With all our favorite shows taking their usual break in the summer months, this opens up an opportunity to watch some of our old favorites. That’s where the Multiversity Summer Binge comes in. Last year, I took a look at the entire first season of my favorite show ever, The X-Files and this summer, I’m back with a vengeance covering season two. The first season of this show was more of a prelude. It teased all the things that were to come and spent a lot of time doing the ground work. In the second season, the show really kicks into gear. Truth be told, of the 11 seasons, this is easily top three for me. I’m really excited to be writing about these episodes, particularly the middle of the season. This week I’m looking at “Soft Light,” a stand alone episode that starts to build to where this season ends. It’s not quite a mythology episode but it does some very important world building.
1. The Premise
“Soft Light” introduces us to Dr. Chester Banton, a physicist who’s been working on experiments involving dark matter. He has basically been missing for five weeks with his colleagues having no idea where he went. When we first see him, he’s trying to find someone in an apartment building names Morris but a neighbor hears and gets alarmed. The neighbor ends up dying in what looks like spontaneous human combustion after a shadow enters under the door. This is not the first death like this but there’s nothing to really go on and so rookie detective Kelly Ryan gets the case. Scully is called in (with Mulder by default) as a favor because Scully taught Kelly at the F.B.I. Academy. “Soft Light” really begins as a paint by number one off case but it does the exact thing that always made this show special. It blends together some of the ongoing plot points while still being a one off story and it helps set the stage for the final part of this season.
2. Scully As A Mentor
One of the things this episode touches on is that Scully was an instructor for a while. When we first meet her, that’s what she was doing before she brought into the field with Mulder and she seemed to have been very good at it. Throughout this episode, she and Mulder are there unofficially, she’s basically just trying to help out someone she taught and more importantly, another woman trying to navigate a male dominated profession. She outright says this at one point and I loved that. We’ve spent a lot of time this season seeing Mulder’s deepest beliefs tested and we’ve seen him really do great work at a profiler but this episode has this really good Scully stuff.
3. Dark Matter
“Soft Light” is one of those episode that really has fun with weird science stuff but it’s also very tragic. We’ll get to that but let’s talk about what Dr. Banton can actually do. Christopher Davey, Dr. Banton’s associate, tells Mulder and Scully about what happened to him and why he’s walking about in the world completely terrified and exhausted. They were researching dark matter and five weeks ago Dr. Banton was locked in a room with a particle accelerator and he was hit by the particles. It seems to have given his shadow some kind of power to literally melt someone down into energy and that’s why it appears to be spontaneous human combustion. Dr. Banton’s ability isn’t the most flashy of things. His shadow doesn’t fly around like Peter Pan’s does but the damage is horrible and he’s now avoiding direct light to prevent himself from casting a shadow of any kind. However, this has made him a target of the government and now he’s even more terrified. Tony Shaloub plays Dr. Banton and honestly it’s why the character works so well. Shaloub is a really great actor with a ton of range and he brings something deeper to the role and makes it feel more important than just a guest starring one off thing.
4. This Is How You Write Good TV
I’ve been kind of fixated on how Marvel and Netflix dropped the ball on their shows and I keep coming back to this show when I talk about it. The X-Files like many other classic procedural/cop/detective shows embraced their one hour formats in a way that allowed them to tell one off stories while still developing the world around these characters. Marvel/Netflix didn’t do this but this show did and this episode is a perfect example of how you tell a one off story that’s still that while embracing the bigger arc. X makes another appearance in this episode and this is a very important episode for him. In fact, it’s probably his most important episode. Once Mulder brings X in to help, X helps get Banton out of the hospital and out of custody but it’s all so he can take him on his own to the people he works for. It destroys the relationship between X and Mulder and it furthers how dangerous things are becoming for Mulder. All this is done while not forgetting the main story here with Dr. Banton and it works so well. It’s what this show does best. Give us a case, develop the world and develop the characters through inference and insinuation. Show don’t tell always works.
5. Bad Guys Win
At the end of all of this, Mulder and Scully can’t do anything and Dr. Banton, while still alive, becomes a science experiment for the government to play with and that tear at the end is the saddest thing imaginable. The shadowy, evil government wins and Mulder puts together that Banton is probably still alive but not in a great places. He’s right and as I wrote in the point above, this is just the smallest piece of what Mulder will be exposed to soon. Banton won’t ever come back up on the show but what X and the people he works for will and it’ll be a big part of the show’s bigger mythology.