The monster-of-the-week in this episode is a fantastic mix; in a way he was created, medically engineered, but he was also a monster before any medical experiments take place. This episode is of the ‘Half-Caf’ variety, mixing a clear villain with a government conspiracy, although there are no aliens in site. While the story taps into ideas that have already been explored (Eve), it has an added layer of character development. A few minor criticisms aside, Young at Heart is another very solid season one episode.
Poor Mulder, at this point whenever a former partner or co-worker is introduced we can just assume he is going to be killed off at some point in the episode. Unlike Jerry in Ghost in the Machine, however, Reggie Purdue is a pretty lovable character. He clearly admires and appreciates Mulder’s ‘spooky’ ability to solve cases even if he doesn’t approve of his career path. Reggie’s main purpose in this episode is to allow us to learn about Mulder’s first case as an agent, a case that still haunts him. This episode comes after a few great character pieces for Scully, so it’s nice that they include another story shedding light onto Mulder’s character. What an interesting twist to make Mulder’s decision to do something ‘by the book’ the thing that causes two people to die; it helps us see the beginning of his pathway into the basement and to the X-files. Several characters have now helped explain Mulder and his choices; from Jerry we learned that Mulder wasn’t willing to step on people to climb the FBI ladder, and from Reggie and the John Barnett case we learn that Mulder became disillusioned to following protocol right from his first case. We are finally seeing that many elements other than just finding Samantha led him to his role as the ‘FBI’s most unwanted’.
As far as monsters go, it’s hard for John Barnett to be my favorite in season one, mostly because we see so little of him, but I still appreciate the way in which he was portrayed. In particular, the fact that we only get a good look at the new younger version of him at the show’s climax is fantastic. We can’t pick him out of the crowd any better than Mulder and Scully at the end, but as soon as we see his eyes (well, and his salamander hand) we know.
As to how a monster like young-Barnett even came to be, I also find the back-story and medical experiment element compelling. It struck me on this rewatch how closely this story shadows the concepts from Eve a few episodes earlier. Both feature doctors carrying on work that had been shut down on human subjects, both feature attempts to medically alter human subjects, and in both the U.S. government is trying to gain access to the research. I don’t have a problem with the repeated theme because, quite simply, it works. This case is also distinguished because it is so much more personal to Mulder.
So you may be wondering, what’s the problem with this episode, why isn’t it an ‘A’ like its similar predecessor? My answer is this: the ending scene is incredibly anticlimactic for me, and I think they blew an opportunity to have a historic showdown between Mulder and Barnett. It is setup extremely well for this, they have a concert hall with nooks and crannies and lots of differently lit areas, the sound of the cello echoing throughout the scene is both beautiful and haunting, and Scully is positioned as a human target for Barnett, making the emotional stakes high. And then what happens? Barnett just walks into the concert hall’s atrium, shoots Scully, then gets shot by Mulder a few seconds later; the entire scene takes about 90 seconds. I know time is a factor in a television show, but there’s something about the timing of this final scene that kind of takes the wind out of this episode’s sails. Now, even if they had shot it to my liking I still think it’s a good decision to have Mulder shoot Barnett without waiting for him to monologue or make the first move; this was effective in bookending the characters’ stories. Maybe it would have been better to have it be Scully who Barnett holds hostage? I’m not sure, but either way that is my only main complaint.
On a character note, it seems that the more people Mulder and Scully lose, the closer they become as a team. It helps that Scully has a very clear scientific basis for going along with Mulder’s idea in this one (as provided by Dr. Ridley). At this point in the series our two agents are marvelously in sync (almost comically so in their shoulder-to-shoulder approach to the first crime scene).
Despite my issues with the final scene, I still enjoy Young at Heart. This episode is effective as a government conspiracy story without even the hint of anything extra-terrestrial. I think this episode shows that the creators are starting to pick up on what works as a formula for a good story, but they also understand what they need to do in order to make this formula appealing multiple times over. B+
I just love this exchange:
Mulder: Robbing a jewelry store is a federal crime. Scully: Thank you.
Agent Henderson, the handwriting expert who’s playful with Mulder, is fantastic! She gave off a kind of Moneypenny vibe that I found amusing, wish we had seen her again. She has a great line: “Ten minutes may be enough time for you, Mulder. Course I wouldn’t know that from personal experience…”
There’s something odd and funny about Scully getting all curled up in her armchair while talking to Dr. Ridley.
Only a quick Deep Throat appearance here… I’m excited for his role to expand in the coming episodes.
We had already met Sheila Larken as Scully’s mother, so I wonder why they used that weird woman’s voice for Margaret Scully on the answering machine. I guess they didn’t really anticipate needing to show her mother again at this point.
Prisoner in the wheelchair, yet again, will be Hepcat Helm in ‘Humbug’.
The woman who plays the prosecutor in Mulder’s flashback will also show up again as the wife of the missing father in ‘Detour’.
Agent Henderson (aka Moneypenny) is another Mad Men alum, she plays Joan Harris’s mother.