Wednesday, 12 December 2018

X-Files Rewatch | 'The List'

credit: 20th century fox
As much as I adore this show, there are the odd few episodes that I honestly forgot existed. Every television show has them of course, and it's understandable when there are at least twenty or so episodes populating one season. But when it's a show you love, it's pretty depressing to watch an episode that leaves a sour taste in your mouth, and 'The List' is certainly one of them for me. 

Written and directed by Chris Carter, 'The List' takes part on death row in a Florida prison, with Mulder and Scully investigating the mysterious death of a guard found in the cell of recently executed inmate, Napoleon 'Neech' Manely (Badja Djola). It soon comes to light that Neech has come back through reincarnation to enact revenge on the guards that wronged him. Luckily for Mulder and Scully, Neech wrote out a list of his victims his death, but it's a race against the clock to save those that are waiting on their own death row. 

On the surface, the exploration of reincarnation and revenge is actually pretty interesting in this episode, but it's the execution of the narrative that inevitably pulls the episode down. Other than a few gruesome deaths and the use of way too many maggots, Neech's revenge plays out as you'd expect it to — i.e., he manages to kill everyone on the list, despite Mulder and Scully trying to stop him (demonstrating one of the rare instances that the duo don't actually solve a case). 


Then there are the awkward tropes that are slotted in to 'fit't the atmosphere of a prison, including an uncharacteristic Scully walking down the cell walkway and getting harassed by the inmates (reminiscent of Clarice in Silence of the Lambs), and the uncomfortable amount of racially discriminatory beatings. I get what Carter is trying to do, but as has been evident in the revival (i.e. the 'Babylon' fiasco), he doesn't know when to stop. 

Thats not to say that 'The List' is an inherently awful episode. While the story may be a little off (to say the least), boy does Carter know how to direct an episode. From the eerie setting amplified by the post-production green colouring to the lingering cinematography. Carter and his team know how to make a singular X-Files episode feel like a feature film, regardless of the writing quality. This has always been the show's saving grace when it comes to episode's like these, alongside the performances of David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and the supporting cast of the episode. 

As much as I appreciate the way that this episode is shot and put together, the stagnant development of the plot, and the way Carter treats his audience stands out far too clearly here. 

• Chris received a Directors Guild of America nomination for his work on this episode. Which I understand, as the cinematography and direction in this episode is superb. It's the writing that is its downfall. 

• This is one of the rare episodes where Mulder and Scully don't actually solve the case, which is something that writer Frank Spotnitz had been interested in exploring as well. "I think this is a vastly underrated episode," he said in X-Files Confidential. "I also think it was a very brave and different show to do and that it will weather the test of time very well. I think it was brave because there is not a single likeable character — nobody you can root for.

"I think it was brave because there is not a single likeable character — nobody you can root for. Mulder and Scully do not solve this case, and that is something I had been interested in doing for some time."  

• Scully is competing against Mulder for the best dead-pan humour in this episode, too. 

MULDER: The man was obsessed with reincarnation. 
SCULLY: Being obsessed with it doesn't mean you can do it. 
MULDER: You know, unless he knew something we don't. 
SCULLY: Like what, the secret password? 

SCULLY: A woman gets lonely, sometimes she can't wait around for a man to be reincarnated. 

• The prison set cost more than it was supposed to and took 10 days to construct, but it was reused for 'Teso Dos Bichos' and 'Talitha Cuma', and other productions outside The X-Files.

• [MULDER and SCULLY find the rest of the body in the warden's office]
MULDER: I guess you'll be able to finish that autopsy now, Scully.

MULDER: Okay, but imagine if it were true, Scully. Imagine if you could come back and take out five people who had caused you to suffer. Who would they be?
SCULLY: I only get five?
MULDER: I remembered your birthday this year, didn't I Scully?
SCULLY: [Smiles and quietly laughs]

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