Season 3, Episode 5: “The List”
Storytelling must always take precedence over aesthetics. But if it were the other way around, this episode would get a 10/10. It’s marvelously shot and, for the most part, well directed. It has a sickly green atmosphere about it that matches well with the tone of the content.
There, I thought I’d get that out of the way because that’s about the only positive thing I’m going to say about this episode.
I will cut it a tiny bit of slack because I sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted to follow “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” or anything written by Darin Morgan, really. At the same time, though, I feel like this episode has no excuse, being written and directed by The Man himself, Chris Carter. It seems reasonable that if anybody could make a decent follow-up to “Clyde Bruckman,” it’d be Chris, but he just didn’t deliver this time around.
“The List” falls into that category of episodes that are just awful to watch, not just because they’re poor as storytelling devices but because the events taking place are just dreadful and disturbing. We last saw this with the Season 2 episodes “Fearful Symmetry” and “The Calusari,” and unfortunately we’ll be seeing it again in Season 3. Possibly multiple times.
First of all, my stomach twists whenever I see the death penalty show up in my favorite TV show. I won’t go political on you guys or anything, but suffice it to say it’s an issue I feel very strongly about, and in The X-Files they often use it as a plot device. Even in “Beyond the Sea” it was mostly added in to drive the plot forward, though in an effective way. In “The List” they literally just throw it at you, almost casually, and it gives the episode a heavy and disturbing tone that stays all the way to the end, without any relief whatsoever. This is disturbing, disturbing stuff. Worst of all, the fact that it is disturbing is barely addressed. Mulder and Scully just go around and, well, do stuff at all the right times and say stuff at the right moments, but there is never a point where they stop to think about the implications of the situation at hand. Even the final conversation plays it so safe that it literally ends with Scully saying, “It’s over, Mulder. Let’s just go home” and then the episode just cuts off.
Chris Carter really wrote himself into a corner with this episode, because they’re dealing with moral issues like the treatment of prisoners on death row and the death penalty but it’s a TV show; they can’t say anything too controversial or they’ll get in trouble. So he plays it safe, and in doing so, creates an utterly joyless hour of television.
Sorry, Chris. No can do.
Final score for “The List” is 3/10. I give it a few points for atmosphere and visuals, but the poor writing and unfulfilling story make this one a poor addition to Chris Carter’s writing/directing attempts.
- Um, nice cinematography? Oh, I already said that, didn’t I. Um…
- OH YEAH! This exchange.
MULDER: Imagine if you could come back and take out five people who had caused you to suffer. Who would they be?
SCULLY: I only get five?
MULDER: I remembered your birthday this year, didn’t I, Scully?