Written by Charles Grant Craig
Directed by Kim Manners
Technically, this episode bears a resemblance to the last two—- a first-time writer’s debut script for the series. But Oubilette is made of much sterner stuff than the last couple of episodes, which may be the reason its reputation isn’t as great as it should be. For another, it’s a much more atypical episode of the series—- indeed, one might have trouble calling it an X-File at all.
The episode is book-ended by moments that show us just how far the series has gone in the last two seasons. A thirteen year old girl is abducted from her home by an unknown assailant. Mulder comes on to the scene, expresses his sympathy to the victim’s mother, who snaps at him; “How can you possibly know what this feels like?” For awhile, we wonder if the obvious link to his sister’s abduction is going to come up. Then the connection is brought in with a woman named Lucy Householder, who was abducted in a similar fashion more than twenty years ago, and is now suffering through bizarre injuries and symptoms that she can’t explain, and doesn’t want to explore. The connection isn’t spelled out until Scully makes a direct connection to Mulder— and he practically tears her a new one. “Not everything I do or think or feel or say is about my sister,” he memorably says.
The main reason the viewer has been trying to hold to this to that connection is because without it, our usual compass for the show is nowhere to be found. Lucy is hard, unsympathetic and aggressively determined not to be helpful, almost demanded that the viewer not sympathize with her. This is, in fact, probably one of the most believable portraits of a victim of kidnapping and abuse, which still doesn’t make her callousness any less hard to bear. It’s also part of the reason you can almost see this episode being a part of a Law & Order or Without a Trace—- there’s so little that can be considered superatural. Even the wounds that Lucy endures could be considered some kind of psychosomatic up to the end— and even then she doesn’t seem to understand how or why this could happen to her.
Normally, we look to the kidnapper to prove some kind of release— but this isn’t even as fascinating a villain as Donnie Pfaster was— Carl Wade, has no quirks, he seems ordinary bordering on dull. There’s no explanation for his acts, no quirks to his menace to make him memorable— his biggest quirk is taking flash photos of his victim in the dark. He’d barely rate as interesting on a procedural, which makes his actions all the more frightening— we’re really not sure what he’ll dp.
There’s no release from the traditional Mulder & Scully relationship either; in fact, this episode is the beginning of a series where they are deliberately adversarial. What makes this more unique is that for once, Scully doesn’t seem to be questioning the validity of his theories, but is far more concerned that his emotional state is clouding his judgment. (If anything, her theory that somehow Lucy is responsible for the kidnapping is a bigger leap than Mulder’s, considering the validity of her alibi.) And there’s no real spookiness or bit—- perhaps the biggest scare is whether the kidnapper will give into her request for a glass of water.
All of this makes for a very painful episode. Not because it’s badly written (it isn’t) or badly acted. On the contrary the performances are generally superb, particularly Tracey Ellis’ as Lucy and future cult sci-fi heroine Jewel Staite as the kidnap victim. But because the main character’s hard life make it so difficult for us to empathize with her even despite what has to have been a horrible trauma, our own sympathies for her are difficult to measure. Which makes it all the more shocking when she dies at the end, and we realize that part of the reason she felt this way was to get away from Carl Wade and all the pain she caused her.
In retrospect, its not that shocking that Craig would never write another script for the X-Files. This is an episode so different that it barely qualifies as one. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s something of a gem. It’s not the easiest episode to watch, and it sure as hell isn’t the easiest episode to like, but it’s definitely nothing we’ve seen in the series so far, in this or any other season. An underrated episode, this starts a streak of what will prove to be a remarkable six months in the history of the series, and of TV in general.
My score: 4.5 stars.