Written by Scott Kaufer & Chris Carter
Directed by Michael Lange
At this point, it's getting harder to slog through some of the episodes which, despite changing the level of the sci-fi, are starting to get a certain level of sameness. It's yet another episode where one of the agents deals with a friends from the past, as well as the old cliché of a law enforcement agent trying to deal with a threat from the past. Backed by the horror cliché of a killer coming back from the dead. Followed with the cliché of the government involvement in all this. Really, there isn't room for much original material considering all the deadweight of these formulas.
Considering that Mulder will come to face some of the most horrible villains, human and inhuman, during his time on the series, it seems rather quaint to have him so up in arms about the possibility of an armed robber and murderer coming back and threatening him. (Perhaps he's truly upset that John Barnett keeps calling him by his first name, which even he admits he hates.) This doesn't have much force on its own, and is weakened even further by the fact that there is nothing original or special about this MOTW. A man is granted the Fountain of Youth, and he uses it to reek revenge on the men who put him in prison---- that's not a particularly original villain; it's not even a particularly original criminal, even if he does have the hand of a salamander.
I'll give some credit to Carter and Kaufer--- they at least tries to come up with a plausible explanation as to what makes Barnett younger. Using progeria--- one of the rarest and saddest diseases known to man--- adds an element of pathos that the episode would otherwise lack, and hard science that has been seriously lacking from a lot of the last episodes. Of course, it then tries to make it part of a government conspiracy, by having mysterious men, like Deep Throat and the Cigarette-Smoking man (who isn't even smoking in this episode) trying desperately to get the science for themselves. Don't they have shadowy government cabals to run?
There are a lot of episode in the X-Files canon that are derivative--- there are some this season that are that way--- but this one seems determined to move at such a slow pace, by being derivative. First, we see John Barnett die in the teaser. Then we see Mulder and Scully find out that John Barnett is dead. Then Scully learns from Mulder what happened when he and Barnett first met. Then we see a video tape of it happening. Then we have a flashback to a courtroom where Mulder testifies to what happened. It's as if the writers, rather than flesh out their story, have decided to engage in the most overly clichéd kind of padding imaginable. And the moment we see Mulder not take a killshot when he has to, we know that there's going to be a situation where he will do so again, and this time take the shot. There should be some significance from the fact that this is the first time we've seen Mulder kill somebody, but the way they drag out his final moments seems like just more padding. And the episodes ends with the hoariest of clichés, that we "haven't seen the last of John Barnett."
We're now nearly two-thirds of the way through the show's first season, and it seems like the series still doesn't have a clear road map. We can get chilling monsters of the week when Morgan & Wong are in the driver's seat, but Carter still seems determined to link everything to some kind of government conspiracy or alien pathology, even when it doesn't seem necessary. And with few exceptions, when other writers have tried to take the series into different places, they have no idea what works because Carter doesn't seem to know what works. Young at Heart is a MOTW that is neither scary nor interesting, and Carter clearly doesn't have any confidence, so he starts pulling out every trick in what is currently a rather limited book. It's not like this is really a terrible episode, but it's symptomatic of the larger problems with the series that it just seems ordinary. And for a series that's supposed to be paranormal, that's the worst thing that could happen to it.