Written by Billy Brown, Dan Angel, Frank Spotnitz, and John Shiban
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Scully is asked to speak to a family who lost a daughter under unusual circumstances, but her investigation takes her into spiritual territory with unexpected personal overtones...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
Central to the evolution of the series mythology is the exploration of “spiritual warfare”. While it does not always take on a specifically Christian aspect, a number of Christian themes and metaphors underscore major events. From a more universal point of view, the strict Christian interpretation of spirituality doesn’t quite encompass the breadth of the mythology. A less defined approach is necessary to explain events.
For that reason, this episode has certain strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are fairly obvious. This episode focuses almost entirely on the psychological aftermath of “Emily” on Scully’s world, and how her faith has evolved since the third season. Scully has plenty of reason to believe that there is a higher power and a higher purpose. The question is: what does that mean for her?
At the same time, because the situation must have meaning for Scully, the spiritual warfare in question takes on a rather traditionally Christian perspective. This is only problematic because the mythology doesn’t suggest a strict battle between Angels and Demons. So the Nephilim don’t quite fit into the idea of a generalized spiritual war. Nor does the devil himself, for that matter.
But there are ways to reconcile the events of this episode with the mythology as a whole. Spiritualism on “X-Files” has enough depth to allow for a wide range of motivations within the general context. Mulder and Scully have been aided on more than one occasion, most recently in “Christmas Carol”, by the benevolent “angelics”, the spiritual forces fostering a benign and more natural evolution of the human species.
Purity itself is an extension of the very opposite force, the malevolent opposite to the “angelics”. This can be demonic in nature, as in episodes like this and “Empedocles”, but the general idea is that they are agents of chaos, seeking to subvert humanity’s progress to their own ends. It only stands to reason that Mulder and Scully (and their allies) would occasionally run into those agents of chaos in a form other than Purity or the conspiracy.
Not only does this provide a framework for the spiritual activities within the mythology, but it helps to ascribe a long-term goal to the intervention of those forces. Unlike the real world, where it’s easy to be comfortable with the apparent random nature of spiritual dealings (and debate their existence), a fictionalized universe with the suggestion of consistency must, by definition, avoid the pitfalls of convenient intervention from on high.
Therefore the big question becomes: what was the point of this episode’s events? Why exactly did they take place? Was it all about Scully and bringing her further along her own psychological and spiritual evolution? Or was there some other goal in mind, some function of the Nephilim that fits within the overall mythology?
If this entire situation is viewed as a lesson for Scully, it seems rather extreme. At the same time, Scully needs to be in a certain psychological space to proceed as the endgame dictates. If Scully doesn’t find meaning in her faith, if she doesn’t find a reason to search for answers on her own terms, then how far will she go with Mulder as things seriously degrade? The goal of this effort with Scully is found in “all things”; Scully must eventually come to terms with her own identity and overall purpose, so she can recognize where Mulder fits in her life.
Yet that journey must take place almost in spite of Mulder, because Mulder is taking a journey of his own in counterpoint. Mulder is discovering that his strength is not in the cold, hard facts of “the truth”. More to the point, as he should have recognized from the beginning, his answers are a question of faith. Yet he cannot bring himself to believe in a world ruled by spiritual influences. It’s far easier to accept the idea of alien plots and military experiments than the idea of a non-corporeal intelligence seeking dominion over all life.
It takes Mulder more than a decade to realize that the truth lies beyond the material. Scully, on the other hand, must reconcile her faith and her strict viewpoint of the world with the idea that science is just an explanation. It doesn’t provide meaning. When the world fit within her science, she could mold her science within the precepts of her faith. Once Mulder came along with evidence of something outside of her science, it forced adjustment. And sooner or later, that adjustment must also trigger an adjustment and consideration of faith.
To put it another way: Scully managed to explain her science as a model or human explanation of the divine. Chemistry and biology were the result of a clear spiritual source. Her faith was the foundation of that understanding. Her work with Mulder, on the other hand, required her to consider aspects of science and nature that fit outside of the boundaries of her spiritual understanding. So how does she reconcile the differences?
It’s a fairly accepted precept that “science explains how, not why”, and Scully needs to understand why. Why Emily had to die, why she almost died herself, why all these things surrounding her life have been necessary. Science leads to the conspiracy, but that is not enough. For that matter, it’s not really enough for Mulder, either; he’s just not sure what to do about that yet.
What would happen if Scully couldn’t reconcile the recent past with her faith? Would she continue to believe that there was a reason for her partnership with Mulder? Would she question that, perhaps move on to protect herself from further loss? That is a question that ultimately plays into the feature film, but this episode frames the question rather nicely. Faith is a means of accepting and dealing with loss; Scully must decide if that will be enough.
If the “angelics” are essentially hoping to manipulate Scully into a certain psychological space, an acceptance of her loss to carry her through to the planned healing of her barren state (with the understanding that the “angelics” are the ones behind William), then it makes sense that they would contrive a situation that aligns with some aspect of her faith. The events also serve to communicate the true nature of the central conflict: a spiritual war over “all souls”.
Of course, that also brings up a disturbing side to spirituality: even the “good” side of the conflict will allow or provoke terrible personal tragedy to achieve a larger goal. Regardless of how it is interpreted, the audience is asked to accept that God or “angelics” (take your pick) ensured that Scully would suffer but survive, that Emily would be brought into her life and that Scully would therefore suffer through the loss, and that the Nephilim would be born and then hunted down for Scully to learn this lesson, and so on.
So to a certain extent, it’s not very satisfying to make this episode all about Scully. It may be more realistic to think of the situation as something that was already happening, but was also useful in helping Scully along in her spiritual evolution. At the same time, Scully is critical to the overall endgame, as the mother to humanity’s savior. So why wouldn’t the “angelics” take the necessary measures to ensure that all angles are covered?
From the larger point of view, the mythology strongly suggests that there is a genetic goal in the plan of the “angelics”, a natural means of accomplishing the evolution of humanity into a more spiritually aware shared consciousness. The conspiracy was a means of artificially “upgrading” humanity in a way that would achieve a similar goal, only twisted to allow Purity to take control of the artificially evolved form.
The key to the victory of the “angelics” would be the “sentinels”, humans on the cusp of the next stage of evolution, with many of the abilities that the evolved humanity would possess. William is a perfect example. But since William is the end of a natural evolutionary process, however artificially began by the “angelics” (essentially, “intelligent design”, after a fashion), the process of evolution to get to the desired endpoint would have certain drawbacks.
Many of the genetically diverse creatures and humans throughout the course of the series can be explained in this way: flawed “dead legs” in the evolutionary works. But there’s also every reason to suspect that the process would be maintained. The involvement in Mulder and Scully’s lives, for instance, is evidence of this ongoing maintenance. Why, then, wouldn’t there be regular removals of dangerous evidence of their intervention? The Nephilim, in this case, seem like a periodic product of the activiation of certain inactive human genes.
This would be the only way to explain the Nephilim logically. Why else would something so clearly out of legend exist and yet still be relevant? Again, the same two choices emerge: that it was contrived for Scully’s sole benefit, or that the Nephilim is a recurring phenomenon, which the “angelics” must remove when the enemy gets wind of them and tries to take possession. The more expansive explanation is, in the case of “X-Files”, often the more satisfying.
With all of these larger considerations in mind, it would be easy to overlook the fact that this is a showcase for Scully as a character. Gillian does her usual brilliant job of giving the character depth beyond what exists on the page, and the presentation of this tale does much to overcome some of the more obvious questionable creative decisions. Emily and her life and death are placed in context, which was a major drawback with the earlier episodes, and there’s even an evolution of Scully’s approach with Mulder on topics of faith.
The direction and cinematography were also stunning. With one exception (a dead person moving rather obviously while on a coroner’s table), the effects are compelling and draw the viewer into the story. There’s a general theme of perception and seeing things through filters (windows, boards, etc.). This provides a great reason to frame shots with unusual and exciting lighting choices. When the story drags here and there, the presentation shines through.
Until “all things”, about two seasons later, the writers would avoid any deep discussion of Scully and her faith. It would be a topic discussed in passing now and again, but as the writers fell into familiar patterns and weren’t sure where to take the mythology, they avoided anything too drastic in terms of deep character development. Only when the series looked to end did the writers take the chance at bringing Scully further along the path, and so “All Souls” stands as a rare example of Scully’s post-cancer character exploration.
As a final comment: this episode seems to take place at least two months after “The Red and the Black”. Mulder seems to have very little to do, and Scully has a bit of free time on her hands as well. This continues to suggest that the agents were sidelined while the conspiracy considered what to do about Mulder’s recent activities. In fact, Mulder and Scully seem to have plenty of time on their hands until the season finale, when the conspiracy finally makes up its mind.
MULDER: “I’m, uh…I’m kinda tailing a suspect right now…”
MULDER: “Scully…aren’t you the Secret Squirrel!”
GREGORY: “Unless you accept the truth of God’s teachings that there is a struggle between good and evil for All Souls and that we are losing that struggle…you are but fools rushing in.”
MULDER: “I know people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, blah blah blah, but that guy is paranoid!”
SCULLY: “I was raised to believe that God has his reasons, however mysterious.”
MULDER: “He may well have his reasons, but he seems to use a lot of psychotics to carry out his job orders.”
GREGORY: “I am immune to your mockery. You’re not interesting in the truth.”
MULDER: “I am only interested in the truth.”
PRIEST: “Has it occurred to you that maybe this, too, is part of what you were meant to understand?”
SCULLY: “You mean, accepting my loss?”
PRIEST: “Can you accept it?”
SCULLY: “Maybe that’s what faith is.”
Overall, this episode is one of the last strong Scully-centric episodes for quite some time, and as such, it is a stunning exploration of her questions of faith. A number of important psychological questions are addressed, and the stage is set for her decisions in “Fight the Future”. Some aspects of the plot don’t mesh too well with the overall mythology, but the direction and cinematography is stunning. Another gem of the fifth season.
Final Rating: 8/10
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