"Excelsius Dei"
Written by Paul Brown
Directed by Steven Surjik



In which Mulder and Scully investigate the mysterious rape of a nurse at a convalescent home, and discover that nothing is what it appears to be...

Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations


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Synopsis

As the episode begins, two orderlies at the Excelsius Dei Convalescent Home watch a televised boxing match. Nurse Charters walks in, and bitterly wants to know who’s watching the floor. They dismiss the concern, and inform her that one of the residents died. They’ve left the room for Charters to attend to, which makes her even less pleased.

Before going to deal with Mrs. Richardson’s room, Charters checks in on two of the male residents, Hal and Stan. Both of them are watching the fight, well past the authorized hours for resident viewing privileges. Hal argues with her, explaining that another orderly (Gung) told them they could stay up and watch the fight. Charters doesn’t care, and when Hal tries to get fresh, she straps him down in his bed.

Once done with Hal and Stan, Charters goes to Mr’s Richardson’s old room to change out the sheets. Suddenly, the door slams shut, and the bed wheels across the room, barring the door. Charters tries to pull the bed out of the way, but something throws her down onto the bed, eventually strapping her down as she struggles. Outside, the hall is empty, and no one hears her screaming.

Soon after, Mulder arrives at the office to find Scully already there. Scully is watching a videotape made by Charters, in which she says she was raped. Medical evidence and wounds are consistent with the claim. What makes the situation interesting is that Charters claims that an invisible entity raped her, something that Mulder has investigated several times on the X-Files and has never been able to substantiate. Adding to the tension of the case is Charters’ suit against the government, naming her attacker.

The agents meet with Charters, who claims Hal was the rapist. She doesn’t know how Hal could have done it, but she knows it was an old man and he was the one always making inappropriate advances. She realizes that her case is almost impossible to make, because she has no trace evidence to incriminate anyone with.

Hal, of course, thinks such a thing is absurd. The fact that he’s a 74-year-old man with defective plumbing seems to back his argument. He admits to making certain comments to Charters about what he’d like to do, but he denies having the ability or the invisibility to match the apparent rapist’s profile. Mulder agrees that the case is sounding more and more like the other similar cases: completely unsubstantiated phenomena. But Scully points out that the rape was obviously very real.

The agents meet with Ms. Dawson, the rather impersonal and domineering director of the facility. Dawson explains that the facility has gone downhill in the past ten years, and that the medical staff is now off-site. Dr. Grego visits three times a week to treat the residents, most of whom have Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

With regards to Charters’ allegations, Dawson has her own take on the matter. As she explains that Charters has a history of claiming illness and injury during her time at the facility, Hal and Stan argue about what Hal told the agents. Stan warns Hal to be careful, or he’ll ruin things for the rest of the residents. Stan takes out a large brown capsule, which he’s stolen from someone at the facility. Hal wants one as well, and when Stan refuses to give him any, Hal threatens to rat him out.

Within moments, one of the orderlies (Tiernan) rushes into Dawson’s office. Hal is choking to death. However, as Hal struggles, it’s look more like he’s being strangled. Everyone pulls together to try to save Hal’s life, with Scully needing to play doctor in the absence of a medical staff. But there’s nothing she can do. All the while, Stan watches without surprise.

Dr. Grego arrives to see Hal’s body loaded onto an ambulance. Grego explains that Hal was one of his most promising subjects in a testing regimen for an Alzheimer’s treatment. Scully is shocked to learn that Hal was barely able to function two years earlier, and Grego is obviously very excited about helping his patients recover something of their lives. Meanwhile, in Stan’s room, Gung sees the old man taking another brown capsule, and warns him not to take more than he’s given. Too much, Gung says, is very bad, and the capsules are supposed to be a secret.

Grego takes Mulder and Scully on a tour to meet the others in his testing group. Dorothy, a wheelchair-bound woman, races around the room, apparently talking to imaginary people, trying to get them to pose for another resident named Leo. The agents try to ask Leo some questions, and notice that he’s drawing some impressive but disturbing art of spectral figures. Leo gruffly notes that his progress isn’t from the medication, but before he can explain, the orderlies usher the residents off for dinner.

Disgusted with the treatment of the residents by the orderlies and the lack of any progress on the case, Mulder prepares to return to Washington. But Scully isn’t ready to give up yet. She offers several possible explanations for Charters’ rape: induced schizophrenia from Grego’s medication, dementia-inducing fungi in the walls, and the like. Mulder thinks she’s looking too hard, but Scully again points out that Charters was obviously attacked by someone.

Tiernan tries to force feed Dorothy, while Leo refuses to eat unless Gung gets them more of the brown capsules. Once the orderlies leave, Leo assures Dorothy that Stan had more hidden away. Stan, however, is trying to convince his daughter that he wants to stay, even though he once begged to go live with her instead of at Excelsius Dei. Tiernan tells Stan’s daughter to get the car, promising to deliver Stan and his things downstairs in a moment.

The agents encounter Stan’s daughter on their way to speak with him, and she offers to answer their questions while Tiernan gets Stan’s things together. It’s soon past nightfall, and Stan’s daughter explains that when her father first entered the facility, she was told he would need 24 hour assistance. Now, he’s like a new man.

Tiernan tries to get Stan’s things together, but Stan appears to race out of the room. Tiernan chases him up the stairs to the darkened attic, where Stan appears to climb onto the roof. Tiernan threatens to chase after him, but then something inside the attic pushes him through the window. Outside, the agents and Stan’s daughter see Tiernan hanging onto the gutter, and Mulder races up to the attic. Before Mulder can get there, something pulls Tiernan’s fingers from their grip, leaving the orderly hanging by one hand. Mulder tries to save Tiernan, but the man falls to his death.

Grego is certain that Stan couldn’t have been involved in Tiernan’s death, but Mulder is sure that Stan is the prime suspect. He asks to see Hal’s autopsy results, unsure of what he’s looking for. At the same time, Charters is complaining to an unsympathetic Dawson about having to cover the floor by herself, since the other orderly (Upshaw) never came to work.

Dorothy interrupts things by refusing to go into her room, claiming that it’s full of people. Dawson is sure that it’s just Dorothy’s dementia. Dorothy, however, keeps telling imaginary people not to bother Scully or follow her around. From Dorothy’s point of view, there are spectral old people threatening Scully during the conversation, and that’s who Dorothy keeps talking to.

Hal’s autopsy results show traces of ibotenic acid, a kind of poison that shouldn’t be in his system. Scully remarks that the presence of ibotenic acid would account for hallunications. The agents’ meeting with Grego is interrupted when they are called into the day room by Charters. They find that Leo is frantically painting a huge wall mural of his disturbing spectral imagery, like it’s the Sistine Chapel.

Mulder has a sudden insight, and asks to see Gung. He is directed to the basement, where he finds a locked room. He breaks in, and discovers row after row of exotic mushrooms. In one patch of dirt, he sees a piece of cloth. Digging around the cloth, he finds Upshaw, who is very much dead.

Dawson, Grego, and the agents confront Gung, who denies killing Upshaw. He does, however, admit to giving capsules of ground-up mushroom to the residents. In Gung’s country, the mushrooms had been used for centuries. Among the obvious medicinal benefits, the mushrooms are also used to speak with the dead and see into the spirit world. Gung felt that the residents needed something to make them happier, considering how they were being mistreated. Gung believes that the angry spirits of those who died in Excelsuis Dei killed Upshaw.

Mulder wants to make sure none of the residents continue to use the capsules, but when they check Gung’s stash, all of the capsules are gone. Mulder is positive that the capsules are behind all of the phenomena at the facility, but Scully doesn’t buy it. She cannot explain the rape or murders, however. Meanwhile, Stan takes several of the capsules before his daughter can stop him.

Almost immediately, Dorothy begins warning everyone, telling them to get away. Something drives Leo to the ground and pulls him into the shadows of a darkened hall. In one of the bathrooms, Charters is thrown around the room, and Mulder rushes in to help her. The door slams shut, and every possible water source begins flooding the room. Mulder yells for Scully to turn off the water main, but when she finally finds Gung, they are unable to move the valve.

As the water level rises, Stan goes into some kind of seizure. Stan’s daughter informs Scully, who calls on Grego to inject Stan with atropine. Just as Mulder and Charters are about to drown, Grego injects Stan with the atropine. Moments later, the bathroom door gives way, spilling thousands of gallons of water into the hallway, along with Mulder and Charters.

Shortly afterward, Scully writes her report. Because of the incidents at Excelsius Dei, the Mass. Department of Public Health has taken control of the facility. More than half of the residents had traces of the ibotenic acid in their systems, but those levels dissipate rapidly. At almost the same rate, the residents revert back to their degraded medical conditions. Grego has been replaced, and his study shut down. Gung has been deported back to Malaysia. No plans are made to study the mushrooms, and the government settles Charters’ suit out of court.


Analysis

Coming on the heels of one of the most obtuse mythology episodes in the entire run of the series, this episode doesn’t do much to correct the impression that “X-Files” episodes barely make sense. As it happens, this episode provides a general explanation for what’s happening at Excelsius Dei, but there’s a lack of detail and far too many red herrings. It’s the kind of episode where one figures it all out, only to lose track of it five minutes later.

The basic premise is fairly clear. Excelsius Dei is filled with the spirits of its former residents, most of whom are extremely angry about how they and the current residents have been treated. Gung begins giving the residents his mushrooms. The mushrooms reverse the effects of degenerative mental diseases, but also allow the residents to see and interact with the spirit world. Too much of the mushroom, however, allows the spirits to interact with reality, using the residents as a kind of conduit. Armed with this ability, the spirits begin seeking revenge.

This ties into what is certainly an ongoing theme for the series: the existence of a spiritual universe. There is little doubt that the spirits in this episode are very real, and that there is a connection between the material and spiritual worlds. As Mulder points out in the episode, the use of certain medicinal plants and mushrooms have been used by shamans to facilitate communication between the living and the dead for thousands of years.

This episode is interesting, then, because it almost directly foreshadows the events of “The Blessing Way”, and the subsequent episodes where characters see visions of the dead when in an altered state. This is interesting because Mulder is typically grounded in the material aspects of the paranormal, dismissing the spiritual almost out of hand. This was seen very clearly in “One Breath”, and this tendency is reflected in the beginning of the episode. Mulder’s objections, however, seem to disappear in the third and fourth acts, when Gung’s involvement comes to light.

Scully’s reaction, however, is completely in keeping with her character. She approaches the situation very analytically, willing to continue the investigation even after Mulder’s patience runs out. Whenever confronted with something unusually spiritual in nature, Scully has a hard time dealing with it, and she tends to deny the evidence. This is not only consistent with her overall view of the paranormal, but it is also a reaction to the apparent psychic abilities that run in her family. Accepting the spiritual means accepting the possibility that such things are real, and that would be in opposition with her faith.

As consistently as the character are depicted, it’s not enough to make up for the convoluted plot twists. The final explanation makes a certain sense, but it’s only in terms of the internal logic of the episode. It takes a suspension of disbelief to accept that a person taking mushrooms allows spirits to interact with the physical world, especially when it’s not clearly spelled out.

However, there is a certain basis within folklore for something similar. In essence, the spirits would be considered to be not the actual souls of the deceased, but rather, something within some Otherworld that has taken on the form of that person in a non-corporeal fashion. That “something” would be malleable enough to respond in some empathetic way to the living, almost in the sense that the spirits exist in the forms they do because that’s what the living resident unconsciously desire. Within that point of view, the mushrooms would place the residents within an altered state where all impulses, physical and mental, are amplified. Hence, the spirits gain more power and reflect the hidden desires of the residents taking the capsules.

This would play on the ancient belief that the consciousness of the material world affects and determines the reality of the spiritual, because in essence, they are always connected. It’s considered to be mostly a matter of perception. The spiritual world doesn’t come in and out of existence on the fickle belief of the living, but rather, the perceivable interactions change. Therefore, it makes sense that the strongest underlying emotional trauma attracts and animates whatever negative forces the residents are tapping into.

As with so many episodes, this could easily be seen as a glimpse into the larger spiritual world that seems to be just beyond the perception of the agents themselves. By now, it’s clear that there are spiritual forces with opposing tendencies. “One Breath” demonstrated the positive aspect, one that appears to be aiding the agents towards some unknown goal. This episode provides a more chaotic point of view. Whatever the case, none of these nuances are touched upon in the episode, once again leaving the audience to draw incomplete conclusions.


Memorable Quotes

MULDER: “Whatever tape you found in the VCR, it isn’t mine.”
SCULLY: “Good. Because I put it back in that drawer with all those other videos that aren’t yours.”

MULDER: “Miss Charters, the facts of your case seem to contravene those of other cases we have on file.”
CHARTERS: “Right. You mean the other Women-Raped-By-Invisible-Men cases…”

HAL: “You’ve got to be kidding me. And what do I think about her claims? I should be in the Guinness Record Book. I’m 74 years old. I’ve got plumbing older than this building. Hmmm? (shows plumbing) And it don’t work much better, either.”
MULDER: “Thank you for sharing…”

HAL: “Oh, I didn’t mean to step on your toes there.”

SCULLY: “What do you think, Mulder?”
MULDER: “About the guy’s plumbing?”

MULDER: “You think that Michelle Charters was raped by a 74-year-old schizophrenic?”
SCULLY: “It’s possible.”
MULDER: “An *invisible* 74-year-old schizophrenic?”

MULDER: “Are you saying that the building’s haunted? If you are, you’ve been working with me too long, Scully…”


Observations

- Nurse Charters is played by the lovely Teryl Rothery, who is perhaps better known for her work as Dr. Frasier on “Stargate: SG-1”...

- Stan has one of the most annoying voices on the planet...what, was he once one of the Lollypop Guild or something?

- They paint some of the rooms black? What the hell is that?!?

- Nice to see Scully as the one initiating an investigation, with Mulder as the reluctant partner!

- You know, I’m scared to think of why Mulder would have part of his porno collection in his office at FBI Headquarters...

- At least Scully looked mildly disturbed by Hal’s plumbing...Mulder seemed oddly fascinated!

- Once again, I have to wonder where Scully learned her CPR...

- I don’t know who plays Dorothy, but she always seems to play freaky old ladies, like her role on “Twin Peaks”...

- I’m glad that Scully has to remind Mulder of the effects of fungal alkaloids, as though that whole mess with the fungal infections didn’t leave them in a month-long quarantine that only ended a few weeks earlier (“Firewalker”)!

- How bad is the food in that place, if people risk breaking bones not to eat it?

- Stan’s sudden spryness is completely out of context, and is so far beyond misdirection that it’s not even funny...

- Love those disturbing low frequency voices as Tiernan’s fingers are being peeled back!

- I still can’t figure out why Mulder thought of looking at Hal’s autopsy reports...

- Just how long was Leo left unsupervised, so he could paint those images on the wall?

- And nobody wondered what the orderly was doing in the abandoned basement?

- Hey! Why don’t I touch the unknown fungus with my bare hands! That can’t hurt me, right?

- Better yet, let me disturb the crime scene I’ve discovered...

- Didn’t anyone notice that Gung wasn’t actually answering anyone’s questions?

- Why does Mulder even bother to mess with the drain, when he sees water coming out of it!

- You know, that door should have buckled and opened long before the room filled with that much water...

- At least they left Leo’s mural on the wall...

Overall, this episode focused on a very interesting concept, but the execution of that concept is so hopelessly convoluted that it’s lost in the shuffle. However, using the disturbing and abusive atmosphere of a nursing home as a setting provides chills without the addition of sinister spirits, so on a gut level, the episode works well.

I give it a 6/10.


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