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.
Mulder tells the sheriff, “People want to believe,” which is one of the
times in the series when the motto on Mulder’s poster is invoked (“I
Want to Believe”). Throughout the episode, faith or belief is seen as a
prerequisite for healing, and for seeing the visions of Samantha that
Mulder sees. Scully turns the phrase later, telling Mulder not to
discount the power of suggestion, for “a healer’s greatest magic lies in
the patient’s willingness to believe.” By the end of the episode, then,
Mulder discounts his visions, implying that he has only seen what he
wants to believe.
When they pull up in from of the bar where Samuel has been spotted, the
sheriff says sardonically to Mulder and Scully, “Not a very likely place
to be saving souls.” The irony is that this is exactly the place where
souls need to be saved. As Jesus said, it is the sick that are in need
of a physician. Samuel, however, is here as a lost boy, not as a savior.
The episode plays with the themes of sight and blindness, intertwined
with belief. This episode thus appeals to the common X-Files theme of
the relationship between seeing and believing, and thus between
blindness and doubt. In the bar, Samuel tells Mulder, “Open your heart.
He [God] might just open your eyes.” The opening of one’s eyes is then a
major motif, especially for Mulder, who keeps seeing visions of his
sister. Samuel has told Mulder that he has seen his pain, and that he
sees “bright lights,” recalling Mulder’s own memories of his sister’s
disappearance. While Samuel is in jail, Mulder prompts him to say more
about the pain Samuel has seen, but Samuel says, “I see nothing. I am
blind,” to which Mulder replies, “I don’t believe you”--because, of
course, Mulder does believe that Samuel has this insight. In the end,
Mulder says that people may make themselves see “what they want to see,”
echoing his earlier conversation with Scully, when she says that maybe
Mulder has seen his sister because he wants to see her. The theme of
sight and visions also comes up when the reverend asks Mulder and Scully
to come to the tent ministry to see for themselves Samuel doing God’s
work, and after Samuel’s death, when Vance and the woman at the morgue
report that they have seen Samuel.
The episode deals particularly with miracles, especially the miracle of
healing and secondarily the miracle of Samuel’s insight into Mulder’s
pain and past, but it also brings up the related issue of signs. Samuel
tells Mulder, “God watches over his flock. He gives us signs every day.”
In one sense, this could refer to the miracles, which the reverend
describes as “consolidating the faith and hope of these people.” But
said so pointedly to Mulder, the reference to signs seems to indicate
the visions of his sister. The full purpose of these signs is never
spelled out. In part, they cause Mulder to believe the truth of Samuel’s
abilities and thus to believe in Samuel’s innocence. But it is left
open what else these signs might mean for Mulder--to believe in God, or
perhaps to be healed of his emotional pain. Samuel follows his comment
about signs with his statement to “open your heart” and God “might just
open your eyes.” As with later episodes, such as “Revelations,” this
invites the audience to consider reality in a different light, paying
attention to things around them that may have greater significance. (But
in “Revelations,” it is Scully who sees the signs, whereas here, it is
In the courtroom scene, the judge appropriately exclaims, as the locusts
swarm his courtroom, “My God! . . . Good God!” The attorney likewise
cries, “Oh, God!” Of course, we find out later that God was not
responsible for the locusts, but these dialogue choices by the writers
were likely intentional. In the next scene, as Mulder and Scully discuss
what happened in court, Mulder begins by reading Exodus 10:13-15, the
account of the 8th plague, a plague of locusts. (Prompting Scully’s
sarcastic reply, “What’s next--the slaying of the firstborn?” referring
to the 10th plague.) This reference once more connects Samuel to Moses.
During the tent service later, Leonard Vance quotes from John 3:2 the
words of Nicodemus concerning Jesus, that no one can do such signs
unless God is with him. While both Vance and Nicodemus seem to be making
professions of faith, it is Nicodemus who proves to be the true
Before his death, however, Vance has a change of heart. This time, he
quotes Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in
sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves.” At this point, the
references throughout the episode to the devil (Scully says that God
never lets the devil steal the show; Samuel taunts Mulder that maybe his
seeing his sister is a trick of the devil) come to a head as it is
revealed who is true and who is false: Vance thought that Samuel was a
wolf in sheep’s clothing because he brought Vance back to life, but a
life he considered a living hell. Vance himself has appeared to be a
sheep, but in the end is revealed to be the true wolf, the guilty one,
while Samuel has been charged as a wolf and instead has been led as a
lamb to the slaughter. Samuel thus has become the sacrificial
lamb--here, for the sins of Vance.
In this final scene with Vance, there is a painting hanging on his wall:
“The Raising of Lazarus” by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (15th cent.). From
his resurrection in the opening scene to this final scene, Vance has
subtly been compared to Lazarus, who was resurrected by Jesus in John
11. In the Gospels, however, we never hear the future of Lazarus, other
than that the same people who wanted to kill Jesus also wanted to kill
Lazarus because of the faith in Jesus that his story inspired. In the
same way, Vance functions as a witness for Samuel’s ministry, testifying
of his healing ability so that others will believe. But Vance’s healing
apparently only went as deep as his flesh; his soul is not fully healed
until his last moments, when he declares that Samuel has forgiven him.
As in many of the X-Files episodes that address religion, the
veneer of fanaticism and false religion (the reverend’s outward
appearance as a hypocrite and a charlatan because of his lavish
lifestyle and theatrical ways) obscures the genuine supernatural events.
The law enforcement characters represent various reactions to the
events veiled by seeming religious fraud: Mulder looks directly through
the veil, overlooking the reverend’s theatrics to see that Samuel has a
genuine ability; Scully, as a Catholic, believes that there is truth to
the things that the Miracle Ministry represents, but as a scientist and
an investigator, she looks beyond the claims of divinity to find more
mundane human causes for the crimes; the sheriff is blinded by his
rejection of the reverend to reject also any possibility of Samuel’s
abilities. The audience is left to decide, as always, what they believe
about what is true and what really happened.
Vance twice is seen leading a vigil to protect bodies from being exhumed
or autopsied, claiming that to desecrate the body is to slay to soul.
However, Vance’s beliefs seem to be based more on his selfish objectives
than on a biblical teaching. While the Bible proclaims the resurrection
of the body, the soul or spirit is not so essentially attached to the
fate of the body in those texts that some desecration of the corpse
would endanger the fate of the soul.
Samuel quotes, “He giveth and he taketh away,” which is from Job 1:21:
“And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I
return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be
the name of the LORD.” (KJV)
When Scully says that God never lets the devil steal the show, Mulder
says, “You must have really liked The Exorcist,” referring to the 1973
movie that features a battle between a demon and Catholic priests in the
exorcism of a possessed girl.
1) Although Samuel is not a savior or completely without wrong in the
sense that Jesus was, does the story of Samuel, especially his trial,
death, and resurrection, shed any light on the story of Jesus?
2) Did Mulder really see his sister because Samuel mentioned her, or was
Mulder just seeing what he wanted to because of the power of
suggestion? What are situations in our own lives where our eyes can be
opened or blinded based on whether we are willing to believe, or too
eager to believe?
3) Consider the many reactions to Samuel and his abilities by various
characters—Reverend Hartley, Leonard Vance, Mulder, Scully, Sheriff
Daniels, even Samuel himself. Did any of them have it completely right?
4) Samuel refers to God giving us “signs every day.” What kind of signs
does he mean? What is the purpose of those signs? What other kinds of
signs might people see that could be from God?
5) What is the relationship between seeing and believing? Does what is
seen and witnessed cause faith, or does faith cause one to see what they
great article! up to this day, I'm still a bit confused whether Samuel has resurrected or not. that's not very clear in the episode.
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