Sunday, July 8, 2012

The X-Files: Underneath (9.12)

By this point, there's definitely a formula for these kinds of episodes. There are some grizzly prosthetics, visuals lifted straight from Se7en, a serial killer randomly pursuing innocent people to kill, a third-act supernatural plot twist. Rinse and repeat. It's only when the show manages to stumble upon a decent guest actor or add some dimension to the character himself that things actually brighten up a little. But it still can't disguise the fact that Underneath is another drab entry in the X-Files 'serial killer' wheelhouse.

It was used to similar effect back in Chimera, but I continue to like the concept of emotional denial manifesting as a separate entity. Here, W. Earl Brown ("get off my fucking windshield!") brings wounded subtlety to Robert M. Fassl (nothing screams 'psychopath' like a abbreviated middle name), so driven by Catholic guilt that his murderous urges have unknowingly summoned a whole different visage. It's just a cool idea, and John Shiban wrings some interesting character work from both Fassl's strangeness, as well as his lawyer's awkward sympathy for him.

At the same time, Doggett once again finds his allegiances tested. He comes into the episode determined to bring Fassl down, believing his release to be entirely unjustifiable. But gradually he begins to see things as a little less cut-and-dry and morally stable. While Fassl is a killer, there are levels to his psychosis that make his guilt more ambiguous, and Doggett's own relationship with the law and his old cop friends is similarly pulled into question, since they're not exactly good people either.

Underneath becomes something deeper whenever the emotional stakes are played up. When Shiban relies on stalk-and-slash blandness, it once again settles into generic X-Files hoodoo. Thankfully the results are more the former, but it's still a generally uninspiring hour. C+

Guest stars W. Earl Brown (Robert M. Fassl); Lisa Darr (Jana Fain); Alan Davidson (Bearded Man); Robert Curtis Brown (Damon Kaylor); Paul Vincent O'Connor (Brian Hutchinson); Arthur Nascarella (Duke Tomasick)
Writer John Shiban Director John Shiban

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