Tony Black continues the ultimate X-Files countdown of all 209 episodes, as voted by you, with Season 3 Episode 5, ‘The List’…
In what certainly came as a surprise to me, the lowest rated episode of The X-Files Season 3 has turned out to be ‘The List’; indeed this is the second worst X-File ever made with just one vote from a solitary fan. How can this be? Chris Carter’s second attempt at both writing and directing, after Season 2’s much more celebrated ‘Duane Barry’, has its flaws but does it really warrant such a low ranking? Is it worse than, say, ‘Teso Dos Bichos’ from Season 3, or even perhaps ‘The Walk’? Does it not have more to say, more to offer, than begets a place in the dreaded bottom ten? For me, the answer is without question yes.
Now that’s not me saying I consider this a favorite. I don’t. I wouldn’t put ‘The List’ anywhere near my top 25, probably not even my top 50. Yet I believe it has merit, in the story of Napoleon ‘Neech’ Manley, a murderer on Death Row who swears as he is electrocuted that he will exact vengeance, Biblically, on five men who wronged him in life, from beyond the grave. So begins a series of grisly and violent murders which Mulder & Scully arrive in smoky Florida to investigate, of principally prison guards within the penitentiary system being ran by harsh Warden Brodeur. Scully suspects a conspiracy, while Mulder becomes convinced Neech found a way to reincarnate his soul beyond death.
‘The List’ is a dark episode. It’s violent, in places quite savagely so – see the haunting moment when Brodeur beats to death, in silhouette largely, Bokeem Woodbine’s snitch Roque. It has rotting heads being eaten by maggots, corpses decaying in attics, and it drips with hot, sweaty Floridian atmosphere. The prison set goes a lot way to enhancing this sense of atmosphere – it took 10 days to build and sent the budget way over what was planned, but it remains one of the show’s most vivid production design creations (indeed it was re-used for ‘Teso Dos Bichos’, the S3 finale ‘Talitha Cumi’ and was later rented out to other Vancouver productions). The maggots were real too!
Carter’s story here is perhaps a little soapy and histrionic in places, with the twists and turns lost under a slightly sleazy gaze, but the concepts inherent in his script are fascinating; the education of Neech, reading books about transmigration of the soul (into in this case, an ominous fly); the commentary about the defects of a corrupt prison system, not to mention the undercurrent of race relations between the black prisoners, white guards and the almost colonial approach by Brodeur, played as ever to a vicious tee by the late, lamented J.T. Walsh. There’s enough subtext behind the melodrama to make this creepy, gloomy and in places really quite gripping – and I love how the episode ends with both Mulder knowing he hasn’t quite figured everything out, before some sublime comeuppance.
It’s a shame ‘The List’ is this low because, for me, there’s a lot to like, and a lot of other X-Files which don’t match the standard shown here. It doesn’t match some of Carter’s other writer/director efforts, but Neech and his death list have always stuck in my mind. One you may want to give another look.
Our blog team also decided to rank the show based on their own lists, so here’s what they picked in 208th place:
Tony: “FEARFUL SYMMETRY: utter utter nonsense from beginning to end. Alien animal abduction is fine but not when it’s tied into a horrendously preachy plot about activism, replete with a teeth-gratingly annoying guest performance from Jayne Atkinson. The moment the invisible elephant appeared is the moment I shouted BOLLOCKS. Complete shite.”
Andrew: “TESO DOS BICHOS: Just a boring episode. Terrible idea, poor execution, and just… boring.”
Carl: “FIRST PERSON SHOOTER. Asinine, juvenile nonsense. Calibrated to appeal to adolescent horndogs, badly damaging the integrity of the characters of Mulder & The Lone Gunmen as it goes. Feints at being a satire, but lacks any teeth or conviction. Boring, but punctuated by some unintentional hilarity. Given as Tony has lowered the tone by swearing, I’ll join in: First Person Shooter is a bag of wank.”
Paige: “SHAPES. The show often tackled real issues, with differing degrees of success. I feel they felt short here on the Native American front and not only that, the ep bored me to tears.”
Sarah: “JUMP THE SHARK. This is one where my personal feelings overrule my critical opinion. The Lone Gunmen were icons of the show. They deserved much better.”
Do you agree with this episode ranking? Let us know what you would put in this spot on Facebook, Twitter or via comments below!