Warning: This post 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 any negative comments and I won’t tolerate trolling – so if you’re feeling the urge, you can go to hell.
The reason that I have always loved the X Files is obviously because of the dynamic between Mulder and Scully as much as for the supernatural content. 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 and often for the way it depicts religious themes, thought and discovery. I’m one of those folks that enjoys the spiritual, the idea of ‘belief’ being a lifelong journey. Like Mulder, I want to Believe, no matter how long it takes. 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 that 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?
Across 9 seasons and two feature films, there was certainly no shortage of material which debated these themes. It was surprisingly hard to narrow it down to just 10 episodes (technically there are 11 on the list, but I’m counting both episodes that feature Donnie Pfaster as one). I’ve also decided not to consider the films. So, here we go –
Milagro (season 6, episode 18)
I love this episode over and above any episode in the whole series. It’s a whopping call to make – I understand that – but there’s just something about this particular story, the writing, the direction, the way the Scully and Mulder dynamic is portrayed, the attention that’s given to their unrecognised love for each other, the rich religious overtones, the themes of loneliness and longing, which just sticks deep in my heart. It always has, since the very first time I saw it as a teenager. It’s the one episode that I’ve never forgotten. Padget’s explanation of Margaret Mary and the sacred heart too, is something that’s always stuck with me.
(‘I often come here to look at this painting. It’s called “My Divine Heart” after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story… The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary, his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary…. so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her hear… and so he did, placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. The he restored it to Margaret Mary, sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand.’)
When I was confirmed I picked that name specifically because of this episode of the X Files… does that qualify me as an uber nerd yet?
Despite loving this episode so much, I find that I have a great amount of difficulty discussing exactly why I love it. I can list vague themes, like I have above, but it’s really more than that. There’s something about it that digs deep and punches me in the chest. It affects me on a deeply personal level and thus I feel very precious about talking about it. Never the less, I have made a promise to you, my faceless readers, to do a Top Ten X Fileslist, knowing full well that this would be number 1 and thus, I am now obligated to be honest. So, you all are just going to have to wade through the personal tripe and try to decipher what I am really trying to say –
The early scene in the church between Scully and Padgett is a highpoint of the episode, as it illustrates not only who Padgett is, but also gives a different insight into Scully. It’s chilling the way that he is able to describe her – but then, it’s supposed to be. As an audience, we’re so used to seeing Scully as a stoic FBI Agent and the sensible side to the dynamic duo, that we have perhaps forgotten that she is in fact a woman and that her life, is largely one that is lived alone. Credit to Gillian Anderson here and the way she manages to control her tear ducts so that her eyes well up but the tears don’t actually spill over. Maybe I’m a freak – but I’d love it if there was another person out there who a) had the gumption to approach me on such a personal level and b) had paid enough attention to be spot on about my character. I know, I know, Padgett has a stalker-ish vibe, but let’s try and move beyond that for a moment. Anyway, as he points out later in the episode, Scully is armed, so there’s no need to be afraid or uncomfortable. Plus, he’s not the huge muscular type, so I don’t think he’s going to try and hurt her, plus, she has survived Duane Barry and alien abduction – she’s strong.
(Scully is repelled and yet strangely attracted to Padgett. He creeps her out, but at the same time, she is flattered… how will it end?)
I have to admit, I’ve noticed you. I do that… notice people… I see that this is making you uncomfortable and I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m taken with you. That never happens to me. We’re alike that way.
It’s when he leans over and almost whispers to her ‘we’re alike that way…’ that you don’t know whether to be offended or moved. Neither does Scully. She’s both touched and off-put but then intrigued and pissed off too. It’s a reaction that we’ve never seen from her up until this point – although it does come up again in a similar way in Orison, when she is forced to confront her feelings of vulnerability as they relate to the always chilling Donnie Pfaster. On a personal level, perhaps I just have a pre-disposition to romanticising loneliness and so this scene feels intriguing rather than creepy. In many ways I feel like Scully is something of a kindred spirit – we’re both career driven women, who spend a lot of time alone or lending support personally and at work, to stubborn and emotionally unavailable men. By her own explanation (later in the episode) loneliness is ‘a choice’ but that does not render someone impervious to its effects. I totally understand why Scully is intrigued by Padgett, despite the fact the she finds him a bit repellent. Sadly, I don’t think that interactions like that happen in the real world. Still, I’m always wishin’ and hopin’ that I’m going to be proved wrong one time, hopefully while I’m lighting votive candles at church.
The camera work in Milagro is the next thing that grabs me. Unlike other episodes this seems to have been filmed in the distinct style of a noir romance, something you might see in a 1940’s era detective story. When we first see Phillip Padgett, he is alone, smoking in his bed (a filthy habit by the way – but look, there will always be one man we’d be willing to turn a blind eye for).I think that this image sets up the tone for what the whole episode is going to be about in a really effective way because everything about it suggests longing and infatuation, something that’s almost bordering on obsession and that is far more dangerous than even Padgett (at that stage) realises. Any of you all out there that are current or reformed smokers will also recognise that you don’t sit up all night in a dark room, smoking and thinking about someone unless you’ve got it bad.
As the episode progresses, it is in many instances the looks, the lighting and the glances that say more than the epic script. Take for instance the way that Padgett watches Scully as he rides up on the elevator with her, or the way she is shown holding the milagro pendant, the way that Mulder acts once Scully enlightens him to the fact that Padgett has a romantic interest in her (his words are simple, almost jovial, but his stance and expression speak to much deeper feelings… jealousy perhaps?) All of these things say more than words ever could.
By their nature words are imprecise and layered with meaning. The signs of things, not things themselves…
Most important is the scene in the prison cell, where Mulder confront Padgett about being a murderer, but he is impervious to Mulder’s usual interrogation tactics. For every barb that Mulder throws at him, Padgett has an equally clever comeback. This infuriates Mulder to the point where it’s insinuated that he might become violent. That is, until Scully reaches over and lays a hand on his forearm. The audience and Padgett register the deep significance of this gesture. It is here that Padgett realises with no uncertainty that, despite his hopes, Scully is not interested in him romantically. There is no doubt where her affections genuinely lie. Padgett gets it, even if Scully and Mulder don’t.
(the moment Padgett realises his defeat… how will it end?)
With all this talk about camera work and significant glances, don’t get me wrong, the dialogue is also exceptional and it’s not all about the Scully/Padgett or Scully/Mulder relationship dynamic either. There is also some beautiful narration related to the sub-plot:
How could she know this pain would end? That love, unlike matter or energy, was in endless supply in the universe….A germ which grows from nothingness which cannot be eradicated even from the darkest of hearts. If she had known this — and who could say she would believe it? — She would not have chanced to remain at his sad grave until such an hour so that she might not have to learn the second truth before the first: that to have love was to carry a vessel that could be lost or stolen or worse, spilled blood red on the ground. And that love was not immutable and could become hate as day becomes night, as life becomes death.
I do think the scene and dialogue that involves Scully and Padget preparing to ‘do the naked pretzel’ is pushing it, but look, I’ll let it slide because the episode is so great overall…
‘Agent Scully is already in love...’ Yes! By this time she sure is and it is evident to EVERYONEexcept Mulder… and maybe her.
A story can have only one true ending. Even as the stranger felt compelled to commit his final words to paper he did it knowing they must never be read. To see the sum of his work was to see inside his own emptiness, the heart of a destroyer not a creator. And yet, reflected back upon him at last he could see his own ending. And in this final act of destruction a chance to give what he could not receive.
So. That’s why this episode is at the top of my list and honestly, I don’t image that many of you will agree with me here. It’s a really tough call to pick a favourite episode, but hey, this is mine. I’d genuinely love to know yours, so hit me back in the comments.
Honourable mentions to:
The Calusari: Every fabulous Gypsy stereotype rolled into one episode – devil children, sacrifice, spells, mysterious men with beards, scary grannies, spooky floating balloons… it’s all here, folks.
Ice: This is an early one, but it’s grand because it’s one of the first times we get to see how much Scully and Mulder care for each other, plus the whole being stuck in an ice storm is scary as hell.
Lazarus: I loved this one as well. Faith ministries and healing tents are both things I love to see (Supernatural did a similar episode, which I also rate very highly). It’s one of the first episodes where Mulder and Scully butt heads about religion and religious belief, faith over science and the power of the mind.
Grotesque: Mulder looses his mind in order to get into the mind of a serial killer. The art work in this episode is amazing and spooky.
Hell Money: B.D. Wong (who we all love from Law & Order) and Lucy Liu make appearances in this episode, which is strange but scary at the same time. I never saw the ending coming.
(You were my friend and you told me the truth…)
Dead Alive: Finally! Mulder returns.
all things: Did they, or did they not? I have to believe that they did because the whole confusion over the conception of William never really sat right with me. You know he was your child, Mulder… you know how it came to be.
Post Modern Prometheus: I appreciate that this entire episode is filmed in black and white, that Cher is the soundtrack artist and of course, the dance scene at the end. Scully and Mulder, you guys are too cute!
Triangle: In case we never meet again…
How the Ghosts Stole Christmas: This was a weird episode, but I have a soft spot for token Christmas episodes of any television show.
Millennium: See Mulder, it wasn’t so hard to give her a kiss was it??
Hollywood AD: As a whole this episode is a bit annoying, but I do love the final scene where Scully scores the FBI credit card and she and Mulder head off, hand in hand, for a night on the town. Also, I suppose I should mention that David Duchovny wrote and directed it but that has little to do with why I love it… although it does explain how and why ‘Skin-man’ came about.
Roadrunners: Probably the only episode in season 9, outside of the finale, that I really enjoyed. The scene where Doggett comes to the rescue.. bless him. He was such an underrated character in the series. For all the shit that Scully throws on him, he never lets her down and he always keeps his promises.
The Truth: There were parts of this episode that were a yawn and an absolute punish. But Look. I’m willing to trade off that frustration for this:
So that brings us to the end of this countdown and let me just say, I had a grand time writing it. It won’t be the end of countdown posts… I’m working on a new one now… but it was a cracker of a way to kick off I think. For the record, I thought that X Files: I want to Believe was excellent, I didn’t rate Fight the Future at all. There are a lot of other episodes that didn’t make the list here than I am also very fond of but you know, we need to call time somewhere or else I’ll be writing about this show for the rest of time.