In many respects, Irresistible is an episode that season two of The X-Files has been building up to over the last few weeks. Red Museum, Excelsis Dei and Aubrey have all had real world crime elements impact on the show’s brand of supernatural crime procedural that it seems only apt that the show will eventually deal with a serial killer that feels all too real and plausible.
A thematic and stylistic pilot for what would become Chris Carter’s second television series, Millennium, Irresistible shares not only the Millennium pilot’s writer, but also its director, and given the direction the last several episodes have taken, what with a paedophile peeping tom, rape and serial murders, it’s apparent that many of these themes have been running around Carter’s head, looking to be explored further, thus explaining how and why Millennium came to be when FOX came asking for a second series from the writer.
What’s also fantastic about this episode is how much of a character study it is of Scully. The show has not taken the time to explore her psyche after the events of the first half of the season, instead the show, and the character too, have been rushing back to work. Now everything catches up to our heroine, and the show uses its most disturbing villain to date to explore, wonderfully, the impact such realistic violence can have on one of our characters emotionally.
Whilst it can be a problem when a crime procedural or investigation show inflicts so much violence on female characters, once again, like Aubrey, The X-Files is being more intelligent with such story telling than the majority of more so-called “realistic” shows. Irresistible does not revel in the violence depicted, nor does it show too much either, it’s psychological and intelligent in dealing with the ideas it’s presenting.
This is without doubt one of the most brilliantly scripted and directed explorations of modern evil to air on American television…at least until October 1996.
Throughout the 1990’s the serial killer became the main go-to “monster” for many Hollywood movies, the notion that any one that you had walked past in the middle of the street or stood beside in the supermarket check-out line could have the capacity to violently murder anyone else due to some sort of psychological imperative or modus operandi became a favourite of many a suspense horror thriller, no doubt spurred on by not only stories that became all too evident on our news headlines, but through movies such as Se7en, The Bone Collector, Copycat and the Oscar-winning masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs.
Irresistible is actually more than deserving of being mentioned within the same breath of many of those works, and definitely should be ranked alongside the the Oscar-winning Lambs and David Fincher’s brilliantly nightmarish thriller, and does so much more in the space of forty-five minutes than many other works do in the length of two hours.
Like The Silence of the Lambs, Carter’s script isn’t just simply an excuse to indulge in cheap-horror movie thrills it’s an emotionally complex exploration of its lead female character. The extra emotional charge that comes with the episode is how it explores such crimes on those who investigate them. The show finally allows us to catch up to Scully’s emotional well being given the events of the Duane Barry arc earlier in the season, and does so magnificently, all without betraying Scully as a strong character.
Chris Carter’s script is superb and gives Gillian Anderson to show a mature acting range beyond her years at this point with one of her best ever performances on the show. How often does a genre show like this simply stop for five minutes to do a scene like the one where Scully visits the FBI’s therapist, laying her heart on the table on a way that speak volumes so subtly and amazingly?
The writing is brilliant, and whilst Carter is frequently criticised for over egging his scripts with convoluted plotting and stylised dialogue, the words here are elegant and engaging, whilst David Nutter’s direction is wonderful, filming Anderson in close up, and just allowing her performance to speak for itself, the camera simply taking in every inch of her line delivery, capturing even the smallest look on her face as she opens her heart up for the first time in the episode, and in the season, on how the case and her abduction at the start of the season have affected her.
The scene begins with her unaware that she is talking about the impact her work has on her in the second person and proceeds from there. There is something about the shock on her face when her therapist points this out that is amazingly performed. Every facial gesture and hand movement is portrayed in a subtle manner and the scene, which is deceptively complex, never outstays its welcome, but cuts away just when you want to stay with Scully more. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was an early example of the majesty and brilliance we were about to get from an actress who would become one of the best working on stage and screen.
On top of superb work from Gillian Anderson, we also get one of the great all time X-Files guest starring performances courtesy of Nick Chinlund. With a slow, almost child like innocence to his line delivery, he conveys a strange sense of discomforting calm for someone as dark as this. Whilst The X-Files has had its share of monsters since it debuted, monsters who have racked up a body count (Tooms, The Host, the vampires of 3), here the body count takes on a more chilling charge than ever before.
Donnie Pfaster is not simply some horror movie monster cooked up by the writers of our favourite show to entertain us for forty-five minutes, the usual style of imaginatively developed creature with which to wow us with wit and gory, dark fun. Nope, Donnie Pfaster is simply the scariest person that we have encountered yet on the show because he feels so real, a figure literally ripped from the headlines and many a real life crime show.
We know of Mulder’s past as a criminal profiler, and we constantly see Scully doing autopsies, but this is the first time we see them use their skills as investigators to combat an antagonist whose existence could be seen to be the reason for such skills having to exist in the first place. Mulder’s keen investigative mind and ability to formulate opinions and thoughts quickly are now being used to discuss psychological details to violent crimes the cause and nature of have only ever been hinted at in the show prior to this. Sure, Beyond the Sea featured an all too real kidnapping case at the heart of it, but really it was about Scully’s emotional reaction to her father’s death and being confronted with a possible psychic.
Whilst Scully’s emotional well-being is dealt with here, and brilliantly I may add, it’s part of a potent mix that features criminal psychology being used to capture a character that does not have the science fiction or horror movie elements that come with a liver eating mutant or a psychic behind bars.
Donnie Pfaster’s predilection for stalking, cutting off fingers, obsession with his victims’ hair (normal or dry) and the moment when he tips over from desecrating dead bodies and actually kills a living, breathing person, in this case a prostitute, are an intense kind of horror that The X-Files has only ever hinted at or played around with on the edges. The supernatural has always been there almost like a comforting blanket to make the darkness a touch more easier to endure. Irresistible denies us that.
Yes, it is hinted at, possibly, that Pfaster may not be human. If he’s not a human, then the possibility that he is a demon, or worse a devil, hints at a supernatural element that still goes beyond the realm that the show has previously offered before. It’s brilliant stuff and it’s no wonder Carter was keen to have a platform to explore questions like these week in and week out on a show like Millennium.
It could be easy to criticise the last act of the episode for relying on a plot twist that sees Pfaster released from custody so he can kidnap Scully, but the episode, amazingly, earns the freedom to indulge in such a trope. This is Scully’s episode and whilst she is captured and tied up, she does get the upper hand on her kidnapper and Mulder and the rest of the FBI only get there when the job is already done. The arrest is followed by a lovely moment between our heroes when Scully finally breaks down and falls into Mulder’s arm for a hug. This is not a cheap moment, it’s a scene of emotional drama that is truly earned and feels more powerful for being one of the first moments the show would present to the audience of our heroes embracing in such a way.
Twenty two years old, Irresistible is still every bit as powerful today as it was when it first aired. This is television horror of a brilliant kind, it deals with violent crime in a powerful way, and never once feels exploitative. It could very easily do so, and many a crime procedural show would feel that way in the years following Irresistible’s debut, but The X-Files is better than that. It once again shows that its potent combination of the horror genre and portrayal of criminal investigation are at times even better than that from many other non-genre series, and with its exploration of real world monsters and its emotional exploration of Scully, it proves to be one of the all time great episodes of the show and is always a challenging hour of television that is truly worth revisiting.
Quite simply a masterpiece.