March 24, 2018

The X-Files 7.8, The Amazing Maleeni: Do You Believe in Magic?

Posted in TV tagged at 1:28 pm by Jenn

Now imagine an episode where Scully has to go undercover as a magician’s assistant

Summary: The Amazing Maleeni has come to the Santa Monica Pier to put on a magic show – in fact, he declares that it will be his greatest show ever. He attracts a modest crowd, then performs a trick with disappearing balls that reappear under cups. A heckler in the crowd isn’t impressed by his old tricks. Maleeni asks if he should come heckle the heckler at his job counting nuggets at McDonald’s.

For his last trick, Maleeni announces that he’ll reattach a severed head, a feat that has never been performed successfully. He then rotates his head all the way around. The crowd is thrilled, but the heckler won’t give a reaction. The show coordinator walks Maleeni to his van, then goes to get his money. When he returns, Maleeni is dead, having been decapitated.

Mulder and Scully head to Santa Monica to figure out what happened. Scully doesn’t think Maleeni’s magic show had anything to do with his murder. Mulder points out that there are no fingerprints or blood in the van; no one saw the murderer fleeing the scene or heard Maleeni cry out. He thinks they’re dealing with a magic trick that went wrong.

A tourist videotaped the magic show, so the agents are able to see it for themselves. They focus on the heckler, who Scully thinks could be the killer. They can’t see his face on the tape, but he threw out a soda cup, which has his fingerprints on it. Sadly, we are spared a scene of Mulder and Scully Dumpster-diving.

The agents easily find the heckler, Billy LaBonge, who’s a magician himself. He was once convicted for pickpocketing, which he calls “performance art.” Billy tells the agents that Maleeni named himself after a turn-of-the-century magician named Max Malini, but he didn’t live up to his namesake’s skill. Mulder asks about the head-rotating trick. Billy demonstrates that he can do the same thing with his wrist, so it’s not exactly magic.

He does a coin trick and tells the agents that he and Maleeni are like Mozart and Salieri. They sound similar to a layman, but they’re not. It’s all about originality, style, and soul. Maleeni was a hack, but Billy’s a great magician because of his soul. Energies beyond our mortal understanding are involved here. Mulder wonders if those energies could have led to Maleeni’s decapitation.

Billy says Maleeni had some huge debts that could have gotten him murdered. As the agents turn to leave, Billy reveals that he stole their badges without them noticing. Mulder wonders which magician is Mozart and which is Salieri. Scully doesn’t think it matters – Billy’s professional jealousy is enough of a motive to suspect him of murder. Mulder isn’t convinced that Maleeni was murdered, though.

Scully thinks his autopsy will back up her theory, but she’s wrong. Maleeni’s head appears to have been sawed off slowly, so it couldn’t have happened in that brief time the show coordinator was gone. There’s spirit gum on his neck, indicating that it held his head onto his body. Also, he died of a heart attack more than a month ago. Scully suspects that the magician who performed at the pier wasn’t the same man whose body they’re looking at.

Billy goes to a bar to meet up with a heavily tattooed man named Cissy Alvarez. They did time together, but Cissy doesn’t remember Billy. Billy knows that Cissy won a ton of money from Maleeni (real name: Herman Pinchbeck) in a poker game, and since Billy claims he’s the one who made Maleeni’s head fall off, he wants Maleeni’s marker. He promises to repay Maleeni’s debt times 10, but he’ll need Cissy’s help with some magic. To prove his skills, Billy lights his own hand on fire, then produces Cissy’s wallet.

The agents go to a branch of Cradock Marine Bank to meet with Albert Pinchbeck, Herman’s brother. When they see that the brothers were identical twins, the case gets even more intriguing. Albert, who thinks the agents are married (aren’t they, though?), is wearing a neck brace and says he was in a car accident in Mexico. He and Herman performed together in the ’70s, as Albert proves with a card trick, but Herman had bigger ambitions. The brothers weren’t close after Albert left their act.

Mulder spells out what he thinks happened: Herman died of a heart attack, and Albert felt bad that he didn’t accomplish his goals, so he performed Herman’s final show for him. He wanted to end with a shock that would make him memorable. Albert wishes that were true, but it would have been physically impossible: The car accident that left him with a neck injury also led to him losing both of his legs.

As the agents leave, Mulder wonders why Maleeni did the head-rotating trick in the first place. Did he just want attention? Scully suggests that they consult Mozart. They go back to Billy, who asks what he gets in exchange for helping the agents. Mulder notes that he would get the chance to dig into Maleeni’s secrets. They give him access to Maleeni’s van, where he finds a hat with a dove in it, and a gun that shoots out a banner that reads “BANG!”

Billy thinks that someone just impersonated Maleeni, then switched out the body using misdirection, the magician’s most trusty trick. He guesses that the van has a false floor, but he’s wrong. He realizes Maleeni was a better magician than he thought. Mulder finds Herman’s marker from Cissy in the van.

Back at the bank, Albert signs for a transfer of money and chats with one of the armed guards in charge of it. He asks to see the guard’s gun, saying he’s been thinking of buying one. When Albert goes back to his office, Cissy joins him and demands that Albert pay Herman’s debts. Meanwhile, the armed guards hear a noise from the back of their truck and pull over. A man with tattooed hands emerges from the piles of bag. One of the guards shoots him four times, then goes to get his partner. When they return, the man is gone. Moments later, so are his tattoos – he’s Billy, and he inked on the tattoos to look like Cissy.

The agents visit Cissy at the bar to find out if Cissy killed Herman over his $20,000 debt. Cissy has an alibi for the time of the murder and doesn’t think he had a motive anyway. After all, if Herman was dead, he couldn’t pay his debts. Mulder asks why Cissy would play poker with someone who does card tricks. Cissy says Maleeni was a horrible poker player, which Mulder finds very interesting. Scully thinks he wasn’t as good a magician as Mulder thinks. Mulder does a coin trick to demonstrate the important of misdirection. He thinks someone’s currently misdirecting them.

Billy watches from across the street as the agents leave, then uses a payphone to call 911 and report that a man with a gun is threatening to kill someone. He leaves the phone off the hook and goes to the bar. Cissy discovers that Herman’s marker is missing from his book and accuses Billy of trying to frame him. Before Cissy can attack him, Billy pulls out a gun. He runs out just as the police arrive and arrest him. He drops the gun, which was the fake “BANG!” pistol from Maleeni’s van.

The agents return to the bank, where Mulder dumps Albert from his wheelchair to prove that he’s not really an amputee. He’s also not really Albert – he’s Herman. He admits that he faked his death because he couldn’t pay his debts and was afraid for his life. Scully wonders why he didn’t manipulate the cards. Herman says he couldn’t live with himself if he cheated.

Scully asks what all this has to do with Albert’s decapitation. Herman explains that he found Albert dead when he went to ask for a loan. He felt down about never accomplishing anything, and he quickly put together a plan to take his brother’s identity. Scully asks why he left Albert’s body at the pier, or why he decapitated him. Herman confirms Mulder’s theory that he just wanted to end the show with a big shock. Mulder reaffirms that that was his last show – he’s going to jail.

Mulder searches the office, looking for the real reason Herman impersonated Albert. He thinks it’s about money. There’s no proof that Herman oversaw any unauthorized electronic fund transfers, so Herman removes his own handcuffs. Scully sees that there was an attempted robbery the day before, though Herman’s boss says that was on the armored truck, not the bank itself.

Since Herman signed out the truck and knew the schedule, the agents have reason to keep him in custody. The agents have no way of knowing that this is exactly what Herman wants. He’s taken to lockup and put in a cell right next to the one where Billy’s being held. The two men have been working together and are pleased that things are going just as they’d planned.

The next morning, the guards check out the bank vault, which is now empty. Herman’s been in lockup all night, so he’s not a suspect. Security footage from two days ago shows Cissy at the bank, and one of the guards recognizes his tattoos. Since Cissy was previously convicted of bank robbery, it’s not too much of a stretch to think he robbed again. The agents easily find the missing money at his bar. Cissy accuses Billy of setting him up. Mulder and Scully quickly realize that Billy and Maleeni are working together.

The magicians are released on bail, but the agents stop them before they can leave the police station. Mulder’s theory: Billy is Herman’s protégé and the two worked together to get revenge on Cissy for horrible things he did to Billy in prison. Herman lost on purpose at the poker game, and Billy planted the marker in the van so the agents would find it. They orchestrated the fake robbery to frame Cissy. When Herman checked out the guard’s gun, he loaded it with blanks, ensuring Billy’s safety.

The magicians used their pickpocketing skills to steal a key from a guard in lockup, then robbed the bank and planted the money in the bar. Herman notes that that would definitely be a memorable trick for him to go out on. Billy asks what happens next. Since there’s no evidence against the magicians, they get to go free, but Mulder tells them the magic needs to end. Herman says a great magician always knows when to leave the stage.

Mulder thinks he and Scully are actually the world’s greatest, since they saw through the magicians’ tricks. Mulder also stole Herman’s wallet from the evidence room, which means Herman and Billy can’t finish their plan. Framing Cissy was another act of misdirection. The plan was always about the electronic transfers. Herman didn’t have clearance, so he stole Mulder’s badge to get his number, then got his fingerprint during the card trick. But Herman kept the card with the fingerprint on it in his wallet, which Mulder now has. The magicians won’t be able to pull off their final trick.

Scully asks how Herman was able to do the head-rotating trick. Mulder admits that that’s one question he doesn’t have an answer to. Scully does Billy’s version of the trick with her wrist and calls it magic. Mulder wants a real explanation, since it’s not the same as doing the trick with your neck, but Scully won’t reveal her secrets.

Thoughts: Like “The Goldberg Variation,” this is a fun, underrated episode. It’s just not as memorable as “The Goldberg Variation.”

Ricky Jay and Jonathan Levit, who play Maleeni and Billy, are both magicians, which is smart casting. I hate when there’s a TV show or movie with a character who’s a magician, and they cut to someone else’s hands doing the tricks. Here, we get to see the characters doing what they’re supposed to be able to do.

I guess when a guy has that many tattoos and looks that menacing, you don’t make fun of him for being called Cissy.

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