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The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Excelsis Dei” & “Aubrey”

"I seem to recall you having some pretty extreme hunches!" // "I never have."

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“Excelsis Dei” can be flushed into the Netherworld with “Fire” tbh.

Excelsis Dei
This was quite vile. Dated, like many episodes before and surely many after it, but everything about it was just grim. Or maybe that’s just the casual use of rape in the plot.

The episode’s set in the titular nursing home (“excelsis dei” means glory of God in Latin and brings back many grim memories of a time when my mum still made me go to Mass) where the recently and not-so-recently deceased don’t feel like staying dead. Mulder and Scully are initially called in to investigate a rape allegation. One of the nurses, Michelle Charter, is trapped in a room and attacked by some invisible force. However, as she couldn’t see who attacked her, no one will believe her claims. This is despite medical and video evidence of numerous injuries consistent with her allegations. Charter is suing the home and the federal government, bringing the case into our heroes’ jurisdiction, and Mulder has a number of other files documenting attacks by invisible entities so they head off to investigate.

This even looks like a haunted house

This even looks like a haunted house

Charter claims the rapist was one of the patients at the home, Hal Arden. Arden’s a typically gross old man in the manner of all typically gross old men on telly, though I get the impression his behaviour was played for laughs back in the day. He makes crude advances towards Scully then apologises for stepping on Mulder’s toes. The management are dismayed at Charter’s allegations cos they’re all “quite fond” of him. OH HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED. [eye roll] It’s disgusting. Arden would probably get on with that Lone Gunman dude who keeps openly creeping on Scully. Later on, Mulder suggests Charter may have made the whole thing up (!!!?!?!?!?!?!) (in what UNIVERSE would Fox Mulder, the good noble righteous protector of the innocent, EVER say something so horrific?!) but Scully shoots back that while the phenomena may be unsubstantiated, the crime certainly isn’t. You’re all absolute dickwads and thank Christ Scully’s back on the beat.

Her first line of thought is the drugs the patients have been taking. They’re all suffering from Alzheimers or dementia but seem rather suspiciously to be in the whole of their health. Arden’s roommate, Stan, even manages to lead one of the orderlies (who’s an arsehole in the grand tradition of all orderlies on TV ever) to the fourth floor and knock him out the window to his doom. When Mulder – who races up to try and help – claims that some unseen force pushed him off the ledge, the doctor at the home says Stan has a degenerative hip disorder preventing him from taking the stairs and there are no lifts. Scully suspects that the patients’ treatment, an experimental drug, may be activating certain parts of their brain and producing psychosis similar to that associated with schizophrenia. Later, Arden kicks the bucket, and another patient named Dorothy starts hollering at unseen beings which turn out to be ghosts enveloping Scully.

And INVISIBLE perverts

When Arden’s autopsy results show trace elements of a toxin in his blood, they turn their attention to another source. One of the orderlies has been distributing pills made from mushrooms to the patients. This orderly, Gung, has been growing the mushrooms in the basement. Mulder ventures down and discovers his stash, along with the body of yet another orderly who had gone missing from work. Gung admits the whole thing when confronted and claims that the recipe (as it were) for the pills is from his country (this just gets worse), where people “respect” their elders and feel a duty to take care of them in their old age. The patients at the home had been largely abandoned by their families and he wanted to give them back some semblance of dignity. However, the pills are traditionally used to talk to the dead in the spirit world, which is why all the patients can suddenly see ghosts. The ghosts are former residents, all angry over their mistreatment and refusing to move on. Now see, this part doesn’t make sense to me. Unless I missed something, Charter said some invisible being attacked her. But Arden was alive and well, and she claimed it was him. Did he astral project or some such? Did he swap bodies with the ghost temporarily? I don’t get it. It can’t have been one of the ghosts because why would they attack the one employee at the home who seemed to actually take care of them? I can understand them looking to get revenge against the orderlies but Charter seemed to actually do her job. A reference is made to her seeking leave from work due to emotional distress, but then that would make sense given the blatant sexual harassment she had to endure from some of the residents. I don’t get it. Did I completely misunderstand this whole episode?

In any case, the ghosts take a few more residents while they’re there, then lock Mulder and Charter (again, this does not make sense) in the shower room and turn on the water. The drains are blocked and the door is sealed so the place starts filling up. Scully rushes to switch off the water at the mains. As she does so, Stan’s daughter appears and starts screaming that her father’s choking. Scully summons the doc to help and after he injects Stan with some medicine, the door to the shower room swings open and Mulder and Charter wash out in a blubbering heap. Dorothy announces that “they” – the ghosts – have gone. The episode ends with Scully intoning that the state authorities have taken over management of the home. Gung is being deported to Malaysia and all the patients have relapsed since being taken off the medication. Grim. Just utterly grim in every way. This was so unpleasant.

Aubrey
THIS on the other hand had me locking all the doors in the house halfway through. Not unlike a vintage Criminal Minds episode, give or take some reaching genetic pseudoscience, it’s creepy and unsettling and gets right under your skin.

Our heroes go on the trail of a killer in Aubrey, Missouri. A local detective named BJ Morrow digs up the bones of a long-missing FBI agent named Samuel Chaney. Chaney disappeared back in 1942 while investigating a serial murderer called the Slash Killer. He was so named for his habit of carving words (specifically, “sister”) into the chests of his victims. Morrow has recently discovered she’s pregnant, and she begins hallucinating shortly after getting the news. In her first vision, she sees where Chaney is buried. Later, after Scully discovers marks on Chaney’s bones consistent with those on the Slash Killer’s victims, Morrow has a vision of the word “brother” carved into his chest. Then another detective named Tillman bursts in and reveals that a young woman has been murdered in the same manner as the Slash Killer’s victims. Tillman and Morrow have been having an affair, and he’s the father of the baby. They go to examine the body and Morrow bristles, realising she’s been seeing the girl in a recurrent nightmare about the Slash Killer.

Ouch

All of this points Scully and Mulder in the direction of a Harry Cokely. Cokely was put away in the 40s for the attempted murder and rape of a woman named Linda Thibedeaux. The MO was the same as the other killings but police didn’t have enough evidence to tie him to all of the crimes, so he served 40 odd years for the attack on Thibedeaux alone. Cokely was released in the early 90s and is now housebound in rural Nebraska. He doesn’t have an alibi for the recent murder, but it seems pretty clear from his condition that he couldn’t have done it.

Meanwhile, Morrow’s nightmares are getting worse. She wakes up in bed one night covered in blood and runs to the bathroom to find the word “sister” carved into her chest. Then, she sees a younger version of Cokely standing in her room. The next day Mulder and Scully find her in the basement of someone’s house, digging wildly at the floorboards. The bones of Chaney’s partner, Ledbetter, are discovered underneath. Blood samples taken from beneath Morrow’s fingernails return a match for Cokely.

Mulder and Scully go to speak to Linda Thibedeaux. She’s a perfectly nice old woman who for some reason is still living in the house where she was attacked. She claims to have no children, but Mulder points out that her medical records show a hospital admission nine months after the attack. Thibedeaux reveals that she did have a child, conceived from the rape, but gave him up for adoption as she couldn’t bear to raise something she saw as the spawn of evil. She gives them the contact details for the adoption agency.

Scully later discovers that Cokely rented the house where Ledbetter’s bones were found. She’s confident they can tie him to the new wave of attacks, but Mulder’s not convinced. He starts discussing genetic memory and the collective unconscious and theorises that Cokely’s traits may have skipped a generation, compelling his illegitimate (if you will) grandchild to commit the current slew of murders. Scully is skeptical but relents when they find out that the child Thibedeaux gave up for adoption is Morrow’s father. Mulder immediately decides that she must be the killer and the two of them hurry to Thibedeaux’s house to warn her. Morrow has already attacked the old woman but she’s OK – something “stopped her”, Thibedeaux says. Scully goes to get Tillman, thinking that Morrow may turn on him given her visions started when she got pregnant. Mulder goes to check on Cokely. Unfortunately, Morrow’s already there. Cokely’s dying in the corner while Mulder is upended and Morrow puts a razor to his throat. He tries to reason with her and she relents, seeing her father’s face instead of Mulder’s. Scully and Tillman arrive in the nick of time and just as Cokely dies, Morrow comes around.

Morrow is charged with the murders and imprisoned. Scully’s case notes reveal that she tried to commit suicide in an attempt to abort the baby. Tillman has petitioned to adopt it, a little boy, when it’s born. Medical evidence shows certain mutated genes in Morrow’s DNA which activated dormant genes, but there isn’t enough information for them to look into it further. Oyyy. Chills.

So yeah, this was unpleasant as well, but in a more defensible way than the previous episode. It’s very unnerving and the subject matter is dark in the extreme. There’s also some seriously dated dialogue – at one point, Scully says women “sense these things” when she correctly guesses Morrow and Tillman are having an affair, and Mulder says he’s fascinated by women whose initials are BJ. Er…ew. What a tragic double whammy these two episodes are for his character. What were you thinking, writers? On the plus side at least, when Morrow draws a picture of a monument she keeps seeing in her nightmare, Mulder identifies it immediately as the Trylon and Perisphere in New York, the symbols of the 1939 World Fair. The writers may take some problematic notions with him but he’s such an adorable nerd.

Oh and one final point! Scully raises the possibility of cryptomnesia when discussing Morrow’s visions. This is a condition where subjects essentially bury certain memories and then treat them like new information when they resurface. Mulder says that Morrow acting on something like that would be an extreme hunch. Scully retorts “I seem to recall you having some pretty extreme hunches,” to which he replies, “I never have.” I’ve said it once, I’ll say it 4,000 times before we’re all caught up: THESE TWO.

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 blog, Tumblr, or catch her frequent TV liveblogs on Twitter.

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