Let’s get the episode’s only major issue out of the way first. We already knew that Bill Mulder had a close association with CSM in the past. The inference in “Paper Clip” (3×2) is that Teena Mulder wasn’t completely oblivious to her husband’s work. But now we learn that she and CSM has an association of their own… And so the seed is planted. Did CSM and Teena Mulder have an affair? He sure insinuates it. Is Mulder really a Mulder? And what about Samantha?
For those on their first watch through the series, don’t hold your breath waiting for answers. They’re still a few seasons into the future.
But back to the episode at hand.
For once, what’s driving Mulder isn’t his search for the truth, it’s his desire to save his mother. He wants to find Jeremiah Smith because he hopes that he’ll be able to lay hands on his mother and heal her. Even when Jeremiah Smith offers to show him things that would uncover the greater conspiracy, Mulder resists with impatience because that’s not what he’s concerned about at the moment.
Mulder gets flack in the fan community sometimes for his single-mindedness and the disturbing lack of concern for those around him that can follow from it. But the truth is, Mulder does care, almost to the point of recklessness, for a few people in his life. He’s done similar things before. Back in “Paper Clip”, he had a disk in his possession (or rather Skinner had it for him) that would have given him all the answers about alien life and the conspiracy at large that he was looking for. But he gave that up so that Scully could go to her dying sister’s bedside. Then in “One Breath” (2×8) he forgoes the chance to confront the men who abducted Scully and potentially beat some answers out of them as to the nature of the conspiracy, but again he doesn’t and instead goes to comfort an unconscious Scully. The man’s all heart, really.
Probably Mulder gets a more three-dimensional treatment in this one because this is another one where David Duchovny’s name is in the story credits. You can also sense his influence in the episode’s religious themes. In the same way that he’ll later weave The Last Temptation of Christ into the story of “The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati” (7×4), here the famous parable of The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov is taken, in some places word for word, and fashioned onto the head of the mythology. I couldn’t appreciate that before since I had never read The Brothers Karamazov (which I highly recommend, by the by) but even though I can recognize its recreation in those prison scenes between Jeremiah Smith and CSM, I’m still not sure I find it compelling.
Probably some background information is in order for those who are unfamiliar with Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. In this chapter of the book, two of the brothers are having a conversation about faith and God. One is an agnostic and the other a true believer. The agnostic brother tells a tale that takes place during the Inquisition, where Jesus comes back to earth and performs miracles, including a repeat of the “Talitha Cumi” miracle from Mark 5:41-42 (Talitha Cumi means “Maiden, arise.” in Aramaic). Oddly enough, while the masses are thrilled to see Jesus, some of the leaders of the Church aren’t so happy. You see, they’ve decided that salvation and truth isn’t real freedom at all. Instead, man is happiest when he’s controlled and the Grand Inquisitor is happy to control them, giving them true freedom from care.
The arrogance of the Grand Inquisitor is that he thinks he has “corrected” Jesus’ work. The arrogance of CSM is that he too, a mere man, believes he has the right or the ability to control mankind. I like the parallels made here but I’m not completely sold. CSM could very well be a modern Grand Inquisitor but Jeremiah Smith is no Jesus, he’s a clone created by CSM and his cronies. It would be more compelling, I think, if Jeremiah Smith were an alien himself whose plans for colonization CSM was not only subverting but commandeering. But I’m just being nitpicky now.
I’ve questioned before the Syndicate’s motivations in creating and maintaining the conspiracy. Evil as they are, might they not have started out with good intentions? Out of the desire to preserve the human race? Not if we’re to believe CSM. They don’t want truth to get out because they want control and they’ve deluded themselves into thinking that they want it for the good of mankind. Then again, you can never really believe CSM.
Mulder’s quest for alien life has always been pseudo-religious but here that idea fleshed out a little further. Mulder is indeed on the side of the angels. The truth may be more difficult, but there’s a freedom that you can only have in realizing the truth and bearing your cross that’s unavailable to the willfully or unknowingly ignorant.
I want to love this episode for its depth but instead I just like it. It’s certainly a good show, but once again very little that we’ve already learned about the mythology is made clearer. Instead new questions are raised.
One thing especially isn’t clear: Who is Jeremiah Smith? From what I’ve watched/read and been able to deduce, he’s another clone like the ones we saw in “Colony” (2×16), but an upgraded version. He has the ability to shapeshift and heal others. In an plot thread that’s explored more in Season 4, these clones are used as workers in specific areas, mindless drones merely serving to advance colonization. Whatever they are, apparently they’re not the kind of alien-human hybrid that the Syndicate is ultimately trying to create. Between the Black Oil, the Bounty Hunter, Clones and Drones maybe Chris Carter should given us an episode that was purely a primer on alien and sub-alien species.
Beyond all that, we get some great performances here from all involved. Scully doesn’t have much to do but she’s sympathetic toward Mulder in his situation without being cloying. The walls are closing in on X and he’s taking increasingly risky moves, like brawling with Mulder in a public parking lot (a scene that’s been a long time coming). And CSM shows actual concern over a real live human being, namely Teena Mulder who in turn has more knowledge about the conspiracy than we ever realized.
All in all, a good show.
CSM lets Jeremiah Smith out so that he can heal him of lung cancer, at least that’s what it looks like we’re supposed to infer. But why would he do that when he could have had the Bounty Hunter heal him? Oh, wait. I’m not supposed to know about that till next episode. Nevermind.
What did CSM really want from Teena Mulder? Surely it wasn’t just that weapon. He could have turned that place upside down looking for it rather than consult her. It’s not like she would have reported him since she never went near the place.
I doubt Jeremiah Smith would’ve had an audience in that fast food joint. Once the shooting started, people would’ve run for the hills, not waited around to watch him heal everyone.
The religious symbolism continues – The name “Jeremiah” is also that of a famous Biblical prophet and the traditional author of both the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Lamentations. His primary message was that the children of Israel had to turn from their sins or face judgment, that they needed to stop listening to false prophets who were purposefully giving them false hope, a message for which he was famously attacked and persecuted. He’s known as the “weeping prophet.”
How about that Mark Snow, eh? The soundtrack that’s playing when Mulder discovers the weapon is fabulous.
My understanding is that at this point, a movie was already in the works, which forced Chris Carter to plan the mythology a few years into the future. You can tell that there’s still light at the end of these story arc, or at least, you can still believe there will be.
The date for colonization is set! I’d type out what it is but, you know, spoilers and all that.
Teena Mulder: I have nothing to say to you.
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.
Scully: Where are you going?
Mulder: If I told you, you’d never let me go.
Smoking Man: Who are you to give them hope?
Jeremiah Smith: What do you give them?
Smoking Man: We give them happiness and they give us authority.
Jeremiah Smith: The authority to take away their freedom under guise of democracy.
Smoking Man: Men can never be free, because they’re weak, corrupt, worthless and restless. The people believe in authority. They’ve grown tired of waiting for miracle and mystery. Science is their religion. No greater explanation exists for them. They must never believe any differently if the project is to go forward.
Jeremiah Smith: At what cost to them?
Smoking Man: The question is irrelevant, and the outcome inevitable. The date is set.
Smoking Man: You think you’re god. You’re a drone, a catalogue, chattel.
Jeremiah Smith: What you’re afraid of is… they’ll believe I am God.
Smoking Man: Well that doesn’t matter. Most of them have ceased to believe in God.
Jeremiah Smith: Why?
Smoking Man: Because God presents them with no miracles to earn their faith.
Jeremiah Smith: You think when man ceases to believe in miracles he rejects God?
Smoking Man: Of course.
Jeremiah Smith: You rule over them in God’s name.
Smoking Man: They don’t believe in Him, but they still fear Him.