season 3, episode 4, “clyde bruckman’s final repose”
aired: 10.13.95 (hey! 1013!)
my last review of darin morgan’s first episode, “humbug,” was just a quick “i love this episode, you should watch it” type of throw away review. the whole episode is chock full of great moments, i was too overwhelmed to review it in depth. i can’t cower at that duty on “clyde bruckman’s final repose.” it, too, is filled with delightful moments from start to finish, but i want to delve deep into its ethos. as wonderful as “humbug” is, it is probably darin morgan’s weakest “x-files” episode. it was his first ‘written by’ episode after getting the ‘story by’ credit on “blood.” he probably hadn’t gotten into his groove yet, but some of his trademark themes were present.
one of those themes is misdirection and that is the central theme of “clyde bruckman.” we are being misled from the beginning. the detectives at the crime scene are talking about a “spooky” expert they are bringing in to assist on the case. we obviously assume it’s mulder, but when him and scully walk in they don’t know who they are or why they are there. then the stupendous yappi enters and we learn that this hokey celebrity prognosticator was about whom they were speaking. yappi senses negative energy and we, of course, presume that it is scully’s skeptic vibes he is feeling. but, no, it’s mulder who he promptly kicks out. later, mulder walks into bruckman’s room where bruckman says with his eyes covered “i knew it was you” and then proceeds to describe why he thinks agent mulder is there to see him and it is all correct. then bruckman opens his eyes and sees mulder and says, “oh, it’s you.” we are constantly being presented with situations in which the outcome should be obvious and then it is revealed as something completely different. it keeps you on your toes. it keeps you thinking and wondering how they will mislead you next. its paradoxicalness is the charm. and despite his doom and gloom melancholiness, bruckman is the heart of that paradox and thus the episode’s charm. the way peter boyle plays bruckman leaves you delighted that you’ve been misled rather than frustrated. in two instances he spouts off details that make it seem like he has psychic abilities and then it turns out to be an utterly ordinary and non-supernatural explanation. and just when they have the evidence to identify the killer with good old fashioned forensics, scully solves it based on a hunch. turning our preconceived notions of “the x-files” precepts on its head.
the manner in which this episode is shot contributes to this theme. the framing plays heavy with foreground and background space. often mulder and scully are out of focus in the background illustrating how the agents’ handle on this case and bruckman’s supposed abilities is a bit fuzzy. the camera angles are in service of the misdirection. there’s a great profile shot of the stupendous yappi sizing up scully and then turning to mulder and doubting his beliefs. sometimes even the blocking adds to the story even when it feels contrived. the little dance that bruckman and the killer do in the beginning and then scully doing it with the killer as the bellhop later each time seems somewhat cheesy, but it still works and aligns with the charm with which this episode is saturated.
i credit peter boyle/clyde bruckman for all that charm, but special recognition goes to gillian anderson/scully interacting with him. their scenes together are some of the highlights. scully doesn’t believe that he has psychic abilities, but she doesn’t make fun of him or respond rudely to it. she just calls it as she sees it, to quote bruckman. she tells him on their nice little stroll through the woods when he explains his big bopper theory, “i’m not one who readily believes in that sort of thing and even if i was, i wouldn’t believe that story.” she’s not mocking him, she’s just stating, matter-of-factly, her position on it. when he tells her that he sees their end taking place in bed together, she politely says, “there are hits and there are misses and then there are misses.” having already made it clear (in the sweet way only scully can) that she doesn’t believe she asks him when he is prognosticating, “can you see him physically yet?” she asks it with complete sincerity and doesn’t come off as a hypocrite or sarcastic. he says, no it’s just “more insight into his character that i know you hate.” these two understand each other on another level and after knowing each other for such a short time. she seems to be enjoying herself as she stands guard over him. they play cards and she tells him the story of moby dick. we all know how she holds that dear, that having been a part of her relationship with her father. she doesn’t believe, but she can’t resist the chance to ask him how she dies. she was able to withstand asking for a while, but getting to know him better has made her think twice about dismissing him. even rational dr. scully had to ask. his answer is “you don’t.” i love how this response became almost canon. darin morgan stated that he didn’t really mean much by that line, but the fans took it as proof that scully is immortal. bruckman was right about every other death he predicted. how can we deny his prediction on this one? and this theory is practically supported by the season six episode, “tithonus,” where scully purportedly contracts the immortality with which the photographer was plagued.
another reason why darin morgan scripts are so unique and quirky yet filled with so much heart is his ability to pose some of life’s biggest questions through these odd but deeply human characters. people who don’t fit in with the status quo, people who are different who view life from the outskirts of normalcy. “humbug” brought us to a town filled with these eccentric individuals. clyde bruckman is one of them living amongst an average populace. furthermore, bruckman believes his abilities stemmed from asking one of these big life questions: the role that chance plays in our lives, all the things that have to conspire to bring us to exact moments of life changing consequence. and how looking so hard into that philosophy can drain the very meaning of life from you. mulder asks, “if the future is written then why bother to do anything?” “now you’re catching on,” he responds. the killer doesn’t know why he does the things that he does. why do any of us do the things that we do? (why does that woman collect dolls?) bruckman tells the killer he does it because he’s a homicidal maniac and the killer is so relieved to have an answer. does bruckman know that’s why? is he being sarcastic? is that really why? scully says “nobody does anything without a reason.” but, isn’t that just what this killer is doing? trying to find out the reason because he can’t figure out his own motives. and the universe leads him to the answer. to bruckman. who with that theme of misdirection reveals the reason is the most obvious, but at the same time doesn’t explain anything at all. just as agent mulder is about to be killed by the suspect, an elevator door opens and scully is there at the perfect time to stop him. she says she got on a service elevator by accident and was there purely by coincidence. she’s not only immortal, she’s mulder’s guardian angel, too, it seems.
“humbug” was “the x-files'” first funny episode. darin morgan realized that as serious as the show is, it can still laugh at itself and that has served to be the source of many of the best episodes. just ask any phile what their favorite episode is and most likely it will be a humorous episode that pokes fun at itself. “jose chung’s from outer space,” “bad blood, and “small potatoes” (starring darin morgan), to name a few, subvert their own genres by pointing out the absurdities of them. figuring out how to do this well and early on benefited them by not letting the audience beat them to the punch and, in turn, felt like a gift to the audience. not many shows can pull that off.
wandering thoughts (lots and lots of thoughts):
i love how both mulder and scully think the stupendous yappi is absurd and silently make fun of him with just their looks to each other.
the stupendous yappi’s eyebrows are an x-file unto themselves.
what is scully thinking when bruckman says, “it seems like everyone is having sex except for me?” when they cut to her she is contemplatively staring off. is she wondering the same thing?
poor mulder. i hope he really doesn’t die of autoerotic asphyxiation. it is a quite undignified way to go. hopefully, bruckman was just messing with him. as an aside, david duchovny’s character in “full frontal” does die in just that manner.
the “can’t see the forest through the trees” line in the forest talking about what they are talking about is a perfect example of darin morgan’s nuanced genius.
i love that darin morgan always gives mulder shit in his scripts.
darin morgan really must find pie to be funny.
it kind of bothers me that when bruckman tells mulder his recurring dream, he says he’s completely naked, but the dream image has him clothed. not that i want to see a naked peter boyle…
i like the fact that mulder and scully trade places as believer and skeptic towards the end of the episode. mulder has preconceived notions about psychic abilities (and can’t see the forest through the trees) and scully takes the events and the relation to the predictions as they come and is able to see the bigger picture.
scully gets a dog!
nice touch having scully watch a laurel and hardy movie that ends with the quote, “another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”
did you know? behind the scenes facts:
peter boyle and darin morgan both won emmys for this episode.
when scully and bruckman are playing cards, bruckman’s hand is what is called a ‘dead man’s hand’ with three aces including both black ones and two black eights.
“beyond the sea” reference: mulder tried to fool luther lee boggs by telling him a scrap of his own new york knicks shirt was evidence in the crime. he shows it to bruckman who guesses that it is mulder’s, ripped off his new york knicks shirt. mulder tells him he’s wrong.
jaap broeker who played the stupendous yappi was david duchovny’s stand in.
scully gazes at mulder when he says the victim was a tea leaves reader. she seems impressed.
scully only cares about bruckman’s vision when it foresees danger for mulder.
never has the word ‘coincidence’ sounded so sexual as when these two are saying it to each other.
puppet: “you’re a fortune teller. you should’ve seen this coming.”
s: “i can’t take you anywhere.”
s: “oh, so now you’re psychic?”
bruckman: “i’m supposed to believe that’s a real name?”
s: “i’m sorry, i didn’t mean to give off any negative energy.”
m: “be honest, scully. doesn’t that propane tank bear more than just a slight resemblance to a fat little white nazi stormtrooper?” […] s: “yes, it looks like a fat little white nazi storm trooper, but that only proves my point.”
bruckman: “you know, there are worse ways to go, but i can’t think of a more undignified way than autoerotic asphyxiation.”
s: “chantilly lace?” m: “you know what i like.”
m: “if coincidences are just coincidences then why do they feel so contrived?”
s: “studying background checks. this is what detective work is really like. we can’t come up with suspects by having visions.” bruckman: “jealous?”