I was looking forward to watching “Revelations” with a fresh pair of grown up eyes, a pair I apparently didn’t posses when I last watched it as recently as eight months ago. But I confess some trepidation about what I’d actually have to say about it and worse, what it might say to me about the inconsistent spirituality of The X-Files. Funny that it turns out I’m in love with “Revelations” right at this moment. I say all this to explain why I’m about to go into a long and rambling treatise about an episode I never much cared for.
As the episode begins, we think we might be in for another dog and pony show along the lines of “Miracle Man” (1×17) where a church service in the Deep South bears a striking resemblance to an Elvis impersonator’s concert. Similarly, the Reverend (played by R. Lee Ermey) in the opening scene of “Revelations” has a dressing room complete with a stage mirror rather than an office. Even the cross in the sanctuary is a lit up set piece. Therefore it’s no surprise when the Reverend’s stigmata turns out to be no more than a staged play.
The last time The X-Files addressed religion it did it through what was largely a caricature. Not that it was wholly ineffective, but I suspect the writers consciously tried not to take the plot too deep so as not to offend either their religious or secular audience with philosophical meanderings. Consequently “Miracle Man” was less about faith as a conviction than it was a Christlike allegory run amok. It did plant an intriguing seed, however, because that episode is when we learn that Scully was raised a Catholic and while she doesn’t appear to be practicing, she shows some spiritual sensitivity that we hadn’t seen from her up to that point.
And yet, except for that brief moment, the series has never explored why or if faith is still important to Scully; Scully, who always wears her cross but acts more as though science were her god. We never find out what it was that caused Scully to drift from the church, but we can imagine it was the usual. Growing self-reliance, doubts, the desire to fit in with the culture at large, complacency, the distractions of life… any number of factors could have culminated in Scully, not walking away from her faith, but forgetting about it over time.
Suddenly she finds herself confronted by realities she wasn’t sure if she still believed in. And the one person she can usually turn to in her vulnerability, Mulder, is shockingly unreceptive to Scully’s desire to believe. Mulder! Mr. There Isn’t So Ridiculous a Theory That I Won’t Shout it from the Rooftops! It’s a puzzle, that’s for sure. But it’s a nice change of pace, even so. It’s so rare that Mulder’s the skeptic and Scully’s the believer and I confess I relish the fact that his almost inerrant intuition is completely off base for once. Still, why is Mulder so resistant to the idea that these so-called religious fanatics could be right? It’s not that he’s completely adverse to religion. He was appreciative enough of Albert Hosteen’s ministrations in “The Blessing Way” (3×1) and was quick enough to believe in Eastern European cult religious practices in “The Calusari” (2×21). So what gives? Could it be that Christianity is the issue?
This is such a massive topic that I’m going to turn to a source far more clever than I to make my point. A few months back I discovered the amazing reviews over at The A.V. Club (www.avclub.com). It’s by geeks, for geeks so if you’ve never checked it out, please do. Every television show and movie worth watching, and many that aren’t, are reviewed over there so there are hours worth of entertainment for any nerdy little heart. Zack Handlen wrote a review there on “Revelations” from a self-described Mulderish point of view that I think perfectly explains why someone like Mulder would be more resistant to this case than to the average X-File:
I have a hard time lumping Christian faith in with the usual kind of x-files we see. I’m guessing that’s partly to do with the prejudice I mentioned earlier. To me, Christianity is different than monsters, and less fun. (Although I had no problems with “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” which approached the problem from the other direction, which shows you what side I’m playing on, I guess.) Guys who can squeeze into weird shapes, flecks of light that eat unwary lumberjacks, punk kids who can control lightning, these are all weird, but they don’t suggest a comprehensive philosophy. They’re anomalies, and even if their existence implies a potential for greater occult possibilities, that implication isn’t restrictive. There really isn’t a “squeeze guy, light flecks, lightning punk” Bible out there, and belief in any or all of these creatures doesn’t require a massive overhaul of one’s notion of existence.
Having proof there are angels and demons and God, though, that’s a lot trickier. If there’s a Christian God in the X-Files universe, doesn’t that trump just about everything else that Mulder and Scully have spent their time on? (Maybe that’s why Mulder’s so pissy about it. Nobody likes discovering their pet cause isn’t the shiniest.)
Yet, with all Mulder’s talk about belief and faith and this massive search for the truth, for The X-Files not to explore religion and Christianity itself would seem like a gross oversight. But this does explain why Chris Carter never honed these themes to a fine point. How could he? The answers to such a monumental question, if he feigned to have them, would certainly outshine any alien conspiracy… well, he does try to join the two concepts in Season 7… and then largely backs off because religion and space aliens are tough bedfellows.
This also explains the resistance of someone like Mulder even though his life motto is “I Want to Believe.” Like all of us, he wants to believe in something, just within certain parameters. I find it refreshingly realistic that Mulder is open in some ways and closed in others, just as Scully is except in the opposite direction. He’s willing to believe the word of psychotic abductees, why not a religious zealot? And Scully, she’s usually preaching to Mulder about the sanctity of evolution and yet she’s almost never without her cross. Isn’t that how most people are? Full of contradictions? We wouldn’t be human if we weren’t.
It’s not a perfect episode. The reason behind all of these spiritual machinations is never explained. There’s a war between good and evil but we never find out why Kevin is involved or what spiritual encounter Gates had in the Holy Land that turned him into a flesh burning assassin. There’s also some flawed theology but there’s no use in nitpicking because that’s not what this episode is about. Whatever its shortcomings, it ends with a haunting and quietly powerful impression:
Priest: Sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth. Why does that surprise you?
Scully: Mostly it just makes me afraid.
Scully: Afraid that God is speaking… but that no one’s listening.
…And the Verdict is:
Mulder claims to be looking for miracles, but maybe sometimes he doesn’t find them because he’s only looking through a particular paradigm; the way that Scully often doesn’t see the same evidence he sees when they’re investigating because she’s looking through the lens of science. Never have Mulder and Scully seemed so far apart in essence as they do in this episode. Not in an antagonistic way, but it’s apparent that there’s a chasm when it comes to religious faith that neither of them can cross to reach each other.
Faith in God is the one aspect of Scully’s character that’s not accessible to Mulder. Even her science he relates to on some level in that he needs it to prove what’s never been proven. But Scully’s talk of catechism class is foreign to him and his immediate dismissal of it makes her uncomfortable. She looks almost sheepish as she suggests these things to Mulder. I can relate to her reluctance since I can remember having a similar experience in college. “You don’t really believe that do you? Not you.” By the final scene, she shuts him out.
We never get a reaction from Mulder in the end. Did he admit that Scully was right all along? Did he regret ragging on her a bit? It seems to me that he’s just a little bit sad. Maybe he too realizes that a gulf has opened up between him. But I guess we’ll never know exactly what goes through his head.
Funny how some of the least memorable episodes are the most interesting to discuss. Now please excuse me while I go break out some St. Augustine.
St. Ignatius was not in the Bible. Scully wasn’t paying close enough attention in catechism class.
Once again, Mulder and Scully are at the crime scene way too soon, otherwise the coroner would have already discovered the fake blood.
This was the final X-Files episode for director David Nutter who gave us such fabulous television memories as “Ice” (1×7) “Beyond the Sea” (1×12), “Irresistible” (2×13) and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4). With that resume, it seems fitting that his swan song should be a Scully-centered episode.
It’s also fitting that this is one of the few X-Files episodes penned by a woman, writer Kim Newton. She would also go on to give us “Quagmire” (3×22), another episode famous for delving into Scully’s background and psychology. I suspect if there had been a few more women on staff, Scully would have been more likable that she usually is in stand-alone episodes.
There was a great moment at the mental institution where Kevin’s father speaks in tongues and Scully understands her while Mulder only hears gibberish. I kind of wish they hadn’t shied away from keeping that scene in.
Mulder goes through a spiritual evolution himself over the course of the series, which is interesting as well, although it progresses at a much slower pace. It’s a bit satisfying that Scully has this corner of The X-Files to herself.
Gillian Anderson has one of her most effective moments ever in that final scene.
Owen Jarvis: I was only asked to protect the boy.
Mulder: By who? Who asked you to protect him?
Owen Jarvis: God.
Mulder: [Scoffs] That’s quite a long distance call, isn’t it?
Owen Jarvis: You don’t understand. Unless someone protects Kevin…
Mulder: It’s the end of the world as we know it, right?
Owen Jarvis: He who has ears, let him hear.
Owen Jarvis: You believe me don’t you? I mean, you must wear that as a reminder.
Scully: Mr. Jarvis, my religious convictions are hardly the issue here.
Owen Jarvis: But they are! How can you help Kevin if you don’t believe? Even the killer, he believes.
Mulder: And the townsfolk wonder why I sleep in on Sunday.
Owen Jarvis: Mass on Christmas, Fish on Friday… you think that makes you a good Christian? Just because you don’t understand sacrifice, because you’re unwilling, don’t think for a moment that you set the rules for me! I don’t question His word. Whatever He asks of me, I’ll do.
Scully: Well isn’t a saint or a holy person just another term for someone who’s abnormal?
Mulder: Do you really believe that?
Scully: I… believe in the idea that God’s hand can be witnessed. I believe He can create miracles, yes.
Mulder: Even if science can’t explain them?
Scully: Maybe that’s just what faith is.
Mulder: Well I wouldn’t let faith overwhelm your judgment here. These people are simply fanatics behaving fanatically, using religion as a justification. They give bona fide paranoiacs like myself a bad name. They are no more divine or holy than that ketchup we saw on the murdered preacher. And I think that once you’ve finished your autopsy, you’ll come to the same conclusion.
Scully: How is it that you’re able to go out on a limb whenever you see a light in the sky but you’re unwilling to accept the possibility of a miracle? Even when it’s right in front of you?
Mulder: I wait for a miracle every day… but what I’ve seen here has only tested my patience, not my faith.