Revelations 3×11: You never draw my bath.


Confession time.

I was looking forward to watching “Revelations” with a fresh pair of grown up eyes, a pair I apparently didn’t posses when I last watched it as recently as eight months ago. But I confess some trepidation about what I’d actually have to say about it and worse, what it might say to me about the inconsistent spirituality of The X-Files. Funny that it turns out I’m in love with “Revelations” right at this moment. I say all this to explain why I’m about to go into a long and rambling treatise about an episode I never much cared for.

As the episode begins, we think we might be in for another dog and pony show along the lines of “Miracle Man” (1×17) where a church service in the Deep South bears a striking resemblance to an Elvis impersonator’s concert. Similarly, the Reverend (played by R. Lee Ermey) in the opening scene of “Revelations” has a dressing room complete with a stage mirror rather than an office. Even the cross in the sanctuary is a lit up set piece. Therefore it’s no surprise when the Reverend’s stigmata turns out to be no more than a staged play.

The last time The X-Files addressed religion it did it through what was largely a caricature. Not that it was wholly ineffective, but I suspect the writers consciously tried not to take the plot too deep so as not to offend either their religious or secular audience with philosophical meanderings. Consequently “Miracle Man” was less about faith as a conviction than it was a Christlike allegory run amok.  It did plant an intriguing seed, however, because that episode is when we learn that Scully was raised a Catholic and while she doesn’t appear to be practicing, she shows some spiritual sensitivity that we hadn’t seen from her up to that point.

And yet, except for that brief moment, the series has never explored why or if faith is still important to Scully; Scully, who always wears her cross but acts more as though science were her god. We never find out what it was that caused Scully to drift from the church, but we can imagine it was the usual. Growing self-reliance, doubts, the desire to fit in with the culture at large, complacency, the distractions of life… any number of factors could have culminated in Scully, not walking away from her faith, but forgetting about it over time.

Suddenly she finds herself confronted by realities she wasn’t sure if she still believed in. And the one person she can usually turn to in her vulnerability, Mulder, is shockingly unreceptive to Scully’s desire to believe. Mulder! Mr. There Isn’t So Ridiculous a Theory That I Won’t Shout it from the Rooftops! It’s a puzzle, that’s for sure. But it’s a nice change of pace, even so. It’s so rare that Mulder’s the skeptic and Scully’s the believer and I confess I relish the fact that his almost inerrant intuition is completely off base for once. Still, why is Mulder so resistant to the idea that these so-called religious fanatics could be right? It’s not that he’s completely adverse to religion. He was appreciative enough of Albert Hosteen’s ministrations in “The Blessing Way” (3×1) and was quick enough to believe in Eastern European cult religious practices in “The Calusari” (2×21). So what gives? Could it be that Christianity is the issue?

This is such a massive topic that I’m going to turn to a source far more clever than I to make my point. A few months back I discovered the amazing reviews over at The A.V. Club (www.avclub.com). It’s by geeks, for geeks so if you’ve never checked it out, please do. Every television show and movie worth watching, and many that aren’t, are reviewed over there so there are hours worth of entertainment for any nerdy little heart. Zack Handlen wrote a review there on “Revelations” from a self-described Mulderish point of view that I think perfectly explains why someone like Mulder would be more resistant to this case than to the average X-File:

I have a hard time lumping Christian faith in with the usual kind of x-files we see. I’m guessing that’s partly to do with the prejudice I mentioned earlier. To me, Christianity is different than monsters, and less fun. (Although I had no problems with “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” which approached the problem from the other direction, which shows you what side I’m playing on, I guess.) Guys who can squeeze into weird shapes, flecks of light that eat unwary lumberjacks, punk kids who can control lightning, these are all weird, but they don’t suggest a comprehensive philosophy. They’re anomalies, and even if their existence implies a potential for greater occult possibilities, that implication isn’t restrictive. There really isn’t a “squeeze guy, light flecks, lightning punk” Bible out there, and belief in any or all of these creatures doesn’t require a massive overhaul of one’s notion of existence.

Having proof there are angels and demons and God, though, that’s a lot trickier. If there’s a Christian God in the X-Files universe, doesn’t that trump just about everything else that Mulder and Scully have spent their time on? (Maybe that’s why Mulder’s so pissy about it. Nobody likes discovering their pet cause isn’t the shiniest.)

Yet, with all Mulder’s talk about belief and faith and this massive search for the truth, for The X-Files not to explore religion and Christianity itself would seem like a gross oversight. But this does explain why Chris Carter never honed these themes to a fine point. How could he? The answers to such a monumental question, if he feigned to have them, would certainly outshine any alien conspiracy… well, he does try to join the two concepts in Season 7… and then largely backs off because religion and space aliens are tough bedfellows.

This also explains the resistance of someone like Mulder even though his life motto is “I Want to Believe.” Like all of us, he wants to believe in something, just within certain parameters. I find it refreshingly realistic that Mulder is open in some ways and closed in others, just as Scully is except in the opposite direction. He’s willing to believe the word of psychotic abductees, why not a religious zealot? And Scully, she’s usually preaching to Mulder about the sanctity of evolution and yet she’s almost never without her cross. Isn’t that how most people are? Full of contradictions? We wouldn’t be human if we weren’t.

It’s not a perfect episode. The reason behind all of these spiritual machinations is never explained. There’s a war between good and evil but we never find out why Kevin is involved or what spiritual encounter Gates had in the Holy Land that turned him into a flesh burning assassin. There’s also some flawed theology but there’s no use in nitpicking because that’s not what this episode is about. Whatever its shortcomings, it ends with a haunting and quietly powerful impression:

Priest: Sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth. Why does that surprise you?
Scully: Mostly it just makes me afraid.
Priest: Afraid?
Scully: Afraid that God is speaking… but that no one’s listening.

…And the Verdict is:

Mulder claims to be looking for miracles, but maybe sometimes he doesn’t find them because he’s only looking through a particular paradigm; the way that Scully often doesn’t see the same evidence he sees when they’re investigating because she’s looking through the lens of science. Never have Mulder and Scully seemed so far apart in essence as they do in this episode. Not in an antagonistic way, but it’s apparent that there’s a chasm when it comes to religious faith that neither of them can cross to reach each other.

Faith in God is the one aspect of Scully’s character that’s not accessible to Mulder. Even her science he relates to on some level in that he needs it to prove what’s never been proven. But Scully’s talk of catechism class is foreign to him and his immediate dismissal of it makes her uncomfortable. She looks almost sheepish as she suggests these things to Mulder. I can relate to her reluctance since I can remember having a similar experience in college. “You don’t really believe that do you? Not you.” By the final scene, she shuts him out.

We never get a reaction from Mulder in the end. Did he admit that Scully was right all along? Did he regret ragging on her a bit? It seems to me that he’s just a little bit sad. Maybe he too realizes that a gulf has opened up between him. But I guess we’ll never know exactly what goes through his head.

Funny how some of the least memorable episodes are the most interesting to discuss. Now please excuse me while I go break out some St. Augustine.

B+

Nitpicks:

St. Ignatius was not in the Bible. Scully wasn’t paying close enough attention in catechism class.

Once again, Mulder and Scully are at the crime scene way too soon, otherwise the coroner would have already discovered the fake blood.

Musings:

This was the final X-Files episode for director David Nutter who gave us such fabulous television memories as “Ice” (1×7) “Beyond the Sea” (1×12), “Irresistible” (2×13) and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4). With that resume, it seems fitting that his swan song should be a Scully-centered episode.

It’s also fitting that this is one of the few X-Files episodes penned by a woman, writer Kim Newton. She would also go on to give us “Quagmire” (3×22), another episode famous for delving into Scully’s background and psychology. I suspect if there had been a few more women on staff, Scully would have been more likable that she usually is in stand-alone episodes.

There was a great moment at the mental institution where Kevin’s father speaks in tongues and Scully understands her while Mulder only hears gibberish. I kind of wish they hadn’t shied away from keeping that scene in.

Mulder goes through a spiritual evolution himself over the course of the series, which is interesting as well, although it progresses at a much slower pace. It’s a bit satisfying that Scully has this corner of The X-Files to herself.

Gillian Anderson has one of her most effective moments ever in that final scene.

Best Quotes:

Owen Jarvis: I was only asked to protect the boy.
Mulder: By who? Who asked you to protect him?
Owen Jarvis: God.
Mulder: [Scoffs] That’s quite a long distance call, isn’t it?
Owen Jarvis: You don’t understand. Unless someone protects Kevin…
Mulder: It’s the end of the world as we know it, right?
Owen Jarvis: He who has ears, let him hear.

——————–

Owen Jarvis: You believe me don’t you? I mean, you must wear that as a reminder.
Scully: Mr. Jarvis, my religious convictions are hardly the issue here.
Owen Jarvis: But they are! How can you help Kevin if you don’t believe? Even the killer, he believes.
Mulder: And the townsfolk wonder why I sleep in on Sunday.
Owen Jarvis: Mass on Christmas, Fish on Friday… you think that makes you a good Christian? Just because you don’t understand sacrifice, because you’re unwilling, don’t think for a moment that you set the rules for me! I don’t question His word. Whatever He asks of me, I’ll do.

——————

Scully: Well isn’t a saint or a holy person just another term for someone who’s abnormal?
Mulder: Do you really believe that?
Scully: I… believe in the idea that God’s hand can be witnessed. I believe He can create miracles, yes.
Mulder: Even if science can’t explain them?
Scully: Maybe that’s just what faith is.
Mulder: Well I wouldn’t let faith overwhelm your judgment here. These people are simply fanatics behaving fanatically, using religion as a justification. They give bona fide paranoiacs like myself a bad name. They are no more divine or holy than that ketchup we saw on the murdered preacher. And I think that once you’ve finished your autopsy, you’ll come to the same conclusion.

——————

Scully: How is it that you’re able to go out on a limb whenever you see a light in the sky but you’re unwilling to accept the possibility of a miracle? Even when it’s right in front of you?
Mulder: I wait for a miracle every day… but what I’ve seen here has only tested my patience, not my faith.

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18 responses to “Revelations 3×11: You never draw my bath.

  1. marian mulder 79

    I am comforted to see in this chapter that despite the fact that scully in his life has been governed by science, there is a part still rooted in their religious beliefs, subject that Mulder was hard to believe despite everything he sees and experiences.
    writers maneron pretty well a rather thorny issue that not all dare show and that’s why it is one of the best series and still continues much to talk about.
    Scully along with his religious convictions and his science helped much to mulder along his search of the truth, although sometimes they inconsistent in certain things that they placed at risk the life of him, always had mutual support.
    and as you say, although this chapter is not very spectacular, gives much to think about, as Scully later with two cases more put to the test their faith.

  2. I liked this episode too. The role of religion in the X-Files is interesting and could be discussed for hours. On this topic, has anyone read the new book “We Want to Believe: Faith and Gospel in the X-Files”?

    For me, I think the character of Mulder has a hard time relating to someone who is religious (i.e. Christian) because it contradicts everything he believes (aliens, gov’t conspiracies, etc.). How can he accept the God described in the bible after what he has seen? For these reasons he doesn’t understand how an intelligent person like Scully (who he respects very much) can still have faith. Mulder is irreverent because he believes the Catholic Church and other major religions are involved in another type of conspiracy to keep people from learning the truth.

    From a different angle: I think that David Duchovny saw this episode as an opportunity to stretch Mulder’s character a bit. DD did not want Mulder to be some great heroic figure. He wanted Mulder to be more human, have weaknesses and be an ass sometimes. Playing the character the way he did increased the tension with Scully and added to the drama of the story.

    This episode was a nice counterpoint to “Oubliette” a few episodes back.

    • True! It really is Scully’s Oubliette. I did read where DD was excited to see Mulder play the skeptic for once and I completely understand it. It makes both of their characters less of a one-note.

  3. What a curious episode…

    It’s perhaps a little telling that by the end of it, I was a little annoyed. My own religious persuasions are far closer to Mulder’s than Scully’s, and so I shared in his irritation that such distinctly Christian theories were continually offered as explanations by his partner.

    I also agree with the writer from the Onion’s AV Club that having an X-Files outing in which Christian theology is our MOTW has profound implications, and I think the writers were wise to use it as sparingly as they have.

    • I think they relegated it to a single aspect of Scully’s character because, like you said, how could they possibly address something with such profound implications without radically changing the show and what it’s about? And when they did branch out into similar territory at the end of Season 6/start of Season 7, they nearly derailed the train. IMHO, it was too big an issue for the show to handle except for in small doses.

  4. I really love reading reviews/views about each episode you write. It’s just nice to have other views. I, personally, love Revelations. True, I got to appreciate this episode more today than when I was too young for the show. Ha. Anyway, I love how Chris Carter explores faith, God and religion. I have never seen a show that attacks this issue that way he does. He gives you realizations–different points of view that would not offend or even try to offend religion. It also has shown how religion and this alien theory cancel each other out and at the same way that it can co-exist. I’m not sure if I make sense haha.

    Best line from revelation has to be, “afraid that God is speaking but no one is listening.” That’s a powerful line. Very honest, very real.

  5. ReallyNicePerson

    I was fairly surprised to see your reaction to this particular episode. Inevitably, the concept of religion is an extremely loaded gun in any series. I’d have been quite content if it was never touched upon in any X-files episode, but alas, the inevitable connection between the paranormal dimension and religion was made.

    One thing that I found a little strange was the insistence on the part of the writers was that Mulder only refuses to accept the spiritual realm because his views on the paranormal and alien encounters are somehow grounded in science. And yet, we are time and time again subjected to his reverence of mysterious and ancient magics contained in the spiritual beliefs of voodoo, judaism, and more. Not only that, but it is Scully herself who says that “Everything conforms to the laws of nature, the only reason it might appear otherwise is because of our limited understanding of it” or some such nonsense, and yet, she becomes a willing conduit for a magical religious experience. Talk about a massive 180!

    I mean, really, could Scully BE any more annoying in this episode? It’s a shame, really, because I love her, shes adorable, and yet here; shes INSUFFERABLE. The sheer hypocrisy, Christian guilt and her overall willingness to somehow suddenly surrender to an “extra worldly” explanation of a case in this episode despite having a MUCH MORE solid evidence base in other cases is just utterly absurd. If anything, I think a more prompt characterization of Scully would have been offense at the mockery of her religion that was taking place in this episode, saying that faith is intangible or something and finding her faith that way rather than this outright ridiculous “chosen one” nonsense.

    This episode was clearly written for a Christian audience, which I understand completely. There are other episodes written in other religious contexts, done to varying degrees of success, that I love. However, the fact of the matter is the ideology of the episode is reflected MUCH too directly into my beloved Scully for me to enjoy the religious overtones. Overall? Not a great episode! The good news is I can just move on from this episode like nothing ever happened (and I do) and be completely at peace with the world.

    • I love these long responses!! You touched on some great points here, hopefully I can catch them all.

      1. I actually think that Mulder’s rejection of the supernatural in this episode, while inconsistent with how he would characterize *himself*, is actually a very realistic portrayal of human nature. He’s the “spiritual not religious” type. And I’m sure you’ve met someone who believes in almost every theory thrown at them but balks in certain areas and I think that’s Mulder. This is the one line he refuses to/is scared to cross. It rings true to me not because it isn’t hypocritical of him but because it is. As Zack Handlen wrote about, Christianity would require Mulder to surrender all of his other notions, beliefs and ideas but not vice versa. That’s what made it such a dangerous subject to address on a show like The X-Files and what would make any character or person who prides themselves on being “open” shy away from it as well. It’s an all-consuming fire.

      2. I feel similarly about Scully’s portrayal except that I don’t think her beliefs as a scientist in any way contradict her views on faith, I just think that she had spent a long time *believing* they did by the time of this episode. That awesome quote you give is one of my favorites from Scully. But it’s a logical fallacy to assume that religious miracles occur outside of the realm of science! She’s right. God may not be breaking scientific laws, he may just be manipulating laws that we don’t yet understand. Just because planes can fly doesn’t mean that the Law of Gravity has ceased to exist.

      3. I’m not so sure I dug the “chosen one” element of the plot either. But it did serve to highlight that Scully was seeing what Mulder couldn’t by design and not by chance.

      4. I actually think this episode is written for a distinctly non-Christian audience with the goal of neither insulting Christians or alienating secularists and I suspect that its ambiguity does a little of both. I remember being somewhat offended by it when I was younger. I’ve just learned to appreciate what they were trying to do even if it doesn’t succeed on every level. And I like that both Scully and Mulder have suddenly become a lot more complicated and interesting.

  6. Emily Michelle

    I think what you’ve said pretty much sums up my feelings on Christianity in the X-Files. It really is interesting that this is the one area in which Scully is the believer and Mulder is the skeptic (although it happens a few times that Scully believes in a particular person and Mulder doesn’t, though he believes in the phenomenon–like in Beyond the Sea). I like that it does give them depth; Scully’s more than a frowning hard-nosed scientist and Mulder’s wide-eyed desire to believe everything has its limits. And I think your explanation of why Mulder doesn’t want to believe is as good as any I’ve ever come up with.

    But mostly I wanted to comment to say I loved your response above as to why Scully’s science doesn’t necessarily contradict her faith. That’s always been my feeling on miracles vs. science, and you summed it up very nicely.

    • You know what first made that idea resonate with me? When I was a kid and I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

      “But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
      “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.”

  7. I remember being honestly pissed with Mulder during this whole episode because of his reluctance to believe, but I see your point here, and it’s making sense for the first time.

  8. well, somehow, i had never seen this episode before. or maybe i did a long time ago and didnt pay attention. i think i may just have to watch it again, because i wasnt expecting it to go where it went.
    i dont want to get too much into the religious side of things… cause that could probably go on for quite a bit… and it’s well-covered above 🙂
    as i kind of felt in “Oubliette”, i am sensing a divide between M&S. only this time, it’s not Mulder’s search for his sister that is at cause, it’s Scully’s ‘re-awakening’ in her faith. this sets up for future episodes in season 4 so extremely well.
    and i have to say, this is one of GA’s best performances. Not only the end scene in the confessional, but the scene in the morgue, where she reveals to Mulder what her thoughts on the case, and in her catholic background, in a somewhat self-doubting, ‘please be open-minded about this?’ tone. some of the lines are delivered so well you can totally empathize with Scully starting off with a search for Mulder’s approval: “you don’t detect a faint floral odor?”, then slowly then standing up to Mulder: “i believe in the idea that god’s hand can be witnessed… i believe he can create miracles, yes..”, “maybe that’s what faith is”. wow…
    of course, mulder’s reaction here, completely dismissing her ideas, and actully mocking her (‘Saint Owen?’), really stings. no wonder she has no where else to turn but the confessional at the end of the episode.
    i am really glad that the show didnt go too deep into religion. just enough so that “I want to believe” takes on a completely different meaning in Scully’s contex than it does in Mulder’s.

  9. Pingback: Orison 7×7: Every moment of every day, the Devil waits for but an instant. | Musings of an X-Phile

  10. I will always love this episode of only for my favorite XFiles game: Spot that Twin Peaks actor. I can’t watch without just chanting in my head “Oh my god, that’s Windom Earle!”

  11. The X-Files doesn’t get everything about Catholicism correct but I have always loved:

    A). Scully is a person of faith
    B). Scully is a person of science
    C). Scully is a woman of faith and reason
    D). Scully is a lay woman of faith and reason
    E). Scully is not a nun nor is she a mother/wife who turns to her faith to protect her faith

    In short, The X-Files has one of the best portrayals of a modern Catholic woman in popular culture.

    Mulder’s attitude towards Scully and her faith is both super annoying but realistic. As a progressive person of faith, people are constantly trying to put me in a box based on what they think they know about being Catholic or being a progressive or being a person of faith. Mulder can’t deal with the spiritual side of Scully because he relies so heavily on the rational person of science. But by doing so, he forces her to wall off that side of her from him in this episode. (To be fair, the only good thing about Babylon, IMO, was seeing that Mulder himself has evolved and while he may never be a believer, he can at least stop himself from being so close-minded about her faith).

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