With summer quickly approaching, pretty much every show worth watching is coming to an end. That makes the summer the perfect time to binge watch what you missed along with some old classics. That’s where the Multiversity Summer TV Binge comes from. One of my personal favorite shows ever is The X-Files, and it is my mission in life to make everyone ever watch it. This summer, I’ll be looking back at season one. This week we look at “Young At Heart,” a fine but ultimately too big episode of the series.
1. The Premise
“Young at Heart” is a Mulder driven episode and so this is all about an old case coming back to haunt him. Before he was “Spooky Mulder” he was a bright eyed yet very talented profiler who did everything by the book. The episode opens in 1989 with a prisoner named Joe Crandall entering a room where the prison doctor operating on the episode’s big baddie John Barnett. The doctor threatens Crandall and tells him that Barnett is dead and he needs to leave immediately. Cut to the present and Mulder is called by his former boss, Reggie Purdue, to a crime scene. A robbery has happened but the real focus here is a note left for Mulder. Mulder notices the message and the writing as that of John Barnett, someone who supposedly died years ago. “Young At Heart” begins as a personal story for Mulder and morphs into this huge story involving anti aging and government experiments. It’s biggest failing is that it bites off too much.
2. Mulder’s Past
As you’ve seen in past review/recaps with this show, The X-Files first season does a lot of background stuff with its leads. We get a lot of their history but one of the things that the show likes to hone in on is Mulder’s fall from grace. Nothing really happened to Mulder to cause this other than his own personal obsessions stemming from his sister’s abduction. This is another episode that puts a light on the promising career that he once had. Any time an episode comes by like this, we get a lot of stuff along the lines of “you were special” or “people had plans for you” and while it can be a bit tiring, I think it does do a good job at addressing the path he decided to take. “Young At Heart” does this with a lot more urgency than past episode but it all but drops that at a certain point for the Barnett subplot involving human experimentation. Forcing Mulder to run is a bold choice and his choice to not run and to face all this head on is a great way to show off his traits.
3. Scully As A Target
This is not a major issue in the series as a whole but early on in the show, Dana Scully is not always used the way she should be. In this episode, she is there to deliver more information to Mulder and ends up being a target of Barnett. At the end of the episode, she’s purposely used as bait and I kind of hate it. Even she says she’s not used to this and I just sighed and said same as that scene rolled on. I didn’t like her role in this episode at all but thankfully, things do get better as the series rolls on.
4. Medical Woes
One of the big things that shifts in “Young At Heart” is that Barnett’s death was lied about the circumstances around it are far bigger than you expect. “Young At Heart” does something some past episodes do (like “Eve”) where it gets into this whole big thing and then just drops it. The X-Files is very focused on aliens and its mythology is one of my favorite things about it, despite how weird it gets. However, I think there’s a way to address these bigger topics but still keep it small. As it turns out, the prison doctor, Dr. Ridley, is obsessed with progeria, a disease that causes premature aging. It’s victims are usually children who only live to be about 8 or 9 years old as their bodies literally die of old age. Ridley at one point, wants to do human experiments and he’s denied yet chooses to do it in secret and thus, loses his license. He goes out of the country and carries on his experiments without success. He finally shows himself to Mulder and Scully because of Barnett and explains all this to them and reveals that he tried things on himself and is very close to death. He has the condition that causes the young progeria victims to die but tells them that Barnett was a success. Not only was he able to make him younger but he was also able to avoid his side effect after he replaced his hand with salamander cells. Yup, you read that right. Barnett, now younger and healthier with a salamander hand, stole all his research and now has his sights set on Mulder while the government hunts Barnett so they can get the research. This is where the episode becomes more about the bigger picture and less about Mulder which is when it stops being a tense episode. It gets into bigger ideas, which is great but it becomes so much about this stuff and less about Mulder which makes it feel like it wants to do too much.Continued below
5. What Up Smoking Man
After the big final showdown where Mulder shoots Barnett, the Smoking Man shows up for only the second time which again, strikes me as odd because this story kept feeling bigger as the seconds went by. Smoking Man doesn’t just show up for nothing and that’s why I feel like “Young At Heart” tries to do too much. This later half could have been an entire thing on its own but I will say this – giving a wider scope to what guys like Smoking Man are up to is good. I just wish this Mulder centric episode could have stayed that all the way throughout and been as tense as it was when it started.