Season 4, Episode 19
Director: James Charleston
Writer: Howard Gordon, David Greenwalt
The X-Files dumps the central mythology storyline for a “monster of the week” that, ultimately, isn’t really a monster at all nor particularly X-file worthy. Taking a cue from Back to the Future, the episode sets up a travel back-in-time plot that involves shaky science, bad acting, and all the trickery that comes with time-travel stories. Thanks to the collusion of those unfortunate events, “Synchrony” fails to jell into a coherent whole.
“Synchrony” begins with an elderly man running wild through the streets near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His targets are two younger students – Jason (Joseph Fuqua) and Lucas (Jed Rees) – who are deep in conversation, bordering on an argument. The elderly man tells Jason that he needs to save Lucas from a bus at 11:46pm later that same night. After the old man is taken away by campus police, Jason begins to grow weary of the oncoming bus and of Lucas’s fumbling with his paperwork. He shouts after Lucas, but he cannot hear him. In an attempt to save Lucas’s life, Jason inadvertently pushes him into the bus’s path, killing Lucas. Jason is arrested, and Mulder and Scully are brought in to investigate Jason’s claims of some prophetic capabilities within the old man. Further adding to the complexity of the case is the discovery of the campus security guards deeply frozen body, registering at first 15 degrees before dropping to 8 degrees.
The old man intercepts a visiting scientist and injects him with a solution that causes him to immediately freeze as well. Mulder and Scully bring in Jason’s girlfriend, Lisa (Susan Lee Hoffman), to review the body. She determines that the scientist may not be dead and develops a procedure to unfreeze and revive him. The scientist is thawed and revived, but his temperature dramatically increases, eventually causing his body to spontaneously combust. Receiving a tip that the old man resides in a nearby hotel, Mulder and Scully investigate and uncover a photo of Jason, Lisa, and the scientist together. Mulder then spins a hypothesis, later confirmed by Lisa’s ignorance of the photo, that the old man is actually Jason having travelled back in time to change the past. Lisa arrives at the same conclusion and confronts the elderly Jason who injects her with the rapid freezing serum, something that is apparently keeping him alive thanks to the complexities of time travel (more on this later). Scully successfully revives Lisa, but young Jason confronts older Jason. After the two argue over killing all of Jason’s research and the effect it will have in the future, the older Jason bursts into flames and grabs the young Jason, killing them both. We close with Lisa continuing Jason’s work.
So, I have a few significant issues with this episode. First, it’s not entirely clear why the older Jason first travels back in time and tells him to kill Lucas. There is a brief line of dialogue that infers Lucas may know something about Jason’s research, so I’ll go with that. But if the older Jason’s ultimate end game is to stop the research, then why not freeze Jason immediately upon contact. Why go through all of the motions he attempts if Jason’s research is the central key? Second, it’s never clear exactly how Jason is able to travel back in time. There is, again, a brief line of exposition exploring the idea, but it’s never successfully answered. Third, if the older Jason changes the strand of time, then how is he certain of the outcome? As Jeff Goldblum told us in Jurassic Park, life finds a way. Apparently, the future discovery of advanced cryogenics will be Lisa’s success as she ignores all of the episode’s drama and continues on the research. Finally, Susan Lee Hoffman’s performance as Lisa Ianelli is simply not good. In fact, it’s so bad that it may be the single worst semi-major performance in the entire series thus far.
All of that on top of the fact that Mulder and Scully are effectively ignored through “Synchrony” as functioning characters rather than instruments of plot momentum and “Synchrony” ultimately becomes a flat, nothing of an episode. It’s too bad, too, because other series and films have done the time-travel plot before and done it significantly better than The X-Files. After watching this, I had the distinct impression that no one really knew how to address all of the questions they were raising. Instead, they quickly brushed over important plot points with sub-par writing.
And that just won’t do at all.