X-Files Flashback: ‘Beyond the Sea’

Season 1, Episode 13
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong

The X-Files‘ thirteenth episode, “Beyond the Sea,” starts with both a Scully family Christmas and a nod to its cult-classic uncle Twin Peaks. Dana Scully is hosting her parents – Captain William and Margaret Scully – for dinner. The relationship with her mother is warm and loving as there is much touching, hugging and amicable banter. The relationship with her father (played by Don Davis, Major Briggs from Twin Peaks) is tense and formal. Their goodbye is obligatory as is his questioning of her job. Remember that Scully came from a family of doctors but entered into the FBI. Later that evening, Scully wakens from a nap on the sofa to see her father sitting directly across from her, silently mouthing something to her. Confused, she questions his presence just as the phone rings. It’s her mother, and her father has passed away from a heart attack. Scully, not Mulder, had a paranormal experience.

The title song of the episode factors into the story in multiple ways. First, “Beyond the Sea” was a special song to the Scully family, and a French version of it plays during Captain Scully’s funeral. The second usage of the song factors into the central crime of the episode which takes place in my hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. A young couple is abducted on a lover’s lane of sorts in a manner very similar to one of the big Zodiac crimes near San Francisco in the late 60s, a resemblance that is not directly mentioned in the episode but is unavoidable. The abduction has a link to similar yearly kidnappings that result in dead victims after five days have passed. During their investigation, Mulder reveals to Scully that a serial killer, Luther Lee Boggs (brilliantly played by Brad Dourif of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), he previously apprehended and is now sitting on death row claims to have psychic evidence leading the authorities to the kidnapping victims.

What follows are multiple scenes of Boggs’s questioning by a skeptical Mulder and a confused Scully. Boggs wildly gyrates and rotates between various characters, supposedly the spirits of people he killed speaking through him. Dourif’s performance here is captivating as he quickly shifts dialect, voice, and inflection nearly on a dime. Mulder, however, believes none of it and considers it another attempt by Boggs to escape the gas chamber. Scully isn’t so sure – particularly when Boggs starts singing “Beyond the Sea” and refers to her as “Starbuck,” her father’s pet name for her. Scully listens to Boggs’s ravings and is able to find locations that once housed the kidnap victims. While Mulder continues to be atypically skeptical, Scully listens to him and eventually attempts to bargain for a stay on his execution. By the end of the episode, Boggs is able to provide the location of the kidnapper, the kidnap victims are saved, and Scully is able to avoid a near-death experience thanks to a vague clue left by Boggs. Yet, Scully convinces herself that Boggs somehow set all of this up as a ploy to avoid execution and accepts her father’s passing through acknowledgement that he would have been proud of his only daughter no matter what she did.

“Beyond the Sea” is a landmark episode, in my opinion, for multiple reasons. Most importantly, this is the first time where the skeptic/believer roles have been reversed between Mulder and Scully. He is completely convinced that Boggs is lying while Scully has a touch of the paranormal as Boggs makes those unmistakeable references to her dead father. Ultimately, she lies to hide her convictions and changes her mind after wearing the Mulder mantle for nearly all of the episode’s duration (the emotion, the willingness to believe, etc). But I cannot stress how critically important this shift in belief is between the characters. Will this perhaps repeat itself in a future episode? We’ll have to find out.

Next, the episode heavily calls back to The Silence of the Lambs, a film that so heavily influenced The X-Files from day one. Scully’s relationship with Boggs easily recalls the “quid pro quo” dynamic between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter. However, here, Scully ultimately chooses to ignore the connection while Starling becomes haunted by it. Additionally, much like Clarice Starling, Scully’s father’s death establishes her inner search for authority figures. She spends most of the episode obsessed with not only the case at hand but also the question of whether or not her father approved of her. The question of the “father figure” is also repeated in Mulder’s reliance on and connection with Deep Throat.

I was thrilled with the quality of “Beyond the Sea” in terms of narrative depth, production values, and strong performances across the board, particularly Gillian Anderson who I have failed to praise thus far for her strong emotional work here. Both she and Dourif should have been Emmy nominated for their accomplished work here. In fact, the episode is so full of ideas to chew on that it almost feels born out of a completely different show when compared to some of the more recent outings. “Beyond the Sea” smartly represents all the series’s qualities that have garnered the obsession and admiration of millions of viewers, rightly so.

Oh, and those scenes from “Raleigh, North Carolina?” The creators got most of the names and places right – Durham, Morrisville, Duke University, Jordan Lake, and Central Prison – but nothing in the actual Raleigh looks quite like the Raleigh on display here.

Oh well. Can’t win them all.

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