Written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Kim Manners
So far, the fourth season has been, if anything, a grimmer beast than the third. Therefore, there’s a bizarre irony that the most watched episode of the season—- and probably the series (it aired after the Super Bowl) was something quite a bit lighter in tone—- up until we reached a certain point. We’ll get to that point in a bit, but let’s judge the episode first.
Considering that this an episode where three writers collaborated, Leonard Betts manages to avoid the feel of so many of the collaborative efforts that are too come — the idea of too many cooks will eventually overwhelm many of the team efforts. It’s therefore a surprise that the dialogue is mainly engaging and witty, and that for most of the episode it plays like a (very dark) comedy. This is played upon by the fact for at least the first half of the episode, no crime has been committed, and therefore our heroes are able to make jests about headless corpses walking from hospital morgues, gingerly trying to remove heads from surgical waste, and having remarkably silly talks (redeemed because Mulder and Scully know how ridiculous it sounds) about evolutionary spikes that would have Darwin rolling over in his grave.
We could be forgiven for not noticing that this is pretty much a relative ripoff of Tooms, with cancer cells where the livers come in, because there’s so much more originality with the idea, even though it’s carried through to such a ludicrous level (did we really need to see Leonard regenerate an entirely new body?) It’s also helpful that, unlike Tooms, the monster is actually far more sympathetic (which is even more remarkable considering he’s played by Paul McCrane, an actor who has made something of a career of playing assholes). Indeed, one can definitely sense that this characters is the next in the line of humanistic killers that Gilligan has already established, a man who kills only out of a desperate biological need, and with genuine regret as he does so. Indeed, you almost wish Betts hadn’t killed his paramedic partner, because that necessitates that he must be hunted in the typical X-Files fashion, and eventually brought to justice.
Indeed, this is by far one of the more engaging and entertaining episodes of the season— which is why when the red flag comes up, we pretty much ignore it. The moment that the word ‘cancer’ came up, we should’ve been on high alert. We were told, in no uncertain terms as far back as Nisei that Scully was going to contract cancer. However, we manage to avoid thinking about it, because a) this isn’t a mythology episode, and b) the series has been very clever with a references to cancer—- Jeremiah Smith healing the Cigarette Smoking Man in Talitha Cumi, and all the references to ‘black cancer’ in Tunguska/Terma. So even when cancer is literally staring us in the face in this episode, we’re not thinking anything serious is going to happen, and we believe that right until Betts corners Scully in the ambulance, and says with genuine regret in his voice “I’m sorry, but you’ve got something I need.” The viewer is as shocked as Scully is. I know I was the first time I saw it.
There are so many interesting elements to this story, including the incredibly creepy relationship Leonard has with his mother,, when she learns what her son has done. It’s almost bizarrely touching the way she is willing to provide her cancer eating son, with her own disease in order to save him. Indeed, the fact that Betts is such a gifted paramedic makes you wonder if it was necessary to start this chase. He actually seems like such a nice guy, which is why its surprising how detached he is when he approaches his prey. Hell, we almost don’t mind when he kills the smoker, because that poor men looked like he was on borrowed time as it was.
And then there’s the denouement when Betts is dispatched (frankly, considering how much he managed to come back to life, it was almost a disappointment that Scully kills him so easily). And poor Scully deals with the shock, until she wakes in the middle of the night, coughing up blood, and facing the unimaginable. I will admit that I had major issues with the storyline that will be hanging over the second half of Season 4, but there are few moments as chilling as the seconds before it fades to black.
In addition to all its other virtues, the writers should be praised for accomplishing creating not only a memorable episode for the fans, but as something that would lure in an audience hanging around after a Super Bowl. They create an episode that has many of the show’s virtues and few problems, and then provides a moment at the end that would gut the long-time fan, and tantalize the casual viewer. Of course, they had to do some major episode shifting to get it there, but we’ll deal with the consequences of that in the weeks to come.
Score: 4.5 stars