To catch a twisted killer, Mulder and Scully attempt to decipher the clues he unwittingly leaves behind; psychic photographs revealing his darkest fears.
In Traverse City, Michigan, a young woman, Mary Lefante, goes to a local pharmacy to get her passport photo taken. While waiting for it to develop, she returns to her car and finds her boyfriend dead. A hooded man then pricks Lefante with a hypodermic needle, causing her to pass out. The hooded man grabs her and carries her off. In the pharmacy, Lefante's photo develops, showing her screaming amidst a distorted background.
Mulder and Scully join the case. No demand has been made from her kidnapper, and Scully initially theorizes that the pharmacy photographer is involved. But this comes under doubt when they meet him, an elderly clerk. The boyfriend was found to have died by having something long and sharp pushed into his ear. When discussing the photograph, Mulder tells Scully about Ted Serios, who was famous for faking "thoughtographs", photos which showed what was in his mind. Mulder takes pictures using a camera found in Lefante's apartment, and they all appear the same as the one from the pharmacy. Mulder thinks whoever kidnapped Lefante has been stalking her nearby.
Lefante turns up alive, but appears to have been given an icepick lobotomy. Another woman, Alice Brandt, is kidnapped. She wakes up bound in a dentist's chair with her kidnapper brandishing an ice pick and speaking in German. Mulder returns to Washington D.C. to examine the photos and finds no evidence that they were doctored. By closely examining the photos, he finds the face of an old man as well as the shadow of the kidnapper.
Scully, finding a construction company referenced at both crime scenes, investigates the possible lead. She meets a man named Gerry Schnauz, who worked near both scenes of the kidnapping. When Mulder calls Scully, telling her that the kidnapper's legs were out of proportion in the photo, Schnauz, who is on stilts, runs. Scully pursues Schauz and captures him. The agents interrogate Schnauz, who was once institutionalized for beating his father -- the old man in the photo -- with an axe handle. Schnauz initially denies committing any crimes. However, when questioned on the location of Brandt, Schnauz claims she is safe from the "howlers". Brandt is soon found in the woods, lobotomized. Mulder believes that Schnauz thinks he is rescuing his victims from howlers and that the photos show his nightmares.
A police officer takes Schnauz's mugshot. However, when it develops, and it shows the officer shot through the head. Schnauz manages to kill the officer seconds later and escapes, although the death is completely different than that shown in the photo. Schnauz robs a nearby drug store, taking cameras, film, and an assortment of drug-related materials. When Scully leaves, she passes out after being pricked by a needle by Schnauz, who is hiding beneath her car. Examining a photo of Scully taken in the drug store, Mulder finds it distorted like the other photos.
Mulder heads to the office where Schnauz's father used to work as a dentist, and finds the chair missing. Scully awakens bound to the chair with Schnauz claiming he's going to kill the howlers in her head, despite her claims that they don't exist. Schnauz is convinced that the photos show the howlers, and takes a photo of himself. Mulder, having found a clue in the photos of where Schnauz is holding her captive, finds Schnauz's trailer in a cemetery. He manages to get in and shoots Schnauz before he tries to lobotomize Scully. Mulder looks at the photos Schnauz took, in which he is dead.
SEMICOLON-SEPARATED LIST OF ITEMS/LOCATIONS REFERENCED IN EPISODE (BUT NOT LINKED TO IF ALREADY LINKED IN SUMMARY OR GUEST STARS SECTIONS)
- This episode marks the first episode in The X-Files new time slot. Up to this point The X-Files had always aired on Friday night. From now on until the end of the series the show would air on Sunday night.
- The brand of film, ETAP, is the last name of assistant prop master Jim Pate spelled backwards.
- Although the word Unruhe is indeed German for "unrest", Writer Vince Gilligan's inspiration came from an article in Time-Life book on mass murderer Howard Unruh and found it eerily poetic that the killers last name also meant unrest.
- Translation of the German phrases:
- "Have no fear. I'm going to help you. You will forget all your troubles... forget your troubles." (12:15)
- "This is for you. It (the gown) is like the one she (his sister?) wore." (16:05)
- "Soon, very soon!" (taping the second victim's mouth)
- "Everything is OK. ("It's over Jerry. [...]") I'm going to help you. You will forget all of your troubles..." (to Scully)
- Jerry Schnauz shows signs of nystagmus (which the actor portraying Schnauz, Pruitt Taylor Vince actually suffers from), an involuntary and in this case horizontal eye movement. This neurological condition is sometimes also called "wobbly eyes", "dancing eyes" or "restless eye syndrome" (restless again translating "unruhig" in German).
- The story idea of a Polaroid camera taking pictures of something other than the intended subject was the basis for the novella "The Sun Dog" by Stephen King, included in the "Four Past Midnight" collection.
- (SPOILERS) We get an early indication of Scully's cancer, when Schnauz says he can see Scully's unrest, and points to the bridge of her nose.
- After the opening theme, when Scully is explaining to Mulder and he starts nodding, he head is slightly turned to the left. When the camera angle changes to behind Scully, he looks at her with his head slightly turned right. When the angle changes back, his head is turned left again.
- Despite having taken German at College apparently, Scully's first spoken 'Unruhe' (as she turns to face the killer whilst on the phone to Mulder) comes out completely wrong, sounding more like 'unrooeeey' - though later in the episode when she is speaking in German and tied up, she pronounces it correctly.
- Scully was bound with tape to the chair, but in the last scene she gets out of the chair after Mulder frees her hands, but without freeing her legs.
Cast and Characters
- William MacDonald (Officer Trott) previously played Dr. Oppenheim in The X-Files episode "Fallen Angel", Federal Marshal in "The Host" and Special Agent Dan Kazanjian in "2Shy".
- Walter Marsh as a Druggist
- William MacDonald as Officer Trott
- Sharon Alexander as Mary Lefante
- Ron Chartier as Inspector Puett
- Michael Cram as Officer Corning
- Christopher Royal as a Photo Tech
- Michele Melland as Doctor
- Scott Heindl as Billy