Sex kills, or at least that’s what the horror genre has told us over the years. From slasher movies onwards, the sins of the flesh can have a deadly impact, and sometimes it’s been a staple of genre television over the years. Torchwood and Angel both had their versions of the sex killing demon or alien, and The X-Files also gave us it’s version of this genre television stand-by with one time X-Files writers Paul and Larry Barber’s Genderbender.
I’ve never known if the title should be spelt as one word or two, but since I’ve been always spelt it as one, I think I’ll stick to that version.
Although the episode isn’t making a comment on transgender issues, especially given it’s damn well preposterous final scene which I’ll get to in a moment, it’s easy to see why the episode may prove problematic in this day and age. In fact the episode was mentioned in passing during the controversy over a discussion on the issue of being transgender in Darin Morgan’s Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster.
I remember vividly the opening sequence. When the episode first aired on the BBC in December 1994, I made the mistake of using the episode as a way to introduce my dad to the show.
“Hey dad, can you put BBC2 on please, The X-Files is on.”
“What’s The X-Files?”
“It’s this really cool show about FBI agents investigating monsters and stuff.”
The episode begins, complete with thumping night club music (actually composed by Mark Snow himself and taken from a TV movie he scored a few years previously) and then ends with two people having sex and the guy choking to death on pink, oozing, fluid stuff. Cue my dad turning to me and asking the dreaded immortal question;
“Are you sure you should be watching this?”
Of course, I really didn’t know what to say. The series had never been as “raunchy” as this and couple that with a sex scene in a car and imagery of a naked old man being slathered in oil stuff and then changing gender, suffice to say it seemed I had made a mistake in asking a parent to watch what was essentially a horror movie about deadly sexual encounters.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realise that the episode is not really that dirty, but to a ten-year old it was positively the filthiest thing I had ever watched. As the years have gone on, I came to the realisation that the whole episode was actually not that good, or at the very least the script wasn’t the greatest. However, it does have one thing going for it that helps make it that little bit more endurable; Rob Bowman.
Making his debut on the show, the episode is one of the most slickest in terms of production of the first season. It has a look to it that immediately makes one buy into the Witness meets Basic Instinct vibe that they’re going for, although it says a lot about how strange the script is that it combines the beauty of a Peter Weir movie like Witness with the trashy Hitchcock tribute of a Paul Verhoeven directed/Joe Ezerthas scripted thriller.
Both Bowman’s direction and the photography of John S Bartley, the show’s most brilliant secret weapon in its first three seasons, make this the best looking episode of the first year, and whilst the episode itself is not the greatest, it says a lot about Bowman’s ability to make a troubled script like this one incredibly watchable that it’s no surprise that he was invited back and became its best director, eventually going on to direct the masterpiece that was The X-Files:Fight the Future.
The episode is amazingly very contrasting in its story telling and its visual approach. The scenes involving The Kindred, the Amish-like cult at the heart of the story, sees Mulder and Scully venture into the woods and then the countryside, all of which of course is using gorgeous Vancouver agriculture in the process, whilst the hunt for Marty sees the use of Vancouver the city, complete with grungy alley ways and seedy hotels and night clubs which gives it a genuine feel of a grungy sexually charge horror movie.
Then there is the ending. I know The X-Files is a show about the unexplained, and the supernatural and the weird, it’s why it’s loved so much, but damn, talk about a deus ex machina. It’s almost as if Bowman and the rest of the crew couldn’t find the final script page and thus decided to mash down a corn field with their feet in a hurry and just make do with a “and they were aliens” ending. It’s abrupt, as I’ve said, rushed, as I’ve also said, and also downright ludicrous.
“They have no means of transportation,” says Scully to which Mulder replies, “No earthly means of transportation.” It sums up the episode perfectly. Bonkers, weird and yet oddly compelling and one that is hard to look away from, and yet it’s hard to not laugh about how bloody stupid it is.
If Genderbender is a mess, then Lazarus is much better. Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon’s script for their tale of soul transference and reincarnation is probably not their best work, but at least it’s more coherent than the previous episode and boasts a pretty cool set piece ending involving myriad extras in black coats with the letters FBI emblazoned at the back of them.
Originally the episode was written to feature Mulder finding himself possessed by the soul of Warren Dupre, born on the year of the rat of course, but this was changed to make it a mentor and ex-boyfriend of Scully’s as Fox were a little unhappy at the idea of Mulder being the one experiencing the supernatural element of the episode first hand.
In the end, everyone agreed that it worked for the best and that it gave a chance to explore Scully’s backstory a little, being the first episode to reveal that her taste in men ran to older father figures, a character trait that would be mentioned again in Morgan and Wong’s season four masterpiece Never Again, as well as be a main point in Gillian Anderson’s directorial debut, All Things, an episode that drew a mixed response from many but which I rather love to pieces.
Opening with a very charged armed robbery, that takes a gory turn when it comes to the hospital sequence afterwards, I remember being transfixed and maybe a touch traumatized by the sight of Dupre’s dead body under a bloody hospital sheet reacting to Willis being shocked with defibrillator.
Moving at a fast pace, the episode, by no means a classic, and lacking maybe a little bit of the heart of previous Gordon/Gansa episodes like Conduit or Fallen Angel, benefits greatly from being directed by David Nutter who, like Bowman, brings a very cinematic eye to his direction. Add to all of this a dramatic Mark Snow score, and Lazarus ends up being one of those episodes of television where you find yourself excited when watching it, but probably won’t end up thinking its a masterpiece afterwards.
As I’ve said though, it’s still better than Genderbender.
Christopher Allport, who sadly died a few years ago, acts the hell out of Willis/Dupre. His performance, which becomes more heightened and desperate, in a great way, as the running time goes on, coupled with the script, makes one wonder whether or not the character really has been taken over by his prey. Is this simply a case of a FBI agent suffering from extreme PTSD and now starting to think he is the criminal he has been after? Is his attempts to find Dupre’s partner in crime and wife, Lula, actually Dupre trying to get back to the love of his life, or simply Willis’ old habits kicking in, mixed in with his psychological disorder?
They aren’t profound questions and one may not care as much after the 20th Century Fox logo does it thing at the end, but for forty-five minutes it’s pretty engaging fun and whilst it will never go on to your top ten list (unless it is on your top ten X-Files list, in which case good for you), it’s a preposterously fun episode and is an unexpectedly good time when on a rewatch binge.
In an interesting note of trivia, Callum Keith Rennie appears in Lazarus. Rennie will go to appear again in season two’s Fresh Bones and then play an even bigger role as the killer in The X-Files:I Want To Believe.I personally like the actor from his turn as “Not Ray” in season three of the wonderfully quirky Canadian crime procedural Due South. He was also considered for the role of Alex Krycek, but narrowly lost out to Nicholas Lea, who, of course, actually appears as Michael, one of Marty’s near victims in Genderbender. Funny how things work out in the long run.
Yes, we will see Callum Keith Rennie and Nicholas Lea on the show again, but those are reviews for another day.