X-Philes friends! I’m back, I’m excited, I’m full of rage and bursting with thoughts. This season was a mixed bag after the brilliance of season 6, but what was good was excellent and there’s a huge amount to unpack. As with last month’s recap, I’ve divided this into mytharc and monsters with two separate sections for what I’m calling Mulder Family Values and a parting note on the great “Hollywood AD.” Let’s go!
Until I watched “Requiem,” I would have politely excused myself from even recapping the mytharc this season because it was, to be frank, bollocks. “The Sixth Extinction” Parts I and II were dire and “En Ami” was a feature-length CSM fanfic which gave us no useful information about anything at all. Not until “Requiem” did the mytharc finally start to resemble something decent, so let’s quickly review what happened in the above episodes, then go a little more in-depth on the season finale.
If you’ll recall, Mulder was in seriously bad shape at the end of season 6. Scully had found that ship on the beach in the Ivory Coast and Mulder was locked up in a psychiatric facility with serious mental health issues. When season 7 begins, Scully’s still in Africa, looking for anything which might help him. In DC, Skinner goes to Kritschgau for help with Mulder’s illness. Kritschgau (whose name is a bitch to type) tells him Mulder has a condition which also affected test subjects in a CIA experiment from years ago. The subjects’ brains were working at an unsustainable rate and their bodies began to break down. Kritschgau gives Mulder an injection which helps alleviate the issue, but Diana Fowley’s been sniffing around and soon Skinner’s access to Mulder is blocked.
In “The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati,” the CSM decides he’s Mulder’s father. This is a notion so preposterous I won’t indulge it for a moment. He also declares that Mulder is biologically alien, apparently the result of a virus he caught two years earlier. He kidnaps Mulder and subjects him to more weird experiments, causing intensely awful hallucinations in which Diana and Mulder are married (with children) and an actual alien war breaks out. I have genuinely not one clue what the eff this was supposed to mean, and I’m choosing not to dwell on any more of it than I have to.
With some help from beloved Albert Hosteen, who disappears almost as quickly as he arrives, Scully eventually finds her partner. Skinner is no help because he’s being blackmailed. Walter, if you want an evening off to golf, you can just say it. I don’t think anyone would hold it against you at this point. There’s a beautiful scene near the end of the episode in which Mulder, now safely back at home, tells Scully she’s his emotional rock and [best] [only?] friend and always tells him the truth, and this moment would have been much more affecting moment had the episode not been abysmal in every way.
Diana is apparently murdered offscreen at some point.
And…that’s that. It makes no sense. It was terrible. I refuse to write any more about it. Nor will I recap “En Ami” because I hated it, and we don’t actually need to note anything that happened in it in the long run.
Fast forward to “Requiem,” which single-handedly salvaged this season’s mytharc by being a Colossus of Feels. Seriously, the writers must have had some good strong coffee and possibly a shipper’s epiphany because they managed to make this a thousand times more emosh than any mytharc episode the show has done before. It’s an extravaganza and it tore up my Friday night.
In it, our heroes are summoned back to Oregon and the scene of the very first abductions they investigated, way back in the pilot. They’ve been dealing with an auditor in DC who’s querying their travel and work expenses. This auditor guy suffers from a fatal deficiency of craic and Mulder may or may not punch him in the face at some point, so Scully’s only too happy to “go waste some money” when they get a call from Billy Miles. (Side note: Scully gets progressively more laid back and light-hearted as this season progresses, and it is lovely to see.) Some kind of craft has supposedly crashed in the woods and a deputy’s gone missing. The X Mulder drew in the middle of the road all those years ago is still visible when they arrive. [sings “The Way We Were”]
Elsewhere, the CSM (who’s dying, as we learned in “En Ami”) gets Marita to spring Alex from a Tunisian jail. Let’s take a moment to laugh hysterically at that, because it immediately made me think of Prison Break and that season where Michael and friends inexplicably end up in a jail in Panama. Alex, babe, why do these things keep happening to you? Why have you not learned how to stay off the grid? How do you maintain such eyelash integrity even when you’re marooned in a hellhole? The CSM wants him to go to Oregon to investigate the alleged crash, intimating that the key to all the secrets of the universe are up for grabs. Alex has about as much time for this as we do but he agrees to head over. Marita goes with him, and I’m assuming there’s some angry hooking up along the way.
In Oregon, more people vanish from the crash site. The alien bounty hunter is afoot and poisoning people with his toxic blood. I was happy to see my boo at first but then I remembered Josh Exley and I’m sorry, Mr. Bounty Hunter Dude, but our romance is now as dead as that beautiful creature. Our heroes learn that the missing deputy is married to another abductee they met years ago, Theresa Nemmen. She too vanishes from her house shortly after speaking with them. Scully starts to feel ill. She comes to Mulder’s room one night, shaking and suffering from chills. He tucks her up in bed and wraps her up in his arms to keep her warm, and if you heard an anguished sob all across the Northern Hemisphere just around midnight last Friday, that’s how I reacted. Mulder gently suggests that she recuse herself from the case and go back to DC. He mentions everything she’s lost, including the ability to have children, and says she should go home and focus on building a life. Mulder was paying attention when Scully held Theresa’s baby earlier that day, see. He just needs to get the memo that he’s part of that life for Scully. This moment was so gentle and tender that it almost hurt to watch. Why will these two not just admit their feelings and go live happily ever after? I can’t take it. [bursts into tears]
Billy himself disappears shortly afterwards and our heroes return to DC. Skinner brings Alex and Marita to meet them, triggering and narrowly averting fisticuffs. The Lone Gunmen also show up, confirming an alien crash in the woods of Oregon. In an unprecedented scene, Mulder, Scully, Skinner, the Lone Gunmen, Alex and Marita all stand around a table essentially planning a heist in what would make for a brilliant paranormal spin-off of Ocean’s 11. (Walter’s 11, fnar fnar.) Mulder and Scully speak alone and he tells her not to come. The missing people in Oregon were all previous abductees and he’s worried she might be taken too. She agrees to stay behind while Mulder and Skinner go back and head for the woods.
They set up some lasers around the crash site and start scoping the place out. Mulder finds some kind of rift in the air and is quickly sucked into a circle of light, where he sees the other abductees. Back in DC, Scully realises at the last minute that the aliens are coming for Mulder. All the other abductees had previously shown signs of the same brain affliction Mulder had earlier in the season. She collapses and is taken to the hospital. An alien craft appears and sucks Mulder and company up, while a helpless Skinner watches with an impressive absence of awe. Only he could be so cool and collected after seeing a spacecraft.
Alex and Marita visit the CSM and tip his wheelchair down the chairs. It probably would have been easier to just shoot the guy, but I doubt anyone cares at this rate. After returning from Oregon, Walter comes to visit Scully in the hospital. She already knows Mulder’s gone, but Walter gets emotional and apologises for not being able to protect him. These feels are unacceptable to begin with, but then Scully drops a bombshell: she’s pregnant! She has no idea how or why or what’s going on but a Scully cub is en route. It’s a bittersweet moment and my heart just about burst for her. Skinner promises to keep it secret, and the curtain falls on season 7.
So that was that! Talk about a cliffhanger. I’ve done some Googling and learned that this trip down memory lane was largely inspired by the possibility of the show ending after this season. Lest they not get more episodes, the writers decided to pivot back to where it all began, bringing in the old abductees and origins of the mytharc. It worked like a treat, I must say. Given they’d so clearly run dry on ideas elsewhere, it makes sense to go back to basics and tie some of the current goings-on in with story ideas from the beginning. It’s a great reminder of how fresh and vivid the whole conspiracy angle felt before the waters were irrevocably muddied. It’s also kind of great to see Mulder scooped up for once, after years of stumbling onto amazing things just as they vanish into the sunset. Hey, he can go look for Samantha now! Save us from that bullshit storyline, dude.
I’m SO thrilled about Dana’s pregnancy! After everything she’s been through, she deserves a little piece of happiness and this is a hugely important experience for her. I’m just miffed the dad apparently won’t be around for a while to enjoy it. I mean, obviously Mulder’s the father. I refuse to entertain any other options. I know they haven’t been shown to have gotten together this season, but there’s been enough looks and closeness for it to be believable. Hell, even if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t put it past aliens or even seedy government types to have finally lost all patience and made the ship canon through some scientific jiggery-pokery themselves. If Mulder is really “biologically alien” as the CSM suggested at the start of this season, that could totally transcend Dana’s apparent infertility. It’s all falling into place.
This, further, feels like a fitting end to the season because the it was awash in shipper moments. There was an actual kiss in “Millennium” and several instances of them falling asleep in each other’s company, not to mention endless amounts of doe-eyed gazing (“all things” is particularly egregious in this regard, and it had me briefly convinced they’d even done the deed). It honestly feels like a romance in all but name at this point, and the real emotional heft of this episode came from seeing the dynamic between them. Mulder is so thoughtful and caring towards her, and Scully is completely enraptured with him. In “Sixth Extinction,” she spends her time between experiments recording love letters to his “beautiful mind” and wishing he was there to help her figure out the whole puzzle. In “En Ami,” she talks about how she’s “always trusted” him, while he spends the whole episode looking for her frantically. These two could kill you, I swear to goth. After seven seasons of the slow burn it’s just too much to watch them be so madly in love and never actually do anything about it. All this time and all they’ve learned and the one constant has been the warm, enduring, utterly symbiotic love affair they share.
[dabs eyes with tissues]
Monsters of the Week
This season, much like season 6, featured some truly stellar individual episodes. However, many this season went one step further. There was a fascinating confluence of themes as the season progressed, with a notable series of episodes in its latter half focusing on gender roles. For this reason, I’m going to bunch a few episodes together and look at how the theme is represented in each.
Firstly, a quick recap of events.
“First Person Shooter”: Our heroes investigate a series of deaths linked to a popular virtual-reality video game. Players are somehow being bumped off by a character named Maitreya. Things get complicated when Mulder decides to take the game for a test run and ends up in some kind of indecipherable alternate reality purgatory, prompting Scully to go in and rescue him (after reading everyone the riot act, gloriously). The twist is that Maitreya, despite her sexualised appearance (her figure is based on a stripper’s body scan), was actually created by the lone female programmer, Phoebe, who wanted to get back at her sexist colleagues. Phoebe is played by Constance Zimmer and appeared on Autostraddle’s excellent list of characters from TXF who should be bi/lesbians and I’m all about that.
“Chimera”: This was one of my favourites. Mulder and Scully are on stakeout, looking for a female serial killer, when he’s called to Vermont to investigate some unusual murders in a picturesque white picket fence town. The killer appears to be some kind of demon which appears in reflective surfaces before attacking its victims. It uses ravens as a familiar. The victims are all women, all mothers, and each turns out to have been having an affair with a local police officer named Phil Adderly. The killer is the officer’s wife Ellen, a model of domestic perfection who unwittingly summons the demon after discovering her husband’s infidelity.
“all things”: Queen Gillian’s episode, which a kindly Twitter follower pointed out to me is also the first episode directed by a woman. At the end of the seventh season!! Disgraceful. In this, Mulder buzzes off to England to look at crop circles, while Scully stumbles across her mentor and former lover Daniel Waterston in the hospital. They had an affair several years back which led to his getting divorced and becoming estranged from his daughter. Scully is forced, once again, to confront her past and choices and the way her life has turned out. There’s a lot of weighty symbolism in this one about fate, destiny, introspection, and being true to oneself. The pacing is dramatically slower (literally, lots of slow-mo and Moby songs) and it ultimately stands as a fascinating, thought-provoking exploration of what it is to be a woman.
“Orison”: The return of the definitive creep, Donny Pfaster from Season 2’s “Irresistible”. I won’t dwell on this other than to point out that Scully shoots him at the end, after he breaks into her house and attacks her. She worries that something malevolent may have compelled her to do it. It is not very pleasant at all.
There are times I worry that certain underlying themes in TXF go right over my head, and then there are times they hit you bang slap in the face. Each of these episodes is so heavily weighted on female experiences that I could have written an entire essay on them alone and submitted it even before finishing the season. What strikes me is the multiplicity of experiences represented here: Phoebe’s work in a male-dominated industry (similar to Scully herself); Ellen’s attempts to maintain an illusion of domestic bliss; and Scully’s intensive internal monologue each relate to roles women are expected to perform in various different aspects of their lives, while also illuminating how difficult and indeed damning it can be to do so.
Phoebe’s confession in “First Person Shooter” erupts midway through a conversation with Scully about how harrowing her industry is. Dana knows a thing or two about male-dominated workplaces and listens sympathetically. Phoebe’s experiences are arguably more uncomfortable, however, as the game she’s been working on panders directly to male fantasies. Not just about women, but violence. The players enter an augmented reality where they can kill and destroy with reckless abandon and never have to face the consequences of such actions. They participate in violent exchanges, little aware of how unlikely they are (as white and presumably straight, cis men) to be affected by them in real life. Scully describes the game as reducing players to “moony adolescents.” She argues that aggressive games contribute to a society and culture of violence in the real world. I’m hesitant to draw a direct link between violent games and real-world problems, but there is an argument to be made for the way they can desensitise people while amplifying a sense of reckless entitlement.
This, however, is what makes the character of Maitreya so fascinating, and subversive. She’s created as a lure to male players, drawing them in with a combination of overt sexuality and danger. But she turns this on its head by attacking them on their own turf; the artificial safe space they’ve set up for their fantasies is forcibly taken from them, in a direct inversion of the way women’s safety is encumbered every day. Hell, the stripper whose body forms the basis for Maitreya is arrested at one point and ends up parked in a police station while literally every single male police officer takes turns questioning her. And giggling about it afterwards, grotesquely. That scene made me incredibly uncomfortable, serving as it does to highlight the lecherousness which surrounds Phoebe and Scully in their professions every day.
Maitreya reclaims the agency coveted by her creator and wields a power Phoebe cannot have. It’s telling that the only way Maitreya can be destroyed is to destroy the entire game, in a move somewhat reflective of the real-world tendency to shame women and deny their experiences when they speak out about abuse. As if all that isn’t enough, the episode makes frequent references to the game’s financiers on Wall Street, a precursor to today’s Silicon Valley, which we all know is not exactly a pantheon of progressive gender values.
“Chimera” explores gender roles from the perspective of a suburban housewife. This episode takes a damning look at the performative aspect of womanhood and the domestic duties typically expected of it. It’s not exactly a novel concept to suggest that white picket fences hide dark secrets, but this episode depicts them in a very specific way. It captures all of the pressures felt by Ellen Adderly and exposes the hollowness at their core. Ellen is the stereotypical virtuous wife: she makes lavish meals for her husband and insists on taking care of Mulder when he arrives in town. She hands out flyers when her best friend, the first victim, disappears. She dotes on her baby daughter. It’s an image of completely untenable perfection, and one which is gradually shattered as the truth comes out. Phil has had affairs with her best friend and another woman. Their marriage was already in difficulty, but she had refused to get a divorce and then fell pregnant. Tellingly, Phil describes the pregnancy as “trapping him.” Her whole life revolves around an image of harmonious values which don’t exist, so much so that the demon she summons shatters mirrors and windows in a reflection of her inability to accept the truth.
The simplistic image demanded of her leaves no room for Ellen’s internal life or struggles, and strips her of the agency to acknowledge what she truly feels. It’s notable that a skeleton key is found at each crime scene, a symbolic nod to her deep desire to expose the truths behind the locked doors of the community. At the beginning of this episode, Mulder and Scully are looking for a female serial killer who may be moonlighting as a stripper. The “killer” turns out to be a guy dressed up as a woman, who runs a halfway house seeking to “save” prostitutes from their sinful ways. Scully makes several references to the “seamy underbelly” of the lives they observe in a comment which could equally apply to Ellen’s sleepy town. The demon Ellen summons has a familiar, a raven, which Mulder notes is a carrion bird attracted to death and decay. This episode is something of a spiritual twin to last season’s “Arcadia” in its look at the hollow values espoused by small-town suburbia, but this is a much more scathing depiction. By showing the enormous pressures felt by one woman and her eventual undoing because of it, it highlights the gendered aspect of those values, and the way they can taint and destroy the very lives they’re supposed to protect.
This is where the question of fate and destiny comes in, and it’s fascinating to see Dana turn to this ideology for comfort at this stage of her life. This episode comes not long after “Orison,” in which she openly wonders if something other than God was at work within her for the first time. When she meets and speaks with Colleen, a contact of Mulder’s, she listens as Colleen describes Eastern mythologies and the idea that consciousness exists beyond time and space. Colleen further notes that she herself was living a sham life not so long ago, working 80 hours in a job she didn’t like and closeted. This seems to stir something in Scully, as she subsequently has some kind of vision in a temple which prompts her to bring Colleen and an alternative healer to Daniel’s bedside. When he wakes from a coma, she tells him he must mend his relationship with his daughter before he can move on.
I include this episode as part of the theme of gender roles because the burdens Scully grapples with here are reflective of a great many other women’s. Women, who are so conditioned to justify and rationalise their choices, to live their lives at the service of others and often to the detriment of their own wants and needs. Scully may have gained a lot from her career at the FBI, but she’s also lost a great deal too. She believes she cannot have children, her very understanding of the world has been questioned, and she’s found herself increasingly attached to Mulder. This is something galling in and of itself for someone whose independence is so important to her. Mulder and Scully are both distinctly lonely characters to my mind, but with him there’s always a sense that he inadvertently repels people, whereas for Scully it’s very much a choice. She is a scientist, after all, and clinical evaluation requires an absence of feelings.
I sense that the key elements of Scully’s journey going forward will be reconciling her past with her present, accepting and absolving herself of blame, and ultimately allowing her strong sense of self and self-sufficiency to mingle with her deep reliance on another person. Colleen’s words seem to imply that Scully should accept the truth of what is, and trust that in some way, it is meant to be. I love the sensitive, distinctly feminine way Scully’s feelings are treated here; after years of dudes mansplaining them to her (most recently in “En Ami”), here we see her find answers in her own way and on her own terms. The catalyst for which, notably, comes from a conversation with another woman (and a queer woman at that).