Very belated THE X-FILES 10×04 Debriefing: Still spooky after all these years

THE X-FILES:   L-R:  Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in the "Home Again" episode of THE X-FILES airing Monday, Feb. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Ed Araquel/FOX

Sorry for the radio silence the last two weeks, folks. Will be back to usual posting schedule as of this week, hopefully.

The X-Files always did know how to pull at our heartstrings back in the day. Mulder and Scully chasing monsters together often served to contextualize the tragedy of the human condition, whether it was at the victims’ expense or their own.

This week, our heroes suffer yet another loss, but in true X-Files-y fashion, they soldier on to crack yet another case — and learn a little about themselves in the process. There’s a lot of reminiscing going on, and perhaps even a little glance at the future, too.

[Note: I’m trying something different this week, since I’m already behind. Instead of doing a play-by-play, I’m going to focus on the emotional element in “Home Again.”]

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

When Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate a particularly strange (and gruesome) murder in Philadelphia, it seems like the killer doesn’t really exist — which even Mulder scoffs at. (His cynicism hasn’t completely disappeared, despite his Eureka moment with the were-monster last week, but that might have more to do with the fact that this episode was originally intended to air before it.)

Yet, the investigation comes to a halt when Scully gets a call from her much-derided brother Bill (!), currently stationed overseas in Germany, informing her that their mother has had a heart attack and is in the ICU back in DC. What follows is a harrowing journey that is all too real for all of us, Voldemort-like villain or no.

It turns out that Maggie Scully (Sheila Larken — talk about a blast from the past!) had a moment of lucidity before slipping into a coma, and asked for her son Charlie — yes, Philes, he does exist. Now, this shouldn’t be that big of a shock to us, except that Scully tells us that he and their mother had been estranged for the past few years, for reasons to which we are not privy. (Which effectively killed my teenage dreams of Charlie being the cool brother, but that’s a whole other topic.) The family plot thickens.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

What follows is a heart-wrenching journey for poor Dana Scully. She wavers between hard-nosed doctor and grief-stricken child, at once understanding that her mother is nearing the end, while also desperate to hang on to any shred of the only parent she has left. This is Scully unlike anything we’ve seen from her, yet it’s a sadly realistic experience most of us unfortunately will have to undergo at some point in our lives.

What fascinated me particularly was how the show wove in Maggie’s coma with Scully’s back in season 2, since that’s certainly not a link I would have made myself. (Which is probably why I’m not a writer…) Yet, I loved that they went there, at least in theory: the writers used the memory of Scully’s experience as backstory on her mother’s choice to remain on life support despite the odds — in direct contrast to how she was forced to take Scully off life support back then, because that was in her child’s living will. She knew then that her daughter was still with them, so twenty years later, her daughter could only hope for the same in return.

The revelation that her mother had in fact amended her will just the previous year to be removed from life support sends Scully into a tailspin of sorts, because it makes her wonder about what other secrets her mother has been keeping, not the least of which being a mysterious pendant among her personal effects inscribed with a date that is meaningless to the rest of the family.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Though we don’t know how close Scully and Margaret had been in recent years, there is obviously enough of a wall present for them not to discuss such a huge life choice — or the fact that brother Bill in Germany seems to be the main next-of-kin over the daughter who lives in town. It’s sad, but also a testament to the toll Scully’s choices have taken on her entire family.

Moreover, it’s heartbreaking to realize just how fractured that family had become since we first met them in season 1. While we knew that Bill has had his moments of bullheadedness (to say the least), at least Scully still had some sort of contact with him, and he with their mother; Charlie Scully breaking off relations from them all was a twist I definitely wasn’t anticipating, and makes me sad for both Scully and Margaret.

While the former’s estrangement might be understandable, it’s the latter’s that would really pack a punch, since we know how important her children were to her. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would willingly distance themselves from Maggie Scully, who was always a beacon of light amidst the unrelenting darkness in her daughter’s life (except for that time she accidentally hired an evil nurse to look after her), but it’s further evidence that there are some things that can’t ever really be fixed no matter how hard we try.

Which is a theme that has been oddly recurrent throughout this season, namely in regards to the other William Scully.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Juxtaposed with Scully’s heartache over her mother’s decline is her continued questioning over the choices she made for her son 15 years ago. Again, in its original production order, this was supposed to provide context for the discussion in “Founder’s Mutation,” but I actually prefer how it came about in the retooled airing; I feel as though had her mother’s passing come first, it would make it look like that was the instigating incident in her renewed fixation on William, rather than a persistent ache she’d feel as a mother who’d lost her son.

Just as how the mutated children in the prior episode made her wonder about what would become of her own child, her mother’s impending demise makes her see William in places he isn’t, from briefly mistaking her brother’s Caller ID for her son’s (that’s what happens when everyone has the same name on your show), to pondering if her mother’s secrets had anything to do with what she felt about her missing grandchild. When Maggie briefly awakens from her coma only to tell Mulder that, “My son is named William too,” before passing away, it seems to confirm Scully’s doubts about the decisions she’s made in the past, and the struggle she’s endured throughout this season as a consequence.

This is the kind of fallout that, looking back, I wish I’d seen in the original run, but I’m continually impressed that the show is going there now head-on, even if I admit to tiring just a tad of the William overtones now that we’re two-thirds of the way through the season. (If only because I feel like they need to double-down on all the anvils already. At this point, is there any doubt the boy will somehow factor into the finale?) It feels completely natural that his specter hangs over everything in Scully’s life, especially at this time, when her family is about to break apart yet again. (Mulder may have been going through a “questioning phase” last week, but it’s definitely Scully’s turn now.) It’s tough to watch Scully suffer (and whisper) so much, but it’s raw and human, and that’s what drives the show.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

And oh, how visceral the emotions were in this episode. Sure, someone made the most of their GoPro budget to shoot Gillian Anderson panicking as Scully learned of her mother’s illness, or later at the suburban politician escaping the Bandaid Nose Man (actual thing that happens on The X-Files), but it also encapsulates the feeling of the world closing in such dire circumstances. However, Scully’s pleading with Mulder that she needed to go back to work right away was both a nod to her history, and an evolution of the Scully we’ve known for over two decades. Gone was the forced restraint of previous losses; this is a Scully without any walls, at least not with Mulder. She’s an open book to him now. It was touching and tragic at once.

Yet, it isn’t all doom and gloom, either. There is a marked warmth between the agents that once more harkens to “back in the day” (as they repeat many a time in “Home Again”), while acknowledging the growth between them in the intervening years. From the way Mulder focuses only on her when she gets that first phone call from Bill, to supporting her by her mother’s bedside and reminding her of her mother’s wishes as an organ donor, to even the looks they share as Margaret awakes for the final time to speak to him, or the lighthearted tension-breaker quips, there’s a rich well of history that overflows with affection. When Mulder tells her that he once wished her back to life when she was lying in a hospital bed like this, it’s a loaded, yet sweet moment, and Scully’s retort that he is a dark wizard is equally familiar.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

It seems corny to liken it to being an old married couple, but it’s absolutely the same kind of bond. Maggie obviously considered him family — and really, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s the one by her side on her deathbed instead of her son. (Who had to be strong-armed by his older brother to call his dying mother, let’s not forget.) It might seem crass to go from crying over losing your parent to cracking wise (and calling back!) to apprehending perps in three-inch-heels, but that’s the fine line The X-Files always excelled at in its finest hours.

It’s the quiet moments, though, that pack the greatest punches. I think the part that got me the most was when Scully told Mulder, as she watched the doctors remove the tubes from her Margaret’s lungs, that right now, she didn’t want to gets answers for life’s big questions, she just wished she’d gotten more time to ask her mother a few little ones. Because that’s something everyone who’s ever lost a loved one wishes they could have; a little more time to say it all, knowing that’s impossible because it’s never enough. (As someone who recently went through something similar, it was particularly poignant — not to mention timely — to me. Damn you, Glen Morgan.) Scully was so endearingly vulnerable and young in that instant, and it speaks to the universal experience of grief. Lucky for Scully, she’s not alone anymore.

In a similar vein, it also felt fitting — not to mention familiar — to see Mulder and Scully tasked with spreading Maggie’s ashes over the sea, just like her beloved Ahab. (How much did I love that they still referred to Captain Scully by the nickname, and just assumed fans would remember it? All the shoutouts this season, and notably in this episode, are fantastic.) The lack of other relatives might have been as much about budgeting and scheduling as it was a story choice, but it worked nonetheless, because this is ultimately who the duo are. Loyal to each other through thick and thin, and reverent of those who came before them.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

They seem to have some of their best conversations in nature’s quiet solitude, and this is no exception. Scully still can’t shake William off her mind, to the point where she questions her mother’s final words about the grandson she never got to watch grow up, and again we see our doctor yearn for the son she still misses, tying into the monster-of-the-week’s morality lesson about throwing people away like they’re trash.

I confess that I initially found the leap between Not-Voldemort’s vendetta and Scully’s guilt over William’s fate a little tenuous, the sentiment definitely resonated, especially given Scully’s current emotional state. Her line about needing to believe that they didn’t treat their son “like trash” could have been cheesy, but once again the earnestness in her delivery saved the day; she’s just a grieving daughter and mother who knows that somewhere out there, a piece of her heart is existing without her. I don’t think Scully’s ever been allowed to be more human or multi-faceted as she’s been this season.

Like Scully, I wish we’d gotten more time with Ma Scully than we got (and especially wish that Sheila Larken had had more than one line in this episode, after so much time away), but even in her short scenes with Anderson, the history between the two characters shone through, which is no easy feat. Moreover, I have to believe (see what I did there) that all the focus on William in this revival, and particularly as it intertwines with her mother’s death, is not just about putting Scully through the wringer, but that it means the arc is going to come to a head by season’s end. (I even wonder if Margaret’s mysterious necklace is related to it somehow? It might just be there to underscore that we never get all the answers we want, but it does give me pause given the economy of time in this short season.)

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

In actual plot-related thoughts, I thought the monster was perfectly creepy and ridiculous, in The X-Files’ fine tradition. As soon as Petula Clark’s “Downtown” came on the soundtrack, I knew someone was going to kick the bucket in an especially horrid fashion, because, X-Files, and death-by-garbage-disposal is right up there in the gross factor. I still love that Mulder’s got a “spooky” reputation after all these years, and that he’s bantering at crime scenes with the best of them. He may be a little crusty now, but he’s still darn good at this investigative stuff, when it comes down to it. (Somewhere, I’d like to believe he’s got a bit of an underground fan club on the interwebs.)

With two episodes left to go, we know something’s a-brewin‘ for the big finale. Did it feel good to go “Home Again”? (I had to.)


All photos courtesy FoxFlash

 

Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: