"Roland" is the twenty-third episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network on May 6, 1994. It was written by Chris Ruppenthal and directed by David Nutter. The episode featured guest appearances by Željko Ivanek, James Sloyan and Kerry Sandomirsky. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, a stand-alone plot which is unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Roland" earned a Nielsen household rating of 7.9, being watched by 7.4 million households in its initial broadcast; and received mixed reviews from critics, although Ivanek's guest role was met with acclaim.
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. When Mulder and Scully investigate a series of murders at an aerospace testing facility, they find that a mentally handicapped janitor may be responsible—and that he is being telepathically controlled by one of the facility's former researchers.
"Roland" was the first of two episodes of The X-Files written by Chris Ruppenthal, who would go on to write the second season episode "3", which was heavily rewritten by series regulars Glen Morgan and James Wong. "Roland" contains the series' first mention of Fox Mulder's father Bill, although the character would not actually make an appearance until the second season episode "Colony".
At a research lab in Colson, Washington, intellectually disabled janitor Roland Fuller is scolded by scientist Dr. Keats for forgetting how to use the facility's keycard locks. Keats walks in on his colleagues, Frank Nollette and Ronald Surnow, as they argue over a prototype jet engine they are developing. Nollette wants to push testing of the engine to break mach 15, but Surnow is unwilling to risk damaging the prototype. After Keats and Nollette angrily leave, Surnow enters the facility's wind tunnel to make adjustments. However, Roland activates the tunnel's turbines, sending Surnow flying to his death.
Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are brought in to investigate Surnow's death. Scully notes that another member of the research team, Arthur Grable, had mysteriously died several months earlier, and believes it to be a case of industrial espionage. Mulder examines the handwriting on the team's whiteboard and concludes that it has been written by at least four different people, leading him to suspect that a fourth individual was present. Keats and Nollette both inform the agents that Roland Fuller was the only one left in the facility at the time of Surnow's death, but do not believe him to be capable of murder.
Nevertheless, Mulder and Scully visit the care home where Roland lives. When they gently ask him about the night of the murder, he tells them he had not seen anything out of the ordinary. He also inadvertently reveals his mathematical prowess by rapidly counting the star designs visible on Scully's blouse; however, his handwriting does not match the fourth sample taken from the whiteboard. The discussion ends when Roland experiences a violent vision and has what seems to be a fit. Later that night, Roland has another vision in which he sees someone killing Keats. He appears at the lab and murders Keats by submerging his head in a tank of liquid nitrogen. Keats' frozen body is left to shatter as Roland begins typing at one of the computers.
The next day, the agents notice that the computer had been used for five hours after Keats' death. Attempting to open the file that was being worked on, Mulder realizes that the number Roland had written on an art project the previous day is the computer's password. The file turns out to be the work of Arthur Grable, and has been worked on constantly since his death.
Looking into Grable's death, the agents find that it was he who had hired Roland. They begin to think that Grable faked his death and is killing his former colleagues, using Roland as a patsy. Grable's body was never brought to the morgue, nor was a funeral ever held. However, Nollette brings the agents to a neuropreservation facility where Grable's remains are being stored. When a photo of Grable is found, the agents discover that he is Roland's identical twin brother. Speaking to Roland again, Mulder becomes convinced that the janitor is being periodically controlled by Grable.
Meanwhile, Nollette sneaks into the cryogenic facility and tampers with Grable's storage unit, thawing his remains. Roland returns to the lab and is in the process of pushing the prototype engine to mach 15 when Nollette enters. Nollette admits to stealing Grable's work and prepares to shoot Roland, but is distracted by some equations. Roland strikes him with a computer keyboard and drags him into the wind tunnel. The agents arrive in time to convince Roland not to kill Nollette. At the same time, the rising temperatures in the storage unit kill Grable. Roland is removed from the care home, to be taken to a psychiatric institute for testing. However, as he leaves he stops to comb his hair in a style reminiscent of his brother, raising the question of whether he is actually free of Grable's control.
"Roland" was the first of two episodes of The X-Files written by Chris Ruppenthal. He would return to write the second season episode "3", which was heavily rewritten by series regulars Glen Morgan and James Wong. Željko Ivanek, who plays the episode's title character, was the first actor to read for the part. Series creator Chris Carter felt that Ivanek's audition "just blew [him] away", deciding almost immediately to cast him. Garry Davey, who portrays scientist Dr. Keats, also appeared in several other episodes of the series, and was also at one time the artistic director of the William Davis Centre for Actors Study, working alongside William B. Davis, who plays the series' villain The Smoking Man. Art director Graeme Murrary spent time scouting universities and research facilities in Vancouver to aid in creating the right look for the episode's laboratory and wind tunnel sets.
"Roland" contains the series' first mention of Fox Mulder's father Bill, although the character would not actually make an appearance until the second season episode "Colony". In the original draft of the script for "Roland", however, Mulder's mention of his father was instead meant to be his sister, Samantha. The scene depicting the aftermath of the Dr. Keats' murder—with the scattered pieces of his shattered frozen body marked off with multiple chalk outlines—has been described as "truly inspired". Chris Carter noted that "any shock and horror was eliminated by the laugh you got when you saw those little pieces on the floor", also commenting that the actual murder takes place off-screen, and is only heard.
"Roland" premiered on the Fox network on May 6, 1994, and was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two on March 2, 1995. This episode earned a Nielsen household rating of 7.9, with a 14 share, meaning that in the US, roughly 7.9 percent of all television-equipped households, and 14 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 7.4 million households.
Director David Nutter felt that casting Željko Ivanek was the key to creating the episode, feeling that "Roland" was "probably the weakest script from start to finish" that the director had seen, but that once Ivanek had been cast, it became "important to push that as much as possible, to help outweigh the frailties in the script". Chris Carter has also praised Ivanek's involvement with the episode, calling the actor's portrayal "just an amazing performance. This guy, Zeljko, should have won an award for this". Glen Morgan, a regular writer for the series, felt that the episode "wasn't completely effective", but also added that it offered a "softer" outlook compared to the series' other episodes so far, feeling that it was important to include several "episodes that demonstrate the paranormal isn't always horrifying".
In a retrospective of the first season in Entertainment Weekly, "Roland" was rated a B+, with guest star Željko Ivanek's portrayal of the eponymous Roland being called " astonishing (and convincing)", and the episode's "excellent death scenes" noted as highlights. Zack Handlen, writing for The A.V. Club, had mixed feelings about the episode, feeling that its plot was too similar to the previous episode "Born Again", though rating Ivanek's acting as "authentic" and "uncontrived"; ultimately calling the episode "well-built enough to be enjoyable despite its familiarity". Matt Haigh, writing for Den of Geek, felt negatively about the episode, again finding it too similar to other episodes of the season, finding it to be "nothing incredibly exciting", noting that it "follows pretty much the same template as many of the other episodes".