X-Files Flashback: ‘Fire’


Season 1, Episode 12
Director: Larry Shaw
Writer: Chris Carter

Episode twelve of The X-Files, “Fire,” offers a little more than the usual “monster of the week” episode. The episode focuses on an unusual serial killer – one who can control fire – and delves into untrodden corners of Mulder’s personality. Overall, it is an enjoyable diversion and a sign that perhaps the series was starting to find its footing halfway through its freshman season.

“Fire” begins in England with a wealthy man leaving his mansion for work as his employees and wife wish him well. The camera closes in on Cecil, his gardener, as Cecil’s eyes begin to take on an extra light. They don’t glow, per se, but they’re clearly filled with an inner glee. Immediately, the wealthy man catches fire and quickly burns to death in front of the horrified onlookers. Cut to Mulder and Scully as a figure from his past suddenly appears. Her name is Phoebe Green (Amanda Pays), and she and Mulder have a complicated history. Additionally, we discover that, due to a traumatizing event from his childhood, Mulder is deathly afraid of fire. Green brings Mulder this case – a serial arsonist is targeting British aristocracy – and asks for his help despite knowing his history. This is the kind of game, Mulder admits to Scully, that Green liked to play with him. And I think he kind of likes it. “Fire” as a title may literally refer to the serial killer, but it also slyly refers to Mulder and Green’s relationship – how Mulder likes to play with… you guessed it… fire.

The serial arsonist has followed a wealthy British family to Cape Cod, and he integrates himself into their lives after killing their original handyman. Bob, the name Cecil (we don’t actually know his real name) has adopted, has a penchant for lusting after the wives of wealthy men. This is not a connection he can act upon, which, according to standard serial killer lore, only ignites his passion for crime. Several events occur over the duration of the episode including Bob lighting a fire in a local pub and setting an entire hotel floor on fire to temporarily endanger the family’s two boys. Through all of this, Mulder is paralyzed with fear whenever he comes into contact with open flames. The end of the episode is a pyrotechnics wonder as Bob sets their entire Cape Cod house on fire in order to kill the family, Mulder, Scully, and Green. They eventually get the better of him by dousing him with jet fuel, causing him to ignite himself. Being a mutant serial killer, he doesn’t die. In fact, he regenerates damaged cells at an accelerated rate. The very end of the episode comically shows him in a  hyperbolic chamber, skin charred and blistered, asking for a cigarette.

What I liked most about the episode was the spry performance of the actor playing Bob/Cecil, Mark Sheppard (Firefly). He manages to take a character that, again, we know nothing about, have no backstory on, and yet bring a sense of humor and life out of him. I thought the scene where Bob lights the bar on fire was oddly fun and clever – even if it was a throw-away moment. Sheppard’s eyes were constantly darting around, seeking out that next object he wanted to burn at every moment. Speaking of fires, the practical effects of the episodes (which did slightly injure David Duchovny) were also top notch. Today, most of these scenes would have been CGI’d, so it’s nice to see some old fashioned controlled burns used for the climax of the episode.

Another interesting undercurrent is the evoking of Mulder’s British past and positively Sherlockian tendencies, something that’s been there since Day One but I never picked up on it until now. Mulder is the brilliant, reckless detective who resembles the classic detective. Scully’s pragmatism and dogged devotion to Mulder make her the perfect Watson allusion. In case you’re unsure of the comparisons, Green reminds Mulder of the evening they spent making love on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s grave, a reference that was completely intentional. It’s rather elementary, in fact.

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