Season 8, Episode 9
Director: Rod Hardy
Writer: Jeffrey Bell
“Salvage” returns The X-Files to a “monster of the week” approach that vaguely resembles the structure and quality of the original runs earlier in the series. Here, an attempt is made to have the audience sympathize with the monster – a man seeking revenge for his death and subsequent metallic conversion – but the attempt pales in comparison to some of the great nuances achieved with earlier monsters. Additionally, Scully and Doggett continue to walk through the motions of their investigation and feel poorly integrated with the monster’s plight. Still, the episode garners significant pleasures from nifty special effects even if it’s at the expense of the characters behind them.
The episode opens with Nora Pearce grieving over the loss of her husband with his friend, Curtis. As Curtis leaves, he runs into a man seemingly identical to Nora’s husband, Ray. Curtis’s car is destroyed, seemingly having wrapped itself around Ray as if Ray were a giant tree. Ray then pulls Curtis through the windshield of the car and effectively dumps him into a nearby trash can. Scully and Doggett (for reasons relatively unclear) are called to investigate the bizarre accident and discover Curtis’s body. Meanwhile, Ray is apparently staying at a half-way house where a woman tries to strike up a friendship with him that he gruffly rebukes. Gradually becoming completely metal, he proceeds with his killing spree, murdering the men he holds responsible for his condition, as Doggett and Scully gradually uncover the cause of his condition. In the end, Ray tries to kill the man he believes to be ultimately responsible for his metallic condition but cannot do so as it would mean killing him in front of his young child. The episode closes with Ray committing suicide in a junkyard card crusher.
The best aspects of “Salvage” are undoubtedly the special effects on display. The initial car crash is well conceived and convincingly handled despite a television-level budget. Plus, Ray’s gradual transition to a completely metallic man is effectively rendered even if he ultimately resembles a character or three from The Fantastic Four – something that becomes more of a judgment on that film than of “Salvage” given their massive budget differentials. The problem with “Salvage” on the monster side is that we’re asked to sympathize with a man who, by the episode’s end, has no basis for revenge. His condition was not purposefully inflicted upon him – it was completely accidental – so he becomes, in effect, a murderer. That, by itself, is not a problem, but we spend a great deal of time with Ray’s wife and her grieving process and later attempts to help her husband – an attempt at a sympathetic viewpoint for the character. By the end, when Ray self-sacrifices due to the unpleasant effects of his condition, I’m not sure the audience feels the sadness they were perhaps intended to feel.
Another major problem with “Salvage” is the persistent “procedural” mode we see Doggett and Scully in episode to episode. As I’ve mentioned before, they’re just walking through motions here without the character development or budding relationship that peppered the earlier episodes. Granted, Doggett isn’t Mulder, but they’re not exactly trying to make him one either. We’ve gotten hints at Doggett’s background and character motivations, but they’re slow to come and not particularly engaging to be honest. And apparently we know all we need to know about Dana Scully because it doesn’t appear that we’re ever going to get additional character nuances from her perspective either. Instead, we’re given her slowly developing pregnancy, the immediate remedy for any absence Gillian Anderson needs within the series. It’s not that I mind the procedural aspects of their relationship, but it’s certainly not as engaging on a character level as some of the earlier material.
I may be coming down hard on “Salvage” in this review, and I don’t mean to do so. It’s not as bad of an episode as its reputation would have you believe. Perhaps time and perspective has given it (and other Season 8 and 9) a deserved reprieve. It’s not a great episode, mind you, but it’s one that has its merits. Still, you can see that, with a few tweaks, it could have been so much better. That, perhaps, is the great disappointment of the later episodes of The X-Files.