Story by Howard Gordon; Written by Gordon and Chris Carter
Directed by Michael Lange
There are problems all over with this episode, but what mainly comes across is mainly missed opportunity. We are given a subject that could be as deeply personal to Skinner as the last episode was to Mulder— a story about a Vietnam POW who is exacting a bloody revenge on the men who left him and others like him to die. Yet except for a line that is practically a throwaway in the first act, there’s next to nothing about or from Skinner at all. It’s very telling that most significant line about the whole affair comes in the final speech by Mulder, and has a real resonance. But this is a connection that he shouldn’t have needed to make.
There are all kinds of structural problems as well. There’s the obvious fact that for the second straight episode, we have nothing at all having to do with Scully’s cancer, and whereas that was a flaw of scheduling in Kaddish, there’s no real excuse here. (Pedants would argue that based on the date that we see flashed this episode, Carter and Gordon did really cover their ass. But even the most loyal viewer would’ve missed that. I know I did the first time I saw. Then there’s the fact that for some reason, we get handed the climatic scene of the episode in the teaser—- and then, it’s repeated at the climax, for no good reason. It isn’t any more unnerving then when we see it the first time, and by now we’ve gotten the point. So why do it?
Then there’s the most obvious problem of all— that this is an obvious rip-off of a much better episode written by the exact same writer. Where Sleepless had a way of tapping into the anger of soldiers in the Vietnam War being experimented to make a superior soldier, it had a way of making the attacks novel and chilling. This is done with all the quickness of a bullet to the brain, and even Mulder picks up by the third death that their assassin is following a pattern keeping with the first death. Also there’s the fact that Augustus Cole was a more compelling almost tragic figure, and Nathaniel Teager is mostly just a cipher. There are some good scenes that show he is not a merciless killing machine—- and the last scene between Teager and a fellow Vietnam vet is actually very moving—- but otherwise, he might just as well be any of a dozen other killers on this series. And while there is something rather subtle about the way that veterans of this war tend to turn invisible and forgotten when they get home, it only works as a metaphor if you do it once. The scene where General Steffan is killed in the most secure army base in the country is one of the more chilling, but it never explains how Teager can learn to exploit a blind spot in people, but not in technology.
Carter seems to know that this episode is rather slim pickings, so he tries to jazz it up a bit by having Covarrubias show up, link it to another government conspiracy, and then reveal that Skinner was selected to this solely to fail. There’s a certain twist there, but it’s not much to actually hang an episode on, especially because the revelation she has about who his third victim will be is obvious by the Law of Economy of Characters. In which case, why bring her in? Covarrubias is starting to feel like a younger, more attractive Deep Throat, in that she’s being drawn in on episodes that should be traditional for an add of conspiracy. It didn’t work particularly well then either, and it barely works here.
Perhaps the real problem with this episode is that right after the exact same kind of script by the exact same writer. Once again, this was a flaw of scheduling more than anything else, but even if Unrequited had come after Memento Mori, it probably wouldn’t seem better, because sadly, its a retread from a writer who should know better by now. There’s some anger and some neat effects, but just when it seems to be getting to what be the meat of the story—- the military’s denial that Teager was ever there, that they used the militia group in order to discredit it— the episode comes to an end. Maybe that’s what the title of the episode is supposed to refer to —- our feelings towards an episode that wants us to admire its ambitions, without noticing that we’ve seen it before.
My score: 2.5 stars.