Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The X-Files - "Roland" (season 1, episode 23)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The X-Files - "Roland" (season 1, episode 23)


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 May 6, 1994/written by Chris Ruppenthal, directed by David Nutter): Like "Lazarus" and "Born Again" before (indeed, in "Born Again"'s case, right before) "Roland" hinges on a story of possession, in which a weak host occasionally struggles against or works in tandem with a malevolent invading consciousness, most often just being completely subsumed by the psychic energy of another. "Roland" presents probably the most compelling twist on this concept: twin brothers, one the late Dr. Arthur Grable, a brilliant rocket scientist whose head has been cryogenically frozen after a suspicious car accident, the other Roland Fuller (Željko Ivanek), a severely autistic janitor in the laboratory who is channeling his brother's mind after his death. Unfortunately for Roland - and the scientific team the controlled Roland methodically executes - Arthur's restless spirit/mind energy is intent on eliminating anyone who can take credit for his own accomplishments. Dr. Frank Nollette (James Sloyan), egotistically determined to claim Arthur's work for himself, proves the most egregious example, and his life is only saved by Scully when she appeals to Roland himself to re-assert control over his body. Throughout the episode, Mulder and Scully have walked a delicate line between treating Roland as a mere vessel for a supernatural force and treating him as a human being with agency of his own. It's ultimately the latter that helps them, and him, restore balance.

My Response:
At this point, I'm hoping the finale presents a bold finish to the season, with an exploration of the series mythology and high dramatic stakes involving the agents' livelihoods and personal lives...however, I'm not betting on it. After "Tooms" I thought The X-Files was building toward this point but instead the show has offered a couple of monsters-of-the-week in which the agents take a distant backseat to the episodic conceptual hooks. Mulder's ominous warning at the end of episode 21 ("a change is coming") hasn't come to much, and I'm wondering if season one will end with a whimper rather than a bang. I guess we'll see tomorrow. For the most part, my favorite episodes have actually been the atmospheric and well-executed standalone supernatural tales rather than those that dipped most overtly into mythology but "Born Again" and "Roland" both feel a bit lackluster. In each, the climax is rather stilted, with characters standing still in a room confronting one another (although once Mulder and Scully arrive in that room, "Roland" becomes more intriguing). That said, Ivanek does good work here and the strongest element of the episode is probably the title character himself (he's even given a troubled romance with another inhabitant of the halfway home where he stays, played by Kerry Sandomirsky).

Even if I am hoping the series pulls out all the stops for an intriguing, mythology-heavy season finale there are of course plenty of seasons to go, and since many fans seem to consider this season a mediocre-to-decent debut, I've already enjoyed it more than I expected to. One last observation: this might very well be the first episode I ever saw of The X-Files. I recall, sometime around 1994, sneaking into the TV room a few minutes after my official 9:00 bedtime to catch a quick view of the show, especially the opening credits sequence that fascinated me (I guess from TV commercials; in the pre-YouTube era, how did I know anything about it before watching?). The only thing I remember about the cold open is that it involved a janitor. The scientist being sucked into the giant fan doesn't ring a bell (maybe I came and went quickly, so as not to arouse my parents' suspicion) but unless there's a season two episode with a custodian opening a door, this must be it...

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