Below are reviews/summaries for each of the episodes, as well as explanations of some of the texts and concepts referred to in the episode and discussion questions that could be used in a group setting.
- Miracle Man (1x17)
- Die Hand Die Verletzt (2x14)
- Revelations (3x11)
- Gethsemane (4x24)
- All Souls (5x17)
- The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati (7x04)
- Signs & Wonders (7x09)
- The Gift (8x11)
- Improbable (9x14)
- I Want to Believe (2nd movie)
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.
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?
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Die Hand Die Verletzt (2x14)
Original airdate: 1/27/95
Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong
Directed by Kim Manners
“Die Hand Die Verletzt” brings up interesting issues about complacency, hypocrisy, and the potency of religion. It pairs well with the seventh season episode “Signs & Wonders,” which also raises questions about the true nature of the devil and the symbolism of snakes in religion.
The PTC (Parent Teacher Commitee) objects to doing the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, saying it is not appropriate for this high school, then they refer to leading in prayer. The initial impression we get is that these are conservative Christians who think a play about Jesus is too controversial or sacrilegious and who pray at their meetings. But appearances can be deceiving, as we soon find out. They light a candle and shut the door; as they begin to pray, the light seeping through the doorframe turns a hellish red. They pray, “Sein ist die Hand die verletzt” (translated for us as “Thine is the hand that wounds”).... Hail the Lords of Darkness.”
Outwardly, especially toward Mulder and Scully, the PTC continues to play up the stereotype of conservative Christians, indignant about the music and television their children are exposed to as a corrupting influence that leads to events such as occult murder. (Later, after Ausbury’s true religion is revealed, he still blames the media, saying that his daughter filled in the blanks in her memory from things she saw on Geraldo.) While the identification of the PTC as Christians is only implicit at the beginning, it becomes explicit when Mulder tells Ausbury that his desire for revenge against anyone who would hurt his daughter isn’t “a very Christian tenet” and when Ausbury later contrasts his own faith and practices with those of Christians. Hypocrisy is built into the very practice and demeanor of the PTC because they perpetuate the stereotypes against Satanism and devil worship in order to hide their own participation in the same.
The boys conducting the “seance,” Jerry Stevens and Dave Duran, represent those who dabble in the forms of religion but have no understanding of its power. They pray to the same group as the PTC: the Lords of Darkness, Rulers of the Earth, Kings of the Underworld.
Dave reads, “Know ye all who dwell in the light of professed righteousness,” which brings to mind the hypocrisy of the PTC, as those who profess to be righteous, or who masquerade as the righteous (the good and just) but behind closed doors live out the opposite.
Dave continues, “that the others who know the keys and the angels have opened the gate.” These words give a sense of foreboding, because Dave through his words appears to open the gates to hell and unleash something on the community. (This may also allude to Rev. 1:18 [a verse quoted in “Millennium”], which refers to Jesus holding the keys of Death and of Hades, or Hell.) Dave and Jerry -- and the PTC, who are not serious about their beliefs and rituals -- have toyed with something they do not understand and have unwittingly unlocked the gate. Dave later tells Mulder and Scully, “I never thought it would work.... I’m afraid we called up some devil” -- which, of course, is exactly what has happened.
As the teens run away in terror while Jerry is attacked, Andrea chants the Hail Mary, in contrast to the PTC (and the text read by Dave), who chant, “Hail the Lords of Darkness.”
The toads falling from the sky are reminiscent of the second plague preceding the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt (Exod. 8:1-15). This recalls the battle of signs and wonders between Moses and the pharaoh’s magicians, and the theme of true versus false religion. This provides a backdrop for the comparison between Christianity and occultism throughout the episode: though both may contain a form of power, just as both Moses and the Egyptian magicians could perform the same wonders (here, creating a plague of frogs), does that make both belief systems equal? The difference between the God of Moses and the gods of the Egyptians is that Moses’s God is able to undo the plague (killing the frogs) when Moses prays for it, and Moses’s God has a purpose behind his displays of power: to release his people from slavery. Likewise, though Christianity and occultism may both contain forms of sacrifice and may both demonstrate supernatural power, are both equal, or does something else distinguish them? Ausbury seems to find that something else when he has a change of heart.
Through Scully’s skepticism and reasonable arguments, the episode raises the theme that recurs in other episodes (“Syzygy,” “Empedocles”) that while there are often rumors of devil worship and Satanic cults, FBI efforts to investigate such claims have led to little or no evidence, that it is nothing more than rumors and group hysteria -- but in this case, the rumors prove to be true.
Ausbury quotes from Psalm 94:1, “Thou, God of vengeance, shine forth!” Mulder replies that even the devil can quote Scripture to fit his needs (as happens especially in the temptation of Jesus by Satan in Matt. 4 and Luke 4). This is the first time in the episode that the agents connect the PTC to occultism. Ausbury’s reply, that the devil travels in many forms, shows the suspicion and fear that he lives with, knowing that the devil is on the loose seeking blood but may appear as anyone or anything. This also raises the issue of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, or the devil appearing in deceptive guise, which recurs especially in “Signs & Wonders” (see also “Revelations,” “All Souls”). If the devil can appear as anyone, then truly you can trust no one. In this case, the devil comes in the form of a caring, old-fashioned substitute teacher (compare to “Signs & Wonders,” where Mulder says that people expect horns and a tail, not a kindly man telling you what you want to hear).
Ausbury has a change of heart, or a conversion, when his daughter becomes the victim and he experiences the callousness of the other PTC members. They recognize that their faith requires sacrifice and that they must take the murders as a wake-up call to return to faithful devotion and practice. But Ausbury values the life of his daughter more highly than he does the ancient rituals. He can’t accept that sacrifice is required when the sacrifice is his own daughter, and especially when the others are willing to let her take the blame in order to cover their own misdeeds.
Ausbury’s change of heart is punctuated by his confession of this to Mulder, a dialogue that serves as a key to the entire episode. Ausbury raises the issues of hypocrisy and persecution and contrasts his own faith with Christianity. He was raised to believe that Christians were hypocrites. Aside from the hypocrisy he saw in their practices, there was the historical fact that the Christians of his forefathers’ day (the Puritans) came to America to flee religious persecution, and then they became the persecutors when they hunted out practitioners of the occult and witchcraft. Now, Ausbury and the PTC have become the hypocrites, symbolically so when they act as if they are Christians who are persecuting occultists. But the hypocrisy goes much deeper, rooted in their watered-down faith.
Ausbury’s other criticism of Christianity is that they teach to “do unto others” (referring to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you [Matt. 7:12]), while humanity’s natural tendency is to “do as thou wilst” (a phrase generally attributed to noted occultist Aleister Crowley, for whom the school, Crowley High School, is named) -- do what you will, or whatever feels right. In other words, humans, like animals, behave on instinct and impulse. What Christianity teaches is to live with self-restraint and selflessness, to overcome our natural urges. But Ausbury has seen the animalistic impulses of his fellow believers, and he has come to realize that he is better than an animal. He can rise above his urges to put the good of others (especially his daughter) above his own. Ausbury shows that humans do (or he does) have a sense of morality, even though his religion stands counter to that. He thinks it is natural to behave as animals, but when he sees true animalistic behavior, he believes in a sense of right and wrong that transcends the animal instincts of self-preservation.
Mulder also points out the hypocrisy of Ausbury and his fellow practitioners by comparing their watering down of the ancient rituals to the Christian practice of watering down the communion wine by using grape juice instead. While there is not a one-to-one correlation between communion and the occult sacrifices, the point is driven home by the association with the group that Ausbury considers to be hypocrites.
Mulder’s question to Ausbury hits on the real problem behind their hypocrisy: “You knew the possibilities contained in your beliefs.... Did you really think you could call up the devil and ask him to behave?” When paired with Mulder’s earlier statements that even the Church of Satan has renounced murder, it begs the question whether any religion can truly lose the ancient rituals entirely or only fool themselves by losing the beliefs while the rites and incantations retain their power. Specifically, in this case, perhaps a religion worshiping a being known for death and destruction cannot so easily walk away from the very things that being is associated with. The true risk is that those in the know do not inform others of the real power behind the words and rituals, so that someone like Dave stumbles across the words, thinks they are innocuous, and calls up something powerful that he doesn’t understand.
Aside from the references to Azazel, it is never entirely clear exactly what belief or religion the PTC represents. Mulder refers to modern witches and Wicca representing a much less violent form of religion than one associated with ritualistic murder and says that even the Church of Satan has renounced murder and torture. The PTC may be part of a renegade, more extreme faction of either type of belief system, or simply is a modern expression of an ancient religious tradition, one that has not yet formally renounced such practices but has let them slide. Whatever their faith, Ausbury explains that it has a long history, going back in the community seven generations.
Ausbury and the PTC appear to have made a pact, or covenant, with the devil, a pact that may go back a couple hundred years. They agreed to faithfully adhere to the rituals, including the masses and blood sacrifices, likely in exchange for power and prosperity. The fact that the PTC members are leaders in the community shows that they have reaped the benefits of their pact. When they fail to uphold their end of the bargain, however, the devil comes to claim what is owed.
This contrasts with the idea of covenant in Christianity, as inherited from Judaism. Mulder refers to the communion wine, which in the New Testament is the blood of the new covenant (cf. Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25). This alludes back to the role of blood sacrifice (of animals, not humans) in establishing the covenant at Sinai between the Israelites and the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod. 24:8). The Israelites promised to obey God’s laws, and in exchange God promised them a land of their own and prosperity in that land. But there were also promises of what would happen to them if they failed to hold up their end of the bargain by obeying the law. Like Ausbury and the PTC, after several generations of prosperity, the Israelites grew complacent and failed to fulfill their side of the pact, so they suffered the consequences (exile from their land), until they returned to God.
The snake that appears throughout the episode associated with Mrs. Paddock and then comes to kill Ausbury plays on the symbolism of snakes as representing evil and especially Satan in the Garden of Eden (see especially “Signs and Wonders,” where this association is more fully explored).
In the end, the PTC falls victim to their own complacency and the terms of their covenant. They lived with the belief that they were no better than animals, and so Ausbury died like an animal, consumed by a snake. They gave up on blood sacrifices, and so their own blood became the sacrifice to satisfy the terms of their covenant. They called up the devil, but the devil would not behave.
In the passage that Dave Duran reads, he refers to Azazel. The PTC later says that Jerry was displayed according to the rites of Azazel. The name Azazel appears in some modern translations of Leviticus 16, in the passage describing a ritual on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), in which the sins of the people are transferred to a scapegoat, who is sent into the wilderness (“to Azazel” Lev. 6:10, NRSV) to carry away their sins. In subsequent literature and mythology, the name Azazel has been attached to a fallen angel or demon.
Mulder refers to drinking grape juice instead of wine in communion as though this compares to passing over ancient rituals. The use of grape juice is typically to avoid the alcoholic properties of wine, either for faith communities that generally abstain for alcohol or for individuals who should avoid alcohol (such as alcoholics or those who are underage). Since grape juice and wine are both fruit of the vine (that is, produced from grapes), grape juice is generally not considered to be a significant change to the original practice of consuming wine and bread. For those who believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation (the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine and the transformation of the elements in some metaphysical way), the key part of the ritual is the blessing by the ordained priest, not the alcohol properties of the wine.
1) Ausbury tells Mulder that humanity’s natural tendency is to “do what thou wilst” (do what you will) rather than live by the Golden Rule (“do unto others,” or treat others the way that you want to be treated). What are examples of each way of living? Which seems more natural to you? Which seems a better way to live? Why?
2) Ausbury says that humans are nothing but animals, no better and no worse. Do you think this is true? In what ways are humans similar to animals? In what ways are humans different? What role does morality (right and wrong) play in human life, especially compared to animals?
3) What happens when religious rituals are practiced only for the sake of the ritual and the original meaning behind it is lost? What is -- or should be -- the relationship between faith and ritual? Are rituals just reminders of the past, or do they hold true power?
4) How do we avoid complacency or hypocrisy in religion? In other words, how do we avoid becoming people who just go through the motions and do not have true faith?
5) What purpose do sacrifices play in religion? What role does communion play in Christianity, and how does this compare to the blood sacrifices of animals used by the ancient Israelites and early Jews? What does it mean that Jesus’s blood is referred to as the blood of the (new) covenant?
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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.
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.
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?
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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?
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All Souls (5x17)
Original airdate: 4/26/98
Teleplay by: Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban
Story by: Billy Brown and Dan Angel
Directed by: Allen Coulter
This episode in some ways parallels “Revelations,” especially with Scully’s visit to the confessional, her role in protecting a child, and the message of a religious figure that seems aimed directly at Scully but not her partner. But a major aspect of this episode is Scully coming to terms with the death of her daughter Emily in “Christmas Carol”/“Emily” and the role that Scully played in Emily’s death by discontinuing her medical treatment. In the first confessional scene, Scully tells the priest, “An innocent girl is dead because of me. I could’ve saved her life, but I let her die.” On the surface, it seems that she is talking about the last girl in the episode, whom Scully does not manage to save from death, but the words could also apply to Emily. Scully tells the priest that she is not sure he can offer forgiveness for the sin she has come to confess, which is letting the girl die, but what this really highlights is the guilt that Scully clearly still carries. The priest can offer her forgiveness, but she also needs to forgive herself.
In the teaser, Father McCue explains baptism and the rite of initiation: it takes away original sin and confers grace, “bringing the soul into God’s family.” This, then, sets up the theme of family, adoption, and fatherhood that runs throughout the episode. The Kernofs have adopted Dara, just as Father Gregory is trying to adopt another one of the four girls. This recalls Scully’s attempt to adopt Emily and highlights her tenuous identity as Emily’s mother.
At the end of the teaser, when Dara’s father finds her in the street, the scene closes with the shot on a telephone pole that looks like a cross. Throughout the episode, there are additional cross images, both upright and upside down, used in set design and as the focus of shots.
We see the transition in Scully’s church attendance from “Revelations” to the “Redux” arc to “All Souls”: in “Revelations” she hadn’t been to confession for six years, and when she was facing cancer she didn’t feel the need for religion (“Redux”), but now she is attending church on Easter, and it has been several months (rather than years) since her last confession. Father McCue comments on seeing her at mass again recently, and she says she’s been trying to come more often.
The fact that Scully’s involvement in the story begins on Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, brings in the theme of life after death. Although the characters in the episode are not resurrected, what Scully struggles with, as she especially discusses with the priest in her final scene, is the fact of the “life after this one” and reconciling that with the physical death of the girls and Emily. As a doctor, a scientist, and an agent, Scully fights to protect and preserve life. But the fate of the soul is another matter.
Scully tells the priest that she relates to how Mr. Kernof was feeling about their daughter’s death. He’s angry with God and can’t understand how “God could forsake the life of an innocent girl. How God, in His mercy, could let this happen.” The priest asks if Scully is saying that she has been angry with God, although she doesn’t directly answer this question. She is clearly struggling to understand the loss of Emily, and both how God could to allow Emily’s death and how Scully herself could allow her death. But Scully’s increased church attendance suggests that she is wrestling with God personally rather than running away from him or avoiding him. Mulder’s rhetorical questions later also echo what Mrs. Kernof says here: “Why would God allow this to happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?” The underlying question of “Why?” is what Scully is trying to understand.
Scully also brings up her struggle between faith and science, the two major aspects of her character. She tells the priest, “As much as I have my faith, Father, I am a scientist trained to weigh evidence. But science only teaches us how, not why.” While she views the world through the lens of science and tries to explain things in these terms, she also recognizes science’s limitations in answering the big questions in life. Science can tell her how Dara and Emily died, but it cannot explain the reason for their deaths.
Scully expresses to Mulder that she believes “God has his reasons,” and she brings this up as a question to Father McCue. He responds that this is how God rewards our faith. In the end, Scully says to the priest, “Maybe that’s what faith is,” referring to her accepting the loss of Emily, that the girl’s soul was released to heaven. The theme tying these moments together, and the progression that Scully is on throughout the episode, is that while she struggles to understand the reason behind the loss, she also has faith in the mystery of God’s reasons and purposes, but faith also includes accepting her own personal suffering and loss if ultimately it leads to the greater good of releasing someone else from the suffering of this life into the afterlife.
The coroner describes Dara genuflecting, in a kneeling position, which is typically a position of prayer (as Scully later describes it), and makes a religious connection, saying, “It’s as if God himself struck her down.” This evokes images of being struck down with lightning, as it appears happened to Dara during the storm; this idea of being struck down is usually associated with instant judgment, but it’s already been pointed out twice that this girl is innocent. (Instead, Scully feels like she is the one who deserves to be struck down in punishment.) We later learn that the girls apparently have seen the seraphim and therefore “were smote with the brightness of his countenance.” Although here this is an encounter with an angel, this recalls the biblical idea that no one can see the face of God and live (Exod. 33:20). However, Scully has a vision of the same being, and she lives to tell about it (because she isn’t one of the Nephilim?), which is why Father McCue discounts what she saw.
The theme of prayer returns when Mulder is interviewing Father Gregory, who is praying. Mulder says mockingly, “What are you asking for, Father? Mercy or forgiveness? You know they say when you talk to God it’s prayer, but when God talks to you, it’s schizophrenia. What is your God telling you, Father?” Father Gregory, not to be provoked, says he is praying for the girls’ souls. In a sense, it seems this is also what the girls were praying for, since by the end we see that their position of prayer led to their souls being released to heaven. Mulder’s comments, although sarcastic, have a ring of truth. It is common and socially acceptable for people to pray, whether to God or in any other context, but it is generally understood to be one-way communication, or communication that is answered with deeds rather than words. But when people claim to hear the voice of God, it is often interpreted differently--with good reason, though, since just because someone has claimed to hear the voice of God does not mean they actually have. A similar exchange happens between Mulder and Scully in the later episode “Orison”: Mulder says of their suspect that “plenty of nut bags” think they are being directed by God, and then he asks Scully, “Has he [God] ever spoken to you?” Scully, justifiably, replies, “I’m trying not to take offense,” and then she explains to Mulder the signs she has seen and what she thinks they mean. This is an example of how God’s communication is perceived not through an audible voice but through events and circumstances that take on a particular meaning or seem to defy explanation.
Along with being frozen in a position of prayer, the girls also have their eyes burned out. Mulder references “the mote in the eye, the eyes as windows to the soul, an eye for an eye” as “ancient scripture ... maybe even the Bible.” The mote in the eye is from Matthew 7:3-5, referring to the hypocrite who points out the mote, or small speck, in another person’s eye while overlooking the beam in their own eye. “An eye for an eye” refers to the lex talionis, or law of retribution, familiar from the Bible (Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:20) and other ancient Near Eastern cultures. The common theme to both of these phrases is judgment, which fits with the idea of being struck down by God. The other phrase, “the eyes as the windows to the soul,” is not from the Bible and seems to have a different sense, relating more to transparency and enlightenment. Throughout the episode there is also a focus on windows in certain shots (such as opening the scene with Scully and the coroner, and Paula kneeling in the light of the window at her death), highlighting the use of windows to allow light into the darkness, and perhaps also suggesting transition--in this instance, from life to the afterlife.
The connection between eyes and enlightenment relates to the theme of seeing in the episode. Mulder later accuses Father Gregory of burning their eyes out and charges, “Did they see you for who you are, like I do?” But Scully is the one who sees things here that Mulder does not. Father Gregory says their prejudices blind them from seeing what is happening here. This connects also with the visions that Scully has. She tells the priest, “I was meant to see Emily,” and she tells Father McCue, “I’ve seen things.” Scully believes that the visions of Emily help her to save (the soul, if not the body, of) the girls. Her vision of the man with four faces may be to help her understand who the girls are and what she needs to protect them from.
Mulder refers to the inverted cross as being a sacrilege against the church, but as Father Gregory later explains (appealing to Scully first to relate the story), it is a reference to St. Peter being crucified upside down and therefore is meant to symbolize humility rather than sacrilege. The fact of the upside-down cross symbolizes Father Gregory’s upside-down faith: his humility, in the tradition of Peter, is well intended, but his separation from the Roman Catholic church to found his own church, and his book full of fringe and apocryphal texts, show that his faith is not quite orthodox and may be a bit turned on its head. But the description of Peter as “St. Peter the Sinner” in the church’s name draws some connections between Peter and Scully, since she is seen throughout the episode in a confessional to confess a sin that she thinks the priest may not be able to forgive.
The idea of judgment plays a dual part in the episode. Scully tells the priest that she brought Mulder onto the case to keep her feelings from clouding her judgment, and later Mulder says basically the same words to her: “I think you should step away. Personal issues are making you lose your objectivity, clouding your judgment.” In this sense, “judgment” refers to discernment and the ability to draw clear and accurate conclusions. But Scully also uses “judgment” in a different sense when she says to Mulder, after his acerbic words about Father Gregory, “I think you’re a little extreme in your judgment.” This is the more negative sense of the word, emphasizing one person judging another, often rashly or unfairly. Just as Scully has brought in personal issues, so has Mulder let his own personal feelings about religion cloud his perception of the facts.
As in “Revelations” and “Orison” in particular, Mulder is closed off and even hostile toward the religious figures--here, Father Gregory. In this case, Mulder says, “Religion has masqueraded as the paranormal since the dawn of time to justify some of the most horrible acts in history.” Based on his comments in “Revelations” (that “fanatics behaving fanatically using religion as a justification ... give bona fide paranoiacs like myself a bad name”), it is clear that part of what he takes personally is being lumped together in the same category as fanatics and religious extremists. On the other hand, we see later in “Signs & Wonders” that Scully also takes it personally when Mulder lumps her faith together with that of the fanatics simply because their beliefs are based on the same book. But in “All Souls,” Mulder’s skepticism and hostility serve the storytelling function of placing him opposite Scully, to retain their dynamic of believer and skeptic.
The sign outside Father Gregory’s church says, “The darkness is upon us,” which does not appear to be a biblical quote but certainly projects his own worldview. He sees himself battling the darkness but thinks that his side is losing ground in this fight. The fact that he dies at the hands of the devil would seem to justify his beliefs.
Like Owen Jarvis in “Revelations” (and later, Rev. Orison in “Orison”), Father Gregory notices Scully’s cross necklace and appeals to her faith, assuming that she’ll understand what he’s saying. He tells her that “there is a struggle between good and evil for all souls,” which is similar to what Mr. Kryder told her in “Revelations” (“The forces of darkness ... [want] to claim all souls.... This is the great war between good and evil.”) Father Gregory also refers to “the messengers,” which Scully comes to understand, as does the priest in the confessional. It is religious language, which Scully feels is speaking directly to her. Father Gregory even goes a step further, to address Scully directly once Mulder has left the interrogation room, because he believes that she has already guessed what the girls are.
The title, “All Souls,” seems to come directly from the dialogue in the church with Father Gregory. In the scheme of things, the struggle between Father Gregory (and Scully) and the social worker, Starkey, over the fate of the girls’ souls seems to be a metaphor for the larger religious struggle to save souls from the darkness and evil so that in the end those souls can be released to heaven rather than suffer a worse fate.
As Scully is coming to understand the identity of the girls as the “messengers,” she mentions on the phone to Mulder that she has discovered something “winglike” on Paula Koklos. After Mulder gets off the phone, the same scene ends with him seeing a bird flying up from the dead third girl. The bird here connects with the wing imagery of angels, but in light of the baptism in the teaser and Scully’s later reference to the baptism as Dara being “submerged in the Spirit,” the bird may also represent the Holy Spirit, which was present in the form of a dove at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). But the bird flying upward also suggests the girl’s soul flying up toward heaven.
Perhaps because of her previous experience with Kevin Kryder in “Revelations,” Scully seems quick to accept that she was meant to save the girls. She is more open to hearing what Father Gregory has to say, even if she is not simply going to fall in line with his actions or interpretation of events. The twist is that saving the girls means something different here than it did with Kevin: she is fighting a spiritual battle, not merely one of flesh and blood.
The use of the confessional, which frames the entire episode, also frames the entire story within the context of Scully coming to terms with the death of Emily. The final vision of Emily, as Scully must let her go, depicts visually what Scully is dealing with emotionally, releasing Emily to heaven and along with that, releasing her own anger and guilt. Since the entire confessional visit is after the completion of the case, clearly the experience and visions themselves have not yet brought her peace, but we see that she is on her way to finding understanding and acceptance. With her final words, she is coming to see that faith means accepting what goes beyond science and the physical world.
Father Gregory’s “Bible” (The Book of St. Peter the Sinner) contains the Gnostic Gospels, the Book of Enoch, the Book of J, and the Apocrypha. The gnostic gospels are a genre of texts that are similar in genre to the biblical Gospels but are written from a gnostic worldview, often highlighting secret teachings by Jesus or his disciples as well as a gnostic cosmology. (The term is also familiar from the well-known book on the subject, The Gnostic Gospels, written by Elaine Pagels.) The Book of Enoch may be intended as the book of 1 Enoch, which includes an account of the Nephilim. The Book of J is actually a book published in 1990 by David Rosenberg and Harold Bloom. Based on the “JEDP” theory of multiple sources in the first five books of the Bible, this book reconstructs the J narrative as its own text. The Apocrypha contains a number of texts typically included in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles but excluded from the Protestant canon, based on the fact that they were largely or entirely not written in Hebrew (as were the Old Testament books) and did not appear to be accepted as canon by early Jews. What all of these texts have in common is that they lie outside the universally accepted biblical canon, much as Father Gregory himself lies outside the context of the traditional church.
Father Gregory appeals to Scully to recount the story of St. Peter and his crucifixion. Peter’s death is not related in the Bible, but church tradition indicates that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, a tradition that is attested in the apocryphal Acts of Peter. (Ironically, this text is not shown as part of Father Gregory’s Book of St. Peter the Sinner.)
Father McCue tells Scully that the being she saw in a vision was “a seraphim.” “Seraphim” is actually the (Hebrew) plural form of “seraph.” Seraphim appear in the Bible only in Isaiah 6, where they are depicted as six-winged creatures surrounding the throne of God, singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” When the throne of God is described in the book of Revelation, it is surrounded by four living creatures, each with six wings, singing, “Holy, holy, holy”; the first creature is like a lion, the second an ox, the third a human, and the fourth an eagle (Rev. 4:6-8). This idea of the four faces comes from Ezekiel and the description of the cherubim accompanying the chariot carrying away God’s presence from the temple. The cherubim each have four faces and four wings; the four faces are a human, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (Ezek. 1:6-10; cf. 10:15-25). Father McCue’s version of the seraph has the faces of “a man, a lion, an eagle, and a bull.” Clearly this is the amalgamation of the biblical images of the cherubim and seraphim, both of which are apparently winged beings (angels?) that accompany God’s presence and God’s throne.
Father McCue also tells Scully the story of the Nephilim. In the Bible, the Nephilim appear in Genesis 6, where it is briefly recounted that before the flood, the “sons of God” took human wives; “the Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them” (Gen. 6:1-3 NRSV). From this brief mention of the Nephilim, many stories developed about these fallen angels (since the Hebrew verb behind this name means “to fall”) who were the offspring of angels and human women. As Father McCue recounts the story, “The angel descends from heaven and fathers four children with a mortal woman. Their offspring are the Nephilim, the ‘Fallen Ones.’ They have the souls of angels, but they weren’t meant to be. They’re deformed, tormented. So the Lord sends the Seraphim to Earth to bring back the souls of the Nephilim to keep the devil from claiming them as his own.” As he tells Scully, this story is not in the Bible. It may be intended as a variation of the story in the extrabiblical book of 1 Enoch, which seems to be alluded to in the inclusion of the Book of Enoch in the collection of texts at Father Gregory’s church.
1) Scully struggles to reconcile her faith with her training in science. What is the relationship between faith and science. Do you agree with Scully that science tells us how things happen, but not why? How do we answer the question of why?
2) Father Gregory tells the agents that their secular prejudices blind them from seeing that “there is a struggle between good and evil for all souls.” Although most souls are not claimed the way that the girls’ are in this episode, is there any truth to what Father Gregory says? If so, how does this struggle for all souls play out in our daily lives? How can we avoid being blind to the spiritual reality around us?
3) Scully says that God has his reasons, however mysterious. What does this mean? Is this a cause for comfort or hope? Why do God’s reasons remain a mystery to us?
4) Both Mrs. Kernof and Mulder bring up the question, “Why would God allow this to happen?” In this situation, why might God have allowed Emily or the other girls to die? Why does God allow death and tragedy in our lives instead of intervening and preventing it all from happening?
5) In the end, Scully still struggles to reconcile her belief in the afterlife with the fact of the girls’ death. She closes by saying, “Maybe that’s what faith is.” What do you think she means by this? What part does faith play in our understanding of the significance of death and what happens after death? What role does faith play in coping with loss and grief?
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The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati (7x04)
Signs & Wonders (7x09)
Original airdate: 1/23/2000
Written by: Jeffrey Bell
Directed by: Kim Manners
The title, “Signs & Wonders,” is a phrase that shows up throughout the Bible, especially relating to the plagues and miracles of the exodus (Exod. 7:3; Deut. 6:22; 34:11; Neh. 9:10; Ps. 135:9; Jer. 32:21) and the miracles of Jesus and his disciples (John 4:48; Acts 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12; Rom. 15:19; 2 Cor. 12:12). It refers to any kind of supernatural event prompted or empowered by God. Although this episode does not focus specifically on miracles, it does highlight unexplained, supernatural occurrences, such as surviving snake bites and being delivered from snakes.
In the teaser, Jared Chirp is calling out to the Holy Ghost in his prayer for help. The Holy Ghost , or Holy Spirit, recurs throughout the episode, probably more so here than in any other X-Files episode, although it remains a minor theme. Snake-handling churches such as O’Connor’s tend toward ecstatic or charismatic worship, as seen in the juxtaposition of the two church meetings, and so are often Spirit-focused in their theology. As Reverend Mackey describes, “They believe that the Holy Spirit protects the righteous” (when they handle snakes). (In the credits, three of the church members are named “Holy Spirit Man”/“Woman.”) But Mackey’s congregation also emphasizes the Holy Spirit, if in a different way: in a scene in his church, near the end of the episode, a banner hanging in the church reads, “Come Holy Spirit.” The flames on the banner evoke the coming of the Spirit upon the first generation of believers in Acts 2, empowering them, among other things, to do signs and wonders as Jesus did (Acts 2:22, 43).
In their opening dialogue, Scully suggests to Mulder the religious symbolism of the snakes: “They’ve represented the temptation of Eve, original sin. They’ve been feared and hated throughout history as they’ve been thought to embody Satan, to serve evil itself.” The themes of Satan, evil, and the Garden of Eden appear throughout the episode, especially toward the end. The final scene bookends the episode with another allusion to Eden: the painting hanging in the reverend’s new office is Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (15th cent.).
When placed within the context of the Eden story, Reverend Mackey as the devil represents the tempter who has seduced Reverend O’Connor’s daughter to sin, causing her to be banished. Although the Genesis narrative does not specifically mention sexual temptation or sin in the Garden, over the centuries that became one interpretation of the serpent’s interaction with Eve.
The devil, or Satan, is discussed throughout the story in two main ways: recognizing the devil and his work, and testing by the devil. Gracie and Reverend O’Connor both refer to Satan’s work or presence; where other people perceive that O’Connor himself may be evil, O’Connor, his daughter, and others from their church discern the devil at work in their midst. O’Connor also speaks of the devil’s test, and what it proves about a person’s character: “A test of faith. A test of righteousness. When the devil aims to test you, you’d best be ready, and you sure better know which side you’re on.” (This stands in contrast to the earlier episode “Revelations,” where God is referred to as testing one’s faith.) In the end, after Mulder has had a showdown with the serpent and is alive to tell about it, he says that if it was a test, it looks like he failed (probably because he failed to stop the true killer from escaping), but Scully says she thinks he passed: “You’re alive, aren’t you?”
O’Connor also tells Mulder, “Unless you’re smart down here [pointing to his heart], the devil’s going to make a fool of you, and you ain’t even going to know it.” This relates to perception of good and evil and the idea of having one’s eyes opened. O’Connor tells Mulder, just before this, “Satan is near, and you don’t even have eyes.” But in the final scene in the church, Mulder says, “I’m just beginning to see it now,” and he asks if Jared could “see you for who you really are.” Ironically, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Mulder’s eyes have been opened (Gen. 3:7), so that he now can recognize good and evil. He sees the true form of the devil: Reverend Mackey. In their final dialogue, he tells Scully, “People think the devil has horns and a tail. They’re not used to looking for some kindly man who tells you what you want to hear.”
Along with the theme of perception or sight is also the theme of thinking. O’Connor says that Mulder is an educated man, and yet he’s “too smart to know any better” and that unless he’s smart with his heart, “the devil’s going to make a fool of you.” So, on the one hand, while O’Connor is pushing Mulder to think with his heart, Gracie is being encouraged to overrule her heart (her feelings for her father) and to think for herself. Mackey says that she came to him because she wanted to “think for yourself. To live your life as you saw fit.” Scully also tells Gracie, “You’re someone who thinks for herself.” The comparison is between mental intelligence and emotional intelligence, but what becomes clear is that thinking with one’s mind might not always tell the whole story, especially if one’s perception is veiled in some way, and that even those who believe they are thinking for themselves may still be seduced or persuaded by a false way of thinking. If Gracie has simply switched from O’Connor’s thinking to Mackey’s thinking, then she still is not thinking for herself. When she finally draws her own conclusions, she sides with O’Connor, although she allows God, rather than herself, to be his judge.
The idea of thinking for oneself also ties in with the Garden of Eden. The serpent’s seduction is to convince Eve to think for herself, that is, to out-reason God. He convinces Adam and Eve that they know better than God and that God’s commandment is not black and white but full of shades of gray. The tree is a tree of knowledge, and they seek wisdom (Gen. 2:17; 3:6). They do gain new insight and understanding, but they also gain responsibility and lose their innocence. Thinking for themselves ultimately means thinking the way the serpent wants them to think, and doing it in such a crafty way that it seems like their own bright idea. But thinking for themselves, and especially of themselves, is their downfall, and it costs them more than they have gained.
This episode focuses around contrasts: hot and cold, exclusivity and tolerance, Reverend O’Connor and Reverend Mackey, and ultimately good and evil. But in the end, the true contrast is not between hot and cold, but between hot/cold and lukewarm. The “kindly man” that Mackey masquerades as lulls people into complacency and ignorance, where they think they are on the side of angels and good, but their eyes are closed to true evil in their midst.
There are several ways in which the two churches, and the faiths they represent, are contrasted. Mackey portrays his church as being “founded on acceptance and tolerance of all people, all beliefs,” and he implies that his church does not hold to “a rigid interpretation of the Bible.” In the next scene, as the two agents pull up outside O’Connor’s church, the Church of God with Signs and Wonders, there is a sign out front with Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto me and be ye SAVED, all the ends of the Earth; for I am GOD, and there is none other” (cf. KJV). If this church takes the stance that God is the only means of salvation, then clearly they do not accept “all beliefs.” This motif of tolerance versus judgment is the primary grounds of comparison between the two congregations throughout the episode.
But the clearest comparison of the two churches is in the scene that switches back and forth between the two church meetings, as both churches exposit the same biblical text, Revelation 3:15-16: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (NRSV). Reverend Mackey is correct in his academic assessment of this passage, from the snippets of his teaching that we hear: the verses are from the letter to the church at Laodicea, and it is a critique of their lifestyle. As Mackey points out, later in the passage is the well-known verse “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (v. 20, NRSV). And as Mackey says, Jesus here offers “to come into our lives and dine with us if only we’d open the door.” Mackey also points out that the emphasis of the passage is on perseverance, and that the word “overcome” is used twice (see v. 21; the same word is used throughout chapters 2 and 3 as well as the rest of the book of Revelation).
But just as Reverend O’Connor encourages Mulder to see with his heart, O’Connor also preaches with his heart. Mackey is interested in the intellectual, mental understanding of the passage, but O’Connor is interested in the emotional and spiritual application of the passage: “God hates the lukewarm! ... God wants you hot! God wants you on fire! ... God wants you to put your money where your mouth is!” In this sense, neither church is really wrong. While the two pastors’ approaches and styles are very different, the real difference between them boils down to understanding versus application. Both aspects are a key part of biblical interpretation in a church setting. A balance between the two approaches is what would serve both churches best. Mackey is right as he explains that the text is appealing to the church in Laodicea to be pure in their faith and actions and to persevere, while O’Connor is also right that God’s desire, expressed here and not changing, as God does not change, is for his people to be “hot,” to be authentic and fully engaged in their lifestyle and faith, rather than to be complacent or hypocritical.
The episode also brings up the concepts of tolerance versus intolerance, and judgment and exclusivity. Mackey presents his church as tolerant and not having a right to judge anyone, whereas he portrays O’Connor’s church as intolerant and passing judgment even on its own members. But Mackey’s version of tolerance in the end appears to be the kindly man who says what people want to hear, someone who is more interested in allowing people to live however they want than in telling them the truth. In this opposition between tolerance and judgment, Gracie’s name takes on a significance: representing grace, she stands between the two extremes, choosing not to be judgmental, and yet recognizing the truth for what it is, and allowing God to be the judge. While the metaphor of Gracie’s character should not be pressed too far, her presence does highlight that tolerance is not the only alternative to judgment; grace is the better choice. If tolerance blurs the lines between right and wrong and tells people what they want to hear, grace recognizes right and wrong for what they are but graciously forgives and allows room for people to make mistakes and to seek change.
Both reverends refer to what “side” people are on and challenge the two agents to understand where they stand. As O’Connor tells them, “I don’t think you people realize which side you’re on.” Especially in light of Mackey’s later dialogue with Mulder, it apparent that the two sides are good and evil, and while most people, and surely those in law enforcement, think they’re on the side of good, as long as Mulder and Scully are pursuing O’Connor and overlooking Mackey, they are serving the purposes of evil.
In the context of this, it is interesting to see which side Mulder and Scully take throughout the episode, since we are used to seeing them on opposing sides of any argument, particularly as believer and skeptic. Since the episode is about religion, in light of previous episodes we might expect Scully to be on the side of the religious perspective and Mulder to oppose it. Here, while Mulder identifies Scully’s religion with O’Connor’s, Scully does not, so it seems that both agents stand on the side of Mackey’s tolerant church. In the end, though, Mulder is the one who ends up on the side of O’Connor.
While Scully’s faith is brought up here, it is not the dominant theme as in episodes such as “Revelations” and “All Souls.” Instead, it is Mulder’s beliefs that are tested. Scully sees more contrast than similarity between her Catholic faith and O’Connor’s church, although Mulder says that both are from the same book, and he compares snake handling to believing in communion wafers and transubstantiation. Scully responds by comparing Mulder’s belief in flying saucers. This places the emphasis on what people believe and the commonality of belief, even if belief systems vary. But there clearly remains an underlying tension between the partners when religion is discussed, since Scully expects Mulder’s judgment, and she is quick to dissociate herself from a church like O’Connor’s.
In a subtle way, Scully seems to identify with Gracie as someone who has been raised in a faith but has learned to question or challenge that faith as an adult. Reverend Mackey says, speaking of Jared Chirp, that sometimes it is hard to escape the beliefs of your childhood, and Scully seems to have a slight reaction to this statement. Scully also is connected to Gracie in a couple of scenes as the one who is trying to convince her to take a stand for herself.
While Mulder is clearly not tolerant of O’Connor himself until the end of the episode, Mulder is interestingly sympathetic toward the belief system that O’Connor represents, more so than Scully is. He recognizes that “in a society where hard and fast rules are harder and harder to come by ... somebody offering you all the answers could be a very powerful thing.” Although Mulder does not say it here, this accords with his understanding of the truth, which for him is an absolute good. In a world where there is no black and white, only shades of gray, there also is no clear standard of truth. (As he tells Scully in season 5’s “Redux II,” “We all have our faith, and mine is in the truth.”)
The episode ends with Mulder’s, and the audience’s, eyes opened to Mackey’s true identity, as we see him start up at a new church as a man with “an open and modern way of looking at God.” But we see him for who he really is and are left to wonder in what ways this “open and modern way” may be leading others astray, seducing them into falling away from God, just as Adam and Eve did in the painting on his wall.
Reverend O’Connor says that he handles snakes “’cause the scripture tells me to.” However, snake handling is not specifically prescribed in the Bible. Two texts provide a foundation for this belief: Mark 16:17-18 (“these signs will accompany those who believe: ... they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them” [NRSV]), which is part of the Longer Ending of Mark and generally agreed to be a later addition to the book, not the original ending; and Acts 28:3-6, in which St. Paul is bitten by a snake but is unharmed (this may be the basis for the mention of snakes in Mark 16).
1) Reverend Mackey says to Mulder, “Most people believe they’re on the side of angels. But are they?” Do you think this is true, that most people believe they’re on the side of good? Are they?
2) Mulder says that “people think the devil has horns and a tail. They’re not used to looking for some kindly man who tells you what you want to hear.” How do you think most people perceive evil and the forms that it takes in our everyday lives? What are some ways that evil disguises itself? Is it sometimes disguised as “what you want to hear”? What is the best way to be smart in your heart, as Reverend O’Connor would put it, and open your eyes to discern the presence of evil?
3) What does it mean to be hot or cold or to be lukewarm? What does this look like in daily life? Does God want people to be “on fire”? What is wrong with being “lukewarm”?
4) Is tolerance always good, or are their situations in which it is not? What is the relationship between tolerance and grace? How are they similar or different?
5) What does it mean to “think for yourself”? In what ways is it positive or negative to rely on your own thinking? What are ways that we can be discerning or smart about our thoughts and beliefs, to avoid being led astray?
6) What role did the serpent play in the Garden of Eden? How did he interact with Adam and Eve, and why? How does this relate to how we understand evil to operate in the world today?
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The Gift (8x11)
Original airdate: 4/7/2002
Written and directed by: Chris Carter
This episode is essentially an allegory of how God interacts with his creation. God set the world into motion according to certain principles, the laws of nature and science and mathematics. He gave humans the ability to participate in creation with him, through music and art and procreation, and to enjoy and celebrate creation. God also gave humans free will, to choose between right and wrong. Not all humans choose to do what is right, which breaks God’s heart. God does not overturn that freedom to choose, but God does intervene, trying to point people in the right direction, if they’re willing to pay attention.
The cards and games throughout the episode are a metaphor for playing by the rules that God established to run the universe and playing the hand you are dealt in life, which is one’s genetics or life circumstances. The question, then, is to what extent the game determines the outcome and how much of an influence the player has based on how they play the game. When the cards are stacked against you or you are dealt a bad hand, if you play the game well can you still win, or are you destined to lose? Mr. Burt tells Wayne, “You know your problem, my friend? It’s not the cards. It’s playing the hand you were dealt. Plenty of guys get a bad deal. It’s all in what you do with it.” This is the classic question of fate versus free will. Both come into play in this episode.
The opening tagline is “Dio Ti Ama,” Italian for “God loves you.” This sets the tone for the interaction between Mr. Burt and especially Wayne. The message here, as creator Chris Carter explains in his commentary track for this episode with the DVD set, is God “loves the sinner as well as the saint.” In this episode we see “God” (Mr. Burt) interacting primarily with the sinner (Wayne), but we also see on display his love for all aspects of his creation.
There are several moments of dialogue that point to Mr. Burt’s identity as “God,” especially in the dialogue between him and Wayne in the dominoes scene. Wayne says, “Who do you think you are?” to which Mr. Burt replies, “Who do you think I am?” This echoes the words of Jesus to his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20), which in turn may allude back to God’s self-revelation to Moses (Exod. 3:13-14). Mr. Burt tells Wayne, “You’re a card. You really are a card, but I love you” (recalling the opening tagline). When he offers for Wayne to play a quick game, Wayne says, “I don’t play your games,” and Mr. Burt replies, “Not a truer word’s been spoken.” The final dialogue between Scully and Reyes points once more to Mr. Burt’s identity. Scully asks, “Who was that man?” and Reyes answers, “God knows.”
Carter says of this episode, “The idea is that God knows all the numbers. They’re his numbers, and he has laid them down, and he is in charge of the big game.... And that he’s trying to speak to Wayne here. The idea is that God has some, or less or more, influence over our lives, but what he tries to show us is the numbers.... All he wants is for mankind to play his game, to win his game, to understand his game, to be good at his game.... But Wayne, he’s too dense or too unaccepting to recognize that God is trying to show him the numbers, he’s trying to show him the path to goodness here.... Wayne acts on the impulses, the character, and the evil that is within him. Much to God’s dismay.”
Wayne, then, represents the people who have used their free will to choose the wrong. The ring he wears, with 666, the mark of the beast, symbolizes evil, whether that means that Wayne himself is evil or that he has given himself over to the devil. God, or Mr. Burt, is heartbroken by Wayne’s choices and the harm he does to other people. But because God has given Wayne free will, God cannot simply override that. However, that does not stop Mr. Burt from trying to intervene in Wayne’s life, both directly and indirectly. Mr. Burt crosses Wayne’s path and gives him opportunities to think about what he is doing and to “choose better.” Carter says, “God trying to teach him a lesson as he does to us all with the beauty of numbers and of the world, trying to exert influence over Mad Wayne, trying to show him the way, the path, which he never seems to take.” But Mr. Burt also works in the lives of those who are attempting to stop Wayne’s crimes from continuing. Mr. Burt provides signs and patterns for the investigators to help lead them to the right suspect.
Previous X-Files episodes have suggested that God provides signs, if people will only pay attention to them (“Miracle Man,” “Revelations”; cf. “all things”). In “Improbable,” this becomes more overt, as we see the same idea from God’s point of view. Mr. Burt sits outside the crime scene playing with dominoes, and he sets off the dominoes just as the police and Agent Doggett are walking by, drawing their attention in the direction of Mr. Burt and therefore of Wayne. In the parking garage, the red and the black of the game of checkers appears to symbolize the hair colors of Agents Scully and Reyes, pointing to them as potentially the next intended victims of the killer. While Mr. Burt is clearly orchestrating both of these signs, the numbers also work to provide signs in other ways, also pointing to divine intervention at work. For example, during the autopsy, Scully keeps running across the number 6, and 666, eventually helping her to realize that the pattern from the killer’s ring that was left on the victims was the number 666. Scully tells Reyes later that she discovered this fact “by accident,” but there were clearly signs along the way that helped to point her in this direction.
Carter says, “This episode is about the patterns, also pattern recognition, about the things that we don’t see in life, because we either don’t open our eyes to them or we don’t have the perspective, the ability to see through the trees, if you will, to the beauty of the patterns and the numbers in life.” He explains that Agent Fordyce “is intolerant, unacceptable, he won’t open his eyes to possibility, to probability. He is one of the reasons that we don’t see the numbers; he is the deterrent, the impediment to understanding. His approach is what disallows us from seeing the beauty of the numbers.... He doesn’t want to see the signs, the evidence that is being left, that God is leaving for us to see, to figure out.” On the other hand, Agent Doggett, normally a skeptic, is struggling to see and understand the patterns. “He’s looking deeper; he’s doing what successful people do in life, which is to question, to look past the surface, to look past their own dogma or orthodoxy.” In the end, it is by following the patterns and the clues that Doggett ends up in the parking garage in time to help save Agents Reyes and Scully from the killer.
The topics of fate and free will surface explicitly in the dialogue between Agents Reyes and Scully and Mr. Burt in the parking garage. Scully and Reyes debate whether the killer’s actions are determined by his numerological calculation and whether the world functions like a giant checkerboard, with us functioning as pieces “being moved around by some forces completely outside and unbeknownst to us”--in other words, fate. Reyes posits that the winners in the game of life “are those who play the game better; those who see the patterns and connections”--Mr. Burt retorts, “Free will.”
The use of numbers and related patterns also suggests the rules that govern the universe and play a part in everything from technology to music to cuisine. Rather than championing numerology, the episode seems to use the numerological and karmic numbers as symbols for different characters and personalities, similar to the idea of the hand that someone is dealt. The number 3, which especially shows up in the second scene with Mr. Burt, when he is lip syncing while playing cards, represents the Trinity, which is God’s “number.” That number also serves as the basis for many of the other numbers that appear throughout the episode, since many of them are multiples of three.
Beyond his involvement in Wayne’s life, Mr. Burt also shows how God is ever-present and takes pleasure in humanity’s celebration of life. Mr. Burt’s love for music, as well as the musical interludes throughout the episode, represents this. Carter says, “He loves the music, he loves his creation, he loves watching man experience it, and he feels the pulse and the rhythm.... God has a sort of an appreciation of beauty, the appreciation being what man has done with the elements that he has provided for them.” In the final shot, the camera pans out to show that the different elements of life combine to create the face of God, similar to the image of God stamped on all of humanity at creation. Mr. Burt disappeared from the parking garage after he had done his part in helping the agents find the killer, which leaves the question, as Carter says, “Where did he go?” The answer is in this final image: “As we see, if you look carefully ... he’s everywhere.”
The music throughout the episode is by Karl Zéro, a French entertainer, from his album Songs for Cabriolets & Otros Tipos De Vehiculos. His name, of course, plays into the numerology theme, which probably has more significance than the lyrics of the individual songs. The songs included in the episode are “Ponciana,” “La Panse,” “Inouis,” “Torero,” “El Bodeguero,” “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons,” and “Io Mammate E Tu.” Chris Carter says of Zéro’s music, “It’s what I imagine God, if he could choose music to listen to, he might listen to this, because it represents the kind of happiness of the human spirit, the beauty and the lightness that I guess he hopes, in my mind, that we all appreciate in his creation.”
Although the numerology that Reyes describes is not specifically biblical, numbers do have significance in the Bible. The chief example here is 666, the number of the beast in Revelation 13:18. Using gematria, which uses the numerical values of letters of the alphabet to calculate numbers for names and words, it is believed that this number represents the name Nero Caesar.
In her opening dialogue with Reyes, Scully refers to the “unified theory” or the “theory of everything.” Carter explains in his commentary the scientific thought that influenced his use of numbers and patterns in this episode: “Basically, everything goes back to Einstein, who said nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, but quantum physicists say there are things that can travel faster than the speed of light, probabilistically there are, and this is sort of where God comes into the picture.... The idea here is between the old physics and the new physics, the idea that God does not play dice with the universe. There are two schools of thought: the idea that there are forces outside the forces of science, the laws of science, and the Einsteinian idea that nothing travels faster than the speed of light. The new physics says there may be things that travel faster than the speed of light and if that is the case, that is the unknown variant and could be perhaps what God is, that which cannot be explained by current science.” Carter also compares science to poker, which was another influence in his use of games to represent the numbers and patterns of life: “Good poker players are doing kind of what good scientists are doing. They’re trying to figure out how to win the game, how to figure out what God had in mind, how to figure out how he organized the universe; so there is, I think, a connection between something as simple as a game, between what scientists do every day.”
In closing his DVD commentary, Carter also explains how this inspiration for this story ultimately came from the events of September 11, 2001: “The idea for this episode, it came out of a kind of big idea that I’d been thinking about since September 11th which had just happened a few months prior, and the idea that all these people died and many of them were believers in God and so were their families, and what that tested--the idea that God interferes in our lives or he listens to us and he acts and pulls the strings, and I think it tested a lot of people’s faith in a very horrible way, that so many people could be so affected, innocent people, by this one act, and it made it hard for people to believe that God was someone who was listening to us or helping us. And my idea was that it’s up to us, up to our free will, our ability to, I guess, glorify God through the appreciation of his creation, of the numbers, of the ways in which we see and understand his creation through science, through art, and that as long as you are joyous and appreciate beauty, that you can have this relationship with God, which is a big idea that led to this festival, the San Genaro festival on the street here at the end, which is really disconnected from the rest of the episode. But there was no San Genaro festival in New York City as a result of the World Trade Center bombing, so we had the opportunity to create that here which is a celebration of life, of beauty and ultimately of God who is everywhere and no matter what we destroy, we can’t destroy him.”
Transcription of Chris Carter’s commentary: http://www.chelonium.plus.com/txf/season9/9x14%20commentary.html.
1) What do you think of how Mr. Burt interacts with Wayne--trying to talk him out of his behavior but not directly preventing him from doing it? Is this accurate to how God interacts with humanity?
2) What is free will? How is it related to fate? What are positive and negative ways that free will affects our lives?
3) Does God provide signs to point people in the right direction or to help them solve problems? If so, what are examples of signs that God gives?
4) To what extent does the hand we are dealt in life determine who we are and the choices we make? Can we overcome a “bad hand” through our choices?
5) Can life or the universe be seen in terms of numbers and equations? If so, how does that affect our daily lives? Does that make life a type of “game,” as Agent Reyes would describe it? What is the right way to play the game?
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I Want to Believe (2nd movie)