Darren: Why do you watch that stuff, anyway? They’re a bunch of losers.
Mrs. Oswald: At least they’re on TV. I don’t see you on TV.
Nestled in between the monumental events of the season premiere and the instant classic “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is Howard Gordon’s intriguing monster of the week episode “DPO.” These days, the episode is probably best remembered as the one that guest stars Giovanni Ribisi and Jack Black.
When it first aired, I wasn’t overly impressed with “DPO.” It felt like a bit of step back from what we’d seen the previous two weeks and it certainly isn’t in the same realm as what’s to come next. But over the years, it’s grown on me a bit. It’s not a classic episode, but it’s a solid monster of the week storyline.
Darren Peter Oswald was struck by lightning and now has the ability to generate electricity. In effect, he’s a human lighting rod who can channel up current at will — anything from enough to char Mulder’s cell phone to enough power to kill someone and torment a few cows. Darren is a bit of slacker who failed his English class in high school. It was here he met the woman of his dreams — his teacher Mrs. Kiveat*. Now he works as a mechanic in her husband’s garage, not so secretly pining for her and ready to step up his stalker like behavior.
* And who can blame Darren for his crush on Mrs. Kiveat since she’s played by a former playmate. Ahh, the power of Google.
Mulder and Scully come into the case because there have been five other killings in the area with a similar MO. The local sheriff is quick to chalk the deaths up to lightning strikes, but Mulder and Scully quickly put the clues together to see something more sinister is going on.
Darren wants to use his powers for destructive purposes and for his own amusement. Whether it’s inflicting death on people who take away his favorite video game while he’s out the room, cows in a field or using his powers to change the lights at an intersection to watch the resulting crashes, Daren is out to amuse himself. Well, that is until his buddy gives him the idea that he needs to do something heroic to impress his crush, leading to his causing Kiveat to have a heart attack and then using his power to revive him.
Ribisi finds the right amount of slacker threatening in the role of Darren to keep things interesting, though I found myself wishing the script had given us a bit more information on what led to Darren becoming such a washout and the way he is when we meet him. We gets hints of maybe his mother and family not necessarily believing in him (Darren is not the sharpest knife in the drawer), but there’s not much more there.
There’s also the interesting angle of the town’s sheriff not being overly thrilled to see the FBI show up and working to debunk any theories that Mulder and Scully come up with. Scully and the sheriff share a tense scene in the opening act where he challenges every assertion she puts forward while Mulder watches from the sidelines, slightly bemused. You have to wonder if Mulder isn’t enjoying Scully getting a taste of what he feels when she pokes holes in all of his theories. Again, I felt like something was left on the cutting room floor that would give us some link between why the sheriff is so defensive and protective of his town’s citizens. I kept thinking perhaps he was related to Darren or his buddy, Zero (Jack Black’s character).
As we start the third season, we can see the series fully in stride at this point, confident the audience knows how things work and are willing to go along with it.
As I said in the opening, this isn’t a classic. But it’s not a terrible episode either. It’s a solid one highlighted by two big name guest stars.