Written by Sara Charno
Directed by Michael Vejar
In which Mulder and Scully find themselves enmeshed in a case of a malevolent spirit haunting the family whose young child was recently murdered...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
As the episode begins, the Holvey family enjoys a day at Lincoln Park in Murray, Virginia. A young boy named Charlie watches a small train go by. When Steve Holvey gives his younger son Teddy an ice cream cone, the toddler lets go of his balloon. Teddy starts crying, so Steve gives the toddler Charlie’s balloon. Charlie is very unhappy about it, and Steve angrily promises to get another.
Maggie Holvey takes Teddy with her to the restroom, and tethers Teddy to the sink while she goes into one of the stalls. While Maggie sings to Teddy, the toddler lets go of the balloon again. This time, however, something seems to draw the balloon out of the door. When Maggie leaves the stall, Teddy’s tether and harness are on the floor, but Teddy is gone. She runs out screaming for Teddy.
Meanwhile, the balloon moves towards the train tracks, and a man taking a picture of his family sees Teddy reaching for the balloon as the train bears down at him. Charlie impassively watches as Steve and Maggie scramble to reach their younger son. The train engineer tries to stop the train, but the brakes don’t respond. By the time Steve and Maggie reach the tracks, the train kills Teddy. As everyone screams in horror, the balloon floats over to a completely unfazed Charlie.
Three months later, Mulder shows Scully the photograph showing Teddy reaching for the balloon, standing on the tracks. The case was held open because Steve Holvey works for the State Department. Mulder notes that the helium balloon appears to be moving horizontally, against the wind. He introduces Scully to a digital photo expert named Chuck Burk, who uses software to uncover evidence of electromagnetic disturbances in the shape of a child, holding the balloon. Mulder thinks that it’s evidence of poltergeist activity, but Scully thinks that it’s just a trick of light and shadow.
The agents visit the Holvey home. From an upstairs room, with reverse swastikas inlaid in stained glass window panels, an old woman watches them arrive. Mulder poses the possibility that Teddy was helped onto the tracks. As the Holveys dispute Mulder’s theory, Scully sees Charlie run out of the room. She follows, and sees the old woman drawing a reverse swastika on the boy’s hand. Scully returns to the interview and ask if anyone had been hired to help with the children. Maggie replies that her mother came to live with them after Teddy was born.
Without warning, the lights go out. When the lights come back on, the old woman is standing in the doorway with Charlie. The old woman argues with Maggie in Romanian, and then claims that Charlie is a devil child.
Back in the office, Mulder shows Scully some information on the reversed swastika. According to Mulder’s sources, the symbol is used for protection. Scully is more interested in the possibility of Munchausen by Proxy, where a caregiver intentionally puts a child at risk for attention. Both Charlie and Teddy had been admitted to hospitals since Teddy’s birth, usually with stomach ailments.
The agents meet with Steve to discuss the investigation. Steve explains that Golda, Maggie’s mother, was against the marriage, and thought Steve was the devil. Strange things began to happen, however, after Teddy was born and Golda came to live with the Holveys. Steve hints that Golda might be harming the children, so Scully suggests that the Holveys meet with a social worker named Karen Kosseff (last seen in “Irresistible”).
Maggie strongly objects to the agents’ request, believing that Steve blames her for Teddy’s death. Scully sees Golda sprinkle something in Charlie’s food, but she doesn’t find out what it is. Steve takes Charlie to his car, as the agents prepare to take them to Kosseff’s office. However, when Steve tries to leave, the garage door won’t open. When Steve tries to check the motor, the door suddenly opens, grabbing Steve’s tie. Mulder and Scully rush to help, but by the time they get to Steve, it’s too late. Charlie watches the entire incident in horror.
The police investigation lasts into the night. In Golda’s room, they find evidence of dead chickens and other ritualistic items. Outside, Golda meets with three formally dressed old men, who seem to be there at her invitation. Scully checks on Mulder, who is inspecting the garage. He shows her how a film of fine dust or ash has been deposited everywhere. Without warning, the garage door opens. Golda, the three men, and Charlie are standing there. Golda tells the agents to stay away.
Back in the basement, Mulder tells Scully that the results of lab tests on the ash have come back as if nothing had been sampled. Mulder takes the sample to Chuck, who recognizes it as a residual sign of spiritual energy. Scully is less than convinced, but Mulder points out that both Golda and Charlie were there when the garage door mysteriously opened.
At the Holvey home, Golda and the three old men conduct a ritual (complete with dead chickens), while Charlie listens from outside the room. Kosseff arrives, and after some resistance from Maggie, gets permission to meet with Charlie. However, at that exact moment, Charlie goes into convulsions. Kosseff and Maggie see smoke coming from under Golda’s door, so they look inside. Maggie is horrified, and orders the old men out of the house.
The old men leave, but Golda grabs Charlie and pulls him into her room, closing and locking the door. As Maggie beats at the door, Kosseff runs outside to tell Mulder and Scully what’s happening. Golda tries to complete the ritual, but a table knocks her away from Charlie. Charlie, suddenly impassive, holds the dead chickens above the fallen Golda. At his command, they return to life and tear Golda’s face apart. By the time Mulder forces the door open, the birds are dead again…and so is Golda.
During the subsequent investigation, Mulder finds more ash under Golda’s body. He’s convinced that something paranormal was happening, not a form of child abuse. They overhear Maggie telling the old men to leave again, so Mulder rushes to question them. Maggie tells the agents that they are called the Calusari, and that they are responsible for the correct observance of rituals. When Mulder demands that the leader of the Calusari explain what’s happening, the old man tells Mulder that they are dealing with an ancient and unrelenting evil. Indeed, that is exactly what Golda believed. Scully, of course, wants to hear Charlie’s side of the story.
When Kosseff asks Charlie about it, however, the boy insists that he wasn’t in his grandmother’s room. He claims that it was a boy named Michael. Maggie is awestruck and terrified at the claim. She explains to the agents that Michael was Charlie’s twin, but was stillborn. Golda told the parents that a ritual should be performed to separate the spirits of the twins, or the “world of the dead would follow Charlie”.
Charlie has another seizure, so he is hospitalized. When a nurse tries to inject him with medication, the nurse is attacked by a boy who looks just like Charlie…Michael. Michael, pretending to be Charlie, convinces Maggie to take him home. Scully sees them leaving, and checks on Charlie. They find the nurse and Charlie still in the hospital room. Mulder, now convinced that some kind of spirit being is behind the killings, sends Scully to the Holvey home to stop whatever’s about to happen. Meanwhile, Mulder calls for help.
It doesn’t take long for Maggie to realize there’s a problem, so she tries to conduct the same ritual that Golda had been performing. However, Michael walks in, intent on stopping her. Back at the hospital, Mulder welcomes the Calusari, who begin an exorcism ritual on Charlie. As Mulder helps with the ritual, Scully arrives at the Holvey house, and finds Maggie pressed against one of the walls, up by the ceiling. Scully is tossed across the room by an unseen force.
Just as Michael is about to stab Scully, the exorcism ends, and the spirit disappears. Scully helps Maggie recover as she falls to the floor. The Calusari leader tells Mulder to call the mother to see to Charlie, and warns that Mulder must be careful now…the evil knows him. With the case over, Mulder is left to contemplate that innocence and vigilance may not be enough to protect against evil.
At the heart of this episode is the nature of evil, as is the case with many of the early episodes. Unlike many series, where the depiction of the spiritual is inconsistent and seems to violate its own rules, there is a strong rationale for the portrayal of Michael and the way that he is described by the Calusari.
In earlier episodes, the nature of the spiritual was essentially that of non-corporeal intelligence. That intelligence could exist in a physical form at will. As depicted in this episode, these manifestations are not confined to the angelic likes of Nurse Owens. Indeed, there is an equally powerful opposing force, one that is more than happy to take the form of a departed child in order to further its own goals.
The Calusari effectively describe evil as a malevolent entity, something that is similar to Mulder’s “thread of evil” concept from “Empedocles” in the eighth season. At first glance, it seems like a bit of a cheat. After all, it would appear to discount the idea of a darkness with the human soul, leaving true evil as the imposition of something external. The fact that the Calusari describes Hilter and Lucifer in the same breath suggests something larger than a single person’s will.
This episode poses the question, however indirectly, of whether or not a spirit or ghost is the remaining consciousness or reflection of the individual in question or something more. That leads to the question of what a ghost really might be. In this episode, the entire spectrum is represented. Michael appears to be imposing his will on Charlie in some cases, manipulating objects without a visible form in other cases, and then finally takes on physical substance at the end.
The only explanation for this phenomenon is an intelligence that is much larger than a single human mind with the ability to manipulate energy and matter on the smallest of scales. In that case, the Calusari’s definition of evil becomes more valid. The expression and extent of evil becomes a question of connection. Hitler might have been a single man influenced by a larger intelligence, but Hitler needed a connection to that evil, a willingness or openness to that influence.
If there is a detail that doesn’t quite make immediate sense, it’s the idea that Charlie was somehow connected to the spiritual intelligence because he had a twin that died before birth. If that were the case, then wouldn’t that connection exist between all twins, and wouldn’t more of this kind of phenomena take place? There is, however, one difference between the circumstances of the episode and that of the general populace: Golda was directly attempting to break the connection.
One could then theorize that there is always a degree of influence from larger intelligences, with the extent of that influence being the extent of the connection between the individual and the spiritual gestalt intelligences and the predilection of the individual to the opposing influences. According to the Calusari, the extent of connection is akin to “awareness”. The malevolent intelligence is now aware of Mulder, so Mulder must be on guard.
This ties in nicely with the hints within the mythology that the “alien” intelligence within the black oil virus is non-corporeal and therefore spiritual in nature. There is no reason to believe that the black oil intelligence(s) couldn’t act out in the same way that the evil does in this episode. Perhaps the only difference is one of experience or method; the black oil intelligence is clearly fixated on human characteristics and weaknesses.
In the larger context, one could ask why the malevolent intelligence seeks to act as it does. What could a vast gestalt of the evil within all intelligent life gain from the death of a child, or the deaths of the Holvey family? Perhaps it seeks to expand its own power by absorbing more intelligences, and perhaps violent death is a primary means of attaining those “souls”. That renders the spiritual battle between opposing intelligences to the level of “God” battling “Satan” for the souls of the living, which is exactly how future episodes of the series treat the concept.
Regarding the episode itself, there are weaknesses. The final exorcism is so similar to the famous film’s resolution as to be too familiar. Also, the existence of a stillborn twin should have been included in the family medical records, so it shouldn’t have been something dropped into the plot about 2/3 of the way in. It’s so critical to the central point of the episode that one gets the feeling that it was intentionally held back.
It is also impossible to believe that Scully would still question similar events later in the series after her experience in the Holvey home. Rationalization only goes so far, and after admitting that she believes in a benevolent spirituality, she ought to accept that the opposite would be possible as well. However, by this point in the series, Scully’s characterization begins to weaken. She is shown as coming to accept Mulder’s world, yet at the same time, she remains skeptical when it is convenient to a given episode.
Whether or not the episode works becomes almost a personal matter of belief. If one rejects the spiritual, then this episode becomes almost shockingly bad, pandering to a popular belief in a substantial power of good or evil. If one accepts some form of the spiritual, however, there is a resonance to those beliefs in this episode. Seen from the perspective of the series and its conception of good and evil, this episode is entirely consistent and depicts a chilling side to the malevolence that seeks to control humanity’s future.
SCULLY: “Did you learn about wind in kindergarten?”
SCULLY: “Too bad you didn’t take a picture. You could have run it through your computer and seen the entire Last Supper…”
CALUSARI: “It is over, for now. But you must be careful…it knows you.”
- Note that when Steve gives Charlie the ice cream cone, at first it’s a double scoop...but when the camera angle changes, Charlie’s taking the single scoop!
- Eerie shot of the balloon sliding behind Charlie, as the boy looks down at the remains of his little brother’s body...
- For some reason, the opening theme sounds distorted for this episode on the DVD...
- If something were holding the balloon’s string, as suggested by the photo, then the balloon would still appear to be moving with the wind...only the movement of the ring at the bottom would have been wrong, and only when compared over time in separate photos!
- Mike Vejar, the director of this episode, has gone on to direct for several series in the genre, most notably some of the best episodes of “Babylon 5”...
- Notice how the light from the lamps, in relation to the fireplace, makes it look like there’s a distorted face in the Holvey living room?
- You know, I think I’d be a little more worried if odd things like that happened so often in my house...
- Doesn’t everyone have a crazy old grandmother like that?
- I have that same encyclopedia of symbols on my bookshelf!
- And doesn’t everyone have a mother-in-law who thinks you’re the devil?
- I think the chicken entrails incident would have been a sign for most...
- Why didn’t Scully follow-up on whatever Golda sprinkled into the food? Wouldn’t that have been primary evidence in the direction of her investigation?
- Nice of Mulder to park the car where they could get a good look at Steve hanging in the garage!
- I still don’t get how that tie wound up on top of the chain, when Steve’s movements couldn’t have possibly resulted in that. Unless, of course, the assumption is meant to be more Michael antics...
- Why wasn’t Charlie removed from the home, as soon as possible child abuse was indicated?
- So Romanians who conduct special rituals dress like Hasidic Jews? Granted, the Romanian background is never really fleshed out, so it’s possible that there’s a Jewish tradition there, but one would assume Romani roots first...
- If that ash is supposed to appear during the presence of spirit beings, why hasn’t it shown up before or since...when spiritual activity is rampant throughout the series?
- Nice touch with the child’s shade in the smoke...
- Gee, those Romanians have some harsh beliefs about bad luck...
- One sure sign that something is wrong with Charlie? While Kosseff questions him, the fish toy in the playroom mysteriously changes location and orientation from shot to shot!
- Isn’t it convenient that Scully just happens to look out the window as Maggie rushes off with Michael?
- Gotta wonder how Mulder convinced the hospital staff to let the creepy old men come in...
- I think someone’s watched “The Exorcist” a few too many times! (Though in defense of 1013, many of the elements of the exorcism are fairly well established in spiritual circles.)
- The slow-motion shots, unfortunately, take away from the power of the scene...
- Not really impressed by hospital security, if nobody heard or reacted to all that noise!
- An interesting question: did the evil know Mulder from this case, or was the Calusari telling Mulder that the evil already knew Mulder from some other incidence?
Overall, this episode is very much a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is well directed and acted, and there are some fascinating implications for the mythology hidden within the events depicted. At the same time, there are clear logical flaws to the episode, and the subject matter can be disturbing. This is an episode that falls heavily to subjective interpretation.
I give it a 7/10.
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