“So, modern medicine, and all it encompasses — artificial hearts, laser surgery gene therapy, to name a few — all of that arrayed against a pile of magic dirt… and you tell me I’ll lose.” — Dr. Robert Wieder
When our agents investigate the murder of a renowned doctor’s father-in-law, followed by a series of strange mishaps, they begin to realize they’ve got a case of hex craft on their hands.
Radhika: I remember having a positive opinion of “Theef” when it first aired — in a generally uneven and somewhat dull season, it was the episode that felt the most X-Filesy to me. I still view it as a decent episode now, though the pace drags a bit and it may be a slightly too straightforward entry in The X-Files oeuvre.
Mulder and Scully get involved in this case after the father-in-law of award-winning Dr. Robert Wieder is found hanging, with the word “theef” painted on the wall in his blood. Mulder spots dirt in the father-in-law’s bed and believes it could be the result of a hex, though Scully believes the man slit his own throat and hung himself. An autopsy shows that the dead man suffered from “kuru,” the same disease found in cannibalistic tribes of Papua New Guinea. The doctor’s wife eventually collapses and sprouts lesions and winds up dying in a freak accident during an MRI.
The man behind all this is Orell Peattie, whose daughter Lynette was a “Jane Doe” Dr. Wieder treated after a bus crash. The doctor gave her an overdose of morphine to ease her pain and as a result, Peattie feels wronged. Peattie is classically creepy — skilled at drawing up rare diseases and causing disaster (the terrifying MRI is linked to a moment where he microwaves a doll). He has also of course dug up his daughter’s body and kept it in the boarding house where his hapless landlady finds it and contracts a flesh-eating disease.
The episode comes to a dramatic end when Peattie goes after Dr. Wieder and his daughter at a house where Scully is protecting them. Scully temporarily goes blind thanks to some nails in a doll’s eyes, but when the nails are taken out, she’s able to shoot Peattie and save the Wieders.
It’s a fairly basic plot and on some level, slightly problematic — Peattie is definitely an unfavorable stereotype of a backwards West Virginian, smart enough to pull off some really crazy stuff, but dumb enough to be sneeringly told off by a med student about how microwave popcorn works. (Though he could have been playing dumb.) But that said, Peattie is downright scary and is probably one of the more memorable villains of season seven (to this day, I find myself thinking of “Poppin’ corn” in the same whimsical tone he employs). The reveal of the dead body in the teaser, the MRI accident and the reveal of Lynette’s body are all classic horror moments, and I appreciate this callback to The X-Files’ roots.
I end up feeling pretty sorry for Dr. Wieder in all of this too. He seems like a genuinely good guy and a good doctor who made a call almost anyone would — even Scully points out she would have done the same as a doctor. I think that’s also part of what makes Peattie and his lust for vengeance terrifying — even someone who doesn’t really deserve it can fall victim to some horrific things and an unbalanced personality.
Other than that, there aren’t a whole lot of twists in the episode, though I still get a little tense watching blind Scully try to figure out how to get out of a bad situation. It’s a reasonable hour of television, but not necessarily the cleverest hour either, so I’d ultimately deem it “good, not great.”
Max: There are definitely some legitimately creepy moments in this episode, and like Radhika I appreciate how “Theef” is somewhat of a throwback to the salad days of The X-Files. The show has gone down the path of witchcraft and sorcery before, but I give the writers credit for putting a novel twist on the proceedings.
But I’m not quite sure what to make of the episode as a whole. It is certainly better than the typical season seven offering, which I know sounds like damning it with faint praise, but I share in Radhika’s frustration in wanting the episode to be much better than it turned out to be. “Theef” had all the ingredients, and a blind Scully is a thrilling sequence, it just turned out flat and overdone. A lot of fans have noticed throughout this season that Duchovny’s performance left a lot to be desired, a symptom of his frustrations with the show that culminated in him leaving the program for a reduced role in the latter half of next season. The malaise is profoundly palpable, and it affects all aspects of the program. One can certainly see how the writers felt like The X-Files had run its course, which contributed to Chris Carter thinking that this season would be its last.
I think the most compelling thing about this outing is the backwater milieu and the positively drenched eeriness of Peattie. The clash of cultures (and classes) is a familiar X-Files trope, and the confrontation between the blue-collar Peattie and the white-collar Dr. Wieder provides some sparks (and I’m not just talking the microwave variety here folks). Hexes and voodoo magic are shorthand for things we don’t understand as well as the psychological and sociological underpinnings of the relationships between people and the angst of our inner lives. For Peattie, his subtext of the anguish over his daughter is made text through his quest of vengeance. These kinds of spiritual magics make a lot of hay about the concept of balance in nature, and Peattie sees his mission at restoring the balance in a kind of eye-for-an-eye enterprise.
What is perhaps a sad realization for the audience is how in going so far to avenge Lynnette, Peattie lost his soul. I mean, what kind of father keeps the headless corpse of his dead child in his apartment? “Theef” ends up being a symphony of cascading tragedies that redeems it from the muck of this season, but fails to truly elevate itself to the level of X-Files episodes past that it aspires to.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Billy Drago – Playing Orell Peattie in this episode, Drago has a tendency to play villains in a number of television shows and movies. Some of his better-known films include Pale Rider and The Untouchables.
James Morrison – Appearing here as Dr. Robert Wieder, Morrison has guest starred on Frasier, Quantum Leap, The West Wing, Six Feet Under and more. He was also on 24, and had actually been a main cast member in Space: Above and Beyond from Glen Morgan and James Wong.