The X-Files

Season 5 Episode 3

Unusual Suspects

Aired Monday 9:00 PM Nov 16, 1997 on FOX
out of 10
User Rating
291 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

Set in 1989, the story of the founding of The Lone Gunmen is finally told as we see how a straight-laced federal employee, a sex mad AV expert and a nerdy computer hacker meet Susanne Modeski, a strange woman with evidence of a government conspiracy. When their plan to expose the conspiracy fails and Susanne is captured by a group of men-in-black, led by none other than X, they soon become a paranoid group of government watchdogs.moreless

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  • I heard it was a.......

    Well how do you continue from an episode like the last one... well why not go back? Vince Gilligan tossed up a well written back story to the Lone Gunman, and I especially dug the origin of that title. All great things, characters we know behaving differently, living different lives and seeing some unexpected faces along the way, and a cute new one as well. Not much else to say, the story was pretty good and it was nice to see a step back rather than a monster of the week episode to follow the major events of Redux.moreless
  • Unusual Suspects

    Unusual Suspects was a perfect and very entertaining episode of The X-Files. I really enjoyed watching because the story tells how Mulder came to know Byers, Langley, and Frohike. It all started with Susanne Modeski, a woman being set up by the government, as she tries to reveal the truth. I liked the character development and it was definitely a fun story. Agent X is behind some things as well and it was cool to see him again. I liked how every thing played out and would say this is definitely a Classic episode of the series. I look forward to watching what happens next!!!!!!!!!moreless
  • Where Were You In 1989?

    An uneven episode that is nontheless entertaining, especially if you like the Lone Gunmen characters. I understand why they decided to go with Byers as the lead Gunman but he is so wooden in his performance (most likely intentionally so) that the "watchability" of the episode suffers a bit. The peripheral and sporadic involvement of Mulder also distracts from the energy of the episode.

    There are a lot of plot holes. How could Susanne Medeski have escaped detection long enough to consult with the Gunmen and tell them her story when she still had the bug in her tooth? Why does X allow the Gunmen to live, especially after body-bagging one of his own agents alive? How could Mulder have survived such a concentrated dosage of the gas?

    I enjoyed this episode quite a bit on my first viewing but I suspect that it may not hold up well on a second viewing. A little of the Gunmen goes a long way, they are among my favorite characters and they are an essential ingredient to the series, but I think they are more effective when used in a supporting role.moreless
  • The 100th episode of The X-Files, "Unusual Suspects" is a love letter to the very idea of paranoia, to the idea that believing the absolute worst of the institutions around you is the proper attitude to hold at all times.moreless

    The 100th episode of The X-Files to air, "Unusual Suspects" is a love letter to the very idea of paranoia, to the idea that believing the absolute worst of the institutions around you is the proper attitude to hold at all times. It's about a group of men who encounter a femme fatale and find themselves losing all sense of bearing. The foundations they stand on start to slip out from under them, and that's that. They wake up one day as solid citizens. They go to bed on the next day as men who firmly believe the United States government is out to spy on every single one of its citizens and control them via drugs and other forms of psychological manipulation. It ALSO doubles as an origin myth for three of the show's most beloved characters, and it's often very funny, but in a slier way than the show's humorous episodes usually are.

    "Unusual Suspects" was produced under, well, unusual circumstances. In the wake of the production of the feature film that would follow the show's fifth season, the writers quickly realized they would not have access to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson for as much time as they might have liked for the first episode filmed in the fifth season. Instead of beginning immediately with "Redux," an episode that asked plenty of both actors, the writers decided to give the two a reprieve and pursue an idea that had long been kicking around X-Files gossip sites and fan circles: a Lone Gunmen-centric episode. News of the episode's existence got out before the season premiered, and it ended up being hotly anticipated. The X-Files had done right by Skinner and the Cigarette Smoking Man in their episodes; why wouldn't it do right by characters so close to the show's very soul?

    One of the understated themes of The X-Files is the transition of the United States from a collection of smaller entities loosely brought together into a larger body to a world where a national monoculture dominates everything. "Unusual Suspects" is a story that fits roughly into this paradigm as well: It's an episode about three guys who all have their own little purviews of interest and intrigue and gradually get sucked into something far bigger than any of them, thanks to a chance encounter one of them has with a woman. It's a little too pat here and there, but I love the way that it, like the Lone Gunmen themselves, seems like a kind of tribute to old-school nerdery, to the way that people used to get on the Internet before Web browsers and the like.

    It's this low-fi, analog vibe that's always appealed to me about the Gunmen. Their spinoff never worked as well as I wanted it to, and part of it, I think, was that it just came too late in the show's run. The Web had become so prevalent that what had made them so geeky cool at one time now felt rather mainstream. They were once outsiders, but now their viewpoint had been directly pumped into the culture at large. For God's sake, these people started out as a bunch of hardcore computer hackers who had some sort of 'zine that Mulder apparently read. The longer the show went on, the less that kind of character seemed believable, simply because the world was changing around them. When detective show Terriers introduced a gaggle of geeks designed to be that series' version of the Gunmen, they mostly looked like college kids who needed a little cash. The Lone Gunmen looked like that guy you always find in the back of Radio Shack, digging through all the little drawers of fuses, looking for just the right one.

    "Unusual Suspects" almost seems to acknowledge this, setting the entirety of its action in 1989. Granted, it does this because it's an origin story, and origin stories have to go back to the beginning, but it also allows the show to get laughs out of just how much the world had changed between 1989 and 1997. When Mulder pulls out that ridiculously huge cell phone, it's a sight gag, where it once would have been a sign of how well-connected and technologically with it he was. Frohike and Langly are competing salesmen at an electronics trade show who try and pitch people on a home-grown method to bypass cable TV restrictions, something the cable companies gradually made impossible. The computer hacking in the episode mostly involves common passwords used to get around security systems, and government computers are relatively easy to break into. Byers' co-worker spends most of the episode playing Dig Dug. I liked "Unusual Suspects," which had that low-fi charm I was talking about in spades, but I didn't LOVE it. It was an episode of the show I hadn't seen for some reason, and I'd been anticipating catching up with it. And while it had the sense of fun I always get from X-Files episodes I've never seen, I wasn't quite sure why I didn't love it as much as some of Vince Gilligan's other solo scripts. Oddly enough, what didn't work for me was also one of the episode's secret strengths.

    Let me see if I can lay this out succinctly: Byers, Frohike, and Langly are all apprehended by the police at a warehouse, where a man is endlessly screaming such lunacies as "They're here!" The cold open here builds nicely to the twin reveals of the Gunmen as, seemingly, the culprits the police are looking for and Mulder being the screaming man. I even like the giant "1989" that opens this segment. From there, we cut to Det. Munch interrogating Byers about what happened, and we get the full story. Byers bumped into a woman named Holly Modeski, and after he pursued her, she told him she was being stalked by an ex-boyfriend, the father of her child who had taken said child from her. He was a psychopath, she said, so Byers resolved to help her out, recruiting Frohike and Langly for the hacking operations. And who does that boyfriend/baby daddy turn out to be? Why, Fox Mulder, of course! This is a reveal that most viewers will see coming from a mile away. Doesn't make it any less effective.

    Anyway, as the Gunmen dig deeper, they learn something alarming: Holly Modeski is really named Suzanne Modeski, and she's wanted for killing a bunch of people. Mulder's on her trail because he works for the FBI and needs to bring her in for those murders. But once the group runs across Suzanne again, she lays out an even MORE improbable tale: She was working for the government when she was part of a team that discovered a chemical that would inspire mass paranoia, a chemical the government aims to test on the population at large. As she begins ranting about government surveillance bots in Gideon Bibles and eventually performs a little self-dentistry when the file she's been trying to decrypt all episode says there's some sort of tracker that was implanted the last time she went to the dentist. It all concludes in that warehouse, where the Gunmen come across the men behind the plot-led by the still-alive-in-1989 Mr. X-and Mulder is doused with large quantities of the paranoia drug.

    If I were to make a chief criticism of this episode, it would be that it's just all too pat. The Gunmen all start out as believers in the government and its righteousness. Byers works for the government and takes pride in his work. Mulder is just a typical FBI agent, pursuing a woman as a part of his work with the violent crimes division, stopping at a booth about how aliens are among us at the trade show more as a lark than anything else. By the end, they're all raving paranoiacs, thanks to the events of the episode and the influence of the drug. In true femme fatale fashion, Suzanne Modeski is the one who pulls the wool from the eyes of Byers and his cohorts, the one who shows them how the world REALLY works. But this seems like too far a fall too quickly, and I really don't like the implication that Mulder is paranoid because he got dosed with a bunch of neurotoxin. Sure, the episode distances itself from this interpretation, but it still strikes me as one of those "cause/effect" moments that TV is so fond of, the single event that provides the impetus for someone to utterly redefine themselves in some non-trivial way. And I can buy Byers as a resolute government backer, but Frohike and Langly? Please.

    But as the episode moved its way to its climax, when Mr. X improbably lets the Gunmen live after seeing as much as they did, it struck me that what we're seeing here may not entirely be meant to be taken seriously, just as "Memoirs Of A Cigarette Smoking Man" is more about who the CSM wished he might have been than the person he actually was. This isn't a true story; it's a manifesto. Sure, there may be elements of the truth in there, but every time the Gunmen tell the story of how they met and got their start in bringing down the government, one conspiracy theory at a time, it probably gets wilder and wilder, until it starts to resemble not so much the truth as it does a story where all of them were firm believers in the government until proved wrong, like recent religious converts or the people who say they NEVER believed in Bigfoot, until… And of course their friend at the FBI was there from the start, and yeah, maybe he got dosed with some of the stuff, and that opened his eyes, man. Taken as a literal part of the story of The X-Files, "Unusual Suspects" leaves a bit to be desired. Taken as a portrayal of how the Gunmen see themselves, however, it's pretty great and weirdly winning, a great pilot for a funky flashback series that never came.moreless
  • The origin of the Lone Gunmen

    Coming off of a great series defining episodes, we get a fun, somewhat unnecessary, but ultimately interesting episode that shows us the origin of the Lone Gunmen, the occasional guest-stars that pop in every now and then when Mulder and Scully need some type of help hacking into something or need something related to technology. They're fun characters, but I think this episode proves that an entire episode dedicated to them is a little too goofy for a show that is dark like this (although it is nice to see the show not take itself too seriously.. it's sort of like Supernatural doing goofy episodes every now and then).

    We get another episode with no Scully, but we get a little bit of Mulder, who hasn't quite reached the level of cynicism found in the future and hasn't realized the government is behind all kinds of weird things. Let's just say the nickname "Spooky" hasn't quite stuck yet. However, he's nowhere near the lead actor in the episode; instead, he pops in and out while Byers, Frohicke and the long-haired guy who I can't recall the name of look into the case of a woman named Susanne who is being chased after by a government group that she quit because they were going to administer a dangerous chemical to the American public without them knowing. The government is after her, and she turns to Byers and Frohicke to help her figure out what to do, not knowing that Mulder is an FBI agent chasing after her.

    As I said before, the episode is certainly fun.. Byers is a bit bland as an actor, but I've always like Frohicke and the other long haired guy.. they're goofy without going too over the top and can play serious when they need to. I wish there was more Mulder though.. he seemed to just exist to pop in and out and lay naked on the ground.. I really enjoyed the reappearance of "X" though. He was a great character for Mulder and Scully to interact with and his death was a shame, especially considering Laurie Holden is a poor replacement.

    For an episode following such a great myth-arc episode, this was pretty entertaining. I have a good feeling about Season 5moreless
Richard Belzer

Richard Belzer

Detective John Munch

Guest Star

Signy Coleman

Signy Coleman

Susanne Modeski

Guest Star

Chris Nelson Norris

Chris Nelson Norris

SWAT Lieutenant

Guest Star

Bruce Harwood

Bruce Harwood


Recurring Role

Tom Braidwood

Tom Braidwood


Recurring Role

Dean Haglund

Dean Haglund


Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (10)

    • When Suzanne extracts her tooth, she is shown holding gauze, and later an ice pack on her lower left jaw. Yet, the tooth being examined by the Lone Gunmen is a maxillary molar as evidenced by its three roots.

    • We find out the Byers' full name is John Fitzgerald Byers and he was born November 22, 1963. This was the same day that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed. Before the assassination when his parents decided to name him after the President, his name was to be Bertram.

    • When the Lone Gunman decrypt the file, it says Susanne killed four people and then the MP that tried to detain her, but whenever anyone mentions her crimes they say she killed four people including the MP.

    • Goof: At the end of the episode when the payphone rings, the closeup of the phone shows a white van parked behind it, but when the phone is shown further away in the next shot, the van is gone.

    • Trivia: Dig Dug is the video game that Byers' booth partner is seen playing during the first half of the episode is a PC translation of Atari's 1982 arcade game Dig Dug. Versions of the game were made for several home game systems and computers from the '80s.

    • When Byers pulls up the Susanne Modeski file and sees that it's encrypted, she asks him to print it out; this is a useless effort, since encrypted files use codes that show up as nonprinting characters. Therefore, in a printout of such a file, much of the data would show up as blanks or garbled text from which it would be impossible to derive any useful information or recreate the encrypted data. What he needed to do was print a byte-by-byte file dump.

    • When Susanne finds out her dentist was spying on her, she goes to the bathroom and pulls out her tooth. Her mouth should have been swollen, but when the Lone Gunman meets her, her face is perfectly normal.

    • Mulder wears a wedding ring throughout the episode, but when Frohike, Langly and Byers look at his FBI file, it says that he is single.

    • When the Lone Gunmen catch up with Susanne at the end of the episode, when she is talking to them and the camera is on the three, you can see not one, but TWO boom mics at the top of the screen. (This was seen on the DVD and may only appear there.)

    • The Gunmen's use of the primitive internet in 1989 is extremely dodgy. Among other things they downloaded Mulder's FBI file and picture in an instant which, given the standards of telephone lines and modems in 1989, is virtually unbelievable.

  • QUOTES (15)

  • NOTES (9)

    • Richard Belzer set a TV record by becoming the first person to play the same character on three different prime time series during the same week. Detective John Munch appeared on the Law & Order/Homicide crossover "Baby It's You" on November 12 and November 14 and then this episode on the 16th.

    • This episode featured the appearance of Baltimore homicide Detective John Munch played by actor Richard Belzer, who also played the same character as a recurring character on the shows Homicide and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and as a guest star on the shows: Law and Order, Law and Order: Trial by Jury, The Beat and The Wire.

    • Due to the fact that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson would still be tied up in California shooting The X-Files movie at the end of August 1997, the producers decided to create an episode that was centered around The Lone Gunmen. This way, 1013 could complete the network episode order and have their leading stars freed up and complete principal shooting on The X-Files: Fight the Future. The scenes with David Duchovny were shot several weeks after shooting of this episode wrapped up.

    • The script of this episode never called for Mulder to wear a wedding ring. This was David Duchovny's idea who thought it would be cool to toy with the notion that Mulder could in the past have been married.

    • Eric Knight, who played Eric the Hacker Dude, is David Duchovny's personal assistant.

    • Gillian Anderson does not appear in this episode.

    • Susanne's dentist, Dr. Michael Kilbourne, is named after writer Vince Gilligan's own, real-life dentist.

    • Susanne Modeski owes her alias to writer Vince Gilligan's girlfriend, Holly Rice.

    • This episode was actually filmed before the conclusion to the season cliffhanger as David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were still away filming the X-Files Movie and the studio needed to begin filming to keep their production schedule.


    • White Rock is the name of a small, unincorporated town in New Mexico, largely populated by employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory and their families. The name could be a thinly disguised reference to Los Alamos or a conflation of Los Alamos and White Sands, a missile and atomic testing range also in New Mexico (however, the two facilities are not very close). Much of the basic research on the first atomic bombs was conducted at Los Alamos, and the first tests were done at White Sands.

    • Munch: Don't lie to me like I'm Geraldo Rivera. I am not Geraldo Rivera.

      Detective Munch: Do I look like Geraldo to you? Don't lie to me like Geraldo, I'm not Geraldo!

      In the Homicide: Life on the Street pilot "Gone for Goode", Det. John Munch uses a nearly identical line when interrogating a suspect, except using Montel Williams' name instead of Geraldo Rivera.

    • Killlbarbie: Your kung fu is the best.
      The line "My kung fu is the best" is a reference to a prank voice mail "My kung fu is best" left to tease investigators who were attempting to apprehend famed hacker Kevin Mitnick. Originally Mitnick was thought to be the originator of the prank calls and is often mistakenly credited for making the quote, however the true identity of the prank caller has since been discovered to be phone "phreaker" (i.e.hacker) Zeke Shif who went by the handle SN.

    • Episode Title: Unusual Suspects
      A play on the phrase "The Usual Suspects", which is also the title of a movie containing unreliable narratives: 1995's The Usual Suspects. The episode referenced the movie a few times, with a questionable character making up a story from objects he/she sees around the room, jail scenes, and the hard-to-explain opening that is revisited later when it is much more easily understood.

      The title of the 1995 film is taken from the 1942 classic film Casablanca. Captain Renault's (Claude Rains') final line is "Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects". The Marx Brothers 1946 comedy A Night in Casablanca appears to start with that rounding up.