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The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Irresistible” & “Die Hand die verletzt”

"Anything slightly freakazoid"

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Could all the weirdos get in the sea so Scully can have a nice normal work week for a change?

Irresistible

This was pretty grim. Not in a bad way – it’s an excellent episode, but another Criminal Minds-esque affair that gets under your skin in the most unpleasant way. There are several meditations on the routine nature of evil and the often terrifying realisation that it dwells among us, in very human and often very everyday form, but the most interesting part of this episode was its revelations about Scully’s state of mind. She’s been a bit cagey in the last few episodes, particularly “Excelsis Dei” (though that episode would make anyone feel ill), but here we see it begin to spill over as she struggles in handling the case. An appointment with a Bureau psychologist reveals quite how much her recent experiences have gotten to her.

The episode focuses on a fetishist killer in Minneapolis. Mulder and Scully are called by a local FBI agent named Moe Bocks who looks and sounds like a The Simpsons character, and who – amusingly – has a soft spot for UFOs. He quips early on that the local police call in the FBI if a case involves “anything slightly freakazoid” and explains that he called Mulder because the present case is so funky it must involve aliens. Mulder’s reputation among the UFO Network precedes him, evidently.

Anyway, the killer is going around digging up corpses and desecrating them. He takes hair and fingernails, leading Mulder to theorise that he’s a fetishist. He rules out aliens immediately, much to the disappointment of Bocks, though it’s a little sad to see the extent to which the town cannot fathom malevolence in human form – so much so that even the resident FBI agents are only too willing to outsource the explanation to aliens. While writing an autopsy report on one of the victims later, Scully reflects that “it is somehow easier to believe in aliens and UFOs than to believe in the kind of cold-blooded human monster who could prey on the living to scavenge from the dead.” FYI, this is the same reason I’ll happily sit through ghost story horror movies but won’t watch slasher flicks.

When the killer murders a local prostitute and defaces her body, Mulder’s theory that his behaviour may escalate is proven correct. The victim’s hair was shaved off and nine of her fingers removed, and the killer – who’s shown to be a strange creature named Donald Pfaster – had the following set-up in his apartment waiting for her.

Dearly...depraved?

Dearly…depraved?

Mulder observes that the defilement of the body suggests deep psychosis, which may go back to the killer’s relationship with his mother (Freud would be proud). Later, a man is arrested for assaulting a prostitute and the local agents instantly decide they’ve caught their guy. A swift interview by Mulder disproves this notion, but as it happens Pfaster is sitting in the cell opposite after being arrested for trying to attack a woman in his night class. He catches sight of Scully as they leave and asks the interviewee what her name is.

Scully, who’s been finding the case incredibly difficult, takes Mulder aside and says she thinks she’d be better placed to help the investigation by focusing on the evidence. She wants to take the victim’s body back to DC and have the fingerprint lab examine it. She’s been hallucinating since they were shown the first desecrated grave, seeing her face in place of one of the victims and having nightmares of when she was abducted a few weeks earlier. Mulder is concerned and says she doesn’t have to hide anything, that even veteran agents can come undone in the face of such disturbing cases. Scully insists she’s fine.

Back in DC, she goes to speak to a psychologist. The scene shows her carefully looking around her before going into the office, so it’s not immediately clear if it was a spur of the moment decision or if she’d had an appointment all along (she had earlier wondered why Mulder insisted on their coming out given the case clearly didn’t involve aliens, but then he said he had football tickets for the two of them which was kind of adorable). There are a lot of references to plane tickets in this episode too, which seems like a curious (probably unwitting) motif – travel and great distances and removing oneself physically. Scully explains her difficulties to the therapist, pointing to the way one develops a clinical detachment to death in med school and is trained to confront violent cases at the FBI academy, yet she suddenly finds herself paralysed. The psychologist notes that she speaks in the second person, further detaching herself from the experience, and observes that she is a strong person who’s probably always felt she could handle a problem by herself but who now feels vulnerable. She points to Scully’s recent bereavement and, er, near-death experience (I’m narrowing my eyes so hard at Cigarette-Smoking Arsehat right now) and says that these experiences would leave anyone feeling exposed and uncertain. When prompted by the therapist, she says she trusts Mulder with her life but doesn’t want him to feel like he has to protect her. She says she knows the world is full of predators and that it’s her job to protect people from them, and she’s counted on this fact to give her faith in her ability to do what she does, but she’s lost that faith and she needs it back.

:(

This scene is very revealing and very poignant – my drugstore psychology would lead me to deduce that Scully’s inherent strength and moral courage makes her all the more conscious of coming across as vulnerable, and in turn doubly determined to appear unperturbed by what she sees. Unmoored is one thing, but given we’ve already established that proving (almost justifying) her choice of career is extremely important to her I imagine that showing any sign of uncertainty or fragility in this regard is really upsetting to her. Her pained expression and slow, deliberate choice of words as she speaks to the psychologist is haunting. And that’s not even the worst thing that happens to her this episode.

Emerging from her appointment, one of the fingerprint lab techs informs her that they’ve pulled a print off the victim’s body. She calls Mulder to update him and asks if he was looking for her earlier, as an unnamed agent called the lab looking to speak to her. Mulder says it wasn’t him but is glad to hear she’s coming back. The fingerprint is Pfaster’s, of course, and Mulder and Bocks storm his apartment while Scully’s on the plane. They find it empty. When Scully lands, she’s forced off the road in her rental car and kidnapped. Not again. For heaven’s sake.

When the others discover she’s gone missing, Mulder freaks out. He pulls a paint sample off her rental car and insists it be sent to DC to get an analysis. In the meantime he and Bocks try to puzzle out alternative addresses for Pfaster. Remembering what Mulder said earlier about Pfaster’s mother, Bocks finds an address for her – and discovers that the car she had has the same paint as the model which rammed Scully off the road.

The agents race over and rescue Scully in the nick of time. She’d been tied up and had further visions of alien-like creatures coming for her, but manages to overpower Pfaster and is in the middle of a struggle with him when Mulder and co. burst in. As Mulder undoes her bounds, she finally breaks down and sobs for a long time. It’s heartrending. Heaven’s sake writers, I think she’s been through enough!

Mulder does the final VO on this one, which is an interesting departure from most previous episodes where Scully reads out her case notes. He says: “What scares us most is what is familiar and commonplace…fear of violent death is as frightening as any X-File, as real as the acceptance that it could happen to you.”

Welp. Who needs a drink?

Die Hand die verletzt

The devil has all the best tunes, and all the best episodes too apparently. Loved this one. Really, really creepy and pitched more like a twisted ghost story. It’s timed interestingly too – after a few episodes depicting humans as the true evil, this one pitches human cowardice and hypocrisy and self-interest as ultimately more harmful than anything the devil incarnate could muster. Also, Mulder and Sscully are largely sidelined throughout this. They’re more like observers than investigators and the lack of a closing monologue suggests even they don’t quite know what to make of it. But without further ado (and bear with me, can’t really leave any of the detail out):

We’re in a small town in New England, in which a group of teachers at the high school are debating morals. They don’t want the drama club putting on Jesus Christ Superstar and find Grease amoral because they use the ‘f’ word (pretty sure there’s darker material in Grease, much like in Dirty Dancing, but whatever). They decide to wrap up the meeting with a prayer, prompting groans of protest from one of their number because “the game has already started”. Plot twist: the prayer is an ode to the devil, whom they affectionately refer to with expressions like “die Hand die verletz” i.e. the hand that wounds. I was so hoping that meant “the hand that feeds” so I could drop some Nine Inch Nails on y’all.

Subnote: I speak incredibly basic German and can’t quite figure out whether the above grammar (specifically, the capitalisation or lack thereof) is correct. Any German-speaking commenters, let me know!

Steady on, lads

Steady on, lads

Anyway, I didn’t know Satanists used German to invoke their god. As opposed to old Latin? I need to do some research. In any event, our heroes are called in when a group of youths attempt an invoking ceremony of their own in the woods and derp out when it actually works. Something comes alive and kills one of them, taking his heart and eyes. The policeman who shows Mulder and Scully to the scene of the crime says it’s a place where witches gather (I wish these people would leave witches out of it) and that it has a weird feel to it. Mulder notes that the killing does appear to have ritualistic overtones, while Scully scoffs and suggests someone’s taking advantage of local folklore. Then frogs start raining from the sky.

This witty repartee is just magical

This witty repartee is just magical

<333333 these two.

The heart and eyes turn up in the drawer of a substitute teacher, Ms Paddock. Two of the youths who were present in the woods are in her class. In the meanwhile, Mulder and Scully have traced a library stub from the crime scene to another boy who was there, Dave Duran. He tries to do an unconvincing runner when they come to question him but eventually admits to having borrowed a book on witchcraft from the library cos he and the victim, Jerry, wanted to sound cool and get laid. Well done, Dave. Your mama must be real proud of you. All this for the faint hope of a ride?

Scully remains thoroughly unconvinced by all the devil talk and thinks she and Mulder’s presence is making everyone even edgier. Mulder is inclined to agree, until he notices the water in a drinking fountain draining anti-clockwise. (Thanks to The Simpsons, we all know why this is relevant.) Elsewhere, the school board are angsting and wondering who did the killing. It wasn’t any of them and they fear a dark angel is walking among them. Mulder questions one of them – the school counsellor – and asks why kids at the school have such a high incidence of depression and suppressed memories. The counsellor basically replies “because hormones” and claims patient/doctor privilege on anything further.

The same day, Paddock teaches a biology class in which the students are asked to dissect pig embryos. I’ve never felt more guilty about my love of bacon in my life. One of the students, Shannon, who was at the ritual the other night, appears to have a vision or flashback and starts screaming before running out of the room. She speaks to Mulder and Scully outside and says she ran because a litany of repressed memories began to surface, in which she remembered being abused by her stepfather and at ritual gatherings in the basement of her house. She says she’s had three children, all of whom were murdered by the cultists and buried in the basement, and that her little sister was killed by them when she was 8. Our heroes are understandably horrified and Scully wraps her up in a hug. (Props to the actress playing Shannon here, this scene was incredibly harrowing.)

They go to question her parents. Both are horrified by the suggestions and refute them entirely. Her mum says Shannon had a little sister, but she died when she was 8 weeks old from cot death. Mulder speaks to the stepdad and asks him flat out if the claims are true. He denies them and starts quoting scripture. Mulder says tersely that “even the devil can quote scripture to suit his needs”. The stepdad freaks out and kicks him out – but not the basement door flies shut out of Mulder’s hands, seemingly of its own will – and rabbits on some more about devils amongst them. Yawn. Whatevs.

Shannon goes back to class to complete the dissection. Paddock takes her jewellery for safekeeping from the pig guts. PYSCH. She’s actually retreating to the office to perform a tense candle ritual where she basically compels Shannon to slit her wrists.

And it's called black magic

And it’s called black magic

Even our heroes are getting the shivers now. Mulder finds Shannon’s bracelet in Paddock’s office and Scully concedes that there’s something off about her – the teacher she replaced had barely taken a sick day in 15 years but came down with a flesh-eating bacteria the morning she arrived. No one in the school even remembers hiring her. Flesh-eating bacteria’s a bit much, lads. A bad dose of the flu would have sufficed. When it comes to ritualistic homicide simplicity in the details is best. Anyway, Mulder says he’s going to get a warrant to search Shannon’s parents’ house, and Scully goes to do more research on Paddock. She’s doing this research on the primordial internetz. Look at it:

Look at the ancient internetz!

When I was your age, Pluto was a planet.

The occultist school board have in the meantime suggested that the murder in the woods be pinned on Shannon so as to get rid of the FBI. Then they can make some kind of offering to prove their faith. Shannon’s stepdad is one of them and appears distinctly unconvinced. He meets Mulder later in the basement of his house – where one wall is covered in a fleshy red War of the Worlds-type substance – and spills his guts. Shannon was sometimes used in rituals as the blood of the young is considered very powerful. However, she was not physically harmed or abused. The group used a kind of hypnosis to repress the memories of youths used in the rituals, until the time came to induct them into the religion when they were 18. Apparently, Satanic worship goes back generations in the town, founded by people who were “fleeing persecution from people being persecuted themselves”. Oyy. Religious hypocrisy is all over this episode. Anyway, Mulder tells him he’s as much responsible for the deaths as anyone in the town is, as they all knew the consequences of their actions. Their exchange is interruped when Paddock, in another candlelit ritual, has Mulder’s phone ring and makes it sound like Scully. Mulder handcuffs the stepdad to the bannisters and runs off.

A giant snake comes down the stairs and eats the stepdad. It’s gross.

Mulder reaches the school and finds Scully safe and well. By the way, the power’s gone out in the town so everything is happening by torchlight. They go back to the basement and find Ausbury’s bloodied bones. Mulder immediately thinks it’s a snake, which makes more sense when they find a snakeskin in the corner. Scully was initially skeptical as large snakes apparently take “hours to consume and weeks to digest” a human being. Mulder happily observes that she does indeed watch the Learning Channel.

In any event, Scully has found nothing online on Paddock and thinks she’s clean. They head back to the school. The other cultists have learned about Ausbury (the stepdad)’s death and reckon he was punished for his doubts. They decide to make a sacrifice of Mulder, thinking it’ll be more “meaningful” as he knows about them. Paddock is lying on the ground in her classroom and tells Mulder and Scully that she’s discovered “things” about the other faculty members. She tells them that the cultists are in the conference room, but when our heroes get there they’re attacked and tied up and dragged into the gym showers to be sacrificed. (The showers will help clean away the blood, because even ritualistic murder shouldn’t get in the way of the practicalities.) At the last minute however, Paddock uses another one of her rituals to possess the counsellor cultist – who’s brandishing a shotgun for some reason – and has him shoot the other two, then himself. Our heroes live to tell a flabbergasted story and Paddock announces “You’re right. It was already too late” before blowing out the candle and disappearing. She leaves a parting note on the blackboard: “Goodbye, it’s been nice working with you.”

I’d almost be inclined to say that Scully would need more therapy after this, but there’s something about the inexplicable that’s almost less inhibiting than everyday horrors. Anyway, full marks for this episode, and its rather grandiose depiction of half-assed believers. I’m 400% down with the idea of the devil taking human form as an old substitute teacher lady. Always the one you least expect. Which, coincidentally, The Simpsons also taught us.

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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