X-Files Flashback: ‘Sanguinarium’

Season 4, Episode 6
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Vivian Mayhew, Valerie Mayhew

After taking an episode off to wax poetically about past lives, The X-Files roars back to the gore in full force with “Sanguinarium.” Honestly, with a name like that, how could it be anything else? Aside from the slightly shocking gore (for late 90s network TV, remember), the episode is tense and intriguing until a scattered ending ruins the spell. The episode was produced from a spec script written by fans. There’s a reason this was the only one they contributed to the series.

The prologue introduces a massive plastic surgeon clinic where the attending physician, scrubbing in for a routine liposuction, becomes obsessed with the procedure. In a trance-like state, he literally vacuums the person on the table to death before a registered nurse (Rebecca played by Tim Burton favorite O-lan Jones) can stop him. As Mulder and Scully investigate the scene, they find an occurrence of a pentagram on that operating room floor. Another victim dies (this time by the use of a concentrated laser through the skull), and Mulder and Scully determine that both doctors were on a particular sleep medication. After reviewing the second victim’s tape, they see a pentagram – commonly assumed to be the sign of the devil but was more commonly used as a symbol of protection – on the patient’s chest. After suspicion is laid on Rebecca, Mulder and Scully visit her house to find signs that she dabbles heavily in the occult. Meanwhile, another doctor, Dr. Jack Franklin (Richard Beymer, Twin Peaks) is attacked at home by Rebecca, but she dies after vomiting pins. In the end, Dr. Franklin is revealed to be the culprit behind all of the supernatural activities, having pulled off his own face to replace it with another. The episode closes with the doctor applying to a different clinic, this time with a new face.

“Sanguinarium” is mostly famous for its excessive gore over any actual written or performance skills. The murders are graphically staged – the manic liposuction, the laser treatment, the acid bath, and (technically not a murder) the peeling of Dr. Franklin’s face – and the episode seems to rely on carnage over intelligent, well plotted stories. That’s not to say the episode doesn’t have its pleasures. I was taken by the intelligent art direction that used a pentagram in a conference room table and featured an operating unit carefully laid out to resemble a pentagram. This subliminal effect is far more unsettling than any of the gore prominently featured. Although that was indeed an intensely unsettling feature of this minor entry as well.

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