The X-Files: Beyond the Sea   Rewatch 
August 9, 2015 8:31 PM - Season 1, Episode 13 - Subscribe

After Scully's father dies suddenly, her skepticism is put to the test by a prisoner on death row, who claims that – by using recently gained psychic powers – he can help her catch a kidnapper.
posted by town of cats (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's striking that this episode really doesn't sound that good if you just read the plot summary. But the performances from Gillian Anderson and Brad Dourif are incredible. This is the series' first Scully-centric episode and it was sorely needed by episode 13.

That said, I'm not sure I love this episode as much as I used to. That AV Club review articulates it better than I could. I still think it's a tour de force but I'm not actually a fan of the direction in which it develops either character. I'll probably think this over and post more later.

One thing I just learned from that Wikia summary's little fun facts at the end is that Boggs' kiss-kill tattoos were in fact a reference to the X song "We're Desperate", something I've idly wondered for years but never bothered to check out. Thanks, The Internet!

I think I'm going to try to post these on Sunday nights going forward since, idk, it just feels right watching X-Files on Sunday nights.
posted by town of cats at 8:44 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Brad Dourif is amazing in this. The dude is pretty much always amazing. I find his career fascinating, because if you look at his listing on IMDB you can see his status in Hollywood rise and fall, over and over again as the decades pass. He very occasionally gets a lead role, but mostly he just keeps working and working as a character actor, sometimes in great big movies and sometimes on TV and sometimes in cruddy little movies, and no matter the role he always brings total conviction to it. He's that rare actor where if you decided to just track down everything he's ever been in and watch it, you could be pretty sure you were in for a good time. He's played characters with names like Fingerless, Wormtongue, The Dark One, Camillus Fly, Weasel, Mr. Smirker, Dr. Iggy Drexel... that last one was from Law and Order: SVU, and it's the first thing that's ever made me want to actually sit down and watch an episode of Law and Order: SVU. (You just know Dr. Iggy Drexel has been up to some ghastly things.) As if he wasn't already freaky enough, the guy is 65 and has only just recently stopped looking 35. Now he could pass for 45, with the right wig.

I'd class him with the Christopher Walken of old, in the sense that they're both guys who are so weirdly intense and spooky that they seem like they really must be aliens or something. It's this totally genuine creepiness, a bone-deep creepy. A while back Walken started playing it for laughs and as fun as that's been we did lose one of Hollywood great creeps. But Dourif if still out there, creepy as ever.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:15 AM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have a fondness for Don Davis ever since his turn as Major Briggs in Twin Peaks. Something about a guy who is a professional killer trying his best to teach everyone around him the way to resolve inner and outer conflicts peacefully really resonates with me.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:23 AM on August 10, 2015

OK, so after pondering it more...I think what really bugged me about the character development in this episode was not only that, as in the AVClub review, Scully's reason for not believing in Boggs is "I'm afraid" rather than "I came up with a better explanation." As she says at the end, he could have been making lucky guesses. She wants to believe in him because he did her a solid and because he presents reasonably good evidence for his psychic powers. And that's fine, but it's incumbent upon Scully as the voice of science to do a little better, and it's disappointing that she doesn't even try here. I get that she's had a rough week, but jeez.

Honestly, it frustrates me so much that Scully is Catholic. I feel like if she were written now, she'd be an agnostic or atheist, but because there's this massive, gaping hole right in the middle of her skepticism, it leaves the writers room to let other stuff crawl in where convenient. It undermines Scully's assertion that she requires proof, and it implies that actually, she just believes in things for which she lacks evidence because she happens to finds them personally comforting, not because they're any more compelling than the things she doesn't believe because they don't hold water. This is a really, really disappointing and cowardly way to be a skeptic. I sympathize with the writers here since putting an atheist woman on network TV in the early 90s is not something I would've attempted either.

And Mulder in this episode comes off as cripplingly narcissistic, like, "Take this man off this case" narcissistic. If Boggs were ANYONE else it seems clear Mulder would have been the first to sign the "Pardon Luther Lee Boggs, Noted Psychic" petition, but because Mulder is convinced that Boggs is just trying to get him back for writing that profile, the frankly rather compelling evidence for Boggs' psychic powers is repeatedly swept under the rug. Nowhere does Mulder present any case for HOW he believes Boggs is coordinating with Henry on the outside. When was this planned? How are they communicating? Boggs could literally turn into an alien in front of Mulder's eyes and he'd be like "Sleight of hand, a simple parlor trick. Try again, Boggs." Mulder's little trick to smoke out Boggs by offering him the t-shirt piece would have made a lot more sense if Boggs had actually represented himself as someone who needed to smell a shirt to have a psychic experience, but given that he never does that other than that one time, it seems like a poor trap.

So yeah...I strongly disliked both Mulder and Scully by the end of this episode, and I feel it set really terrible precedents for both of their characters. When Scully's going through a rough patch, she casts about for anything that might make her feel better, even if under ordinary circumstances she'd think it was preposterous. And when Mulder has personal history with someone he's investigating, his notoriously open mind snaps shut.

This episode is still an artistic triumph, but I no longer love it the way I used to. On the other hand, I love the peace Scully finds at the end a lot more now that I've lost close relatives, which I hadn't back when I first saw this episode. Of course she knew what he was going to tell her. It was the question she'd been asking for the whole episode. And of course she knew the answer already. It was a great sort of heartwarming Wizard of Oz ending; she had to go on this adventure to come home to what she already had in her heart. Given that Chris Carter has shouted his Wizard of Oz love from the rooftops I'm ready to believe this was on purpose.

Also, the fact that I now associate "Beyond the Sea" with both this and "Finding Nemo" yielded a TON of cognitive dissonance.

And NOW I feel like I've given Beyond the Sea all the thought I ever need to give it. Whew.
posted by town of cats at 8:14 PM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I know I said I wasn't going to say more, but... I guess this episode really humanized both of the leads and maybe that was the intention when all is said and done. Mulder and Scully are so often caricatures of themselves on this show and this episode showed them both hitting major personal failure modes. Perhaps that was intentional.

So: artistically, episode great. Character development, I'm neutral on; I'm not sure if the writers intended to show the characters acting out of established character to prove they're human and flawed under certain pressures, but that does seem plausible. I definitely love both characters less after having thought this episode through in detail, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

NOW I'm done.
posted by town of cats at 10:17 PM on August 10, 2015

Y'know, Scully being Catholic doesn't mean she was flawed in her skepticism. There are plenty of religious folk in the sciences; they just know when and where to bring science into things and where not to.

Shit, I attribute a lot of my jonesing for weird paranormal investigation stuff to a nun. The nun who lead the kids' Sunday School classes when I was eight interrupted the usual syllabus to go off on a whole tear about the Shroud of Turin for two weeks, where she was telling us all sorts of details about the photo developing techniques that let people see the image, and the anatomical detail that gave the theory credence, etc. She's even how I learned what carbon-dating was, because she was talking about how a team of scientists was lobbying the Vatican to let them carbon-date the shroud - the Vatican was balking, and she was very vocal about how the Vatican was letting an opportunity to put this to scientific proof pass them by. Okay, sure, she probably had a desired outcome for the testing, but I never got the sense that she would be all "well they're wrong, then" if the carbon-dating hadn't come out that way.

I'll grant you the "immaculate conception" stuff went over the top later on, but Scully being Catholic never bothered me. If it makes you feel better, pretend that she went to a Jesuit school or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:17 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think what makes the episode is Brad Dourif saying "I would have known you were lying." That fake out was awesome and only a talented actor could pull it off.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:49 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

My parents took me and my brother out with them to see Casino the night this aired, and I was begging them to leave so we could get back home in time to watch it live. That's about all I remember about it, ultimately. There's some good character work, but it's not too memorable beyond that IMO.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:14 AM on March 9, 2020

We're introduced to Scully's parents in this episode, but while Scully's mother enjoys a good run on the series, her father promptly dies. I don't know why Scully not practicing medicine was such an issue with her parents. It's not like she's not using her medical skills every day of her working life.

Mulder calls Scully "Dana" and cups her face with his hand. Wow, their relationship is really heating up.

I don't know why Scully didn't confide in Mulder earlier -- he's dismissive of Boggs because he doesn't know the whole story.

If Boggs did nothing else good in his life, he saved three lives.
posted by orange swan at 6:55 PM on March 10, 2020

I keep forgetting how early this episode is and how seminal.

My (entirely unsubstantiated) headcannon has Scully's dad and Major Briggs be actually the same person but kept secret lives from his two families.

But yeah, what a pair of performances from Anderson and Dourif.
posted by porpoise at 7:09 PM on March 24, 2020

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