The X-Files, “Improbable”

Murder by numbers, 1, 2, 3…9?

By Diana Estigarribia
April 09, 2002

Remember when you were a kid, and you played that game where you substitute numbers for every letter in a name and birthdate to get some kind of magic number?

Chris Carter has been playing that same game, only with his characters. Numerology is the jumping off point for this episode, a halfhearted attempt to capture the spirit of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” or “War of the Carcophages” and any other of the kooky, poke-fun X-Files episodes of the past. It doesn’t succeed by a long shot, even though you can see and hear Chris Carter (he directs from his own script) straining to be cute and funny and tongue-in-cheek with every line, scene, and cut in the episode. He’s a self-indulgent creator who doesn’t know when to stop himself.

The story is this: Reyes applies numerology to solve a series of seemingly unrelated murder cases. Her theory is way out there, but Scully notices some forensic evidence that might actually connect the murders with a serial killer. We’ve seen this killer murder his latest victim in the bathroom of a casino, shortly after conversing with a mysterious all-knowing guy flipping cards at the bar. What becomes apparent is this murderer, who is trailed everywhere by this same grifter-sage played by Burt Reynolds, is that this is some kind of divine powerplay involving God. Yep. Burt Reynolds is God. And he likes music. All kinds of music.

But I get ahead of myself. As most fans of the show already know, Carter is fond of throwing in the numbers ten and thirteen (the production company’s name; birthdays), as well as playing fun with the time on digital alarm clocks. He’s particularly having fun with the number nine, as this is the ninth season. In dialogue he tosses in six of one, half a dozen of the other; a headline that reads, “Her Number Was Up”; a numerologist’s address that is 333. Even a map of the killer’s trail looks like a 6, or perhaps a 9, depending on your point-of-view.

There’s numbers everywhere, we’re told over and over again, and if we know where to look for them we’ll find answers to questions mundane and eternal. But remember, God doesn’t play dice with the universe, or something like that (I’m not an Einstein geek). But just because God won’t be found at the craps tables doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy a game now and then. He frequents the casinos. He plays cards. Dominoes. Checkers. He loves it all, and everywhere that God is, courtesy Carter’s direction, you see the coincidental ways in which numbers pass us by every day. In one of the episode’s setpieces, we’re put in the middle of an idyllic, Hollywood backlot Little Italy, where the baker bakes in time with the window washer, triplets pass to and fro, and Burt dazzles with his skill at the cardboard monty table (there’s that number three again), all the while lip-synching to a playful, bossa nova-ish, quasi-Italianate/French/Spanish soundtrack that is heavy on cha-cha-cha.

I have to admit I was baffled by this soundtrack and especially the Italian-thing. But I was even more confused by the shifts in tone. It’s not consistent, it’ s either grisly and scary, when, to paraphrase Scully, murders were committed, or playful and light. The killer is not without a sense of menace, and there’s plenty of grisly details involving the murder victims. But when Burt Reynolds is the center of the scene, he’s hamming it up every second he’s onscreen; he practically winks at the camera. He wiggles his fanny while Scully and Reyes play a game of checkers. In the accepted wisdom, God does not interfere, but, as Carter puts at the end of the opening credits, Dio Te Ama (God Loves You). It’s a bumper sticker and not worthy of such opening-credit tag lines as Trust No One, The End, and of course, The Truth is Out There.

I really love numerology. (I’m currently having an 8 Year, which is a Power Year for me, so I’m really psyched). But CC needed to go back to the drawing board on this one.