The X Files Revisited: 7.07 Orison
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the pilot episode and then carried on throughout the series, covering the best and most significant episodes of the show including the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. In our latest 'Revisited', we return to season seven's Orison, which revisits chilling killer Donnie Pfaster five years later...
While rare, The X Files did occasionally bring back some of its greatest hits. The original monster of the week Eugene Victor Tooms has an encore in late season one's Tooms, while Patrick Modell made such an impact in season three's Pusher that he returned two years later in Kitsunegari. Donnie Pfaster is another memorable villain, the death fetishist who kidnapped Scully in season two's Irresistible. With the show potentially ending at the end of the season, the writers brought back Pfaster once again, escaping from prison five years after being convicted for life, without parole, for his crimes.
Irresistible was a memorable episode for many reasons, in no small part to Nick Chinlund's chilling, understated performance and he continues to deliver here. But it was also an episode that served as a predecessor to future psychological crime dramas such as Criminal Minds and Hannibal, and of course Chris Carter's second show Millennium. What was so creepy about Pfaster was that he wasn't another monster like Tooms. He might be evil but he was also very human; there was but one flash of him being something more demonic but that was seen through Scully's eyes as she was held prisoner and could be explained as a metaphor, a vision of evil that lurked within this very human character.
Orison, like Tooms and Kitsunegari is not as strong as its predecessor and is actually viewed as a weaker story in season seven. This was not the case for me when I revisited this episode. It has its faults certainly - there is a mix of storylines all vying for first place and they are not all successful, but it has some chilling, memorable moments and the final act is breathtaking.
It begins with the titular Rev. Orison The Walking Dead's Scott Wilson, preaching to prison inmates about redemption through God. The group are inraptured, all but Pfaster, who sits quiet, unmoved by the words and later when one of his inmates accidentally 'cuts off' his hands in a workshop, he calmly walks out the maximum security prison and to his old life. Mulder and Scully are called in, the latter trying to fight the horrors she witnessed the last time she faced Pfaster and this episode hinges as much on Gillian Anderson's performance as it does Chinlund's.
Orison becomes in many ways the meditation on evil and the faith in God; we have seen Scully struggle with her own faith against the horrors she has witnessed, adding an interesting dynamic to her scientific, skeptical nature, and this episode plays it beautifully. The reverend, we learn, is a former killer himself, who ' found God' after serving 22 years for his crime and has now harnessed the ability to perform mass hypnosis. With that ability he has lured criminals deemed to evil to live, out of prison in order to execute them for their crimes. His latest 'victim' is Donnie Pfaster, but naturally, things don't go according to plan. Orison finds himself hospitalised after he fails to intercept Pfaster at a diner and is mowed down by his own car as the killer escapes, taking his first victim, a prostitute, with him.
The question over whether Orison is hearing the word of God is challenged by both Mulder and Scully, the former disputing it outright with the latter questioning how it could possibly be proved. And given the nature of that discussion, neither proven, one way or another. Eventually Orison captures Pfaster, only for the killer to reveal his true, demonic form before murdering the priest and burying him. That is where the episode fails with the more overt references to Pfaster being evil; Scully's alarm clock showing 6.66 at the time of his escape it ridiculously OTT and seeing him unveiled as a monster is equally stupid. Irresistible was far more subtle in this notion and the idea that he is just human is harder to sustain in this sequel.
While the Reverend Orison story is solid The X Files fare, it the scenes with Donnie Pfaster that provide the real hook. Nick Chinlund's killer is less awkward in nature this time round, perhaps motivated by five years of revenge and his focus on re-capturing Scully. The scene with the prostitute in the bath is disturbing, though admittedly nothing we didn't see back in season two. But when Orison is dispatched and he hunts Scully down in her home, the episode really excels. We have seen Scully vulnerable in her home - both Tooms and Duane Barry attacked her - but what was really interesting this time was just how widely she fought back. The attack is brutal and tense, particularly when she is bound and gagged as he runs her a bath as she crawls across the floor for her gun.
The only downside is that the agents should have seen this coming. Mulder only arrives at her apartment when he is almost too late to save her. But it does allow him to see a new side to Scully, one that shoots an unarmed Pfaster dead, putting to bed five years of trauma. It is a move we as the audience are totally on board with, despite the technical breaking of the law. Pfaster is someone utterly evil and death feels like the only option for this monster.
There are some who would argue that Donnie Pfaster should never have returned to The X Files, and knowing the reception this episode had, I was expecting a mediocre story. But instead, I was pleasantly surprised. It didn't have the dark, grim magic of the classic season two story but the meditation on good and evil, another chilling performance from Nick Chinlund and a tense final act made this a strong entry in the season seven run.