Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose
|"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"|
|The X-Files episode|
Clyde Bruckman, who has the ability to foresee how people are going to die, dreams about his own body disintegrating. The scene used eight different stages, and mixed prosthetics and computer animation.
|Episode no.||Season 3
|Directed by||David Nutter|
|Written by||Darin Morgan|
|Original air date||October 13, 1995|
|Running time||45 minutes|
"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" is the fourth episode of the third season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. Directed by David Nutter and written by Darin Morgan, the installment serves as a "Monster-of-the-Week" story—a stand-alone plot unconnected to the overarching mythology of The X-Files. Originally aired by the Fox network on October 13, 1995, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" received a Nielsen rating of 10.2 and was seen by 15.38 million viewers. The episode received critical acclaim, and several writers named it among the best in the series. The episode won both an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series as well as an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. Mulder is a believer in the abnormal; the skeptical Scully has been assigned to debunk his work, but the two have developed a deep friendship. In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate a series of murders of psychics and fortune tellers. The two are assisted by Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle), an enigmatic and reluctant individual who possesses the ability to foresee how people are going to die.
Morgan wished to write an episode of The X-Files wherein one of the characters commits suicide at the end. Although Morgan was initially afraid to add humor to his script, he created a compromise by making the episode as dark as possible. Several of the characters' names are references to silent film-era actors and screenwriters. Notably, the episode features a prediction by Bruckman—that Agent Scully will not die—that is later bookended by the sixth season episode "Tithonus."
St. Paul, Minnesota: In a store, Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle), a life insurance salesman, purchases a paper and a lottery ticket and leaves. In the street, he almost bumps into an inconspicuous man (Stuart Charno), who heads to a gypsy palm reader named Madame Zelma (Karin Konoval). After seeking his fortune, the inconspicuous man attacks and kills her. A few days later, the eyes and entrails of a tea leaf reader, who was also a doll collector, have been found in her apartment, her body being missing. FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) arrive at the scene of that murder to help the local cops, who have recruited the help of a psychic, the eccentric Stupendous Yappi (Jaap Broeker). Although the psychic delivers extremely vague clues, the cops are thoroughly impressed; both Scully and Mulder, however, are not, especially after Yappi diagnoses that it is Mulder—not Scully—who is a skeptic.
Meanwhile, after Bruckman takes the trash out for his neighbor, he discovers the body of Madame Zelma outside in his dumpster. When interviewed by Mulder and Scully, he reveals details about the crime that he could not have known from the media accounts, which causes Mulder to believe that Bruckman has psychic ability. Mulder insists that Bruckman join them in a visit to the crime scene at the doll collector's apartment. Thanks to seemingly psychically gained information from Bruckman, her body is soon found in a nearby lake.
At the police station, Mulder tests Bruckman's ability by having him handle various objects to see what they "tell" him. It becomes apparent that Bruckman's only real psychic talent is an ability to see details of people's deaths. Scully arrives with a key chain bearing the insignia of an investment company that uses astrology to make financial predictions, taken from the doll collector's body - the same key chain was found on two of the other dead fortunetellers. Bruckman knows that the firm is owned by one Claude Dukenfield, not through a psychic revelation but because he coincidentally sold the man an insurance policy recently. He says that Mulder and Scully will not be able to talk to Dukenfield though, because he has been murdered.
Mulder and Scully drive Bruckman to a wooded spot where Bruckman has said they will find Dukenfield's body. As they tromp through the woods, Bruckman explains how he gained his ability following the death of Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper in a plane crash. Bruckman cannot pinpoint the exact spot where the body is, however, so they return to the parked car, where they see a lifeless hand sticking out of the wet mud underneath. Traces of silk fibers are subsequently found on Dukenfield similar to fibers found on previous victims - they are later analyzed and found to be from lace.
At his home Bruckman has gotten a note from the killer saying he is going to die when they first meet, and telling him to say "hi" to the FBI agents. The killer apparently also has some psychic ability - the postmark is dated before Bruckman joined the murder investigation. Bruckman describes Mulder's death as the killer sees it: getting his throat slit by the killer after stepping in a pie in a kitchen. However Bruckman tells Mulder he's not able to see what happens afterwards. Meanwhile, the inconspicuous man consults a tarot card reader, who says that the killer seeks answers from "a man with special wisdom" and that his confusion will soon abruptly end "with the arrival of a woman - a blonde or a brunette, possibly a redhead." When there is just one card left unturned, the killer says that it is not meant for him but for the reader, and turns it over to reveal the "death" card.
Since the killer knows Bruckman's home address, the agents bring him to a hotel where they take turns guarding him. While Scully does not believe in Bruckman's power, the two develop a fast friendship. Bruckman asks Scully why she is not interested in knowing how she will die. Scully finally breaks down and asks him to tell her, to which Bruckman, joyfully, but cryptically, replies, "You don't." Bruckman later tells Scully that they will end up in bed together, in a very special moment neither of them will forget. This reinforces her skepticism.
A detective named Havez (Dwight McFee) takes over as Bruckman's guard when Mulder and Scully are called to investigate yet another new murder victim: the tarot card reader. As they leave they bump into a bellhop who is delivering food to Bruckman's room. The bellhop is actually the killer, and when he enters the room (while Havez is in the washroom), he is delighted to discover that Bruckman has been brought right to where he works. As he is about to kill Bruckman, Havez re-enters and the killer attacks and kills him instead. Meanwhile, Scully finds the same silk fiber at the new crime scene, and realizing that the bellhop had it on his tray, deduces that he is the murderer. They rush back to the hotel. Mulder chases the killer to the basement kitchen and the scene plays out as described in Bruckman's earlier premonition, but when the killer attacks Mulder, Scully arrives in the nick of time and shoots him—what Bruckman had seen was the dying killer's last thoughts, not Mulder's death.
Unable to find Bruckman in the hotel, Mulder and Scully return to Bruckman's apartment to find that Bruckman has committed suicide; Scully sees a plastic bag has been tied around his head, and that he is clutching a bottle of pills in his hand. Scully sits on Bruckman's bed holding his hand, deeply moved, just as he had predicted. That night Scully sees a commercial for the Stupendous Yappi on TV, causing her to throw her phone at it.
Conception and writing
This episode was the second of four episodes written for the series by Darin Morgan. Morgan had previously written the second season episode "Humbug", which was more overtly humorous than any other episode of the series. Morgan, who felt he had scripted the episode the "wrong" way, sought to return to "what the show is really about" in his next episode. For inspiration, Morgan watched the first season episode "Beyond the Sea", which features a questionable psychic; after viewing it multiple times, he expressed a desire to write an episode with a similar feel. After the scripting of "Humbug", Morgan claims that he entered into a state of depression. Using this period of his life as inspiration, he decided to write a plot about a character who committed suicide at the end of the episode. Another reason for this stylistic choice was because Morgan feared putting too much comedy into the episode, like his previous effort "Humbug". As such, he purposely tried to make it as serious and dark as possible, only to end up adding more jokes by the time the final draft was completed.
The episode's concern with the nature of free will and determinism grew out of Morgan's difficulties with plotting and constructing plot-twists; he explained that Bruckman and the killer interact in ways "that were really easy to plot, but which makes the story seem complicated." While writing the character's lines, Morgan realized that Mulder, were he to interact with a "normal person", would come off as sounding insane when in fact he is supposed to be a smart person. As such, Morgan decided to "shake up Mulder's image" to make him look slightly ridiculous; in the episode, Mulder views Bruckman "only as a phenomenon" and not as a person. To counter this, Morgan wrote Scully to see Bruckman, not as a psychic, but as a human.
Bruckman's cryptic prediction that Scully would not die "sent fans into a frenzy" due to its implications. Morgan explained that the line merely was a reference to Bruckman knowing how Scully would die, but liking her too much to divulge the information. However, many interpreted the warning to mean that Scully could not actually die and was, in essence, immortal. This interpretation, popular with fans on the internet, was verified by Frank Spotnitz. However, Spotnitz later admitted that this sub-plot was bookended by the sixth season episode "Tithonus," which showed Scully starting to die, only to have her come back, fulfilling Bruckman's prophecy. Spotnitz later called this ending "very satisfying." Series creator Chris Carter, however, stated in a 2014 reddit AMA that Scully is in fact, immortal.
The joke in the episode about Fox Mulder's predicted death being by autoerotic asphyxiation was inspired by previous jokes in the series about Mulder's interest in pornography. It was also inspired by a book Morgan had read on homicide investigations. While Morgan noted that he hypothesized that might be a way that Mulder would die, the line was meant as a joke. Many of the names used in the episode are homages to the silent film era. The name "Clyde Bruckman" refers to an actual screenwriter and director of silent comedies of the same name who committed suicide. The names of characters Detective Havez and Detective Cline are also references to a writer and director from that era: Jean Havez and Eddie Cline, respectively. One of the victims, Claude Dukenfield, is a reference to the real name of W.C. Fields. The name of the hotel in this episode, "Le Damfino" is a reference to a boat used by Buster Keaton in the movie The Boat.
Casting and filming
The role of the title character Clyde Bruckman—who was based on Morgan's "depressive" father—was originally written with Bob Newhart in mind, but Peter Boyle later won the part. Although Chris Carter preferred to not cast well-known actors, he felt that Boyle was such a gifted character actor that he ignored his usual prejudice for this episode. The character of the Stupendous Yappi was specifically written for Jaap Broeker, David Duchovny's stand-in. Morgan described the character as a cross between Uri Geller and the Amazing Kreskin. The character later appeared again in the episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space". Stuart Charno—credited as Stu Charno in the episode—played the part of the killer in this episode; he is the husband of Sara Charno, a former writer on the show who wrote the second season episode "Aubrey".
"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" was filmed in British Columbia, as were the rest of the third season episodes. Visual effects producer Mat Beck and Toby Lindala created the elaborate dream sequence where Bruckman's body decomposes. The two used a skeleton rib cage made of copper wire along with fake skin that melted into gelatin when the wires were heated. Eight different stages were used for the effect—starting with Boyle in makeup, progressing to the dummy, and eventually a computer generated skeleton—which were morphed together. Morgan explained that, because Nutter and fellow director Kim Manners were under time constraints, Morgan was allowed to function almost "as a producer of [the] episode." After filming for the entry ceased, he was allowed to personally work with the series' editor. The episode's original cut was 10 minutes too long, resulting in multiple scenes with Bruckman and Scully being removed from the episode.
"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" originally aired on the Fox network on October 13, 1995. The episode earned a Nielsen rating of 10.2, with an 18 share, meaning that roughly 10.2 percent of all television-equipped households, and 18 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. The episode was watched by 15.38 million viewers. The success of the episode led to it earning two Primetime Emmy Awards—writer Darin Morgan won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series, while Peter Boyle won the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.
"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" has been critically lauded. Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, gave the episode a full five stars and called it "a little slice of genius". The two applauded the episode's rich humor, as well as its exploration of extremely dark themes in a lighthearted way. Shearman and Pearson concluded that "the troubled questions Morgan poses here" about free will and death "are best answered by the writing of the episode itself … an episode like this isn't random—it's finely wrought, and thoughtful, and compassionate, and is a triumph of individualism." Author Phil Farrand rated the episode as his third favorite episode of the first four seasons in his book The Nitpickers Guide to the X-Files. Both Paul Cornell and Keith Topping, in the book Extreme Possibilities applauded the episode; Cornell called it "an extraordinary piece of work" and altogether gorgeous", whereas Topping labelled it a "little gem". Conversely, Martin Day, in the same book, wrote a negative review, calling it "duller than a dull thing with dull knobs", despite noting that it was "clever and well-acted".
Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode four stars out of four and called it "one of those rare episodes where everything comes together—funny, bizarre, absurd, ironies, and sad." She applauded Boyle's acting, noting that he "gives a performance that simply takes over the TV screen", and argued that "only actors as strong as Duchovny and Anderson, with their blissfully deadpan delivery, could withstand such a titanic presence, but withstand it they do." Entertainment Weekly gave the episode a rare "A+", writing, "Boyle gets lots of help from another superlative, laugh-a-minute script [which] nicely captures one of the overarching themes of the show: fate and man's isolation." Reviewer Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode an "A" and wrote positively of the ending, writing that, "for an episode that ends with a likable character killing himself, 'Bruckman' isn't what I'd call a downer." He called the entry his "favorite episode of The X-Files because it's funny, suspenseful, does well by Scully and Mulder, and creates some indelible characters."
Since its original airing, critics have listed "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" among the best X-Files episodes. TV Guide called it the tenth greatest episode in television history. Review website IGN named it the best standalone X-Files episode of the entire series, writing that the episode " is a distinctive episode of the series, mixing a healthy amount of humor [...] with some very nasty business [...] In just 44 minutes, Boyle creates a fully formed character who makes a big impact in his one and only appearance." Topless Robot named it the ninth-funniest episode of the series. Starpulse listed it as the third-best X-Files episode. Charlie Jane Anders and Javier Grillo-Marxuach of io9 included it on the list of "10 TV Episodes that Changed Television". Tom Kessenich, in Examination: An Unauthorized Look at Seasons 6–9 of the X-Files, named the episode the seventh-best installment of the series, noting that it features "a wonderful blend of humor, drama, and pathos, something The X-Files did better than just about any other show this past decade." The cast and crew of the series have expressed their enjoyment of the installment. Duchovny considers "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" to be one of his favorite episodes of the third season. Nutter highlighted it as one of the most enjoyable entries that he had worked on. He also noted that, "the writing was so tight and so crisp and so fresh that I think, as a director, the only thing you have to do is create the atmosphere, set up the characters, set up the shots and you are basically invisible. Then you step back and just let it happen." Series writer and producer Frank Spotnitz stated that the episode worked on many levels and that it is his favorite of the episodes written for the show by Morgan. In 2016, Ira Madison of Vulture.com named it the best episode of the series and "one of the best episodes of television ever", stating that the episode "takes every element that made the series so iconic and throws them all into one heartbreaking installment".
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