Written by Darin Morgan
Directed by David Nutter
Rewatching this episode lately brought a battle to the forefront of my mind that has raged for centuries. Well...a decade anyway. Just what is the best episode of The X Files that Darin Morgan wrote? You see, I've often thought Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space', let's face it, it's extremely clever and funny and could be cited as prime example of just how wonderfully brilliant The X Files is. I often adored War of the Coprophages, but I always thought of it as Morgan's least complex episode, the one that he simply wanted to have fun with. There was always Humbug too, it managed to mix great laughs with some freaky scares to successful effect. Yet, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose has something to it that I've just realised his other episodes might lack. A beating heart.
It's an interesting thing to realise because if anything, this is the most depressing installment that Morgan wrote. It was aimed at being depressing all the way through, or so Morgan claimed, but Morgan being Morgan, it ended up having some brilliant humour laced all the way through it, yet for all the humour and surprisingly horrifying violence in it (a trait it shares with Humbug), Clyde Bruckman is a surprisingly profound, deep and very emotional hour of television. Whilst Jose Chung may get the plaudits and critical acclaim, it's telling that this one managed to bag Emmy's for writing and guest performance. It really is that good.
It's an interesting and curious breed. We've got a serial killer tale, which deals with psychic ability, poses deep, philosophical questions about the notion of fate and destiny as well as death. There's a very delicate balancing act going on here. On the one hand it could become depressing as hell, it could become pretentious or it could go the other way and become extremely silly, the fact that Morgan gets away with ponderous and very intelligent questions on the nature of life whilst giving us the blast of silliness that is The Stupendous Yappi is a mark of the man's talent.
In the middle of it all, we've got Peter Boyle's guest performance. A very talented actor, especially to anyone familiar with Everybody Loves Raymond or his team up with Michael Keaton and Christopher Lloyd in The Dream Team, he turns in a performance of such humour, sadness and beauty that it's a joy to say that this late, great actor bagged the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Performance in a Television Drama. Every scene he steals, the moments he shares with David and Gillian are beautiful and he brings a wealth of sympathy to a man who is sick of living because he is literally living with death every second of his life, which is brought about because of his love of The Big Bopper (only in a Darin Morgan episode). It could have been easy for the character to become unlikeable or just unbearably depressing, but he is kept on the right track by Boyle, who wasn't the original choice for the role, but for which we should all be thankful was the one who ended up playing it.
That this wonderful litte slice of dark comedy builds to an unbearably sad and poignant conclusion marks this one as Morgan's most engaging episode. The moment when Bruckman's prophecy comes true, that Scully is in bed with him, holding his hand, hers and our realisation that she has misread his statement about 'their' end can't help but leave a lump in the throat. This is my thing with this episode. Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' is tremendously hillarious and original, but there's nothing in it to match the devastation of this episode's emotional charge. The same goes for War of the Coprophages and whilst Humbug doesn't either, it can get away with it more because that one is essentially a tabernacle of terror.
Look, I'm fickle though, my opinion may change yet again when it comes to reviewing Morgan's final writing assignment for the show, but for now, I think I have to say, this is without doubt, Darin Morgan's masterpiece.