Saturday, November 12, 2016

Case 02, File 13: Irresistible

AKA: The Kinkshaming of Donnie Pfaster

I don't think it's unfair to say that The X-Files is a pretty dark show, and I'm not talking about lighting. Okay, not JUST talking about lighting. The series has always trended towards being grim, since it's typically, you know, about monsters killing people horribly, being a little dark about it is to be expected. Hence why, when I say an episode is extraordinarily dark, even by X-Files standards, you know it's not screwing around.

After a quick flashback introducing our villain, our episode kicks off with Mulder and Scully getting called to Minneapolis because someone has been digging up graves and he thinks Aliens are involved. Mulder however disabuses him of that notion, informing him that it's a Death Fetishist, a guy who is digging up the graves to take parts of the bodies, while Scully is thoroughly grossed out. The audience knows that our culprit is one Donnie Pfaster, who is going about his business in Minneapolis, applying for jobs and being unreasonably creepy.

Mulder is worried that the fetishist is going to escalate to out-and-out murder, while Scully remains grossed out. Pfaster of course immediately proved Mulder right when he hires and kills a call girl. Scully does the autopsy, despite still be absurdly skeeved out (and rightly so) while Mulder works up a psychological profile on our perp. Meanhwhile, Pfaster is busy doing important things like assaulting his classmates in Community College, getting arrested and catching a glimpse of Scully when she and Mulder come to interrogate another suspect.

Scully finally gets weirded out enough to head back to DC to run the body through a fingerprints lab, and take a quick stopoff to talk to a psychiatrist about why this is bugging her so much (the short version is PTSD). She finds a fingerprint and Mulder goes to try and find Pfaster at his place, but he's already bolted...and somehow manages to intercept Scully at the airport. She's held captive by Pfaster, but manages to get herself semi-free and fight him off. Mulder arrives during the struggle (having tracked Pfaster to his mother's house) and the episode ends with Scully finally breaking down and crying while Mulder's voice over muses about the nature of banal evil.

This is the part where you stop talking to him and fucking RUN woman!
Irresistible is a pretty grim episode across the board, and it's grim in a way that doesn't allow any distance from the action. There's a lot of pretty horrifying episodes in the series, but none that cut so close to real world things like stalkers, serial killers and PTSD. There are a lot of creepy episodes of The X-Files, and even a handful that are legitimately frightening, but very very few unnerve me the way this episode does.

The central element of the episode is Donnie Pfaster, and what a central element he is. I can't recall a previous episode that was so focused on its villain, and only a couple of future episodes even come close. The episode spends a lot of time following Pfaster around, often in scenes where his isn't actually doing anything necessarily bad. It's a great chance to get into the head of the character, watch as he tries to maintain his mask of humanity, and also watch it start slip.

In that sense, the real star of the episode is Nick Chinlund, giving a fantastic "Monster in human skin" performance, the kind that would be perfected by Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler (which is a great movie you should see). Everything about him, from his creepy attempts to smile, to his subtly off word choice communicate that there is something deeply, truly wrong with him, down at his core, and he's trying and failing to hide it. He also manages to do a solid job in the finale, when the skin is finally shed and he's just being a monster.

"Hello? Yes, I'm going to need all the mace in the world."
Which is not to say that Gillian Anderson doesn't also do a great job selling Scully's increasing discomfort and eventual horror at the situation. Her arc is at the center of the episode, and watching her try to slowly work through her trauma from the Dwane Barry incident adds emotional resonance to what might otherwise be a standard "Scully in peril" finale. In that regard, Mulder is kind of left without a whole ton to do, although I do like how his rarely referenced backstory (working in violent crimes) informs how nonplussed he is at the goings on.

The rest of the episode is all story structure and script work, and it does a fairly good job of getting all that. It begins to skip stuff when it hits the third act (I am still unclear on how Pfaster found out when Scully was landing in Minneapolis) but that's just a result of the rest of the episode's deliberate pacing. The entire episode is devoted to slowly mounting horror and dread, it's only natural that when it kicks into overdrive in the third act it feels a little sudden.

The only other major element I've failed to mention, aside from the Minneapolis FBI Agent, who hangs around a bunch but doesn't do anything, aside from being a sounding board for Mulder, is the parts where Pfaster changes shape (mostly into demons, but briefly into serial killers). I saw in a special feature that they're supposedly based on reports from people held hostage by Jeffery Dahmer, but they never go anywhere. It's not that they're bad sequences, but they never really amount to anything, not least because the episode never susses out whether they're real or not (the far off sequel episode will only confuse things further) so they wind up just left on the table, little more than a gimmick to creep you out.

"Why do I have 'Somebody's Watching Me' stuck in my head?"
And honestly, the episode doesn't need gimmicks to creep you out, one glimpse in Pfaster's bedroom, decked out in funeral wreaths, will creep you out more than enough. And that's the thing about this episode, it doesn't make you shriek or jump out of your chair. It's the type of horror that sticks with you, digs into your brain, makes you turn on all the lights days later. And it's that type of horror that makes it easily one of the best episodes of Season 2.

Case Notes:
  • Donnie caressing the body in the cold opening is so incredibly creepy, I can't believe he hasn't gotten caught before this. Incidentally, why is it creepier that he goes by Donnie instead of Donald or Don?
  • In the original script, Pfaster was a necrophiliac and Fox nixed it pretty fast. I know why they changed him from being a necrophiliac to a death fetishist, but they spend so much time dancing around the subject so much, it actually makes it weirder.
  • Mulder looks so disappointed that he missed his football game.
  • Scully is normally so unflappable that the fact that she's shaken by the bodies being dug up actually lands a lot harder.
  • The Minneapolis FBI agent talks about how Mulder's story is going to scare people, and that this "Isn't New York," but Minneapolis actually had a higher murder rate than NYC during much of the 90s.
  • I wonder what the casting call for the Death Fetishist Mugshots looked like. Or did they just round up a bunch of extras?
  • The prostitute Donnie picks up is so much braver than I would be. I would have bolted like 10 seconds after walking in the door, much less after I saw the bedroom full of funeral wreaths.
  • Incidentally the room full of funeral wreaths still gets me to this day.
  • The sequences where Donnie interacts with people under mostly normal circumstances are great character building moments, because we get to see the mask of normalcy he's wearing, and also get to see those moments where the mask begins to slip.
  • Jesus lady, maybe don't tell this complete stranger that your back door is always open.
  • Scully's autopsy report is kinda poetic, in a good way. And Mulder is giving some good stuff too when he starts talking about Donnie's psyche. Good script all around.
  • The scene just outside the prison, with Mulder and Scully having a conversation about how Scully's handling the case, is a good small moment.
  • On the flip side, while I get why the it's there, the scene with the psychiatrist is a little too on the nose.
  • "I read in your file that you were very ill recently." Is that FBI speak for "Alien Abduction Induced Coma"?
  • Scully getting taken captive is such a logical ending to her arc, and I love that she basically rescues herself.
Current Celebrity Watch:

Despite being basically useless to the plot, Agent Moe Bocks is played by Emmy winning actor Bruce Weitz. He was on something called Hill Street Blues in the 80s, and won an Emmy for it in 1984.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Not this week.

Audio Observations:

Nothing I can think of. This is episode is much more focused on visuals than audio.

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