Mulder must overcome his phobia of fire to catch a mutant killer with fire-controlling capabilities.
Bosham, England, 70 miles southwest of London. A distinguished older man leaves his house for the day, saying goodbye to his wife and his many groundskeepers. As he gets into his chauffeured car, the man spontaneously bursts into flame in front of everyone, as the gardener glares evilly.
At the Hoover Building garage, Mulder and Scully get into their car to find a mysterious audiotape on the dashboard. When Mulder plays it, a female British voice tells them Parliament member Reggie Ellicott was killed six months ago when a similar cassette triggered a car explosion. The agents are apparently sitting on a bomb - but then Mulder's door opens to reveal Scotland Yard Inspector Phoebe Green, an acquaintance from Mulder's Oxford days more than 10 years ago. And though having broken his heart then, she kisses him heartily now, as Scully looks away in annoyance.
Phoebe explains someone is burning up Parliament members, then sending love letters to their wives. One MP, Sir Malcolm Marsden, had barely escaped a garage fire and has subsequently moved his family to Cape Cod, Massachusetts on vacation. Mulder, recalling Phoebe's penchant for haranguing, runs the information by the arson guys as a "professional courtesy," despite Scully's suspicions. Arson Agent Beatty suggests the cause is rocket fuel, which burns at very high temperatures, almost completely destroying any traces of itself. Mulder suggests pyrokinesis.
At Sir Malcolm's vacation cottage, a caretaker, Bob, dressed in painting garb, is applying argotypoline rocket-propulsion class-3 liquid to a window frame. When Sir Malcolm and his wife enter, he endears himself to them. "Bob," who is really the gardener from England, makes a cigarette light by itself without touching the tip. Outside, a dog scratches at the shallow grave of the real caretaker before Bob chases him off.
In his office, Mulder tells Scully that Phoebe is playing mind-games with him, since she knows he has a long-standing phobia about fire. While in town for cough medicine for the MP's ill chauffeur, Bob stops in at a bar, where he uses his finger to light a cigarette for a Miss Kotchik. She thinks it's just a charming magic trick - until he sets his arm and the whole bar afire. At Boston Mercy Hospital, Kotchik describes the events to Phoebe and Mulder (who have pulled a news-wire report of this suspicious fire). At Cape Cod, Bob poisons the chauffeur in order to take his place driving the family to a Boston party in Sir Malcolm's honor. He also shows a "magic" fire trick to the MP's children, Michael and Jimmie, and briefly tries to tempt them into smoking cigarettes before they are called away by their mother.
Phoebe agrees with Mulder that the arsonist may be telekinetic and asks him to assist with a potential trap at the party that evening; she also mentions with a sly smile she's taken a hotel room in Boston. At 5:15 p.m., Mulder arrives at the Venable Plaza Hotel, suitcase in hand. When Scully calls to say she wants to fly up with some data on a possible suspect, he is hesitant, which Scully catches on to. At 6:47 p.m., the MP and his family arrive. Phoebe works undercover in a stunning black gown; Mulder is in a tux. When the arsonist doesn't show, she begins to dance with Mulder in the hallway outside the party. Scully appears, but hangs back when she sees them kissing. She turns away to see Bob lurking in the hallway, but interrupts the dance a moment later when a fire alarm panel shows smoke and fire alarms on the 14th floor, where the MP's children are. Mulder races upstairs, but the fire causes him to panic and collapse, necessitating rescue by firefighters. Bob himself "saves" the kids.
Phoebe tells Scully that she checked out the chauffeur before the family came to America and cleared him (not knowing Bob is not the real chauffeur). She also tells Mulder she'll be leaving with the family in a few days. Scully tells Mulder she ran an Interpol check on the victims' domestic help. The only duplicated name: Cecil L'Ively, a gardener for two of the victims. Searching further, she found him listed as having died in a London tenement fire in 1971 - and having died with a group of kids in a British Satanic-cult sacrifice in 1963. His name also turned up at a Boston immigration office list of recent visas. Scully gets a fax of the composite sketch of the bar arsonist, whom she recognizes as the "hero", Bob. Mulder races to the Cape Cod house, where he barges-in on the married MP nuzzling on the stairs with Phoebe.
When Scully arrives a visibly upset Mulder shows her the rocket fuel he found, suspecting the entire house has been coated with it. Sir Malcolm looks at the composite and realizes the arsonist is not the trusted chauffeur but the caretaker, who is upstairs with the kids. The real chauffeur is found in the bathroom, burnt to a crisp. Suddenly, the house catches fire. The agents hustle everyone out while Mulder goes back upstairs to find the children; he confronts L'Ively, but is stymied when L'Ively sets the hallway on fire. Going back downstairs, he is confronted by Scully, whom he dares to shoot him and risk an explosion by the combustion of the gunshot. Phoebe splashes him with an accelerant, and he catches fire himself as he stumbles out of the house. Mulder manages to overcome his fear and break into the room where the children are held, carrying them outside to the others. Everyone watches as L'Ively burns on the lawn, laughing maniacally and declaring that "you can't fight fire with fire!"
Back at the office, Mulder is startled by Scully's rather accurate imitation of Phoebe's voice. Phoebe, who has apparently left for England without saying goodbye, left another tape for Mulder, but he chooses not to listen to it, having seen her with the MP, an indiscretion similar to ones that led to their breakup years ago, and deciding it is not worth dwelling on.
At Boston Mercy Hospital, Cecil is in a hyperbaric chamber with fifth-and-sixth-degree burns a temperature of 109ºF, and a loss of all his hair. Specialists have found phenomenally rapid regeneration of his fundamental, basal cell tissue. He'll recover in as little as a month, at which point he'll be tried for the murder of the caretaker. When a nurse stops by to check on him she asks if there is anything he would like, he replies, "I'm just dying for a cigarette," and grins cheekily.
SEMICOLON-SEPARATED LIST OF ITEMS/LOCATIONS REFERENCED IN EPISODE (BUT NOT LINKED TO IF ALREADY LINKED IN SUMMARY OR GUEST STARS SECTIONS)
- Chris Carter based Mulder's boyhood experience of having to spend a night guarding, from looters, a friend's house which had recently burned down on a childhood incident that actually happened to Carter himself. "So I have this fear of fire, and I thought I'd give Mulder a fear of fire, as well," Carter related. (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 43)
- Introducing an English former romantic relationship of Mulder's was simply something Chris Carter wanted to do. "I thought it was interesting to show a little bit of Mulder's history by bringing an old girlfriend back," Carter said. "I've always wanted to do a Scotland Yard detective who was a woman." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 41)
- However, the episode's teleplay involved more between Mulder and Phoebe Green than ended up in the episode's final version. "There was so much more in the script in terms of emotions that [they] [...] were supposed to have," stated Co-Executive Producer James Wong. "There's a lot more to their relationship in the script than there was on the screen." (X-Files Confidential, p. 58)
- The script also incorporated a sequence which provided an additional demonstration of Cecil L'Ively's pyrokinetic powers, though this was never produced. "There was a quarter mile of white picket fences catching fire," reported Mark Sheppard, "and other stuff got taken out. It kept getting pared down before we shot it." (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 14) Other instances of the removals from this episode involved thematic material about L'Ively associating the setting of fires with a wedding and the fire itself with a bride. "Chris Carter had done a lot of research into pyromaniacs as well as with other things 'X-Filean', if you know what I mean," Sheppard mused. "In the original script there were a lot more references to the psychological make-up of a pyromaniac [....] Chris introduced me to this possibility [of the marital analogies] and although we worked a lot on that it didn't end up staying in." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 28)
- The original script of this episode includes a conversation near the end in which Scully comments, "Well, never let it be said that you wouldn't walk through fire for a woman, Mulder." He answers, "And never let it be said that I wouldn't do it for you again, Scully." (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 129)
- "Black silk boxer shorts" that Mulder wears in one scene were originally to have been "Jockey underwear". (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 129)
- Chris Carter was scripting this episode when the Southern California Wildfires of 1993 began. Co-Executive Producer Glen Morgan recollected, "The weird thing about that script is that Chris had that concept and started writing it, and then LA started burning. I think that fueled him a bit." (X-Files Confidential, p. 58) Carter himself recalled, "I was writing that episode while the hills of Malibu were on fire." (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 43)
- This episode's script went through six drafts. These were dated 9th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 19th and 23rd November 1993.
- In this episode's pub scene, immediately before Cecil L'Ively (using the alias Bob the Caretaker) causes fire to stream along the bar, the shooting script says, "Bob [...] puts his hand to the brown paper bag he's set on the bar, tipping over the contents of whatever's inside." The script implies a can is inside the bag. However, the episode doesn't show these actions amid all the commotion (at least, not clearly).
- The English country estate that appears in this episode's teaser was actually a building located at 1451 Angus Drive, Vancouver. The exterior of the Venable Plaza Hotel was represented by the city's Hotel Vancouver. The party in this episode was initially planned to be filmed in a luxurious-looking ballroom but, due to booking problems, those scenes were instead shot in the mezzanine and adjoining hallway of the Hotel Vancouver. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 35-36 & 40-41)
- Prior to the making of this episode, Chris Carter had been cautioned about the expense and problems that can arise due to working with fire. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 129) "This is an episode that people were mad at me from the beginning for," he expressed, "because I wanted to do something with fire and it's very hard to work with [....] So that was an interesting thing." (X-Files Confidential, p. 57)
- When this episode was produced in 1993, creating a lot of the fire with computer graphics – making it much safer for the actors on the set – wasn't an option. Consequently, all the fire herein was real, with actual flames. Mark Sheppard noted, "On that episode the stunts were pretty big! [....] It was very real fire, and very frightening." (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, pp. 13 & 14) Chris Carter offered, "[The heat] was actually scary. People got burned." The fire scenes were also very difficult and costly to produce. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 41) Reflecting on the difficulties of the fire stunts herein, Co-Executive Producer R.W. Goodwin moaned with mock weariness, "Boy, that was a hard one [....] It was a major feat, a real logistical and creative feat, because you wanted it to look good." Because many of the film sequences involving fire were inside, the creative staff had to carefully design and construct the sets in such a way that they were fireproof and allowed the fire to be easily controlled. (X-Files Confidential, p. 57) David Gauthier, who supervised the fire scenes, explained, "We used a lot of propane." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 41) Gauthier was not only responsible for helping create the fire but keeping the performers safe too. (TV Zone Special #21, p. 28)
- Because Mark Sheppard quit smoking six years prior to the making of this installment, he smoked Honey Rose herbal cigarettes any time he had to for the episode's production. "It was weird to have to fake it!" he exclaimed. (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 13)
- Only three of the self-lighting cigarettes were made. Each of these had an incendiary device at its end and a copper wire. The wire ran into the side of Mark Sheppard's mouth, allowing the production personnel to hide it down one side of his face. "The cigarette was the first stunt we did [....] I asked the special effects guys to show me how the cigarette worked," Sheppard recollected. "They said that they only had three, but I insisted, and they finally agreed. One of them put one in his mouth, lit it – and it blew up! They were very embarrassed, and fixed them all, taking the magnesium charge out to make it lighter." (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 13)
- Precautions were taken for the scene in which Cecil L'Ively, while in a bar, sets one of his own arms ablaze. "When I was being lit up and prepped," commented Mark Sheppard, "there were guys three feet away from me who would put me out in a second. But it was still scary." (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 14) Sheppard was meant to tip over the can inside the brown paper bag and then set fire to the can's contents. He had difficulty with the shot. "My arm was on fire and the can wouldn't open," he clarified. Screaming, Sheppard smashed the can into the bar until it did open. (TV Zone Special #21, p. 28)
- Having learned the sleight-of-hand magic trick involving a cigarette for his audition as Cecil L'Ively, the trick was performed by Mark Sheppard on camera. "In the episode, I actually did it in one take," he noted. (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 13)
- While filming one scene, David Duchovny suffered a burn on the outside of his left hand that was severe enough to leave a scar. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 129) Despite this, Mark Sheppard once characterized it as "tiny." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 28) The wound is visible in a scene where Mulder is waiting outside a ballroom and wipes his forehead. Apart from this injury, no other real problems were encountered by the production personnel while filming this episode. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 129)
- In the scene with Agent Mulder and Cecil L'Ively during a fire at the Marsdens' temporary residence in Cape Cod, L'Ively can clearly be seen diving to the ground as the flames burn. This was because Mark Sheppard was finding it too difficult to withstand the immense heat and was afraid his hair was catching fire. (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 14) "I didn't get hurt or burned. I got a little roasted," he remarked, with a laugh. (TV Zone Special #21, p. 28) Sheppard elaborated, "I got a nice tan on the top of my head! [....] Entertainment Tonight was filming us, and all you can hear after the stunt finishes is 'Cut – did we get the take?' I was going, 'You bastards, you burned my head!'" (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 14) R.W. Goodwin added, "I remember that there was a whole lot of trickery we had to pull off because he was supposed to be standing there when he wasn't. Director Larry Shaw, with very short time to prepare, was able to pull it off." (X-Files Confidential, p. 58)
- Multiple means of depicting the Venable Plaza Hotel were utilized. Location Manager Todd Pittson stated, "Actually, the fire which engulfed a room and hallway was filmed on a set built to match the architecture of [the Vancouver Hotel] [....] The establishing shot of the hotel was taken from stock footage, whereas the drive-up involved our practical location." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 41)
- The production of this installment included two full-body burns, which involved people being covered with fire. (X-Files Confidential, p. 57) The burning characters were the elderly man named Charles, in the teaser, and Cecil L'Ively. The latter instance was the only fire stunt not performed by Mark Sheppard, instead carried out by stuntman J.J. (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 14) Said Sheppard, "There was a stunt double for me and a full-body burn guy [...] but I did everything else." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 28) Regarding J.J. specifically, Sheppard explained, "He spent 20 minutes with me beforehand working out what my actions would be so he could match it, then I had to match the screen mask – the copy of my face that he's wearing – in the close-up, which was also done live, not with CGI. They let me do everything else, but they wouldn't let me do that. They lit him up with rubber cement, which is the hottest burning explosive, and exploded him with propane." In fact, J.J. was lit up atop a propane tank. "He went for 28 seconds on this burn, and they shot with three or four cameras. When they got to the end and put him out, they found out that he didn't have any oxygen – and he'd gone for 28 seconds like that!" (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 14)
- Five days were allocated for this episode's production. However, the production crew ran out of time. As a result, the installment's teaser, the last footage to be filmed, was shot on the sixth day of the shoot, during a weekend. "Because I'd done so much overtime, I was feeling very generous," Mark Sheppard conceded. "So we went off to this house and shot it at the weekend. They slapped the beard on me, and we filmed it with a minimal crew. It was the only way that we could finish the episode!" (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 14)
- Disgruntled by the execution of the relationship between Agent Mulder and Phoebe Green, the editing team decided to make significant changes. James Wong attested, "We ended up cutting a lot of stuff that just didn't work." (X-Files Confidential, p. 58)
- James Wong himself was involved in cutting this episode together. Reflected Glen Morgan, "At one point the story was muddled and Jim [Wong], in editing, put things in a different way [....] That was a situation where you didn't have the time to do an insert and fix it." (X-Files Confidential, p. 58)
- For some reason unknown to Mark Sheppard, the footage of his one-take magic trick ended up being edited. "It looked weird," Sheppard observed about the final result. (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 13) The actor saw much of the footage omitted from this installment in general. "They couldn't use a lot of the stuff we filmed because it looked so terrifying," Sheppard revealed. Another omission was from the pub scene: the view of a screaming Mark Sheppard striking a can against the bar, in a desperate struggle to open it. In hindsight, he called this shot "wonderful." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 28) Yet another part of the episode which ended up being cut was the thematic link of Cecil L'Ively humming (as he went about his business) Mendelssohn's "Wedding March", which would have reinforced the idea of the killer making mental similarities between arson and weddings. (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 13)
- David Duchovny was interested in retaining the footage in which he burned his hand. Chris Carter recounted, "He said, 'You better put that in there, because I got burned in that scene.'" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 41)
- This episode contains a number of references to Sherlock Holmes, namely: Phoebe Green reminds Mulder that they once made out on the tombstone of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author who created Sherlock Holmes; Phoebe makes a reference to a "three-pipe problem" – an expression used in The Red-Headed League that refers to the idea that a person has to sit and smoke at least three pipes in order to solve a case with the information they have gathered; Scully asks Mulder if "the game is afoot," an expression used many times in the Sherlock Holmes novels; Scully calls Mulder "Sherlock" and he, referring to Holmes' faithful friend and colleague, calls her "Watson".
- The character of Malcolm Marsden was named after the series' hairstylist. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 129)
- An X-file referring to the events of this episode is numbered 11214893. 11/21/48 was the birth date of Dori Carter née Pierson, Chris Carter's wife, and the episode was filmed in 1993.
- This is the only episode in which Mulder is established as having pyrophobia. This is also the only installment which features Phoebe Green.
- Chris Carter ultimately had a mixed opinion of this installment. "It's a very popular episode, and I'm just somewhat happy with the way it turned out," he admitted. "Having written it and imagined it in certain ways, I think it could have been a lot better. Although I thought it was generally well directed, the show felt very 'wide' to me – very loose and lacking some things." (X-Files Confidential, p. 57) For instance, Carter believed the chemistry between Agent Mulder and Phoebe Green "didn't work as it might." (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 129)
- James Wong was similarly left disappointed with how the episode depicts the relationship between Mulder and Phoebe Green. "It didn't play at all, and that should have been the subtext of the whole show," he opined. (X-Files Confidential, p. 58)
- Glen Morgan was apparently more forgiving towards the installment. "People have written that they like it," he pointed out. "I like that bit with the cigarette in the beginning where it lights itself. Little things like that are effective." Morgan also commented the order of the story "came out good" thanks to the aforementioned editing by James Wong. (X-Files Confidential, p. 58)
- R.W. Goodwin liked the scene in which Cecil L'Ively induces flames to engulf a hallway. "It's just a spectacular moment," Goodwin enthused. (X-Files Confidential, p. 58)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen household rating of 6.8, with an audience share of 12. This means that roughly 6.8 percent of all television-equipped households, and 12 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 6.4 million households. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 248)
- On the UK television channel BBC 2, this is the only episode that was moved from the regular Thursday night slot to late on the channel's "Weird Night". This programming shift was due to the installment's content, such as the scenes of pyromania. (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 1, p. 33)
- Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 41) rates this episode 3 out of 4 stars. The magazine observes, "While the villain, Cecil L'ively [...] is fairly compelling (although the scenes focusing on him last a shade too long), the real interest in this story lies in the resonances of Mulder and Phoebe's past relationship [....] Smart, witty and attractive, Phoebe is also cruel and self-destructive, and the smash-up ten years ago between her and Mulder goes a long way towards explaining his hesitancy with women. The inadequate Cecil serves as a combination of Mulder and Phoebe. His fantasy life is reflected in Mulder's inability to get past his failed romance, but even more he is Phoebe, who probably also has spent the decade reliving the relationship. Her identification with Cecil is complete when she congratulates him by shaking his hand after he stages a fire to make himself look like a hero. At least at the end Mulder finally awakens to Phoebe's true nature, while she and Cecil are locked into their destructive states. [Amanda] Pays does an excellent job in making Phoebe almost sympathetic, and Gillian Anderson also stands out."
- The X-Files Magazine (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 12, p. 31) credits Chris Carter with inventing Cecil L'Ively, saying that – by doing so – Carter "comes close to creating another Eugene Victor Tooms," but laments, "The episode suffers somewhat as Scully burns with uncharacteristic jealousy over her flamehaired rival [meaning Phoebe Green]."
- In his reference book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, writer Robert Shearman scored this episode 1 out of 5 stars. He critiqued, "Some of the fire effects are quite good. But the rest of this – what on earth is going on here? It seems as if Chris Carter is on a mission to undermine Mulder's character as badly as possible [....] Carter saddles Mulder with a phobia of fire [...] and you can only feel that it's for a Vertigo-like payoff, that Mulder will face his demons to save the day." Shearman went on to criticize Mulder's interactions with fire in the Venable Plaza Hotel and Cape Cod fire scenes, saying they make the viewer "feel embarrassed for him." The writer continued, "This, though, is nothing to putting him under the spell of a femme fatale so uncharismatic that it beggars belief [....] As played by Amanda Pays, whose atonal British accent has the nasal quality of someone drowning in snot, the character is irredeemable. For all Mulder's claims of her brilliance, there can surely be no-one more stupid working at Scotland Yard [....] Of course, we don't care about Phoebe Green – her only importance is how much it weakens Mulder's character to see him so helpless in her company. Laid low by fire and an old flame, this isn't a good week for Mulder. Or for anybody else. The plot is so thin it's ridiculous [....] This is not a story that has many surprises up its sleeve. It doesn't have much point either [....] There is some attempt to suggest [Cecil L'Ively is] [...] stalking Lord Marsden because he's attracted to his wife, but since there's even less a spark between them than there is between Phoebe and Mulder, this doesn't convince [....] It's telling that the most unnerving scene is the one where L'Ively tries to persuade two young children to smoke; it's utterly pointless, mind you, but at least it's sinister."
- After the making of this episode, a certain deletion from the installment was the subject of a query some Internet fans asked Mark Sheppard while they were trying to ascertain whether he really was who he was claiming to be. This occurred shortly after the second season began, when Sheppard first entered an AOL chat room. "What was the song, they were asking," he recalled, "and I realized they knew more about the show than I did!" (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 14)
Cast and Characters
- Two weeks before Mark Sheppard received a call to audition for this episode, one of his friends introduced him to Gillian Anderson, in passing. He did not, however, spend much time with with Anderson or David Duchovny in front of the camera. "I only got one scene with Gillian and none at all with David," remembered Sheppard. (TV Zone Special #21, p. 28)
- In his role as Cecil L'Ively, Mark Sheppard was extremely eager to do as much of his own stunt work as he could. Before Sheppard filmed any of his scenes for this installment, a man from Stunts Canada asked Sheppard if he would be willing to do the stunt where L'Ively's arm catches on fire. "I said, 'If I don't get to do this stunt, I'm not going to do this thing!' He was like, ' Oh great!'" (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 14)
- Mark Sheppard was puzzled by the elimination of much of Cecil L'Ively's motivation being his pursuance of a particular woman. Sheppard did, though, end up immensely enjoying his involvement in this outing, thereafter reminiscing, "I had so much fun doing the episode." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 28)
- Amanda Pays as Inspector Phoebe Green
- Mark Sheppard as Cecil L'Ively
- Dan Lett as Sir Malcolm Marsden
- Laurie Paton as Lady Marsden