Soft Light (The X-Files)
|The X-Files episode|
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||James A. Contner|
|Written by||Vince Gilligan|
|Original air date||May 5, 1995|
|Running time||44 minutes|
"Soft Light" is the twenty-third episode of the second season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. It originally aired on the Fox network on May 5, 1995. It was written by Vince Gilligan and directed by James A. Contner. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, unconnected to the series' wider mythology, or overarching fictional history. "Soft Light" received a Nielsen rating of 8.5 and was watched by 8.1 million households. The episode generally received mixed to positive reviews from television critics.
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, an ex-student of Scully's (Kate Twa) asks the agents to help her with her first investigation concerning a number of disappearances with very few clues. Mulder ponders the idea of spontaneous human combustion but rethinks it when they find a man, Chester Ray Banton (Tony Shalhoub), who is afraid of his own shadow. Banton is a scientist researching dark matter, and his shadow has somehow developed the ability to disintegrate people who come across it.
"Soft Light" was the first The X-Files episode written by Gilligan, who would go on to write several acclaimed episodes such as "Pusher", "Bad Blood" and "Memento Mori". "Soft Light" was one of the first episodes written by someone not on the main writing staff for The X-Files. Originally, the script called for Banton's shadow to be able to move independently, but it was rewritten to save on animation costs. In addition, the character of X (Steven Williams) was not in the script initially. His character was added to give Banton a legitimate fear of the government.
At a hotel in Richmond, Virginia, Chester Ray Banton (Tony Shalhoub) frantically knocks on the door of a room, seeking a person named Morris. Banton's shouts attract the attention of Patrick Newirth, a guest in the room across the hall. When Newirth looks through his peephole, Banton's shadow slips beneath the door. Newirth suddenly evaporates, leaving a strange burn mark on the floor. Banton realizes what has happened and flees the scene.
The case of Newirth's death, the latest in several of its kind, is assigned to local detective Kelly Ryan (Kate Twa). She seeks help from Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), her former instructor at the FBI Academy. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) also takes part in the investigation, believing Newirth died from spontaneous human combustion. While searching the home of an earlier victim, the agents realize that both she and Newirth had recently traveled by train. Meanwhile, Banton sits in a train station, cautiously looking at the floor; because the room is lit by soft light, his shadow cannot be seen. After he leaves, Banton is confronted by two police officers patrolling the area. Despite Banton's warnings, the officers step into his shadow and disappear, leaving more burn marks.
The following day, while reviewing the station's surveillance tapes, Mulder sees footage of Banton staring at the floor. After blowing up the frame, Mulder sees the logo for a company called Polarity Magnetics on Banton's jacket. The agents visit Polarity Magnetics, where they meet scientist Christopher Davey (Kevin McNulty). He identifies Banton, a physicist conducting research into dark matter. Davey reveals that Banton disappeared five weeks earlier after an incident in his laboratory in which he was locked in a target room with an active particle accelerator and exposed to a large amount of subatomic particles. His account is enough for Scully to consider spontaneous human combustion, but Mulder is now doubtful of this theory.
The agents find Banton at the train station, but he runs to a poorly lit area. He declares that walking into his shadow will kill the agents, so Mulder shoots out the overhead lights. Banton allows himself to be taken to a mental hospital, where he is put in a room with soft light per his own request. He tells the agents that the accident in his lab caused his shadow to behave like a black hole, splitting atoms into component particles and reducing matter into pure energy. Banton claims that the deaths were all accidents, and that the government wants to exploit him. Detective Ryan and her superior officer stop the questioning, declaring the case closed, despite Mulder's objections. Mulder contacts X (Steven Williams), who assures him that the government has no interest in Banton. However, X and two associates later attempt to remove Banton from the hospital by cutting the power. In the process, the two attendants are killed when the emergency lights turn on and Banton's shadow falls upon them. Banton flees from the hospital.
Banton returns to Polarity Magnetics and is confronted by Ryan, whom he reluctantly kills with his shadow when she tries to arrest him. Banton orders Davey to destroy him with the particle accelerator, but Davey reveals that he has been helping the government hunt him down. Davey locks Banton in with the particle accelerator, but is shot by X. Mulder and Scully arrive soon after, seemingly too late to save Banton from being vaporized by the accelerator; Mulder realizes that X has betrayed him, and tells X to never contact him again. The case is considered closed, but Mulder notes that Davey disappeared after the incidents. The episode ends as X enters a research facility where experiments are being performed on a despairing Banton.
"Soft Light" was written by Vince Gilligan and directed by James A. Contner. Gilligan was a fan of The X-Files, and after talking about the show to his agent, who was a relative of series creator Chris Carter, he arranged a meeting between Gilligan and Carter. During it, Gilligan praised the show, and Carter asked if the writer had any ideas for it, to Gilligan's surprise. His reply was that he had been observing his shadow and thought it would be "creepy" if it began moving independently. Gilligan wrote the episode as a freelancer; after the episode was finished, Carter asked him to join the staff.
Gilligan inserted a reference to the villain Eugene Victor Tooms from the first season episodes "Squeeze" and "Tooms" in a conversation between Ryan and Mulder. The episode represents one of the first entries in the series to be written by someone from outside the main writing staff of The X-Files. Originally, the script called for Banton's shadow to be able to move independently; Carter and writer Howard Gordon rewrote the story to remove this aspect. Gilligan later noted, "they rewrote the episode […] this saved an enormous amount of money in animation costs." In addition, the character of X was not in the first draft of the script. However, the series staff realized that Banton's fear of having the government control him should be "more than just paranoia". Thus, X was written into the story. Writer Frank Spotnitz later noted, "it had been a long time since X had done anything and the character really needed to grow."
The episode guest stars Tony Shalhoub as Dr. Banton. Shalhoub, who had a recurring role on the NBC series Wings, was not familiar with The X-Files when he was offered the part because at the time he did not watch much television. Instead, he was sent the script and enjoyed it—due to the show's similarities to The Twilight Zone—and agreed to appear in the episode. When Shalhoub informed people that he was going to Vancouver to film an episode of the series, he claimed that "the response was unbelievable". Shalhoub was impressed with the on-location filming that the series did; he noted, "Ninety-nine percent of our filming on Wings is done on a soundstage, while most of their material is shot on location in and around Vancouver. It's an ideal city because it gives producers so many options."
The train station was filmed at both Via Rail's Pacific Central Station and the Pacific Marine Training Institute in Vancouver. The Pacific Marine Training Institute initially only allowed filming after 5 pm, before the persistence of the location managers led the dean of the station to allow the crew to commence filming at 2 pm. During production, Gilligan financed a trip to the show's filming locations in Vancouver and followed production with a video camera, a feat then unheard of for a writer on The X-Files.
Broadcast and reception
"Soft Light" was originally aired in the United States on the Fox Broadcasting Company on May 5, 1995, and was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on February 13, 1996 on BBC One. In its original broadcast, it was watched by 8.1 million households, according to the Nielsen ratings system. It received an 8.5 rating and 15 share among viewers, meaning that 8.5 percent of all households in the United States and 15 percent of all people watching television at the time, viewed the episode.
"Soft Light" received mixed to positive reviews from television critics. Entertainment Weekly gave the episode a "B–" and noted that the episode "gains points for the obscure subject matter" but "loses them for the strained conspiratorial element". Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club also gave it a "B–". He praised the cold open for its strangeness and X's involvement, but thought that the explanation for Banton's shadow was not satisfactorily fleshed out. 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. The two wrote positively of the episode's case, calling it one wherein "Mulder and Scully get to investigate properly, coming up with theories that they later build on or retract." Shearman and Pearson also wrote positively of the episode's conclusion, noting that "there's no better illustration for distrusting the government than the brilliant closing scene" which features Shalhoub "fixed to a chair, bombarded with flashes of light, as one single tear rolls down his terrified face." Other reviews were decidedly more critical. John Keegan from Critical Myth awarded the episode a 5 out of 10 and wrote, "Overall, this episode falls short due to a completely ludicrous central concept, only partially countered by an interesting resolution highlighting the more sinister side of Informant X. Much like last season’s final few episodes, this season is ending with plenty of hints that Mulder and Scully are pushing the wrong buttons."
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- 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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