Written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Kim Manners
In which Scully’s attempt to gain custody of Emily forces Mulder to reveal what he knows about the experiments that led to the child’s creation, while both search for a cure to save her...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
After a rare example of character exploration in “Christmas Carol”, the writers returned to the typical fare for mythology episodes in the second half. In a number of ways, this is a sequel to “Momento Mori”, in which many of the consequences of Scully’s abduction are given new and more psychologically damaging forms. It’s not enough that Scully can’t have children, thanks to the tests, but her genetic material is being used for more than just generating new clone workers for the conspiracy.
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”.
As outlined in the review for “Herrenvolk”, the conspiracy had a three-phase plan for the genetic alteration of the human race into an artificially evolved form. “Phase II” was the use of abducted men and women for the purposes of gathering genetic material, and then using extracted ova in the attempt to create a biological analogue to the nanotech that was developed during “Phase I” for the creation of “super soldiers”.
The point of this episode is to underscore the fact that embryos and fetuses were being engineered, implanted into human test subjects, and then experimented upon to determine if which alterations would generate the desired result. Finding the right genetic alteration was only part of the equation; working out how reproductive biology should be altered to “naturally” result in the desired genetic alterations was a different story.
Emily represents a point very close to the end of “Phase II”. She is, in the end, a failed test subject. In essence, Cassandra Spender would eventually be the test subject that gives the conspiracy the answer they need; “Phase II” then shifts focus to altering women’s biology to produce these “hybrids” (thus, Scully’s experiences in seasons 8 and 9). The conspiracy believes in later seasons that William is the culmination of their efforts; Emily is a precursor to that end, even if the writers were unaware of it at the time.
This overall theme of history repeating itself is closer to the concepts of “Never Again”. Scully’s tattoo in that episode is once again reflected. Scully sees herself as falling, once again, into a state of isolation and loneliness. For those keeping track, she is still keeping Mulder at a certain distance emotionally, even if he’s filling one of Scully’s traditional “authoritative father figure” roles. Scully doesn’t seek solace from Mulder; she sees herself as ultimately being alone in this ordeal. (Again, this is not unlike the situation that occurs, quite against Scully’s desire, in the later seasons.)
Mulder looks like he’s incredibly uncomfortable in this episode, but that’s exactly what one would expect of a man who has made Scully and her emotional stability a major personal priority. Mulder reacts much as he did in “Momento Mori”; pushing Scully when it’s necessary, but in the end, acting to what he perceives as being in her best interests. (Why else would he do that “Mr. Potato Head” thing?)
Now aware of the situation, Mulder has every reason to think that Scully is in danger. He also has more than enough information to know that Emily is part of the conspiracy’s experiments, though he cannot understand the full complexity of “Phase II” at this point (indeed, he never really would). He only knows that Emily is the product of experiments by the conspiracy using Scully’s extracted eggs. The answer must inevitably lie in the knowledge of what Emily was meant to be, and therefore, what efforts were devoted to make that happen.
That’s not what Scully is looking for, however. In a way, Scully is using Mulder in the same manner that he often uses her: a means of validating a personal agenda. She assumes that Mulder will back her completely, because of course, she’s not thinking clearly through much of the episode. Mulder, on the other hand, gets to play the role that Scully normally plays by bringing in information that might complicate Scully’s case but needs to be addressed. It places them at odds to certain extent, but if Mulder didn’t care so damn much, he wouldn’t bother.
Continuity issues aside (and the writers really mess up in this episode), Mulder’s explanation for Emily’s existence and Scully’s peculiar brand of motherhood is a real treat. Clearly, the court is correct in pointing out how crazy it sounds, and yet to many fans of the series, it was a bit redundant and obvious. It just goes to show how quickly the unusual and insane can begin to sound normal and logical.
To her credit (and to the credit of their relationship), Scully doesn’t get angry with Mulder over his selective disbursement of information. If it had been anyone else, would Scully have been so understanding? After all, what Mulder knows is incredibly personal. How else could Scully react to the fact that her medical and reproductive history is so freely available? Mulder is the one person who can understand her the most at this point, in terms of trust, so getting angry with him would be pointless.
One is left to assume that Melissa once again sent Scully to Emily’s side. There’s a lesson in play there, but it’s somewhat lost in the midst of so much rehashing of the mythology. Is it meant to personalize the stakes of the conspiracy’s Project even more for Scully? Or is it more psychological than that? Scully needs to have her eyes opened to a wider reality, and this experience demonstrates to her, once again, that there are forces in play beyond the conspiracy itself.
Emily’s medical condition is more than just a means of attaching a deadline to Mulder’s frantic search for clues to the scope of the reproductive experiments. It’s also a way to communicate to the audience the nature of the genetic alterations themselves. The cyst on the back of the neck is clearly the same kind of organ that resides in the same location within the clones and the “hunters”, who have the more perfected biology. Dr. Calderon’s treatments were designed, it seems, to regulate and study, under controlled conditions, the growth of the biological nanotech circulatory system in combination with normal human tissue.
It’s such an obvious connection to make that it seems foolish that Mulder would fail to warn the medical staff until the absolute last moment. But it does give the writers a way to tie the effects of the retrovirus from “The Erlenmeyer Flask” onward to this episode, unifying that aspect of the mythology. (Similarly, this identical nature makes it necessary to establish two distinct and opposing forces with identical biology, thanks to “Colony” and “Endgame”.)
One aspect of the episode that doesn’t quite gel is the struggle for authority over Emily’s care. Surely the situation is plain enough that Scully’s participation cannot be determined as the prevailing factor in Emily’s chances of survival. It seems designed to show how far Scully will go in the hopes of preserving something that the conspiracy has taken away from her, no matter how impossible the task. But it doesn’t come across very well, and it doesn’t mesh with the mythology-heavy nature of the story, either.
The biological nanotech circulatory system is tied directly into the nervous system. This makes sense if that genetically engineered system is designed to allow a person to change appearance and heal quickly. The organ attached to the brain stem would make many of the “advanced” functions of the nanotech autonomic, while leaving higher-order functions to connections with the cortex. Of course, that kind of adaptive biology is not capable with normal human tissue; the experiment was apparently geared towards introducing the genetic roadmap for creating the nanotech system in the hopes that natural infant development would force the human biology to adapt.
So what is the nature of the treatment itself? One can assume that the conspiracy is aware of the tests, under the impression that the goal is still creating the better soldier to defeat the future invasion of Purity. The fact that Purity is, in fact, a future iteration of the same retroviral nanotech (a carrier for a malevolent non-corporeal intelligence) is unknown to the conspiracy itself, but critical to understanding the plot. Emily is a failure in certain terms, but in essence, the nanotech itself is invasive. Calderon’s treatment could very well be a prototype version of the Syndicate’s vaccine. The effect seems to bear that out: while she’s on the treatment, the nanotech’s presence is contained. As would soon become obvious, the transition to the Purity form involves a much more difficult challenge, the solution of which is essentially the creation of Purity itself. (Scully’s theme works for Cancer Man’s doomed crusade, too!)
There’s a recurring theme of using the elderly as test subjects themselves. They were used to test the effects of a “docile” form of Purity in “Terma”, where those infected apparently could never be cured. In this case, the elderly are used as incubators for the genetically engineered fetuses. This brings up an interesting point, of course: how is the conspiracy dealing with the problem of infection by the “mother”, when the child must inevitably be passing on some of the retrovirus?
One aspect of the plot that makes no sense at all is Kresge’s presence at the nursing home. Why would he show up there? Sure, he was probably looking for Calderon, but if so, why react to Mulder as if he were a criminal? Wouldn’t Scully be able to describe Calderon and mention that Mulder was also looking for him? It seems a bit too convenient, designed to ensure that Kresge can mistakenly shoot “Calderon” and be infected.
For that matter, given how Mulder remembers so much else about the “alien” biology, it’s a bit hard to believe that he would simply ignore the fact that Kresge walks right out of the building after he watches the cop drill “Calderon” and release the retrovirus! It’s the kind of scene that makes no sense at all and actually casts a bad light on the entire episode.
In the end, of course, Scully is left with the fact that Emily cannot be saved, and that the conspiracy has once again stolen something from her that it had no right to take. Worse, it is now beyond clear that the conspiracy will happily create a child that will painfully suffer to achieve its own ends. It sends a message about the difference between heroes and villains. The Syndicate and their associates are focused on their own survival and selfish interests, and thus their efforts bring humanity to an untimely end. Mulder and Scully, though sometimes selfish, sacrifice nearly everything, often with no conception that they would become the parents of humanity’s heirs.
This episode closes by harkening back to the religious metaphor of the Holy Mother. The funeral scene is incredibly well done, especially in the sense that most of the characters don’t know what to do. Ma Scully seems to be resigned with the fact that her family’s world is never going to be the same, while Bill looks like he’s never going to invite Scully to visit ever again. It’s entirely appropriate that Mulder is the one to remain.
Duchovny’s performance in the final scene is nearly perfect. Who wouldn’t react in that exact same way to the unending grief of one’s closest friend? Scully retrieves her golden cross with a sense of wonder, and Anderson’s expression is that of one tested by God, seeking understanding and the comfort of faith. In fact, the scene is so strong in terms of the subtext and depth of characterization that the viewer can’t help but damn the fact that the episode that follows will simply pretend it never happened.
After such a strong first half, focusing on Scully to near-exclusion of all else, the switch to a focus on the mythology is a bit disappointing. It’s also makes it hard to hold onto some of the plot elements that were so important to the first half. Here Kresge feels like an intrusion instead of a vital part of the tale, and Scully’s connection to Emily isn’t quite so mystical in its quality. In a way, it’s Mulder’s presence that steals away some of what made the story unique. Mulder doesn’t uncover anything new, and if the episode had remained focused on Scully, it would have made the entire arc more intimate.
As it stands, however, it leaves Scully with a number of things to think about. Scully found it hard to resist a reversion to skepticism after Melissa’s murder; her own restoration was also a restoration of faith. Emily’s death, and the events that brought her to her “daughter” at the end, were outside of her faith and yet firmly a part of something inherently spiritual. This episode marks another step on Scully’s journey; even if she continues to resist the process, it’s clear that she can no longer truly deny that her perception is changing.
MULDER: “Have you ever seen Mr. Potato Head? He looks like this!”
SCULLY: “I can protect her, too.”
MULDER: “Yeah…but who’s going to protect you?”
MULDER: “Well, if you can show me a legal precedent, I’d like to see it…”
FROHIKE: “Any fetching young mothers there?”
MULDER: “I think you might have a shot here, Frohike.”
SCULLY: “Who are the men who would create a life whose only hope is to die?”
Overall, this episode was not as strong as the previous installment, largely due to the shift from in-depth character exploration to a rehashing of earlier elements of the mythology. Emily is a good plot device in terms of personalizing the conspiracy’s depredations just a bit more, but at times, it seems like the writers are victimizing Scully a bit more than necessary. Unlike the later mythology episodes, however, this one manages to avoid any unnecessary new elements.
Final Rating: 7/10
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