Friday, September 25, 2015

The X-Files - S4:E12 "Leonard Betts"

[ S4:E11 "El Mundo Gira" <<< Season 4 >>> S4:E13 "Never Again" ]

A preternaturally gifted paramedic in Pittsburgh, PA with a special talent for diagnosing cancer - the titular Leonard Betts (a likable and understated Paul McCrane) - loses his head one night and crashes an ambulance - no, wait, the ambulance crashes and he loses his head. But that doesn't stop him from getting up and walking out of the morgue later that night. Or is it a coverup for a body-snatching operation? You have to hand it to Agent Scully; some of her explanations are more plausible than others, but you have to admire the way she always - always - has an alternate, grounded explanation for everything weird she comes across. And she prattles them off without ever missing a beat! Mulder and Scully have worked on a lot of cases where they've struggled to prove the existence of paranormal phenomena, but if there's a headless corpse walking around, that would be a pretty slam dunk case. Unfortunately (or fortunately - it really depends on your perspective), Leonard Betts has the miraculous ability to regenerate himself.

This episode has a star cast of writers. I've gotten into the habit, lately, of watching for the "Written by" credit at the beginning of these episodes, and I was surprised to see three names pop up this time. You've got the great Vince Gilligan, who has really been proving himself since last season's Pusher; John Shiban, who, although his first two episodes weren't so great, really improved with last week's El Mundo Gira; and Frank Spotnitz, who has stepped up and mostly been helping Chris Carter with the mythology episodes. And I can really feel each of the writers' footprints in this episode. Vince Gilligan's got the human angle down, and Frank Spotnitz' mythology connection is apparent at the end. And judging from the lighter mood of El Mundo Gira, I would imagine that John Shiban was probably responsible for much of this episode's humor.

And the episode takes full advantage of the absurdity of its premise to wring a good bit of humor out of the episode. But it's a very different sort of humor than the kind Darin Morgan was fond of. It's more straight-faced, relying less on deconstruction and misdirection, and more on the characters' all-too-relatable reactions to the weirdness they encounter - which, in many episodes, they seem all-too-accustomed to. There's also a good bit of grossness in this episode - primarily the scene involving the medical waste container (shudder). I do believe this qualifies as another mutant episode, although for about the first half of the episode, it seems to take a novel approach - the mutant appears not to be a homicidal predator, but someone who actually wants to help people. It would be like if the freak in 2Shy became a cosmetic surgeon and began eating people's fat - not to kill them - but just to make them thinner.

Unfortunately, and I don't know if this is just because he got desperate after the accident, and had to resort to extreme measures to conceal his secret, but he does become more of a menace in the latter part of the episode, because what's an episode of The X-Files without mortal danger, right? I really have to say that this episode's approach to cancer as a regenerative ability is fascinating. I mean, a freak who can regenerate himself is weird enough a plot device to drive an X-Files episode, but the whole cancer angle adds so much more depth to it. But, I have to say - and this is a huge spoiler (highlight to read the rest of this paragraph) - that scene at the end, that's got to be the most twisted way imaginable to find out you have cancer. It's perfect, for a series like The X-Files. I'm glad it happened like that. But damn. Totally heartbreaking. This is a monster-of-the-week episode with a twist that has dire and long-lasting consequences for one of its main characters.

Addendum: This has little personal significance to me, as I watched this season in reruns before I caught up with the new episodes the next year, but this season marks the series' switch from Friday nights to Sunday nights, and Leonard Betts has the distinction of being the episode that aired after the Superbowl that year, leading it, I've read, to have the highest ratings of any episode in the entire series. I don't know that I would go so far as to say that it's the best episode of the season (let alone the series) - which, obviously, isn't the same thing as saying the most accessible - but it is a good one, and a fun one, and it's an excellent pick for an episode to introduce a whole slew of new fans to the series.

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Mulder, what are we doing here?
Mulder: Did I mention that Mr. Betts had no head?
Scully: Yes. So? I mean, you're not suggesting that a headless body kicked its way out of a latched morgue freezer, are you? Are you?

Mulder: We know how he died. I wanna see how he lives.
Scully: Lived.
Mulder: Lived.

Scully: Evolution - it's a process of steps, not leaps.
Mulder: Recent evolutionary theory would disagree. What scientists call punctualism, or punctual equilibrium - it theorizes that evolutionary advances are cataclysmic, not gradual; that evolution occurs not along a straight, graphable line, but in huge fits and starts. And that the unimaginable happens in the gaps.

Mulder: Scully, there's a great possibility that Leonard Betts not only is cancer...
Scully: But that he needs it for survival?

Mulder: Wouldn't it make sense that evolution or natural selection would incorporate cancer - the greatest health threat to our species - as part of our genetic makeup?
Scully: Why do I think that Charles Darwin is rolling in his grave right now?

Elaine Tanner: God put him here for a purpose. God means for him to stay. Even if people don't understand.

Leonard Betts: I'm sorry, but you've got something I need.

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