Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Case 01, File 15: Lazarus

AKA: Well Then the High Sheriff, He Found Lazarus

I mentioned earlier that, over the course of 9 long seasons, The X-Files would wind up revisiting themes or concepts. When I finished rewatching this episode, I was initially a little disappointed that I hadn't saved that intro for this episode, which seems much more apropos for that opening paragraph. But then I realized, if they can reuse ideas, why can't I? So, here we are.

The episode kicks off with Scully and an agent we've never met named Jack Willis doing something resembling real police work, following a tip to try and foil a husband and wife bank robber team, Warren Dupre and Lula. But because we're in The X-Files, the foiling goes bad, and both the husband robbe.

But also because this is The X-Files Scully isn't about to let Willis die, so she basically keeps jacking him full of electricity until his heart starts up again. But all is not well in shot-FBI-agent land, and it's quickly revealed to the audience (if not the characters) that Dupre is actually the one inhabiting Willis' body. Mulder immediately catches on, but Scully remains disbelieving, while Dupre/Willis wanders around trying to reunite with his wife, including killing his brother-in-law and cutting his wedding ring off his old body's hand.

When he inevitably does find her, he kidnaps Scully (because she drew the short straw this week) and tries to go on the run with his wife, but surprise, surprise, she betrays him and chains him up with Scully, while negotiating with the FBI for some money. Also it turns out that Dupre has been chugging soda, while not knowing that Willis' body has diabetes. He holds on just long enough to kill Lula as Mulder rides to the rescue, and the episode ends with Scully being informed that the truth is going to be fudged to say that he died in a shootout with a robber, as opposed to really randomly of diabetes (which is a weak ending you guys).

She's beauty, she's grace, she's going to shoot you in the face.

Lazarus, on the whole, is probably a little better than Gender Bender, but they're similar in that they're unexceptional episodes, with moments that suggest it could be a much better episode. With Gender Bender, the dividing line between what works and what doesn't is pretty clear, thanks to the weirdly off balance plot setup. Lazarus is a much more coherent whole, and thus it's harder to gauge what elements work and what don't.

I will say that one element that just doesn't gel for me is the Scully/Willis relationship. When the episode opens, we know basically nothing about Willis, and any info we get about his relationship with Scully is filled in piecemeal through clunky exposition. As a result, we never get an idea of who Willis is (he barely says 3 lines before he's got Dupre in his body) so any impact of his death is neutered. It also cuts into a conceptually interesting performance from Christopher Allport, since we don't know enough about Willis to get a sense of differences between in his performance, although the scenes were he's playing Dupre playing Willis are pretty good.

"Alright guys, this is going to be a little unconventional, but we have to use actual police work."
I'm not certain how to fix that issue, except to either have made him a recurring character before this episode (which is out of the question, as the series is still 2 episodes away from introducing it's first set of really recurring characters), or to give him more of a presence in the early scenes, since the cold opening spends the majority of it's time trying to set up Dupre and Lula's relationship.

This is, unfortunately, mostly wasted breath; Lula is so far from a fully realized character that she winds up dragging Dupre, who is at least conceptually compelling, down with her, since so much of Dupre's character is taken up with his, as the episode itself puts it, "Operatic devotion to [Lula]." Focusing so heavily on them makes sense in concept, since Dupre is the character we technically spend the most time with, but in practice it just makes the main story kind of dull.

The episode is, ironically enough, at its best when it's using Dupre/Willis and Lula as plot devices, either for Mulder's subplot or for Scully's main plot. When the episode just shoves them off to the side and becomes about Mulder's attempts to prove that Dupre is in Willis' body, or about his attempts to find Scully when she gets kidnapped.

He came through from death to tell us that this bit is gonna be done better in Irresistible.

In these moments, it becomes an entertaining, if somewhat simplistic, procedural, with real police work getting involved and some solid acting moments for Duchovny. I guess there's some irony in an episode where Scully has a relationship with the villain being at its best when it focuses on Mulder, but that was more or less the dynamic from Beyond the Sea in reverse, so I guess fair is fair.

Which isn't to say that the episode is entirely useless when it focuses on Scully. The concept of interacting with someone you think you knows is a compelling one, and one much better later episodes would mine to great effect (off the top of my head, both Small Potatoes and Dreamland I and II would use this dynamic, albeit with a character and relationship we already know). And I'd be lying if I said that the late-episode sequence where Scully tries desperately to bring Willis out of Dupre isn't a good scene, mostly thanks to Anderson's performance.

So Lazarus isn't a totally terrible episode, it's just kind of a forgettable one. Most of its strengths are things later episodes would do better or more memorably, so it just ends up kind of in the middle. There's not a much to hate, but there's also nothing worth gushing about. I guess The X-Files needs middle of the road episodes to keep them going, so I can't complain too much. Just a pain in the ass to review.

Case Notes:
  • That AKA title is a reference to the opening of O' Brother, Where Art Thou? I've referenced it before, and I'll reiterate: If you haven't seen it, fix that as soon as possible.
  • Scully opens this episode doing something resembling real FBI work. I bet she was real pissed when it turned out to be an X-Files.
  • The FBI operation at the bank seems downright irresponsible. No snipers covering the door? No body armor? Nothing?
  • Scully: Solves all her problem through shooting. This is notably the first time Scully ever kills someone with her gun. Not the last though.
  • Scully just keeps jacking up the voltage until Willis comes back. My knowledge of medicine is limited at best, but I'm like 90 percent certain it doesn't work that way.
  • Dupre adjusts to the fact that he's in Willis' body SUPER fast. Just recognizes what's happened and rolls with it.
  • He also cuts off his old body's fingers to get at his wedding ruing. In a word, gross.
  • Dupre and Lula's backstory reads like a Natural Born Killers knockoff, which is weird because it aired 6 months before that movie came out.
  • Mulder jumps straight to the right answer of what's going on this episode. Scully is super fed up with it too. It's little moments like that that make me love this show.
  • The doctor who says that people who have near-death experiences can't wear watches is 100 percent talking out of his ass.
  • He's also weirdly into his story about the pilot who strangled his wife, what the fuck?
  • I'd complain about it being super weird that Scully dated her academy instructor, but I actually love how Mulder is completely unfazed by it.
  • This episode is pretty good about making Mulder the smart guy. Observational, sneaky, good memory, it's a solid episode for Mulder.
  • Conversely, this episode basically requires Scully to ignore a TON of evidence to keep her from recognizing what's going on.
  • The bit where Dupre recites cutting open both his and Lula's hands to let their blood mix is probably supposed to be weirdly romantic, but it's also how the Tau in Warhammer 40k bind a unit together as warriors, so I don't know what to think.
  • Brief glimpses into how the rest of the Bureau regards the X-Files always make me happy.
  • We know it's serious when Mulder calls Scully "Dana."
  • The confrontation between Scully and Dupre/Willis is probably the best scene in the episode. Good performance out of Gillian Anderson, and some solid writing.
  • Dupre loses to diabetes. That's kind of clever, and they try to combine it with Lula betraying him, but it's still a weak ending guys.
  • I forgot to mention this in Beyond the Sea, but I adore the moments where Mulder and Scully get protective of each other.
  • Analyzing a tape, searching for a house in a radius, arranging some sneaky canvassing, Mulder is doing some actual police work this episode.
Current Celebrity Watch:

Nope.
Future Celebrity Watch:

Lula's brother Tommy is played by Callum Keith Rennie, who notably played Leoben on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. Leoben was a pretty minor role overall, but he played it well and it's also another connection between Battlestar and The X-Files, two of my favorite shows. He's also been on a variety of TV shows since then, including Californication with David Duchovny.

Audio Observations:

This episode is way too forgettable to have any interesting music.

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