"Oubliette"
Written by Charles Grant Craig
Directed by Kim Manners



In which Mulder gets involved in the abduction of a young girl and discovers that a previous kidnap victim could be the key to solving the crime...

Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis





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Status Report

The majority of the episodes in the early part of the third season dealt with spiritual concerns, directly or indirectly. This episode is no different, though the connection is not so obvious. Like many of the more self-contained episodes of the series, the case at the center of the plot is more or less straightforward, with the exception of the “empathy” element tossed in for good measure.

Unlike “2Shy”, where the procedural elements were only marginally affected by the paranormal aspects of the story, the issue of empathy is critical to the outcome of the case. If anything, it is the reason for the story; this reveals an aspect of the spiritual universe of the “X-Files” that up to this point has been hinted at in other ways.

As theorized in reviews for several previous episodes, “memory” can be considered apart from the physical corporeal state of a human being, something impressed on the fabric of the universe rather than imprinted explicitly on the brain. The implication is that “memory” or “experience” is something that can be accessed by something other than the person who originated that particular memory/experience.

For episodes dealing with psychic abilities, possession, or “past lives”, this provides a single basis at the heart of all of them. Indeed, if individual memories or experienced can be retained within spacetime itself, then it’s a simple enough extension to say that the soul or spirit can remain intact to some degree within the larger commonality created by the sum total of all such memories or experience.

One side effect of this theoretical model for memory as non-corporeal information is an explanation for empathy, or what would more properly be called “resonance”. Within the general theory, “past life experiences” are considered an incorrect interpretation of a more complex relationship. Instead of remembering one’s previous existence, the person experiencing a “past life” would actually be accessing an experience of someone who once lived.

The key to this phenomenon is the question of “resonance”. Some trigger must exist, some shared state of mind or dream state that “aligns” with the state of mind of the person who originated the memory. It’s no surprise that many people seem to have “past live memories” of famous figures throughout history. It’s not that everyone used to be Napoleon, but rather, that some fairly common psychological states are associated directly with Napoleon’s documented psychology.

Under typical study or circumstances, the person experiencing the “past live memory” already has some actual memory to draw upon. The brain, being a rather sophisticated access system, will attempt to fill in the gaps. The question is: where does the information come from that fills in those gaps? Is it simply fabricated, or does the brain draw on existing information that matches what is anticipated to be there?

While that question is hard to answer definitively in the real world, it seems to have been answered rather handily in the “X-Files” universe. In the case of this episode, the obvious extension of this principle to empathy is explored. Lucy was abducted by the same person who abducted Amy, taken to the same place, held under the same conditions…all triggers to forge the connection between two souls in synchronicity.

The typical dynamic would seem to indicate that Amy would have begun accessing Lucy’s memories of her captivity; an altered state such as extreme stress usually forces the brain to access and process more information than normal. But as carefully revealed throughout the episode, Lucy is actually the one that cannot escape the memories of her captivity. Still reliving those emotions, Lucy is the one that begins to access Amy’s real-time experiences.

Also at the heart of the empathic connection is the transfer of physical effects. The majority of Amy’s injuries, and eventually all of them, transfer to Lucy as the connection goes stronger. The most obvious explanation, of course, is that the spiritual has always translated into physical transformation in the “X-Files” universe. Non-corporeal intelligences constantly create physical forms for themselves, as seen in “One Breath” and “Paper Clip”.

In this case, Lucy’s own considerable psychological damage carries with it the unconscious belief that she deserves to suffer; this is very common among those abused physically and sexually. Lucy’s history suggests a desire to punish herself through her choices, whether she recognizes this or not. As a result, at least subconsciously, Lucy recognizes the connection that she has with Amy. As her awareness of this connection grows, she takes on more and more of the physical damage inflicted on Amy. It’s not clear if this is a conscious choice, but it fits the pattern: Lucy sees Amy as an innocent, someone to be spared what she deserves. This culminates in the final outcome, where Lucy makes the conscious choice to give her life to save Amy.

Selling that relationship falls largely on the shoulders of Tracy Ellis, who plays the part of Lucy with such subtlety that volumes are communicated from one twitch of her mouth. Lucy is a mass of contradictions, desperate to hide out of view but prone to dramatics, like whipping her hair around to punctuate her point. On the opposite end, there’s the gorgeous Jewel Staite, who does an incredible job in a role that could have been played far less convincingly. Ellis would find an equally memorable role in the final season episode “Audrey Pauley”, while Staite would win the hearts of many as Kaylee on the series “Firefly”.

The central plot is delivered so well that the writing errors stand out like neon signs. Perhaps the most obvious and jarring mistake comes near the end, when Mulder and Scully tag-team on the CPR. It starts off all right, if not technically perfect, but then Scully elects to give up after less than a minute of effort. Even worse, she berates Mulder for continuing to provide CPR! Anyone with even minimal CPR training knows that once you start, you’re not supposed to stop until EMT professionals show up or you physically can’t do it anymore. That’s something that Scully ought to have known, just as she should have known that Amy was an excellent candidate for resuscitation.

In fact, Scully seems off her game in this episode, largely because the structure of the episode demands it. This is very much a Mulder-centric episode, dealing with his emotional attachments to the situation. Duchovny delivers one of his best performances, portraying Mulder as a man desperately trying to pretend that his sister’s abduction plays no part in his current behavior. Despite the fact that Mulder’s inner conflict is plain as day, the writers choose to have Scully come right out and make the accusation. Considering how subtle Lucy’s character was written, it’s a disappointment.

The last of a string of stand-alones of mixed quality before a few more popular offerings from the third season, this episode could easily be overlooked. That would be a shame, because unlike some of the overdone attempts at gory scares, this is an episode that the audience can truly relate to.


Memorable Quotes

SCULLY: “Well, that’s spooky.”
MULDER: “That’s my name, isn’t it?”

MULDER: “Have you ever experienced temporary blindness before?”
LUCY: “I’ve probably experienced just about everything once or twice. It’s all been pretty temporary…”

MULDER: “Well, that’s too bad, Lucy, because right now I think you’re her best hope.”
LUCY: “If I’m her best hope, then that little girl’s in a hell of a lot more trouble than you think…”

SCULLY: “I hate to say this, Mulder, but I think you just ran out of credibility…”


Final Analysis

Overall, this episode is a highlight for Mulder’s character as well as an interesting character study. The portrayal of Lucy is very well done, and the central plot plays strongly on real-life fears of child abduction. There are some odd writing mistakes near the end, but that’s only a minor issue for an episode that works better than might have been expected.

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

Final Rating: 7/10




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