Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Cliff Bole
And now, we see what Gilligan has been building to all year. All of Gilligan’s scripts in Season 4 have dealt with men whose extraordinary skills have somehow emphasized their utter ordinariness— which leads to poor Eddie Van Blundht, a man who takes the silent H in his name with more seriousness than the gift that enables him to shift into being anyone other than himself.
Eddie Van Blundht, Jr. is a loser, at least so thinks his high school girlfriend who has seen ‘Star Wars over 360 times, and is crazy enough to think that she has been impregnated by Luke Skywalker. It is clear that this is a man, who despite his exceptional ability never had anybody believe in him, especially not his own father. In retrospect, the sequence where Eddie impersonates his own father just so he can lay another level of scorn on his son is one of the saddest things the series has ever done—– even as his father, Eddie can’t imagine saying anything positive about him. And the scene where he impersonates Mulder in order to visit the mother of his child, and gets another load of insults on him, is cruel. It’s delightfully cruel comedy, but its cruel all the same.
It isn’t until the final act, though, that we realize what Gilligan has been aiming at as Eddie continues his impersonation of Mulder and finds out that the man he’s aping is, if anything, a bigger loser than him. A man who works in an office little bigger than a broom closet, who doesn’t have a bed in his apartment, whose only friends are utter nerds, and hasn’t had the decent sense to make a pass at the beautiful woman he works with for nearly four years. The saddest thing about this is that Eddie for all the scorn that gets heaped on him during this episode, is not a bad man. Sure he impersonates other people to achieve his ends, but he doesn’t hurt anybody, and when he does, he goes to elaborate means to make sure there all right. (We’ll get to the problem with what he does in a minute) Even whenever he impersonating woman’s husband, its clear that he tries to listen to them. That’s perhaps the most daring thing about his impersonation to Scully — he wants a genuine human connection so he pays attention and acts with consideration. There are very few characters like this in any series, much less villains on a sci-fi show.
It’s fitting that Darin Morgan is cast as Eddie in this episode. Not only is the script an homage to all of his comic gems in the last two seasons, but it can be seen as symbolically passing the torch of comic genius from him to Gilligan. One should be clear that Gilligan’s satire is not a brutal as Morgan’s , but its just as funny. There are any number of brilliant bits in the episode—- Scully absolute look of delight when Amanda reveals who the father of her child is, the look of ‘oh my god’ when Mulder chases after Eddie in the ob-gyn’s office. the look on Mulder’s face when he sees the doctor drop the towel that’s covering him, and how Eddie as Mulder seems both an utter klutz and someone trying to fit in. More than that, is the fact that Gilligan, like Morgan, has the comic insight to take keys bits of the mythology and turn them into comedy—- this episode takes the fundamental premise of the aliens we’ve seen—- the shape-shifter— and turns into a perfect joke
This is such a perfect episode that one is loathe to point out one of its most obvious flaws — the fact that while the script is very cute about Eddie’s crimes, the fact of the matter is Eddie is a multiple rapist. One can certainly see why Gilligan did it—-to make Eddie seem like such a harmless loser, he has to soft-pedal all the criminal actions that takes place. But the fact remains, he had sex with five women without their consent. One could sort of see this being done as part of a darker comedy— certainly the series will demonstrate it better in later episodes—- but it’s sort of swept under the rug, even when Eddie goes to prison. Its probably just as well that he didn’t— if we thought Scully was actually in danger in the long scene with Eddie/Mulder at her apartment, a lot of the comedy would go out the window. And we all know that part of the reason it gets such a big laugh at the ends, it’s because Mulder has broken down the door of Scully’s apartment to save her from… a kiss. (In retrospect, its hard to know whether X-philes everywhere were relieved or enraged that Mulder arrived when he did: we almost had it!)
One could also object to the fact that during this entire episode, Mulder and Scully are going through business as usual, as if Scully were not dying. But again, one can quickly forgive this because that’s Gilligan’s intention—- this is supposed to be a light and fluffy episode, and if the ‘c word’ came up during the show, well, it would completely ruin the mood.
A few months after this episode first aired, TV Guide put Small Potatoes as one of the two X-Files of the 100 greatest episodes of all time. (The other, perhaps not surprisingly, was Clyde Bruckman). I’m not entirely sure whether that was the best fit of the series. But one has to admit that this is one of the true gems of the series, arguably one of greatest episodes the show ever did. And even more than Morgan, Gilligan’s episodes were significant for showing the changes that series would make in the seasons to come, aiming for a lighter tone rather than darkness. Most of them would not be as good, but when the jokes were written by Gilligan, they would always ring true.
My score: 5 stars.