Inside One of 'The X-Files' Most Important Episodes Ever on its 20th Anniversary

Writer Darin Morgan looks back on "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," including the theory that Scully is immortal and winning the show's first big Emmy.
Courtesy of FOX

On Friday, Oct. 13, 1995, The X-Files introduced viewers to Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle), a reluctant -- and depressed -- psychic in the hour, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." The installment would go on to become one of the beloved drama's most important episodes to date and kick off a debate about Scully's (potential) immortality — and win the Chris Carter drama its first major Emmys.

During the episode, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) attempt to help the cops figure out who attacked a woman who read tea leaves. The local cops have brought in their own psychic, Stupendous Yappi (Jaap Broeker), whom Mulder doubts, but when Clyde finds the tea leaf reader's body (and knows key details about her death) Mulder realizes he's crossed paths with an actual psychic. Clyde's powers have limits though: he can only tell how someone will die. It's a torturous way to live, and after he is able to help Mulder and Scully solve their case, Clyde kills himself.

The hour -- penned by Darin Morgan -- was a pivotal one for the series, off-screen. In addition to being considered, to this day, one of the best episodes of the long-running drama, it also won the Fox series its only Emmy for writing and scored Boyle an Emmy for his guest spot as the title character.   

In honor of the episode's 20th anniversary, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Morgan (who is also one of the writers returning for Fox's upcoming event series) to look back at "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose."

What do you remember about pitching "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" to X-Files creator Chris Carter?

Usually what happened on the show is you would say, "Oh, I want to do an episode about" and then you would name the paranormal thing that you were working on. I don't know at what point I said, "I want to do a thing about a psychic." It must have been at the end of the second season. Between the break in the second and third season, I had the chance to break the whole story. So when I pitched it to Chris, I had the whole story worked out.

In that hiatus, did you do a particular kind of research? Or had you done previous research about psychics?

One of the things about the show that's weird is that you had to do research on the Scully angle. It's one thing to go, "OK, I'm going to do a ghost story," but you had to do research on, "OK, what are the scientific explanations for why they see a ghost?"

Most of my research was on how psychics fake it. And the tricks they use to make it seem like they're predicting stuff from the future. What was weird about the episode is that most of that stuff ended up being used by Mulder, when he's talking about the Stupendous Yappi character. He has a couple of lines where he explains the technique fake psychics use.

Scully was normally the skeptic when it came to the paranormal. What kind of debate was there with the writers about having Mulder be the one to call out some of the tricks of the trade?

In X-Files, we didn't have a writers' room. We didn't really -- in the way writers' rooms exist nowadays --  break stories in a room, throw ideas out. It was more you go off on your own, figure out your stories, and then you come back and pitch it. And so it wasn't like anyone was there to say, "Don't do that!"

The reason I did it that way was because when Mulder believes that Clyde Bruckman is psychic, it will seem stronger; he's already disavowed a psychic to begin with. That when he truly believes, it wouldn't seem like it was just Mulder, typically, just believing something because he always wants to believe in the weird supernatural thing.

The show tackled the psychic phenomenon in the season one episode, "Beyond the Sea." What influence did that episode have on "Clyde Bruckman" and what different aspects of the world did you want to explore?

Well, "Beyond the Sea" was a big influence on the episode. It was my elder brother [Glen Morgan, and his frequent writing partner, James Wong] who did that episode. I wanted the episode to be more like that.

In that episode -- and this will seem like splitting hairs -- the supernatural guy in that isn't so much a psychic as he is a channeler. He's channeling dead souls and providing information. Which is slightly different from someone who can see the future.

Which may seem like a small thing, but when you're doing a show about paranormal things, there are only so many paranormal things you can do. If you see the tiniest bit of difference, you just go, "Oh, this is different, so it's still available to do [as a story]." Once you do a Bigfoot episode, you can't do Bigfoot for several more seasons, if you ever tackle it again.

That was the thing I wanted to focus on: being able to see the future, rather than just getting communications from the spirit world to this one.

For as many cases as Mulder and Scully worked together, it was rare one of the paranormal entities tagged along with them for so much of the episode. How was it writing Mulder and Scully's partnership with that third party so present?

(Laughs.) I never thought of that before. I guess what it was, and this paranormal phenomenon, which it often was, was embodied in a person. My pitch to Chris was, because Mulder's interested in the psychic ability, that's all he focuses on, and doesn't really treat Clyde Bruckman as another human; he's just interested in the phenomenon.

Because Scully didn't believe in it, she could treat him as a person, and see how his belief that he could see the future had ruined his life. And so that aspect was one of the main points of emphasis in the episode: Mulder was always treated kind of more heroically, I guess, by some of the other writers. In this one, I wanted to show the [other side] to that, which is why the supporting character had a bit more than in other episodes.

The hour also touched a bit on a bigger issue of free will versus fate. What did you want people to take from that?

A lot of that free will and fate stuff had to do with the fact that I was really bad, at the time, at plotting. And [I] thought that would really help me out if I could point out some of the plot coincidences, and what not. They seem phony, but you point out the phoniness of it, and then says, perhaps it's fate! And I could get away with things that I couldn't have otherwise. I guess I'm saying more than being philosophical, it was a practical reason.

Scully and Mulder very rarely had a life outside of work, especially in the earlier seasons. But at the end of this hour, Scully got ownership of a dog, Queequeg, who didn't last even a season in The X-Files universe before he was eaten by a creature during an investigation …

I was involved in that [decision to kill him off], a little bit. I went along with that because I was younger, and we were all younger. There were practical reasons we killed off the dog. Nowadays, I wouldn't have allowed even a fictional dog to be killed like that. I think Chris is of the same [page of] thinking. It's just a thing you do when you're young and you're not concerned about the feelings [people will have when they see it]. Now I'm older, I don't want to see a dog get killed, even a fictional one. We probably wouldn't have done that nowadays.

That makes sense. In "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," Clyde tells Scully she doesn't die -- which some fans have taken to be a very literal predication. What do you think of the debate that Scully might be immortal, which still rages on 20 years later?

I didn't expect it, because I didn't intend it to be taken as serious. I just think it's ridiculous [to be serious]. (Laughs.) But then you go, it's the nature of the show -- people are looking more into it than you intended because it is a supernatural show … I didn't mean for it to be taken so literal. What can you do? People are going to take it however they take it.

Art allows for people to take their own thing from a piece of work. Aside from Scully's potential immortality, is there anything people have taken from this episode that wasn't your intention?

I guess the only thing -- and this isn't so much a misinterpretation -- but people really struggle with trying to explain to themselves why the character kills himself in the end. To me, it was kind of self-explanatory, but then I realized some people needed to come up with more of an uplifting take. For whatever reason, I've come across many people's interpretations of why the character kills himself at the end.

It's not so much the interpretations are wrong. It's more that I find them interesting. As opposed to the immortal line, which I just think is silly. Other people's interpretations on why he killed himself I find more interesting, because when someone kills themselves, there's no clear-cut answer.

Was there pushback from the network/studio about Clyde's suicide?

Oh, no. It's one of the things where TV has really changed. I tell this to young writers that I work with, and they don't believe me. When I was working on X-Files, we never got a note from the studio or network to change, other than censor notes. I never got any notes at all [about the suicide].

My first episode I did [season two's "Humbug"], it was kind of a comedy, and I heard grumblings they were worried it was going to ruin the series. But they never asked for changes or a different cut. And that was true of "Clyde Bruckman." Other than censor notes, they didn't make a note, and that was wonderful.

What kind of censor notes did you get for this episode?

Oh, boy. The censor notes on this one, the one I always remember is we couldn't use the word maggots. There's this dream sequence where he's describing his body decaying -- and that was researched -- his speech was very specific about what would happen to a dead body on a field, how it would decay. And [he said], "the maggots" blah, blah, blah. They wouldn't allow the word maggots. And I had to change it to insects.

This was my own inside joke, because then, after the maggots, the line was something like, "the body putrefies and turns to liquid." And we felt that was too graphic. So I changed the line, and I believe the character says, "Then the inevitable follows: putridity and liquescent." Which is something the character would never say, because no one would ever say, "putridity and liquescent," but that's what it is. And I left it in there as my own inside joke; I laugh every time I see it.

Peter Boyle was such a commanding part of the hour, and it resulted in him winning and Emmy for his work. What do you remember about working with him, and watching him become Clyde?
 
I didn't meet him until after the episode was done. That was partly because I was still pretty young, and the actors still scared me. (Laughs.) I was afraid they'd ask me to change their lines, and stuff like that. I was only on the set for one day, and it was before he started working. Other than that, it was one of the kind of thrills of my career -- watching dailies and seeing Peter Boyle say my lines. It was really truly thrilling. You don't get a lot of those moments; you get bored of it all very quickly. But that was wonderful. Now, I always make it a point when I work with an actor I admire, I always tell them what their performance in the past has meant to me, and ask them questions about their career and stuff. But I was just too young and scared. But I met him a couple of times afterward. So we didn't really work together, but it was thrilling to have him do one of my characters.

You also took home an Emmy for writing in a drama series for the episode. What do you remember about that Emmy experience, and what does that add the hour for you?

Well, that's where I actually first met [Boyle] -- he was a presenter and he gave me my Emmy. So that was like, "Hi, nice to meet you, here's your Emmy." I know that year it was nominated for best series, and maybe it had been the previous year. We had won some technical awards, but the series hadn't won any major awards. When I won, I didn't hear Peter Boyle announce my name, because I was sitting with everyone on the show, and everyone leapt up and they were shouting. It was this feeling of, "We made it!" It wasn't so much me winning; it felt like we had all finally won something.

I was friends with another writer who had been nominated -- David Mills [who was nominated for NYPD Blue], who has since passed away, unfortunately -- and he wrote me a note, and he mentioned how exciting it was to see everyone else on the show was excited about me winning. It wasn't just me. It just had a sense the whole show had won in a way. That was special to me.

What do you feel is the episode's legacy now?

I don't know. Over the years, I've encountered and worked with other writers who have mentioned how much they like the episode. And I'm kind of amazed [to get that] that, to this day. It's an old episode. I guess the legacy is simply that most series come and go. They have a short shelf life. The X-Files has somehow managed to stay this long in people's memories. I think people remember this as one of the better ones. I'm proud of that. I didn't work on the show for very long. But this show, in particular, I think is well-remembered to this day.

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