X-Files Flashback: ‘Underneath’

Season 9, Episode 12
Director: John Shiban
Writer: John Shiban

There’s a scene in “Underneath” where John Doggett and Monica Reyes argue a cases’ details. Dana Scully sits nearby, reviewing case files while passively chewing a fingernail. The scene almost plays as if Gillian Anderson were reading a grocery list while watching Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish rehearse. The scene is as sloppily directed as the rest of “Underneath.” There is an attempt to explore a somewhat interesting take on Catholic guilt, but it’s mishandled by first-time director John Shiban who draws heavily from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde without good reason for doing so.

The prologue shows Robert Fassi (W. Earl Brown, American Crime) sitting in a van, heavily grasping onto a small crucifix. A voice from the dark commands him to perform some sort of activity. Fassi later approaches a house where he claims to be a cable repair person. When a resident questions his work order, Fassi is suddenly covered with blood as everyone in the house has been brutally stabbed to death. Two cops, one of them Doggett, arrive on the scene instantly and arrest him. Flash-forward to the future, and Doggett is furious to find that Fassi has been released due to DNA testing that proved his innocence.

Obsessed and certain of his guilt, Doggett asks Scully and Reyes to join him in a review of the case. Scully confirms that the DNA evidence found on the crime scene isn’t Fassi’s, but it is nearly identical to Fassi’s and possibly belongs to a relative. Fassi moves in with his attorney, and a strange bearded man begins to torment him, eventually killing his attorney’s maid. Reyes finally hypothesizes that Fassi, a devout Catholic, struggles so deeply with his murderous urges that he becomes a different person to commit the acts. By the end of the episode, Fassi / the bearded man nearly killed the attorney before Reyes and Doggett chase him into a massive sewer system. The bearded man attacks Doggett, but Reyes shoots him. Fassi’s body is recovered on the scene, proving it was him all along.

My first problem with “Underneath” is with the screenplay, which is full of holes. First, the prologue is filmed as if a second person were murdering the family. The blood even splashes on Fassi while he’s holding the cable service order. Then, the cops instantly arrive after receiving calls of screams from within the house. We see none of this, of course, and the timing doesn’t work at all. Granted, you could say that you’re seeing the scene from the perspective of Fassi, which would make sense given his strong denial of the events. However, nothing else is scene directly from his perspective in the episode, and the scene is really edited as if it were from the perspective of the omniscient viewer. Clearly, to me, none of this makes sense. It holds up the events for the sake of the mystery but omits all logic.

The rest of the episode – and my further problems with it – seems to be assembled of things Shiban wanted to throw in whether they fit logically or not. The Jekyll/Hyde/Catholicism angle is an interesting and relatively unexplored one, but the real beauty of the original Jekyll/Hyde myth was the persona of the Hyde figure. That story invested as much time in Hyde as with Jekyll, but “Underneath” focuses on the bland and spineless Fassi rather than growing “the bearded man” as a character. I mean, he doesn’t even have a name. Finally, the sewer chase scene is overly dramatic and ridiculous. I haven’t spent a great deal of time in sewers, so correct me if I’m wrong, but it feels too extravagant and expansive to exist under a suburban neighborhood. It’s a nitpick, but it goes toward proving that Shiban failed to think the episode through in terms of logical plotting. It remains a collection of “neat” things he wanted to do in an X-Files episode. With such heavy topics as Catholicism juxtaposed with the Jekyll and Hyde mythology, it really could have been so much better.

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