Written and Directed by Chris Carter
Considering this was Carter’s first episode as a director since the previous season’s Duane Barry, one can understand why this was telegraphed as a signature episode, even going so far as to have it the fifth episode of this season, just like Duane Barry was. And one has to admit that it’s well directed. There’s a similar air of claustrophobia to this episode as well, considering that the majority of the episode is shot inside death row of a Florida prison. There’s definitely a sense of edginess to it, perhaps best demonstrated in the opening sequence where ‘Neech’ Manley is executed, clearly demonstrating that he was an aggressive and formidable personality. One could almost understand why so many people are afraid of him, even after he’s executed. So the episode is definitely shot very well.
It’s a shame that the script is such a horrible mess. Perhaps any episode would suffer in comparison with Clyde Bruckman, but this one seems to last any of the curiosity or imagination of the previous one. But even if that episode had come after a lesser one, it would be hard to imagine The List as being anything but an inferior episode of The X-Files. For starters, aside from the possibility that Manley has been executed, there isn’t much of reason for Mulder and Scully to be called on to the scene in the first place. For another, there’s the fact that none of the murders seem to show much of the nerve that we think Manley would’ve been capable of. There’s just the appearance of an immense amount of flies, which while they are creepy and unsettling, don’t exactly smack much of the paranormal. (This wouldn’t stop Carter from deciding to use them as a recurring theme in a different context…. but we’ll get to that.)
Then there’s the biggest probably with the story: it gives Mulder and Scully practically nothing to do. They neither distinguish themselves with particularly good investigative abilities, or any progress in being able to stop anything. They seem to be on the periphery of the episode for must of the time they’re on screen, letting events happen to them rather than interacting or even trying to stop them. And there are so many false starts in this episode that after a time, you wonder whether our heroes are really trying for this one. The so-called climax of the episode takes place when the FBI is crowded outside a suspect’s house, and they just stand around while he gets shot. And they seem more than willing to let this man’s death stand for doing any more work to follow it up or proof. When Mulder points this out to Scully, she just looks at him and tells him that their job is done, and then they just drive away while the last murder happens. It’s the worst kind of commentary on just how lazy they’ve been this episode.
It’s a shame because there really are some good things about the episode. There are superb guest performances, including the late J.T. Walsh as the prison warden, who’s just as sadistic as the cons he houses, Bokeem Woodbine as Roque, the inmate who seems to note all the secrets Manley kept, and April Grace does marvelous work as the woman who agreed to share her life with a dead man— up to a point. But these good performances completely overwhelm the pedestrian work that Anderson and Duchovny do. Now if there’s anything that the last episode proved, it’s that a great guest performance is fine, as long as the our leads play off it. Here they make very little effort to play off it, or for that matter each other. I’m all for solemnity after comedy last week, but God, this episode could use a decent joke or two. God, if I wanted to see vengeance killings and prison sadism, I’d watch Oz.
The List doesn’t seem like it belongs on The X-Files. Of course, neither, strictly speaking, did Clyde Bruckman. It’s got a very dark feel to it, which, as the third season continues will continue to be an ongoing theme. And we should applaud the fact that the series is at least willing to sometimes employ black actors. But the fact that there’s so little versatility or setpieces, or indeed, anything to make this episode seem worthwhile (God knows our heroes barely seem interested) makes you wonder why Carter fell so determined to make this the second episode he directed. There’s nothing particularly creative about it.