“What if this man had some kind of special ability? Some kind of genetic predisposition towards rapid healing, or tissue regeneration?” — Fox Mulder
“So, basically, what if we were looking for Wile E. Coyote?” — Dana Scully
Our heroes encounter the strange case of… the luckiest man in the world.
Radhika: Season seven has so far consisted of a mysterious ailment striking one of our leads, a brain-eating monster, a murderous super-powered teen and zombies, which makes it about time we got something lighthearted to watch. So now we have some relief in the form of “The Goldberg Variation,” a more comedic episode with heart.
The episode centers on one Henry Weems, a Chicago man who wins $100,000 playing poker against mobster Joe Cutrona who attempts to kill him by having him thrown off a building. Weems walks away uninjured, which naturally attracts the attention of Mulder and Scully. They meet up with Weems, a handyman at an apartment building — his apartment is full of Rube Goldberg machines, which he seems to have a fascination with. So naturally, the next time one of Cutrona’s men shows up to kill Weems, the assassin manages to die in an accident reminiscent of how a Rube Goldberg machine operates, while Weems is unscathed.
We learn that Weems survived a plane crash that killed everyone else in 1989 (he had been sitting in seat 13 of Flight 7) — a reverse Final Destination, if you will. His good luck has been with him since and often comes with the cost of someone else suffering terrible luck. We realize Weems has been trying to make $100,000 to pay for the medical treatment of a young boy living in his building — and after a series of absurd events that includes Weems getting hit by a car, the boy’s mother getting kidnapped and all the mobsters getting killed, Cutrona turns out to be an organ donor and a perfect match for the young boy, Richie, who is saved in the end.
The episode is nowhere amongst the funniest of The X-Files‘ comedic episodes, many of which have been exceedingly bizarre and over the top. But it has a sweetness reminiscent of the previous season’s “Rain King,” which isn’t a huge surprise as both episodes were penned by the same writer, Jeffrey Bell. Everyone involved seems to be enjoying their time working on the episode — the lines are delivered with conviction and the reaction shots (especially from Scully, who may just be smiling more than usual) are pretty golden. Mulder and Scully also seem a lot flirtier in this episode, which may contribute to the “everyone’s having a good time” atmosphere — possibly a deliberate choice considering something’s up with the relationship at this point.
While this episode is far from “classic,” I also enjoyed the absurd ways in which The X-Files‘ team killed off the mob guys in this episode. Though much of season seven makes me feel a little bit like I’m watching The X-Files “lite,” at least this episode has a touch of whimsy and creativity that makes it interesting to watch.
Max: I generally like this episode. Yes, it has plenty of moments that veer into total whimsy, and the whole conceit with Shia LaBeouf (yes, he’s always Shia and not his character) is classic glurge, but like Radhika I can’t help but be charmed by the episode. This doesn’t mean that I consider it anything other than a decent outing, but when you are tackling with a season that has some truly horrendous stinkers like this one has, you take any measure of positivity that you can get. At least for me, it taps into a childhood fascination with the machines that Mr. Goldberg made famous, so there is that sense of nostalgia thinking back to all those times I made my own causal daisy chains in the basement with my toys (including some K’NEX like Shia has) and whatever assorted knick-knacks I could find down there.
Weems is cut from the same cloth as characters like Clyde Bruckman, individuals in possession of gifts that aren’t returnable. It would be cliche to call them a curse, but Weems has a definite reason for keeping his lucky streak under wraps for all those years, as his karma has a way of racking up collateral damage, like the punk at the convenience store who picked up the winning lottery ticket that Weems discarded. That whole sequence reminded me of the initial premise of the officious sitcom My Name is Earl, which left a bad taste in my mouth, and should really be the last time quality programming like our show should be mentioned within any distance of such fare.
This episode is one of those where I could either be delighted or annoyed by the whimsy depending on my mood when I’m watching it. In particular, this concerns the various ways Cutrona’s men are dispatched by Weems’ lucky streak. On this rewatch, I appreciated the absurdity. The entire episode was one big Rube Goldberg machine to get Shia an organ donor match, which is in keeping with the “meta” trend that was reaching a fever pitch around the time this episode aired. The film Being John Malkovich was released the same year as this, and “The Goldberg Variation” can be argued as being Charlie Kaufman-lite (Kaufman wrote Malkovich). Still, the bit of the hospital sign spelling out RICHIE was one dollop of whimsy too much, and I appropriately recoiled.
This was the last episode that aired in 1999, and while it wasn’t as overt as last season’s “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” this outing has a kind of celebratory mien that you could consider in step with the holiday season. And perhaps that is the big takeaway for this episode, a nice little bit of fantasy to close out the year in anticipation of The X-Files‘ return in a month’s time.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Willie Garson – Playing lucky man Henry Weems, Garson may be best known to many TV viewers as Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City, as well as his role as Mozzie in the series White Collar. He’s appeared in a few films as well.
Shia LaBeouf – A very young Shia appears in this episode as Richie Lupone, the little boy Weems is trying to save. He has since appeared in the fourth Indiana Jones film, a boatload of Transformers films, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and more.
Marshall Manesh – Here in a bit part, viewers may recognize Manesh from his role as Ranjit the taxi/town car/limo driver on How I Met Your Mother. He has also appeared on shows like Burn Notice, Scrubs, NYPD Blue and Prison Break, as well as a number of movies.
Tony Longo – A classic That Guy, he’s known for playing mob heavies in everything from Mulholland Drive to Sinbad’s comedy classic Houseguest. On television, he’s guested in everything from Alice to Perfect Strangers and Shameless.