The X-Files

Season 5 Episode 3

Unusual Suspects

Aired Monday 9:00 PM Nov 16, 1997 on FOX

Episode Fan Reviews (10)

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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.
  • 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!!!!!!!!!
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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.
  • 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 5
  • A nice try, but not the best attempt at focusing on the supporting cast

    In seasons past, the premiere episode(s) have resulted in major consequences for the characters, which would then disappear almost instantly as the series returned to its usual fragmented formatting.

    In this case, the writers were up against an even greater challenge. The “Gethsemane” trilogy left the characters in a state of spiritual flux, but the roadmap between Scully’s restored belief and Mulder’s crisis of faith and the events of the film (which had completed the bulk of principal photography over the break) wasn’t clear. The network didn’t want the series to end with the fifth season (where Carter had assumed it would), and the writers weren’t sure how that would play out. Add to that the limited availability of the cast early in the production schedule (which was already down to 20 episodes to accommodate the film), and the season was off to a rocky start.

    The solution was relatively simple. Instead of trying to create an episode that would take place after “Redux II” (which was still to be filmed, for that matter), the producers decided to make the first episode a flashback. That solved the continuity problem. To resolve the cast scheduling, the writers focused not on Mulder or Scully, but rather, on some unlikely stand-ins: The Lone Gunmen.

    It was a risk, and not just because of the somewhat unnecessary and gratuitous Richard Belzer cameo. It was a risk because the series had long since abandoned any concerted effort to take supporting characters and flesh them out. Skinner got two episodes, but they were largely plagued with a lack of clear direction; there was an obvious lack of commitment in terms of making the character stand out as a potential series lead of his own. Indeed, the supporting characters only got to star in an episode when the leads needed time off, so such episodes were clearly not conceived with the notion of giving those characters life.

    The episode plays like something of an “origin” episode, telling the story of how the Lone Gunmen came together and how Mulder became their highly unlikely ally. Left to choose which of the three outcasts would make the most natural central lead for the hour, the writers settled on the most conservative of the bunch: Byers. After watching this episode again, it’s odd to think that so many fans bashed the future “Lone Gunmen” series for beginning with a Byers-centric episode of Mulder-esque proportions; the writers of this episode clearly attempt to use Byers as a natural bridge between Mulder’s more conventional point of view (at least in this time period) and the more esoteric personalities of Frohike and Langly.

    In 1989, Byers starts out as an idealistic employee with a sense of pride and trust in his government that is almost painful to hear. Frohike and Langly, warring hackers with business in illegal cable, look down at him as a “narc”. Everything changes, as it so often does, when a mysterious woman walks into Byers’ life, and everything he believes is turned upside down. In short order, Byers becomes utterly convinced that his government is the enemy, and all that idealism is turned towards exposing the truth.

    The parallels to Mulder are striking, and there’s no small amount of foreshadowing in that symmetry. In 1989, Mulder is the rising star of the Violent Crimes Unit, with no sign of delving into “extreme possibilities”. The conceit of this episode is that Mulder met the Lone Gunmen in the very moments of his personal conversion, just as they found their own mission in life. It’s like a conspiracy theorist’s favorite comic book origin story, and it plays out in that fashion, right down to the odd plot contrivances of the final act.

    Perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of the episode is the central premise. Why would a woman like Susanne Modeski accept help from someone so out of his depth as John Fitzgerald Byers? Granted, she’s at the convention to find someone with the skills to hack into the defense computer network in the hopes of stopping the conspiracy’s test program, but what makes her think that Byers is the one? If the audience is supposed to be sympathetic to Modeski by the end of the episode, her decision to use and abuse Byers’ trust and puppy love doesn’t exactly fit that expectation.

    If one accepts that this is all about Byers calling on Frohike and Langly to pull off the most difficult hack ever in the name of uncovering the truth and saving democracy, all with their pathetic little hearts on their sleeves, then the episode still comes up a bit short on the details. It’s remarkably easy for Byers to break into the Whitestone network, and when it comes down to breaking into the FBI network, it’s not exactly something that looks like it requires three unusual minds working together. In fact, it’s hard to tell what exactly Frohike does, or why Byers really needed Langly in the first place.

    By the time that Modeski explains her true purpose and the depth of her justifiable paranoia, the episode has already embraced a certain level of contrived absurdity. This works if one can accept that the events are being told from Byers’ slanted point of view, both then and “now”. Not all the flaws are covered by accepting this point of view, but it helps. Even taking Byers’ particular and peculiar perspective into account, some parts of the story don’t add up.

    The final act is the deal-breaker. It’s impossible to accept the idea that Mulder would be exposed to a dosage of paranoid juice at least hundreds of times more powerful than even the conspiracy intended and survive intact. That’s a massive overdose of a chemical agent, and such things typically result in lethal side effects. For Mulder to survive, only to have his inner conspiracy theorist brought to the surface, seems rather forced. After all, if that’s the extent of the effect of a massive overdose, what did the conspiracy think would happen at the much smaller dosage? It’s not like Americans aren’t kept paranoid enough by their employers!

    But even taking that with faith, how did the Lone Gunmen themselves survive? They watch Informant X “sanitize” the scene with little or no regard for any life other than Mulder’s, and they get any with little more than a cheap scare. Is the audience supposed to believe that Informant X was impressed with Byers and his idealism, and that Informant X let them live out of some sympathy with those ideals? As a rough concept, that works, but Informant X has killed and “sanitized” others with just as firm a sense of idealism in the past.

    Therein lies the difficulty of this episode. It’s great to see the Lone Gunmen get their chance in the limelight, and it’s good to see them as distinct characters. But this has all the same problems as every other retroactive “origin” story: the stakes must be high enough to shake the characters out of their old lives and into a more polarized philosophy, yet the characters must survive those circumstances despite their own ignorance. Several times in the story, the Lone Gunmen were in a position where they should have been dead; their survival was never in question, and so the extremity of their situation was hard to accept.

    If one is able to sit back and just accept what happens without question, then the next challenge is the tone. The episode takes itself very seriously. In fact, the tone is even more serious than the “Lone Gunmen” pilot episode, which was panned for lacking in the wacky. The script has some clever and funny moments, but they are few and far between. Several scenes suffer from Byers’ lack of animation; it may be his character trait, but it’s not too exciting to watch an even less expressive version of Mulder without something to balance out the earnest seriousness.

    That’s not to say that the episode is devoid of the humor and quirkiness that makes the Lone Gunmen so much fun to watch in small doses. Frohike and Langly make a good comic team, especially when they get competitive and start ripping into one another. Langly’s role playing habit, complete with cash gambling, is a definite highlight. And it’s funny to see the straight-laced Mulder of yesteryear run around with a cell phone the size of a toaster oven. It’s just that the plot gets in the way of the fun, regardless of how much one wants to sympathize with Byers and his lost innocence.

    This episode, for all its emphasis on the Lone Gunmen, is notable for how it fits into Mulder’s established history. By this point in the series, it was clear that Mulder had set aside the issue of Samantha’s abduction until his memories of the event were “recovered”; the events of this episode seem to be designed to send him down that path. But as later episodes would reveal, the trigger was more than just an enhanced paranoia. Mulder began working actively on the X-Files and finding answers to his questions after he became involved with Diana Fowley.

    Mulder’s relationship with Diana is never really defined, except to say that it ended shortly before Mulder’s first case with Scully. The implication is that Mulder was kept from gaining any true insights while working with Diana; his role as disinformation lackey was the sole extent of his misguided efforts, and Diana made sure of that. Mulder’s importance to Cancer Man, on the other hand, was definitely a known quantity in 1989, since Informant X makes certain that Mulder is left relatively unscathed.

    From his FBI record, Mulder is single (not divorced); thus his wedding ring is somewhat hard to explain. (And yes, his record would indicate a divorce, since an agent’s ex-spouse would be kept under tabs, for obvious reasons.) One explanation is that Mulder had already gotten involved with Diana, and this was some kind of romantic gesture. Alternatively, he wore the ring to ward off anyone trying to get involved with him, and Diana overcame that obstacle.

    The real answer, of course, is that the fifth season is when David Duchovny began asserting his will upon the series in a major way. He was recently married and rather unhappy with the idea of having to stay and film in Vancouver. It’s well documented that he was making a lot of noise about leaving the series if there weren’t changes. So in the name of “adding mystery to Mulder’s past”, he was resolute in wearing his wedding ring in this episode. Since the writers never really knew what to do with that little character element, one can only wonder if they chose to interpret the move as a tantrum on Duchovny’s part.

    But Duchonvy’s growing dissatisfaction (matched by some of Anderson’s as well) should have been a sign that the series needed to expand and grow. Episodes like this, focusing on someone other than the two main characters, could and should have been a solid tool for establishing a wider pool of candidates for future exploration. Instead, it was written to be the stop-gap measure that it was in reality, with little thought of where it might lead. That being the case, it’s an entertaining episode, but hardly to the level that it could have been.

  • The origin of the Lone Gunmen...

    I for one can't believe it's been 100 episodes of the X-Files already. This was a flashback episode that took place in 1989 and shows how The Lone Gunmen came together and how they met Mulder. I thought this episode was great in that the gunmen really didn't like each other. It's about time these guys got an episode to themselves and this was the way to do it. I like them playing with the idea that Mulder could have been married at one time. There was one thing that bothered me and that is when X shows up does his thing and just lets the gunmen go. You'd think X would kill them after letting them watch him do his dirty work. Oh well what can you do. It was a great episode but I think they could have done something a little bigger for episode 100.
  • In this episode, the viewer learns the events that cause the unification of The Lone Gunmen, and their first interaction with Agent Fox Mulder. One woman, Susan Modeski, is the magnet that attracts these unlikely companions together.

    This episode does a brilliant job of introducting the reader to the events that caused the The Lone Gunman to form their bizarre triplet. Langley and Frohike being portrayed as rival hackers who share a hatred for Byers the "narc" really highlights why they are such a cohesive group, because they bring different elements to the table. This flashback is very important in divulging pertinent information such as how Mulder and the boys were introduced. And also why The Lone Gunmen have such a deep hatred for the government. Thier laying witness to the kidnap of Susan Modeski, and the drugs the government was planning to use on the unwitting public instilled in them the want to constantly thwart the government.
  • The one about The Lone Gunmen

    A very nice episode that developed the supporting Lone Gunmen. It’s definitely not a very interesting episode by all means, the episode is a times a bit slow and becomes a bit boring. But the good thing about this episode is that it shows how it all began with The Lone Gunmen and with Mulder. Plus the twists are pretty nice.

    The episode begins with some cops arriving to a place and finding Mulder naked screaming ‘They’re Here’ and then finding the Lone Gunmen a bit further. The cops think that they did it but the Lone Gunmen keep asking for a woman.

    In this episode a beautiful woman bumps into one of the three Gunmen and tells him about her daughter being lost and her boyfriend following her. It’s 1989 and she asks him to encrypt some code that will possibly help her find her kid. They meet Frohike and Langely who help Byer help the woman who goes by the name Holly. When they look her up in the computer they find her daughter who is actually just her, and that the woman is extremely dangerous.

    Then the woman explains it all to them, about the government conspiracy and that they are after her because she knows the truth and she has to find someone that believes her just like they do. When Mulder comes to arrest her the Lone Gunmen tell him that she’s innocent, then other men from behind appear and almost kill Mulder which leads him to take off his clothes and The woman kills the men. X then appears and they take away the bodies and some light makes them look like aliens to Mulder.

    It was very refreshing to see how it all began, The woman eventually gets abducted before telling them men what happened and they begin to believe the truth. They also tell the truth to Mulder which makes him begin the whole X-files thing. The episode isn’t one of the best by all means, but it’s still very refreshing and fun, it just sometimes felt like I was watching another show in a negative way.
  • Birth of a conspiracy theory

    In the past, episodes focusing on the supporting cast have been mixed. "Zero Sum" (about Skinner) was a total success, "Avatar" a middle-of-the-road affair. "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" was well-intentioned, and great as it was, but hardly an X-Files episode.

    "Unusual Suspects", Vince Gilligan's take on how the Lone Gunmen found each other, met Mulder and became the conspiracy experts they are, is a good example of how to do it right. It's a well-written conspiracy, featuring a (somewhat) paranormal element in the drug that makes people paranoid, and an enlightening origin story that finally explains how these three very different characters came to work together. In passing, the show manages to show us what Mulder was like pre-X-Files and essentially shows us the moment his obsession with the supernatural was born. It is conceivable that hadn't it been for his (much too) close encounter with the paranoia gas, Mulder had never chosen to sift his memory via hypnosis as to what had happened to his sister. So his first encounter with the Gunmen (who, as we learn, got their name from none other than X, who reappears after being killed off a season earlier) is the starting point for the quest we've been witnessing fopr four years at that point.

    In that regard: an essential episode. A well-written story, fun and exciting throughout. A winner.
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