“I’m giving us a chance to solve a case that’s tangible instead of chasing after shadows.”
– Dana Scully
Our heroes are asked to consult on a case of two men whose arms flop around uncontrollably. Oh, and did we mention they’ve been dead for hours? This is just the beginning from Mulder and Scully in a memorable early episode.
Max: After the dreck of “The Jersey Devil,” it felt great to watch an episode again that had some legitimate stakes and tension. “Shadows,” for all intent and purposes, is about the ghost of a man who has made it his mission to protect a beloved employee, and in doing so, bring to light the circumstances of his death and the misdeeds of his business partner.
What I think draws me to this episode is the wonderful short story it essays about a woman, Lauren Kyte, dealing with the grief of losing someone she cared for and respected. Mulder and Scully are brought in by two purse-lipped agents over bodies long dead but reacting to external stimuli. During the course of their investigation, the duo’s paths continue to cross with those of Ms. Kyte. Mulder believes she has been in contact with spectral phenomena, while Scully surmises the more prosaic hypothesis that she has an accomplice helping to cover up dirty dealings and the death of her employer (ruled a suicide).
The fact that there is a real case to be prosecuted here (the selling of weaponry to terrorists), foregrounding the paranormal phenomenon lends some real stakes to the proceedings. But more importantly, the performance given by Lisa Waltz as Lauren is what sells the episode. She goes from a grieving mess to someone whose agency is built up and resolved after the spooky events she experiences get her back on her feet. These events provide some of the most memorable scenes in the early goings of the program, including the scene referenced in the above photo and the climactic turbulence in the partner’s office.
Several years ago I included this episode as one of my top five episodes of all time in a poll taken on a forum I frequented. While my reasons for such weren’t that sophisticated (primarily trying to differentiate myself from the pack), in rewatching the episode, I was able to better understand what drew me to the episode to begin with, and what insights I could share about it. “Shadows” is an episode that takes the premise of a skeptic and a believer, and in throwing them into a complicated series of events, gets a lot of mileage out of what emerges. The fact that what emerges is at once eerie and poignant is the icing on a great episode.
The second outing for the writing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong, the team who wrote “Squeeze” and later would pen some of the best episodes of the early seasons of the show, “Shadows” is a great playground of ideas and agendas, all rooted in a simple tale of a woman trying to get her life back on track.
Radhika: When I recently heard that Max considered this episode one of his favorites of all time, I was a bit incredulous. Surely, the show had some stronger outings than this, right?
Of course it did. But that said, I do actually agree with the main gist of what Max has to say here: First of all, yes, it’s utterly refreshing after the tripe “The Jersey Devil” had to offer us (sorry, Chris Carter). But at the end of the day, it’s a quintessential X-File. There is enough weirdness for the viewer to be genuinely curious about what’s happening, and the characters are fairly compelling.
There’s also an interesting moment where Scully, not necessarily believing that there’s any legitimate ghost activity, is pretty empathetic toward Lauren Kyte and essentially tells her to pull it together for her dead employer’s sake. On some levels, Scully is still that staunch skeptic, a trait that I find a little tiring at times in the show’s later episodes, but she’s open-minded enough to figure out when to adjust her attitude — at least on the surface — to get to the bottom of a case. This is yet another moment, early on in the series, that highlights how her approach is different from that of colleagues who only seek to ridicule Mulder’s methods.
There were a couple of other things I appreciated on a less philosophical note: The agents looking up information on microfilm in the library (not the first or last time we’ll see this), and Mulder developing photos concerning the investigation in a darkroom. This is also not the last time we’ll see a darkroom in the series either, but now, twenty years later, in our digital world, it’s a charming little detail to watch.
I realize now that The X-Files is a bit of a time capsule that does a nice job of illustrating the evolution of technology at the end of the last century. (Cellphones, anyone?) It’s going to be fun watching this evolution more closely during our series rewatch.