People think the Devil has horns and a tail. They’re not looking for some kindly man that tells you what you want to hear.
This all day.
Cheesy pun intended, but after a string of episodes I could take or leave, “Signs and Wonders” is a blessing. Though every time I watch it I start off thinking I won’t be able to handle it. No, not because of the snakes. I like snakes. But because I don’t think I can take another exaggerated Hollywood portrait of the faithful. Almost every church service Hollywood attempts, the congregation extras look like drunken zombies. The charismatic services? Drunken zombies having seizures.
Our first several introductions to antagonist (?) Rev. Enoch and his flock start off with a hefty dose of the latter. Not much of these performances are believable, though the actor who plays Rev. Enoch comes the closest.
Then again, what do I know? From what I’ve read, Director Kim Manners said that the actor who played Rev. Enoch, Michael Childers, is actually the son of a snake preacher man, so guess he would have first hand knowledge of what extreme looks like. I only grew up in an Assemblies of God church, where we weren’t snake handlers but we were small and southern and it wasn’t strange to see someone slain in the Spirit come Sunday morning or Sunday evening or Wednesday night. Because I think we were about the last generation that expected church and was expected at church three times a week, not counting youth group and/or Bible study. I loved it.
Continuing my informational aside, Robert Duvall’s The Apostle remains the most tonally accurate depiction of the southern Pentecostal tradition. And if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend that you do. Boy, the 90’s were great for movies.
But back to “Signs and Wonders”. It’s purposefully ham-handed in the beginning… the middle… and most of the end… because writer Jeffrey Bell is setting us up for a shock. There’s more misdirection here than there was in “The Amazing Maleeni” (7×8).
There’s a great scene that intercuts between two church meetings, one lead by the manic Rev. O’Connor at the Church of God with Signs and Wonders, the other by a calm, so non-judgmental that he refuses to have an opinion, Rev. Mackey at the progressive Blessing Community Church across town. The juxtaposition tells us everything we think we need to know.
|Rev. O’Connor||Rev. Mackey|
Now which Bible study would you rather invite your friends to?
Personally, in real life, I’d consider both preachers dangerous and misguided, though I suppose at gunpoint I’d rather face real snakes than spiritual ones. But the Church of God with Signs and Wonders is so over the top it’s impossible to like. And I’d question the sanity of anyone who thought that church service looked appealing. Then, that’s the point. Not everything good is appealing, like broccoli or exercise. And not everything appealing is good. The Devil has a way of disguising himself as everything appealing.
Everything on the surface of Rev. Enoch O’Connor and his church is unappealing, and Scully is duly turned off. Mulder, on the other hand, while certainly not turned on, is a little more… open, shall we say, to O’Connor’s extremism. And for once, for once! We have an episode about organized religion where Mulder is non-judgmental and Scully is skeptical. Who’s punking me?
I really like Mulder in this episode. He almost reminds me of Season 3 Mulder, who I actually didn’t much care for. He recklessly follows his gut, come what may. He antagonizes guest stars and lectures Scully. Mulder, where have you been?? The X-Files, where have you been??? This entire horror-fest feels like a Season 3 standard. I’ve missed this kind of old-fashioned creep-out. But I digress yet again.
Open-minded as Mulder may try to be, he still nearly falls into Rev. Mackey’s trap. Like Rev. O’Connor says, “Unless you’re smart down here, the Devil’s gonna make a fool of you and you ain’t even gonna know it.” It was Mackey who seduced Gracie O’Connor away from her father and his church. Mackey who impregnated her. Mackey who sicced his snakes on Jared and Iris and set up Rev. O’Connor to look good for it. Mackey is tolerant, kind, smart, and he would have killed Mulder if Scully hadn’t… I mean if Mulder hadn’t passed th… I mean if he’d had time to fin…
I’m really not sure why Mulder’s still with us.
But message received. I’m glad I sat through the vacant, ecstatic expressions, the oddly timed arm raises, the spit. Now I know that old snake, the Devil, disguises himself as an angel of light, and as mild-mannered, uber-tolerant pastors.
Watching this episode reminds me of a story my mother sometimes tells.
There was a local preacher who she, frankly, couldn’t tolerate. Pick your favorite stereotype about flamboyant televangelists and he was it. He was loud, gaudy, and decked out with a ring on every finger, each big enough so that you could be sure to see it from the furthest pew. He used to pull stunts like taking off his jacket and whipping it across the stage just for show.
It would seem simple enough to just avoid him and his church, but mom had friends who were a part of his congregation and some social duties can’t be avoided. So one night she found herself back there at his church, perched in a pew and preparing herself to hear him from the pulpit. Problem was, they were still in the midst of worship, he hadn’t even gotten to the message yet, but she couldn’t take it anymore. He was too much for her.
Just as she was about to mentally, and possibly physically, check out, she heard a voice in her spirit. “Don’t look at the messenger, pay attention to the message.” Well, she took that literally. She spent the entire church service with her eyes closed and her head down. And, what do you know? He made a lot of sense when you couldn’t see him. He was even a blessing.
They’ve been friends ever since.
Sometimes sincere and sincerely correct people are belied by their antics. Sometimes people think they’re on the side of the angels when they’re really enabling evil to work unchecked. Okay, 1013. There you go making me think again.
Truthfully, ever so truthfully, this still isn’t a Noone-Talk-To-Me-I’m-Watching-Mulder-N-Scully episode. But it doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of being boring.
The actress who plays Iris Finster, Beth Grant, looked frustratingly familiar so I checked IMDB and it turns out she’s been in pretty much everything.
I was also sure Tracy Middendorf (Gracie) and I had met before. Turns out we had met after, not before, when I was watching 24.
Now, you saw those Little House on the Prairie dresses Iris and Gracie wore to Jared’s funeral. I don’t care if this is Blessing, TN. It’s not 1880.
Don’t front, 1013. We all know that Scully asking, “Where’s the light switch?” after they walk into a church with every window inexplicably covered is merely an excuse to have Mulder and Scully break out their trademark flashlights despite the broad L.A. daylight.
Someone refresh my memory if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe The X-Files has ever scared us with snakes before. One wonders why it took so long. I don’t know but that I’m glad they’re back to frightening us with our own latent phobias.
Rev. Mackey guilt trips Gracie in the hospital by accusing her of not thinking for herself. But she’s not supposed to be thinking for herself. She’s supposed to be thinking for her father whose last wishes it’s her duty to carry out.
On the DVD (I’m ancient. I know.), the episode menu basically reveals the villain of this episode. I’m already a cesspool of spoilers, but what about the newbies??
We never do find out exactly who or what Rev. Mackey was. Like Donnie Pfaster before him, we’re not sure if he’s a man given completely over to evil or if he’s some kind of incarnation of the Devil. Unlike Donnie Pfaster, he has an unmistakable supernatural element. Does he take this act around the country? Does the unsuspecting little parishioner lady at the end get eaten by snakes? Things I still want to know.
I also want to know: If Gracie was sleeping with Rev. Mackey and knew he was the father of her baby, then she also knew he was a manipulative hypocrite. Why does she spend 90% of the episode listening to his advice?
Wait. Wait. Or maybe, just maybe, Rev. Mackey actually is a snake and as a snake is taking revenge on Rev. O’Connor for his many years of snake shenanigans.
Everything. Makes. Sense.
Mulder: Lots and lots of snakes.
Rev. O’Connor: Educated man. Too smart to know any better… You think because you’re educated you’re better than most? You ain’t. Unless you’re smart down here [indicates heart], the Devil’s gonna make a fool of you and you ain’t even gonna know it.
Mulder: Sometimes a little intolerance can be a welcome thing.
Rev. Mackey: Most people believe they’re on the side of angels, but are they?