Mulder and Scully pursue a dying man who can apparently bend others to his will and convince his victims to severely hurt or even kill themselves.
The episode begins in a supermarket. A man is seen going through the aisles. He stops at a shelf of energy drinks and scoops about thirty cans of "Carbo Boost" into his basket. A young man in a jacket regards him closely as he does this. As the first man gets in line, the line is cut into by another jacketed man. The first man grabs a copy of the Daily Informer, scans front cover and puts it back. He then notices a police car outside. Exasperated, he reaches over to the guy in front of him and pulls down a fold on his jacket, revealing the letters FBI. Immediately, he is tackled and pinned to the check-out counter. He is put in handcuffs as the lead officer, Frank Burst, appears. As the man is led away Agent Will Collins reads him his rights.
In the car, Burst asks for the man's real name. "Pusher's good enough," he replies calmly, almost casually. Suddenly, he comments to the driver, Deputy Scott Kerber, that his jacket is a nice shade of "cerulean blue", a color which makes him think about a gentle breeze. As he repeats this phrase over and over, Kerber appears to go into a trance, and a blue tractor trailer in his line of vision vanishes. Almost in a dreamlike state, Kerber drives directly into the path of the truck, while Burst screams for him to stop and Pusher ducks in the backseat.
In the X-Files office, a slideshow depicting the aftermath of the accident is shown. Burst, his face covered in bruises, narrates: before Kerber died, he managed to get out of the car and unlock Pusher's handcuffs, allowing him to escape. Burst adds that Pusher himself called the FBI, claiming to have murdered fourteen people as a game. At first, the FBI dismissed him as a crank, since all fourteen of the "murdered" people were officially found to have committed suicide, but Pusher knew details about each death that were only available to the police. Burst flips to the next slide, which shows the truck, with the words "Cerulean Hauling" painted on it. He flips to the next slide, which shows the letters NIN OR smeared on the truck with blood. Mulder walks over to the projector and flips the slide the other way around to read RO NIN, a Japanese word for a master-less samurai.
Later, Mulder and Scully are in the FBI research library, reading through a pile of issues of "American Ronin". A woman called Holly delivers even more magazines to their table. A bruise can be seen on her right cheek, the result of a man knocking her down in Georgetown and stealing her purse. After she leaves, Mulder starts to theorize that Pusher can force his will onto others; as usual, Scully expresses skepticism. Mulder points to an advertisement which reads "I SOLVE PROBLEMS. OSU", followed by three phone numbers; he's seen this ad in numerous other issues, dating back to the time the murders started. Mulder looks up the word "osu" in a Japanese-English dictionary and finds that it means "to push". Scully suggests they try the numbers in the ad.
Their stakeout of the phones lasts through the night. As they prepare to give up, the phone they're at starts to ring. Pusher taunts Mulder by saying that, if they want to find him, "You'll have to follow my little bread crumb trail, prove your worth." Mulder's next clue is said to be "right in front of him", and then Pusher hangs up. Mulder checks the last number dialed on the public phone and gets a recording for Tee Totallers, a driving range and pro golfer's shop.
At Tee Totallers, Pusher is on the driving range with some Japanese gentlemen, whom he appears to be pushing. He notices a suspicious looking piece of brown bush carrying a rifle and leaves, saying "Konichiwa, gentlemen. I was never here." Agents start to surround the building. Collins enters the dimly-lit basement and confronts Pusher, who tells him to relax and take off his mask and helmet. "I need you to do something for me," he says.
Mulder, Scully and Burst are walking towards the building when Collins stumbles out, sobbing. He is carrying a can of gasoline, which he has soaked himself with, and holding a lighter. Realizing what will happen next, Mulder and Burst try to talk him out of it as Scully runs away. Collins pleads for help as he lights the lighter and presses it to his chest, engulfing him in flames. Scully re-appears with a fire extinguisher, spraying Collins with it as Mulder tackles him to the ground and smothers the flames with his coat. Collins is badly burnt, but still alive and trembling, saying "light it up" over and over. While Burst calls for help, Mulder hears a car horn in the distance and runs over to it, followed by SWAT officers. He opens the door and finds Pusher exhausted and covered with sweat, saying "light it up" over and over. Pusher looks at Mulder and smiles: "Bet you five bucks I get off."
In court, Pusher gives his name as Robert Patrick Modell. Mulder tries to argue that Modell was behind the fourteen "suicides" that have taken place since 1994. However, Modell's lawyer manages to convince that judge that Modell is not guilty; he merely placed several drunken calls to police and pretended that he helped those people commit suicide. Modell helps his case by subtly pushing the judge to rule in his favor. Afterward, Modell requests five dollars from Mulder, who starts to pay up, but then tricks Modell into thinking his shoe is untied. "Made you look. How do you do it?" Mulder asks, pulling the bill away when Modell grabs for it. Pusher smirks and walks away, ignoring Burst when he calls after him: "I know your name now. I know where you live!"
At the FBI firing range, Mulder empties his gun into a target. Scully enters, having found out more about Modell: after an "average" schooling, he enlisted in the military, wishing to be a Navy SEAL or, failing that, a Green Beret, but was rejected from both programs and served as a supply clerk. He had also previously applied to the FBI, but did not pass a psych screening which found him to be "acutely ego-centered"; he has no regard for other people's feelings and considers them to be little more than objects. Scully has seen enough to believe that Modell is guilty of murder, but is looking for some more "mundane" explanation than Modell is able to control other people's minds, pointing out that if he had that ability, he wouldn't have spent all his life as such a "little man who wishes he were someone big." Mulder speculates that the ability came to Modell more recently, and challenges Scully to come up with a "mundane" explanation for why Agent Collins - a family man with no prior history of psychological problems - would intentionally set fire to himself.
In the FBI headquarters' lobby Modell, seeing the metal detector at the front, scrawls the word "PASS" on a piece of paper and attaches it to his lapel. Modell asks for directions to the computer records section and the guard lets him through without a second glance, even as the metal detector starts to ring. Pusher heads to Computer Records, where he finds Holly. Modell closes the door and all the blinds, and then pushes Holly into checking up a personnel record and having her print it out.
At the same time, AD Walter Skinner passes by the office. Seeing the closed blinds, he grows suspicious and tries to open the door. It is locked. He draws his gun, then kicks it open. Pusher tries to psych Skinner as well, but Skinner slams him against a cabinet and orders Holly to call security. Pusher orders Holly to attack Skinner, planting the idea that he was the one who mugged her in Georgetown. Skinner starts to call security himself, but Holly stops him by spraying pepper spray into his eyes. Skinner screams in agony and falls to the floor, writhing. Pusher tells Holly to "hurt him back", and leaves as Holly begins kicking Skinner mercilessly.
In Skinner's office, Holly has come to her senses and is apologizing profusely. Crying, she explains that it was as if she was watching herself attacking Skinner from across the room. Mulder walks in, and asks to speak with Scully and Skinner outside. He says that he looked at the security tapes and Modell could clearly be seen entering the building with the word "PASS" on his lapel, but the guard does not remember waving him through. Scully agrees with Mulder. Skinner asks Mulder why Modell is so interested with him; the only file he accessed was Mulder's. Skinner tells them that trespassing on government property is enough for a search warrant.
At Modell's apartment, the door is broken down and the place is cleared by Burst and the SWAT team. Mulder opens the fridge to find cans upon cans of "Mango Kiwi Tropical Swirl" energy drinks. Scully finds a bottle of pills known as Tegretol in the bathroom. Through a call, she finds it is used to relieve seizures caused by temporal lobe epilepsy. She adds that the doctors she just spoke to would only tell her that the prescription dates back to 1994, when the murders began. Mulder asks what causes a man to develop epilepsy this late in life, and Scully speculates, a head injury, a brain lesion or tumor... Mulder interrupts, citing several studies that believe brain tumors are linked to the development of psychic ability. He suspects that Modell's ability is a form of psychokinesis brought on by a tumor. Scully objects that a man with a brain tumor wouldn't be healthy enough to play cat-and-mouse games with the FBI, and Mulder guesses that that is the whole point: Modell is dying, and so he confessed to fourteen murders that he'd already gotten away with, just to be sure he'd go out with a bang.
The telephone rings and Burst picks up. After ordering for the tracing gear, Burst signals to Mulder and Scully, who run to another room and pick up the other extension. As the trace runs, Modell begins to go on about how Burst, who is not exactly slim in size, probably eats a lot of fried food, and then meticulously starts to explain what is happening to his arteries and his heart. Upon hearing this, Mulder orders Burst to hang up, but Burst, despite being visibly in severe pain, demands to continue the trace. Mulder rushes in and tries to grab the phone, but is stopped by the SWAT men on Burst's orders. Scully tries to unplug the phone line, but is stopped as well. Moments later, Burst collapses.
Scully checks for a pulse, but there is none. Mulder picks up the phone as Scully administers CPR. Mulder asks Modell what he wants, and Modell replies that he wants a worthy adversary. He then rattles off the number of the phone he is calling from; it matches the number from the trace. It is a pay phone, located at 12000 Block Chain Bridge Road. SWAT lieutenant Brophy checks the map and finds out that there is a Fairfax Mercy Hospital nearby. On a hunch, Scully checks the label on the bottle of Tegretol, which came from "Fairfax Mercy Pharmacy".
At Fairfax Mercy, the SWAT team surround the building while Mulder, Scully and Brophy monitor the situation from a surveillance van. A SWAT man finds Modell's car and checks the engine, which is still warm, suggesting that Modell is inside. Brophy offers to send his men in and flush Modell out, but Mulder does not want to run the risk of Modell turning his men on each another in a crowded hospital. He decides to enter the hospital himself, to give Modell what he wants: a worthy adversary. Scully is not happy with this, and Mulder offers to wear a microphone so they can stay in contact with him. Mulder is fixed up with the equipment, which includes a bulletproof vest, a mike and a mini camera that allows Scully and Brophy to see what is going on from his point of view.
After handing Scully his gun and smiling reassuringly at her, Mulder enters the hospital. He tells the curious receptionist to carry on with her business as he approaches the MRI ward. Suddenly, shots are fired and the camera footage turns to static. Scully is about to go after Mulder when the picture comes back to reveal two men dead in the ward. It looks as if the guard shot the MRI technician and turned the gun on himself; the gun is missing. On a table nearby is a computer and some charts; looking at them, Scully determines that Modell's tumor is almost certainly fatal at this point, and he has nothing to lose. Scully tells Mulder to get out of the hospital. Mulder turns around to see Modell, holding a gun point-blank in Mulder's face. He grabs at Mulder's camera and the screen turns black, sending Scully into a panic.
In the hallways of the hospital, Brophy tells Scully that there are too many patients still in their rooms to risk trying to gas Modell out. Scully has donned a bulletproof vest and hands Brophy her gun before walking down the hallway. She checks each room as she passes by, and stops when she sees Mulder's discarded vest on the floor beside a bed. She opens the door wider and sees Modell and Mulder sitting on opposite sides of a table, the guard's gun between them. Modell and Mulder are staring at one another. Mulder is expressionless, with his right eye slightly out of focus. Scully enters and sits down at the table, between the two men.
Checking that the gun has only one bullet and spinning the chamber, Modell hands the gun to Mulder and forces him to play Russian roulette. Mulder points the gun at Pusher and pulls the trigger, despite Scully's warning that pulling the trigger in a pure-oxygen room could be dangerous. The hammer falls and nothing happens. "Piece of cake," Modell says. "Your turn." Scully cries out and Mulder cringes as he puts the barrel to his temple and pulls the trigger. No bullet. Mulder now points the gun at Scully. A tear falls down Scully's face as she tries to dissuade Mulder, while Modell pushes him to pull the trigger. Obviously trying to fight Modell, Mulder tells Scully to run. As he is about the fire the bullet, Scully runs and activates the fire alarm behind her. Modell, for the first time, breaks his gaze away from Mulder. Mulder snaps out of it and turns the gun on Modell before pulling the trigger. This time the gun fires and Modell is thrown to the ground. Brophy and the SWAT team storm the room as Mulder stands over Modell, pulling the trigger over and over. As Mulder finally lowers the gun, Scully stares at him in terror. He hands her the gun and slumps into a chair with his head in his hands.
In a hospital room, Mulder views Modell, lying in a coma after the shooting, with bandages covering most of his head. Scully comes in and says that, regardless of how long Modell lives, he will never regain consciousness. Mulder surprises her by informing her that, according to the charts, Modell used the MRIs to measure how long he had left to live, but consistently refused treatment for the tumor, which remained operable right up to the end. Baffled, Scully asks why, and Mulder suspects it is just as she said earlier: Modell was always such a "little man", that he couldn't let go of the one thing that made him feel big. Scully contemplates this, before taking Mulder's hand. "I say we don't let him take up another minute of our time", she says, and leaves the room. With one last glance at Pusher, Mulder leaves as well.
"Cerulean blue is a gentle breeze."
"So he's a killer and a golfer" - Scully, after finding out Modell called the golf place.
"Modell psyched the guy out. He put the whammy on him."
"Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy." - Mulder and Scully, discussing the effect that Modell had on the judge.
Story & Script
- Writer Vince Gilligan developed this episode from an idea for a movie that he'd thought up. He had either never found a way to make the concept work as a movie or had never written it, but found, through the medium of The X-Files, a method of telling the story, about a man who had the ability of bending people to his will. Gilligan called the man "Pusher" because the character was capable of pushing people into harming themselves.
- Gilligan's main objective in writing this episode was to set up a tense game of cat-and-mouse between Mulder and Pusher, real name Robert Patrick Modell. The thing Gilligan consciously tried to do was to have the two characters together as much as possible so as to emphasize how much alike they were.
- Upon turning in a draft of the script, Gilligan, very proud of what he had written, predicted to Chris Carter that it constituted the best work that he himself would ever do for the series. Carter reacted in annoyance, telling Gilligan that he shouldn't think that way because the goal, as Carter saw it, was to always better oneself.
- Chris Carter enjoyed the sequence at this episode's end where Mulder, in the knowledge that Pusher is capable of possibly forcing Mulder to turn his own gun on himself, follows Pusher inside the hospital unarmed, but Pusher still manages to manipulate Mulder into turning a gun on himself.
- In the script, Mulder wonders if the tiny camera he straps on can receive the Discovery Channel. David Duchovny, knowing of his character's penchant for erotica, changed the reference to the Playboy Channel.
- The first note back from the Fox network was to say that Russian roulette could not be included in the episode. Gilligan was alarmed, since the game was integral to the final act. Fox's Broadcast Standards and Practices department even sought to strengthen their point by consulting the other networks, which claimed to have never had a Russian roulette scene in an hour-long drama series, despite the game's use in such films as The Deer Hunter, which had also prompted concern when it was shown on television. Fox was reportedly worried about making sure that they didn't give impressionable kids any bad ideas, but Gilligan's argument to this concern was that he had not been responsible for inventing the lethal game. He was nevertheless ultimately surprised that the production crew of The X-Files were allowed to show the game on television, with some helpful, creative blocking by director Rob Bowman.
- Mitch Pileggi was unhappy with the scene in which Holly, pushed by Modell, attacks Walter Skinner. Pileggi was not thrilled about being brutalized by a diminutive woman, especially since Skinner had been beaten up so often in recent episodes. Pileggi thought the fans also felt this way and was teased by David Duchovny about the scene. In fact, because so many characters were bruised and beaten up (Burst, Modell and Kerber in the car crash, Holly's unseen attack, Collins lighting himself on fire, and Skinner), makeup artist Fern Levin found this episode to be one of her most difficult assignments.
Cast & Established Characters
- The production crew found difficulty with casting this episode's title character, as they couldn't find anyone they particularly liked for the role. Gilligan suggested Harvey Fierstein for the role and Chris Carter even considered Lance Henriksen; the casting process for this episode was in Henriksen's pre-Millennium days. As would often happen on The X-Files, actor Robert Wisden came in to audition when it was almost too late, impressed the production crew and was consequently given the role. Subsequently, several members of production crew were notably impressed with the results of this last-minute casting selection, including Carter and Gilligan themselves.
- The title character would reappear in the Season 5 episode "Kitsunegari". As a result, this is the third of only three Monster of the Week characters who would appear in more than one episode, the other two being Eugene Victor Tooms (who appeared in Season 1's "Squeeze" and "Tooms") and Donnie Pfaster (who appeared in Season 2's "Irresistible" and Season 7's "Orison").
- Dave Grohl - former drummer of Nirvana and current lead singer of the Foo Fighters - as well as his former wife, Jennifer Youngblood-Grohl, can be seen in the background as Modell enters the FBI building. Grohl regarded this brief cameo as his own acting debut.
- The series' visual effects unit were called upon to make a last-minute fix, when it was realized that a sign in the courtroom did not read "Loudoun County", as it should have done, but was spelled, "Loudon County". The effects team digitally moved the letters around and added a "u" on the sign, so that it read correctly.
Other Episode Notes
- This episode is the second of four in which security entrances to the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building can be seen. A completely different entrance appears in the pilot episode, while security entrances can be seen in the first and last episodes of Season 3 - "The Blessing Way" and "Talitha Cumi", respectively - as well as in the Season 6 episode "S.R. 819".
- The cover of a tabloid newspaper, entitled the World Weekly Informer, and the cover of a magazine named American Ronin appear in this episode. Although both publications are fictional, a different issue of each appears later in the series, with the World Weekly Informer reappearing in the fourth season episode "Small Potatoes" and American Ronin reappearing in "Dæmonicus", an episode of the series' ninth and final season.
- A sketch of the Flukeman can be seen on the cover of the World Weekly Informer. The Flukeman originally appeared in the second season episode "The Host" and would later be referenced by Scully in the Season 4 episode "The Field Where I Died".
- An inset picture on the cover of World Weekly Informer is arranged next to a small headline that announces, "Depravity Rampant on Hit TV Show" and actually features props master Ken Hawryliw on his birthday, beside a female strip-o-gram artist.
- Similarly, the cover of the American Ronin magazine has, as its cover star, Danielle Faith Friedman - a production assistant on The X-Files.
- Among the cultural references in this episode, an easy-listening version of Johnny Mathis' "Misty" is playing as background muzak in the grocery store and Mulder asks Scully if she never saw Yojimbo. Next to the Japanese dictionary is a book in Russian Cyrillic, "Война и Мир", which is "War and Peace" and is most likely quite rare. Modell mentions Mel Cooley, Scully sees television footage of Svengali and makes notes of this, Detective Burst asks Modell if the Grinch that Stole Christmas did his decorating and Mulder jokingly references the Playboy Channel.
- Modell mentions an instance on which Scully previously shot Mulder. This is a reference to the Season 2 finale "Anasazi".
Cast and Characters
- Roger R. Cross (S.W.A.T. Lieutenant Brophy) previously played Private Kittell in The X-Files episode "Fresh Bones".
- Steve Bacic (Agent Will Collins) previously played 2nd Officer in The X-Files episode "Soft Light" and Charlie in "The Host".
- D. Neil Mark (Deputy Scott Kerber) previously played S.W.A.T. Team Officer in The X-Files episode "The Jersey Devil".
- Meredith Bain Woodward (Defense Attorney) previously played Dr. Ruth Slaughter in The X-Files episode "Ascension".
- Ernie Foort (Lobby Guard) previously played Security Guard in The X-Files episode "The Blessing Way".