X-Files Flashback: ‘Sunshine Days’

Sunshine Days

Season 9, Episode 18
Director: Vince Gilligan
Writer: Vince Gilligan

I was surprised at how downbeat I was realizing I’d come to the end of Vince Gilligan’s long-standing affair with The X-Files. I’m long on the record as being in the tank for Gilligan’s episodes. Granted, they’re not all great, but they’re typically better than anything Chris Carter produces. “Sunshine Days” is his latest bizarre confection, a perfect blend of humor, the supernatural, and the light touch of a writer who doesn’t feel the need to hammer you with content. It’s a frothy concoction that, ultimately, offers a sweet message about the power of human connections. And, for that, it’s kind of a perfect send-off for Mr. Gilligan.

“Sunshine Days” begins with two stoner kids (one played by David Faustino) stalking a house that, on the inside, eerily resembles the Brady Bunch house. Both teens are killed on separate occurrences of breaking and entering, drawing the attention of the FBI. Oliver Martin (Lost Emmy-winner Michael Emerson), the owner of the house, knows nothing about the crimes, and, when agents Doggett and Reyes enter the property, it doesn’t resemble the Brady Bunch house at all. We soon discover that Oliver uses his psychokinetic powers to replicate and protect his house. His loneliness provides the energy for his unparalleled powers.

Doggett, Reyes, and Scully eventually gain entry into the home in the Brady Bunch phase and earn his trust thanks to an association with his childhood psychiatrist. They convince Oliver, who adopted the name after Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch, to travel to D.C. and demonstrate his powers to A.D. Skinner. While in D.C., Oliver suffers a severe seizure. It becomes apparent that Oliver’s powers are slowly eating away at his body, a type of suicide. Wanting to save his life, Oliver’s former psychiatrist reconnects with him, reforming a strong bond they had years ago. Scully and team are disappointed in losing access to Oliver’s powers but realize there are greater things that the exploration of the truth. Ironically, Reyes comments to Doggett that he’s finally starting to get the hang of the X-files. Right before the series ends. Oh, Doggett…

“Sunshine Days” is rather brilliantly written as it works on multiple levels. First, it’s an art director’s triumph in so accurately re-creating the Brady Bunch house. Even more interesting, they’re filmed in a darker light, one that reflects more the mental state of the character than of the sunny Brady Bunch era. As an X-file, it gives Scully the opportunity to witness firsthand a true X-file and to share that experience with those outside of her immediate circle. Many of Anderson’s scenes are written with a giddy glee that she relishes performing. It served as one of the first opportunities to fully appreciate the brilliance that is Michael Emerson, a man who apparently specializes in talented and aloof loners. It’s a quality he carried through many subsequent performances, not the least of which was his Emmy-winning role in Lost.

But, in the end, “Sunshine Days” is an X-Files episode that makes it okay to say goodbye. It seems to establish that we may not have all of the answers. We may never know the truth. Yet, we do have knowledge of truths that are far more important than alien conspiracies. The best episodes of The X-Files always provide some brand of commentary on the broader human condition. On what man does to one another. On the effects of isolation. On sympathies with various devils. For a show so closely identified with aliens and otherworldly effects, it’s at its heart a show about humanity. About the exploration of and appreciation for what it means to be human. With all of the hyper-focused attention on Chris Carter’s conspiratorial influence on the series, it’s really people like Vince Gilligan that gave it its soul.

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