I've watched this episode three times and each time I enjoy it more. "The Goldberg Variation" was a subtle, textured X-file that featured great performances and a polished plot. It was funny without being overtly humorous. It was poignant without being cheesy.
So here's what happens in this quirky contraption of an episode:
It all begins in a posh, mysteriously lit hotel room located somewhere in Chicago. A group of gruff-looking mobsters is camped around a card table, engaged in a high-stakes poker game. The camera lingers over their pockmarked, sullen faces, trailing from one to the next in a methodical pan. Here's Guido ....here's Wiggles....here's Mr. Yamakachi....and here's...Henry Weems?
That's right, a nebbish, bald man named Henry Weems has wormed his way into this card game and he's about to make a Very Big Mistake. Each of the mobsters plays out their hands, asking for two or three replacement cards. When Weems' turn rolls around, the novice poker player requests five new cards. Five cards? FIVE CARDS? You dare come to a mob poker party and ask for five cards?!
Fortunately, Jimmy Cutrona, the head mobster, is feeling charitable so he ignores Weems' poker faux pas and tells the dealer to hand Mr. Weems five shiny new cards. The players make their final bets and all fold except for Cutrona, who's holding four kings, and Weems, whose cards are unseen. Weems fills the pot with $8,000, but Cutrona isn't one to be outdone, so he chucks $15,000 into the pool. Weems, ever the novice, tells Cutrona that he shouldn't throw all that money in because the current amount is all he's going to need.
Note to Henry Weems: Do not taunt mobsters.
Weems matches Cutrona's $15k bet and the two men lay their cards on the table. Cutrona snickers as his four kings are displayed, but his snicker turns to a snarl when Weems unfolds a straight flush. Having whooped Cutrona's card-playing posterior, Weems produces a plastic baggy and gathers his ample winnings. Cutrona takes great offense at WeemsÕ unexpected adieu -- he and his poker buddies expect a chance to win their hard-earned stolen money back. Weems nervously looks Cutrona in the eye and says, once again, that the $100,000 he's just won is all he needs. He certainly wouldn't want to extract unnecessary funds from his mobster friends.
Everything is going to plan until Weems makes a (seemingly) fatal error by asking, "Where can I cash out?" In mobster speak "where can I cash out" is code language for "will you please take me to the roof of this very tall building and throw me off it so I can plummet to the pavement and die a horrific death."
And that's just what the mobsters do. Weems is escorted to the 29th floor and promptly discarded from a high altitude. He falls and falls, screaming as he zips toward a date with eternity. Just as we're all wondering if this is going to be the series' shortest X-file, Weems drops into the shaft of a street elevator. Instead of a thud or a splat or a "Kapow!", we hear a soft rustle. Seconds later, Weems emerges from the elevator shaft, unscathed save for an eye injury. Picking himself up, he disappears into the still night.
Early the next day, Scully emerges from a taxi at the northeast corner of 7th and Hunter in downtown Chicago. This is the same spot where Weems performed his "Magic Feat of Undying" the night before. Looking around and seeing that Mulder isn't present, she whips out her cellphone and dials her partner. Mulder answers and as he speaks, the street elevator opens behind Scully. As Scully asks him where he's hiding, Mulder peeks his head from around the elevator door and yells "Hey, nice outfit!"
Finding moderate humor in Mulder's antics, Scully chooses not to shoot him. Mulder, quite pleased with his little joke, directs Scully's attention to the roof of the adjacent building. The night before, two FBI agents staking out Jimmy Cutrona watched as a man was chucked off the roof of this very tall building. The man screamed through the night air and landed in the elevator shaft, then emerged with nothing more than a bruise. The lucky little fella disappeared before the FBI agents could give chase.
After laying the foundation for this X-file, Mulder beckons Scully to the elevator and the two take a brief ride below the street. They walk into an urban catacomb full of industrial laundry hampers and steam vents. The eerie setting sets Mulder's mind racing and he tells Scully that the man who survived the freefall might be a genetic mutant. Born on the planet Rubbermaidia, the mutant gains remarkable bouncy powers from the light of the sun.* Scully, the consummate scientist, reminds Mulder that a British soldier once fell 4,500 feet and walked away with only a broken rib. She suggests that an updraft could have cradled the man like a willowy cloud, setting him on the Earth with a tender, breezy kiss.
Realizing their theories aren't getting them anywhere, the agents nose around the room, looking for clues. Scully sees that the wheels on a nearby clothes hamper have been pushed outward by a strong force from above. Mulder digs through the clothes and as he shuffles the linen, something small and round pops from the hamper and clacks on the concrete floor. Mulder kneels and pokes at the object, turning it over to reveal a plastic, prosthetic eye. Was Peter Falk tossed off a building? Did Sandy Duncan take one last flight as Peter Pan?
Less than an hour later, Mulder and Scully arrive at Melrose Park -- a spacious, upper-class tenement with 40 percent fewer cockroaches than any of its competitors. Scully doubts that this place houses the falling mystery man, but Mulder has learned that a Melrose Park tenant named Henry Weems made an appointment for a replacement eye that very morning. Traveling up a few floors, Mulder and Scully are accosted in the hallway by a frantic woman named Maggie Lupone. The agents follow her into her apartment and see water spraying from the kitchen sink. Maggie hands Mulder a wrench and asks/orders him to tighten the valve so she can go to work. Since Mulder is a humanitarian (and also because this strong-willed woman scares him) he slides under the sink and proceeds to turn the valve the wrong way. Maggie's little boy, Richie, tries to inform Mulder of his mistake, but Richie is cut off by his mother. Too bad for Mulder. Seconds later the valve pops and Mulder is hit with a high-powered rush of unfiltered water. Mulder uncurls himself from below the sink and stands dripping in the kitchen as water continues to spurt from the faucet. Scully hides her smile with the back of her hand. Suddenly, the floor below Mulder splinters and he falls into the apartment below. Scully rushes to the hole and sees Mulder sitting next to a man with an eye patch. "Henry Weems, I presume," Mulder says sarcastically.
Finding Weems was the easy part, getting him to talk is considerably harder. Once inside Weems' apartment, Mulder hands the little man his prosthetic eye. With a look of delight, Weems nabs the eye and begins to polish it with a cloth. While shining his ocular sphere, Weems tells the agents there's no way he'll testify against Jimmy Cutrona. Mulder isn't there to talk about Cutrona, he wants to know how Weems survived a 30-floor freefall. As Weems offers explanations, he shoves his prosthetic eye into his right socket, eliciting a sneer from Mulder. With eye in place, Weems complains that he wasn't able to keep his winnings from the previous night's poker game, but he quickly realizes he's saying too much and shuts up. Mulder's attention turns to a nearby table where Weems has constructed an elaborate Goldberg device. Intrigued by the wacky contraption, Mulder pushes a lever and watches as ball bearings, light bulbs, cups and wheels move and shake, eventually stopping when a little wooden man is hanged from a makeshift gallows (the little man looks a lot like the fusilli Jerry featured in a "Seinfeld" episode). Mulder, amused by Weems' toy, asks its creator what it means, but Weems can't associate any deeper meaning to his thingamajig -- it's just something he built. Drawing upon his Oxford education, Mulder assigns a symbolic meaning of "cause and effect" to the device. Before Mulder gets carried away, Scully asks Weems to reconsider testifying against Cutrona. "No way, Jose," Weems offers as his final answer.
As Mulder and Scully exit the apartment building, a Cutrona hitman named Angelo "The Animal" Bellini approaches Weems' door. What happens next is a real-life Goldberg device. Mulder realizes he's forgotten his keys in Weems' apartment, but the door has locked behind him so he moves to the intercom to buzz Weems. At exactly the same time, Bellini kicks Weems' door in and aims his gun at the frightened little man. Mulder buzzes the intercom, which spooks Bellini and causes him to fire his gun into a nearby lamp. The lamp falls and knocks over an ironing board. Weems dives behind a couch, tipping it as he jumps. Bellini rushes toward the couch but trips on the ironing board and hits a chair. The chair flips him end over end and as he hurtles across the room, his shoelace catches in a moving ceiling fan. Strung up by his lace, Bellini has a coronary and dies instantly.
After hearing Bellini's gunshot, Mulder and Scully rush back into the building and arrive to find the dead hitman swinging upside down from the fan. Weems has disappeared. Of course, a short time later, Mulder exhibits his genius by reconstructing the entire Goldberg scenario perfectly. Scully cracks a smile after hearing her partner's scenario, but she knows better than to doubt his abilities. Mulder is chalking Weems' good fortune up to true cause and effect. Somehow, Weems has tapped into the seemingly random connection between cause and effect and he's using it in his favor.
While Mulder ponders the possibilities of dumb luck, Scully notices Richie -- the little boy seen earlier -- standing in the doorway. She introduces herself to the moppy-haired kid and asks if she can talk to him for a minute. "You're Gillian Anderson, of COURSE you can talk to me!" Richie would answer if he were ten years older.*
Mulder's profiling is matched only by Scully's repertoire with little kids. Entering Richie's room, she sees typical little boy stuff lining the walls -- sports posters, toys, commemorative Princess Di plates. She also sees medical equipment set up next to Richie's bed. Richie climbs under the covers and Scully sits beside him. Glancing to her left, she spots another one of Weems' Goldberg devices. Tapping a lever, she watches as various gizmos work in conjunction to send a small ball into a miniature basketball hoop. Scully deems the device "pretty neat." Richie says Weems gave him the device during his last stay in the hospital. Scully gives Richie a passing glance, and in that instant she correctly determines that Richie has a bad liver. Are there no limits to her genius?
Continuity Sidenote: This was a perfect moment to draw a connection to the past. Scully should have said: "Livers? I knew a guy who had a thing for livers. Don't worry, he's gone now. Mulder squished him with an escalator."
Alas, the chance to resurrect Eugene Victor Tooms passes and Scully asks Richie if he knows where Weems is hiding. Richie doesn't have a clue, so with that, Scully bids her new pal farewell and walks into the hallway.
Meeting Mulder outside Weems' apartment, Scully wonders aloud why the world's luckiest man doesn't just play the lottery and set himself up for life. As she's saying this, Weems listens from a nearby heating vent (which could provide another reference to Tooms). The light catches his fake eye and a metaphorical lightbulb blinks to life above Weems' head.
With Weems missing, Mulder and Scully turn to the paper trail for clues, but that doesn't help much either. Weems doesn't have a driver's license, insurance papers or tax returns. He's "retired from the world" in Scully's estimation. Mulder has found something more substantial. In December 1989, Weems was on a commuter flight with 20 other people. The flight ditched into Lake Michigan and Weems was the sole survivor. Since then, he's severed ties with his friends and kept a near-invisible profile. Mulder theorizes that Weems was forever changed by the plane crash. When he emerged, luck suddenly turned in his favor. But why would Weems resurface now after years of anonymity?
It's an excellent question, and since the show is moving toward its conclusion, we'll soon know the answer.
The scene shifts to a rundown convenience store, which Weems has chosen as his lottery-winning location. Weems learns from the cashier (a good-natured man named Maurice Albert) that the lottery is up to $28 million. To Albert's amazement, Weems passes on a lottery ticket because he doesn't need $28 million. The lucky man settles for a scratch ticket that offers the chance to win $100,000. Settling beside a goth slacker dude at a nearby counter, Weems begins to scratch the ticket, but a TV newscast from his apartment complex catches his attention. "You did it!" the goth guy shouts as he stares at Weems' ticket. And indeed he has done it, he's won $100,000. Albert tells Weems he'll receive $8,200 a month for 12 months, but Weems needs the money immediately, so he tosses the winning ticket in the trash. The goth guy dives headfirst into the trash bucket and fishes the glorious ticket from the murky depths. Weems pleads with the lipstick-wearing man to leave the ticket alone. Holding on to the ticket will lead to bad things. As you'd expect, the goth guy completely disregards Weems' warning and rushes into the street, jubilantly waving his ticket in the air. Overwhelmed by his good fortune, the goth doesn't see the approaching van. Weems and the cashier watch as the seemingly lucky slacker is bent like a noodle across the van's grill.
Math Sidenote: $8,200/month for 12 months is $98,400. Of course, after taxes, Weems would receive $15.24, so the discrepancy isn't that big a deal.
A short time later, Mulder and Scully arrive at the convenience store. Scully interviews Albert and learns that Weems left on foot after he saw that the goth guy was still alive. Albert also says that the now-disabled goth handed him the winning ticket shortly before the ambulance arrived and said "Maurice, I want you to have this." Scully smirks and thanks Albert for his time. Conferring with Mulder, Scully notes that Weems' good fortune leaves those around him in ruins. Mulder believes this is all part of the cosmic plan -- if Weems gets all the luck the natural balance of life, the universe and everything causes those in his path to be unlucky. Scully pauses, then asks why Weems would suddenly buy a lottery ticket out of the blue. Sirens blare in Mulder's head as he realizes that Weems must have been listening to the conversation they had in the apartment complex. That sneaky little bastard was in the walls!
Returning to Melrose Place, Mulder rounds a corner and watches as Amanda pushes Sydney into the pool. Billy shoots Amanda, but Amanda deflects the bullet because she's an android. Meanwhile, Kimberly removes her wig and scares everyone with her scar. Just to make things interesting, Michael lights a bomb and blows the complex to bits.*
Whoops. Wrong show.
Returning to Melrose Park, Mulder uses his Spidey Sense© to find Weems in a vacant apartment. Inside, Weems is carving another wooden man to include in his next Goldberg device. As he hears Mulder picking the lock, he stuffs his jackknife in his shirt pocket, then scuttles into a nearby vent. Mulder enters the room, walks toward the vent and reaches inside to yank Weems out. As Weems settles on a nearby stool, another Cutrona hitman appears in the doorway. "Oh crap, not again," Weems mutters.
The hitman enters the room and fires a shot at Weems. The bullet ricochets off the pocket knife in Weems' shirt pocket, grazes Mulder, hits a radiator, careens off the doorknocker and digs itself into the hitman's back. Somewhere in America the surviving members of the Warren Commission record this episode as supporting evidence for the Magic Bullet Theory.
Mulder, Scully and Weems achieve the impossible by visiting a Chicago-area hospital that isn't staffed by the cast of a popular medical drama. After Mulder's flesh wound is bandaged, he grabs a deck of cards from Scully and beckons Weems to his side. Mulder pulls a card from the deck, looks at it, then tells Weems to select a card. Weems' card beats Mulder's card. They perform the card trick a second time, and again, Weems wins. Mulder contends that if they played this game 10,000 times, Weems would win 10,000 times (thanks to those on the X-files crew responsible for cutting the scene where they actually play the game 10,000 times). Mulder asks Weems what it's like to be the luckiest man in the universe and Weems, knowing denial is ludicrous at this point, says it's a nightmare. He then explains that every time something good happens to him, bad things happen to those around him. That's why he kept a low profile for all these years. Unfortunately, Richie's liver problem has become life-threatening so Weems is trying to use his luck to gather $100,000 to send Richie to an experimental treatment center in England. To make matters worse, Richie has a rare blood type, B-Negative, so his chances of finding a suitable donor are slim. While Weems' lucky streak continues, Richie's luck is running out.
Believing Weems is blessed by luck, Mulder lets him go. Scully puts up a fight, saying it's irresponsible for Weems to be unprotected. With that, she swipes a card from the deck and produces an ace. Minutes before, Weems had turned over the king of hearts. "Luckiest man in the world?" Scully asks. "Hell, Mulder, I just beat him."
Mulder's face drops and he darts toward the hospital exit. Outside, another one of Cutrona's henchmen approaches Weems. Mulder streaks into the daylight, shouting Weems' name. The lucky little man spots Mulder then also sees the approaching killer. Weems rushes into the street and is hit by the exact same van that hit the goth guy earlier in the episode. Time slows and the only sound is the gentle clack of a prosthetic eye hitting the pavement.
Tip for prosthetic eye manufacturers: Invest in adhesives.
Another medical emergency is developing at Melrose Park. Maggie finds Richie playing with Weems' Goldberg device, but as she moves to put him back in bed she sees that jaundice has set in. Richie's eyes and skin have turned yellow, which is never a good sign.
Back at the hospital, Weems has once again demonstrated remarkable resilience. His encounter with the van left him with bruises and scrapes, but nothing else. Nonetheless, Mulder believes Weems' lucky streak is coming to an end. Perhaps Weems believes the same thing -- he's agreed to testify against Cutrona.
Speaking of Cutrona, the angry mobster learns later that afternoon that Weems is going to testify against him. Understanding that this is a bad thing, Cutrona decides to hit Weems where it hurts (figuratively speaking).
Back at the apartment complex, paramedics prep Richie for transfer. Before leaving, he asks his Mom to bring his Goldberg device to the hospital. Maggie kisses him on the forehead, then turns inside to gather his things. As she rushes around the apartment, Cutrona's portly hitman enters and quietly nabs the distraught woman.
Later that day, Weems stands beside Richie's hospital bed, looking at the unconscious boy. Mulder and Scully enter the room and tell Weems that Maggie hasn't been found. Weems knows Cutrona is responsible, but given that the hitman didn't leave a ransom note or any evidence of forced entry, it's tough to obtain a search warrant. Weems turns to leave, but Mulder stops him and says that it's possible Weems' luck isn't running out. It might be the case that these seemingly bad events are leading to a positive conclusion. Weems storms out of the room and marches by a colorfully lit "R.I. Childes Pediatric Care" sign (this useless fact will make sense soon).
Mulder's mind is still focused on the idea that Weems' luck isn't running out. He tells Scully that everyone around Weems is somehow involved in his control of cause and effect. Grabbing a phone book, Mulder opens it to a random page, believing the listing he lands on will be the location where Maggie is being held. Scully looks on, amazed at the sheer weirdness of her partner. Mulder spins his finger in the air and smacks it down. It lands on a listing for "Muhaymin Daycare." Hmm, a Muslim daycare center acting as a mob front? Ingenious, but not likely. Mulder gives it another go and this time his finger lands on "Grayson's Linen Service." Now this is a listing with potential.
A short time later, Weems meets Cutrona at the tall building he was tossed from earlier in the episode. He pleads with the mobster to let Maggie go, but Weems' appeal falls on deaf ears. Since Weems has killed one of Cutrona's henchmen and put another in the hospital, Cutrona feels some payback is in order.
Working directly from the "Mobsters for Dummies," Cutrona and his fat hitman bring Weems to the basement of Grayson's Linen Service. Also present is Maggie, who's locked behind a wire fence. The setting provides a perfect spot for another real-life Goldberg device. Laundry hampers, heavy machinery and shoddy electric wiring spill throughout the dark room. Cutrona's hitman pushes Weems against a laundry hamper, which sends an electric iron careening into a bucket of water. Maggie calls out, demanding that they leave Weems alone. The hitman strings Weems to a metal hook, which is connected to a winch. Cutrona pushes the "winch on" button, but nothing happens. The hitman finds the power lever on a nearby control board and gives it a push. The winch kicks to life and lifts Weems in the air. Maggie cries out again and Cutrona orders the hitman to shut her up. At the same time, electric current zips through the submerged iron and sparks begin to fly. The hitman unlocks the metal fence around Maggie, but as he grabs it, the current sparks through the wire and electrocutes the fat killer. With volts pulsing through his flabby folds, the hitman shoots back and hits Weems. The force swings Weems across the room and drops him on a wooden board. The board launches a paint can into the air and it strikes a heavy metal hook. Swooping through the air, the hook zeroes in on Cutrona, planting itself in his ugly mug just as he looks up. Goldberg strikes again!
Scully sits beside Richie as the lights in the hospital flicker from the power surge caused by the arcing iron. In the hallway, the letters in the "R.I. Childes" sign spark, then dim. The remaining lit letters suddenly spell "Richie." Scully is quite impressed.
I told you the "R.I. Childes" thing would make sense!
Moments later, Mulder and a group of Chicago's finest burst into the basement of Grayson's Linen. They find Weems and Maggie standing over Cutrona's dead body. The camera zooms in on a "Medic-Alert" bracelet on Cutrona's limp wrist. The warning reads "B NEG."
I love it when a plan comes together.
The lucky group gathers back at the hospital. Cutrona's mobster liver turns out to be a perfect match for Richie, which makes Maggie very happy. Mulder, Scully and Weems look into Richie's hospital room, watching the mother and child reunion (cue Paul Simon song). Maggie looks at Weems through the window and a warm, come-hither smile spreads across her face. "Maybe your luck is changing," Mulder says with a nudge and a wink. Weems walks into the room and pulls the lever on Richie's Goldberg device. Bells ring, plastic shakes and the miniature basketball swooshes into its net. And with that, it's over.
The moral of the story? Cause and effect are our friends. Love them. Nurture them. Use them when confronted by mobsters.
Editor's Note: Quotes or segments marked with one of these * contain fabricated elements. Try not to take them too seriously.
Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.