"The Field Where I Died"
Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Mulder encounters a young woman during an attempt to prevent a cult from committing mass suicide, and he discovers that he might be connected to the woman in a very unusual way...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
This is a difficult episode to review and analyze, if only because it stands in such sharp contrast to the direction taken by the series. This isn’t an example of a mythology episode becoming obsolete due to later iterations of the same concept. Rather, this is an example of an episode that seeks to twist viewer expectation by placing a wall between Mulder and Scully that could never have been predicted. As many fans have noted, the episode has many flaws with regards to timeline logic. As it turns out, that may be the key to finding a way to reconcile this episode with the rest of the series.
The basic premise is simple. In the process of dealing with a religious cult in the middle of Tennessee, following allegations of child abuse, Mulder comes to believe that he has found a woman that he has loved in a past life…several times, in fact, over the centuries. The problem is, that woman is practically possessed by those past lives, to the point that she becomes enmeshed with the cult leader and his suicidal plans.
Within the context of the series (and in fact, possibly the real world), “past life memory” is not quite what it appears to be. Memory itself is depicted as information that can be stored and even accessed beyond the brain of the person living an experience. Memories become ingrained within a place or object, able to be accessed by those who come to that place or interact with that object, regardless of whether the process is conscious or subconscious.
When a person “remembers” a “past life”, the theory is that the person is actually accessing the memory of the person who actually lived through that experience. Why a given person accesses a given memory is uncertain, but one factor seems to be very important. If a person achieves a mental state that “resonates” with that of the person living the original experience, then the “past life” memory is the result.
Of course, there is the logical extension: the more a place or an object retains of a person’s memory or experience, strengthened by emotional or physical trauma, the stronger the “past life” experience. The result, if passive, is a haunting; if more active, it can be like possession. If the original consciousness has remained intact after death as a non-corporeal intelligence, then “resonating” with the ingrained memories would leave a person open to suggestion and even subordination to that intelligence.
Melissa’s mental health is pertinent to discovering the key to the episode. Evidence seems to mount that Melissa is accessing her memories of past lives, and in one case, she remembers loving Mulder. Mulder also seems caught up in the same cycle, and as Mulder explores his own past life profile, he sees Scully, Samantha, and Cancer Man, all playing specific roles in his life, over and over again.
The problem, of course, is that Melissa manifests a number of “past life” personalities that can’t be reconciled in relation to Mulder’s, including one of a small child supposedly abused by the cult leader, Vernon Ephesian. Also, Melissa seems to have little or no control over the “past life” personalities, which seem to control her in ways that are remarkably similar to “multiple personality” disorder.
If Mulder and Melissa are soulmates through all time, then this particular iteration has to be one of the worst in their shared history. Not only that, but it seems to reveal that Mulder and Scully are not the soulmates that so many fans would have them be. The fact that Mulder and Scully ultimately come together in a destined pairing to produce the savior of humanity’s future stands in stark contrast to the friendship suggested in this episode.
In the case of the plot, of course, one thing is often overlooked. The only intersection between Mulder and Melissa, regardless of Mulder’s somewhat dubious recovered “memories”, is the connection between Sullivan Biddle and Sarah Kavanaugh. All of Melissa’s other “past life” personalities seem to have nothing to do with Mulder, and one could easily dismiss everything else Mulder says as the product of his own desire to believe.
If the Biddle/Kavanaugh relationship was real, then the source of the paranormal within this episode is rather clear: the field itself. Both Sullivan Biddle and Sarah Kavanaugh left something incredibly strong in that field. Melissa is a woman whose mental issues leave her open to “possession” by whatever strong memories are ingrained in the spaces and objects around her. In the field, she “resonated” with Sarah Kavanaugh, and as a result, someone was bound to “resonate” with Sullivan Biddle in response.
This is what happens at the beginning of the episode. Mulder looks out into the field, and he becomes caught up in Sullivan Biddle’s longing for Sarah Kavanaugh without even knowing it. It’s not that he was once Biddle himself, but rather, that Mulder was in a mental state that lent itself to that “possession”. When he finds Melissa in the foxhole with Ephesian, the connection is made; both people are already caught in the lingering passion between parted souls.
This episode contains some of the best Skinner scenes in quite a while. Seldom has Skinner been so authoritative, able to demonstrate his command skills beyond the stifling presence of Cancer Man. Perhaps that’s what makes his decision to include Mulder and Scully on the case purely to evaluate Ephesian’s “paranormal abilities” so bizarre. There’s a definite tension between Mulder and the rest of the agents; much of the unspoken bad feeling present since “Squeeze” finds screen time in this episode.
From the standpoint of the mythology, Ephesian is rather close to the truth. “God” is, in fact, preparing to send his “mighty men” to the world to eliminate the corrupted. That is certainly one way to interpret William’s impending arrival and his eventual defeat of Purity, aided by those with genetically enhanced abilities. The critical difference, of course, is that Ephesian is insane, convinced that he is meant to usher in this period. In concert with the series “Millennium”, there is a sense that the world is coming to an end, and unstable personalities typically struggle to find meaning within their own lives at such times.
The first interview with Melissa is interesting on several fronts. Kristen Cloke does a better job at expressing her extreme multiple personalities, even if Sidney is apparently Gilbert Gottfried’s long lost twin brother. Playing one guest character with any depth is a difficult task; playing several at once is nearly impossible. Cloke pulls it off, well enough that the interview is more notable for the interaction between the agents than Melissa’s mental state.
Clearly, Mulder is conflicted, in a way that he hasn’t been for some time. He openly floats the idea of “past lives” to Scully, but ultimately takes her position when discussing the case with Skinner. Scully sees this as some measure of cowardice on Mulder’s part, but she’s way off the mark. It’s more that Mulder feels he can trust Scully with his true theories. His disappointment with her comes from the perception that Scully doesn’t hold up to her end of that bargain.
Considering that the truth lies at least partially within Melissa’s complicated psychology, there’s no reason why Mulder can’t be correct by exploring and even advocating both the “multiple personality” and “past life” aspects. At the same time, Scully makes a very telling observation. Mulder does act to his own interests, consciously or not, harkening back to their discussion in “Quagmire”. Mulder wants to believe, and so he is willing to pursue whatever explanation or theory that gives him the time to gain evidence for his true goals. As Scully points out, that further victimizes Melissa in the sense that Mulder is using her and the other cultists to advance his personal agenda.
Still, Melissa’s visit to the temple does provide vital information about Melissa’s actual connection to Mulder. She seems to relive the experience of one of the children at the temple, something that couldn’t happen if she were dealing exclusively in “past lives”. This is evidence that Melissa’s mental state has made her susceptible to the impressions left by others who have experienced similar trauma.
This is the manner in which Melissa becomes “possessed” by Sarah Kavanaugh. Note that the field itself is prominent throughout, as if to suggest that it is a character in and of itself. Melissa might as well be reading a letter out of a book, ala Ken Burns. Cloke does a passable job of a Southern accent, enough so that she actually seems to be Sarah. It works on a gut level, especially when it becomes clear that Mulder is caught in the same spell.
That said, Scully is absolutely correct for pointing out that Mulder is trying to have it both ways. Ephesian is clearly insane, suffering from the same kind of overwhelmed psyche as Melissa. But is that the source of his recovered “memories”, or simply the symptom of being too open to the influence of outside influences? Mulder’s is trying to understand a phenomenon without the proper context, and as a result, he is forced to adhere to a double standard.
If there’s any doubt that Melissa’s fractured mind has been further traumatized by her time with Ephesian, her story about the abused boy lays that to rest. Melissa is troubled beyond imagination, and it makes one wonder what kind of childhood she had. Whatever the case, Melissa’s dissociative identity disorder has combined with her particular “resonance” with the ingrained memories of others in a way that brings those memories to life. Those ingrained personalities, fragmented intelligences themselves, could easily find root within the empty recesses of aborning identities.
When Mulder goes under, his “recovered memories” are indicative of the downside to such technique. It’s entirely possible that Mulder is “resonating” with certain ingrained memories or experiences, but his own desire to get results adds to it. When Mulder “remembers” being other people, he then sees those around him and makes certain assumptions. Relationships with individuals within the resonant memory with certain traits become compared to similar relationships between Mulder and those around him.
As a result, Mulder relives the Jewish woman’s strong memory, possibly impressed within the therapist’s couch itself, and then associates her husband with Melissa because of their shared “resonance” with Sullivan Biddle and Sarah Kavanaugh. Equally, Mulder associates the authority figure in that resonant memory as Scully, because of the bond they share at this point in their lives. He associates evil with Cancer Man, and the child under protection as Samantha. It’s not that these souls are passing from live to live together, but that Mulder is interpreting the unusual information at his disposal through the filter of his own experience. Those same influences, once established, carry forward when Mulder begins “resonating” with the very strong memories of Sullivan Biddle.
This scene is clearly meant to be a tour de force for David Duchovny, but it doesn’t quite work. For one thing, it feels like the director let Kristen and David determine the pacing of their scenes, and in both cases, it is far too slow. If the viewer is fully engaged by what is happening on screen, it probably doesn’t matter so much, but the slightest bit of detachment exposes how the pacing comes to an abrupt halt once David’s part of the scene begins.
David certainly gives the scene his best attempt, but several things work against him. For one thing, Kristen Cloke does such an amazing job of assuming other personalities that David can’t help but fall short. His attempt at a Southern accent might as well not even happen, and he certainly doesn’t try to sound like a Polish Jew in 1940s Warsaw! David has also proven, time and again, that he cannot cry on demand and he really shouldn’t try. On the other hand, the amount of Mulder that shines through the regression experience is suggestive of how much of his own expectation enters the process.
Of course, Scully finds evidence that Sullivan Biddle and Sarah Kavanaugh once lived in that area of Tennessee. No matter what the mechanism, that was bound to be true. But that doesn’t provide evidence that Mulder and Melissa are tapping into “past lives”. It only proves that both of them are tapping into a source of memory that usually is not consciously accessed. It’s a distinction that can be completely overlooked, since the scene works either way.
In the end, it’s not hard to believe that Melissa wants to end her suffering. Her life is a complete tragedy, overwhelmed utterly by the resonant memories that have taken root in her diseased mind. What’s astonishing is the idea that Mulder is meant to find Melissa; there’s really no reason that it should have happened, beyond this tragic circumstance. That lends credence to the idea that their connection is an imposition, something unnatural in terms of their own lives.
The final confrontation between the FBI and Ephesian is downright disturbing, especially when the “mighty men” start shooting at the agents as the Kool-ad is passed around. One question is never answered, and perhaps wisely so: where are all those children at this point? Did Ephesian let them go, or did the director understand that it couldn’t be shown on camera without alienating the audience? Whatever the case, the tragedy unfolds as it inevitably must. It’s strongly suggested that Melissa fakes her death in an effort to save herself for Mulder’s sake, as if hoping that trust in her seeming connection with Mulder might save her from herself.
The episode leaves open the question of whether Mulder remains under the “possession” of Sullivan Biddle for an extended period of time. Melissa remained under the control of all those “resonant” personalities because of her mental illness; Mulder is very close to insane, but not in that particular manner. One would think that Mulder would vaguely recall this experience, but that the emotional attachment to Melissa would quickly fade, as if it were a dream.
The important aspect to this episode is not the idea that Mulder is fated to be with someone other than Scully. That’s not what this episode is saying, even if it is framed in that fashion. Instead, this episode is an interesting look at how easily people are influenced by forces beyond their control. On the level of the collective unconscious and biological imperatives, much of everyday life is the product of something “alien”. It’s not hard to understand why someone forcefully isolated from the rest of the world might go insane; the resulting loss of subconscious direction would be hard to reconcile.
In terms of the overall timeline, this episode works very well as an extension to the themes that have dominated the series since the end of the third season. Mulder is still coming to terms with the idea of loss, and coming to believe that Melissa was someone important meant facing that loss again. Every time it happens, Mulder loses some slight measure of hope, the one thing still driving his belief.
Mulder’s crisis of faith took place in May 1996, with his initial meeting with Marita taking place sometime in June. “Home” would have come shortly afterward in July, with “Teliko” set in August. “Unruhe” took place in October, and this episode clearly comes in early-mid November. All in all, Mulder and Scully have had a lot of time to dwell on the personal cost of the past couple years. It’s interesting to note that so much time is covered between the earlier episodes in the season, since later episodes continue the confusing trend of the third season, jumping back and forth in time without cause or need.
If the idea of Mulder and Melissa being soulmates is taken as presented, then this episode is a glaring exception to the overall rule that Mulder and Scully are destined to be together. At the time the episode was written, the non-romance rule was still very much in effect, and that might have made this material more acceptable in Chris Carter’s eyes. But with the romance between Mulder and Scully becoming a part of the series mythology in the later seasons, this episode no longer fits the big picture.
Reconciling this episode, then, is a matter of looking at the mythology overall and seeing where it fits. It doesn’t take long to see that the episode in fact explores the consequences of what the mythology more or less requires: imposition of non-corporeal intelligence on the human race. In that sense, Melissa is a victim. Regardless, Morgan and Wong construct a tragedy that attempts to give scope to a very personal sense of loss.
SCULLY: “You didn’t even have the courage to tell Skinner what you really believe, that Melissa Riedal is being invaded by her past life incarnations.”
MULDER: “Because he wouldn’t believe me.”
SCULLY: “I don’t believe that you fell responsible for those fifty lives or Melissa Riedal. You are only responsible to yourself, Mulder.”
MULDER: “You…you were there, Scully! You saw it! You heard it! Why can’t you feel it? How could I know about a bunker in a field where I’ve never been?”
SCULLY: “And why is it that Vernon Ephesian is, reported by you, a paranoid sociopath because he believes that he lived in Greece a hundred years ago, and you’re not, even though you believe you died in that field?”
MULDER: “Dana, if…early in the four years we’ve been working together…an event occurred that suggested or somebody told you that…we’d been friends together in other lifetimes…always…wouldn’t it have changed some of the ways we looked at one another?”
SCULLY: “Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn’t change a day. Well, maybe that flukeman thing. I could’ve lived without that just fine…”
Overall, this episode is hard to reconcile with the fact that Mulder and Scully are in fact soulmates, as indicated by the later seasons (and always believed by a vocal faction of the fandom). It is possible to see the story through the filter of the mythology and come to a consistent conclusion, but the episode is perhaps better viewed as a poetic departure from the norm.
Final Rating: 7/10
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