Thursday, 24 November 2011

Beyond the Sea

I've got too much time on my hands, and among the various box sets I'm rediscovering is The X-Files.


Many episodes concern ghosts and the supernatural, of course, but some of the best appear in season one (there are nine seasons, plus two feature films). And one of these, 'Beyond the Sea', has enough contents for a feature film, never mind 46 minutes of TV. The basic premise is simple - a condemned serial killer called Boggs (played by the wonderful Brad Dourif, above) offers to cut a deal with the authorities. He has supposedly acquired psychic abilities due to a near-death experience (literally, as he was in the gas chamber when he got a stay of execution). Boggs offers to help save the lives of two students who've been kidnapped by another killer who - we learn - was almost certainly Boggs' accomplice.

This is okay so far as it goes, but the spin put on the story makes it unusually powerful. Instead of beginning with the crime, we first see agent Dana Scully's last meeting with her father at Christmas. He dies later that night, and Scully has a vision of him in which he seems to be trying to tell her something. Predictably, Boggs claims to be channelling the old man and promises to deliver the vital message to Scully - if she helps him escape execution and serve life instead.

Writers James Wong and Glen Morgan introduce another twist by having Fox Mulder - the believer in all things paranormal - reject Boggs' claims outright. Mulder suspects it's all a twisted revenge plot as he produced the psychological profile that helped catch Boggs in the first place. So we get a role reversal in which Scully, the supposed sceptic, is convinced by visions and Boggs' mediumistic voices, while Mulder rejects it all. And that's before they actually have to tackle the second killer.

Without giving too much away, it remains unclear (to me, at any rate) whether Dourif's deeply sinister character is psychic or merely very cunning. But sometimes ambiguity is exactly what you need.


Boggs does his stuff

5 comments:

James Everington said...

The last line of this post sums up my attitude to horror fiction better than I've ever done so...

valdemar said...

Some people hate ambiguous endings. For me, if properly handled, they are the best way to end a ghost story, or indeed any story. Life if pretty ambiguous much of the time. Well, mine is.

Oscar Solis said...

I do tend to like supernatural books and films, ghost stories in particular, to not straddle the fence when it comes to being ambiguous. Either it's a ghost story or it's not. There's a book called "Julian's House" that has that is it or isn't it feel. It turned me off reading novel length ghost stories for years.

valdemar said...

I don't mind ambiguity but I suppose what I prefer is for the 'rational' explanation to be so improbable - as in this X-Files story - that you're forced to concede the possibility of the supernatural/paranormal.

rich garfinkel said...

Doesn't the fact that Boggs sees his victims lining the last mile to the death house prove his psychic abilities?