John J. Pierce, "The Spiritual Journey of Fox Mulder"

This article is extremely hard to find, so I am providing the text here. My thanks go to the anonymous person who first posted this text online at a message board several years ago.

by John J. Pierce
Spectrum 8 (January 1997): 2–9

I'm the only one who knows where the show is going. I keep it in my head. That way they can't fire me.
-Chris Carter, Entertainment Weekly, May 10, 1996

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from his mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men.
- Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

I would like to see Fox Mulder take on a life of his own and actually have a Joseph Campbell journey, rather than have him merely play through a series of unrelated experiences. I se it more as an interior journey. Why is this man so in pain? Why is he so obsessed? Why would anyone want to live their life anyway? How do we heal him? How do we show him the truth?
- David Duchovny, Playboy, November 1995

The truth is out there -- and in there -- if you know how and where to look. The spiritual odyssey unfolding on The X-Files could become a new classic in the Joseph Campbell vein, if only series creator Chris Carter stays the course he seems to have charted.

The X-Files offers a compelling backstory: Fox Mulder is obsessed by the memory of his sister Samantha's abduction, apparently by aliens, when he was twelve years old. His quest to find her has drawn him to the X-Files, and we have Carter's word that the series will end with the fulfillment of that quest.

The very mention of a quest almost automatically invokes the memory of Joseph Campbell, whose theories of mythology have become -- whether or not he ever intended it -- a model for popular culture studies. Even Star Wars, an action-packed soap opera with no obvious intellectual pretensions, has been given the Campbell treatment.

Luke Skywalker fits the model of the classic quest hero. His journey becomes as much spiritual as physical, involving more than rescuing a princess-in-distress or becoming a Jedi Knight to avenge the deaths of his foster parents. Along the way, he is initiated into higher truths by his mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda -- and in the end he must confront the dark side of the Force represented by his own father.

The interrupted journey of Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks was another quest that was more than it first seemed. A straightforward case of murder in a small town, apparently committed by a serial killer, develops by strange turns into a greater mystery involving supernatural forces of Evil - the demon Bob and the Black Lodge. Had the series continued, he would no doubt have been drawn into an apocalyptic climax involving the White Lodge and the Black Lodge.

Although Carter has denied that there is any bible for The X-Files, he knows how the backstory will be resolved. Yet it is possible that the details leading to that resolution are still evolving. This was the case with Twin Peaks, where David Lynch and Mark Frost's disagreement over the direction of the backstory might have doomed the series if poor ratings hadn't already done so.

From Backstory to Quest

Is The X-Files a heroic quest story in the Campebellian sense? The mere fact that it has a foregone conclusion doesn't guarantee such an interpretation. In The Fugitive, Richard Kimble was allowed to corned the One-Armed Man in the final episode, but it would be a stretch to interpret the series in terms of the moral of spiritual education of the hero. Few of the episodes, moreover, had anything to do with the search for his nemesis. Most could be shown in scrambled order, without any apparent loss of continuity.

During its first season, The X-Files, too, could be seen as just "a series of unrelated experiences." Only the episodes featuring Deep Throat fell into any natural order; those and others involving aliens had no obvious relation - the series premiere, for example, versus "Genderbender." Deep Throat hinted at conspiracies going beyond UFOs, like the genetic experiments of "Eve." But there never seemed to be a story behind the stories - until "The Erlenmeyer Flask."

Lack of a bible may, as Carter argues, have given writers more creative freedom. But it has also led to confusion and contradictions that have undermined the credibility of the series, not only in background logic of the episodes (too many seemingly unrelated aliens and monsters, too many forms of the supernatural), but in the human details. Where, for example, are Scully's brothers? Serving on nuclear submarines, perhaps, and unable to respond to the family crises in "One Breath" and "Paper Clip"?

Gillian Anderson's pregnancy, which forced Carter to change course between the first and second seasons, turned out to be providential. To work around it, he created the story line leading up to "One Breath," itself a turning point for the series. While most episodes since have been unrelated to the backstory, we still sense its presence. We want to know not just what will happen to Mulder, but where his life is going.

Fox Mulder: Internal Émigré

What do we know about Fox Mulder at the outset? Only his obsession. We are told nothing of his family beyond the abduction of Samantha, and we don't have a clue about his life outside the FBI. We soon come to suspect that he doesn't have an outside life. In the classic heroic odyssey, the hero is distanced from his community by a journey to a far country, or even a distant galaxy. Mulder is an internal émigré.

His only friends seem to be the conspiracy geeks the Lone Gunmen, but perhaps only because they are useful to him. Nothing is said of his parents in the first season, suggesting that he doesn't feel close to them, and we later learn that they were divorced after Samantha's abduction. Young Fox Mulder must have spent his teens in an atmosphere of animosity between his parents that he could never comprehend.

We don't know whether he dates, but his subscriptions to Adult Video News and Celebrity Skin suggest that his primary sexual outlet is masturbation. Clyde Bruckman ("Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose") seems to sense this when he tells Mulder: "You know, I'm sure there are worse ways to go, but I can't think of a more undignified one than auto-erotic asphyxiation." He may see prostitutes, or have occasional one-night stands. His only on-screen sexual encounters - in "3" and "Syzygy" - have been freakishly fortuitous.

From his relationship with Scully, we know that he does not harbor the contempt for women commonly ascribed to men who resort to pornography; rather, he has sacrificed his love life to his obsession. Much has been made of the relationship with Scully, most critics arguing that it would be wrong to let them become sexually involved because that would kill the tension as surely as similar encounters on Moonlighting and Northern Exposure. But there is a more important reason for them to keep their distance: Scully is Mulder's moral anchor.

She is the only reluctant workaholic. "Unlike you, Mulder, I would like to have a life," she tells him in "Jersey Devil," refusing to cancel a date. She has strong ties to her family: even if her relationship with her father is flawed ("Beyond the Sea"), it is still a relationship. What Mulder needs from her isn't sex, but simple humanity. In "Little Green Men" and "End Game," she saves his life, but in "One Breath" (without knowing it) she helps save his soul. In "Anasazi," she saves him again, not just from his enemies, but from his won worst impulses in a near-fatal encounter with Alex Krycek.

In "Quagmire," Scully exerts her influence more subtly. Pursuing rumors of a Loch Ness-like monster in a Georgia lake, Mulder is so wrapped up in the case (poring over old pictures taken by a monster buff who's come to a bag end, seeking images of the elusive creature) that he hardly notices her pain at the loss of her dog Queequeg (also killed by the monster). Later, the agents are marooned on a rock - in the middle of the lake, they believe - after their boat is sunk.

We expect another attack by the monster, but what we get instead is out of My Dinner with Andre: a conversation about life, the longest talk that the two have ever had, with asides about Nature ("My father always taught be to respect Nature, because it has no respect for you.") and even cannibalism. Referring to those photos, Scully tells Mulder that what she saw in them wasn't Big Blue, but: "You. That man is your future, listening only to yourself." When he asks how she came to name her dog, she tells him about the nicknames she and her father used, which further reminds her: "How much you're like Ahab. You're so consumed by your personal vengeance against life, whether its inherent cruelties or its mysteries...Is it the truth or a white whale?"

Mulder kids her about how he'd really rather be the harpoonist with a pegleg, so he wouldn't feel duty-bound to pursue the white whale himself. In an ironic ending, he is led (incorrectly) to believe that the monster was only an alligator. "I guess i just wanted Big Blue to be real," he laments. "I guess I see hope in such possibility." Yet he now seems willing to accept that there isn't one, without letting his disappointment warp his life - thanks to Scully's counsel.

"Your Failure in the Cave"

Like Skywalker and Cooper, Mulder also has wise men as mentors, although they have been plain humans up to now - no alien mystic warriors, no giants from another dimension. Deep Throat was the first we encountered, and he could even be the last, having already advised Mulder from Beyond in "The Blessing Way." In "Little Green Men," we learned that Mulder had earlier been taken under the wing of Senator Richard Matheson, although little has since been made of their relationship.

"Remember your failure in the cave," Yoda warns Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. It was in that cave, in The Empire Strikes Back, that Skyalker had fought a dream duel with Darth Vader, only to learn that in resorting to vengeful violence he was destroying himself. Mulder's cave was the radio telescope installation in "Little Green Men." As a second season opener, the episode was a disappointment, promising a great revelation about the aliens that never materialized. Mulder complains bitterly at the end that he still doesn't have any proof of contact.

But what Mulder doesn't tell Scully is crucial. In a scene reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, an E.T. appears at the doors as if in answer to his prayers - only he draws his revolver and tries to kill his extraterrestrial visitor. We neither see nor hear any shots; an alien force field must have gimmicked the gun. But that doesn't matter. What does is that Mulder has failed a test; we sense that he realizes this, for it can only be out of shame that he chooses not to tell Scully.

Mulder's failure is not merely his own, but humanity's. He is a representative of humanity, and if he can overcome his failure he might become the representative of humanity. His odyssey in The X-Files has been an initiation process, like those of Luke Skywalker and Dale Cooper, and his purpose should be clear to fans by now even if it remains a mystery to his friends, his enemies and himself.

That purpose arises from the dilemma humanity itself faces in The X-Files, because the most devoted believers in UFOs fail to grasp the consequences of their beliefs. For all their accounts of alien abductions, sinister implants, genetically engineered hybrids, and so on, they also believe in benevolent beings who will bring enlightenment to the human race. When the good aliens arrive, so will the millennium. Oh really?

Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis opposed space travel for fear of what would actually come from human-alien contact. The kind of men to travel to other worlds, he warned, would be the "needy and greedy adventurer and the ruthless technical expert...They will do as their kind has always done. What that will be if they meet things weaker than themselves, the black man and the red man can tell. If they meet things stronger, they will be, very properly, destroyed."

In the universe of The X-Files, we are in the position of the black man and the red man -- with one vital difference. When the black man and the red man first encountered the white man, they didn't know what was in store for them. We do. They didn't know that if they dared slay a white man, the punishment could be the massacre of an entire village or tribe. We do. They didn't know that contact with the white man would lead to slavery and cultural genocide at best, or extermination at worst. We do.

Cancer Man must live in constant dread of what they might do. He must realize that attempts to placate them offer no more assurance of our survival or freedom than the cooperation of the African cheftains who sold their own people into slavery. What humanity needs is an emissary, a moral hero who can touch the hearts of human and alien alike, as Gandhi touched those of both his country's British oppressors and his own countrymen.

While recent episodes suggest that Cancer Man and the Consortium are collaborating with the shapeshifting aliens on the "colonization" project, there are still the grays, the invisible aliens of "Fallen Angel," and the possessors of "Piper Maru" who use diesel oil as a transfer medium. Bad blood between all of these and the way the Consortium seems to go back a long way, and we can't even be certain whether the shapeshifters are truly working "for" us or have a hidden agenda of their own.

The NSA agent's description of the initiation gray in "731" as a "weapon" suggests that it might be used in a war against its kind rather than ours. Could Cancer Man and the Consortium be getting humanity involved in a war against the grays for the sake of the Project? Even if that turns out to be a red herring, the only way for Mulder to halt the Project may be fore him to seek allies among the shapechangers. It has always been his goal to find his sister, but to do so he must confront the same aliens -- and the series must stand or fall on how he confronts them.

Patterns of the Quest

In the classic quest, the initiation of the hero doesn't necessarily depend on either the hero or those who influence him being aware of their roles in that initiation, or the fulfillment of the quest (consider Gollum in The Lord of the Rings). Cancer Man may play a role just as unwitting. There is too a sense of Providence, or at least a higher force at work. In Star Wars, it is simply called the Force. In "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," some force seems to intervene to place Scully in that hotel kitchen at just the right time to forestall the fate that Bruckman and the Puppet have foreseen for Mulder.

Like Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks, the players of The X-Files are filled with secrets. This, too, is in keeping with the great tradition of the quest. In The Lord of the Rings, there are secrets of the Ring itself, the true identity of Strider, the origin of Gollum, and the treachery of Saruman. In Star Wars, the secret relationship between Skywalker and Vader is at the heart of the story, and Carter may be preparing us for a revelation of the same kind on The X-Files with "Talitha Cumi": was there more between Cancer Man and Mulder's mother than just friendship? And what brought the young (1953) Cancer Man and Bill Mulder together in "Apocrypha"?

Another common thread in the quest story is the hero's journey from isolation to engagement. Luke Skywalker starts as just a farm boy on a backwater planet; Frodo Baggins lives contentedly in an idyllic community until the summon comes. Neither of these heroes is alienated from his world, but there is a precedent for Fox Mulder in Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant, in which the hero is a leper: embittered against his own world, he at first refuses to believe in -- much less care about -- the world he is called upon to save.

As in The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant, and Star Wars, the story of The X-Files unfolds on two levels. There are the periodic revelations about the aliens and the conspiracy, some of which may be red herrings but nevertheless seem to bring us closer to the truth. Then there re the personal revelations - about Mulder and Scully and their families, about Cancer Man and Mr. X and the other conspirators and, lately ("Avatar"), even about FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner.

Carter must have had the quest scenario in mind by the time "Tooms" was written. The image of the chrysalis in that episodes suggests not mere change, as Mulder remarks, but metamorphosis. Since "Little Green Men," Mulder has been going through a process of initiation to prepare him for his destiny as humanity's emissary. He doesn't know it, nor does Scully, still less Cancer Man or the other shadowy figures lurking at the edge of the moral universe. But it is happening, just the same.

What can be seen as turning point of the series came in the related episodes "Duane Barry," "Ascension," and "One Breath." Having suffered the loss of Samantha in childhood, Mulder now faces the loss of the one person in the world who has since come to mean anything to him, and while the episodes are overtly about what happens to her, they are really about what happens to him and what kind of person he becomes as a result.

The Three Temptations of Mulder

"Duane Barry," significantly, is the first episode to hint that humans are actually collaborating in alien abductions -- meaning that they might also have been involved in the abduction of Samantha. If Mulder had reason to hate Cancer Man and his ilk before, he has far more reason now -- and that is before the abduction of Scully. There seems to be no room left in him for anything but hatred. When Scully inexplicably reappears at the hospital in "one Breath," he begins assaulting the attending physician and screaming. "If you're with them, if you're hiding anything, I swear I'll do anything it takes to find out what they did to her."

In the course of that episode, Mulder faces a series of temptations. The first comes from Mr. X, who replaced Deep Throat as Mulder's informant. But unlike Deep Throat, Mr. X was driven by opportunism rather than conscience -- confirmed by his role as abductor of the shadow-killer Dr. Banton in "Soft Light," and as a cold-blooded killer for Cancer Man in "Wetwired." We don't know whether to be sorry or not when he meets his end in "Herrenvolk."

In "One Breath," Mulder has been chasing a man who stole a vial of Scully's blood. When Mr. X intercepts Mulder in the hospital laundry room, X reveals a bit about himself - and what Mulder risks becoming: "I used to be you. I was where you are now. But you're not me, Mulder. I don't think you have the heart. Walk away. Leave Scully. And then never look back. You will be able to live with yourself on the day that you die."

Mulder ignores his advice, breaking away long enough to capture the man with the vial. While trying to force a confession out of him, he drops his guard long enough for the man to get free - whereupon Mr X. reappears and executes the man while taunting Mulder: "You want to see what it takes to find the truth, Agent MUlder? You want to know the things I know?"

Cancer Man, who suspects that Mulder killed his agent, stirs up trouble for him with Skinner. But Skinner, who once seemed to be Cancer Man's pawn, asserts himself for the first time, having Cancer Man's home address slipped to Mulder. Mulder is again placed in the path of temptation -- to wreak vengeance on the man who has brought such pain to his life.

Yet when we encounter Cancer Man alone in his ratty apartment, we see that his is a pathetic figure. More than that, he is Mulder's mirror image in the sacrifice of his life to an obsession: "Look at me. No wife. No family. Some power. I'm in the game because I believe what I'm doing is right."

Cancer Man is nothing if not shy. When he claims credit for Scully's return ("I like you. I like her, too.), we don't know whether this is a revelation or a play. He feels certain, in any event, that Mulder will kill him, and he taunts him as much as Mr. X had: "I have more respect for you, Mulder. You're becoming a player."

But Mulder decides he'd rather not be a player -- not on Cancer Man's terms. Mulder may see this as a sign of weakness. He attempts to resign from the FBI the next day -- a rash act that Skinner forestalls with a touching story about his own near-death experience in Vietnam. But Mulder's decision at Cancer Man's apartment is confirmed when he overcomes the third temptation, again from Mr. X.

For whatever devious motives, Mr. X has lured to Mulder's apartment the men who took Scully. He convinces them that Mulder has stolen documents about the case there but will be out of town when they arrive to search the place. Then he tells Mulder: "I'm giving you the men who took her...They will be armed you will be defend yourself with terminal intensity. It's the only way, Mulder. The law will not punish these people."

Mulder takes up watch at his apartment but is interrupted by Scully's sister Melissa, who tells him that Scully is weaking, and that he should be there for her. He tries to beg off, but Melissa won't take no for an answer. Earlier she had argued for Scully's right to die, rather than be kept alive on machines to be studied for clues to her abduction. "She's not a piece of evidence." Now she tells him about himself: "I don't have to be psychic to see that you're in a very dark place--much darker than where my sister is. Willingly moving deeper into the darkness cannot help her at all."

Melissa departs, and we see Mulder returning to his vigil in the darkened apartment, his gun on the table next to him. Yet in the next scene, he is at Scully's side. Love and loyalty have overcome hatred and vengeance. He has begun go learn an essential lesson of the quest story: that he cannot overcome the enemy by becoming the enemy. There may be no logical cause and effect at work, but it is only after his triumph over the temptations of evil that Scully awakens and is restored to him.

The Chaos of Evil, the Rebirth of Good

"Trust no one," Deep Throat told Mulder in "The Erlenmeyer Flask." Chris Carter meant the execution of Mulder's informant in the first season finale as a warning - that anything can happen, and no one is safe. In "Anasazi," "The Blessing Way," and "Paper Clip," we learn not only that nothing we have seen before is necessarily what it seems, but that Mulder and Scully are being tested in a series of personal and spiritual crises rather than mere dangerous cases.

This was foreshadowed in "Colony": the "return" of Samantha turned out to be a hoax, but not before Mulder's failure to rescue the alien mimic from the Pilot convinced him that he had brought about the death of the one he had dedicated his life to save. We can only begin to imagine the guilt he must have felt when he brought the news to his father; yet, in light of what we later learn about Bill Mulder, we must wonder whether he himself was ever taken in by the mimic welcomed "home" by his ex-wife.

The revelation in "Anasazi" that Bill was involved in the cover-up, and even in criminal experiments, is yet another blow to his son. Before Bill has a chance to explain, he is silenced forever by Krycek, the false FBI agent who did Cancer Man's dirty work in "Duane Barry" and "Ascension." Yet Cancer Man had warned Bill to keep silent in order to safeguard his son: "I've protected him up to now." Is Krycek really still his tool?

In most paranoid films and TV shows, the conspiracies are just too perfect. The conspirators are in total accord, and their plans never go wrong. (In Nowhere Man, they obliterate Thomas Veil's identity so thoroughly that even his dog goes along with the gag!) There may be a few noble defectors, but never ordinary stipulates or slip-ups -- only the illogical lapses that keep the plot simmering and the hero alive.

The X-Files started out like that. Skinner seemed to fear Cancer Man as if he were God, and Cancer Man always got his way. Evidence that Mulder and Scully found was always destroyed or simply disappeared. The only reason Mulder himself wasn't killed, we were told, was that he had protection on Capitol Hill - presumably meaning Senator Matheson. Deep Throat was motivated by guilt over having executed an alien, but no one else appeared to feel any qualms.

But then came Mr. X, playing both ends against the middle. Krycek turned into a loose cannon. In "The Blessing Way" and "Paper Clip," even Cancer Man is at bay as the crisis over the stolen MJ file drives a wedge between him and his colleagues -- not only the Well-Manicured Man, who warns Scully of an attempt on her life because further executions are bound to attract too much attention, but the feefy-faced man identified in the credits as Elder #1.

Everything goes wrong in ways that might be comic if they weren't so sad. Cancer Man, whether or not he ever really protected Mulder, is content to believe that Fox is "dead" now. He orders (or at least condones) the assassination of Scully, but Krycek and Luis Cardenal terminate Melissa by mistake. Cancer Man tries to eliminate the troublesome Krycek with a car bomb, only to get a phone call from his intended victim warning that he'll make him a "very, very famous man" if he tries it again. Skinner, beating by Cancer Man's thugs and robbed of the MJ file, checks his one-time nemesis by revealing that the file has been memorized by too many Navajos for Cancer Man to eliminate.

If the forces of evil have begun to fall apart, the forces of good are being reborn. Mulder, left for dead in "Anasazi," undergoes a miraculous resurrection. Although the Blessing Way of the Navajo, like many shamanistic rituals, takes three days, the Christian symbolism of Mulder's awakening on the third day is obvious, and Albert Hosteen's words suggest a religious pun: "The FBI man was weak from his journey and did not wish to speak. But like a rising son [son?], I sensed in him a rebirth."

When the reborn Mulder asks where he has been, Hosteen tells him: "This place. You carry it with you. It is inside of you. It is the origin place." And Mulder begins to sound like a prophet himself when he appears to Scully in a dream: "I have been on the bridge that spans two worlds, the link between all souls by which we cross into our own true nature. You were here today looking for a truth that was taken from you, a truth which was never to be spoken, but which now binds us together in dangerous purpose. I have returned from the dead to continue with you..."

It is no accident that, on the brink of death, he has been counseled by the spirit of Deep Throat ("Go back. Fight the monsters within and without.) and his own father ("If you were to die now, the truth would die with you."), as Scully was advised by the guardian angel calling her "Nurse Owen" in "One Breath". But it is significant that neither reveals the truth Mulder has been seeking. In the heroic quest, such revelations can only come at the appointed time and in the appointed manner.

Stations on the Pilgrimage

It is too early to tell whether yet another new twist in the mythology of The X-Files, Mulder's past life regression in "The Field Where I Died," will lead anywhere. The idea of his having been involved with Scully, Samantha, Melissa, and even Cancer Man in past lives is intriguing -- but could easily muddy the waters. And note that Mulder's new-found knowledge serves him poorly in the episode: he cannot forestall a Tennessee religious cult's replay of the Jonestown tragedy.

Will Mulder have to cope with a sense of failure over the debacle? The significance of "The Field Where I Died" may be akin to that of several third season episodes that didn't advance the quest as such, yet can be seen as part of Mulder's spiritual preparation for his destiny. In John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, a religious parable hardly anyone reads today, every person or place encountered by the hero is an object lesson. The X-Files is never that blunt, but there are certainly close encounters with moral/spiritual issues.

"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," for example, contrasts the stoic fatalism of clairvoyant insurance salesman Bruckman with Mulder's convictions that human action can make a difference, as in this exchange:

Bruckman: How could I see the future if it didn't already exist?
Mulder: But is the future is 'written,' why...bother doing anything?
Bruckman: Now you're catching on.
Mulder: Mr. Bruckman, I believe in your ability, but not your attitude. I can't stand around, letting people die without doing anything within my -- albeit unsupernatural -- power to interfere with that fate.

Darin Morgan's teleplay doesn't reveal why Bruckman commits suicide at the end. Perhaps the burdens of his visions has overwhelmed him at last. But perhaps he is also overwhelmed by guilt -- by the knowledge that he might have prevented some of the deaths he foresaw, as Mulder's is somehow prevented. It is his withdrawal from life that has doomed him.

In "Oubliette," Mulder is able to identify with, and perhaps even find inspiration in, Lucy Householder -- a victim of circumstance like himself who is nevertheless able to rise above self-pity and achieve true heroism. At first, Scully can't understand why Mulder believes in Lucy when she may be an accomplice in Carl Wade's abduction of Amy.

Scully: You're becoming some sort of empath yourself, Mulder. You are so sympathetic to Lucy as a victim like your sister that you can't see her as a person who's capable of committing this crime.
Mulder: You think I haven't thought of that/ I have, and not everything I say or do or think goes back to my sister. You of all people should realize that sometimes motivations for behavior can be more complex and mysterious than tracing them back to one childhood experience.

Mulder is right. Later events confirm that Lucy's own childhood kidnapping was at Wade's hands -- she was held for years instead of mere days. Against Mulder's own doubts, it is Scully who now appreciates the significance of his role after Lucy takes upon herself the death by drowning that seemed fated for Amy: "She saved Amy's life, Mulde, [and] whatever there was between them, you were a part of that connection. Did you think about that? Lucy may have died for Amy, but without you they never would have found her."

It is surely coincidence, but Lucy's sacrifice for Amy parallels a scene in Charles Williams' Descent into Hell, in which a contemporary woman takes upon herself the pain of her ancestor, a religious martyr burned at the stake centuries ago. A Christian eccentric, Wiliams believed that the Bible commands us literally to ear each other's burdens as an act of "substituted love." Mulder himself may some day be called upon to obey the same commandment -- to save Scully, or another, or even humanity.

At the outset, especially in the monster-of-the-week episodes, Mulder's cases were just that -- cases. True, the monsters could hardly arouse his sympathies or ours; but even in episodes like "Miracle Man" Mulder kept his emotional detachment. In recent episodes, he has chosen engagement over isolation even if, as in "Pusher," the objects of his concern have hardly earned it. "Grotesque" can be seen as a reminder of the perils of obsession: the senior agent has become the thing he hunted. Mulder escapes that trap, and in "Wetwired" his concern for Scully overcomes the siren call of the "truth."

Solidarity -- or Betrayal?

A crucial development in recent episodes has been the growing solidarity between Mulder and his allies. Once a virtual outcast at the FBI, he now takes part in major operations ("The Field Where I DIed," "Tunguska") and has the support of the bureau when he needs it most (as when an army of agents turns out to protect his mother in "Herrenvolk"). In "Tunguska," Skinner becomes directly involved in Mulder's quest, at serious risk to himself; and in "Terma," Scully goes to jail for contempt of Congress to protect him.

There is also Marita Covarrubias, the U.N. official who became Mulder's informant (and possibly the future lover Duchovny has been requesting for Mulder?) in "Herrenvolk." She has gone further for him than Mr. X or Deep Throat. In "Tunguska," she secures him a diplomatic passport and visa to travel to Siberia in search of the origins of that deadly alien rock: "Because I can. Because there are those of us who believe in you -- believe in your search for the truth." She has already offered him one thing even Scully can't: hope. "Not everything dies, Mr. Mulder," she tells him in "Herrenvolk," responding to the Pilot's taunt ("Everything dies)".

Despite this apparent new ally, Mulder may be facing a crisis from an unexpected quarter that could dramatically alter the dynamic of the series and of Mulder's journey. In "Terma," Scully is first convinced of one of Mulder's ideas -- albeit an alien virus rather than aliens. In "Herrenvolk," she had already shown initiative in pursuing the discovery that smallpox vaccinations have been used as a ruse for genetically tagging untold millions. But even as the bond between her and Mulder as comrades-in-arms appears to be deepening, Carter could be setting them up for the most fearful challenge of all.

In "731," Scully had discovered a mass grave of experimental victims -- and a Deep Throat of her own with a plausible explanation: Elder #1 (whom we first encountered at the gathering of the Consortium in "The Blessing Way"). And perhaps he has devised an elaborate scheme to create an Archilles heel in Mulder and Scully's relationship. Scully's implant turns out to be a chip that can mimic "memory formation." Could she have been given false memories to help her accept Elder #1's cover story? She berates Mulder for obsessively pursuing what she believes is a deception: "You're doing their work for them. You're chasing aliens that aren't there, helping them to create a story to cover the shameful truth."

Little has since been made of this. The playwright Chekhov advised that a gun introduced into the first act of a play must be used subsequently. Likewise, ELder #1 bears watching. Having once gained Scully's trust, he may further exploit his role as a false informer, leading her to betray Mulder in some terrible way without her even realizing it. For Scully to become an unwitting Judas would be the most crushing blow Mulder could suffer and the greatest test of his resolve he could ever face.

Which Millennium Approaches?

We have always known that Mulder's journey must lead him to a reckoning with the aliens, although their actual role in the central mysteries of the series and the fate of Samantha remains elusive. But there have been hints that he could have a part to play in something greater -- some apocalyptic battle between cosmic Good and Evil -- rather than simply the defeat of evil-doers (human or alien) who have wronged him.

Beyond furthering what was already known as the "mythology" of The X-Files during the third season, Carter pursued "spiritual themes." This wasn't entirely new: "One Breath" had shown an apparently "real" spiritual realm beyond the material world. But the emphasis on the spiritual has certainly increased. In "Avatar," we learn that even Walter Skinner has a guardian angel, who helps save him from a scheme by Cancer Man to frame him for the murder of a prostitute.

Mulder's own experience in the Native American spirit realm in "The Blessing Way" is in the same vein. It could all turn out to be illusion, of course, as could the near-death/angelic experiences of Scully and Skinner. But the overall direction of the series argues against it, especially in "Revelations," where Christian mythology too becomes "real" -- in a manner that can't be dismissed as dream or delusion.

Is Simon Gates truly Satan or an agent of Satan? Is Kevin Crider truly the reborn Christ, or at least a potential saint on whom the fate of the world may rest? we see the smoke rise from Gates' hands as he strangles the false stigmatics; we see Kevin's true stigmata, and we see him create an illusory double like St. Ignatius. We have Scully's expert judgment that the body of Owen Lee Jarvis miraculously shows no signs of decomposition.

"Revelations," if we take it at face value, suggests an entirely new story arc for The X-Files -- one that goes beyond the purely secular (if much mythologized) concerns of aliens and conspiracies into the realm of what theologians call eschatology: the end of all things. Gates, indeed, echoes the prophecies of end times in the Book of Revelation as he is about to kill Kevin at his recycling plant: "The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon will turn to blood, because of you, son...You have to die, Kevin -- for everyone. For the New Age to come."

But in "Talitha Cumi," Carter raises the possibility that the apocalyptic scenario of "Revelations" might actually come together with the previously established mythology of the series. There are two encounters between Cancer Man and "Jeremiah Smith," the alien shapechanger who has miraculously healed the victims of a shootout at a Washington fast food outlet. Cancer Man has had "Smith" abducted, and it is soon clear that they go back a long way -- like Cancer Man and the Mulders. In their first conversation, Cancer Man reveals the soul of a fascist: "We give them happiness and they give us authority...Men can never be free, because they are weak, corrupt, worthless and restless. The people believe in authority. They're tired of waiting for science and mystery. Science is their religion. No greater explanation exists for them."

There is already a hint of Dostoyevsky here, but in their second encounter, the conversation between Cancer Man and "Smith" turns to God, recalling the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. "Smith" suggests that Cancer Man is afraid people will believe he is God because of the miracles he has performed. (Indeed, the demented man who shot up the restaurant so believes.)

"Smith" isn't God, or even Christ; that he is willing to buy his personal survival and freedom by promising Cancer Man a cure for his lung cancer, and assuring him his "part" in the Project as one of the colonists, is a sign that he has human weaknesses even if he isn't human. But he seems to believe in God, or at least that which humans represent by God, is real -- and what sets him apart from Cancer Man.

"Smith": You rule over them in God's name.
Cancer Man: They don't believe in Him, but they still fear Him. They're afraid not to, because they're afraid of freedom.
"Smith": And you give them happiness.
Cancer Man: We appease their consciences. Anyone who can appease a man's conscience can take his freedom away from him.
"Smith": And if you can't appease their conscience, you kill them. But you can't kill them all. You can't kill their love, which is what makes them what they are -- makes them better than us. Better than you.

It would undermine The X-Files as speculative fiction for it to proclaim a true faith: "Smith" (apparently killed by the Pilot in "Herrenvolk") never proclaims one. But if the fourth season premiere doesn't offer a vision of Heaven, it certainly shows a glimpse of Hell in Cancer Man's twisted utopia of a drone worker class presumably to be ruled by men like himself.

At the very least, the eternal struggle of Good and Evil seems to transcend human and alien, and Mulder's quest could involve some final battle. In fact, though The X-Files almost certainly will not present an orthodox vision of Armageddon, it's quite likely that we will see a contest of Good and Evil along the lines of a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings scenario. Like Dostoyevsky, Cater seems to be obsessed with that struggle (also evident in Carter's other series, Millennium).


Carter has recently (Entertainment Weekly, No. 29, 1996) likened the backstory of The X-Files to the Lewis and Clark expedition: "I know the direction I'm headed, but I don't know what I'll find along the way." It's his job to keep ups guessing which new elements he introduces along the way are red herrings and which are truly significant. But at the end, the story of Mulder's quest must appear a seamless whole, regardless of the circumstances under which it has been developed.

Series television moves by fits and starts. We can't expect every episode of The X-Files to advance the backstory or show another step in Mulder's spiritual progress. We are all familiar with the pressures of the TV industry: Carter, like all producers, has to keep an eye on the ratings and fan feedback, hold the best episodes or the greatest revelations for sweeps months, deal with nervous network executives, and humor stars if they get restless.

Yet with the story of Mulder's quest coming closer to its climax, it is more necessary than ever for Carter to take care. He must avoid either artificially prolonging the story or artificially cutting it short. He must avoid any artistic compromise (like that in Return of the Jedi which trivialized the tragedy Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker as father and son) and moral compromise -- such as a facile triumph of Mulder's faith over Scully's science or vice versa. A poorly conceived resolution to Mulder's quest would be worse than none at all.

At the end of "Paper Clip," Mulder tells Scully, "I don't think this is about justice. I think it's about fate." That's the only way to play the quest from here on. The dramatic resolution, the closure, must finally come how and when it seems naturally fated to -- regardless of the timing or the ratings. And what comes after Mulder confronts the truth and Samantha is returned to him? Like the protagonist of Arthur C. Clarke's novelization of 2001, he should be able to think of something!

- John J. Pierce, Spectrum #8 1997.