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The X-Files – Unusual Suspects (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

On the surface, Unusual Suspects looks like quite a clean little episode.

It is an obvious production save – a story thrown together when it became clear that David Duchnovny and Gillian Anderson’s commitments to The X-Files: Fight the Future meant that they would not be available to film even the shortened order of twenty episodes in the fifth season. Although Unusual Suspects aired as the third episode of the season, it was actually the first produced. With limited availability to David Duchovny, Unusual Suspects was constructed as an episode that could be built around a member (or members) of the supporting cast.

Hero shot!

Hero shot!

Five seasons in, this is not a radical concept. While Mulder and Scully are still very much the heart of the show, the supporting cast has been developed to the point where the show can turn over an episode to somebody who isn’t Mulder or Scully. The fourth season offered a glimpse of the (possible) secret history of the Cigarette-Smoking Man in Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man and allowed Walter Skinner to act out his own morality play in Zero Sum. After these two characters, the Lone Gunmen were likely candidates for their own episode.

As such, Unusual Suspects also works quite well as “ground zero” for the eventual development of The Lone Gunmen during the eighth season of The X-Files. It is the episode that demonstrated that the trio could carry their own story with their eccentric little dynamic, while still being engaging and exciting. Given how The Lone Gunmen turned out, a particularly cynical commentator might suggest that Unusual Suspects very much over-sold the appeal. Nevertheless, Unusual Suspects is a logical and clear step forward in the evolution of the Lone Gunman.

Peering through the curtain...

Peering through the curtain…

And yet, for all that these are the aspects of Unusual Suspects that generate discussion and debate, they are not the heart of the episode. What is most interesting about Unusual Suspects is the way that it allows writer Vince Gilligan to brush up against the show’s central mythology, albeit only fleetingly. Gilligan is fond of arguing that Memento Mori was his only credit on a mythology episode, but that sells Unusual Suspects rather short. Although it does not dabble directly with “black oil” or “alien bounty hunters”, it does allow Gilligan to play with the show’s big central story thread.

Unusual Suspects is not just positioned by Gilligan as the “secret origin” of the Lone Gunmen. The episode is decidedly more ambitious than all that. Without directly acknowledging it, and without explicitly coming out and saying it, Unusual Suspects presents itself as the roots of the show itself. Although nowhere near as boldly and triumphantly subversive as Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” or Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, the episode allows Gilligan to offer his own sly (and slightly stinging) commentary on the show’s central mythology.

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1989.

Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1989.

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