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The X-Files – Trevor (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Trevor is a perfectly solid monster of the week episode of The X-Files.

In many respects, it feels like the episode that Alpha desperately wanted to be. It is very much a traditional story in a season that has been relatively untraditional in its structure and format. Mulder and Scully are assigned to a case that is explicitly paranormal and set about investigating it to the best of their ability. Along the way, Mulder and Scully become passengers in a story that involves the guest cast. Trevor is not as sly or self-aware as something like Monday, Arcadia or Milagro. It is a straightforward case of the week.

"I wanna take his face... off..."

“I wanna take his face… off…”

There are other similarities between Trevor and Alpha. Alpha was an episode that really wanted to tackle a very traditional monster in a very traditional way – it was a very disappointing attempt at a werewolf episode, following on from Shapes in the first season. In a way, Trevor alludes to a more classical monster story than most X-files. Wilson “Pinker” Rawls is effectively a wraith avenging himself upon those who did him wrong, the embodiment of past mistakes returned to haunt the living. He is a ghost, even beyond his ability to walk through walls.

Of course, Trevor provides a suitably pseudo-scientific explanation for what Rawls does, and the climax builds to an intimate family tragedy. However, Trevor feels very much like a classic ghost story about a man returned from the dead to visit retribution upon the living.

Diehl it back...

Diehl it back…

Rawls is not technically dead for most of Trevor. He meets a gruesome fate at the end of the hour, but he is a living and breathing prison escapee for most of the runtime. He is sent out into solitary confinement in the middle of a hurricane and presumed dead when the shack housing him is scattered to the wind. However, it is suggested that his body underwent some sort of change in the middle of the thunderstorm. Trevor throws out a lot of vaguely scientific words to justify his ability to walk through walls and survive bullets.

In the middle of the episode, Mulder theorises that Rawls has somehow found a way to negate “electrostatic repulsion.” Rawls cannot be stopped by the force of “individual electrons repelling one another like magnets” which serves to keep objects solid. It does invite a lot of the stock questions for intangibility powers – how does Rawls hold himself together or stop from sinking into the Earth? – but it does provide a basis for the tale of a man who will not be stopped by solid objects.

Well and truly disarmed...

Well and truly disarmed…

The script for Trevor explicitly describes Rawls as a ghost. After his murder of Fellowes at the start of the hour, the guard who found the body is convinced that Rawls has returned to reap a terrible vengeance from beyond the grave. “So you’re saying that a ghost did this?” Scully asks incredulously. The Guard stops just short of agreeing. “I’m not putting the word to it. That’s up to y’all.” However, he also observes, “Now, this whole place was locked and boarded up tight. No man got in here.”

Trevor repeatedly acknowledges the obvious influence of traditional ghost stories running through the episode. Rawls is very much a ghost of June’s past, a spectre from a life that she tried to leave behind. “I just wanted another chance,” June admits at one point, suggesting that Rawls is haunting her. There are a number of points where Rawls confronts people from his life who he feels had betrayed him. He visits the homes of Bo and Jackie, a reminder of crimes long past. “You’re on the news, man,” Bo observes. “They’re saying you got killed.”

A message episode...

A message episode…

Even Rawls himself seems to pitch his journey as one rooted in supernatural or paranormal justice. “You never were going to tell me,” he accuses June. “I’d have gone to my grave never knowing. But years later, a million-to-one shot, I hear on the Farm from a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy. You know what that means? That means God wanted me to know. He fixed it so I’d hear… and then he fixed it so I’d have passage. And I’m here. God’s will.” Rawls sees himself as righteousness personified, a man spared from death for a clear purpose.

The structure of Trevor is designed to play up this classic horror movie feel. Initially, it seems like Rawls is trying to reclaim money that was stolen from him. “What does Rawls want?” Mulder wonders. “The money? $90,000 from the Bay Saint Louis robbery?” June replies, “I mean, Pinker was already in prison before I found that money.” June used the money to build a new life for herself. The return of Rawls destroys that life around her, crumpling June’s idyllic new existence like one of those walls through which Rawls might pass.

A smashing episode...

A smashing episode…

Of course, it ultimately turns out that Rawls is not hoping to recover the money at all. For all that he appears to a vengeful ghost exacting a terrible revenge from those who might pilfer his ill-gotten gains, Rawls turns out to be a father desperately attempting to reconnect with a son that he only recently discovered existed. It is no coincidence that Rawls dies shortly after first encounter his son; this revelation makes Rawls more human than supernatural, and so it makes him mortal.

Trevor features a great central performance from veteran character actor John Diehl. Diehl had been around Hollywood for years, perhaps most famously appearing as a series regular on Miami Vice during the eighties. In the years since, Diehl has proved a reliable and consistent supporting performer in projects as diverse as Stargate, Jurassic Park III and The Shield. He does good work as Rawls, playing a character who might easily seem like a convenient plot device.

The climax tore Rawls to pieces. Emotionally. And physically.

The climax tore Rawls to pieces. Emotionally.
And physically.

After all, Rawls is like an intangible Terminator for the bulk of the episode; he is a character single-handedly pursuing his own objective, reluctant to let anybody stop him or slow him down. Rawls does not necessarily get a lot of character development or nuance; the teaser introduces him as a rather untalkative inmate with a short temper, putting a nail through a fellow inmate’s hand. Rawls is not an easy character to like, even before he gets a grand monologue about the divine righteousness of his revenge upon his ex-wife.

Diehl cleverly avoids playing down Rawls’ temper or violence. Throughout Trevor, Rawls seems like an unpleasant piece of work. There is never a sense that Rawls might be misunderstood or redeemed; there is no indication that he might be an innocent man out to rectify a past wrong. Even during his awkward attempt to reconnect with Trevor, Rawls demonstrates a taste for violence and brutality. He angrily snaps at June and Jackie, forcing the child’s mother into the pantry so that she does not distract from the reunion.

Cracking the case...

Cracking the case…

All this makes it rather hard to like Rawls, and makes it difficult for the audience to empathise or sympathise with. The character is caught between two extremes. He lacks the fundamental sadness that underscored the tragedy of Tithonus or the humanity that made Terms of Endearment almost heartbreaking; but he also lacks the fun and dynamism of something like Pusher or the larger-than-life stylings of The Rain King. Diehl’s performance is just about the only thing that Rawls has going for him as a character, and a lot of Trevor‘s success rests on Diehl.

(To be fair, Rawls does get one scene that hints at a more playful personality. Breaking into a store, Rawls is caught trying to steal some clothes. “There’s something so nice about putting on a brand-new pair of socks,” he explains, his only joke of the episode. The sequence tries to humanise Rawls, but seems rather incongruous with the rest of the character work in the episode. Coupled with the question of how Rawls got to the car in his clothes – meaning without passing through walls – without passing the deputy, it seems likely the scene was a late addition to the script.)

Nailed it!

Nailed it!

That said, there is a sense that the script is a little muddled in its portrayal of the family dynamic at the core of the episode. In The End and the Beginning, director Rob Bowman suggested that Rawls was almost heroic:

“Pinker is a crazed killer, but not a monster,” says Bowman. “I think a monster is a guy who kills indiscriminately,  without remorse. But although Pinker is mercurial and ultimately not fit to be on the loose, I think we gradually come to realize that his prime motivation is not all bad. I mean, in truth, the real villain of the piece is June  – an upwardly mobile woman who basically sold out her boyfriend, then gave up her son so she would be more attractive as a single woman. I think she makes an interesting contrast to Pinker  – a man who’d do anything to get out of prison and be with his son.”

Bowman’s reading of the script ultimately seems a little too sympathetic to Rawls. June is not entirely innocent, having taken the stolen money, but Rawls is a violent killer with a short fuse.

Blown away...

Blown away…

There are perhaps some uncomfortable gender politics at play there. June’s decision to give up her son is treated as an almost mercenary decision; while Rawls is almost single-minded in his pursuit of Trevor, June is introduced shopping for expensive wedding dresses. June uses the loot from the robbery to help herself, unburdening herself of Trevor by handing him over to Jackie. When Rawls confronts June, she assumes that he has returned to reclaim the money that stole to fund her new life. It doesn’t cross her mind that her son might be involved.

To be fair, Diehl’s performance is careful to play up Rawls’ volatility. It is clear that Rawls is in no position to become a father, however much he might want to connect with Trevor. At the same time, the episode feels like it is trying to paint the story as something of a tragic story based around Rawls. The script might have been a little shrewder to focus the tragedy on Trevor himself. That kid has had (and likely will continue to have) a tough life no matter how the climax of the episode ultimately plays out.

Boxed in...

Boxed in…

Interestingly, the script for Trevor is credited to two first-time writers on The X-Files, Jim Guttridge and Ken Hawryliw. However, Ken Hawryliw had been working on the show for quite some time. Hawryliw is a veteran propmaster, with a rake of experience on shows like The X-Files, Dark Angel, Battlestar Galactica and Arrow. He cites The X-Files as one of his most rewarding experiences:

You know what; I can’t say this without offending somebody. I’d have to say between Battlestar and the X-Files they’re tied for first place in my book. They are probably the best professional experience I’ve ever had in this business. To get an opportunity to work on a show like X-Files in a career is… I mean who has a chance to do that but then be able to have worked on this show also. To do two shows like that in a career is unheard of so I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to both of those. They both have their rewards. The X-Files has a place in my heart cause I got to write for the X-Files too so that was kind of cool.

The script for Trevor is very efficient and lean. It is quite clear that Guttridge and Hawryliw are familiar with the working of the series, playing through a lot of the beats and rhythms that one expects from a “monster of the week” story. In its own way, Trevor actually feels more like a stock “traditional” episode of The X-Files than any other episode in the sixth season.

"I see you've played knifey bullety before then..."

“I see you’ve played knifey bullety before then…”

The way that Scully is handled in Trevor is interesting. It is perhaps an illustration of Scully’s growth and development as a character. Scully gets on board with Mulder’s paranormal theories quite readily. There is none of the hand-wringing and equivocation that The Beginning employed to preserve her status as the team sceptic. Trevor is perfectly willing to accept that Scully has seen enough weird and inexplicable stuff that she is willing to make the occasional logical leap to help the case along.

Early in Trevor, it is Scully who proposes an unexplained phenomenon might be responsible for the death of Fellowes. “Spontaneous human combustion,” Scully observes. When Mulder is startled, she responds, “Well, isn’t that where you’re going with this?” Mulder has a great deal of fun with the idea of an open-minded Scully. “Dear Diary: Today my heart leapt when Agent Scully suggested spontaneous human combustion.” In Scully’s defense, she argues that there are “one or two somewhat well-documented cases”, but it is still a Mulder-esque leap.

Naked villainy...

Naked villainy…

More than that, the climax of Trevor finds Scully putting her faith in Mulder’s theory. Her spontaneous human combustion theory might only be a step or two away from Mulder’s usual logical leaps, but she trusts Mulder’s even crazier “electrostatic repulsion” theory enough to run with Trevor to a glass phone booth. Rawls is able to sneak through concrete walls, but cannot slip through the glass. Scully’s decision to hide in the phone booth represents an endorsement of Mulder’s speculation. When her life and Trevor’s life are in danger, Scully goes with Mulder.

It is a nice little decision, one that illustrates just how far Scully has come in the half-decade since her first appearance in The Pilot. (Okay, well given that she is worried about getting alien abduction marks in The Pilot, it might not be the best example.) It demonstrates that Mulder and Scully can be more than stock archetypes. At this stage of their development, there is room for more nuanced and developed interaction between the duo. There is no need for the wet blanket version of Scully presented in episodes like Kaddish or Synchrony.

A hole lot of problems...

A hole lot of problems…

The nature of The X-Files means that Mulder and Scully really cannot have long-form character arcs. In the fifth season, it seemed like Chris Carter was the only writer who received his own memo about reversing the dynamic to make Mulder the sceptic and Scully the believer. Writers working on The X-Files tend to write their own versions of the characters, and so it can be tougher to intuit a clear and logical progression to their character development. Often Mulder and Scully behave the way that they do because Vince Gilligan or Darin Morgan is writing them.

The mythology also tends to push Mulder and Scully towards rigidly-defined archetypes. Even when Redux I and Redux II threatens to reverse the dynamic, both Mulder and Scully commit wholeheartedly to their new positions. In The X-Files: Fight the Future, Scully spends most of the final act unconscious so the production team don’t have to explain how she could still refuse to believe in aliens. That position is reinforced in her conversations with Mulder in The Beginning.

Ashes to ashes...

Ashes to ashes…

However, the standalone episodes in the sixth and seventh seasons do suggest that Scully might be broadening her horizons and opening her eyes to new possibilities. Episodes like Trevor and Theef help to point towards the new dynamic between Scully and Doggett during the eighth season, helping to suggest that Scully’s reinvention as a believer is not too sudden or sharp a development. Scully’s willingness to make these sorts of concessions and to trust Mulder’s crazy theories suggest that her skepticism is not as absolute as other episodes might suggest.

Trevor benefits greatly from Rob Bowman’s tight direction. Trevor arrives towards the end of Bowman’s active involvement with The X-Files, and the episode serves as a reminder of just the kenetic creativity that Bowman brings to his work. The direction on Alpha was workmanlike and efficient, but Trevor moves at a tremendous pace. Bowman knows how to set up a shot and centre a scene. The bulk of Trevor is a single chas with Mulder and Scully playing catch-up with Rawls, but the episode has a clear sense of movement.

A storm's coming...

A storm’s coming…

Trevor is not the strongest episode of the sixth season, but it is perhaps the most successful tradition X-Files episode from the run. This is an episode that could have slotted comfortably anywhere from the fourth to the seventh season, and made for a pretty solid adventure. It doesn’t feel particularly rooted in the season around it, but that gives it a sense of novelty in a sixth season that has occasionally struggled to tell an entirely straightforward X-Files episode. Given how spectacularly Alpha failed at that simple objective, Trevor seems like an accomplishment.

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