Friday, January 3, 2014

1x15 Lazarus

I am the key figure in an ongoing blogger project; a project to review each episode of The X-Files in chronological order.  It's a global project, actually, with awesome readers in the highest levels of nerdiness and hopefully it will be read by every man, woman, and child on the face of this planet.

This week we're looking at 1x15 Lazaraus, the first of four count 'em four episodes in S1 that focus on the idea of immortality / coming back from the dead. It's like one of the writers had the idea, and then everyone else thought they could write a story about it too, and they just decided "Fuck it, we'll shoot all of 'em." Which is how we wind up with Lazarus (dead guy comes back in someone else's body), Young at Heart (dead guy comes back as, like, a backwards-aging lizard or something), Born Again (dead guy comes back in someone else's body, but this time it's a little girl), and Roland (dead guy comes back by possessing his long lost mentally-challenged brother). Every season seems to have at least one episode about life-after-death and the possibility of returning to this mortal coil from beyond the grave, but this season has more than any other and it just feels weird, especially because they come in two back-to-back pairs: 1x15 Lazarus / 1x16 Young at Heart and 1x22 Born Again / 1x23 Roland. And three of them are basically the same but with different possessed vessels.

This episode does give us some insight into Scully's past, which as far as I'm concerned is the best part of it. We already know, thanks to Fire, that Mulder has a thing for dark-haired women who treat him like crap (maybe this has something to do with his sister); in this episode, we learn that Scully has a thing for older men who are in some way inappropriate for her (which is totally a daddy-issue thing). These people don't have issues. They have subscriptions.

Anyway, in case you've forgotten, here's a list of the themes we'll be examining as we go through each recap:

1. The show is as much about Scully's journey toward becoming a believer as it is about the paranormal events she and Mulder encounter.
2. Scully is only a skeptic when viewing things from a clinical distance; when the shit hits the fan, she acts on Mulder's crazy beliefs because she knows it will keep her alive.
3. Mulder isn't right nearly as often as he thinks.
4. The evolution of the Mulder/Scully relationship - not just the romantic involvement that eventually occurs, but their dynamics of trust and distrust, the changing ways they view each other, and the friendship that grows over time.
5. Assault on a federal officer never seems to lead to jail time.
6. Mulder is kind of a dick.
7. Hotels, car rental places, and apartment landlords must be crazy to rent to FBI agents.
8. The enormous top-secret government conspiracy actually really sucks at keeping things quiet.
9.  There are some serious homoerotic undertones in this show.
10. The X-files department is super toxic to anyone who comes close to it.
11. Mulder and Scully are both terrible at their jobs.
12. Local law enforcement is protrayed in an extremely negative light.
13. This show is white-washed as fuck. And almost all the non-whites are villains or stereotypes.
14. Bathtubs are scary, terrible places that should be avoided at all costs.
15. Plot and logic will be completely discarded just so Scully can have some reason not to witness the big paranormal events of the episode.

Maryland Marine Bank
5:55 PM

We open on Scully and another agent, Jack Willis, totally failing at looking casual while they stake out the bank - they've gotten a tip it's about to be robbed. There's just enough familiarity in the way they talk to each other to let the viewer know they're not just colleagues.

Meanwhile, outside, a couple of bank robbers are getting ready to go Bonnie and Clyde on the place. The woman, Lula, seems a bit nervous but the man, Dupre, is far too sexually aroused at the prospect of money and violence to care about her feelings. He kisses her, and we see the tattoo on his arm.

Dupre throws on a hockey mask and kicks his way into the bank, demanding the teller hand over all the money. Willis and Scully pull their guns on him, and Dupre starts to slowly lower his gun... then raises it again lightning quick and shoots Willis in the chest. Scully puts 3 rounds into the robber, dropping him.

Later, in the hospital, a bunch of doctors are gathered around Willis, trying to get his heart started again, while Scully hovers nearby looking very worried. The other doctors want to give up, but Scully pushes them to keep shocking his heart again and again... and unnoticed by everyone but the viewer, Dupre's nearby corpse convulses each time they shock Willis. Finally they get a rhythm, and the camera pans over to linger on the tattoo on Dupre's arm.

Betheda Naval Hospital
12:51 A.M.
Two Days Later

After the opening credits, we cut to a hospital room where "Willis" is hooked up to a bunch of machines. He wakes suddenly and goes to another patient's room to steal his clothes. A nurse comes in and he hides in the bathroom, ready to strangle her with a piece of rubber tubing. Luckily she leaves without noticing him, and he seems confused when he looks into the mirror. He goes down to the morgue and finds Dupre's body in a drawer and (ew ew ew) cuts its finger off to get the wedding ring.

So, uh, spoiler alert, guys, but that's not Willis. That's Dupre in Willis's body. Like, they're not really subtle about it at all, and it gets confirmed just a few minutes into the episode when Dupre's tattoo starts showing up on Willis's arm. For the sake of clarity, rather than typing "Dupre in Willis's body" every time, I'm just going to refer to him as Dupre, and "Willis" is shorthand for "the guy everyone thinks is Willis but is really Dupre in Willis's body."... because my wrist still hurts and won't you please have some pity on me?

Later, Mulder and Scully meet up in the morgue where everyone is more than a little weirded out by the fact that "Willis" is missing and someone cut off Dupre's corpse's finger. Scully thinks "Willis" might have done it out of stress and that he's vanished to hunt down Dupre's partner/lover, Lula.

She's right - Dupre kicks down the door of Lula's home but finds it empty. He rolls up his sleeve to root around in the chimney (presumably for a gun or the stolen money) and sees that his tattoo is slowly showing up on his shiny new body.

Either a dead man's tattoo is appearing on his arm, or he picked up a really gnarly rash at that hospital.

Back at the X-Files office, Mulder shows Scully a couple of prints lifted from the shears used to sever the corpse's finger - prints which indicate that the person was left handed. It's a positive match to Willis's print, but he was right-handed; Dupre, however, was a lefty. He shows her an EKG from the ER that shows Willis's cardiac activity, and she grudgingly admits that it looks like there are two heartbeats.

MULDER: Two men died in that crash room, Scully. One man came back. The question is … which one?
University of Maryland
Department of Biology

Mulder drags Scully to meet another of his crackpot cohorts, this one a professor of biology who asks Scully what she knows about near-death experiences. He's basically a thinly-veiled deus ex machina who tells the audience what a near-death experience is and how sometimes people come back... different. I feel like this would have worked better as one of Mulder's kooky slideshow exposition things, because we will never see this professor again and he's otherwise completely irrelevant to the story, but maybe they were tired of having Mulder be the constant know-it-all. This scene feels more like sitting in a lecture hall than watching a hit prime-time TV show.

Scully, however, is still convinced that "Willis" is still Willis. She tells Mulder that she and Willis dated when he was still her instructor at the FBI Academy and wow should that be a red flag.

His mind just went so many places his face doesn't know what to do right now.

Dang, Scully. Who knew beneath that enormous fucking trench coat there beats the heart of a strumpet. I can't tell if Mulder in that screencap is turned on, freaked out, shocked at the realization that Scully is a sexual being, or considering what he'd have to do to get Scully to drop that cool veneer for him, too. #4?

Oh, and she mentions that she and Willis have the same birthday.


Cut to Dupre kicking down some poor schmuck's door and assaulting him in his shitty-ass apartment. The schmuck is Lula's brother, Tommy, and Dupre wants to know where she is. Dupre starts bleeding, as if from a gunshot wound, and gets creepily sentimental about Lula before shooting her brother in the freaking head.

Because nothing says, "I love you" like murdering someone's sibling.

Crime Scene
Desmond Arms Resident Hotel

Mulder, Scully, and a bunch of other agents poke around the shitty-ass apartment hotel room and Dupre shows up, pretending he's still Willis. He sees Scully and flashes back to her shooting him dead, so that's probably not going to end well. She pulls him out into the hallway to discuss just what the fuck he's been doing all this time, and he doesn't have an answer beyond, "Uh, I wasn't feeling well."

Mulder, sensing that something isn't quite right, follows Willis to the shooting range (where he is firing left-handed) and gets him to sign a birthday card for Scully (which he also does left-handed, and also her birthday is months away).

That is one ugly fucking card, Mulder...
 He brings her the card, citing it as evidence that "Willis" is not Willis anymore; oh, and the signature on the card looks nothing like Willis's signature on file; and also, the print they found at the shitty-ass hotel room has gone missing from the lab. But she still refuses to believe that "Willis" is really Dupre.

I mean, I get that this is early seasons-Scully and she's not all the way on board Mulder's crazy train.  And they're talking about her ex here, so she's even more defensive than usual. But this is stubborn even for Scully. Out-of-character stubborn. Normally at this point in the episode she's at least sort of thinking that maybe something spooky could conceivably be happening, or at least humoring Mulder enough to allow him to go poking his (distinguished) nose into things. At a bare minimum, she should be considering that Willis has been seriously affected by the whole "almost dying" thing, maybe even suffering brain damage after being clinically dead for over 13 minutes - especially with that bit about the handwriting. But she seems totally blase about it, just accepting that "Willis" passed his psych and physical evals and has been cleared to return to duty.

Also there is NO WAY that Dupre would pass an actual FBI psych eval. He's a former prison guard who fell in love (obsessively in love, mind you) with an inmate and then spent a year crisscrossing the country on a bank robbery / murder spree. It's not like he has access to the real Willis's memories or anything to help him pass the test - after all, then he'd remember Scully's birthday and how to sign his host's name.  If that guy can actually pass a FBI psychological exam, then there's hope for just about anyone (and it explains how Mulder got in in the first place...).

To Scully's credit, she does at least make some effort to make sure "Willis" is okay - she heads up to his cubicle at the VCU to ask about the missing fingerprint. He's a little distracted, however, because he's just received a phone call with a lead to Lula's location: a landlord thinks that Lula is in his building.

Scully and Dupre head out (for some reason Scully doesn't see fit to bring Mulder along...). "Willis" says he's called for backup but insists they can't wait any longer.  They spot Lula just as she's about to go do some laundry.

That's... that's not really the face of a man hunting down a fugitive...

They give chase, with Scully finally tackling and cuffing Lula in the basement of the building after a brief struggle. Dupre approaches, picks up Scully's gun... and tosses her a pair of handcuffs, ordering her at gunpoint to put them on. And not in that cool sexy way you know they did before.

Scully FINALLY keys in that something is kind of amiss here

There's a Dreamland joke in here somewhere, I just know it.

when "Willis" starts caressing Lula's face and getting weirdly sentimental.

We skip some time and probably a very awkward car ride and cut to Scully cuffed to a radiator, her lip swollen and bloody.  Dupre is trying to convince Lula that he's still him, just with a new face, by telling her stories of their time together.

LULA: (not convinced) Okay. Okay, what did we do after we got married?
WILLIS: (suggestively) Right after?
LULA: After that.
WILLIS: Well, we went down to the beach. I took out my buck knife and I sliced open my palm and then I slit open your palm … and we let the blood drip down in the water.
LULA: Then what did you say to me?
WILLIS: I said, "This is so we can be married in all the oceans of the world."  And then I made you a solemn oath … (holds up wedding ring that he cut from his own corpse) to never take this ring off my finger. Ever. I mean to keep that promise.
I honestly can't decide if that's truly bizarre or kind romantic. I sort of figured that these aren't the kind of people who really worry too much about consequences, but still. HIV? Hepatitis? Tetanus from the dirty knife? And who knows what other gross shit you might have gotten in those wounds considering you cut yourselves on a BEACH. My sister went swimming once with a tiny burst blister on her heel. She wound up with a serious staph infection.

Lula must be way less paranoid about her health than I am, because that story seems to convince her that this really is Dupre, just wearing Willis's face. And she doesn't seem too thrilled about it:

Also, he just said his new body will feel the same in the dark, which would freak out just about anybody.

We cut back to the apartment building where Mulder and some other agent have just finished talking to the landlord who gave "Willis" the tip. Mulder manages to keep a terse front to mask just how badly he's freaking out about the fact that Scully has now been missing for 12 hours. Luckily he doesn't have to wait much longer - Dupre calls his cell seemingly just to taunt him with Scully's frightened voice.

After Dupre hangs up, Scully tries to reason with him, reaching to the Willis she thinks is still inside - she tells him the real Willis's birthday and address, and about a weekend the two of them spent at his parents' cabin in a snow storm. Dupre starts seeing flashes of those memories, but he pushes those memories away, telling Scully he remembers that she shot him and then let him die in order to save Willis... but he came back instead.

He jabs a gun into her face but Lula comes in before he can pull the trigger, reminding him that they need Scully alive. He takes a sip of her soda and Scully tells him that Jack Willis's body is diabetic and pleads with him to get insulin before he goes into a diabetic coma.

It says a lot about Scully's character that even though "Willis" cuffed her, kidnapped her, hit her at least once, and shoved a gun into her cheek and threatened to blow her away, she still wants to save his life.  This is almost the anti-#1, refusing to believe in the weird shit that's happening even though her life is in danger, because she doesn't want to accept that someone she cares about is gone. This scene kind of sets up her relationship with Mulder - how she constantly tries to save him even when he's an ass, even when it causes her to suffer, and how she refuses to give up on him no matter how grim things get. Not gonna mark that as #4 just yet, but it's an interesting character trait to see developing.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

Mulder pours over Willis's notes about Lula and Dupre, hoping for some clue as to where they could be holding Scully. On a tape recording, Willis talks about the "intoxicating freedom" of their life of crime. He gets a page (OMG a pager! It's like seeing the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park for the first time) and calls a meeting with some other agents. He says that a gas station just got robbed but the only thing taken was insulin, so Scully and "Willis" must be nearby.

Back at... wherever they are, Dupre has released Scully, who is getting ready to give him an insulin injection before he passes out. Lula stops her, pointing a gun at her and knocking the insulin to the floor. She tells Dupre that she was the one who tipped the FBI to the bank robbery in the teaser - she just wanted to get rid of him and keep the money.

Damn bitch, you cold.

Cut to the FBI office. Mulder gets a call from Lula, who wants a million dollars by tomorrow or Scully dies. Mulder, less than happy, drops this line:
MULDER: (on phone, threatening) You listen to me --- you lay one hand on Scully, and so help me, God ----
Yeaaaaaaaaaah... remember back in the pilot, how he was all "nothing matters to me but finding out the truth about my sister and the shadow government conspiracy surrounding it"?  I guess we found something that matters.  This is pretty much the first time we see Mulder exhibit such fear and anger at the thought of Scully being in danger. He really could lose her this time, and he realizes how much he wants her to live.  He doesn't seem to give a shit about Dupre-in-Willis, even though it's real hard evidence of something spooky - he just wants Scully back. #4.

They can't trace the phone number because Lula called on Scully's cell (and triangulating from cell towers or using a phone's internal GPS was not a thing back then, my sweet summer children) but they CAN filter out Lula's voice to analyze the background noise.  They manage to isolate the sound of a small-engine plane taking off.

Mulder calls a meeting in the briefing room, explaining what he's found and that they've isolated an area of about 1000 households to search.  And then his voice gets all unsteady like he's about to cry and...


#4. #4 all over the damn place.

Anyway. The following morning, we cut back to Scully who is once again handcuffed to the radiator. Dupre wakes her up, telling her what he remembers about their weekend in the woods... and then starts flashing to Dupre's memories of being shot in the bank. He starts screaming the same things he did then, and for a moment, Scully sees Dupre slumped on the couch instead of Willis.

There is a knock at the door - an undercover cop disguised as a Bible salesman. Lula answers but closes the door on him quickly. The cop instantly gets on the radio to call in Lula's location.

Inside, Scully tells Lula that "Willis" is dead. She gets close to him to deliver her final nasty goodbye, and he lurches up and grabs her gun. Outside, agents move into position around the house, with Mulder of course in the lead. Lula tries to sweet talk Dupre out of killing her, saying they can still get away; he tells her that death is nothing to be afraid of, kisses her, and pulls the trigger.  At the sound of the gunshot, the FBI agents kick down the door and Mulder runs to Scully's side. He hovers over her in concern, but she's only worried about "Willis"... who is now slumped in the corner, dead for real this time. Dupre's tattoo fades from his arm.

In a few years, Scully will wish she were capable of the same easy tatt removal.
Later, Scully is cleaning out Willis's desk when Mulder brings her his watch, which he got from the morgue. It was a gift from Scullly on Willis's 35th birthday - and it stopped at 6:47, the exact time he when into cardiac arrest at the hospital.

And we get one of the most ambiguous final exchanges thus far:
SCULLY: What does that mean?
MULDER: It means … It means whatever you want it to mean. (gently) Good night.
So.... yeah. There ya go. I'm not saying I hate this episode - I don't. I find the premise interesting but overall felt the delivery was lacking. I give it a B-. The bit with Dupre's tattoo felt very contrived, as if the writers were trying to lead the audience to one conclusion by saying, "Hey look, he hasn't lost his mind, someone else is riding his body." But then they double back on that by having Dupre experience Willis's memories near the end. WTF is that supposed to mean? Flesh memory? The real Willis still alive inside somewhere? The real Willis reaching back into his body from beyond the grave? I wish so badly they'd left that part with the tattoo out altogether and left it up to the viewer's interpretation as to whether Willis was just losing his mind or if Dupre really was inhabiting his body. I'd rather have more unanswered questions that leave me with something to think about that a couple of mediocre answers spoonfed to me that don't make much sense.

I would like to note that I wrote the second half of this post using one of those split ergonomic keyboards and it felt strangely good. Like, weird, because I'm not used to hitting certain keys (most notably the B key) with the correct fingers but at least my wrists are nicely supported.  It also feels like I'm typing from the future, which is pretty cool.


  1. This

    "enormous fucking trench coat "

    had me laughing pretty hard.

    As for the time the watch stopped? I think it means the shock from the paddles broke the watch.

    Good news about your keyboard. I bet it feels like you're typing from the distant future when you blog about Mulder answering his pager and other old things like that.

    1. I feel like this keyboard is the first step in training my left hand to do one thing while my right hand does another. The feeling of disconnection between my hands is suuuuuuuper weird.

      I'm also seriously starting to wonder if Mulder and Scully were boning from the very beginning, and each time we see her in a trench coat or jacket that's 10 sizes too big for her it's really because she picked up some of Mulder's clothes from the floor by mistake.

  2. 1. What about Miracle Man? In the beginning scene, a dead guy comes back from the dead. 2. It does seem like season 1 randomly had a lot of professor/consultants to conveniently explain things (the ethno biologist(?) in the Jersey Devil episode, and now this guy) 3. I don't know about you, but I've surely never been in a gas station that carries insulin... doesn't that have to be given to you by a pharmacist? I think the writers kind of messed that one up.