Oubliette 3×8: I guess she’s not too big on confined spaces.


Flash Forward or Back?

Ah, “Oubliette.” I realize I should probably love this episode and yet… a knot formed in my stomach just as my thumb touched the play button.

That’s silly, I suppose. Here The X-Files takes a brave step forward by giving us an episode slightly outside its typical formula. But it’s not the formula that concerns me, it’s the tone.

Here we have a Monster of the Week who is perfectly human and decidedly not paranormal. Since the success of Donnie Pfaster in “Irresistible” (2×13) I’m sure the writers were itching to try it again, only this time they take it a step further in that Donnie Pfaster had at least a smidgen of paranormal aura. Whether it was all in Scully’s mind or not, at this point, we don’t know. This new villain, Carl Wade, is as typical an unsupernatural pedophile as he can be. The paranormal element is introduced in his victims instead, the currently kidnapped Amy Jacobs and Lucy Householder, his former victim.

We open with something also against formula when we see Mulder already at the crime scene without so much as a strand of Scully’s titian hair in sight. It becomes clear quickly that this one is Mulder’s story. The parallels are obvious: Amy Jacobs was taken from her bed at night and spirited out the window while her little sister looked on from the other bed helpless to stop it. This sounds strikingly similar to Mulder’s account of Samantha’s abduction that we heard in “Conduit” (1×3), another episode where Mulder’s ability to relate to the case is both his strength and his weakness.

We’ve already seen in “Conduit”, “The Jersey Devil” (1×4) and even “3” (2×7) that Mulder has a soft spot for any “little girl lost” that stems from the scars of Samantha’s abduction. Even Scully agrees with me:

Scully: You don’t see what you’re doing, do you, Mulder? You are so close to this that you just don’t see it.
Mulder: What don’t I see?
Scully: The extreme rationalization that’s going on, your personal identification with the victim, or in this case the suspect. That you’ve become some kind of empath yourself, Mulder. You are so sympathetic to Lucy as a victim, like your sister, that you can’t see her as a person who is capable of committing this crime.
Mulder: You don’t think I’ve thought of that? I have. And not everything I do and say and think and feel goes back to my sister. You, of all people, should realize that sometimes motivations for behavior can be more complex and mysterious than tracing them back to one single childhood experience.

Oh, Mulder. Methinks thou doth protest too much. While I know Mulder’s right about the case, I agree with Scully. Even if he were wrong, Mulder would have a terrible time admitting that Lucy was guilty. He clearly identifies with her because of Samantha, so I don’t know who he thinks he’s kidding. He didn’t even bother to deny it in “Conduit” and I don’t know why he does here. It’s an interesting element to his character that he’s constantly trying to save all the other “Samanthas” out there since he hasn’t been able to save his own. The problem is, I’m rarely interested in the women he’s attempting to help.

Lucy Householder isn’t an exception to that rule. Mulder is going to bat for this woman and it’s hard not to feel like she doesn’t deserve it. Of course, she does, but it doesn’t feel like it. Here’s a woman that may not be living a perfect life but she’s living. And considering all that she’s been through you’d think there’d be some spark of fire in her, something that’s kept her going all these years but there’s nothing. I can see Scully’s irritation at her attitude and I find myself having the same reaction. Maybe as a woman I have a harder time seeing her as a damsel in distress.

What bothers me most is that Lucy is so devoid of hope. A woman used to believing she’s powerless. She couldn’t help herself when she was kidnapped and kept prisoner for years, she can’t help herself now in her dead-end life, why would she be able to help anyone else? Even her final sacrificial act isn’t one of empowerment but of defeat. She dies not to save Amy, but because it’s not worth it to fight anymore. That’s what Mulder is trying to explain to Scully at the end of the episode: he didn’t save her at all, she gave up. “Finally, it was the only way she could escape.”

…And the Verdict is:

As good as the acting is in this episode, and it is good, and as good as the pacing and direction is, and it’s also good, I think part of the reason I dreaded having to watch it is because it’s no fun.

I should explain. Here’s what I don’t mean when I say “fun”: something that isn’t sad or something that’s humorous. It can be scary, meaningful, thoughtful, tearful even and still be “fun.” The Godfather II isn’t exactly an uplifting film but it’s one of the most fun movies in existence. I can’t help but get excited about it.

“Oubliette” is emotionally almost oppressive. It’s not that it’s dark the way The X-Files typically is as far as its subject; not that kidnapping and pedophilia isn’t a dark topic, but this is a show that’s covered child murder and entity rape so I think its audience isn’t afraid to “go there.” No, it’s not the subject that bothers me it’s the tone and the outcome. There’s nothing to balance out the sadness and despair. Is there a single joke or sarcastic line in this episode? Any brief moment of levity?  There’s just nothing to get excited about, nothing funny or scary or otherwise.

Mulder tries to reach Lucy, to gift to her some of his strength, but he fails. Thank heavens Mulder is a Mulder and not a Lucy. The X-Files would be a very different place if he were a despairing rather than proactive individual. Heck, we wouldn’t have a hero.

Maybe this is an episode where my worldview gets too far in the way for me to appreciate it. I’m too hopeful a cynic.

C+

Nagging Questions:

That was some bogus CPR Scully pulled. But I suppose they can’t fit the truth in a 43 minute episode: they would have worked on that child for an hour.

Random Thoughts:

I didn’t mention Jewel Staite. Imagine my surprise when I looked her up for this episode and found out she’s become a star. Apparently everyone knows her from Firefly and Stargate Atlantis. Me, I remember fondly a little show on The Disney Channel called Flash Forwardhttp://youtu.be/LNVE9HWUxiE

Best Quotes:

Myra Jacobs: Who could do such a thing? Who could take somebody that wasn’t theirs?
Mulder: I know you must be feeling…
Myra Jacobs: I’m sorry, but how could you really know how I feel?

——————-

Scully: That’s spooky.
Mulder: That’s my name isn’t it?

——————-

Mulder: Have you ever experienced temporary blindness before?
Lucy Householder: I’ve probably experienced just about everything once or twice. It’s all been pretty temporary.

——————-

Scully: I hate to say this Mulder, but I think you just ran out of credibility.

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31 responses to “Oubliette 3×8: I guess she’s not too big on confined spaces.

  1. I was really looking forward to hearing what you had to say about this one because truthfully I’ve always admired and respected it. I think this is going to be one I’ll disagree with you on Salome , I think this is probably the single most underrated episode of the entire nine season run, I admit, I’m glad the show isn’t like this every week and given how dark and real a lot of it feels I’m not surprised that the writer of the episode, Charles Grant Craig, never wrote for the series again, but I always thought Oubliette to be a well executed, brilliant hour of television. Uncomfortable yes, but extremely well done.

    Also, I loved your reading on that pivotal scene between Mulder and Scully when she brings him to book over his feelings on the case, but I actually always thought Mulder was telling the truth here, I don’t think he’s on Lucy’s side because of what happened to Samantha, I think he genuinely felt sorry for Lucy because she was a victim and he wanted to be one of the few people who would reach out to help her. If anything I always had a problem with Scully in this one, this is one of few episodes where her skepticism is actually a huge annoyance, that after three seasons she should be more respectful towards Mulder’s opinions and beliefs and that bringing up his sister was deeply insensitive of her, truthfully I always found it extremely satisfying when he shoots her down for even doing so.

    • I know it’s a critical favorite, and on one level I can understand it, but I can barely stand to actually watch it.

      But as far as Mulder, I have a hard time believing that he could not be affected emotionally and psychologically by a situation so similar to his own. It’s not that I think his motives are purely based on Samantha, but his sympathies and proclivities are the result of everything he’s experienced in life, including her abduction. He could never separate himself from it. And I think that’s why his compassion for Lucy is more pronounced than anyone else. He has a soft spot for women like her.

      And, oh, Scully. Why did they have to turn her into a nag?? I actually didn’t get into that much, but it’s like de-evolution with her character and she just reverted back to the way she was in Conduit.

  2. I think you make a good point about Scully by the way. She is a nag in this one and I genuinely had difficulties with her in this one, in a way that I rarely do, I always wondered whether or not this was a deliberate thing on the part of the writers or just down to Charles Grant Craig’s not having a good handle on how to write her, same goes for the CPR scene at the end, I mean, surely a doctor wouldn’t give up as quickly as that?

    Also, I admire the tone. Yes, I wouldn’t want to see the show like this every week, but I admire the bravery of it attempting it and personally I think they handled it well.

    Two more things. Yes, I agree, it’s very easy to get excited about The Godfather Part II, truly great movie and second, thanks to this review, I now know the meaning of the word titian. I Didn’t before, but I do now.

    • ROFL!! I’m glad I could help further your education. Sometimes I forget that not everyone obsessively read/watched Anne of Green Gables as a child — she’s where I get such ridiculous words from. ^^

      I do agree that they were brave to even try it, I give them kudos for that. And really, they did a good job. It’s just not my idea of an evening’s entertainment. It doesn’t help that this is one of Scully’s worst episodes. I don’t think it was purposeful, but I’m starting to notice that in earlier seasons they had problems with developing one character at the expense of another… at least when it came to Mulder and Scully. Often when one of them shined, the other is a ball of frustration.

  3. Well, at least you’re using words that exist. At first I thought you’d made up another word to go with unpurse.

  4. I also think this is one of the best episodes in S3. The empathy Mulder has with Lucy makes this special. His ability to do this is what makes him a great profiler. Watching him solve this case, while everyone else is running in the wrong direction, is what I like about watching the X-Files.

    • I enjoy Mulder’s inexplicable intuitiveness too, but it’s nice to see Scully get a chance once in a while and she has a good one coming up soon!

      • Mulder and Scully are not much of a team in this episode, but I think that adds to the tension of the show. Is Mulder really cracking-up? Scully seems to think so.

  5. george fowler

    pink elephant in the room: isn’t the actress who plays Lucy in a season 9 episode? Audrey Something or something…. playing a similar character?

  6. Sorry – this is just a niggling thing – the villain I’m pretty sure is Carl Wade, not John. The proofreader in me won’t let me read and just move on like other, normal people! 🙂

  7. I feel like if you took away that psychic connection dimension, this would be a Law & Order SVU episode. I do enjoy the cases where Mulder gets in too deep and has that kind of connection though – on one hand it’s touching and on the other it’s sad, given Mulder’s past. Overall I think this episode is a total departure from pretty much the whole series. That being said, I still think it’s pretty good.

  8. what great comments on this episode! Like Eamon, above, I really enjoyed this episode. well, maybe not ‘enjoyed’, but appreciated maybe. i totally respected the tone of this ep, just showing how sometimes you can find the dark humor in a dark place, and sometimes, in that dark place there is only an emptiness.
    i agree with the comments above, how frustrating it was that Scully was such a skeptic in this ep (especially after the previous few episodes where the M&S team is getting fundamentally stronger). however, i really appreciate what Scully says at the end of the episode, how Mulder was part of the connection between Amy and Lucy, so she does almost admit that his ‘psychic connection’ theory held merit, almost an apology for being so distant on this one.
    just curious – how often do we see Mulder cry? that scene is pretty moving – it definitely made me think of Mulder’s search for his sister, in that failing to give Lucy the strength she needed, he just might not be able to find the strength to find/save his sister.
    also, there is just something about that last camera shot, looking through the door, Scully sitting on the bed facing toward us, head down, and Mulder facing away, searching through the blinds… just a great shot. to me it shows that as close as Mulder & Scully are getting, there is still something there, in the way in between them (Mulder’s sister issue?)… i cant remember what happens next (on to “Nisei” now :)) but if feels like a bit of a divide between M&S coming up?

    • Now I’m mentally counting Mulder’s tears… I know he cried in Conduit, One Breath, Oubliette, Gethsemene and Redux (same scene spread out), Redux II, The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati (in the dream sequence), Sein Und Zeit, The Truth… dang. I shouldn’t be able to do that from memory. I need to get out more.

      I’m sure there are others but they’re not coming to me at the mo’.

      And there’s definitely more tension in store for Mulder and Scully. It’s coming up quite soon. Season 3 is odd in that they’re both closer than ever yet more aware of their divisions. They definitely pull away from each other in some ways this season, as if both of them needed to find their independence and identity apart from each other again.

  9. Again, great comments. I thought the episode had a tone of dispair that mirrors Mulder’s emotions connected to his sister. He didn’t try very hard to convince Scully of his theory involving the 2 kidnap victims, he just tried to save them. He played the lone wolf which says to me that he’s not ready to totally trust Scully with his deepest feeling. Not only is he pushing her away he’s intentionally leaving her out.
    You’re right, there is no balance of happy/sad in this episode. Mulder’s memories of his sister are all laden with sadness also.
    The unspoken understanding between Mulder and Scully is missing here.

  10. Salome, where are you girlfriend? I miss your posts, and I miss you!

    It’s interesting to read your take on this episode. Yeah, it’s kind of a downer with Lucy’s death, but I actually enjoyed this one. Sure, Scully is under-utilized, but Mulder’s understanding patience with Lucy is so admirable it more than makes up for it, IMHO.

  11. Pingback: Season 3, Episode 8 – Oubliette | The X-Files Truth Podcast

  12. I know I’m really late to respond to these reviews, but can I first say that I really love them. You are one of the best X Files “reviewers” out there. I don’t know if you’re even writing back to comments or are even on this website anymore, but I thought I would type this for the people who read your reviews.

    I will never forget this episode for this reason…I was watching X Files on Netflix with my mom and this episode came up. I saw the title, ‘Oubliette’ and said “I KNOW WHAT THAT WORD MEANS!” And so my mother asked me to explain it. I find it so strange that Mulder nor Scully nor anyone else ever mentions this word in the episode (to my knowledge), considering it fits it perfectly!

    “Oubliette” is French for ‘dungeon,’ and it can also be connected to another French word, “Oublier,” which means ‘forget.’ In other words…forgotten dungeon. (I’m sorry if my French is not entirely correct, I have never studied it) Anyway, an Oubliette was a medieval torture chamber in which prisoners were thrown into a room below the floor. This room had no windows and the only door/way out was the very door that leads to the room. High above in the ceiling. The prisoners were then left there and intentionally forgotten about. Most, if not all, died from starvation or from going mad.

    Being the history freak that I am, I just found it really cool that I knew the word. Though, I did kind of give away what it was going to be about before the episode even started 😦

  13. I definitely agree that S3 was the season where Mulder and Scully’s teamwork began to fall apart. I had mixed feelings towards both characters in this episode, even though I liked this episode in general. Scully did jump the gun when she involved the other authorities (notably in the failed arrest scene), and her suspicions toward Lucy wound up being incorrect. At the same time, I felt sympathy for Scully because Mulder (yet again) ditched her, and ditched her in favor of another woman. It should have been Mulder and Scully together in the basement, not Mulder emerging holding Lucy close. His personal feelings were a huge factor in this case, though they usually (and this one was no exception) serve him well in making connections and helping the victims as best he can. I definitely could see how Mulder saw his sister Samantha in Lucy, no doubt. While I think it was really good that he tried to reach out to her, I disliked the way he – as usual – pursued the connection at the expense of his connection with Scully. He tends to exclude Scully when he gets into these intense connections with other women. Knight In Shining Armor syndrome.

  14. 1) I agree that this episode is not fun. And not even in the horror movie kind of way. I watch lots of movies with similar plots as this episode, so I can appreciate the grim atmosphere and subject matter. But I just find this episode to be thoroughly frustrating.

    2) I disagree with Scully about Mulder’s sister though. It obviously was about Mulder’s sister, because that’s apparently the way it was written (contrived, and forceful, and too on the nose are also ways that it was written), but it didn’t feel to me like it was really about Mulder’s sister, from Mulder’s perspective, so I have to come down on his side in that argument.

    3) Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t put more of an emphasis on Mulder and Scully fighting in this episode, but I guess that just goes to show that there are more problems with it than just that. I honestly think this episode is best forgotten.

    • “It obviously was about Mulder’s sister, because that’s apparently the way it was written (contrived, and forceful, and too on the nose are also ways that it was written)”

      I just came here to LOL.

  15. Pingback: Sein Und Zeit 7×10: If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. | Musings of an X-Phile

  16. Pingback: Audrey Pauley 9×13: You’re not giving up, are you? | Musings of an X-Phile

  17. I found it quite contrived how Lucy was tagged as a suspect just because she had Amy’s blood on her. She was at work at the time of the crime and her co-workers and others clearly saw that she didn’t have any blood on her until she had a nosebleed and collapsed. Strange and inexplicable as it was how she had Amy’s blood come out her nose, there was no need for the heavy handed way the principal agent with Scully in tow went after Lucy.

    Then there’s Scully’s skepticism. I know it’s the shows theme (Scully the skeptic to balance out Mulder the believer) but damn it Scully by now has seen too much and Mulder’s has been proven right too often for her to dismiss his theories so readily. Scully should have gone to bat for Mulder against the other FBI agent. And it was annoying how soon Scully gave up on Amy’s CPR, especially after how she was relentless in her efforts to save her former lover in “Lazarus.”

    • This is *not* one of Scully’s better episodes. I find her downright irritating in this one. And it really doesn’t make sense that they wouldn’t look for another explanation for Amy’s blood being on Lucy.

      Also, CPR on TV and in movies always bothers me. Someone young and healthy especially, they keep going until they’re sure they can’t get them back. No one gives up after 20 seconds.

  18. Did anyone else notice, in the scene where Lucy starts to cough & Mulder helps her into the car, I’m pretty sure the actress playing Lucy knocks her head on the car door. I wouldn’t have noticed, but Duchovny reacts to it by jerking his own head up.

    I don’t mind this episode, but I agree regarding the distance b/n Mulder & Scully. Also, although I understand Mulder’s connection with Lucy, his breaking into tears next to her dead body seems too extreme a reaction from him. I’ve never felt quite right about it. Seems rather maudlin. Also, Lucy seems to forget pretty quickly that she doesn’t like to be touched. I don’t like to be touched & Mulder is one touchy-freely guy, I would expect her to cringe away from it more. She does once & then nothing. Inconsistent. Not that anyone can fault a woman for not minding Mulder touching her, but with her issues, I can’t see it suddenly being ok.

    • I think that’s where the disconnect is – Mulder alienating himself from Scully in order to protect a woman who his emotional connection to seems exaggerated and forced.

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