Mulder: Modell psyched the guy out, he put the whammy on him!
Scully: Please explain to me the scientific nature of the Whammy.
Vince Gilligan’s second episode of The X-Files is not only a superb monster-of-the-week story, but it can also be looked at as a rough draft for Breaking Bad. There are elements of Walter White in Robert Patrick Modell — cancer, a “little” man who wants to be something more. And both characters give us a quotable through line. In Walter’s case it’s “I’m the one who knocks” and with Modell it’s “Cerulean blue.”
OK, so maybe I’m reading a bit too much into things and being overly analytical. But I can’t help it because “Pusher” is one of my favorite “stand alone” episodes of the show.
Part of what makes the story work so well is the connection we see between Mulder and Modell. If Modell were just your average monster of the week, I’m not sure he’d be so memorable. The fact that he gets under Mulder’s skin so and takes such a personal interest in Mulder is what makes the episode work. Modell is an ordinary guy who dreams of being something more — in this case, he wants to be a ninja warrior. He wants respect, he wants power and he’s willing to put his own life on the line to do it.
At this point, Darin Morgan is headed for the door so it’s up to Gilligan to pick up the ball and run with it on comedy episodes. And while this one isn’t quite the same level of comedy that “Clyde Bruckman” is, there are still dark overtones to it and a fascinating deconstruction of Mulder. Again, part of what makes the character work is that we like him, even as flawed and warped as he is. In some ways, Modell is a mirror of Mulder. What Modell lacks is a driving obsession like Mulder has with his sister.
But that doesn’t mean Modell can’t and won’t get under the skin of a lot of people. Carrying out a series of murders that could be chalked up to natural causes is a nice touch. Then teasing the local police about it in an attempt to make himself feel like some kind of super villain also works. That his abilities have limits and that by using them, he’s essentially killing himself is a nice touch. In the same way Mulder is defined by his obsession with the X-Files, so is Modell defined by his ability to push is will on people. And both have consequences — they push people away from them. Mulder is a bit more fortunate that he’s found Scully to keep him centered and grounded (as evidenced by the final scene that sent shippers into a frenzy when Scully held his hand). It’s Scully and a threat to her that brings Mulder out of the game of Russian roulette with Modell. And it’s when Scully is threatened that he’s willing to unleash the entire set of rounds against Modell. (This episode is just a field day for shippers).
This is an episode that gets just about every beat right. I will also say that it’s the third episode in a row that sees poor Skinner getting the crud kicked out of him. You’ve got to think the beating he took here from Holly had to hurt that much more after being shot in the chest in the last installment.
Teso Dos Bechoes
So what do you do if your episode calls for killer cats and your leading lady is allergic?
You can anamatronic cats, of course!
You also get an episode that pales in comparison to what’s around it.
A sacred urn, killer cats and mysterious murders. I suppose it had potential, but it never quite all adds up to a whole episode. Even when I was first watching the show, this one felt like a huge step back from the past three installments. Little did I know the worst was yet to come…
Another one of those X-Files installments where Mulder and Scully really don’t make much of an impact on the final outcome. Yes, we see them do a lot of investigating but it feels like our heroes are always one step behind of the final solution.
We’ve got black market organ rings, China town and umm…..well, not much else. This is another one that I find myself watching but not really engaged by. These are kind of the calm before the storm as we reach the end of the season run. And I guess it’s easy to forgive this one being so ordinary when we’ve got so many good episodes to come…