August 27, 2016
The X-Files 3.17, Pusher: How to Win Friends and Influence People
Summary: It’s a (seemingly) normal day in Loudoun County, Virginia, and a man is shopping for groceries. He gets a bunch of cans of energy drink, then more cans, then even more cans. Another man follows him to the checkout counter, where the first man picks up a tabloid with Flukeman on the cover. He notices a police car arriving outside and says, “Let’s get this show on the road.” The man pulls on a flap on the jacket of the man in front of him, revealing that he’s with the FBI. Suddenly, agents swarm him and arrest him, calling him Pusher.
The lead agent, Frank Burst, wants to stick close to him. In the car on the way to the police station, Pusher (who won’t give his real name) tells the deputy driving them that his uniform is “the most soothing shade of blue.” He talks about how calming that shade is. He thinks it’s called cerulean. Pusher says “cerulean” a bunch of time, repeating that it’s like a gentle breeze. As a truck from a company called Cerulean drives toward them, the deputy pulls out into the road. Pusher braces himself in the backseat as the truck hits the car.
Burst survives the crash and is able to tell Mulder and Scully what happened. The deputy was injured and eventually died, but just before he did, he unlocked Pusher, who escaped. A month ago, Pusher called Burst to confess to a bunch of contract killings. He was just bragging, not wanting to turn himself in. Burst got interested because the killings had been ruled suicides, but Pusher knew enough details to seem suspicious.
Scully wonders why the deputy freed Pusher. Burst tells her about Pusher repeating “cerulean,” as if he was somehow able to will the deputy into causing the crash. Burst shows the agents a picture of the wrecked car – someone has written “RO NIN” in blood. Mulder recognizes this as Ronin, a masterless samurai.
A search of Pusher’s home turns up a bunch of copies of American Ronin. Holly, the woman who brings the magazines to the agents, has a bruise on her face and explains to the agents that she was mugged over the weekend. Mulder thinks Pusher uses American Ronin to advertise his services, then induces people to do certain things. In other words, he’s called Pusher because he pushes his will on people. Scully doesn’t get why he would cause the crash while he was in the car. “Maybe he really didn’t want to go to jail,” Mulder replies.
The agents find an ad that simply states, “I solve problems. Osu.” The ad appears in all the magazines for the entire time span of the murders. Mulder looks up “osu” in a Japanese/English dictionary and sees that it means “to push.” They call the phone numbers listed in the ads and go on some stakeouts at pay phones. They stay at one in Falls Church, Virginia (whoop whoop, my hometown!), for so long that Scully falls asleep on Mulder’s shoulder.
Finally, the phone rings and Pusher asks if Mulder and Scully are going to stay there all night. While Scully traces the call, Pusher notes that the agents seem close. How do Mulder and his “G-woman” get along? He taunts that Mulder has to prove his worth by following Pusher’s trail in order to learn more about him. Mulder asks if this is all a game so Pusher can be found. Pusher replies that the next clue is right in front of them; they need to let their fingers to the walking.
This is an obvious clue, so Scully figures they just have to look in the phone book. (Remember phone books, guys?) But Mulder thinks they really need to find out the last number dialed on the pay phone. Scully gets another agent to hook that up for them, and they’re connected to Teetotalers Golf Driving Range and Pro Shop. “So he’s a killer and a golfer?” Scully says. “Rings a bell, huh?” Mulder replies. “Let’s go, G-woman.”
The next morning, Pusher hits a few balls, then notices some agents hiding in the greenery outside the fence. An agent in SWAT gear finds him trying to hide, but Pusher is easily able to overpower him with just his voice. When Mulder, Scully, and Burst find the agent, Collins, he’s dousing himself in gas and is about to light himself on fire. He screams for the agents to stop him, but all they can do is get ready to put out the fire as he says “light up” over and over.
Mulder hears a horn going off and finds Pusher semi-conscious in his car. “Bet you five bucks I get off,” Pusher says. He’s taken to a bail hearing, where he reveals that his real name is Robert Patrick Modell. Mulder testifies that Pusher has confessed to 14 murders and knows details that no one would know unless he was present. Pusher’s lawyer argues that one of the victims jumped off a train platform; no one saw her get pushed. Mulder states that he thinks Pusher talks his victims into killing themselves.
Since Pusher has confessed on tape, the prosecution wants him held for trial. Pusher admits that he made the confessions but doesn’t remember. His lawyer chalks them up to drunken pranks. Mulder reminds the hearing judge that Pusher knew details that indicate he was at all of the crime scenes. But Pusher’s clearly influencing the judge, who decides he’s not guilty. Mulder owes Pusher $5. As Mulder pays up, he tells Pusher his shoe’s untied. It’s not. “Made you look,” Mulder says. “How do you do it?”
Now that the agents know Pusher’s real name and where he lives, they can keep an eye on him and look into his past. Scully learns that he served in the military; Mulder guesses that he wanted to be a Navy SEAL and a Green Beret but couldn’t complete the training. Scully reports that Pusher also applied to the FBI but was cut for being “acutely ego-centric.” He doesn’t care about people’s feelings, seeing others as objects. He’s also very suspicious of authority, especially governments.
Scully continues that Pusher lied a bunch during the interview process, saying he trained with ninjas in Japan. Mulder notes that ninjas are known for “cloud[ing] the minds of their opponents.” He thinks that’s how Pusher was able to get cleared of all the charges – he put the “whammy” on the judge. “Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy,” Scully requests.
Mulder thinks that Pusher uses a cadence or timbre in his voice to influence people. Scully disagrees: “He is just a little man who wishes that he were someone big.” If he really could influence people that much, he’d be a Green Beret or FBI agent like he wanted. Mulder wonders if the ability came to him more recently. He notes that Collins set himself on fire; how does Scully explain that? Scully agrees that Pusher is somehow responsible for the killings, but she’s looking for a scientific explanation.
Pusher pays a visit to FBI headquarters, using a piece of paper with “pass” written on it to gain access. He comes across Holly and gets her to access some personnel files for him. He tells her that if he found the guy who mugged her, he’d get revenge. Skinner catches them together and gets suspicious. He grabs Pusher and tells Holly to call security, but Holly’s still under Pusher’s whammy. When Pusher tells her that Skinner is her mugger, she maces him. “Hurt him back,” Pusher says, leaving Holly behind to beat up the assistant director.
Once Holly’s unwhammied, she tearfully apologizes for pounding on Skinner. I don’t think he’s going to hold it against her. She tells Scully that she felt like she was watching herself from across the room. It was like Pusher was inside her head with her. Mulder pulls Scully and Skinner aside to tell them that Pusher entered and exited without anyone noticing him. He and Scully both think Pusher was behind Skinner’s attack. Skinner tells them that Pusher left with Mulder’s personnel file.
Since Pusher now knows where Mulder lives, Skinner tells Mulder to go find him first and arrest him. When a SWAT team bursts into Pusher’s apartment, they find it empty, but Pusher has left the TV on, playing Svengali. Mulder checks the fridge and finds dozens of cans of energy drink. The bookshelves in the apartment are full of books about psychology.
Scully finds medication Pusher’s taking for epilepsy, possibly caused by a tumor. Mulder thinks that could have caused his pushing abilities – maybe it’s really psychokinesis. The energy drinks could be his way of replenishing his strength after he uses his abilities. Scully doesn’t think someone in Pusher’s condition would be well enough to play games with FBI agents. Mulder thinks that’s exactly why they’ve been able to catch him. Maybe he’s dying and is playing one last game.
Pusher calls and chats with Mulder, Scully, and Burst. He asks Burst how much he weighs, then talks about how unhealthy Burst must be. Mulder realizes what’s going on and tells Burst to hang up. Burst’s determined to keep Pusher on the line so they can trace the call, which means he’s forced to listen as Pusher wills him into having a heart attack.
While Scully tends to Burst, Mulder asks Pusher what he wants. Pusher just wants “a worthy adversary,” and he hopes it’s Mulder. Mulder throws out his guess that Pusher’s dying, then asks where Pusher is. Pusher gives up his phone number instead, saying he’s at a pay phone and will be gone in two minutes anyway. Mulder’s angry that Pusher called just to kill Burst. “They all kill themselves,” Pusher protests.
They FBI traces the call to a gas station parking lot on Chain Bridge Road (real place!) right near Fairfax Mercy Hospital (not a real place, though there is a hospital on that road). Scully remembers that Pusher’s medication came from that hospital’s pharmacy. The SWAT team takes a trip over there, figuring he went to the hospital for treatment. Mulder decides he should go in alone so Pusher can’t turn any of the SWAT members against each other.
Mulder gets suited up with a hands-free microphone so he can stay in contact with Scully and the SWAT lieutenant, and a camera so they can see everything he sees. Scully wants him to take a gun with him, but Mulder’s afraid that Pusher might make him point it at an innocent person. He enters the hospital and soon hears a couple of gunshots. His surveillance tech goes fuzzy, then clears as he finds two bodies – a security guard shot an MRI technician, then himself. His gun is missing.
Scully sees Pusher’s MRI on a computer monitor and is able to confirm that he has a tumor. Mulder reads Pusher’s chart and learns that he is, in fact, dying, which means he has nothing to lose. Scully urges him to get out, but it’s too late – Pusher’s right there with the security guard’s gun. Scully and the SWAT lieutenant go in after him, though the lieutenant thinks they’re giving Pusher just what he wants, more innocent victims.
Scully finds Mulder and Pusher in a patient’s room, sitting at a table and staring at each other. As she joins them at the table, Pusher picks up his gun, talking about budo, the Japanese way of war that teaches a warrior to leave himself outside of battle. The budo warrior always wins because he doesn’t fear death. Pusher passes the gun to Mulder and says they’re going to play a modified version of Russian roulette. There’s one bullet in the gun, and Mulder gets one shot to take down Pusher.
Mulder’s ready to play, but Scully notes that there’s oxygen in the room – firing the gun could blow everyone up. Mulder pulls the trigger anyway. Nothing happens, but it looks like Pusher’s claim that he’s not afraid to die isn’t as truthful as he lets on. Pusher lets Mulder go again, and as Scully tries to talk her partner down, Mulder turns the gun to his own head and pulls the trigger. Nothing again.
Scully demands the gun from Mulder, who turns it on Pusher, then Scully. She tells him she’s stronger than Pusher. Mulder wavers as Pusher notes that this could be payback for when Scully shot him. Mulder tells Pusher he’s going to kill him, then orders Scully to leave. She runs out, pulling the fire alarm. Mulder shoots Pusher, firing the gun over and over even after he’s spent the single bullet.
Pusher survives the shooting, though he’s not expected to every regain consciousness. Mulder tells Scully that his tumor was operable until recently, but he kept refusing treatment. He thinks Pusher liked having a condition that made him feel big. They take each other’s hands as Scully says they shouldn’t let Pusher take up any more of their time.
Thoughts: Dave Grohl makes an uncredited appearance in this episode (though I didn’t see him). Rachel Miner is also listed in IMDb as an “injured FBI analyst,” even though she was only 16 when this episode was done. She was later on David Duchovny’s show Californication.
If there isn’t already a driving range called Teetotalers, there needs to be.
Poor Collins. Poor Holly. Poor Burst. Poor Skinner. That beatdown couldn’t be good for his recent gunshot wound.
Mulder in a white T-shirt and Kevlar = nice.