“You’re saying he’s some kind of lightning rod?” – Dana Scully
“No, I’m saying that he is lightning and we’ve got to get to him before he strikes again.” – Fox Mulder
Mulder and Scully are attracted to Oklahoma to investigate a series of lightning related deaths. What they uncover could either be considered extraordinary or acts of petty vengeance with a lot of bells and whistles…
Max: After the tumultuous ride of the mythology trilogy that kicked off with “Anasazi,” it is quite a let down to switch gears into a MOTW that is this humdrum. A young man with the auspicious name of Darin Peter Oswald can apparently command and bend lightning to his will, particularly into the bodies of those he deems have wronged him in some manner. I’m telling you, the guys with three names have all the issues. The most recent of these involved a fellow gamer who Oswald got into an argument with at the local arcade. Our heroes are called in to investigate, and that is where we come into the episode.
A common point of demarcation between good and bad MOTW episodes is the level of engagement Mulder and Scully have with the case, and how the case tests their assumptions and reflects on their relationship and the nature of their work. In a middling episode like “D.P.O.,” the agents are merely going through the motions, and you can really slot in any other television investigative duo into the proceedings. Aside from the lightning angle, this case could just as well have landed on the desks of Lennie Brisco and Mike Logan of Law & Order.
Oswald can do what he does, Scully surmises, because an electrolytic imbalance in his blood that can (theoretically) absorb and channel tremendous voltages. His spree continues, including striking down his supposed friend Bart “Zero” Liquori, the owner of the arcade, and Oswald’s boss at the garage where he works. Eventually, Mulder and Scully put the pieces together when they discover at Oswald’s home a photo of the boss’ wife taped inside of a porn magazine (which I’m sure Mulder took back to Washington with him as “evidence”). The wife, Oswald’s former teacher in high school, is the object of his lust and affection. And so, the last act of the episode is a race to secure the wife’s safety and get the gamer known as DPO off the streets. The sheriff becomes another casualty, but a mis-aimed lightning bolt strikes Oswald, and he is able to the apprehended and put into a psychiatric hospital. There’s the standard “But he still has powers!” ending, but not much else.
Episode-wise, I write this one off as a dud. Writer Howard Gordon wanted to explore the idea of “disenfranchised adolescence,” but very little of that is apparent on the screen to me. In fact, the most enthusiasm this reviewer could muster in the episode is the joy of seeing again a Virtua Fighter 2 arcade cabinet, and then immediately bemoaning the decline of video arcades. Nowadays, Oswald wouldn’t have any arcades to make enemies, he’d have to be able to send his fatal voltages through to his opponents on Xbox Live.
Radhika: A dead-eyed, drawling, creepy Giovanni Ribisi in the title role. A tale of unrequited love. Powers being used for all the wrong reasons. Misfit kids enjoying video games and heavy metal.
That just about sums up “D.P.O.” for you. When I first watched the episode well over a decade ago, somewhat haphazardly out of order, I was sufficiently entertained, but not terribly bothered by it. But after rewatching it in the proper sequence, it becomes rather clear that this is a painfully run-of-the-mill episode, especially in the context of the ones that came before it.
I’ll give the writers credit for going with the lightning angle, but just about everything else is cliché. Even the conflict with local law enforcement is a rehashed theme — not the first or last time it will be visited on The X-Files, or any other procedural/investigative show for that matter.
But on some level, the episode does tell us that while much has changed for Mulder and Scully, their skeptic/believer dynamic hasn’t entirely disappeared. Scully blatantly tells Mulder she hopes he doesn’t believe it’s another case of government conspiracies and alien abductions. (Thankfully, he doesn’t.) So here we know that we will still get those classic Mulder and Scully disagreements, meaning that the actual foundation of our show is still very much the same, even if the characters have learned new things about the conspiracies surrounding them.
That said, I will admit that I got a chuckle out of the “But he still has powers!” ending, just because of how it handles the usual “Executive Producer, Chris Carter” tag. (D.P.O. is staring at a TV screen, changing the channels without the use of an actual device, and the final channel offers up the credit, which typically takes up the entire screen). I know that there is nothing terribly original about this, but it still made me smile.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Giovanni Ribisi – Playing the titular antagonist, Ribisi has been acting since he was a child and has amassed a large resume. Most recently, he’s been seen on the show Dads, and the films Gangster Squad, Avatar, and Public Enemies. He also played Phoebe’s brother in the television show Friends, as well as recurring roles in The Wonder Years and My Name Is Earl. On the big screen, he’s been in Gone In Sixty Seconds, SubUrbia, Lost Highway, and the unlucky drummer in That Thing You Do!.
Jack Black – A comedic force of nature since the mid-1990s, his portrayal of the arcade owner nicknamed Zero is one of his earliest roles. One half of the humorous rock duo Tenacious D, he first broke out in the film adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel High Fidelity with John Cusack. Later, he would go on to star in Shallow Hal, Be Kind Rewind, School Of Rock, Margot At The Wedding, and Tropic Thunder. Most recently, he’s been a part of the webseries Drunk History, the Richard Linklater film Bernie, and voices the main character in the Kung Fu Panda series of cartoons.