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D.P.O. (The X-Files)

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The X-Files episode
Darin Peter Oswald summoning lightning.
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 3
Directed by Kim Manners
Written by Howard Gordon
Production code 3X03
Original air date October 6, 1995
Running time 44 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"Paper Clip"
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"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"
The X-Files (season 3)
List of The X-Files episodes

"D.P.O." is the third episode of the third season of television series The X-Files. The episode first aired in the United States on October 6, 1995, on Fox, being written by Howard Gordon and directed by Kim Manners. The episode is a stand-alone episode, like most episodes of The X-Files, and follows the normal Monster-of-the-Week pattern of the show. "D.P.O." earned a Nielsen household rating of 10.9, being watched by 15.57 million people in its initial broadcast, and received positive reviews.

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. In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate a series of lightning-related deaths in Oklahoma, which are eventually connected to the only person to have survived a lightning strike, an emotionally charged youth.

The original concept for the episode was a one line concept card stating "Lightning Boy" that had been tacked to a board in series creator Chris Carter's office since the first season. The episode contained several scenes of elaborate lightning effects. Notably, a "lightning machine" used for the sequence where Darin is struck by lightning was created by Special Effects Supervisor David Gauthier and buried under the ground.


At a video arcade in Connerville, Oklahoma, two young men, Jack Hammond and Darin Peter Oswald, argue over a game of Virtua Fighter 2. Hammond pushes Oswald to the ground, after which the power in the arcade mysteriously shuts down—except to a jukebox, which plays "Ring the Bells" by James. This causes Hammond to leave, but when he goes outside to start his car, he finds the same song playing on the radio. He is then fatally electrocuted through the ignition. Oswald, who witnesses Hammond's death, returns to the game.

Hammond is the latest of five local men who have died due to lightning-related causes, causing Fox Mulder and Dana Scully to investigate. Scully talks to Bart "Zero" Liquori, the arcade owner and Oswald's friend, who was present the night Hammond died. Mulder finds Oswald's high scores on the game's display, realizing that he was playing that night; Oswald was the first of the victims, and the only one to have survived. Elsewhere, Oswald is at work at an auto repair shop when his boss's wife, Sharon Kiveat, walks in. He then tries talking to her, but she nervously rebuffs him; it is revealed that he had hit on her the day before, and she turned him down. When the agents arrive and question Oswald, he claims to have not witnessed anything. However, Mulder's cell phone mysteriously overheats in Oswald's presence, to which he acts unsurprised.

Alarmed by the FBI's presence, Zero visits Oswald at his home that night; a drunk and rowdy Oswald dismisses Zero's worries and summons lightning to strike down nearby cattle. The lightning strikes him instead, but he appears unharmed. The next day, the agents visit the scene and find a melted shoe print in the ground, linking it to Oswald. Meanwhile, Oswald uses his abilities to manipulate local traffic lights, causing a car accident. The agents visit Oswald's home and find a cut-out picture of Kiveat, Oswald's former high school teacher, inside a porn magazine.

At the scene of the car accident, Oswald's boss suffers an oddly timed heart attack; Oswald then saves him by using his electrical powers as a makeshift defibrillator, much to the paramedics' surprise. The agents question Sharon at the hospital, who claims that he told her about his powers. The agents also go through Oswald's medical records, showing that he exhibited acute hypokalemiaelectrolytic imbalance in his blood. Oswald is brought in for questioning by the agents, but he proclaims his innocence and is eventually released by the local sheriff. Later, Oswald, believing that Zero ratted him out to the agents, uses his powers to strike him dead with lightning.

After learning of Oswald's release, the agents rush to the hospital to protect the Kiveats, but the power goes out when they arrive and Zero's corpse appears in the elevator when its door slides open. Oswald confronts Scully and Sharon, and the latter fearfully agrees to leave with him in return for her husband's safety. The sheriff arrives and tries to stop him. While pursuing a fleeing Sharon, Oswald summons lightning but ends up striking himself once again and, in the process, kills the sheriff. Oswald is put in a psychiatric hospital, although the local district attorney has no idea how they will be able to prosecute him. As the agents observe Oswald, he uses his powers to change the channels of the TV in his room. (The song "Live Fast, Diarrhea" by The Vandals is heard, presumably a band he liked as he wore multiple Vandals T-shirts)[1][2]


Giovanni Ribisi had to audition twice before being cast as title character Darin Peter Oswald.

The original concept for the episode was a one line concept card stating "Lightning Boy" that had been tacked to a board in series creator Chris Carter's office since the first season. Carter's idea was solely about a boy who could control lightning, and the concept wasn't fleshed out into an episode until the third season. Writer Howard Gordon stated that the key moment in the episode's conception came when he decided to use the boy's power as a metaphor for disenfranchised adolescence.[3] Gordon described the episode's concept as "Beavis and Butt-head electrified".[4] Gordon claimed that the episode suffered conceptually having come directly after a trilogy of mythology episodes.[3] Story editor Frank Spotnitz claims that there were originally ideas on incorporating some of the events from that trilogy into this episode, but those ideas were eventually scrapped due to the producer's desire for each episode to be able to have its own integrity and stand alone.[4] Spotnitz said the episode was a risky one to do for a show with an adult audience due to the high school setting and the fact that the episode was about adolescence and violent impulses when one is a kid.[4]

The sheriff, Teller, was named after Teller from the illusion and comedy duo Penn and Teller. The pair had wanted to appear on an episode of the show, but when Chris Carter could find no way to work them into the show this reference was added instead.[3] The Astadourian Lightning Observatory was named after Mary Astadourian, Chris Carter's executive assistant.[3] Darin Oswald was named after writer Darin Morgan.[3]

Giovanni Ribisi won the part as Darin after some coaching from casting director Rick Millikan after Ribisi's initial audition failed to provide what Chris Carter was looking for.[5] Spotnitz described Ribisi's performance as "really, really good".[4] Director Kim Manners' best friend was killed during the third day of shooting. There was consideration on replacing him with another director for the episode but at his insistence he completed the episode.[3]

A "lightning machine" used for the sequence where Darin is struck by lightning was created by special effects supervisor David Gauthier and buried under the ground. Giovanni Ribisi stood on a stand with the device rigged underneath him. Mirrors were used to establish the effect of the lightning flaring up and outward, and were augmented by sparks and smoke.[3] A special anti-fire product was applied to the costumes of the actors hit by lightning.[6] Art Director Graeme Murray states that the biggest construction event in the episode was the scene where Darin manipulated the traffic lights. The producers had to plant telephone poles and build a billboard for the scene.[4] Murray tried to make the psychiatric ward in the episode's closure not resemble the one from season 2's "Soft Light", to avert repetition despite the similar ending.[6] The farmhouse used for Darin's home, situated in Albion, British Columbia,[7] was owned by a 94-year-old man and also used for the movies Jumanji and Jennifer Eight.[3] The producers had difficulty obtaining permission to use a dead cow in the episode due to concerns over animal rights groups. When the fake cow created failed to look realistic enough, the producers were able to use a dead cow obtained from a slaughterhouse for the episode.[4]


"D.P.O." was first broadcast in the US on October 6, 1995, on Fox.[8] The episode earned a Nielsen rating of 10.9, with a 20 share, meaning that roughly 10.9 percent of all television-equipped households, and 20 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode.[9] The episode was watched by 15.57 million viewers.[9]

Entertainment Weekly gave "D.P.O." a B+, considering that despite the lack of action, it managed to "keep you glued" for the photography and "truly hilarious sociopathic high jinks".[10] Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club gave the same grade, praising Ribisi and Black's performances and "sequences that confidently walk the tricky line between horror and broad comedy", and marking it as the point where "the show's direction, always good, made the leap from consistently interesting to look at to consistently cinematic."[11] Jane Goldman, in The X-Files Book of the Unexplained felt like the combination of Howard Gordon's "acutely observed dialogue" and Ribisi's "compelling performance" made Darin Oswald "one of season three's most memorable characters".[12] Writing for Den of Geek, Nina Sordi put "D.P.O." only behind "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" as the best standalone season 3 episode, praising Ribisi's "all quiet, creepy power that eventually explodes into homicidal rage" and Jack Black's "weary and ultimately doomed sidekick".[13] The plot for "D.P.O." was also adapted as a novel for young adults in 1996 by Neal Shusterman, under the title Voltage and the pseudonym Easton Royce.[14][15]


  1. ^ Lowry, pp. 87–89
  2. ^ Lovece, pp. 187–189
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Lowry, pp. 88–91
  4. ^ a b c d e f Edwards, pp. 143–144
  5. ^ Hurwitz and Knowles, p. 74
  6. ^ a b Lowry (1995), p. 57
  7. ^ Gradnitzer and Pittson, pp. 87–88
  8. ^ The X-Files: The Complete Third Season (Media notes). Chris Carter, et al. Fox. 1995–1996. 
  9. ^ a b Lowry, p. 251
  10. ^ "X Cyclopedia: The Ultimate Episode Guide, Season 3 |". Entertainment Weekly. 29 November 1996. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  11. ^ VanDerWerff, Todd (4 July 2010). ""The Blessing Way"/"Paper Clip"/"DPO"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  12. ^ Goldman, p. 127
  13. ^ Harrisson, Juliette (6 September 2011). "A look back over The X-Files' finest stand-alone episodes". Den of Geek. Retrieved 20 November 2011. 
  14. ^ Shusterman, Neal (1996). Voltage. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-440643-1. 
  15. ^ "Voltage (Book, 1996)". WorldCat. Retrieved May 31, 2017. 


  • Edwards, Ted (1996). X-Files Confidential. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-21808-1. 
  • Goldman, Jane (1997). The X-Files Book of the Unexplained. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81962-7. 
  • Gradnitzer, Louisa; Pittson, Todd (1999). X Marks the Spot: On Location with The X-Files. Arsenal Pulp Press. ISBN 1-55152-066-4. 
  • Hurwitz, Matt; Knowles, Chris (2008). The Complete X-Files. Insight Editions. ISBN 1-933784-80-6. 
  • Lovece, Frank (1996). The X-Files Declassified. Citadel press. ISBN 0-8065-1745-X. 
  • Lowry, Brian (1995). The Truth is Out There: The Official Guide to the X-Files. Harper Prism. ISBN 0-06-105330-9. 
  • Lowry, Brian (1996). Trust No One: The Official Guide to the X-Files. Harper Prism. ISBN 0-06-105353-8. 

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