Season 1

1x11 Fire

Air date: 12-17-93
Writer: Chris Carter
Director: Larry Shaw
Editor: Heather MacDougall
Director of Photography: John S. Bartley, C.S.C.
Documented Phenomenon: Spontaneous Human Combustion, Fire starter (Pyrokinesis)

Episode summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

70 miles southwest of London in the town of Bosham is the country estate of an English gentleman, who is leaving for work. As he leaves, he greets the various gardeners hard at work on the estate, one of whom is an Irishman called Cecil. As he waves goodbye to his wife, his arm suddenly bursts into flames. As the gardening staff and his wife watch in horror, his entire body is soon engulfed in flames. The only one who doesn't seem shocked by this turn of events is Cecil, who watches with a bemused smile on his face.

Back in Washington, Mulder and Scully have just spent an exhausting day in court. Mulder is a bit confused as they climb into his car as it is unlocked, but once inside they both notice a small audio cassette sitting on the dashboard. Inserting the case into the player, they hear a prim Englishwoman's voice which proceeds to tell them all about British MP Reggie Ellicott who listened to a similar tape in his car which actually armed a device in the car, turning it into a bomb. The explosion was heard five miles away. The voice warns them not to reach for the door handle, thus triggering the detonator. Both of them naturally jump out of their skins when the door is suddenly opened by the owner of the voice, an old friend of Mulder's.

She is Phoebe Green, a member of Scotland Yard, and - as it transpires - an old flame of Mulder's from his Oxford days ten years ago. Scully is a bit embarrassed to see Phoebe making such overt moves on her partner, instilling in her a sense of distrust towards this woman. As it turns out, Green has a very specific reason for contacting Mulder, albeit in her unconventional way.

Back in their office, she tells them how an arsonist seems to be targeting the aristocracy. He burns his victims alive but leaves no trace of any evidence. The one thing that seems to link the crimes is that the suspect likes to send love letters to the victims' (usually much younger) wives. Now, Sir Malcolm Marsden has been targeted, as his wife is now the recipient of one such letter. Marsden narrowly escaped a fire in his garage three days later, so to diffuse the potentially dangerous situation, he and his family are decamping to Cape Cod for a while. Green decided to rope Mulder into the mystery because she figured that he couldn't resist a three pipe problem (a reference to Sherlock Holmes and an in-joke that is lost on the ignored Scully). Mulder promises to run the case through the FBI's arson specialists.

The said arson specialist, Agent Beatty, is hugely impressed by the photographic evidence of the recent fires, calling them a work of art. His attention is particularly caught when Phoebe tells him that the only type of incendiary device used was the victim's body. As Scully watches in the background, she sees yet another male succumb to Green's enticing ways. The only explanation he seems to be able to deliver is that some kind of rocket fuel was used to set the bodies alight. And he certainly doesn't buy Mulder's theory that perhaps the fire was controlled by someone else. Fire, he explains, is controlled only by physics.

Meanwhile, in Cape Cod, rocket fuel is in fact in evidence in the form of argotypoline which Cecil is painting on the walls of the Marsden's holiday home. As he watches the family arrive, he is able to light his own cigarette just by holding it in his mouth. Greeting the Marsdens (and now with an American accent), he tells them that he is Bob the caretaker. They recognise the name from letters that have been exchanged. Out in the garden, Cecil kicks the Marsden's dog away from a freshly turned mound of earth it's digging away at. The dog has unearthed the hand of what would appear to be the real Bob, the caretaker.

Mulder tells Scully that she doesn't need to get involved with this case. He doesn't want her to become caught up in Phoebe's little mind games. He tells her that he has an abject fear of fire, and that Phoebe knows this. As a child, he had to stay in the remains of a friend's house that had burned down to keep looters away. For years after, he was plagued by dreams of being trapped in a burning building.

Sure enough, back in Cape Cod, Cecil seems to have an unhealthy interest in the lithe Mrs Marsden, watching her surreptitiously through the kitchen window at night. He also befriends the family's driver who is suffering from a bad cold. As Cecil is on his way into town, he offers to get him some cough medicine. Stopping off for a beer, it's not long before Cecil is hit on by a woman sitting alone at the bar. This time, he sports an English accent, and impresses her hugely by offering to light her cigarette from his burning finger. But the party trick loses its appeal for her when soon his entire arm is ablaze, it apparently not bothering him in the slightest. He sets fire to the entire bar.

At Boston Mercy Hospital, Mulder and Green interview the woman who is a little reluctant to give her statement. It turns out she is in a relationship and wants to keep the fact that she was bar-hopping quiet. Mulder tells Green that he knows how to deal with recalcitrant women through his dealings with her, something that she clearly doesn't like to hear. He tells her that having a photographic memory means that he finds it hard to forget what he went through with her, even if it was 10 years ago. Once again, Phoebe uses her guile to remind him of a youthful indiscretion atop Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tombstone, but Mulder doesn't want to play ball. She then posits the theory that they're going to a lot of trouble to find the firestarter, a man who is in all likelihood burned to a crisp. Mulder says he might agree, if indeed there was a body. But seeing as there isn't, he goes back into the young woman's room to secure her co-operation in making a composite picture of the man.

The Marsden's driver is getting worse, the cough syrup seemingly no help.

Back at the FBI, Scully is doing a bit of homework on fire and related crimes. She is mystified by the use of an untraceable accelerant and the fact that all the victims went up in flames in the presence of family members. This suggests to her unusual access to the victims. She assembles a profile of a young male, about 25, acting out his sexual urges or insecurities with destructive behaviour, all to compensate for his social inadequacies. To prove the point, we see Cecil interacting with the Marsden children, Michael and Jimmy. Breaking off from painting the swings with his special brand of paint, he offers to show the boys a magic trick. Taking out a cigarette from his case, he makes it disappear, only to pull a smoking one from his ear.

Scully goes to visit Agent Beatty with some questions about fire, and his theory about using rocket fuel as accelerant. She wonders if the killer might have hidden some of this accelerant in something like handcream. Beatty says it's not impossible, the one drawback being that the killer would still have to find a way to ignite the fuel.

Back in Cape Cod, Cecil is showing Michael and Jimmy his trick of lighting a cigarette without touching it, only this time he has three in his mouth. The boys are very impressed, but are not at all happy when Cecil inappropriately offers them a smoking cigarette. They are interrupted by their mother calling them. She asks "Bob" if he could possibly drive them into Boston for a function as their own driver is too ill. He readily accepts.

Scully's profile seems to be right on, namely that the killer is usually unmarried and prone to excessive behaviour towards women or men that are mainly inaccessible to him. The firestarting stems from his inability to start a normal natural relationship with anyone. She believes that the arsonist has followed the Marsdens to the US, and she has initiated a check of all recent British visitors to pass through US immigration.

Mulder posits his theory about a man who can control fire by himself to Phoebe and is rather bemused to see that she doesn't query him on it (something Mulder is certainly not used to in his dealings with Scully). He suggests that the Marsdens consider a few more bodyguards. When Phoebe tells him that the family are attending a function at the Venable Plaza Hotel that night, Mulder sees the opportunity to set a trap. She tells Mulder to go ahead and check out the hotel, as she has to travel with the family. Rather tellingly, she also informs him that she's taken a room at the hotel for the night.

Mulder does the same, and is settling in to his room when Scully calls him. She has some information on the identity of the arson suspect and wants to travel up to Boston to show him. Mulder is unsure, as he's anticipating having a busy night, presumably in more ways than one.

The function begins with all parties all dressed up to the nines. Cecil too is at the hotel, having driven the family in. While Mulder and Green are preoccupied with a slow dance in the lobby, Scully arrives and sees them together. Not sure how to handle this situation, she catches sight of Cecil watching them. And then while Mulder and Green kiss, she notices that the fire alarm is bleeping, indicating that there's a fire on the fourteenth floor, the very floor where the children are staying. Combating his demons (and not too happy about having to do so), Mulder races upstairs and is rendered powerless by the smoke and his fear of fire. The children are rescued by Cecil, in a move that ingratiates him with the family even more.

Mulder is suffering from smoke inhalation and has to spend some time in bed, recovering. He is hugely embarrassed when he wakes up to see Scully sitting over his bed, telling her that he panicked completely. Scully wants to know about the driver. Green tells her that he's worked on the property for about 8 years and that he was watching over the children. Scully refutes that, saying that she saw him down in the lobby round about the time that the fire started. Phoebe tells them that the family have decided to return to England the next day. Scully shows Mulder what she's discovered. She has a list of possible accelerants and an Interpol list of potential criminals who might have been working as gardeners or servants for the previous victims at the time of their death. And one name has popped up - Cecil L'ively. After a little more digging, she found that Cecil L'ively died in a London tenement fire in 1971, and that the name has also appeared on a US immigration visa list at the point of entry at Boston. The composite sketch taken from the description from the woman in the bar finally comes through, and it's Cecil.

Scully is unable to phone Mulder on his cellular as he's out of range, hurrying back to Cape Cod to warn Phoebe of the danger they're in. He barges in on Phoebe and Sir Malcolm in a clinch. Mulder tells her to assemble the family and get them out of the house as quickly as possible. Cecil is watching all this and has a few little tricks in mind. Scully arrives at the house and Mulder shows her the paint that Cecil has been using, the one with rocket fuel as its chief component. The Marsdens are aghast that their driver is the chief suspect, but put the agents right when they show them the composite picture. It's not their driver but "Bob" the caretaker. And he's with the children upstairs. Searching round the house, Mulder and Scully come across the charred body of the driver, the victim of ingesting combustible cough syrup.

In the main bedroom, everything starts catching fire. While Mulder attempts to tackle the blaze, the family try to clear the house. But the boys are still upstairs, so once again, Mulder has to face his demons and go back into the fire. Cecil taunts him by setting an entire corridor on fire, the place going up in flames instantly. Now Mulder really has to hurry as the boys are trapped. Meanwhile, downstairs Scully points a gun at L'ively who tells her that the spark from her gun could set everything else on fire. Suddenly from around the corner, Phoebe chucks a can of rocket fuel in his face. Cecil stumbles out of the house, going up in flames himself. Mulder is able to break down the door to the boys' bedroom and rescue the children. The family watch on in amazement as L'ively burns to a crisp.

Back in the office, Mulder tells Scully that Phoebe is gone, without telling him that she was returning to England.

And in a high security medical facility, the charred body of Cecil L'ively lies recuperating. Military specialists are fascinated by his amazing recovery, his cell tissue regenerating at an alarming rate. He is being kept in a hyperbolic chamber, with anything flammable being removed from nearby. Full recovery is anticipated.

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

  • Until the arrival of Agent Diana Fowley at the tail end of Season 5, Detective Phoebe Green enjoyed the distinction of being one of the most universally hated characters within the entire X-Files universe. This is quite interesting when stacked up against the numerous scary and odious killers that have peopled the series, but Green's biggest failing was that she dared to come between Mulder and Scully. She was a threat to the ever-growing shipper movement, hence the vilification. In truth, the dynamic of an overtly sexual female into the series is an interesting one. Sex is an area that the programme very rarely tackled (and in the cases of episodes like Gender Bender, it wasn't done too well), and it's incredibly naive to think that both Mulder and Scully haven't had some kind of sexual past prior to their first assignment. (Look at the deleted scenes to the pilot episode to confirm this.) And yes, Mulder does succumb to Green's charms. When she tells Mulder that she's taken a room at the hotel, it's an open sexual invitation, and one that Mulder seems quite happy to take up. And why not? Mulder doesn't get laid much, and it's going to be a good 7 years or so before he and Scully get it on.
  • It should be noted though that throughout Mulder's distracted behavior when Green is around that Scully does not act like a jealous woman. She may act as a suspicious one, who doesn't entirely trust Green's motives (and rightly so), but there is no implication that she is romantically frustrated by the arrival of this British detective. If anything, the implication is that Scully realizes that Mulder's eye is off the ball. And so it is Scully that cracks the case, by identifying Cecil L'ively as the culprit and where he might possibly disguise his fire accelerant. Robin J. England
  • The other aspect of Mulder's former romantic interest in Green is what it reveals about Mulder. It is telling that Phoebe Green seems so open to extreme possibilities, when Mulder puts forth is idea that the killer has Pyrokinetic abilities. Much in the same way that Diana Fowley shared a similar trait, yet both women are highly manipulative. This, contrasted with Scully's continual skepticism and her willingness to intellectually challenge Mulder, helps to illustrate that ultimately Scully has Mulder's best interest at heart. She cares enough to not be a sycophant to Mulder's whims. Matt Allair
  • This is also The X-Files first excursion into tackling other nationalities. Wisely, they decided to confine most of their efforts to mainland USA following this. This is very much a romanticized American view of English characters. One's a lord, one's his glamorous younger wife, one's a smart female detective, and they all sport clipped vowels. You half expect them to resolve the case in a Noel Coward drawing room. At least Cecil L'ively is more of your bog-standard Englishman. Chris Carter's dialog with these English characters is largely ineffectual and none too convincing. Robin J. England
  • At least Chris Carter is on surer ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic when it's allowed to play. Some of their dialog is very entertaining, like when Mulder says that he was merely extending a professional courtesy to Green. "Oh," counters Scully, "is that what you were extending?" Unfortunately, there isn't a great deal of this, as Mulder and Scully spent most of this episode apart from each other. Robin J. England
  • While such phenomenon such as Spontaneous Human Combustion has been heavily documented in countless books. Phenomenon's such as Fire starters, fire walkers and fire immunity, has been less documented in the field of paranormal research. Although the concept has been hugely popular in science fiction and fantasy literature and film, many researchers haven't found much credible evidence for fire starting, also known as Pyrokenesis. Matt Allair

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

Fire is another example of an episode that is built around an average story-line, yet features two compelling characters; Phoebe Green and Cecil L'lively, neither of whom would reappear in a future episode. In the case of Cecil L'lively, he was an interesting enough villain that there was room for a future reappearance, thus it was a missed opportunity. The character of Phoebe Green was originally intended as a recurring role. The lack of chemistry between David Duchovny and Amanda Pays soon put paid to that idea. There were a number of additional scenes of the interplay between Mulder and Green, yet were cut in the editing process. Chris Carter wanted to show that Mulder had a history with women. Chris commented in Cinefantastique; "I just thought it was an interesting choice to use Amanda Pays and to make a villainess out of her, everybody on the internet loves to hate Phoebe." Based on an analysis of the shooting script, the Primary draft was finished on November 9, 1993, (White copy). Then subsequent page revisions were written on the 14th (Blue copy), 15th (Pink Copy), 16th (Green copy) and 19th (Yellow copy) 23rd (Goldenrod). Often various scenes are rewritten during shooting and the revised pages will be color coded. The majority of the revised pages that appeared in the shooting script were from the 14th, 15th and 16th dated rewrites. - Matt Allair / Robin J. England

The show's hairstylist in the first season was Malcolm Marsden, whose name is given to the threatened lord. The X-Files would start name-checking more members of their staff as the series progressed. Second unit directors of photography Bob la Bonge and Harry Bring became characters in Season 7's The Amazing Maleeni and Sein und Zeit respectively, whilst of course Season 9 regular Assistant Director Brad Follmer was named after Chris Carter's assistant. The now infamous "black silk boxer shorts" scene was originally a "jockey underwear" scene. The location used for the Venable Plaza Hotel was Hotel Vancouver on West Georgia Street. They had initially planned on filming the formal party in a ballroom, as acknowledged by Todd Pittson, but due to booking problems, moved the scenes into a mezzanine and adjoining hallway. The Hotel was used again in the season three episode Avatar. Robin J. England / Matt Allair

In the scene where Mulder and L'ively confront each other at either end of a corridor in the Marsden family home, and L'ively sets fire to the entire hallway, if you look carefully you will see Mark Sheppard duck out of shot quickly. That's because the heat was getting so intense, the actor couldn't stand it any longer. Although fire is obviously a very expensive and dangerous prop to utilize on film, the only injury involved in the production was when David Duchovny burned his hand, leaving a small permanent scar. Robin England

Amanda Pays, who plays Phoebe Green and who really is English, came to acting via the modeling route. She has appeared in such films as Oxford Blues (1984), Leviathan (1989) and Solitaire for 2 (1995). However, her acting career has never really been Pays' first priority. Indeed, she is probably more famous for being the wife of "L.A. Law" star Corbin Bernsen, whom she married in 1988 when she was six months pregnant. The two are parents to four children. Pays was born in 1959 in London, England. She is the daughter of show business agent and actor Howard Pays, her prior acting training included intensive work at London's Academy of Live and Recorded Arts. Additional feature experience includes The Frog Prince and The Kindred. She has appeared a in number of made for television movies, including The Santa Trap, Hollywood Confidential, Age of Treason, and Dead on the Money. Her other television appearances include Any Day Now, Martial Law, 7Th Heaven and Dempsey & Makepeace. Robin England / Matt Allair

The other English member of the cast for this episode was Mark Sheppard, playing Cecil L'ively. Sheppard made his film debut in the Oscar-nominated Jim Sheridan drama about the Guildford Four, In the Name of the Father in 1993. Since then, most of his most successful work has been on television, where he's made appearances on CSI, Charmed and Firefly. He has a recurring role in the fifth season of 24. In 2001 Sheppard wrote, directed and produced Room 101. Some of Sheppard's other feature work includes Unstoppable, Evil Eyes, and Out of the Cold. Additional television work includes appearances on Medium, Monk, JAG, Star Trek; Voyager, and Silk Stalkings. Robin England / Matt Allair

Actor Dan Lett who plays Sir Malcolm Mardsen has had a varied career. His recent feature work includes The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005) , and Cavedweller (2003). Previous feature work includes The Life Before This, Blind Faith, Double Take, Sugartime, Paris, France, Blue Monkey, and Ms. Soffel. His guest television appearances includes Wild Card, Queer as Folk, Street Legal, and E.N.G.

Episode synopsis, review and production notes: Robin J. England
Additional review and production notes: Matt Allair
Page Editor: Red Scully

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