Saturday, April 22, 2017

Case 03, File 04: Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose

AKA: How To Psychically Save A Life

Addressing death and mourning is always going to be difficult in the context of a TV show, especially a show that isn't geared to give those issues the weight they deserve. I'm already not the biggest fan of The Office, but I found the bird funeral in Grief Counseling exceptionally cloying and the less said about How I Met Your Mother's attempt to make us feel grief in the final season, the better. But, when a show does it right, it becomes legendary, like Scrubs' My Old Lady, Buffy's The Body and, indeed, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose.

Our episode opens with our titular character hanging around a bodega reading the tabloid psychic predictions, before bumping into our killer outside. The killer (we don't ever get a name so don't ask) then heads to see a palm reader, begs her to tell him why he's going to keep doing the things he does and, when she can't answer, kills her. Our intrepid heroes join the case after a few more murders, but are almost immediately driven out of the crime scene by the Stupendous Yappi, a bullshit artist masquerading as a psychic.

Meanwhile Clyde Bruckman is going about his usual routine of trying to sell insurance and predicting people's deaths, which impacts his insurance sales, naturally. On his way out to the garbage, he finds the body of yet another murdered psychic. When he calls the cops, Mulder intuits based on some hints that Clyde is actually psychic, which he confirms by taking Clyde to the crime scene and having him intuit how the murder happened and where the body will be found.

He turns out to be right, and Mulder begin leaning on him to solve the case, but it turns out his only psychic ability is to tell how and when people are going to die. This turns out to come in handy though, as he gets a hold of a keychain belonging to a victim who's recently been murdered. Our heroes go and check it out, and are briefly treated to the story of how Bruckman got his powers (he became so obsessed with the fact that the Big Bopper was on the plane that he died on due to a coin flip that he...developed the ability? Whatever) before they find the body they're searching for under their car.

The only thing they find on the body is some lace, which makes very little sense, but is quickly subsumed by a letter from the killer stating he's going to kill Clyde and saying hi to Mulder and Scully, even though the letter was sent before they met Clyde. They spirit Bruckman off to a hotel to hide him, and he gives them some insight into the killer, who feels fated to do these murders, and also has a premonition of himself killing Mulder. During Scully's turn guarding him, he tells her he sees them in bed together with tears running down their faces.

I'm like, 90% certain this actor got hired because of how much he could manipulate his eyebrows.
After another FBI Agent shows up to guard Clyde while Mulder and Scully go investigate a murder scene across the street. The killer turns out to be the bellhop, who has a quick conversation with Clyde before murdering the other FBI Agent. Scully figures out from the lace who the killer is and they all head back. Mulder pursues the killer into the kitchen like Clyde's vision but thanks to what Clyde told him, manages to defend himself long enough for Scully to arrive and shoot the killer. Our heroes head back to Clyde's apartment where they found he has committed suicide. The scene briefly mirrors what he described to Scully, and the episode ends on an unusually somber note as Scully heads home with a dog she acquired from Clyde's next door neighbor.

That Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose is a great episode of The X-Files, hell a fantastic episode of TV in general, goes without saying. The episode is legendary. Any list of the best episodes of the series will inevitably include this, it's spiritual sibling Jose Chung's From Outer Space or both. You don't need to tell me how great this episode is, how deep the script is or how solid Peter Boyle's performance is. Instead I want to dig into the thematic underpinnings of the episode and discuss what the episode means, and why it resonates so deeply. Don't worry, I'll be back to making cracks about gross props next time.

The central theme of the episode is fate, but in an odd way. I don't think the theme of the episode is fate being inescapable, but it being something that can be turned aside. But I get ahead of myself, first let's talk about how the episode's central theme is fate. And the episode isn't super subtle about this either, as multiple scenes of the episode amount to Mulder or Scully discussing fate with Clyde, but it handles them extremely well. The main idea, that Clyde feels trapped and helpless because he knows how everyone around him will die, is an incredibly dark concept, and it's communicated from the moment we see him, through Boyle's acting and his quietly implied alcoholism.

"Halfway between a smile and a grimace" is a good description of your emotional state during this episode.
His obsession with the death of the Big Bopper is both an extension and a contradiction of this. The fact that he became so obsessed with the death of a celebrity that he eventually developed psychic powers related specifically to death suggests to me that Clyde was always morbid and prone to bleak moods, rather than becoming depressive as a result of his powers. In a very real way, I think the episode is implying Clyde is unconsciously choosing to see the deaths of himself and everyone around him, rather than being forced to by fate.

But in my opinion, the better example of the depressing nature of being trapped in a fate of your own devising (but not really), is the killer, since his take on it is far more unique. As Bruckman points out, lots of people feel trapped in their own lives, but the Killer (he never gets named) takes it a step farther. The killer foresees himself murdering these people and thus he will, regardless of whether he thinks it's right or even wants to do it.

Of course, as Bruckman once again points out, he does want to kill people, or else he wouldn't be, which actually ties back rather nicely to the theme of fate; He feels fated to do it because he wants to, not because of any actual fate, and the fact that he is thwarted in his attempt to kill Mulder (the attempt that both he and Clyde foresaw) means that his fate was never to kill anyone, he just chose to and justified it to himself via his predictions of the future. He was trapped in a prison of his own devising, and all he ever had to do to escape was choose to.

Scully has an adorable dog, your argument is invalid.
The lesson therefore appears to be that each person can choose their own destiny, which makes it all the sadder that in the end Clyde chooses suicide for his. It's finally this, that makes me see Clyde's ability to predict other people's deaths as a metaphor for depression. It's Clyde's ability to predict his own death (read: depression) that made him think the only way to happiness for him, the only way to get Scully in bed with tears streaming down their faces, is through his own suicide. But he always had the power to change that fate; Perhaps the man who cast the mold on the ugly frog statue is fated to die of cancer, but as Mulder says, we have no way of verifying that information.

Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose is a dark and depressing episode, which might be why I'm seeing shades of depression (something I've struggled with most of my life) in the subtext. Maybe I'm way off base on all this, maybe this is just stuff I'm imagining based on my life experiences. But in the end, isn't that a pretty good metric of how good an episode is? If I can see my own life experiences so clearly in an episode about an elderly man who can predict people's deaths, isn't it a great episode?

Case Notes:
  • The bit with Clyde reading the bullshit predictions and commenting on them is great. A little dated (Kato Kaelin and Lalapalooza in the same breath, good lord). Still, predicting J.D. Salinger will come back makes me think of BoJack Horseman which is good.
  • The misdirection of the cops talking about Yappi while sounding like they're talking about Mulder is obvious in retrospect, but still cute.
  • Mulder comments that some cultures used to believe that you could read the future in human entrails, but it's actually bird entrails.
  • I love Yappi so much, but I feel like he'd be less entertaining if they used him more. Just blowing in the door with his eyebrows and then blowing back out it is pretty great.
  • This episode is so consistently funny that I forget what a quietly tragic figure Clyde is.
  • Mulder is getting sick burns in this episode, especially on stuff related to Yappi.
  • Mulder intuiting that Bruckman is psychic is a little contrived, but he drops enough small(ish) hints that it doesn't feel too forced.
  • The dolls scattered around the apartment where the lady was killed actually makes the whole scene a little creepier.
  • The writers clearly realized how funny it was to have Mulder and Scully keep saying "Fat little white nazi storm trooper."
    • I'd forgotten how consistently the killer is in the background of the scenes where they find the bodies.
    • I'd also forgotten that Bruckman's motivation for helping them amounts to "I want to die."
    • Bruckman guessing that a piece of cloth is from Mulder's NY Knicks T-shirt is such a great call back to Beyond the Sea. Even better that it's wrong.
    • The implication that Mulder is going to die from autoerotic asphyxiation makes me laugh out loud every time.
    • The story of how Clyde gets his power is an interesting one, and it ties into the theme of being trapped within fate. It also feels a little bit like the famous scene from No Country For Old Men, which had similar themes, but wouldn't be published for another 10 years.
    • The tarot card psychic takes the fact that the killer says he's going to kill Clyde in stride. I'd probably react a little more, especially given that psychics have been getting killed nearby.
    • The brief hint that Scully is immortal is small but great.
    • When Clyde describes his dream, he says he's naked, but he's clearly clothed in the visualization of the dream in the episode. Come on guys.
    • I love the simplicity of Clyde's explanation for why the killer is, well, killing. No more fate nonsense, just "You're crazy."
    • Scully does not stand for the killer's nonsense. She sees Mulder in danger, gives him one chance to drop it and then BAM, down he goes. Ice cold Scully.
    • Throwing the phone at the tv screen is a little over the top for the reserved Scully, but it's a good note to end the episode on.
    Current Celebrity Watch:

    Our titular character is played by Peter Boyle. Boyle is perhaps best known for a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, a show I've never been able to get even a little into. But at the time this episode aired, Everybody Loves Raymond was still more than a year out. So why is he in current as opposed to future? Because Boyle also played the monster in Young Frankenstein, which is an infinitely more important role. He also won a Daytime Emmy for his performance in this episode.


    1. Tonnes of great little details. Like the conversation between Yappi and Mulder after Yappi's performance.

      Yappi: Skeptics like you make me sick.
      Mulder: Mr. Yappi, read this thought.
      *Mulder stares at Yappi, who acts shocked*
      Yappi: So's your old man!

      Given what we learn about Mulder's father, Yappi might be right. A lot of accusations, like "liar", would also apply to Mulder's father.

      1. Heh, I never thought of it that way. I suppose it's entirely possible that was the case, since Darin Morgan clearly put a lot of thought into his scripts. Glad to see I'm not the only one overthinking all these episodes.