Written by Glen Morgan & James Wong
Directed by David Nutter
And now, the high point of the first season. About the only thing about this episode that's wrong is that, given the slipshod nature of the series so far, we're not expecting something so emotionally daring or brilliantly executed. This is, after all, the show that gave us Fire one week ago. Considering that this is, like so many of the first season, another story that tries to make a case more pertinent because it links to one of the agents past, it shows just how pedestrian and plebian they were. This may not be the first truly great X-Files episode, but it is the first one that shows the series emotional power and depth. And it also demonstrates just how brilliant an actress Gillian Anderson is, which is not a small thing, considering all the pressure that has been put on her coming into this series.
Scully comes into this episode on an emotional peak. Her father, who we can tell in the teaser, she had an awkward relation with recently, has passed away. And for the first time in the series, she seems more inclined to consider extreme possibilities, because she's trying to think with her heart instead of her brain. The series will occasionally reverse Mulder and Scully's roles, but they will all seem weaker, because none of the episode's are this personal. What's more shocking, is how easily Mulder is willing to dismiss Boggs as a fraud, and how willing--- no matter how reluctantly--- Scully is willing to consider the possibility that's his self-professed psychic powers are real. We know that Boggs is lying about what he knows--- we're just not sure how much.
It's also a significant episode because, for the first time, the X-Files seems far less important than the personal drama. Which is really saying something because Boggs would be interesting to watch in his own right. Brad Dourif gives the first truly magnificent performance by a guest star on this series. At this stage in Dourif's long career, he was still considered mainly for villainous genre roles. Luther Lee Boggs is self-described by Mulder as the most monstrous of killers, a man so manipulative he is willing to sacrifice the lives of two teenagers to save his own. And then, Morgan and Wong's script does something incredible--- it humanizes him. With each successive appearance, he seems less monstrous, and more a scared little man, until by the time he's about to be executed, walking past the faces of all his victims, we actually feel sympathy for him. By the time Scully reveals that Boggs is not orchestrating events, it almost doesn't matter--- even if he had, we'd still feel genuine empathy with a man whose murdered (by the looks of that final walk to the gas chamber) dozens of people.
So it really says something that the kidnapping and possible deaths of two teenagers actually play second fiddle to Scully's emotional drama. When she walks into her office, trying to act as if everything is normal (and it's wonderful watching Mulder trying to find a way to comfort her with his awkward use of 'Dana'), she actually seems willing to do something that the last few months haven't managed to do--- believe in the paranormal. Even after his death, she is still trying to somehow win her father's approval, and it's wonderful how her mother tries to comfort her. The episode should also be noticed for the first use of Sheila Larken as Maggie, Scully's mother. She is one of the few people in the entire series run who wears her heart on her sleeve, and who possesses the command and devotion that so many other characters lack. (Which is good, because every time her character shows up, it's a good sign we're about to go through the wringer.)
Gillian Anderson is simply extraordinary in this episode. From her disbelief when she sees her father's image in the teaser, to her barely controllable rage when she storms into Boggs' cell when Mulder is shot, saying that she will throw the switch herself if anything happens to her partner, to the way she frantically tries to regain her skepticism at Mulder's hospital bed, it is a performance which hits every possible note, and hits them right. After seeing everything she's seen in the course of the episode, we can see she's still desperate for something. The fact that, in the last analysis, she decides to stay by her partner's hospital bed rather than give in to some emotional need, is one of the critical junctures in the series --- it's when the series elects to chose people over the belief in the supernatural. The way she tells Mulder with a confidence that is unshakable that she knows that her father loved her. No message from the afterlife is necessary to convince her of that.
In this episode, Morgan and Wong continue to demonstrates that they, by far, have the most critical understanding of what The X-Files needs. In Squeeze, they gave the show a purpose other than chasing down aliens every episode; in Ice, they demonstrated how vital it was to have our heroes at the center of the case rather than merely observing. Now, they demonstrate that faith--- not proof, but faith--- is far more important to the characters central beliefs. Scully may not yet be willing to accept she believes in the paranormal, but she does have belief in more important things. That will, even when Morgan and Wong exit the series, become critical to our characters.
X-Files may not have a true identity yet--- we've still got a lot of chaff to go through before we reach the good stuff--- but episodes like Beyond The Sea demonstrate that the series can, and in good time, will find one. Episodes like this will be the reason we watch TV in the first place.