The Reluctant Hitchhiker
by Sarah Stegall
Written by: Vince Gilligan
Directed by: Rod Hardy
“I don’t have a great memory for mucus.” — John Doggett
A hitchhiker on an isolated road at night is picked up by a bus full of strangely silent people, who then get off in the middle of nowhere, escorting a crippled, cringing man. The hitchhiker becomes a reluctant witness to a group murder, and then the group turns on him. Following up on a missing persons report days later, Agents Scully and Doggett take separate routes to the same isolated rural community, where they that find the hitchhiker is not the victim he seems to be. Along the way we are treated to a facile test of religious faith and a smorgasbord of Christian fundamentalist stereotypes.
Hollywood, having recently taken a lot of presidential-campaign heat from religion, now gets its own back. There was a time when The X-Files broke new ground; now it simply re-covers old ground. The idea that someone reciting a Christian prayer must be the Bad Guy became an instant cliche the day “Rosemary’s Baby” was released; to see it here resurrected for the umpteenth time on this show is a real yawner. I won’t say that Chris Carter and company have an overt agenda at work here, but it starts looking mighty weird that if there is a Christian in the cast, he or she almost always turns out to be a flake at best and a villain at worst. It becomes predictable. If The X-Files wanted to shock us, how about casting a Buddhist or a Hindu as the villain? Yet “Roadrunners” pounds this tired stereotype into the ground, beginning with the opening right out of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”.
Like “Genderbender”, “Red Museum” and “Our Town”, earlier episodes of The X-Files, the Radical Other is defined as those who reject our technological pop culture. The absence of television and other media nerve endings marks off the inhabitants as A Body Apart, immediately suspect because they opt out of the collective mind that forms the background of our everyday lives. Danger in America is always defined as being rootless, cut off from the group, this in spite of our much-hallowed and beloved self-image as a bunch of wild mavericks and cowboys. So when we see Agent Scully isolated from the network (of telephones, highways, and other communication devices), we know she’s in danger even though she has not yet been overtly threatened.
A degenerate bunch of religious fanatics isn’t enough for this X-File, however; we have to have Dax’s evil twin from “Star Trek: DS9”. A worm-like parasite (a hitchhiker?) is being transferred from one hapless victim to another in a futile search for a proper host; unfortunately, it keeps using up its hosts (most real parasites aren’t this short-sighted). It’s never made very clear exactly what benefit this slug is supposed to be conveying on the congregation–immortality? healing? telepathy? or just a chance to be on Jerry Springer? At any rate, while they will kill one another to save its life, apparently they don’t care enough to avenge it. When Doggett kills their god they just step aside, stunned. Even on Kenny on South Park gets a better eulogy.
Good acting and directing cannot save a bad script. Scully should recognize a bad horror movie when she stumbles into it; Mulder certainly would have. The level of naivete she displays in this isolated situation goes beyond gullible and paints her as plain stupid–what agent would EVER give up her weapon in a life-threatening situation? Agents do not hand over weapons, even to victims. I’m not an FBI agent, and I wouldn’t do it. When the heroine is dumber than the audience, she’s being manipulated by a bad script. Worse, the plucky Agent Scully is reduced to begging and pleading for her life; humiliating the heroine does nothing for her bond with the audience, either. It serves only to make Doggett’s rescue more dramatic–as if it needed to be! Robert Patrick’s Agent Doggett needs no help in convincing us he’s a hero. He displays a Mulder-like ability to sense danger when others would sense only inconvenience; as soon as Scully fails to call in (uh-oh, she’s off the network!), he knows something is wrong. He shows off his increasing cornucopia of tricks; not only can he hotwire a bus, but he can perform emergency surgery on a struggling woman’s spine with nothing more than a jack-knife. Doggett would make a great “Survivor” candidate.
Basically, “Roadrunners” is a bad mix of “The Fly” and “The Kindred”, with plenty of X-Files classic paranoia but none of the finesse we’ve seen before. Technical work is only up to par at best; while Bill Roe’s photography is beautifully amber-and-gold, against the tone of the story, Mark Snow seems to be channelling Bernard Hermann. Director Hardy keeps the pace moving, but in this traffic accident there’s not much he can do except prevent outright gridlock. “Roadrunners” gets one sunflower seed out of five.