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.
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.
The other key to understanding the concept of faith, or belief, in this episode is a conversation between Mulder and Scully as they walk down a staircase. Mulder has called Scully away from a dinner with her family (and from a conversation with her family’s priest, Father McCue, highlighting Scully’s own reservations about God and church) to corroborate evidence that he believes proves the existence of extraterrestrials. After they leave the lab where Dr. Arlinsky has shown them the evidence, Mulder asks Scully what she thinks, leading to a conversation about belief and proof. Here is a snippet of that conversation:
MULDER: I’m as skeptical of that man as you are, but proof... definitive proof of sentient beings sharing the same time and existence with us, that would change everything. Every truth we live by would be shaken to the ground. There’s no greater revelation imaginable, no greater scientific discovery.
SCULLY: You already believe, Mulder. What difference would it make? I mean, what would proof change for you?
MULDER: If someone could prove to you the existence of God, would it change you?
SCULLY: Only if it were disproven.
MULDER: Then you accept the possibility that belief in God is a lie?
SCULLY: I don’t think about it, actually, and I don’t think it can be proven.
MULDER: But what if it could be? Wouldn’t that knowledge be worth seeking? Or is it just easier to go on believing the lie?
Mulder is looking for proof, evidence, of the existence of alien life. But Scully says, he already believes, so what difference will proof make? What Mulder says implies that belief is somehow dependent on proof, or that disproving something can nullify belief. So Mulder compares belief in aliens with belief in God (an overarching if implicit theme for the series, and a sensitive topic for Scully, as she has just come from a conversation with the priest about her faith). Mulder suggests that a belief such as belief in God could be disproved, or could be proved to be a lie, and that this knowledge should be sought out, to know whether or not what we believe is a lie.
This conversation raises a number of issues about belief and the relationship between belief and evidence. Can the existence of God be proved or disproved? It would seem that the question of proving the existence of extraterrestrials would be a little closer to earth, so to speak, but with all of the supposed evidence out there, even that remains in doubt: can the existence of alien life be proved or disproved at this point, or is it merely a question of what one believes?
This conversation, of course, is set against the larger backdrop of Mulder being confronted first with evidence that the alien body Arlinsky has found is authentic, and then with evidence that the body and everything else Mulder has believed is a lie. In the end, Mulder is the one left to question what he believes and whether what he has believed all along is a lie, and a lie intentionally created by others to dupe him and use him for their own purposes. (This faith crisis will continue well into the next season, compounded by further evidence that Mulder receives in this trilogy, in “Redux” and “Redux II.”) In fact, toward the end of the episode, Scully even throws Mulder’s own words back at him. He tells her he refuses to believe what he’s been told (that the truth about aliens is an elaborate deception), and she says, “Because it’s easier to believe the lie. Isn’t it?”
But, while Mulder’s faith is at the forefront here, the theme of Scully’s faith is not dropped. While it is not as significant in this episode, the conversation here between Scully and Father McCue sets the stage for the next two episodes, as she faces her own mortality and her final battle with cancer. In those episodes, she also reconsiders what she has said to Father McCue here, that she doesn’t feel a need for faith to make her stronger. Before an FBI panel in “Gethsemane” Scully says that “short of a miracle,” the cancer in her body would continue to advance toward the inevitable. By the end of “Redux II,” the audience is left to wonder if the remission of Scully’s cancer is indeed due to a miracle, or due to another cause (such as alien technology).
“Gethsemane” ends with Scully’s proclamation before the FBI panel that Mulder has died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and so ends the fourth season. The audience is then left to consider what is true and what is a lie, and what to believe. (Thankfully, viewers now can simply move on to the first episode of season 5 and find out the answer.)
1) What is the relationship between belief and evidence? Is belief dependent on evidence? Or is belief in spite of evidence or its lack?
2) Can the existence of God be proved? What would it take to prove or disprove God’s existence? Does such evidence already exist? Is it possible for such evidence to exist?
3) Mulder asks, “If someone could prove to you the existence of God, would it change you?” How would you answer this question?
4) Mulder also asks, “[Do] you accept the possibility that belief in God is a lie?” and “Is it just easier to go on believing the lie?” How would you respond?
5) What is the significance of faith in our lives? What is the impact on Mulder when he loses his faith? Father McCue tells Scully, “Faith can make you stronger,” although at that point she says that she doesn’t feel the need for it. Can faith make us stronger? How, and in what way?