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Recap / The X-Files S03 E17 "Pusher"

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Season 3, Episode 17:

"He is just a little man who wishes that he were someone big... and, and, we're feeding that wish."
Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Rob Bowman

"But the mechanism of suggestion is the same. It's just a lot more powerful in this case. I mean, this guy calls himself 'Pusher'. Can't we take that to mean that he pushes his will onto other people?"
Fox Mulder

Mulder hunts a hitman with the power to psychically "push" people into obeying his commands.


  • Affably Evil: Downplayed. For a remorseless sociopath, Modell is surprisingly outgoing and polite, and his actions have an air of childish mischief about them; he treats the entire affair like a game. He also shows a moment of kindness to an enthralled Holly when he notices her bruised face... right after willing her to break into the FBI's database (and suggesting that she make him some coffee).
  • Awesome McCoolname: Frank Burst is one, according to Pusher.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Mulder's pronunciation is off, but 押す (osu) actually is Japanese for "to push". Bonus points to his dictionary for even listing the plain form instead of a formal oshimasu.
  • Blue Is Calm: The officer's uniform is a nice shade of blue. A type of Sky Blue. Cerulean Blue. Cerulean Blue is a gentle breeze. Not so gentle is the truck of the same color crashing into the car that was holding Pusher, because the driver was hypnotized into not seeing the truck.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Scully & Mulder wear them going into the hospital, but Mulder removes his under Pusher's control, off screen.
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: When Modell applied to the FBI, he invented ''"a dozen self-aggrandizing lies", including that he had been trained by ninjas in Japan. He seemed to think that he could fake it if he read enough Eastern Philosophy books.
  • Compelling Voice: Pusher's key element in forcing his victims to do what he wants.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Criminal Mind Games: Modell plays with several policemen and FBI agents. Mulder becomes his prime target.
  • Deadly Upgrade: Modell's brain tumor, as detailed in I Just Want to Be Special.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: As Mulder points out, the only reason Modell confessed to 14 murders that he'd already gotten away with is because he's dying, and prefers not to go quietly.
  • Dramatic Irony: As well as trying to become a special forces soldier, Modell also applied to become an FBI agent. It's implied his feud with Mulder and Scully is partly a Take That! to the organisation that rejected him.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: In-Universe. When Modell first enlisted in the military, his first choice was to be a Navy SEAL, or, failing that, a Green Beret, but he quickly washed out of both selection programs. He applied to the FBI for the same reason - he had only the vaguest idea what these organizations actually do, and cared even less; he just wanted the kind of authority and prestige that he could rub in other people's faces.
  • Everyone Can See It: Modell thinks Mulder and Scully are awfully close for being just partners.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Subverted. Modell brags about how his study of Japanese philosophy has erased his fear of death. When playing Russian Roulette with Mulder, he takes the first trigger pull without flinching, and calls it "[a] piece of cake." But when Scully pulls the fire alarm and breaks Modell's control, Mulder swings the gun from Scully back to Modell, whose smug expression dissolves an instant before Mulder fires.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Modell. Downplayed in that Modell's stint in the military was short and devoid of any actual combat.
    Mulder: He wanted to be a Navy SEAL and then he wanted to be an Army Special Forces Green Beret. Promptly washed out of both, though not for lack of intelligence. He ended up being a supply clerk at Fort Bragg. Served two years, general discharge.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Modell washed out of everything badass that he tried to become before developing his fearsome mind control.
  • Gambit Roulette: Pusher escapes the cops by hypnotizing one of his escorts into letting a truck smash into their police car, which somehow kills the cops but leaves him unharmed.
  • Gunman with Three Names: Robert Patrick Modell.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: Modell certainly loves Japanese culture.
  • Held Gaze: Before Mulder goes into the hospital and gives Scully his gun, they share one of these while Holding Hands.
  • Holding Hands: Mulder and Scully. Twice.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Robert Modell's Compelling Voice derives from a brain tumor that's killing him. He refuses to treat it because he doesn't want to live as a small man with no powers.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Though not a full-on fight, Scully tries to snap Mulder out of pulling the trigger of the gun by telling him he's "stronger than this" and Mulder uses all his willpower to stop himself, telling Scully to run and shooting Modell instead.
  • Immune to Mind Control: Skinner is the one person who Pusher actually fails to hypnotize.
  • Last Disrespects: Downplayed. While looking at Modell, who is in a coma and not expected to regain consciousness before he dies, Mulder tells Scully that everything Modell did, was because he was, as Scully said, "a little man who wishes he were someone big." Scully takes his hand and declares, "I say we don't let him take up another minute of our time."
  • Loophole Abuse: One possible interpretation of Mulder's actions at the climax. He does pull the trigger on Scully, as ordered, just not enough to actually fire the gun.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Pusher.
  • Monster of the Week: A very memorable one.
  • The Münchausen: One of several reasons Modell was turned down by the FBI was that "the screener caught him in a dozen self-aggrandizing lies", including claiming to have been trained by Gurkha commandos in Nepal and ninjas in Japan, when a rudimentary background check proved that he had never traveled outside the U.S.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Model claims this, and claims that it makes him unbeatable. But his smug grin dissolves into a look of terror when Scully breaks his hold over Mulder, who takes aim at his chest at point-blank range.
  • Pet the Dog: Modell idly comments on Holly's horrible bruising and says that he'd make her assailant pay for it if he could.
  • Phone-Trace Race: Modell ends up in one of these, lingering on the phone long enough to cause Agent Burst a heart attack. Downplayed when he then tells Mulder where he is anyway, pausing only to do some Evil Gloating over Burst's death.
  • Plot Hole: A minor one: why didn't the FBI send Skinner to the hospital with the SWAT team? He already demonstrated his resistance to Pusher's mind control. But then, of course, we wouldn't have had that awesome showdown between Mulder and Pusher.
  • Professional Killer: Modell's ad reads "I solve problems".
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Modell's MO.
  • Psychic Powers: Modell's suggestive ability is a form of psychokinesis brought on by the brain tumor which he doesn't want to treat.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: After three seasons of Mulder getting the stink eye from every law enforcement type he tries to help, Agent Burst goes to Mulder for help and brings photographic evidence to support his supernatural theory.
  • Rōnin: Modell sees himself as ronin, a samurai without a master who does not fear death.
  • Russian Roulette: In the climax of the episode, Modell made Mulder play with him and nearly kill Scully.
  • Self-Immolation: Modell forced Agent Collins to set himself on fire.
  • Serial Killer: At first, he was a hired hitman, but then he targeted law enforcement.
  • Shout-Out: Yojimbo and Svengali.
  • Sleep Cute: Scully falls asleep on Mulder's shoulder during a stakeout.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Mulder and Scully think Pusher is a "small man", and that he welcomes the idea of going down as an epic killer.
  • The Sociopath: Modell has no regard for the feelings of others and perceives people as objects.
  • Suicide by Cop: Modell wants to go down as a big badass, and he believes playing Russian roulette with Mulder definitely counts.
  • Superpower Disability: Modell's mind control is not only caused by a brain tumor that's slowly killing him, it also requires enormous amounts of caloric energy. He consumes tons of energy drinks to cope with this, and the second time he is apprehended, it is because he is too exhausted to keep fleeing.
  • SWAT Team: They are used at the end of the episode during the climax in the hospital.
  • The Worf Effect: Double Subverted in Skinner's case: Skinner is the only one who wasn't influenced by Modell's compelling suggestions. However, we all get to know what Modell is up to when he gets Skinner beaten up anyway, and by petite Holly on top of that. In the final showdown, even though Mulder proved great force of will, at the end he couldn't actually resist him either. They would have lost if Scully hadn't pulled a fire alarm to break the spell of his voice.
  • Worthy Opponent: Modell was looking for one, and found exactly who he wanted in Mulder.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Agent Burst would be an excellent agent were he tracking an ordinary serial killer. Against Modell, however, he's clearly outmatched.

"I say we don't let him take up another minute of our time."