Written by Chris Carter
Directed by R.W. Goodwin
In which the corpse of an apparent alien entity is discovered, and as a result of the investigation, Mulder is forced to consider that all his beliefs have been predicated on a grand hoax...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
As the fourth season came to a close, the stage had been set for a tandem crisis of faith. Scully, despite all of her attempts at a positive outlook, found herself staring at death’s door, only several months after the diagnosis of her cancer. Mulder, beginning with the revelation of Scully’s condition, saw ally after ally seemingly abandon him, until his only remaining ally was his belief in some overlying truth. This episode begins a transformative journey, where both must test long-held assumptions against the glaring light of contrary evidence.
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 summary of the mythology given in the review for “Herronvolk” is critical to the analysis of this episode, as well as the conjecture in “Momento Mori” and “Zero Sum”.
“Gethsemane” and the “Redux” two-parter that followed it served several purposes. In essence, they were the culmination of the character threads initiated in “Herrenvolk”. In that episode, Mulder began to question his own assumptions about Samantha, and he was dangerously close to losing faith in ability to uncover the truth. Scully, on the other hand, came to understand that her abduction might have long-term consequences. Throughout the season, the characters let these doubts and concerns drive them forward, and as one would expect, the answers were not to their liking.
One of the major weaknesses of the “middle years” of the series was the lack of proper character arc progression. Season to season, the characters would come out of some crucible with a life-altering realization, and while it would come up thematically now and again, it wasn’t evident episode by episode. In the fourth season, Mulder’s doubts in his assumptions were often absent. Scully’s arc seems more recognizable, but in the end, it was just as scattered in its own way.
This is an important point to make, because if one were to watch “Herrenvolk”, “Tunguska”, “Terma”, “Momento Mori”, “Zero Sum”, “Demons”, and “Gethsemane” in one sitting, there’s a clear journey being taken. Mulder’s doubts and isolation build over time, even when he seems to have evidence to support his wildest theories. His fevered assurance in the stand-alone episodes sound more and more like a man trying to convince himself.
Some note with annoyance how muted Mulder’s reaction is to the discovery of an apparent alien corpse, seemingly frozen for hundreds of years in a remote arctic location. Had this been the first season, Mulder might have been ready to pass out from sheer joy. But too much has happened since then, and Mulder’s reaction is a subconscious symptom of his underlying doubt. It’s not enough for him to abandon his quest, but it is enough to dampen his enthusiasm. He looks, throughout the episode, as if he’s waiting for the shoe to drop.
Chris Carter and the writing staff had the culmination of the mythology already worked out long before this point, and in fact, the feature film was prepping to begin immediately following the fourth season. This was hardly a secret, but it does force the audience to consider where Mulder and Scully were supposed to be by the beginning of the fifth season. Mulder was supposed to have faced the final abandonment, while Scully was meant to face her mortality. Both would represent the starting point for the final leg of the journey to the revelations of “Fight the Future”.
“Gethsemane” is a reference to the garden of the same name in the biblical gospels, where Jesus was awaiting the guards that would take him into custody. In essence, Jesus was awaiting his own death, having foreseen it clearly. Judas was meant to deliver him unto his enemies, who would then destroy him. Supposedly, this episode was meant to be Scully’s betrayal of Mulder. It’s hard to believe that this is the extent of the writers’ concept for the episode.
For one thing, it ignores the fact that both characters are essentially facing their own Gethsemane. The analogy works far better for Scully than Mulder, in any case. Scully is well aware of her impending demise, and well aware that someone in the FBI was complicit in the abduction that led to her condition. Mulder’s Gethsemane is less literal; his is the death of faith, the death of belief. But for Mulder, this should have come as no surprise. It had long since been revealed that his activities were directed, his discoveries carefully planned. Mulder’s betrayal, in the end, comes from within, with the realization that he can no longer maintain hope.
This episode is meant as the beginning of the process. The events depicted cannot be taken alone and out of context. This makes reviewing the episode rather difficult, since the merits of the story cannot be considered without understanding the full context of “Redux” and “Redux II”. There are, however, some elements that are covered only in this episode, and it is possible to address the particular failings of the episode as it was intended to be viewed.
“Gethsemane” begins with a very simple premise: Mulder is dead. Or so it seems, since Scully is a terrible liar and she looks utterly convinced when she views the body in Mulder’s apartment. Of course, the audience is hardly stupid, and it was clear that Mulder wouldn’t be killed off when the feature film was underway. In a story that continues to defy logic, apparently even Gillian Anderson was under the impression that Mulder was really supposed to be dead. (This sounds more like a way to deflect attention away from the feature film and the obvious conclusion it would provide than actual fact.)
It also seems impossible to accept that Scully, as depicted, would openly and forcefully debunk Mulder’s work. Between Mulder’s apparent death and the implication of Scully’s refutation, the writers were practically waving signs at the audience to wait for the context. It’s hard to believe that many fans, even the ones paying attention to what was happening behind the scenes, failed to recognize that there was far more to the story.
The brilliance of “Gethsemane”, however, is in what it reveals so clearly about the conspiracy. Scully asserts that Mulder was fooled by someone who claimed to have evidence of extra-terrestrial life, but that Mulder was actually being duped into believing an elaborate lie. Scully’s point is to expose the authors of the lie and thus the actual design behind the decision by the FBI to foster Mulder’s crusade.
While this doesn’t even come close to covering every layer of deception and disinformation surrounding the X-Files, it is remarkably close to the truth about Mulder’s work. In the first four years of the series, the conspiracy was more than happy to let Mulder spread all kinds of wild theories around. Mulder was the ultimate disinformation machine, since all of his reports were eventually released to the public domain. When convenient, Mulder would be shown something and then permitted to draw his own conclusions, often stopping far short of the truth in the process. The FBI, through Blevins (as already revealed in the pilot, after all), monitored Mulder’s activities for the conspiracy and stopped him from going too far.
None of this is a shock, but it does confirm what earlier events suggested. Every time Mulder would get too close to something, he was quickly diverted or stymied. His reports were forced into the vague territory of the fringe theorist. The conspiracy assigned Scully, at the behest of Cancer Man, to ensure that Mulder’s work wouldn’t trigger a valid scientific investigation. Of course, in reality, Cancer Man was using the need for a disinformation process to keep Mulder (and once her DNA was confirmed, Scully) out of direct harm’s way.
Despite indications to the contrary, this story must take place in October 1997. From that point of view, and knowing what would happen just a couple of months later, it’s not hard to see why the Scully family would be front and center. Ma Scully is obviously aware that time is short, and she’s concerned for Dana’s health. Bill is introduced in lieu of a father figure for Scully, someone to stand up against Mulder and Scully’s own feelings of obligation to authority. Considering that Scully would be ready to move on at the end of the fifth season, this is clearly the beginning of that process; until now, Mulder has gone unchallenged as a figure of passionate authority in Scully’s world.
It’s very interesting for Scully’s faith to be addressed, because it’s an indication of how she’s changed. Scully initially displayed a deep and abiding faith in God, something that Mulder found hard to reconcile himself. Over time, of course, Scully has drifted closer and closer to Mulder. As seen in “all things”, Scully’s experiences with Mulder challenge her long-held Catholic beliefs. Thus, as Scully has allowed Mulder to take on a more central presence in her psychological world, she has lost touch with her faith as well.
When Mulder calls Scully and asks her to come meet him, despite her dinner plans, this is a strong metaphor. He interrupts her conversation with Father McCue regarding her faith, and despite the circumstances, she accedes to his request. This also gives the writers a chance to place Bill in a position to disapprove. Father McCue and Bill, as mentioned, represent the competing authority figures in Scully’s life, both of which disapprove of the effect of Mulder’s strong influence.
Before Mulder even has evidence that the “alien” is a fake, he’s worried. Since the beginning of the year, slowly but surely, all his assumptions have been dashed, his hopes ripped away. And now, he suddenly has proof of alien life at his fingertips. He’s seen enough out of the conspiracy to ask the obvious question: if you’re going to go to extreme lengths to create a realistic alien corpse, why not take it all the way, and ensure that the corpse is found in a rather convincing location?
Scully appears to revert to total skepticism in this episode, but that’s too simple an interpretation. As several past episodes have made abundantly clear, Scully’s ability to deny Mulder’s theories are inversely proportional to her ability to deny the evidence. The more she sees to question her own assumptions, the more she steadfastly refuses to budge. Much of the third season was spent in denial of her own abduction, all because that would require her to accept the reasons for her sister’s death. Similarly, Scully wants nothing to do with the “alien” corpse, because she doesn’t want to believe that her life is about to end to keep the truth hidden.
The conversation between Mulder and Scully takes it even further. Scully is doing everything possible to deny her condition, continuing to work despite her impending decline. But now she’s placed in the position where she would disprove Mulder’s faith, and by extension, she would thus deliver the killing blow to the one person she dare not disappoint. Scully understands faith, and as she says clearly, discovering that her faith is based on a myth or lie would dramatically alter her world.
This is the writers’ attempt to place Mulder’s later experience in context. For Mulder, his hope for evidence of something beyond the bounds of accepted science is effectively the lynchpin of his personal faith. As Scully says, one with faith is rarely concerned that the elements of their faith will be proven, but rather, that they might be disproven. Scully, in some fashion, is seeing what lies beneath Mulder’s apparent lack of enthusiasm: the realization that the authenticity of the corpse stands as a pivotal moment in his life.
As if to challenge that faith immediately, a possible pour hole is discovered in the ice near the corpse. This suggests, according to the writers later in the episode, that the corpse is a fake and was somehow constituted within the ice. However, there are some serious logical problems with that concept, not the least of which is the idea that the conspiracy has the technology to pour the materials to create a fake alien body into ice and have it take on a form that is biologically sound.
Far more telling is the discovery that the ice surrounding the corpse contained chimera cells, which suggest some form of hybridization. Based on the mythology as it would eventually be revealed, this is not a surprise. “The Unnatural”, for instance, demonstrates that the “base form” of the shape-shifting “super soldiers” is essentially the form of a Grey Alien (or Colonists, as they would later be called). The biologically engineered shifters would have a cellular structure that would be unique, to say the least, and could easily take the form of a chimera cell.
In retrospect, this is all early evidence that the corpse is, in fact, genuine. It simply isn’t alien, because in the end, the shifters are genetically modified humans. The question is not whether or not the conspiracy is responsible, but rather, how the shifter wound up in the ice of the Yukon in the first place. The concern to the conspiracy would be that they don’t know where it came from, only that it must be utterly denied and covered up as a grand hoax.
As soon as the possibility of conducting real tests on the corpse is evident, the conspiracy makes its move. The recovery team is eliminated, and Babcock waits for Arlinsky to return, so he can find out who else knows about the body. Kritschgau is sent to retrieve the ice cores. It’s all part of an effort to contain the spread of information regarding the retrieval of an authentic “alien” corpse, a heavy-handed treatment of Mulder that typifies how the Syndicate views Mulder as opposed to the more subtle manipulation used by Cancer Man.
In his conversation with Scully at the hospital, Bill continues to play the father figure, representing the family itself in a way that Ma Scully is never really allowed to do. Bill carries forward much of her father’s apparent disapproval for her choices, now that he’s the patriarch of the family, and he gets to make a point about her shifting values. Mulder always seems to place his self-interest above all else, even Scully, and for all that it bugs the hell out of her when he does it, Scully has been isolating her family from her life in a similar fashion. (And yet, she knows this is not how it should be; she makes an effort now and after her recovery to repair the damage.)
Throughout the autopsy, Mulder tries to consider every possible angle, as if attempting to find fault with what his senses are telling him before the process can go too far. Once the body is thawed and the autopsy begins, of course, it’s the moment of no return. The evidence is too strong to deny, and now if it is proven a fake, Mulder can no longer be certain that any evidence he has seen is pure.
Oddly enough, he misses an important piece of information during the course of the autopsy. Mulder has seen enough to know that the “alien” hybrids and clones have all had one thing in common: the green fluid that contains the deadly retrovirus, which he has himself endured. The green fluid (essentially, the biological analogue to nanotech, as seen in the next episode) should have been present. It wasn’t, which presents something of a mystery. It’s entirely possible that its absence helped convince Mulder that the body was a fake in the end, but if so, then he should have recognized that it set a clear distinction between the conspiracy’s disinformation and a possible reality.
More telling is the fact that the physiology is so similar to human physiology, and yet so obviously “wrong”. A fabricated hoax of this expertise is one possibility, but the problem becomes one of mechanism: how could the conspiracy get the body into centuries-old ice without any evidence of tampering? If the corpse is real, of course, then the question is: where did the biological nanotech circulatory system go?
This is likely just a mistake on the part of the writers, but there is a way to explain it. After all, the corpse was encased at an extremely low temperature, and as previously established, low temperatures inactivate the retrovirus and, by extension, the biological nanotech. When the shifter dies, the biological nanotech breaks down into a highly acidic compound, which destroys the body. But if the green fluid were to break down under cold temperatures, would that acidic reaction be shut down, thus preserving the body?
Note that the assassins wait for Mulder to leave before killing Arlinsky; the goal is to allow Mulder to believe without tangible proof. With Scully dying, the conspiracy only sees an opportunity to control Mulder even more than they have in the past. They don’t know what Cancer Man knows: that Mulder and Scully must both survive. Thus Kritschgau’s explanation to Scully is not entirely wrong; the men who would kill him are indeed the men who would happily see her dead.
At this point, the episode becomes incredibly complicated, in terms of retrospective analysis. The writers have placed Mulder at the edge, grasping for some last source of hope. Scully is dying, though she hasn’t told Mulder the extent of her situation. When Kritschgau finally lays things out for Mulder, it carries a certain ring of truth, and though it’s not entirely convincing, Mulder has every reason to believe it. And on a certain level, much of what Kritschgau says is true, at least from his point of view.
Mulder has indeed been used to perpetuate the lie that there is evidence of alien invasion: the conspiracy has him do it as a form of widespread reverse psychology, and Cancer Man has him do it to cover the truth that even the conspiracy doesn’t know. And it is, from the point of view of both the conspiracy and Cancer Man, designed to mask the misdeeds of the military and its supporters, since the defense industry is used as the active participant in the experiments conducted to build the better soldier and, by extension, the better human.
From Kritschgau’s position with the DOD, he would have plenty of information demonstrating that the experiments were about better weapons and genetic engineering, not the product of “alien” technology. And since the same resources were used to test the Syndicate’s version of the vaccine during the Gulf War, the syndrome suffered by Kritschgau’s son would fit the same pattern.
Kritschgau is correct; Mulder’s regression memories are likely the result of implanted memories mixing with true recollections. But without the context of knowing why these things were done, it’s all too easy to connect that to the picture Kritschgau is trying to form. UFOs are, in fact, the product of human military design, since even the legitimate ones are ultimately from humanity’s future. The apparent alien biology is all the product of human genetic experimentation. By the time Kritschgau dumps a load about the “alien” corpse (which is the real mystery, according to the conspiracy), there’s enough truth to what Kritschgau is saying to make it stick.
Much of what Kritschgau says would benefit Cancer Man greatly, enough so that it is easy to suggest that Kritschgau is working for him. This is also a turning point for Cancer Man, because he has been losing control of the Syndicate ever since the beginning of the third season. He’s well aware of the fact that things quickly rushing towards a breaking point, and gaining control of Mulder (directly or indirectly) is key to his success. Kritschgau effectively plants the seeds that Cancer Man wants to cultivate.
The end of the episode is meant to suggest that Kritschgau manages to convince Mulder that everything he has seen is, as he was inwardly all too aware, not evidence of something more, something worthy of his hopes and fears. And from that, Mulder’s grief is supposed to be turned inward, leading to his supposed suicide. Scully’s sincerity is supposed to convince the audience of this possibility, since she’s not exactly known for her deceptive abilities. And yet, Mulder has always turned psychological angst into directed anger.
In short, it is far more in character, especially at this point, for Mulder to take what he has heard and transform his efforts in another direction: attempting to expose the government conspiracy and the military experiments conducted on his sister rather than the alien activity on which he once blamed his sister’s abduction. After all, Mulder already knows that the government was likely behind the abduction; it was just a question of what happened after that. If anything, discovering the truth should set Mulder directly on the course he ultimately takes.
It’s odd, then, to see how many fans bought the idea that Mulder might have killed himself. Psychologically, it doesn’t make sense. Nor does it make sense physically. If Mulder had killed himself by eating a shotgun, then the evidence shown at the beginning of the episode doesn’t match that explanation. It smacks of Carter’s desire for a shock cliffhanger that would leave the audience wondering how the next season could possibly explain everything.
Beyond the annoying qualities of the final scenes, as mentioned earlier, this is not a complete story. It’s simply the first act of a much more powerful tale, and as such, it succeeds beautifully. The situation is presented methodically, with a number of philosophical and psychological layers to each and every scene, until both characters have arrived at the same symbolic moment of truth: Scully with the betrayal of her body, Mulder with the betrayal of his mind, both victims of the same endgame.
As season finales go, it’s a much stronger ending than the inconsistent fourth season deserved. Indeed, Chris Carter seems to write the episode as if it were the inevitable consequence of everything that came before, ignoring the fact that whatever plot and character threads he thought had been established were at best implied. This would be a major problem going into the fifth season and the rest of the series. The writers, in trying to avoid making the series too serial for Carter’s comfort, nonetheless attempted to write the mythology episodes as if it were. The result was a growing schism between the stand-alone episodes and the larger themes they were meant to support and inform.
SCULLY: “It is my scientific opinion that he became over the course of these years a victim…a victim of his own false hopes and of his beliefs in the biggest of lies.”
ARLINSKY: “It’s an awful long way to go for a hoax.”
MULDER: “If you’re going to go, why not go all the way?”
SCULLY: “It just means proving to the world the existence of alien life is not my last dying wish.”
MULDER: “What about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny?”
Overall, this episode is a surprisingly good season finale, even if the complex and rational psychological elements were eventually overshadowed by the contrived plot device of the final scenes. This is the first act in a vast drama concerning the nature of faith and truth, which means little resolution is to be found, but the metaphorical and symbolic aspects of the story more than make up for it.
Final Rating: 9/10
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