X-Files Flashback: ‘The Amazing Maleeni’

Maleeni

Season 7, Episode 8
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Writer: Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz

X-Files executive producer Frank Spotnitz (who would later produce Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle) wanted to do a magic-based episode since Season Two. The 5-year delay can be attributed to the lack of a really great magic-based idea on which to hang an entire episode. Now, in Season Seven, the formidable writing crew of Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz joined together to produce the completely bland and unsurprising “The Amazing Maleeni.” It’s a shame to see that much talent squandered in such an average way.

The prologue starts effectively enough with the self-proclaimed Amazing Maleeni (Ricky Jay) performing low-rent magic tricks on a Santa Monica pier. He is heckled from the stage by Billy LaBonge (Jonathan Levit) who urges him to perform real magic. Frustrated Maleeni agrees and makes his head turn completely around in a circle a la Regan from The Exorcist. Later, as he gets into his van, Maleeni’s head rolls off his body onto the street below. Mulder and Scully investigate the crime, finding that “Maleeni” died of a heart attack and that his head had been carefully sawed off. Through the episode, we discover that LaBonge wants to work with a local gang boss to whom Maleeni owed money. As this happens, Mulder and Scully discover that “Maleeni” was actually a pair of twins – Herman and Albert Pinchbeck – who are being sought after for the incredible debt owed to the gangster. In the end of the episode, Pinchbeck and LaBonge, working as master and apprentice, manage to frame the mobster while behind bars. Mulder and Scully explain the intricacies of the plan (a la Scooby Doo) after which Scully performs a magic trick of her own, turning her hand in a complete circle on the floor.

“The Amazing Maleeni” feels like an episode that grew out of an intriguing opening idea – the head of a magician rolling off his shoulders. Everything after that, though, it nearly pointless. The case isn’t really qualified to be an X-File, and effectively nothing happens for 45 minutes. It was a great idea to cast two real-life magicians to give the proceedings a sense of authenticity, but the story line feels so unnecessarily convoluted that it’s difficult to muster any engagement with the material.

It just kind of sits there offering little in the way of character development or theming. It’s one of the more completely average episodes of the series I’ve seen. I simply had no interest in engaging with the story they wanted to tell, which is a huge disappointment for me given Vince Gilligan’s participation in the script. Spotnitz was ultimately right to push for a magician-themed episode, I suppose, but “The Amazing Maleeni” (perhaps tempting fate) isn’t really the magic for which he was searching.

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