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X-Files Episode Guide: Roland

X-Files Season 1, Episode 23


Written by Chris Ruppenthal
Directed by David Nutter

Now is the time to get concerned. It's never a good sign when a series decides to run the same story two weeks running. It's an even worse sign that this is what is happening in the first season of X-Files. There are some variations, but let's be brutally honest ---- essentially Born Again and Roland are the same story: a character comes back from the dead to seek some kind of vengeance. Only this time, instead of a creepy little kid, it's an autistic janitor, and he doesn't seem to have any real good reason to commit horribly brutal murders of people who he'd been friends with, and really weren't doing anything that deserved that much in the way of avenging.

That's one of the bigger problems with this episode. At least in Born Again, Charlie Morris had a legitimate reason to be resurrected--- he'd been brutally murdered by his fellow cops. In this episode a rocket scientist dies in an automobile accident before he gets a chance to finish an engine that can travel at Mach 15. Now I can understand why a scientist who spent his life on this project might be upset that he couldn't finish his job. What I don't understand--- and this episode never explains--- is why Arthur was so intent on savagely murdering his fellow scientists for only trying to follow through. Did he really want his name to be the first one on the journal that badly?

It's telling that the episode is far more interesting when it leaves the world of the scientists, and instead follows the adventures of the title character in his native environment. It's also telling that Roland seems less concerned about hurting the people he works for and is far more worried about hurting his girlfriend, and will do anything in his power to make sure that doesn't happen. (Why exactly he would hurt Tracy is never made clear; she never catches on to what is happening) Zeljko Ivanek is one of the most gifted character actors working today, and this episode occurred in the early part of his career when he was more associated with everyday men rather than bilious villains, and he gives one of the more inspired guest performances of the season. He inhabits Roland Fuller so completely that we can see the human being there. And that's yet another problem--- we have no clear idea as to whether Arthur Grable actually is in his twin brothers mind, so that when the episode meets it's climax, there's no aha moment which, for all it's fault's Born Again, did let us see.

Perhaps the flaws of the episode are the fact that yet again, Carter has handed the reins of the episode over to a novice writer, who seems to have only the vaguest ideas as to how the show works., and for some reason he goes to Howard Gordon as his model. He can't even come up with much in the way of novelty, and has a way of undercutting some of the most grisly scenes---- the one where we see the chalk outline over the places the unfortunate Dr. Keats meets his end with liquid nitrogen can't help but make you laugh, which makes it a little harder to take seriously the third act closer where Dr. Nollette 'kills Arthur by lowering the liquid nitrogen he's being cryogenically frozen in. He doesn't even have an imaginative way to figure out how to kill Nolette, so he repeats the teaser, only to have Roland come to his sense at the last possible moment (even though, technically, Nollette does deserve it more than the others.)

The basic excuse for this episode has to be the simple fact that we are just a week away from the end of the season, and everybody seems to be getting just a little slapdash in their work. With the exception of Ivanek's performance, none of the other guest actors are really up to snuff, and the direction and editing are flagging. The bigger problem is, with the exception of Morgan & Wong, and to a certain extent Carter, no one yet seems to have a clear vision of the series. There have been powerful moments and great suspense at times, but there hasn't been much in the way of consistency. With no clear idea what it's future might be, no one on The X-Files seems to yet know whether it deserves to have one, or, even if beyond the message here, there's more beyond the intense paranoia that occasionally seems to follow the conspiracy episodes. The series found it's mission statement early, but has not yet found away to define what its mission is. Right now, it seems to be focused more on supernatural concepts, which as this episode demonstrates, it keeps playing the same notes over and over again, and government conspiracies, which it still hasn't developed a unifying theme. Fortunately, we will be going somewhere soon. But while it was happening, I'm amazed any fans were watching consistently at all by this point.
My score: 2 stars.

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