The X Files Revisited: 8.06 Redrum
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. This latest season eight episode focuses on one guest star (Joe Morton) as he lives his life backwards...
As The X Files returned to its roots in season eight, there weren't the raft of more experimental episodes we saw in seasons six and seven. But Redrum is something a little different, an episode told almost entirely from the perspective from the guest star as he moves backwards through time to solve his wife's murder. It's a surprisingly strong tale, in no small part due to Joe Morton's brilliant performance as Martin Wells. It's a bit of Terminator 2: Judgement Day reunion between Morton and co-star Robert Patrick and they both work well together, with Patrick's Doggett taking more of the share of screentime from Gillian Anderson's Scully. Both give deeply engaging performances and you really care for Well's fate; I've always found Morton a little hammy on his Emmy-winning role on Scandal (he also shares a number of scenes with future co-star Bellamy Young), but here he proves he was absolutely the right man for the job.
The premise is a great one. Wells wakes up in prison with no memory of the last five days and is marched out of his cell by Doggett and Scully to a more secure prison to spend the rest of his days doing time for his wife's murder. Except he has no memory of killing her. When he is shot by his vengeful father in law he travels back 24 hours and slowly begins to piece together what happened as he moves back each day...all the way up to that fateful night. There is no plausible explanation for what happens but the mystery is a gripping one and it doesn't really matter. He needs to use the knowledge of the future to go back to the past and change it...perhaps it's no coincidence that this episode features two members of the Terminator 2: Judgement Day cast.
The tension rises as he stands trial and is sentenced, tries to convince old friend Doggett and his partner Scully of what is really happening and is brutally attacked in the prison yard by a brute of a man (guest star Danny Trejo) who will turn out to be the man responsible for his wife's murder. Scully, in her new believer role, tries to understand (and admittedly her earnest engagement feels a little forced) but it is the interplay between Doggett and Wells that is at the heart of this story. As he travels back each day, he amasses more evidence and eventually reaches the morning after the murder, waking up on Doggett's couch. In a few scenes, Patrick and Morton absolutely sell this old friendship, renewed in the most terrible of circumstances. Doggett is willing to help him solve the murder and the clues soon lead them to Trejo's Cesar Ocampo but the evidence has already been amassed against Wells and he is arrested.
This is only the second story by Steven Maeda on The X Files but he crafts an intriguing mystery, dropping the tantalising clues for Wells and the audience through each backwards moving scene. Morton nails his character's rising desperation and hope to first clear his name and then later save his wife but the episode doesn't just cast him a hero. Doggett learns that Ocampo killed Well's wife after he forged evidence to put his brother in prison. Wells might be a well-respected prosecutor, but he has broken the law to achieve his goals and that action has had severe consequences. The interesting thing is that even when he does save his wife he doesn't get his happy ending. Wells ends the episode in prison four months later...but his wife is alive and that's all that counts.
The tension that rises throughout the episode builds to the dramatic, tense finale as he rushes to save his wife and finds himself trying to rescue her from Ocampo. Director Peter Markle delivers a gripping, exciting fight and the clever use of flashes to her murder experienced by Wells throughout the episode make you genuinely concerned that he might accidentally be responsible for his wife murder or that he might have travelled back to replace her as Ocampo's victim. It's only the timely arrival of Doggett and Scully that save Wells and his wife.
The X Files had tried to tell a story from the perspective of a guest character before (the monster in season seven's Hungry) but Redrum is much more successful; a tense thriller with a superntural twist and a great guest performance by Joe Morton. It certainly has enough to keep the audience hooked from beginning to end. And it doesn't offer a happy ending either, showing that real life if much more complicated than just saving the day. I always remembered that The X Files had no great episodes after its sixth season, but with stories like this, it shows that the eighth season had some great tales still to tell...