Tag Archives: Sensitive Scully

Paper Hearts 4×8: Tell me about this dream.


"Tut, tut, child! Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."

Writer Vince Gilligan first popped up on The X-Files’ roster with Season 2’s “Soft Light” (2×23) before breaking out with the hallmark episode “Pusher” (3×17) in Season 3. It turns out that Gilligan began as a screenwriter and was a fan of The X-Files as a regular ole’ viewer long before he came on staff. This explains both his predilection for cinematic stories and why this episode is almost unnervingly cannon in content.

For a man who claimed that mythology episodes weren’t his strong suit, Gilligan is awfully accurate about the myriad of X-Files facts that he scatters throughout “Paper Hearts”, an episode that uses the mythology as its base even though it’s certainly not a mythology episode and can barely be categorized as a Monster of the Week. It’s more a psychological study than anything else, along the lines of “Irresistible” (2×13) and “Grotesque” (3×14). But I digress. Every fact except Mulder’s birthday makes its way in here through such fleeting references as a mention of Mulder’s former mentor Reggie Perdue who was killed in “Young at Heart” (1×15) and a quote from the episode “Aubrey” (2×12). That’s not even counting the word-for-word recreation of Samantha’s abduction with adult Mulder inserted into the mix, a scene that’s perfectly done.

Clearly, “Paper Hearts” is written by a man who understands the language of fandom.

And like the fans, Vince Gilligan is well aware that the whole premise of The X-Files hinges on Mulder’s belief that his sister Samantha was abducted by aliens. If indeed she turned out not to be, the payoff wouldn’t be as grand. And indeed, eventually it wasn’t.

That’s why this episode isn’t pretending to be a legitimate explanation for what happened to Samantha but an exploration of the possibilities. What Gilligan is tapping into is that seed of doubt. Mulder himself stated back in “Little Green Men” (2×1) that he wasn’t sure if his memories of Samantha’s abduction were real, and since then he’s run into a couple of different versions of “Samantha”, or at least her clone.

What is Mulder to believe? Is she still out there somewhere? Is this whole alien conspiracy a ruse as Scully claims in “Paper Clip” (3×2) so that the men behind a set of secret and sadistic experiments can hide their crimes?  It’s an issue that will come up again for Mulder later in the season and will be explored at length in Season 5. But I digress.

Part of the reason I used to not enjoy this episode was because I could so easily dismiss the idea of a serial killer being responsible for what happened to Samantha. The main reason is that I always go into Monster of the Week Withdrawal around this point in the series. We haven’t had a really satisfying one since “Unruhe” (4×2) and “Paper Hearts”, while technically a Monster of the Week episode, is more of a character driven episode than a scary or paranormal one.

That said, it’s satisfying in its real world horror in the same way that “Irresistible” is. And it’s far more satisfying than the one note insanity of “Grotesque”. In the same vein of both of those episodes, there’s very little of the supernatural to speak of, if indeed anything of it exists at all. And that’s just fine because the implication of what Roche is doing to these little girls is worse than the vague fetishism of Pfaster in “Irresistible”.

Not only that, but similarly to what Mulder experienced with Modell in Gilligan’s other masterpiece, “Pusher”, this is an adversarial game. There’s a vast difference between having a Monster to hunt and a Monster to be outwitted. The villains that are a match for Mulder in terms of cleverness always turn out to be the most memorable. (This is why Samuel Aboa in “Teliko” (4×4) can’t pull off what Eugene Victor Tooms does in “Tooms” (2×20). For one thing, he doesn’t have three names. That’s always a tip off.)

Roche is more than just your run-of-the-mill sociopath; he’s a match for Mulder intellectually. It’s another game of which genius can outplay the other. One almost thinks Mulder and Roche could have been friends… if Roche wasn’t a sadistic pervert. At the very least they get each other. Admittedly, the “nexus” idea is a little weak as a plot device. But I suppose Gilligan had to give some sort of a name to their unusual connection. And, after all, this is The X-Files. Something has to remain unexplained.

Conclusion:

This season is low on scares but high on character development. It makes sense because the show is a major hit at this point in its run; this means that the writers are trying to keep themselves out of a rut, the audience is calling for more information on their favorite characters and the actors are looking for a way to show off their skills. It only makes sense to give Mulder and Scully more time to shine than they have on their average case.

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were more than up to the task. And that Tom Noonan as Roche… whew! He’s so cavalier that he almost transcends being creepy.

And I just love the way that Gilligan has written these characters. I particularly love Scully in his episodes as she’s almost always a woman to be reckoned with. Here her barely restrained anger is palpable and even Roche seems a little afraid of her. Her eyes were saying something along the lines of “I will drop you.” Not only that, when it comes to her partner she knows when to hold ’em and knows when to fold ’em. She chastises him when necessary and ignores his mistakes when the situation calls for it. The strength of her compassion for Mulder in this episode is memorable and considering what episode is coming up in just a few days, it’s an emotional buoy of sorts.

Now Mulder, well, what’s most interesting is that Mulder is coming to the more rational conclusion that his sister was simply kidnapped, not abducted by aliens. Yet he’s coming to a rational conclusion in the most irrational way so that at least we know he hasn’t changed… at all.

David Duchovny really should have gotten an Emmy for his performance in this one.

Scully: You’re right, Mulder. It’s not a match. It’s not her.

Mulder: It’s somebody though.

Oh, what a powerful scene. In a season that’s going to give me lots of reasons to hate Mulder, thank you, David Duchovny for reminding me that I love the heck out of this character.

In closing, I’d just like to note that this episode is another strike against the “Mulder as Jackass” stereotype that’s hijacked his legacy over time. Mulder closes a potential door to the answers he’s seeking in order to save a little girl, just as he’s closed doors and will continue to close more doors for Scully’s sake. Mulder is a deeply flawed human being, but he’s an incredibly humane one as well.

A

Questions:

The nexus theory still doesn’t explain how Roche knew what model vacuum cleaner The Mulders had in their house.

Comments:

In another point of continuity, remember the scene in “Conduit” (1×3) where Scully tries to stop Mulder from digging up the potential grave of Ruby Morris, another little girl lost. Even their positions are the same. The difference in this case is that rather than hinder him, or even just watch him break the rules, Scully puts Mulder’s emotions above procedure and digs right alongside him. I heart these two.

Yep. It’s true. David Duchovny sunk that shot on the first take.

I almost committed a travesty of justice by failing to mention The Magical Mystery Tour of Whimsy that Mark Snow’s score takes us on this episode. Consider it mentioned.

Best Quotes:

Scully: You said it yourself once. You said that a, a dream is an answer to a question we haven’t learned how to ask.

———————

Scully: Don’t you think the car might have been searched at least once already?
Mulder: Not by me.

———————

Mulder: Sixteen victims, John. How come you said there were only thirteen?
John Roche: I don’t know. Yeah, thirteen sounds more magical, you know?

———————

John Roche: How about this? Sink one from there and I’ll tell you.
Mulder: [Nothing But Net]
John Roche: Trust a child molester?

———————

Roche: This man, this man hit me!
Guard: I didn’t see it.
Scully: I did.

———————

Roche: It was Karen Ann Philiponte. She lived in a green rancher in… East Amherst, New York. Minter grew outside her window. I stood outside her window atop springs of mint. It smelled wonderful.
Scully: [Through gritted teeth] What year?
Roche: July… 1974. I had her mother on the hook for an Electrovac Argosy, but at the last minute she said, “Thanks but no thanks.”
Scully: [Drops pen in disgust]
Roche: Oh well.

Little Green Men 2×1: Noho on the rojo.


That would be bad for the fish.

All the many times I’ve seen this episode I never realized it had a purpose. It seemed very much a waste to me since we learn nothing more by the end than we knew at the beginning. But that’s not the point. The point is for Mulder to reaffirm his faith in his quest despite all doors being shut in his face. The side-benefit is a history lesson on the Voyager space program.

At this juncture, Mulder is beaten down and world-weary. Gone is the exuberant, self-confident, annoyingly knowing agent we met in the “Pilot” (1×79). Instead, he’s been replaced by his paranoid, self-pitying twin brother. All Mulder’s hopes went away with the X-Files. This is the first time we’ve seen Mulder truly doubt himself. His Achilles heel is that he’s confident to a fault in his own conclusions. Also, this is the first time we hear Mulder express doubt about his abduction memories and about whether or not The Powers That Be, including the Senator, have been using him as a dupe all along. This is a seed of doubt that proves to be especially important in later seasons.

Another aspect of Mulder’s reboot is that now his quest is overtly tied to his friendship with Scully. Without her, he would have no support. And unless she had encouraged him, it’s doubtful whether he would have even picked up the baton again. But why does she bother?

Season one showed us that Scully pities Mulder and that’s part of what attracts her to his character. Her sympathy shows itself distinctly in episodes like “Fallen Angel” (1×9) and “Fire” (1×11). Here her pity and concern are out in full force and justifiably so. Mulder has been, in essence, demoted. He’s being unduly chastised by the FBI, no doubt thanks to CSM, and is on the verge of giving up his sacred mission. Scully, despite the fact that she doesn’t herself believe, would hate to see that happen. Mulder just wouldn’t be Mulder without his belief in little green men. Like George Hale, who cares if he’s delusional as long as he’s useful?

More important than sympathy, Scully is showing Mulder more overt displays of platonic (yes, platonic!) affection this season, which is quite a change from the last. I seem to remember learning in a 9th grade relationship class that in Western cultures, touching or playing with someone’s hair is actually a greater sign of intimacy than hand-holding. This is why it’s gesture that’s usually only reserved for close friends, relatives, and significant others. This is the reason I always get a kick out of Scully scratching Mulder’s head so casually and gently in the parking garage scene. It shows just how far they’ve come that she can take that liberty and it’s not even a big deal. There’s also a brief handhold of understanding in the last scene that they don’t even need to play up. Their solidarity doesn’t have to be put into words. That’s why I love these two. But in case you do need proof, Scully has the key to Mulder’s place.

Interestingly enough, when the episode opens, we’re not really sure where Mulder and Scully stand with each other now that they don’t have the X-Files to bind them. The way that the initial meeting between the two characters is shot is clever. It takes place in a dark, creepy garage after Mulder has what, ignored Scully? Rebuffed Scully? After a Summer’s hiatus (or in my case, 24 hours) the audience isn’t sure. Seeing each of them come out of the dark to face each other makes for a poignant moment. And once we get to Puerto Rico, is Mulder documenting the trip for himself? For proof? As a report for Senator Matheson? It’s a welcome surprise when we find out he’s been making this tape for Scully.

In other news, with Deep Throat dead, who’s going to carry the banner for the conspiracy? Skinner and CSM, that’s who. Already the dynamic is set up, CSM pulls Skinners strings, but Skinner is fully capable of whipping out a pair of scissors without warning. He clearly cares about Mulder, but how much? Enough to risk the ire of CSM? I guess we’ll see.

On the Allied side, we’ve heard about Mulder’s political connections, now we get to meet one of them. So Mulder’s been dealing with a senator powerful enough to hold off a UFO retrieval team and wear suspenders? One wonders why he even needs Mulder if he already knows more than he does. He’s not an informant like Deep Throat. He’s not a puppeteer like CSM. So what is he? Will we ever know?

Conclusion:

In a way, this is a very successful episode in that it accomplishes what it set out to do. Mulder has gone from Weary Wanderer to Passionate Pursuer again over the course of a single episode. The problem is that while Mulder is reaffirmed, the audience isn’t. “Little Green Men” doesn’t capture the urgency that “The Erlenmeyer Flask” (1×23) left off with. The overarching plot has hit a temporary lull while Chris Carter plans the genius that will be Scully’s abduction.

Speaking of Scully, she’s the true star of this episode. She proves she’s more than just a scientist in the autopsy room when she waxes poetic, she’s a sensitive soul. She goes to the edge of the earth, or the edge of the USA, anyway, to rescue her friend. And she fools a network of surveillance with such grace that over a decade later I’m still nodding my head and thinking, “My girl Scully.” She plays that fish bit with such genuine indignation that I’m forced to conclude that Scully missed her calling. No lab coat or FBI badge for her. She should’ve been an actress.

Other than moments of Scully-worship, we get some touching M&S interactions in this episode, and that’s about all that’s worth tuning in for. There just isn’t enough action, drama or intrigue here to make my world go round. I don’t dislike this episode, but I don’t choose to watch it very often. And when I do, there’s a lot of fast-forwarding involved.

C

P.S. Mulder flat out confirms that he hates being suspicious of people. I knew it all along.

Head Scratchers:

If, as Mulder reveals, Deep Throat had a funeral at Arlington, then not only must he have military/political ties that can be investigated, but wouldn’t Mulder have had to figure out his identity in order to spy on the funeral? Why does that never come up again?

If Mulder was trying to beat a UFO recovery team to the punch, where was the downed UFO?

Scully says that Mulder looked like Deep Throat from “back there.” Just how far back was he??

Here nor There:

The budget must be much better this season. The interior of the Hoover building has gotten a facelift and it no longer looks like a 1-800 call center.

Mulder hadn’t given up hope on a romance quite yet. Or maybe the woman on the answering machine is exaggerating when she says he “hounded” her. The beaten down Mulder we’re reintroduced to at the beginning of the episode looks like he can barely get out a proper “Good morning” let alone ask someone out. Or maybe he’s dating because the X-Files have been shut down and he has no choice but to live a normal life. I’d place my bets on that last option. Once Scully and Senator Matheson light the fire underneath him again, off he goes without so much as a warning.

Also, the woman on Mulder’s answering machine sounds suspiciously like the handwriting specialist from “Young at Heart” (1×15). I wouldn’t think he would’ve had to hound her for a date considering how available she made herself.

Our re-introduction to Mulder after last season’s finale (if you don’t count the opening voiceover) is a pile of sunflower seeds. Perfect.

The flashback of Samantha’s abduction varies greatly from what we heard Mulder recount under hypnosis in “Conduit” (1×3).

This episode features The X-Files’ first opening monologue, and it’s a doozy. It’s so broad and philosophical that if I didn’t know better, I’d peg Mulder as a poet rather than an FBI agent. Fortunately, David Duchovny delivers the lines in his sleepy monotone rather than with Shakespearean grandeur. It’s counter intuitively more believable that way. Later on, Agent Scully would prove just as verbally dexterous in her own opening monologues. But I’m jumping ahead again.

 

Best Quotes:

 

Mulder: Four dollars for the first hour of parking is criminal. What you got better be worth at least forty-five minutes…

———————

Scully: You know, Mulder, from… from back there you look like him.
Mulder: Him?
Scully: Deep Throat.

———————

Mulder: No, Jorge, don’t touch that red button. Noho on the Roho.

———————

Mulder: That’s hard, Scully. Suspecting everyone, everything. It wears you down. You even begin to doubt what you know is the truth. Before I could only trust myself. Now I can only trust you. And they’ve taken you away from me.

———————

Mulder: I may not have the X-Files Scully but I still have my work. I still have you. I still have myself.