X-Files Flashback: ‘The Goldberg Variation’

Goldberg Variation

Season 7, Episode 6
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Writer: Jeffrey Bell

After a few (dozen?) darker episodes, The X-Files tosses one in for the crowd with a bleeding heart. “The Goldberg Variation” has darker undertones – it involves mobsters and features a handful of deaths – but its beating heart is the bond between and unlikely pair. As a result, the episode is one of the more run-of-the-mill examples of a series running on autopilot. There’s nothing particularly wrong with “The Goldberg Variation,” but there’s nothing incredibly right about it either.

The episode deals with Harry Weems (Willie Garson, appearing for the second time in the series after making his debut back in Season 3’s “The Walk“), a man who played poker with mobsters, beat them savagely, and took a flying leap off a 30-story skyscraper without suffering a scratch. Weems is apparently the luckiest man alive, and the episode provides numerous examples of his odd ability. Actually, it’s never exactly clear how Weems manages to be so lucky. The inference is that events somehow manage to mold themselves to his benefit and to the detriment of others, but that hardly counts as an X-File. It’s not as if Weems creates the “luck” himself. Anyway, he avoids death multiple times at the hands of mobster goons, one dying by a freak heart attack and one shooting himself in the back with a ricocheting bullet intended for Weems. Still, Weems’s only concern is Richie (Shia LaBeouf – yes, that Shia LaBeouf), a young boy living in the same building who is dying of hepatitis. With transplant options highly unlikely, Weems tries to win enough money to pay for Richie’s entry into an experimental treatment program in London. As luck would have it, in the end, Weems’s mobster foe accidentally dies and is a match for Richie’s extremely rare blood type. So, Weems’s luck pays off, and we end on an extremely happy note.

You’ll notice I didn’t even include Mulder and Scully in the brief summary of the episode. That’s because the episode is so generic, so toothless, that it could have easily been any police procedural. Mulder and Scully ultimately served little purpose in the overall scheme of things as luck seemed to wind its way around a satisfactory conclusion largely without their intervention. And that’s fine, I suppose. This episode works best for those who don’t like the mythology outings or the gore of the more intense “monster of the week” episodes. When “The Goldberg Variation” reaches the happy ending, it is a touching conclusion – no one wants to see a child die, even if it is Shia LaBeouf. But certainly there should have been more grit or more texture to the episode. As it stands, it’s as even-keeled and bland as any average television show. Certainly not worth of an X-File.

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