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X-Files Episode Guide: Fire

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X-Files Season 1, Episode 12


Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Larry Shaw

There is a tendency of fans of any show to automatically hate any extraneous characters who has been romantically attached to a protagonist in the past, and The X-Files is no exception. People hate Fire because of the odious nature of Phoebe Green, an ex-girlfriend of Mulder's when he was in college, who has risen to the ranks of Scotland Yard Inspector. (This has not stopped a frankly rather alarming amount of fanfiction being written about Mulder and Phoebe) This strikes me as a rather stupid reason to automatically hate this episode, when there are so many legitimate reasons to dislike it.

First of all, there's the fact that the villain is one of most ludicrous ones in the entire series, and this is the show that brought us a killer computer just a few weeks ago. There is no explanation as to any of his actions, and no consistency. First. he's meticulously spending weeks trying to get close to the Marsden family; the next, he's burning a bar to the ground to--- what? impress a patron? taunt the police? Give the f/x department a manageable monster? There's no discernible motive as to why he's attacking the Marsden family. There are hints that he might have fancied the wife, but if that's the case, why go to such lengths to get in her household, and then spend his entire stay ignoring her? And even if that is the case, why the hell did he bother attacking the other members of Parliament that we hear about? Was he in love with her ,too? Mark Sheppard, who plays L'Ively would go on to become one of the most engaging and utilized character actors in TV. However, in this episode, he comes across as someone who can't decide whether he's charismatic, sinister, or funny. So he tries to do much, and is none. This is probably not his fault, Carter gives him next to nothing to work with.

To add to the fact that pyrokinesis is a rather limited one for the show to be exploring, there's also the rather unhappy fact that Carter still has no idea what to do with his characters. Duchovny spends the entire episode looking like he's swallowed a lemon, because frankly Mulder is being painted so terribly here. First of all, there's his fear of fire, which will never be explored again, despite the many, many time in this series run things explode. Instead, there are two absolutely ghastly scenes where he tries to be heroic, and instead looks useless, whether it's trying to save two children, where he collapses, and has to be carried out by two hulking firemen, or when he rather pathetically tries to put out flaming picture with a bed sheet.. But even this would be preferable to the way, he has to behave alongside Phoebe. He has to be appalled enough by her head games and manipulations of him, but attracted enough, so he can end up sharing a dance with her and stealing a kiss. There are very few actors who could pull this off, and most of the time, Mulder comes off looking terrible. But that's not hard to understand, considering that every other character comes off looking as either creepy or a fool. From the arson expert who comes away sounding more obsessed with fires than L'Ively is, to the bar patron who seems more upset that she was caught stepping out on her boyfriend then suffering second degree burns, none of these characters seems to have any depth or realty to them, which, considering how well done the last few episodes have been, is rather dismaying.

Which brings us to Amanda Pays, that poor woman. Pays is one of the better actresses around, but she's been maligned a little unfairly, because all of the problems with Phoebe land squarely on the shoulders of Carter. Perhaps knowing he's come up with a rather crappy villain, he tries a Season one trick of having a character's from Mulder's past become involved, and instead creates one of the worst character in this show's history. We hate her before we ever see her, with what seems to be the most horrible joke a person can play on a human being, we understand immediately why Mulder loathes her. She then spends the rest of the episode proving she is absolutely the worst kind of police there is, making procedural mistake one after the other, all because she seems to be having an affair with Marsden. All the while, she's simultaneously taunting and passive-aggressively torturing Mulder. There's probably nothing that could've make Phoebe likable, but Carter could've at least tried to make her competent. Simultaneously, he spends so much of the episode on Mulder and Phoebe, that they basically give Scully nothing to do--- and she still solves the case before they do.

This is just an episode that plain and simple doesn't work, and what makes it more alarming is the fact that we're halfway through the first season, and Carter still doesn't seem to have a grip on the characters he created or what he wants to do with them. At this early stage, it's not a huge drawback--- the other writers are helping carry the show. But the fact that the man who created the series doesn't know how to utilize them properly has alarming precedents for the show's future--- which given episodes like Fire, lead one to think it still might not have much of one.