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.

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 Mulder.)

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 believer.

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.

Discussion Questions:

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 believe?

1 comment:

Fernanda Floyd said...

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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