Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The X-Files - "Lazarus" (season 1, episode 15)

Monday, June 18, 2018

The X-Files - "Lazarus" (season 1, episode 15)


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 February 4, 1994/written by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon, directed by David Nutter): Scully takes a break from paranormal phenomena (she thinks) to help her one-time instructor/lover, Agent Jack Willis (Christopher Allport) catch a couple crooks he's been chasing for over a year. As Lula Phillips (Cec Verrell) waits in the getaway van, Warren Dupre (Jason Schombing) races into a bank. When confronted, he shoots Willis and is shot by Scully, who accompanies both men to the hospital. Warren is allowed to die while Scully forces the medics to defibrillate Willis repeatedly until he finally revives. What she doesn't notice is that, with each jolt, Warren's body shudders across the room. Somehow, Warren's consciousness has been transferred into Willis, who acts the part of FBI agent until a raid leads him and Scully back to Lula. At that point, the concealed criminal convinces his wife that he's the same guy (in a new form), and they take Scully hostage while bartering for a ransom from the FBI. Scully fights to deprogram Warren by reminding Willis - whom she correctly believes is still buried inside his own flesh - of their shared memories. Lula, meanwhile, has her own plans. She was the one who tipped the Feds off about the bank robbery, and she's been trying to rid herself of Warren for a while. Ultimately, he kills her before dying in a diabetic coma (not knowing Willis' condition, Warren drank several sodas until it was too late). Scully, studying a wristwatch that stopped at the time Willis was declared dead, is left to wonder how much of the man she knew was left inside this superficially similar vehicle.

My Response:
As I've previously noted, sometimes Mulder and Scully are subjects as well as investigators in a given episode, and sometimes someone else is the star. (Occasionally, as with the Scully-centric yet Brad Dourif-dominated "Beyond the Sea," an episode can pull off both at once.) "Lazarus" is largely an example of that latter case, with Allport licking his lips and committing to the dual role of Agent Jack Willis and the Warren-possessed body of Willis. That said, this isn't as pure an example of the agents-as-supporting-characters genre as, say, "Shadows" or "Eve." Scully's previous relationship with Willis gives her a personal stake in the narrative - as does, of course, her position as hostage during the latter half. Like "Beyond the Sea" (albeit to a much lesser degree), "Lazarus" offers Scully some much-needed character development after lavishing most of the backstory on Mulder for half the season. Anderson herself really holds this one together - I'm not sure the writing alone would deliver the goods. Compared to Mulder's Phoebe Greene romance in "Fire," the Willis/Scully fling seems slightly underdeveloped although Scully's commitment to rescuing Willis is sold by the performance (the brief flash of a wintry image or two, conveying a trip they once took, is effective if sparse).

There are additional ways to delinate X-Files stories, as one of my commentators, Geoff, noted under a recent viewing diary: "People say there are two kinds of X-Files story but I think it's more like four, with some overlap: the UFO/conspiracy mythology episodes, the famous Monster-of-the-Week stories, and then there are stories like this ["Beyond the Sea"], where a conventional (if macabre) crime is presented and there's some sort of supernatural key to unlocking the mystery." (He's mum on the fourth category, as I haven't reached it yet, and I'm accordingly intrigued.) This is definitely an example of that third category, with quite a lot of cop-show tropes in play: half of a romantic outlaw couple actually being a traitorous femme fatale, an anxious law enforcement official trying to remain professional as he rescues his partner from danger, the tech department tracing a location thanks to a noisy airplane route, and a savvy hostage attempting to sway one of the kidnappers to do the right thing. The supernatural twist - however slight in the overall plot construction - brings a tremendous amount of thematic heft, and is genuinely compelling. It helps that the "Willis" who holds Scully hostage isn't simply Warren - he also contains traces of the FBI agent Scully once loved. In its best moments, this isn't simply a body-switching conceit but a war between two souls trapped inside the same being. The ambiguity is summed up best by Mulder in the closing minutes when he tells Scully (about the stopped watch), "It means whatever you want it to mean."

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