The X Files Revisited: 9.13 Improbable
The X Files ran for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002, spanned two movies and then came back from the dead in 2016 for a revival series of 6 episodes. In many ways, the show is as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was and The Digital Fix has been looking back at key episodes across the show’s run starting with the pilot episode, reviewing numerous classic stories and the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we're in the final stretch of our revisited as we cover the last season of the original run, the second movie and look back at 'season 10' a year on. Our latest season nine entry looks at the comedy stylings of Improbable...
The X Files is known for its quirky episodes, from Jose Chung's "From Outer Space" to this year's Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster. And in that spirit we have Improbable, a mid-season nine entry that came soon after the show's cancellation was announced. It certainly is a fun episode, even if there are a number of things that don't make sense. Chris Carter attempted Darin Morgan's quirky comedy stylings before in season five's The Post-Modern Prometheus and that was arguably more successful than this entry. But that isn't to say that Improbable is a total loss either. With its zany concept, playful musical score and the genius casting of Burt Reynolds as someone who might be God, there is a lot to enjoy.
That zany concept is numerology, which the spiritually attuned Monica Reyes uses to try and connect a series of seemingly unconnected, unsolved murders. Scully is unimpressed by the theory, that people are controlled by a pre-destined set of numbers. But I did like Reyes' retort that science really is just mathematics and that's something no one can really argue. The scene in the X Files office as the two banter is very reminiscent of the old days between Mulder and Scully, where he would would suggest an outlandish theory, she would dismiss it and then he would retort with some undeniable fact. That's very much what plays out here between Scully and Reyes and I quite like this mentor / friendship relationship between them over the course of the season. Saving Scully as she gave birth to William will help build that bond. It's another reason her betrayal in the recent revival feels so wrong.
The theory that the killer is murdering women in threes quickly puts Reyes in limelight, as guest starring Special Agent Fordyce (John Kapelos) sets up an FBI manhunt based on her theories. Of course it is somewhat undone by Reyes' presentation that these predestined numbers are shaping the case - it's the sort of thing that had Mulder laughed out of the room and here it is not hard to feel for her as her colleagues look at her in bewilderment and Doggett and Scully stand awkwardly, unable to say anything.
This leads her to Little Shop Of Horrors' Ellen Greene as a numerologist who finds herself attuned to the intricacies of the case just before she becomes the next victim. The killer Mad Wayne (Ray McKinnon) is a dangerous, pathetic creature; we never quite understand why he kills in sequences or three, or how he keeps encountering Burt Reynold's mysterious God-like figure. It is never clear whether 'Burt' is trying to stop him or just an observer or these tragic events, but his charm and wit ingratiate himself with the audience even when things don't make a whole lot of sense.
After couple of near misses (Reyes bumping into Mad Wayne and Doggett actually talking to him at one point!) Scully and Reyes encounter the killer in the dead numerologist's building and pursue him to the parking lot where they meet 'Burt'. This is where the the episode really has fun, as the two agents find themselves trapped and frustrated with only this bizarre man in a Hawaiian shirt, a boot full of CDs and a games table for company. I particularly loved Gillian Anderson's frustration as she holds him up at gunpoint, he asks why and she realises she doesn't know. Anderson has been given a very serious and thankless task this season so it is great to see her comic side emerging, even for a little.
The chequers game is delightful, particularly 'Burt's over the top reactions and dancing while Reyes and Scully play each other. It is utterly ridiculous and yet totally believable; if you're trapped in a parking lot in the early hours of the morning, with no chance of escape and a game of chequers (or draughts as we call them here in the UK), why wouldn't you play to relieve the boredom? The idea that the killer has been there all along is another fun twist, with Doggett cluing into the case (we never find out what that revelation is) and rushing in to save the day at the last minute.
Improbable doesn't make a whole lot of sense and while that ambiguity is part of the episode's charm it is also its downfall. Mark Snow's brilliant score, catchy tunes and musical numbers by two Italian men in the Little Italy-style street are very fun, but at times it feels odd for odd sake. It isn't extreme enough to match comedy classics like Jose Chung's "From Outer Space", nor does it have enough of a resolution to end in a satisfactory manner. Chris Carter's script drifts somewhere in the middle. While his direction is glorious, his writing needs a little more work. And that's where Improbable leaves me; it's a half-finished comic gem with the potential to be so much more.
The Burt Reynolds casting is genius though...