The writing debut of Frank Spotnitz on the series, “Weeds” came after Spotnitz had made a mark on The X-Files in a big way, effectively becoming the leading collaborator with Chris Carter on many of the series’ key and important mythology episodes, while also contributing some truly effective stand alone tales such as “Detour” and, in later seasons, “Via Negativa” and “Alone”, while collaborating with Vince Gilligan and John Shiban on a plethora of famed stand alone episodes such as “Leonard Betts”.
Spotnitz’s first contribution to the darker side of the Ten Thirteen-verse appears at first as if it’s intending to be a very ambitious narrative but, sadly, sometimes falls into obvious tropes and detours. Make no mistake, this is an effective tale, and has a dark, oppressive atmosphere that helps to fit in with the Millennium aesthetic brilliantly, but it never sparks the way you would expect.
After a superb teaser featuring a literal point of view of the episode’s killer and his perspective on how he views those around him as sinners, complete with a physically decaying appearance, “Weeds” turns into an effective horror crime-thriller that plays as a darker variation on later X-Files episode “Arcadia”, albeit without the undercover/romantic comedy element that helped make Mulder and Scully’s detour into the world of the gated community very popular, and with a more human monster on the loose in a gated community.
Despite taking place in a large, open environment such as a community like this, there is an oppressive, emotionally claustrophobic feel to proceedings that is wonderful, and for the most part the episode runs in a very entertaining manner. During a rewatch of the show, it is an entertaining installment, but there’s something about that stops it from achieving true greatness.
Spotnitz is a wonderful writer, with much of his stand alone work on season eight of The X-Files in particular being a highlight of American genre television of the time (“Via Negativa” in particular is a terrifyingly brilliant hour of television), but “Weeds” begins with incredibly interesting themes and ideas, but is content to simply play in the pool of serial killer of the week complete with psychological and pathological investigative scenes.
The idea of a killer force-feeding his potential victims his own blood to “cleanse” them from their sins which have been visited upon them by their own fathers is interesting and in one key moment leads to a terrifyingly gory moment that, while nothing physically violent is happening, still feels as graphic as anything shown on television at the time, even though the visual is literally ten times worst than anything actually going in the moment.
The whole hour feels very Ten Thirteen, with its abundance of criminal investigation, darkly disturbing imagery and religious overtones to the ideas at its heart, complete with a wonderfully grim Vancouver atmosphere; the community in question, Vista Verde, may be a refuge from the more darker outside world for those living within it, but it is constantly a world that is bathed in grey skies that Millennium and The X-Files of this era could never really escape (and all the better for it).
The eventual revelation of the killer is never really a massive surprise, but strangely never feels obvious either. The character of Edward Petey (Josh Clark) appears throughout, but we’re never allowed direct access to him until the end of the tale when he is arrested. It really should be the end of the episode, but there’s still one last tragic card to play, and a final line of dialogue that goes for pathos and examination but which really plays as somewhat too obvious.
The intent of “Weeds” is wonderful, but it never flies off the screen in the way that you would expect given the material and the writer. Later in the season, Spotnitz will deliver the much more superior “Sacrament” that really goes to town when it comes to exploring violence in a suburban setting, only this time doing the brilliant thing of filtering it through Frank and his own family. For a tale that’s all about inflicting violence on those who have caused past wrongs via their own children, the tale never runs with the themes in a deeper way that has usually made Millennium a more complicated beast than the lazy stigma of being a serial killer of the week show.
There’s also the fact that all the victims that are targeted by Petey are males. It’s hard to know whether or not this is subverting the lazy trope of a serial killer thriller inflciting physical violence on women, or simply being myopic and not being able to view themes like this beyond filtering it through that of male characters.
There are probably deeper intents and themes there within this notion, but the episode is more content in just being an imaginative grim crime procedural. It’s a good crime procedural, but it really ought to be so much better.
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