Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Mulder and Scully investigate a killer who seems to project his nightmarish delusions onto any instant photographic film in the vicinity of his criminal acts...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
When it comes to exploring Scully’s psychology, Vince Gilligan is one of the best. Gilligan has a full understanding of the relationship between Mulder and Scully, and even if he sometimes depicts that relationship in too overt a manner, he sees the co-dependent nature of it clearly. Perhaps more importantly, he recognizes how the lines have blurred over the years. Mulder and Scully have begun to teach each other aspects of their own expertise.
Scully is a woman suffering from a crumbling wall of self-denial. Since her abduction, she has hidden away her fears behind a façade of strength. It’s not so much that Scully pretends to have strength; her sheer force of will is palpable in many situations. Instead, it is her insistence that weakness cannot be shown to others. This is her defense mechanism, her way of dealing with the world she lives in. Being resolute and tougher-than-thou keeps the demons and monsters from slipping into her conscious mind.
Gilligan understands that Scully has changed dramatically since the first season. Before her own abduction and violation, Scully could only sympathize with female victims on a gut level. Now, of course, her psychology has shifted. Every time a woman is brutally tortured or murdered, Scully personally identifies with the violation. She understands, even if she doesn’t want to admit it, how close she has come to the same fate. This episode is an example of Scully dealing with yet another monster victimizing women, but this time, the experience comes as she struggles with the ramifications of her abduction.
At the heart of the episode is the concept of “thoughtography”. To many, this is a bizarre and even impossible concept. Even many “believers” scoff at the idea. However, as Mulder indicates, there is a long and interesting history of such experiments, and even if the results have never been as clear-cut as depicted in this episode, it’s not so far-fetched as it seems, especially from the perspective of the series mythology.
In several instances, there are indications of “object memory”, the storage of memory information within an object or other material space. Some theories on ghosts attribute sightings to a person’s unconscious ability to experience a traumatic memory etched into the house or location in question. The mechanism demands that a certain kind of mind, perhaps altered by extreme circumstance or raw emotion, can somehow “project” those memories and thoughts into the space around them.
In this case, the general concept is taken in a more specialized direction. Gerry’s schizophrenia must be matched with some measure of latent psychic ability. As a result, the dementia that Gerry experiences is “broadcast” all around him, leaving impressions on anything and everything. Specifically, his delusions manifest on certain types of photographic media, typically those that instantly render an image on the film media itself.
Scully begins the episode with no desire to contemplate the possibility of “psychic photography”. Instead, she seeks to find “real” evidence that can help identify and locate a suspect. Mulder is at his most playful here, letting Scully attempt rational explanations for the bizarre image of Mary LeFante. She goes as far as to suggest the images were “planted” in a camera in LeFante’s home, knowing in the same moment that such a thing would be equally improbable. But Mulder lays out the problem quite clearly: there must be a killer at work, and the photos could be the only window into the killer’s mind.
The case becomes a bit more personal for Scully when Mary LeFante surfaces. Note Scully’s expression when the PET scan begins yielding results; her medical background gives her the knowledge necessary to personally comprehend what has been brutally done to Mary. If there is any doubt that Scully empathizes with the idea of being the victim of cruel, haphazard medical procedures, that scene puts that doubt to rest. For that matter, Mary’s droning of the word “unruhe”, over and over, just about knocks this scene out of the park.
In some episodes, Mulder sends Scully off to do his bidding without so much as a logical pretext for it. It’s simply an excuse, leaving Mulder to run off and play while Scully tries to figure out something to do in the meantime. This time around, the circumstances are very similar, but there’s something about the way the scene is staged that communicates Mulder’s respect for Scully. Mulder is tasking Scully with the investigation of Iskendarian Construction because he trusts her. It makes sense for her to pursue that avenue; she is the one denying the possibility that the photos are relevant. Mulder, however, believes the photos provide insight into the killer, and as the man with the special gift for profiling, he is best equipped to explore that prospect.
The analysis of the photo is creepy, to say the least, but it’s great watching Mulder play the “Grotesque” game again. Too often, Mulder’s profiling skills are buried under the less challenging aspects of his characterization. In the process of making Mulder goofy or exploring his extreme possibilities, writers tend to forget that he is brilliant. His theories are supposed to be borne of anecdotal evidence and widened application of profiling skill. In this case, Mulder is allowing his open mind to reveal aspects of a case that play to his strengths.
It also coincides with Scully’s initial confrontation with Gerry. One of the most memorable scenes of the episode comes when Mulder details his analysis of the photo over the phone, and Scully realizes that Gerry is the killer. The tension is incredible, and when Scully tosses out the word “unruhe” to get a reaction, one can tell that she’s ready to take Gerry down without hesitation.
The interrogation scene is where the inevitable rears its ugly head. Given Scully’s emotional investment in the case, there’s only one way for the story to end. What’s brilliant about the episode is how well Gerry is constructed as a character. Gerry has clearly learned how to hide his mental condition, and he plays with the agents until the circumstances feed his delusions. At that moment, Gerry looks at Scully and sees exactly what he’s expecting.
With the case apparently closed, the lack of clear resolution leaves Scully in an emotional nightmare. She can’t help but empathize with Gerry’s victims, but at the same time, exploring his demented logic gives her too much perspective into the kind of mind that would inflict such terrible harm. It’s not just that exploring Gerry’s rationale would force her to consciously address her lingering response to her abduction experience; she’s also afraid to walk down the path as Mulder, afraid to let the killer’s logic find resonance in her own psyche. (It’s the same reason why Scully intentionally questioned Gerry about the missing women, instead of trying to get him to explain his behavior.)
Despite the fact that Scully’s latest abduction is just a matter of time, the actual moment that it happens is very well done. Gilligan doesn’t overplay how close Mulder and Scully are in this episode, as he did in “Pusher”, but Mulder’s panic conveys the depth of his emotional attachment. He scours the latest photo, picking out every possible shred of evidence to give him direction. Before Scully was taken, understanding Gerry was a matter of professional interest; once Scully is taken, it’s critical to his being.
Forced to fight for her own survival, Scully recognizes that she needs to understand Gerry to defeat his purpose. Scully takes everything she ever learned from Quantico and Mulder, stringing Gerry along, hoping that she can buy enough time for Mulder to save the day. In the process, an interesting bit of foreshadowing slips in. Gerry tells Scully that she does have “unrest”, right between her eyes. In point of fact, he’s correct; that’s the spot where Scully’s cancer is already growing.
Scully is saved, of course, but that’s never in doubt. The point of the episode is the journey that Scully is forced to take. It’s one thing to slowly reconcile a trauma that took place two years earlier; it’s quite another for a deadly circumstances to force one down that road. More than that, Scully gets a glimpse into the kind of experience that fed into Mulder’s damaged psyche. Knowing how invested Mulder has become in each and every “extreme possibility”, she cannot help but understand how hard it has been to maintain his own humanity.
The final scene shows Scully once again writing her reports, where apparently the use of poetic language is encouraged (no wonder intelligence briefs are considered confusing and fragmented!). It’s interesting to note that this is the first episode to air on Sunday nights, with “Millennium” taking over the Friday night slot. The question that Scully asks herself at the very end of this episode is the same one explored through the character of Frank Black. It’s a nice bit of creative resonance, and one that reinforces the basis of the series’ mythology: the real monsters are borne within the human mind.
SCULLY: “Your film’s out of date.”
DRUGGIST: “Is that against the law?”
MULDER: “So, which one of us gets to use the stun gun on Bruno Hauptmann back there?”
SCULLY: “The photographic chemistry could have changed. The dyes…fade, they…all right, so what’s your theory?”
MULDER: “Yeah, but why would she stab her boyfriend through the ear? The magic was gone?”
GERRY: “You look troubled...”
SCULLY: “I have no unrest. I don’t need to be saved!”
GERRY: “Yes, you do. Everybody does, but especially you…”
SCULLY: “For truly to pursue monsters, we must understand them. We must venture into their minds. Only in doing so, so we risk letting them venture into ours?”
Overall, this episode was another welcome look into Scully’s post-abduction mindset. Both Mulder and Scully are perfectly rendered, and the unusual nature of the evidence gives a standard if chilling plot a fresh perspective. As is often the case, the best episodes are those that explore how the characters respond to a case, not how the case forces them to be defined.
Final Rating: 9/10
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