Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Case 03, File 08: Oubliette

AKA: It Means A Room That Only Has Access Via A Trapdoor, Okay?

Mulder's sister having been abducted is a huge part of his character, but it's one that doesn't seem to come up much. That's not a complaint, nothing is more irritating than a character who feels the need to spout off their character traits every few scenes, but it's just something that winds up totally downplayed. That's healthy for the show, since it means the moments where it comes out feel natural and real, and it often functions as background motivation for some of Mulder's obsessions.

Our plot kicks off this time around when a teenage girl named Amy is kidnapped by an ultra creepo with a camera named Carl. Around the same time this is happening a woman named Lucy, across town, gets the nosebleed caused by the attacker and starts muttering the same thing the kidnapper said to the girl. Mulder calls himself in on the case (he does that) and immediately discovers that Lucy was kidnapped as a girl and held for years before escaping. And at that point he begins projecting on her, hard.

Turns out being kidnapped and held by a lunatic kinda fucks you up, so Lucy is standoffish and unwilling to help. Meanwhile the kidnapper is dragging Amy back to his house, holding her in the basement and taking pictures of her, and Scully is weirded out by the fact that Lucy has some of Amy's blood on her jacket from the nosebleed, and Lucy is having more symptoms of being connected to Amy, such as magically appearing injuries and being unable to see.

Eventually they discover what the audience already knows, that the guy who kidnapped Amy is her school's photographer and shit is getting weird there, when Amy makes a failed escape attempt that Lucy also experiences. Lucy reveals that the guy who kidnapped Amy is also the guy who kidnapped her and thus leads Mulder to his theory: That Lucy has some sort of psychic connection with Amy as a result of their shared kidnapping, and this is experiencing the kidnapping alongside her.

Oh god, 90s fashion, oh god.
Unfortunately this means that Lucy had Amy's blood on her uniform, which leads Scully and the other FBI Agents to come try to arrest her, which causes her to bolt. A little more digging (read, a lead from a tow truck driver who had a run in with Carl) and they find where he lives. They find he's ran off, and Lucy has somehow made it to his basement. They begin searching for Carl, but when Lucy starts feeling cold and wet, Mulder realizes he's headed for the river. Mulder catches him trying to drown Amy (that's grim mate) and shoots him, but it's too late, and Amy dies (that's grimmer). But there's a last minute reprieve when Lucy drowns in Amy's place and Amy lives, and the episode ends with Mulder and Scully musing about how the connection happened and what it meant to all three of them.

Oubliette is not a particularly supernatural episode of The X-Files. Strip out the handful of scenes devoted to Amy and Lucy experiencing the same things (or, more importantly, Mulder's reaction to it) and it'd basically be an episode of Law and Order. It gets its power from some truly unnerving sequences involving the kidnapper and some solid writing and acting. Which is totally fine, even The X-Files has to bring it down sometimes. It actually reminds me of The Field Where I Died a bit, even while that's a much more famous episode.

The main thrust of the narrative is actually pretty unconcerned with the actual, you know, kidnapping. Most of the evidence they need to solve the case is already right there, and a lot of the actual detective work takes place off screen. The episode is far more concerned with the connection between Amy and Lucy and how it affects Mulder. Mulder is clearly projecting onto Lucy pretty hard, and Scully clearly notices it immediately, even if she waits until the third act to bring it up.

"Did you feel anything else when you connected with Amy?"
"Just the urge to fix spaceship engines and say 'Shiny' a lot."
It adds an element of personal investment to the plot that keeps the thing fresh, as the episode mostly focuses on Mulder and his interactions with Lucy (even Scully is elsewhere for large parts of the plot). It's a focus that requires some good writing and a lot of subtle work from Duchovny. I really like the part immediately after the credits with Mulder touring the house sadly. Duchovny is far from Nicholas Cage when it comes to overacting, but I do appreciate when he does quiet, understated work. I also really like his breakdown at the end of the episode, since it sells the emotion of the scene really well.

The rest of the acting is solid too. Tracey Ellis is doing a solid version of angry and standoffish, Jewel Staite is good, albeit not particularly memorable, as the victim. But the other really standout performance is Michael Chieffo as Carl. He's got a solid, creepy presence that makes my skin crawl from the very first second he's on screen, and he only gets more and more disturbing to watch as the episode goes on. He's not quite a Donny Pfaster (but then who is) but he's got a lot of the same vibe going on.

"Gee, it sure is nice of the FBI to come tearing into town like a bat out of hell, giving me time to realize they're here and escape."
Add in some solid direction (the shot of the camera flashes coming from the trapdoor is a standout shot in my mind) and you've got yourself an episode that actually surprised me at how good it was. Parts of it feel like it borrows a bit too heavily from Silence of the Lambs, but maybe that's my imagination. It probably doesn't get too much attention because it's too low key and bleak to really stand out in your memory. It's a dark, distinctly un-fun episode, that ends on a downbeat note and thoughts on how trauma can control you your entire life. That's the kind of thing that tends to leave you depressed, rather than excited, and it's no surprise that you try to forget it. That doesn't mean it's not good, it's quite good. Just that, to make an episode this bleak stand out in your memory, it has to be exceptionally good.

Case Notes:
  • I genuinely wonder how his boss never noticed Carl is perving on the high school girls.
  • Amy's sister is pretty blase about a strange man being in her bedroom.
  • I'm not totally clear on what caused Amy's nose to start bleeding, but whatever, plot is gonna plot.
  • This is the second episode in a row where somebody asks Mulder "How could you know how [X] feels?" when Mulder actually does know how it feels.
  • Scully: "That's spooky." Mulder: "That's my name isn't it?" I love this show.
  • Bit of advice Mr. Kidnapper: Don't open your truck to gaze at your kidnap victim in the middle of the road.
  • The confrontation between Carl and the tow guy escalates so suddenly, it's unnerving. That's not a complaint, it fits the creepy character to suddenly freak out.
  • Mulder is projecting, hard, on Lucy, and Scully clearly knows it.
  • The bit where Lucy wakes up seeing what Amy is seeing is freaky in a very low key way, and I like it.
  • Lucy and Mulder's conversation over dinner is a little on the nose, but I like seeing the writers build up Lucy's character in the down time they have.
  • The scenes in the basement are where I get most of my Silence of the Lambs (or, since our villain is a photographer, maybe Red Dragon) vibe. They're also very, very disturbing.
  • Also disturbing is the video of Lucy right after her rescue Mulder watches. This episode isn't very violent, but it's pretty grim across the board.
  • Mulder manages to keep Eubanks' confidence for a while, until he finally drops the "Lucy was bleeding Amy's blood" bomb.
  • I actually really like the conversation between Scully and Mulder about how much Mulder is projecting, it's good character work.
  • I love how they completely gloss over the logistics of Lucy getting to the place where Amy was being held.
  • Is this the first time Mulder shoots somebody? It would make sense that the first time he shoots someone would be to save a kidnapped girl.
  • The climax, with Mulder crying over Lucy's body is really grim. This episode is really dark you guys. The final scene doesn't lighten it too much, but it does add a tiny bit of hope and light, to keep this from being the bleakest episode ever.
Future Celebrity Watch:

Our kidnapping victim, Amy, is played by Jewel Staite, who has actually been in a lot of stuff (she was on one of the 40 or so Stargate shows, I can never keep track of). Her most famous role is, was and will probably continue to be playing Kaylee on the tragically cut short Firefly.

Audio Observations:

Not a pop song, but the music they play over the sequence of Lucy and Amy running is really really intense. It's maybe a little too intense for such a downplayed episode, but I guess it suits the scene okay.

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