X-Files Flashback: ‘Theef’

Theef

Season 7, Episode 14
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz

Three talents writers have come together to create an episode of The X-Files that is so unremarkable and, worse, downright stupid in its resolution as to make the viewer imagine “Theef” came from the barren land of a spec script writer’s mind. Reportedly, the script was thrown together at the last minute when a previously planned script was deemed unworthy. Boy, can’t imagine how that gem must have read. At any rate, Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz were tasked with coming up with an episode that drew from backwoods superstitions and healing just before that year’s Christmas break. As a result, “Theef” is a near-complete mess, a disappointment that insults the intelligence by filling the episode with gross stereotypes and idiotic matters of convenience.

“Theef” begins with the celebrated Dr. Robert Wieder (James Morrison) receiving an award for his service in the medical field. Later that night, his father-in-law uncovers a small figure made of dirt in his bed and is surprised by a strange man in his room. A few minutes later, Dr. Wieder finds his father-in-law hanging from the chandelier, throat slit ear to ear and the word “theef” written on the wall. Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate because of the dirt man located on the bed, a sign of backwoods hexes. Scully’s autopsy reveals that the victim suffers from a rare brain sickness that causes a dementia-like condition, leading all to suspect he had committed suicide. We know that not to be the case as the hex-causing man, Orell Peattie (Billy Drago), has voodoo dolls and continues to torment the family, eventually killing Dr. Wieder’s wife.

The cause of Peattie’s ire is discovered to be a Jane Doe – revealed to be Peattie’s daughter – that Dr. Wieder euthanized with morphine due to her incurable condition. Peattie found and excavated his daughter and uses her body as his source of power. When Scully takes Dr. Wieder and his surviving daughter to a remote cabin in the woods, Peattie follows them and blinds Scully with voodoo. Just before Peattie kills Dr. Wieder, Mulder finds the Scully voodoo doll and allows her to regain her sight quickly enough to shoot Peattie in the back, saving Dr. Wieder’s life.

“Theef” is a thinly veiled “homage” or “rip-off” of the vastly superior Cape Fear – either version you prefer. The episode manages to one-up the insult by making the West Virginia-born Peattie a complete bumpkin akin to The Simpsons‘s Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. This is a man that is illustrated as so ignorant of “modern ways” that he cannot figure out how to work a vending machine or pop microwave popcorn without a full-on intervention. However, this yokel manages to not only figure out that Dr. Wieder killed his Jane Doe daughter but also track an FBI agent (Scully) to a remote cabin in the woods hundreds of miles away without a car or any apparent means of transportation. Perhaps he saw Cape Fear and strapped himself to the bottom of her rental. That would hurt though – it wasn’t an SUV.

On the positive side, there are some nice exchanges between Mulder and Scully. In these later episodes, their character growth has been parsed out in small doses from episode to episode. Here, Mulder marvels that Scully never ceases to surprise him through her unpredictable reactions to the events of the episode. That’s nice, too, because after seven years, it’s good to see they still intrigue each other. Otherwise, “Theef” is a forgettable mess of an episode that paints its villain in dramatically broad colors, relying on gross stereotypes as character development.

Even Max Cady managed to educate himself in prison. Too bad Peattie ended the episode in a coma. I far prefer him babbling “I’m bound for the promised land I am. I’m bound for the promised land!” But then again, this isn’t Robert DeNiro or Martin Scorsese. Pity.

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