Saturday, January 23, 2016

Trust and Loyalty

The day has arrived. I'm posting some snippets from chapter 4 of We Want to Believe as a reminder of what The X-Files stood for during the first nine seasons and two movies: the unbreakable bond between two people who fought for each against all odds, trusted each other beyond any other, and let nothing and no one break them apart. The X-Files was always about Mulder and Scully together against the world.

They act out their love through partnership and respect, through trust and loyalty, protecting one another at all costs and literally going to the ends of the earth for each other. Even when, late in the series, the pair could be called lovers, they are first of all partners and friends. They form two halves of a whole, two contrasting elements working in tension and in harmony to create an effective synergy. The characters, as the show itself, is noticeably lacking when one half of the pair is missing. Together, however, they are formidable, and more than the sum of their parts.

The dynamic between Mulder and Scully of opposites attracting, or more importantly, working in conflict and yet in harmony, is not just an aspect of romantic love, where the male-female pairing is most often emphasized. This is an element of their friendship and partnership, and therefore reflects both what the two genders can contribute to one another beyond simply procreation or a sexual relationship, and also what any two human beings can contribute to each other through their differences. Mulder and Scully each bring something to the partnership that the other lacks. Scully contributes cool-headedness to his impulsivity; Mulder adds spontaneity to her reticence. She provides a foundation of weighing evidence and establishing provable facts, while he has the imagination to think outside the box and make intuitive leaps. Although their differences lead to many arguments, the pair uses this in the positive sense of arguing one side of a case and thereby reinforcing it, rather than allowing their disagreements to become merely fights. They let their differences and their contradictions combine to become their greatest strength. 

What Mulder and Scully have left, without the FBI or their mutual fugitive status, is their commitment to each other. “Don’t give up” is the essence of commitment: refusing to give up on a person or a relationship even when common grounds have been stripped away, even when the individuals have changed or grown apart, even when there are disagreements, when the only reason to stay is the commitment itself. This is the true constancy of love, not in the persistence of an emotion, but in the choice to make and honor a commitment. For Mulder and Scully, the end of I Want to Believe is a renewal of their commitment to one another, the decision to move forward together to face whatever may come. Their connection to each other, face to face (or forehead to forehead), is alone what now defines them—friendship has become eros.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

We Want to Believe Available for 40% Off!

I've fallen behind in updating the episode reviews, but in the meantime, the publisher is offering a promo in anticipation of the new X-Files episodes: We Want to Believe is now available for 40% off the list price of $28.00.

To get the discount, go to the Wipf & Stock website and enter the promo code "believe." This code works for both the print book and the ebook.

In other news, there is a new 20-minute promo out for the new episodes, "The X-Files: Reopened," with some significant spoilers. As a fan, I'm extremely disappointed with some of the choices that have been made for these new episodes, but I guess we will have to wait and see how it all plays out.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Episode Review: "Signs & Wonders" (7x09)

Today is "Signs & Wonders" day in the 204-day rewatch. This is one of the more overtly religious episodes, as it offers an interesting juxtaposition between two different churches, prompting the viewer to consider the true nature of evil. The full review is below and also on the Top Ten Religious Episodes page.

Signs & Wonders (7x09)
Original airdate: 1/23/2000
Written by: Jeffrey Bell
Directed by: Kim Manners

The title, “Signs & Wonders,” is a phrase that shows up throughout the Bible, especially relating to the plagues and miracles of the exodus (Exod. 7:3; Deut. 6:22; 34:11; Neh. 9:10; Ps. 135:9; Jer. 32:21) and the miracles of Jesus and his disciples (John 4:48; Acts 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12; Rom. 15:19; 2 Cor. 12:12). It refers to any kind of supernatural event prompted or empowered by God. Although this episode does not focus specifically on miracles, it does highlight unexplained, supernatural occurrences, such as surviving snake bites and being delivered from snakes.

In the teaser, Jared Chirp is calling out to the Holy Ghost in his prayer for help. The Holy Ghost , or Holy Spirit, recurs throughout the episode, probably more so here than in any other X-Files episode, although it remains a minor theme. Snake-handling churches such as O’Connor’s tend toward ecstatic or charismatic worship, as seen in the juxtaposition of the two church meetings, and so are often Spirit-focused in their theology. As Reverend Mackey describes, “They believe that the Holy Spirit protects the righteous” (when they handle snakes). (In the credits, three of the church members are named “Holy Spirit Man”/“Woman.”) But Mackey’s congregation also emphasizes the Holy Spirit, if in a different way: in a scene in his church, near the end of the episode, a banner hanging in the church reads, “Come Holy Spirit.” The flames on the banner evoke the coming of the Spirit upon the first generation of believers in Acts 2, empowering them, among other things, to do signs and wonders as Jesus did (Acts 2:22, 43).

In their opening dialogue, Scully suggests to Mulder the religious symbolism of the snakes: “They’ve represented the temptation of Eve, original sin. They’ve been feared and hated throughout history as they’ve been thought to embody Satan, to serve evil itself.” The themes of Satan, evil, and the Garden of Eden appear throughout the episode, especially toward the end. The final scene bookends the episode with another allusion to Eden: the painting hanging in the reverend’s new office is Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (15th cent.).

When placed within the context of the Eden story, Reverend Mackey as the devil represents the tempter who has seduced Reverend O’Connor’s daughter to sin, causing her to be banished. Although the Genesis narrative does not specifically mention sexual temptation or sin in the Garden, over the centuries that became one interpretation of the serpent’s interaction with Eve.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Episode Preview: "The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati"

It's time for "Amor Fati" in the rewatch schedule. I will eventually post the episode review for this episode, but in the meantime, I am posting a link to the article I published on this episode, "The Last Temptation of Mulder: Reading The X-Files through the Christological Lens of Nikos Kazantzakis" (published as the first chapter in "The X-Files" and Literature, ed. S. Yang).

Since one of the main threads of "Amor Fati" uses The Last Temptation of Christ as a model for Mulder and his temptation to abandon his quest for the simpler life, this article explores in detail the comparison of the episode and Kazantzakis's vision of Jesus, as well as bringing in other literary and philosophical themes in the episode.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Episode Review: "All Souls" (5x17)

Today is "All Souls" day in the 204-day rewatch (somewhat appropriate, with All Souls' Day being just around the corner). The full review is below and also on the Top Ten Religious Episodes page.

All Souls (5x17)
Original airdate: 4/26/98
Teleplay by: Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban
Story by: Billy Brown and Dan Angel
Directed by: Allen Coulter

This episode in some ways parallels “Revelations,” especially with Scully’s visit to the confessional, her role in protecting a child, and the message of a religious figure that seems aimed directly at Scully but not her partner. But a major aspect of this episode is Scully coming to terms with the death of her daughter Emily in “Christmas Carol”/“Emily” and the role that Scully played in Emily’s death by discontinuing her medical treatment. In the first confessional scene, Scully tells the priest, “An innocent girl is dead because of me. I could’ve saved her life, but I let her die.” On the surface, it seems that she is talking about the last girl in the episode, whom Scully does not manage to save from death, but the words could also apply to Emily. Scully tells the priest that she is not sure he can offer forgiveness for the sin she has come to confess, which is letting the girl die, but what this really highlights is the guilt that Scully clearly still carries. The priest can offer her forgiveness, but she also needs to forgive herself.

In the teaser, Father McCue explains baptism and the rite of initiation: it takes away original sin and confers grace, “bringing the soul into God’s family.” This, then, sets up the theme of family, adoption, and fatherhood that runs throughout the episode. The Kernofs have adopted Dara, just as Father Gregory is trying to adopt another one of the four girls. This recalls Scully’s attempt to adopt Emily and highlights her tenuous identity as Emily’s mother.

At the end of the teaser, when Dara’s father finds her in the street, the scene closes with the shot on a telephone pole that looks like a cross. Throughout the episode, there are additional cross images, both upright and upside down, used in set design and as the focus of shots.

We see the transition in Scully’s church attendance from “Revelations” to the “Redux” arc to “All Souls”: in “Revelations” she hadn’t been to confession for six years, and when she was facing cancer she didn’t feel the need for religion (“Redux”), but now she is attending church on Easter, and it has been several months (rather than years) since her last confession. Father McCue comments on seeing her at mass again recently, and she says she’s been trying to come more often.

The fact that Scully’s involvement in the story begins on Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, brings in the theme of life after death. Although the characters in the episode are not resurrected, what Scully struggles with, as she especially discusses with the priest in her final scene, is the fact of the “life after this one” and reconciling that with the physical death of the girls and Emily. As a doctor, a scientist, and an agent, Scully fights to protect and preserve life. But the fate of the soul is another matter.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Episode Review: "Gethsemane" (4x24)

It's time for "Gethsemane" in the 204-day rewatch. This episode is not as overtly about religion or Christianity as some of the other episodes, but it has some significant themes relating to the nature of faith. The full review is below and also on the Top Ten Religious Episodes page.

Gethsemane (4x24)
Original airdate: 5/18/97
Written by: Chris Carter
Directed by: R. W. Goodwin

This episode ties in with the larger mythology and is the first episode of a trilogy, which continues at the beginning of season 5 with “Redux” and “Redux II.” Considering this episode from the question of faith, however, there are two main keys for examining the episode: the title, and a conversation between Mulder and Scully.

The title, “Gethsemane,” is an allusion to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus Christ spent his last night on earth in prayer with his disciples, and where he suffered betrayal by one of his own, handing him over to the authorities and ultimately to his death (Matt. 26; Mark 14; cf. Luke 22; John 18). This allusion brings to the surface expectations of contemplation, betrayal, and ensuing death.

The aspect of contemplation, as well as ensuing death, comes especially in the scene toward the end of the episode when Mulder is alone in his apartment, crying. This is his moment in the garden, alone (as Jesus essentially was, when his disciples continually fell asleep), contemplating his life up to that point. The element of ensuing death is also there, as the episode ends with the implication that after this scene, Mulder has taken his own life (only in the sequel, “Redux,” will the audience learn the full story of what happens between the scenes of Mulder in his apartment and Scully coming to identify his body).

The aspect of betrayal is more complex and subtle, but definitely present. Whereas in the episode “The Red and the Black” (in the next season) Mulder receives a Judas kiss from Krycek, here the betrayal is not necessarily as overt or by a single person. And, in a sense, Mulder himself is the betrayer. In “Gethsemane,” Mulder is confronted with the possibility that everything he has believed about extraterrestrials is a well-orchestrated lie, put together by the powers that be in order to make him a believer, and that Scully’s cancer is a part of this larger scheme. If Mulder has truly been a pawn all along, then he has betrayed himself, and Scully, through his unknowing complicity in these acts, as well as in the deaths of several others, including the people who have been killed to cover the truth, and ultimately Scully herself.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Episode Review: "Revelations" (3x11)

It's "Revelations" time in the 204-rewatch schedule. The review is below and on the Top Ten Religious Episodes page.

Revelations (3x11)
Original airdate: 12/15/95
Written by: Kim Newton
Directed by: David Nutter

“Revelations” is the first episode that reverses the roles of Mulder and Scully surrounding issues of religion, signs, and miracles: Mulder becomes the skeptic, and Scully becomes the believer. Many similar issues appear especially in the fifth-season episode “All Souls,” which like this episode features Scully’s conversation with a priest in a confession booth. Viewed together, the two episodes show a progression in Scully’s faith journey and present an interesting backdrop or counterpoint for her spiritual struggles in the second movie, I Want to Believe.

The opening monologue by Reverend Findley sets up some of the main themes for the episode: testing faith, miracles, science and skepticism vs. faith, believing without question. These themes are echoed especially in the dialogues between Mulder and Scully and also in some of the conversations between Scully and other characters.

The reverend says that God tests our faith so that we won’t take it for granted. As he begins to bleed, he says that his blood flows as a test of their faith. (Mulder later says that what he has seen in this case has tested only his patience, not his faith.) The reverend says that the test is whether they will open themselves to divine possibilities (recalling Mulder’s frequent appeal to extreme possibilities), and only then will they truly understand. While Scully does not refer to her faith being tested, the way she is affected by the case and her closing conversation with the priest suggest that this case is indeed a test of her faith, which until now has waned but is possibly being rekindled. Scully is open to the possibility of divine causes for the signs and events she has encountered; Mulder is not. As her conversation with the priest may suggest, it is because she is open to divine possibilities that she truly understands, although from Mulder’s point of view, it may be her openness that makes her more gullible.