Walking in Memphis.
Before we start, let’s take a moment to consider what could have been:
“They had long wanted to write a story about Lincoln’s ghost haunting the White House, and thought this would work splendidly on The X-Files; finally, Mulder and Scully go to the White House! But their disappointment over the changes they were forced to make ‘Musings of Cigarette Smoking Man’ caused them to withhold the ghost story and look for something else. ‘I had done a lot of research and I had always wanted to write a feature about Lincoln’s ghost,’ Morgan said, ‘But I felt they didn’t want my heart and soul anymore, so I wouldn’t give this one to them.’
Why cast pearls before swine? Instead of Lincoln’s ghost, we got Jodie Foster’s disembodied voice. It’s a pretty even trade.
I don’t like this episode. And I know that just as much as it was hated when it first aired it’s become something of a critic’s darling over the years. Even so, I still can’t see it. I think most of this praise stems from the fact that the episode and the content thereof is admittedly daring for The X-Files. But showing us a new side of Scully’s character, while a worthy goal, isn’t merit enough for me considering the side the side of Scully they decided to show.
I think the fairest way to look at this episode is the way that writers Morgan and Wong intended it, outside of the shadow of “Leonard Betts” (4×14). These two episodes were shown out of broadcast order because The Powers That Be felt that “Leonard Betts” would be a better episode to air directly after the Super Bowl. I have to say they were right. “Leonard Betts” is a better representation of what the show is all about. “Never Again” not only could potentially alienate a large segment of fans (the Shippers), but it could leave the new audience that Fox was trying to recruit a little confused. After all, unless you know the history of Mulder and Scully’s day-to-day relationship this episode loses a lot of its power.
So for the majority of this review, I’m going to consider the episode as written: Scully has no idea that she may have cancer. Her actions have no impetus or inspiration outside of her own psyche.
There’s an interesting assumption subtly put forth here in the beginning of the episode that Mulder and Scully have a lot more cases, most of them mundane and unfruitful, than we as the audience get to see. It’s actually a great idea and would explain why Scully’s skepticism still holds sway even in the face of all that she’s seen if she’s actually seen more that can be dismissed than that can be proved. The problem is, as late as “Teliko” (4×4) Scully is typing up case report #74, which is the same as the episode number give or take a combined abduction arc or two. That would mean that up to this point in the series, what we’ve seen is all there is to see. And if Scully’s seen exactly what we’ve seen, her petulant ennui seems rather misplaced. At the very least, she shouldn’t dismiss Mulder and his informant so easily. What was that she said to Mulder way back in “The Erlenmeyer Flask” (1×23)? “I should know by now to trust your instincts.”
Sometimes I think Morgan and Wong were reading from a completely new playbook.
Not that their unfortunate characterization of Mulder is completely out of left field. He is rather self-righteous and self-absorbed. But he’s certainly proven that he can be selfless when it comes to Scully. Episodes such as “End Game” (2×17) and “Paper Clip” (3×2) are evidence enough of this. Sure, when he says obnoxiously obtuse things like, “You don’t want it to be?,” in response to Scully’s complaint that his work has become her life, he’s rather asking for a slap. But then again, hasn’t she already affirmed in episodes like “Herrenvolk” (4×1) that they’re in this thing together? Hasn’t he given her escape routes that she refuses to take in episodes like “Tooms” (1×21) and “End Game”? If Mulder is presumptuous when it comes to Scully, it’s only because she’s set herself up for it by being so faithful.
What’s more, this line always raises my eyebrow:
Scully: Refusing an assignment? It makes it sound like you’re my superior.
Reality check, Scully. I believe he is.
Oh, I don’t know if he’s technically her superior, but he’s certainly the Senior Agent having graduated from Quantico 4 years before Scully even began at the Academy. Not to mention that he’s way ahead of her in this whole paranormal gig. And as far as her holding down the fort while Mulder’s on vacation, isn’t that her job? Is she even allowed to refuse an assignment except that her close relationship with Mulder gives her leave to do so?
Considering the nature of their working relationship and the precedents she herself has set, Mulder’s annoyance at Scully’s sudden shift in behavior is somewhat justified.
“I thought Scully gets jerked around a lot by Mulder, and this is time for her to stand up for herself,” Morgan said… Sometimes friends suddenly seem troubled and you don’t know why and they won’t tell you. I think he is concerned, even though they get into a little fight… Scully doesn’t do a good job at telling him what’s wrong. She’s inarticulate about it, and I don’t think he understands what she’s trying to say. Mulder should have said, ‘Well, what’s making you feel this way?’ or ‘I don’t understand.’ But in the case of a lot of friends, he just gets frustrated, and sort of blows out. He’s a psychologist, but when it comes to his own life, it’s a forest for the trees type situation. It’s just too close to him.”
Ah, yes. The fight.
The fact that Scully doesn’t have a desk makes Mulder look like a jackass. But frankly, “Why don’t I have a desk?” is a silly question. “Why haven’t I asked for a desk?” is a better one. I’m sure she can requisition one without Mulder’s assistance. (In Morgan and Wong’s defense, this argument was inspired by internet fans whose hawk-like eyes had noticed that Scully still hadn’t earned a place to sit in 4 years).
This sudden wedge between them feels slightly artificial, especially since we know that Scully takes over the desk any old time she pleases. Without the context that “Leonard Betts” gives, it seems as though the writers are looking for an excuse to drive a wedge between our two leads.
“My understanding at the beginning of the year was that we were going to drive to a point where Mulder and Scully didn’t trust each other,” Morgan said. His own scenario for plotting out the season was somewhat different from what Carter and the other writers came up with this year, but the fundamental issue was the same: trust. “I would have slowly split Mulder and Scully up over the course of the season, then in the last episode have Scully put Mulder away for his own good, which he would perceive as the ultimate betrayal,” Morgan said. “And then the next season, they would have had an entire year’s healing to go through.”
And there it is. Yet another example of why it was so important that Chris Carter hold tightly to the reigns of his own creation. It’s not that Morgan’s plan wouldn’t have made for a good drama. And certainly, the 1013 crew did create some tension between Mulder and Scully to keep the audience on their toes. But I dare say that if such a plan had come to fruition, The X-Files would have been The X-Files no longer but some kind of sci-fi soap opera (a fate that it wouldn’t teeter close to till much later in the series).
What if Morgan and Wong’s other plans had gone through? What if Melissa Scully had become Mulder’s love interest? What if CSM had killed Frohike? What if Scully had had sex with Ed Jerse, not just permanently altering her characterization but forever changing the tone of the series? Objectively, I can see why stories like that would be more fun to write. But as a fan, they potentially would have killed my love for the show.
Speaking of sex…
I’ve said before that Mulder and Scully are heroes in the Romantic literary tradition. Humanizing them is one thing. Even Odysseus had his faults. But there’s only so, well, “gritty” you can make a hero before they lose their status altogether. If we had witnessed the same Scully who once famously said, “Hard to imagine in this day and age someone having sex with a perfect stranger,” do the deed with a perfect stranger after only a few drinks to numb her inhibitions, she would have lost her dignity.
Look at the reaction the Detectives have to finding her in Ed Jerse’s apartment the morning after. Do they take her seriously in that disheveled condition? Hardly. And as a woman in the F.B.I., Scully would have had to work hard for her reputation and for respect. A woman with so much to lose would be more cautious. To not do so could put her career at risk.
“As to why it was cut, Morgan said that Carter and the other writers felt that every other woman on television was jumping into bed, and they had worked very hard to differentiate Scully from other female television characters. Morgan’s response: ‘She’s different, but the way she is now, she’s not human.’”
It’s not human to be celibate? Or to at least hold out for a while? Scully doesn’t have to be realistic a la The Sopranos to be believable. Besides, Scully is a sentimentalized vision, as is Mulder in his own way. Scully represents an ideal of intelligent, unexploited womanhood. Taint that at your own peril.
Scully: Sometimes I wish I were that impulsive.
Ed Jerse isn’t even Scully’s type. Judging by her past and future track record in episodes like “Lazarus” (1×14) and “all things” (7×17) she’s more into the intellectual sort as a rule. This is rebellion. Pure and simple. That said, unlike Mulder and Melissa in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5), their chemistry is believable, even if it’s not of the life long sort. Besides, he doesn’t seem to be bothered when he essentially tells him that he’s nothing more than a proverbial giant pack of cigarettes to her.
But, why Ed Jerse and why now? She sees the picture in his apartment with his face burned out. She knows this man is troubled. Such reckless behavior is unlike Scully who here-to-fore has been rational to a fault.
“My gut feeling is that Scully does see Mulder as a father figure,” Morgan said… “In ‘Never Again,’ I don’t know if she’s rejecting the message, but she’s rejecting the father. At times their relationship becomes so oppressive. When I was married and unhappy, I would just go through these things where things would build up, and then I would just do something stupid. And I’d go, ‘What the hell is that? That’s not even me.’”
I’ve already made an argument for why I don’t think the comparison between Bill Scully and Mulder is on point. The details are in my review for “Quagmire” (3×22), but to summarize, just because Scully called her father “Ahab” does not mean that he was actually an Ahab-like figure the way that Mulder is. Bill Scully was no post-modern Don Quixote, unlike Mulder who wears his hopeful neediness on his sleeve. Rather, I believe that Scully sees Mulder as this tragically heroic figure, one whose quest she’s drawn to at least partially out of her own sense of awe and adventure. Again, this is why stripping Mulder and/or Scully of the Romantic aura that surrounds them would disrupt the whole course of the show.
Scully: I’ve always gone around in this, uh… this circle. It usually starts when an authoritative or a controlling figure comes into my life.
Mulder? Authoritative? Controlling? “All consuming,” I’ll give you. But despite the fact that he has a very effective puppy dog face, Mulder is certainly no puppet master. And as far as authoritative, Scully’s consistently sarcastic remarks in response to his theories would say otherwise. This is hardly a teacher-pupil relationship. Scully brings just as much to the table as Mulder. And yet, here she is painted as that same, stupid little girl sucking poison into her lungs not because she likes cigarettes, but because some perverse part of her wants to piss off the father she loves and that she knows loves her. It’s rebellion at its silliest.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Scully wants to be her own person. That’s a natural desire and it can’t be discounted. Mulder’s right, they do need to spend some time apart so that Scully can remember who she is and what she wants. If this episode achieves anything, it forces both Mulder and Scully to recognize just how entrenched their relationship has become, such that both are unsure of their identities without it.
“I feel that Mulder had come to respect that there’s more to this than just him, that Scully is now a part of his life and he’s a part of hers. I think that she learned the danger of exploring the rebellious side, and that it has to be accompanied by responsibility. What she did almost got her killed.”
Their communication skills leave something to be desired. But since the very next episode leaves the events of “Never Again” all but forgotten, I think we can safely say that no permanent damage was done. Not that they didn’t come very, very close what with Mulder making cavalier jokes about Scully’s tattoo and all.
“’I hope we helped Chris out,’ Wong concluded. ‘I think we did a good job. It was a lot of work; we basically did a season’s work in half a season, but I hope that didn’t show in the quality of our X-Files and Millennium episodes. We have very fond thoughts of the people we worked with.’”
Morgan and Wong did do an awesome job, even if much of their work on Season 4 leaves me a little wary and grateful that they decided to move on when they did. Some seasons of life are good while they last, but they shouldn’t be artificially enjoyed past their expiration date. Besides, the quality of their work has never been in doubt. It’s their X-Files philosophy that I sometimes take issue with.
Oh, I know that Mulder and Scully aren’t perfect. And they don’t act perfectly toward each other. But imperfect doesn’t automatically translate to dysfunctional. Why do we have to believe that they’re together because of some twisted and unhealthy psychological need?
There’s a far more simple and compelling, if less melodramatic explanation: They’re friends.
Taking this episode as it was aired, after “Leonard Betts”, everything about it is much easier to accept. Scully doesn’t know how long she has to live, so why not throw off any and all constraints? There’s always a risk of infection and allergic reactions with tattoos, not to mention the risks involved in sex with a stranger, all things that Scully, as a doctor, would be more than aware of. But if she’s dying anyway, what’s the use in being the good girl? In the light of cancer, seeing Scully suddenly question the trajectory of her life makes perfect sense. What was satisfactory a week ago when you thought you had all the time in the world to find the things you want in life suddenly looks bland and meaningless.
Yet even considering that, there’s only so “grounded” these characters can be and still be able to function in a series where the fantastic happens on the regular. Like it or not, Mulder is the Indiana Jones of the F.B.I. We can’t hate Indy and cheer him on.
I confess I still don’t understand sending Scully to the dark side without rhyme, reason or impetus. It’s hard to reconcile this new image of Scully with the fact that her biggest rebellion on record is giving up medicine… to work for the government.
P.S. The excerpts are from an interview with Morgan and Wong that can be found here: http://etc1013.wordpress.com/1997/10/01/cinefantastique-4/
Scully has a fight scene for the second episode in a row. Rock on, Scully.
It’s always more believable when Mulder and Scully seek and discover an X-File rather than when an X-File stumbles upon them.
Scully pieces together that the blood with the strange toxicology found in the victim’s apartment is most likely Ed’s. Ergo, she must realize there’s a good chance he’s the killer, yet she unloads her suspicions on him without any precautions as though a trip to the doctor’s office is all that’s in order. Is she just taking “innocent until proven guilty” to a ridiculous extreme? Woman, you should have had your gun in hand.
It’s interesting to note that there were some reservations about the script of “Small Potatoes” (4×20) calling for a near kiss between “Mulder” and Scully after he plies her with some alcohol. After all, no one wanted Scully to appear easy…
“In December 1996 someone on the old AOL discussion group posted that they wished Scully would get a love interest. Glen Morgan emailed the person and told her that he was writing just that, and for ‘Shippers to be afraid … be very afraid.’ This caused a heated debate among Shippers/Non-Shippers/Shipper Haters and everyone else. As a result, Morgan posted something on AOL to defend himself: ‘Well, this is almost as embarrassing as the recent Chargers-Patriots game. I swear … I have nothing against either side. Mulder and Scully may love each other, they may not. But, as in any relationship, it should be challenged to see if it is strong. Long live the debate! I love this series. I love the fans. I *HATE* Entertainment Weekly (as long as we’re being honest). Jim and I would never write anything with the sole intention of making anyone angry. If that is a reaction to an episode, however, great! It’s better than being boring. The comment that was posted was a joke. And if it was meant to be a public joke, then it would have been. My apologies if anyone was upset. Never again — Glen.’” Source: http://cleigh6.tripod.com/CTP/CTP-neveragain.html
Scully: Your contact, while interesting in the context of science fiction was… at least in my memory, recounting a poorly veiled synopsis of an episode of Rocky & Bullwinkle.
Mulder: “Eenie Weenie Chili Beanie, the spirits are about to speak?”
Scully: Rocky and Bullwinkle are looking for an Upsidasian mine. Boris Badenov alters the road signs, which causes them to walk onto a secret military base, where they are picked up by a car with no windows and no door locks, and there are silent explosions from a compound called Hush-a-boom.
Mulder: So you’re refusing an assignment based on the adventures of… [Boris Badenov voice] “Moose and Squirrel?”
Scully: Sometimes I wish I were more impulsive.
Ed Jerse: Careful what you wish for.
Scully: Look, Mulder, I have to go.
Mulder: What? You got a date or something?
Mulder: You… you’re kidding.
Scully: I have everything under control. I will talk to you later.
Mulder: All this because I… because I didn’t get you a desk?
Scully: Not everything is about you, Mulder. This is my life.
Mulder: Yes, but it’s m…