“Max could tell them. You know why you collapsed don’t you, Max?” – Fox Mulder
“Yeah, too much teen spirit.” – Max Harden
“You think? Smells like murder to me.” – Fox Mulder
The “turmoil of adolescence” provides the backdrop for a contentious episode as Mulder and Scully investigate the killing of a police officer.
Max: In spite of a boilerplate plot and generic characterizations, I keep coming back to “Rush,” an episode that upon rewatch I still consider a diamond in the rough, one that doesn’t get discussed nearly enough as it should be. I’ve mostly dreaded the time when Radhika and I would be going through this season, but “Rush” is an outlier in that I’ve been looking forward to when it came up in the rotation. Yes, it isn’t as flashy as some of the better-known episodes of the series, and you would have to be a hardcore fan to recall the plot based upon the title alone, but that doesn’t take away from a genuine sense of dread as well as the unfathomable enigma that is the source of the teenagers’ powers.
Tony Reed is your typical teenager, battling hormones and the demons of high school. His mother moved them to a new town and is holding down two jobs to make sure he has a good life. Naturally, she is worried when she believes Max Harden, the sheriff’s son, is leading Tony down the primrose path. These fears are seemingly confirmed when Tony is charged with murder after allegedly killing a deputy when he drove off to the woods to meet up with Max and his girlfriend Chastity. Noting the incongruities of the crime (how can a teenager exert the kind of blunt force trauma that would pulverize a skull?), Mulder and Scully look into the case.
Scully senses Tony is covering for somebody, and she is right, as he is afraid of retribution from Max. She questions Chastity whose evasiveness and concern for Tony’s well-being set off alarm bells. This is compounded when a teacher who has it in for Max is killed, impaled by a cafeteria table. Eventually, Tony discovers Max’s secret — stepping into a cave in the woods, Tony quivers uncontrollably when coming into contact with a beam of light.
This allows him, and Max, to move faster than humanly possible. The climax takes place in the cave when Chastity shoots Max, defending Tony, and then uses her power to catch that bullet herself, unwilling to deal with the damage. In the end, Mulder notes a USGS survey team was unable to detect anything special about the cave, which has been pumped full of concrete to avoid future incidents.
A lot of fan and critical reactions to the episode comment on the cliche-ridden story, but I think that that’s missing the point. For me, the episode is less about developing memorable characters than exploring the eeriness that comes as a result of having a cave that imbues teenagers with superpowers (think Chronicle, only over a decade beforehand). What impresses me the most is the relatively restrained and understated way these powers are depicted on screen. Nowadays, most shows would go all out on the pyrotechnics, but here the majority of effects work comes from simple frame rate adjustments done in-camera. Given this or Michael Bay’s orgies of CGI, I’d choose “Rush” any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
By this point on The X-Files, there are enough episodes dealing with the travails of the adolescent set to fill a good number of VHS tapes, so maybe the puberty allegories seem a bit old hat. At the very least, our agents’ observations of the physiological differences between adults and adolescents have a real world basis. For example, as seen in news stories from several years ago, some companies have taken advantage of teenagers’ abilities to hear higher frequency sounds to develop products that would emit bothersome noises to prevent crowds of kids from loitering at malls and other establishments.
I’ll gladly be an apologist for this episode, and I enjoyed revisiting it. That cave though was a damn clever plot device, and I appreciated the bizarre mystery of it all.
Radhika: While I can respect Max’s views about “Rush,” I do not share his generous appreciation of the episode. Something about “Rush” just doesn’t sit well with me — The X-Files has done the teen angst stuff in a better way before (though perhaps “Schizogeny” takes the cake for awfulness). On top of that, the performance of a tepid supporting cast just takes the heart out of the episode for me. It’s bad enough that Max (the character, not my writing partner) appears to have been cast following the example of Beverly Hills, 90210. It appears the actor was practically 30 when he was playing an angsty teen. This makes it a little tougher to swallow all the digs at Mulder and Scully’s “old age” in this episode. But generally, the cast’s acting, combined with the writing, does nothing to sell the motivation for the characters’ behaviors. I also wish that a general dislike of authority wasn’t the main reason behind Max’s actions. (And if it wasn’t the main reason, then again, the show did a bad job of elaborating on that for me).
I will admit that the atmosphere and effects are pretty cool here, and I enjoy how Mark Snow created a subtle, throbbing score to mimic the cave’s effect. And the scene where the teacher is annihilated by the lunch table is viscerally horrifying (Actually the actor playing the teacher is the one cast member who had me feel any kind of emotion — I felt genuinely sorry for him when he and his tray of food were first knocked over. The look of fear and embarrassment was palpable). And then comes the “bam” moment: the lunch table flying, the blood, the creepiness factor that The X-Files is so good at.
I think that it’s this weird juxtaposition of good atmosphere and “whatever” acting and characters that upsets me the most, because it’s this combination that highlights that the show’s heart was starting to slip away. I know that sounds dramatic, but while I can watch a season seven episode and even enjoy it from time to time, this is the season where you could tell the show was wearing out. Yes, the writers still had ideas. Yes, the show had really polished its look from the effects to the makeup and costuming. But it somehow manages to feel tired and even hollow at times, and I think “Rush” is a key episode in illustrating that point. All the pieces are there, but something ultimately doesn’t gel enough to make the episode stand out.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Scott Cooper – Who would’ve thought the guy who played Max in this episode would go on to become a respectable film director and screenwriter? Scott parlayed his acting career into writing and directing the films Crazy Heart with Jeff Bridges and last year’s Out Of The Furnace. His latest, Black Mass, is expected to be released next year.
Ann Dowd – Portraying Tony’s concerned mother, Ann is a veteran of the stage and screens big and small, including the play Doubt at New Brunswick’s own George Street Playhouse. She played Tom Hanks’ sister in the film Philadelphia, as well as an award winning performance in Compliance and The Drop, James Gandolfini’s final film role. On television, she’s gained prominence in both the HBO program The Leftovers and Showtime’s Masters of Sex.