Improbable (The X-Files)
|The X-Files episode|
Burt's smiling face merged with a high city view.
|Episode no.||Season 9
|Directed by||Chris Carter|
|Written by||Chris Carter|
|Original air date||April 7, 2002|
|Running time||44 minutes|
"Improbable" is 13th episode of the ninth season and the 195th episode overall of the science fiction television series The X-Files. The episode first aired in the United States on April 14, 2002 on Fox, and subsequently aired in the United Kingdom. It was written and directed by series creator and executive producer Chris Carter. The episode is a "monster-of-the-week" episode, a stand-alone plot which is unconnected to the mythology, or overarching fictional history, of The X-Files. The episode earned a Nielsen rating of 5.1 and was viewed by 9.1 million viewers. The episode received mostly positive reviews from critics.
The show centers on FBI special agents who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files; this season focuses on the investigations of John Doggett (Robert Patrick), Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). In this episode, Reyes and her fellow agents investigate a serial killer who uses numerology to choose his victims. Soon, Reyes and Scully meet an unusual man who may prove more of a hindrance than a help.
"Improbable" features Burt Reynolds playing God. Reynolds was chosen after he expressed his desire to appear in an episode of The X-Files to Robert Patrick. Carter approved the idea and Reynolds thoroughly enjoyed filming the episode. "Improbable" contains several elaborate effects, such as a cityscape rendered to look like Reynolds' head. Furthermore, the episode contains themes pertaining to fate, free will, and numerology. The tagline for this episode is "Dio Ti Ama", meaning "God loves you" in Italian, replacing the usual phrase "The Truth is Out There."
Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) is investigating a series of cases that she believes are linked by numerology. While explaining the case to Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), Scully spots another possible link - a mark made by the killer's ring on the victims' faces. On consulting a numerologist, Reyes ties the murders together. However, the killer also finds the numerologist, murdering her.
Meanwhile, the killer is shown meeting up with a mysterious man (Burt Reynolds) who seems to know a lot about him and his murderous ways. He speaks in an enigmatic way, but his words do not seem to make any difference to the killer. Reyes' numerology theories do not go down well at the FBI, but the pattern of the killings, when viewed on a map, seem to show a spiral. Scully and Reyes revisit the murdered numerologist's office and meet the killer in the elevator. Scully recognizes the ring on the killer's hand as the agents exit the elevator, and draws her gun on him. The killer slips back into the elevator and gets to the parking lot first. Reyes and Scully arrive only to see a car fleeing the garage and the gate closing behind it.
They meet another person hiding in a car and demand that he come out. It is the strange man. To pass the time, Burt engages Reyes and Scully in a game of checkers, whose colors (red & black) are surrogates for Scully (a redhead) and Reyes (a brunette). These are the anticipated hair-colors of the next two victims. The exiting car was assumed to contain the killer, but realizing the killer might still be inside, they search the garage and are surprised by the killer. However, John Doggett (Robert Patrick) arrives in the nick of time to shoot him. The mysterious man has completely disappeared. In a nearby Italian neighborhood, a party is in progress. Two men sing a jovial song and lead a crowd through the streets. The camera zooms out to reveal that the entire neighborhood, when viewed from above, suggests the appearance of Burt's face, hinting to the fact that he might be God.
Carter later explained that humorous episodes were important to the show, especially during the "pitch-black" ninth season. He reasoned "there are the downbeats, and then you need the relief in the tension." The name Vicki Burdick came from a high school student Chris Carter knew. Carter felt that he needed to kill the character "all out of fondness." Before casting Ellen Greene, Carter had first spotted her on the movie, The Little Shop of Horrors both in "New York and Los Angeles." The first scene shot for Greene's character took a "long day". Carter called her a "trooper" and said she was open to the direction he gave her. She had a lot of information to remember, which made the scene even more difficult. The set for that scene was created by Tim Stepeck who was the set decorator during the ninth season. Annabeth Gish later revealed that her lines were difficult to remember. She explained, "I remember learning my lines and thinking, 'Oh my God. I've got to memorize this. It's scary. Like physics united theory, all of that."
This was the last episode filmed by Carter to feature Scully in the FBI autopsy scene at 20th Century Fox. The different numbers seen in this scene was used to "conceit, this idea that numerology is an important part of our life and plays a part, but it really is just used here to illustrate the idea of patterns, patterns of behavior, of the ways in which numbers rule both the universe and our lives and our ability to solve things, to solve our mysteries of life, to solve these cases, which will lead them, as we'll see as the act comes to a close here, they are both [Scully and Reyes] believers of the numerological episode." The tagline for this episode is "Dio Ti Ama", meaning "God loves you" in Italian, replacing the usual phrase "The Truth is Out There." The normal line "Executive Producer: Chris Carter" is also rendered in Italian, reading, "Produttore Esecutivo: Chris Carter".
Burt Reynolds was chosen for "Improbable" after he expressed his desire to appear in an episode of The X-Files to Robert Patrick. Carter approved the idea and told Patrick that he would "write something good". He later noted that "as a young man, [Reynolds] meant something to me" and that the opportunity to work with him was "surreal". After Carter had written the script, he presented it to Reynolds for his approval; Reynolds approved of the script and agreed to be in the episode. Robert Patrick later noted that Reynolds "had a great time, and he loved working with everybody." Ray McKinnon (Dead Man's Walk, The Missing, Needful Things) plays the role of the gambling serial killer Mad Wayno.
Effects and music
The final scene, featuring Burt's face superimposed onto the cityscape, was created by special effects supervisor Mat Beck. The only actual footage in the scene is a pull-back shot of the carnival that was filmed 110 feet in the air via crane. A CGI cityscape was then created that resembled Burt Reynolds' head. The two shots were sewn together, and a blur effect was added to "[make] it sell". An alternate version of the scene was created that featured Chris Carter's head instead of Reynolds'. This version was included as a bonus feature on the season nine DVD set. The score for the episode, like the rest of the series, was composed by Mark Snow. Snow based much of the music in the episode off of records made by Karl Zéro, on the request of Carter. Carter later noted that "I had heard his music and it was so far out and it fit with exactly what I wanted to do because I wanted to recreate [the yearly celebration in] Little Italy. [...] I wanted to create that festival."
According to Chris Carter, the "whole" idea behind the episode was about numbers and that the "significance of numbers in our lives starts here on the card table where the players are being dealt a hand each." He continued with "the idea is that we're all dealt hands, genetic hands, and maybe even numerological hands that give us basically the tools with which we deal and/or use for our lives." He further stated that the idea was that it was "free will" and "fate", continued with that fate was determined by our own genetics.
This theme is profoundly demonstrated as the character of God describes three playing cards that he is using in a street-side shell game as being two clowns (joker cards) and a king in a crown, which is likely symbolic of the two thieves who were referenced in the Gospels as being crucified on either side of Jesus Christ, the king card (in a crown) being the son of God.
The villain in the story, Mad Wayne, had been dealt a bad hand in life. Because of his situation, he acts on his bad impulses. Carter elaborated, "Is it fate that Wayne is about, the character, this is what I was interested in exploring here. As we'll see with the introduction in a moment of a character who throws all of this into question – God – we're going to see what his place is in all of this, or at least explore what Burt Reynolds, playing God here, has to do with the character Wayne." The main idea behind the episode, was that God knows all the numbers, because they are his numbers and he is laying them down and is in "charge of the big game". Being that God is trying to show "us the game", as it was a "game" to be "won or lost", and Wayne has lost this game.
"Improbable" first aired in the United States on April 14, 2002. The episode earned a Nielsen household rating of 5.1, meaning that it was seen by 5.1% of the nation's estimated households. The episode was viewed by 5.38 million households[nb 1] and 9.1 million viewers "Improbable" was the 57th most watched episode of television that aired during the week ending April 14.
"Improbable" received mostly positive reviews from critics. Jessica Morgan of Television Without Pity awarded the episode a "B+". Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, rated the episode four stars out of five, and called the script "very witty". The two wrote that "the brilliance of Chris Carter's direction" allowed the viewer of the episode to see it "from God's point of view". Shearman and Pearson concluded that the episode "is not as smart as it thinks it is. But it's still pretty smart." John Keegan, writing for Critical Myth, on the other hand, gave the episode a more mixed review and gave it a 6 out of 10 rating. He wrote that "overall, this episode was amusing enough, but there was nothing about it that would prompt me to rank it as highly as the more inspired “lite” episodes of previous seasons. And considering that the sixth and seventh seasons suffered tremendously from too many episodes like this, it's a shame to see them do it again."
The Guardian listed "Improbable" as one of the "13 best X-Files episodes ever". UGO named God/Mr. Burt as one of the "Top 11 X-Files Monsters", noting that "as [series creator Chris Carter] imagines him, [God] is a benevolent deity, constantly prodding his creatures to look at the patterns before them, to see the overall plan that he's laid out. He's doomed to failure, and he knows it, though it doesn't stop him from trying".
- At the time of airing, the estimated number of households was 105.5 million. Thus, 5.1 percent of 105.5 million is 5.38 million households.
- Improbable - Cast Credits (DVD). The X-Files: The Complete Ninth Season: Fox Home Entertainment. 2002.
- Morgan, Jessica. "Improbable". Television Without Pity. NBC Universal. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
- Hurwitz and Knowles, p. 204
- Carter, Chris (2002). Audio Commentary for "Improbable" (DVD). Fox Home Entertainment.
- Carter, Chris et al. (2002). The Truth Behind Season 9 (DVD). The X-Files: The Complete Ninth Season: Fox Home Entertainment.
- Paul Rabwin (2002). Special Effects by Mat Beck with Commentary by Paul Rabwin: "Burt as City Grid" (DVD). The X-Files: The Complete Ninth Season: Fox Home Entertainment.
- Fraga, p. 216
- The X-Files: The Complete Ninth Season (booklet). Kim Manners, et al. Fox.
- The Associated Press (15 January 2002). "Prime-Time Nielsen Ratings". Associated Press Archive. Retrieved 24 March 2012. (subscription required)
- Collins, Scott (10 April 2002). "'CSI,' NCAA Spell CBS viewer win: NBC Holds Big Lead in 18-49 Demo; 'Late Night' Scores Big". The Hollywood Reporter (Lynne Segall). p. 4.
- Shearman and Pearson, pp. 271–272
- Keegan, John. "Improbable". Critical Myth. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
- "Mulder and Scully at San Diego Comic-Con: the 13 best X-Files episodes ever". The Guardian. July 18, 2013. Archived from the original on August 25, 2013.
- "Top 11 X-Files Monsters". UGO Networks. UGO Entertainment. Retrieved 1 March 2012.
- Fraga, Erica (2010). LAX-Files: Behind the Scenes with the Los Angeles Cast and Crew. CreateSpace. ISBN 9781451503418.
- Hurwitz, Matt; Knowles, Chris (2008). The Complete X-Files. Insight Editions. ISBN 1933784806.
- Shearman, Robert; Pearson, Lars (2009). Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen. Mad Norwegian Press. ISBN 097594469X.
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