Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The X-Files - S7:E10 "Sein und Zeit"

[ S7:E9 "Signs & Wonders" <<< Season 7 >>> S7:E11 "Closure" ]

Spoiler Warning: I think this is supposed to be a mythology episode, and in any case, it's the first part of a two-parter, so beware of spoilers.

I'm having a very hard time contextualizing this episode, as I don't remember watching it before - which means we may finally be coming to the point where I originally dropped The X-Files (unless I'm just blocking this episode out of my mind). So I'm not sure how this story thread is going to be resolved, nor where it will ultimately stand in the lasting record of the show's mythology. Any comments I make in this review should be tempered by that realization. But I've been reading in interviews from around this time that this season was tentatively intended to be the show's last, hence the wrapping-up of mythology-based story threads that began in the last season (with the Syndicate's send-off in Two Fathers/One Son). Therefore, this episode, which appears to be addressing an explanation for the disappearance of Mulder's sister, could turn out to be the final resolution for that plot thread. But therein lies the problem, because instead of alien abductions or government experiments, this episode is hinting at the hokey concept of "walk-ins" (a throwaway idea from Red Museum - not one of the series' best mythology episodes).

There was a time on this show when providing a non-extraterrestrial explanation for as significant a plot point as Samantha's abduction would not have been unwelcome. Particularly in the fifth season, Chris Carter played around with the idea that the whole alien conspiracy was an elaborately constructed hoax. In fact, much of the mythology in the preceding years hinted at that possibility - with secret government experiments, human testing, classified technology, and the like. But this partly worked because it was a stall before the late game revelations that we were all waiting for. It may be true that the mythology was simply better in those stages, before the Truth was laid out on the table - because as frustrating as the unanswered questions sometimes were, they were better than being given unsatisfying answers - but no fan would have been satisfied had the series ended before detailing the specifics of Deep Throat's boast in the second episode that aliens are among us - and have been for a long, long time.

Now, Paper Hearts was a great episode. It posited an alternative possible explanation for the abduction of Mulder's sister. It was effective both because that explanation was plausible - so that the episode's very concept didn't seem silly, or inconsequential - but at the same time, you knew that it wasn't going to turn out to be the truth. It was a thrilling exercise in "what if?" You could let yourself enjoy it, because you knew that somewhere later on down the line, you would get a more emotionally satisfying explanation for Samantha's disappearance and current whereabouts - the one that the series had been hinting at since the pilot. Now, imagine if Paper Hearts had been written by Chris Carter (and Frank Spotnitz), near the intended close of the series, not as a one-off freak-of-the-week episode, but as a mytharc intending to ultimately close the X-File on Samantha Mulder. You'd be pretty frustrated, wouldn't you?

Well, that's the direction Sein und Zeit would appear to be heading in. On the other hand, it's possible that Chris Carter is just jerking us off yet again, like he's been doing since season 2's Colony/End Game, where Samantha showed up, only to be revealed to be a clone. But if he's still giving us false answers even at this late stage of the game, then I'm going to be pissed off all the same. Quite simply, this episode has written itself into a corner, and I'm very curious to see if it will be able to find a way to redeem itself in the next hour. It's kind of too bad, too, because, taken on its own - without the potentially sobering ramifications of the mythology developments - this is otherwise a pretty decent episode.

It starts with a captivating opener, which effectively captures the atmosphere of suburban home life just before things take a drastic turn for the worse. There are some quietly unsettling moments - like when the Mrs. suddenly seems possessed of the urge to write a ransom note for the kidnapping of her own daughter, still safely sleeping in her bed. Or when the man of the house gets up from watching TV (where Chris Carter bitterly - though forgivably so - plugs his prematurely-canceled Harsh Realm series) to check on his daughter, and sees a vision of her death. Then, when he leaves the room, the door slams behind him, and by the time he's able to break it down, the girl has vanished without a trace...

This isn't the first time (though it may turn out to be the last) Mulder has taken a personal interest in a case involving a young girl's abduction - for obvious reasons. He goes charging down the halls of the FBI building at three in the morning with purpose in his stride, in order to demand that Skinner put him on the case, not even yet realizing that it will turn out to be an X-File. He's not the only one interested, however. For better or worse, when a little girl goes missing, its bound to turn into a media circus. Everyone wants a piece of it, although I doubt they all care about the girl - they're just there for the story. Mulder is different, of course, although this case seems to be making him unusually contemplative, and there doesn't look to be much hope of a positive resolution.

His mother tries to contact him, apparently aware of his involvement in the case, and possibly concerned that it will lead him to some truths about Samantha's disappearance. After so many years of playing dumb, she finally seems ready to talk - like Mulder's dad was just before he was shot. If that doesn't make you feel uncomfortable, then you're probably too invested in getting answers to see the writing on the wall - like Mulder is; and like I was, watching the episode. Sure enough, Mrs. Mulder turns up dead, before she's able to spill the beans. It's an apparent suicide, but Mulder is convinced that she was executed to hide the truth; however, Scully determines that she was suffering from an incurable and disfiguring disease, and concludes that she no longer wanted to live. Once again, we are given two different plausible and contradictory explanations, without any hint as to which one is the truth (nice to meet you, Chris Carter).

Meanwhile, Mulder links the current kidnapping case to an X-File where a similar event occurred many years ago, resulting in the conviction of a mother whose son disappeared. With a little coaxing, she admits the weirdness of the case, and explains her theory involving "walk-ins", of which Mulder is convinced Samantha was one. It doesn't make a lot of sense at this stage in the story, and for once in this series, you really start to feel like Mulder is buying into the delusions of a madwoman. It's probably helped by the fact that you don't want this theory to turn out to be true, because of how unsatisfying that would be. So you're left to side with Scully, who is convinced that Mulder is taking the case too personally, and reading just what he wants to find into it.

But just when it looks like the current case will remain unsolved, the agents (with Skinner in tow for once) catch a break at the eleventh hour, and follow a clue, leading them to a creepy Santa-themed daycare where a paunchy man has been taking voyeuristic videos of children for decades. Mulder steels himself for what he thinks will be the inevitable outcome - finding his sister among those tapes - but they are interrupted by the arrival of the suspect in question. Skinner takes him down, and the episode leaves off on a stomach-turning cliffhanger in which the camera pans out to reveal a plethora of shallow graves out back. We'll have to wait until next week to see how the story is resolved - just how that happens will be of critical importance.

To be continued...

Memorable quotes:

Skinner: This is a kidnapping, Agent Mulder. A little girl snatched from her bedroom. Basic, missionary style FBI work - it's not an X-File.

Billy LaPierre: Agent Mulder, do you think they will find her?
Mulder (pensive): I hope so. Yeah. I really do.

Scully: Is it the media, or just their own morbid fascination with the killing of an innocent?

Scully: You're personalizing this case. You're identifying with your sister.
Mulder: My sister was taken by aliens. Did I say anything about aliens, Scully?

Scully: Don't go looking for something you don't wanna find.

(If this turns out to be Chris Carter's response to fans asking, "what really happened to Samantha?", I'm going to be pissed).

Mulder: Doesn't make sense. It's incomprehensible in any kind of a real world way.
Skinner: I deal in the real world, Agent Mulder.

(Of course, when Mulder says "real world", he means his real world, the world of The X-Files, which is not the same world Skinner is referring to, albeit it's the same world Skinner exists in. Once again, investigators are bending over backwards to find conventional explanations, even when they don't fit the facts, and Mulder's the only one willing to connect the dots. I've been saying this for years).

Mulder: She was trying to tell me something.
Scully: She was trying to tell you to stop. To stop looking for your sister. She was just trying to take away your pain.

(You mean our purpose. If this is your answer, Chris Carter, I'm gonna be mighty pissed. And if it's not, I'm still gonna be pissed for being jerked around this late in the game. It's a no-win scenario, as far as I can tell).

Mulder: You can't see a ghost and still hope to find her alive. Both things can't be true.

(Depressing - but a fascinating bit of psychology. It makes perfect sense).

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