Friday, November 26, 2010

X-Files--"Fire"

“Fire” features a young Mark Sheppard, cynical lawyer Romo Lampkin from Battlestar Galactica, as a pyromaniac who can create fire with his mind. Even as far back as 1994, he already had the psychopath bad guy role down pat. The itself is interesting on many levels, but feels a bit incomplete at the same time.

Sheppard plays Cecil L’ively, a guy who has a short history of taking on jobs as the gardener, handyman, or chauffeur for wealthy British families and eventually kills the patriarch by setting him on fire. The only connection Scotland Yard can find between the murders is that L’ively sends love letters to his victims’ wives. A potential victim, Malcolm Marsden, flees with his family to his summer home in Massachusetts when his garage catches fire.

Phoebe Green, a Scotland Yard inspector, travels to the united States with him under the assumption the assumption lively will follow. She is an old flame of Mulder’s--pardon the reference. The episode has a theme going--from his Oxford University days. She lies to play mind games with him. It is revealed Mulder has an intense fear of fire because of a childhood incident. Green knows about it and therefore wants torment him with it.

L’ively works as the handyman for Marsden. He spends much of the episode painting the house in rocket fuel while scoping out Mrs. Marsden. He also appears to have a fascination with her two young boys. This is one of the elements I find incomplete. The psychological profile of the unknown to Mulder and Green arsonist is that he is sexually immature. Fire excites and his fascination with older, unreachable women is a result of his immaturity. Men who have that problem are often pedophiles. If L’ively was supposed to have pedophilic desires or he was making attempts to get the kids out of the way so he can have Mrs. Marsden to himself is not made clear.

Once he is identified, there is an impressive confrontation at the Marsden home with full pyrotechnic glory. It was done with a combination of real pyrotechnics--in one seen while facing off with Mulder across a hallway which he lights on fire, Sheppard clearly ducks out of the way to avoid the intense heat before the walls and ceiling burst into flames--and green screen work, both of which are impressive for the time period and relatively low first season budget. In the end, lively is doused with rocket fuel and accidentally immolates himself. Under arrest later in a hospital hyperbolic chamber, his completely charred body is steadily on its way to a full recovery.

I already talked about L’ively’s ambiguous interest in the boys as an incomplete aspect of the episode. Another is the way Green is portrayed. She is a manipulative witch who is literally jerking Mulder around for the heck of it. There are also hints she is having an affair with Marsden that are thrown in the mix during the third act. There are further hints she might become a recurring character, but that never pans out. The character does not resonate like she is obviously supposed to do. She does serve to make Scully jealous, so the ’shippers get something out of it.

As a dedicated X-Phile, I ought to know this, but does Mulder’s paralyzing fear of fire ever come up again in the future? I do not recall it ever doing so. Creator Chris Carter wrote “Fire,” so the aspect of the character comes from the head man himself. Now that I have pointed out I do not remember Mulder’s fire of fire ever being mentioned again, someone will point out a famous instance from a popular episode I will instantly remember once it is brought to my attention.

In spite of some flaws, I can see why “Fire” is a popular episode itself. Sheppard plays a great villain. There are loads of exciting action scenes, more so than the norm. It is a definite highlight of the first season.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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