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.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Episode Review: "Die Hand Die Verletzt" (2x14)

The episode for today in the 204-day rewatch is "Die Hand Die Verletzt." Although this episode focuses on the occult rather than Christianity, it does touch on themes of hypocrisy in Christianity or any religion and the dangers of complacency and watered-down faith. The full review is below and also on the Top Ten Religious Episodes page.

Die Hand Die Verletzt (2x14)
Original airdate: 1/27/95
Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong
Directed by Kim Manners

“Die Hand Die Verletzt” brings up interesting issues about complacency, hypocrisy, and the potency of religion. It pairs well with the seventh season episode “Signs & Wonders,” which also raises questions about the true nature of the devil and the symbolism of snakes in religion.

The PTC (Parent Teacher Commitee) objects to doing the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, saying it is not appropriate for this high school, then they refer to leading in prayer. The initial impression we get is that these are conservative Christians who think a play about Jesus is too controversial or sacrilegious and who pray at their meetings. But appearances can be deceiving, as we soon find out. They light a candle and shut the door; as they begin to pray, the light seeping through the doorframe turns a hellish red. They pray, “Sein ist die Hand die verletzt” (translated for us as “Thine is the hand that wounds”).... Hail the Lords of Darkness.”

Outwardly, especially toward Mulder and Scully, the PTC continues to play up the stereotype of conservative Christians, indignant about the music and television their children are exposed to as a corrupting influence that leads to events such as occult murder. (Later, after Ausbury’s true religion is revealed, he still blames the media, saying that his daughter filled in the blanks in her memory from things she saw on Geraldo.) While the identification of the PTC as Christians is only implicit at the beginning, it becomes explicit when Mulder tells Ausbury that his desire for revenge against anyone who would hurt his daughter isn’t “a very Christian tenet” and when Ausbury later contrasts his own faith and practices with those of Christians. Hypocrisy is built into the very practice and demeanor of the PTC because they perpetuate the stereotypes against Satanism and devil worship in order to hide their own participation in the same.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Episode Review: "Miracle Man" (1x17)

As part of the countdown to the premier of the new episodes on January 24, I will be posting (or reposting) some episode reviews. The episode for today in the 204-day rewatch schedule is "Miracle Man."

I already posted this review a couple of weeks ago on the Top Ten Religious X-Files page, but I am reposting it here.

Miracle Man (1x17)
Original airdate: 03/18/94
Written by: Howard Gordon and Chris Carter
Directed by: Michael Lange

Samuel Hartley is predominantly a Christ figure in this episode, but he also has connections with other biblical figures. Reverend Hartley’s claim to have found Samuel as an infant in the tall weeds of the banks of the Mississippi River recalls the story of Moses. But Samuel’s name, his apparently motherless youth, and his calling by God as just a child recall his biblical namesake, Samuel the son of Hannah (1 Samuel 1-3). (In terms of The X-Files, there is also the irony of Samuel’s name, Sam, and its similarity to the name of Mulder’s sister, Samantha, whom Mulder believes that he keeps seeing after Samuel mentions her to him. However, this connection may not be intentional, since Samantha is never mentioned by name.)

Several aspects of Samuel’s story parallel that of Jesus: he can heal with a simple touch, even bringing people back from the dead; he is falsely arrested by authorities who are determined to convict him regardless of his innocence and lack of adequate proof or witnesses against him; he accepts the claim of guilt rather than trying to defend himself; he is beaten while in custody (with his arms extended, as if on a cross); he dies, his body is later missing, and he is seen alive by several people after his death. In the final scene, Mulder quips, “The boy did rise from the dead. That kind of thing happens only once or twice every two thousand years or so” (referring back, of course, to the resurrection of Jesus Christ).

As the first of the religion-centered episodes on The X-Files, this episode allows the first glimpse of Scully’s Catholic background and her willingness to believe in miracles but not religious fraud, and a rare glimpse of Mulder’s openness to the possibility that someone with radical Christian beliefs may have genuine supernatural or even spiritual abilities. When Samuel asks Scully if she doubts God’s power, and she doesn’t hesitate to say no. She doubts Samuel, not God. Mulder, on the other hand, doesn’t claim any belief in God, but he does believe in Samuel’s ability, even though Mulder might explain it in terms of Eastern medicine or psychic healing instead. This offers an interesting division of belief between the two of them: they each still represent opposing viewpoints, but unlike some later episodes, it is not that Scully believes the religious characters whereas Mulder is hostile to them; rather, they each believe one aspect and are skeptical of another aspect of the characters’ claims.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rewatching the Entire Series

If you haven't yet launched into a rewatch of the entire X-Files series, it's not too late to start now! On July 4, many fans started a rewatch including all 202 episodes ("The Truth" originally aired as one episode but is numbered as two) and both movies, counting down to the premier of season 10 on January 24. On July 7, FOX initiated their own rewatch schedule, "201 Days of The X-Files," which treats the final episode as one and does not include the movies.

Now that our summer discussion series on The X-Files has concluded, I have posted my episode reviews for Miracle Man, Revelations, All Souls, Signs & Wonders, and Improbable. Over the next few months, I also intend to post reviews for Die Hand Die Verletzt, Gethsemane, Amor Fati, The Gift, and I Want to Believe. In light of the rewatch, I figure the best time to post each of these is on their day during the countdown. However, since the FOX schedule omits the movies, I'm going to follow the fan schedule that started on July 4.

Enjoy the rewatch!