Written by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon
Directed by David Nutter
In which Scully finds an old flame turning suddenly violent after being revived after death, resulting in her very first abduction...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
"You see what happens when government workers don't get out enough?"
The episode begins inside the Maryland Marine Bank, as Agent Scully assists Agent Jack Willis with an operation against serial bank robbery suspects Warren Dupre and Lula Phillips. Willis is anxious, sure about the tip he received, as though he could read the suspects’ minds. Outside, sure enough, the suspects prepare for the impending robbery, gushing over each other with saccharine entreaties of love.
Leaving Lula in the getaway car, Dupre bursts into the bank just before closing time, and is promptly confronted by the agents. When Willis orders Dupre to drop his weapon, Dupre seems to comply, but then drills Willis in the stomach with his shotgun. Scully immediately cuts Dupre down.
Both Willis and Dupre are taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital. Both Dupre and Willis go into cardiac arrest from their wounds. When the doctors decide to discontinue revival of Willis, Scully browbeats them into trying again. As they try to shock Willis’ heart into beating, each shock also makes Dupre’s body jerk. Finally, through some miracle, the doctors get a heartbeat, and Willis appears to be alive.
Two days later, in the middle of the night, Willis awakens. He leaves his bed and puts on another man’s clothes. When a nurse stops by, he hides nearby, ready to kill her if necessary. When the coast is clear, Willis prepares to walk away, but then he sees himself in the mirror. He seems completely awed by his own appearance. He finds his way to the morgue, where he pulls open the drawer for Dupre’s body. He tries to take off Dupre’s wedding ring, but when it sticks, he grabs some surgical shears and cuts off three fingers.
The next morning, Mulder and Scully are assisting in the subsequent investigation on Willis’ disappearance and Dupre’s missing appendages. The prints on the shears belong to Willis, which confuses Scully. She tells Mulder that Willis had been on the case for a year, working to the point of obsession on it. Scully wonders if Willis is suffering from some kind of post-traumatic psychosis. When Mulder reviews the case with Scully, he realizes that Dupre and Lula were married, and that Willis was after the wedding ring.
Meanwhile, Willis goes to the apartment where Dupre and Lula had been living, looking for Lula. When she’s not there, he’s not pleased. But he’s also confused, because on his left forearm, Dupre’s old tattoo has begun appearing on his skin.
Back at the basement office, Mulder shows Scully that the fingerprint analysis for the surgical shears proves that Willis was using his left hand to cut off the fingers. But records show Willis was right-handed…but Dupre was left-handed. When Scully wonders where Mulder could be going with it, he asks her how long Willis was clinically dead before being revived. He also asks her to look at the EKG strip for the period just after Willis’ revival, which looks like two superimposed heartbeats. Mulder thinks that when Willis was revived, his body was recovered…but Dupre’s mind also came back inside that body.
Mulder takes Scully to see Professor Varnes at the University of Maryland’s biology department. Varnes asks Scully what she knows about near-death experiences, and then notes that half of those who have such experiences exhibit increased electrical activity. Varnes believes that this accounts for the change in personality which often follows near-death. Sometimes, in fact, if the person experiencing near-death is close to others who die, the memories and even personalities of the dead can merge with the survivor.
Scully doesn’t buy it, because everything thus far can be explained psychologically. Mulder, knowing a little something of the field, wonders how well Scully knows Willis. She explains that they had dated for a year, back when she was in the academy and he was her instructor. Scully has fond memories of that year, and she finds it easier to believe that Willis might have gone nuts than to say that he’s been possessed by Dupre.
Meanwhile, Willis goes to Tommy, Lula’s sister, and demands to know where Lula is. Tommy, obviously very confused, points to the television set. Lula’s picture is being shown everywhere as the manhunt widens. Believing Tommy sold him out to the FBI, Willis shoots him in the head.
Sometime later, Mulder and Scully assist the other agents on the case at the new crime scene. Mulder notices that the position of the body suggests that Tommy was watching the television, but it’s been turned off. As he works to get a fingerprint, Willis shows up, wanting access to the scene. The local police detective, Officer Daniels, initially keeps him out, but Scully talks him into letting Willis join the effort. Still, Scully expresses her concerns over his physical and mental health, which Willis waves off. As Mulder discovers a fingerprint on the television, Willis convinces Scully to let him resume his work.
Back at the Bureau, Mulder finds Willis practicing at the shooting range, and asks him to sign a birthday card for Scully. A little later, at the office, he tosses it to Scully, who reminds Mulder that her birthday isn’t for two more months. Mulder knows that, and also remembers that Scully told him that Willis had the same birthday as Scully. But Willis didn’t seem to notice the error, and what’s more, he signed with his left hand. Mulder shows Scully a comparison of Willis’s old signature, and the one in the card. They don’t match. Still, Scully is convinced it’s due to stress.
Back at his desk, Willis looks through the file on Dupre’s case, his gaze lingering on Lula’s dossier. Willis gets information on Lula’s whereabouts, and calls Scully to ask for her help. Scully notes that the fingerprint from the crime scene is now missing, and that he was the one who took custody. He forcefully waves off the accusation, convincing Scully to go with him to the apartment building where Lula was spotted.
They speak with the manager of the building, and quickly track Lula down. They chase her into the basement, and Scully gets the drop on her. After cuffing Lula’s hands behind her back, Scully calls Willis over. But Willis just tosses Scully his own cuffs, telling her to put them on. When she hesitates, he threatens to kill her. As she complies, Willis dotes over a defiant Lula.
Back at Dupre’s apartment, Scully is handcuffed to a radiator. She’s been smacked around a bit. Willis does his best to convince Lula that he’s really Dupre, eventually providing details of the night they were married. Meanwhile, Mulder and another agent, Bruskin, track down the manager for the apartment building where Lula had been hiding. Mulder mentions that Willis may not be himself, which gets a scornful reaction from Bruskin.
The impending argument is interrupted when Willis calls Mulder’s cell phone. Willis lets Mulder know that he has Scully, but nothing else. Afterward, Scully reminds Willis that the FBI won’t negotiate, something he ought to know. But he claims to be Dupre, and remembers how Scully fought to save Willis, leaving him to die. When she persists on pushing him into admitting he’s Willis, he threatens to kill her, but Lula stops him. Scully notices that he’s drinking soda during the conversation, and quickly tells them that Willis is diabetic…and he’s already showing signs of impending diabetic coma.
Back at the office, Mulder goes through Willis’ field notes, and learns that Willis was clearly beginning to lose his objectivity on the case long before the shooting. When he receives information about a drugstore robbery near Willis’ estimated location, he informs Bruskin that Willis is diabetic. Back at the apartment, Scully prepares to give Willis the necessary injection, but Lula forces her to stop at the last moment. She destroys the insulin vial and reveal to Willis that she was the one that set up Dupre, not her brother. She had always planned on running off alone with the money.
Lula contacts the FBI, and demands one million dollars. They try to trace the call, but Lula was using Scully’s cell phone. Mulder takes the recording of the call to an audio expert, and they isolate the sound of a small plane taking off. Despite a few hecklers, Mulder convinces the agents on the case that his information is sound. They determine that Lula must be hiding out in a relatively small area, and begin searching undercover.
Back at the apartment, Willis is falling deeper into a diabetic coma. He’s beginning to remember his time with Scully, and she pushes him to remember more, trying to keep him awake. But as he begins to fade, Dupre takes over again. For a moment, Scully actually sees Dupre in place of Willis, as if seeing the mind behind the face.
Meanwhile, Lula answers the door, and brushes off a bible salesman. Of course, he’s really an undercover agent, and he relays the information to the rest of the team. As the agents coordinate, Lula checks on Willis and Scully. Willis appears to be dead, but when Lula checks on him, Willis grabs her gun and points it at her, holding her close. As he kisses her, he shoots her in the stomach. At the sound of gunfire, Mulder and the others rush in, but it’s too late. Lula and Willis are dead.
Sometime later, Scully quietly clears off Willis’ desk of personal items. Mulder stops by to drop off the items from the hospital, including a watch that Scully had given Willis on his birthday. Scully intends to give the items to the kid that Willis was Big Brother for, but she’s not sure how to explain what happened. Mulder suggests telling the kid the official story…that Willis was killed in the line of duty. But Scully isn’t sure what to tell herself, especially since the watch stopped exactly at the time of Willis’ original death. Scully wants to know what it all means, but Mulder can only suggests that it means whatever she wants it to mean.
After already running into one of Mulder’s previous flames in “Fire” (no pun intended), it’s a given that the series would eventually drag one of Scully’s former lovers into the picture. In this case, we are introduced to the concept of Scully as a woman who dates older men in roles of authority over her. While it’s not stated in quite this way, this would become the basis for future character exploration for Scully. To say that this is an unfortunate spin on what we learn in “Beyond the Sea” is an understatement.
At least there are no attempts to make Jack Willis into some kind of wild adventurous type. If anything, we might be tempted to draw parallels between Willis and Mulder. After all, Scully describes Willis as the driven, intense type, practically obsessive in his work. Why Scully would find this type of person to be comforting, I’m not sure, but at this point, it’s suggestive of why Scully slowly begins to fall for Mulder.
The relationship between Scully and Willis, which apparently ended on good terms, is used effectively enough in this episode. It suffers in that we don’t get to see the two of them interact prior to Willis’ possession, and so there’s not much of a baseline for us to judge his later actions against. With only the somewhat comical villains left to provide a sense of impending danger, the episode only begins to get tense after Scully is abducted and notes that Willis is falling into a diabetic coma.
Much of the episode is given over to procedural detective work, and that lends a certain interest along the way. And the overall premise is actually interesting. But the contrivances taken to bring that premise to fruition make no sense at all, and that lack of sense drags down the episode throughout.
After Willis is initially shot, the doctors are ready to pronounce him dead. Only Scully convinces them to keep trying to revive him. I have to wonder why Scully would even be allowed in the room, let alone permitted to order the hospital staff. The surgeon in charge ought to have tossed her out on her ear, regardless of whether or not she was a doctor.
Then we are supposed to believe that there is nothing monitoring the vitals of a man that was recently revived from cardiac failure and a shotgun wound to the gut. And that there is not one security camera in the entire Bethesda Naval Hospital. And that an agent that was missing for more than a day, after having mutilated a corpse, would be allowed to simply walk back onto a case by not only Scully, but his superiors in the Violent Crimes Unit. And that he would be trusted with key evidence in the case, after having his judgment clearly questioned. And that Scully would be stupid enough to trust him after admitting herself that, at the very least, he was suffering from post-traumatic psychosis.
After all of that, at least we get to see some of Scully’s backbone. She never lets her situation overwhelm her self-control, and everything she does is calculated at achieving the upper hand. In the same way, she refuses to back down to Mulder when it comes to the cause of Willis’ uncharacteristic behavior. The strength of her resistance to the possession claim gives the episode a bit of balance, allowing for the possibility that Willis had simply fallen victim to his own obsession over the relationship between Dupre and Lula. Of course, the whole business with the tattoo makes it clear that there is something more at work.
The episode also tries to draw a comparison between Willis and Scully, and their somewhat calm relationship, and the outright, over-the-top passion between Dupre and Lula. Even as the more choatic and wild passion degrades into betrayal and death, it’s Scully’s ability to call on the memories of that deeper bond with Willis that keeps him alive just long enough.
There are other ways in which this episode fails to gel. After having spent some time establishing that Mulder has been labeled a pariah by his former colleagues in the VCU, this episode finds the resistance to his involvement minimal at best. For that matter, Scully’s association with Mulder wasn’t exactly endearing her to the VCU either. It can be guessed that Willis requested Scully’s involvement, or perhaps Section Chief Blevins assigned her to the case, but there should have been some mention of that.
There are even timeline issues with this episode. Scully says that her birthday is February 23rd, but that doesn’t track with her later comment that her birthday isn’t for two months. Two episodes earlier, in “Beyond the Sea”, her father wonders if she’s going to keep her Christmas tree up all year. Between the later events of that episode and the episode that follows, it has to be late January 1994. In other words, no more than a month until Scully’s birthday!
Given how uneven this episode is, it’s nice to see that there is a solid basis behind the paranormal phenomenon behind it all. The idea that people come back from near-death experiences is nothing new, and there are documented cases of people returning from such experiences knowing information and having memories that they previously never had. It touches on the concept that memory is just information, that it can be stored independent of the physical body, and therefore another mind can somehow gain access to it. This is an exciting direction of current exploration into the nature of the mind, and perhaps this episode is an unwitting harbinger of the current research.
Regardless, this episode is simply too uneven, with gaps in the logic of the plotting that cannot be completely covered by the more involving detective work or Scully’s resolve.
DUPRE: “You make every day like New Year’s Eve…” (Puke!)
SCULLY: “I don’t discount the near-death experience because it can be explained empirically by stimulation of the temporal lobe.”
MULDER: “I sense a big ‘but’ coming…”
SCULLY: “We dated for almost a year. He was my instructor at the academy.”
MULDER: “The plot thickens…”
WILLIS: “Don’t worry, baby. It won’t make any difference in the dark.” (Such a romantic!)
SCULLY: “What am I supposed to tell myself?”
MULDER: “Good night…”
(Still one of the most unintentionally funny moments in the series!)
- Is it me, or did it sound like Dupre and Lula had watched “American Tail” a few time too many?
- Damn…Scully’s one hell of a steady shot!
- I’m still trying to figure out what Scully saw in Willis. He didn’t exactly strike me as being all that attractive.
- Cool bit with the tattoo, though of course, that basically eliminates any of the more mundane explanations for the incident.
- I like the theory connecting near-death experiences with odd bioelectric effects…and of course, the idea that memory is transient information
- I love Mulder’s little trick with the card here…that kind of clever maneuvering gradually disappeared over the years.
- Doesn’t anybody just go on a honeymoon anymore?
- The “Dana” didn’t quite work as well this time around…it sounded forced, which at least was acknowledged by Morgan and Wong!
- There’s some nice procedural and analysis work shown here. Again, something that just falls away over time.
Overall, this episode started off rather badly, with some serious logic issues, but it got better in the later acts. Still, the writing is spotty at best, and there’s an odd lack of tension throughout. It’s the exploration of Scully and the strength of her resolve that keeps this episode from being a complete flop.
I give it a 5/10.
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