So, the strangest thing happened today.
I’ve been watching on DVD the much-maligned (and unjustly so) season nine of The X-Files. It had been awhile since I saw any episodes from that final season, and, well, it’s winter, it’s Maine, and it seemed like a good time to revisit The X-Files and cast a fresh eye on Agents John Doggett and Monica Reyes (replacing Mulder and Scully as the agents assigned to the X-Files division of the FBI).
I was watching the next-to-last episode of the season and the series, “Sunshine Days,” which is one of the series’ best comic episodes, involving a house that is mysteriously transformed into The Brady Bunch house (complete with the vase that Peter broke in that episode of The Brady Bunch). At least, the interior of the house changes (and is occasionally even populated with avatars of the Brady cast). The exterior of the house remains the same, and this is one of the few X-Files episode that is set explicitly in a southern California suburb, and the episode itself is at least ostensibly about the southern California suburban experience—or, at least, about the way many of us experienced suburban California in the 1970s, via The Brady Bunch.
So, I was watching, and, like the characters in the episode, kind of thrilled to see the set of The Brady Bunch recreated right before our eyes. It turns out that the owner of the house—rather than the house itself—is the cause of the mysterious goings-on. Possessed of a variety of telekinetic and telepathic abilities, he is able to project a vision of The Brady Bunch world outward. He’s a kind of virtual reality generator.
The really suprising thing about the episode is when the door opens and Ben Linus of Lost walks out—or rather, the actor who plays Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) walks out as the character Oliver Martin (named for cousin Oliver “the jinx” from BB). And, after 6 years of Lost (which has its own X-Files elements), it’s very difficult to see Michael Emerson in something else and not think Ben Linus, even when the role he is playing pre-dates his Lost performance.
But that’s sort of the way we watch television these days. Past, present, and future are as interchangeable and as hard to disentangle one from the other as they are on an episode of Lost. One timeline (Michael Emerson plays a character on The X-Files in 2002) exists simultaneously with another (Michael Emerson plays Ben Linus on Lost from 2006-10). And, watching “Sunshine Days,” it was difficult not to see the character as being as much Ben Linus as Oliver. And Agent Scully’s description of cousin Oliver the jinx (“unlucky, star-crossed, dangerous”) also seems strangely apt for Ben Linus. And, thinking back to last season’s Lost when we saw Ben Linus in the 1970s as a bespectacled boy, he actually looked a little bit like The Brady Bunch‘s cousin Oliver.
In “Sunshine Days,” the suburban house is the Island writ small, a place where mysterious phenomena take place. There are no smokey monsters, but individuals are catapulted by the power of Oliver’s mind through the ceiling. There are ghostly “Others” (the Bradys that we glimpse through windows), and the retro-70s decor inside the house is a little bit like the retro-70s decor inside the Hatch. The difference, I suppose, is that it is Ben Linus (or Oliver Martin) rather than the house (or the Island) that is the cause of the phenomenon. At least, I assume that it is the Island and not Linus that’s the source of all the mysterious power on Lost. I suppose it could turn out that Ben Linus is the source of it all after all. Or maybe we’ll discover that the Island is really a suburban house in Van Nuys, California, after all.
The juxtaposition of The X-Files and Lost brings a new kind of sense to the episode, and, in some ways, I prefer to think of it not as the penultimate episode of The X-Files but as a missing episode of Lost, one of the series’ explorations of an alternate reality, a world in which Ben Linus leads an alternate existence (and, quite honestly, Ben Linus as Oliver Martin makes more sense to me than Ben Linus as teacher, as he is in the current season of Lost‘s exploration of alternate reality).
So, bump “Sun Shine Days” from season nine of The X-Files up to the top of your Netflix queue, and watch it as a missing episode of Lost, and see if doesn’t make a strange kind of sense viewed that way.
Also, viewed from a distance, without the expectations of what The X-Files was (a show about Fox Mulder) as strong as they were back in 2002, the John Doggett and Monica Reyes version of The X-Files has some great moments, which I didn’t appreciate when I first viewed them. And “Sunshine Days” gives Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish an opportunity to play comedy, which is a treat in and of itself. So, even if this episode doesn’t answer all those open-ended questions from Lost (although, maybe it does. . . . ), the episode is enjoyable just for itself.