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.
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.
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 Forward… http://youtu.be/LNVE9HWUxiE
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.