Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The X-Files - S3:E11 "Revelations"

[ S3:E10 "731" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E12 "War of the Coprophages" ]

If the title isn't enough of an indication, this is an episode about religion - specifically, the Christian religion. As such, it's one of those rare situations where Scully is the believer, and Mulder is the skeptic. A couple of veteran guest actors appear - R. Lee Ermey as a charismatic preacher, and Michael Berryman (whom you might remember from the original The Hills Have Eyes) in the sympathetic role of an angel in an unlikely disguise. The killer in this episode is something of a devil's advocate, hunting down stigmatic frauds; and his next target is a little boy. The episode works well enough on its own merits - if it stretches credulity at times - but it's real value is in the examination of its main characters' beliefs, as well as the apparent hypocrisy of its audience (or at least the portion that has the same reaction I had).

To start with, the preacher's sermon in the opening bears some uncomfortable similarities to Mulder's own ideological platform, minus the spiritual mumbo jumbo. Yet it is notable that, of the two, Scully - the skeptic - is the religious one. Why is this the case? And why, if Mulder will believe just about anything else, is he not convinced of religion? The easy answer is that religion (like most, but not all, psychics) is bogus. I've said before that Mulder is suggestible, but not gullible. He himself has said, "open yourself up to extreme possibilities only when it's the truth." I think that in our world, Mulder would be an avowed skeptic. It's just that in the fictional world of The X-Files, he is surrounded by evidence for the supernatural every which way he turns. (The Smoking Man is just waiting around every corner to steal or destroy that evidence, in order to maintain Mulder's discredited reputation - wow, it sounds so paranoid when I put it that way!).

And yet, like in our world, religion remains implausible. But why should that be so? In a world filled with clairvoyants and fat-sucking vampires, why can't miracles be possible? Or, here's a more troubling question: as members of the audience, why are we so quick to believe in the clairvoyants and the fat-sucking vampires, yet adamantly opposed to the possibility of the divine? Mulder approaches the issue mostly sensitively, and yet Scully lowers her head like a scolded child, as if wanting to say, "I just believe, stop trying to poke holes in it!" Which, you'll notice, is very unlike Scully on every other topic. I think the critical difference is that religious faith doesn't merely evade proof, but shuns it. Mulder will jump on an alien abduction because it can (eventually) be proven. Miracles, on the other hand, require an entirely subjective interpretation that's not falsifiable. Which is very unscientific - begging the question of why Scully is religious. It's certainly a black mark on her skeptical record.

And furthermore, if Scully is willing to suspend her disbelief for the sake of religion, then why is she so resistant to every other implausibility Mulder throws her way? I suspect it's the same reason otherwise intelligent people in the real world still believe in God. It's a seductive belief, and one that's drilled into our heads from birth; plus there's a lot of stigma attached to rejecting it, unlike with the belief in, say, leprechauns, or new age mystical healing. Scully's beliefs are definitely put to the test, and yet she ultimately re-affirms her faith. But whatever you can say about her impulsive actions in this episode, they are no crazier than what Mulder pulls during a regular week. Still, it's rather hard (for me) to believe that the conflict in this episode truly represents an apocalyptic battle of good and evil. So rather than the impression of a great episode, I'm left instead with all the thorny metaphysical dilemmas that this episode raises.

Memorable quotes:

Preacher: Most people today tend to vest themselves in science, and cynicism. They expect proof for all that they see. But miracles are wonders by nature. They need no rationale. No justification.

Mulder: I think this is a case of too much faith. (Tastes the stigmata blood). And too much sugar.

Mr. Kryder: You must go full circle to find the truth.

Scully: I believe in the idea that God's hand can be witnessed. I believe He can create miracles, yes.
Mulder: Even if science can't explain them?
Scully: Maybe that's just what faith is.
Mulder: Well, I wouldn't let faith overwhelm your judgment here. These people are simply fanatics behaving fanatically, using religion as a justification. They give bonafide paranoiacs like myself a bad name. They're no more divine or holy than that ketchup we saw on the murdered preacher.

Scully: How is it that you're able to go out on a limb whenever you see a light in the sky, but you're unwilling to accept the possibility of a miracle - even when it's right in front of you?
Mulder: I wait for a miracle every day, but what I've seen here has only tested my patience, not my faith.
Scully: Well, what about what I have seen?

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