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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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The Tommy Westphall Hypothesis

I’m a sucker for meta-fiction – the idea of storytelling outside the story. One of the more fascinating notions suggested by Marvel’s recent spate of movies is the notion that all the individual stories in Iron Man, Thor and Captain America will be tied together to be revealed to be part of a larger canvas (in this case, The Avengers in 2012). I love it when television and films are shown to occupy the same fictional reality (for example, the Star Trek franchise, spread across five television shows (possibly six) and eleven feature films). So it goes without saying that I adore The Tommy Westphall Hypothesis.

And I thought I had an active imagination! (Click to enlarge)

For those unfamiliar with the hypothesis, it basically states that most television takes place within the head of an eleven-year-old autistic boy.

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The Incredible Avengers…

The Avengers has gone form being the movie project I was most skeptical about to one of my most anticipated movies of the comic years. Indeed, the summer of 2011 is looking to be one for the books with a whole rake of massive cult and comic book films coming out – Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern and, should Gary Oldman be believed, Batman 3. However, the culmination of Marvel’s planning within the cinematic world will be the release of The Avengers in 2012. I’ve never been much of a Marvel fan, but I will concede that they have pulled off an amazing movie-making feat. They have created a fully-integrated film universe from a variety of disparate sources building to to a clear target.

Avengers Assemble...

Avengers Assemble...

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