"D.P.O." is the third episode of the third season of television series The X-Files. The episode first aired in the United States on October 6, 1995, on Fox, being written by Howard Gordon and directed by Kim Manners. The episode is a stand-alone episode, like most episodes of The X-Files, and follows the normal Monster-of-the-Week pattern of the show. "D.P.O." earned a Nielsen household rating of 10.9, being watched by 15.57 million people in its initial broadcast, and received positive reviews.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate a series of lightning-related deaths in Oklahoma, which are eventually connected to the only person to have survived a lightning strike, an emotionally charged youth.
The original concept for the episode was a one line concept card stating "Lightning Boy" that had been tacked to a board in series creator Chris Carter's office since the first season. The episode contained several scenes of elaborate lightning effects. Notably, a "lightning machine" used for the sequence where Darin is struck by lightning was created by Special Effects Supervisor David Gauthier and buried under the ground.
At a video arcade in Connerville, Oklahoma, two young men, Jack Hammond and Darin Peter Oswald, argue over a game of Virtua Fighter 2. Hammond pushes Oswald to the ground, after which the power in the arcade mysteriously shuts down—except to a jukebox, which plays "Ring the Bells" by James. This makes Hammond nervous and he leaves, but when he goes outside to start his car, he finds the same song playing on the radio. He is then fatally electrocuted through the ignition. Oswald, who witnesses Hammond's death, returns to the game.
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully arrive in Connerville, where Hammond is the latest of five men who have died due to lightning-related causes. Upon visiting the arcade, Scully talks to Bart "Zero" Liquori, the arcade owner (and a friend of Oswald's) who happened to be present the night Hammond died. Mulder finds Oswald's high scores on the game's display, realizing that he was playing on the night Hammond died; Oswald was the first of the victims, and the only one to have survived. Elsewhere, Oswald is at work at an automobile repair shop when his boss's wife, Sharon Kiveat, walks in. He then tries talking to her, but she nervously rebuffs him; it is revealed that he had hit on her the day before, and she turned him down. His boss returns and tells Oswald that Mulder and Scully want to talk with him. When the agents visit Oswald to question him, he claims to have not witnessed anything. However, Mulder's cell phone mysteriously overheats in Oswald's presence, to which Oswald acts unsurprised.
Alarmed by the FBI's presence, Zero visits Oswald at his home that night; a drunk and rowdy Oswald dismisses Zero's worries and summons lightning to strike down nearby cattle. The lightning strikes him instead, but he appears unharmed. The next day, the agents visit the scene and find a melted shoe print in the ground, linking it to Oswald. Meanwhile, Oswald uses his abilities to manipulate local traffic lights, causing a car accident. The agents visit Oswald's home and find a cut-out picture of Sharon Kiveat, Oswald's former high school teacher, inside a porn magazine.
At the scene of the car accident, Oswald's boss suffers an oddly timed heart attack; Oswald then saves his boss by using his electrical powers as a makeshift defibrillator, much to the paramedics' surprise. The agents question Sharon at the hospital, who claims that he told her about his powers. The agents also go through Oswald's medical records, showing that he exhibited acute hypokalemia—electrolytic imbalance in his blood. Oswald is brought in for questioning by the agents, but he proclaims his innocence and is eventually released by the skeptical, unfriendly local sheriff, much to the agents' dismay. Later, at the arcade, Zero is closing down for the night, and turns off the power. However, the Virtua Fighter 2 machine does not turn off. When Zero goes to investigate, the machine shuts off, except for the jukebox next to him (playing "Hey Man, Nice Shot", a song Oswald was listening to earlier). Knowing Oswald is now hunting him, Zero runs outside and claims he did not betray Oswald to the agents; he is then suddenly struck by lightning and dies. It is then revealed that Oswald is standing on the arcade rooftop.
After learning of Oswald's release, the agents rush to the hospital to protect the Kiveats, but the power goes out when they arrive. Oswald confronts Scully and Sharon, and the latter fearfully agrees to leave with him in return for her husband's safety. The sheriff arrives and tries to stop him. While pursuing a fleeing Sharon, Oswald summons lightning but ends up striking himself once again and, in the process, kills the sheriff. Oswald is put in a psychiatric hospital, although the local district attorney has no idea how they will be able to prosecute him. As the agents observe Oswald, he uses his powers to change the channels of the TV in his room. (The song "Live Fast, Diarrhea" by The Vandals is heard, presumably a band he liked as he wore multiple Vandals T-shirts)
The original concept for the episode was a one line concept card stating "Lightning Boy" that had been tacked to a board in series creator Chris Carter's office since the first season. Carter's idea was solely about a boy who could control lightning, and the concept wasn't fleshed out into an episode until the third season. Writer Howard Gordon stated that the key moment in the episode's conception came when he decided to use the boy's power as a metaphor for disenfranchised adolescence. Gordon described the episode's concept as "Beavis and Butt-head electrified". Gordon claimed that the episode suffered conceptually having come directly after a trilogy of mythology episodes. Story editor Frank Spotnitz claims that there were originally ideas on incorporating some of the events from that trilogy into this episode, but those ideas were eventually scrapped due to the producer's desire for each episode to be able to have its own integrity and stand alone. Spotnitz said the episode was a risky one to do for a show with an adult audience due to the high school setting and the fact that the episode was about adolescence and violent impulses when one is a kid.
The sheriff, Teller, was named after Teller from the illusion and comedy duo Penn and Teller. The pair had wanted to appear on an episode of the show, but when Chris Carter could find no way to work them into the show this reference was added instead. The Astadourian Lightning Observatory was named after Mary Astadourian, Chris Carter's executive assistant. Darin Oswald was named after writer Darin Morgan.
Giovanni Ribisi won the part as Darin after some coaching from casting director Rick Millikan after Ribisi's initial audition failed to provide what Chris Carter was looking for. Spotnitz described Ribisi's performance as "really, really good". Director Kim Manners' best friend was killed during the third day of shooting. There was consideration on replacing him with another director for the episode but at his insistence he completed the episode.
A "lightning machine" used for the sequence where Darin is struck by lightning was created by special effects supervisor David Gauthier and buried under the ground. Giovanni Ribisi stood on a stand with the device rigged underneath him. Mirrors were used to establish the effect of the lightning flaring up and outward, and were augmented by sparks and smoke. A special anti-fire product was applied to the costumes of the actors hit by lightning. Art Director Graeme Murray states that the biggest construction event in the episode was the scene where Darin manipulated the traffic lights. The producers had to plant telephone poles and build a billboard for the scene. Murray tried to make the psychiatric ward in the episode's closure not resemble the one from season 2's "Soft Light", to avert repetition despite the similar ending. The farmhouse used for Darin's home, situated in Albion, British Columbia, was owned by a 94-year-old man and also used for the movies Jumanji and Jennifer Eight. The producers had difficulty obtaining permission to use a dead cow in the episode due to concerns over animal rights groups. When the fake cow created failed to look realistic enough, the producers were able to use a dead cow obtained from a slaughterhouse for the episode.
"D.P.O." was first broadcast in the US on October 6, 1995, on Fox. The episode earned a Nielsen rating of 10.9, with a 20 share, meaning that roughly 10.9 percent of all television-equipped households, and 20 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. The episode was watched by 15.57 million viewers.
Entertainment Weekly gave "D.P.O." a B+, considering that despite the lack of action, it managed to "keep you glued" for the photography and "truly hilarious sociopathic high jinks". Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club gave the same grade, praising Ribisi and Black's performances and "sequences that confidently walk the tricky line between horror and broad comedy", and marking it as the point where "the show's direction, always good, made the leap from consistently interesting to look at to consistently cinematic." Jane Goldman, in The X-Files Book of the Unexplained felt like the combination of Howard Gordon's "acutely observed dialogue" and Ribisi's "compelling performance" made Darin Oswald "one of season three's most memorable characters". Writing for Den of Geek, Nina Sordi put "D.P.O." only behind "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" as the best standalone season 3 episode, praising Ribisi's "all quiet, creepy power that eventually explodes into homicidal rage" and Jack Black's "weary and ultimately doomed sidekick".