7×08: The Amazing Maleeni

“So basically he died of a heart attack, somebody crept up behind him, sawed his head off and then glued it back on all in the space of 30 seconds. Does that make sense to you?” — Fox Mulder
“No. Which makes it even stranger still because, as far as I can tell, his body has been dead for over a month. I see signs of refrigeration.” — Dana Scully
“And yet he performed yesterday. What a trooper.” — Fox Mulder

Our agents investigate a case involving a magician who turns his head 360 degrees and is later found dead without a head.

The Amazing Maleeni

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Radhika: “Good enough.” “Pleasant enough.” I fear these are going to be my descriptions for many season seven episodes, and such descriptions probably apply to “The Amazing Maleeni,” as well. It’s an episode that isn’t quite an X-File, honestly, and while there are a few pleasant moments that I chuckled at out loud, I found my mind wandering here and there while watching it. So I may not have very much to say here.

Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate when the head of magician The Amazing Maleeni falls off after he performs a trick that involves twisting his head 360 degrees. Though Maleeni’s head was cleanly cut off, Scully discovers that he had actually died of a heart attack about a month earlier and may have been refrigerated. Cue the discovery of a twin brother wearing a neck brace… who has no legs, due to getting into a bad car accident in Mexico (or so he says).

We eventually learn that this is the original Maleeni himself, who took advantage of finding his twin brother dead to pull off a bit of a con with Billy LaBonge, another magician. The two (with Maleeni faking his injuries) have been working together to make a man named Cissy Alvarez miserable by framing him in a robbery; Alvarez was someone who caused plenty of misery for LaBonge in prison years ago. And apparently LaBonge and the Amazing Maleeni need the badge number and thumbprint of an FBI agent for some electronic fund transfers, which is how everything built up to the point where Mulder and Scully ended up on the case. Once he figures it out though, Mulder lets the pair go, and all’s well that ends well (or something like it).

The Amazing Maleeni

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

This isn’t a story about the paranormal — it’s about wackiness and misdirection, but I guess it’s a weird enough case to the point where two FBI agents who work on strange cases would be called in. It is kind of fun to watch the two magicians’ scheme unfold and also fun to watch Mulder and Scully puzzle through everything. There is plenty of silly banter with main and non-main characters alike (and I love the individual moments where Mulder and Scully perform tricks for each other — they seem genuinely delighted, and again, it is always nice to see these two having fun).

But there are also parts where the episode feels a bit slow and not as clever as other lighthearted episodes have been, and I found myself getting a bit bored. It’s not as if The X-Files writers are completely out of ideas at this point — I still appreciate that they managed to find odd stories to tell so many years into the show, but aside from the reveal of the faux Maleeni’s head falling off in the beginning, this episode lacks the tension and excitement I so enjoy in previous seasons. I really wish I could like it more.

Max: I love Ricky Jay. I love magic (I dutifully watched all those Breaking the Magician’s Code specials on Fox hosted by none other than Mitch Pileggi). So an episode like “The Amazing Maleeni” should be right up my alley, no? Sadly, I’m going to have to utilize one of Radhika’s descriptors and say that this episode is good enough, but it fails to maintain its power once you aren’t watching it. I remember catching this episode back in the day (although probably seeing a rerun because at this point my Philedom was seriously wavering), and recall liking it, but now my feelings toward it are affected by a number of issues I have with the episode.

It is most assuredly no mistake that they cast illusionist, magic historian, and expert in confidence games Ricky Jay as the titular character, given that this outing is virtually a recreation of David Mamet’s directorial debut House of Games (of which Jay had a role in and was a consultant for), with a few minor tweaks here and there. As in “The Amazing Maleeni,” House of Games also concerned itself with gambling debts, the seedy underbelly of society, and situations where the lead character(s) increasingly suspect that nothing is as it seems. But where the Mamet picture feels inspired and alive, no matter how many imitators (including latter-day Mamet flicks) come along in its wake, the X-Files episode suffers I think from a true lack of imagination. It is like the whole Mozart/Salieri business that LaBonge brings up in his conversations with Mulder and Scully.

The Amazing Maleeni

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

What I did find interesting while watching the episode are several callbacks to the show’s history, which although didn’t improve the quality of what I was watching, did give me something to chew on. This enhanced the tapestry of the long strange journey of two federal employees Radhika and I are picking apart much like how people wonder how can a man turn his head around 360 degrees. The episode I kept coming back to here was “Humbug,” from season two, our first so-called comedy episode. The backdrops of freakshows and carnivals are not too far off from each other, there is the whole “peeking behind the curtain” aspect that they share, and in the end, both deal with sets of twins. Still, I can’t help but think that what continues to be memorable (“Humbug”) has turned into X-File-by-numbers here. At least we get to see another branch of Craddock Marine Bank, scene of a stunning episode last season. And I must say, Scully looks amazing in a top hat.

YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS

Ricky Jay – Stage magician and actor Ricky Jay plays The Amazing Maleeni — a most appropriate role if there ever was one. He is known for roles on the HBO series Deadwood, as well as films such as Boogie Nights and Magnolia.

Jonathan Levit – Appearing here as Billy LaBonge, Levit is another actor/magician with a few TV and movie credits who has hosted the VH1 reality series Celebracadabra.

Robert LaSardo – Appearing here as Cissy Alvarez, LaSardo has accumulated quite a few TV and film credits over the years. Other TV shows he has appeared on include NYPD Blue, General Hospital and Bones.

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