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The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Demons,” “Gethsemane,” & “Redux”

"Who, this guy Mulder? Where's he through all of this?"

Aliens on slabs

Season 5! That is the sound of the halfway point approaching. Insert gulp here.

Demons

A curious one, this. Mulder starts hallucinating violently after undergoing aggressive therapy to access repressed memories. It’s about as admirable a scientific method as it sounds and it starts to cause some serious problems for our heroes. At the beginning of the episode, Mulder wakes up in a motel room in Rhode Island with no memory of the past two days. He’s wearing a bloodied shirt but doesn’t think the blood is his. He calls Scully, who comes hurtling up straight away. (In about 75 minutes, to be precise. He does not and will never deserve this woman.)

Mulder - bloodied

She finds him sitting in the shower and swiftly wraps him up in a blanket before looking around. Two rounds are missing from his gun. Mulder swears he doesn’t remember anything, and that he isn’t cut or injured in any way. Scully speaks to the motel manager and learns that Mulder arrived two days earlier. He checked in alone but the car he drove up in is registered to a man named David Cassandra.

Scully wants Mulder to go to the hospital to be checked out. She’s worried his hallucinations and blackouts are signs of something more serious. Mulder, in time-honoured bullish fashion, wants to get to the bottom of his visions. He keeps having flashbacks to his childhood, of Samantha being taken and his parents arguing. The images suggest his parents fought over which child should go. It’s all very erratic and unsettling and of course the CSM soon pokes his punchable face in.

Scully eventually relents and they traipse off to David Cassandra’s home. Mulder has a keychain with the name Amy on it, which turns out to be David’s wife. Neither of them are at home but the housekeeper lets them look around. Mulder spots multiple paintings of a house and recognises it from his youth. It’s a summer home in Rhode Island, near where his parents used to go. He and Scully head up to the Cassandras’ summer place and find their bodies. Both appear to be dead from gunshot wounds. Mulder takes another turn and sees the CSM speaking to his younger self. When he comes to, the cops question him. They’re suspicious about his involvement in the deaths and take him down to the station for questioning. Scully warns him not to say anything until she can find out what’s going on. Once again, Dana has the thankless job of rescuing Mulder from an entirely self-inflicted conundrum. You can really see why that listless ennui hit her so hard a few episodes back.

The CSM in flashback

At the station, the police decide to charge Mulder. The blood on his shirt matches Amy and David’s type. Scully arrives and tells them that traces of ketamine were found in Amy’s system. This is a powerful hallucinogen, and given Mulder’s blackouts she suspects he too may have been given it. She also found a puncture wound on Amy’s forehead consistent with an injection. While Mulder is being processed, a cop shoots himself in one of the jail cells. The officer was shown earlier manically cutting himself out of photographs with his family. Scully looks over the body and discovers he too has a puncture wound like the one Amy had. The detective charging Mulder, Curtis, tells her the dead cop had become something of a joke on the force and that he believed in aliens. Scully gets suspicious. She finds the cut-up photos and a magazine with Amy on the cover, proclaiming herself to be an alien abductee.

The next morning, Scully gets Mulder released. The evidence now suggests Amy and David were killed in some kind of murder/suicide pact. Mulder, who’s been yelling all night apparently, suffered more blackouts. Scully says Amy believed she’d been abducted, as did the dead cop, and that they may have been suffering from Waxman-Geschwind Syndrome. This condition causes trancelike states in which the sufferer has vivid dreams about the past. I would watch the shit out of an entirely unrelated show in which Dana patiently explains complex psychological conditions. She’s so calm and beautifully-spoken. The two of them go to see the psychiatrist who was treating Amy, Goldstein. They find Mulder’s car outside. Goldstein is defensive and says he was using an unconventional therapy to access Amy’s repressed memories. Though he claims it’s not “frowned upon”, Scully is deeply unimpressed. Outside, she says she believes Goldstein administered ketamine to Amy and also to Mulder, and that’s what’s causing the hallucinations.

Goldstein

Mulder has another blackout but refuses to go to the hospital. He says he doesn’t want them to stop, as he seems to be learning more about why his sister was taken. He and Scully go to his mother’s house. I really think he’s a terrible son and only ever seems to visit his poor mother when something bad happens. Or, when he wants information out of her and feels the need to be unconscionably nasty in order to get it. Case in point: they arrive at the house, he speaks to his mum in private and essentially accuses her of keeping secrets and lying to him and having an affair with the CSM. He even asks in a roundabout way if the CSM is his father, which is hilarious. This paranoia knows no bounds. Mrs Mulder does what any sensible human would in this situation and smacks him, then storms out. When Scully comes in to look for him, he’s already speeding away in his car. Nice one, Fox. Dickish to your mum and abandoning your partner. You are a colossal disaster in its purest form.

Mulder returns to Goldstein and says he wants to “finish the job”. Goldstein promptly gives him an injection and sets him up on a chair with headphones and eye goggles. He then pulls out some kind of drill and aims it at Mulder’s forehead, but before he can do anything the police burst in. Curtis is arrested, and Mulder escapes. Scully arrives shortly afterwards and asks where Mulder went. Goldstein says he went to “exorcise his demons”.

Scully heads to Rhode Island, sensing that Mulder has gone to his parents’ old summer house. She’s called the police ahead of time and they’re already camped outside. She convinces them to let her go in alone first, ordering them not to shoot if Mulder flees. Inside, Mulder’s sitting in darkness in a meditative state. Scully speaks to him slowly, asking him to put down the gun. He sees Samantha floating away and the CSM and says it’s all falling into place. Scully tries to reason with him, saying he’s been given an hallucinogen and there’s no indication these memories are his. He pulls a gun on her but she keeps pleading, asking him to trust her and put the gun down. He eventually fires a few rounds into the wall and the police come swarming in, but Dana has him in her arms.

Be still my shipper heart

Later, Scully writes up her case notes. She says Mulder has been cleared of wrongdoing but he still has no memory of his experiences with Goldstein. She worries that this experience will have a lasting effect, and that if the truth about his sister remains elusive he will continue to follow a dangerous path. I would say this is foreshadowing but really, at this stage, there’s very little that could befall him which hasn’t already happened.

I’m not sure how I feel about this episode. It was neat and self-contained, but seems a little aimless in the general scheme of things. We already know how Mulder feels about hypnosis and the lengths to which he’ll go to figure out what happened to Samantha. We already know he’s given to reckless behaviour and insensitive treatment of his loved ones. We know, quite vividly, that without Dana’s loyal dedication he would have been fucked in the extreme a very long time ago. She is the perennial hero of this show and I am in awe of her patience and courage, but I’m starting to find it irritating that she has to spend so much time watching out for him this way. It’d be nice if it weren’t so repetitious.

Let’s move on to the season 4 finale. We’re getting places!

Gethsemane

This inspired me to Wiki my Catholic lore, because I am a terrible [lapsed] Catholic who can’t remember exactly what shit went down the night Jesus was arrested. Fittingly, the theme of betrayal looms large over this one. It also features the most unconvincing alien body of all time. Allons-y.

As usual with the season finales, this ends on a cliffhanger. The episode is split into a few different narratives with Scully reporting to a joint FBI panel and Mulder hauling the fakest alien body ever constructed down from a mountain in Canada. Scully suggests the alien conspiracy has been an elaborately engineered hoax the whole time, and Mulder takes his time believing that. Standard.

Scully at inquiry

So! Scully is at a dinner party in her mum’s house when she gets a call from Mulder. During the party, we see her interact with her brother, Bill, a naval officer no doubt named for her father, and the family priest, Father McHugh. McHugh asks why she hasn’t been to church since she was diagnosed, but she says she still has faith and hasn’t felt the need to seek solace from a priest. No one can blame her for taking off as soon as Mulder calls. She’s so painfully reticent when it comes to her emotions that dealing with her family and personal life in the wake of a cancer diagnosis must be all too much. Not least when she hasn’t actually told half of them, as we see later.

Mulder is calling because he’s heard about an alien body recovered from a mountain in Canada. The tip came from a forensic anthropologist named Arlinsky, with whom Mulder has been in contact for four years. Arlinsky wants to turn the body over to Mulder for authentication as he doesn’t trust anyone else. He wants Scully’s opinion. She says she doesn’t have one. A minor argument ensues about belief and proof and the necessity of proving things that you take on faith anyway, but eventually Scully agrees to take a look at some samples. For what it’s worth, she doesn’t think you can prove the existence of God, which is a nice counterpoint to Mulder’s endless quest for evidence of unspeakable things.

Scully takes the samples to a scientist named Vitagliano at the university. His tests show they’re authentic and also reveal the presence of an unclassified hybrid cell culture in the ice. Scully comes back a short while later to get the samples, only to find a shady type making off with one of the containers. She follows him but is attacked and flung down the stairs for her trouble. Elsewhere, someone has traced the dig site on the Canadian mountain and guns down the scientists. When Mulder and Arlinsky arrive, only one of the team is still alive. This guy, Babcock, claims that he buried the alien body. This despite his being walloped by a shotgun but he will, of course, later turn out to be a plant. Between the three of them, they manage to haul the body back to Washington.

How is that even slightly convincing

Scully is taken to hospital after the assault. Her brother comes to meet her, saying he didn’t tell their mother what happened. He also knows about her cancer and asks why she didn’t tell him. Scully is appalled their mother spilled the beans. Honestly bb, this is ridiculous. You can’t be diagnosed with terminal cancer and *not* tell one of your few remaining immediate family members. Scully says she didn’t say anything because it’s too personal and she doesn’t want sympathy. Bill gets angry. He asks why she doesn’t feel more responsible to her family, especially given her tendency to feck off whenever her partner puts in an appearance. It’s harsh, but probably a fair observation. Scully is exactly the type to bury herself in her work at a time like this, not just as a means of finding out what happened and if she can be cured but also as a distraction for the horrible reality. It’s completely understandable behaviour for someone so driven and determinedly self-sufficient, but when your family’s been through so much loss of late it might be an idea to at least prepare them for the worst.

She wants to follow up on her assailant first. Prints lifted from the hospital stairwell suggest he’s a Pentagon employee named Michael Kritschgau. Scully, being the absolute embodiment of badass that she is, tracks him down at a DC research facility and stops his car at gunpoint. She intends on arresting him, but when she hauls him out of the car he says they’re both in danger—from the people who gave her the cancer. Meanwhile, Mulder and Arlinsky carry out an autopsy on the alien body. Arlinsky finds evidence of a cardiopulmonary system, as well as several unidentifiable physiological features. Mulder is convinced but insists on getting it carbon dated as well.

Scully calls Mulder back to DC. There’s a flash forward to her testimony at the FBI panel, whereupon she says Kritschgau told her the entire thing was a hoax. The body was designed as evidence of alien life in order to convince Mulder of the merit of his beliefs; all part of a wider plot to keep our heroes in the dark. We then flash back to Kritschgau spelling all this out for Mulder while Scully looks on. He says the government fabricates these stories and uses passionate people to propagate them so as to divert attention from their actual misdeeds. The body is fake, alien sightings are secret military aircraft and everything will be dealt with before he can ever submit the body for carbon testing. Mulder, of course, refuses to believe this. He and Scully go back to the warehouse to find Arlinsky and Babcock, but both are dead and the body is gone. Babcock was actually in on this mess the whole time but apparently decided to die for the cause. (Or was killed anyway. Whichever.) Mulder is incensed, saying that with everything he’s seen and experienced he cannot believe it’s all a lie. Scully calmly says that this is easier than believing the lie, but lets him off.

Kritschgau

Flash forward to the panel again. She tells the assembled agents that the men behind the hoax gave her cancer as part of their plan to make Mulder believe. We cut back to a shot of Mulder watching television—a video of NASA scientists discussing the probability of alien life. Hi Carl Sagan, cosmic hero and total gent!

It's Carl Sagan!

Then we return to Scully at the panel. In the episode’s opening scenes, she was asked to identify a body in Mulder’s apartment. She now says that the body was Mulder’s, and that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound the night before. We fade to black just as she turns on the waterworks, and that must have really sucked for y’all back in the day, lads.

I reckon we should keep moving and discuss these eps together. Onward. Season 5!

Redux

This was an info dump disguised as an episode. And it ends on another cliffhanger. Honestly. I don’t know how you all didn’t develop blood pressure issues watching these unfold in real time.

We open with Dana at the FBI panel again, before flashing back to 24 hours earlier. Mulder, sitting alone in his apartment, starts staring down the barrel of a gun when he gets a call from Kritschgau. He doesn’t recognise the voice and starts wailing about whether it’s his fault Scully was given cancer. Kritschgau warns him to be careful, as their conversations are being recorded. Mulder spots a bug on the ceiling and storms upstairs to the apartment above his. Sure enough, there’s a man spying on him. A scuffle ensues and the man is shot in the face. Putting two and two together here, I’m guessing his body doubles for Mulder’s.

Mulder, as he is wont to do upon making a terrible decision, hightails it over to Scully’s. He tells her there’s a dead man in his apartment and that he was under surveillance. I can’t help but feel we sort of already knew this, though maybe not that there was a physical person actually poking through the ceiling. That’s a bit creepy. Brings a whole meaning to the ceiling cat meme, or it would if Mulder was ever really at home. He has phone records from the dead guy, Ostelhoff. Several calls have gone out to someone at the Bureau over the past few weeks. Mulder asks Scully to investigate the calls while he, under cover of death, uses Ostelhoff’s card to gain access to the Pentagon research lab.

Scully IDs Ostelhoff’s body as Mulder’s, meeting Skinner on the way out. Skinner seems suspicious but that’s hardly out of character. Scully claims she knows it’s Mulder—despite the shotgun wound to the face—because he’s wearing the same clothes. He tells her that Section Chief Blevins wants to speak to her. Blevins thinks Scully’s been withholding information. I’d genuinely love to know how many times she’s been hauled before a committee over something Mulder did. It must be exhausting, even when you haven’t got terminal cancer. At the meeting, she says she was contacted by someone from the DOD about an alien body. However, the whole thing was a hoax. Skinner shows her a photo of Kritschgau and asks if he’s the man she spoke to. Scully confirms it was him, and is asked to come before a joint panel later for questioning.

Mulder, meanwhile, gains access to the Pentagon research lab. Kritschgau spots Mulder and comes over to ask him what’s going on. When he sees Ostelhoff’s card, he tells Mulder it has level four access and he can get into areas Kritschgau himself can’t access. What’s more, level four may house a cure for Scully. Kritschgau leads him upstairs and embarks on a lengthy expository ramble. TL;DR: aliens are all part of an elaborate government conspiracy to divert attention away from actual wrongdoing. After Roswell, the government decided to play on people’s fear about the arms race and brought in professors and scientists to keep suspicions ticking over. The alien abduction stories started up of their own accord and the government happily rolled with them. Advanced aircraft and bioweapons fed into reported sightings. Citizens were taken and tested on without their knowledge. The government is seeking control over DNA itself and level 4 houses DNA samples from virtually every American born since 1945. The alien body was such a well-constructed fake (lol) that only direct scientific examination could have disproved it, and Scully wasn’t supposed to still be alive at this stage to do so. This monologue is interwoven with various bits of footage showing weaponry, atomic bombs, infections, and suchlike. I really feel like it should have been more tense. When he’s done, Mulder asks why Kritschgau is helping him. It seems Kritschgau Jr. was affected by bioweapons in the Gulf War and he wants a cure for him, just as Mulder wants a cure for the cancer. Satisfied, Mulder heads on into level 4 while Kritschgau is apprehended by military personnel.

Level 4

Back at FBI HQ, Scully calls the communications centre, looking to trace the number Ostelhoff kept calling. The calls all went to the same extension, but it’s a branch one and could have been any of the agents at that level—including Skinner. This suspicion of Skinner strikes me as somewhat ill-founded to be honest. Skinner is a grizzly bear but he’s a good egg, and has proven as much on multiple occasions. Why would he the one dobbing you in? Even if he on the CSM’s hook at the moment, he’s never been part of a conspiracy. Anyway, before Scully can do anything, she gets a call from Vitagliano. He has some test results and wants her to take a look.

Elsewhere still, the CSM is knocking around Mulder’s apartment. He looks remorseful for once in his life, glancing at the bloodstains on the carpet and a photo of Samantha and Mulder. This could almost be fodder for Mulder’s brief theory that he was his father, but I’m not buying that ridiculous notion now or ever. The CSM notices the surveillance bug in the ceiling and actually looks surprised. He decides to do some sleuthing of his own. At a meeting with one of his shady masters-of-the-universe types, we learn that the CSM didn’t know Mulder was being watched. He’s not impressed but his companion says Mulder has been confirmed dead by their “FBI source.” The CSM, unconvinced, says he won’t underestimate Mulder and leaves.

Suspicious CSM is suspicious [2]

Down at the university, Scully takes a look over the test results. They show traces of cellular activity in the ice core samples. These cells are animal in origin but have begun to hybridise into a new life form. Scully wants to run the cell culture against a sample from her own DNA. If there’s a match, it’ll be proof that whatever was put in the ice was also used to give her cancer. Skinner appears outside the lab. She confronts him and asks what’s going on. He goes on one of his time-honoured gnarly rants and says he has a responsibility to his agents, particularly when they appear to be lying. Scully says she’s looking for the truth about what happened to her. Skinner has the results of forensic tests on the body which isn’t Mulder’s and demands to know where Mulder actually is. Enter that into the log of overused questions targeted at Scully, peeps. She doesn’t say anything, and following a suitably portentous warning goes back to her work.

Mulder has found rows and rows of alien bodies on slabs.

Aliens on slabs

He walks past them, as the room expands into what looks more like a hangar or warehouse, and finds another room with human bodies laid out in the same way. They’re being experimented on under bright, flashing lights and all have inflated, pregnant-like bellies. This matches some of Scully’s flashbacks to what happened when she was abducted. Mulder cautiously makes his way through the rooms and finds another area marked “classified.” Lo! It’s the giant Indiana Jones-esque basement from the pilot!

The warehouse

Turns out the shelves are an elaborate filing system, enabling him to find Scully’s and Kritschgau Jr’s names. This leads him to a box containing vials of liquid. He ensnares one and starts to look for a way out. Outside, one of the guards calls the CSM to tell him Ostelhoff’s card has been used. The CSM hurries over. When Mulder goes to leave the level four area, his card doesn’t work, but the CSM discreetly releases the door for him just in time. Mulder makes off with the vial as the CSM looks on.

In the lab, Scully examines the results of her test. Her DNA sample matches with the sample from the ice. She heads off to the joint panel meeting and prepares to drop the proverbial bombshell. After telling everyone Mulder is dead, Skinner walks in, clutching what appear to be the tests proving the body isn’t Mulder. Scully stands up and says she has proof the men who gave her cancer are behind the entire hoax, and that the ringleader is in the room. It’s at this point her nose chooses the most inopportune moment to start bleeding and she stumbles backward. Skinner catches her and she just has time to murmur “you” before passing out. I’m sensing her proof is about to go up in smoke. Ne’er was a tale of more woe than Scully’s quest for scientific evidence.

Poor sick Dana

Finally, Mulder takes the vial with the liquid to the Lone Gunmen, who run some tests. Unfortunately, the tests indicate it’s de-ionised water and nothing more. Contemplating the reality that there may not be a cure—and all that this entails—Mulder looks on grimly as we fade to black, to be continued.

WELL. Hope you could keep up with all that. For a relatively evenly-paced episode, it feels like there’s a veritable boatload of information to absorb, and we still have one more episode to go to finish it off.

Hmm. Dare I say this episode used eloquent quotes and heavy exposition to disguise the fact it doesn’t say much about anything at all? I enjoy listening to Mulder and Scully’s poetic voiceovers but they seem to say the same thing about 10 times in the course of the episode. Mulder makes a lot of feels-inducing references to Scully’s integrity and honour; Scully extols the virtues of science. I like that Scully actually gets to use science to provide a grounded explanation for what’s going on (for once), but it seems like the plot was padded out to allow for more tension. All the key information was imparted by Kritschgau in a hurried five-minute speech as he rushed Mulder through the Pentagon facility, and the rest just kind of played out without much suspense or high stakes. Even the big reveal of the warehouse with the filing system and the alien bodies and human test subjects didn’t seem to hit home the way it should have. It might be just me, but it feels like we’ve seen so much of that before in glances and asides that the real thing doesn’t carry as much weight as it should.

Things I did like here: Mulder acknowledging that Scully has remained eternally poised and professional in their work, and only now does he ask her to lie for him. He may be a hopeless man-child but I think it’s important to show that he respects and appreciates her. He tends to be so caught up in the moment that you kinda have to show this in voiceover, but I’ll take it. Also, Scully. Scully, Scully, Scully. She is a beacon of strength and endurance, facing down the powers that be while he scurries around in dark corridors and plays dead. The real courage in all this is keeping a clear head and resolute manner when you’re put on the spot, and in that regard she outshines him ten times over. There’s a beautiful line where she talks about science turning within as she seeks an explanation for what happened to her. I love the way she draws strength from facts and evidence, almost the same way her partner draws strength from her. It just makes such perfect sense in the context of her behaviour and the way she plays down her emotions in favour of reason. Now she has to turn something which is by definition neutral and detached inward, making it personal and subjective, and things get a lot less easy to dismiss. Gawd. I’m in awe.

“Redux II” awaits, so let’s pick it up next time. Stay spooky!

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 Tumblr or catch her frequent TV liveblogs on Twitter.

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