Tony Black examines ‘Blood’ and the tragedy of its central character…
Of all the antagonists in The X-Files, has there ever been anyone more a victim than Ed Funsch? Brilliantly played by William Sanderson, Ed is a man throughout ‘Blood’ who is desperately manipulated by shadowy forces and events outside of his control. After being laid off from his low paid, demoralising job in the postal service, Ed is soon stalked by the digital readouts of ATM’s, postal machines, microwaves and televisions, all of them assaulting him with violent, disturbing imagery, heightening his responses to innate fears–chiefly his hematophobia–and inducing him to murder. Ed resists it across Glen & Darin Morgan & James Wong‘s episodes, but he can’t hold it at bay forever.
“Put the gun down, Ed!” Mulder shouts at him, cornering him in the blood drive clock tower in the episode’s nerve-shredding climax. “I can’t,” Ed replies. “They won’t let me!”.
‘They’, who? It’s a simple question asked many times across The X-Files, but here we don’t even get the remotest hint of an answer.
Subliminal messaging has been a powerful tool for decades. Used heavily by advertising companies, the rise of such behemoths as Coca-Cola can put their success down to tapping into the behaviour response of the individual, thanks to the rise of media in the home – from the first televisions which became household in the 50’s & 60’s, all the way through to the blitzkrieg of social media advertising on your smart phone. Messages don’t even have to be words or brands, such as Lipton Ice Tea which, according to a study by J. Karremans, saw a direct correlation between people who were thirsty being more drawn to the drink after seeing the name. They can be images, such as the underlying appearance of ‘Captain Howdy’ layered into William Friedkin‘s classic The Exorcist, a terrifying demonic presence who haunts the dreams of Father Karras.
For Ed, these subliminal messages are both. The use of, at the time, modern digital appliances to, alongside the heightened toxins being illegally sprayed over the town of Franklin, heighten Ed’s terror become an effective cocktail to drive the man to murder, as are the flood of images shown to him on the department store televisions – everything from riots to Charles Manson, all of them specific to violent acts, both controllable and uncontrollable. Ed becomes nothing more than a receptor, a programmable automaton for the impulses and actions designed by an unseen hand, a hand which seems to want nothing more than to conduct a test. Ed becomes proof of, in this combination, the ability to morph the human body and re-wire the human brain to become nothing more than a killing machine, even as he desperately tries to fight his own urges.
The truly scary element of ‘Blood’, is how in the right conditions, as the victim of a clandestine secret agenda, any of us could become Ed Funsch.
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You can find The X-Cast episode discussing ‘Blood’ on Libsyn, iTunes or your podcast app of choice.