4×16: Unrequited

“I think he can hide himself from human sight by manipulating something that Scully has referred to as naturally occurring — a blind spot.” — Fox Mulder

Our agents try to stop a seemingly invisible killer who is targeting several U.S. Army generals.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Radhika: Well, here’s another episode that proves my theory about the unevenness of season four. It appears that there’s about one episode per season that not only isn’t particularly good, it also barely manages to hold my attention — and this is that episode for me in this season. (Incidentally, this has happened to me with other soldier/revenge-themed episodes of The X-Files, which leads me to believe that these types of stories just never ended up being well executed on this show.)

The teaser is actually somewhat compelling: A General Bloch is at the National Mall, giving a speech to veterans of the Vietnam War. Mulder, Scully and Skinner are on the prowl, looking for a potential gunman. The scene closes with Mulder spotting the guy and taking out his gun — but the man disappears, while the weapon still remains pointed at the panicked crowd.

Post credits: Twelve hours earlier, a lieutenant general has been shot in his limousine. A far-right paramilitary group is suspected of killing him to stop an upcoming re-dedication of the Vietnam War memorial. Mulder and Scully question the group’s leader and they find a photograph showing him with a Sergeant Nathanial Teager. We learn Teager was a soldier in Vietnam who had been left for dead as a prisoner of war. In another scene, Teager approaches a war widow and tells her that her husband is still alive as a POW before disappearing.

Mulder suspects the man who signed Teager’s death certificate is the next target: And sure enough, he dies. Thanks to an appearance by lady informant extraordinaire Marita Covarrubias, Mulder learns all the generals were involved in negotiations concerning POWs. It looks like a number of American POWs had been kept in Vietnam, decades after the war’s end. Mulder has also come up with a theory that Teager is manipulating people’s blind spots, hiding himself from human sight.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

We return to the scene in the teaser, where Mulder has figured out that he needs to get out of Teager’s line of sight in order to apprehend him. Teager ends up fatally shot and at the end of the episode, we learn that the incident is being covered up with Teager identified as another soldier who had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. An angry Mulder, who points out that Teager has been made invisible in both life and death, tells Skinner — also a Vietnam vet — that he could just have easily suffered a similar fate.

The episode has a few decent elements and there’s nothing like a good conspiracy and cover-up for your classic X-Files experience. But in all honesty, when the most exciting moment of your episode is the teaser, it doesn’t make for very compelling television. It is somewhat nice to see that no one is busy arguing against Mulder’s blind spot theory in this one, at least not for long. And I do enjoy seeing Skinner working with his agents. But other elements like the inclusion of Marita Covarrubias feel a bit wasted. Also, I feel that Teager is just kind of “there” in the episode — we know he was a POW that was left behind, but there just isn’t enough information about his character for us to feel heavily invested in his eventual fate. In order for some of the episode’s commentary to work here, I feel the audience needs to connect more with this character.

All in all, I feel like I can give the episode an A for effort in its attempts to focus on an interesting concept. But it really is rather average at best, more in the C or C- range at the end.

Max: As a hardcore X-Phile, I pride myself on having an encyclopedic knowledge of all the episodes and their basic plots, but it is telling that coming up to this episode, I completely blanked on what “Unrequited” was about until the cold open gave way to the credits sequence. In fact, the forty-odd minutes of its running time was an absolute slog, one that should’ve come with a Surgeon’s General warning for possible onsets of narcolepsy.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

The after-effects of Vietnam is a powerful storytelling engine, and The X-Files used it to great effect when Skinner confessed to Mulder his near-death experience over there as a way for Mulder not to write Scully off after her return in “One Breath,” as well as the episode-length exploration of its horrors in “Sleepless.” Here, Skinner’s service is again alluded to, but the main plot about Vietnam POWs falls flat, which is a shame because the manner of Teager’s invisibility is a fascinating paranormal conceit, one that could’ve gone like gangbusters had the episode demonstrated even a modicum of continued tension. Like Radhika mentioned, this outing opened on a promising note but became mired in cliche and a general case of the “mehs.”

Season four continues its rollercoaster ride of quality, and perhaps this is symptomatic of the larger issue of growing pains as the writers became increasingly more ambitious in their ideas and the scope of the series. Granted, not every episode in a season can be a home run, especially in a network show that needed to churn out 24 episodes of air-worthy product. We’re beginning to enter into the show’s Silver Age, where The X-Files broke into the mainstream and reached the height of its popularity that culminated in the ability of the producers to craft a feature film, so the weight of expectations amongst fans is definitely telling in how much of a misfire this episode is.

It’s also telling that looking back on the season thus far, we haven’t had (aside from “Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man”) any episodes that really pushed the boundaries of what an X-Files episode could be, and none of them had any of the degree of invigorating levity of the Darin Morgan outings of last season. Comedy episodes would come to kind of dominate the show for a stretch, and as a result lose their effectiveness, but at this point they are still a welcome presence. Not that I’m saying “Unrequited” should’ve been a Sondheim musical, but in not branching out of the comfort zone more, this season has suffered from a good number of sub-par episodes.


2 thoughts on “4×16: Unrequited

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Season 4 | Apt. 42 Revisited

  2. Pingback: Season 4, Episode 16 – Unrequited | The X-Files Truth Podcast

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