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Recap / The X-Files S01 E23 "Roland"

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Season 1, Episode 23:

"Don't some autistic individuals display unusual abilities?"
Written by Chris Ruppenthal
Directed by David Nutter

"Now, you see the way you work that toy is like what's happening to you. You're the spaceship, Roland, and your dreams are the controls."
Fox Mulder

A scientist has been murdered at the Mahan Propulsion Laboratory in Washington state, and the lone suspect is the janitor Roland Fuller (Željko Ivanek). Problem: Roland has an IQ of about 70, and couldn't have performed the deed. Something else is going on, and Mulder and Scully are there to find out. Could it have something to do with Arthur Grable, a scientist at the laboratory who died in a car crash a few months earlier? After all, his head was cryogenically preserved, and he is Roland's twin brother…


  • Ambition Is Evil: Seems to be the theme. Ambition drove the entire research team even before Dr. Grable's death, leading to his colleagues claiming his unfinished work as their own, then him to take revenge on them and finish it from beyond the grave. And arguably, it drove wealthy upper class parents to pretend their son never had a mentally disabled twin.
  • Asshole Victim: Let's face it, nobody in the research team is a particularly kind-hearted individual.
  • Book Ends: This episode begins and ends with a Mach 5 jet engine worker being trapped in a wind tunnel by Roland, with them struggling to hold onto a grating as the turbine inside is activated. But whereas the first victim, Dr. Surnow, is sucked in, Frank Nolette is saved by Mulder and Scully's encouragement of Roland to do the right thing.
  • Brain in a Jar: Dr. Grable's head was preserved after his death.
  • Character Title
  • Disability Superpower: Mulder theorizes that Dr. Grable's condition caused him to develop psychic abilities, most of all a telepathic link to his twin brother Roland. Apparently it works only below -160 degrees Fahrenheit, for some reason.
  • Evil Twin: Dr. Arthur Grable plays an actual evil twin to his good twin, Roland, using their Twin Telepathy to possess him and make him commit murders.
  • Fighting from the Inside: When Arthur had him kill his old team members, Roland complied, whether by not fighting strong enough against the compelling force, or by not being able to fight off hijacking of his body. But when Arthur tried to make him murder his similarly disabled friend from his group home, Roland pushes her away and runs to lock himself in the bathroom so as not to hurt her.
  • He Knows Too Much: Arthur tries to force Roland to kill his friend on this basis, on top of more revenge-driven other murders.
  • Human Popsicle: Dr. Grable, or rather, his head.
  • Ice Breaker: Roland kills Dr. Keats by dunking his head in liquid nitrogen and letting his body fall to the ground, his head shattering on impact.
  • Idiot Savant: Zig-zagged. Roland has minor savant skills on his own, but creatively murdering people while developing a novel theory of jet propulsion is thanks to his brother taking control of him.
  • Improbably High I.Q.: Mostly an inversion of an Improbably Low I.Q., as Roland is portrayed as someone with at least moderate disabilities (eg, can't operate a door opening system, limited speech capabilities, passing the time in his group home with typical child activities such as stickers), but is said by Scully to have an IQ of slightly above 70, which is in the borderline category like Forrest Gump, and he usually should be indistinguishable in everyday situations from everyone else. It is suggested that he has autism which could account for some of these factors as well as his head rolling (though he doesn't have most autistic tendencies like problems with eye-contact), but the well-known tendency is for IQ tests to significantly underestimate IQ in autistic people.
  • Mind Rape: Poor Roland is clearly very unhappy with his body being hijacked every now and then.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The episode kicks off because the wind tunnel totally lacks any safety features on the inside (like, say, an emergency stop button).
  • Theme Twin Naming: Arthur and Roland.
  • Turbine Blender: The death that opens the episode is of Roland locking Dr. Surnow in a wind tunnel and turning on the experimental jet turbine inside, sucking him in.
  • Twin Telepathy: Between Roland Fuller and Dr. Arthur Grable.

Mrs. Stodie: How could this happen? Roland never exhibited any violent tendencies.
Mulder: It's my belief that he wasn't acting under his own volition.