Written by Howard Gordon and Chris Carter
Directed by Michael Lange
In which Mulder and Scully investigate a series of mysterious deaths linked to a faith healer, and Mulder finds himself struggling with his own questions of faith...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
"Well, now, what could you possibly be frightened of here?"
As the episode begins, a fire rages in a building in Kenwood, Tennessee in 1983. The fire chief orders the emergency personnel to leave a dead man in a body bag on a stretcher while they attend to a woman who is still alive and needs attention. Moments later, Reverend Hartley leads a young boy over to the dead man, and opens the body bad. The boy takes the dead man’s hand, and calls on the dead man to rise up. Even as the fire chief orders the rest of crowd to disperse, the dead man stirs and clasps the boy’s hand.
Flash forward to early 1994. In the basement office, Scully plays a videotape of Reverend Hartley’s Miracle Ministry revival rally, where a young man is preparing to lay hands on a woman with a malignant tumor on her spine. Mulder recognizes the reverend, as well as the boy: Samuel, Hartley’s adopted son. Samuel is claimed to have brought a man back from the dead…and that man is now Hartley’s right hand man. The local authorities have been trying to press fraud charges for years, with no success.
The regional office in Tennessee sent in the videotape because the woman in question was pronounced dead 20 minutes after Samuel supposedly heals her. Because the locals have been unable to determine cause of death, they have requested FBI assistance.
Sometime later, Mulder and Scully arrive in Kenwood, where Hartley is holding yet another rally for the Miracle Ministry. They scoff at the blatant merchandising as they enter the tent. Sheriff Daniels, the local contact, checks one last time on his disabled wife before entering the tent as well. Inside, Hartley apologizes to the crowd, saying that Samuel is unable to appear. He leaves to allow several members of the Ministry to testify, followed by his disfigured aide, Leonard Vance.
Mulder and Scully catch up with Hartley and ask to see Samuel. Hartley is less then pleased at their presence, but claims not to know where Samuel is, and that the boy’s been troubled of late. As Hartley is driven away in his rather shiny white Cadillac, Sheriff Daniels approaches them, introducing himself. Daniels hands Scully a copy of the local coroner’s report, and she studies its contents as they walk.
Daniels explains that he’s known Hartley since he was a two-bit corner stumper. Daniels thinks that Hartley and Samuel are fakes, and that Samuel killed several people just by laying on hands. Unfortunately, Samuel has been missing for days. Scully notes that no autopsies were performed, and Daniels mentions that Hartley blocked them on religious grounds…and the coroner is a member of the Ministry. Scully suggests that they exhume the bodies to conduct a proper investigation.
That night, as the first body is about to be exhumed, the agents and the sheriff find themselves surrounded by a large group of people bearing candles, led by Vance. Even though Scully reminds them that they have federal authority, Vance claims that they get orders from an even higher authority. Vance and the others are prepared to stage a vigil to prevent the bodies from being exhumed. But then Daniels gets word that Samuel was located, so it becomes a moot point.
The agents follow Daniels to a pool hall out in the middle of nowhere, and discover that Samuel started a bar fight after getting himself good and smashed. Daniels informs Samuel that he’s being arrested for suspicion of murder. Mulder objects, wondering what grounds Daniels has to charge Samuel at this point. But Daniels makes it clear that guilt has already been determined.
Mulder asks for a minute alone with Samuel, and Samuel claims that the beating he just took was penance for being too proud. He even goes so far as to say that the deaths are his price for pride as well. He believes that the devil is working through his hands, instead of God. Scully scoffs at Samuel’s claims, and Samuel accuses Scully of doubting the power of God. Scully, of course, sets the record straight.
But Samuel claims that he can see Mulder’s pain, the pain of loss of a sister. Scully offers to get Daniels and end the charade, but Mulder insists on listening. Samuel tells him that he sees strangers and a bright light, and a sister, quite young. Daniels comes to take Samuel away before Mulder can hear anymore. As he’s led away, Samuel calls out for Mulder to open his heart, so he can see the signs God is leaving for him every day. Mulder is visibly shaken.
The next morning, at the county courthouse, Hartley’s defense attorney requests that Samuel be released without bail. Samuel immediately objects. After the judge orders him to be silent, the district attorney agrees on the release, but asks for $100,000 bail. But as the judge sets the bail, the courtroom erupts into screams as the room is filled with locusts. Samuel takes it as a sign from God of his guilt. Hartley believes Daniels was somehow involved.
Later, in Mulder’s hotel room, Mulder reads from the Bible as Scully examines one of the locusts. Mulder suggests that the locusts were a sign, but Scully points out that locusts are common in such agricultural areas. When Scully asks if this has something to do with what Samuel said about his sister, Mulder hands her a file with medical reports on Samuel’s former “patients”.
When Scully points out that spontaneous healing is encountered often in medicine, Mulder counters that some treat the body as an electromagnetic system. So if Samuel can heal using this energy, he could also kill just as easily. Mulder thinks it’s a matter of Samuel’s faith in himself, one way or another. Before Scully can reply, there is a knock on the door. Vance, Hartley’s aide, has come to request their presence.
At Hartley’s rather nice residence, the man apologizes for his rude behavior when they were first introduced. He asks the agents to help him prove that Samuel is innocent, despite the boy’s confession. He feels that people don’t understand Samuel, and that’s why they are trying to destroy him. It’s clear that the implication is that Daniels is behind it, because of a lack of faith. He points out that Daniels’ wife is badly disabled, in great pain, yet he has never sought Samuel’s healing for her.
As Scully points out that the recent deaths are reason enough to question Samuel’s healing, Mulder notices a young girl with long dark hair and a red dress standing outside Hartley’s window. He excuses himself, and rushes outside to find the girl. Finding no one, he asks a man waxing Hartley’s car where the girl went, but the man has no idea what he’s talking about. Scully catches up, and wonders what Mulder saw. Looking up at Samuel in an upstairs window, Mulder tells her that it was a little girl.
That night, Vance welcomes guests to the latest Miracle Ministry rally. A disabled young woman named Margaret is brought in by her parents. Vance greets her kindly, handing her some refreshments, and offers to put her in the front row to see Samuel. She and her parents are delighted.
Backstage, Samuel doesn’t want to perform his miracles again, but Hartley and Vance talk him into it As Mulder and Scully pass the collection plate down their row, Hartley emerges to start the rally. Hartley introduces Vance as a testament to Samuel’s gift, and Vance testifies as Samuel’s entrance is announced.
As Samuel begins to touch the people in the front row, Mulder sees the little girl again, standing at the opposite end of the row. He gets up and chases after her, but she disappears. As Mulder continues to search, Samuel steps up to Margaret and prays over her. But seconds later, she starts to heave in pain. As the crowd watches Margaret go into convulsions, Scully rushes up to help. By the time Mulder and Daniels arrive, it’s too late. Margaret is dead.
At the hospital, Vance leads a vigil to prevent Scully from performing an autopsy. Scully discusses it with Margaret’s father, and asks if he really wants his daughter to be buried without knowing her true cause of death. As he goes to discuss it with his wife, Mulder asks Scully if she thinks Samuel killed the girl. Scully doesn’t think so, because as she puts it, “God never lets the Devil steal the show”. When she asks him who he had been chasing in the crowd, it’s clear that Mulder thinks she’s seeing Samantha. Scully thinks that Mulder is falling prey to the power of suggestion, but Mulder reminds her that Margaret is dead.
Margaret’s parents agree to the autopsy, and Scully finds evidence of cyanide poisoning. It takes until late that night to confirm it. Afterward, Mulder visits Samuel in the county jail, and informs the boy that he’s going ask Daniels to release him. Samuel doesn’t understand, until Mulder tells him that Margaret was poisoned.
Still, Samuel believes that it’s his fault, and doesn’t want to be released. Mulder, angry at Samuel’s insistence to take responsibility, demands to know if Samuel made Samantha appear to him. When Samuel refuses to answer, Mulder leaves. On the way out, he runs into Daniels, and he tells the sheriff that he had come to ask for Samuel’s release, but not anymore. Once Mulder is gone, one of Daniel’s deputies brings two thugs into Samuel’s cell, and they begin to beat him mercilessly.
The next morning, the deputy arrives to tell Daniels that Samuel is dead. As the body is removed from the cell, the agents are incredulous. Hartley accuses Daniels of killing Samuel, but Vance holds him back and suggests he tell the ministry what happened before they find out from the media. Scully notices that Mulder is thoughtful, and wonders what he is thinking.
They go back to the courtroom, where Mulder thinks they can find some kind of clue to make sense of what’s been happening. They track the locusts to a vent in the ceiling, and discover that food had been left in a trail on the roof, ending in the ventilation intake. Mulder figures that if they figure out who purchased the locusts to put on the show, it ought to be the one responsible for the murders.
That night, as a thunderstorm rages outside, Vance awakens to find Samuel standing in front of the bed, a glow surrounding his body. The apparent spirit of Samuel accuses Vance of betraying him and committing the murders, even after Samuel brought him back to life. Vance counters that his existence is not the life he would have asked for.
Soon after, Mulder and Scully come knocking on Hartley’s door, Daniels in the lead. They have a warrant for Vance’s arrest, having traced an order for cyanogen bromide to Hartley’s aide. But when they go to Vance’s room, the man is shaking in his bed. He’s taken his own poison. He confesses the reason for his crime, and tells them that Samuel had been there…and had forgiven him. Then he dies.
Later that night, Scully drafts her report on the case. Vance had been trying to discredit Samuel and the Ministry in vengeance for being restored to life as a burn victim. She concludes that it’s unlikely any miracles were ever truly performed. Just then, Mulder gets a call, and moments later he informs Scully that Samuel’s body is missing from the morgue.
At the morgue, the deputy tells Mulder that the night nurse, Beatrice, claims to have seen Samuel rise and walk out. Daniels doesn’t buy it, but when they question Beatrice, she confirms her story. Daniels is outraged at the thought, but Beatrice refuses to recant.
The next day, Daniels returns home to find his wife reading the paper. It says that Samuel rose from the dead, and she wants him to tell her that it’s not true. But he can’t answer. A moment later, the deputy arrives to take Daniels to speak with the DA about Samuel’s death.
Later, outside the vacant ministry tent, Mulder muses over Hartley’s future success, now that he can claim that his Samuel rose from the dead. Scully figures that Hartley could have stolen the body, but Mulder doesn’t believe that. He thinks that people simply make themselves see what they want to see. As he moves to get into the car, he sees a little girl reflected in the car window, and quickly turns. No one is there. Finally, he gets in the car, and they drive away.
One of the recurring themes on the “X-Files” concerns the issue of faith versus reason, the eternal debate between the strictures of scientific inquiry and the desire to believe in something more. As evidenced in “Beyond the Sea”, Mulder struggles with the idea of an eternal soul or something more than the concrete. Scully, through the lens of her Catholic upbringing, takes a somewhat wider view. This episode forces some of this debate to the surface, and at the same time, turns it on its head. It’s not the most effective look at the issue of the spirit or faith, but it does open the door for interesting character study.
At the heart of the episode is the question of belief, and what constitutes a reasonable basis for one’s faith. Casting this around a supposed faith healer working within the possibly corrupt confines of an evangelical ministry is more than just timely. It allows both Mulder and Scully to detach themselves from the instant bias that would come with a more reputable church.
Scully, after all, takes a bit of umbrage at the dishonest, commercial side of the ministry, and with good reason. Able to cast everything she sees and hears in that skeptical mold, the claims of healing and spiritual warfare become simply the framework of the crime. Mulder appears to be just as skeptical until he encounters Samuel and the boy speaks to him about his sister.
From that point on, things become wonderfully difficult to fathom. Is everything we see simply a matter of suggestion, leading the ministry and Mulder to see and believe things that are simply not there, or is there something truly miraculous happening? Both Mulder and Scully waver as the episode marches on towards its inevitable conclusion, and it makes for a compelling situation.
The final act is especially well done, since at first glance it appears as though there are genuinely spiritual events taking place. But after watching it carefully, it’s clear that no real conclusion fits the entire story. Even though Samuel’s body is missing from the morgue, that doesn’t necessarily translate into resurrection. As Mulder says at the end, it all comes down to whether a person believes so strongly that they make something appear to be what they wish it to be.
It’s also a nice twist to have the reverend turn out to be more genuine than his lifestyle indicates, as it runs completely against the grain of public perception. That might have been a choice born of a desire to avoid too much controversy, but something tells me that it was calculated to keep viewers from drawing too many conclusions. The final revelation that the murderer was Vance makes complete sense, and it begs the interesting question of whether second chances are a blessing or a curse.
As well considered as the plot is, the execution is sometimes weak. Mulder’s supposed visions of his sister almost feel overdone, and there are some moments where the pacing feels a bit awkward. The acting is mostly well done, especially when it comes to the leads and Samuel. Perhaps understandably, Hartley, Vance, and Daniels all give a somewhat stereotypical feel, though that could have been the fault of the direction.
For an episode that could have easily fallen prey to Chris Carter’s “cool idea” trap, there is a surprising amount of interesting material. Mulder and Scully are both given the chance to blur the lines of their skepticism along the way, and it adds a nice touch to what could have easily been a forgettable case.
MULDER: “The boy’s been performing miracles every week for the past ten years. Twice on Sundays.”
SCULLY: “Maybe we should head backstage and see what the reverend has to say.”
MULDER: “No, wait , wait…this is the part where they bring out Elvis.”
DANIELS: “99% of the people in this world are fools…and the rest of us are in great danger of contagion.”
SCULLY: “Mulder…what is it?”
MULDER: “It’s a girl.”
SCULLY: “Who? Jessica Hahn?”
SCULLY: “I was raised a Catholic, and I have a certain familiarity with the scripture. And God never lets the Devil steal the show.”
MULDER: “You must have really liked ‘The Exorcist’.”
SCULLY: “One of my favorite movies…”
SCULLY: “You’ve got that look on your face, Mulder.”
MULDER: “What look is that?”
SCULLY: “The kind when you’ve forgotten your keys and you’re trying to figure out how to get back into the house.”
MULDER: “Remember, the boy did rise from the dead. That kind of thing happens only once or twice every two thousand years or so.” (How ironic this sounds…)
SCULLY: “Yeah, and I have a story about a plague of locusts. I just hope Reverend Hartley didn’t arrange this body snatching as his miracle of miracles.”
MULDER: “Somehow, I don’t think so.”
SCULLY: “What exactly do you think?”
MULDER: “I think people are looking hard for miracles…so hard that maybe they make themselves see what they want to see.”
- Is it me, or does Vance’s supposedly dead arm move by itself before Samuel brings him back to life?
- Gotta love the Super Evangelist speaking cadance…GAW-DA!
- How about the Reverend’s license plate: B HEALD!
- Nice of the ministry to melt out of the fog and shadows like some sort of mad cult. Not that they need to do that to appear to be a cult…
- That has to be one of the most boring bars I’ve ever seen. I mean, the God-fearing healer is the one starting the bar fights!
- Was Gillian already beginning to show at this point? In some scenes, she looks as though she’s filling out a bit in her pregnancy.
- Nice hair in the courtroom, Mulder…
- That has to be one of the ugliest hotel rooms I’ve ever seen!
- Unless I’m mixing up my biochemistry again, cyanide usually kills a lot faster than is shown in this episode…as in a matter of minutes after exposure. Conversation shouldn’t even be an option!
- What’s with the blatant David Lynch flashing-light motif?
Overall, this episode was one of the more interesting episodes of the first season, if only because there is very little resolution to the central mysteries at its heart. Bringing Samantha into it added some weight, and the question of faith drives to the heart of both characters.
I give it a 7/10.
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