This week’s edition of The X-Files Re-Opened features reviews of Born Again and Roland. Born Again is about spiritual revenge from beyond the grave with a resurrection theme. Roland on the other hand is about spiritual revenge from beyond the grave with a…err…resurrection theme?
Yes, bizarrely, and most likely by accident, of the last three episode of The X-Files first season, two of them are variations of a theme. Both have good things and issues with them, but both of them are for the most part moderately entertaining television, although it makes one wonder how it got to the point where two episodes followed each other that had similar plot lines.
Born Again, scripted by Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa, is by no means spectacularly brilliant, especially coming off the back of the double whammy of Darkness Falls and Tooms, but it’s the two writers doing their routine of enjoyable supernatural thriller and as such actually feels like a companion piece to Lazarus whilst it’s at it.
Many of the plot twist are obvious, seeing as they deal with dirty cops and a crime from the past coming back to haunt everyone in the present, but really what the episode should have run with is the character of Michelle Bishop who is the reincarnation of Charlie Morris, the dead cop who is seeking revenge from beyond the grave.
In fact, looking back on the first season of the show, the whole “revenge from the beyond” is a recurring theme in several episodes. Shadows, Lazarus (for the most part), Born Again and Roland.
Reading the Wikipedia page and various guide books for the show will reveal that many working behind the scenes were not fans of it. In truth, it’s not as stupid as Space or as dull as Shapes, it’s just obvious and goes where you expect it too. As soon as Mulder looks at the fish tank with the little model of the deep-sea diver in it you know it’s going to come into play somewhere along the way and then it does.
The whole corrupt cop theme has been done to death and as such, for its entertaining while watching it style, if they had focused on Michelle, her behavioural disorder and the impact such an event as being part of a dead person’s resurrection can have on someone so young, it could have been more than just passably good. It might even have touched on being brilliant.
Roland, on the other hand, does put greater focus on its guest star, Roland Fuller as played by Zeljko Ivanek. Ivanek happens to be one of my favourite actors. From 24, to Heroes, Damages and currently playing one of those characters you love to hate, but sometimes can make you really like him in Madam Secretary, he is one of the finest actors working in America today.
Now, his performance in Roland does pose a problem. Fuller is a mentally disabled character and such a performance potentially brings with it many problems. If done well, it will be a sensitively handled piece of work and worthy of praise. If done wrong, then it’s another time a Hollywood production, or a movie or television show, has got such a portrayal wrong.
While it might be easy to disagree with me on this, I actually think that the portrayal of Roland Fuller is very well handled by Zeljko Ivanek. It could become dreadfully unsubtle but I think he never goes into territory that got Sean Penn heavily criticised when he starred in I Am Sam. There is a sweetness and sadness here that is quite astonishing to behold, and the relationship between himself and Stacy (Kerry Sadomirsky) is very well written and played.
What probably isn’t well written is the central story itself. I think the window dressing surround Roland is brilliant, but the crux of the narrative isn’t. This being a David Nutter directed entry, the whole thing is well done and is up to par with what is now the usual style of cinematic X-File style production, the set pieces are both imaginative and gruesome with the teaser making great use of a wind engine turbine and then later a vat of liquid nitrogen, complete with a dark joke involving the chalk outline of the victim’s body.
The story at the heart of Roland is, once again, revenge from beyond, complete with shady guest characters who, in truth, seemed to have had it coming either by being unscrupulous or just downright mean. However the inclusion of a cryogenically frozen head, as well as a second half twist making two key characters twins, feel a little contrived paving the way for a somewhat brazen plot hole.
Whereas Born Again is an adequately told story but neglects character, Roland is a great character piece with a messy story that needs more work. Writer Chris Ruppenthal’s script has so much going for it, and yet has other pieces which drag it down that it’s a shame that those pieces aren’t more concrete. I think this is the case of a mixed bag of a script being blessed by having good set pieces, a great director and an even better guest star.
On top of the grisly set pieces, there are many individual moments that are some of the best played from the first season; Mulder using a remote-controlled UFO to talk to Roland about how his mind is like the UFO being controlled by someone else, all of which comes after a conversation about their dreams, Mulder’s in particular being a very honest character moment about his father that is wonderfully performed by Duchovny, whilst the final scene itself is one of those open-ended X-Files moments that haunts, chills and entertains all at the same time.
All of these make Roland highly recommended and takes away a lot of the obvious weaknesses with its story.