Mulder and Scully investigate a serial killer who targets psychics and fortune tellers. They meet the Stupendous Yappi, a celebrity psychic who even Mulder doesn't believe is for real, and Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle), a world-weary insurance salesman who might have genuine precognitive powers.
- Affably Evil: To a degree. Puppet is a remorseless serial killer, but kind of goofy, even friendly, in a downtrodden sort of way. His entire motivation for killing is to discover what exactly causes him to act so against his nature. When Clyde answers this question with the blunt assertion that he's simply a homicidal maniac with no real motivation at all, Puppet simply chews on the implication for a moment and concedes that it would explain an awful lot.
- Artistic License History: Though there are conflicting reports about the infamous "Day the Music Died" coin toss, they generally involve Ritchie Valens, not The Big Bopper (but then, Valens didn't sing "Chantilly Lace").
- Bait-and-Switch: We're meant to believe the "spooky" guy the detectives have called in is Mulder. When Mulder turns up, they don't know who he is. Turns out they've called the Stupendous Yappi instead. Shortly afterwards, Yappi supposedly phases out of his vision due to the "negative energy" of a disbeliever, and hones in on the ever-sceptic Scully... only to whirl around on Mulder and order him out of the room.
- Bittersweet Ending: On the sweet side, following Bruckman's vision, Mulder and Scully are able to prevent the serial killer from murdering Mulder and stop him permanently. On the bitter side however, unable to handle the burden and trauma of his powers, Bruckman returns home and commits suicide.
- Black Comedy: Bruckman's psychic powers — and his resulting depression from them — is mostly played for rather dark laughs until he kills himself because he can't live with them anymore.
- Blessed with Suck: To see how people died and will die might seem awesome and very useful for an insurance salesman. However, it must be painful to live with it, and the creepiness factor is extremely high. Even this potential benefit is soured when it negatively interferes with his work; turns out, prospective clients get freaked out when you tell them they're going to die two years later in a car accident (a smart life insurance salesman might reject anyone who he saw is dying soon so the claim isn't paid out fast, but Bruckman clearly feels bad about it and wants to help the guy. No such luck though).
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Yappi the Psychic offers his insight about the culprit: "He looks like... A white man with facial hair. Or not. But he has... yes! A tattoo! Somewhere on his body. Maybe the tattoo has the facial hair. I think."
- Brick Joke: In the Season 1 episode "Beyond the Sea", Mulder gives Luther Lee Boggs a scrap of cloth. After Boggs makes a prediction about the victim based on the scrap, Mulder reveals he tore the fabric from his New York Knicks T-shirt. In this episode, Mulder and Scully work with yet another psychic, Clyde Bruckman. Bruckman holds a similar scrap of fabric to his forehead. When Mulder and Scully are distracted for a moment, Bruckman bursts out: "I got it! This is yours! This is from your New York Knicks T-shirt!"
- Contrived Coincidence: Lampshaded by Mulder. The specific chance coincidences and twists of fate needed to arrange a certain outcome are mentioned throughout the episode, and play into the story. Bruckman claims this is even how he first developed his ability, by trying to figure out all the factors that went into the "Day the Music Died" crash happened, since it required so many different random choices.
- Creepy Doll: One very creepy doll appears in one of Bruckman's visions.
- Dead Man's Hand: Clyde Bruckman plays poker with Agent Scully and holds a full house of aces and eights with the ace of hearts as the fifth card. He dies.
- Elvis Lives: Averted by the tabloid headline that asserts that it isn't Elvis, but Buddy Holly that is still alive.
- False Reassurance: Clyde reassures the chain-smoking policeman guarding him that he's not going to die of lung cancer. He's murdered by the killer shortly afterwards. From Clyde's grimace, he clearly knew what would kill the guy (getting stabbed with a fork in the eye. Ouch.).
- Famous Last Words: Puppet, fatally shot by Scully: "Hey... that's not the way it's supposed to happen..."
- Fascinating Eyebrow: The Stupendous Yappi is a master.
- Finger in the Mail: Puppet leaves victims' eyeballs and entrails at the crime scene.
- Forgot About the Mind Reader: Played With, and deliberately in an ambiguous way. After being shooed out of a room by a TV psychic for his "negative energy", Mulder meets the psychic in the hallway and shows him what negative energy really is with three words: "Read this thought." He replies: "So's your old man!" Can be Invoked by Mulder (from Yappi's point of view), Subverted (from Mulder's point of view because he doesn't believe that Yappi is a real psychic) or Double-Subverted (if you think Yappi was legit — some evidence suggested he might be).
- Foreshadowing: Scully asks Bruckman when she'll die. He responds simply, "You don't." It's not until the Season 6 episode "Tithonus" that we know what he meant.
- For the Evulz: Puppet spends the episode insisting he has no idea why he's driven to kill people. Then we get this.Puppet: You've seen the things I've done in the past as well in the future?
Bruckman: They're terrible things.
Puppet: I know they are! ...So, tell me, please? Why have I done them?
Bruckman: Don't you understand yet, son? Don't you get it?
Puppet: (shakes his head)
Bruckman: (sighs) You do the things you do because you're a homicidal maniac.
Puppet: That... (smiles) That does explain a lot, doesn't it?
- Fortune Teller: Madame Zelda the palm reader, complete with a fake Russian accent and a crystal ball.
- Fully-Clothed Nudity: Bruckman's dream of lying naked in a field is illustrated with him in a t-shirt and boxer shorts.
- Not-So-Phony Psychic: The Stupendous Yappi is so over the top that not even Mulder believes in his abilities. On the other hand, other agents and detectives do, and they in fact follow his super vague leads. Importantly, some of his visions bore similarities with Bruckman's, who we know is a real deal psychic, which makes Yappi fit the trope.
- Out with a Bang: Bruckman implies Mulder is going to die of autoerotic asphyxiation.
- Phone Word: The Stupendous Yappi's psychic hotline, 1-900-555-YAPP.
- Phony Psychic: It's very probable that several of the psychics (Puppet's victims) did not possess any psychic powers. The Stupendous Yappi depends on your interpretation.
- Psychic Powers: Bruckman can see how people died/will die. Other psychics may or may not have various degrees of real psychic powers. Including Puppet the serial killer. The tarot card reader played by Alex Daikun seems to be genuine.
- Prescience Is PredictableMulder: I'm beginning to lose patience with our psychic, Scully. What good are his prophecies if they're not preventive?
Scully: Actually, I'm starting to feel more sympathetic towards him.
Mulder: So, you're convinced he's a psychic now?
Scully: Well, no, not really... But I am convinced that by thinking he can see the future, he's taken all the joy out of his life.
- Seers: Bruckman is a genuine psychic who gained his ability to see and foresee people's death by thinking very intensely about the death of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper and the role a flipping coin had in it.
- Serial Killer/Poetic Serial Killer: Puppet. He kills psychics and justifies it by thinking that they should have seen it coming.
- Suspect Is Hatless:Detective Cline: Look, all I know is that so far, Yappi has provided more solid, concrete leads on this case than you have. Now if you don't mind, I have to get an APB out on a ... [checks notebook] ...white male, aged 17 to 34 with or without a beard and maybe a tattoo ... who's impotent.
Scully: Might as well go home, Mulder. This case is as good as solved.
- Undignified Death: Discussed. After getting annoyed by Mulder's insistent questions about the nature of his visions, Bruckman trolls him by hinting that he will die one:Bruckman: You know, there are worse ways to go, but I can't think of a more undignified way than autoerotic asphyxiation.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: Clyde Bruckman runs out of the room and throws up after seeing a vision of the murder. A sign that his visions are a bit more authentic than those of his predecessor, the Stupendous Yappi. However, Scully thinks it's the same routine but in a different style.
- Wham Line:Scully: How do I die?
Bruckman: You don't.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Why Bruckman is so depressed. He can see people's deaths, and sometimes tries to warn them, but nobody believes him, and they still die (except for Mulder, who does believe him and is able to stop the serial killer from killing him the way Bruckman saw it).
- Your Mom: The Spear Counterpart "So's your old man!" variant:Yappi: [to Mulder] Skeptics like you make me sick.
Mulder: Mister Yappi, read this thought.
[Yappi stares at him, then suddenly leans back as if he was hit and raises his eyebrow]
Yappi: So's your old man!