"Talitha Cumi"
Written by Chris Carter and David Duchovny
Directed by R.W. Goodwin

In which Mulder and Scully investigate a man named Jeremiah Smith, who appears to have the power to heal, while Cancer Man seeks to find and eliminate the man himself...

Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis


Status Report

When it comes to season finales, Chris Carter always went for shock value. That was the mantra for the mythology episodes after the success of the “Anasazi” trilogy, anyway: character deaths make for drama. This is clearly exploited at the end of the third season, as if Carter and Duchovny took the example of Melissa Scully and Bill Mulder and wanted to up the ante.

It’s hard to be sure which elements of the story belong to which writer. Duchovny originally came up with the idea of the “alien bounty hunter” (ABH), so it makes sense that he pushed for a return visit. It would also make sense for Duchovny to push for some emotionally difficult material, since his part in most episodes is fairly repetitive (from an acting standpoint). For similar reasons, one would hang the conspiracy element around Carter’s neck.

It’s not so clear cut, though. Duchovny’s educational background, on more than one occasion, has led him to apply concepts from classic literature to the series mythology. “Amor Fati” in the seventh season is a prime example. In this case, there is a concerted effort to take elements of “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoevsky and apply them, rendering Cancer Man into the role of the Grand Inquisitor.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, because the series always touched on matters of the spirit and concepts of religion. There is an obvious metaphor drawn between the self-sacrificing Jeremiah Smith, sacrificing himself for the sake of man, and the idea of a “second coming”. Much of the spiritual mess tossed to the audience in the last few seasons actually progress out of concepts mentioned in this episode.

Of course, that’s where the flaws in this season finale come into play. Carter and Spotnitz had outlined the rest of the Colonization mythology following “Apocrypha”, in preparation for the feature film planned for the end of the fifth season. That left the writers in a quandary: how can the mythology remain interesting and complex, when the answers can’t come for more than two seasons? And what elements of the mythology still need to be revealed?

As a result, very little information is actually revealed in this episode. Some hints are dropped that have relevance to the “big picture”, but overall, a lot of effort is spent trying to set the stage for concepts that ultimately wouldn’t be explained or would change as the film screenplay underwent revision. The uncertainty and need for evasion left Carter with little more than innuendo to work with and communicate.

As with most of the mythology episodes, previous interpretations regarding the goals and policies of the conspiracy and Cancer Man pertain directly to the interpretation of the current episode. Therefore, the speculation and interpretation outlined in previous reviews are assumed to be familiar to the reader. In particular, the reviews for “The Erlenmeyer Flask”, “Colony”, “Endgame”, “Anasazi”, “The Blessing Way”, “Paper Clip”, “Nisei”, “731”, “Piper Maru”, and “Apocrypha” provide the framework.

The episode itself is indicative of most of the post-“Apocrypha” mythology: a combination of elements tossed together in the hopes that the intrigue and personal cost will be enough to overcome the lack of actual progress. Spiritual and religious concepts are thrown on top of personal tragedy and issues of genealogy, hanging together through sheer force of narrative will.

The beginning of the episode is actually a great start, since the previous episodes have dealt with the idea that Mulder needs to find evidence of miraculous paranormal phenomenon to maintain his hope of finding Samantha. The existence of a man with an incredible healing gift is just what the doctor ordered. But the scene is also revealing because there is a question of Jeremiah Smith’s intent.

Watching the episode in retrospect, this is not a random choice. Jeremiah Smith (at least the one in the restaurant) came to that place on that day with the specific intent of revealing his existence in a very public forum. It’s played in the episode as a decision of conscience, but it’s more complicated than that: Jeremiah chose the timing with precision.

Muntz tells Mulder that Jeremiah had to be God himself. The writers clearly intend that to be a precursor to the literary metaphor they are seeking to exploit. But in terms of the mythology, such statements may not be far from the truth. “God” is often the blanket term used to describe the benevolent spiritual forces aiding Mulder and Scully, preparing them and guiding them towards their future role in preventing Colonization. The question becomes: is Jeremiah in some way connected to that guiding spiritual force?

While his true goal is kept secret, Cancer Man tries to use past history to influence Teena Mulder to assist him in finding the weapon needed to eliminate Jeremiah. This is necessary because Jeremiah threatens to expose the Project at the worst possible time. Again, this plays into the idea that Jeremiah chose the time and place to maximize the effect of his actions. At this point, Cancer Man is still trying to regain control of the Syndicate, in the wake of his previous misjudgments. Cancer Man needs to control the direction of the conspiracy, because he believe that he is the sole remaining human being with the truth about Colonization.

The early scene with Teena, however, seems to be intended to introduce the idea that Cancer Man might have been having an affair with her. The implications are fairly obvious, and the plot point is immediately groan-worthy. Such plot revelations have become cliché in popular culture since “The Empire Strikes Back” made the archetype relevant to the entire world.

However, this does become the impetus for an interesting aspect of the mythology. Cancer Man is aware that in the future, Colonization can be prevented by someone with a specific genetic code. That someone will be protected and educated in how to “fight the future” by his or her father. Cancer Man was aware that his own genetic code was a close match, and that the destined savior of mankind was probably his own son.

The conspiracy, then, was the effort to create a means of combating Colonization in the future by developing weapons against Purity. At the same time, the conspiracy was also used by Cancer Man to catalogue genetic codes, to find the women with genetic profiles that would combine with his own to bring about the proscribed “savior”. It’s clear from the series that Cancer Man fathered many children with different women, and the intent was clearly to increase the chances of producing the destined “savior”.

Cancer Man’s affair with Teena, then, resulted in Fox and Samantha. It’s hinted but never confirmed that this was wrapped into Bill Mulder’s departure from the conspiracy; after all, Cancer Man could have used that knowledge to force the decision between Fox and Samantha for abduction in 1973. If Cancer Man believed that Fox was the child in the “prophesy”, then he might have persuaded Teena to switch to Samantha.

One can imagine that the thought of having her indiscretions exposed would have led to Teena’s stroke. After all, she was just about driven to it when Mulder forced her to admit she chose between her children when the conspiracy abducted Samantha. Duchovny does a capable job of expressing his torment. Scully gives him the same kind of support Mulder gave her in “Paper Clip”, once more demonstrating how they share the burden of the search for the truth.

Mulder makes one of his enormous leaps of logic, all based on the idea that Teena wrote “PALM” for a reason. Indeed, Scully’s explanation hits on the truth of the matter, but the leap itself is extreme even for Mulder. It plays into the idea that Mulder wants to believe that Jeremiah can heal his mother, but it’s a forced aspect of the plot. The fact that the writers have Mulder suspect that it’s a leap says it all.

Far more subtle is Mulder’s acknowledgement of Scully’s protective role. Mulder has every intention of going to Quonochautaug, whether Scully goes with him or not. And as usual, he prefers to have Scully look into the details of the case while he casts his net into unknown territory. But this time he doesn’t pretend to be doing something else. It’s a subtle and fleeting moment of consideration.

By the time Jeremiah Smith shows up at the Hoover Building, Cancer Man’s improvised plan is already in motion. Without the weapon that he had hoped to find at Quonochautaug, Cancer Man is forced to call on another associate. This is where the mythology gets complicated by the arrival of another ABH. Based on what occurred in “Endgame”, this is not the same ABH that destroyed the unauthorized experiments being conducted in that episode. Instead, this is an ABH working for the conspiracy in the present.

This delves into an aspect of the mythology that was never explained. Indeed, there was no attempt to explain it at all. What is suggested by the mythology is an incredibly vague and complex series of experiments, genetic alterations, and cloning experiments, all conducted by at least two groups in two different time periods.

The evolution of the mythology dictates that the evolution of the organic super-soldiers, of which the ABHs are examples, came during the course of the series. The basic self-healing versions were the first to be perfected in the sixth season, and the implication is that the super-soldier program continued after the destruction of the Syndicate. That technology’s goal was an engineered version of the “savior” child Cancer Man was trying to father (as well as the analogue to the child that the spiritual forces guiding Mulder and Scully had wanted to achieve).

The experiments would have continued because the organic super-soldiers had some obvious flaws: toxic body fluids and a vulnerable organ on the base of the neck. The evolution of Purity was the outgrowth of further genetic engineering, as the conspiracy continues to work towards an agent that would transform humanity into the perfectly adaptable species…all prompted by the malevolent spiritual intelligence waiting for the chance to suborn such a transformed humanity.

The more adaptive the organic super-soldiers would become, of course, the more they could achieve through sheer force of will. The ability to alter appearance is related to the same principles of quantum-level control of matter that would allow such a being to heal someone by touch. The process is not altogether complicated; it is an organic analogue to the nanotech used by the super-soldiers in the later seasons.

The idea is this: in the nanotech super-soldiers, the control over one’s body is directly linked to the control chip housed within the armored section of vertebrae. The super-soldier’s mind/intelligence is actually set apart from the physical form; as a result, as long as the control chip remains intact, the super-soldier can generate and control nanocytes that will “recreate” the super-soldiers body.

The organic version eliminates the physical control chip technology and replaces it with an organ in the back of the neck. This organ regulates the circulatory system within which the organic analogue to the nanocytes move about the body. As a result, the organ super-soldiers can have a mixture of two circulatory systems, serving two different functions: a normal blood circulatory system, and the matching organic nanotech circulatory system. (This would be demonstrated in “Herronvolk”, for instance.)

Just as Scully’s implant controls nanocytes within her body that can change her health and extend her life (as seen in “En Ami”), those nanocytes could conceivably be used to heal. The problem is that the organic super-soldiers can only do this through a limited process, since it takes a great deal of control to not kill the patient, given the toxic nature of the organic retrovirus through which the organic nanotechnology operates.

Around the time of the end of the series, the conspiracy’s work with organic super-soldiers came to a critical juncture. The “Rebels” were organic super-soldiers that had been engineered and then enhanced, but were never meant to be suborned by Purity. The Rebels took successful organic super-soldiers and implemented a means of cloning them. The most successful model, at least from a “military” point of view, was the ABH model.

As seen in “Without”, the Rebels used the ABHs for most of their “clean up” operations within the timeline. It was a Rebel ABH that came back in time to eliminate rogue experiments in “Colony” and “Endgame”, and as seen in later seasons, the ABHs were the ones sent back to eliminate the Syndicate once the organic super-soldier technology was advanced enough for those men to no longer be useful. As discussed in “Endgame”, the rest of the clones were based on the survivors of the Roswell crash, in which a Rebel craft was involved. The conspiracy obviously had the organic super-soldiers like Kurt, Gregor, and Samantha in mind when they were experimenting with genetics and other means of human alteration prior to 1973.

All of this background is important, because the ABH seen in this episode seems to be working for the conspiracy. However, at this point in the timeline, the origin of the Rebels is not known to the conspiracy itself, including Cancer Man. It would never occur to Cancer Man that the ABH in their employ had come from a future point in the timeline, and that the ABH would only be aiding the conspiracy to ensure that the organic super-soldier technology is completed and the future is thereby ensured.

In the same way, Jeremiah is more advanced than the cloned organic super-soldiers like Gregor or Samantha. Unlike them, Jeremiah can alter his appearance, though not to the same degree as an ABH. One could conjecture that the Rebels intentionally staged the Roswell crash to ensure their own existence, just as the conspiracy itself often sends back representatives to manipulate the Syndicate into continuing on the course that ultimately results in Purity.

Cancer Man calls on the ABH that he believes is working for the conspiracy to pose as Jeremiah to throw off the scent, and then so he can utilize the weapon that the ABH has in his possession. This weapon is clearly important for a reason, something far beyond its simple design. Otherwise, wouldn’t an ice pick do the same job?

The link between the ABHs and the Rebels, however, establishes the answer to this question. The Rebels use a very different weapon in the fifth and sixth seasons, a rod that effectively reduces a body to ash through chemical combustion. That weapon is uniquely crafted to destroy any physical body with a nanotech control implant or chip, which is the one way to kill one of the super-soldiers.

The other vulnerability of any being with advanced abilities, as seen in the final season, is magnetite. The properties of this particular kind of iron are inhibitory to the extreme. William, for instance, loses all advanced ability when injected with a certain magnetite solution (something that could eventually be biologically overcome). For the super-soldiers, however, such a solution is rapidly destructive.

The weapon that Mulder finds in the summer house at Quonochautaug is specialized technology, something that the conspiracy hasn’t figured out yet on its own. All they know is that it can be used to kill an organic super-soldier. As Informant X tells Mulder, the weapon does something more than just pierce the back of the neck and kill; otherwise, anything would work that serves the same purpose.

The weapon must therefore be an engineered delivery system. The weapon would be used to pierce the back of the neck, driving into the primary circulatory organ for the organic nanotech. Then, the weapon must be properly activated to release a magnetite solution into the organ, instantly circulating the toxic substance into the super-soldier. The result is an inactivation of the nanotech retrovirus and a consequent acidic breakdown of the physical form.

The “Grand Inquisitor” scenes are so vague as to make a clear explanation of them almost impossible. One must understand Jeremiah’s role to see how this reveals more than it seems. As seen in many earlier episodes, the benevolent spiritual forces guiding Mulder and Scully sometimes take physical form to achieve this goal. These forces safeguard Mulder and Scully, but they also could serve to infiltrate the conspiracy and Rebels as needed.

Jeremiah seems to be concerned, more than anything, with giving humanity hope of survival. That would indicate that he is aware of what the conspiracy will actually result in, in terms of the overwhelming intelligence of Purity. At the same time, the Rebels are little better, insisting on an equally abhorrent eugenics of their own. Hope, then, is clearly in the “savior” Mulder and Scully are fated to conceive, but that can only happen if the agents discover the right information at the right time.

Jeremiah serves that purpose. The implication is that Jeremiah specifically manifested a physical form and infiltrated the Rebels, to ensure that he would be sent back during the Roswell crash and become one of the “drones” employed by the conspiracy. Thus he would know the details, enough to give Mulder the necessary information. Indeed, he made sure (through subtle “mistakes” like using the same name while working within the Social Security Administration) to leave evidence behind of his nature.

Cancer Man, of course, had no idea. As far as he’s concerned, one of the most dangerous elements of the conspiracy had just exposed the Project to public scrutiny, just when he was attempting to restore his good graces with his puppets in the Syndicate. Cancer Man therefore plays the game as he has played it for his human audience, unaware that Jeremiah knows the full truth.

As Cancer Man states, the only way his Project can work is through the ignorance of the masses. The populace must provide him with the authority, one way or another, to act in what they believe is their best interests. From Cancer Man’s point of view, this makes perfect sense; he is, after all, doing all of it for the sake of humanity’s future.

Cancer Man knows that Colonization will occur on December 22, 2012. He knows that the Project must be allowed to run its course if his plan is to succeed. As Jeremiah says, Cancer Man has completely lost touch of the human cost of his own endgame. Cancer Man has allowed thousands of people to die over the years, all in the time of an elaborate cover-up that serves only to create the very thing it was meant to destroy.

When Cancer Man taunts Jeremiah, as if Jeremiah believes he is God, it is highly ironic. From a certain point of view, Jeremiah was indeed “sent by God”. Just as “God” was the force that the conspiracy couldn’t beat in “Existence”, the same will ensured that Jeremiah would act as he has. Jeremiah judges Cancer Man in the same manner: Cancer Man has, in his hubris, assumed the mantle of divinity. This delusion would only grow as the series progressed.

Jeremiah, still playing the recalcitrant drone, tells Cancer Man what makes humanity so strong in the end: love. Love is the emotional expression of the connection between souls, the shared purpose of building and creating something better and unified through common purpose. In the mythology of the series, it is this unifying force of love that binds together the benevolent spiritual collective intelligence that is, in effect, “God”. Jeremiah, then, is speaking through experience and self-knowledge.

Ultimately, Jeremiah also knows that he had to come face to face with Cancer Man. Jeremiah is in no real danger, given his true nature; death is merely a transition of form for such a being, as suggested by “Closure”. But without Cancer Man to leverage certain events in the future, Mulder and Scully would not have the protection that they require. Cancer Man must therefore survive, and Jeremiah is there to heal him. Otherwise, why allow Cancer Man to capture him in the first place?

Mulder’s confrontation with the restored Cancer Man is entertaining enough, but it’s easy to see that it will end like the confrontation in “One Breath”. Cancer Man taunts Mulder with the truth, and then spins that truth into lies. There’s no reason for Cancer Man to bother Mulder about the weapon; he only came looking for it when Jeremiah was a threat. Now that the conspiracy’s ABH is on the job, it’s just as easy for Cancer Man to use the situation to use Mulder. By telling Mulder that Jeremiah has information on his sister (and indeed, Jeremiah does), Cancer Man lets Mulder do all the work.

If the previous episode suggested that Informant X had his own reasons for setting Mulder on the right path, aside from his assigned duties as Cancer Man’s lackey, this episode confirms it. Informant X was using Mulder to find a means of his own survival. Informant X believes in the “alien invasion” cover story that Cancer Man has cultivated for decades, and he is more than willing to find any means of surviving Colonization. Like Krycek, he’ll go as far as threatening Mulder’s life, even knowing that Mulder is supposed to be kept alive.

Carter never had the elaborate mythology detailed above in mind when he wrote the episode. In fact, the writers never managed to put the pieces together. Carter was aware, however, that Jeremiah was perfectly suited to provide pieces of the puzzle to be resolved in the feature film. Jeremiah switches, then, from a literary analogue to a character with a single purpose: telling Mulder what he’s supposed to find out at this stage of the series.

By this point, Carter had dropped some important hints. “Aliens” could only be killed using a specific weapon, and the weapon was rare. Colonization was set for a specific date. Cancer Man knew Mulder’s mother before her children were born. “Aliens” have the power to heal. Jeremiah promised to make sense of some of those elements, and to show Mulder how his sister was connected.

One major disappointment with the episode is how jumbled the pieces are thrown together, only to end with a cliffhanger that fails to be compelling. Carter wants the audience to be worried that Mulder won’t be able to stop the ABH from killing Jeremiah before he can get his answers. The problem is that the audience is already well aware that answers are unlikely to be given, so there’s no tension. For all intent purposes, the episode just stops, rather than building to a final moment like the one in “Anasazi”.

In retrospect, it’s even worse. The specificity of the weapon is never explained, making the scenes in this episode appear overwrought at best and deceptive at worst. The date of Colonization (and indeed, what that means) is ultimately explained, but the details are so contradictory that the lies are impossible to separate from the truth. The mystery of Mulder’s parentage is dragged out in the extreme, answered formally seasons after the audience knows the score. And the ability of the “aliens” to heal is never explained. Even something so simple as Jeremiah Smith’s job at the Social Security Administration, easily connected to the files kept on Americans in the Strughold Mines (as shown in “Paper Clip”), never gets tied into the rest of the conspiracy.

Unlike the first two seasons, where there was a sense of a growing story and some purpose to each season, the third season is less unified. The inherent psychological issues between Mulder and Scully are only fitfully addressed, and they barely come into play in the finale. Without the context of Jeremiah’s actions, the scope of the episode is hard to grasp. Teena Mulder’s stroke seems unnecessary, as though Carter was reaching for some relative to threaten so drama could be generated.

The previous finales worked because Mulder and Scully were personally threatened by the events at hand, dealing with situations that could easily end or otherwise permanently alter their lives. This episode has none of that tension; not once does it seem like this is a lethal situation. By the time Mulder (and the audience) is given a compelling reason to care about Jeremiah, it’s just about too late. As a result, the season ends on an oddly negative beat, without a memorable hook to capture the minds of the viewers until the fourth season premiere.

Memorable Quotes

MULDER: “You think it’s a leap?”

SCULLY: “Where are you going?”
MULDER: “If I told you, you’d never let me go.”

JEREMIAH: “What do you give them?”
CANCER MAN: “We give them happiness…and they give us authority.”

CANCER MAN: “Anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.”

MULDER: “You wanna smoke that, or do you wanna smoke this?”
CANCER MAN: “Are you giving me a choice?”

Final Analysis

Overall, this episode is a disappointment compared to the two previous season finales. The mythology elements seem tossed together with only the most basic idea as to how they relate to the whole, and the situation never becomes deadly enough for the main characters to be taken as seriously as intended. Especially in retrospect, the finale seems like an ironically fitting end to a largely chaotic and disorganized season.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10

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