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 “Young At Heart”.
Starting with a flashback to 1989 and a correctional facility. There’s screaming and an inmate wonders what’s going on. The inmate wheels into an operating room in a prison infirmary. He’s told John Barnett is dead and in true X-Files fashion, out of the inmate’s view, we see Barnett’s cloudy eyes blink as his apparently dead body lies otherwise unmoving on an operation table. The later, loose revelations surrounding dubious medical research and that Barnett was experimented upon are the only X-Files like element of the episode and feel quite shoehorned in – the episode would have functioned fine without them.
Cutting back to the present and post titles, we’re greeted with the hint that this is an episode where we will discover more about Mulder’s past. We’re introduced to Reggie, an agent that Mulder use to work with while part of the Violent Crimes unit at the FBI. The moment Mulder realises why he’s been called is very well played by Duchonvy, with Mulder blanching and looking suitably perturbed at the same time as a case from his past rears its ugly head.
Mulder’s admission that the original case involving Barnett led to Mulder messing up and being partly responsible for the death of a fellow agent when working the case back in the 80s. As we watch footage taken from when the arrest of Barnett was made year earlier, Reggie fills Scully in on the grisly details and shows something that’s never come across from his work on the X-Files: Mulder didn’t take a shot at Barnett when he could have done, because it, “wouldn’t have been by the book.”
Now, by this point in the series, viewers are very aware that Mulder doesn’t much care for doing things by the book. It’s usually Scully that manages to try and keep things on track, it’s she that works to try and ensure that the two of them are above reproach from the rest of the bureau and while this so often fails – knowing that Mulder wasn’t always so scatter logical is interesting.
I’m not sure what Carter and co. we’re thinking in organising the first season, but it’s kind of weird that “Young At Heart” went out the week after “Lazarus”. These are two episodes that play on the dead coming back to life, but what does work is that the phenomena at hand are both very different.
And as viewers, we know that Barnett was never truly dead. Of course Mulder doesn’t know any of this for quite some time and so his building frustration and anger at the case – considering that Barnett has killed since resurfacing – allows Duchonvy to bring forth a version of Mulder who is far more emotional than usual. Gone are the jokes and witty observations.
“I’ll you, you son-of-a-bitch!” Shouts Mulder as a football game plays in the background, having discovered a batch of photos on his car that show that both he and Scully have been spied upon. Barnett has left a note with the photos. The whole case is seriously unnerving Mulder.
Sure the mystery surrounding Barnett’s apparent reappearance is pretty big, but one of the more defining parts of this episode is the brutality that Barnett inflicts. Really it goes beyond what’s depicted in the earlier episode “Beyond the Sea” where there’s a serial killer as well.
Going to Reggie with the photos, we are presented with yet another figure that at first didn’t want to believe that Mulder really has earned his “Spooky” reputation. Reggie doesn’t believe that it’s really Barnett and the evidence Mulder is going by at this point is thin at best. So Mulder does seem more than a bit crazed in his beliefs. Of course the result of all this is that it further cements the “Spooky” Mulder persona that many in the Bureau have ascribed him.
Meanwhile – what the hell was with that Omen style music at the end of a flashback that Mulder has reminiscing about Barnett’s trial? Seriously, every time it pops-up in this episode it feels well out of place.
Like I mentioned earlier, this episode shows a contrast between the old and the new Mulder. With Barrett presenting Mulder once more with the choice he faced in his past. The whole play on whether Mulder should act by the book help to underlie the suggestion that the regulations at a government authority could hinder the preservation of life.
What’s also repeated is the suggestion that the series will return to the story of this episode in some way – they don’t in the TV series or films.
What did you think of this episode? Let us know in the comments below.