X-Files Flashback: ‘Unruhe’

Season 4, Episode 4
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Vince Gilligan

You know you’re in good hands when Vince Gilligan is writing your screenplay. Having the benefit of known Gilligan from his excellence on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, you know the man can write and plot a suspenseful yarn. His early days on The X-Files are no different, and his latest offering – “Unruhe” – is an excellent example of a man honing his screenwriting craft.

The basic storyline of the episode involves a serial killer who is kidnapping unconnected women and giving them exceedingly unprofessional frontal lobotomies. The twist in the episode is that the man’s damaged psyche projects itself onto any nearby strip of camera film. Whether caught or not, many victims’ fate is recorded well in advance of it actually happening. After two women go missing and turn up lobotomized and their boyfriends murdered, Mulder and Scully search for the killer in two disparate methods: Scully makes a connection to a local construction company, and Mulder digs into the mysterious photographs, picking up clues to the killer’s identity along the way.

Scully finally apprehends Gerry Schnauz (Pruitt Taylor Vince), but he escapes by killing his processing officer. Upon questioning Gerry, Mulder and Scully were able to determine that he is a deeply damaged soul suffering from family trauma due to a now-dead father and a sister who committed suicide years ago. Having determined Scully needs “saving,” Gerry kidnaps her but is saved by Mulder after Scully stalls her pending lobotomy by digging into Gerry’s scarred past. In the end, Gerry takes a picture of himself and is able to see his own death at the hands of Mulder. Scully wraps up the case file but cannot explain the phenomena of the psychic photographs.

As a piece of standard serial killer lore, “Unruhe” is fairly typical stuff: the damaged killer with daddy issues saving women as he couldn’t save his own sister. The addition of the supernatural element that even the killer himself doesn’t understand is the X-Files twist that Gilligan added to great visual effect. The photographs are creepy and effective. That actually extends to multiple visuals throughout the episode, including Gerry’s creepy stilts, the house coat he drapes over his victims, the yellow slicker he wears in the beginning, the image of Gerry approaching his first victim through her umbrella. All the stuff of nightmares they are. But the best aspect of the episode is the focus Gilligan gives to Scully and the brutal efficiency that Gillian Anderson uses to draw out subtleties in the character. Scully is deeply shaken by the shocking violence against women, made worse by her eventual kidnapping and near lobotomy.

The best episodes of The X-Files deftly blend intense psychological scares with just a dash of the supernatural. “Unruhe” does just that thanks to Vince Gilligan’s strong writing. The episode isn’t one that will be remembered for years to come, but it’s effective enough to rank highly in my book.

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