Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Michael Watkins
In which Scully is temporarily reassigned to another agent for what seems like a routine case, but as the investigation proceeds, she begins to suspect something unusual is involved...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
While many of the writers manage to tell interesting stories, Vince Gilligan stands out as the one writer willing and able to handle the subtle changes in character evolution largely missing from episodes of “X-Files”. While most of the writers seemed to embrace the “iconic” versions of Mulder and Scully, Gilligan swam against the stream in “Drive” and this episode, exploring the new status quo in a logical manner, while also threading continuity into an exploration of Scully’s psychology.
At the end of the fifth season, Scully was ready to walk away. Having faced down death and the slow but steady loss of nearly everything in her life, she was forced to consider that Mulder had become her world. In “Fight the Future”, Scully made the choice to leave, but events stole that choice away. Now, she has spent months in career hell, suffering beside Mulder in one thankless task after another. So given the opportunity to step out on her own and pursue her self-interest, what would Scully do now?
This idea was touched upon in “Dreamland”, but Scully wasn’t ready to leave Mulder’s side to bow out gracefully. It was more a question of convincing him that the game was over and the time had come to find a new path. So the basic question of loyalty had been answered, however incompletely: Scully was determined to stick with Mulder. In similar fashion, “The Rain King” delved into her reasoning. For better or worse, the prospect of a life without Mulder was a thing of the past.
Part of that is Scully’s psychology. Scully seeks out a strong authority figure, someone with passion, and wants to be swept along on the whirlwind. If it’s a bit dangerous or unconventional, even better. Yet she will also recognize that such a pattern is not entirely healthy, and she will find a justification (even generate one of her own through rebellion) to exit the situation. This pattern is important because it makes one thing very clear: if the end of the fifth season was about recognizing the reasons not to stay with Mulder and his crusade, then the sixth season touches on Scully’s realization that all those reasons aren’t enough.
That may sound romantic, but from an objective point of view, it comes across as something like Stockholm Syndrome. Scully has become more and more isolated from everything else in her life, leaving Mulder and the cause. Mulder’s insistence that she is the one thing keeping him going could be interpreted as emotional blackmail. Whatever the case, even if the growing emotions are genuine, the relationship is far from healthy.
All of which points back to the central opportunity in this episode: Scully is given the chance to save her career and leave Mulder behind. It is essentially the opportunity she was ready to take a few months earlier. (Timeline considerations are hard to work out in the sixth season, but it’s at least five months.) Having dealt with Kersh and the constant reminders that Mulder is bad for her future, has time worn her down?
It doesn’t help that Kersh tosses her onto a case with an eager young agent like Ritter. Nor does it help that the case feels like a test. Did Cancer Man know that the case had certain elements that would appeal to Scully as similar to an “X-File”, and was she being tested to see if she would abandon Mulder? Considering that Cancer Man wants Mulder and Scully to be together, this apparent opportunity might have been a case of reverse psychology. Offer her a seemingly normal case, force her to work with an ambitious agent, and show her what it would be like to leave Mulder’s side.
If that theory holds water well enough, then it might be interesting to consider why Fellig was at the center of the case. If Cancer Man knew about Fellig and his apparent ability, which could be seen as an innate awareness of the nature of death itself, could he have wanted Scully to encounter Fellig? After all, Cancer Man had conspired to give Scully one of the more advanced control chips, which included the self-repairing aspects seen later in “En Ami”.
The suggestion of the story is that Fellig granted Scully a longer life by diverting death, thus granting her the same pseudo-immortality that he had been experiencing. And that certainly fits into the tease given in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”. But it’s also been shown that Scully bounced back from death under far more serious circumstances, including the events of “Fight the Future”. So why wouldn’t her faster-than-normal recovery be related, as an effect of the technology implanted in “Redux: Part II”?
It also makes thematic sense for Scully to be the one to encounter and deal with someone who has cheated death. Scully’s life has been filled with death, and yet she continues to escape it. If there is one thing missing from this episode, it’s more of Scully’s consideration of what death means to her relative to her faith. Has that changed since her experience with Emily? Having touched on entities that are spiritual in nature, can she accept the idea of a death figure? What does she think happened in that moment before she passed out?
With so much focus on Scully, Mulder is relegated to the background. Yet Gilligan uses what little time he has with the character to reveal some subtle (yet predictable) advancements. No matter where they stick Mulder, he continues to find ways to work on apparent X-Files, going so far as to break into Kersh’s E-mail. The very fact that he can do this suggests that the case is a set-up; why else would the conspiracy allow that hole to remain open for exploitation? But he also makes it clear that he won’t sit back and let Scully be taken away, which is a very consistent.
In terms of the mythology, one has to wonder if Fellig’s ability fits into the spiritual world of the “X-Files”, which has some fairly complex (if unwritten) rules. In general, it is completely consistent for a non-corporeal entity to be affecting the human population. One need only consider what “Closure” or “All Souls” brought to the table to recognize that. But Death itself? It just doesn’t fit very well, especially if death is depicted as a transition, not the result of predation.
On the other hand, what if some non-corporeal entity was feeding off the dying, and that was what Fellig saw? And what if Fellig had some small measure of the “sentinel” ability to live out an extended lifetime? It could be the intersection of those two unrelated elements, common within the mythology, that would lead Fellig to the assumption that Death had passed him over. Add the likelihood that Scully’s control implant kept her alive and accelerated her healing (a nice touch coming after the previous episode), and everything falls into place.
While this episode is ostensibly a stand-alone effort, it manages to delve into ongoing character evolution, peer into corners of the mythology, all while suggesting an ongoing manipulation by the conspiracy on several levels. Considering that this same level of multi-layered storytelling was last seen in “Drive”, the previous episode by Vince Gilligan, perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a pleasant surprise.
MULDER: “Don’t forget your toilet brush! No...no, ma’am, not you...”
RITTER: “Hey, I’m confused. I thought we were trying to bust this guy, not look for reasons to let him go.”
SCULLY: “I thought we were looking for the truth.”
RITTER: “Are we clear, Dana?”
SCULLY: “Scully…and we’re done with this conversation.”
SCULLY: “Mr. Fellig, I know that you know more about photography than I do, but this is just a lens flare.”
FELLIG: “You’re right. I do know more about photography than you do.”
Overall, this episode is a good combination of character and mythology exploration, all within a story that could have easily been a stand-alone episode without those important connections. The spotlight on Scully is definitely a plus, but the character insight doesn’t end there. In a season marked by a lack of continuity, this is a blessing.
Final Rating: 8/10
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