Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Case 01, File 18: Miracle Man

AKA: Fuckin' Faith Healers, How Do They Work?

At some point in the creation of The X-Files, someone decided that Mulder would believe in everything except religion, while Scully would be a skeptic but would be solidly religious. It's the sort of simple addition to a concept that puts me in mind of a writer grabbing an extra congratulatory muffin from the basket, but it's always worked. It's not a secret to The X-Files success or something, but it made what might be otherwise straightforward religious themed episodes a little more interesting. Not enough to, you know, save some of the bad ones, but enough to make some of them a little better.
This episode opens with a flashback to the titular miracle kid, Samuel bringing a guy who died in a fire back to life. We then cut to modern day with the kid acting as a faith healer out in Tennessee and his adopted father acting as the Reverend in a ministry devoted to him. But one of his subjects dies, causing the local Sheriff, who has been trying to shut him down for years, to open a murder investigation and call Mulder and Scully in.

Upon their arrival, Mulder and Scully find out that the Samuel is missing, off drinking and blaming himself for the woman's death, in roughly that order. So the kid gets arrested, but not before he randomly intuits that Mulder's sister was abducted. After some runaround, a brief bout of locusts (or grasshoppers, whatever) at the courthouse and another woman dying at his church, Samuel turns himself back in, while Mulder starts seeing visions of his sister.

While in jail, Sam gets beaten to death by some random dudes. This is where it goes kind of sideways so bear with me a moment: It turns out that the guy that Samuel brought back to life at the beginning is the guy behind all the deaths of the people Samuel was trying to heal, while the sheriff was behind Sam getting beaten to death. So the returned-to-life dude sees a vision of Sam and commits suicide and the episode just sort of peters out.

"Dad, what are you doing?" "Shhh son, don't make it weird."

Miracle Man is an episode that is strong in concept and let down in execution. There's probably a lot of material to mine from faith healers, especially since it's a thing that people genuinely believe in to this day (and not in the way that people genuinely believe in the Jersey Devil, a large number of people). Unfortunately the episode doesn't seem to know what to do with this premise, and winds up running itself in circles.

The biggest problem, I think, is the central mystery. The question of why people Samuel keeps killing people drives the plot, but the episode doesn't seem too interested in it. It just sort of meanders around, trying to build up its characters until it sort of stumbles into its conclusion. The ending feels tacked on and forced. The resolution to the mystery is a little...Scooby-Dooish. Does that make sense? It turns out to be a tertiary character who's been hanging out the background for no real reason. The episode makes noises in the direction that he's miserable after being brought back to life, but it starts making those noises WAY too late for that to feel like setup (it doesn't start hinting at that until after Samuel is dead).

Without the main mystery to lean on, the plot winds up bouncing from unconnected subplot to unconnected subplot. The one with Mulder having visions of his sister is the most unconnected from everything else. It just sort of hangs there, trying to give Mulder things to do when he's not staring intently at Samuel and declaring him not guilty.

"Objection your honor, a plague of locusts is not admissible evidence!"

That might be the biggest problem with the episode, that Mulder and Scully don't seem to be involved too much. They don't start investigating properly until the episode is nearly over, and they also don't seem to be the one who discovered the Sheriff's involvement. So aside from figuring out that the burned dude (I think his name was Leonard Vance, which puts me in the mind of a bad Will Smith vehicle) by being the only people who bothered to investigate at all, I'm not sure what they did that was valuable.

So the story winds up a bit of a letdown, and the acting isn't enough to hold it up. Not all of the actors are bad; The actor playing the Reverend actually feels really authentic in terms of over the top Ministers (which means he acts like a total fucking lunatic) and the Sheriff is okay. But the important role is Samuel, and he's pretty terrible. He never seems particularly into his role and just sort of sucks excitement from whatever scene he's in.

"Leonard Vance, you must go to the Dagobah system."

In the end, there's not much to this episode. It's not scary, it's not particularly engaging or memorable, and it's not a particularly good exploration of Scully's faith (or Mulder's lack thereof). It's only notable in the fact that it's the first episode to actually bring it up, which isn't much frankly. Which makes this review a little on the short side. I guess I have to hope that my love for the next couple episodes remains intact.

Case Notes:
  • I love how the firemen in the opening just let some random kid and his dad wander into an active fire.
  • The kid playing the younger Sam in the cold open is TERRIBLE, even by child actor standards.
  • Not to take issue with the premise of this episode, but the FBI bothered to send Mulder and Scully after every bogus Faith Healer, they'd never do anything else.
  • I dunno if Faith Healers or Megachurches are big things in Canada, but this episode rings really true to what I know about them. I'd like to quickly recommend the documentary Jesus Camp on the subject, it's quite good. And kinda terrifying.
  • Someone calling something "The cancer" is inherently funny for me, for reasons I can't quite pinpoint.
  • The graveyard scene looks super fake for some reason. I think it's the floodlights. They look too much like stage lights.
  • Mulder is on the side of the religious stuff being real and Scully doesn't seem to care much. This is pretty much the opposite of their dynamic from later episodes with Christian themes.
  • Mulder's visions of Samantha is A, really out of nowhere and B, does not line up with what Samantha looks like in later episodes. She looks a lot more like the Eves, come to think of it.
  • The mention about the Sheriff's wife having arthritis doesn't wind up mattering much and feels a little like a last minute addition to try and make the Sheriff more interesting.
  • The final scene with Leonard and Samuel is really funny to me. I think it's the glowing aura around Samuel, it makes him look like a Force Ghost. 
  • I'm a little annoyed the episode never feels like suggesting the kid was faking it. I mean, I know it's The X-Files but there are actually a solid number of Faith Healers in the US and they're pretty harmful across the board. 
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