Thursday, August 27, 2015

The X-Files - S3:E4 "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"

[ S3:E3 "D.P.O." <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E5 "The List" ]

This is one of those non-mythology episodes that a lot of people call one of the series' all-time greats. I have to admit that it didn't particularly stand out to me the first time I watched the series, but then I've always lived for the mythology episodes, and this one comes pretty close on the heels of a mythology-heavy three-parter, itself one of the greatest moments of the series. But in hindsight, it is a pretty memorable episode, and also a very good one. It was written by Darin Morgan, so it's got some humor, but it's largely a subtler and more effective sort of humor than we saw in Humbug. But it's also a very morbid, even philosophical episode, that ruminates on the inevitability of death, and the depressing implications of determinism.

In this episode, Mulder and Scully hunt a fortune teller killer with the reluctant help of a psychic. Peter Boyle is excellent in the role of the titular character, a life insurance salesman cursed with the ability to foresee people's deaths - yet he can't even predict the winning lotto numbers. Of all the supernatural phenomena The X-Files vindicates, it hasn't been very favorable to psychics so far. Even Mulder routinely dismisses them as hacks (which, considering that most of them are, shows that Mulder isn't stupid - he's suggestible, but he's not gullible). However, this episode contrasts the typical show biz psychic - depicted by Jaap Broeker's "The Stupendous Yappi", a total publicity hound - with Clyde Bruckman's more down-to-earth psychic ability.

Basically, this episode posits the question: what if someone really could foresee people's deaths? What would that be like? And would it be as cool as people think, or would it actually be kind of traumatic and depressing? And the answer, demonstrated by the character of Clyde Bruckman, is the latter. I'm hesitant to heap too much praise on Darin Morgan, since he only penned a few episodes for this show, and yet they consistently rate as fan favorites, despite often not feeling like typical X-Files episodes. It's true that I like to buck popular trends, but it just seems to me that if all your favorite episodes are the funny ones, then are you really watching the right show? A lot of my favorite episodes were written by - ahem - Chris Carter.

That having been said, the quirky humor of Humbug aside, if Darin Morgan can write a compelling monster-of-the-week episode, then he deserves credit for that. And this episode plays intelligently with the audience's expectations, often to comedic effect - like when a group of detectives basically describe Mulder, but are unexpectedly referring to somebody else; or when the psychic detects negative energy, and initially focuses in on Scully, only to ultimately trace it back to Mulder. Effects-wise, Clyde Bruckman's periodic visions of death are suitably gruesome and scary. Plus, there's a satisfying reference to season 1's Beyond The Sea (another great monster-of-the-week episode), which also featured a man with dubious psychic abilities. I have no problem rating this as one of the must-see monster-of-the-week episodes of the series.

Memorable quotes:

The Killer: I think I've somehow caught a glimpse of my own future - myself. And I see me doing things that...they just seem so out of character for me. I mean, these are things that, not only do I not wanna be doing, but I can't even imagine myself capable of doing. And yet, there I am...doing them.
Fortune Teller: Mister - please, you're hurting me.
The Killer: I know. I know. And I'm sorry. But you're a fortune teller. You should've seen this coming.

Mulder: His leads are so vague as to be practically useless, yet easily interpreted to be correct after the fact.

Detective Cline: It's kinda creepy, isn't it? Stupendous Yappi said "the first victim's body has been dumped somewhere." Then we find it in a dumpster.
Mulder (mockingly): Ooh, I just got a chill down my spine.

Scully: This guy's performing the same routine as The Stupendous Yappi; he's just doing it in a different style.
Mulder: No, something told me, Scully, something is telling me this guy's for real.
Scully: Oh, so now you're psychic?

Mulder: Mr, Bruckman, can you tell us why the killer is murdering people in the way that he is?
Clyde Bruckman: Why does anyone do the things they do? Why do I sell insurance? I wish I knew. Why did this woman collect dolls? What was it about her life? Was it one specific moment where she suddenly said, "I know - dolls." Or was it a whole series of things, starting when her parents first met, and somehow combined in such a way that, in the end, she had no choice but to be a doll collector?

Scully: The human mind naturally seeks meaningful patterns and configurations in things that don't inherently have any. Given the suggestion of a particular image, you can't help but see that shape somewhere.

Clyde Bruckman: How could I see the future if it didn't already exist?
Mulder: But if the future is written, why bother to do anything?
Clyde Bruckman: Now you're catching on.

Clyde Bruckman: You know, there are worse ways to go, but I can't think of a more undignified one than autoerotic asphyxiation.
Mulder: Why are you telling me that?
Clyde Bruckman: Look, forget I mentioned it. It's none of my business.

Mulder: I'm glad I could bring a little smile into your life, Mr. Bruckman.
Clyde Bruckman: I'm not smiling, I'm wincing.

Mulder: If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?
Scully: That's one to pose to the psychic philosopher.

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