“Fire’s got a certain genius, you know? A certain demon poetry. It’s like it’s got a mind of its own.”
With “Fire”, we get a glimpse when work and romance meet in the form of Mulder’s former partner, Phoebe Green. Across fandom, Green became a character that fans loved to hate. There are lots of reasons why this was the case but for me, it helped to explain an aspect of the relationship between Scully and Mulder that had the X Files stand above so many other shows, not only for its time, but beyond. In Phoebe Green, Mulder became involved with a partner and literally got burned.
While that attraction, that fire, is still there, with her every move, Phoebe Green shows the differences between the two women. They’re both attractive, intelligent, strong-willed redheads, but unlike Green, Scully doesn’t care for games. Where Green will take the word of Scotland Yard when they state that the driver was cleared, Scully does some investigating of her own. Where Green will be caught in the embrace of a married man that she is supposed to be protecting, it’s hard to imagine Scully doing the same.
Mulder states that there comes a time when a man must face his demons. It’s not just fire – it’s putting Phoebe Green behind him. Mulder got over that fear when he ran back in to save those children. He got over Green when he could have a relationship with a woman, a partner, who wouldn’t ram a stake through his heart. That fear is well and truly put out when he doesn’t even listen to the second tape she left him – 10 to 1 you can’t dance to it. Like admitting that his poke at her was a cheap shot, Mulder has outgrown Green in the passing 10 years.
I found it interesting that when Green comes to Mulder’s hotel room, that Mulder covers up but that he didn’t feel the need to cover up for Scully. In fact, once Green was gone, Mulder removed his robe. Just as fire is a metaphor for the lasting impressions of a love interest, being willing to bare yourself to another, and feeling safe and comfortable doing so, is a metaphor for Mulder’s comfort and trust in Scully. Like that very first episode where Scully bares herself to Mulder so that he can look at what turned out to be mosquito bites, this simple act cements the respect between the two, as people and as agents.
Phoebe Green’s manipulations are clear enough in the episode but in Scully’s attempt to learn more about arsonists, she may well be describing Green:
SCULLY: The arsonist is most likely a male, less than twenty-five years of age. He will often act out of impulse, satisfying sexual urges or insecurities with destructive behavior, which compensates for his social inadequacies or maladjustment.
SCULLY: The arsonist is usually unmarried and prone to excessive fantasies about women or men who are inaccessible to him. Often, the setting of fires results from his cowardice and inability to develop a natural relationship.
SCULLY: His crimes are often very clever and elaborately planned.
Green is impulsive – flying all of the way out of Scotland Yard, without warning. While her sexual urges and destructive behaviour are excusable as a much younger woman, they become less so when she’s an older woman and the person she’s having a fling with is not an equal but a man who’s under her protection. This is not a natural relationship. Add to that her game playing and manipulation and Scully could have easily been talking about Green.
Original Air Date: 17 December 1993
Director: Larry Shaw
Writers: Chris Carter
Three British members of Parliament have caught fire and been incinerated in front of their families. An old friend of Mulder’s leads him on to the case, which is as cold as the fire is hot. Can Mulder face his fear of fire, or will he perish in the flames?
- The original script of this episode includes a conversation near the end in which Scully comments, “Well, never let it be said that you wouldn’t walk through fire for a woman, Mulder”, to which he answers, “And never let it be said that I wouldn’t do it for you again, Scully”.
- “Black silk boxer shorts” that Mulder wears in one scene were originally to have been “Jockey underwear”.
- The character of Malcolm Marsden was named after the series’ hairstylist.
- While filming one scene, actor David Duchovny suffered a burn on the outside of his left hand that was severe enough to leave a scar. The wound is visible in a scene where he is waiting outside a ballroom and wipes his forehead. Apart from this injury, no other real problems were encountered by the production personnel while filming this episode.
- This episode contains a number of references to Sherlock Holmes. Namely, these are: when Phoebe Green reminds Mulder that they once made out on the tombstone of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author who created Sherlock Holmes; when Phoebe makes a reference to a “three-pipe problem” – an expression used in a novel that features Sherlock Holmes, The Red-Headed League, that refers to the idea that a person has to sit and smoke at least three pipes in order to solve a case with the information they have gathered; when Scully asks Mulder if “the game is afoot”, an expression used many times in the Sherlock Holmes novels; and when Scully calls Mulder “Sherlock” and he, referring to Holmes’ faithful friend and colleague, calls her “Watson”.
- The character of Phoebe Green was originally considered as a possible recurring role, owing to Chris Carter’s admiration of actress Amanda Pays, his love of Sherlock Holmes and the fact that he was intrigued by the idea of incorporating a Scotland Yard detective into The X-Files. Despite the fact that the character achieved the desired effect by becoming a role that, according to Carter, “fans on the internet loved to hate”, he believed that the chemistry “didn’t work as it might” and Phoebe Green would make no subsequent appearances.
- This is the only episode to be moved from its 9pm showing on BBC2 in the UK to 11pm due to the scene with the charred chauffeur.