4×04: Unruhe

“For truly to pursue monsters, we must understand them. We must venture into their minds. Only in doing so, do we risk letting them venture into ours?” — Dana Scully

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Mulder and Scully investigate a case involving a man who kidnaps women and lobotomizes them. But the clues they find have a more supernatural twist involving psychic photography.

Radhika: It’s been a while since I’ve watched “Unruhe,” but upon watching it again, I remembered why I always had a tendency to enjoy the MOTW episodes a little more than the mythology (gasp, I know). When done right, the MOTW episodes can be so good — and “Unruhe” is a pretty solid example of that.

In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate when a woman, Mary Lefante, goes missing after going to get her passport photo taken. Her boyfriend has also been murdered. The only clue is in the developed passport photo, which shows Lefante looking terrified against a distorted background.

While searching Lefante’s apartment, Mulder takes a photo of his gloved hand, which produces the same image. From this, he deduces that the camera is picking up thoughts from the kidnapper’s mind.

Lefante is later found wandering on the road (in a creepy granny nightgown, which seems to be a running theme in X-Files episodes where bad things happen to women) and it turns out she’s been given an improperly conducted lobotomy. Another woman, Alice Brandt, is kidnapped too and Scully goes on to investigate a lead involving a construction company. There, she meets Gerry Schnauz, and upon realizing he’s the kidnapper, arrests him. Schnauz was once institutionalized for beating his father with an axe handle (it seems the father was abusing his sister), and as we get to know him further, he explains that he’s saving the women from “howlers,” which can also be seen in the photographs. From this, Mulder gathers that the photos are showing Schnauz’s nightmares.

The episode culminates in Schnauz escaping police custody and kidnapping Scully amid the investigation, ready to lobotomize her and save her from the howlers as well. Mulder, who manages to piece together where to find Schnauz (in a trailer in the cemetery where his father was buried), breaks in and shoots the culprit in the nick of time. A photo Schnauz took of himself before Mulder breaks in shows him lying dead on the floor.

There have been a few episodes of The X-Files that don’t really focus on the paranormal, and moreso on the horrors we as human beings inflict upon each other. I would say that “Unruhe” falls under that category, even though the supernatural element with the photographs does play a significant, if somewhat underdeveloped (yes, I went there) role. It’s the police drama at the center of the episode — the investigation, the pursuit and arrest, and the final showdown — that makes it terrifying and suspenseful. And it’s also rather chilling meeting Schnauz and trying to understand his motivations as he commits rather horrific acts all in the name of “saving” people.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

However, I do have a criticism: the standard kidnapping of Scully. There are plenty of X-Files episodes that put both agents in danger — Mulder’s usually getting shot or attacked by someone, but poor Scully, who went through one of the most memorable abduction arcs in the history of television, just keeps getting kidnapped. And watching this show in such rapid succession as we are, it’s even more obvious how much she’s gone through in a short period of time.

As a woman, I get that we can be targets — it’s almost a given in the sad world we live in. And Scully, a beautiful, petite redhead, isn’t exactly someone who blends into a crowd (this is where I also must perhaps inappropriately note that both Duchovny and Anderson are physically stunning in this episode — it’s no wonder they became such heartthrobs in the nineties). But we know the writers love Scully and they have no problem portraying her as strong: In fact, she’s rather salty at times in this episode, not hesitating to show her disgust and anger at the case, and not hesitating to successfully pursue Schnauz and arrest him when she realizes who he is.

In fact, the writers let her have that moment of strength in a scene where I thought she might be most vulnerable — alone at a construction site. But then, all of that is subverted by having Schnauz render her unconscious when she goes to get the car. I appreciate the need to add the element of danger, but this is another instance where I just feel like Scully has gone through enough, and I wonder if it could have been handled differently.

Max: The quote that leads off this post from Scully’s field report is especially apt for this stage in the program’s use of the MOTW format. An idea that follows from and could’ve been a takeaway from last season’s stellar outing “Grotesque,” the concept of getting into the head of a killer in order to truly be effective in capturing them is indeed a risky venture, one that consumed Mulder’s mentor Bill Patterson in the aforementioned episode. Here, the monstrous demonic forces take the form of the “howlers” that Schnauz says infects the minds of his victims.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

It’s an incredibly powerful episode, especially its rather humane depiction of mental illness (in this case schizophrenia) for the era. Pruitt Taylor Vince’s performance is understated, and he doesn’t indulge in melodramatic flourishes that would reinforce stereotypes of those that suffer from the various maladies that affect the mind. Indeed, the audience (like Scully) begins to sympathize with Schnauz’s plight, which makes for quite a piece of cognitive dissonance vis-a-vis the captor/captured dynamic. The most unfortunate aspect of schizophrenic disorders is that it is a self-reinforcing illness, in that the afflicted’s mind cannot accept that it is ill. This is evidenced in this episode when Schnauz says that he is not sick, and that the howlers inside of Scully’s head are merely making her say that he is sick and that they do not exist.

Radhika discussed at length her issues with yet another case of Scully being abducted and in distress. I can certainly see her point, and indeed this is very much a case of “oh great, not again.” This sadly isn’t the last time that Scully is put into a situation like this, and while I could write a book about the gender dynamics of the show and its place in the wider context of the history of the medium, let me just say that while the show is both of and ahead of its time, the tendency to fall back on tropes is sometimes too easy to resist. Still, in Vince Gilligan’s writing Scully doesn’t lose all her agency, which brings me to this point. If Scully had to be abducted to bring us to the scene of her trying to understand and talk sense into Schnauz, then I don’t particularly mind her being abducted yet again. At least I don’t find this instance as egregious as other episodes. It’s an incredible scene, filled to the brim with tension, peril, and surprising amounts of heartbreak, given Scully’s connecting the dots of the howlers to his father’s probable abuse of his sister.

MOTW episodes in the first few seasons of The X-Files were more about shocking the audience with these bizarre, outre cases, with monsters that exist purely on a surface level. We still will have cases like this, but as the show grows and matures, and the audience demands more from their hour of entertainment, we get episodes like this, where we delve into complex psychologies and tackle issues in a more self-assured manner. “Unruhe” is not an episode that immediately comes to mind when thinking of the show, or even this particular season, but it deserves mention and analysis for its expert craftsmanship and superior dread.

YES, IT’S THAT GUY

Pruitt Taylor Vince – Vince is one of those actors who has often been seen in a number of memorable supporting roles, including his turn on The X-Files as Gerry Schnauz. Vince has appeared in assorted films and TV shows, including Deadwood, Alias, CSI and the American remake of Touching Evil.

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5 thoughts on “4×04: Unruhe

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