I must apologise. This is going to be a gushingly positive review. I refuse to admit to this episode having any flaws. Not only is this one of my all time favourite episodes of The X-Files, it may actually be my favourite of all time, although coming to such a decision can lead to an internal argument that I cannot win.
Darin Morgan’s follow-up to his superb season two episode Humbug, the fan favourite writer intended to follow-up his wickedly dark horror comedy from season two with the most depressing episode imaginable. It never quite becomes that depressing as there is some gorgeous comedy to be had throughout, but it certainly stings dramatically in a deeper way than his debut did, with the comedy a little bit more subtle, although no less funny, and it builds to a climax that cannot help but put a lump in your throat.
Inherently deep and thematically complex, the greatest thing about the episode is how much one can watch it for the sheer enjoyment of its humour and serial killer of the week story, but is ripe for so much exploration of its deeper themes which sees Morgan’s script explore such topics as fate, destiny and the ability to see the future and whether or not such an ability negates the idea of one even having free will in the first place.
Humbug was such an enjoyable hour of television, one of the best of the second season in fact, but this is in a whole other ball park that it’s no surprise that it went on to procure an Emmy for Morgan’s script and led to another Emmy win, the second of which went to Peter Boyle for his superb guest starring performance.
Whilst Humbug was a superb monster of the week tale that mixed icky body horror with its comedic element, there is a confidence here to the writing that marks the episode as a substantial step up from what was already a superb writing debut. In lesser hands the episode could have been a mess, but instead it becomes a superbly crafted philosophical comedy that mixes its humour, horror and themes so gorgeously that it comes as no surprise that it was the show’s only win (out of many nominations it should be said) for outstanding writing in a drama series.
On paper, there is so much to love here; Boyle’s performance, the now classic Darin Morgan motif of being somewhat self-referential, the subtle degradation of Mulder, the use of dark, sometimes violent humour, and the tragic resolution to the case.
Sometimes the latter is part of the joke with Morgan, or it’s done seriously, and here it’s done totally seriously. There is no wicked toilet humour as we’ll see when we get to War of the Coprophages. For all the witty banter and lovely sense of coincidence at play here, the final moments of Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose carry a massive, tragic charge and its so unlike any other television show to give us so much lovely, albeit sad fun for most of its running time and then hit home with a deadly bit of drama as this hour of television does.
We can laugh along with Bruckman’s prophecy of Mulder dying the way he does, or the confusion over banana cream pie, or Mulder being ridiculed by The Stupendous Yappi in the opening moments, or even the superb opening moments when we think Mulder is the “spooky” consultant the detectives are talking about at the start when in fact it isn’t, but Morgan has the ace in his card and he shows us that not only is he a writer of such brilliant construction and pay-off when it comes to comedy, but he has the ability to put a lump in the audience’s throat with an ending as unbearably human as the one he pulls of here.
I adore Humbug, War of the Coprophages and Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, but it would not be until Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, the most acclaimed episode of last year’s revival, that we would see Morgan come close to touching on something as touchingly human as he does here.
His episodes are so much about deconstructing the show, its style and in particular Mulder that it’s sometimes easy to forget his command of themes and character, but Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is his most human script to date. His writing is beautiful, amazing even, but its complimented so much by Peter Boyle’s performance.
Initially a little reluctant at first to do an hour of television, Boyle would enjoy the experience of being on a television show so much that it would be a key factor in his decision to star in Everybody Loves Raymond. His one episode stint on The X-Files would earn him an Emmy award as well as being a fan favourite amongst viewers of the show. His performance is one of the show’s most poignant, beautiful and heart breaking. His delivery of a soliloquy about time travel and the changing of human history may be the single greatest piece of acting on the show and is delivered with such world-weariness that it’s hard to know whether or not it borders on tragedy, comedy or some netherworld in between.
Even better is how Morgan handles how the show’s heroes correspond with Bruckman. Mulder uses the character as a means to find the killer, but Scully treats him skeptically and on a much more human level leading to a lovely scene between the end where a proclamation from Bruckman that both he and Scully end up in bed together is read initially one way at first but which, as witnessed in the episode’s final moments, is seen as something altogether different.
It’s the icing on a gorgeously put together cake that has never lost its ability to make the audience move in the twenty-one years since its debut. Not only does it rank as one of the greatest episodes of the show (possibly THE greatest) but one of the greatest hours of American television ever produced.