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.


The reverend’s story of the girl and her brother is a great example of the type of conversation that often happens over divine miracles: whether God acted supernaturally (against nature) to make a miracle happen, or whether the event occurred naturally and then humans described the event by attributing it to God. The brother provides a reasonable explanation--what we would typically expect from Scully, emphasized by the reverend’s description of this view as “science and cynicism.” The girl’s belief, then, would represent Mulder’s point of view. But we soon see that in this case, the roles are reversed: Scully believes in the possibility of miracles, while Mulder provides naturalistic or reasonable explanations.

The reverend says we must accept God’s miracles “without question.” Later, Owen Jarvis presents an example of this; he says that he doesn’t question God’s word but simply obeys. In the closing confessional scene, Scully describes Mulder as usually believing without question. The irony with the reverend is that he is the very person whose “miracles” need to be questioned.

After the sermon, when Simon Gates compliments the reverend, Findley says, “It always does my heart good to know that I’ve touched at least one person.” His reference to touch, and the supposed bleeding from his hands, initiates the theme of hands that recurs throughout the episode. Most of the story revolves around the evil that Gates accomplishes with his hands (they generate and tolerate extreme heat, and he uses them to strangle and kill) compared to the miracle of the bleeding from Kevin’s hands (the stigmata, imitating the wounds from Jesus’s hands in the crucifixion). During the autopsy scene, Scully tells Mulder that she believes God’s hand can be witnessed. In the end, Scully rescues Kevin by grabbing his hands to pull him up, and as they part, they shake hands. Scully and Kevin therefore represent different aspects of the hand of God, while Gates is the hand of the devil. (The set design also plays on the theme of stigmata by using images of two red spots: for example, the two glowing bars in the motel window, and the two red lights shining on the ceiling of the recycling plant.)

The title, “Revelations,” evokes both the signs that are revealed to Scully throughout the episode (see Mulder’s comment when he enters the autopsy bay: “Any revelations?”) and to the book of Revelation (often incorrectly called Revelations). In the opening scene with Mulder and Scully, Scully picks up a Bible splattered with Reverend Findley’s fake blood: the Bible is open to Revelation 13-15. The language of Revelation emerges when Mulder and Scully first interview Kevin’s father, and he refers to the war between good and evil, which Scully associates with Armageddon (see Rev. 16:16; the language Mr. Kryder uses is later repeated by Father Gregory in the episode “All Souls”: he describes forces of darkness that want to claim “all souls” in a battle between good and evil). In the final scene between Gates and Kevin, Gates says that Kevin must die for everyone to bring the new age, and he quotes, “The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon will turn to blood,” which occurs in Joel 2:31 and is echoed in Revelation 6:12.

In the initial scene with Kevin Kryder, his teacher is utterly unprofessional in the way she mocks him in front of the class. However, this may be intentional to introduce Kevin as a persecuted figure, similar to Jesus. If so, this is not played up much in the episode.

Mr. Kryder tells Mulder and Scully that God will find someone to protect Kevin who is strong enough to “make the sacrifice.” Later, Owen Jarvis tells the two agents (or Scully specifically) that just because they don’t understand “sacrifice” doesn’t mean they can dictate the rules for him. With Jarvis’s death, it appears that the sacrifice of his life for God’s will and for Kevin’s protection is what this refers to. (This is parallel also to the death of Mrs. Kryder; after her death, Kevin says, “She died because of me,” and Scully replies, “Your mother was only trying to protect you.”) However, Scully comes to believe that she is the one Kevin’s father meant, someone who was destined to protect Kevin. This hints that her life may also be in danger and ultimately begs the question what the sacrifice is in her case. While her life is not sacrificed, she may sacrifice a certain amount of credibility in the eyes of her partner because of her willingness to believe things that he finds absurd. The theme of sacrifice also emerges with Kevin: in their final confrontation, Gates tells Kevin that he must die for everyone, another allusion to Christ. In the context of the recycling plant, this brings up the interesting idea that throughout time in an endless cycle the devil is continually attempting to kill Christ, often through the martyrdom of Christ’s followers. But in the end, as in the book of Revelation, it is the “devil,” Gates, who falls into the abyss and meets his doom.

At several points, people speak directly to Scully or assume she will understand what they are saying, all of which provide signs for her or reinforce her belief that she is the one who was meant to protect Kevin. In the first interview with Mr. Kryder, he looks at Scully very pointedly as he says that God will find someone to stop the evil that is coming after Kevin. When he then tells Scully she must come full circle to find the truth, he says it quietly so that only Scully hears the comment (which is clear to us since Mulder asks him what he said yet Scully repeats the comment to ask Mr. Kryder what he meant). When Kevin goes missing from the shelter and Mrs. Kryder tells the FBI agents, “You were supposed to protect him,” she speaks the words directly to Scully. When Mulder shows hostility toward Jarvis’s religious rhetoric, Jarvis turns to Scully and addresses her as a sympathetic and understanding ear because of the cross that she wears (something similar occurs in “All Souls” and “Orison”).

At the shelter, when Kevin tells the boys a scary story, he describes someone who looks like the devil, whose hair burned off in hell and who has fingers like pitchforks. But as becomes apparent in this and other episodes (such as “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” “Terms of Endearment,” and “Signs and Wonders”), the devil often comes in much more friendly and deceptive forms. Here, the devil, or at least his minion, is a powerful and respectable man, whereas the man who fits the description in Kevin’s story is “St. Owen.”

Jarvis shows Kevin the replica of Noah’s ark that he has carved. Until this point, we are not yet sure whether Jarvis is evil (as he looks) or is good, but his association with the ark, which is a place of refuge in the midst of destruction and an island of Eden in the midst of chaos, suggests he is connected to Kevin’s protection and safety and gives us the first hint of Jarvis’s religious leanings.

Jarvis’s conversation with Mulder and Scully again raises issues of belief and when or whether one should question what seem to be God’s words or deeds. When Scully tells Jarvis that her own religious convictions are not at issue, he retorts that they are, because she can’t help Kevin unless she believes. “Even the killer, he believes.” (See James 2:19: Even the demons believe that God exists.) In a way, then, the opposition in the episode is not between good and evil but between believers and unbelievers; in this sense, Gates is in the same category as Jarvis and Mr. Kryder rather than their opposite, while Mulder is the one who stands in opposition, as the key unbeliever/skeptic.

The interview with Jarvis is also where Mulder’s own beliefs, or lack of belief, first comes across. Mulder is openly hostile toward Jarvis and has no patience for religious rhetoric (glimpsed previously in “Miracle Man,” but seen especially in later episodes, such as “All Souls,” “Signs & Wonders,” and “Orison”). During the autopsy scene, Mulder tells Scully that “these people are simply fanatics behaving fanatically using religion as a justification.” To some extent, he is right. The most religious people in the episode (Mr. Kryder, Owen Jarvis) come across as nutjobs, but in the end they are the ones who fully understand what is going on and who provide signs for Scully along the way. (A similar theme occurs in “All Souls” and “Signs & Wonders,” and possibly also “Orison.”) However, Mulder lumps together the reverend, who is a fraud, with the eccentric characters, who are perceived as crazy or unusual because of their beliefs. But the episode seems to imply a distinction between the fraud and the “saint”: the reverend doesn’t recognize the true face of evil, but Kryder and Jarvis perceive what others cannot, including the evil that is pursuing Kevin.

Mulder and Scully’s conversation during the autopsy offers some parallels to Reverend Findley’s opening sermon. In the reverend’s story, the girl asks whether there is such a thing as miracles. He assures her that there are, and then he refers to “science” and “cynicism.” Normally, these two words would be associated with Scully, but in the autopsy scene, she admits to Mulder that she believes in miracles. He asks, “Even if science can’t explain them?” She replies, “Maybe that’s just what faith is.” Here, it is Mulder who comes to represent cynicism, but Scully, like the little girl of the story, stands for faith.

Further echoes from the reverend’s sermon appear in another dialogue between the two agents, this time in the motel room when they have taken Kevin into protection custody. Mulder describes the contents of the Bible as a “parable,” “a metaphor for the truth, not the truth itself.” This recalls one of the questions posed to the reverend by the little girl: “Are the stories in the Bible just make-believe, fairy tales?” Clearly, Mulder would say yes. Scully then brings up the question of miracles and compares belief in miracles with belief in flying saucers, which is when Mulder retorts that what he has seen here has tested his patience, not his faith, recalling the reverend’s opening statement, that God tests our faith.

The episode culminates with Scully’s visit to the confessional, which ties together many of the threads from the episode, woven into the larger tapestry of Scully’s story line: the essence of miracles and faith, the dissonance between Mulder and Scully over belief and skepticism with relation to miracles and ultimately God, and Scully’s role within the (divine?) plan to save Kevin. (This scene lays the foundation for two scenes later in the series: Scully’s visit to the confessional in “All Souls,” and her “confession” with the disgraced Father Joe in I Want to Believe.)

The conversation ends with Scully’s wonderfully haunting statement that “God is speaking, but that no one’s listening.” This shifts the emphasis of the case from God’s hands (and Scully as God’s instrument) to God’s voice. Scully recognizes, or ponders, that the signs and miracles she has encountered were not merely abstract events meant to evoke faith but were directly intended as divine communication. God has been speaking, perhaps to call her back to the faith. Has he been speaking to her all along, and this is the first time she has heard him? In her encounter with Jarvis, he quotes, “He who has ears, let him hear” (see, e.g., Matt. 11:15; 13:9, 43). In the end, this comes full circle: Scully’s ears have been opened, and she has heard God speak.

References:

Scully says that “according to certain religious lore, at any given time there are twelve stigmatics in the world, representing the twelve apostles.” It is unclear what “religious lore” she is referring to, but this belief does not seem to be widespread. However, there are a number of people over the centuries who have claimed some form of stigmata, which are the wounds of Christ. One of the earliest and best known examples is St. Francis of Assisi.

Scully later refers to St. Francis and St. Cecilia when describing certain characteristics of the saints, such as not decomposing normally. St. Cecilia was a second-century martyr believed to be incorrupt based on the discovery of her body in 1599. St. Francis may be St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary to Asia in the sixteenth century. The scent of flowers that Scully thinks she smells on “St. Owen” is also known as the odor of sanctity, related to the death and sometimes incorruptibility of saints.

Scully refers to St. Ignatius appearing in two places at once in the Bible, to which Mulder replies, “That was in the Bible.” Actually, it wasn’t. There are two prominent historical Christians named Ignatius, neither of which is in the Bible. One is the first-century apostolic father from Antioch, and the other (the one to whom Scully is most likely referring) is St. Ignatius of Loyola from sixteenth-century Spain. (There is a brief reference to Ignatius bilocating in The Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Father Genelli [trans. M. C. Sainte Foi and T. Meyrick; London: Burns, Oates, and Co., 1871], 309–10.)

Mulder and Scully discuss “Jerusalem syndrome” as what is afflicting Gates. This is a noted phenomenon, although its legitimacy as an actual syndrome or new manifestation of psychological problems is in dispute.

Discussion Questions:

1) At the beginning, the reverend tells a story about a young girl whose brother told her that “Moses hadn’t really parted the Red Sea. He said that high winds and strong ocean currents had been responsible.” What answer would you give to the girl to the question she posed to the reverend: “Is there really such a thing as a miracle?” What exactly is a miracle? Are miracles and science contradictory? Can God only work through miracles, or can he also work through science?

2) What does it mean to “believe without question”? Does Mulder believe in the paranormal without question? Does Scully believe in divine miracles without question? When should we question paranormal or supernatural events, and when should we believe without challenging their truth? What role does reason (questioning and thinking) have in relation to belief?

3) The reverend says, “God tests our faith so that we may not take it for granted.” Is this true? Does God intentionally test our faith, or is our faith tested by circumstances that God does not prevent (or is it tested by the devil; cf. Job 1)? (See especially James 1:2-4, 12-16).

4) Does faith rest on the validity of miracles? Does faith require “proof” or “signs”? Or are signs and miracles a reward for faith?

5) Scully ends the episode with the haunting line, that she fears that “God is speaking, but that no one’s listening.” Does this statement ring true? In what ways does God speak to people? In what ways can people listen to or better hear what God is saying?

6) A common thread in the episode is the statement, “Sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth.” What does this statement mean to you? Have you experienced this statement to be true? If so, in what way?