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X-Files Episode Guide: Irresistible

X-FIles: Season 2, Episode 13

Rating:
Star5
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Star
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Written by Chris Carter
Directed by David Nutter

If Aubrey was an episode that, with a few minor changes, could've run in any police procedural, this episode seems to go even further by being the first real one that has no supernatural earmarks at all. What makes it so effective --- and very unsettling---- is that the villain is one of the truly most ordinary, and therefore more frightening than a lot of the so-called thriller X-Files.
After years of police procedurals like Special Victims Unit or Criminal Minds, where the most horrid of serial killers is just another day's work for the agents in charge, its almost refreshing to see someone disturbed about some of the horrors that they're witnessing. It's even more refreshing to see it almost regarded as a joke when Mulder and Scully are, for once, called in on something because the agent in charge thinks its paranormal in origin--- and then get told that it's something far more 'mundane'. Indeed, mundane is almost too polite a word to describe Donnie Pfaster, a man who looks completely ordinary when we see him in the funeral of the teaser, who we never see kill anyone, who never seems to so much as raise his voice, even at the episode's climax. Carter originally wrote Pfaster as a necrophiliac, but Fox forced him to change the character to make him more palatable, and this may be one of the rare occasions I'm grateful for standards and practice's meddling. There's something more unsettling about what Pfaster is doing, and we can understand why Scully is so revolted by it.
Anderson's performance is one of the best she has given so far. Scully has prided herself on being someone who doesn't back away from the darkness, so its fascinating to see her disturbed by what she's witnessing almost from the outset, and have to physically pull herself up each time a worsening crime accelerates the process. Indeed, she is so bothered that she does something we never see her to: call for help by seeing an FBI therapist. Karen Koseff is one of the more intriguing characters in the series--- calm, listening, gently guiding Scully to safety. She makes such am impression in her brief scene, I sincerely wish the writers had used her more often. God knows Scully could've used her help a lot over the years.
There are two complaints that inevitably get made about this episode. First, there is the fact this is yet another episode where Scully gets taken prisoner. However, this is one of the rare episodes where the abduction is necessary, as much of this is coming to terms with what happened to her during her disappearance earlier this season. There is something powerful about watching her fight back from the man whose actions have revolted her since the episode started. Then, there's the fact that Pfaster's morphing into various form--- ending in that of a demon--- seems a superfluous action to make this case into an X-Files. However, for once the effects serve a story purpose to make sure that we see how truly monstrous Pfaster is. (Given how both effects would be terribly abused when the show eventually caught up with him later on, one can see the point--- but one can't blame Carter for that.)
Admittedly, this is an episode which starts a rather unfortunate pattern trying to establish Scully's stoicism after even the most horrible events. One can almost make a drinking game based on how frequently we hear her say 'I'm fine' when, like when she uses it after she's been saved, she is clearly anything but. But this episode is exceptional, because this time, even she's willing to admit she's not fine. Who would be after going through something as horrific as this?
This is one of the high points of Season Two, as every element seems to work perfectly. Carter's script seems to have the usual amount of purple prose during the voiceover, but he more than makes up for it with one of his best villains, and some of the more memorable supporting characters. I really wish we'd seen more of Moe Bocks, as he's the rare agent who seems like Mulder's type of guy, and who seems to respect him all the way through the episode. Bruce Weitz gives a great example of how good a lawman he could be without quirks. The direction is well done, and the cinematography is top notch, particularly in the scenes in holding.
Irresistible demonstrates how well the show could play when it dared to strip away the paranormal and look into the face of evil. For much of the remainder of the series, at least once a season Mulder and Scully would leave the world of the paranormal, and take a look at some of the darkness within the human spirit. (The sequel would not be one of those episode, alas, but what can you do?) The closing shots of Pfaster as a child are somehow more terrifying than the ones of him morphing, because it reflects how evil can seem utterly banal, and more terrifying than any liver eating mutant or alien conspiracy.