Most X-Files episodes involve death but only a handful are actually about death. That makes “Elegy” pretty unique among the many variations of ghost stories in The X-Files’ repertoire.
Speaking of ghost stories, we haven’t had a proper one since Season 2’s “The Calusari” (2×21) believe it or not. Sure, “Kaddish” (4×12) brought a dead man back to life as a mud monster, but that’s not quite the same thing, now is it?
I don’t hesitate to say this is my second favorite episode out of writer John Shiban’s solo efforts on The X-Files. The last one he have us, “El Mundo Gira” (4×11), was a good idea but the story’s intentions became a little muddied in the execution. The next one coming up, “The Pine Bluff Variant” (5×18), is a humdinger and my favorite of all, but I digress.
The solemnity Shiban brings to his episodes, think “The Walk” (3×7) and “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18), really works here because, well, it’s a story about death. More specifically, it’s about coping with death and even more specifically, it’s about coping with the upcoming death of one of our leads.
“Memento Mori” (4×15) dealt with a lot of the issues that come up here in a more direct way, but since then, probably for the sake of not beating this storyline into the ground, we haven’t had much more than a passing mention of Scully’s predicament, if it’s even mentioned over the course of an episode at all. So we haven’t really had a chance to see how she’s progressing both in living with her disease and fighting it.
It would appear that nothing much has changed. Mulder hasn’t stumbled upon any answers in his precious X-Files, Scully goes back and forth to the doctor but all they seem to be doing is monitoring her, and Skinner hasn’t been able to pry any information out of Cigarette-Smoking Man’s wrinkled, cold hands despite the fact that he sold his soul to the man for Scully’s cure.
In other words, time is running out.
Surely, Scully realizes this and it’s her desire not to acknowledge the fact that death is imminently approaching that forms the basis for the sub-plot of this episode. Well, really, it’s the main plot, if you ask me. Everything else that happens feels more like an excuse to bring up Scully’s cancer. Not that ghostly apparitions in the neighborhood bowling alley don’t in and of themselves make for excellent television.
Scully’s in denial about seeing the dead girl because, well, she’s in denial about dying. Sure, in a detached, medical way she recognized immediately that this disease would kill her sans some kind of miracle. But even though she knows that fact she has so far refused to own it. We know that Mulder his holding out for a miracle, an answer, or a cure, but what is Scully holding out for? She’s in limbo between acceptance and denial. She knows she’s sick but she refuses to acknowledge it in some attempt to avoid any appearance of weakness.
The last time we saw Scully like this emotionally was in “Irresistable” (2×13), so how fitting then that her therapist from that episode, Karen Kosseff, should make a return appearance. Really, it’s just an excuse to allow Scully’s character to speak for herself since she’s usually defined so much by what she doesn’t say. But I love having a peak into what Scully’s thinking and I especially enjoy it when my suspicions are confirmed.
See, Scully does need Mulder. That’s why she’s still working on the X-Files. It’s so easy to understand why Mulder needs Scully since he’s really pretty pathetic without her. But so often when the writers go to explain why such a normal, well-adjusted human being as Dana Scully would stay by Mulder’s side her motivations turn into dangerously co-dependent mush.
I’ll save my arguments as to why Mulder and Scully being co-dependent might not be such a bad thing, but for now I’ll just say that even before her cancer arrived, it was clear that she got something out of her relationship with Mulder that she didn’t get elsewhere. Call it excitement, call it mystery, call it passion, it can have so many names. But whatever part of Scully that is a believer, the part that she normally subdues for the sake of science, that part of her that she still needs in order to survive, responds to Mulder almost against her will. And if her scientific mind won’t allow her to believe that her cancer is treatable, maybe the part of her that loved reading Moby Dick (“Quagmire”) and that still remembers what she learned in catechism (“Revelations”) needs to be around someone whose faith will nurture her own.
And the Verdict is…
I really, really like this episode. I like it especially because of how honestly it treats death and dying. People who are dying go through a grieving process themselves and the people around them don’t necessarily walk on eggshells to please them either, as the dying don’t automatically turn into saints. By the end of the episode, Mulder is openly frustrated with Scully, and perhaps out of his fear that he won’t be able to help her, he chastises her soundly for keeping him out of the loop.
I can actually understand that. Even though, mind you, Scully is the one who’s dying here. The thing is though, she’s not dying alone.
Forgive me if my memory deceives me, but didn’t Scully have a vision of her father at the time of his death in “Beyond the Sea” (1×12)? He also was trying to tell her something. And now she’s having visions of the dead again so near the time of her own? You’d think that even if she were reluctant to confess the reality of the situation out loud, she’d have a hard time denying to herself what she’s seen.
Scully looks way too uncomfortable in those bowling shoes. That’s what Mulder should’ve done for her birthday, taken her out for a good game.
There are echoes of “Roland” (1×22) here. Again, I’m impressed at how respectfully The X-Files was able to portray developmental disabilities.
Another reason I think this outing is more successful than Shiban’s previous efforts is that the plot isn’t weighed down at all by political undertones. Death is heavy enough without dragging politics into it.
There are so many repeat guest stars in this one I almost don’t know where to start. Angelo Pintero was also Dr. Bugger in “War of the Coprophages” (3×12). Martin Alpert was also in “Deep Throat” (1×2), “Sleepless” (2×4) and “731” (3×10). Kate Braidwood (Tom Braidwood’s daughter) makes and appearance in this one and will show up again in “The Pine Bluff Variant”. And finally, Harold’s attorney was the hilarious pathologist in “Shadows” (1×5) as well as Nurse Wilkins in “One Breath” (2×8). Not to mention, we’ll see her again in I Want to Believe.
Angelo Pintero: Look, I’m not making this up.
Mulder: No one is suggesting that you are, Mr. Pintero.
Angelo Pintero: I saw the look on her face.
Mulder: Can I ask you a favor? Can I get a soda, a cola, something like that?
Angelo Pintero: Sure. Yeah.
Mulder: What is that look, Scully?
Scully: I would have thought that after four years you’d know exactly what that look was.
Karen Kosseff: You’ve kept working?
Scully: Yes. It’s been important to me.
Karen Kosseff: Why?
Scully: Why? Um… Agent Mulder has been concerned. He’s been supportive through this time.
Karen Kosseff: Do you feel that you owe it to him to continue working?
Scully: No. I guess I never realized how much I rely on him before this. His passion. He’s been a great source of strength that I’ve drawn on.
Scully: I saw something Mulder.
Scully: The fourth victim. I saw her in the bathroom before you came to tell me.
Mulder: Why didn’t you tell me?
Scully: Because I didn’t want to believe it. Because I don’t want to believe it.
Mulder: Is that why you came down here? To prove that it wasn’t true?
Scully: No. I came down here because you asked me to.
Mulder: Why can’t you be honest with me?
Scully: What do you want me to say? That you’re right? That I believe it even if I don’t? I mean is that what you want?
Mulder: Is that what you think I want to hear?
Mulder: You can believe what you want to believe, Scully, but you can’t hide the truth from me because if you do, then you’re working against me… and yourself. I know what you’re afraid of. I’m afraid of the same thing.
Scully: [Voice cracking] The doctor said I was fine.
Mulder: I hope that’s the truth.