Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The X-Files - "Born Again" (season 1, episode 22)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The X-Files - "Born Again" (season 1, episode 22)


Welcome to my viewing diary for The X-Files. Every day, except Saturday, I will offer a short review of another episode until I finish the first season. Future entries will cover the remaining seasons, breaking to review the feature films where chronologically appropriate, and eventually reach the recent miniseries. I have seen very few X-Files episodes, though I was utterly fascinated with the concept as a child, so for the most part this will be a first-timer's perspective. There will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on April 29, 1994/written by Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa, directed by Jerrold Freedman): A Buffalo police station becomes a crime scene when a cocky, obnoxious detective (Dwight Koss) is mysteriously thrown out the window of an interrogation room. The only other person in there with him was eight-year-old Michelle Bishop (Andrea Libman), so the death is assumed to be a suicide. The girl, however, claims that she saw another man in the room. Mulder, called to Buffalo to investigate this unusual case, has a third idea: the killer was the girl herself. Scully is not the only one skeptical of this notion, but it turns out Michelle's own story is compatible with this out-there thesis. A mixture of clever, lucky, and thorough detective work turns up the identity of the man Michelle saw in the room: Charlie Morris, a cop who passed away before Michelle was born. Meanwhile, origami figures connect Michelle to the home of Tony Fiore (Brian Markinson), another cop Charlie was once linked with.

After introducing us to Tony, the show breaks away from the FBI agents' point of view to show Tony arguing with ex-cop Leon Felder (Richard Sali) about money they stole long ago, and the pact that led to Charlie's death. Soon after, Leon is killed by a bus - his scarf is caught in the door and he's strangled...as Michelle sits nearby and watches. This plus the child's history of strange behavior convince Mulder that Michelle is Charlie, that somehow upon death his energy transmigrated to hers and she's functionally a reincarnation of the murdered cop. Now Charlie/Michelle is getting revenge on the policemen who drowned him in a fishtank and then faked the circumstances of his murder (a grisly gangland execution that Michelle imitates by mutilating dolls at therapy sessions). Sure enough, Michelle descends upon Tony's house, telekinetically assualting him with an electrical cord and various fragile objects. She only stops when Mulder and Scully realize the circumstances of Charlie's murder (shades of "Shadows") and when Tony's wife Anita (who was once married to Charlie) begs for mercy. As in "Eve," The X-Files tells the story of a powerful, dangerous little girl but this time she doesn't know her own power and is restored to a normal life at episode's end.

My Response:
"Born Again" has a potentially compelling idea but comes out fairly flat; this feels like the weakest episode of the first season to me. The X-Files always dances on the edge of police procedural, but thrusting it outright into TV cop drama territory has a mixed effect. On the one hand, it's always fun to see the show freely apply its supernatural touch to various familiar genres, and the Hill Street Blues-type station banter provides an unusual combo with the story's ghostly context. The best example of this (and probably the episode's strongest element) is Maggie Wheeler's engaging performance as Det. Sharon Lazard. Lazard's accent, incidentally, seems way more NYC than Buffalo as do many of the actors', causing me to wonder if this was intended to be a Manhattan-set episode until the crew realized they couldn't pull this off that New York flavor with their locations!

Elsewhere, the spooky elements just don't seem that spooky. Something about the staging is clunky and forced (the climactic confrontation in particular comes off as stilted with characters just standing around and staring as Michelle glows blue), and when Mulder speaks about the "discovering the secret of the human soul" in a very routine-looking Law & Order walk and talk, you can see the show straining itself. Nonetheless, the spectral image that appears in video static is really cool, I liked the obviously Chinatown-influenced twist about the water in the victim's lungs, and if Libman never achieves (or, to be fair, is intended to go for) the diabolical menace of the Krieven twins in "Eve," she still establishes an eerie presence at times. As with most of my least favorite X-Files episodes, it may not work for me but I'm glad it tried.

Next: "Roland" • Previous: "Tooms"

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