Season 5, Episode 19
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Vince Gilligan
One of the things that makes me the happiest about watching all of The X-Files episodes is when I see Vince Gilligan has crafted the episode. Aside from a few misfires, Gilligan is, for my money, one of the best writers The X-Files has employed. His greatest strength is his ability to devise character-driven stories that rarely rely on the supernatural (or mythological) elements for which the series is famous. “Folie à Deux” is one such example in which the very sanity of Fox Mulder is effectively called into question, creating an unexpected and intense hour of television.
The episode begins with call center drone Gary Lambert telemarketing VinylRight siding when he begins to see a mysterious bug-like entity (his boss, Greg Pincus) jittering through the office. Sanity clearly questioned, he begins calling local radio stations with a manifesto, attracting the attention of the FBI due to similarities with other events at the manufacturer. Mulder and Scully are reluctant to participate, and, in fact, this variation of Mulder is aggressively tired of “monster of the week” assignments. His resentment at being assigned to this case begins to drive a wedge through his relationship with Scully, a nice touch on Gilligan’s part. When Mulder arrives on scene, Lambert finally snaps and holds co-workers hostage at gunpoint, eventually killing one he believes to be a zombie. When the FBI finally overtakes him, Mulder catches a brief glimpse of Pincus as the insect monster and begins to have doubts as to how insane the now-dead Lamber actually was.
Here, the ‘Folie à Deux’ shifts perspective. Initially, I expected the resolution to be tied to some kind of experiment or pathogen spread within the office. There’s even a scene where a glitter-like substance sprinkles from a vent. But Gilligan takes us in a different direction. As Mulder further explores Pincus and his ties to multiple sites of similar occurrences, he begins to suspect that Pincus is actually some sort of monster. Scully, of course, thinks Mulder is cracking and actively refuses to support his hunches, including refusing to perform an autopsy on Lambert’s shooting victim. Mulder’s actions eventually land him in the loony bin where he sees the bug version of Pincus outside his third floor window. Having determined that Pincus actually does inject some sort of substance into the spine of his victims, killing them and effectively rendering them zombies, he convinces Scully that something may be afoot with Pincus. She arrives in the hospital to see the insect creature hovered over Mulder and shoots at it, causing it to jump out of the window. The case is wrapped with Mulder cleared for duty, but the final scene of the episode shows another office, another agitated employee, and the same bug-like sounds emanating through the floor.
The brilliance of the first half of ‘Folie à Deux’ is the exploration of the American white collar office drone. Bored and unchallenged by the monotonous work, Lambert’s initial psychosis is easily understood. Who hasn’t imagined their managers as some sort of other-worldly creature? It’s kind of the rules of the game within office environments. It helps cut the monotony and keeps the mind alive. Actually evolving the manager character into a monster is an amusing touch on Gilligan’s part.
The transition from The Twilight Zone-inspired first half (its thematic first cousin of the “gremlin on the plane” episode) in which no one believes the individual who is able to see things no one else does to the questioning of Mulder’s own sanity is a thrilling shift. And, ultimately, “Folie à Deux” is simply an unnerving and vaguely scary episode. Most likely afraid of the low-quality makeup or prosthetics of the bug creature, the director films it in very low light and with jittery camera tricks, thus heightening the tension and terror of the episode. It’s always scarier when you can’t see the evil – even if the evil is your office manager.