X-Files Flashback: ‘D.P.O.’


Season 3, Episode 3
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Howard Gordon

The X-Files returns from a journey into its byzantine alien mythology with a “monster of the week” episode, “D.P.O.” If breaking from the convoluted conspiracy theories wasn’t enough to make you leap for joy, then the fantastic opening sequence should light a fire under you. Not only does it take place in a legitimate video arcade, but it also costars Jack Black and Giovanni Ribisi, Ribisi playing a boy that can apparently control lightening. The early scenes have the feeling of a really great throwback to a 1980s-era Stephen King movie, ushering in a fun episode that becomes a perfect palate cleanser.

Ribisi’s “Lightning Boy” or Darin Peter Oswald (the “D.P.O.” of the title)  is bullied by another man in an arcade accompanied by Black, who is basically given enough dialogue to convey the  “you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry” sentiment. Oswald can control lightning and uses the electricity to effectively fry the bully. Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate and, though the link at the arcade, find Oswald working in a local garage where he holds a torch for his boss’s wife, Sharon. Later, we see how Oswald gets his kicks / blows off steam as he wanders drunkenly into a cow field and summons a lightning storm, killing a cow or three in the process. During the process, the flash of lightning leaves behind a calcified footprint, linking Oswald to the incident. After a series of seemingly unexplained electricity-related events, Mulder and Scully discover that Oswald’s body chemistry – an overabundance of electrolytes – potentially causes him to express or control lightning. After arresting Oswald on suspicion, they reach out to Sharon for additional evidence. She confesses that Oswald revealed to her that he had special powers, relegating her to a life in fear of him.

When the bumbling local police release Oswald, Mulder and Scully race to protect Sharon, but Oswald kills Black under suspicion that he leaked information to the FBI. The hospital becomes Ground Zero as Oswald gains entry, using Black’s body as a decoy. Sharon uses Oswald’s attraction to her to turn him on and get him out of the hospital, away from her husband. In the hospital’s parking lot, Oswald is cornered by the local sheriff as Sharon runs away only to be rescued by Mulder. Enraged, Oswald calls forth a lightning storm that ultimately knocks him unconscious. He is relegated to a psych ward, and no one will admit that Oswald has any power at all.

The star of the episode is undoubtedly Giovanni Ribisi who portrays Oswald as a kid punch drunk on love and power. The best scene in the episode offers Ribisi and Black watching a local intersection from a nearby billboard. Ribisi controls the stoplight and turns both lights green, encouraging cars to crash into each other. The glee he expresses both when a serious accident happens and when he later saves his boss from a heart attack is impressively rendered – even if it eventually evolves into Ribisi’s patented man-child performance. Also impressive in the episode is the brilliant cinematography, effectively capturing the awesome flashes of lightning while at the same time highlighting vivid colors in several scenes (the red of the arcade, the red of the hospital stairwell, etc).

Nothing in “D.P.O.” is especially earth-shattering in the context of the series, but it’s great to see talented actors elevating the material beyond its pulpy roots. Sure, it traffics in some of the more basic themes of early Stephen King novels (consider it something of a male-centric Carrie without the heavy religious “subtext”). Plus, I just loved seeing a glimpse of the great “Popeye” stand-up arcade game from the late 80s / early 90s. That was great stuff indeed.

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