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X-Files Episode Guide, 'Shadows'

X-Files, Season 1, Episode 6

Rating:
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Written by Glen Morgan & James Wong
Directed by Michael Kattleman

Good news first; this is better than The Jersey Devil. Bad news is, not much better. Morgan and Wong would write some of the best episodes of X-Files, and even their weakest scripts--- of which this is one--- were nothing less than serviceable, and considering that this is only their second episode of the series, it's almost forgivable. I'd be more inclined to give it leeway if Squeeze hadn't been so well assembled and made such brilliant use out of what was a simple concept.

If the main problem with Carter's last script was he didn't seem to be trying hard enough, Morgan & Wong seem to be trying a little too hard. So they try to give what would be a standard monster of the week more symbolic by having Mulder and Scully essentially called in to consult for the CIA, who promptly discard them. They make up for it by giving them a pretty decent reason for them to be investigating the psychokinetic deaths of what appear to be two muggers-- and then they try to make the episode more about that then the X-File.
Perhaps the bigger problem with the episode is that our two erstwhile heroes are given far less to do than usual. Again, this can be forgiven for the fact that the show had not yet found it's footing, and was still trying to figure out how much to involve its protagonists. Having them fall victim to the attack of a poltergeist? Pretty effective. Having them trying to figure out that Howard Graves is actually dead? That seems more of a waste of time, particularly considering that the audience has figured it out by the end of the second commercial break.

We're also obviously not very clear on who gets what role in the investigation. Mulder is more inclined to go to the paranormal explanation; Scully holds to the more realistic side of it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. It doesn't help matter that Mulder almost inevitably becomes the one who sees the supernatural, leaving Scully coming across with logical reasons why it couldn't have happened. (Eventually, this will become repeated to the point of parody.) But in these early stages, it's actually refreshing when Scully tries to convince Lauren to do the right thing because that's what Howard would've wanted, and then calmly explain to Mulder why she lied to her.

Technically speaking, there's very little actually wrong with Shadows--- there just isn't a lot that's actually right. All of the characters are essentially one-dimensional, which in turn more or less flattens the performances. Lauren may have been close to Howard, but there's a long way to go from that to him thinking of her like a daughter. And all the script does to show that is basically have her get upset when she sees them painting over his parking space. Considering that this relationship is critical to the premise, they could've come up with a better explanation then her being the same age as his daughter. The potential terrorist connection is interesting at first, but then starts to make less when you look at it up close--- if Dorland is going to so much trouble to make sure there are no links between him and the terrorists, using them in the first attempt to kill her seems particularly clumsy. It just screams 'plot point' in a way most Morgan & Wong scripts don't. And the idea that Howard's specter would continue to watch over her, and is eventually revealed to be yet another tease--- that just seems even sillier, and more inclined to be forcing a point. And that last discussion about the Liberty Bell was just plain weird

Perhaps the biggest problem with Shadows is by comparing it to, well, every other Morgan & Wong episode for The X-Files (especially the next three), instead of comparing it to the last two episodes that have so far aired, and a fair amount of the first season. The plot points are better, the supernatural elements seems far less ludicrous than they did in the last one, and Mulder and Scully actually get to do something worthy of their talents. But in comparison with almost everything the writers did for The X-Files (for that matter, almost everything they did when working with Ten-Thirteen), it seems rather weak tea indeed. It's just another riff off an old plot staple--- Howard, the not so friendly Ghost---- and it severely lacks the sense of humor that other paranormal show would find when mining the same vein. I'm thinking of Angel in particular, when Cordelia's apartment was revealed to be haunted... and the ghost became something of a running joke for the next three seasons. That's another big problem--- the show is already taking itself far too seriously. But the writers would learn from that too --- just not that fast.