3×05: The List

“Mark my words. Five men will die. Five men will go down! This will be my justice! This will be my law! This will be my capital punishment, and no stay of execution will be granted…” -Napoleon “Neech” Manley

Mulder and Scully head south to Florida to investigate the mysterious death of a prison guard after a recently executed inmate promised to exact vengeance in his next life. The Green Mile, this ain’t….

The List

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Max: After the heady excellence of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” it is a bit of a bummer to come back down from such ecstatic highs with the episode that followed it the week (back when it first aired) previous. Not that I am condemning “The List” as a terrible episode by any measure, but you kind of wish you had more of the metaphysics and witticisms of the previous outing instead of a more mundane yarn of retribution from the grave. The newly deceased Napoleon Manley may have bought into his dogma of biblical justice and reincarnation, but the warden and prison staff don’t buy it, and neither does Scully, who thinks Manley may have an accomplice who killed the warden in Manley’s old cell.

Meanwhile, there is a growing number of inmates who, especially after the decapitation death of another guard, believe that Manley has indeed come back for revenge, and are fearful that they may be the next on his fabled list. A guard by the name of Vincent Parmelly insinuates that an inmate named Roque has a copy of the list of people Manley planned to target, and demands from Mulder a transfer to another prison in exchange for the list.

Scully’s investigation of the matter revolves around the analysis of the bodies of the two prison guards, and finds larvae belonging to a particular species of fly. This intrigues Mulder, and in a visit to Manley’s widow, who is fearful of reprisals, since she was having an affair with Parmelly. What follows though at the prison is hardly paranormal. Warden Brodeur kills Roque after it is revealed that the warden is on the list, and a series of dirty dealings and betrayals involving several prisoners and Manley’s lawyer may be a more reasonable explanation to the murders instead of the apparent resurrection of a felon. A series of red herrings follows, with the outcome being that a prisoner with knowledge of the list says there is still one more name on it. Driving home, the warden sees Manley in his rear view mirror and is attacked, crashing his card into a tree and killing him.

I’ve cut out a lot of plot from this, which is probably for the best because “The List” is perhaps too convoluted for its own good. It’s nice to have moments of misdirection and doubt cast over how Mulder and Scully proceed with the case, but in a typical MOTW episode, it’s best not to have the plot hang on machinations worthy of a David Mamet film. I will say this though, I give the production design department kudos for constructing a unique prison set with unusual angles and spaces, which lent to the paranoia and off-kilter mise-en-scene, reminiscent of German Expressionist films of the 1920s and 1930s. Manley may have gotten his justice, but after jumping through so many plot hoops, does the audience care? Has exhaustion given way to apathy?

Radhika: As Max points out, this episode does feel rather mediocre, especially in light of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and even the mythology episodes that kick off the season. But it’s also a decent attempt at a Monster of the Week, playing around with the inner workings of a corrupt prison system, as well as the paranormal theme of reincarnation. There’s also your obligatory gross-out moment, with the appearance of the mysterious larvae mentioned earlier.

However, I do take issue with the fact that this is another episode that gets a bit bloated as it goes along, with side plots and characters that just get thrown into the mix without much development. It appears that at least a couple of MOTW episodes per season end up falling into this trap, which is a shame, as most of them do at least have an interesting central theme.

I’m a bit relieved that this is an episode that spares us from the “Agent Scully is in danger” plot that often permeates the show (perhaps the writers realized that they’d overdone it a bit with her abduction and Donnie Pfaster, etc., in the previous season). Scully does have a brief encounter that could have turned scary in the shadows of the prison here, but generally speaking, aside from alluding to the fact that this is probably not the greatest environment for a petite, pretty young woman to be traipsing through — law enforcement or not — she manages to make it through everything unscathed.

All in all, an OK episode, but not one to spend too much time thinking about. Onward!

YES, IT’S THAT GUY

J.T. Walsh – Playing Brodeur, the commanding warden who meets his demise at the episode’s dènouement, is the late consummate character actor J.T. Walsh. Actually a favorite of David Mamet, he was in Mamet’s directorial debut House Of Games. Later, he would be prove to be a Nineties fixture, with performances in The Last Seduction, A Few Good Men, The Grifters, Backdraft, and Nixon, with The X-Files being one of his few outings on the small screen. On vacation in 1998, he suffered a sudden fatal heart attack. The films Pleasantville and The Negotiator (both released posthumously) were dedicated in his memory.

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One thought on “3×05: The List

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Season 3 | Apt. 42 Revisited

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