Season 3, Episode 17: “Pusher”
I’ve been saying throughout my Season 3 reviews that Season 2’s “Irresistible” raised the bar for X-Files standalone episodes and the show has actively been trying to reach it ever since. In my “Grotesque” review, I said, and I quote:
I said in my “Oubliette” review that “Irresistible” created a new standard for The X-Files and spent the rest of Season 2 and Season 3 trying to reach it. It will reach it, I promise (and in this season, too!), but not in the way you might expect, and I will say nothing more so as not to give anything away. Needless to say, perhaps the best method for reaching the bar “Irresistible” raised was not merely trying to copy the tone.
As it turns out, the best method for reaching the bar “Irresistible” raised was no more complicated than just throwing in a little Vince Gilligan.
Vince Gilligan is probably the most famous writer to come out of The X-Files. He is of course most notable for creating the award-winning TV series Breaking Bad (which I still haven’t seen but I will one day, I promise). He was probably the most successful at reserving the show’s quirky, offbeat humor after Darin Morgan left, and he will be a blessing to the show for basically the rest of its run.
Now, I wasn’t a huge fan of Vince Gilligan’s first episode for The X-Files, “Soft Light.” But his second episode, “Pusher,” more than makes up for it.
Yes, my fellow X-Philes, it’s “Pusher” that finally reaches that bar “Irresistible” raised, and it does so not by recreating “Irresistible” but really by doing everything different.
Watch these two episodes back-to-back and you’ll see what I mean. “Irresistible” is dark, filmed in shadow, with lots of blacks and grays. “Pusher” is out in the open – bright, sunny, and clear. “Irresistible” begins with a funeral, with lots of people crying and sad music playing. “Pusher” begins in a grocery store, with happy grocery store music playing. Donnie Pfaster doesn’t say much, and when he does, it’s awkward and creepy. Robert Patrick Modell talks a lot, and when he does it’s creepy but fluent. Donnie Pfaster takes a special interest in Scully, Robert Patrick Modell takes a special interest in Mulder. In “Irresistible” it’s Scully who has the final showdown with Mulder coming to her rescue, in “Pusher” Mulder has the final showdown with Scully coming to his rescue.
See what I mean?
“Pusher” is one of those episodes I like to label “just damn good television.” It’s a perfect episode. There’s really nothing wrong with it – or if there is, it’s so minuscule I can’t even think of it.
Robert Patrick Modell is the most intriguing and original villain to come out of Season 3. His “gimmick,” if you will, talking people into killing themselves, is new and exciting and makes for some really clever situations to throw our two favorite agents in. Especially since you know at some point Pusher’s going to have a final showdown with Mulder, and that Mulder is going to be put under the influence of Pusher’s ability.
“Pusher” almost plays like a mini-movie, it’s so good. From the phone calls leaving “bread crumbs” to the many, many times Pusher forces someone to either light themselves on fire, drive into a speeding truck, have a heart attack, or kick Skinner in the face, it all feels like a larger-than-TV adventure and that’s what makes it so enduring.
Mulder and Scully are great in this one, too. We have a rare instance of Scully kind of agreeing with Mulder’s theory, though she doesn’t really know how Pusher does what he does. The final showdown is one of the best in X-Files history. Pusher has Mulder pointing a gun at himself and it takes Scully pleading with Mulder to keep Mulder from losing himself to Pusher’s will and finally shooting Pusher. One of Gillian Anderson’s very best acting moments is when Mulder turns the gun on Scully and her expression just turns to one of devastation.
Honestly, “Pusher” is so good that me trying to list all of its awesome qualities is really pointless. Just go watch the damn thing. Don’t let my review take up another minute of your time.
(See what I did there?!)
Final score for “Pusher” is 10/10. Just damn good television.
- I, too, like cerulean blue.
- I just love Mulder in this episode. He’s so quick on his feet and sincere and puppy-doggish and he wears a white t-shirt… Also I love it when he says “Maybe he really, really didn’t want to go to jail.”
- Poor Skinner. Must have been a rotten day at the office.
- Shipper alert: hand holds! Hand holds!