How the Ghosts Stole Christmas 6×8: I just gave myself chills.


The romance is the first thing to go.

I have had a revelation. It only took thirteen years and several cups of coffee.

“How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” is essentially the story of what happens when Mulder tries to romance Scully in his own strange, Mulderish way. Back in the day, I used to think he’s merely lonely and wanting for company, but he plans this evening. This isn’t a spur of the moment outing brought on by boredom. And then he tries to impress Scully with the spooky atmosphere of his story the way that normal men take their dates to scary movies in hopes that their ready arms will look more masculine and appealing when their date has no place else to run to. Why else take her on a scary Christmas Eve rendezvous traditionally taken by lovers?

Notice the way writer and director Chris Carter chooses to shoot both characters from the back as Mulder weaves his winter’s tale in the dark car. No sooner does he start discussing the story of Maurice and Lyda than Mulder and Scully are framed in a rather romantic looking portrait. Oh, yes. Brooding hero Maurice is Mulder and Lyda of the sublime beauty is Scully. Perhaps as a Christmas present to the fans, Chris Carter doesn’t even attempt to be subtle about it. Thank you, Chris.

Mulder: His name was Maurice. He was a… a brooding but heroic young man beloved of Lyda, a sublime beauty with a light that seemed to follow her wherever she went. They were likened to two angels descended from heaven whom the gods could not protect from the horrors being visited upon this cold, grey earth.

Yeah, methinks Mulder was trying to get his mack on. Well, sorta. I’m not trying to say that Mulder was about to put the moves on Scully. But does he know what he’s saying when he tells her the story of Maurice and Lyda? Oh yeah. He’s acting the teenage boy here, no doubt about it, and that’s the backdrop for our story at hand. Any excuse to bring television legends Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin into The X-Files family is just fine. They’re supposed to steal the show here and indeed they do.

Actually, Ed Asner was originally intended for the role of Clyde Bruckman in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4), but glory be, Peter Boyle owned that character and we still get to relish Ed Asner’s charm in the role of Maurice. See? Everyone wins.

Already Season 6 has set itself apart with an impressive list of guest stars. Bryan Cranston before he was famous in “Drive” (6×1), Michael McKean and Nora Dunn in “Dreamland” (6×4) and “Dreamland II” (6×5), Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin here, next up will be Bruce Campbell in “Terms of Endearment” (6×6) closely followed by Victoria Jackson in “Rain King” (6×7), and it won’t end there.

To what do we owe the pleasure? It has to be the move to L.A. Now there are all sorts of actors willing to share screen time with Mulder and Scully who wouldn’t have been available for the trek to Vancouver. And I suppose it doesn’t hurt that Season 6 was the heyday of a television phenomenon. Who doesn’t want to be a part of history? It’d be like turning down a guest spot on Star Trek.

Whatever the sentimental loss over the built-in atmosphere of Vancouver and the original production crew that turned The X-Files into the legend it became, we can’t deny that the move to L.A. has not only brought great side benefits like impressive actors, the production quality hasn’t suffered in the least. The set of “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” is absolutely stunning; it’s a character unto itself. This is especially important because ninety percent of the action happens in this one place with only four actors involved, the smallest cast of any episode of the series. The cast is so small and the action so relegated to one spot that it feels very much like a stage play. And if going off with the family to watch a staged performance isn’t Christmas, I don’t know what is.

If I’m to be honest (there’s no need to be but it’s Christmas so why not?), I never much cared for this episode before this rewatch. Not to say that I didn’t like it, but I always felt that something was missing, that it was a little soulless, perhaps. I didn’t see that it had a point. And it doesn’t, really. It’s a festive frolic, a Christmas card to the fans, and that’s all it’s meant to be. And why not? Episodes previously had acknowledged the Christmas season, “Beyond the Sea” (1×12), “Christmas Carol” (5×5), but neither of those had ever acknowledged the audience on the other side of the television screen. Now The X-Files has reached its zenith and is understandably a little self-conscious about its legion of fans, enough that rather than scare them it deems it better to send a little Christmas spirit their way. An episode like this couldn’t have been attempted in any season previous except possibly Season 5; it’s too meta for a show that doesn’t know its own power.

There’s another element of this episode that The X-Files never would have attempted before it was an official piece of pop culture history. Back in the not so distant day, a Shipper had to hunt for little romantic gems in an episode. A brief hand-hold here, a golden moment of banter there… it was a game looking for these affirmations of the Shipper faith since it wasn’t as though the writers were putting them there on purpose. We had to take what we could get. Now, however, the game has changed completely and after the events of the movie, Chris Carter & Co. could no longer believably ignore either the mounting anticipation of their audience or the romantic tension that they inadvertently created between their two lead characters. So, what to do, what to do? They had no choice, really, but to officially script the MSR* subtext into the series. Now Shippers no longer have to hunt for sustenance like wild animals, it’s being fed to us in golden bowls like house pets.

If that sounds like a complaint, please know that it’s not. As I said, I don’t see how the show could have believably evolved any other way. What could Chris Carter have done? Turned back the clock and pretended that millions of people had never seen that scene outside of Mulder’s apartment? Or worse, should he have taken character development back a few seasons in order to halt the progression of this budding romance between his leads? Never. Looking back it was inevitable that the romantic undertone of the series would become more overt. And however people may complain that it made The X-Files look silly, it would have looked a heck of a lot sillier if they had stubbornly ignored the obvious. As it is I believe the writers did an excellent job of utilizing the MSR subtext without relying on it. “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” works because it’s funny. If you happen to understand the layer of meaning just beneath the surface then so much the better.

I must admit, though, that watching this episode when it originally aired was my first “Danger, Will Robinson” moment. Why? I’m glad you asked.

First there was “Triangle” (6×3), a lighthearted tale meant to cleanse the palette after the high emotional tension of “The Beginning” (6×2) and to reward the fans whose hopes were thwarted during that infamous hallway scene in Fight the Future. It was incredibly well done and almost universally praised. Do you see a problem there? No? I didn’t think so.

Directly after that was “Dreamland”. Sure, two lighthearted episodes in a row is unheard of on The X-Files but production order gets switched around sometimes and besides, “Triangle” wasn’t really a comedy. Ah, but then we have “Dreamland II” which of course must follow part 1. We can’t find fault with that, can we? It just so happens that having three of these episodes in a row is the way things played out.

But now we’re at “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” and a disturbing pattern begins to emerge. Yes, I’ve already said that I appreciate that the show was willing and able to do something fun for Christmas for once. I’m all for it. And yet… part of me is starting to worry. No, nothing has been bad by any means. This string of episodes has been fabulous! Still, my spidey sense is atingle: where are the X-Files? At what point does the show become too self-conscious?

Verdict:

A quick word of caution about this episode: the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek. Yes, that seems obvious and why would I warn you about that? But I fear that the pop psychology invoked here, the witty observations of Maurice and Lyda that Chris Carter never intended to be taken as gospel truth, has been accepted a little too literally over the years. Read the fanfic, don’t let it corrupt you.

Yes, Mulder is prone to a self-centered form of tunnel vision. But a narcissist? Hardly that. And while Scully may enjoy a good intellectual tête-à-tête with Mulder, who would believe that she’s spent so many years with him risking life and limb merely for the right to say “I told you so?” Part of the point of this episode is that Maurice and Lyda misread Mulder and Scully, assuming that they’re much lonelier and less balanced than they actually are.

However, if you want to take away anything about the psychology of the characters please note that Scully does admit she really wanted to be out there hunting things she doesn’t even believe in with Mulder. Yet again Chris Carter sets up the tension between Scully’s overt desire for normality and her unacknowledged desire to travel a bumpier road with Mulder. For some reason, Scully has a hard time understanding herself and why she’d rather suffer with Mulder than live out her life in peace with anyone else.

A-

P.S. Speaking of Christmas, I suppose you already know what day it is. So allow me to wish a very Merry Christmas to you and yours! A huge thank you to all of you who follow along because you make this a blast. See you in the new year!

Armchair Psychology:

How can Mulder possibly be surprised that Scully doesn’t believe in ghosts? Wasn’t he there for the events of “Shadows” (1×5)?

Did anyone else catch the moment where Mulder pauses during the telling of his gothic tale to wiggle his eyebrows?

I love that telltale heart moment.

The shot where you can see Scully’s face through that hole in Maurice’s head still impresses me. I wonder how much that cost…

So, Chris Carter knows exactly what Mulder and Scully gave each other for Christmas and he refuses to tell. Scrooge.

*MSR – Mulder/Scully Romance

Best Quotes:

Scully: I see. The dark, gothic manor the, uh, omnipresent low fog hugging the thicket of overgrowth… Wait… is that a hound I hear baying out on the moors?
Mulder: No. Actually that was a left cheek sneak. {Editor’s Note: I JUST got that. Sometimes I wonder about myself.}

———————-

Maurice: You drink? Take drugs?
Mulder: No.
Maurice: Get high?
Mulder: No.
Maurice: Are you overcome by the impulse to make everyone believe you?

———————-

Maurice: My specialty is in what I call soul prospectors, a cross axial classification I’ve codified by extensive interaction with visitors like yourself. I’ve found you all tend to fall into pretty much the same category.
Mulder: And what category is that?
Maurice: Narcissistic, overzealous, self-righteous egomaniac.
Mulder: Wow, that’s a category?
Maurice: You kindly think of yourself as single-minded but you’re prone to obsessive compulsiveness, workaholism, antisocialism. Fertile fields for the descent into… total wacko breakdown.
Mulder: I don’t think that pegs me exactly.
Maurice: Oh, really? Waving a gun around my house? Huh? Raving like a lunatic about some imaginary brick wall? You’ve probably convinced yourself you’ve seen aliens. You know why you think you see the things you do?
Mulder: Because I have seen them?
Maurice: ‘Cause you’re a lonely man. A lonely man, chasing paramasturbatory illusions that you believe will give your life meaning and significance and which your pathetic social maladjustment makes impossible for you to find elsewhere. You probably consider yourself passionate, serious, misunderstood. Am I right?
Mulder: Paramasturbatory?
Maurice: Most people would rather stick their fingers in a wall socket than spend a minute with you.
Mulder: All right, now just, uh… Just back off for a second.
Maurice: You spend every Christmas this way? Alone?
Mulder: I’m not alone.
Maurice: More self-delusion.
Mulder: No, I came here with my partner. She’s somewhere in the house.
Maurice: Behind a brick wall? How’d you get her to come with you? Steal her car keys?
Mulder: [Guilty silence]

——————–

Scully: Not that, uh, my only joy in life is proving you wrong.
Mulder: When have you proved me wrong?
Scully: Well… Why else would you want me out there with you?
Mulder: You didn’t want to be there? Oh, that’s, um… That’s self-righteous and… narcissistic of me to say, isn’t it?
Scully: No, I mean… Maybe I did want to be out there with you.

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23 responses to “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas 6×8: I just gave myself chills.

  1. Seriously… Posting this tonight, of all nights, was such a thoughtful Christmas gift for you to give us all! I have been watching this episode every night for a week now to help put me in the Christmas spirit and reading this review was the icing on the cake!

  2. Ok, I forgot to mention that my other favorite part of this episode was when Scully says that her New Year’s resolution is to NOT follow Mulder into every one of his whims!

  3. Hmm, I definitely never considered the possibility that Mulder was sort of putting the moves on Scully in this ep. I’ve always taken it as him genuinely wanting to look into the haunted house and not seeing the problem with pulling her away from her Christmas Eve-ing. The next time I watch it, I’m going to do so with that possibility in mind.

    This episode is part of my list of shows and movies I watch every Christmas, but I’ve always done it because it’s Christmas-y, not because I really love the episode. The production values are high, and I love the ending scene, and I especially love the scene before that with the hilariously bizarre juxtaposition of our heroes bleeding on the floor of the creepy house while classic Christmas music plays. But what comes before that has always bored me a little; Maurice and Lyda’s speeches always felt . . . forced. Like the writer was trying too hard to be clever. Still, the guest stars are fun and it has some great moments, so it’ll stay on my Christmas list.

    • Replace your love for the ending scene with a deep devotion to the opening scene in the car and you’ve pretty much described how I always felt about this episode. Fortunately, I’ve mellowed with this latest viewing. Maybe it’s the titillating twinkle in Mulder’s eye when Scully says, “Maybe I did want to be out there with you…”

  4. I love this episode so much, it’s so damn clever and gorgeous to look at and best of all, it practically takes place for the most part in one location. Ingenious.

    I hope you had a Very Happy Christmas Salome. 🙂

    • Let’s see… I ate – slept – read Luke 2 – opened presents – slept – ate – watched movies with the fam. Not bad as Christmases go! Hope yours was even better!

      Oh, and I read that Chris Carter needed a way to save Fox some money in an otherwise expensive season so he came up with the idea of keeping the action mainly to one location. Necessity really is the mother of invention, eh?

  5. Mine was pretty similar actually. Ate, slept, watched movies, ate some more, slept some more and watch some more movies too. Oh yeah, and got some presents too. 😀

  6. The following quote is in my top 5 LOL-iest quotes from the X-Files:

    Scully: I see. The dark, gothic manor the, uh, omnipresent low fog hugging the thicket of overgrowth… Wait… is that a hound I hear baying out on the moors?
    Mulder: No. Actually that was a left cheek sneak.

    I die. I love this episode. It’s like Halloween meets Christmas, which I love. I really love the attention to detail in it, like you said, when you see Gillian’s head through the hole in the guy’s head – so awesome.

    • I feel so ashamed that I never got that joke before this very rewatch. Oh, the LOLz I’ve missed! I just watched Trevor today and there’s a joke in there that still goes over my head. If I don’t get it soon I’m going to have to ask for help.

  7. Oh, hallelujah! I was browsing about for screenshots, searching for just the right X-Files moment for an art swap when I encountered your site. I *love* that people are still writing intelligent reviews and musings on “The X-Files”. Thanks!

  8. I love this episode. A bottle show, as it’s come to have been known, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas is one of my favorites for the simple fact that it’s such an intimate movie. As you said, it takes place in one location, with very few actors, no extra people to take our attention away from our focus, Mulder and Scully.

    Oh, and that quote about the “left cheek sneak?” …yeah, just got it too. 😀

    • Ah! I knew there was a term for it but I had forgotten it. A bottle show. And I am sooo comforted to know I’m not the only one who missed the joke.

  9. I always thought Maurice and Lyda knew that what they were saying about Mulder and Scully was overdone but would play on their own worst fears. I also thought maybe it was a Christmas present to both of them to have this possible eventuality pointed out to them so they could make sure they didn’t turn into the narcissist and the I told you so person

  10. I would have preferred something darker and scarier. Nice beginning, good ending, but the rest was dumb, cheesy fluff.

  11. Pingback: Triangle 6×3: I would’ve never seen you again, but you believed me. | Musings of an X-Phile

  12. I’m all for it. And yet… part of me is starting to worry. No, nothing has been bad by any means. This string of episodes has been fabulous! Still, my spidey sense is atingle: where are the X-Files? At what point does the show become too self-conscious?

    ===========================================================

    Again, you’ve read my mind. I am really, really enjoying your reviews post watch. I JUST finished watching this ep ten minutes ago.

    I posted earlier today post Dreamland 1 and 2 and the tickling in my mind then is exactly what you describe above. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. I thought Asner was terrific but then again, he usually is.

    • Thanks much!!! Ed Asner has amused me since childhood. I’m sure Chris Carter was giddy to be able to get him and Miss Tomlinson together. That’s a crazy coup for the show.

      I think if there had been a little more variation instead of a string of comedy episodes in a row, less of the audience would have been turned off or scared away.

  13. I have never commented before despite reading almost all your reviews up until this point (they are fantastic by the way, thank you for making them). But I am going to push past my shyness to marvel at the fact that Scully has seen dead people in probably at least 3 episodes at this point and believes in an afterlife (not to mention witnessing a multitude of paranormal phenomena) and she still doesn’t believe in ghosts or spirits?? Sometimes I wonder if she just says things like this to piss Mulder off.

    Anyway, I thought this episode was a delightful mix of spooky and funny that I love from the X-Files and I think it will go down as a favorite for me.

  14. I’ve been rewatching the X-Files and stumbled upon your site somewhere around Season 4 and I’ve been reading them after every episode since! I wish we (and all of the community) had known each other 20 years ago – I would’ve loved to geek out with you! So thanks for writing these, Salome.

    So, this episode – I didn’t remember it at all. But I absolutely loved it! Esp the set design, spooks and intimate moments between Mulder and Scully. It was such a juxtaposition of horror and contentment. That scene in the hallway when they were crawling through their own blood was completely gross but then they gave each other presents and I felt all warm inside! And the look Scully gives when settling in to hear Mulder’s story, she just loves that man. Awwwww!

    Final comment – has Scully ever been so scared out of her mind??

    Anyway, love love your site! Am looking forward to continuing the journey!

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