Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Cliff Bole
Perhaps looking at things with the benefit of hindsight, Bad Blood isn’t exactly what you expect from a vampire story. After decades of sexualizing and post-modernizing the vampire story in series like Buffy and True Blood, this episode probably plays like something of a, ahem, pale imitation. But this probably was far from Gilligan’s intention when he wrote this episode; he probably just wanted to continue what he began working on in last season’s Small Potatoes, and that is to continue to self-examination of Mulder and Scully from within the framework of the series, and while doing so, satirize the versions we have become familiar with. To say he succeeds would probably be a spectacular understatement; this is, without question, the highpoint of Season 5.
Admittedly, this is as much a change to the format as Darin Morgan’s were earlier, and the same way that Post-Modern Prometheus tried to do earlier in the season. But the reason there may still be some residual fans who don’t get what Gilligan was trying to do is perhaps because we’ve seen it done before— mostly unintentionally, as a result of bad writing. This is a more subtle shock to the format; in fact, if you were late tuning in, you might not be able to easily tell the difference between this and your average episode.
This is a look at how Mulder and Scully see each other, and more interestingly, how they each see themselves as a result. If one were just to see Scully’s version of Mulder, one could see certain similarities to versions that we saw in earlier seasons—- his propensity for slide shows, his exuberance when it comes to making minor discoveries mean more than actually do, how a lot of the time, that he tends to take his partner for granted. Mulder’s version of Scully is a lot less realistic—- she seems shrill at times, very unwilling to take his perception for what is going on—- but then again, one could make the argument that Mulder has been being second guess by her for going on five years now.
What makes the episode far more interesting is how each one views themselves, which is far closer to the real version of each one that we have gotten to know over the past five years. What has become clear is that after years of being in service of the other, they have become increasingly willing to do what the other wants without change. Scully either goes off to do an autopsy calmly and patiently without so much as shrug, even though the man who gave the order is taking her bed and eating her dinner— or she goes off bitching and moaning, explaining that she does everything out of service to her beaten-down partner. It really doesn’t matter much, either way, off she goes. It is symbolic of how Gilligan does things that even when he is blatantly teasing our heroes he continues to make them true to themselves.
And of course, even by narrating this, the analysis probably makes it sound pedantic and overcomplicated. When naturally, it’s hysterically funny. The truth of the matter is the episode could go without half of the jokes it makes at Mulder and Scully’s expense and it still would be one of the funniest shows the series would ever do. From the wonderful teaser where the theme music comes in just in time to block out an admittedly well-deserved obscenity on Mulder’s part, from Scully going through the autopsies so repetitive, even she can’t go through the motions, to the point where she finds the stomach contents mouth watering, to the hysterical different ways each of them view Sheriff Hartwell (a wonderful performance by Luke Wilson). There are also wonderful throwaway gags describing Scully and Mulder’s respective aim when it comes to shooting, to the absolutely wonderful moment when the coroner doing an autopsy on Ronnie Strickland cause of death (“Gee. That’s a tough one.”) All and all, Gilligan manages to master comic timing even when he isn’t doing the flashbacks, which is another reason he’s so good as this series.
Perhaps the only obvious weakness with this episode is the fact that the vampire story is relatively traditional and almost mundane when it comes down to it. But again, I suspect that this may be part of the point. This is again working on what was a common trope of Gilligan’s last season— the idea of making Ronnie Strickland an ordinary villain. The idea that Strickland is, at the end of the day, somebody who happens to see ‘too many Bela Lugosi movies’—- he’s just a real vampire, may be one of the best jokes of the episode. It therefore makes the final revelation that Hartwell makes that “Ronnie is something of a moron, but he’s still one of our own”, not only all the more amusing, but a fitting capper for how Mulder and Scully ultimately view each other. They may fundamentally disagree on, at this point, just about everything, but at the end of the day, they need each other, and will back each other up all the same. The final scene where they sit in Skinner’s office, each looking hangdog and a little embarrassed, may be the ultimate crowning gag, but it also tells a bigger truth that, perhaps, neither of them are willing to admit. Yet.
By every consideration, this episode is a triumph. Whole seasons will later be developed comparing and contrasting the differences between our two agents. Some of the best will be written by Gilligan himself. But Bad Blood is very like the best of all of them, an episode that details just how good comedies are at revealing the biggest truths.
My score: 5 stars.