pusher' alone and due to the unnatural abilities of the case, he calls in Mulder and Scully to help. Consulting on other Agent's cases isn't something we have seen since the season one days but Mulder and Scully aren't complete ostracized from the bureau yet and it is totally believable that they would be brought in to assist.
Of course this assistance soon attracts the attention of Modell who forms a deadly relationship with Mulder that will have dramatic consequences come the end of the episode. Soon Modell is calling Mulder, taunting him and spying on the FBI agents as they do surveillance. And he is all so confident, letting the FBI track him to the golf club. In the episode's second shocking moment he pushes an armoured FBI agent into putting down his gun, dowsing himself in petrol and setting himself on fire. Only Scully's quick thinking - grabbing a fire extinguisher - saves the young man's life but by then he is already horrifically burned.
The real fun of this episode is seeing how confident Modell is and just how far he will go. He tells Mulder and Burst that he will wage five dollars he won't to prison and in an amusing scene he 'pushes' the judge into dropping the case in front of Mulder and goes free.
Not content to rest there, Modell sticks a brown paper badge on his jacket labelled PASS and manipulates his way into the very heart of the FBI, bypassing security and then pushing a young FBI clerk who is already shaken after a recent mugging. The storyline feels a little tacked on but here it is used to great effect when he convinces the clerk to spray Skinner with pepper spray and then kick the living daylights out of him when the Assistant Director questioned who Modell is and what he is doing in the records department.
The following scene with the crestfallen clerk is bemusingly awkward to watch and you can't help but feel sorry for her for attacking her boss so violently. By this point, the episode continues to pick up pace and in another thrilling scene agents Mulder, Scully and Burst raid Modell's home. The moment in which Modell rings home and pushes Burst into having a fatal heart attack is amazing; you can't quite believe it is happening and it remains one of the most innovative deaths in the show's history.
But it is the final scenes at Fairfax Mercy Hospital that make the episode a standout of the season. Realising that Modell is dying of a brain tumour, a disease that has manifested in his sinister abilities, Mulder goes in alone to confront the killer while Scully watches anxiously through his head cam. Discovering two dead bodies - Modell convinces a guard to shoot a medical technician and then the gun on himself - Mulder himself falls victim to Modell when he is attacked at gunpoint.
Scully rushing in to save Mulder leads to a nail biting game of Russian Roulette and some truly tense television. Sat between Modell and Mulder she is helpless as Mulder fires the first shoot at Modell and then himself, both blanks. The brilliance of this scene is that you can see Mulder struggling but he cannot stop it and when he turns the gun on Scully you truly wonder if he will shoot her. Only her quick thinking, leaping free and activating the fire alarm breaks Modell's will on Mulder, who in turn shoots the killer with the real bullet meant for Scully. It is a mesmerising scene with stunning performances by all three.
Pusher is a great episode and only the second written by Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad fame. He will go on to be a major presence in the show and after this it is easy to see why. Do I think it is the best of the season? Not quite - for me the hilarious Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose or the tense 731 just win out but it is great, imaginative stuff. And unlike most killers / monsters of the week, Pusher would be back.