Two weeks before Young at Heart aired, I tried to introduce my dad to the joys of The X-Files only to find the episode was Genderbender, about a sex changing alien going on a killing spree by killing his/her victims with sex, something my dad was a tad concerned about considering I was only ten years old (see last week’s review).
So, when Young at Heart premiered on the BBC around Christmas of 1994, my mum asked me what I was watching. It was fine, I thought, nothing would be as “adult” as a sex changing alien, so I gladly told her, with all the pride of a young X-Phile, that I was watching The X-Files. The episode then promptly opened up with a scene in which a man was lying on a hospital bed with his hand cut off.
“Are you sure you should be watching this?” she asked.
Hello there deja vu, how are you today? Thankfully the episode wasn’t as problematic in terms of content and the story that followed ended up being a well told little mystery that ended up being the perfect episode by which to introduce a newcomer, and it worked very well in that regard. My mum loved the episode and The X-Files became a show we’d always watch together, sometimes re-watching episodes I would record on VHS, an old-time technology by which humanity watched and recorded things on to a thick black box called a cassette tape because there was no Netflix or Amazon Prime back then, in case anyone under the age of twenty is reading this.
For those reasons, I adore Young at Heart. I know it’s not Beyond the Sea, Ice, or even Deep Throat, but there’s an undeniable slickness to the writing and direction here and whilst the episode is a kind of meat and potatoes mystery, it’s one that actually is pulled off pretty well by Chris Carter and co-writer Scott Kaufer, the latter’s only credited script for the show.
The exploration of Mulder’s career before his discovery of the X-Files unit is actually well handled and doesn’t feel shoe horned in. Unlike Ghost in the Machine and its use of Mulder’s old partner Jerry, the inclusion of Agent Reggie Purdue, Mulder’s superior when he was starting out at the bureau, is charmingly handled and uses the character and the story as a legitimate way to explore Mulder’s origins. The use of an arrest scenario in which Mulder had to go “by the book” says a lot about our hero and his attitude in the present, whilst Dick Anthony Williams as Purdue is actually a charmer, who goes from being incredibly likeable to justifiably stern, all without losing his ability to be a sympathetic character.
Of course he has “red shirt” written on him when he shows up and he doesn’t make it to the end credits, but unlike Jerry’s death which came off simply as being a guest character with a past link to Mulder in order to inject some emotional juice into a run of the mill story, Reggie’s demise is shocking and genuinely heartfelt and sad and carries a genuinely real charge leading into the final act of the story. Even better, the show would never really forget about him, or at least Vince Gilligan would never really forget about him, making reference to the character in Paper Hearts and Unusual Suspects.
David Duchovny puts in a great performance, really running with a chance to show a more serious, tortured side to his character, and the final set piece which sees the episode’s villain, John Barnett, try to strike at Scully in his revenge drama against Mulder at a concert hall is brilliantly directed by Michael Lange. Mark Snow brings a Jerry Goldsmith scoring The Omen vibe to his work here that is overly dramatic but which works a treat.
As I’ve said, it’s not the greatest piece of television ever, but its one of those nicely constructed thrillers that The X-Files does all too well and proves, as always, to be an entertaining forty-five minutes of television.
EBE then goes and ups the ante considerably with a taut UFO thriller that sees the show explore who was, effectively, the show’s third regular character at this stage, Jerry Hardin’s mysterious informant Deep Throat. Up until now, with the exception of Fallen Angel which hinted at the possible motivations of the character, Mulder’s informant has been used in a exposition role, basically coming into episodes with an element of government conspiracy to it and furthering it along by giving Mulder information related to the case.
It seems as if EBE might be using that plot staple again, but then Morgan and Wong’s masterful teleplay throws a real spanner in the works when it’s revealed that the character is in fact lying to Mulder and has divulged information in the shape of a photograph on an alleged UFO encounter that is in fact false.
Aside from being a very cinematic mystery that sees the episode set mostly on the roads of America as Mulder and Scully chase own a truck that may in fact house an alien being from a UFO crash in Iraq as shown in the teaser, it also showcases Morgan and Wong’s amazing ability to use character development and legitimately brilliant character interaction in their writing.
As always they write Mulder and Scully in beautifully crafted ways with many of David and Gillian’s scenes in the episode being, as always with them, brilliant, honest and real, (I just LOVE that moment where Scully tells Mulder how much she admires his passion and uses the line “The Truth is Out There” in her little speech) but that they also give Duchovny and Hardin incredibly rich and rewarding scenes is the icing on the cake.
The scene at the aquarium where Deep Throat uses an analogy about sharks has quietly become one of the show’s best, whilst Hardin himself, a veteran actor who has appeared in too many credits to list, but who I always remember outside of The X-Files from the Tom Cruise thriller The Firm, seems to be relishing the opportunity the episode is giving him to show layers to the character that are outside the usual “Basil Exposition” scenes the show usually would have him partake in.
It all climaxes not with a shoot out or car chase, although there is a great foot chase through an army base, but with an incredible complex dialogue-driven scene where Deep Throat divulges the reasons for his turning to Mulder and being his source of information which is downright sensational. Hardin’s portrayal hints at previously unseen layers to the character and even though it’s potentially more information about who he is and where he comes from and why he is doing what he is doing, it serves to make him even more mysterious. That the episode does this without being frustrating is down to the great combination of writing, acting and directing.
Amazingly the episode was directed by William A Graham whose previous credit on the show was for the dog’s dinner Space, but here he seems to relish getting a chance to run with a really great script that has scope, scale and brilliant plotting and character. Plus, while Space was an expensive episode that looked cheap, EBE, with its ongoing chase of a haulage truck and numerous scenes set on the road, looks like a feature film.
It also introduces us to the wonderful trio that are The Lone Gunmen. Legends all of them, their first scene is a hoot and who was to know that when this first premiered, this charming, humorous trio would steal our hearts and never give them back.