Re-Opening The X-Files: Gender Bender, Lazarus

xfiles-gender-bender

Bruskin: Okay, everyone, Mulder says he’s got something.
Daniels: What? An alien virus or new information on the Kennedy assassination?
Bruskin: Hey, Mulder’s all right. If you’d pay attention, you might learn something from the man.

After reaching a peak with “Beyond the Sea,” the X-Files settles back down with two fairly forgettable episodes.

Gender Bender

I started watching The X-Files on a regular basis the summer after season two.   This came after multiple recommendations by people I knew and the show getting a nod for best drama in the Emmy nominations.    I came into the show at what was (at that point) the least accessible time for a new fan — the end of the Scully is kidnapped arc.  I recall seeing “Three” and “One Breath” early in my run and being confused but intrigued enough to fight through the confusion.

Somewhere in my early fandom, Fox decided to re-air “Gender Bender.”    I think that may be one of the only times I’ve seen the episode.

Watching it again now, it’s an odd little hybrid of Witness, the Crying Game and Black Widow.

From Witness, we borrow the Amish angle (though we don’t call them the Amish.  Instead it’s the Brethern because apparently we can’t offend the Amish.  Not that they have TV’s mind you…).  From Black Widow, we have the suspect who mates and kills (I’ve never seen the movie, I only remember the tag line but it fits).  And then from the Crying Game we have a suspect who looks like a girl but is actual a guy…well, sort of.

There are a couple of glaring issues with “Gender Bender.”   One is the script can’t really decide what it wants to be.  Is it an examination of this group of people who live outside our modern world but might harbor a strange secret?   Or is it about this person who wants to live apart from the society and uses the Brethern’s phereomone whammy  power to seduce and kill a bunch of people?  Or is it meant as some kind of commentary on the dangers of hooking up with random people in clubs?  And just why does the gender bending Brethern want to hook up with various people and then kill them?   Is there some alien reason for it?  Is he or she storing up energy to call the mothership?

If the script would pick one of these and answer it, it would help a lot.  Alas, it doesn’t and like Mulder and Scully, we’re left with more questions than answers when we get to the final memorable image from this one.  I’d almost argue that someone on the writing staff sold this one as a way to look at crop circles and the whole script tried to build around that.   Not very successfully, I might add.

The other issue I have is that Mulder and Scully make little or no impact in the story.   Scully gets whammied by one of the Brethern while Mulder follows a group into a basement where a member of the group may be getting resurrected.   They run all up and down the eastern seaboard, probably running up a huge expense report for hotel rooms and mileage only to come up with nothing when the show is over.    In fact, Mulder and Scully feel slightly off character-wise in the episode, from Mulder’s odd comments about the feed store to Scully’s falling under the spell of the Brethern guy.

The one thing that many X-Philes will point to as the most significant part of this episode is it’s the first appearance by Nicholas Lea.   Lea is one of the potential victims of the title character who escapes when a police officer catches them making our in his car.   Lea will return in season two and beyond as Krycheck.

I feel certain there is fan-fiction out there that tries to reconcile Lea playing a different character than Krycheck in this one.

Lazarus

Mulder got to share the screen with an old flame in “Fire” and now it’s Scully’s turn.

This is the most procedural episode of the show we’ve seen so far.  It feels like a standard police procedural script with the paranormal twist thrown in to make it an X-Files installment.

Scully’s former teacher and boyfriend is Jack Willis.  The two had a year-long romance and they share the same birthday.

As we begin, the two are reunited on a case to bring in bank robber Warren James Dupree.  In a fire fight, Dupree and Willis are shot and both appear to die in the ER.  But Scully insists on the ER doctors continuing to work on Willis who comes back from the dead — but apparently sharing his body with Dupree.

It’s Freaky Friday without the laughs.

What follows next is a fairly by the numbers story of Mulder putting forth a couple of paranormal ideas and Scully shooting them all down because there’s no empirical evidence to back up Mulder’s crazy theory.   It’s a classic Mulder is right and Scully is wrong — only this time Scully’s being wrong lands her as a prisoner of Willis/Dupree and Dupree’s wife (who actually turned him in so she could have all the money from the banks they robbed together).

There’s even a tattoo that jumps from Dupree to Willis.

I get the feeling there was supposed to be more to the tattoo than the final script includes.  And exactly how Dupree has come across the power to jump bodies is never made entirely clear (despite having an odd little scene where a University of Maryland professor talks about near death experiences.  This is what you get for being in the ACC!)

Looking at the X-Files wiki, the original draft of this one sounded a LOT more interesting.  In that version it would be Mulder having Dupree jump to his body.   Early in the game, Fox wasn’t willing to go along with this and so writers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa had to come up with a different character to body switch.

And the story lost a lot of what could have been really good.

But while a lot of it doesn’t work, I did like seeing Mulder get to be very good at being an FBI agent.   His dogged pursuit of a clue to figure out where Scully is being held works very well as does his concern for his partner.   It’s interesting that the kidnappers (because we have to have Scully in danger) use her cell phone but they can’t track it.   I’m guessing this was before GPS being used in most phones and/or the ability to trace the signal to a nearby tower.  Or else it was so early in the adoption of cell phones that the writers figured they could get away with not including this.

We do learn that Scully’s birthday is February 23.  When we get to “One Breath” I will be curious to see if this is the date listed on her tombstone or not.

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Filed under review, The X-Files, TV review

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