Season 3, Episode 4
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Darin Morgan
In my quest to review The X-Files on a day-by-day, episode-by-episode basis, many people have mention their personal favorite episodes across the series. I’d expected the more popular episodes – Fluke Man or “Home” or any of the mythology episodes – to pop up with greater frequency, but it’s a quiet, unassuming little episode called “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” that receives that honor. With good cause too. It’s a fantastic little gem of an episode, one that blends a light sense of humor within Mulder and Scully with an intriguing storyline and a revelatory and sweet performance by Peter Boyle who won an Emmy for his guest turn.
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” features a central serial killer plot – a potentially psychic man reaches out to fortune tellers and tarot card readers to understand his gift and the root cause of his homicidal urges before killing each one. Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate, despite the similar reach out to a broadly flamboyant television celebrity psychic, and try to piece together clues to the seemingly unsolvable crimes. When Clyde Bruckman (Boyle) discovers a corpse in his dumpster, he calls the police and shares intimate details of the crime with Mulder and Scully – details that either the killer or someone with special abilities would know. Turns out Bruckman is psychic but in a less traditional way – he specializes in knowing people’s deaths with the occasional vision or two. The episode eventually becomes a cat-and-mouse game as both psychics try to uncover the other. Bruckman has a few tender moments with both Mulder and Sculy before the psychic killer – working as a bellhop in the very hotel they stash Bruckman – is discovered by Mulder and Scully. Thanks to Bruckman’s psychic assistance coupled with Scully’s luck, Mulder avoids certain death when Scully shoots the killer seconds before he plunges a knife in Mulder. They later find Bruckman dead in his apartment, the victim of a suicide.
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is indeed a classic episode, largely thanks to Boyle’s deep and accomplished performance, most likely the best performance seen on the series thus far. Not only does he elevate the material (something that happens quite frequently when the pulpier X-Files is matched with a talented actor) but he gives the kind of performance that only a seasoned actor could, one that uses lack of vanity and an embracing of age to convey the world-weary wisdom needed to make the role soar. The episode features more raw emotions and honest, poignant expressions of life and death, fate versus predestination. Boyle’s rare psychic talent, that of predicting deaths, is one that both excites and terrifies some. Mulder refuses to hear of his fate, but Scully asks, Bruckman telling her sweetly that she’ll never die. Fans of the show at the time became obsessed with the statement, which has since been confirmed by creator Chris Carter. Scully is apparently indeed immortal.
If that’s the only thing you take away from the episode, then you’re completely missing the point. The two psychics are two men possess similar gifts and, yet, diametrically opposed reactions to them. Burdened with knowledge, Bruckman is the more world-weary of the two, perhaps due to his age but most certainly due to the unfortunate burden of knowing how each person you meet with die. Craving knowledge, the serial killer is more intrigued with his abilities and wants to fully understand them. Yet, he confuses his psychic prowess with his urge to kill, seemingly thinking the two are linked. Bruckman explains it in the end, “You’re a homicidal maniac!” Brakeman bathes in knowledge, in understanding, while the killer craves it.
But it’s the quiet moments with Scully that bring home the brilliance of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” Bruckman shares a vision with her – they will be in bed together, her hand caressing his – and Scully scoffs at it, ever the doubting scientist. Yet, when the episode closes as Bruckman has committed suicide, she sits next to his death body, holding his hand gently. Gillian Anderson’s expert reaction here underscores not only the grief she experiences in the moment – her sadness over how she perceives Bruckman’s life – but also the core-shaking effect of having a seemingly random prediction completely come true. Yet again, Scully is faced with a supernatural / mystical moment and cannot appropriate react to it. Great stuff. Great performance. Great episode.