"Soft Light" is the twenty-third episode of the second season of The X-Files. It first aired in the United States on May 5, 1995 on the Fox network. It was the first episode written by Vince Gilligan, who would become a regular member of the writing team, and was directed by James A. Contner.
Mulder and Scully encounter a man who is afraid of his own shadow.
The episode beings at the George Mason Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. Patrick Newarth sits on his bed, sipping scotch and reading some papers, Dr. Chester Ray Banton (Tony Shalhoub) exits the elevator. Banton seems nervous, and keeps looking over his shoulder. He continues down the hallway before knocking on a door and attempts to talk to the man inside. The man initially ignores him, but finally walks over to the door. As he does this, Banton's shadow slides under the door and the elderly man is yanked downward into a strange, vortex-like blue puddle. Banton panics as the blue puddle begins to burn and char. He unscrews the lightbulb on the opposite side of the hall from Newarth's door and flees the scene.
Scully and Mulder arrive on the scene, as Scully tells Mulder that there have been several similar incidents in the past. Detective Kelly Ryan, a former student of Scully's from the FBI Academy, has asked the agents to assist her on her first case, involving these mysterious deaths.
Detective Ryan tells them that the most recent victim works for Morley Tobacco. He apparently had been discovered missing at 6 AM. The doors and windows were locked. Ryan shows them the remains of Mr. Newarth, which is only a burned patch of ash on the floor. Ryan tells them that the patch is mostly carbon, with potassium and traces of minerals. Mulder theorizes that Newarth was standing in front of the door, looking through the peephole. Mulder notices the unlit fixture, tapping it to reveal that the bulb has simply been unscrewed, separating the contacts. Detective Ryan is instructed to compare Mr. Newarth's prints against fingerprints found on the light bulb.
Scully asks if Mulder is blaming spontaneous human combustion for Mr. Newarth's death. They discuss this briefly before they board the elevator and go to the residence of Margret Wysnecki, the previous 'missing person'. Mulder notes that the coach lamp is out at her house, finding that when he screws it back in, it illuminates. They enter the house and find a similar patch on the floor. Scully notes that Margeret was employed by Laramie, another tobacco company, but dismiss any connection since it is such a common employer in North Carolina. They discuss that the first victim, Gail Ann Lamburgh, was an engineer for Polarity Magnetics. Mulder digs through Wysnecki's trash and finds a train ticket, with an arrival date for the same day that she disappeared. Mulder suggests that the victims are being hunted.
A tired-looking Banton is seen at the train station, seated at a bench. He walks slowly while smoking a cigarette, still looking behind him every few steps. He enters the alleyway and the lights flicker as he walks by. A police car rolls up and the lights dim. When the officer gets out, Banton flees, but is cut off by a second car. He warns them to stay away, but Officer Barney moves too close and is reduced to ashes. When the second officer comes close, he too is burned to a blue puddle of energy. Banton flees the alley in terror.
When Mulder, Scully and Ryan investigate the scene, Ryan suggests that it's a cop-killing case and that she is indirectly responsible. She tells Mulder that the fingerprints had no match for hotel employees or in the criminal database. Mulder is unwilling to share any of his theories on the case. Mulder suggests looking at the train station security camera videotapes. After initially finding nothing, Mulder points out a man who always seems to sit at the same spot on the train station, staring at the floor. Mulder recognizes the Polarity Magnetics logo on his jacket.
Scully and Mulder investigate Polarity, which appears to have been closed up. They meet Chester Banton's business partner, Christopher Davey. Davey tells them that Banton has been missing for five weeks. He assumed that he had died, since it was shortly after he was involved in a terrible lab accident.
Polarity Magnetics invented things related to magnetics, but Banton used that to fund his theoretical studies into dark matter and subatomic particles. Davey tells them of the accident. Banton had been working with a particle accelerator, bombarding an Alpha-particle target with Beta-particles, in essence, negative and positive particles. The countdown had begun when he realized that he had miscalculated something, but the countdown couldn't be stopped. There was time to make the change, but Davey had left the room when Banton went into the test chamber to make the change. While Davey was out of the room, the door locked behind Banton, trapping him inside.
Inside the test chamber, Scully and Mulder observe a gray, man-shaped mark on the wall. Davey theorizes that the particle accelerator burned Banton's shadow into the wall. He theorizes that Banton survived because the particles had no mass and therefore passed through his body, like an extremely powerful X-ray.
Scully notes that the burnt wall is a similar substance to what was found at the crime scenes. Mulder admits that he is less convinced of human combustion.
Scully and Mulder return to the train station, but Banton is nowhere to be found. Mulder is seated in Banton's spot from the video, trying to figure out what he was staring at. Scully suggests that the accident may have affected his mind and caused him to do repetitive behavior. Mulder interrupts Scully to tell her that the spot in the train station effectively has no shadows due to the soft, diffused light. Meanwhile, Banton enters the station, fleeing upon spotting the agents. He runs until they trap him by the train cars. When Mulder is about to step into Banton's shadow, Banton tells him "It doesn't care who you are. It will kill you.", Mulder shoots out two light bulbs in the area, getting rid of his shadow.
Banton is taken to Yaloff Psychiatric Hospital in Piedmont, where the psychiatrist tells Mulder that Banton insisted on being in a room with soft light, which would not make many shadows. Banton tells the agents that they wouldn't understand what was going on. He tells them that his shadow is like a black hole, splitting molecules, splitting atoms and pulling out electrons, reducing matter into pure energy. He explains that he went to see Gail, and as he stood in the doorway, she suddenly disappeared. He wants to discover the secrets behind his shadow before "they" (the government) do. He pleads with the agents to let him out.
Detective Ryan, apparently being pressured by a Detective Barron, instructs them to stop interrogating the subject. When Barron asks the agents why they are investigating the case, Scully tells them that they are there "in an unoffical capacity." Barron believes that the case is solved, but Mulder accuses Barron of not knowing anything about the case. Mulder manages to secretly tell Detective Ryan that Banton needs soft light.
Mulder has a secret meeting in the train station with X, asking him about Dr. Banton. X asks where he is being held, and then tells Mulder that he cannot interfere with the case, stating that he has nothing to gain from the case. That night at Yaloff Hospital, the lights flicker and then black out. X appears from the dark to tell the on-duty nurse that Dr. Banton is being transferred early because of the power outage. Under the protests of the nurse, X and two attendants go to Dr. Banton's room. Banton pleads with them to leave him alone as they duct tape his mouth and zip-tie his hands and ankles. The emergency backup lights activate, causing shadows that kill the two attendants instantly. Although he draws his gun, X stays away from Dr. Banton's shadow, and allows him to flee the hospital.
The agents investigate the scene, and Mulder suggests that there is government involvement. Mulder tells Scully that Dr. Banton
only wants to control his shadow, and that he's gone to the only place where he can: Polarity Magnetics. When Davey comes in, Banton instructs him not to turn on the lights, and leads him to the particle accelerator, pleading with him to destroy the dark matter. At that moment, Detective Ryan bursts in, aiming her gun at Banton. Unwilling to be captured again, Banton steps forward so that his shadow touches her, killing her instantly. Banton leads a dumbstruck Davey to the accelerator, begging him to help him destroy himself. Davey locks the lab, but doesn't turn on the accelerator, revealing that he's working for the government. Davey phones a contact to inform him of Banton's capture, but is shot by X. Later, Mulder and Scully arrive afterwards, finding the lab vacant but the accelerator running. On the video monitor, they see a seated figure disappear into a shadow stain on the wall alongside the first. Scully theorizes that Banton killed himself, but Mulder reminds her that the chamber is sealed from the outside.
Mulder calls for X again, and accuses him of lying. Mulder breaks contact with X, who finally tells Mulder that he didn't kill Banton. A funeral is held for Kelly Ryan. Mulder notes that Christopher Davey has been missing since Banton's apparent death. He suggests that Banton wasn't the one who was killed in the particle accelerator. The episode ends as X enters a facility where Dr. Banton is restrained to a chair and subjected to experiments.
- When Mulder and Scully encounter detective Ryan, Scully looks at an air vent and Kelly says "You don't think someone could squeeze in there?" Mulder responds "You never know." This is a reference to the season 1 episodes: Squeeze and Tooms.
- Scully, upon discovery of the second unscrewed light bulb at 8:00: "Darkness covers a multitude of sins" reference to the Bible passage "Love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8)
- The third victim: Patrick Newirth, worked at Morley Tobacco; the same fictional brand the Cigarette Smoking Man, Diana Fowley and Monica Reyes smoked. The same company was also responsible for several deaths in the season 7 episode Brand X.
- The second victim, Margaret Wysnecki, worked at Laramie Tobacco; another fictional brand. This is likely an homage to the fictional tobacco company featured in The Simpsons.
Cast and Characters
- Kevin McNulty (Dr. Christopher Davey) previously played Special Agent Brian Fuller in The X-Files episode "Squeeze".
- Forbes Angus (Government Scientist) previously played Tissue Bank Technician in The X-Files episode "Shadows".
- Tony Shalhoub as Dr. Chester Ray Banton
- Kate Twa as Kelly Ryan
- Kevin McNulty as Dr. Christopher Davey
- Steven Williams as X
- Forbes Angus as Government Scientist
- Guyle Frazier as Barney
- Steve Bacic as 2nd Officer
- Craig Brunanski as Security Guard