The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Revelations” & “War of the Coprophages”
FIRST THINGS FIRST.
@pixiegrace I’ll be your “beacon in the night.” :)
— Mitch Pileggi (@MitchPileggi1) November 10, 2015
Because … reasons, I had to lie down for a while last week. So I’ve only prepared two episodes. Soz.
We need to talk about Dana. She is the most fascinating—and frustrating—bundle of contradictions.
This episode has our heroes looking to protect a little boy who or may not be stigmatic. For those who haven’t seen the glorious Gabriel Byrne/Patricia Arquette movie, this basically means someone who, without any obvious cause, exhibits the same wounds allegedly incurred by Jesus when he was on the cross. We’re talking puncture wounds in the hands and feet and spontaneous bleeding. Padre Pio was a Stigmatic, I’m told. I don’t actually remember learning all that much about this in my suitably archaic Irish Catholic school education, but I did learn from the movie that Jesus was most likely nailed to the cross by his wrists and not his hands as hands can’t support the body’s weight. This episode goes the more traditional route, but I’m sure Hollywood wouldn’t lie to me.
Anyway, the episode does give us more detailed insight into Dana’s relationship with her faith. For me, this still poses quite the conundrum. For someone whose beliefs clearly mean a great deal to her, her insistence that there be some kind of evidence before she’ll take the existence of UFOs seriously is a touch inconsistent. The episode indicates that she’s quite ready to believe in miracles and inexplicable acts of faith, which is why her apparent inability to go with her gut (or, you know, actual experience of being abducted and experimented on) when it comes to aliens is somewhat bothersome.
That said, as she herself points out in the course of the episode (Mulder, of course, isn’t particularly taken with any religious interpretation of events), such may be the nature of faith. Believing in a higher being is easier than confronting something which fundamentally alters one’s sense of self and world view. In one sense, not having any evidence for it is actually helpful, as it allows for subjective interpretation rather than definitive truth.
The way her faith informs Scully’s actions in this episode is telling. Mulder spends all his time going off on flights of fancy rooted in his beliefs and childhood trauma, but we don’t often get to see Scully being steered by her own beliefs and background. There’s an incredibly solemn undertone to this episode which sets it apart from many others, with the invisibility of the forces guiding Scully adding to its sense of mysticism and portent. Notably, just as in previous Scully-centric episodes (like “Beyond the Sea” or “One Breath”), the writers don’t come down on either side of the debate. They deliberately craft a much more ambivalent ending, leaving the viewers and Scully herself to question what exactly it is that they’ve seen.
But onto the episode itself! We open with a reverend being murdered by some particularly unscrupulous type, right after a church service in which he professed to be stigmatic and urged his audience to “witness the miracles of the Lord without question.” The killer takes him out with some kind of heated strangulation technique, whereby he presses his hand to his neck and sizzles him to death. It’s unpleasant.
When examining the body, Scully notes the absence of any wounds on his hands. Mulder reveals that he’s been tracking a series of religiously-motivated murders in which all of the victims were self-professed Stigmatics and also all fakes. Scully observes that there are reputedly twelve Stigmatics in the world at any one time, representing the twelve apostles. Mulder notes that the reverend is the eleventh victim and so the killer will be looking for the twelfth.
That dubious honour falls to a young boy named Kevin, who unlike any of the previous victims appears to be legitimate. During school, he’s writing something on the board when his hands start bleeding spontaneously. The school calls in a social worker. Kevin has a troubled family background—he previously exhibited wounds like this, prompting the school to have him placed in care. His father was arrested for waving a gun around and saying the boy was “chosen by God”, and has since been institutionalised. The mother managed to regain custody but the school is evidently still suspicious.
The social worker contacts Mulder and Scully, who come to speak to Kevin. Scully examines his hands and notices the wounds are genuine. When the nurse takes his temperature, the thermometer breaks in his mouth. Scully starts to get a bit spooked. Mulder believes the boy hurt himself, but Scully wants to go and speak to his father. He tells them that Kevin has been pursued by the “forces of darkness” since birth. They will come in the form of a powerful and respected man, and God will find someone to stop it. Mulder is deeply unconvinced and decides to leave, but Scully listens more closely. The dad tells her she “must come full circle to find the truth.”
Later, Kevin is kidnapped from the home he’s been placed in. The other boys in his room help the police draw up a composite and Kevin’s mum recognises him as Owen Jarvis. Owen did some work for the family after her husband left. Owen takes Kevin to his house and hides him in the attic. Kevin asks to go home, but Owen tells him it’s not safe and to think of him as his guardian angel. They’re interrupted by Mulder and Scully, who manage to corner and handcuff Owen. In the attic, Scully finds a bloodied towel, but Kevin is missing. Owen confirms it’s Kevin’s blood but says he didn’t hurt him and that he was only asked by God to protect him. Looking at Scully’s cross, Owen questions if she believes him, suggesting that unless she believes she can’t help the boy. He then jumps out the window and manages to snap his handcuffs, disappearing before Mulder can catch up with him.
Kevin’s managed to make his way home, where the killer has come looking. Owen bursts in and fights him off while Kevin escapes, but is quickly killed for his troubles. Mulder and Scully catch Kevin and find Owen’s body. While examining it later, Scully becomes perturbed when she catches a floral odour. The body is still warm and rigor mortis hasn’t set in, despite it being more than 14 hours since death. She asks Mulder if he can smell anything, which of course he can’t. Troubled, she starts talking about Biblical references to “incorruptibles” whose bodies don’t decay and emit the scent of flowers. When Mulder questions why she’s so willing to believe all this stuff (which he considers hagiographic fabrication, not historical truth), she says she believes in the idea that God’s hand may be witnessed. Mulder disagrees, saying that the killer is merely using religion to justify his actions. Scully isn’t impressed with his obstinacy but says nothing.
These disagreements come to a head later. They manage to pull prints off Owen’s body and match them to an Atlanta businessman named Simon Gates. Scully immediately twigs that Gates, who’s the CEO of a big company, fits the profile of a “powerful man”, just like the prophecy. She’s further unnerved when they hear that Kevin was taken to an appointment by a social worker, right around the time witnesses claimed to have seen him with his mum. She wonders if Kevin can somehow be in two places at once, another characteristic mentioned in the Bible.
Kevin is in fact with his mum, pulled over at the side of the road. Their car’s acting up. Unfortunately, Gates finds them. He comes to offer assistance but Kevin’s mum quickly realises something isn’t right. Kevin distracts him by running into the woods, but it’s actually a copy—the real him stays in the car and tries to help his mum escape. They run over Gates but crash into a ditch and his mum is killed. When Mulder and Scully get there, there’s no sign of Gates. Kevin doesn’t want to go back to the home so Scully takes him with them, back to a motel. She runs him a bath and is shaken when she notices a cut on his ribcage. The cut wasn’t there before, although she and paramedics looked him over after the accident. She goes back out to Mulder and a heated discussion ensues. Well, it does after this jaunty remark is passed.
Mulder plz. Time, place.
Scully thinks all of these things are signs—Kevin’s ability to be in two places at once, the spontaneous bleeding, the zealous behaviour and messages of Owen and Kevin’s father. She demands to know why Mulder can get so worked up over a light in the sky but won’t accept a “miracle happening right in front of him.” Mulder retorted that he waits for a miracle every day, but this case has only tested his patience and not his faith.
I’m inclined to come down on Mulder’s side here, not least because I have no time for religious shenanigans myself. At the very least, I would expect Scully to recognise that his unwilling attitude here is directly reflective of her own in the vast majority of cases where they’re dealing with improbable paranormal phenomena. Appreciating that there are personal circumstances in both their lives which influence them in these matters, methinks she should at least be able to recognise that in all of their alien! cases there tends to be some degree of actual evidence as to what they’re dealing with. In this case, it’s literally just her and her instincts. I do think Mulder could stand to be more respectful of same, but I can also see why he’d find it irritating and illogical. Gosh. These two are such disasters. YOU ARE BASICALLY THE SAME PERSON TWISTED INTO CONTRASTING EXTREMES. Hug it out, kiss, go get hot chocolate together, for heaven’s sake.
While all this is happening, Kevin is pinched from the bathroom. Scully wants to talk to his dad again. She shows him a photo of Gates, but he’s gone all foggy. She checks his chart and realises his anti-psychotics dosage has been increased. He doesn’t remember much of their previous conversation and can’t tell her what he meant when he said she needs to come “full circle to find the truth.” On their way out, Mulder gets a call. Gates has been spotted at the airport. Scully sees a recycle bin and realises what Kevin’s dad meant. The recycling logo forms a circle, and Gates’ company has a recycling plant near the hospital. Mulder tries to point out he’s been seen at the airport but Scully insists on checking it out.
Of course, Gates is at the plant, and prepping to murder Kevin. Scully finds them and draws her gun but Gates hurls himself and Kevin into some kind of trash compactor. Scully, horrified, runs over but luckily Kevin is hanging off the side. She pulls him up and saves the day. All hail. Also, gross.
At the end of the episode, Kevin tells her he’ll see her again. She decides to go to confession, leaving Mulder to handle the formalities. Her conversation with the priest is emotive. She hasn’t been to confession in six years and has drifted away from the Church. She explains that she saw things, miracles, which helped her save a boy’s life but she doesn’t know if they were real or imaginary. She doubts herself because her partner—a man she can talk to about anything (I sob)—doesn’t see them, but usually he believes such things “without question”. The priest says it’s possible only she was meant to see them. It may be God’s way of drawing her back to her faith. He says “sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth”, cos I wasn’t getting spooked enough here. Scully then says that she’s unwilling to accept this, as she fears that God may be speaking but no one is listening.
I have spent an unreasonable amount of time thinking about that ending ever since. I’m not entirely sure what to take from it. The insinuation of any kind of religious involvement in shows like this unnerves me somewhat, as I’m uncomfortable with the inexplicable/God has a plan for us all/works in mysterious ways kinda thing. I find it to be too much of a departure from the rest of the show, which at least tends to overtly suggest whether the paranormal activity in question is real or imaginary. “Beyond the Sea” had a similarly open ending and extremely sober tone and that, too, was unsettling—though it’s notable that the way Scully reacted in that episode was very different to her reaction here. Back then, she made a decision informed more by what she was comfortable with than what she actually saw.
What’s striking here is her indecision—in a post-“One Breath” world where she’s had an actual out-of-body/near-death experience and seen more than she probably would have liked, she’s no longer able to just pick a side and let it rest. Here, she’s genuinely disturbed and preoccupied. The fact the signs came through her work seems doubly personal, speaking perhaps to what she should be using her time and life’s work to achieve, but she has no one she can turn to for reassurance as no one else sees the things she does. At least with Mulder, she’s seen almost as much weird stuff as he has, and he has a network of hardened UFO enthusiasts only too willing to accept everything he says. Her predicament is an incredibly lonely one and that makes it all the more insidious, as she can’t seek comfort that she’s doing the right thing. I just don’t know. There’s so much here that still needs to be resolved.
Chapeau to the writers for this one, and their stellar efforts to give Scully depth and complexity. They just better bring her peace as well at some point in the future.
Thankfully, the next episode is much more light-hearted. I think we all needed a time out after that.
War of the Coprophages
A surplus of billions to go out to Darin Morgan, guys. This must be where The Mummy got the scarab thing from.
This episode is absolute fuckin’ comedic gold and I adore it. I might have to be bold and say I enjoyed it more than “Clyde Bruckmann’s Last Repose”, if only because that episode had a really sad, bittersweet denouement and this one is just pure jokes from start to finish. Our heroes literally end up covered in shite. Finally their physical state at the end of a job reflects the metaphorical state of all the stuff they have to wade through in trying to unearth governmental conspiracies. I love it.
A small Massachusetts town self-immolates over some killer cockroaches. Y’all already known what to expect from Darin Morgan, so no need to dwell on that any further. As ever in his episodes, our heroes get to act like mixed-up teenage Nancy Drews, taking time out of their busy ice cream-eating/dog-washing/teenage-crushing lives to solve a most irregular local issue. I’d be tempted to do all this in bullet points and let the dialogue tell the story but that might do it disservice.
Mulder arrives in Massachusetts to stare at the sky while his apartment block is being fumigated. I suppose its being ransacked at least once a month does tend to disturb the bugs, hai. He chose this spot cos there have been reports of unidentified hovering lights in the sky. Meanwhile, Scully’s at home, enjoying some downtime in comfies and socks. They chat on the phone and she notes that alien intelligence is as astronomically improbable as it is anti-Darwinian. Mulder asks what she’s wearing. Oh, you two.
The local sheriff rolls up and asks him if he’s buying drugs. Mulder giggles and produces his badge. When he says what drew him up there, the sheriff confirms they received a number of calls about lights in the sky. He’s interrupted by his radio crackling, proclaiming the onset of “another roach attack.” His interest piqued, Mulder follows.
Scully’s eating at home when Mulder calls. He announces that cockroaches are “mortally attacking people.” Adorably, Dana replies, “I’m not gonna ask you if you said what I think you just said cos I know it’s what you said.” I could listen to these two rabble on like this for weeks, I swear to goth. Mulder’s looking over the body of a pest exterminator, who was attacked by his quarry in the opening scene. The killing was witnessed by a Dr Eckerle, an alternative fuel researcher and the third person to witness a roach attack that day. Mulder, sober as a churchman, says all of the witnesses are reliable scientists and not “yahoos”. Scully listens patiently and suggests that the exterminator died of an allergic reaction. It’s not uncommon when it comes to cockroaches. Mulder, for once in his life, accepts this rational explanation and hangs up.
Later, a group of youths getting high off a homemade drug set up (they’re burning dung and inhaling the methane, which is an absolutely sound way of getting fried) are interrupted by a cockroach attack. Roaches bury under one of the youths’ skin, in what must surely have inspired several scenes in the greatest cinematic masterpiece of all time.
Mulder arrives to inspect the body the next day. He calls Scully immediately. She’s washing a dog. Dana has a dog? I’m amused. Mulder declares that this was no allergic reaction. The victim is covered in wounds from where he attempted to extract the bugs using a razor blade. In the coure of doing so, he hit an artery and actually ended up killing himself. But the bugs started it! And his druggie buddies can confirm this. Scully listens patiently and suggests that the dead teen suffered a not-uncommon delusion whereby a drug user thinks they’re covered in bugs. Mulder, for the second time in his life, accepts this rational explanation—albeit slightly begrudgingly—and hangs up.
But wait! There’s a roach hiding under a table nearby. He grabs it cautiously.
The creature disintegrates in his hand, turning to some kind of metallic powder. Everyone’s puzzled. A doctor looks Mulder over and asks what the hell’s going on. He wants to know if the town’s in danger and if he should evacuate his family. Mulder says he can’t advise him on those points. The sheriff comes in and the doc excuses himself, saying that after speaking to Mulder he feels slightly constipated.
Roaches attack the doc on the toilet and he shuffles off this mortal coil. How undignified. The sheriff thinks governmental experiments are to blame. Killer bees were a genetic experiment gone awry, after all, so who’s to say they haven’t created a new breed of killer cockroach? They’re summoned to the bathroom to inspect the doc’s body and Mulder spots a live roach. He tries to capture it but it escapes down the sink. Tricky hobbitses.
Immediately, he calls Scully. She asks who’s dead now. Mulder really thinks she should come up and explains what’s happened. Scully listens patiently and suggests that the doc died from a brain aneurysm. Straining too forcefully on the toilet is a common cause of aneurysms. That’s horrific. Mulder’s still concerned about the roach connection but, for the third time in his life, accepts this rational explanation and hangs up.
Later, Scully calls him. She’s doing some research over ice cream. It seems that there is an Asian form of cockroach which could potentially be more aggressive than the domestic American breed, and it’s possible they might attack people. Mulder listens suspiciously.
He’s preparing to break into a house on the outskirts of town. The sheriff’s put the idea of government experiments gone awry into his endlessly suggestible head and he’s decided to check that shit out. He moves through the house, rhyming off features like he’s a realtor. The walls are rippling. The wallpaper tears and a swarm of cockroaches spews out. He screams, dropping his torch. Scully implores him to get out of the house. Mulder sees something in the dark and hangs up abruptly, leaving Scully yelling down a dead phone line. It’s so tense.
The thing in the dark is a fellow federal agent named Bambi Berenbaum (her parents were naturalists). She works for the Department of Agriculture. Mulder asks what a woman like her is doing in a place like this. Tensions simmer. Back in DC, Dana studies her phone anxiously.
Bambi has a theory that UFOs are insect swarms. Mulder listens, fascinated, professing his admiration for her scientific detachment. Scully calls back and is hung up on immediately. I think we have a live one here, folks. Mulder later wakes up in bed and just as I was wondering if he got some action from a human woman for once, he calls Scully and reveals himself to be entirely on his lonesome. (Which is kind of a shame, cos he’s looking pretty fierce right now.) Scully, who’s been sleeping with the phone next to her bed, answers straight away. Mulder relates a story from when he was a child, climbing a tree when a praying mantis frightened him. Its head resembled an alien. The mysteries of the natural world were revealed to him and he was repulsed. Truly, Fox Mulder had the most traumatic childhood of all time. The things he’s seen. The revelations he’s had. What can it all mean.
There’s a scream from down the hall. Another man has died after a roach attack. The roaches keep disappearing after every attack, much to the frustration of Mulder and other witnesses. Scully is packing to come and join him when Mulder calls to check in. He’s going with the rational explanation again and suspects the latest victim may have had a heart attack when he saw a bug. The town’s creeped out and everyone’s on edge. Scully listens patiently but decides she’s coming up anyway.
Mulder says “whatever” and hangs up. He takes a roach specimen recovered from the latest, er, crime scene to Bambi’s lab. After pointing out that many roach species can be differentiated on the basis of their genitalia (the more you know), she discovers this one is actually mechanical. She sends him to the Massachusetts Institute of Robotics, where he makes a friend.
A scientist named Doctor Ivanov is building robots that look like insects. He has a contract with NASA to build robots which can be sent through space. He also believes in extra-terrestrials and opines that the first interplanetary explorers will be mechanical in nature. However, he can’t identify the mechanical roach specimen that Mulder’s brought. They break out the bourbon, while across town Scully arrives to a place in bedlam.
People are looting shops and arguing over bug shampoo (the same shampoo, incidentally, that Scully was washing the dog in). A bystander tells her roaches are devouring people whole. One man believes they’re spreading Ebola and that everyone’s going to bleed out from their nipples. Scully pulls her badge and attempts to reassure everyone they’ll be grand. Then someone knocks over a pile of sweets. They splay across the ground like tiny insects, causing one man to scream “ROACHES!” and everyone to leg it.
Scully examines her road map and calls Mulder. He’s staring at a bug he found on the ground.
She declares that the entire town—conservative estimate—is insane. However, she has a lead. Dr Eckerle is researching ways of extracting methane from manure in order to create fuel. He has a license to bring animal dung samples into the country. It’s possible the roaches are dung eaters and were imported accidentally. Mulder listens patiently, then makes an observation of his own.
Mulder: “Scully, if an alien civilisation were technologically advanced enough to build and send artificially intelligent robotic probes to the farthest reaches of space, might they not have also been able to perfect the extraction of methane fuel from manure, an abundant and replenishing energy source on a planet filled with dung-producing creatures?”
Scully: “Mulder, I think you’ve been in this town too long.”
Time to check out Dr Eckerle’s dung research facility. Mulder rolls up with Bambi, instructing her to wait in the car until he makes sure it’s safe. She urges him to be careful, saying “we don’t know what they’re capable of!” (The roaches, that is.) Eckerle’s not in good shape. He thinks the roaches are pursuing him and has a gun. Mulder tries to convince him he’s not in danger, warning him not to fire a gun in a plant full of methane.
Outside, Scully rolls up. She sees a woman in Mulder’s car and twigs it’s Bambi. Bambi says “Fox” (FOX.) told her to wait outside, but asks if Scully needs her help. Dana, cool and collected as Hillary Clinton at a Benghazi hearing, cocks her gun and says “No. This is no place for an entomologist.” I love her. I love her. Way to assert dominance.
Inside, Mulder’s losing his battle of words. Eckerle decides he’s literally a cockroach and starts shooting. Mulder legs it, grabbing Scully on the way out. They escape just as the place explodes, drowning them all in dung.
If I didn’t take this opportunity for a very specific quote, you’d hate me almost as much as I’d hate myself.
The next day, the sheriff reports on a night of carnage. 18 car accidents, 13 assaults, a bunch of looted stores, but hey! No reports of killer roaches. The panic is passing. Ivanov arrives and Bambi immediately starts making moony-eyes. They bond immediately over their love of bugs and science and robotics and disappear into the mist. Mulder, surely feeling slightly cheated, watches them go. Scully reflects that “smart is sexy.” Mulder tells her she smells bad.
In closing, Mulder writes a long spiel about technology and aliens and evolutionary advances being made possible by things we create ourselves. He’s interrupted by a bug of indeterminate nature rambling across his plate of cake and onto the desk. He slams an FBI file down and squashes it. Slow curtain; fin.
I’m so happy.
Scully was reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s during her down-time, just so we all know. Also, I love that these two have so little in the way of social lives outside of their work that when their phone rings they immediately know it’s the other one without having to check. It’s like in that episode of Friends where someone knocks on the apartment door but all six of them are in the room so they’ve no idea who it could be. In the world of The X-Files, there can be only 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 Tumblr or catch her frequent TV liveblogs on Twitter.
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