Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The X-Files - "Young at Heart" (season 1, episode 16)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The X-Files - "Young at Heart" (season 1, episode 16)


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 11, 1994/written by Scott Kaufer & Chris Carter, directed by Michael Lange): Another old case comes back to haunt Mulder. In the eighties, John Barnett (David Peterson) was a middle-aged killer whom the FBI agent tracked down and sent to prison (but not before Mulder's "by the book" hesitation inadvertently led to the death of a fellow agent). In the nineties, Barnett (Alan Boyce) is a young psychopath, continuing to kill while taunting Mulder. How can this be? Barnett died in a prison in 1989, or rather "died," an event depicted in the episode's prologue when inmate Joe Crandall (Gordon Tipple) discovers Dr. Joe Ridley (Robin Mossley) operating on Barnett's hand. And yet an inexplicably youthful, pale-eyed, web-handed Barnett lives. Dr. Ridley, a disgraced physician who specialized in progeria (the ailment in which children rapidly age), eventually reveals himself to Scully and Mulder. He explains how his experiments with reversing this aging process have cost him his own life (he will die soon due to side effects from these experiments) and even his life's work, stolen by Barnett (his sole successful subject). What initially appears to be an unusual but largely run-of-the-mill crime spree turns into a matter of world-historical import as Deep Throat and Ridley reveal that the U.S. government has been supporting this project all along. Moreover, the national-security state is currently attempting to cut a deal with the serial-killing, FBI-murdering Barnett so that they can have access to this revolutionary procedure. Mulder, determined not to make the same mistake twice, sets a trap for Barnett and then executes the criminal once he takes a new hostage. Of course, secrets seldom die on The X-Files. When we witness a ticking locker at episode's end, we wonder what the fate of Ridley's research will be: an undiscovered treasure, a dangerous weapon soon to resurface, or a trap that will eventually self-destruct when opened? Only future episodes (perhaps) will tell.

My Response:
"Young at Heart" straddles many different X-Files story forms: FBI crime investigations with a touch of the supernatural; Scully/Mulder backstories rearing back to life; "FBI cover-up" mythology/lore (albeit not on the UFO front this time); and of course, monster-of-the-week horror tales with Barnett as yet another example of a human-but-not-quite-human villain. I enjoy the larger-than-life intrigue on display, although at times the style feels too bombastic (the low point being a courtroom flashback with an extremely overbearing score). More effective, if still quite flamboyant, is the quasi-Gregorian chanting that haunts Barnett's stalking of Scully. Episode 16 packs a lot, maybe too much, into its concept (genetic splicing, reverse aging, Frankenstein, international intrigue, serial killer cat-and-mouse) but it's admittedly fun to see the show swing for the rafters - or rather, throws everything at the wall and see what sticks. At this point, the series also seems invested in building up an FBI community/culture, or at least laying the groundwork for the institution to be more than just an official excuse for Mulder and Scully to hunt down weird phenomena each week. Aside from Deep Throat and the Cigarette Smoking Man (whom I didn't realize we glimpsed in the operating room until I checked the cast list), most of the FBI figures we've met so far have been one-offs. Agent Reggie Purdue (Dick Anthony Williams) makes a welcome impression as someone a bit weary of Mulder while still standing in his corner; however, the episode both introduces him and kills him off. More promising is forensics expert Agent Henderson (Christine Estabrook), whose brilliant insight and playful banter marks her out much like Beatty, the colorful arson aficianado of "Fire." Will we see either of them again? The X-Files, despite its largely episodic approach thus far, is planting many seeds in this first season. Finding out (but also wondering) what will and won't grow is part of the fun.

Next: "E.B.E." • Previous: "Lazarus"

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