comScore The X-Files Newbie Recap: "Miracle Man," "Shapes" | The Mary Sue

The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Miracle Man,” “Shapes”

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Oddly, there doesn’t seem to have been much in the way of fallout from E.B.E. Hmm.

Miracle Man

This one’s interesting in that it deals with a lot of faith issues. I’ve been wondering about the show’s take on such things given Scully’s allusions to belief in a higher power back in “Beyond the Sea”, though I’m not sure we’ve heard much about Mulder’s religious affiliations (if any). I’m always intrigued by how people square such beliefs with the supernatural, and given the show’s overarching ethos I imagine this is a topic that may figure in at some stage.

The story revolves round a faith healer who can seemingly work miracles. Mulder and Scully join the investigation after a number of people die after being seen by the healer. He’s a young man named Samuel, adopted as a baby by Reverend Calvin Hartley after being discovered in a basket on the banks of the Mississippi. (A basket among the reeds, eh?) Calvin has made a considerable amount of money out of Sam’s gifts and the family have become local celebrities in their tiny Tennessee town, which is hampering the investigation. The coroner, for one, is described by the sheriff as a paid-up member of the cult who allowed the bodies to be buried without an autopsy, on account of religious objections. When Mulder and Scully attempt to have one exhumed so that a post-mortem can be carried out, a crew of people from the cult show up and say they’ll hold a vigil over the grave to prevent the body being taken away. Sheriff Daniels is convinced Sam’s killing people by touching them. Amusingly, neither Mulder nor Scully offer much of an opinion on what could be going on. Scully’s reasoning is hampered by the lack of medical records but Mulder seems rather numb and jaded in this episode, which is unusual for him. The case is not an X-File per se so he could be taking the opportunity to coast a little, but it seems more likely to me that this is intended as an implicit acknowledgement of the impact of “E.B.E.”‘s events on his psyche. No overt reference is made to the events of the preceding episode but he seems so sluggish and disinterested that it’s evident something’s getting to him.

The apathy is in stark contrast to the feverish mood which overtakes him later in the episode. When he meets Sam – who’s being arrested after getting caught up in a bar brawl – the alleged miracle worker tells him he can sense an unresolved pain in him over a brother or sister. Mulder snaps to and demands to know more, but Sam says he can’t help him any more as his gift is gone. Speaking to Scully, he says he considers himself to be fully guilty of murder and that his gift was corrupted by God as punishment for his becoming too proud. The exchange is strangely affecting. For all the outlandish pageantry of the cult, Sam himself is sincerely pained by the deaths of the people who came to him for help, something that becomes even more apparent when he’s arraigned in court and demands to be locked up. However, the hearing is cut short abruptly when a swarm of grasshoppers start falling out of the ceiling vents. As one does, I suppose.

The caption makes this.
The sequence of events spurs Mulder into action. He has files on patients who were cured by Sam when all conventional medicine had failed, something Scully quickly counters by pointing to the myriad of literature on spontaneous cures. Mulder believes that Sam’s gifts may allow him to alter the energy field around the human body so as to either cure or kill. The two of them are then summoned to a meeting with Calvin. Calvin believes his adopted son is special and that his power comes from his ability to feel. He too seems entirely earnest in his beliefs, which may be a sign of a more innocent age of television or of my being entirely too cynical over such things. The meeting is interrupted when Mulder sees a little girl who looks just like Samantha outside. He rushes out to find her, but she disappears.

At this point, things are turned up to 90. Mulder and Scully attend a gathering of Calvin’s followers the next day. Sam (who’s been bailed) goes to heal a girl with MS, but she has a seizure and dies. Mulder sees Samantha again and tears his way out of the place. The dead girl’s family finally let them do an autopsy, which reveals she was poisoned. Sam is put back in jail and Mulder goes to see him. He asks if Sam made him see Samantha and if she’s alive or it’s all a trick. Sam says he can’t see anything anymore, and after Mulder leaves two heavies are put in the cell with him and beat him to death. (He’s splayed out against the bars while this happens, presumably underlining the Christ metaphor.) All very unpleasant, but they get a breakthrough from the most unlikely of sources – the grasshoppers.

Mulder and Scully find a trail of potatoes leading into the courthouse air vents. They theorise that whoever is behind this may also be responsible for the deaths, as it may be part of a scheme to discredit Sam. The order is traced to a local farm and they discover that Calvin’s driver Vance is behind everything. He’s been hovering throughout the episode, cutting a rather ghoulish spectre in a distinctly funereal all-black outfit and shades. In the opening scenes, he was brought back to life by a young Sam after being severely burned. Sam now appears to Vance in his sleep, asking him why he betrayed and murdered people. It seems Vance was angry at being brought back to life when he was so horribly disfigured, and decided that only a false prophet could have done such a thing. He therefore tried to discredit Sam by poisoning the people who came to him to be cured.
Mulder and Scully break in midway through this spiel and discover Vance near death, babbling in his bed. Scully can smell cyanide in his drink. Before he dies, Vance tells Calvin that he saw Sam and that he forgave him.

The case itself is thus wrapped up, but not everything else. Before they leave Tennessee Scully aks Mulder about his visions of his sister. Earlier in the episode, she’d warned him that healers often take advantage of a patient’s willingness to believe. “Imagine a miracle and you’re halfway there,” she says, “first thing they teach us in med school.” Mulder seems to have come round to this way of thinking as he says people who want to see miracles wish so hard that they end up seeing what they want to see. All good so, but then he sees Samantha in his car window. The writers really are determined to make his story one of perennial sadness and pain. But it’s interesting to see his being open to the rational explanation – I don’t think his belief that Samantha was taken by aliens is going anywhere (and after what happened in “E.B.E.” it may even be intensified) but his experiences here may compel him to check his way of interpreting things, or at least acknowledge that his beliefs have a bigger effect on his judgement than he realized.

He's seeing things!
The story itself is an odd one because Sam clearly did have a gift, but his origins are so clouded in mystery that it’s difficult to say whether they were meant to be god-given or something else entirely. He was abandoned as a baby and could have come from anywhere, and given the profusion of paranormal beings in this universe his powers could easily stem from some unknown family connection.

It’s worth noting also that the Sheriff, Daniels, was arrested at the end of the episode for having Sam killed. He arranged for the two men who murdered him to be put in the same cell. His actions throughout the episode are indicative of some kind of vendetta, as he was adamant Sam was killing people even when there was no solid evidence. Meanwhile, Sam’s body has disappeared. A witness swears that she saw him get up and walk out.  Daniels’ wife reads about this in the paper and is dismayed as her husband had told her Sam was a fake. The wife has chronic arthritis and is confined to a wheelchair. Perhaps Daniels had hoped Sam could cure his wife but something went wrong? Calvin called him a non-believer earlier – did he lose his faith when his wife was struck down with illness? Did he resent Calvin’s celebrity and success and think he was corrupting his own church?
This episode feels unusually open-ended, which may be the diplomatic solution when including religious themes. “Beyond the Sea” ended in similarly ambiguous fashion and that also made reference to life after death and the possibility of divine judgement. I enjoyed this one, I must say. It’s an unusual instalment but immensely thought-provoking, and brings our attention back to the inexplicable things that often people our surrounds as opposed to the far more exalted mysteries hiding beyond the sky.

Shapes

The last thing I ever thought I’d be able to quote in these recaps is “darling it is no joke, this is lycanthropy.” The X-Files, everyone.

This episode deals with an Algonquian legend about shapeshifters. Mercifully, it doesn’t join the long list of telly shows which used the word “wendigo” for the creature in question. It’s basically the token werewolf episode that all vaguely supernatural shows seem contractually bound to include (see also: Supernatural, Charmed, etc.) (though TXF pre-dates most so it may have been novel at the time), but it is for the most part quite fun. And the thumbnail on the DVD menu is quite disturbing.

Anyhoo, the episode opens with a rancher (Doc Cottle from BSG!) and his son being attacked by some huge animal. The father, Jim, shoots the creature dead but when they approach the body they discover it’s a man. Mulder and Scully join the investigation and carry out a thorough inspection of the ranch. Mulder finds a piece of what looks like shed skin in the grounds. You don’t need a screencap; it’s gross. They interview Jim and his son, Lyle, and discover that they have a pending federal court case against a nearby Native American reservation. Joe Goodensnake, the man who was shot, was from the reservation so this piques their interest.

They head over to the Trego reservation to see if they can examine the body. Understandably, no one’s feeling particularly welcoming. An old man named Ish says he fought the FBI at Wounded Knee in 1973, while a young woman – who turns out to be Joe’s sister, Gwen – angrily calls them out for showing up now that they need info, but never being interested when people on the reservation need help. The local sheriff, Tskany, appears and brings them to see Joe’s body. They look over it and discover that he has huge fangs protuding from his mouth. The fangs aren’t mentioned on any of his dental records so Scully asks to do an autopsy to see what else they can find. Tskany refuses, saying tribal law prevents interference with the body. Joe’s being cremated so this is their only chance to get more information, but Tskany is adamant that it won’t happen.

Those are some srs bsns fangs
Later, Mulder and Scully watch the tribe prepare Joe’s body for cremation. Mulder takes the opportunity to fill Scully in on what he believes is going on. The case had seemed like a simple murder investigation and she couldn’t understand what was catching his eye about it. He relates the story of the very first X-File, opened by Hoover himself back in the 40s. Around the end of World War 2, the FBI investigated a series of particularly grisly murders in which the victims were mauled to bits. The wounds were consistent with an animal attack but the victims were all found at home, suggesting they’d allowed the killer to enter. In 1946, the police cornered and shot an animal but found in its stead the body of a man named Richard Watkins. The murders stopped for a time, but started up again in 1954, then again in 1959, 1964, 1978, and now the current incidents (it is now 1994 in show!). Mulder also points to Lewis and Clarke’s accounts of Native American men who could shapeshift into a wolf. When they first arrived on the reservation, Gwen had exclaimed something about Ish being afraid of an old Indian legend. Scully is distinctly unimpressed and says it’s all lycanthropy, which is a form of insanity and which she will not entertain as a factor in these murders. Guys – I honestly didn’t know this was a thing. Is this a thing? Jaysus.

The cycle continues when Jim is attacked and killed. Scully is quite horrified when she sees the body and suggests that they’re looking for a large predator. Mulder finds more old pieces of skin on the ranch grounds as well as clumps of fur. Lyle is initially nowhere to be found, but Scully later happens across him lying out the back. In the nip, for some reason. At this point it bears mentioning that the creature which attacked him and his dad in the opening scene bit him, so he’s obviously the one shapeshifting and murdering things now. Scully takes him to hospital while Sheriff Tskany, equally shaken by the killing, decides to bring Mulder back to the reservation to see Ish. Ish remembers the Watkins case from 1946. He says Watkins was attacked when he was alone in the woods. His scars healed and all seemed well, but then the murders began. The locals began to whisper that he’d been attacked by a manitou, an evil spirit which transforms men into beasts. Victims transform when their bloodlust reaches uncontrollable levels, only to shift back by day without any memory of what happened. Ish recounts something he saw when he was younger – a man violently turning into an animal who had begged to be killed. Ish didn’t have his gun to do it but remains haunted by what he saw. He goes on to explain that the affliction can be passed down through bloodlines, which leads Tskany to suggest that Gwen may have it too. She’s been AWOL since her brother was cremated and they’d put out an APB after Jim was murdered. However, they don’t have to look for her for very long as right in the middle of this conversation they overhear someone racing away in a car, and rush out to realise it’s Gwen.

Campfire time
Tskany manages to catch her, but she’s slightly mad with fear. She says she saw something kill Jim and has been hiding in the woods all day, but now she just wants to get away. Ish, Mulder, and the Sheriff look at each other uncomfortably.

Meanwhile, Scully’s with Lyle at the hospital. He doesn’t remember anything from the night before so she has the unenviable task of telling him that his dad is dead. She empathises and offers comfort, saying she lost her own dad recently. Can I say that on this evidence, her bedside manner is excellent. I mean of course it is, but still. Later, when Lyle’s discharged, she takes him back to the ranch. After they leave the hospital Mulder gets a call from one of the doctors, who says he can’t get in touch with Scully. The doctor found irregularities in Lyle’s blood samples which suggest he’s somehow ingested some of his father’s blood. Mulder immediately twigs what’s going on and tries desperately to get hold of Scully, but the area is too remote and the phones won’t work. He and Tskany brick it over to the ranch to try and find her.

At the ranch, Lyle’s in the bathroom feeling sick. He starts to transform all of a sudden while Scully anxiously tries to get in to help. Eventually he crashes out the door, now fully shapeshifted, and she has to flee. When Mulder and Tskany arrives, he finds her hiding upstairs. Adorably, she thinks some kind of mountain lion has gotten into the house and is quite mystified when Mulder tells her what’s going on. Lyle screamed the place down when he was transforming so I don’t know how she didn’t hear him, but the mountain lion remark at least makes some sense because Lyle and Jim had one in a cage out the back. You know, as you do. I’d also like to note that the house is full of mounted stuffed animal hides which are really not conducive when one is trying to find a werewolf shapeshifter thing. Maybe the ranchers brought these attacks on themselves given their blatant disregard for animals. Nature’s revenge is served cold as bloodied ice.

[Thriller firing up in the distance]
Anyway, Tskany manages to shoot Lyle and rescue them. Scully still thinks the mountain lion attacked them, but he tells her it’s caged up out the back. Good luck rationalising this one, Dana. It’s not immediately clear if Lyle’s dead – I assume so, otherwise the shapeshifting would remain an issue for whoever locked him up – but Mulder and Scully take their leave of the place next day. Ish sees them off and says he’ll see them in about eight years. The final shot is of a wolf howling in the mountains. Love.

This was a cut above average on the werewolf front (in my view anytoot), and a nice sojourn into horror territory. I googled it to find out more about its depiction of Algonquian legends and discovered that it completely corrupted the meaning of “manitou”, however. Apparently manitou is the name given to a spiritual, omnipresent life force which exists in all environments and organisms. Bit of a stretch to turn it into a shapeshifting story. Maybe “wendigo” – which refers to a shapeshifting beast associated with cannibalism – would have been a more accurate term after all.

Grace Duffy is a pop culture devotée and sometime film critic currently catching up on her classic sci-fi. You can read more on her blogTumblr, or catch her frequent TV liveblogs on Twitter.

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