This episode opens with something I’m generally not too fond of: An X-Files voiceover.
You can always tell when Chris Carter has written one and they’re always slightly overwrought and self-consciously poeticized. In this one, Scully sounds marvelously unlike an investigator and even less like a scientist. Who knew she majored in Physics but minored in English Literature? Snarkiness aside though, much of this episode is spent establishing that Scully is Scully no matter what her circumstances are. Sickness doesn’t cause her to call up her mother sobbing because that’s not who she is. She doesn’t run to Mulder in frantic desperation because that would be a betrayal of herself. Why her words would become flowery when her mind is not is beyond me. On the plus side, the monologue does get the point across quickly that Scully is dying and there’s nothing she can do about it.
What kind of reaction will this produce in Scully? Will there be any deathbed confessions? Probably not. Based on their track record, we all know that Mulder and Scully aren’t about to embarrass themselves with any alarming declarations, however we as the audience might hope. The foundation of their relationship is unspoken, like an iceberg, the most important parts remaining invisible but assumed and understood based solely on what we can see. One of the reasons “Memento Mori” is so special is that it does allow us some concrete but still subtle proof of how Mulder and Scully really feel about each other. No more guessing.
To suddenly force Mulder and Scully’s relationship out into the wide open would undermine it at the risk of its losing it’s effectiveness. So what happens? Scully writes a diary that lays her thoughts bare, only for Mulder to read it outside of her presence. This gives loyal fans an incredible payoff but also a reason to keep watching since Mulder and Scully are still fundamentally silent. Everything’s understood, nothing has to be said, our assumptions are confirmed and validated, the status quo is maintained.
Gillian Anderson won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama series for this one. It’s not too hard to see why since she takes Scully to a place of both vulnerability and strength that we’ve never seen from her before. But really, the glories of this episode are almost equally shared between 3 leads, the other two being David Duchovny and Mitch Pileggi who also give us some complicated and incredibly nuanced performances.
Mulder, despite his disavowal of Scully’s fate, I believe is actually less in denial than she is. Scully admits there’s no hope then flatly refuses to face her death or admit that she’s anything other than “fine.” Mulder, on the other hand, recognizes that Scully is dying; it’s just that he refuses to believe there’s nothing he can do about it. Like his relationship to the larger conspiracy, he believes it exists but also believes that he somehow has the power to change it. (In fact, it isn’t until he believes that he’s helpless to affect the outcome of events that he momentarily gives up, but that will be a long time in the future). He doesn’t cry and he doesn’t rant, instead he hunts, throwing himself even deeper to the conspiracy that did this to Scully, into the danger that he brought Scully into, in hopes that he can save her from this threat that he’s partially responsible for. This episode avoids losing itself in sentimentality by forcing its characters into action.
Skinner doesn’t sit idly by either. After refusing to set up a meeting between Mulder and CSM, he wastes no time in making his own Faustian bargain with the chain smoking Grinch. I know there’s a lot of talk about there among Skinner/Scully Shippers as to what this means about Skinner’s feelings for Scully that he would sacrifice himself on the altar of CSM to find a cure for her disease. But as much as Skinner cares for Scully and wants to see her healed, I actually think that this transaction has more to do with his relationship with Mulder who, despite a relatively minor difference in age, seems to be a pseudo-son to him. Rather than allow Mulder to be corrupted, he takes up that cross himself and suffers in silence. It’s really one of Skinner’s most heroic moments on the show. He loses his soul yet somehow keeps his integrity.
Then there are 3 other… bonus heroes. I’m glad that the Lone Gunmen show up in this one because they give the episode that bit of fun that it needs to avoid taking itself too seriously. True, this is a story about the devastation of cancer, but it takes place in a show about alien conspiracies and paranormal activity. The writers can only wax so poetic without risk of losing their audience.
Speaking of the overarching conspiracy, this is the first “mythology” episode since Season 2’s “Red Museum” (2×10), a time when the mythology was still largely unformed, that doesn’t actually present any new mythology information. The underlying plot isn’t advanced, only reaffirmed, which is why I would hesitate to categorize this as a mythology episode at all but really a stand-alone episode with mythology elements. Actually, I should clarify, as there is one new bit of information: some of the human genetic material used to create clones and drones comes from the embryos of abductees, Scully included. But it will take a good 4 years… that’s right, 4 years… before Mulder will reveal this secret to Scully in the episode “Per Manum” (8×8). Although, it happens in flashback so really it took him 3 years, but still.
By the opening of this episode it’s like the events of “Never Again” (4×13) never happened. To be sure, when death arrives petty disputes have a way of disappearing. But I suppose we’ll never know if Mulder and Scully worked through their issues or just forgot about them when a much larger monster came along that required all their powers of concentration.
It doesn’t really matter. As much as this episode involved a love letter of sorts from Scully to Mulder, it feels like a love letter to the fans. Scully’s cancer, like her abduction that caused it, gives a human face to the conspiracy and reminds us that this whole show really is about 2 people, their trials, tribulations and adventures. We wanted more insight into their characters and now we have it.
But I still could’ve done without that purple prose.
Grey-Haired Man makes a return. He was last seen in “Apocrypha” (3×16).
The clones are back! Not to be confused with the drones we were introduced to in “Herrenvolk” (4×1) despite the fact that the same DNA created both.
Carter and Spotnitz were working on Fight the Future at the same time as this script. I wonder what that knowledge will reveal when the movie finally comes up.
“It’s part of what makes these such Romantic, heroic characters is that they always put their personal lives on the back seat. In fact they, they really don’t have much in the way of a personal life whatsoever. Um, they’re people on a quest. They’re, they’re really both united and separated by their quest.” – Spotnitz
I feel so justified in my assessments now. See above.
Scully really deserved to be chewed out by her mother. I love that this show represents death and dying in a realistic way. People still get mad at each other.
Speaking of people getting mad, it’s still too bad that the scene between Scully and her brother Bill had to be cut. Thankfully, we’ll get another chance to hate him real soon.
Is it Shipper suicide if I admit I’m glad they cut the kiss?
Mulder: [Handing Scully flowers] I… stole these from some guy with a broken leg down the hall. He won’t be able to catch me.
Skinner: So you want to set up a meeting. With whom?
Mulder: Cigarette man. I have no doubt in my mind he’s behind this.
Skinner: You’ve come to be before like this, Mulder.
Mulder: Yeah, well, this is different. This is different, I’m willing to deal now.
Skinner: Find another way.
Mulder: No! I need that meeting.
Skinner: You deal with this man, you offer him anything and he will own you forever.
Mulder: He knows what they did to Agent Scully! He may very well know how to save her!
Skinner: If he knows, you can know too but you can’t ask the truth of a man who trades in lies! I won’t let you.
Smoking Man: It’s funny. I always thought of you as Fox Mulder’s patron. You’d think under your aegis that he wouldn’t be consigned to a corner of the basement.
Skinner: At least he doesn’t take an elevator up to get to work.
Smoking Man: You think I’m the devil, Mr. Skinner?
Mulder: Pick out something black and sexy and prepare to do some funky poaching.