This episode always satisfies me. Scully gets to play doctor. Mulder gets to play dumb. And Chris Owens gets to play Cigarette-Smoking Man in flashback again. What’s there to complain about?
It’s not a Fright File. It’s not meant to be scary, but it is meant to make you lean forward in your chair and I think it certainly succeeds at that. Temporary amnesia is a motif that’s been done, many, many times over in every kind of pop culture medium; television, movies, books, comics, etc. But since a sense of displacement and a lack of self-knowledge are endlessly disconcerting concepts, this theme can be replayed countess times without being as boring as it probably should be. In fact, The X-Files will tackle temporary amnesia again come “John Doe” (9×7).
This is one of the best in the category of “Mulder is an Impossibly Infuriating Idiot” episodes. For one thing, Mulder seems to make it his personal mission here to self-destruct. For another, this episode features one of his worst Scully-ditches ever when he leaves Scully stranded at his mother’s house in a highly awkward situation.
David Duchovny does a great job here dabbling in what Season 4 is famous for, angst. But I have to say, Scully is my favorite part of this episode. I love Scully when she’s like this: Mama Bear Mode. Mulder isn’t just legally innocent in her mind he is innocent and she won’t believe otherwise unless someone can show her a picture of him with a smoking gun in his hand. Even then, she’d think of some way to find him not responsible. She’s too loyal to willingly believe anything truly horrible of him or to allow anyone else to either and I dare say her fierceness only would have accelerated had The Powers That Be tried to go forward with Mulder’s prosecution. And when she’s a mere heartbeat away from putting a hurtin’ on Dr. Goldstein during that scene where she confronts him in the back of the police car? Golden. Now wonder he coughed up the information.
Speaking of coughing up the goods, we’ve already heard that Bill Mulder made the choice that Teena Mulder couldn’t make, the choice to give up Samantha to the Colonists rather than Mulder as a sort of living guarantee that he wouldn’t betray the project, a hostage, really. Now it looks like there was more to the story than just playing Eeny Meeny Miney Mo to decide which Mulder had to go. There was vague innuendo back in “Talitha Cumi” (3×24) that there may have been more history between Cigarette-Smoking Man and Teena Mulder than he and Bill. For those that need a refresher, here’s a clip from their conversation:
Teena Mulder: I have nothing to say to you.
Cigarette-Smoking Man: Really? We used to have so much to say to each other. So many good times at the Mulder summer place… your kids young and energetic. I remember water-skiing down there with Bill. He was a good water-skier, your husband. Not as good as I was but then… that could be said about so many things, couldn’t it?
Teena Mulder: I’ve repressed it all.
So is Mulder right when he accuses his mother of adultery? Did Cigarette-Smoking Man force Teena to give up Samantha because she was Bill Mulder’s child rather than his own? Is Mulder really a Mulder??
Was Samantha abducted by aliens or by men? Was she abducted for extraordinary reasons such as the survival of the human race, or for mundane ones like being born to an adulterous mother?
The questions raised in this episodes tie in nicely with the Season Finale coming up next. When we leave our hero at the end of “Demons”, he has no way of differentiating between the truth and the lies. With all the tinkering he’s done to his own mind through regression hypnosis and, er, other means, he can’t be sure that his own memories aren’t skewed beyond recognition. And a question for a future date, how does he know the memories he does have weren’t given to him through some nefarious purpose, a way of keeping him under control?
Frankly, this episode doesn’t give us any answers, only tantalizing suggestions that will shortly be exploited even further. Think of it as a primer of sorts. It does have some good news buried in it, however: At least Mulder can trust Scully when he can’t trust himself.
And the Verdict is…
“Demons” is the only episode Executive Producer R.W. Goodwin ever wrote though he directed quite a few, including the very next episode, the season finale, “Gethsemene” (4×24). Along with Special Effects Supervisor Mat Beck’s underappreciated “Wetwired” (3×23), I wonder very seriously why Chris Carter didn’t move more of the crew to the writing staff.
In a way, this set of episodes that ends Season 4 and begins Season 5 feels like a four-parter because starting with “Demons”, certain themes are continuous and one episode’s story arc flows into the next. In fact, I never watch “Gethsemene” without watching “Demons” first. It sets the mood.
Even though it’s technically separate, it’s emotionally tied to the three-part season finale/season premier. But is it a mythology episode? Well, it’s a character study. This is about Mulder and his past. And since his past is inexorably linked to the mythology… well, it’s mythology by default. Certainly, it presents information that will prove important to the mythology plot later on, but whether or not that information is true, whether or not Mulder’s memories are real, is a subject up for debate and that debate is about to come to the forefront of The X-Files very quickly.
Scully: [Voiceover] …but I am concerned that this experience will have a lasting effect. Agent Mulder undertook this treatment hoping to lay claim to his past, that by retrieving memories lost to him he might finally understand the path he’s on. But if that knowledge remains elusive and if it’s only by knowing where he’s been that he can hope to understand where he’s going, then I fear Agent Mulder may lose his course and the truths he’s seeking from his childhood will continue to evade him, driving him more dangerously forward in impossible pursuit.
Does anyone else love that moment when Dr. Goldstein invites Mulder and Scully to sit down and they both smirk at him and keep standing?
All I can think when I see Dr. Goldstein is, “Hey! It’s that dude from Men in Black!”
Season 4 may just have set a record for use of flashbacks.
This is why Scully shouldn’t drive: what a horrible parking job.
“It’s my risk,” he says? For shame, Mulder. Where’s the solidarity you demanded from Scully at the end of “Elegy” (4×22)? He’s not exactly spilling the beans to Scully about these colorful visions of his any more than she confessed to him, “I see dead people.”
Scully walks into the motel room and handles all these objects, a gun that’s been fired, a bloody shirt, that might be evidence of a crime, with her bare hands.
It’s really not clear why the abductees, or even Mulder, want to kill themselves. Are the memories just that painful? Why kill yourself just as you’re finally figuring your life out?
Mulder: I had those peoples’ blood on my shirt, Scully. I was missing for two days. I have no recollection of my actions during those two days. There were two rounds discharged from my gun. I had the keys to this house, the keys to their car. Do the words Orenthal James Simpson mean anything to you?
Mulder: What did you do to me?
Dr. Goldstein: I told you…
Mulder: You treated me. I asked you to treat me, to recover my past.
Dr. Goldstein: I did nothing wrong.
Mulder: You put a hole in my head!
Dr. Goldstein: A slight electrical stimulation…
Mulder: Triggered my memory.
Dr. Goldstein: Yes, as you had hoped.
Mulder: Now, I want you to finish the job.