Field of Dreams
"The Unnatural" Plot Summary:
A 1947 game between the Negro League's Roswell Grays and the Southwest All-Stars features some odd occurences like pitches embedded in cacti and balls hit WAY out of the park. The catcher remarks to batter Josh Exley that he's likely to become the "first black Negro man of color in the American League," following Jackie Robinson to the majors. A group of white-sheeted KKK members ride in, announcing that if a "nigger" is going to play with the Yankees, they're going to play with him first. The rival team's pitcher knocks them off their horses and the Grays take their guns, but when they pull the hood off one of the Klansmen, they discover that he is an alien.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Washington in the present day, Mulder has baseball on in the background while he sends Scully in search of research material on 1940s New Mexico. She returns with a nonfat tofutti rice dreamsicle which she eats while the two trade cliches about getting out to smell the roses; when Mulder tries to grab her, she inadvertently drops the ice cream right onto his reading material, which she is chagrined to realize is the sports section of an old paper. Mulder recites some smarmy sports cliches about baseball and the meaning of life, then is distracted when he sees Arthur Dales' name in the paper...and a photo of Josh Exley with the alien bounty hunter.
Mulder goes to visit Dales, but the man who opens the door claiming to be Arthur Dales is not familiar and the agent almost walks away until the other man scornfully informs him that he has a brother and a sister also named Arthur Dales; they had unimaginative parents. He knows who Mulder is from the hilarious stories of his brother, but refuses to let him in the house until Mulder proves that he can recite from memory Mickey Mantle's 1947 home run statistics. This Arthur Dales was a policeman in Roswell in the 1940s. "I don't care about baseball, but I think the man in this picture is an alien bounty hunter," Mulder warns. Dales scornfully informs him that if Mulder understood baseball, he could understand the government conspiracy and everything else.
Dales wants to speak theoretically about whether passion alone could make a man shape-shift, but Mulder wants answers to concrete questions like why the Dales brothers didn't tell anyone - like himself - about the existence of aliens. "You weren't ripe," says Dales, though Mulder protests that he's so ripe he's getting rotten. The older man shows the agent a baseball-player bank which swings its arm, announcing that the first thing to realize about baseball is that it keeps you forever young. In flashback, a young Dales tells Exley that because the Klan has put out a bounty on him, he will have to remain with the player for his own protection. Hours later, when he wakes on the Grays bus, Dales sees the reflection of an alien face beside the sleeping Exley in the window, but when he wakes the player peering in horror, Ex says mildly, ""You look like you ain't never seen a black man before."
Mulder makes E.T. steal home jokes, but Dales insists that all the great players - Ruth, DiMaggio, Mays, Koufax, etc. - were aliens who never fit into this world until they stepped on the grass. Mulder thinks he's speaking metaphorically until a delivery boy segues into a kid from Roswell Municipal Stadium on June 30, 1947. Dales leaps on Exley to protect him from two guys in the stands with what turn out to be waterguns, then watches in horror as Ex gets beaned in the head with a wild pitch. Nobody but Dales notices that he bleeds green fluid on the catcher's mitt. Questioned about his name and his hometown to make sure there's no concussion, Ex says that he's from Macon, leading Dales to call the police there to inquire about the history of Josh Exley. He learns that a six-year-old boy by that name vanished five years ago. Further information is denied by an officer who turns out to be the alien bounty hunter.
When Exley learns that scouts from the Yankees have come to watch him play, he has a terrible game until they leave. Then he smashes the scoreboard with a home run. Later, Dales asks him why he tanked the game, suggesting that he has some secret reason for not wanting the publicity of the majors and telling Ex that he's let down his fans and his race. "You don't know nothing about my race," Ex snaps, but Dales doesn't get it. That night he is roused by noise from Exley's room. He walks in to find a gray alien. Both scream, the man faints, and the alien shakes his head in disgust.
When he wakes Dales, "Exley" reminds him that he's supposed to be a big bad policeman, but Dales can't wrap his brain around the concept that this is his charge's true face until the ballplayer shapeshifts into an attractive girl in a tank top who keeps the same voice. "Our people don't like us to intermingle," he explains the next day on the team bus, laughing at Dales' assumption that he must have fallen in love with an Earth woman and whispering that he never knew joy or laughter until he saw his first baseball game. The conversation is interrupted by teammates who need Exley's baritone for some impromptu gospel. "We'll all be together in that land," they sing.
Mulder is incredulous that a free-spirited alien made himself black to stay out of the majors, but Dales continues to sneer at Mulder's refusal to see what's important in his story. As the former cop says that what fascinates people is by definition true, the alien bounty hunter shows up on the news on Dales' TV, which then segues again into the past, where the same bounty hunter is trying to cover his tracks. The younger Dales gets a report on the "goo" which seems to be from a non-carbon-based lifeform. Dales demands the glove back, but before the scientist can send it, Exley pays him a visit, saying it's his mitt and he got the material on Mars. Then he kills the scientist and transforms into the bounty hunter.
Hours later, Dales warns Ex that there's a witness ready to testify that Exley killed a man that afternoon; he warns him to get out of town. Ex says that he already made plans to do so, because family is more important than the game. As they play catch, he asks Dales to make sure people remember him, and tells him he has a pretty good arm. Later, as Dales is questioned by a racist federal agent and threatened with ruin if he won't tell what he knows about the alien ballplayer, the game against the All-Stars begins at Bottomless Lake State Park. Once the ballplayers have run off, the alien Klansman becomes the bounty hunter, drawing out a stiletto knife and telling Exley that it's all over. "I warned you. Now you die."
While Dales rushes to the stadium, the bounty hunter expresses disgust that Ex would risk "the project" for a game. Ex is unrepentant, however: "I hit number 61 tonight!" The executioner shows his alien face and demands that Ex do the same so he can die with honor, but Ex says that Josh Exley's is his true face. Dales arrives just in time to see the killing and watch the alien ride off. When he reaches the dying Ex, his friend warns him away - "Our blood is like acid to you people" - but it's just blood on the policeman's fingers as Ex smiles and dies in his arms as a human baseball player.
"I got a brother in that land," the gospel music plays as Mulder sits with Dales on his couch in the present day. Later, Mulder is at a park using a pitching machine as Scully arrives, complaining that she got a message from her partner to come for a birthday present. "I got a sister in that land," the music continues. Mulder tells Scully that he is going to show her how to hit a baseball, putting his arms around her and pressing his hips into hers to show her the stance. "Not a bad piece of ash...that bat," he comments. As they swing together, he murmurs in her ear that she should forget all the things that might bother her, "how you gave up a promising career in medicine to hunt aliens with your crackpot albeit brilliant partner, your obscenely overdue XXX bill...whoops, those last two are my problems, not yours." The baseballs fly off into the night, becoming stars in the sky.
This review was written by someone who cried during The Natural when Roy Hobbs smashed the stadium clock after seeing his childhood sweetheart in the stands, and in Field of Dreams when Ray Kinsella figured out what "If you build it, he will come...ease his pain...go the distance" really meant. I am pretty sure I also cried at the end of Pride of the Yankees, but I have had to block that out, having been raised by a Brooklyn Dodgers fan who does not brook any sympathy for Yankees. To be honest, I'm not really a baseball fanatic, and I would have failed that quiz about Mantle's home run record. But I love the role of the sport in popular consciousness.
In other words: this was by far my favorite episode of The X-Files ever, and no stunning mytharc episode is going to change my mind. It had the feel of "The Postmodern Prometheus," the same self-critical humor, but not a trace of the pretentiousness which occasionally plagues this series. And the segues between past and present were some of the coolest I've ever seen. Hand David Duchovny his Emmy right now - and Gillian, get over there and give your co-star a smooch for the cameras, please.
How did I love "The Unnatural"? Let me count the ways. Duchovny, who wrote and directed this episode, has obviously become a 'shipper in the best possible sense. He wrote Scully witty, comfortable, able to match him barb for barb, and stunningly sexy in that final scene which was hotter than anything these two characters have ever done before, including the near-kiss in Fight the Future and the unreal smooch in "Triangle." Mulder and Scully hit a home run in the park together after dark, woo hoo!
More importantly, however, Duchovny wrote Mulder as someone capable of feeling great passion for something other than alien conspiracies and exposing the lies. At the start of the episode, "The Truth Is Out There" was replaced by "In the Big Inning" - give a nonfat tofutti rice dreamsicle to whoever came up with that. A few minutes later, Scully joked to Mulder that in addition to stopping to smell the roses, he needed to "grab life by the testes"; that's exactly what he learned to do, so to speak. I love this Mulder. Maybe they should let Duchovny write his character every week.
And baseball! I admit that when I heard The X-Files was doing an episode about how the greatest black baseball player of all time was really from outer space, I got a bit nervous - I didn't realize that Cal Ripken was an alien too (no wonder he hates going to the doctor). The fact that I eat up all those baseball-as-the-meaning-of-life metaphors probably enhanced my enjoyment, though the show did a good job of defusing accusations of triteness by starting off with Mulder and Scully swapping general sappy cliched observations about life while he surreptitiously pored over the sports section. A teeny part of me wished that Scully was the secret baseball freak - I could see the statistics appealing to her, and would love to learn that she has a secret extracurricular vice of that sort - but Mulder was the one who really needed to learn Arthur Dales (II)'s story, and not because it's an x-file for the Federal Bureau of Obfuscation.
I am off to see whether someone has posted the story which was the catalyst for Duchovny to write this episode, the true history of the Grays. I rememeber there used to be a television commercial about a guy who founded a web site about the Negro Leagues, celebrating the way the net brings us all together and enables us all to learn from each other. At my kids' school as well as across the nation, it's TV-Turnoff week, a concept which offends every pore of my mass culture-driven being. "The Unnatural" is the perfect antidote.
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