by Sarah Stegall
Copyright 1993 by Sarah Stegall
Writer: Glen Morgan and James Wong
Director: Michael Katleman
I gave myself an extra day to review this episode of “The X-Files” because it took me that long to figure out what it was that I didn’t like about it. Although Glen Morgan and Jim Wong deliver a tight, crisp script and director Michael Katleman gives us snappy pacing and good visuals, the heart of “Shadows” is hollow.
Mulder and Scully are called in by a pair of unidentified operatives to give their opinions on two mysteriously dead corpses, still warm and twitching six hours after death. The unknown agents refuse to give Mulder and Scully any information, but Mulder cleverly manages to bring away the fingerprints of the dead pair on his glasses (and boy, have I missed those glasses this past season!). Further investigation leads the pair into a tangle of Middle Eastern terrorism, a possible poltergeist, and an ambiguous relationship between a forlorn secretary and her dead boss. The Mulderisms and Scullyisms come thick and fast, some of the most memorable of the series. Mulder and Scully work beautifully as a team in this one; the scenes where they review ATM videotapes to find a suspect, where they question the secretary, Lauren Kite (Lisa Waltz), and where Scully commands a raid on the defense contractor, are very good. We got to see Mulder at work in the darkroom, Scully closely and coolly questioning a suspect, and both of them standing up as a team to the manipulative tactics of their mirror images in Black Ops. Some of the peripheral performances are worth remarking on: Kelli Fox as the pathologist out-deadpans even Fox Mulder.
There is something very, very wrong with the central character in “Shadows”. I found it impossible to relate to her tearful recounting of the close relationship she had with her boss. I like my boss a lot and would mourn his death, but I draw the line at hysteria over his demise. I felt demeaned by the impression being given here, that a secretary’s relationship to her boss is primarily emotional. Throughout “Shadows”, Lauren’s motivations were nonexistent or came out of nowhere. Why does she suddenly decide to talk to Mulder and Scully after stonewalling all interrogators for hours? Why does she suddenly lose her temper in Dorlund’s office, accusing him of complicity in the murder of two sailors? Her supposed guilt and fear over that incident was not established at all. I never knew where she was coming from. Her reactions to her boss’ “showing” her his death in the bathtub scene confused me: was she afraid for herself? for him? of the whole apparition?
Frankly, Lauren came across as a semi-hysterical sleepwalker without much brains. Dorlund’s bracelet nearly cuts his hand off, and she just sniffs and says, “What’s wrong”? This woman is either unobservant or in deep denial. I could not identify or sympathize with a woman stupid enough to tell a dangerous man to his face that she knew he was a murderer, then turn around and call the cops in plain sight of him, then go home and open the door to the first person who knocked without even asking for identification. Has this woman no sense of self-preservation at all? And let me be clear: there was nothing wrong with Lisa Waltz’ portrayal. She was a good actress in a very weak part.
The contrast was even more apparent measured against the superb portrait of Dana Scully presented in “Shadows”. This was a tour de force for Gillian Anderson. Every line was crisp, her body language bespoke discipline and self- confidence at every turn, and her characterization was clear, consistent, and believable. I would put my life in the hands of this Dana Scully and feel safe. That the petite Anderson pulls this off even when surrounded by towering males speaks well of her talents. Scully was portrayed beautifully against type: she was the “bad cop”, forceful, authoritative, intellectual. Mulder was the intuitive, sympathetic “good cop” throughout, a nice role reversal that managed not to descend into cliche. That’s why I like “The X-Files”, that they can pull this off on a regular basis without masculinizing Scully or wimping out Fox Mulder.
There were some very good individual scenes in “Shadows”. The only scary scene was the bathtub scene, where Howard Graves re-enacts his own murder for Lauren. The scene in the pathologists’ office, as mentioned, is a classic of comedie noire. The glowing car headlights and the discussion that ensues is excellent. And Mulder’s annoyance with Scully’s re- directing of their investigation from ghost-hunting to counter- terrorism adds dimension to our understanding of their working relationship.
I had trouble with Mulder’s reaction on entering Lauren’s house and finding a man hanging in mid-air: he looked more bewildered than astonished. I would have thought that a man who had encountered liver-eating mutants and beast women from New Jersey would be a little more nonchalant. The scene in which Mulder and Scully’s car is “taken over” (and what was the point of that?) is confusing because the camera angles would seem to imply that Mulder winds up looking through his windshield at Lauren, after being hurled backwards down the street for at least a block. And defense contractors have *much* better security than HTG Industries was shown to have.
A more consistent character in Lauren would have gone a long way towards lifting this episode above the average, but as it is, I can only give it three sunflower seeds out of five.