Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong
Directed by Michael Katleman
In which Mulder and Scully give a latter-day Casper with a bad attitude a helping hand, and lend a little assistance to some shadow government agency in the process
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
"I'll teach you to open letters with your teeth!"
The episode opens in the office of Howard Graves at HTG Industrial Technologies. A woman named Lauren Kyte is removing pictures of Howard with several different presidents from the office wall; it is obvious that the man had recently passed, and that Lauren is overwrought with grief. Howard apparently killed himself. Another woman, Jane, tells Lauren to go home and take it easy. Lauren takes her paycheck and goes home, stopping at an ATM on the way to deposit the check.
Without warning, she is attacked by two men. They drag her into an alley, and soon she is screaming as something unusual appears to be happening. A couple hours later, two teens looking for amusement arrive in the alley, and wind up discovering the bodies of the two men.
Mulder and Scully are called into Bethesda Naval Hospital later that night. A man and two women, all unidentified, request that they inspect two dead bodies for anything that might match something from the X-Files. The bodies are twitching due to some kind of excess of electromagnetic charge, and more importantly, the bones in the neck appear to have been broken from the inside, with no marks on the skin to suggest physical assault. When the agents begin requesting basic information, like an estimate on time of death and where they were found, they are stonewalled. In response, Mulder claims that there is nothing that matches an X-File, and they leave.
On the way out, Scully challenges Mulder; she could tell he was lying. Mulder explains that the unidentified agents from the morgue are likely CIA or worse, some secret agency or intelligence group that is operating without Congressional knowledge. He didn’t want to tell the shadow agents what he knew. As it happens, he has seen these symptoms mentioned in the X-Files, but never all at the same time. Mulder believes it to be a case of psychokinesis, which Scully doesn’t take very seriously. Still, she’s intrigued.
The next morning, Lauren requests a meeting with the new boss at HTG, a man named Mr. Dorland. When the secretary refuses to give Lauren a prompt meeting, her cup of coffee inexplicably tumbles over, spilling coffee all over the desk. The secretary cries out, and when Mr. Dorland opens the door to see what’s wrong, Lauren asks to speak with him. He waves her in.
Lauren explains to Mr. Dorland that she is giving her two weeks notice. Mr. Dorland appears to be sympathetic at first, but soon he is threatening her, telling her she’s not allowed to leave. When he takes her face in his hand, his bracelet suddenly tightens, forcing him to let go. As Lauren looks on in fear, Dorland tells her she has her two weeks. She leaves.
Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully have found the identity of one of the dead men from computer records. The attacker was a member of an Iranian terrorist organization called Isfahan, working out of Philadelphia in the United States. That leads them to the crime scene. While Scully speaks with the policeman who reported the bodies in the first place, Mulder notices the ATM.
Searching through the ATM security surveillance film, they see the moment when the two dead men attacked Lauren. They recognize that the time stamp matches the general time frame given by the police officer. More than that, there is a shadowy figure standing in the street behind Lauren in one of the frames. But the resolution is too poor to enhance, so they decide to pay Lauren Kyte a visit.
Lauren is in the midst of packing her things. It’s obvious that she intends to move away as soon as possible. The agents show Lauren the pictures of the dead attackers, but Lauren can’t tell them more than the fact that she had been grabbed and then somehow got away. When they ask her about the shadowy figure, Lauren tells them that she can’t say who it is.
Getting into their car, Mulder theorizes that Lauren must know who the man on the surveillance photo is. Even Scully admits that a woman Lauren’s size couldn’t fight off two large men. As they speak, the car throws itself into reverse, and drives backwards into another car. Mulder looks up to find Lauren watching in horror.
Back at the local Bureau garage, Mulder and Scully are found to be healthy, but the car has been badly damaged. Oddly, there is nothing that could have caused the accident, and the headlights are still lit from a residual electrostatic charge. Mulder believes this is the result of some kind of otherworldly or psychokinetic activity, but Scully is not even remotely convinced. She thinks the man in the photo is Lauren’s accomplice in some unknown activity.
They return to HTG as part of their ongoing surveillance of Lauren Kyte. They notice that she flips out at a maintenance worker when they try to replace the name painted over one of the parking spaces…the one assigned to Howard Graves. After a quick search through newspaper records, they determine that Lauren was Graves’ secretary. Mulder and Scully check the cemetary where Graves was buried, and discover that Graves had lost a daughter at a very young. Lauren is about the same age that Graves’ daughter would have been had she lived.
Mulder goes to a darkroom to develop pictures taken during the surveillance of Lauren Kyte, while Scully begins typing her notes for her report. While Scully is concluding that finding Lauren’s accomplice is the key to the case, Mulder discovers a picture of Lauren with a figure standing behind her. When Mulder has the photo enhanced, the figure is revealed to be Howard Graves. Scully concludes that he must have faked his death, but Mulder isn’t so sure.
Later that night, Lauren is awakened by the sound of someone walking up the stairs. Grabbing a baseball bat, she walks out of her room to confront the intruder. Instead, she begins hearing the sounds of a struggle, distorted and odd, coming from her bathroom. It’s the voice of Howard Graves, and he’s being attacked. Lauren steps into the bathroom, puts on the light, and pulls open the shower curtain. The tub is fill of water that is quickly turning into blood. As the blood drains out of the tub, Lauren realizes what this vision means. Howard Graves had been murdered.
Mulder and Scully meet with the local medical examiner to confirm that Graves is dead. Lauren Kyte made the positive ID on the body. Even though Graves was cremated, he was an organ donor, so they check with the University of Pennsylvania Hospital to see if they can use any tissue to confirm that the donor was Graves.
Meanwhile, Lauren is having her farewell party at HTG. Lauren has apparently found a way to leave earlier than in two weeks. On her way out, she steps into Graves’ office for one last look. Dorland steps in behind her and closes the door. He threatens her if she talks, and she confronts him with the fact that she knows he had Graves killed. She pushes her way out the door, and immediately calls Mulder, asking for a meeting. Dorland notices that she is calling someone.
Back at home, Lauren is preparing to leave town when someone knocks on the door. Relieved, she goes to answer, but the door locks itself. She tries to open it, but then a chair shoots across the room and jams itself against the door. Even so, a man and a woman dressed in black burst into the house. Within seconds, the woman is slammed against the closed door and her throat is crushed. Lauren screams for it to stop, but the man is also attacked. Mulder and Scully arrive to the sound of screaming, and Mulder rushes into the house. (Scully is caught in a very inconvenient problem with her seat belt.) Mulder arrives just in time to see the man being held in the air as his throat is crushed. The man falls to the floor just as Scully enters.
Mulder and Scully take Lauren back to the local Bureau office for interrogation, but they are soon interrupted by the unidentified agent from their original consultation in the naval hospital. The agent claims that they have compromised an investigation, but Mulder and Scully counter that they’re the ones holding back information. Finally, one of the women agents explains that HTG was selling restricted DOD parts to the Isfahan, and those parts were used in anti-American terrorism. They want the first shot at getting information from Lauren.
They get nowhere, so Mulder and Scully get their turn. When Mulder makes it clear that they know Graves is watching over her, Lauren tells what she knows. Apparently when the DOD had their budget cut, HTG found their contracts cancelled. At one point, when things were getting bad for the company, Dorland approached Graves about dealing with the Isfahan, who would buy the same parts for a very high price. When Graves found out about the eventual use of the parts sold in the deal, he wanted to end the deal. Lauren believes that this is when Dorland had Graves killed.
Scully convinces Lauren that to stop Graves from hurting anyone else and to end his “protection”, she would have to finish his unsettled business. Lauren agrees. Mulder challenges Scully on her motives, but Scully makes it clear that she is simply using Lauren’s belief in a haunting to stop Dorland. Mulder is upset because Lauren could have been used to study spectral phenomena.
Along with the unidentified agents, the FBI conducts a raid on HTG. It soon becomes apparent that there is nothing to be found within the office itself. Lauren begins searching through Dorland’s office, and he objects. When Dorland speaks harshly to her, Lauren lunges at him with a letter opener. When Dorland reaches out to grapple with Lauren, the door slams shut and Dorland is thrown against the wall. His throat is being crushed. Papers and objects are flying around the room.
As Scully tries to open the door, Lauren calls out for Graves to help them find what they need. The letter opener hovers in front of Dorland’s face for a moment, and then launches into one of the walls, tearing open the wallpaper. Everything falls to the floor, and Scully bursts into the room. Everything is a mess, but it looks “normal” once again. Scully walks over to the tear in the wall and removes a floppy disk.
Sometime later, Lauren is leaving town. She’ll return for the federal case against Dorland, but otherwise she just has to leave. Even Scully wonders if she’s trying to get away from town, or the ghost of Howard Graves. Later, at her new job, Lauren finds herself running behind at work. As she gets a reprimand, her boss’ cup of coffee begins to shake. Lauren fears the worst, but then the boss comments on how the building shakes when trucks go by. Relieved, Lauren returns to her desk…
From the very beginning, this episode strikes you with the feeling that the writers were dragged kicking and screaming into the whole thing. Morgan and Wong have a certain style in the way that they write. While some of that shines through from time to time, there are moments in this episode that feel less than authentic. One gets the immediately sense that early in the game, FOX executives demanded that the series be given a more “friendly” atmosphere.
So what this episode amounts to is a cross between the “X-Files” style and the overall feeling of a twisted version of “Touched by an Angel”. In this case, Mulder and Scully wind up helping out a young woman who is haunted by the ghost of her former boss, who seeks to protect her from the people who killed him in life.
That’s all very nice, but it amounts to a glossed over version of what might have been a much darker story. It’s still pretty dark, after all, so one can just imagine where it could have gone. Lauren’s desperation to leave town and get away from the life she knew is only partially realized on screen, but you can see how this could have been given a more sinister touch.
Another aspect of the episode that seemed just a bit tamed was the involvement of the unknown agency whose agents gave Mulder and Scully such a hard time. Mulder’s little throwaway line about some secret agency whose existence might only come up in a Congressional scandal is a nice touch, but the sinister side to it gets lost as the episode moves on.
Still, there is something to that, especially when we place this episode in context. Depending on which timeframe you want to assign to the episode (the ATM date stamp is 9/23/93, but Graves’ headstone reads 10/3/93!), this is a few weeks after the events of “Jersey Devil”. Mulder has more or less taken the journey from VCU golden child to pariah in the months since Scully has been his partner. Now, when there is a use for his unique insights and profiling skills, Section Chief Blevins is more than happy to toss him into the ring.
Since we know that Blevins is working as a puppet of the conspiracy, it’s not hard to question his motives here. He has to know that Mulder’s paranoia is going to exclude the possibility of cooperation with some shadowy agents in a naval hospital morgue. So what are the possible outcomes? Mulder manages to solve the case and score a victory, but at the expense of getting on the bad side of this unknown agency. If Mulder blows the case, then he still gets on the agency’s bad side, but he also further denigrates his own reputation.
It continues to fit the overall pattern of placing Mulder in a far more manageable situation. The conspiracy wouldn’t want Mulder to rise too far in the Bureau, for differing reasons depending on the member. The elements that want him alive want him shelved where he can become a tool towards their goals. Mulder’s line about “willfully participating in a campaign of misinformation” now has a more ironic spin to it. Isolation is the key, and at this point, he is just about as far along on that path as they would want.
This episode also marks the first hint that there is some form of spiritual continuance in the X-Files universe. On the face of it, it doesn’t tie into anything specific, but it’s the concept that’s important. The idea of spiritual contact and interaction comes into play more and more as the series progresses, and ultimately becomes as critical to the overall mythology as the plans for alien colonization.
If this had been an episode with less interference, then it might have turned out to be a classic. Certainly a ghost story on a classic series about investigations into the paranormal ought to be a standout episode. But there are some spotty moments throughout, and that takes away from the overall quality.
MULDER: I’d say you people already suffer from full denial.
MULDER: I would never lie. I willfully participated in a campaign of misinformation.
SCULLY: Yeah, I fine. Except I have a waiting-in-line-at-the-DMV-sized headache.
MULDER: Mine’s more IRS sized…
MULDER: You don’t see too many boss’ graves without people dancing on it.
MULDER: Hey, Scully. Do you believe in the afterlife?
SCULLY: I’d settle for a life in this one…
- Love that ancient ATM machine!
- Nice move with the fingerprints on the glasses, but it just proves that Mulder has some alien powers of his own. No one can keep their glasses that clean!
- However, I have to mention that the fingerprint identification program in this episode is different from the one used in “Squeeze”
- Yeah, Granny, be afraid of the well-dressed white man…
- Nice “generic” cola can!
- I think the Bureau might want to consider switching rental car companies. Bad things happen to these cars…the rates have to be extraordinary…
- Cool mention for Tom Braidwood in this episode, as the guy whose name is supposed to be painted over Howard Graves’ old parking space. (But does this mean Frohike was working for the DOD?)
- What a wonderfully odd gravekeeper…even if he needs a better dental plan…
- Of course, the medical examiner is a piece of work herself, isn’t she?
- I love that bathroom scene, and everything leading up to it…loads of tension!
- That said, the blood effects are just a little too easy to figure out…
- Why didn’t Lauren wait until she was out of the office to call Mulder, rather than do it where she could be easily overheard or seen?
- Having a DOD-contractor go into shady areas to make up for the losses after federal budget cuts is actually very accurate for the time this episode takes place.
- Nice touch having Scully talk Lauren into helping them through an appeal to help Howard, especially since she doesn’t believe. Though of course, one might have expected Mulder to recognize the rationale, given his background in psychology.
- It’s obvious how much shorter Gillian is compared to everyone else in the team-staging meeting!
- So exactly how did Dorland get the disk behind the wallpaper? There’s no evidence of a tear or cut in the wallpaper before the letter opener goes to work…
Overall, this felt like an episode that came out of an executive meeting at FOX…almost a slight retooling of the mission statement of the series, to make it more viewer friendly by having the agents “help” people. That feeling of interference drags the episode down a bit, but Morgan and Wong manage to make it work well enough.
I give it a 6/10.
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