Written by John Shiban
Directed by Jim Charleston
In which Mulder and Scully investigate the sighting of a ghostly apparition at a bowling alley, and Scully ultimately discovers that her fight against cancer might be coming to a close...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
Sometime it can be hard to overcome a tarnished reputation as a writer, especially in television. Fans and detractors form an opinion, and that becomes more meaningful than the actual quality of each new project. Howard Gordon, for instance, has accumulated a certain reputation since his time on “X-Files”, and whenever his joint projects veer into his previous areas of weakness, it’s easy enough to point fingers.
By the end of the series, John Shiban was one of a handful of writers with a reputation for failure. Indeed, many of his episodes failed to rise to the level of quality that the fans had come to expect. Yet it’s interesting to note that his episodes weren’t always a train wreck, and after he left “X-Files” at the end of its run, he wrote one of the few good episodes of the second season of “Enterprise”.
For Shiban, it’s a question of approach. When the events and characters external to Mulder and Scully take center stage in a Shiban episode, the results are mixed at best and disastrous at worst. However, in an episode where Mulder and Scully are central to the story, the results are typically much better. This episode runs contrary to bad expectations, and that is a very good thing.
After establishing that Scully’s life is in the balance, thanks to the cancer caused by the removal of the control implant placed in her neck by the conspiracy, the writers took forever to return to that fertile character ground. This episode brings it back in a major way while exploring an interesting concept: ghostly visitations that presage one’s own imminent demise. Not only does this mesh with the overall spiritual concepts within the mythology, but it provides a wonderful vehicle for Gillian to express Scully’s deep-seated fears.
The concept is that someone near death is “attuned” to the impending deaths of others, so that they are more likely to see a death premonition for someone else. Strictly speaking, this doesn’t fit the mythology very well, especially if the series is viewed as a whole. After all, Scully saw her father’s death apparition in “Beyond the Sea”, and her life was not waning at that point. Nor was it in danger in “This is Not Happening”.
So while it makes sense that Mulder interprets the phenomenon in this episode in terms of his own limited point of view, delving into folklore and barely deviating from there, the reality must be more complex. The mythology incorporates a conception of the spiritual that sets the body and soul/mind as distinct; the soul/mind uses the body as a medium of physical interaction on this particular plane of existence. Death is a transitional state from this perspective; as such, the manner of death can leave the soul/mind in any number of different psychological states, from serene to severely fragmented.
The key is that the transition involves psychological states, which are indicative of the specific state of the soul/mind at any given time. It has been shown in previous episodes that “past life regression” is actually “resonance” with the memories of someone who once lived, imprinted into the fabric of the universe itself within quantum states. (OK, maybe not “shown”, but it’s a rational and scientific explanation!). Psychic connections and visions are “resonance” among the living.
In this episode, a specific type of “psychic resonance” is explored: a link between those making the transition at death and those among the living who are psychologically in a similar state of being. The living may not even be aware that they are within this state. Those within transition would acquire a much more complete view of the universe, especially in terms of time, and they could be aware of those about to die and want to help them prepare. The trick, of course, is that they would still be trying to communicate as they did when alive, since they wouldn’t be aware of the full implications of their own death and their new state of non-corporeal reality.
Since this would only happen under certain specific circumstances, possibly requiring someone or something to link individuals together in a commonality, the fact that this particular phenomenon never comes up again would be consistent with the mythology. Not only that, but it explains how Scully can see something that only those close to death can see, when the universe as a whole is rather well aware of the fact that she’s not supposed to die. (The mythology, of course, has already established a “higher power” guiding and aiding Mulder and Scully towards their destined roles.)
The central connection in this situation is Harold, whose heightened awareness of those recently murdered has placed them all in association. Everyone who dies in this episode (or sees a ghost of one about to die) is someone important in Harold’s life, with one major exception. Scully is the one outlier, the person who wasn’t connected to Harold until the case was initiated. Even Mulder, with his keen and personal interest, doesn’t “resonate” with Harold enough to see anything unusual. Of course, that’s partially to keep the episode consistent.
If that had been the extent of the episode, then it would have been quite fascinating. However, it was complicated (and somewhat derailed) by attaching a serial killer element to the overall concept. Not only were people close to Harold dying (people he had reason to fixate upon) but Nurse Innes was so bent on destroying his happiness that she was adding to the intensity of the connection. How “she is me” connected to Innes’ motivation was very confusing, and only made semi-logical by the fact that Innes was drugged out of her mind.
The highlight of the episode, however, is the intense focus on Scully throughout the story. The episode’s place in the timeline is rather crucial, coming on the heels of an episode where Scully’s absence was directly related to her health. This must take place sometime in the early to mid-summer months, weather notwithstanding, because “Zero Sum” takes place in April 1997 and “Gethsemane” takes place in October 1997. Given how long Scully was expected to survive, things should be going very wrong right around June-July.
Scully starts off in a relatively good place, psychologically. She’s joking with Mulder about how well he ought to know her, and her light-hearted teasing is something that Mulder clearly cherishes. It’s business as usual as Scully tries to keep her expression even while Mulder makes himself look rather foolish in the middle of the briefing room, and she even gets to poke a few holes in Mulder’s hopes at the psychiatric hospital. All in all, it’s a typical case.
In an interesting scene, Mulder’s profiling expertise takes a backseat to Scully’s own analysis. It’s clear that he has his own ideas, but he lets her go ahead and offer her opinion on the psychology. That’s not something he would normally do, and while he uses it as a means of working out his own theory, it’s almost as if he’s trying to make her feel like she’s making a real contribution, knowing that it’s very important to her to feel that way.
The normalcy of the case (again, in relative terms) is completely shattered when Scully’s nose starts to bleed, and moments later, she sees a vision of someone about to die. Having already heard Mulder’s explanation for what’s happening, and aware of the implication for her own fate, she is stunned and horrified. She seems to overlook the fact that she also saw her father mouthing words to her in “Beyond the Sea”, and considering how similar that was, it’s odd for her to miss that. At the same time, her repressed reaction to her own mortality is crashing down around her.
This all leads to another session with Counselor Kosseff, a character that should have been used more often over the course of the series. In this case, Scully is forced to consider her reasons for staying on the job. As one would expect after “Never Again”, it has everything to do with Mulder. In keeping with her fascination and attraction to men of personal authority and passion, Scully relies on Mulder’s single-minded focus to drive her own life forward. She basks in the praise that she receives for validating his trust in her. Simply the fact that Scully accepts and even believes Mulder’s theory, despite her skeptical front, demonstrates how vital Mulder and his crusade have become in her world.
Unaware of Scully’s vision, Mulder attempts to take care of the case without her, and finds it impossible. It’s not just that he needs the analysis done; he needs Scully to do it, because then he won’t have to explain what he’s trying to find. His news and interpretation of that news underscores every fear running through her mind, but she finds it much easier to let Mulder focus on Harold’s visions than her own. It’s not a question of trust; if Mulder believes, then she can’t deny it herself.
By the end of the episode, Scully is forced to admit what she’s seen, and though she tries to deny her belief, she ultimately cannot, especially from herself. Some have interpreted Mulder’s response as self-centered, but in his own way, he’s upset because she’s not letting him be there for her. He’s helpless in every other respect. By denying her belief in his theories, by hiding things from him, she’s isolating herself from him, and that leaves him even more helpless. Like the closest of couples, emotionally, it’s that inability to change fate that leaves both of them psychologically devastated.
For Scully, this is very important, because she’s forced to come to terms with her likely death. It’s not an easy realization. For Mulder, however, it’s another step towards his personal crisis of faith. Cancer Man has stripped away his ability to trust in Skinner, and now he sees Scully slipping out of his life. As the season grinds to a close, nearly everything else in Mulder’s life will be placed into question. As “Herrenvolk” made perfectly clear, without Scully, Mulder is in danger of losing faith in himself and his cause. Scully was the one that kept him on the path, when everything else seemed out of reach. Now, Mulder is losing even that.
By focusing on what Mulder and Scully are hiding from each other and themselves as Scully’s health becomes more and more of an issue, John Shiban produces one of his best episodes. It apparently required a lot of rewriting in the development stage, which means that the rest of the writing staff helped him along. However it happened, this episode is an important and oddly satisfying step towards the massive events at the end of the season.
MULDER: “What is that look, Scully?”
SCULLY: “I would have thought that after three years, you’d know exactly what that look was…”
CHUCK: “Oh, that was me! I did it! I admit it, I did it. I’m just a human being, after all!”
ALPERT: “Chuck! Tell the truth.”
CHUCK: “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it…I lied. I lied, but I’m just a human being…”
SCULLY: “I saw a woman who had recently been murdered. I saw her. It appeared as if she was trying to tell me something.”
KOSSEFF: “Do you know what?”
KOSSEFF: “Are you sure?”
MULDER: “You can believe what you want to believe, Scully, but you can’t hide the truth from me, because if you do, then you’re working against me…and yourself. I know what you’re afraid of. I’m afraid of the same thing.”
Overall, this episode is a surprisingly strong exploration of Mulder and Scully’s reaction to Scully’s medical condition. Gillian perfectly communicates the spectrum of emotions that Scully tries to hide, especially when she has a paranormal experience of her own. Even Mulder’s complex reaction to Scully’s downturn is explored with confidence. The process of getting to this episode was not easy, but it certainly was worth the final outcome.
Final Rating: 9/10
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