Season 1

1x22 Roland

Air date: 05-06-94
Writer: Chris Ruppenthal
Director: David Nutter
Editor: Stephen Mark
Director of Photography: John S. Bartley, C.S.C.
Documented Phenomenon: Psychic ability

Episode summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

At the Mahan Washington Institute of Technology in Colson, Washington, the janitor, Roland Fuller, is sweeping a corridor. He stops outside a lab door to begin cleaning in there. It becomes apparent that he's mentally-challenged, as his hands and upper arms are minimally contracted, indicative of mild cerebral palsy. As he fumbles with his security key card, one of the jet propulsion scientists on staff, Dr. Keats, comes up behind him and snaps impatiently at his ineptitude.

In the laboratory monitoring station, two men are in mid-argument. Dr. Keats and Roland walk in on this scene. Dr. Nollette is trying to convince Dr. Surnow to push testing on the project beyond Mach 15. Surnow resists, unwilling to risk damage to the equipment. Instead, he powers down while Nollette points out that at equal risk is their funding; their benefactors are threatening to cut off financial backing if they don't see some results soon.

Unconcerned, Surnow returns to the whiteboard to proceed with further mathematical calculations. Angered by Surnow's seeming lack of backbone, Nollette and Keats leave. Surnow finds himself alone in the lab except for the janitor.

In the wind tunnel, Surnow opens a panel to apply further adjustments to the controls. He looks back in time to see the steel door close, locking him in. Confused, he goes to the door, then the station monitoring window; he sees Roland sitting at the computer console. It appears he not only sealed the wind tunnel shut, he is now powering up the turbine. In mounting desperation, Surnow commands Roland to release the door.

Instead, the turbine continues to accelerate. The increasing suction created by the turbine soon forces Surnow to have to hold onto whatever he can. He grabs the grating at the far end of the room, opposite the powerful turbine.

In the monitoring room, Roland approaches the whiteboard. He wipes away Surnow's last computations and proceeds to write out a new equation. Then he picks up his push-broom and calmly resumes his janitorial duties. Through the window, we see Surnow ripped from the grating to be sucked into the massive blades of the turbine.

Agents Mulder and Scully arrive at the Mahan Institute to investigate Dr. Surnow's death. Upon their questioning, they learn that the wind tunnel chamber can only be opened, closed, and activated from the station in the monitoring room. According to the statements Drs. Keats and Nollette gave the police, the only other person present at the time of Surnow's death was a janitor.

Having done her homework, Scully points out that six months prior, another member of the research team had died. She purports the possibility of industrial espionage.

As usual, Mulder is casing the rooms, looking for clues. He notes mathematical computations written by four different hands on the whiteboard and points this out. Both he and Scully suggest that the janitor should be considered a prime suspect. Keats assures them this is impossible, as Roland Fuller is mentally-challenged.

Nevertheless, Mulder and Scully go the Heritage halfway house where Roland is a resident. At the time, Roland is involved in an arts and crafts project with his friend Tracy, another resident there. He's printed out Tracy's name on a large sheet of construction paper and applied glue-backed foil stars all around her name. He's also applied foil stars to an ordinary sheet of paper on which he's also written a set of numbers several times over.

Mulder and Scully are shown in by Mrs. Stodie, the keeper of the halfway house. Gently, the agents question Roland on what he remembers from the evening before, at his job. Did he notice anything unusual? Did he see any strangers around? He tells them no.

Inadvertently, Roland reveals his prowess with numbers when he announces the number of stars visible in the pattern on Scully's blouse, between the edges of her blazer. Mulder advances his theory a step further and asks Roland if he likes numbers.

Abruptly, Roland is struck with a vision he had in a nightmare. Upset, he knocks the jarful of stars all over the floor, yelling. When he rushes to pick them up, Scully attending, he anxiously counts them. Meanwhile, Mulder discreetly pockets the project with the numbers Roland had been working on.

At the regional FBI office in Seattle, one of the handwriting analysts studies a slide of the whiteboard. She agrees that there are indeed four different sets of handwriting on the board. It is then that Mulder presents the sample of Roland's writing that he snuck from the halfway house. Now that Scully is aware of Roland's affliction, she scoffs at the notion that the fourth writer could have been him. When Mulder reminds her that autistic patients are often quite brilliant at mathematics, she argues that their minds simply function like calculators and highly doubts that one could possibly be capable of performing anything as sophisticated as a fluid dynamics equation.

While they're thus engaged, the handwriting analyst reaches a conclusion: she tells them that penmanship on the paper Mulder supplied for comparison does not match that of the fourth writer on the board at the crime scene.

That night while Roland sleeps, he has another nightmare. Once again, his dream is about Dr. Keats. Someone is attacking him from behind. His forehead is bleeding and he's struggling against someone who is wrenching his head back.

Roland wakes up.

In another part of the Mahan laboratory, Keats is working late. He's wearing a portable stereo, listening to rock and roll(!) through the headset, and has just poured himself a cup of coffee. Seating himself in front of a computer, he goes back to work.

Unbeknownst to him, the door to the lab opens. Someone comes in. He walks to the desk where Keats is sitting. In reaching for his coffee cup, Keats looks up and unexpectedly finds Roland standing there. In that moment of hesitation, Roland grabs the heavy ceramic coffee cup first. He slams it against Keats' head.

Wearing a pair of long, industrial gloves, Roland drags Keats' unconscious body across the floor to a tank of liquid nitrogen. He opens the lid and a waft of the frosty gas is released. On the floor, Keats awakens. Before he can get up, Roland seizes him and forces him over the tank while Keats struggles. At last, Roland takes Keats by the hair and shoves his head into the tank, holding him down until the struggling stops.

Roland drops the lifeless body to the floor and walks off, the frozen, shattered remains crunching beneath the soles of his work shoes. Someone begins typing at the computer.

Once again, the agents are back at the Mahan Institute. This time, to investigate Keats' death. The outline of a body sans a head, with markings to delineate where the missing head fragments fell depicts the grim crime scene.

It is evident enough that Keats must have been working on the computer before the incident, so Mulder checks to find whatever clues he can. From the night before, he finds what he assumes was Keats' last entry, document name KMAN. He calls Scully over. She notes there's another entry posted later still, with the document name ARTHUR. The file was opened at 12:31 am and finally closed five hours later. She contests that Keats couldn't have been the one working on the file, since she'd placed his time of death to have occurred at around 12:30-ish.

They try opening the latest file for more insight, and of course are thwarted by the need of a password. After a moment's thought, Mulder has a suggestion; he lists the numbers Roland had been doodling over and over at the Heritage Home. Scully keys them in and the file promptly opens. A graph appears on the screen.

Mulder peruses the file and discovers work has been continuing on Arthur Grable's file even after his death, six months prior. When Scully wonders how Mulder knew the password, he shows her Roland's paper.

That night, Roland has another dream. There are two young boys, around 6 or 7, outside a house. They're twins. A man and woman take one by the hand and lead him away. He fights, unwilling to go. Against his wishes, he's placed into the back of a late-50s model car. The couple get into the front seat and the car drives away. The second boy, still standing on the porch steps, looks forlornly after the car.

It's then that Roland is awakened from the dream. Mrs. Stodie enters his room. Seeing he's dressed, she chides him about going to bed in his work clothes. She's come to announce that he has company; the FBI agents have come back for another visit. They follow her into the room.

Mulder offers to help Roland change from his work clothes and brings out a shirt from the closet. Roland has a preference: he wants to wear the green shirt. Miraculously, Mulder is able to bring Roland the right shirt.

Leaving Mulder to perform further questioning, Scully goes downstairs with Mrs. Stodie.

In his tactful, adept way, Mulder instantly puts Roland at ease with compliments while he questions. He assures Roland he's been cited as being good at his job. Then Mulder asks how Roland got the job. According to Roland, a man came to the home and discussed it with Mrs. Stodie. When Mulder asks, "What man?" Roland replies, "Dr. Grable." Thus, Mulder inquires if Roland liked Dr. Grable. Roland answers in the affirmative. Next, Mulder wonders when Roland last talked to Dr. Grable. Yesterday? A week ago?

"Dr. Grable died," Roland says. "People die." Well aware of the alleged circumstances, Mulder accepts this answer. Then Roland adds, "They're not supposed to come back."

Mulder does a double-take.

Meanwhile, Scully questions Mrs. Stodie downstairs. They discuss Arthur Grable, while Tracy sweeps the adjoining room. She overhears them. Did Roland ever refer to Dr. Grable by his first name? Scully asks. Mrs. Stodie is doubtful Roland even knew what it was. Then Scully requests permission to access Roland's legal records.

At the local Hall of Records, the agents read the files. Mulder tells his partner it seems Grable went to the halfway home specifically seeking a handicapped person to fill the janitorial job. Taken aback, Scully asks if Mulder is implying that Grable hired Roland with the intention of using him. And if Mulder is further purporting that Grable in fact, is still alive. If he intended to murder his colleagues, Mulder points out, a mentally-challenged individual would make the perfect patsy. In argument of the theory, Scully displays a police photo of what was left of Grable's car from the collision that killed him. Mulder suggests the possibility that Grable staged his death.

Referring to the file in front of her, Scully reads Grable's obituary. He was an only child, born in Seattle, Washington. Mulder reads from Roland's file and they discover that the two share the same exact birth date down to the year.

At the halfway house, Roland is at the recreational table again, drawing an airplane. Tracy is also in the room. When he asks if she wishes she could fly, she tells him she flies in her dreams. Evidently puzzled about the discussion she overheard between Mrs. Stodie and Agent Scully, Tracy asks him about his dreams and who "Arthur" is.

The questions seem to evoke another vision from a dream in Roland. He sees himself choking Tracy. Frightened from his last dream like that, he yells and pushes her out of the way to run from the table. She cries, "I'm sorry." He keeps going until he's reached the second floor, where he locks himself in a bathroom. She follows, calling him. Outside the door, she wants to know what's wrong. He repeatedly yells at her to go away, then finally breaks down with the admission that he doesn't want to hurt her.

From the Hall of Records, the agents return to the Mahan facility. They interview Nollette. They're looking at an old college photo of Nollette and his classmate, Arthur Grable. Nollette tells the agents about a prank he and his friends pulled on one of the professors who flunked him. He remarks that Arthur had a real talent for "executing elaborate schemes." This disclosure supports Mulder's profile of Grable, so he wonders aloud if Arthur was clever enough to make it appear as though someone else had been working on his files. After a pause, Nollette replies that Arthur would have to be alive to perform such a hoax. So Scully raises the possibility that he may have staged his death.

It appears the details surrounding Arthur Grable's death were rather sketchy. From what the agents gleaned from the records, no mechanical malfunctions or road condition hazards were found to substantiate the cause of his car wreck. Furthermore, his body was never admitted to the county morgue and no funeral was ever held. Nevertheless, Nollette assures Grable is quite dead. Scully has to ask how Nollette can be so sure.

To convince the agents, Nollette takes them to the Avalon Foundation where they are explained Grable's funeral arrangements by Dr. Barrington. The foundation is also on the grounds of the Washington Institute of Technology. It is in this cryogenic lab that Arthur Grable's remains were taken where they were frozen in liquid nitrogen, awaiting future restoration, whenever the technology should become available. While Dr. Barrington supplies information to aid in their investigation, Mulder notes that the temperature within Grable's tank is unstable, as opposed to that in the other tanks. Dr. Barrington tells them the minor malfunction is being looked into. A prompt from Scully produces Grable's chart. She and Mulder study it and find that Grable had cited a tissue donor: Roland Fuller. The agents recall that both Grable and Roland shared the same birth date. The photo at Nollette's office and those in the chart convince Mulder that Grable and Roland were in fact, twins. They have Grable's photo analyzed at the FBI Crime lab through the computer graphic software and discover that his theory is correct.

Back at the Heritage House, Mulder performs some deeper analysis on Roland. Mulder tries to coax Roland to discuss his dreams, but he's afraid. Clearly disturbed, he says he hit Tracy. Roland's poor insight only makes Mulder's job harder; he finds a remote controlled toy and tries to explain that the dreams seem to be influencing Roland's actions in the same way that the control device maneuvers the toy. This, Roland seems to grasp. He asks, "Who's controlling the dreams?" Mulder presents the photo of Arthur Grable.

In recognition, Roland's nightmares come flooding back. The young twins' separation, the murder of Dr. Surnow, and the assault on Tracy. Roland cries out in horror. Mulder's efforts to calm him are ineffective and Roland tears away to run upstairs where he locks himself in the bathroom again.

Tracy is the first to run after him, the agents following. While she calls him through the door, Roland has a vision of the bathroom window in broken disrepair. Just as Mulder arrives behind Tracy, they hear glass break. He runs outside, aware Roland must have escaped through the bathroom window.

The agents search eventually leads them back to the Mahan Institute. They don't find him. In attempting to reach Nollette to warn him that Roland's whereabouts are unknown and he's in a state of distress, Mulder finds that Nollette seems to be missing, too. As a safety precaution, Mulder feels they should contact Security about locating Nollette. Scully argues that the apparent circumstances won't warrant the trouble, as far as Security is concerned. Not unless Mulder can convince them that Grable is somehow coercing Roland to pose a threat to Nollette from beyond the grave.

As far-fetched as Scully's summation sounds, Mulder points out the surprisingly strong psychic connection that often occurs between family members. Surely, she and her sibs have had many such incidents and never thought to question them. That connection is even stronger between siblings of multiple births. Trapped between life and death in a state of some sort of consciousness without the distractions of daily living to hinder him, might it be possible that Grable has continued to develop his mind beyond ordinary parameters? If such a thing were even possible, Scully conjectures, why Grable would want to kill off his colleagues?

As they leave the facility, Nollette watches them via security camera elsewhere on the grounds, having listened in on their conversation. He goes to the Avalon Foundation. There, he accesses the controls of Grable's cryogenic capsule and keys in the code that deactivates the cooling system.

At the Washington State FBI facility again, the agents receive the fax confirming that Arthur and Roland are indeed identical twins. Mulder broaches another theory he's read about regarding monozygotic twins. How a mutated cell may sometimes be rejected by the developing fertilized ovum, then the cast-off continues to develop to become an imperfect twin of the first.

They receive a phone call from Dr. Barrington at the Avalon Foundation. He reports that Arthur Grable's cryogenic tank has been tampered with and they've not been able to reverse the process that will eventually thaw out his remains.

Back at the Mahan facility in the lab where the wind tunnel is housed, Nollette has found Roland. Seated at the computer, he's applied his mathematical work to the project and is testing it out. He's sweating and seems ill. As the velocity in the wind tunnel reaches beyond Mach 15, Nollette makes his presence known. He's come prepared and wields a gun. Addressing Arthur, Nollette proceeds to divulge his plans. It will be easy to avoid any interference by Grable, simply by shooting Roland and then filing a report of self-defense to the police. The recent murder of Dr. Surnow will add to the story's credibility. After which Nollette intends to claim credit for the new jet propulsion system strictly as his own. While he studies the computer files, Roland/Arthur attacks and strikes the unwitting Dr. Nollette on the head with a computer keyboard.

The agents arrive at the Mahan jet propulsion facility.

Inside, Nollette recovers to find himself lying in the wind tunnel. He staggers to the monitoring window and sees Roland/Arthur at the computer again, powering up.

Armed with a key card and the access code, the agents reach the wind tunnel lab. Mulder rushes Roland but it is Arthur he appeals to to shut down the turbine. Seeing that this is producing no results, Scully switches the appeal to Roland. This seems to stir him back in control. He has visions of the dream of the twin boys being separated. Beside him, Scully continues to urge him to shut down the engine or Nollette will be killed. At first, Roland doesn't remember how. Just as the velocity reaches Mach 7 and Nollette loses his grip, the turbine powers down.

At the Heritage House, the agents explain to Mrs. Stodie that Roland is being taken to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. Once it's proven that he poses no danger to anyone, they requested that he be remanded back into her care at the Heritage House. In his room, Roland packs his things. Aware he's leaving, Tracy has come in. Along with their wistful good-byes, they disclose their love for each other. Before he goes, he gives her his most prized possession, his jarful of stars.

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

  • Part of the basic premise of Roland shares a similarity to a number of other science fiction based films. One example would be the 1959 schlock cult horror film, The Brain That Wouldn't Die, which dealt with an engaged couple who gets into a terrible automobile accident. The woman is decapitated and the scientist fiancé places her head in a solution that sustains her brain. Eventually she uses telepathy to drive others to do her bidding, while the fiancé searches for a substitute body. Although it should be pointed out that Roland attempts to be more cerebral than the shock tactics used from that earlier film. Matt Allair
  • We later learn in season 3's Wetwired that Mulder is protanopic--or red-green color blind. Yet, in Roland, he's able to easily pick out a green shirt. To the protanopically-sighted, green shades translate into yellow, muddy brown, and muddy gray shades. This would actually have made the task somewhat of a challenge for him. He would have been just as likely to select a gray, red, or even orange shirt! XScribe
  • The story treatment of Roland's condition seems a little muddled, Roland has a serve form of Autism, yet it is also implied he's an idiot savant early in the episode. The portrayal of his condition reads often more like someone with mental retardation. The inaccurate portrayal could be due to a lack of research by the writer or the actor, Zeljko Ivanek. Although it should be noted that the actor does manage to illicit sympathy for Roland's plight. Matt Allair
  • The theory raised about a mutated cell in a zygote being rejected by the normal cells around it to develop into a separate, antithetical twin of the original, is an interesting one. Plausible as it may seen, however, the premise is more fiction than science. XScribe
  • The idea that Grable would have to develop his mind to new boundaries in order to "control" his brother would be an unnecessary leap. As well-rounded in paranormal and psychic phenomena as Mulder is, he'd simply perceive this as a case of channeling. XScribe
  • Another missed opportunity is the role of Tracy within the scheme of the story. It becomes fairly clear late in the story that Tracy has feelings for Roland, yet this element goes nowhere towards Roland's redemption. It is Scully who persuades Roland to fight Arthur's psychic control, when it could have been more satisfying, as a story point, to have seen Tracy have a more visible hand in persuading Roland to spare Dr. Nollette's life. As a result, there's something vaguely unsatisfying and stereotypical of the portrayal of the disabled characters, however unintentional, a subtle dismissal of a severely disabled person's ability for self-determination and freewill. Matt Allair
  • Mulder makes an excellent point about the seeming psychic connection between family members and the even stronger one between multiple birth siblings. In spite of her ribbing, even Scully doesn't deny the existence of the phenomenon. XScribe

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

Like Lazarus, this episode suffers as an example of some interesting concepts that are given a pedestrian treatment. The concept of biological twins that share psychic ability, or family members that share a psychic connection, has been often explored in contemporary culture yet it never completely gels in this treatment. The other underlying theme of corporeal intelligence having an influence on others is an idea that would be explored throughout the series' history, especially the eventual idea within the mythology of the alien Black Oil having separate corporeal intelligence from its human or alien hosts. The questions that should be asked about corporeal intelligence, aside from one's physical being, are important questions that should be pondered, for example, the body / mind relationship, are we our minds or are we our bodies or is the mind simply another form of energy within the greater cosmic scheme. Some fans have argued that the X-Files as a series never really explored in depth such questions, In spite of the fact that the series often hinted around such a profound notion as corporeal intelligence. The actress who plays the FBI handwriting analyst also appears in Shadows as the unidentified agent who co-questions Mulder and Scully about the extraordinary phenomena regarding the inexplicable injuries that led to the demise of two victims. Matt Allair / XScribe

Actor Zeljko Ivanek who played Roland Fuller originally was from Yugoslavia in August 1957, Ljubljana, Slovenia. He studied at Yale University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He has been a two time Tony winner on Broadway and had a recurring role on Homicide: Life on the Street playing State Attorney Ed Danvers. Mr. Ivanek nailed the part of Roland on his first reading at the Audition. "It was short notice, and I didn't have to do much research. But it came to me very easily. Once you feel it in your bones, it plays itself." He was quoted saying in an Entertainment Weekly article. He also appeared in the Millennium season one episode, Walkabout. Mr. Ivanek's recent feature film work includes Manderlay, The Manchurian Candidate, and Dogville. Prior feature work includes Hannibal, Dancer In the Dark, Snow Falling on Cedars, A Civil Action, Donnie Brasco, Courage Under Fire, White Squall, and Tex. His television appearances include Shark, Cold Case, Bones, Law & Order: SVU, CSI, NYPD Blue, The West Wing, a recurring role on Oz and 24, Crossing Jordan, Frasier, and St, Elsewhere. He has been quoted with: "Change my name? Why? I'm a born American, I like my name."

Actor Micole Mercurio who played Mrs. Stodie has been in a range of Television and films. She appeared with Jerry Hardin in the 1989 telefilm, Roe Vs, Wade. Her feature film appearances include American Girl, Bandits, What Lies Beneath, The Client, Warlock: The Armageddon, The Grifters, Colors, Mask, Flashdance and Alligator. Her television appearances include Commander in Chief, CSI, The Practice, Chicago Hope, ER, Grace Under Fire, NYPD Blue, Life Goes On, L.A. Law, Night Court, St. Elsewhere and T.J. Hooker.

Actor Garry Davey who played Dr. Keats is the Artistic Director for the William B. Davis Centre for Actor's study. He has also studied with such masters as Carol Rosenfeld, Yoshi Oida and Larry Silverberg. He also played Ranger Chet in the Millennium season one episodes, Paper Dove and Anamnesis. His television work includes Da Vinci's Inquest, Strange World, The Outer Limits, The Marshall, Highlander, The Commish, and MacGyver.

Actor James Sloyan who played Dr. Frank Nollette was born February 1940 in Indianapolis, Indiana. His family moved to Europe when he was a young boy and lived for a spell in Rome, Milan, Switzerland and Ireland. When he was 17, his family moved back to the states and settled in New York. He received a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and eventually worked at the New York Shakespeare Festival. In 1962 he was drafted into the Army. After he was released in 1966, he continued at the NYSF. James also appeared in the original off-broadway production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. While primarily known as a television actor, his early feature film work includes Xanadu, and The Sting. His television appearances include Chicago Hope, Party Of Five, Star Trek: DS9, Doctor Quinn: Medicine Woman, NYPD Blue, Baywatch, Quantum Leap, Matlock, Highway To Heaven, Moonlighting, Knots Landing, CHiPs, Lou Grant, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Episode synopsis and review: XScribe
Additional review and production notes: Matt Allair
Page Editor: Siberian Skys

Back to top