Ranking Mulder in The X-Files Season One (#23 – Lazarus)

I’ve re-watched The X-Files so many times but its been years since I just randomly popped in an episode and enjoyed it. I’m rigidly stubborn and have to watch things in order. Well I just had a kid and kids force you to adjust, dammit! So one way I adjusted is that I ranked the first season based on how well I feel Mulder impacted each episode and am then watching them in reverse order, paying special attention to him. (So yeah, I decided that right after having a kid is a great opportunity to waste more time).

So here we go with #23 in Season 1 for Mulder and looks like Lazarus will not be rising any higher in these rankings.

#23 may seem far too low for Lazarus. There are much worse steaming piles of episodic crap this season such as Space , The Jersey Devil, Born Again, or Young at Heart. But when I think about ranking episodes based on Fox Mulder’s impact, an important factor is how much Mulder is actually there. Unfortunately, Lazarus treats Mulder as a glorified guest-star, instead focusing on the charisma-black hole that is Jack Willis.

“Don’t worry, you got this Chief.”

On one hand, David Duchovny is good here which is not surprising considering director David Nutter had a way of getting the most out of him in Season 1. His dialogue is crisp during the first half of the episode with a nice balance of Mulderisms and theories. His few scenes with Scully have that breezy rapport we all love and their chemistry is great as usual. There’s even some tiny little character moments for Mulder which I didn’t expect going into this rewatch. When she questions the meaning of the stopped wrist-watch at the end, he’s in tune with what Scully needs in the moment. He gives her space and allows her to draw her own conclusions rather than launch into some pretentious diatribe about the truth and paranormal phenomenon that you know he is just dying to.

“It means whatever you want it to mean….GAHHHH I can’t take it anymore! THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE!”

Unfortunately, Lazarus is the least screen-time Mulder gets all season long. Splitting our loveable duo up would eventually become one of The X-Files’ unheralded strengths but here in the 15th episode, the show isn’t quite able to handle that as deftly as something like The Erlenmeyer Flask. Consequently, we get a really poorly balanced episode of Mulder.

There are large swaths of the episode where Mulder just isn’t involved. Lazarus is about Jack Willis, Warren Dupree, and Lula Phillips, none of whom can carry a single goddamn scene without putting me to sleep. The first half of the episode is where most of the good Mulder moments occur but we don’t see Mulder until over seven minutes in. And once he comes onboard, his scenes never build up momentum because we keep getting dull interludes with Jack.

Then the second half starts and instead of charming Mulder being interrupted by Jack Willis’ maudlin existential crisis, we get cliched-cop-show-Mulder being interrupted by a super lethargic hostage situation that doesn’t go anywhere. Nearly all of the qualities I praised earlier for Mulder have been replaced with the generic store-brand version of Mulder. Sure there are small nice bits; his rapport with Agent Bruskin is refreshing and his partnership with the tech expert in pinpointing Scully’s location is something I wish the show would do more in later seasons. But those examples are good because of the other characters involved, not because of Mulder. Mulder is essentially reduced to some generic handwringing and angst over Scully’s kidnapping while just going through the motions of dealing with this crisis. He listens to Jack’s profiling tapes but that scene literally serves no purpose and just gives us more insight into Dupree and Lula’s boring-ass relationship. We get to witness Mulder threaten Lula if she hurts Scully but his heart doesn’t seem all that into it. And we have Mulder briefing the FBI agents and vaguely articulating how much Scully means to him. These scenes all feels like the writers’ checking those boxes to make sure they hit all the necessary television hostage situation tropes and cliches. Scully’s predicament never feels dire which consequently can be felt in Duchovny’s performance. Contrast this with something like One Breath, Irresistible, or Unruhe and its pretty glaring.

Even the good Mulder bits early in the episode are not beyond reproach. He’s charismatic, charming, and effective…but it also feels like a bit much. I mean, he freakin’ solves the entire case by his second scene! He’s the one who hones in on Willis going for the wedding ring, he’s the one who offhandedly makes a comment indicating Lula Phillips may have set Dupree up, he’s the one who figures out that Tommy was watching TV before being killed, and of course he’s the one who deduces the correct paranormal theory and tests it on Jack. While Scully stands around being utterly ineffective, Mulder is making leaps, observing subtle details about the case, noting forensic evidence, and running off to the store to buy birthday cards for his partner’s ex. Is there anything this guy can’t do??

Well he sure as hell can’t make this guy interesting.

It’s clear that writers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon weren’t interested in keeping things a mystery and just wanted to set up a dull-as-shit third act hostage situation. Unfortunately, the way they go about it is by making Mulder into literally the most efficient agent in the history of the FBI while also making Scully so ridiculously ignorant. I love Scully but she’s handled very poorly in Lazarus and that lack of balance between the two of them is a weight on the entire episode. It would have been nice to have Scully be a bit more effective, considering this is actually a Scully-centric episode. Lazarus treats Scully like she’s not very competent which makes me enjoy Mulder’s interactions with her less than I would like.

“Come on Scully, try to keep up.”

It also would have been nice if Mulder had been a bit more diligent with his theories to Scully. If Mulder was truly convinced that Willis was not really Willis but instead a hardened criminal, you would think he would have tried to impart on Scully how dangerous this situation could be. But nope, instead he just waltzes into a scene, solves everything, talks to Scully…and then drops it?! It feels like a contrivance to get that hostage crap started.

In the end, the main reason I have this at #23 is that this is as far from being a Mulder episode as possible. He’s in it less than any other episode during the season, he’s overly effective in the beginning just to service the plot, and he’s overly generic in the second half because the episode doesn’t have any stakes. He has his nice one-liners and clever moments but they are too diluted to make this any higher for me.

And now for some random Mulder tidbits.

6 thoughts on “Ranking Mulder in The X-Files Season One (#23 – Lazarus)

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