Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Scully becomes disillusioned with her role on the X-Files and her relationship with Mulder, and decides to find herself again, with predictably bad results...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
The fourth season is remarkable for the level of character development, especially as compared to the seasons that would follow. This trend began in the latter part of the third season with “Quagmire”, where Scully began taking a good look at Mulder, his crusade, and her part in it. Coming to terms with Melissa’s death meant taking a hard look at the price she’s had to pay, and what she might pay in the future. Beyond that, Scully has also been growing closer to Mulder, letting her world fall into a tight orbit around the blinding intensity of his obsessions.
The writers had already established that Scully has serious unresolved issues surrounding her father, something that puts her and Mulder on something of a level playing field. Scully has always sought approval from authority figures, and once she slips into that familiar role, she begins to love it, basking in that attention. This episode makes it very clear that there’s more to it than that, a psychologically damaging sexual component that Scully tries not to acknowledge.
She admits to herself that there’s a certain satisfaction in submitting to authority, and that’s apparent in her relationship with Mulder. What began as a working relationship has evolved into something intensely personal; Scully does far more in the name of Mulder’s work than she would ever do as a simple employee of the Department of Justice.
As she puts it, there’s a certain psychological line she crosses, where she begins to realize how far she’s let the submission go. Then she rebels against that authority, striking out in some self-destructive attempt to assert control. Her past history, however, makes one thing very clear: that rebellion never lasts long, and she always plays out the scenario to the bitter end.
In that respect, Mulder is the ultimate dominant personality. He has the driving passion and martyr complex of a cult leader without the inherent trust in his own powers of persuasion. His own inability to trust has forced most of his emotions inward, and experience has taught him that relationships are just another source of pain.
Over time (as seen later in “all things”), Scully’s acceptance of emotional submissiveness evolved into a sexual component. She began entering sexual relationships with authority figures, no matter how destructive to her own life and that of her “father”. That latent desire for submission comes out in every possible way in this episode, and ironically, it happens as Scully rebels against one submissive way of life by delving into another.
This episode is undoubtedly told from Scully’s point of view, at least in terms of her interaction with Mulder. Even so, his self-involvement is no worse than usual; it’s just that Scully isn’t quite so willing to play the game this time around, and it seems harsh for Mulder to ignore Scully’s obvious distress. For all that, Mulder is actually quite correct; Scully does need to discover something about herself. Or rather, she has to come to terms with the fact that she feeds off his semi-abusive attitude more than she would like to admit.
One need only remember “Herrenvolk” to recognize Scully is the one with serious issues in this episode, not Mulder. Scully pledged that Mulder’s cause is now her own, and in fact, it was her desire to get answers that gave him renewed hope. Everything Scully has done since that episode has proven her loyalty and commitment, and if anything, she’s made overtures to Mulder in a personal respect as well. Why shouldn’t Mulder assume that she would be invested enough to keep going in his absence? For that matter, why would he expect her to suddenly complain about not having a desk?
In point of fact, she does have a desk; at least, she used to have one. It just happened to be on another floor. It’s unlikely that they would take that desk away and not assign her to another office, complete with a workstation, so that’s probably not the real issue. The real issue, one could suspect, is the fact that Mulder hasn’t taken the initiative to get her a desk in the basement with him. She’s internally lashing back against the fact that she’s accepted a subordinate role in his world.
The writers construct the episode in such a way that Scully’s collision with Ed Jerse is a foregone conclusion. The audience is given the background on Jerse for a few different reasons. Knowing that Jerse is going crazy enhances the sense of dread, since it’s not good for Scully to encounter an insane killer of women on a good day. It also allows the audience to acknowledge that Jerse is dangerous, something that is key to Scully’s attraction towards him. And finally, Jerse is also shown to be a man at a crossroads, on a path thematically parallel to Scully’s.
By the time Scully gets to Philadelphia, even she’s not sure why she’s there. Going on the case at Mulder’s whim is so firmly engrained in her psyche that it’s impossible for her to ignore that drive completely. At the same time, she’s searching for something else, and it doesn’t take her long to find it in Jerse. Her interest is originally in the tattoo, but something about “Never Again” resonates with her need to rebel. It tells her all she needs to know about Jerse to get her interested: there’s an anger driving him, a dangerous quality that she can’t resist.
Despite the fact that the more self-destructive aspects of Scully’s psychology are on display, the writers do take the time to say something about Mulder. If Scully needs to someone to be submissive with, then Mulder needs someone to dominate. It just kills him to doubt Scully’s complete dedication to his universe. As seen time and again, Mulder feels this desperation whenever Scully starts to pull away, whether it’s professionally or emotionally. Mulder simply can’t imagine not having Scully in his life, something that comes out in a much more sympathetic way when her life is threatened by cancer.
Of course, Scully’s not looking for Mulder’s sympathy or control; that’s what she’s rebelling against at this point. So when he decides to end his vacation early and come to Philadelphia, she doesn’t see it as his need to drive every possible paranormal investigation to the bitter end. She doesn’t consider that Mulder never considers an extreme possibility settled until he sees the evidence for himself. Instead, she sees it as a slight against her competence.
That’s because she’s rational enough, when outside of a relationship, to understand that her own psychology undermines her intellectualism. Standing on her own, Scully is as strong as any person would dream to me, man or woman. She knows her field, she’s got an amazing mixture of experience and education, and she doesn’t stand for the typical dismissive attitude from men. But when she falls into that submissive role, she can’t fight it, and she hates that part of herself, even as she goes back for more.
It’s not surprising, then, that she immediately turns to Jerse when she’s reminded of Mulder’s control over her life. It doesn’t take her very long to decide what she wants out of this little evening out, and it’s not a good meal and quality conversation. She seems to tell Jerse about her own dominance/submissive issues to set the stage, to let him know what she’s looking for. This is something that will stun and even hurt Mulder, plain and simple.
It runs even deeper than Scully would like to admit. The scene in the tattoo parlor is carefully staged to emphasize Scully’s sexual dynamic. Clearly Scully harbors some not-so-subtle masochistic attributes, though they usually fall in the emotional context. Here she’s placed herself under Jerse’s control, letting him drive the action, getting off on the idea of Jerse telling the tattoo artist what she wants. Even the camera angles are suggestively pornographic. For Scully, it’s a moment that allows her to be dominated while also fulfilling her desire to resist Mulder, and given her psychology, it’s no wonder she’s more aroused than she’s even been on screen.
Scully doesn’t even resist when Jerse grabs her wrists; instead, it makes her even more excited. At this point, the writers had a choice: the honest conclusion or the easy conclusion. The honest conclusion would have been hard to get past the censors, to be sure, and it would have repelled quite a few viewers in the process. But it’s rather plain that Scully is looking to be dominated, and she’s not too worried about taking it too far.
It’s not like the writers had to show much. A bit of rough necking, tossing her on the bed, fade to black. But something needed to be there to avoid the cop-out, to reveal the depth at which this driving need controls Scully’s behavior. Even as depicted, it could have been worked in: Scully rubbing at her wrists or otherwise indicating, as she stumbles to the door in his shirt, what they had done together. Instead, Jerse sleeps on the couch, and there’s merely the suggestion of some semi-aggressive making out. How she ends up wearing his shirt while keeping her pants on is beyond explanation (though one could speculate that she has this quirky post-coital ritual, since put on her pantyhose after sleeping with Mulder in “all things” as well!)
The writers also make it a little too easy to dismiss her behavior by attributing it to the ergot in the red ink in her tattoo. Scully admits to feeling strange after getting the tattoo, and one could conclude that the effect of the ergot is an amplification of one’s underlying psychological state. So the whole thing can be written off as Scully’s uncharacteristic reaction to the drug, not her willing submission to her own pent-up needs.
Taking Scully’s journey to its logical and cathartic conclusion would have also given the final act more heft. The psychology of the final act is rather damning as it is, but it’s not clear enough to the audience what is happening. Scully doesn’t beat Jerse; Jerse takes control of his life and breaks out of the cycle. Scully, on the other hand, does what she always has done: she returns to her authority figure to take her punishment.
The final scene seems to reinforce Scully’s desire for control, but that’s not what is ultimately communicated. Mulder falls right into the role that Scully needs him to play, the disapproving and angry father, and by the end, he seems to realize it. It’s not just Scully’s life anymore, and they both know it. If it were that simple, she could request re-assignment, and the issue would be resolved.
This episode was originally meant to come before “Leonard Betts”, and it would have worked better in that context. As it stands, it’s too easy to assume that Scully is reacting to the fact that she’s dying. It robs the episode of its power, because Scully has to believe that she has a life worth living to truly rebel against the situation she has chosen for herself. It’s also important for Mulder to begin realizing how much he depends on Scully, a process that has been ongoing since the pilot.
A lot of fans, especially devotees of Scully, hated this episode and what it “did” to the character. The shippers weren’t particularly pleased, either. But none of what happens in this episode is in contradiction to Scully’s characterization since the pilot. As time has marched on, Scully has allowed Mulder to dominate her world, and despite her protests, she always comes back for more. Any sane individual would have gotten the hell out of that office within weeks, if not days.
It’s also hard to accept that Scully must somehow be a perfect individual without flaws. That’s simply not interesting. What makes Mulder so memorable is not his belief in the paranormal; it’s the psychology behind that belief, which has everything to do with control. Mulder has been powerless, so he wants to believe in a world where he can have power. Why is it acceptable for Mulder to be borderline schizophrenic, but a complex Scully is “out of character”?
One need only look at the final seasons of the series to see how far Scully goes. By the time Mulder is abducted and her world falls apart, there’s precious little left of her former life. Everything has become redefined by Mulder, and by “all things”, it’s clear that she’s reconciled herself to that fate. She doesn’t want to fight it anymore. So when Mulder is gone, Scully doesn’t know who to be. Even in the final season, Scully seems to be lost until Mulder arrives in the series finale, at which point she falls right back into her submissive role.
It’s also interesting to note that Scully doesn’t fall into this submissive role with just anyone. When the conspiracy violates her with their experiments, she doesn’t accept one bit of it. She doesn’t allow men to put her in a subordinate role without a fight, and she takes command when she’s on her own turf. Even in the eighth season, she refuses to back down with John Doggett, someone with quite a bit of personal intensity and strong opinion. Even when deferential with Skinner, she maintains a strong resolve. It’s only with Mulder that she falls into familiar patterns.
This is the final episode written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, who would quickly move on to “Millennium” and attend to the further development of that series. One is left to wonder if the “X-Files” ever recovered from this blow. The series faltered after Morgan and Wong left the first time, descending into too much self-parody, and while the “cancer arc” works rather well, the attempt to give Mulder a long-term arc in the fifth season fails miserably. Such arcs would disappear until the eighth season, and that effort was inspired but flawed. One need only compare the fifth season of the “X-Files” against the second season of “Millennium” to see what a difference Morgan and Wong made in terms of cohesive storytelling.
This episode is a perfect example of what Morgan and Wong wanted to achieve with the series. They understood that if Chris Carter wouldn’t expand the cast, then Mulder and Scully’s psychology was the natural direction to take for more complex and meaningful storytelling. The fourth season would be notable for how much was revealed about the two people at the heart of the series and its mythology, and this episode is a big part of that effort.
MULDER: “In the future, I’ll make sure that all those people being interviewed provide you with a multi-media laser show to keep you interest maintained!”
MULDER: “Case closed on Boris Badenov, which is really a shame, because I was thinking of having an ‘NY’ tattooed on my ass to commemorate the Yankees’ World Series victory.”
SCULLY: “Not everything is about you, Mulder. This is my life.”
MULDER: “Yeah, but it’s m…”
Overall, this episode is one of the best character studies of the entire series. Much of Scully’s underlying psychology is explored in this episode, and in keeping with what has been revealed about Mulder, it’s not pretty. The final act doesn’t quite match the intensity of the third, but it’s rather clear what the writers were trying to convey.
Final Rating: 7/10
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