September 2013 sees the 20th anniversary of the first airing of The X-Files . To celebrate this on The Hex Dimension, I’ll be providing you with retrospectives on episodes and I’ll also be covering the films at the points that they fit into the series’ chronology. So, without further ado… welcome to “Shadows”.

X-Files Shadows img 2On the dark streets of Philadelphia

Like the episode’s title suggests, there’s something lurking just out of site. Following an averted mugging that left two suspected terrorists dead, Mulder and Scully are left investigating a case of the supernatural. The show’s first ghost story, it’s quite a slow burner for one of their monster-of-the-week episodes, with the show’s inciting incident happening off screen, prior to the events covered by the episode. Rather than opting to show the suicide of a businessman, the episode begins with his weeping secretary.

The darkness here is again to be found in money and the greed of people, like the previous episode “The Jersey Devil”. Shining like a beacon through all this is Lauren, the deceased secretary of the dead businessman. It’s strange, whereas this kind of character tends to have to face some degree of defamation of character, Lauren doesn’t have to face anything like that. While she is repeatedly threatened, her character is never called into question – something that I wished happened with characters in fiction a bit more often, as in their reputation isn’t sullied by those around them.

X-Files Shadows img 1A typical haunting

Mulder is keen to offer various elements that suggest paranormal activity that’s suited to Carrie or Poltergeist, two films which are directly referenced in this episode. Glen Morgan and James Wong, the episode’s writers, were very aware of the potential background of the episode’s audience. While those two films were made more than ten years before the episode they were still a huge part of contemporary American culture at the time.

Scully’s attempts at disbelief in this episode take quite a while to disappear, in fact never quite do, conversely – Mulder doesn’t automatically know whether the X-File is a haunting or a case of psychokinesis being caused by Lauren. Mulder not being 100% as to the case’s true nature is refreshing, because it’s not too often in this stage in the show that he has moments of doubt. However, it was kind of ridiculous how Scully doesn’t witness the defining moment of showing how there is definitely something supernatural going on – she’s right behind Mulder and then not.

Neck crunching and light bulbs blowing-up on a frequent basis – the episode made good use of visual special effects to bring life to the story’s supernatural happenings. Several times we see the necks of “bad guys” being crushed, and while clearly it would have been a post-production job to get that effect, the effects used don’t look too cheesy. They could easily be done better today, but for the time it looks pretty good.

X-Files Shadows img 3Terrorism

The most awkward part of this episode’s plot is the use of middle-east terrorists. Aired just over a year after the bombing of the World Trade Centre, “Shadows” – by today’s standards – feels clumsy in its handling and appreciation of the motivations behind the episode’s imagined terrorist group. It felt like Morgan and Wong were trying too hard to tie this episode to events happening in the real world. Sure the show’s supernatural elements are quite something, but I don’t think they needed such a tether to the world the audience knew to allow for some suspension of disbelief.

What did you think of this episode? Let us know in the comments below.