Wednesday, 15 May 2019

X-Files Rewatch | 'The Walk'

image credit: 20th century fox/dvd bash
Yes, I know. I need to make these posts more frequently like I used to. But the funny thing is, going back to a series like The X-Files after marathoning a ton of current TV has been pretty interesting. If you disregard the later seasons, you'd be hard pressed to find a seriously bad episode in The X-Files heyday. Although when one does inevitably pop up, it sticks out like a sore thumb. 

For me, 'The Walk' is one of those episodes, and it's always the one that I look forward to the least when I'm rewatching season three. Overall it's not actually that bad of an episode — it's more down to individual performances and a lack of understanding of the dynamics between Mulder and Scully. The latter can't be criticised that much either, as 'The Walk' was John Shiban's first episode. Shiban would later go on to write (and co-write) some of the series most emotionally-charged episodes like 'Memento Mori', 'Elegy', 'Christmas Carol', and 'Emily'. 

In terms of narrative, Shiban puts forth the fascinating premise that a quadruple amputee is torturing and killing other patients in a U.S. Army hospital by astrally projecting himself to wherever his victims happen to be. Mulder and Scully are drafted onto the case after Lt. Col. Victor Stans (played by Don Thompson) tries to commit suicide, but alleges that a "phantom soldier" is preventing him from doing so. General Thomas Callahan (played by Thomas Kopache) doesn't believe the so-called victims of this entity until he and his family are targeted by a shadow-like figure who begins to mentally and physically abuse them.

Mulder and Scully eventually suspect Leonard "Rappo" Trimble (played by Ian Tracey) who lost his arms and legs in action and seems to be hellbent on torturing those around him. After some digging, Mulder believes that Rappo is connecting himself to his victims through emotionally blackmailing Quinton "Roach" Freely (played by Willie Garson), an orderly who is referred to as "the mailman". This is because Roach steals mail and other personal belongings of the intended victims for Rappo to astrally project himself to wherever they may be. 

The thing is, Tracey's performance of Rappo is so off-putting that it ends up being the most significant detriment to the episode. Obviously playing a character who is murdering and torturing people from a hospital bed is a hard role to pull off, but whenever Tracey tries to act menacing, violent, or even just snarky towards Mulder and Scully it's offputting and annoying. It's Tracey's overacting that makes me want to skip this episode every time I come across it, even though I find Shiban's inclusion of astral projection such an exciting concept to explore. 

But in a way, it's these detriments that make 'The Walk' one of the most memorable episodes of the series for me. As irritating as I find Tracey's performance, you can't overlook the fantastic direction courtesy of Rob Bowman or the terrifically frightening special effects that are utilised throughout. Watching this knowing that 'The Walk' was filmed two decades ago, the effects are impressively horrific and make the supernatural elements of the story so compelling. 

That being said, it's hard to get past the fact that (sadly) Rappo is pretty central to the episode. But, if you overlook Tracey's performance and kind of switch off during those scenes, 'The Walk' has a lot more potential than it does at face value. 

•  Shiban was inspired by The Men (1950) while writing this episode. 
•  Astral Projection: According to Medium, astral projection "is a spiritual interpretation of the out of body experience," the site writes. "The existence of the Astral Plane and the Astral body is recorded in texts and esoteric material pre-dating cultures as ancient as the Phoenicians, Chaldean and Sumerian."
•  Deryl Hayes, who plays an army psychiatrist here, was previously in 'Shadows' in season one. 
•  The film on TV in the episode is Sun Valley Serenade (1941)
•  Gulf War Syndrome: As described by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the illness is "a prominent condition affecting Gulf War Veterans is a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems." 

•  (Mulder still listening to the tape, getting bored, sharpening a pencil)
SCULLY: Find anything? 
MULDER: No, but I'm beginning to like the tune. 

•  RAPPO: Now if you're through questioning me, I'd like to get a little shut-eye. 
MULDER: [Leans in and whispers] No sleepwalking. 

•  MULDER: Because they were his soldiers and he feels somewhat responsible for the tragedies that have played out?
SCULLY: That could be one. 
MULDER: Maybe he knows the deeper secrets to their madness, the biological weapons they were exposed to during the war, cause of the effect. 
SCULLY: Considering the government's complete disavowment of Gulf War Syndrome, it's a pretty good reason to prevent our investigation. 

•  MULDER: See this? This is a dental X-Ray plate. 
SCULLY: I know, you've been walking around with this since we got here. 
MULDER: No, actually the ones I've been walking around with I already had developed at the hospital. See, this is the one I was carrying when we first met Stans, this one in the rehab room, in the pool, in the General's office and this one at the General's house. All of them exposed to some kind of radiation. 
SCULLY: From what?
MULDER: From Stan's phantom soldier. I came down here wondering if it could be true if what Lieutenant Colonel Stans was describing was a case of astral projection. 
SCULLY: What you're saying is this man Rappo is leaving his body and floating around town killing people? 
MULDER: Practitioners claim that during a self-hypnotic trance the astral body can actually detach itself and float virtually anywhere, sometimes invisible but sometimes appearing as an apparition. They even claim that the astral body has psychokinetic capabilities far greater than the corporeal body. 
SCULLY: Mulder... then why would he need Quentin Freely? 
MULDER: Well, maybe he needs a psychic connection to a place, a thing or an object, a letter. That's why Quentin called himself the mailman. 
SCULLY: It's insane. 
MULDER: Sometimes the only sane response to an insane world is insanity. You know anything about backwards masking? 
SCULLY: You mean messages recorded backwards in songs? 
MULDER: Yeah, or on the General's answering machine. Check this out. 

•  MULDER: [...] Because you can leave your body anytime you want. Kill anybody you want to kill. 
RAPPO: If I could leave my body right now, I could think of something else I'd rather be doing. 
[Looks at Scully, she rolls her eyes]

Even though that's disgusting, I love the combination of Scully rolling her eyes and Mulder sitting in front of Rappo so that he can't see Scully. Protecting her, getting fed up with Rappo commenting about Scully like that. 

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