Season 4, Episode 12: “Leonard Betts”
It’s no surprise that Fox wanted “Leonard Betts” to air after the Super Bowl instead of the following episode, “Never Again.” I like to think that decision has more to do with the strengths of this episode rather than the weaknesses of the next. Really, though, it makes perfect sense. “Leonard Betts” is an episode so quintessentially X-Files that you could show it to any newcomer and they’d be able to easily grasp the show’s characters, look, and feel. “Never Again,” whether you like it or hate it, would be a weird episode to show to potential newcomers.
It’s hard to find something to criticize about “Leonard Betts” because, in many respects, it’s stone-perfect. This episode was penned by three writers – Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz – and for some reason, this trio just seems to work (“Leonard Betts” won’t be their only success, that’s for sure). At the same time, you won’t see “Leonard Betts” on a lot of favorites lists, nor do I see it mentioned particularly often. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s unknown, but it’s certainly not held to the high esteem or has even achieved the fame of episodes like “Squeeze” and “Home,” though it’s just as freaky and disgusting. The community grade on the A.V. Club review is actually an A-, and even though that’s only out of 18 users, you get the feeling that this practically perfect MOTW episode is fondly remembered in the eyes of critics and, well, not remembered in the eyes of viewers.
And honestly, I can’t really come up with an explanation for that. The only thing I can think of is that the last five minutes of the episode are so iconic and famous that they completely overshadowed the rest of the story, at least in the minds of fans. Somehow, though, I have a hard time wrestling with that notion. It would be one thing if the rest of this episode wasn’t memorable, but…it is. I, for one, have never forgotten the image of Leonard Betts regrowing his head. It’s easily one of the grossest, most original sequences in all MOTW-dom. Nor is it easy to forget Mulder and Scully digging through a hospital dumpster and pulling out a severed head.
What makes “Leonard Betts” compelling as a story – we’ll address the last five minutes later – is how much we feel that Leonard Betts is actually a really good guy. He’s obviously a mutant and a murderer, but he doesn’t feel like one on the same level as Eugene Victor Tooms or Virgil Incanto from “2Shy.” Leonard Betts apologizes to each of his victims before he kills them, and he genuinely sounds sorry. More so than any other MOTW, “Leonard Betts” really focuses on the idea that this particular monster has a basic need that can’t be fulfilled in any other capacity. He regrets doing what he does, but he has to in order to survive. It’s a theme we’ll see done again, but maybe not quite as well.
Even with all that, I think what I like about “Leonard Betts” the most is just how engaging and entertaining it is (like I said, it’s no wonder the studio chose to air this one after the Super Bowl). It’s fun. It’s smart. It’s suspenseful. I can watch knowing full well what’s going to happen and I’m still on the edge of my seat when those last five minutes come around. Speaking of which, let’s talk about those.
I dare you to find a scene of any X-Files episode that is so perfectly paced. Everything – everything – is perfectly executed at just the right time. It’s kind of amazing, actually. It’s a testament not only to how strong The X-Files has become in its storytelling but also in its own atmosphere and production. Everybody involved with the making of this episode deserves a high ten.
As for the story, well, they drop a shocker on us that is so perfect in both its explosiveness and subtlety that I’m going to take you all on a journey through this scene.
First, we have Scully doing some kick-ass action, which is unbelievably cool, sexy, different, amazing, come up with your own adjective. Suddenly the action pauses. The episode holds its breath. Leonard Betts says his famous line – “I’m sorry, but you’ve got something I need,” and Gillian Anderson delivers another perfect performance with this one facial expression:
Look at the shock, confusion, realization, fear. All the emotions are there within a matter of seconds. It’s interesting because Scully’s moment of realization means that she fears what Leonard Betts is and she isn’t so dismissive of Mulder’s crazy theories after all. Scully realizes she might have cancer here, not when she has the nosebleed. It’s a wonderfully layered scene and I have watched it on repeat so many times. Even looking at that gif while I’m writing this is driving me crazy.
“Leonard Betts” may not be the episode you think of when you think The X-Files. Or maybe it is, I don’t know. But it is a perfect episode to show a newcomer. It’s one of the very best MOTWs, and it’s just a fantastic episode of television.
Final score for “Leonard Betts” is 10/10. Strangely enough, I was actually looking for ways to give this episode a 9/10. That’s when I realized I was trying to make sure Season 4’s average score didn’t get too high – not because I don’t like this Season, but because I want the averages to reflect what I feel is the show’s rise in quality from Seasons 4 to 5. And that’s when I also realized that maybe averaging each season is a stupid thing to do. I’m considering getting rid of that altogether.
In any case, I couldn’t find any reason to not give this episode a perfect score. So, there you have it. 10/10.
Notable Nuggets (And Nitpicks)
- Mulder and Scully stand in the snow holding umbrellas and I can barely handle it.
- Mulder very inconsistently shows no fear of fire when the car explodes. “Fire” was a silly episode.
- “John Gilnitz” is the combined name of this episode’s three writers, John Shiban, Vince Gilligan, and Frank Spotnitz. I completely forgot they actually gave a character this name. Hahaha. 🙂