**** If you read the first post, you can skip this preamble…and just jump down to the gif.
I’d been working on this list as one long post, but it was shaping up to be so long that I thought, there’s no way that anyone will devote the time to reading it through, so I’ve broken it down into instalments…
Warning: This series of posts is going to deal with religion, religious themes and imagery. I don’t want to upset you all, so if you ‘don’t do’ religion and have a problem with reading about religious stuff, then let’s save your time and mine and you can just skip over this. Straight up, I’m not going to get tangled up moderating negative comments and whinges about religion – so if you’re feeling the urge, just don’t.
The reason that I have always loved the X Files is primarily because of the dynamic between Mulder and Scully but also for the supernatural content, which unapologetically explored ever widening concepts and boundaries from week to week. I watched the series on network television religiously when it was fresh and new. It was something my mother and I did together every week. I’ll always love this show, like a handful of others, for that reason alone. As I’ve gotten older though, and come back to the X Files, I am surprised about how it has spoken to me as an adult, often for the way it depicts religious themes, thought and discovery. I’m one of those folks that enjoys the spiritual and the idea of ‘belief’ being a lifelong journey. Like Mulder, I want to Believe, no matter how long it takes and I’m open to a range of different ideas and endless possibilities. I’m also one of those people that has no issue with faith and science sharing in my belief structure, in fact I believe the two, rather than being the mutually exclusive, probably have a far greater connection than the human mind can rationalise. Who says we need to know the secrets of the universe? Isn’t it far more fun to ponder them? The X Files did that – for 9 seasons and two films. It never attempted to answer many of the questions it asked, and you know, I was okay with that. I am, of course, tickled by the news that a reboot is in the works, which is what prompted me to write this post in the first place. Before we get acquainted with the new Mulder and Scully though, let’s revisit the Mulder and Scully we first fell in love with all those years ago…
(I’ll be starting at 10 and counting down to 1. Honourable mentions/ runners up will come at the end)
The Field Where I Died: (season 4, episode 5)…at time I almost dream/ I, too, have spent a life the sages’ way / and tread once more familiar paths. Perchance/ I perished in an arrogant self-reliance/ ages ago; and in that act, a prayer/ for one more chance went up so earnest, so / instinct with better light let in by death / that life was blotted out-not so completely / but scattered wrecks enough of it remain / dim memories as now, when once more seems/ the goal in sight again…
Although I didn’t always feel this way, watching this episode now, I can say that I love it, that there is something in the primary plot that resounds in me on a very deep level, it’s hopeful and despairing at the same time. The sub-plot on the other hand, makes me a bit angry, so over all I guess it is fair to say that The Field Where I Died leaves me very conflicted – but that’s okay because life, itself, I find is often very conflicting.
Anyone who has seen this episode will remember the stirring monologue (above) that Mulder gives in the opening scene. Not only is it very beautiful but it speaks to the deeper thematic concerns of the episode, which supposes that we are all old souls, who cycle through a number of lives, always returning and constantly in search of the souls with whom we feel most connected. This is, of course, not a new idea. There are a number of religions that believe in reincarnation and ideas of karma and so on, but it’s rare to see the concept portrayed so eloquently as I think it is here.
I really love this theme because I love the idea that we have connections with the same loves in all of our lives. I’m not just talking about romantic loves (although I like the idea that the great love that escapes us in this life will come around again in the next) but family, friends, every one whom touches our lives. There’s a fluency about it that is very peaceful and I suppose a bit romantic, it makes me wonder what lives I’ve lead before and what lives I will lead in the future. Also, it brings me peace to think that the people that I have lost in this life, either through death or because we just could not make it work, aren’t completely gone forever, but just need to wait until our next go round, when perhaps we will be more spiritually aligned.
Despite verging into sook territory, Agent Mulder is especially captivating in this episode. He does most of the acting with his eyes. You see it from the first scene, when he looks through the glass in that old timey door and manages to convey in one look, the idea that he knows on some deep level that he has stood in that room before.
Scully balances out Mulder’s moodiness with her usual brand of scepticism and is very pointed in calling Mulder out for not having the guts to be upfront with Skinner about what he believes is at the root of this particular mystery (which is past lives in case you weren’t across that).
The central guest character is Melissa Riedal-Ephesian (played by Kristen Cloake who we all remember fondly from Final Destination) and she really steals the show, with bits of dialogue like this:
Of course, there are some genuinely touching scenes between Mulder and Scully in this episode as well, such as this exchange:
Mulder: Dana? If… early in the four years we’ve been working together… an event occurred that suggested… or somebody told you that we’d been friends together… in other lifetimes. Always. Would it have changed some of the ways we looked at one another?
Scully: Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn’t change a day… Well… maybe that flukeman thing. I could have lived without that just fine.
That these sentiments are interspersed with arguments is also a highpoint of the writing. Which brings us to what I don’t like…
The sub-plot, which is some kind of hybrid mash up of the Waco siege and Jonestown suicide (ATF raids, guns, child abuse charges, suicide, shoot-outs, secret bunkers, multiple wives, special children, suicide by cordial – it’s all there) really makes me a bit angry and I am disappointed in the writers for their eagerness to try and explain such serious historical events in such a shallow way. I accept that the way in which an American audience will view these themes will differ from the way I would, as an Australian. Likewise, I understand that this was written in the mid-90’s and attitudes have undoubtedly changed since then. I just think it is a shame that there wasn’t more of an effort made to make the support characters seem more real and to examine their beliefs in context. I mean, they’ve called the cult leader Vernon Ephesian – they’re not even trying to hide the comparison between this character and David Koresh (who was known prior to his role as cult leader as Vernon Howell). Now I’m not saying that I believe in the Davidian belief system, but considering the amount of people that were murdered during that siege (and they were murdered, they were burnt alive in their own homes, women and children), it’s probably in poor taste to make a comment on it through an avenue like a television serial, even one as awesome as the X Files. I don’t want to use this blog as a platform to to get on the cross about the depiction of fringe religions in the media, but in cases as complex as Waco and Jonestown, which left such epic tragedy and death in their wake, I think the world-wide community owes it to themselves, the victims and the survivors to tread very carefully in their handling of the subject matter. Criminal Minds committed a similar sin when they did an almost identical episode, in which Reid and Prentis infiltrate a cult (Luke Perry plays the leader) and this episode made me similarly cross, but since that show isn’t in the realm of sci-fi, we don’t need to talk about it. The final scene in The Field Where I Died, in which the members of the group kill themselves by drinking poison mixed with cordial is also a clear representation of Jonestown, but again, it feels like a shallow reflection of an event in which hundreds of people lost their lives (and arguably not all of them by choice). I think when the general public see themes like this expressed with such simplicity they carry that over to the real life events – which were in no way simplistic. It really feels like a theft from an episode which is otherwise so beautiful that it would have rivalled my top position.
In fairness to the writers, apparently there were several deleted scenes from this episode, which would have been better if they had been left in and the episode aired as one of the famous X Files two-parters, which might have added depth to this secondary plot. I guess we’ll never know.
I would recommend that everyone with an interest in the spiritual check this episode out, even though I don’t love every aspect, it really is like life, full of good themes and bad; depth, punctuated with sadness and finally, tiny glimmers of hope.
While we’re being all spiritual – sometimes I like to think that, because it initially premièred on my birthday, this episode has a special connection with me, but then again, that might just be coincidence.