Season 3, Episode 4: “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”
I can’t possibly choose a favorite X-Files episode. The X-Files is one of those shows whose continuing storyline is more important and more meaningful than any individual episode. But if someone tied me to a burning stake and stood over me with an axe in one hand, a machine gun in the other and demanded that I name my favorite X-Files episode or else they’d kill me and my whole family, I would probably say “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” Probably.
There’s certainly no other episode I can think of that is this perfectly written or this subtly clever, two trademarks of the episode’s writer, my man Darin Morgan. We last encountered Darin Morgan in “Humbug,” and with a debut like that it was pretty clear that great things were in store for us every time his name appeared under the writing credit. “Clyde Bruckman” not only fulfills that promise but surpasses it. I would argue that this episode alone is what pushed The X-Files into true quality territory. It didn’t singlehandedly transform the show into outstanding television all at once, but it was this episode that put its foot in the door. Which makes sense if you look at it both in the context of the show itself and the show’s history. Season 3 was the season The X-Files really became a phenomenon, and Seasons 3-6 were, for the most part, the very best of the very best.
Like most of Darin Morgan’s episodes, the guest stars are what really pulls this episode through. Mulder and Scully help, of course, and Darin Morgan uses them brilliantly, but of all his episodes I would say their roles are diminished the most here. It’s Peter Boyle as the comically sad Clyde Bruckman that takes center stage. That may sound anti-X-Files to you but by the end of the episode nobody’s complaining. Besides, the brilliance of this episode is that it takes a story with, comparatively at least, very little Mulder and Scully in it and turns it into an episode that could only have been on The X-Files and no other show.
In “Clyde Bruckman” we have a kind of horror we haven’t seen since “Irresistible.” The killings are particularly brutal, and although there is a paranormal element here with the psychic abilities the actual crimes committed are very horribly human. The killer, Puppet, is the creepiest and most original killer since Donnie Pfaster, and the parallels set up between him and Bruckman are so goddamn perfect I could kiss Darin Morgan and I swear I will someday.
Puppet goes around killing fortune tellers. Before he does, he asks them all the same question: “Why am I going to be doing the things I am going to be doing?” (or some variation thereof). Which, in a nutshell, is this episode’s theme, fate.
How much of what we do is determined by fate? It’s a question that has been brought up in The X-Files before, most notably in Season 2’s “Aubrey” and the very end of “Paper Clip.” However, it hasn’t really been explored like this. In “Aubrey,” BJ wasn’t at all aware of the things she was doing and she always woke up from her killing sprees confused. In “Clyde Bruckman” Puppet is actively aware of what he’s going to do. He goes to fortunetellers to discover the reason behind his own actions. Call him crazy, and he is, but Puppet is essentially tapping into something we all face sooner or later – figuring out the reasons behind the choices we make. In Puppet’s case, though, he hasn’t made them yet. Enter Bruckman.
Clyde Bruckman is a psychic with a very specific ability – he knows how people are going to die. This ability has haunted him for most of his life and driven him into a sort of confused depression. What’s interesting is that Bruckman wasn’t born with this ability; he acquired it. Here again we have Darin Morgan playing with the idea of fate vs. choice. Was it fate that Bruckman just happened to acquire this ability, or did a series of choices lead him to it?
This concept is beautifully articulated by Bruckman himself as he is talking to Mulder and Scully about one of the murder victims.
BRUCKMAN: Why does anyone do the things they do? Why do I sell insurance? I wish I knew. Why did this woman collect dolls? What was it about her life? Was it one specific moment where she suddenly said, “I know… dolls.” Or was it a whole series of things? Starting when her parents first met that somehow combined in such a way that in the end, she had no choice but to be a doll colle[ctor]…
Bruckman has absolutely no idea why he does insurance. He has no idea why he suddenly acquired this ability beyond a few speculative guesses. He has no idea why he is even helping Mulder and Scully now, and the fact that he does help them, the fact that by the end he seems to want to help them, make Bruckman a literal embodiment of the very question this episode raises. Does Bruckman believe in free will or fate? It would certainly make sense for him to believe in fate because of his ability, but then again when Mulder gives him a bunch of objects to “read” he can’t tell a thing beyond how the owners of the objects are going to die. What always struck me as funny was how useless Bruckman’s ability is. He can tell how people are going to die, but isn’t very clear about when, and when he does provide meaningful information to Mulder and Scully like the location of a victim, it’s usually too late.
I could spend years analyzing every line of dialogue in this episode but that would be pointless since watching it is much more meaningful an experience and most people don’t like overanalyzation (apparently that’s a word now) on their favorite episodes anyways. What I really want to talk about is why this episode works as an X-Files episode.
I’ve said it before, and will say it again, The X-Files is a show about its characters. More specifically, it is a show about the two different personalities of its two main characters and how those differences work together to create a beautiful partnership. There is a certain duality that is integral to the tone and content of the show. “Clyde Bruckman” is an episode where duality is plentiful. There’s the question of fate and free will that the episode brings up, there’s the contrast between Bruckman’s dark humor and his depression, the difference between “fake” psychics and real ones, the number is really endless. All these pairs fit perfectly with The X-Files because, well, The X-Files is a show about pairs and contrasts. Call that overanalyzing, but I think the episode speaks for itself.
It seems silly to even give this episode a score. The brilliance is practically tangible. Darin Morgan’s greatest skill as a writer has always been how to hide deeply profound messages within humorous dialogue. Even with that said, there’s something incredibly tragic about “Clyde Bruckman” that sets this apart from even other Darin Morgan episodes. Clyde Bruckman’s suicide at the end, and Scully’s compassionate reaction to it (kudos Gillian Anderson), gives this episode an understated yet powerful ending that always leaves me extremely sad. Sad, but not surprised.
This whole episode is a Notable Nugget. I’ll just leave some of my favorite quotes.
(Mulder unwraps a small gold statue of three frogs all holding hands in a circle and hands it to Bruckman.)
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: I don’t know what it is but it belonged to one of the victims.
MULDER: That’s a hit. In psychical research parlance, a correct answer’s a “hit,” an incorrect answer’s a “miss.”
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: The guy who cast the mold for this will die of prostate cancer at the age of eighty-two. Hit or miss?
MULDER: I have no way of verifying that information.
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Then why’d you ask me?
MULDER: Do you receive any other impressions from it?
(He holds it up and studies it.)
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: It’s ugly. Next.
YAPPI: Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an interview to give.
(He walks over to Mulder.)
Skeptics like you make me sick.
MULDER: Mister Yappi, read this thought.
(Yappi stares at him a second, then lunges back slightly as if being hit, an eyebrow arched.)
YAPPI: So’s your old man!
MULDER: You’re not under suspicion… but I do harbor a suspicion that you can see things about this crime… things that we can’t see.
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: I’m, I’m not sure I understand what you mean.
MULDER: I think you do.
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Yeah, yeah, right. I’d, uh, like to see both your badges again, right now.
MULDER: “To whom it may concern. Like our lives, this is a mere formality to let you know I know that you know. Can’t wait till our first meeting when I kill you. Not before you explain some things to me. First on the list, why in the world did I send you this letter? Sincerely, you know who. P.S., say ‘hi’ to the F.B.I. agents.”
(Bruckman waves hi to the agents.)
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Hi.
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: I have only one dream. I dream it ever night. You’re not one of those people who turns everything into a sexual symbol, are you?
MULDER: No, no, I’m not a Freudian, no.
PUPPET: So there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you for some time now. You’ve seen the things I do in the past as well as in the future.
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: They’re terrible things.
PUPPET: I know they are. So, tell me, please, why have I done them?
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Don’t you understand yet, son? Don’t you get it?
(Puppet shakes his head and shrugs.)
You do the things you do because you’re a homicidal maniac.
MULDER: He named the specific body of water the victim would be found in.
SCULLY: Mulder, that only implies that he was the one who put her in there.
MULDER: I don’t believe he’s the killer.
SCULLY: I don’t believe he’s psychic.
MULDER: Well, if he’s not, then how did he know where the body would be found?
SCULLY: Maybe he’s just lucky.
SCULLY: It’s something you haven’t explained. Can you see your own end?
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: I see our end.
(Scully tilts her head forward a little in confusion.)
We end up in bed together.
(Scully tilts her head forward more in utter disbelief.)
I’m, I’m, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that, I, I, I don’t mean to offend you or scare you, but, uh, not here, not this bed. I, I just mean I, I see us quite clearly in bed together. You’re holding me hand, uh… very tenderly and then… you’re looking at me with such compassion and I feel… tears are streaming down my face. I feel so grateful. It’s just a… very special moment neither of us will ever forget.
SCULLY: Mister Bruckman… there are hits and there are misses. And then there are misses.
(She says the final word with a lot of emphasis. He just smiles.)
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: I just call ’em as I see ’em.