I’ve re-watched The X-Files so many times but its been years since I just randomly popped in an episode and enjoyed it. I’m rigidly stubborn and have to watch things in order. Well I just had a kid and kids force you to adjust, dammit! So one way I adjusted is that I ranked the first season based on how well I feel Mulder impacted each episode and am then watching them in reverse order, paying special attention to him. (So yeah, I decided that right after having a kid is a great opportunity to waste more time).
So here we go with #23 in Season 1 for Mulder and looks like Lazarus will not be rising any higher in these rankings.
#23 may seem far too low for Lazarus, seeing as Mulder is my favorite part of the episode and it’s not a bad episode. There are much worse steaming piles of episodic crap this season such as Space , The Jersey Devil, Born Again, or Young at Heart. But when I think about ranking episodes based on Fox Mulder’s impact, an important factor is how much Mulder is actually there. Unfortunately, Lazarus treats Mulder as a glorified guest-star, instead focusing on the charisma-black hole that is Jack Willis.
On one hand, David Duchovny is good here which is not surprising considering director David Nutter had a way of getting the most out of him in Season 1 (even in subpar episodes like Shapes). His dialogue is crisp during the first half of the episode with a nice balance of Mulderisms and theories. His few scenes with Scully have that breezy rapport and their chemistry is great as usual. There’s even some tiny little character moments for Mulder which I didn’t expect going into this rewatch. Its subtle but he takes a softer approach with Scully at the end of this one than usual. When she questions the meaning of the stopped wrist-watch, he’s in tune with what Scully needs in the moment. He gives her space and allows her to draw her own conclusions rather than launch into some pretentious diatribe about the truth and paranormal phenomenon that you know he is just dying to.
Unfortunately, Lazarus is the least screen-time Mulder gets all season long, with the seminal Beyond the Sea being the only other Season 1 episode where he’s onscreen for less than half the runtime. Splitting our loveable duo up would eventually become one of The X-Files’s unheralded strengths but here in the 15th episode, the show isn’t quite able to handle that as deftly as something like The Erlenmeyer Flask. Consequently, we get a really poorly balanced episode of Mulder.
There are large swaths of the episode where Mulder just isn’t involved. Lazarus is about Jack Willis, Warren Dupree, and Lula Phillips, none of whom can carry a single goddamn scene without putting me to sleep. The first half of the episode is where most of the good Mulder moments occur but doesn’t introduce Mulder until over seven minutes in. And once he comes onboard, his scenes never build up momentum because we keep getting dull interludes with Jack.
Then the second half starts and instead of charming Mulder being interrupted by Jack Willis’ maudlin existential crisis, we get cliched-cop-show-Mulder being interrupted by a super lethargic hostage situation that doesn’t go anywhere. Nearly all of the qualities I praised earlier for Mulder have been replaced with the most generic version of Mulder possible. Sure there are small nice bits; his rapport with Agent Bruskin is refreshingly positive and his partnership with the tech expert in pinpointing Scully’s location is something I wish the show would do more in later seasons. But both of those examples are good because of the other characters involved. Mulder himself becomes far less interesting during the second half; we’ve just got a bunch of generic handwringing and angst over Scully’s kidnapping. We’ve got Mulder listening to Jack’s profiling tapes but that scene literally serves no purpose and just gives us more insight into Dupree and Lula’s boring-ass relationship. We get to listen to Mulder threaten Lula if she hurts Scully but his heart doesn’t seem all that into it. And we have Mulder briefing the FBI agents and vaguely articulating how much Scully means to him. These scenes all feels like the writers’ checking those boxes to make sure they hit all the necessary television hostage situation tropes and cliches. Scully’s predicament never feels dire which consequently can be felt in Duchovny’s performance. Contrast this with something like One Breath, Irresistible, or Unruhe and its pretty glaring.
Even the good Mulder bits early in the episode are not beyond reproach. He’s charismatic, charming, and effective…but it also feels like a bit much. I mean, he freakin’ solves the entire case by his second scene! And its not just the paranormal stuff either; he’s literally solving everything. He’s the one who hones in on Willis going for the wedding ring, he’s the one who offhandedly makes a comment indicating Lula Phillips may have set Dupree up, he’s the one who figures out that Tommy was watching TV before being killed, and of course he’s the one who deduces the correct paranormal theory and tests it on Jack. While Scully stands around being utterly ineffective, Mulder is making leaps, observing subtle details about the case, noting forensic evidence, and running off to the store to buy birthday cards for his partner’s ex. Is there anything this guy can’t do??
It’s clear that writers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon weren’t interested in keeping things a mystery and just wanted to set up a dull-as-shit third act hostage situation. Unfortunately, the way they go about it is by making Mulder into literally the most efficient agent in the history of the FBI while also making Scully so ridiculously ignorant. I love Scully but she’s handled very poorly in Lazarus and that lack of balance between the two of them is a weight on the entire episode. It would have been nice to have Scully be a bit more effective, considering this is actually a Scully-centric episode. Lazarus treats Scully like she’s not very competent which makes me enjoy Mulder’s interactions with her less than I would like.
It also would have been nice if Mulder had been a bit more diligent with his theories to Scully. If Mulder was truly convinced that Willis was not really Willis but instead a hardened criminal, you would think he would have tried to impart on Scully how dangerous this situation could be. But nope, instead he just waltzes into a scene, solves everything, talks to Scully…and then drops it?! It feels like a contrivance to get that hostage crap started.
In the end, the main reason I have this at #23 is that this is as far from being a Mulder episode as possible. He’s in it less than any other episode during the season, he’s overly effective in the beginning just to service the plot, and he’s overly generic in the second half because the episode doesn’t have any stakes. He has his nice one-liners and clever moments but they are too diluted to make this any higher for me.
And now for some random Mulder tidbits.
1.) Number of sarcastic Mulder jokes: 3
Nothing super funny or inappropriate; he’s just low-key charming with lines such as “the plot thickens” and “buuuut what does it look like?” Though Scully might actually find him pretty damn annoying. Then again, he’s an absolute riot when comparing him to her ex, Jack Willis.
2.) Number of times Mulder becomes self-righteous: 0
This is actually a problem with the episode…Mulder’s sole purpose is to solve the case early on with as few frivolous Mulder moments as possible which drains some of the fun. Its a testament to David Duchovny’s grasp of Mulder as a character that he’s so damn enjoyable in that first half.
3.) Number of Mulder theories/leaps/or just good FBI work: 7
Holy crap, I feel like Scully should have brought up Mulder’s performance in this episode when Skinner and the Cigarette Smoking Man grill her in Tooms. The man is an absolute savant in this one. The leap he makes in his second scene that Dupree came back in Willis’ body stretches credibility a bit, but I do like that Mulder immediately latches onto the fact that Willis was profiling Dupree. Its a natural progression of thought for Mulder considering he’s a brilliant criminal profiler and knows what its like trying to get into someone’s head (something Mulder deals with intimately in Grotesque and Paper Hearts). This paves the way for his giant leap to not be a complete ass pull.
4.) Number of times Mulder’s voice goes into that trademark sad “Duchovnyish-Whisper”: 1
That final interaction between Mulder and Scully is probably the best part of the episode. It really highlights one of Mulder’s greatest strength, his compassion.
5.) Number of times Mulder’s gun is drawn: 1
He has his gun drawn during the final raid on Lula Phillips’ house but he does nothing with it because Lazarus is determined to have neither Mulder nor Scully actually impact the ending.
6.) Number of times Mulder is in danger: 0
Yeah this is not that type of episode.
7.) Number of fiery Mulder interactions: 1 (ish)
I guess him yelling “Dana” a couple of times counts? But there’s no way I’m counting his “intense” conversation with Lula.
8.) Number of adorable Mulder/Scully moments: 2
I’ve already talked about that final conversation but you gotta love the look he gives Scully when she reveals she and Willis dated and the way she averts his gaze. Also, I wouldn’t count this as a cute moment, but I really enjoy the fact that he has no qualms about telling Scully “you were right” when Willis waltzes into Tommy’s apartment during the investigation. Mulder might be arrogant and narcissistic but he’s always quick to give Scully credit.