Summer is long gone and that means the Multiversity 2017 Summer TV Binge is winding down. I’ve spent the last couple of months looking at the first season of The X-Files and we’re getting close to the big finale. This week, I’m looking at “Roland,” and episode that gets so close to being downright offensive but saves itself thanks to the performance of Zeljko Ivanek.
1. The Premise
“Roland” begins on a night like any other night at a top secret laboratory. We meet the janitor Roland Fuller, a mentally challenged man. He struggles to get his keycard to work and is yelled at by one of the scientists who’s waiting to get into the same room. When they both enter the room, Roland seems to get to his work at the scientist talks to his colleagues. Dr. Keats, Dr. Ronald Surnow and Dr. Frank Nollette are working on a jet engine that they hope to break mach 15 with. The three doctors argue over whether to test it with their prototype engine and ultimately decide not to right then and there. Keats and Nollette leave and Surnow walks into a room with a turbine. At this point, Roland goes into some kind of a trance and starts using the computer as if he knows exactly what’s on it. He kills Surnow and changes a formula on the board. Mulder and Scully are called in because this is an unexplained death given that Roland does not have the capacity to do something like this. On top of this, one other scientist on the project, Arthur Grable has already died. What they discover is a twisted family web that involves a still sort of alive brain.
2. Meet Roland
Roland Fuller is a really tough character to put on screen without having some nuance in how you address his disability. You can’t make him a parody and you can’t do the savant thing that everyone does with people who deal with disabilities and make him a superhero. To make Roland feel real, you’ve got to respect his disabilities and also make him feel like an actual human being with complex emotions. This episode toes the line a lot and while I’m probably not the person who should talk about this, I didn’t feel like a line was stepped over. Roland was a victim throughout this episode and wasn’t treated well by anyone outside of the home he lived at. However, Ivanek plays the character with something extra and not as if he’s mimicking someone with disabilities. He makes you feel sorry for Roland not because he’s disabled but because he’s being manipulated and I think that’s a huge distinction here. With that said, it is tough to not see Roland as more than that. He’s barely given his own life and he’s not really given much to do outside of the circumstances he finds himself in and that’s a shame.
3. What A Twist
“Roland” chugs along as a typical episode until it decides to throw a big twist at us. Arthur Grabel, the scientist who died before the events of the episode, was actually the twin brother of Roland Fuller. His brain, that is frozen in case they ever figure out how to clone healthy bodies and bring him back, is communicating with Roland and is actually the thing guiding Roland to all these murders. It’s totally ridiculous but it makes the episode interesting. It’s also one of the most wild twists of the seasons and I’m absolutely here for it.
4. That’s Some Cool Science Ya Got There
I think “Roland” as a whole x-file works so well because it does actually get into some science, even if it a bit ridiculous. I’ve already mentioned Arthur’s brain but at the core of the episode is this jet engine that’s being worked on. Scully mentions alien technology as a joke but there might be something to that in some weird way. This project is secretive and it’s possible that what they are working on will factor in to later x files. I’m just throwing that out there. I’m into this other kind of science existing and still maybe impacting what happens in this fictional world later on.Continued below
5. Mulder’s Dad
So, this means nothing right now but in this episode we get the first official mention of Mulder’s father, Bill. Bill Mulder is a major figure in the mythology of this show and down the line, he will mean a lot. I say this because next week, we finally reach the end of the first season and it’s a big episode that blows the lid off of the alien mythology arc and really pushes the show forward for the next decade’s worth of episodes.