- “Cerulean blue. Cerulean makes me think of a breeze. A gentle breeze.”
- — Robert Patrick Modell
"Pusher" is the seventeenth episode of the third season of The X-Files. Written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Rob Bowman, it first aired in the United States on February 23, 1996 on the Fox network. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-week" story, separate from the series' Mythology arc.
Mulder and Scully pursue a dying man who can apparently bend others to his will and convince his victims to severely hurt or even kill themselves.
Robert Patrick Modell is seen purchasing a large supply of "Carbo Boost" energy drinks at a supermarket. Aware that he is the target of an FBI operation, Modell blows the FBI's agents cover and is subsequently arrested by officer Frank Burst. While being transported away, Modell begins talking about the color Cerulean blue, seemingly causing the driver to be completely unaware of an oncoming rig of that same color, causing a collision.
Officer Burst, having survived the crash, details Mulder and Scully of the incident and how Modell, who refers to himself as "Pusher", convinced the driver to unlock his handcuffs before escaping. It is revealed that Modell, who had been a contract killer in the last few years, made his acts appear as suicides. Analyzing a clue left by Modell at the scene of the crash, Mulder notices the word "Ronin", and subsequently finds an ad placement in an "American Ronin" magazine. Mulder theorizes Modell has the ability to "Push" his will onto others.
Using the numbers placed in the ad, Mulder and Scully are contacted by Modell at a payphone in Falls Church, Virginia, where they are able to trace the call back to a golf course. On the driving range, Modell senses that he is being watched, and abruptly leaves the course. A SWAT team member tracks down Modell, who persuades the SWAT member to set himself on fire with gasoline. Mulder finds a weary Modell in a nearby car and arrests him.
At Modell's arraignment, he uses his ability to convince the judge of his innocence and is freed. The agents conduct research into Modell's background and learn he failed to join the FBI. Modell enters the FBI headquarters, where he simply writes 'PASS' on a piece of paper he sticks to his lapel and swiftly passes through security. Modell 'pushes' Holly into granting him access to the FBI database, allowing him to locate Mulder's information. A suspicious Walter Skinner enters the room and intervenes, where a struggle ensues. Modell convinces Holly that it was Skinner who mugged her, causing her to attack him. After a series of inexplicable incidents, Scully believes Mulder's theory that Modell possesses the ability to push his will onto others.
A raid is conducted on Modell's apartment, but find it empty. Cans of energy drinks are found stored in the fridge and tegretol to treat Modell's epilepsy. Mulder suggests that Modell has a brain tumor, which has given him is ability as a form of psychokinesis, but must constantly replenish himself with energy drinks due to the physically exhausting nature of his powers. Modell makes a phone call to Agent Burst and causes him to have a fatal heart attack. The agents trace the call to a payphone, realizing he must be located at a nearby hospital.
Mulder enters the hospital, where Modell has induced a guard to shoot an MRI technician before killing himself. Scully notices a computer monitor through Mulder's camera, confirming Modell's brain tumor. As Mulder is scanning Modell's chart, he looks behind to find Modell pointing a revolver at him, at which point the camera feed cuts, prompting Scully to enter the premises.
Scully finds the two sitting at a table with a revolver, where Modell forces Mulder to play Russian roulette. Mulder pulls the trigger at Modell, then himself, before aiming at an increasingly agitated Scully. Scully notices a fire alarm in a mirror, which she pulls, seemingly breaking Modell's concentration, allowing Mulder to target Modell and shoot him instead.
Later on, the agents visit Modell's hospital bed, where he is in a coma. Scully predicts Modell will not wake from his coma before the tumor kills him. Mulder reveals that Modell's tumor had been operable all along, but Modell had consistently refused treatment. When asked why, Mulder reiterates Scully's earlier judgment of Modell, that he was a "little man" and his abilities made him feel big.
"Cerulean blue is a gentle breeze."
"So he's a killer and a golfer" - Scully, after finding out Modell called the golf place.
"Modell psyched the guy out. He put the whammy on him."
"Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy." - Mulder and Scully, discussing the effect that Modell had on the judge.
Story & Script
- Writer Vince Gilligan developed this episode from an idea for a movie that he'd thought up. He had either never found a way to make the concept work as a movie or had never written it, but found, through the medium of The X-Files, a method of telling the story, about a man who had the ability of bending people to his will. Gilligan called the man "Pusher" because the character was capable of pushing people into harming themselves.
- Gilligan's main objective in writing this episode was to set up a tense game of cat-and-mouse between Mulder and Pusher, real name Robert Patrick Modell. The thing Gilligan consciously tried to do was to have the two characters together as much as possible so as to emphasize how much alike they were.
- Upon turning in a draft of the script, Gilligan, very proud of what he had written, predicted to Chris Carter that it constituted the best work that he himself would ever do for the series. Carter reacted in annoyance, telling Gilligan that he shouldn't think that way because the goal, as Carter saw it, was to always better oneself.
- Chris Carter enjoyed the sequence at this episode's end where Mulder, in the knowledge that Pusher is capable of possibly forcing Mulder to turn his own gun on himself, follows Pusher inside the hospital unarmed, but Pusher still manages to manipulate Mulder into turning a gun on himself.
- In the script, Mulder wonders if the tiny camera he straps on can receive the Discovery Channel. David Duchovny, knowing of his character's penchant for erotica, changed the reference to the Playboy Channel.
- The first note back from the Fox network was to say that Russian roulette could not be included in the episode. Gilligan was alarmed, since the game was integral to the final act. Fox's Broadcast Standards and Practices department even sought to strengthen their point by consulting the other networks, which claimed to have never had a Russian roulette scene in an hour-long drama series, despite the game's use in such films as The Deer Hunter, which had also prompted concern when it was shown on television. Fox was reportedly worried about making sure that they didn't give impressionable kids any bad ideas, but Gilligan's argument to this concern was that he had not been responsible for inventing the lethal game. He was nevertheless ultimately surprised that the production crew of The X-Files were allowed to show the game on television, with some helpful, creative blocking by director Rob Bowman.
- Mitch Pileggi was unhappy with the scene in which Holly, pushed by Modell, attacks Walter Skinner. Pileggi was not thrilled about being brutalized by a diminutive woman, especially since Skinner had been beaten up so often in recent episodes. Pileggi thought the fans also felt this way and was teased by David Duchovny about the scene. In fact, because so many characters were bruised and beaten up (Burst, Modell and Kerber in the car crash, Holly's unseen attack, Collins lighting himself on fire, and Skinner), makeup artist Fern Levin found this episode to be one of her most difficult assignments.
Cast & Established Characters
- The production crew found difficulty with casting this episode's title character, as they couldn't find anyone they particularly liked for the role. Gilligan suggested Harvey Fierstein for the role and Chris Carter even considered Lance Henriksen; the casting process for this episode was in Henriksen's pre-Millennium days. As would often happen on The X-Files, actor Robert Wisden came in to audition when it was almost too late, impressed the production crew and was consequently given the role. Subsequently, several members of production crew were notably impressed with the results of this last-minute casting selection, including Carter and Gilligan themselves.
- The title character would reappear in the Season 5 episode "Kitsunegari". As a result, this is the third of only three Monster of the Week characters who would appear in more than one episode, the other two being Eugene Victor Tooms (who appeared in Season 1's "Squeeze" and "Tooms") and Donnie Pfaster (who appeared in Season 2's "Irresistible" and Season 7's "Orison").
- Dave Grohl - former drummer of Nirvana and current lead singer of the Foo Fighters - as well as his former wife, Jennifer Youngblood-Grohl, can be seen in the background as Modell enters the FBI building. Grohl regarded this brief cameo as his own acting debut.
- The series' visual effects unit were called upon to make a last-minute fix, when it was realized that a sign in the courtroom did not read "Loudoun County", as it should have done, but was spelled, "Loudon County". The effects team digitally moved the letters around and added a "u" on the sign, so that it read correctly.
Other Episode Notes
- This episode is the second of four in which security entrances to the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building can be seen. A completely different entrance appears in the pilot episode, while security entrances can be seen in the first and last episodes of Season 3 - "The Blessing Way" and "Talitha Cumi", respectively - as well as in the Season 6 episode "S.R. 819".
- The cover of a tabloid newspaper, entitled the World Weekly Informer, and the cover of a magazine named American Ronin appear in this episode. Although both publications are fictional, a different issue of each appears later in the series, with the World Weekly Informer reappearing in the fourth season episode "Small Potatoes" and American Ronin reappearing in "Dæmonicus", an episode of the series' ninth and final season.
- A sketch of the Flukeman can be seen on the cover of the World Weekly Informer. The Flukeman originally appeared in the second season episode "The Host" and would later be referenced by Scully in the Season 4 episode "The Field Where I Died".
- An inset picture on the cover of World Weekly Informer is arranged next to a small headline that announces, "Depravity Rampant on Hit TV Show" and actually features props master Ken Hawryliw on his birthday, beside a female strip-o-gram artist.
- Similarly, the cover of the American Ronin magazine has, as its cover star, Danielle Faith Friedman - a production assistant on The X-Files.
- Among the cultural references in this episode, an easy-listening version of Johnny Mathis' "Misty" is playing as background muzak in the grocery store and Mulder asks Scully if she never saw Yojimbo. Next to the Japanese dictionary is a book in Russian Cyrillic, "Война и Мир", which is "War and Peace" and is most likely quite rare. Modell mentions Mel Cooley, Scully sees television footage of Svengali and makes notes of this, Detective Burst asks Modell if the Grinch that Stole Christmas did his decorating and Mulder jokingly references the Playboy Channel.
- Modell mentions an instance on which Scully previously shot Mulder. This is a reference to the Season 2 finale "Anasazi".
Cast and Characters
- Roger R. Cross (S.W.A.T. Lieutenant Brophy) previously played Private Kittell in The X-Files episode "Fresh Bones".
- Steve Bacic (Agent Will Collins) previously played 2nd Officer in The X-Files episode "Soft Light" and Charlie in "The Host".
- D. Neil Mark (Deputy Scott Kerber) previously played S.W.A.T. Team Officer in The X-Files episode "The Jersey Devil".
- Meredith Bain Woodward (Defense Attorney) previously played Dr. Ruth Slaughter in The X-Files episode "Ascension".
- Ernie Foort (Lobby Guard) previously played Security Guard in The X-Files episode "The Blessing Way".
- Roger R. Cross as S.W.A.T. Lieutenant Brophy
- Steve Bacic as Agent Will Collins
- Don MacKay as Judge
- Brent Sheppard as Prosecutor
- D. Neil Mark as Deputy Scott Kerber
- Julia Arkos as Holly
- Meredith Bain Woodward as Defense Attorney
- Ernie Foort as Lobby Guard
- Darren Lucas as Lead S.W.A.T. Cop