A mortuary worker who collects hair and fingernails from dead bodies begins to kill people to expand his collection and eventually sets his sights on Scully.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a funeral is held for a young woman, Jennifer. During the eulogy, a strange man watches the speech from the entrance door and later approaches the open casket of Jennifer, touching her hair almost lovingly. Later that night the funeral director is startled by a noise, and for a split second, he sees a demon. After a little shock he realizes that the man at the doorway is actually his assistant, Donald Pfaster.
When questioned as to why he is working so late, Pfaster is evasive. The funeral director notices a pair of scissors in Pfaster's hand and chunks of hair lying about. He opens Jennifer's casket to find that a good portion of her hair has been crudely cut off. Sickened and outraged, the funeral director fires Pfaster, who wordlessly turns and leaves.
FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are called to Minneapolis by Agent Moe Bocks, who discovered an opened grave and a desecrated body at the local cemetery. Mulder uncharacteristically discounts Bock's theory that aliens are involved and suggests they search the area for footprints. Meanwhile, Pfaster interviews for a new job performing deliveries for Ficicello Frozen Foods. Two more bodies turn up with their hair and fingernails removed. Mulder believes this is the work of an escalating fetishist who may result to murder to keep up his desires for bodies. Scully attempts to keep her growing unease to herself and writes up a field report on necrophilia.Later that night, Pfaster brings a hooker to his apartment and asks to bathe her. Confused and surprised, she nevertheless agrees. When Pfaster is distracted by the phone, the prostitute undresses and gets into the bath, which is ice cold. She enters the bedroom to confront Pfaster, only to find the room full of stolen funeral wreaths. Pfaster calmly finishes his phone call (which is to announce his being hired for the Ficicello Food Company) and goes after the fleeing prostitute.
Her corpse later turns up in an abandoned lot with her hair cut off and entire fingers removed. Scully becomes increasingly disturbed by the case, but insists to Mulder that she is fine. Having gotten himself the job, Pfaster makes his first delivery to a home in an upscale neighbourhood, and is entranced by the hair of one of the family's daughters; he asks to wash his hands in the bathroom and picks some of her hair from the wastebasket, smelling it reverently.
One of the prostitute's friends fails to identify the suspect from a line of men, which leads Mulder to suspect the killer has no criminal record, making him much more difficult to find; he decides to go back to the profile, specifically in regards to the killer's intense hatred for women. Pfaster attends night class and is attracted to a classmate's hair. He follows her to her car and tries to ingratiate himself with a question about their homework. His suspicious behaviour makes the woman uneasy, and when he tries to attack her, she kicks him in the testicles and flees, leading to his arrest.
Scully performs an autopsy on the prostitute, but has an unexplained vision of herself on the autopsy table, with some sort of monster looking down on her. Bocks call the agents to the jail, where they have what they think is their suspect; although this man is not the killer, he happens to be in a cell across the way from Pfaster. As the agents question the suspect, Pfaster becomes entranced by Scully's hair; as the agents leave, Scully notices Pfaster's staring and is unnerved by it. She volunteers to take the body back to Washington for fingerprint and evidence analysis, again telling Mulder she can handle herself when he shows concern. After they leave, Pfaster learns Scully's name from the man they had questioned, and is released soon after when his classmate declines to press charges.
Scully returns to Washington and meets with social worker Karen Kosseff. During the meeting she tells the social worker that she doesn't want Mulder to feel like he has to protect her. At the fingerprint analysis lab, the technician tells Scully he found a fingerprint on one of the prostitute's remaining fingernails, possibly left during the struggle. Afterwards, Scully, about to return to Minneapolis is told that she was called by someone, although Mulder nor Bocks had done so. Tracing the fingerprint to Pfaster from his recent arrest, Bocks has Pfaster's home raided, finding some human hair and one of the prostitute's fingers in the refrigerator.
Pfaster follows Scully as she leaves the airport and forces her car off the road. Scully's empty car is found and Mulder and Bocks send the paint stains found on the back in for analysis. Pfaster brings Scully to an abandoned house where she is bound and gagged, then locked in a closet while he prepares a bath for her. As Pfaster opens the closet door to check on her, Scully momentarily sees him change forms, until the demon appears again.
After the tub has been filled, Pfaster tells Scully he is going to bathe her. Knowing she will be killed, Scully shoves Pfaster into the tub and flees, but finds all the doors locked. Pfaster retrieves her gun and begins stalking her through the house, which he is apparently familiar with.
Using the paint on the car, the agents trace it back to Pfaster's mother, who died a year ago, and search for any local residences she may have had before she died.
When Pfaster reaches the closet that Scully is hiding in, he smiles and slowly opens the door. Scully sprays him in the face with bug repellent and flees, but Pfaster chases her down. A struggle leads to them falling down the stairs, whereupon agents led by Mulder and Bocks break down the front door and arrest Pfaster. Scully insists she is okay, but as Pfaster is taken away she breaks down and cries in Mulder's arms.Mulder types up a case a report, likening Pfaster to Satan in human form and tracing his psychosis to his childhood, being raised by a predominantly-female household. Mulder theorizes that people like Pfaster - people who are ordinary in seemingly every way - exist in our everyday lives, and what happened to Scully and the other victims could conceivably happen to anyone. His report, delivered in voiceover, is accompanied by a montage of photos of Pfaster in various stages of childhood, before ending with a shot of Pfaster behind bars.
- The concept of a "death fetishist" was created specifically for this episode, according to Chris Carter, who originally envisioned Donnie Pfaster as a necrophiliac. The network was against using the term or concept, as it was deemed too extreme, so it was referred to in a roundabout manner. (citation required) Nonetheless, Carter continued to believe one of the keys to writing the episode was to keep it realistic. "I think I was able to explore the character of Scully in a way I wouldn't have been able to with a supernatural theme," he clarified. "Sometimes even more scary than the things we can imagine are the things that are unimaginable, which is that the man standing next to you could be this kind of guy. Sometimes the face of evil can become frighteningly real and distorted through a prism of your own unconscious fears. That's what we were playing with." (X-Files Confidential, p. 6)
- The commentary for the football game (Vikings versus Redskins) expressly mentions series creator Chris Carter's namesake Cris Carter.
- Donnie Pfaster returns in the seventh season episode "Orison", making him the second Monster of the Week antagonist to appear in more than one episode (after Eugene Victor Tooms and followed by Robert Patrick Modell).
- This episode is the first of three in which a person can be seen walking towards camera before the screen cuts to black, as happens at the end of this episode's teaser section. The later two examples of this occur at the cliffhanger conclusion of the Season 3 episode "Piper Maru" and at the end of the teaser section of "Orison". "Piper Maru" features Alex Krycek approaching the camera and "Orison", like this episode, features Donnie Pfaster doing so.
- Ultimately, Chris Carter was highly pleased with this episode. In a 1996 interview, he stated, "I think it's one of our scariest shows [....] I thought it worked in its own way." (X-Files Confidential, p. 6) He also considers it one of the primary influences on his show Millennium, which premiered the following year.
- The dead prostitute is visibly breathing under the shroud as Mulder and Bocks stand over her.
- Ditto for the dead girl in the opening.
- In the scene where Mulder, Scully, and Bocks are walking though the cemetery, a black headstone's reflection shows a glimpse of the crew.
- Despite the setting being Minneapolis, there is a bus seen in the episode heading towards UBC (University of British Columbia), due to the fact it was filmed in Canada.
- It is noted in "Firewalker" that the events of that installment took place between November 11-13 and that Mulder and Scully were going to be in quarantine for a month. However, during the autopsy in this episode, Scully marks the date as November 14.
- The final shot of Pfaster appears to be reused from his imprisonment earlier in the episode, as he is still wearing his dress shirt (rather than prison garb).
Cast and Characters
- Dwight McFee (Suspect) previously played David Gates in The X-Files episode "Shapes" and Commander in "Little Green Men".
- Deanna Milligan as Satin
- Robert Thurston as Jackson Toews
- Glynis Davies as Ellen
- Christine Willes as Karen Kosseff
- Tim Progosh as Mr. Fiebling