Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Case 03, File 07: The Walk

AKA: I Guess They Briefly Say "The Walk" At One Point So That Title Is Okay?

I mentioned during The List that the "Revenge from beyond the grave" story is basically a template for The X-Files, and one that doesn't necessarily require the person seeking vengeance to be dead. The basic plot template can be grafted onto a lot of settings, characters and motivations. That's not a criticism, the show has 200+ episodes to fill and it's gotta lean on something. It all just boils down to how interesting the episode's characters and motivations are.

Our plot this time around revolves around an army hospital in Maryland, where Lieutenant Colonel Stans is being treated for his recent suicide attempts, which he insists were thwarted by someone (or, as he more ominously put it, "He won't let me die.") He, being a reasonable person, decides to demonstrate this by heading to the hydrotherapy room and um, boiling himself alive. Sure enough, an invisible force unlocks the door and pulls the fire alarm, alerting everyone.

Mulder and Scully get called in to investigate the weirdness, but immediately get blocked by the military (raising the question of who called them in, but never mind). General Callahan tells them that they shouldn't be investigating military shit, but Scully blows him out of the water, pointing out that several guys in the hospital have lost their family to fires and no one investigated. Callahan is probably pretty skeptical, but then he witnesses a phantom soldier and his answering machine goes all screwy. Oh and his adjutant is drowned in the pool by a mysterious phantom.

Meanwhile, we're introduced to Rappo, a soldier who lost all four of his limbs (and all of his emotions save iridescent rage) in Iraq, and his buddy Roach who seems to be helping him with something odd. No prizes for guessing what. Anyhoo, Mulder warns General Callahan to be on the lookout for anything odd. He decides to share the answering machine thing with Mulder and Scully. Good thing too, because as they arrive at his house, a mysterious person shows up to steal his...mail, I guess, scaring his son and wife.

"Hey, you ever see Forrest Gu-"
"Monster of the Week already made that joke."
After investigating the weird goings on, Mulder and Scully's evidence leads them to Roach, who insists he's merely the mailman, sends them to see Rappo and later when he's being held in prison, insists that's already a dead man. Scully goes back to interrogate Roach some more, but finds that he's been killed, in a way that could not possible be suicide (blanket stuffed down his throat. Hardcore). Mulder uses this moment to reveal the tape Callahan showed them has a backmasked message on it and to throw out his theory: That Rappo is using astral projection to commit these crimes. He's also been carrying around some um...dental plates to expose them to psychic...radiati-look just roll with it.

Anyway, Mulder and Scully confront Rappo, who obviously denies being involved, but claims the Gulf War took his life away. As if to drive the point home, in the very next scene, he decides he's going to kill Callahan's wife. Callahan heads to the hospital, despondent, to speak with Stans, who tells him he knows who's responsible (he caught a glimpse of Rappo from across a room, again just roll with it).

Okay, final stretch: Callahan confronts Rappo, who admits the crimes and urges Callahan to kill him. Callahan refuses, telling him he has to live like he is (this episode has an unusual amount of people who seem to find death preferable to life). Rappo, being the calm and logical sort, immediately forces Callahan down to the basement and attacks him. Mulder goes to help and fails completely, while Scully tries to revive Rappo, but the moment she steps out, Stans sneaks in and smothers him with a pillow, ending the action scene happening in the basement. The episode ends with Mulder noting that the case is technically unsolved.

*aggressively hums the Jaws theme*
The Walk is not an episode I had exceptionally fond memories of, or really any memories of outside of a few specific scenes. But upon actually watching it, I found it more than a little agreeable. Maybe it just blended in because it doesn't do too much to stand out, but it doesn't do anything wrong. The scare scenes are solid, the performances believable and the script works inside and out. It may not be The X-Files at its best, but it's certainly The X-Files firing all cylinders.

Ironically, the only element I'm kind of meh about is one of the most memorable, Ian Tracey's performance as Rappo. He's an interesting character, and the special effects used to create his lack of arms is great (although the CGI used for his phantom attacker is less desirable). And yeah, Tracey is really really intense, but that's kind of the issue, he's ONLY intense. Rappo never brings it down at all, which makes the unending fury he seems to feel at the loss of his limbs his baseline. The character is interesting, his motivation is sympathetic and Tracey sells it hard, but I wish there had been more time to show other emotions, which might give him more depth.

But the rest of the actors seem to be handling the other emotions. Both Stans and Callahan are pretty good at selling their growing despair at the loss of their families, and I actually really like the confrontation between Callahan and Rappo, since it's the closest we get to seeing an emotion other than rage from him. This works in tandem with the theme of how veterans are ignored or sidelined (a theme that is, unfortunately, just as relevant today as it was in 95) to create some real thematic tension. You may not be rooting for Rappo, but you understand why he's committing these crimes.

"Hey, I just noticed that this mask makes me look a bit like the faceless dude from Hannibal. So I got that going for me."
The script is also conceptually interesting, in that it's yet another spin on the "Revenge from beyond the grave" structure that the series uses a lot (once again with the twist that the revenge seeker is still alive). This one works pretty well, since the stakes are established pretty early, and while it doesn't keep the audience in suspense on who's responsible for too long (Rappo more or less enters the episode wearing a sign reading "I'm the bad guy!) it focuses on its characters and the fallout of the revenge scheme, so that's alright.

Throw in a handful of solid scare sequences and special effects (the makeup used to create Stans' burns are pretty excellent, and by that I mean nauseating) and you've got a pretty damn good episode. It's not the deepest episode, but it handles its moral ambiguities about the nature of soldiers and war better than Fresh Bones did last season. And the fact that an episode as solid as this can slide out of my memory proves how great season 3 of The X-Files is.

Case Notes:
  • Why are there weights in the hydrotherapy room? Or am I overthinking it?
  • I know Stans is desperate to kill himself, but boiling yourself to death has gotta be the more horrible way you can think of. What, was immolating yourself too mundane?
  • I love how Scully goes straight for the throat when the lady comes in to ask them to stop their investigation. She is taking no bullshit and I love it.
  • I get that the lost all his limbs and that's why he's like this, but Rappo is a massive asshole to the other people in his therapy session
  • Mulder and Scully are right, why wouldn't they investigate two soldiers in the same hospital losing their families to fires in the same few months? 
  • Scully thinks the General is covering up the fact that the soldiers killed their families, Mulder thinks they're hiding chemical weapons. Never change you two.
  • Valiant effort guys, but you can't make a guy trying to take a tape out of his answering machine dramatic.
  • On the other hand, the pool scene is pretty excellent, especially the shadow suddenly appearing on the ceiling.
  • I'm not totally clear on why Roach needs to steal the mail right that second, when the kid was in the room with him, but the plot needs to move forward.
  • This episode is pretty good at drip feeding information without too much exposition, but I feel like it tips its hand too early about what's going on, or at least who's responsible. Maybe toss in a red herring or two to give us some more mystery?
  • I'm honestly really impressed that the General's kid decided to dig a huge fucking trench in his sandbox.
  • The CGI used to create the astral projection is um...not great. They get around this by keeping the shots of it really fast, but it still looks kind bad.
  • The dental x-ray plates thing felt like it came out of nowhere on the first watch, but I do find myself noticing Mulder screwing around with them on rewatches.
  • I'd forgotten that they never bother to explain why Roach is responsible for Rappo's loss of limbs. Oh well, not super important.
  • Rappo tells Mulder that he "Has no idea what it feels like when a hit comes." Uh, Mulder has been shot twice dude.
  • I wish we'd spent a little more time on the whole "Forgotten soldier" thing. It's a good message, but Rappo only brings it up like twice.
  • Relying on Stans catching a glimpse of Rappo in the hospital for its finale is probably bad writing, but not in any exceptional way, just kind of reliant on coincidence.
  • The General just immediately accepts that Rappo is killing his family, despite his lack of limbs. I like that.
  • I actually really like the confrontation between the General and Rappo. We get the emotions at the core of it, and both actors are kicking ass.
  • The steam filled hallway is a little hacky (and more than a little obvious in its desire for Rappo to be visible-ish), but whatever, it's a good finale, I'll roll with it.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Roach is played by Willie Garson, who is known for playing Stanford Blatch on Sex in the City and Mozzie on White Collar. People who watch those shows will have to be the ones to tell me if those are big roles, as I've never liked either of them.

Also, and this is once again pushing the definition of "Celebrity" to its limit, but General Callahan is played by Thomas Kopache, who some of you who enjoy Last Week Tonight might recognize as the Catheter Cowboy. It's kind of a silly role, but given that John Oliver actually bought ad time for him on Fox & Friends, I'll count it.

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