Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Scully's Death Sentence Begins With "Leonard Betts" And "Memento Mori!"

The Good: "Memento Mori" is an amazing Scully episode!
The Bad: Special effects in "Leonard Betts"
The Basics: Scully and Mulder encounter a man who has the capacity to regenerate due to a strange form of benevolent cancer,which leads the agents to learn something important about Scully!

While doing some research on The X-Files for one of my reviews, I came across the little factoid that "Leonard Betts," which aired after the Super Bowl in 1997 became the most-viewed episode of The X-Files ever. Go figure. I suppose it was a smart move on the part of FOX and the producers of The X-Files, to do a "monster of the week" episode, but still . . . it's "Leonard Betts!" On VHS, "Leonard Betts" and "Memento Mori" kick off the explicit character arc that is one of Scully's two big arcs for the series.

Unfortunately, on the original VHS release, there is some necessity to pairing "Leonard Betts" which ends with an insinuation that seemed obvious without the final scene, with "Memento Mori," wherein Scully is officially diagnosed. For those unfamiliar with The X-Files who might want the surprises that come with all of the various character arcs on the series, now is a good time to stop reading, because it is impossible to discuss "Memento Mori" without revealing what is going on with Scully.

In "Leonard Betts," an EMT is driving and becomes amazed at the skill of the paramedic she is driving to the hospital and gets the ambulance in an accident which results in the paramedic being decapitated. His name is Leonard Betts and his untimely death is followed rather rapidly by his body being stolen from the morgue. However, it appears his body was not stolen so much as it walked out on its own volition.

Mulder and Scully begin their investigation of Betts only to discover his cells appear to be riddled with cancer, leading Mulder to hypothesize that Betts is actually able to regenerate lost limbs, including his head. As they attempt to explain this genetic mutant, the FBI agents discover that in addition to being made entirely of cancerous cells, Betts appears to feed on discarded cancer cells of others. Drained from regenerating so frequently, Betts begins to remove cancerous tissues from victims he comes in contact with, ultimately leading him to a showdown which puts Scully's life in danger!

In "Memento Mori," Scully is hospitalized having been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in an inoperable portion of her brain. Having had the scans determining that the tumor will be lethal, she and Mulder head to Pennsylvania to meet with the M.U.F.O.N. members who Scully met the prior year. Unfortunately, all but one of the members of that group have died of cancer and Scully sidelines herself to get treatment from Dr. Scanlion, who thinks he can save her life.

While Scully is getting treatment, Mulder enlists the Lone Gunmen to infiltrate a facility that seems to have information on the abductees, including Scully. Mulder works with a young man who seems as determined as Mulder to protect the information gathered by the M.U.F.O.N. and when he breaks into the medical facility, Mulder discovers the reason for the man's determination that the information not fall into the hands of the shadow conspiracy. Inside, Mulder makes a terrifying discovery about the nature of what was done to Scully and the other women and Skinner sets down a dark road he would not allow Mulder to travel on.

"Leonard Betts" is a remarkably simple "monster of the week" style episode and it is a fair one, to be sure. The necessity of the episode only comes in the last few moments of the episode and the truth is, "Memento Mori" is just as good without sitting through the lead-up. (As well, there was an episode aired in between the two episodes and it works with or without the Scully Cancer Arc).

This is the beginning of an arc that seemed inevitable given that when the M.U.F.O.N. was encountered by Scully in "Nisei" and "731" (reviewed here!), all of the members had implants like Scully's that had been removed and they were all ill. The speed and severity of their cancer is painted as menacing and the implication is truly terrifying; that what was done to Scully would be so insidious and obviously malicious.

What makes "Leonard Betts" worthwhile outside the whole introduction of the Scully Cancer Arc is that Betts is painted as one of the more human, humane and likable "monsters of the week." Whereas prior bottle-episode characters have almost all been killers and demented beyond their physiological differences, Leonard Betts is a likable guy who has done a pretty decent job of blending. He works a job, he hurts no one by eating the biowaste cancer tumors and he illustrates a genuinely high level of morality, like when he calls the medics after operating on his mother.

It's unfortunate; because left to his own devices, Leonard Betts never needed to do anything that would have put him on the FBI radar. Of course, one has to wonder why he didn't just move to a different area and hospital after being decapitated so as not to run into problems like he did, but that's nit-picking. Less nitpicky is the idea that The X-Files never followed up with this episode with one of the more obvious sequels possible; after all, if the headless corpse can regenerate a head and the whole man can create a duplicate, wouldn't the thumb he tore off himself have the ability to regrow into another Leonard Betts?

The real winner on this video, though, is "Memento Mori," one of the best Scully episodes of the series. If only "Paper Hearts" (reviewed here!) had been put on the same tape as "Memento Mori," that would have probably been the only video from the fourth season the viewer needed! Just as "Paper Hearts" was an intense Mulder episode, "Memento Mori" gives Scully a powerful episode as she is diagnosed with cancer and deals with the emotional ramifications of that. While Mulder runs around looking for solutions and external evidence to try to save Scully, Scully begins keeping a journal where she works to accept her impending death.

Actress Gillian Anderson is absolutely amazing in "Memento Mori" as the wounded and ill Scully. While I seldom do this, the unfortunate aspect of this video is that it is missing one of the most amazing performances by Anderson. The DVD release of this episode includes a deleted scene where Scully and her brother have a quiet argument and Anderson has to seethe and play exhausted, which she does masterfully. Still, it is a great episode and Anderson's performance is impressive without the scene. It's just there is more to her performance than we get to see.

"Memento Mori" is a quiet, contemplative episode in The X-Files mythology and it continues the whole concept of the alien invasion being largely about colonization. It's a strong enough episode on its own to lead one to recommend this video.

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be The X-Files - The Complete Fourth Season, reviewed by me here!
As well, those who already love The X-Files will find The X-Files - The Complete Series to be an even better buy, here!
Thanks for reading!]

"Leonard Betts" - 7.5/10
"Memento Mori" - 9.5/10
VHS - 8/10

For other television program reviews, please visit my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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