So let’s see, I reduced the number of episodes I talk about per ranking to three from four and it somehow takes me more time to write these? Ahhh the magic of laziness…
#9) Piper Maru
What is there not to like about Piper Maru? Its our first introduction to the black oil which would become a huge component of the mythology. We get some juicy Scully character moments which is a nice change of pace since the mythology up to this point had largely focused on Mulder (even when its Scully being abducted). Skinner pushes more and more into our protagonists’ corner and gets himself shot in the process. And Krycek gets one hell of a re-introduction. From ambushing Mulder in a Shanghai hotel to getting the shit kicked out of him in a Shanghai airport to being possessed mid-pee in a Shanghai bathroom, everything with Krycek is dramatic gold…
All of that good stuff is enhanced by great acting all around, a fantastic score (I love the music that plays when Scully is turning Mulder on with her knowledge of World War II airplanes), a fast pace, and a broadening of the overall storyline. In essence, this is a thrilling, finely tuned first-parter mythology episode.
So why is this episode not higher up? It comes down to the fact that some of the plot elements feel slightly contrived. Case in point–Scully goes to an old neighbor to see if he knew anything about an old WWII plane. Turns out he not only was part of a secret mission related directly to that plane but he also happens to have had first-hand experience with a certain alien substance that has massive implications on the entirety of the mythology. Not a big deal but enough to pull it down ever so slightly in this amazing season.
“In essence, this is a thrilling, finely tuned first-parter mythology episode.” Yes that is me plagiarizing what I wrote for Piper Maru and despite the moral issues of me doing so, its a perfect summation of my feelings.
Nisei is awesome from the opening shots of a train slowly rolling along to the thrilling cliffhanger where Mulder jumps onto a train that is rolling at a slightly faster pace. But what pushes it above Piper Maru is that Nisei’s connective tissue is a bit more cohesive. Mulder tracking the alien autopsy video to the Japanese diplomat to and train car is great and is maybe the most grounded in reality that the mythology would ever get.
Meanwhile, Nisei smoothly continues the journey Scully began in The Blessing Way Here she continues to recall what happened to her when she was abducted. It’s much creepier and existential than Mulder’s more immediate story-line but its no less compelling, seeing as it subtly sets up the cancer arc from Season 4. And I have to give it props for linking effectively and naturally to the main plot involving Dr. Ishimaru. It doesn’t feel cobbled together like her interactions with Johannson in Piper Maru.
But lets face it–the main reason this episode is higher than Piper Maru is that fantastic ending. Holy shit, everything about the sequence gives me chills. Scully and X challenging one another to see who can say “screw you” more defiantly with just their eyes, Mulder on a bridge with a train barreling towards him, Mark Snow’s score pounding. It all coalesces into my favorite cliff-hanger this side of Colony.
Back when I was a wee lad, I started watching The X-Files in the middle of Season 4 and I relied on the internet to tell me which episodes from the earlier seasons were the best. I didn’t see Oubliette mentioned often. So when I finally sat down to watch this when I got the DVD set, I was shocked by how damn good it really is.
Oubliette is terrifying in a very real-world kind of way. All of the scenes with Amy Jacobs and Carl Wade are gritty and uncomfortable due to that realistic nature. Kim Manners is awesome as usual with his direction, particularly in the scene where Wade is “stalking” Amy in the basement with his camera. Who knew that a red dot could be so terrifying?
Backing up the atmosphere and grit are the performances. I’m a sucker for whenever Mulder’s emotional trauma comes back to haunt him and I think its executed brilliantly here. Whereas episodes like Conduit (which I don’t like) and Paper Hearts (one of my three favorite episodes ever) are more overt with drawing comparisons to Samantha, Oubliette handles it with much more subtlety. Samantha is only mentioned once but you can feel her presence through Duchovny’s acting. And by not explicitly mentioning her, Mulder’s empathy and connection to Lucy Householder is made more powerful.
And wow, Tracy Ellis delivers one of my favorite guest performances (see what I had to say about her on The X-Cast podcast). I love that Lucy does not come off as obviously sympathetic. She’s cold, dismissive, and uninterested (at least outwardly) in helping out on the case. But I feel like that makes her character arc all the more engaging, her relationship with Mulder all the more endearing, and her sacrifice at the end all the more heartbreaking. I’m not ashamed to say I tear up every single damn time at the end…