“I believe in psychic connections, and evidence suggests that it’s stronger between family members, strongest of all between twin siblings that share the same womb.”
— Fox Mulder
Our agents investigate mysterious deaths at an aerospace testing facility and start exploring the possibility of a telepathic murderer when it seems a mentally handicapped janitor may be behind it all.
Radhika: “Roland” is one of those “pleasant enough” Monster of the Week episodes, airing right before it was time to ramp things up with The X-Files’ first season finale. The script is a little soft, and there are themes (revenge from beyond the grave — sort of) that are reminiscent of “Born Again” and “Shadows.”
This time, the vulnerable character at the center of the story is Roland, a mentally handicapped janitor who works at a research facility where scientists are working on a prototype jet engine. Mulder and Scully make an appearance when a turbine at the facility kills one of the scientists. (As viewers, we see that Roland activated the turbine in the teaser.)
After some gentle questioning and puzzling, Mulder and Scully eventually connect Roland to Arthur Grable, another scientist who died months earlier. After figuring out Grable was Roland’s twin, and that the scientist’s remains were actually preserved after his death, Mulder becomes convinced that a telepathic connection is causing Roland to kill. And we eventually figure out the motivation — Grable’s work was being stolen.
The episode’s ultimate saving grace is really the actor (Zelijko Ivanek) playing Roland. The character has potential to be an uncomfortable stereotype, but while the handicaps are obvious, there are some truly compelling layers to the performance.
We also get to see the softer sides of Mulder and Scully. In one particularly sweet scene, Mulder tells Roland that while his dreams are bad, he is a good person. Toward the end, Scully reaches out to Roland (while under Arthur Grable’s control), specifically referring to him by name and connecting with him to prevent him from committing another murder. And Mark Snow’s delicate piano score for the episode (one of my favorite themes by him over the course of this series) helps add a tinge of gentle melancholy, which contributes to the overall air of poignancy.
It may not be the most original of storylines, but it’s that human element that makes “Roland” a stronger episode than it might have been.
Max: Popular culture centering around a mentally handicapped individual is a very tricky business, and for every wonderful Temple Grandin there is a maudlin I Am Sam. “Roland” thankfully falls more in the former than the latter, and like Radhika said, it was due to the performance of Zelijko Ivanek in the role.
She mentioned two prior episodes that this one reminded her of, but let me add a third, “Eve.” While Roland and Arthur were not product of a genetic experiment, the fact that they are twins coming from the same DNA speaks to the almost psychic bond that twins seem to share in real life, and “Roland” merely plays this out to the next, more intense level.
A common theme of this first season seems to be the past, either in the form of ghosts, legends, or prior events coming back to haunt the proceedings of a good number of these MOTWs. It is interesting to think about, given that a primary thrust of the mythology in the upcoming seasons is all about beginning to unwrap the layers of history of Mulder and Scully, and how our agents must reckon with this personally and professionally. A key to this is in that this is first episode we get a mention of Mulder’s father, Bill.
There can also be some measure of conversation about the impact of cutting edge science on the world. Here we see advanced aerodynamics and cryogenics. While the science of cryogenics is still untested on the whole, and it has lost its luster over the years, the possibility of being able to revive someone after they died brings a whole bunch of thorny issues and story possibilities, and “Roland” injects this into its own DNA.
The season is about to come to a close, and this episode is a good palate-cleanser to lead us into the season finale.
YES, IT’S THAT GUY
Zeljko Ivanek – Though we may not all know him by name, Zeljko Ivanek is a fairly recognizable face who over the past decade or so had become one of those actors who this section is tailor-made for. Ivanek won an Emmy for his role as Ray Fiske on Damages. He is also known for his roles in Homicide: Life on the Street, Heroes, The Event, Banshee, Big Love, Oz and 24.