"Quagmire"
Written by Kim Newton
Directed by James Charleston



In which Mulder and Scully hunt for a deadly creature living in a lake and dining on the nearby inhabitants, and end up having a frank discussion about Mulder’s motivations...

Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis





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Status Report

Though Darin Morgan was supposed to have finished his initial tenure as a writer for the series with “Jose Chung”, he actually became involved with this episode before his departure as an uncredited contributor. This should come as no surprise, since the episode has tributes and references to Morgan moments tossed everywhere possible. More than that, this is practically a “Morgan-lite” episode, taking the now-familiar tactic of twisting something within popular culture into a psychological buffet.

Unlike the first two seasons, the writers seem to have determined that threading elements of the season finale into the last several episodes is unnecessary. Granted, the previous episode served as a relative reminder of the conspiracy’s control over Mulder’s world, but the conspiracy has nothing to do with this episode. On the other hand, the third season finale was very different from the earlier finales, because it was more incidental in nature.

More importantly, if the continuity for plot threads are lacking, the same cannot be said of the character development. In what would become a rarity, this episode uses the plot device of hunting for a lake creature (ala Nessie) as a means of exploring the current psychology of the two main characters. The infamous “Conversation on the Rock”, a Darin Morgan masterpiece, places Mulder and Scully in some disturbing mental territory, to say the least.

Kim Newton, at the very least, provided more than enough starting material to make this a fine X-File. The worldwide drop in frog population was and is a real ecological issue. Whereas Chris Carter might have belabored the conservationist angle to death (think “Darkness Falls”), Newton takes a more subtle approach. Mulder’s Big Blue is a survivor from an earlier ecological disaster, making Farraday’s strong objections to the creature’s existence rather ironic.

Farraday (and later Scully) state one of the messages of the episode without overdoing it: nature will survive, even if humanity doesn’t. It’s something that a lot of people seem to forget. If climate changes and mass extinctions wipe out humanity, the world will not come to an end. The ecology has dealt with and adapted from five major extinction events just fine. Humanity’s insistence that the end of the world comes with the end of humanity is just as self-absorbed as the practice of exploiting every natural resource.

In terms of self-absorption, of course, Mulder ranks rather high on the scale. There’s something ridiculous in the notion that Mulder would pull Scully out of bed on a weekend, without warning, to hunt down a lake monster that fanatics haven’t found in decades of constant observation. Equally ridiculous is the idea that Scully rails against Mulder for the decision, yet expects him to know her well enough to know what she thinks of kennels! From the very beginning, then, the analysis has begun. Mulder is chasing down something completely anecdotal, as usual, and Scully is right there with him, protesting as she goes.

Farraday tears into Mulder and his obsession with the paranormal with a vengeance, and the audience can’t help but feel as though there’s a middle ground that’s not being represented. That’s quite intentional. Like Scully, the audience has already seen enough to know that Mulder isn’t entirely insane. At the same time, like Scully, the audience is often left in the dark when it comes to Mulder’s motivations or rationale.

For Scully, it’s simple. As a scientist, claims require a certain level of evidence. Suggestion and supposition are nothing more than a starting point, not the end of the exercise, as Mulder often seems to insist. What Scully struggles with is the equally important aspect of scientific reasoning: one also cannot exclude possibilities without evidence to the contrary.

Since her own abduction and the death of her sister, Scully has pulled back from her need to find answers. Part of that has been depicted as a psychological defense mechanism. She doesn’t really want to believe that these things have happened for unknown reasons. At this point in the series, her instant objection to Mulder’s theories have less to do with skepticism and more to do with denial. Scully hides behind her scientific scrutiny.

This is never more apparent than the moment when the troop leader’s body washes up. Rather than actually check the body to determine what kind of animal bite might have been involved, Scully counters Mulder’s theory with an unsubstantiated theory of her own. In fact, Scully never conducts an autopsy in the entire episode.

As evidence mounts, both characters approach the complex problem from psychologically simple points of view. Mulder needs the creature to exist, so he automatically sees every new death as adding to the body of evidence for a massive lake creature. Scully, on the other hand, grabs on to every possible rational explanation available. The truth, as usual, lies in between, the result of two sources. Polarized as they are by the filter of their own perception (and without actual physical evidence), the agents can’t conceive of such a possibility.

By the time the agents are looking through blurry “tourist pictures”, the battle lines have been drawn so definitively that neither side is willing to budge. It’s as if the underlying issues of the entire season continue to plague them, regardless of how “Apocrypha” was supposed to have started the healing process. The result is Mulder’s typical emotional detachment, self-absorbed as ever. Scully’s dog is eaten, and yet all that matters is the quest.

The incident with the boat is classic, because there’s no way that a large alligator can account for the damage caused. The rationale is that closing the lake forced the alligator to seek the only available source of food; if that were the case, however, Mulder and Scully would have been a midnight snack within minutes. In retrospect, the only logical explanation is that something much larger and more capricious was at work.

Regardless, the isolation caused by the sinking of the boat (in water that’s apparently rather shallow, unless the bottom drops off sharply on one side of the rock) forces Mulder and Scully to actually discuss their issues. Or rather, it gives Scully a chance to place Mulder under the microscope, in turn revealing something about her own fractured sanity.

What this episode tries to address is the disparity between Mulder’s effort to uncover the conspiracy and the circumstances of Samantha’s abduction and the “monster of the week” episodes that have nothing to do with those topics anymore. Darin Morgan intelligently makes the case that Mulder needs the constant validation of the more isolated cases to bolster his hopes for getting answers to the larger questions.

It makes a certain amount of sense, because as Scully points out, it reveals the side of Mulder that is remarkably close to insane. Mulder has dedicated his life to finding answers to questions that are unlikely to be answered. More than that, searching for the answers is not exactly safe in this instance. From the agents’ point of view, unaware of the level of spiritual assistance they are getting, Mulder’s fate is either death or madness.

Scully takes it further by delving into how Mulder’s little psychological obsession works. Mulder has become so entrenched in the need to find an explanation for Samantha’s abduction, something paranormal, that every negative aspect of life must therefore gain equal cause. The irony is that Mulder isn’t far from being right; clearly, there are outside forces manipulating situations and bringing about much of the bizarre phenomena the agents investigate. But Scully knows, all too well, how Mulder will find a way to blame aliens for the failure to get a receipt from the ATM.

Mulder may be Ahab, chasing every possible white whale, but what does that say about Scully? She openly notes that Mulder’s quest is likely to get himself and everyone close to him killed, and Scully ought to know. She’s borne much of the personal cost that Mulder’s search has incurred. Given all that she’s lost and stands to lose, why would she continue to remain at Mulder’s side?

Shippers insist that it’s love, but that’s a bit too easy. Scully is no less damaged than Mulder, after all. Scully is definitely caught by her own sense of compassion, unable to leave a friend in his moment of need. More to the point, Scully’s scientific need to understand is constantly being triggered, because when Mulder tries to find the elusive secret of some unsolved mystery, Scully is equally challenged to find a rational explanation.

Beyond that, Scully is emotionally isolated, something that doesn’t quite mesh with the idea that she has a large family that she spends considerable time with. Scully didn’t start that way; in the first season, Scully is far more well-adjusted. Her recent experiences have undermined her ability to trust in other people, and as a result, she clings to the one person who she can trust without question, because of his need.

Mulder’s story about his thoughts on “peg legs” is revealing. Mulder sees a physical handicap as a possible excuse for turning away from the expectations of society. Without a leg, he reasons, people aren’t held to the same exacting standard. What he completely overlooks is the issue of emotional or psychological handicaps, something he probably knows too much about to comfortably discuss in relation to himself. Mulder may be whole in some respects, but in others, he’s barely functional. Scully, of course, is not much better.

The conversation also reinforces an aspect to Scully’s character that remains a side issue until “all things”. Scully tells Mulder that she used to call her father Ahab and that she was Starbuck. Implications aside, she then draws the comparison between Ahab and Mulder. The logical conclusion is that Scully is playing Starbuck again, and that Mulder has assumed a “father figure” role in her mind. More to the point, Mulder has become the authority figure in her life, and such figures have always been dangerously attractive to her.

The writers don’t stop there. The resolution of the episode wouldn’t be satisfying without demonstrating how hard it is for the characters to break out of this cycle, even when they admit their own weaknesses. Despite wanting to find something to validate his own measure of hope, Mulder consistently confronts that possible truth at gunpoint. When Mulder kills the giant alligator, it’s justified by the risk to his own life. But at the same time, he’s also killing the evolutionary descendent of the type of creature he was hoping to find.

The metaphor is rather plain. Scully asks Mulder what he intends to do when he finds the truth. Mulder can’t answer that question, but his actions speak for him, both in this episode and in the past. Mulder wants to pull the truth into the light of day and dismantle it, all in the name of protecting everyone else from his sister’s probable fate. What that leaves Mulder with, emotionally, is the prospect of losing the one thing keeping him sane.

As long as Samantha is waiting to be found, Mulder seeks hope to keep himself invested. It’s that hope that sustains him. But once the truth is known, what will Mulder have left? He’s wiped everything else out of his life. The answer, of course, is Scully. Over time, Scully becomes the emotional substitute for Samantha. By the time “Closure” comes along, Mulder is able to keep going because he has something to turn to.

In contrast, Scully immediately accepts the fact that everything is the result of the giant alligator’s need to find a new source of food. Any lingering questions are immediately set aside. Scully’s not ready to accept the world that does not fit into her carefully constructed scientific view, even as the questions appeal to her need for rational answers. Over time, remaining with Mulder will cost Scully everything, leaving her as dependent on Mulder as he is on her.

This episode brings Mulder and Scully to an important point for the series. With the story effectively one-third of the way complete (planned or not), the characters have come to a critical decision point. The conspiracy appears to be rather simple and defined from their point of view, but all of that is about to change in a major way. Mulder will be forced to face the core of his own beliefs, while Scully will find her life placed in the balance time and again. By the time the middle of the story is complete (more or less in the sixth/seventh season), the conspiracy will be fully unearthed and the relationship between the two agents will have changed dramatically.

As this episode demonstrates, both characters are on the verge of serious self-realization, something that only comes to light through the process of unveiling the truth behind the conspiracy. Though the writers would ultimately struggle with how to handle it, the audience understood what they did not: it is through the process of uncovering the truth “out there” that the characters discover the truth within.


Memorable Quotes

SCULLY: “What are you leaving out?”
MULDER: “What makes you think I’m leaving anything out?”
FARRADAY: “Has anyone ever told you two you have a great problem coming to the point?”

MULDER: “How many folk tales do you know that could eat a Boy Scout leader and a biologist?”

SCULLY: “It’s not until you get back to nature that you realize that everything is out to get you…”

MULDER: “That was him, Scully! That was Big Blue!”
SCULLY: “So what if it was…”

SCULLY: “You’re so consumed by your personal vengeance against life, whether it be its inherent cruelties or mysteries, everything takes on a warped significance to fit your megalomaniacal cosmology.”
MULDER: “Scully, are you coming on to me?”
SCULLY: “It’s the truth or the white whale. What difference does it make? I mean, both obsessions are impossible to capture, and trying to do so will only leave you dead along with everyone else you bring with you.”

SCULLY: “Well, you slew the big white whale, Ahab.”
MULDER: “Yeah, but I still don’t have that peg leg…”


Final Analysis

Overall, this episode was a strong look into the psychological issues that Mulder and Scully are carrying around this season. The plot of the episode is little more than a tool chosen to pry into the minds of the two agents, revealing just how dependent they are on each other. A rare case of character development taking center stage.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10




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