“What I witnessed was Freaksville, man! My friend was murdered. Who would have thought this could happen at the ‘Brady Bunch’ house.” — Mike Daley
The final MotW episode of the original run has our heroes face a lonely man who has a thing for a certain classic sitcom.
Max: I first tried to tackle this post about five or six times before I said uncle and chalked things up to a case of writer’s block. However, thinking about things later, the frustrations I experienced were a bit apropos for “Sunshine Days,” a maddening episode I’ve always considered one of the weakest entries in the series — and now I can’t help but like parts of it. The final MotW of the original run, it doesn’t have the iconic pathos of a “Clyde Bruckman” or a memorable freak like Eugene Victor Tooms, but the episode is a showcase of the possibilities that could be and throws in some laughs before the series finale wraps up the mythology.
When a guy named Blake drags his friend Mike to a house he swears is the Brady Bunch house, Mike is astonished to find his friend is telling the truth. But while Blake’s curiosity draws him further inside, Mike is spooked and waits in the car. That is when Blake shoots out from the roof of the house and lands smack dab on top on Mike’s car, dead from the impact. Doggett and Reyes investigate, and find themselves stonewalled by the home’s owner, one Oliver Martin. And Mike ends up suffering the same fate as his friend when trying to break in again to confront Oliver, but not before witnessing the entire Brady family eating dinner.
Scully brings in her X-Files expertise as she reports the case of one Anthony Fogelman (Oliver’s real name), who was studied for his alleged psychokinesis by parapsychologist Dr. John Rietz when Anthony was a lonely little boy. When the doctor and agents confront Oliver, he eventually explains his cursed lot in life and how he feels constantly alone and abandoned, which is why he manifests the Bradys to keep him company. Oliver goes on to demonstrates his powers back in D.C. by causing Skinner to levitate, but when Oliver collapses, Scully determines his powers are killing him. Going back to his old name, Anthony puts his trust back in the hands of Dr. Reitz as they resolve to stay in each other’s lives and work to eliminate his abilities completely.
I think the reason why “Sunshine Days” always turned me off was the whole Brady Bunch gimmick, something I considered a cheap sight gag and a waste of Vince Gilligan’s considerable powers as writer and director of the episode. I still hold this to be generally true, but my stance has somewhat softened due to how this gimmick was used to underscore the emotional turbulence of Anthony Fogelman. I actually find myself admiring the episode a little more, because even though Anthony found himself some companionship and solace by being one of the Bradys, the actual show was a typical saccharine 1970s sitcom that trafficked in an easy morality that brushed a lot of real issues under the carpet — which extended to Anthony’s broken life. Michael Emerson was not yet a household name, but he put his mark on the role.
Radhika and I have talked a lot about how happiness is such an elusive thing for our main characters, so while I previously grumbled at the hokey scene in Skinner’s office, I now can’t help but think that it is the best part of the episode. Scully’s laugh — while strange in context — is a welcome sign in a season of increasingly dark moments for her character. Yes, this jovial scene is cut short by Anthony’s worsening physical condition but for a few minutes the day was indeed full of sunshine. Scully thought Anthony gave her proof of the paranormal she was looking for, but later reckoned there were more important things to consider in light of the episode’s events.
And so here I sit fully reconsidering my stance on the episode. It has all the typical problems of a season nine episode, but my opinion of it has changed drastically from the times I called it the worst episode of The X-Files, in a neck-and-neck tie with “Fight Club.” I can see where Gilligan was coming from when he referred to it as one of his favorite episodes. I think we needed this bit of melancholic levity before Mulder’s return and shit hitting the fan.
Radhika: Meh. I never hated “Sunshine Days” but I never liked it, even though I know it’s a hit in some circles. I did have a moment — like Max — where I was a bit delighted to see Scully and even Skinner actually laugh, even if it was kind of weird, but the episode always felt a little hollow and like it was just kind of… there to me. It’s a little like “Je Souhaite” from season seven, a happy-go-lucky type of Monster of the Week episode preceding a major finale, but I’m not sure it’s quite as successful as that episode was.
But even though I find the episode a little problematic and somewhat dull to watch, I will say it is a somewhat appropriate final Monster of the Week for its time. Oliver’s obsession with a TV show (to the point where assumed the name of that pesky Cousin Oliver) on some level mirrors the obsessive traits of X-Files fans. (Surprise surprise, Reyes also happens to be an obsessive Brady Bunch fan who follows fan sites.) And Doggett’s inquiry about why people care about a 30-year-old TV show feels strangely prescient in light of the fact that we’re now going to see The X-Files return to TV in 2016. That element of taking comfort in a TV show, in a fictional world, is something X-Philes could certainly relate to (even though The X-Files is not quite as safe a program as The Brady Bunch), and it feels like a reasonable point to address in the final Monster of the Week episode of the show.
Overall, there isn’t much that happens in this episode, though I suppose it’s nice that the writers decided to go for the lighter side of The X-Files, considering the levity was generally sorely lacking for the past couple of seasons. It’s not an episode I gush about or plan to revisit very often, but I also can’t be overly bitter about it especially when I now know that there’s even more to come. Time to move on to the next round…
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Michael Emerson – Playing the lonely Anthony Fogelman, Emerson is best known for playing Benjamin Linus on Lost and Harold Finch in Person of Interest. He has guested on a couple of Law & Order programs, The Practice, and Parenthood.
David Faustino – Familiar as Bud Bundy to fans of another huge Fox television show, Married… with Children, Faustino plays Mike, Anthony’s second victim. He has had a prolific career on screen of all sizes, guesting on Family Ties, Entourage, Nash Bridges, and St. Elsewhere as well as being in the films The Heist and The Star Chamber.
John Aylward – Primarily a stage actor, Aylward has plied his trade on television in such shows as Ally McBeal, Mad Men, The West Wing, Fringe, Alias, ER, House of Lies, and the HBO miniseries From the Earth to The Moon, as well as here playing the regretful Dr. Reitz.