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The X-Files – Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is a masterpiece.

It is one of the best episodes that The X-Files ever produced. It is the only episode of The X-Files to win the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. It was the first episode to take home an Emmy for a performance on the show, with Peter Boyle winning the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. It was Boyle’s only Emmy win of ten nominations. It was the only episode of The X-Files to air on the 13th October, a symbolically important date for Carter (“1013”). It was also Friday the 13th.

No bones about it...

No bones about it…

As part of the recent resurgence in interest in The X-Files, the story has enjoyed even more focus. It was one of three episodes voted by fans to air as part of the Los Angeles Times Hero Complex Film Festival in 2013 as part of the series’ twentieth anniversary celebrations. Chris Carter himself chose it to represent The X-Files at the Austin Film Festival in 2012. It is very frequently ranked among the best the show ever produced.

And all of that praise is very well earned.

Crystal clear...

Crystal clear…

Darin Morgan only ever wrote four episodes of The X-Files. He pitched the story for Blood as well, but the script was written by Glen Morgan and James Wong. He wrote and directed two more scripts for Millennium. However, his influence was absolutely massive. His episodes are frequently cited among the best that the show ever did. He left quite a foot print. Various writers would attempt to emulate his style and approach to The X-Files.

Darin Morgan’s influence is very keenly felt on the third season of The X-Files. Along with Frank Spotnitz and Jeff Vlaming, Morgan served as a “story editor” for the third season, meaning that he would occasionally tweak and rework scripts even beyond those credited to his name. Perhaps the most obvious example is Quagmire, with Morgan famously contributing most of the sequence of Mulder and Scully sitting on the rock together. There are undoubtedly other examples scattered through the season.

Take it or leaf it...

Take it or leaf it…

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose seems positioned rather fortuitously. The season had opened with a big mythology two-parter in The Blessing Way and Paper Clip. The season’s third episode had been a fairly conventional (if well-executed) “monster of the week” show, D.P.O. The fourth show, however, was something a bit strange and a little bit eccentric. Although it is an episodic adventure with no ties to the larger conspiracy, it feels quite different to the “monster of the week” shows around it. It is odd and refreshing.

In a way, this is another example of how the third season of The X-Files hit the ground running, using ideas that had worked during the show’s second year. The second season had been rife with experimentation and outlandish ideas, radical notions of how to make The X-Files. Some had worked. Some had not. The third season built on these. The idea of doing a darkly comic episode had seemed absurd in the second season, but the success of Die Hand Die Verletzt and Humbug made it easier to do something like this.

No idea what this sort of crime entrails...

No idea what this sort of crime entrails…

Morgan himself conceded as much when discussing Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose with X-Files Confidential. He had not originally imagined it as a particularly funny episode, but that just bled into it during development:

I just wanted it to be the most depressing thing ever. I guess part of it comes from the fact that when I was writing [season two’s] Humbug, the feeling was that it was going to be funny and a lot of the fans would have a problem with the comedy – which they did. They were worried it was going to ruin the show and I felt, after it was done, that maybe they were right. So after it aired, I went back and watched Beyond the Sea and said this is really what the show should be like. So I wanted to do something that was much more serious. Of course I ended up putting jokes in it anyway. The thing is, I got away with it on this one because the story was much more similar to a standard X-File, so people didn’t have any problems with it. The difference between the two seasons I’ve been involved with the show is that when I turned in Humbug, everyone said, ‘This is funny; we can’t do this.’ When I turned in Clyde Bruckman, everyone said, ‘I love this. This is so funny.’ It was the difference between before and after.

The second season had done a lot of hard work to stretch the boundaries of what The X-Files could do, and the third season was really capitalising on it. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is a fun script, but it’s funny in a glib way, masking some true tragedy.

Our man Clyde...

Our man Clyde…

The script hits on some recurring Darin Morgan themes. The idea of existential loneliness plays through Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, the sense that people are well and truly alone in the universe – a sentiment that Morgan would express so well in Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” that the closing monologue on his last credited episode could encapsulate the broader themes of his work on the show. The world is a lonely and terrifying place, however much we may want to believe that we are not alone.

It was a key theme of Humbug, with Lannie’s twin abandoning him to find another partner. It was also arguably a theme of the Gibsonton community, a bunch of freaks and outsiders who had bound themselves together to found their own community after being ostracised and alienated by the larger world around them. Even Darin Morgan’s pitch for Blood suggests that people are so disconnected and isolated that they will believe talking machines who assure them their friends and colleagues are plotting murder.

Gotta hand it to her...

Gotta hand it to her…

Clyde Bruckman finds himself alone in the world. He seems genuinely comforted by the idea that Scully might hold his hand on his deathbed, and look at him with some compassion and sympathy. Bruckman struggles with his visions of death and despair, trying to figure out how not to be numbed by the onslaught of violence and horror. He tries to reach out to Mrs. Lowe, the old woman who lives across the hall from him, but she seems oblivious. She ultimately dies alone, eaten by her closest companion, her pet poodle.

The image of an outstretched hand recurs throughout Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. The camera focuses on the neon palm sitting about the entrance to Madame Zelma’s studio. The first victim is a palm reader. The killer’s first act of violence is to desperately and urgently grab the hands of the palm reader, as if trying to steady himself as much as hold her in place. The bodies featured in Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose also feature their hands outstretched.

The knowledge in the palm of her hand...

The knowledge in the palm of her hand…

When Bruckman finds the body of Madame Zelma discarded in a dumpster like so much human garbage, her hand protrudes from under the lid. It is almost as though she is reaching out desperately for somebody to hold her hand. Bruckman tells Scully that he “didn’t touch the body after [he] found her.” Bruckman also finds the body of Claude Dukenfield, his hand reaching out from under the wheel of Mulder’s car.

All of this builds to the scene where Scully finds Bruckman in his apartment, having committed suicide. His hand is also reaching up and out from his body, this time clutching a bottle of the pills he used to commit suicide. As Scully examines the body, she looks down on him “with such compassion.” Opening his hand so the pills fall loose, she decides to hold his hand “very tenderly.” It is a moment of pure empathy and understanding.

A bitter pill to swallow...

A bitter pill to swallow…

The irony is that Bruckman never gets to experience this empathy directly. He is dead at this point. However, through his vision, he is able to get an echo of that connection. He is able to assure Scully, “It’s just a very special moment neither of us will ever forget.” Even the echo of such compassion is enough to resonate with Bruckman. One of the more interesting suggestions here is that Bruckman may have been motivated to commit suicide by the thought of that moment – that he might get that connection, even in death.

The idea of fate and predestination recur throughout Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. The killer (known as “the puppet”) claims that he kills because he has seen himself killing – he is trapped by a predestination paradox. “I think I’ve somehow caught a glimpse of my own future, myself,” he explains. “And I see me doing things that… that just seem so out of character for me. I mean, these are things that not only do I not want to be doing, but I can’t even imagine myself capable of doing and yet, there I am. I’m doing them.”

Reach out a touch faith...

Reach out a touch faith…

This is an attitude that absolves the killer of any blame in his actions. The killer justifies his crimes by suggestion that he kills because he is destined to kill. He claims that he does not make a choice, and that the violence is abhorrent to him. His visions provide a justification for his conduct, allowing him to indulge his murderous impulses without feeling guilty or responsible for the lives that he claims in his spree.

Bruckman dismisses that idea. None of the psychics can explain the puppet’s violent outbursts, but Bruckman gets to the heart of the matter. “You do the things you do because you’re a homicidal maniac.” The killer seems to be working backwards. He is trying to determine character extending backwards from actions – he’s trying to figure out who he is based on what he does. Bruckman’s gift is very much the opposite – Bruckman figures out how things will end up, based on who people are.

Letters of note...

Letters of note…

The idea of Bruckman as an inversion of the killer is reinforced throughout the episode. Most obviously, the killer sees himself killing, Bruckman sees people dying. The ending of Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose suggests that Bruckman is entirely correct. Bruckman’s understanding of the people and events that will lead to the death of the killer are more accurate and trustworthy than the killer’s vision of him killing Mulder. (“Hey… that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen,” the killer protests.)

It suggests that Bruckman doesn’t subscribe to something as simplistic as pre-destination, although he does seem to acknowledge that cause and effect can become so interconnected choice is ultimately an illusion. “Why does anyone do the things they do?” he asks Mulder and Scully. “Why do I sell insurance? I wish I knew. Why did this woman collect dolls? What was it about her life? Was it one specific moment where she suddenly said, ‘I know… dolls.’ Or was it a whole series of things?”

Something to sleep on...

Something to sleep on…

Crucially, Bruckman suggests that his own precognitive gift comes not from some supernatural gift, but a fascination with the chained sequence of cause and effect that drives people to a particular point. Explaining how he fixated on the death of Buddy Holly, he reflects, “Imagine all the things that had to occur, not only in his life, but in everybody else’s, to arrange it so on that particular night, the Big Bopper would be in a position to live or die depending on a flipping coin.”

There is the implication that empathy and an ability to connect people and facts is at the root of Bruckman’s ability to divine the future. The episode alludes to this when Scully’s “intuition” is able to deduce the identity of the killer following the murder of the tarot card reader. To be fair, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose doesn’t entirely support the idea that Bruckman’s visions are simply intuitive. After all, Scully saves Mulder after she gets into the wrong elevator. “Thank heaven for happenstance,” Mulder reflects.

Manufacturing his predictions wholecloth...

Manufacturing his predictions wholecloth…

Still, it seems unlikely that Bruckman’s decision to commit suicide is prompted by anything as inane as “because he saw it in a vision.” As he reflects to Mulder, somewhat deadpan, if he were so entirely fatalistic, he would never do anything for fear the he “might adversely affect the fate of the future.” Despite seeing Mrs. Lowe’s future, he does try to do some little stuff to avert it. “Is everything all right, Mrs. Lowe?” he asks. “Do you have enough supplies?”

That said, Bruckman seems to suggest that the future is preordained in some fashion. “How can I see the future if it didn’t already exist?” he muses, suggesting that the future is actually fixed. The beauty of Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is that it leaves so much up to the viewer. There are any number of ways to interpret Bruckman’s character and gift, and none of them fits so perfectly as to rule out the others, but a few of them make enough sense to make a compelling argument.

It's just not on the cards...

It’s just not on the cards…

When Bruckman warns the killer “you don’t kill me now”, does that imply that Bruckman originally saw himself as a victim of the killer or simply that he has seen that the killer does not kill him at all? Is it possible that Bruckman’s original vision of Scully holding his hand on the bed was after the attack by the killer, but that – after the killer was apprehended – Bruckman was so keen to realise that moment of pure empathy that he committed suicide?

Maybe it was the realisation that he had forgotten about Mrs. Lowe in the midst of all the excitement. After all, Bruckman spends a considerable portion of the episode pointing out that Mulder and Scully are detached from the real world. Remembering Mrs. Lowe’s death – and arriving too late to prevent it – may have reinforced the idea that Bruckman was too disconnected from the world around him.

Matters come to a head...

Matters come to a head…

Or maybe Bruckman was just depressed, and his suicide was an inevitable result of that depression. As much as one might try to explain or account for everything, there are some variables and realities that must remain unknown, as Bruckman himself acknowledges when he wonders who the tea-leaf reader decided to collect dolls of all things. Some questions a cannot be comfortably answered. There doesn’t seem to be an absolute answer to the circumstances of Bruckman’s death, and that make it all the more powerful.

There is also a sense that Morgan is having a bit of fun with the show itself. Bruckman and the killer’s discussion about predestination and fate draw attention to the nature of their existence – they are characters following a script. The killer ultimately kills because the show needs a murderer. The fact that the character doesn’t even get a name, let alone a back story, draws attention to how he isn’t so much a person as a plot function.

A key (chain) detail...

A key (chain) detail…

The characters pause to criticise the script at several points. When it turns out that the killer works at the hotel where Bruckman is hiding, he ponders, “What are the chances of that happening?” The killer agrees, “They’re astronomical! It’s beyond believability.” Bruckman is quick to jump to the defense of the plot point. “But not impossibility. I mean, after all, here we are.” Earlier, Mulder had talked about all the coincidences that exist as thematic echoes. “If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?”

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose leans on the fourth wall in a number of ways. It opens with a bunch of police officers talking about a consultant working a homocide. “I heard he was a bit… unorthodox,” one observes. “I once worked on a case he did,” another adds. “Very spooky.” There’s even a sly nod to the fictional nature of The X-Files when another admits, “Yeah. I saw him on TV.” It’s a great gag that then features Mulder making a delightfully cliché television entrance, only for a cop to ask, “Who the hell are you?”

Frogs in his throat...

Frogs in his throat…

The police officers are not waiting for Mulder at all, but for “The Stupendous Yappi”, a trusted psychic who volunteers on such cases. However, the joke takes on an additional level. Yappi is played by Jaap Broeker, David Duchovny’s stand-in. So the episode opens with a bunch of police officers who seem to be standing around waiting for David Duchovny to arrive, only for the script to reveal that they are waiting for David Duchovny’s stand-in, a delightful reversal. Bonus points for Yappi kicking Mulder out. This is his set now.

This style is somewhat typical of Darin Morgan’s writing – there’s a tendency to play with the medium a bit and to tease the audience with the fictionality of it all. After all, Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” makes a point to include Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura as two characters who bear a noted resemblance to Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura, to say nothing of Scully’s use of “bleep” instead of swear words while offering her own account of events.

A stupendous performance...

A stupendous performance…

Morgan’s script is even more self-aware and playful. Consider this description of the final scene between Bruckman and Havez:

While Havez hacks a smoker’s cough, and searches himself for a light, Bruckman shakes his head, as if saying, ‘This guy obviously doesn’t realize that not only have recent reports shown that cigarette smokers are more lonely and depressed than their non – smoking brethren, but that Broadcast Standards & Practices does not approve of this activity being displayed on the air. Nevertheless, one shouldn’t deny a man an occasional good smoke, especially when knowing that he is about to die soon.

It’s a playful and cheeky acknowledgement of the sorts of pointless battles the show would have with Fox’s in-house censors.

"I censor a disturbance in the force..."

“I censor a disturbance in the force…”

Morgan himself has admitted to a strange fascination with the workings of Broadcast Standards and Practices, which can often seem more mysterious and random than the words of any psychic gift:

“Dealing with the censors was always amusing,” Morgan said, “because it was all so arbitrary, what they would allow and disallow. There’s a scene in the episode where Clyde Bruckman is describing this dream that he has every night, where we see the dream, and it’s him lying in a field and his body just dissolves – what would happen if a body was decaying. And I’d written, as a voice – over, a very specific description of what would actually happen to a body if it was a corpse, if it was decaying outside. And the censor just wouldn’t have any of it. There were no offensive words or language or anything like that, but I just couldn’t use the word ‘maggots.’ I had to use ‘insects,’ which seemed really silly, especially considering other stuff we had done on the show. And there’s one part where I talk about the tissues liquefying and the innards rupturing or something, and I couldn’t use that. And I ended up, the line I ended up using was, he says: ‘The inevitable follows, putridity and liquescence.’ I don’t even know what that means. The character would never say that, would never use the word ‘liquescence,’ no one’s ever used that word. But I agreed to put it in there as my own sort of joke. I laugh every time I hear it. What does that mean? No – one’s paying attention to the voice – over anyway, as they’re watching the effect of the guy dissolving, so it doesn’t make any difference. But dealing with the censors, it was just — what’s wrong with maggots?”

Morgan’s fascination with censorship would become a recurring motif of his work, from the use of alien cockroaches-instead-of-intravenous-drug-use in War of the Coprophages to Scully’s aforementioned self-censorship in Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.”

You can never be too (in)sure...

You can never be too (in)sure…

The interest even continued on to Morgan’s work on Millennium. An entire segment of Morgan’s script for Somehow Satan Got Behind Me was dedicated to the absurdity of American network television. In Back to Frank Black, Millennium writers Kay Reindl & Erin Maher recall how Morgan would sit in on their phone calls with Broadcast Standards and Practises, frantically scribbling notes and occasionally chuckling to himself.

There is another rather overt reference that leans on the fourth wall. Clyde Bruckman himself is named for an important film director. The real-life Clyde Bruckman was a silent film director who worked in Hollywood on a number of high-profile and important historical films. His work tends to be overlooked and overshadowed, and he met a tragic end himself at the age of sixty. Although not a feature film directed by him, the clip of Laurel and Hardy from The Bullfighters at the end could perhaps be seen as a nod towards him.

Brucking the trend...

Brucking the trend…

Morgan acknowledges the influence in an interview with Cinefantastique:

The character of Clyde Bruckman was named for a comedy writer and director who had committed suicide in 1955. “I was so depressed after Humbug that I felt suicidal,” he recalled. “So I said, ‘I’m going to write about a character who will commit suicide at the end.’ You hear these things about people’s careers going downhill, and Clyde Bruckman always struck me as being the ultimate Hollywood horror story. He worked with Keaton, Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and W.C. Fields. There was a ten year span that must have been the greatest. I can’t think of a greater series of jobs. Yet the guy obviously had some problems. He was an alcoholic, and ending up killing himself.”

It’s a rather bleak conclusion, but also a nod towards film history. There is another influence though. Darin’s brother Glen recalls reading the script to Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. “Oh my god, this is our dad.”

A rare moment of lightness...

A rare moment of lightness…

Morgan has explained on several occasions that he was heavily influenced by classic cinema. It was The General, the Buster Keaton film directed by Bruckman, that led him to want to work in the industry:

“I saw Buster Keaton’s The General for the first time in a theatre that had an organ,” Morgan recollects, “and I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but seeing The General changed my life. I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do! I had a similar experience with Charlie Chaplin, when I saw City Lights for the first time. I’d always heard Chaplin was a genius, but I hated the image of him as the Little Tramp. Watching the boxing scene in City Lights, I realized he really was a genius.” Morgan’s film studies, particularly the physical comedy of silent film and the screwball genre, provided invaluable instruction in how to think visually. “I think of slapstick as a way of positioning the camera, to make a bit of business funny to look at, rather than someone having someone say something. That sounds very simple, but you mention slapstick to most people nowadays, and they just think of someone being conked on the head. The only time I write camera movement and angles is when I have a specific gag requiring the camera to be positioned in a particular way. Some gags just aren’t funny if they’re shot wrong. So in that way silent film has influenced me – you have to think about how the scene is going to be filmed. The X-Files’ visuals are mostly atmospheric. I’m told that when other television writers read our scripts, they hate them, because there’s so much description, whereas other shows don’t have *any* description. But the directors on The X-Files don’t mind being told specific things that need to be seen or shown because we are a visual show. I’ve heard stories of some directors on other shows getting very upset when a writer puts in too much description, and just to show the writer up will intentionally shoot it differently. On the X-Files, the directors are willing to have the writers put in as much as possible so that they knew exactly what we wanted.”

As with his brother Glen, there is a sense that Morgan is very literate when it comes to classic cinema. Humbug could be seen to be inspired by Todd Browning’s controversial 1932 film Freaks. His directorial work on his Millennium episodes includes several shout outs and stylistic touches that hark back to classic Hollywood.

Ashes and dust...

Ashes and dust…

Of course, there are other aspects of Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose that could seem reflexive or self-aware. Bruckman is horrified by the type of violence one expects from an episode of The X-Files. “I guess you run into a lot of dead bodies in your line of work,” he remarks to Mulder and Scully. “You get used to it,” Scully reflects. Bruckman doesn’t seem particularly comforted by this. “I never have. I’m not sure you’re supposed to.”

This could be seen to draw attention to the surreal nature of Mulder and Scully, television characters who have to deal with these sorts of things on a weekly basis. Morgan suggests that Mulder and Scully are as odd as an of the eccentric characters they encounter. Humbug suggested that Mulder and Scully were the real freaks in Gibstonton. Here, Bruckman’s horrified attitude towards death and violence seems much more natural and realistic than any response from Mulder and Scully.

Hall of fame...

Hall of fame…

Bruckman is a normal person who has found himself drawn into a very strange world. To him, Mulder and Scully seem eccentric and surreal – perhaps as strange as the monsters of the week seem to them. Bruckman is a relatively grounded character who finds himself stuck inside an episode of The X-Files. He plays almost as a commentary on the sorts of tropes and attitudes that shows like The X-Files take for granted.

Bruckman’s gift could easily be seen as a twist on the sort of “empathic investigator” that Thomas Harris pioneered with Will Graham in Red Dragon, a character that inspired Mulder and would inspire the creation of Frank Black. These sorts of characters have become a stock element of police dramas, using their abilities to climb inside the heads of serial killers and murderers. There’s a chance that such violence can become numbing and dull. Bruckman is a normal person who is unused to the casual brutality of The X-Files.

Raising an eyebrow...

Raising an eyebrow…

Morgan himself has spoken about his difficulty writing that sort of stuff. On the third season DVD, he admitted that Bruckman came from his own discomfort with the sorts of research materials necessary for the show:

I was looking at crime scene photos and I just thought, if a person was psychic, they’d be able to see how a person was going to die, just like these pictures. And I just thought, if someone could do that, they would go insane. It ruins the guy’s life, which is the point of the show.

However, it feels like there is an even more meta subtext to the character of Bruckman and his reaction to the horror of finding himself trapped in an episode of The X-Files.

Blood work...

Blood work…

Discussing why he is so proud of José Chung’s From Outer Space, Morgan suggested that he was happy with the relatively low body count, and the fact that the script didn’t treat character deaths as something to help break up the acts:

My scripts had that, and I always had stereotypical ‘boo’ scenes or act-outs [ending an act] with a dead body. I was proudest of Jose Chung, in which only two people died, and I didn’t have a death on an act-out. You get in the habit of saying. ‘Okay, here’s a dead body,’ cut to commercial. But you usually have to have those. The X-Files is a kind of horror show, so you have to have those moments of genuine terror or grossness.

As such, it seems that Bruckman is a way for Morgan to express this, having a character question the show’s somewhat casual attitude towards death – perhaps similar to the way that Bruckman and the killer tease out the logical leaps necessary for the script to work.

Body of proof...

Body of proof…

Of course, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is also just a fantastic episode for Scully. There are certain writers on the show who tend to gravitate more towards one cast member or the other. Glen Morgan and James Wong are slightly stronger with Scully. Howard Gordon is better with Mulder. Darin Morgan seems to work best with Scully, as he conceded:

“Everyone looks at Mulder as having all the answers, he said, “Most of the other episodes present him as usually right. I’ve always found that the things he talks about, if a normal person talked about them, you’d go, ‘This guy’s crazy.’ He’s supposed to be a smart guy, but I’ve never looked at him as such. He’s just more lucky in some of his explanations. And Scully, although skeptical, has the right approach when she says, ‘I don’t believe this.’ Before I wrote for the show, Mulder always seemed like the more interesting character, but once I started writing for it, I found that I liked Scully more.”

It is Scully who forms the personal attachment to Bruckman. Mulder seems to treat Bruckman as a novelty, a piece of the paranormal. “I’m beginning to lose patience with our psychic, Scully,” he complains. “What good are his prophecies if they’re not preventive?” Instead, Scully is able to see him as a person. “I’m starting to feel more sympathetic towards him,” she replies.

Back seat psychic driving (nuts)...

Back seat psychic driving (nuts)…

So it makes sense that Scully is the one to take Bruckman’s hand on his deathbed. The episode ends with Scully lying on her couch watching television, in a scene that more frequently occurs with Mulder across the show’s run – perhaps suggesting that Scully has transitioned a little bit. Maybe in this case, she is Mulder; maybe, this time, she almost believes. Bruckman’s final letter is not addressed to both agents. Instead, it is addressed solely to Scully.

However, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose also features a pretty seismic revelation. Finally giving into curiosity, she asks Bruckman how she dies. “You don’t,” he replies, simply. It’s a lovely moment, one left ambiguous. Whether that means that Bruckman cannot see her death, or that he cannot bring himself to see her death, or that she is functionally immortal, the show doesn’t answer. There is something strangely comforting in all that.

Scully will never die.

Scully will never die.

Chris Carter initially refused to be drawn on the line. “I think that was peculiar to that episode,” he suggested during one interview. “People should not take it perfectly literally.” However, it seems like the line resonated. Writer Vince Gilligan would make a pretty credible claim to be the spiritual successor to Darin Morgan on the show’s writing staff. His script to Bad Blood is perhaps the most Morgan-esque script that Morgan never wrote. He also made a point to pick up, subtly, on that line of dialogue in Tithonis.

It is very easy to get caught up in the many big things about Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose that work, and to lose sight of many of the brilliant smaller touches. For example, when Bruckman foresees the attack on Mulder in the kitchen, he is holding a letter that Mulder hasn’t touched yet – he is not foreseeing Mulder’s death at all, despite how it might seem. Similarly, there’s a beautifully clever cut from the “Death” tarrot card to a hand full of aces and eights – the infamous “dead man’s hand.”

We call this "the Mulder pose"...

We call this “the Mulder pose”…

The script for Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is positively overflowing. According to Trust No One, the original script actually ran long:

Clyde Bruckman ran more than 10 minutes too long in its first cut and thus had to be pared down considerably, including two scenes between Peter Boyle and Gillian Anderson. “So many gags were lost. It’s a shame,” says continuity/script supervisor Helga Ungurait. Morgan experienced the same problems with his first script, “Humbug”, and made a point not to repeat it on subsequent episodes. “After Humbug, I was always conscious of being too long,” he notes. “Clyde Bruckman was the disaster, because it was humonguously long.”

It would be interesting to determine if any of that footage survives. It might even be possible – if highly unlikely – to cut together an extended edition for the (hopefully) pending blu ray release.

Not Mulder's cup of tea...

Not Mulder’s cup of tea…

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose also wouldn’t work without Peter Boyle. Although he was apparently quite awkward on set, he does wonderful work at fleshing Bruckman out into a fully-realised multi-faceted character. The script ensures that the audience never sees Bruckman as a plot contrivance or a story point. He feels like a real person. Of course, there is also something grimly hilarious about a psychic insurance salesman, a man who can see the future but still buys a losing lotto ticket each week.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is a masterpiece, one of the best episodes of The X-Files ever produced, and an example of the show’s third season firing on all cylinders.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the third season of The X-Files:

7 Responses

  1. This and Humbug are my favorite episodes. Hard to pick one or the other.

  2. Where can I get the script you referenced in your amazing (as usual) review?

    • Thanks for the kind words!

      The full script isn’t on-line, but there are excerpts with commentary available here:
      http://www.mitchpileggi.net/The_X-Files/Libby/Season-3-episodes.pdf

      • Thanks so much! Yes, I watched Jose Chung this week for the first time and it’s utterly incredible. I’ve loved Darin Morgan since watching Humbug (I’m working through them in order, then reading your reviews and listening to Kumail’s podcast) and I find him fascinating. So I’m eager to find whatever I can on the guy! I’ll definitely be checking out his Millenium episodes.

        I really do appreciate the hard work you put into each blog post. It’s impressive! Your insights are always spot-on too. Keep up the good work!

      • If you’re listening to the podcasts, they have two excellent interviews between Kumail Nanjiani and Darin Morgan. Brilliant, insightful conversations.

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