Fresh Bones is not an episode of The X-Files that will go into your top ten favourite episodes of all time list, but, for forty-five minutes it proves to be an incredibly enjoyable thriller that moves at a nice pace, has great twists and turns and boasts probably one of the scariest last five minutes of any episode of the show, complete with a final image that is truly the stuff of nightmares. It slots in great to the darker and intense characteristics of the second season.
Touching upon voodoo within the confines of a refugee camp, as well brutality carried out by the Armed Forces, amazingly Fresh Bones sometimes feels more prescient and relevant as time has went on. Scripted by Howard Gordon and directed with the usual flourish by Rob Bowman, it’s an atypical Gordon script, in that it’s intelligently done and features a very engaging narrative.
It is, in effect, a meat and potatoes X-File, but this being Gordon means it’s the best type of meat and potatoes X-File, proving that you can play all the same tunes and still do it well, especially when it’s as good as this.
There is a creepy atmosphere evident throughout the forty-five minutes here. The X-Files is running as such a well oiled ship at this rate, where everyone and everything comes together, that even when the show is by the numbers or being a meat and potatoes meal, that it does so fantastically well; music, editing and photography along with Bowman’s staging of key set pieces and Gordon’s writing let the episode get from A to B so entertainingly. It may not be Irresistible or Die Hand Die Verletzt. but it ain’t Excelsis Dei either.
Best of all, it builds up to not only a grand graveyard set piece finish, but even has a brilliant Twilight Zone-esque final scene that is sure to give you nightmares. The image of General Wharton buried alive, banging in anguish against the lid of the coffin is probably one of the scariest things the show ever done, and possibly its most unsettling fade out into the Chris Carter credit up to this point.
Whilst the episode doesn’t feel maybe as intense as previous episodes (abuse and sexual violence are noticeably absent for the first time in weeks), it still slots in to the more plausible, darker aesthetic of the season. There may not be sexual violence hinted at, but its idea of refugees being abused by their US guards has a weight to it that is undeniably powerful and would, frighteningly, hint at future events that would dominate news headlines. There is even a line of dialogue from X who claims that the “Statue of Liberty is on vacation”. It feels like many aspect of the episode could be applied to various news stories from the last ten years.
Featuring an intense guest performance from Daniel Benzali, who would appear in Steven Bochco’s criminally underrated Murder One, a series that did a serialised binge worthy story years before such a thing became the norm, he is another of the classic “figure in power” that Mulder and Scully always seem to find themselves up against. With an intense whispering tone to his dialogue and lit in Bartley’s brilliant trademark use of light and shadow, Benzali’s performance is pretty subtle throughout, at least until the final act where the story dictates that he become a little more over the top, but it’s a aspect that is earned and just adds to the entertainment factor.
Even better, the episode even throws in a plethora of bizarre images, as well as a superb “gotcha” moment at the end when one character that we thought was alive turns out to have been dead the entire time, and possibly reincarnated as a cat. It’s a crazy notion, but one of those lovely little creepy unresolved ideas that the show does so well.
As for the bizarre images, the episode’s grandiose final set piece features a set of fingers erupting from a scar on Scully’s hand, followed by an actual person crawling out of said scar and trying to kill her. Just writing that sentence makes the episode sound crazy, and I suppose it is to an extent, but it’s so off the wall bonkers and fantastic that it actually makes the episode even better. That it all takes place at a graveyard, off the beaten track of course, glowing with candlelight gives the episode a truly creepy and atmospheric feel.
Everyone, myself included, has a handful of X-Files episodes that are must-sees and fallback episodes that one goes to when they’re in the mood to watch the show. Then there are the bad ones that we avoid, like Space, and then are the ones that you may not go to when you want to watch a random episode of the show but which are always a joy when you come across them on rewatch binges. Fresh Bones is definitely the latter. In fact, I might even be pressed to say that whilst not a fully fledged classic by any stretch, it could be classed as a minor classic, an excellent episode that whilst not up there with Bad Blood, or Home or Beyond the Sea, is a hell of a lot better being simply called good or enjoyable.
It features an excellently tight script, great guest performers and a dark, angry energy that the show has been dealing with in droves. It’s more fantastical supernatural bent, the first in a while that hasn’t had dark, deviant crime at the centre of it, makes it a touch more escapist than the series had been the last few weeks, but it isn’t afraid to scare the hell out of you at the same time and I for one rather love it quite dearly.