“They’ve got to pay for this. They’ve all got to pay.” — Ray Pearce
Another bizarre death springs Scully and Doggett into action as they confront a man who might very well be unstoppable.
Max: The universe works in funny ways sometimes. Penned by staff writer Jeffrey Bell as an homage to Tetsuo: The Iron Man, a favorite film of his, “Salvage” sat in a drawer for a while until called up for use in production. This naturally predated the conception of the Doggett character as well as Robert Patrick’s casting, so it is a nice piece of cosmic coincidence that Doggett is tracking down a man transformed by metal, echoes of the iconic villain he played in the first Terminator sequel that springboarded his career.
A typical variation of the revenge tale that has populated many episodes of The X-Files, “Salvage” focuses on Gulf War veteran Ray Pearce, whose job at a salvage yard inadvertently exposed him to leftover materials from a technology company’s experiments with so-called “smart metals” that rebuild themselves after being damaged. Trying to keep a low profile at a halfway house, Ray bides his time as he begins to take out those he believes were responsible for turning him into a freak of nature, including his former boss at the yard. Meanwhile, Scully and Doggett question everyone from Ray’s wife, a woman at the halfway house named Larina, and Chamber Technologies associates to determine the best course of action to contain and apprehend him. In the end, his rampage terminates when — dying of the effects the metals have on his body — Ray spares the accountant who accidentally sent the drum of smart metals to the yard and goes off to die alone.
We’ve spoken a lot about how the shape of MOTW episodes go a long way in determining their eventual success, as well as the integration of heroes into the investigation. Radhika opined in our review of “Kaddish” that she didn’t mind that Mulder and Scully were sidelined in the episode given how strong the cast of guest characters were. Effectively dominating the hour, “Salvage” rises and falls with the character of Ray Pearce. In some ways the saving grace of the episode, Wade Andrew Williams’ performance of Ray hammers home to the audience the damage that has been done to his life and his quest to make sense of the wreckage — and yes salvage — some measure of control in his life.
But then again, isn’t that something we’ve seen again and again in countless episodes of The X-Files? Seven and a half seasons and over a hundred fifty episodes into its run, the ability to essay a truly original story is hampered by material that has come before. I know we have spoken about how this season so far has done pretty well in combining remnants of previous MOTWs to generate episodes that have revitalized the series, but I am not sure “Salvage” does enough in this department. There is only so much you can do within the confines of the man-out-for-revenge framework.
Don’t get me wrong, this episode has some really terrific imagery and special effects work, but the whole episode doesn’t rise above the good-but-average mark for me.
Radhika: I have to agree — this is another entertaining hour of television, but there isn’t anything particularly memorable about it for me, even though I did audibly chuckle at Doggett’s line about people becoming metal men “only [happening] in the movies.” Yeah, it was a bit of an obvious joke, but I enjoy self-referential things of that nature, so what can you do?
One thing that pushes this episode into “meh” territory for me, cool visual effects and all, is the dialogue and the delivery of it. Just about any scene with Mrs. Pearce, noticeable from the teaser itself, felt like it was something from a play, which is fine on the stage, but it felt out-of-place dramatic on a show that typically has some fairly natural line delivery despite its focus on the ridiculous and paranormal.
And the exchange between Doggett and Scully at the end about why Ray Pearce stopped his killing spree is just so flat. It’s the type of dialogue we’ve seen hundreds of times before with Mulder and Scully, but somehow the chemistry between those two characters could make even the phonebook pretty exciting (god knows, the Mulder and Scully banter was often the saving grace in some pretty terrible episodes in the past). I actually think Doggett is a pretty decent character as a whole and I have a newer appreciation for what the writers were going through as I rewatch this season, but I’d point at this episode as one of those that makes it painfully clear that there’s no real substitute for Mulder and Scully together.
Another episode this season, “Redrum,” did a much more compelling job of sidelining our main characters while still providing viewers with an episode worth their time. But this is one instance where the fading power of The X-Files is obvious again and sadly a little reminiscent of the problems seen in season seven: Yes, the actors are trying to give it all and the story is “good enough” to count as an X-File, but it ultimately feels tired.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Wade Andrew Williams – Best known for his starring role in Prison Break, the actor playing metallic man Ray Pearce has numerous television credits to his name, including those on 24, Burn Notice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Tru Calling. On the big screen he’s been in Erin Brockovich and The Dark Knight Rises.
Arye Gross – Chamber Technologies’ Dr. Pugovel, Gross currently plays a medical examiner on ABC’s Castle. Prior to that, he guested on Burn Notice, Fringe, Dollhouse, Six Feet Under, The West Wing, and The Practice. He played a supporting role on Ellen Degeneres’ eponymous program, and was in the films Minority Report and Gone in Sixty Seconds.