“You think you can look into the face of pure evil. And then you find yourself paralyzed by it.” — Dana Scully
Mulder and Scully are called to investigate the case of a death fetishist who soon starts kidnapping and killing women to feed his urges. And Scully, who recently experienced her own abduction, soon finds herself overcome by the case.
Radhika: “Irresistible” remains one of the strongest episodes of the series, one of those crawl-under-your-skin, downright terrifying stories, despite its lack of actual paranormal activity (minus some perceived shapeshifting and demonic silhouettes.) And it’s terrifying because of how real it could be.
The episode features one of the series’ most memorable villains, Donnie Pfaster, a death fetishist who has been exhuming and desecrating bodies in a Minneapolis cemetery. Mulder and Scully are called to investigate, and Mulder predicts the fetishist may resort to murder to fulfill his urges. He’s proven correct when Pfaster later goes on to kill a prostitute. Meanwhile, Scully continues to grow increasingly uncomfortable with the case, likely processing some of her own demons from her abduction during the “Duane Barry”/”Ascension” arc, and goes back to D.C. to try tracing a fingerprint to a suspect.
When Scully returns to Minneapolis, where Pfaster briefly caught sight of her while in a jail cell after threatening a woman in one of his night classes, she is forced off the road and abducted… soon to become Pfaster’s next victim. But Scully fights back and is saved when a task force breaks in and apprehends Pfaster.
A few things about the episode: First, Nick Chinlund does an incredible job playing Pfaster — a little bit polite guy next door, but also with an affect that indicates something must be off about him. Lines like “I’d like to run you a bath,” which are said to the ill-fated prostitute, still caused me to shudder even though I’ve watched the episode a few times. And in fact, I still freak out when I catch sight of Chinlund on other shows, like the time he played the innocuous role of a divorced dad on an early episode of Gilmore Girls. I’m sure he’s a nice guy in real life, but I’ll never forget Donnie Pfaster.
Second: I’m not normally one to do victim blaming (I just recently chastised Max for complaining about some of the victims in Gillian Anderson’s other brilliant series, The Fall), but I’m amazed one of the characters — a woman getting frozen deliveries from the company Pfaster is working for — didn’t end up with a few fingers cut off. The woman happily volunteers information about the number of daughters she has, and lets him know that they normally keep the back door unlocked while out of town, all for the sake of convenience and friendliness. I’m not saying all delivery men should be given the side-eye, but a first meeting is not the time to go on and on about your home life! Luckily for the lady, Pfaster leaves the house, armed only with a handful of hair found in a bathroom trashcan.
And last of all: Scully. We’ve seen glimpses of vulnerable Scully before, probably in an effort to stifle her ice queen reputation, but this is Scully at her most vulnerable. She tries hard to suppress her obvious horror (though I’m kind of surprised that it takes Mulder a while to pick up on it), and then she’s naturally abducted — yet again — just when she’s ready to be strong and face the case. That final Mulder and Scully scene, where she’s found after the task force breaks in, is genuinely heartbreaking because after still insisting that she’s fine, Scully finally breaks down and cries while hugging her partner. It’s another moment that brings the characters together, but it also really hurts to see Scully go through something like that so soon after her previous abduction ordeal.
Max: All the superlatives in the world cannot possibly express how good this episode is. I think this says something about the overall strength of the series at this point that even without the usual crutch of a paranormal event, the episode is so powerful, engaging the audience so completely. It’s been several years since my last viewing of “Irresistible,” but time has not deadened the tension-filled rollercoaster that is this episode.
While Nick Chinlund’s Donnie is a massive achievement, and he most assuredly deserves all the kudos and accolades afforded to him over the years by fans and critics, I think the unsung hero in this episode is director David Nutter, whose suffocating mise-en-scene demonstrates a complete mastery of what makes a good entry of The X-Files tick. This comes as no surprise though, given his track record with the show to date, having helmed series classics like “Ice,” “Beyond The Sea,” and “Blood,” all of which stew in a dread and a paranoia that is at once painful and thrilling to watch. It is these qualities I think Chris Carter took notice with (especially in this episode) in later crafting the notion of his next show Millennium, which explored the kind of unadulterated evil that was embodied in a character such as Donnie Pfaster. He even got Nutter to direct the pilot of that series.
Speaking of Donnie, while rewatching the episode I was drawing a lot of parallels to the Hitchcock film Psycho and its similarly disaffected antagonist Norman Bates. Both Chinlund and Anthony Perkins (who played Bates) drew on a sort of distaff detached facade underneath which they held their malevolent natures at bay. Also, while we get inklings of the psychological basis’ for their deviance, it isn’t expressly spelled out for either of them. Another element probably from which the episode drew inspiration is the tussle down the stairs of Pfaster’s mother’s house, which can be seen as an homage to a moment in Psycho when Martin Balsam’s character also experienced a precarious moment on a staircase.
As mentioned above, the episode is also a big of a showcase for Gillian Anderson, at it allows Scully to continue to process what happened to her during her abduction and subsequent fight for life. Coincidentally, last night I was watching the latest episode of 60 Minutes and on it was a story about a new program for returning soldiers suffering from PTSD and helping them cope with the lingering after-effects of combat and reinserting them into civilian life. What was interesting is that the developers of that program borrowed therapeutic methods used on victims of rape. In a way, Scully’s abduction does present a lot of the same elements of a typical rape: the loss of control, the violation of the body, and the continued shaking sensation of your life being taken from you. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what happened to Scully after Skyland Mountain, but the road ahead speaks to the same kind of emotion and trauma.
YES, IT’S THAT GUY
Nick Chinlund – First most noticed for playing Donnie Pfaster in “Irresistible,” Chinlund has also had roles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Law and Order, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, The Sopranos and more. He’s also been in films like Con Air and Training Day.