Written by Sara Charno
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Mulder and Scully investigate the discovery of a long-dead agent’s corpse, and discover that the agent’s case might be repeating itself...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
As the episode begins, Detective Darnell and Lieutenant Tillman discuss a crime scene as they enter the police station in Aubrey, Missouri. A woman was killed, a sharp razor involved. Tillman warns Darnell not to mention any reference to “sister”. Detective BJ Morrow watches Tillman closely, and then follows him into his office. She mentions that he never showed up for their date, which irritates him, given the fact that he’s working on a homicide. As Tillman takes call from the coroner, BJ slips him a note: she’s pregnant. Stunned, Tillman asks BJ to meet him at a motel later that night, much to BJ’s disgust.
BJ arrives at the hotel, but at the door of their room, she is suddenly struck by what seems to be a vision. She sees an old-style 1940s truck, and then she’s driving it into a nearby empty field. In the rearview mirror, the driver is a young man. The truck stops, and the drivers pulls something heavy from the trunk: a body. The driver digs a shallow grave. As she has the vision, BJ rushes into the field, and begins frantically digging at a particular spot. She finds bones, a skull, and then a badge: an old version of those worn by FBI agents.
Two days later, Scully walks into the back of the basement office, where Mulder is comparing dental records between the body discovered in Aubrey and a legendary agent named Sam Chaney. Chaney, according to Mulder, was one of the first psychological profilers in the Bureau. Chaney and his partner Tim Ledbetter worked on their own time to investigate “stranger killings”, or serial murders. They disappeared in Aubrey in 1942. The dental records, however, are a match. Mulder wants to know how BJ knew to dig for the body in that particular spot, more than fifty years later.
The agents meet BJ and Tillman at the crime scene. BJ lies about why she was in the area that night, something that Mulder easily detects in her behavior. Tillman tries to back up her story, which only bothers Mulder more. Tillman also takes exception when Mulder asks BJ if she’s ever had visions or precognitive dreams.
Mulder and Scully go to the coroner’s office to examine Chaney’s bones. Scully observes small cuts on the top three ribs. Mulder muses over some “nature vs. nurture” notes by Chaney, and then describes the case that Chaney was working on. Three young women had been disabled by a blow to the head, and then the killer would carve the word “sister” on their chests, painting the word on the wall with the victim’s blood. Scully realizes that something similar could have been done to Chaney, and they try to use the FBI computer network to match the cuts on the bones to where the same kind of cuts would have proportionally been on the victims.
As they work, Scully observes that BJ was in the woods by the motel because she’s having an affair with Tillman. Mulder doesn’t buy it. They continue to work on the computer model, but have little success. BJ stops by to discuss their progress, and she has a vision of Chaney being killed. The vision matches the murder method that Mulder described. Unsettled, BJ leaves the room to be sick. Scully follows her and asks about the affair, and then tells BJ that she knows the woman is pregnant.
BJ is shocked, and then mentions that she’s been having nightmares, which she thinks come from pregnancy. In the nightmares, which are always the same, she’s in a house that’s very familiar, where a woman has been hurt. In a mirror, she sees a man’s reflection, but BJ doesn’t recognize the face. There’s blood everywhere.
Before BJ returns, Scully informs Mulder of the situation. While Scully was out of the room, Mulder has made little progress, but he’s sure that a word was carved on Chaney’s chest. BJ walks in, and overhearing the conversation, stares at the bones, and almost in a trance, suggests “brother”. Sure enough, it matches. The revelation is cut short, however, when Tillman walks in. Tillman sees the file that Mulder was reading, and the photos from the earlier murders. Tillman assumes that BJ removed the current casefiles from archives before Mulder explains what the file really is.
Tillman lets BJ and the agents in on the current situation. Three days earlier, a young woman was murdered, in the same way that the victims were killed in 1942. Almost immediately, Darnell rushes into the room, announcing that there’s another victim. They all go to the crime scene, and find the victim in the bottom of a drained swimming pool in a YMCA-type building. BJ is terrified to discover that the victim is the woman in her dream.
Sometime later, BJ speaks with the agents in a nearby park. She explains that her father was a cop, and that he’d call the current situation nonsense. But Mulder explains that dreams can be answers to questions that haven’t been asked. He asks for details of her dream. She says that the young man’s face is covered with a rash, and that in the house, on the wall behind him, there’s a picture of a tall triangular building with a sphere beside it. Mulder suggests it might be the Trylon and Perisphere in New York City, from the 1939 World’s Fair. BJ has no idea why they would be in her dream.
BJ stays late at the police station, searching through an old mugshot book from 1942. Tillman wants to talk about their plans for “the appointment”. BJ, however, has reconsidered the idea of aborting her child, which angers Tillman. But before they can discuss it further, BJ recognizes one of the men in the book as the young man in her dream.
The agents rush out towards Gainesville, Nebraska to speak with Harry Cokely, who was recently released from prison for rape and attempted murder committed in 1945. Cokely had carved “sister” into his victim’s chest, but she was able to escape. Police never connected the crime to the 1942 murders. Mulder considers Cokely the prime suspect, even though the man is 77 years old. Mulder is still uncertain how BJ is connected to Cokely, but Scully suggests that BJ might have forgotten information that her father discussed when she was a child. Mulder’s not so sure.
They arrive at Cokely’s house, and find an old man with a blistered face toting around an oxygen tank. Cokely smokes and coughs as they discuss the murders of 1942 and his similar attack on Linda Thibedeaux in 1945. Cokely is rather unapologetic, and claims not to recognize Agent Chaney. When Mulder asks where Cokely was two nights earlier, Cokely angrily points out that he can barely get around the house. The agents leave in disgust.
That night, BJ sleeps through a windy night, as she has her dream again. BJ wakes up screaming, pulling her gun at the sound of shutters slapping against the house. BJ feels something on her forehead, and touching the spot, notices blood on her fingers. She turns on a bedside lap, and sees blood all over her. She stumbles into her bathroom, and when she starts washing off the blood, she sees that someone has carved “sister” into her chest. She steps back from the bathroom, and when she closes the door, she sees the reflection of a young Cokely in the mirror.
She screams, turning, but nothing is there. She falls to the floor as another vision rips through her mind. This time, she sees a crowbar pulling up floorboards, and then a man dumps a body in a sack under the floor. In a flash, BJ is in someone else’s house, pulling up floorboards in the basement. Tillman sees the blood and wounds on BJ, and he’s horrified. Mulder looks into the hole in the floor, and pulls up a sack of bones.
Later, at the hospital, the agents check on BJ. Besides her other wounds, BJ has apparently scalded one of her hands. She swears that Cokely was in her room, appearing like his mugshot picture. Mulder and Scully is skeptical, but they still decide to bring him in. Cokely, of course, denies everything when Tillman accuses him of attacking BJ. Mulder notices that Cokely’s left hand is blistered, and that it’s the same hand that BJ apparently scalded.
At Mulder’s motel room, Scully brings in lab results of blood under the latest victim’s fingernails. It matches Cokely’s blood almost perfectly. Scully is convinced now, but Mulder wonders why Cokely would leave BJ alive. They decide to talk with Mrs. Thibedeaux, to see if there’s a reason why she was allowed to live.
Mrs. Thibedeaux tells the agents that she was attacked on the landing, and how Cokely kept saying that “someone’s gotta take the blame, little sister, and it isn’t gonna be me”. Apparently Cokely had been punished for everything his five sisters did when he was a boy. Mulder looks at pictures on the stairs to the landing, and sees one of Mrs. Thibideaux and her late husband at the 1939 World’s Fair. Mulder asks if Thibedeaux ever had children, and she denies it, until he makes it clear that he knows better. Then she admits that she gave Cokely’s bastard child up for adoption. She gives him the name of the adoption agency.
Back at the motel room, Scully notes that the bones BJ exhumed were of Agent Ledbetter, Chaney’s partner. Cokely used to own the house where the bones were found. Mulder suggests that BJ might have seen Cokely’s grandson, and that the grandson might be acting on impulses from genetic memory. Scully doesn’t quite believe it, but then the possibility gets even stranger when they find out that BJ is Cokely’s granddaughter. Mulder is sure that BJ is slowly becoming Cokely, trying to finish what her grandfather started.
BJ breaks into Mrs. Thibedeaux’s house and tries to smack the old woman with an iron. Instead, Thibedeaux splashes her face with ammonia. Thibedeaux grabs a gun, and she points the gun at BJ, who repeats Cokely’s words in a hoarse voice. Thibedeaux steps back up the stairs as BJ advances, finally falling on the landing. BJ notices the picture from the 1939 World’s Fair, as Thibedeaux explains that BJ is her granddaughter. BJ apparently attacks Thibedeaux despite the new information.
However, when the agents arrive, Thibedeaux is still alive. BJ apparently stopped and left without explanation. Mulder realizes that BJ must have realized that Cokely was ultimately to blame, and when he tries to call the old man, there’s no answer. Tillman doesn’t want to believe that BJ is the one behind the recent killings.
At his house, Cokely settles in to watch TV, and discovers that his oxygen tube has been cut. He hears someone in the house, and BJ attacks him with a razor, confronting him with his own evil personality. By the time Mulder and Scully arrive, Cokely is badly wounded. BJ slams Mulder in the head with Cokely’s oxygen tank, and then prepares to slash his throat. Scully and Tillman threaten to shoot BJ if she doesn’t let Mulder go, but then Cokely dies. In the same moment, BJ seems to return to her normal personality. As Tillman rushes over to reassure BJ, Scully cradles Mulder protectively.
Soon after, Scully prepares her report. BJ apparently possesses a gene that activated other dormant genes, but the effect cannot be determined. In prison, BJ has not shown any further psychological changes. Research is underway to determine if the pregnancy caused the transformation. BJ is on suicide watch after an unsuccessful attempt to abort her son. Tillman has petitioned the court to adopt the child.
This episode is one of those oft-overlooked gems of the earlier seasons, overshadowed by the more obvious successes of the era. Considering that the episode was written by committee (something not reflected by the writing credit, but admitted often by the writing staff), it’s amazing to see how consistently the tone and focus of the episode is maintained.
Beginning with the previous episode, “Aubrey” continues what becomes a short episode arc dealing with violence against women. In this case, however, there is the additional fascinating concept of genetic memory, something that was not nearly dealt with to the extent it should have been. This is especially true when the convoluted genetic history of Fox Mulder is taken into account, as well as the questions regarding William’s parentage.
Genetic memory is one of those concepts that stands on the very fringe of accepted science, occupying the same space as alternate dimensions as something unproven yet taken somewhat seriously. As advances are made in the study of the brain and memory formation, the implications of possible genetic memory become more and more tantalizing. This episode presents one spin on the theoretical science, an interpretation that melds well with related episodes that deal with inherited past memory.
The current theories of memory effectively isolate memory formation to the material construct of the brain itself. However, advances in the study of neurons, the cells of the nervous system, suggest that there is a connection between quantum mechanics and the transmission/creation of the nerve impulse itself. The latest explorations into that relationship suggest that memory is actually stored within quantum states, the quantum mechanical version of digital information storage.
Genetic memory comes into play because storage of information in quantum states has an additional implication beyond simply expanding the amount of storage to almost infinite capacity. Because of the phenomenon known as “quantum entanglement”, any two particles (electrons, etc.) within a cell remain connected by virtue of “entangled” quantum states. This means that particles can be identical because they were created in the same event, with only one particular quantum state being different and distinct.
Without getting into the particulars of quantum physics, the ultimate implication of the science is that memory might not be isolated to specific sections of the brain. In fact, if memory is a product of data storage within quantum states, memory could be considered to be a “non-localized” phenomenon. Within that theoretical framework, the brain would be an access unit, with memories specific to the individual being much easier to access than other memories because of the entanglement of quantum states at the moment of memory formation.
Genetic memory comes into play through the obvious act of conception: the parent cells carry particles of genetic material that contain the quantum states associated to the memories of the parent. Carry this back through the entire genetic history, and it would be possible for ancestral memory to be accessed by a descendent. That access, however, would be largely unintentional, since the associations would have to be triggered, and those triggers would be unknown.
Incidentally, this is the scientific basis for the unexplained phenomena of “déjà vu” and “past-life regression”. Within the theory of non-localized memory formation, déjà vu is the triggered access of a nearly identical memory formed by another person or someone related to the person experiencing the phenomenon. Similarly, past-life regression would be the triggered (usually through hypnosis) access of genetic memory, with the accessed memory of an ancestor mistakenly interpreted as a former life of the person accessing the genetic memory.
The implications of quantum memory theory on numerous aspects of psychology, genetics, and brain disease are stunning. The fascinating aspect of this theory is that it’s not pseudo-science or some flight of fancy; this is a direct implication of cutting edge research into the formation of memory-related neurons in the brain. But it does provide a basis of sorts for the fictional account in “Aubrey”. When Mulder mentions the concept of “collective unconscious”, there is a possible application of memory theory: the unconscious access to the vast interconnected tapestry of quantum states, within which all humanity would be connected through common ancestry.
More distinct is the connection between BJ and Copely. Genetic memory is a valid explanation, especially in light of the fact that there is the distinct trigger of the pregnancy. Taken in the context of the quantum memory theory, it makes perfect sense. A genetic abnormality would make it possible for a trigger to access so much immediate genetic memory that a weaker personality would be subsumed by it. Memories ignite compulsions, after all, and BJ is shown to be unconsciously acting on an established memory pattern imprinted within genetic material by an incredibly strong and malignant personality.
Looking at the episode from this perspective opens up several possibilities. Was Copely really the beginning of the cycle, or was there a much longer chain of similar events, spiraling back into his genetic past? It wouldn’t even have to be genetic, since that only adds an additional level of connectivity to the equation. It also begs the question of how much of the material in the X-Files is just part of a much larger context, something that by its very nature must be connected with the reality of a spiritual universe. After all, what could the spirit or soul be, if quantum memory theory is valid, other than the sum total of one’s distinct imprinted memory?
The continuity of the season continues to complicate itself in this episode. It’s impossible to figure out when this episode takes place, without taking Scully’s abduction arc into account. “One Breath” and “Firewalker” consume 6 weeks or more, forcing “Red Museum” to take place just before the Christmas holidays of 1994. “Excelsius Dei”, therefore, must happen around the end of the year or shortly thereafter, which sets this episode in early-mid January 1995. Needless to say, the weather in the Midwest is awfully warm for winter!
If there is one weakness of this episode, it’s the massive amount of contrived plot elements. It’s a little too easy to have the agents killed in Aubrey in 1942 just happen to be agents that Mulder idolizes due to their impact on psychological profiling. It’s also hard to believe that Mulder, the master profiler, would miss the obvious signs that BJ was having an affair with Tillman and was pregnant. Scully was hardly demonstrating female intuition in that instance; anyone with minimal experience in reading human behavior could have figured that out.
It’s also hard to imagine that neither of the agents, especially Mulder, would have failed to consider “brother” as the word carved on Chaney’s chest. It was the obvious candidate from the evidence at hand. This is even harder to swallow in light of Mulder’s enormous and completely unlucky recognition of the Trylon and Perisphere from BJ’s astoundingly generic hand drawing.
One has to wonder how thick Mulder’s skull must be, considering that BJ’s use of the oxygen tank should have killed him on impact. And it’s still hard to believe that the agents would consider Copely to be a suspect, when the possibility of a copycat killer is far more conceivable.
Still, even with the oddly contrived moments, this is one of the best non-mythology episodes of the season. Indeed, depending on one’s view of the mythology, this could fit into the tapestry very well.
MULDER: “Well, I’d like to know why this policewoman would suddenly drive her car into a field the size of Rhode Island and for no rhyme or reason dig up the bones of a man who’s been missing for fifty years. I mean, unless there was a neon sign saying, ‘Dig Here’…”
MULDER: “I’ve always been intrigued by women named BJ…”
MULDER: “I’ve often felt that dreams are answers to questions we haven’t yet figured out how to ask.”
MULDER: “That’s a pretty extreme hunch.”
SCULLY: “I seem to recall you having some pretty extreme hunches.”
MULDER: “I never have!”
- Tillman is played by Terry O’Quinn, who plays several other roles in the 1013 canon over the years, as well as featured roles in other genre series...
- Damn, is that music at the end of the teaser needlessly loud and annoying!
- OK, BJ is one freaky looking woman...
- Exactly what kind of scanner are these people working with, anyway? I mean, that kind of technology just isn’t possible in the standard coroner’s office!
- You’d think Tillman would actually look at the file before making accusations...
- That drained pool scene is perfectly executed, right down to the reveal...
- Aren’t they laying it on a little thick with that mothering instinct bit?
- So how, exactly, did BJ manage to inflict those wounds on herself?
- Mulder could figure out Thibedeaux’s pregnancy, 50 years later, but couldn’t figure out that BJ and Tillman were having an affair?
- Interesting that Thibedeaux just happened to have that address hidden in a convenient spot, for something she didn’t want to remember...
- Interesting that a psychologist would completely misinterpret the original meaning of “collective unconscious”!
- Whatever that movie is that Cokely’s watching, I can’t help but laugh at the horrible line delivery...
- How could that truck still be in such good condition, when it’s unlikely that Cokely was taking care of it?
- Still can’t figure out how Mulder survived that tank to the head!
- Third episode in a row that ends with Scully’s report...
Overall, this episode opens some interesting doors, adding the concept of genetic memory to the list of phenomena that cannot be explained in fully material terms. While the plot makes a certain amount of sense, there are a number of convenient moments that take away from the whole. But the end result is a strong episode.
I give it a 7/10.
Back to Season 2
Back to Reviews