The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Born Again,” “Roland,” “The Erlenmeyer Flask”
So THAT WAS THE SEASON 1 FINALE, I write from my pile of feels.
But first, some reincarnation and suchlike. A child named Michelle Bishop is found alone on a street in New York. A police officer who happens to be Janice from Friends brings her in and asks another officer named Barbala to chat to her, but midway through the interview Barbala is flung to his death. Janice (whose name in this is actually Lazard) calls in Mulder and Scully for help. Notably, her brother worked the Tooms case and said they were good with the “out of the ordinary” stuff. Chortle. Michelle is claiming that another man appeared in the interview room and threw Barbala out the window. Mulder has an artist work with her to develop a composite, which in turn leads them to the unsolved murder of a detective from nine years earlier. Charlie Morris was killed in a suspected gangland hit but the murder was never solved.
Mulder and Scully decide to interview Morris’ former partner, Tony Fiore. However, he’s decidedly shifty and evasive and doesn’t give them much information. After they leave, he goes to see another former cop named Leon Felder, who’s now an insurance salesman. They bicker about some box they have locked up in a bank. Fiore wants to go and open it, but Felder says they swore they wouldn’t touch it for ten years. At first I thought they were hiding some funky supernatural implement, but turns out it’s just boring old bribes. As it happens, these two, Morris and Barbala were all part of a squad that carried out a drug bust in Chinatown the year Morris was killed. Looks like they were paid off by the drug gangs and Morris was a little too honest for his own good. As an added complication, Fiore’s current wife is Morris’ widow. Hashtag it’s all connected.
Unfortunately for him, Felder meets his maker not long after the above argument. Thanks to some psychokinetic intervention, his scarf gets tangled in the door of a bus and drags him down the street. When the driver manages to stop the bus, Michelle turns out to be sitting at the back watching the whole thing unfold. In the interim, Mulder and Scully have learned that she’s a rather disturbed child. She has no friends, never smiles, and says she can see things her mum can’t see. She’s been seeing a child psychologist, who has her on heavy medication. Mulder forms a theory that Michelle may be the reincarnated spirit of Morris. He reckons she may have psychic powers, as apparently people with strong past-life memories often show signs of these. This would explain how she was able to shove Barbala out a window and lock the bus door on Felder’s scarf.
To test this theory, he persuades Michelle’s mum and psychologist to have her put under hypnosis. Early in the session, she freaks out and starts screaming that someone’s killing her. The mum and psychologist put a stop to the session instantly, but Mulder discovers a glitch when he reviews a taping of it later. He gets an analyst to slow it down and they find an image buried in the brief moment of interference. While the analyst tries to isolate it, Scully tracks down a page which had been missing from Morris’ autopsy report. He was drowned – in seawater, bizarrely enough – and his body was only mutilated in gangland fashion after he was already dead. The image on the videotape turns out to be a diver figurine. Mulder recognises it from the tropical fish tank in Fiore’s house – which was once Morris’ house, given Fiore is now married to his widow. He twigs that Morris must have been drowned in the tank and that the figure was the last thing he saw before he died. As added evidence, Michelle is apparently deathly afraid of water.
He and Scully race over to Fiore’s house and find Michelle in the midst of an episode. She’s locked Fiore’s wife, Anita, in a room upstairs and is flinging objects at Fiore psychokinetically. Mulder attempts to reason with her, but she doesn’t calm down until Fiore admits he was involved in Morris’ death. Scully lets Anita out and she comes down just in time to hear this. She pleads with Michelle not to hurt Fiore. The fish tank explodes and the room settles, and when the lights come up Michelle appears to be herself again.
Fiore is arrested and charged with murder, grand larceny and obstruction of justice. All’s well that ends well there, but unfortunately (unsurprisingly) Mulder’s request that Michelle be put under further hypnosis to investigate her past-life memories is denied. He’s therefore forced to close the case as “unexplained,” though he notes his belief in hypnosis isn’t shaken. I felt bad for him when I watched this, but we are talking about a small child here. Besides, he’ll have bigger fish to fry in the coming episodes.
This one was very interesting, and not just for its storyline but for the little titbits of info we get about Mulder’s relationship with his dad. I presume it’ll be elaborated on at a later stage (?) but it has me pondering.
In this episode, a bunch of scientists working on jet engine propulsion are bumped off, seemingly by the lab caretaker. Said scientists were total assholes to him, so while being sucked into a jet engine isn’t a pleasant way to go I think they probably could have done with more manners. What’s more intriguing is that this caretaker, Roland, manages to fill in part of an equation the scientists had been working on despite having severe intellectual disabilities. He also manages to do this in someone else’s handwriting. No biggie. Can’t make it too easy on our heroes, hein.
Mulder, as is his wonderful way, thinks there’s something unexplainable at work so in they come to investigate. They learn that Surnow, the scientist killed in the opening scene, isn’t the first one on the project to kick the bucket. Another team member, Arthur Grable, died in a car accident a few months back. Scully notes the highly classified nature of the project and broaches the possibility of industrial espionage. The scientists loudly disagree with her. Seriously, they are total assholes.
Mulder examines the white board displaying the equation and takes a photo for analysis. Later, he and Scully go to visit Roland. He lives in a halfway house and is drawing when they arrive. He hands another resident named Tracy a picture of her name, all decorated with stars. He seems to have an affinity for them – he correctly guesses that there are 147 stars on the blouse Scully’s wearing with only a glance. Mulder is intrigued and borrows a piece of paper Roland had been working on. He takes this back to HQ and shows it and the photo of the white board to a handwriting expert. However, the samples don’t match. While Roland was the only other person there when Surnow was killed, it seems someone else may have been controlling him when he added to the equation.
Another member of the project, Keats, bites it when his head is drowned in liquid nitrogen. This may be worse than death by jet engine. Roland is the culprit, but before he attacks Keats we see him having visions of the killing in his sleep. In the course of investigating, Mulder and Scully learn that someone else logged onto the computer after Keats died and kept working on the research file. The user logged in under Grable’s name, and the password turns out to be a combination of numbers Roland had been scribbling on the paper Mulder took as a sample. Hmm.
Our heroes go to unearth the police report on Grable’s death and discover that it’s “woefully” incomplete. No body was ever admitted to the county morgue and no funeral took place. The sole surviving scientist on the project, Nollette, says Grable was a master at executing elaborate schemes. One of which, it turns out, was having his head preserved in liquid nitrogen (as you do) so that it could be thawed whenever future humans figure out how to resurrect people and attach them to new bodies. The facility Grable’s head is kept in has a whole bunch of random people’s heads, all of whom had to cite potential tissue donors when signing up for it. Grable put down Roland’s name. Whoops. Are there genuinely facilities out there containing multiple frozen disembodied heads? Gross.
Mulder and Scully try to dig out Roland’s birth records but the information is sealed and they can’t get access to anything from before he was three. What they can deduce is that Roland has lived at the halfway house for most of his life, and Grable himself hired Roland as a caretaker at the lab. Mulder tries to talk to him about his dreams, but Roland freaks out and breaks out of the house. Mulder later tells Scully that he believes in psychic links and that they’re often stronger between siblings. He wonders if Grable and Roland might have been twins, separated at birth. He thinks Grable’s preserved head has somehow developed psychic abilities, and is projecting these into Roland in order to complete his work. This doesn’t explain why he’d be so eager to bump off his colleagues, but of course all is later revealed on that front.
Nollette, who’s been watching Mulder and Scully’s conversation on a security feed, goes to the heads facility and changes the temperature on Grable’s tank so that the head will be destroyed. Roland is at the lab finishing the equation. He achieves mach 15, which is what the team had been working towards (I had to look it up, but I’m sure able TMS commenters know this already: one mach is roughly equivalent to the speed of sound, so this is 15 times the speed of sound. The more you know.). Nollette comes in behind Roland and pulls out a gun. He then proceeds to recite what is essentially a supervillain speech, all but admitting that he had Grable killed so he could finish the latter’s work and take all the glory. As I said above: assholes. All of them. And as with all supervillain speeches, the captive has enough time to plan an escape. Roland whacks him with a computer keyboard, then throws him in the lab and starts up the jet engine.
Mulder and Scully have managed to get Roland’s records unsealed in the meantime, revealing that he and Grable were indeed twins. A composite image of Grable at the time of his death looks exactly like Roland. They come racing over to the lab just in time and Scully, in a beautiful show of compassion, manages to avert disaster by appealing to Roland to help them prevent Nollette from being killed. (Mulder had shouted at him as if he were Grable.) By the way, Nollette and Surnow both tried to cheat death by standing in front of the huge jet engine and not, say, to the side of it. Lads, why? Have you not seen Prometheus? That’s not how it works. I get that science is involved and it may be more complicated, but I still don’t think you’re putting yourself in a good position by standing at point blank range. Anyway, the crisis is averted and Nollette lives; Grable’s frozen head is presumably destroyed.
There is something of a happy ending for Roland. Although he’s taken in for questioning, Mulder and Scully recommend that he be returned to the halfway house once the investigation is completed. While packing up his stuff, Tracy comes in to see him, and he gives her his jar of paper stars and asks her to mind them while he’s gone. She says she loves him, he says, “Me too,” and hearts everywhere explode. Gosh. I might have a rival X-Files OTP on my hands here, people. On his way out Roland stops to brush his hair and pauses a moment at the mirror, almost as if recognising himself for the first time in forever. It’s a telling gesture, this, and I do hope the character found peace afterwards.
Some notes before we continue: did Roland’s parents deliberately maroon him in a halfway house because of his disabilities? There are assholes everywhere this episode. Also, I’ve learned that Scully has two brothers. And the talking point: Mulder, while talking to Roland about his dreams, reveals that he himself had a strange dream where he saw his father underwater but couldn’t reach him because the water hurt his eyes. There’s another man in the dream who keeps asking Mulder questions but he doesn’t want to answer, so eventually he has to leave and he can’t find his dad. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? Why was it inserted almost as a throwaway remark, or will they come back to it at some stage? Why does this character have so much pain in his life? Is there some subplot here about a broken or strained relationship with his dad, or did his dad also die in suspicious circumstances? Am I not remembering something from earlier in the season? I’m probably overanalysing. He just looks so pained when he recounts this, and my drugstore psychology can’t come up with an immediate explanation. Ach, poor pet. And the shit’s about to hit the proverbial fan…
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