Written by Kim Newton
Directed by David Nutter
In which the agents investigate the serial killings of apparent stigmatics, and Scully finds herself torn between Mulder’s skepticism and the signs and portents suggested by her own faith...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
After a short diversion into the more material aspects of the mythology, the third season returns with full force to the spiritual underpinning of the series. If “Oubliette” approached the subject from Mulder’s point of view, pulling him into a situation that he couldn’t help but take personally, then this episode provides the same journey for Scully. The symmetry is nearly perfect, especially in terms of how the other partner reacts to the personal reactions of the partner central to the story.
This episode draws about a million parallels to traditional Christian and Catholic imagery and dogma, getting into the issue of stigmata, the signs exhibited by a saintly individual through grace. Of course, depending on the system of belief, the stigmata is defined and interpreted in a more or less complicated context, but in general, stigmata is a sign of someone devout and full of grace.
It can easily be argued that “X-Files”, despite Chris Carter’s insistence on telling a bunch of scary stories, is all about the spiritual struggle. The physical manifestation of the ultimate threat to humanity is a formless black super-virus, something that can infect anyone…except those special few who happen to be immune. The one destined to lead the battle to defeat the darkness is the messianic child born of a barren mother and a man who would be raised from the dead on more than one occasion. Indeed, a great deal of what happens in this episode is so directly applicable to Scully’s later experience that it feels as though this is a harbinger of the future.
The series has often focused on the idea of children with powerful gifts needing protection from forces of evil. Often, Scully becomes the mother figure to these children, and this episode is no less applicable to that symbolism. Taken in context with the later seasons (especially easy, if this is the first time seeing the episode), there are entire passages that seem to hint to how Scully’s life would change, and even the sacrifices that Mulder would have to endure.
As with any episode dealing with faith, Mulder seems to immediately display an uncharacteristic level of skepticism. It’s interesting that he has been tracking the murder of false stigmatics for quite some time, without mentioning as much to Scully. If this episode takes place in late October 1995 (all timeline issues aside), then Mulder’s research must have been taking place during their administrative suspension period (May – August). Why wouldn’t Mulder have even mentioned the previous cases to Scully, unless he knew how she would react and wanted to avoid that entire discussion?
It’s never good when 11 religious figures, false or not, happen to crop up in a situation, because there’s always going to be a twelfth. And just as surely, that twelfth potential victim will always be the one that runs contrary to the others. Kevin is the perfect example: the true stigmatic whose behavior is far from saintly, at least from what’s depicted.
The timing of Kevin’s stigmata experience is so perfect that it begs the question: is this happening solely for Scully’s benefit? This situation comes on the heels of several spiritual experiences, all taking place after the intervention of spiritual forces in her life during the “Anasazi” trilogy. And this is just after she learns that she might be dying from the effects of removing her implant. If there’s any time for the spiritual forces of light to bring Scully a message of hope, this is it.
But that’s not the only message Scully needs to hear. For all his Christian interpretations, Mr. Kryder states the basis of the whole series rather plainly: this is the culmination of the great war between good and evil, and God is going to find someone to bring it to the necessary conclusion. And that means someone must sacrifice, and as with all things, events must come full circle before all is said and done.
“Full circle to the truth” is a rather ironic piece of dialogue, considering the final scene of the series finale! But the more ironic part is that Scully’s not the one who really makes that sacrifice; Mulder is. Scully has to give up William before the end to save him (and ultimately, of course, regain him in the future). Mulder, on the other hand, is the one who consistently sacrifices himself to save the world.
Scully has been on the fence ever since her miraculous return in “One Breath”, something that was directly the result of spiritual intervention by benevolent forces guiding the agents towards their destined roles. For all that Mulder was also aided and given purpose by those same forces in “The Blessing Way”, Scully is the one that those forces must focus on. The reason for that is plain as day. Mulder needs a certain kind of influence, but his ability to believe already drives him in the direction he needs to go. Scully, on the other hand, needs something that speaks to her faith. What better way to communicate her future role, then to speak directly to something in her religious background?
One of the central concepts of the mythology is the struggle to protect children with special attributes or abilities from malevolent entities. Samantha was saved by angelic forces. Doggett’s son, though never said to have special gifts, had to have them as the son of a man with latent abilities (John’s apparent psychic talent) and he was killed by a man possessed by a malevolent intelligence. William, of course, was meant to be the most powerful of those fighting the possession of humanity by the malevolent intelligence of Purity.
Kevin certainly has gifts, inherent or otherwise, that make him a target. Simon Gates is apparently a man possessed by a malevolent intelligence. If all such entities are seen as aspects of the same driving hive-like mind behind Purity, then Kevin could very well be one of those meant to combat Purity in the future. It’s no accident that Scully is put into the position to protect Kevin and see the evidence of this struggle. As Owen says, Scully has to believe in the struggle to help, because otherwise, she cannot see the true nature of the battle.
An interesting question arises regarding Owen and his true nature. Is Owen human? Or is he the human form of something very different? It’s been seen in previous episodes that spiritual entities take on human form when needed. Is it merely a coincidence that both Nurse Owen and Owen Jarvis seem to reflect a certain type of character, a being sent specifically to play a role in seeing to the proper course of events?
In Owen’s case, he is there to ensure that Scully takes her place as Kevin’s protector, to stand in her stead until she is ready to take up the burden. Just as Mr. Kryder seems to be touched with a sense of the truth, some conception of the nature of all things, Owen is there to set Scully on the path of faith. Scully needs to be drawn back to the idea of good and evil, because in her current state, it’s too abstract. Owen’s very existence seems calculated to make that faith tangible.
As if to highlight Mulder’s intense denial of the spiritual (central to his character), he attributes Gates’ murderous activities to Jerusalem Syndrome instead of taking the usual leap to something more extraordinary. If Scully has a hard time accepting aliens, Mulder goes to similar lengths to ignore the problem of how a deluded man can burn his fingerprints into someone’s flesh. Indeed, Mulder simply provides the most logical means by which Gates became subsumed by something malevolent and murderous.
One has to wonder if Mulder’s constant denials aren’t some kind of subtle intervention by the same spiritual intelligence trying to communicate to Scully. From her point of view, it would be akin to God “hardening Mulder’s heart” to the message, so that Scully’s faith is truly tested against the denials of the one person she trusts the most. Scully’s faith is tested, because without out, she cannot succeed in her appointed task.
If there’s any question about Scully and her latent psychic ability, answers are at least partially provided in this episode. It’s a combination of her enhanced awareness and provided signs and portents. From Scully’s point of view, it’s as if God is providing her with the information she needs when she most needs it. It’s like the old adage of God helping those who help themselves; once Scully is on the path, there’s a clarity that otherwise might not have existed.
It’s a bit jarring, perhaps, to discover that Scully has very little to do with saving Kevin. In the end, Gates pulls Kevin over the edge into the paper shredder, and it’s only providence that allows Kevin to grab onto that ledge. Consider the blood on his hands and how tenuous that grip must be…Scully’s arrival is timely, to say the least. In a certain sense, Kevin is driven to save himself, and miraculously grabs onto the ledge, allowing Scully to fulfill her part in saving his life.
It all comes together in the final scene, which reveals just how personal the case has been for Scully. Note that comment about having strayed from the church in the past six years or so; it dovetails very nicely with Scully’s apparent affair with Daniel, as detailed in “All Things”. It also demonstrates that some thought went into that seventh season episode, because in many ways, that episode is a major step in Scully’s acceptance of her place in the universe. Scully’s gets a push in the right direction here, grounded in terms she can understand.
One could conclude, based on the direction that the series would take, that Scully’s Catholic faith is battered and bruised by the end of the series. And that wouldn’t be wrong. What the series ultimately fails to explain is how Scully’s faith becomes the foundation for her expanded understanding of spirituality and faith. Scully doesn’t abandon Catholicism. Her experiences force her to look beyond the dogma and redefine, within her own faith, the meaning of God.
For the series (and for many, in reality), God is not the masculine, monolithic “Father on High”. Instead, God becomes the guiding principle for a spiritual understanding of what might be termed “the greater good”. The forces that guide and assist Mulder and Scully and their allies over the course of the series derives from the benevolence inherent within all life. This same force and gestalt intelligence introduced the necessary genetic elements to resist Purity. All of this is, effectively, the will of God. Nurse Owen, Owen Jarvis, and countless others stand, in context, as “angels” in God’s service.
This works within the context that the black oil virus is, on a spiritual level, demonic possession. Those immune to the virus have the same characteristics that in William are messianic, and in Kevin’s case, bring about stigmatic miracles. And along the same lines, man’s attempt to destroy Purity (evil) without faith using science (Cancer Man and the conspiracy) ultimately leads to the creation and success of Purity itself. It takes William, a symbolic “second coming”, to defeat through spirit and faith what the conspiracy could never truly combat.
In all of this, Catholicism becomes more of an interpretation of something far more vast and impossible to define. Good and evil are part of a single, all-encompassing sentient universe, which is essentially “God”. This is the “greater intelligence in all things”, as Scully would later say. The spiritual war is not between an eternal and good “God” and the fallen and evil “Satan”, but rather, the balance between the two within that greater intelligence.
The battle for “all souls”, then, is the attempt of the darkness within all natural life to break down the structure that defines benevolent commonality. If Purity wins on Earth, as Cassandra Spender foretells (talk about mythological concepts), then the universe will ultimately be overrun by its darkness. All diversity would be broken down into a stagnant, formless dark. This is the polar opposite of what Mulder and Scully are being led to create, as the culmination of “God’s plan”…a spiritual commonality within the human race that brings life together as one. Because of the poorly constructed nature of the later seasons, much of this conception is lost within crudely scripted metaphors for religious imagery.
At episode’s end, Scully is terrified at the idea that God is speaking to her, showing her the path towards the truth. Part of that has to be the growing conflict between what she’s been taught to believe and what her experience is revealing. But her final words state it clearly: what if God is speaking, warning humanity about the apocalypse to come, and people aren’t listening?
From the perspective of the later seasons, Scully’s fear is realized. Humanity begins to fall prey to the darkness as the legacy of the conspiracy takes hold. Governments are suborned and plans are set into motion, and none of the signs and portents seem to be heeded. And yet, ultimately, there is hope, because Scully and Mulder come full circle at the end, having discovered the truth about the conflict to come. Even Mulder finds the answer within a balance of faith and reason.
This is definitely a Gillian Anderson tour-de-force, so much so that Duchovny sometimes looks like he’s phoning in the performance in silent protest. It helps that the supporting cast is so memorable. Owen is cast as physically intimidating, when his soul is really quite beautiful in terms of his faith. Kenneth Welsh, perhaps best known for his portrayal of the insane Windham Earle on “Twin Peaks”, does a capable job as Simon Gates.
While there are layers of context and religious metaphor throughout, this episode is more notable for its almost prescient applicability to Scully’s future character development. Perhaps even more importantly, this episode underscores the concept of a spiritual war at the heart of the series, something that was never quite communicated in the later seasons. It’s ironic to think that Carter himself felt that the later seasons were more devoted to matters of the spirit, when the majority of the first half of the third season is practically dominated by spiritual concerns. Had the writers properly approached the material, it could have prevented some of the criticisms over lack of consistency and quality.
FINDLEY: “Most people today tend to vest themselves in science and cynicism. They expect proof for all that they see, but miracles are wonders by nature. They need no rationale, no justification.”
MULDER: “No, I think this is a case of too much faith. And too much sugar.”
MULDER: “These forces. What do they want?”
MR. KRYDER: “To claim all souls. You must understand, this is the great war between good and evil.”
MR. KRYDER: “God will find someone to stop it. Someone who is strong enough to make the sacrifice.”
SCULLY: “Full circle to the truth? I don’t know what that means.”
MR. KRYDER: “You will.”
KID #1: “He was bald. He didn’t have no hair.”
KID #2: “’Cause it all burned off in hell!”
SCULLY: “Did you get a composite?”
MULDER: “Yeah…looks like Kevin was abducted by Homer Simpson’s evil twin…”
OWEN: “He who has ears, let him hear.”
MULDER: “And he that has a tongue, let him speak!”
SCULLY: “Mr. Jarvis, my religious convictions are hardly the issue here.”
OWEN: “But they are. How can you help Kevin, if you don’t believe? Even the killer, he believes.”
SCULLY: “I believe in the idea that God’s hand can be witnessed. I believe He can create miracles, yes.”
MULDER: “Even if science can’t explain them?”
SCULLY: “Maybe that’s just what faith is.”
MULDER: “You never draw my bath…”
SCULLY: “How is it that you’re able to go out on a limb whenever you see a light in the sky, but you’re unwilling to accept the possibility of a miracle? Even when it’s right in front in you!”
MULDER: “I wait for a miracle every day! But what I’ve seen here has only tested my patience, not my faith.”
SCULLY: “Well, what about what I’ve seen?”
GATES: “It’s not a question of wanting. You have to die, Kevin. For everyone. For the new age to come. You understand that, don’t you?”
PRIEST: “Why do you doubt yourself?”
SCULLY: “Because my partner didn’t see them. He didn’t…he didn’t believe them. And usually he…he believes without question.”
PRIEST: “Maybe they weren’t meant for him to see. Maybe they were only meant for you.”
PRIEST: “Sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth. Why does that surprise you?”
Overall, this episode highlights Scully and her faith, and in the process, manages to presage many of the future plot developments for the series and her character. The spiritual war at the foundation of the series mythology is reflected in a situation that speaks directly to Scully and her upbringing, and though some of the religious metaphors are heavy-handed, it works well enough.
Final Rating: 7/10
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