September 2013 saw the 20th anniversary of the first airing of  The X-Files . To celebrate this on The Hex Dimension, I’m 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 “Fire”.

Fire X-Files season 1 img 1Happy families

Set in England at the beginning of the episode, we’ve got a clearly well connected British family and a gardener with a thick Irish accent acting all quaint and normal before the father of the family spontaneously combusts. Followed with the introduction to Phoebe Green introduces some of the most interesting sexual chemistry and tension that this season has.

Fire X-Files season 1 img 2Spontaneous human combustion

Cases of this phenomenon are rare and not well documented. It’s proper X-Files territory, and the decision to have a storyline where it looks like a potential Irish republican terrorist may be setting members of the British parliament on fire through unknown means makes for an interesting set-up. It could have quite simply been a case of some random individual in the US setting random people on fire, but the exotic backgrounds of the characters involved makes for more involved viewing.

Of course there is one thing that I can’t help doing whenever I watch this episode and this is cringe at the accents being used. I don’t know how many of the actors used were actually British, but the accents are so over the top in their British poshness levels that I find it unpleasant to listen to. Put it this way: Family Guy was not the first Fox show to have dodgy Brit accents.

Fire X-Files season 1 img 3Distraction

“So, Sherlock, is the game afoot?” Scully.

“Afraid so, Watson,” Mulder.

Phoebe, the Scotland Yard Detective in this episode, is a bit of a Yoko Ono figure in this episode, looking set to unbalance the relationship between Mulder and Scully. Mulder sees this and wants to protect Scully not just from his own demons – he is petrified of fire – but from Phoebe, who he describes as “fire”. Phoebe is a part of his life that Mulder has spent ten years trying to get away from. Ten long years and it is unsettling, if you’re a fan of the character, to see Mulder get so upset over someone.

We have seen Mulder scared, a bit, in previous episodes in this first season, but this is one of the important episodes for his on-going characterisation and development. The fact that government conspiracies and little grey men, childhood abductions and other regular boogeymen are not the only things that can keep Mulder up at night.

However, I feel that the past relationship between Phoebe and Mulder isn’t explored enough. We know something bad happened between them back at Oxford and that it wasn’t necessarily a conventional break-up, but no real hint as to what happened between them… well except that Phoebe was perhaps a bit “difficult” to work with and some indiscretions… Mulder’s line of, “I’m cursed with photographic memory,” does hint at Phoebe sleeping with someone else when they were going out, but it feels that it was more than just that which pushed them apart.

Fire X-Files season 1 img 4Not so simple

The official line of inquiry is that the individual responsible for the deaths is an arsonist, and with Scully’s profiling of the individual we’re given a villain who does read like he’s out of a book on criminology. At the same time, the man in question is showing supernatural like qualities in his ability to manipulate fire.

It’s nice how Carter, in this episode, manages to tie together a supernatural concept of a person with pyrokinesis and set the antagonist’s drives firmly within what was still an emerging field – that of criminal profiling. Simple and elegant characterisation of a villain, which you don’t often get in X-Files episodes.

Fire X-Files season 1 img 5Burning up

The effects involved during the episodes final scenes at the house are pretty damn amazing. The imposing flames as they flutter and tear across the ceiling are impressive, and the manner in which Cecil (played by Mark Sheppard who would later appear as the lawyer in the new Battlestar Galactica and the president’s aide in Doctor Who) sets it all off is uniquely menacing and terrifying, with his motivations so unclear.

Annoyingly, this is another episode where the villain is not again visited in later seasons, despite his survival.

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