Tuesday, April 12, 2011
X-Files Case Report: "Shadows"
"I'd say you people already suffer from full denial." (Agent Mulder)
The X-Files was so much more than aliens and government conspiracies; it actually drew on just about every occult phenomenon it could find over the course of its run. Here we have a good, old-fashioned ghost story.
A businessman named Howard Graves has committed suicide, leaving his trusted assistant, a woman named Lauren, to clean out his office. As she leaves, though, a desktop memento suddenly moves, and she turns back to see it in a different spot than where she left it. Not thinking much of this, she takes it with her. Cut to later, when she stops at an ATM on her way home. She is jumped by a couple of hoodlums who drag her, screaming, into an alley. Cut to still two hours later, when two young people come along, looking for a place to "crash", when they find the bodies of the hoodlums. The men were killed by having their throats crushed from the inside, and they've been exposed to so much electrostatic electricity that even though they've been dead for six hours, their bodies are still twitching on the slab and their tissue hasn't even started to cool.
Mulder and Scully get wind of this when they are brought in to consult by a pair of taciturn NSA agents (or CIA or some other shadow government group). When they share no information with our FBI heroes, Mulder speculates that they are involved because the case shows earmarks of psychokinesis. They begin to suspect that Lauren is somehow psychokinetic, but it gradually turns out that it's really Howard Graves's ghost that is behind everything.
A fairly standard story plays out: Graves, it turns out, was actually murdered by the business partner who claims to have loved him like a brother, and Graves felt a father-like devotion to Lauren, owing to his having lost a three-year-old daughter years before who would have been Lauren's age in the present day. Howard Graves has not left this mortal coil because he still has work to do.
This tale, of course, is somewhat strongly reminiscent of the movie Ghost, which had come out a few years earlier. It's a nicely done episode, mostly interesting for the performance of Lisa Waltz as Lauren, for some nicely brisk writing, and for the fact that the show seems to be going in one direction at first (psychokinesis) but actually turns into something else (ghosts). It's also interesting in that Scully's skepticism is dialed back a bit, and at the end she seems quite accepting of the ghost story.
Finally, this episode continues to demonstrate just how the world has evolved in less than twenty years since it originally aired. When Mulder and Scully must look for information on Howard Graves, they aren't able to just Google the guy; Scully has to spend quality time with a microfiche machine, manually searching through newspaper archives for a mention of the guy. Shadows aired about eighteen years ago; eighteen years before that, I suppose Kojak was the norm of teevee police procedurals. The distance between the world depicted in Season One X-Files and Kojak seems a lot closer than the present day and the world of Season One X-Files. I even remember reading commentary on Usenet, back during the first couple of seasons, in which Mulder was made fun of for always having his cell phone with him!
Next up: "Ghost in the Machine".