"A Christmas Carol"
Written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Peter Markle
In which a visit to her brother’s home for Christmas marks the beginning of a psychological and spiritual journey for Scully when she encounters a young girl with a personal connection...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
While the various film commitment schedules, franchise-related and otherwise, forced the producers to think outside the box during the fifth season, the results were often mixed. “Unusual Suspects” was an interesting concept with mediocre execution, for instance. This episode was the writers’ attempt to deliver the first part of a mythology episode without Mulder driving the action, due to his schedule on “Playing God”. The result is a rare insight into Scully’s psychology and her life outside of Mulder’s sphere of direct influence.
All things being equal, the producers would have preferred to see Mulder and Scully running around as if nothing of consequence happened in the “Gethsemane” trilogy. Not having both lead cast members available at the same time gave the writers an incentive to implement a more satisfying plan. Considering that Scully is supposed to be working through her emotions since recovering from near-fatal cancer, an experience that ended only weeks earlier, the timing for this kind of episode couldn’t be more perfect.
The intersection with the mythology is fairly straightforward. The writers had already revealed in “Momento Mori” that Scully’s abduction had been about providing genetic material and eggs for reproductive experiments. One aspect of those experiments involved the quick-growing of the “clones” like Kurt Crawford. But there were also many reproductive experiments involving genetic manipulation and forced evolution. This is the mythology-based foundation for the current story, which is in actuality tangential to the story itself.
This is actually about Scully’s questions of self-identity and life coming out of that cancer experience. Everything had been about a fight for meaning in her life, and towards that end, she found herself defining her existence in terms of Mulder’s vision. Now it doesn’t have to be that way, and Scully is discovering that it’s not so simple to take control of her life again. She’s not the same person that she was before Mulder, and her questions of belief and faith in “Redux II” find expression when she is given the chance to explore “extreme possibilities” on her own.
As one would expect, this is an episode overflowing with religious symbolism. Scully’s role on the series would eventually evolve into the “Holy Mother” personification (barren mother giving birth to the miracle child), so there’s something of an unintentional foreshadowing taking place in the teaser. Scully seems to be doing everything possible to keep her spirits high for the season, but she’s clearly thinking about everything that had been bothering her early in the fourth season: thoughts of motherhood.
In “Home”, among other episodes, Scully considered what the effects of her abduction might have on her ability to have children. As she would later discover, much to her shock and despair, was that the abduction left her barren. In essence, this was overshadowed by the threat to her very life, but with that passed, she has to deal with the fact that children are not in her future (or so it seems).
From the mythology perspective, it makes sense that Melissa would lead Scully on this personal journey into self-awareness and faith. Albert Hosteen helped Melissa cross over in “Paper Clip”, and as mentioned in the review for that episode, it seems likely that this had a purpose. This is where that purpose is realized; Melissa directs Scully along the path to discovery. Based on the phone call Scully receives, Scully uncovers an aspect of the mythology that would become incredibly important in her own life. In short, Scully needed to have this experience to prepare her for the difficult road ahead.
This being the “X-Files” version of Christmas, Scully’s personal ghost doesn’t send her on a simple retelling of Dickens’ old yarn. Instead, it’s a more complex and symbolic journey. Scully is led to a crime scene where a woman appears to have committed suicide. While there, Scully sees a little girl, and she’s immediately sympathetic. That’s not hard to understand; the girl just had her mother kill herself at Christmas. What kid wouldn’t look so mutely doleful in such a moment, after the hysterics have passed?
Scully’s first instinct is to call Mulder and consult with him, but she rather quickly realizes that she doesn’t need Mulder in this situation. For one thing, Mulder’s strength has never been spiritualism, and this is so clearly personal to Scully that it would be intrusive for Mulder’s typical methods to be employed. Scully must sense, on some level, that she must do this herself. Never mind that bringing Mulder into this situation would place her at odds with her family at the worst possible time.
Without really knowing it, Tara guts Scully by making it sound like motherhood is the beginning of any woman’s true existence. Tara is not exactly the smartest cookie in the world, but it’s hard to imagine how she could miss the obvious. It’s not like Scully’s health status is the only indicator; certainly Scully’s history (as discussed in this episode, at least) is fairly sparse in terms of romantic prospects. So it’s an insensitive thing for Tara to say regardless. But Scully’s reaction is plain as day, and sure enough, her mother notices. Forced to admit the one thing that’s dominating her thoughts, Scully tries to deny the depth of her pain and need.
It’s sometimes taken as a given that Scully’s dream sequences are meant to be true memories, akin to the visions of Dickens’ immortal tale. That may not be the case. After all, Melissa has already communicated to her sister to begin a process, and Scully’s dreams continue to force her down that path. Her first dream is something of a warning: it’s possible to love something so much, to shelter it from some other threat, that it dies in the process. While Scully isn’t responsible for what happens to Emily in the next episode, Scully’s dream is reminding her that not everything can be saved.
Matters get complicated when Scully decides, with somewhat predictable results, to visit Mr. Sim in the middle of the night. She really doesn’t know what’s going on, so it’s inadvisable to the extreme. What’s worse is that Mr. Sim seems to think that telling Scully that he’s in the middle of a “meeting”, at 2-3AM, is going to make sense. Obviously, it doesn’t. The usefulness of this scene, in the scheme of things, is as an indicator to Scully’s emotional and mental discomfort. Even before she forms a theory, something is telling her to act, and she doesn’t really understand it.
The writers do take some liberties to get the story moving. Those dream sequences with the mixed messages are an example. So is the scene between Detective Kresge and Scully the morning after her midnight walk to the Sims residence. There’s really no reason why Kresge would bother entertaining Scully’s whim (other than the fact she’s insistent and so very attractive when slightly disheveled). There’s certainly no reason why he would let her “borrow” evidence.
In a Mulderesque leap, Scully compares the picture of Emily to a picture of Melissa at a roughly similar age. Sure enough, the pictures match. Scully quickly learns that Emily is an adopted child. It’s not hard to imagine why Scully would make a few assumptions based on that information, given that Melissa keeps calling her. At this point, Scully’s dream perspective shifts, and she begins identifying with Emily, which serves to reinforce her determination to figure out what’s really happening.
It goes without saying that Scully’s activities disrupt her plans with her family. Bill in particular is less than pleased, and it’s not hard to understand why. Scully was more than willing to let work (and therefore Mulder) take priority when she was dying. Bill blamed that on Mulder himself, which was a bit of a simplification of the true dynamic. The last thing Bill wants to see is Scully working through her vacation; he wants to believe that she’s capable of living a normal life. (Ironically, that ship has, by this point, long since sailed!)
Scully trusts her intuition more than ever as she follows the evidence of dreams and Melissa’s spiritual goading. It’s unclear whether or not she comes up with her murder theory based on the evidence alone or those other sources. Certainly it seems like a bit of a leap, despite some of the hints and contrivances earlier in the episode. Whatever the case, Scully cites a couple of interesting and relevant pieces of evidence to support her claim, which demonstrates how far Scully has come.
But as right as Scully might be, there’s the open question of her motivation. She seems to take it very personally that Mr. Sim might have killed his wife. It gets to the point where she’s ordering the local law enforcement around, despite the clear questions of authority. She wants to believe that there’s a connection between Melissa and the child so that she can justify her need for a connection with Emily.
The conversation between Scully and her mother is interesting beyond the family dynamics. One could easily believe, based on Melissa’s introduction in “One Breath”, that she had been something of a wild child, off on her own for months or years at a time. While some minor aspects of the continuity don’t come together, the Scully family dynamic is entirely consistent. What’s more interesting is Ma Scully’s hint that she also has some kind of latent psychic ability.
A lot of fans claim that the dream sequence in which Melissa and Dana get identical cross necklaces is a violation of continuity. Scully previously told Mulder that she received it on her 15th birthday. But for all that the writers are playing on Scully’s past as prologue to her present, these are still dream sequences. Events are dictated by psychological and spiritual need, not strict matters of memory and experience. Scully is laying the foundation of the relationship between herself and Emily; it’s as much about her receiving as it is about her giving. This is the point of the scene in which Scully gives Emily her cross necklace; Scully transitions from being the daughter to being a mother, at least in her own mind’s eye.
One of the connections to the mythology rears its ugly head when payments to Mr. Sim are discovered, coming from a pharmaceutical firm. It doesn’t take much to realize that Emily’s treatments are connected to the conspiracy; indeed, as the next episode would clearly indicate, Emily is hardly the only such “lab rat”. What’s interesting about this is the logical conclusion: the conspiracy involves at least one adoptive parent in the process of evaluating and experimenting on the genetically engineered children.
Scully’s maternal psychology is far afield of normal, even taking into consideration her recent health crisis. Scully needed Melissa to be the probably mother for Emily so she could justify her psychological connection to the child. As Melissa’s sister, she can justify stepping into the role that her sister presumably refused. Bill is there to bring Scully back to some semblance of reality, even if he’s not working with all the information (as usual).
Then again, neither is Scully. She uncovers the fact that someone was using the Sims and Emily for some unknown purpose, but she doesn’t make the conclusion that ought to be easy enough to make. She still holds on to the possibility of Melissa’s presumed pregnancy, even after Bill provides clear evidence of its impossibility. She needs to have that connection for her own psychological comfort.
Of course, it all comes down to Scully’s highly unlikely meeting with Child Services representative. All the clear and simple reasons why Scully should not be a mother, especially on a seeming whim during a delicate time in her life, are laid out for the audience. It’s hard to watch Scully react to the logic, because one is forced to agree, despite the sympathy Scully invokes. Scully might eventually make a good mother, but looking back on the past few years with Mulder, it’s rather obvious how terrible a choice it would be for Scully to adopt. (If only the writers had considered as much when they eventually made Scully pregnant in later seasons!)
Emily’s health condition is a bit of a cheat, even if it does work well in terms of the mythology. It makes it clear, right from the beginning, that Emily’s days are numbered. The whole metaphor of the Christmas miracle child is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that Emily wouldn’t be around very long anyway. It gets the writers off the hook because they can have their cake and eat it too. They get to take Scully on this important psychological journey, yet they also get to bring those issues to a quick and relative close by the end of the next episode.
The conversation between Scully and Melissa could fit within the continuity if it were necessary. But it actually works well if viewed as Melissa’s spirit trying to tell Dana something vital about her own life. Scully may not believe in fate, which makes sense in context with her rejection of her psychic ability, but she has been given clear evidence that some degree of meaning lies beneath everything that has happened in her life. Mulder is at the center of her life now, which is exactly the point of that conversation; even meeting Mulder and becoming part of his world, suffering and all, has been part of someone else’s plan, some other fate.
The whole Christmas miracle theme, tied to the Holy Mother metaphor, comes together in the final scene. The episode ends as it must end, given all that has come before. Scully yearns to be a mother and needs for Emily to be Melissa’s birth mother so that she can step into the role psychologically without too much self-doubt. She just about brings herself to recognize what she’s been trying to do when the floor is ripped out from under her; she is, in fact, the biological mother.
This presents Scully with the typical double-edged sword: she gets exactly what she wants, but the circumstances are such that the likely outcome is far worse than the theoretical impossibility of motherhood. She began struggling with the reality of her barren condition and the conspiracy that made that happen. Now she’s face to face with her genetic daughter, a child who is dying for the very reason that Scully can be her genetic parent. One is left with the thought that Scully might have been better off if her journey had simply been psychological.
But this gives the writing staff the chance to play on some religious metaphors in the same vein as the “Gethsemane” trilogy. Where Mulder was portrayed as something of a Christ figure in that part of the mythology arc, Scully is here portrayed as the Holy Mother (though clearly not a virgin!). This is hardly the last time this would happen, and taken in retrospect, this season is where the two concepts are introduced for later exploration. Scully is figuratively the Holy Mother in this episode; in the later seasons, she would become a modern incarnation of Mary in several respects.
In a lot of ways, this is the kind of episode that the writers should have attempted more often. One cannot help but recognize that the series was weakened by the somewhat erratic treatment of the main characters. Sometimes they were treated like icons, stuck within a strict portrayal; far less often, the characters would be given a more substantial personality. What could the series have been if this kind of episode were the norm?
SCULLY: “It’s OK…I just never realized how much I wanted it until I couldn’t have it.”
SCULLY: “I don’t understand. I mean…I think I have the right to know why you’re rejecting my application.”
MELISSA: “Just don’t mistake the path for what’s really important in life.”
SCULLY: “Which is what?”
MELISSA: “The people you’re going to meet along the way. You don’t know who you’re going to meet when you join the FBI. You don’t know how your life is going to change, or how you’re going to change the life of others.”
BILL: “What are you trying to say?
SCULLY: “According to this…I’m Emily’s mother…”
Overall, this episode was an interesting and uncommon in-depth look at Scully’s psychology. The writers rarely had such an opportunity, and along with Gillian Anderson, they run with the opportunity. The religious metaphor is a bit thick throughout, but this is actually a bit more subtle than would become the norm. Making the child sick works for the mythology, but in a lot of ways, it seems like a plot contrivance.
Final Rating: 8/10
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