Monday, February 28, 2011

The X-Files: Unusual Suspects (5.3)

The Lone Gunmen have always had the potential to bug. Any kind of overly nerdy character is risky like that, their comedic characteristics potentially being overwritten in such a way that they become obnoxious. Even better, that shining the spotlight on such characters could backfire. Unusual Suspects is an odd episode in that it wasn't created organically, but to fill time. With David and Gillian filming the X-Files movie over summer hiatus, this episode was hastily written and shot pre-Redux, to allow our two protagonists time to finish shooting. Surprisingly, Unusual Suspects isn't an epic fail as a result. It's not exactly a work of genius like various other Vince Gilligan episodes, but it's pretty fun.

Unusual Suspects is structured like a caper movie, with elements put in play that are soon thrown up in the air, a series of attempts to break into/break out of warehouses, and various attempts at hacking into databases of some kind. It's all a lot of fun. Also thrown in is a wrap-around structure straight from The Usual Suspects, from which the episode gets its title. That element was a little unnecessary, but it was fun to see Richard Belzer as his Law & Order/Homicide character.

Munch's appearance hints at the possibility that none of what we see is actually real. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, another episode narrated by The Lone Gunmen, also tows the line between believable conspiracy hoodoo and wacky contrivance, an aspect that is remade here. Some of the plot twists in Unusual Suspects are a little far-fetched, like the fantasies of a nerd in his mom's basement. We have a sexy woman on the run, a famous TV cop on your tail, and only the nerd can save the day. It reads like fan-fiction, which is potentially what Gilligan was aiming for.

With that in mind, Unusual Suspects is a fantasy episode of the most basic kind, at least for this show. It's silly, over-ambitious and just a little bit uncalled for at this point in season five, but somehow it works. B

Guest stars Richard Belzer (John Munch); Signy Coleman (Susanne Modeski); Bruce Harwood (John Fitzgerald Byers); Tom Braidwood (Melvin Frohike); Dean Haglund (Ringo Langly); Steven Williams (X)
Writer Vince Gilligan Director Kim Manners

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