Now You See It
"The Amazing Maleeni" Plot Summary:
At a carnival on a pier in Los Angeles, magician Maleeni lectures the crowd on the history of magic while a heckler demands that he get on with the show. After a few tricks with balls, Maleeni says he is going to attempt a trick that no magician has done successfully since ancient times. He asks for silence, then turns his head completely around on his neck. The crowd applauds wildly, and the promoter walks Maleeni to his van, leaving for a moment to get his pay. When the promoter goes to pay the magician, however, Maleeni's severed head falls off.
During the investigation, Scully scoffs at the notion that there was any magic involved and wonders why Mulder is interested in this murder investigation. As Mulder sonorously questions the lack of blood and fingerprints like a circus showman, she demands, "Why are you talking like Tony Randall?" He shows her footage of the head trick on a tourist's video, but Scully is more interested in the insistent heckler. Since they can see the man throwing out a drink cup, she suggests trying to get fingerprints.
The next day, the two agents approach Mr. LaBonge, the heckler who is himself a magician - though he suggests that he is Mozart to Maleeni's Salieri. LaBonge has a conviction for pickpocketing, but no serious criminal record, and he does perform some impressive tricks. LaBonge scoffs that Maleeni's real name wasn't even Maleeni, he just stole the name of a famous magician and did parlor tricks. Offhandedly, LaBonge also mentions that Maleeni had gambling debts. By the time the agents are ready to leave, he has swiped and returned their FBI badges.
Scully tells Mulder that she thinks professional jealousy might be the motive for murder, but at the autopsy, she discovers that Maleeni's head had been sawed off some time ago and was held on by spirit gum. What's more, he apparently died of a heart attack, not decapitation, and has been frozen for more than a month. Meanwhile, LaBonge visits a tattooed thug named Alvarez, with whom he did time. He explains that he knew the dead Maleeni, but can help the man recoup the money Maleeni - whose real name was Pinchbeck - owed the thug. When Alvarez calls his goons, LaBonge makes his hand appear to be on fire, then reveals that he has swiped Alvarez's book of markers.
Mulder and Scully visit the bank where the dead Maleeni's brother works. Mr. Pinchbeck's neck is in a brace, ostensibly from a car accident, so Mulder immediately suspects that this man, not his brother, performed the neck trick at the carnival. Indeed, the man admits he used to work with his brother and can perform some card tricks. But when Mulder offers his theory that Pinchbeck wanted to perform his unsuccessful brother's last act for him, Pinchbeck says sadly, "I so wish that were true." Pulling back from his desk, Pinchbeck reveals that he is sitting in a wheel chair...and both his legs have been amputated. Horrified, the agents leave.
Scully suggests bringing in LaBonge to see if he can show them Maleeni's ploys, but the other magician scoffs at the obvious tricks in the dead man's van, pulling out a fake gun and freeing a dove from a hat which he then places on Scully. As he explains that magic is all about misdirection, LaBonge prepares to show them the false floor where the corpse must have been hidden...except that the van has no false floor. "Man, this guy's good," says LaBonge, impressed. But Mulder is more excited by the discovery of a $20,000 paper marker on the floor.
After Pinchbeck asks to see a security officer's gun, Alvarez enters the bank to tell him that he's going to make good on his brother's debts or he'll be killed. Later, the armored truck carrying money from the bank finds a man hiding in the back. Though he is shot four times, the tattooed would-be robber gets away. Across the street, LaBonge wipes the tattoos off. Mulder and Scully visit the real Alvarez to ask about his marker bearing Pinchbeck's name, through which they traced the ex-con's fingerprints. "Why would I kill him? He ain't gonna pay," insists Alvarez. Then Mulder asks Scully why a man who knows card tricks wouldn't have found a way to win the poker game. "We're being led around by our noses," he theorizes as he performs tricks for her with a quarter.
LaBonge calls 911 claiming to have seen a man with a gun, then goes looking for Alvarez, who accuses him of trying to frame him with the page from his marker book. LaBonge pulls a gun to escape Alvarez, but when the police pull up outside, he drops it, revealing that it's a fake gun like the one he found in Maleeni's truck. At the bank, Mulder dumps Pinchbeck out of his chair, proving that he does in fact have legs and does not have anything wrong with his neck. "Call me Mr. Maleeni," admits Pinchbeck, saying he feared for his life because he owed Alvarez so much money. Scully asks why he didn't just cheat at cards, but Pinchbeck is offended at the very suggestion. He faked his injuries only to protect himself after his brother's untimely death...and because women were so sympathetic. Mulder was right, admits Pinchbeck: he wanted a big, famous denouement to the magic career. "That was your last performance," says Mulder, putting the man in handcuffs.
The bank manager is afraid Pinchbeck could have stolen electronic funds and helps Mulder search the computer, but Scully is more interested in the log that indicates Pinchbeck signed out the armored truck which Alvarez is suspected of robbing. The con artist is thrown in jail, in a cell directly behind LaBonge's. The two communicate via taps on the wall. In the morning, the pair are still in jail, but more than a million dollars is missing from the bank vault. The security cameras are blank, but a guard has discovered that Alvarez was seen entering the bank two days before. When the thug is arrested for trying to rob an armored truck, he claims harrassment, but Mulder notices a loose ceiling panel and knocks loose bags of stolen bills. "Saving for a rainy day?" quips Scully. Alvarez claims he was framed by LaBonge. Mulder says LaBonge and Maleeni together are a double bill he doesn't want to miss.
The two agents arrive at the jail just as the two magicians are being freed. Mulder says that Alvarez was so obviously guilty, it gave him an idea. He thinks Maleeni's protegee LaBonge wanted revenge for Alvarez' treatment of him in prison, so they concocted an elaborate scheme involving disguises, swapped gun cartridges, and breaking out of jail to steal and plant money in Alvarez' hangout so that when everyone awoke in the morning, they'd have the perfect alibi - they were in jail all night. Mulder is very impressed with the trick, but lets them go for lack of evidence.
After the magicians depart, Mulder admits to Scully that he thinks there was more to the scheme - the two men wanted his badge number and his fingerprint to break into to electronic security system and steal millions electronically - but Mulder stole back the card he touched and thus fingerprinted, foiling the would-be thieves. Scully demonstrates that she can do some of the same tricks as LaBonge, but she won't tell him how.
A perfectly delightful episode from start to finish. The writers decided to play their hand early by showing LaBonge impersonating Alvarez but that didn't detract from the fun of watching Mulder figure out the scheme. He and Scully looked like they were having a grand time, and I didn't mind that Mulder alone solved the mystery at the end since he looked like such a jerk when he accused the "amputee" Pinchbeck of impersonating his brother.
This was a great 'shipper ep with all the repartee about magic tricks. I also loved the look on first Mulder, then Scully's face when Pinchbeck hinted at the sympathy his plight gained him with women. There's not much to analyze plot-wise, and the only supernatural question remains how magicians do some of the things they do...but if the episode gave those away, what would be the fun of it? I was glad the audience got to see enough hints to figure out most of the mystery without being able to put all the pieces together. The performances were highly enjoyable, the carnival set was fun if underutilized, there were no aliens, what more does an episode need?
The X-Files Reviews