Written by R.W. Goodwin
Directed by Kim Manners
In which Mulder awakens in a hotel room, covered in someone else’s blood, with no memory of his recent activities, save the fragmented memories from before Samantha’s abduction...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
As the fourth season came to a rousing finish, both main characters were facing a slow but steady disintegration of their lives. Scully’s cancer was a physical breakdown, her body betraying the strength of her mind. Mulder’s world, however, began to fall apart more methodically and psychologically. It began with the concept of losing Scully, the woman he had learned to trust with his vision and his life. It continued with the loss of trust in Skinner and the realization that Cancer Man had regained a hold on his life. This episode takes it that much further, with Mulder facing the terrible knowledge that his own family might have been compromised from the beginning.
Mulder had learned the truth about his mother’s involvement with Samantha’s abduction at the beginning of the third season, but that did nothing to take away from his regard for her. Though never fully explored, the implication was that Mulder was estranged from his father and closer to his mother. This would make sense, given that Bill Mulder had apparently adopted a “hands off” approach to preserving Mulder’s future. (The premise being that Bill Mulder was allowed to live once leaving the active conspiracy, on the predication that he would not interfere with Cancer Man’s plans for Fox.)
While it certainly could have something to do with the fact that his father was already gone, Mulder seemed much more upset at the thought of his mother dying. By the end of the third season, it was clear that Bill Mulder had been involved in Samantha’s abduction, so perhaps there was some underlying resentment. His mother, after all, had been pressured into making a choice. For Mulder, that placed him and his mother on identical moral ground: one forced to make a decision, one surviving that decision, both living with the guilt.
This episode, however, rips that assumption right out from under Mulder’s feet. With Skinner and Scully all but taken from him, his mother was the last person he could trust. Now he knows that she’s lying to him as well, concealing the fact that Cancer Man was much closer to his family than he could have ever imagined. And of course, by the end of the series, the truth gets much worse. If Bill Mulder betrayed his family by colluding with a monster, then Teena Mulder betrayed her family by sleeping with that monster and bearing his children.
While it takes the entire episode to get there (and that’s rather quick compared to the answers to most questions raised on this series!), what’s implied is effectively the truth. It wasn’t Bill Mulder who pressured Teena into choosing Samantha. Nor was that decision made in a vacuum. Cancer Man was a part of the process, and it was his decision that led to Samantha being taken instead of Fox. Bill Mulder was somehow powerless to interfere, perhaps aware that he was beaten.
It’s easy enough to speculate that Fox was Cancer Man’s son, and therefore he made sure that Samantha was abducted instead of his own flesh and blood. But it’s far more interesting to consider that both children were likely Cancer Man’s progeny. It would explain why, if both parents were forced into choosing Fox or Samantha for abduction, they grew apart rather than facing a common enemy together. Instead, Bill and Teena went their separate ways, unable to even live in the homes that defined their previous life together. Even without the constant reminders of a life ruled by the desires of a madman, Mulder didn’t have a prayer.
Even before knowing that his mother had been sleeping with the enemy (quite literally), Mulder is dealing with some serious psychological damage. This is no surprise, given his obsession with everything paranormal, all dedicated to the pursuit of maintaining his hope that Samantha is still alive. One has to wonder how much of that is driven by guilt. For years after Samantha’s abduction, Mulder barely remembered a thing about it, and this is a man who normally operates with a “photographic memory”.
Upon recovering his apparent memory of the abduction, he had to wonder if there was something more he could have done. Cancer Man manipulated Mulder into recovering those memories, and there’s more than a little evidence that those memories were themselves fabricated. Considering that those memories set Mulder upon his current course, it’s a definite possibility. Without that moment, Mulder wouldn’t have been positioned to find the X-Files, and Cancer Man couldn’t use him in his endgame. And since the whole point was that Mulder was Cancer Man’s best chance at success, it all begins to paint a depressing picture of a man who never really got to make his own choices. Even his relationship with Scully was eventually manipulated.
It’s one thing to search relentlessly for some shred of truth regarding the things science won’t admit or even address. There’s a semblance of sanity to it all, a thread of self-awareness that keeps Mulder from going over the deep end. It’s quite another thing for someone to let a crazy doctor drill holes into one’s skull in the hopes of recovering a glimpse of a hidden truth. Mulder really steps over the line in this episode. Is it because he’s beginning to lose the person that keeps him relatively sane, when so much has been falling apart over the previous few years?
Whatever the case, it would be easy to dismiss the idea that Mulder would go to such extremes. After all, the whole “short term memory loss” concept is a stock plot device, and the complicated plot structure to justify the procedure and its effects is hardly the strength of the episode. What makes the story work is the tightrope that Mulder walks along the way. His rationalism, biased as it might often be, is the one thing that keeps him credible. Even while his memory fails him, and he lets his obsession take him into insane situations, he approaches the criminal investigation in a very sane and clinical fashion.
Without Mulder’s rationalism regarding the case, Scully might have faltered. Her own rationalism keeps her from losing faith in Mulder. Had this taken place in earlier seasons, Mulder’s decision might have been too much for Scully to handle. But Scully’s seen four years worth of Mulder’s fractured psyche, and after incurring a personal cost metaphorically equal to his own, she’s simply concerned that he might let himself go too far. Abandoning him never even crosses her mind; this is exactly the kind of fearless passion that attracts her so strongly to Mulder in the first place.
As interesting and visually intriguing as Mulder’s flashbacks are, they are so physically debilitating that it’s hard to understand why Scully would let him struggle on, his life at risk. For one thing, his apparent symptoms are dangerous enough that Scully should drag him to the hospital despite his protests. So why doesn’t she? It’s not a question of giving him the chance of proving his innocence; she’s hell bent on that path as it is. Having him at the crime scene actually makes it harder for him to maintain a steady front with the police.
Despite the fact that Scully conducts a clean investigation, the best lead comes with the world’s most convenient suicide. It just happens that a cop has undergone the same treatment as Mulder, without the sudden lapse in memory, to account for his missing time during apparent alien abductions. And sure enough, that leads to a connection to the Cassandras, and thus to the doctor that specializes in recovering memories through an illegal and dangerous technique. It’s a rather annoying plot convenience, because there were any number of other ways to put Scully on the right track.
Teena’s harsh denials regarding her affair with Cancer Man and the question of Mulder’s parentage might seem like an unnecessary dodge of a definitive answer. In actuality, it explains a number of seeming discrepancies between Teena’s belief in Samantha’s return, circa “Colony”, and the fact that she knew about Samantha’s apparent death in “Sein und Zeit”. Teena shows a remarkable ability to convince herself into believing that which she knows to be false, especially when it is far more preferable than reality.
In terms of Samantha, it allowed her to believe that her daughter was still alive out there, able to come home again one day. It was a belief fed by Mulder’s belief. It was a fiction that enabled her to survive, and in tandem with her self-denial of her long-term affair with Cancer Man, it enabled her to shift any and all blame onto Bill. In many ways, Teena exemplifies the kind of irrational denial of reality that Scully sometimes relied on to maintain her sanity.
The end of the episode makes an important observation in terms of Fox Mulder and his psychology. By all accounts, Mulder falls into the trap that Scully describes: chasing the shadows of truth, unable to reconcile what he uncovers with his fragmented memory of the past. Mulder doesn’t even know the full truth by the end of the series, let alone the true motivations of Cancer Man and the nature of the future he’s meant to fight. One could conclude that this is why the spiritual forces that occasionally aid Mulder and Scully are in place: to make sure that Mulder doesn’t stray too far from his appointed path out of ignorance and despair.
As contrived as some of the plot points might be, this is an important moment in Mulder’s life. All he has left, at the end of the episode, is his belief. Without context, without definitive evidence, Mulder is more vulnerable than ever. Scully fears what might happen if Mulder loses his desire to believe, because ultimately, it was the one thing giving him hope. In the end, as much as Scully’s medical condition is meant to test her own faith, it also serves to place Mulder’s faith under the microscope. And as this episode demonstrates, Mulder will go to extremes when it comes to his faith.
MULDER: “I had those people’s blood on my shirt, Scully. I was missing for two days. I have no recollection of my actions during those two days. There were two rounds discharged from my gun. I had the keys to this house, the keys to their car…do the words ‘Orenthal James Simpson’ mean anything to you?”
Overall, this episode continued to strip away, in methodical fashion, Mulder’s psychological support system. In particular, this episode forces Mulder to reconsider many of his own basic assumptions about Samantha’s abduction, which in turn erodes his trust in his mother and her word. While there are some plot contrivances that are troubling, the episode as a whole comes together very well.
Final Rating: 8/10
Back to Season 4
Back to Reviews