"Underneath"

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"The Rob Zombie look really works for you..."



As soon as I heard that this episode was written and directed by John Shiban, I knew we were in for it. Shiban has easily been my least favorite writer during the long run of the series. His characterizations are never consistent in terms of the other episodes, let alone within the episode itself, and the plots themselves have a tendency to hinge on convenience and coincidence. Sometimes these weaknesses can be bolstered with good (and necessarily inspired) direction, but someone on the 1013 team decided that giving Shiban the chance to direct his own work would be a good idea. Feel free to make the requisite William Shatner analogies.

In terms of plot, this is what we’re given. 13 years ago, when John Doggett was working the beat in Brooklyn, he was involved in a high profile serial murder case. He and his partner Duke seemed to solve the case when they apprehended a man named Fassl at the final crime scene. When Fassl is released due to the fact that improved DNA techniques have cleared him, Doggett takes it personally and begins tracking down the evidence again, looking for some clue that will justify Fassl’s original conviction.

Of course, nothing is simple, and even as it becomes clear that there is no direct evidence pointing to Fassl, more people begin dying in the same manner. When Scully uncovers the fact that Fassl is a devoted Catholic, Reyes suggests that it may be Fassl after all…“transmogrifying”, as it were, into the killer because his conscience cannot deal with his murderous impulses. Soon after, this theory appears to be borne out when the killer is spotted running out of the home of Fassl’s lawyer, and Doggett and Reyes track him down in what is supposedly a sewer system.

If this synopsis sounds a little disjointed or vague at points, that has everything to do with the plot contrivances and conveniences that litter this episode from the moment it begins. Making it even worse, this episode requires Doggett to maintain his initial hard-line skepticism, something which does not follow the pattern of the episodes that have aired in recent weeks. It’s a well known fact that this episode was scheduled originally for the beginning of the season, shortly after “Daemonicus”, which would have fit the overall character arc for Doggett far better.

At the center of this episode is the concept of “transmogrification” (or more correctly, “transsubstantiation”, but we’ll go with Shiban’s version), and as admittedly interesting as this subject is, it is handled in a cavalier manner in this episode. In point of fact, in religious terms, it is a highly specialized concept, applying directly to acts/miracles of Jesus. Taking something like that and applying it to the common man under murderous circumstances begs for explanation. Of course, we don’t get that explanation, and the fact that the concept itself is played somewhat illogically doesn’t help either.

In terms of what Reyes suggests, if Fassl were “transmogrifying”, then his physical body ought to be transforming into a new form analogous to that facet of his personality. In essence, this is no different than someone suffering from multiple personality disorder, where one of the personalities is a serial killer…except the body changes to reflect that shift in personality. (Never mind that things like this have been documented, where physical characteristics appear to change dramatically depending on which personality is dominant.)

Taking that into account, it makes no sense whatsoever for Fassl to be aware or even responsive to his other self. If he was shunting his negative emotions and impulses into this other form, essentially denying that he could have such feelings and drives, why would he acknowledge that they exist at all? Even if you grant that (and it does happen, I admit), the killer is depicted and *directed* as if he were a separate entity. People look directly at Fassl even as they are stabbed by the killer,. and he is even physically knocked around by the killer. That shouldn’t happen if the killer’s form is assumed only when it takes control.

Even if you choose to ignore the highly inconsistent depiction of the killer and the loose interpretation of “transmogrification” required to make it work, the details of the case upon which all of this hinges makes no sense. Basically, a number of people were killed prior to the killing of the family on Flatbush Avenue. It must have been an awful lot of people, because there are a ton of files related to this case! Oddly, all of those files didn’t provide enough evidence to name a suspect. Might I mention that something like this would make international news coverage, as it makes Ted Bundy look like a slacker? But never mind that.

They catch Fassl after neighbors report screaming, apparently arriving within minutes of the final killing. Take a look at the teaser, and see if that makes any sense. The bodies are located in the spots where they were standing in the beginning of the scene. In other words, no one ran or attempted to escape. If the father screamed, then why were the mother and daughter still hanging around in the kitchen? If either the mother or daughter screamed, wouldn’t the one not being attacked attempt to get away?

In any case, these people were apparently killed with a screwdriver to the back of the neck/head. Yet there was no physical evidence linking Fassl to the crime? How is that possible? Where was the murder weapon? No weapon, no proof. If there were hair samples to be taken at other crime scenes, then why no fingerprints? Certainly the killer doesn’t appear to be all that careful about touching things. All in all, there would have been nothing to convict Fassl with, other than his presence at the crime scene, which is circumstantial at best.

Oh, but wait…there were planted hair samples, which were used to convict Fassl at the time. Which based on the amount of information stacked in those case files, and the fact that it’s the one piece of evidence that links Fassl to the murders, would have come under heavy scrutiny. And yet, 13 years later, Scully casually inspects an evidence property log and immediately realizes (without further explanation) that the hair samples were planted at the Flatbush crime scene. Are we supposed to believe that Fassl’s defense lawyers never checked for something like that? In New York City, where questioning police methods is a given?

Even so, we have some odd comments about how the DNA test results match 13 out of 14 critical sequences, or something to that effect, and that was enough at the time to convict Fassl. Here’s the problem I have with that. Never mind that DNA tests in legal situations work best when used to exclude a client, not to convict. Especially back in the 80’s, there were doubts about DNA tests being used to confirm the identity of a suspect in a trial. Think OJ Simpson, if you want a good example.

However, if Fassl were released based on more accurate DNA test results, that would suggest that someone had been working on his case to some extent for the past 13 years. Not only that, but whoever decided to take on that case (and I’m assuming that it was the defense lawyer depicted) would have needed some kind of reason to believe he was innocent. Getting a new DNA test for the purposes of overturning a conviction is no easy feat, and usually requires some kind of hearing, during which there needs to be independent evidence suggesting innocence to convince the adjudication that the results could turn out differently. Are we supposed to believe that when all of that happened, not one person noticed the same “obvious” planting of evidence that Scully noticed in less than 48 hours, with little to no experience with the case?

Another little piece of evidence that would have come up during this hearing would have been the murder that took place in Sing Sing. While it is true that Fassl couldn’t be implicated directly, anything that the prison officials suspect as possible foul play would have to come into account. And given the attitude of the prison superintendent, it’s hard to believe that he never mentioned it. Might I also note that if an unknown person or persons wandering around a maximum security prison were implicated in a murder, it would trigger a massive response, and far greater scrutiny of Fassl and his case than Doggett and the others were capable of?

Based on the DNA evidence and the picture of the killer from the prison security cameras, we have Monica leaping to the conclusion that Fassl and the killer are one in the same. I won’t go over the whole “transmogrification” bit again, but even with that kind of leap, we have Doggett and Reyes going on a stakeout of Fassl’s location…against the wishes of the assistant DA. Might I mention that this is patently illegal? Unless Doggett and Reyes had clear-cut jurisdiction through the Bureau at that point, they have no business being there, and given that even the paranoid NYC legal authorities can’t be bothered, I doubt it falls within the purview of the FBI.

Ultimately, the fact that Monica is at least partially right eliminated any of that danger, because the killer Fassl comes running out of the lawyer’s house…without having actually killed the lawyer. Why, I don’t know, because he really wanted to the entire episode, and he had more than enough opportunity. He goes running into the cleanest underground tunnels in the world, never mind New York City, where he has a bunch of body parts collected. Why the rats, cats, or vagrants didn’t carry them away by now, I don’t know, but there we are.

Even after the killer gets the jump on Doggett, stabbing him (but conveniently not killing him), Reyes shoots him right in the throat. Lo and behold, the body reverts back to Fassl, and Doggett is left without an easy explanation. Still, he denies that Monica was right, because there was no evidence in this case for it. But he does wonder about the next time…again, never minding that the “next time” happened about 16 times already.

Doggett’s characterization is all over the map here, and it’s hard to reconcile the (forgive the pun) dogged refusal to believe with the man who has been accepting all kinds of bizarre things all season. If this had aired shortly after “Daemonicus”, it would have made more sense, as he was still denying what he already knew to be possible or even probable at that point. But in the post-“Providence” world, where Doggett has trusted something beyond proof, this doesn’t fit the picture. I also doubt that Doggett, someone usually very good at recognizing integrity or the lack thereof, would have missed his partner’s flaws so easily.

Monica becomes a one-dimensional psuedo-Mulder here, aping her dialogue from last season over and over again. At least Mulder would take the time to toss out some interesting evidence to support his claims…usually. Monica just throws it out there in this episode. Scully is depicted as more kind and supportive of Doggett than is usually the case, but her involvement is limited to playing Super-Forensic Expert. When Shiban did have the chance to do something interesting, playing on Scully’s Catholic background, it did little more than point out how that side of her character should have been explored during the recent mythology offerings and “Audrey Pauley”.

By the time this episode was over, I was so amazed by the plot holes and contrivances, bad acting and dialogue from Duke and the lawyer, and the spotty direction that I almost couldn’t remember all of the things that were fouled up along the way. Even with everything I’ve pointed out, I’m sure I missed a few other points as well. Considering that this episode was rewritten and re-shot after the first cut, and 1013’s public “apology” for the poor quality in several press releases, I can’t imagine what it looked like the first time around. And to be honest, I don’t want to.

Some other thoughts:

- Since when does Flatbush Avenue look like that? Especially in the late 80’s?

- And for that matter, what was the daughter thinking when she invited the strange man into her house?

- Based on where the father was standing when he was killed, the position of the body didn’t match.

- Once again, this is not an assigned X-File. That makes one episode this season that was actually assigned!

- Why was Fassl imprisoned in Sing Sing, as opposed to Ryker’s Island?

- So that’s where Krycek’s wig went!

- Regardless of whether or not he could be convicted of the murders, his actions would have placed him under suspicion as an accessory to the crimes.

- I loved the way Monica looked in this episode, especially the scene in the prison. Yum!

- Once again, we’re back to the 24 hour Ma Scully Daycare Service. Isn’t this kind of thing part of the reason why Scully was going to leave the FBI if she was allowed to adopt Emily?

- “You break my heart…” Oh, gee, that’s going to get the Doggett-slash types going!

- I still don’t understand why Fassl didn’t kill the lawyer.

- Since when are the tunnels under Brooklyn (or Long Island, for that matter) so damned clean?

- Why didn’t Doggett still have his weapon drawn when he was attacked by Fassl? And for that matter, why didn’t Fassl kill Doggett instead of mildly wounding him?

- Wouldn’t there have still been massive blood loss through Fassl’s neck wound when he was in the water?

- When did Doggett change out of his FBI digs into the Gap clothing? It didn’t look like he would have had the time for that.

Overall, this episode was easily the worst of the season, even compared to the silliness of “Lord of the Flies”. We can only hope that none of the remaining episodes are Shiban-related, and pray that he can do a much better job when he writes for “Enterprise” next season.

I give it a 4/10.


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