Last we left Mulder, he nearly killed his partner and himself in a repressed memory induced swirl of self-pity. No mention is made in this episode of the hidden secrets hinted at in the previous one, “Demons” (4×23), but judging by the unoptimistic closing voiceover delivered by Scully, it’s not an uneducated guess to think that his doubts and demons are still closing in on him. It’s in this atmosphere that Mulder gets blindsided with the biggest disappointment of all. Yes, even more disappointing than finding out your father is a chain-smoking cross between The Grinch and The Cheshire Cat and may or may have not tried to blow you to smithereens on a pile of mutant skeletons.
You see Mulder at last has to seriously consider the possibility that aliens may not be real. And if it wasn’t bad enough to find out that you’re a pathetic and delusional loser, he also finds out that the one person in the world who doesn’t think he’s a crackpot is about to die very likely because of his stubbornness. In other words, it’s an uplifting 45 minutes of television we have here.
Yes, I know that considering the inexplicable reality of both The Alien Bounty Hunter and Jeremiah Smith, it’s hard to believe that The X-Files could seriously expect us, let alone Agent Mulder to believe that there’s nothing remotely paranormal going on in this television universe. But, for me, all I can say is that I relish this chance to come at the mythology from a decidedly normal perspective.
Okay, normal with strong tints of paranoia.
Up to this point, Mulder has been almost religiously convinced as to what the truth is. His conversation on the stairs with Scully, when he asks her what she would do if someone could prove to her the existence of God, brings out into the open a theme that’s been quietly allegorical for the entirety of The X-Files’ run. Mulder’s search for aliens, his stalwart belief in them even when the rest of the world thinks he’s crazy, even though he’s never seen them, it’s all a metaphor for a single man’s search for God, his search for The Truth. Is it an accident that the title of this episode is “Gethsemene”, the name of the garden where Jesus faced his final emotional and spiritual struggle before going to the cross?
Truthfully though, it’s a testament to Scully’s influence on him that Mulder holds back as much as he does in this episode. Season 1 Mulder wouldn’t have hesitated to assume that the “alien corpse” was real. He would have been aglow with boyish excitement until the cold hard truth came crashing down. To Season 4 Mulder’s credit, he’s probably more reserved in his assumptions here than we’ve ever seen him, certainly more cautious. Indeed, this episode readily invites comparison with “EBE” (1×16), the first time Mulder wonders, “Which lie to believe,” after Deep Throat led him on an interstate wild goose chase. It begged the question then and even more so now, are these mysterious men in power merely Punking Mulder for their own amusement?
It’s not an idea without merit. I mentioned “E.B.E” where it’s clear that Mulder is being manipulated to both spread and contain disinformation. Then there’s “Anasazi” (2×25) when Mulder is drugged to discredit him by driving him to violence. And if that weren’t enough cause for doubt, all of Season 3 toyed with the question of whether Mulder’s radical or Scully’s traditional point of view is more accurate. They’re both seeing the same evidence, but is the truth that a secret group of men is hiding the existence of alien life for some nefarious purpose or that these same men are perpetuating a myth to cover up their own all too human atrocities? The idea hasn’t been revisited nearly all of Season 4 but now it’s back with a vengeance, theoretically threatening to undo all the plots that have been twisted over the course of four years of television.
I say threatening because no one in the audience seriously believes (except for me at the age of 14) that the entire mythology plotline has been little more than a hoax. There have been too many inexplicable events. And more than that, no viewer in their right mind (even me at the age of 14) believes that Mulder is dead and David Duchovny out of a job.
Just because it’s easy to refute this episode in all its glory doesn’t make it any less exciting, far from it. In fact, considering the fact that David Duchovny’s continuing contract was quite public at the time, I’m impressed that they were able to create such an atmosphere that it feels as if Mulder could/would really kill himself, even though you know it can’t happen. This is in large part thanks to the emotional notes established in “Demons”.
I don’t know that I ever appreciated before how over the course of this three-episode arc leading into the new season Mulder and Scully’s spiritual journeys head in distinctly opposite directions. Mulder begins affirming his faith only to be robbed of it, Scully starts out removed from her faith only to eventually confess her own neediness. It’s really quite artful now that I’ve finally noticed the parallel.
On an unrelated note, it’s easy to rag on The X-Files and particularly on our dear Chris Carter for the purpleness of its prose sometimes. And, yes, this entire episode arc is full of voiceovers that come across as a little too poetic to represent the people and situations they’re supposed to represent. However, by this point I’m so emotionally involved in these characters and the revelations that I can get caught up in the drama without concerning myself too much with whether or not Mulder would actually say things like, “Byzantine plot.” Call me too lowbrow to care. I’ve rewound this episode so many times I actually have the breaths and pauses memorized.
P.S. An extra thought: The smartest thing they did here was not in keeping Mulder’s death vague, but in keeping Scully’s part in all this completely up in the air. Does she really think Mulder is dead? Has she turned to the dark side? Is she blaming Mulder and turning her back on the X-Files? Those were the questions weighing most heavily on my mind come Season 5.
I said it before in “Tooms” (1×20) and I’ll say it again: Scully should have been an actress. That woman lies like no other.
Blevins is back without so much as a passing comment as to why he disappeared in the first place.
Kritschgau is one of my all-time favorite guest characters. Heck, his story was so convincing, I believed him.
Is it just me, or is Scully’s denial/arrogance beginning to wear thin? How long can she go on pretending to be completely self-sufficient? Thankfully, not much longer.
Scully: Early this morning I got a call from the police asking me to come to Agent Mulder’s apartment. The detective asked me, he needed me to identify a body…
Section Chief Blevins: Agent Scully…
Scully: Agent Mulder died late last night from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Mulder: After all I’ve seen and experienced, I refuse to believe that it’s not true.
Scully: Because it’s easier to believe the lie, isn’t it?
Mulder: …What the hell did that guy say to you that you’d believe his story?
Scully: He said that the men behind this hoax, behind these lies, gave me this disease to make you believe.
Bill Scully: What are you doing at work getting knocked down and beaten up? What are you trying to prove? That you’re gonna go out fighting?
Scully: Oh, now come on, Bill…
Bill Scully: Do you know what Mom is going through? Why do you think I didn’t tell her when they called?
Scully: What should I be doing?
Bill Scully: We have a responsibility, not just to ourselves but to the people in our lives.
Scully: Hey look, just, just because I haven’t bared my soul to you or, or to Father McCue or to God doesn’t mean I’m not responsible to what’s important to me.
Bill Scully: To what? To who? This guy Mulder? Well, where is he, Dana? Where is he through all this?
Scully: …Thank you for coming.
Scully: You already believe, Mulder, what difference will it make? I mean, what, what will proof change for you?Mulder: If someone could prove to you the existence of God, would it change you?
Scully: Only if it had been disproven.
Mulder: Then you accept the possibility that belief in God is a lie?
Scully: I don’t think about it actually and I don’t think that it can be proven.
Mulder: But what if it could be? Wouldn’t that knowledge be worth seeking? Or is it just easier to go on believing the lie?
Kritschgau: That’s just like you, Agent Mulder, suspicious of everything but what you should be.