The X-Files Newbie Recap: “The Postmodern Prometheus”, “Christmas Carol”, & “Emily”
"Well, I am a scientist, for one."
Easter is about death and resurrection so I guess a slew of episodes about reanimated creatures and Scully feels are somehow fitting? “Christmas Carol” and “Emily” are like a sledgehammer to the gut.
The Postmodern Prometheus
This was a really fun and chirpy horror tale, albeit one with some seriously horrifying undertones. The whole thing is shot in black and white in an homage to the 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein and Cher features prominently. Mulder has become a folk hero due to his being namedropped on Jerry Springer and an actual mad scientist has been cooking up creatures in what could pass for a Gothic castle. Only for the heavy glossing over of, um, rape this episode might actually be perfect.
Mulder is summoned (by handwritten letter) by a woman named Shaineh Berkowitz, who claims to have fallen pregnant after being attacked in her house. What look like fumigation sheets were rolled over the windows and a substance heated in a frying pan to emit an anaesthetising gas. Shaineh doesn’t know who attacked her although she does recall some kind of monster creature. Her son, Izzy, suggests it was a mythical local monster dubbed the Great Mutato. He’s drawn a comic book based on the legend. Izzy says that they can summon the creature using peanut butter sandwiches, so our heroes join a would-be stakeout in the woods outside of town.
Scully reckons the whole thing is a figment of the townspeople’s imaginations. She reckons they’re all obsessed with reality TV and just looking for their moment in the sun. What an eerily prescient observation, Dana. Her skepticism is rudely interrupted when the group see a figure approaching in the distance, which Izzy claims is Mutato. They chase after him but only find a old man with a pig on a leash (as one does), who claims there is no monster.
The man sends them to see his son, a scientist named Pollidori. He’s arrogant and obnoxious and enunciates in the manner of an old Hammer actor, which is as deliberate as it is glorious. He claims he’s found a way to mutate fruit flies into new creations and Mulder wonders if he could do this to humans. Pollidori says it’s theoretically possible. Outside, Scully refutes the notion such experiments could take hold in humans. She’s still skeptical about everything and, given Shaineh apparently had a tubal ligation two years earlier, says she intends to verify the alleged pregnancy.
Pollidori argues with his wife before departing for a conference. Mrs Pollidori is desperate to have children; he, calling them “mewling little monsters”, is not. He’d rather have a Nobel prize, which is understandable even if he is an arsehole. He leaves his wife sobbing on the bed and soon another attack occurs—sacks drop over the windows, Cher strikes up on the speakers and gas seeps in. Naturally, the Pollidoris live in a big old fancy mansion straight out of Lovecraft. The Great Mutato appears, dancing enthusiastically to the music as he makes his way upstairs.
Our heroes soon discover they’ve been sold out to the papers. A headline in the local edition reads “FBI HUNTS MONSTER” and, in what may as well be the tagline to Mulder’s life, “Agent believes tales to be true”. They go to see Shaineh and demand to know what happened. Izzy admits to recording his mother’s conversation with them and sending it to a reporter. The tape also contains a recording of a Cher song—the one playing when Shaineh was attacked—and there’s a voice in the background, which Izzy claims is Mutato. Mulder sends it back to FBI HQ to be analysed.
Scully’s tests confirm that Shaineh is pregnant, despite her tubal ligation. They discuss the facts while driving out of town. Mulder notes that Shaineh saw a white cloud before she passed out and no one noticed when she didn’t appear for three days. En route, they pass a house draped in fumigation gear. Putting two and two together, they stop and barge in. It’s the Pollidoris’ house and they find Mrs Pollidori unconscious on the bed. Unfortunately, the house is still filled with gas and they both pass out. Should have seen that coming, lads.
They come around later, feeling and looking distinctly worse for wear. Looking around the house, they find a substance in the frying pan and decide to get it tested. Elsewhere, Pollidori’s father brings a tray of food to a figure in his barn. It appears to be the Great Mutato. When he returns to his house, Pollidori Junior comes in and confronts him. There’s a struggle and the father is killed. Mutato finds the body later and carries it out to the barn to bury it.
The substance in the frying pan turns out to be an anaesthetic used on farm animals. Farmers have to register with the FDA to obtain it and the only local name on the list is Pollidori Senior. Our heroes go to look around the barn and find traces of the anaesthetic. A reporter, who’s been following them around since they arrived, appears and says Pollidori Senior was murdered. She has photos from the house showing him with Mutato. An angry mob appears outside. After a commotion at the town hall, they’ve gathered torches and decided to confront the “murderer”. Pollidori leads the charge.
Mulder and Scully retreat to the house as the mob tears up the barn. In the basement, they find an entire shrine to Cher and the Great Mutato hiding in the corner. The barn catches on fire and the mob turns to the house. Mulder and Scully step between the leering masses and Mutato, but he comes out and speaks. He says he’s never harmed anyone—which is only partially true, but whatever—and that he was the product of Pollidori Junior’s secret experiments. Pollidori’s father rescued him and loved him. As the years went by, he grew lonely and sought a mate, but they were never able to bring another creature to life. He says what he did was wrong but that being in the women’s homes allowed him a glimpse of another life. The mob decides he isn’t a monster after all, and Pollidori is carted off and arrested instead.
The episode ends with Mulder, Scully, and a whole convoy of cars taking Mutato to see a Cher concert. Shaineh and Mrs Pollidori appear on Jerry Springer with their babies, living the proverbial dream. I’m pretty sure this whole part (if not the whole episode) is a dream sequence sketched by Izzy for his comic book but our heroes do a nice little slow dance together so I’ll shut up and sigh.
So! This was fun. Really unique and enjoyable, aside from the bit with the sexual assault. I mean, it may be a completely imaginary tale from Izzy’s comic books but this particular plot point still seems to have been glossed over, and it detracts from what’s otherwise a kooky little tale with lots of memorable moments. Some of those moments, in no particular order:
- On Jerry Springer, they said Mulder was an expert in alien abductions. Mulder tells Shaineh that he doesn’t know if he believes in that anymore.
- When Pollidori says he doesn’t expect our heroes to understand his experiments, Scully crosses her arms and defiantly declares “I am a scientist, for one.”
- Pollidori’s conference is at the University of Ingolstadt.
- “Good night, Dr. Frankenstein” quoth Mulder when Pollidori leaves them.
- “Mulder, I’m alarmed that you would reduce this man to a literary stereotype, a mad scientist”
- I wanted to embed Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” here but my laptop is such a piece of shit it all but explodes when you try to open YouTube
- “The other victims, they had their frying pans…violated.”
- The mob initially turn on Izzy for amplifying the monster myth with his comic books. Shaineh intervenes, shouting “how would you like your face to intercept my fist, coconut head” and “that’s my son you’re talking about”. Of course she later demands that the Great Mutato show the world his “horrid lumpy face” when they’re in the barn so her sense of social justice is, er, limited.
- “It’s alive!”
- The episode ends with Mulder and Scully melting into comic book form, which I’m taking as confirmation that the ending at least was all made up by Izzy. In fairness, it’s hard to see any truth in an episode where Mulder asserts he might not believe in aliens anymore.
In addition to these, the episode had some genuinely poignant moments. Pollidori Senior flips through a scrapbook of him and Mutato. Mutato watches films depicting people like him finding love, and he sobs desperately over Pollidori’s body when he finds it. Aside from the obvious Frankenstein references, the episode evokes The Elephant Man in the anguished attempts to humanise a figure perceived as a monster. It might all be imaginary, but it’s not without some emotional gutpunches.
And emotional gutpunches are a theme this week, so batten down the hatches. What *starts* as a straightforward, if downbeat, episode about a Scully family Christmas pans out into this huge mytharc conspiracy with a twist I really did not see coming. Talk about sneaking up on you, lads. After “Redux” I and II failed to impress, I was not expecting a mytharc two-parter to get so real.
While visiting her brother Bill and his wife for Christmas, Scully gets drawn into a suicide investigation which becomes a murder investigation and eventually discovers her DNA was used to create a hybrid baby after her abduction. If your head’s spinning, imagine how she feels. She’s not feeling particularly festive to begin with, but things kick off properly when she gets a phone call from someone who sounds a lot like Missy. The voice urges her to help someone. Scully asks FBI HQ to trace it and finds herself at the home of Marshall Sim, whose wife Roberta has just been found dead in an apparent suicide. Scully catches sight of the Sims’ daughter, Emily, and is unnerved to find she looks eerily like Missy as a child.
When she gets home, her mum asks her what’s wrong. Bill and his wife are expecting a baby but Scully seems somewhat standoffish in conversation about the little one. Dana reveals to her mother that, as a result of her abduction and illness, she can’t have children. I don’t remember that being explicitly mentioned before and it’s horribly sad. She says she never realised how much she wanted them until she found out she couldn’t have them, which casts all that maternal wistfulness way back in “Home” and other episodes in a newly tragic light.
That night, Scully gets another call from the mysterious voice. She goes to the Sim house in the middle of the night and finds Marshall in the middle of a ~meeting with two men. In the morning, she goes to see the investigating cop, Kresge, and asks to see the files on the case. A tox screen on Roberta Sim revealed large quantities of an anaesthetic drug in her system, which makes her suspicious. Scully looks up Emily’s birth records and discovers she was adopted by the Sims. Remembering Emily’s resemblance to Missy, she calls FBI HQ and asks them to send the case files on Missy’s murder to the San Diego office.
Scully convinces Kresge to order an autopsy on Roberta’s body. The examiner finds a needle puncture on her heel, suggesting the anaesthetic drugs were injected and the suicide might have been staged. Kresge, at Scully’s behest, opens a murder investigation. They trawl through the Sims’ house for evidence. A needle is found in the trash, which Marshall says is for Emily. The child needs daily injections due to a severe form of anaemia. Scully sends it to the lab for testing and notices the two men Marshall was “meeting” a few nights back watching from a car.
Later, she comes home to find a parcel addressed to her. It’s the results of tests she ordered on Emily and Missy’s DNA. Her mum comes in and she sits her down. Scully says she thinks Emily might be Missy’s daughter. The tests show a 60% DNA match, and she wants to do a more comprehensive test to be sure. Mrs Scully is aghast at the notion Missy would have had a baby and not told anyone. Scully points out that four years earlier, Missy took off on a trip along the west coast and didn’t check in with them for months. The timeline would fit with Emily’s birth date. Mrs Scully gently tries to point out that Dana might be obsessing over this because of her own infertility. Scully bristles, but resolves to keep investigating.
The next morning, Kresge arrives with news. Marshall Sim’s bank records show consistent deposits of large sums of money over the past few months. The cheques came from a pharmaceutical firm named Prangen and were made out to Roberta Sim. Scully joins him to investigate. At Prangen, they meet a doctor named Calderon. He tells them Emily is a subject in a clinical trial. The payments were a goodwill gesture to Roberta as she wanted Emily out of the trial. He also reveals that the anesthetic found in Roberta’s tox screening was actually prescribed to Marshall Sim, for migraines. Kresge and Scully go to arrest Marshall and Emily is taken into care by social workers. Scully places her in the van and, when Emily starts playing with her cross, puts it around the little girl’s neck.
During a party at the house, Bill confronts Scully about the investigation. Mrs Scully told him about Dana’s suspicions and her infertility. Bill, who’s making a habit of completely missing the point, says she’s obsessing over the case to fill a void within herself. Scully gets a call from Kresge and bails. Marshall confessed, apparently, but when they reach the jail Scully spots the two men who’ve been following him around driving off. Marshall is promptly found hanged in his cell.
In the midst of all this, Scully puts in an application to adopt Emily. A social worker comes to see her on Christmas Eve. She says she’ll be advising against Scully’s application, citing her lack of husband or long-term partner (hmm) and dangerous career. Scully says she’s questioned her priorities since her cancer diagnosis. In the most overdue concession of all time, she says she’s never allowed herself to get close to people due to her fear of death and loss but now she feels different. The social worker says they’ll review her application and make a recommendation to the judge.
The next morning, the Scully family gather to open presents. An FBI courier arrives with a package for Dana. The results of the extra DNA tests she requested have come in. It seems Missy is not Emily’s mother, but there were striking genetic similarities between the two. So much so that the lab ran more tests against another Scully in the system and lo and behold, it turns out Dana is Emily’s mother. The absolute fuck, lads. I really should have seen that reveal coming.
There’s more to discuss in this episode, but given it’s a two-parter let’s recap the next one before dissecting. All aboard!
Mulder, absent from the last episode bar a brief appearance in what might have been a Sandman outfit, catches up with Scully. He meets her at the special needs facility where Emily is staying. He and Frohike did some investigating and learned that Emily’s birth records were falsified. He’s worried someone is trying to protect Emily or at least their stake in her, and if Scully adopts her it might put her in jeopardy. Scully has asked him to be a character witness at the adoption hearing but he’s reluctant.
At a meeting with the judge, he reveals why. Mulder tells the judge that Scully was abducted, experimented on and that her ova (all of them) were extracted. Scully herself is hearing this for the first time and looks suitably horrified. Not to detract from the solemnity for the moment, but yey for continuity! If I recall correctly, Mulder made this discovery in “Memento Mori” when he took a vial with Scully’s name on from a reproductive clinic manned by clones. He never told her about this, however, given the whole cancer thing. The judge is hilarious and on top form. He asks if FBI stands for “Federal Bureau of Imagination” and says he has a hard time wrapping his head around this “Michael Crichton bit.” Mulder continues, speaking out in support of Scully. He says she’s known she can’t have children for some time, but now she’s found a child who is her own flesh and blood and nobody should stand in the way of her desire to adopt. Bless him. I can’t fault this. Wacky notions and reservations notwithstanding, it’s good to see him support something that’s so important to her.
Back at Bill’s house, Scully asks why Mulder didn’t tell her about this sooner. Mulder says he was protecting her. They still don’t know who’s behind all this or why children were being created. Another fuzzy phone call comes in. They manage to get a trace to the children’s centre where Emily is housed. They rush over to find Emily running a high fever. Mulder scoops her up and notices a green cyst on the back of her neck. This is the first clue as to what’s coming.
At the hospital, doctors decide to do a biopsy on the cyst. Mulder watches as a doctor leans in to take a sample. Realising at the last minute what the cyst is, he tries to stop her but it’s too late—the cyst cracks and spews out green liquid, injuring the doctor. It’s the green toxic stuff the hybrid clones dissolve into and holy shit if this episode doesn’t go from 0 to 100 real fast.
Mulder orders doctors to put the injured doctor in a cooling bath, like what Scully did when he was exposed to the bounty hunter’s blood in the Arctic submarine. Again, continuity! I’m so happy. You all know by now how attached I am to this bounty hunter storyline. The doctor treating Emily says Calderon is refusing to transfer her records. Scully stays with Emily while Mulder goes to rough him up. I mean that literally. When Calderon fobs him off with stuff about litigation and research investments, Mulder smacks him around and calls him a “condescending liar” and “medical rapist”. All fair.
Calderon scurries off in a frazzle shortly thereafter. Mulder follows. Calderon goes into a large house and meets the two guys who were following Marshall Sim in the last episode. They bump Calderon off and both shapeshift into him. Murder most foul! More bounty hunters! One leaves and goes to the hospital, where Scully’s still watching over Emily. Tests reveal that the cyst on her neck has created a tumour. It’s not cancerous but it is destroying cells in her nervous system. The Calderon clone enters Emily’s room and injects her with something. Scully sees him leave and tries to chase him, but when she catches him he’s apparently morphed into someone else.
Mulder, meanwhile, is following the other Calderon clone. This one’s come back to the Prangen labs. Scully calls and tells him what happened. Mulder says they may be trying to treat Emily. He follows the clone inside the labs and finds a care home full of elderly patients. A name on a door reads “A. Fugazzi”, the name of Emily’s birth mother on the falsified records. He calls Frohike and reads a list of patient names over the phone. Frohike, hacking through some databases, confirms that all the women in the home are on record as having given birth in 1994. Mulder also spots two prescriptions on all these women’s files—for oestrogen and progesterone. I think this is meant to imply that the elderly women were given enough hormones to enable them to bear children which seems…a touch implausible but if I single that out I’ll have to single out the entire show, so let’s go with it.
Scully, still at the hospital, meets Kresge. He posts two officers outside Emily’s room. She updates him on what’s happening (to the extent the poor guy can follow it) and sends him over to Mulder. Emily’s vitals are improving but the tumour is spreading.
Mulder continues snooping about the home. He finds a test paper with Scully’s name on it, and then a jar containing a (moving) foetus in green liquid. He takes a few vials of green liquid and attempts to leave. The Calderon clone is out in the hall. Kresge appears and pulls a gun on the clone. Mulder warns him to leave and not to shoot, which Kresge ignores. He’s incapacitated when the clone’s toxic blood seeps from bullet wounds. Mulder pegs it outside and calls it in. However, the clone shapeshifts into Kresge and gives him the slip.
At the hospital, Emily falls into a coma. Mulder comes to join Scully. She says whoever brought Emily into the world never intended to love her but she has a chance to change that. Mulder offers to stay with her but Scully asks to be alone. She goes into Emily’s room and climbs into bed beside her. We then cut to a shot of a stained glass window (the Blessed Virgin and child, no less), and find ourselves at what I assume is Emily’s funeral. This is too much. The mourners gradually file out. Mrs Scully is there, as is Bill, his wife and their newborn boy—Matthew. Scully’s left alone when Mulder comes in with flowers. He tells her she at least found Emily and had a chance to love her before she died. Kresge is doing ok, apparently, but the care home has been cleaned out.
Scully goes to lift open Emily’s coffin. It seems like there’s nothing in there but her cross, unless I’m very much mistaken. Between this and the ominous looming shot of a cross over the coffin (my inner lapsed Catholic feels like this should be a crucifix, not a cross), I sense some foreshadowing. Will Scully’s faith ever be rewarded? Only time will tell, I guess.
So, approximately 4 billion things to process here. In a vain effort to prevent myself writing an essay, I’ll do bullet points:
- First of all, the big reveal: Scully’s infertility. I don’t remember this being mentioned before but it makes everything about her abduction doubly horrifying. We live in a real world which is all too eager to restrict women’s reproductive autonomy and seeing that represented here, even in a fantastical manner, underlines the ruthlessness of the conspirators in a way that feels intimately real.
- This development resonates even more for the deft way the writers combine established plot threads. Mulder discovered the vial of ova in a fertility clinic operated by hybrid clones. The clones were themselves experimenting on people, and using reproductive health clinics to do it. It’s not unsurprising that a small child would get caught up in all that. The clones seemed rather Machiavellian and unlikely to bristle at the notion of using Emily as a lab rat.
- That said, the involvement of the bounty hunters seems a little strange. The original bounty hunter was trying to wipe out the experiments so I’m not sure why these ones would be participating in the scheme. Unless, of course, this is a whole different faction with a different endgame (chortle) in mind. Maybe these aren’t even bounty hunters—I’m just assuming they are due to the shapeshifting and use of the same pointed weapon the original guy had.
- Scully’s powerlessness in all this is truly heartrending. Not only has she lost the ability to bear children, but she was unable to help or save a biological child created using her DNA. All this stems from an abduction carried out by the same sinister types who murdered her sister, meaning she lost an existing family member as well as the potential for a family of her own. Then she sits down and admits—to a complete stranger—that she’s too scared to get close to people in case she loses them. It is bitterly sad.
- I appreciate that these two episodes focused largely on Scully, and I think we could do with a few more going forward. Not that it’s a contest but Scully’s experiences mean she’s been more intimately affected by the whole conspiracy than Mulder, but we don’t get to see the impact on her as much as we do him. Her way of dealing with things is so internalised that we need more dedicated time to tease it out.
- A quick note on dreams and flashbacks. Scully has a couple of each in “Christmas Carol”, seeing herself and Missy as young children, then teenagers, and finally young adults. We see that her mother gave them matching crosses as a Christmas present when they were teenagers. The most haunting (and telling) conversation takes place in the last flashback, of them as young women. Scully has just joined the FBI and expresses some doubts about her decision. She says she changed her mind over her medical career and is worried the same thing will happen with this. Missy brings up the concept of fate, but Scully rejects it. Missy continues to say that the most important part of life is not a pre-ordained path but the people you meet along the way. She says Scully doesn’t know who she’ll meet in the FBI or whose life she might change. That line is far too loaded and this conversation way too real considering all that’s happened, and it almost had me in tears.
- (On that note, “Emily” opens with a Scully voiceover and a shot of her walking through sand. It might be too on-the-nose to suggest this is a reference to the sands of time, but Scully does mention a course “charted by some unseen hand”. This might be a reference to fate, indicating she’s come round a little to Missy’s beliefs, or it might simply be a reference to the figures in the shadows controlling so much of her life.)
- Finally, I’m intrigued at the choice of episode title in “Christmas Carol”. Given the reveals of the episode and the one which follows it, is this meant to evoke the notion of ghosts past, present, and future coming to bear on Scully’s life? It would be fitting, if I’m not reading way too much into it.
What an intense week, lads. Comedown from your Easter chocolate binge. I’ll soldier on and see you all next week!
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