"Born Again"
Written by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon
Directed by Jerrold Freedman



In which Mulder and Scully investigate the unexplained death of a police officer, and uncover a possible case of reincarnation with an attitude...

Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations


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"Does this seem familiar to you for some reason?"


Synopsis

As the episode begins, it is mid-April 1994. Detective Rudy Barbala of the 14th Precinct in Buffalo, New York comes into work as the night shift ends. Her shift over, Detective Sharon Lazard leaves the station, and sees a young girl sitting by herself in a nearby alley. The girl is apparently lost, so Lazard brings her into the station.

She asks Barbala to help the girl find her parents, and he takes her into a conference room to ask some questions. She reluctantly tells him that her name is Michelle Bishop. Moments later, Barbala is propelled through the window and down onto a car far below. Lazard runs into the room to find Michelle still sitting at the table, calm as can be.

Sometime later that day, Mulder and Scully arrive at the station house and meet with Lazard. Although the death is being called a suicide, Lazard is sure there’s more to it, and she knows Mulder’s reputation. She tells them that Michelle reported that another man was in the room with her and Barbala, but Lazard is certain that they were alone.

Shortly, Mulder and Scully go to see Michelle and her mother. Mulder and another agent work with Michelle to develop a computer sketch of the man she saw in the room. When the agent attempts to put Michelle at ease with some silly examples of mustaches, the computer acts on its own to produce the correct picture.

Meanwhile, Scully speaks with Michelle’s mother. Apparently Michelle locked her nanny in the wine cellar and ran off to Buffalo on her own. Michelle is a disturbed child, very withdrawn, and she claims to hear voices in her head. When her parents bought a pool, she would scream if her parents tried to take her near the water.

Mulder comes out of the house with the sketch of the man Michelle saw at the police station, but her mother doesn’t recognize him. Michelle also mentioned a friend named Sheila Braun, who turns out to be her developmental psychologist. Mulder looks up at a window where Michelle is standing, and the girl tosses out a folded piece of blue paper. It’s shaped like a bird of some kind, in the Japanese origami style. Her mother has no idea where she learned the art.

Mulder and Scully leave, confirming with the other agent that the sketch will be run through the system. Mulder asks the agent if he can run Scully back to Buffalo for the autopsy, so he can go to speak with Dr. Braun. He tells her to check for burns on Barbala’s body, since psychokinesis is associated with an electrical charge. Scully is skeptical, of course.

Mulder meets with Dr. Braun, who also cannot identify the man in the sketch. She notes, however, that Michelle could have fabricated the man as part of her dissociative disorder. Dr. Braun has been trying to find the source of Michelle’s extreme rage. She shows Mulder a series of dolls that Michelle methodically dismembered by ripping off the left arm and gouging out the right eye.

Mulder offers deep regression hypnosis as an approach, but Braun waves it off, preferring thorazine treatments. When Mulder asks if there have ever been any explained phenomena in Michelle’s presence, Braun quickly ends the interview.

Scully, meanwhile, begins her autopsy of Barbala. Sure enough, on his lower chest, there is a large circular lesion suggestive of localized electrocution. Before she can continue, Lazard interrupts her with news on the man in the sketch. He’s been identified as Charlie Morris, a cop from Precinct 27, who has been dead for nine years.

Back at the station house, Scully explains to Mulder that Charlie Morris was killed in Chinatown by the Triads. Mulder is sure that some kind of extraordinary phenomena is at work. But Scully points out that there’s a plague with Charlie Morris’ picture on a display case by the door to the conference room, and believes that Michelle simply remembered that face. Mulder’s not convinced, and asks Scully how Morris was murdered. As Mulder expects, the man’s left arm was cut off and his right eye was gouged out.

Sure that there is something to connect Michelle to Charlie Morris, Mulder takes Scully to see Charlie’s old partner, Det. Tony Fiore. Fiore asks to speak with them on his porch, claiming that his wife is sleeping. They ask him about Morris’ death, but he claims he can’t talk about it. When they tell him that they are investigating the death of Det. Barbala from the 14th precinct, he begins to get a little jumpy, claiming that he only knew Barbala by reputation.

They ask about Morris’ death again, and he tells them that after some heavy drug busts in Chinatown, the Triads just picked a cop to murder as payback. Before they can ask more questions, Fiore’s wife steps out, obviously not asleep. Fiore awkwardly asks them to call him back on Monday morning. Mulder and Scully recognize that something doesn’t feel right.

Soon after, Fiore goes to meet with another man named Leon Felder, an insurance agent. Fiore is worried that the agents might discover something about Morris and Barbala. Felder isn’t concerned, but Fiore wants to go to the bank and take a few million dollars out of some security box. Felder insists that they all agreed to wait ten years, and what happened to Morris was an unfortunate accident. He stresses that Fiore needs to keep himself together.

That night, as Felder leave the office, he takes the bus to another stop. As he gets off the bus, something unseen grabs the end of his scarf and wraps it around the inside handrail. As the bus pulls away, Felder gets pulled along with it. The bus driver tries to stop, but the same unseen force pushes down the accelerator. Felder eventually loses his footing. By the time the bus stops, Felder is dead…and Michelle, inside the bus, is looking down at him through the window.

Back at the station house, Mulder and Scully try to console Ms. Bishop, who doesn’t understand what is happening to her daughter. Lazard arrives to speak with Mulder. Felder, it turns out, used to be a cop at the 14th precinct…and his partner was Barbala. Mulder and Scully realize that there is some connection between the four cops and Michelle. The four cops were involved in a large-cash drug bust, so Fiore’s claims of not knowing Barbala don’t make sense. Not only that, but information is missing from the Morris investigative file…which was signed out by Fiore that afternoon.

They return to Fiore’s house the next morning, but Fiore hasn’t come home. His wife lets them in. They look around the living room, and see a large tropical fish tank with the figure of a diver on the bottom. They also see a large collection of origami animals.

Mulder and Scully asks Ms. Fiore if she might know if Fiore was in trouble, or if he ever mentioned other detectives named Barbala or Felder. She doesn’t recognize the names. When Mulder comments on the origami, she notes that was her first husband’s hobby…Charlie Morris.

As they leave, Mulder instantly notes that Michelle would have been conceived around the same time that Morris was murdered. Scully is far from convinced, but Mulder is sure that Michelle is, in some way, Charlie Morris. Not only that, but he’s sure that Michelle’s situation can prove the existence of paranormal phenomena.

Sometime later, Mulder has Michelle placed into deep regression hypnosis by someone named Dr. Spitz. Dr. Braun and Ms. Bishop look on, very unhappily. Almost immediately, Michelle says she’s twenty-four and starts screaming: “We can’t do this! They’re killing me!” Dr. Braun and Ms. Bishop stop the session, very unhappy with Mulder. Mulder insists on forcing them to try again, until Scully points out that even if he gets his answers, it wouldn’t give them an actionable case.

That night, as Mulder writes in his field journal, he reviews the videotape from the hypnosis session. He notices a couple frames of static just before Michelle becomes agitated. At the same time, someone knocks on the door at the Fiore residence. When a worried Mrs. Fiore opens the door, an origami giraffe is sitting on the porch.

A little later, Mulder and Scully watch as an agent runs the videotape through video enhancement software. Lazard was able to dig up a copy of the missing autopsy record from Morris’ file, and it indicates that Morris died from drowning. What’s more, the analysis indicates that only his head was submerged in sea water.

Fiore returns home with a filled tote bag, and calls for his wife to pack a bag so they can leave. He doesn’t explain why, other than someone is trying to kill him. Outside, on the porch, Michelle watches them through the window. Back at the video enhancement lab, Mulder and Scully are shown the final results: an image of the diver figurine in Fiore’s tropical fish tank.

At the Fiore home, the power goes out, and Fiore pulls his gun, telling his wife to stay in their bedroom. The door locks itself, and when Fiore gets downstairs, wires reach out and wrap around his legs, pulling him to the ground. His gun out of reach, he looks up to find Michelle staring at him. Mulder and Scully try to get into the house, but some unseen force locks the front door and windows. They sneak in through a basement door.

As Fiore begs for mercy, objects fly at him from around the room. Mulder and Scully manage to get into the house, and Mulder sends Scully upstairs to check on Mrs. Fiore. Mulder runs into the living room and confronts Michelle. By the time Scully and Mrs. Fiore arrive, Fiore confesses his part in killing his old partner. The others beg Michelle not to kill Fiore, and she relents, destroying the fish tank instead.

Sometime later, Mulder checks on Michelle, and she is suddenly acting like a young child again. She has no memory of what happened, and Dr. Braun won’t allow him to conduct another hynopsis session. In the end, even though one case was solved, Mulder is unable to get the conclusive evidence of the paranormal that he was searching for.


Analysis

Once again, the concept of some kind of reincarnation or “soul merging” stands at the center of a first season episode. The same ground was essentially covered in “Shadows” and “Lazarus”, with essentially the same phenomena at its heart. Whereas in “Lazarus” the situation involved two souls in conflict, this episode sees another soul taking possession of a young child. Both this episode and “Shadows” involve some kind of justice from the grave.

As interesting as this concept is, and as much as the concept of the soul deserves to be explored within the mythology, this kind of retread doesn’t do it much justice. The case itself is relatively straightforward and not very involving, and in an odd reversal of the usual formula, Mulder is the one writing a field report during the course of the episode.

With the central mystery of the episode having been covered already, the real interest lies in the situation the agents find themselves in after last episode’s implied threat against the X-Files themselves. While this episode doesn’t directly mention this threat, Mulder’s behavior and Scully’s response to that behavior reflects the strained nature of their investigations.

Mulder is far more concerned at documented and effectively “proving” the eternal nature of the soul, if only to have something in hand to substantiate his own efforts. He even goes so far as to suggest that Michelle’s best interests ought to be secondary to his own goal. It’s almost as though Mulder is beginning to let his own desperate need for answers take him into the same morally ambiguous ground as his detractors.

On the other hand, Scully knows that the more likely means to save the department would come with some kind of actionable charge with a solid foundation in proven investigative techniques. As willing as she might be to entertain Mulder’s musings over the larger and more arcane issues, she knows that there has to be something more acceptable to Skinner and the Bureau for Mulder to continue his work.

That brings up an interesting question. Why does Mulder write the case report in this episode? Maybe it’s his personal stake in the future of the department. He may feel that a more direct involvement in the case reports, maybe even in semi-contradiction to Scully’s own reports. Whatever the reasons, in the end, it’s more likely to damn his cause than bolster it.

Mulder and Scully are justified to feel concerned. If Detective Lazard is aware of Mulder’s reputation, and he’s gaining enough credibility for law enforcement to request his involvement on those grounds, then Mulder is certainly outlasting his usefulness to the conspiracy. He is only useful for the purposes of spreading disinformation so long as his theories are accepted by the fringe elements of society. If anything, Mulder is becoming a dangerous element in the equation.

If these issues had been more explicitly explored, rather than left to open speculation, then this episode might have been more interesting. As it is, the episode plays like what it ultimately is: a retread of an earlier episode that really didn’t need to be explored like this again.


Memorable Quotes

MULDER: “Short of her growing a mustache, how much more apparent does it have to become for you to accept it?”

(It’s a reach, I know, but every other line is so damned serious…)


Observations

- Det. Lazard reminded me of Janice on “Friends”. That’s not a good thing.

- When Mulder and Scully first arrive at the station, different camera angles have very different color composition…check out Scully’s makeup and hair color if you don’t believe me!

- Speaking of Scully’s hair color, she’s got some seriously dark tips in this episode…

- Why would Mulder, with a doctorate in psychology, make the common mistake of equating split personality syndrome with schizophrenia?

- How creepy is it to keep all of those deformed dolls all in a row, locked away in some cabinet…

- How come Mulder and Scully couldn’t figure out that Fiore was hiding something? The guy was practically giving away clues!

- They were really overdoing it with the accents…they were Buffalo, not Brooklyn!

- Why didn’t Felder just take the scarf off his neck, while the bus was still moving slowly enough?

- The video effect with the diving suit was one of the best parts of the episode…the score was nicely chilling…

- Bad lighting effect: When the lights go out in the Fiore home, it shouldn’t take so long for the lights outside to show up. Especially when the lights are so bright that they look like what they are: lighting rigs!

- On the other hand, the effects used for Possessed!Michelle slowed the climax of the episode to a crawl, and stole away any remaining tension…

Overall, this episode is little more than a slow and less than involving retread of other episodes this season, and while the concept itself is very interesting, this take on it goes nowhere. The writing was a little flat, the direction was less than stellar, and some of the acting was disinterested.

I give it a 4/10.


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