Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The X-Files - S7:E11 "Closure"

[ S7:E10 "Sein und Zeit" <<< Season 7 >>> S7:E12 "X-COPS" ]

Spoiler Warning: This episode continues from last week's cliffhanger, and resolves a MAJOR element of this show's mythology. To say that there will be spoilers is an understatement.

You'll have to imagine that I am starting this review with an audible sigh, followed by a moment of silence. Not in reverence, but a confusing combination of disappointment, mixed with grief. To be fair, I think this episode resolves last week's concerning developments about as well as could be expected. It's not the disaster I was fearing; it's just not the resolution I was hoping for. Don't get me wrong - these aren't bad episodes, from an objective standpoint. An argument could even be made that this was the closure the series needed, just not the one fans wanted. And as a fan, it may take me some time to get over that.

I see this as a reflection of how this show has grown and changed over the years, especially after becoming a mainstream hit in the fourth and fifth seasons, and following the move to L.A., trailing the release of the first movie, which marked a dramatic change in the series' tone. The trouble with waiting until the end of the show to wrap up the mythology is that the show has changed over the years - its creators and actors along with it. I wanted to see the showrunners of the fourth and fifth seasons resolve the mythology, but what we got instead was the showrunners of the sixth and seventh seasons finishing it up. That they were largely the same people is beside the point. Their mindset had changed.

You can feel that, by this point in the series, everyone involved is just tired. I don't mean that they're phoning it in, necessarily, but they seem more committed to reaching that finish line already, than taking the time to properly finish the race they started so long ago. I mean, I have a hard time believing that this was what Chris Carter had in mind for the conclusion to Samantha's arc all the way back in 1993. Who knows - maybe it was. Maybe it's not that far off. But it's certainly not what I had in mind. I want Samantha to be alive. I want Mulder to snatch her from the clutches of an invading alien army on the eve of the apocalypse. I want...I want to believe that it's not over.

There's a genuine feeling of sorrow pervading this episode. But it's not the fun kind of sadness - the kind in Beyond The Sea, when Scully struggled to reveal her father's last dying message. (I guess in that episode, it was Scully's sadness you were vicariously indulging in, but here, you're as much mourning your own sadness at the conclusion to one of your favorite series). It's more of a melancholic depression. A nostalgia for time that has been spent, and that can never again be recovered. Childhood lost - whether at the hands of a serial killer, or just Father Time. It's about Mulder freeing himself from grief, but for the fans, it feels too much like falling out of love. Mulder's closure is the emotional death of the series. What point is there in investigating X-Files any more? Why was this not reserved for the series finale? I should be happy that I still have more episodes to watch, to dull the grief, but it all feels pointless now. The spirit has left the body. The thrill is truly gone.

Well, I better put myself through the motions. Setting the tone for the rest of the episode, Closure opens on the unsettling graveyard scene of last week's cliffhanger, where a group of agents are now digging up the skeletons of 24 children. This is about as macabre as the series has ever been - Paper Hearts and Emily included. But when the ghosts of those children start climbing out of their open graves, with Mulder morbidly waxing poetic in voice-over, it all spills over into the realm of melodrama. Following the title sequence - in which the phrase "The Truth Is Out There" has been replaced by "Believe To Understand" - we learn that the Santa Claus killer is up the creek without a paddle, having confessed to his crimes. But this episode isn't about him.

Which is just as well - child murderers are such an easy caricature of evil, that they seem to inspire writers to get lazy. I prefer a villain whose motivations are understandable. Recognizing within ourselves our own latent capacity for transgression is a lot more interesting than painting the portrait of someone who can be hated with impunity. On the other hand, I had hoped the show was going to flip our expectations upside-down and have the Santa Claus killer be the one responsible for the walk-in phenomenon - justifying his actions as "saving" the children rather than destroying them. Alas, it was not meant to be. And besides, neither the little girl who vanished in the last episode, nor Mulder's sister, are found among the graves.

But, if anything, we've learned by now that every time this case looks utterly hopeless, a new clue will turn up. This time, a police psychic who is familiar with the "walk-in" phenomenon offers his assistance. Mulder is usually very skeptical of psychics, but he may just be desperate enough to believe this time. The psychic explains that in walk-in cases, an "old soul" anticipates the horrible death of a child (which is visited upon the child's parents in the form of a precognitive vision), and transports the child "in starlight", never to be seen on Earth again, in order to spare them their pain and suffering. So, the little girl from last week was going to be abducted by the Santa Claus killer, but the walk-ins got to her first. The ultimate outcome is, unfortunately, that she still dies.

I actually think this "walk-in" thing - saving kids from terrible fates - is a pretty neat idea, after all. I'd love to have seen it used in a freak-of-the-week episode. I'm just not sold on using it as an explanation for Samantha's disappearance (which Mulder is still convinced of). Especially given that, as other reviewers have noted, it's basically the concept of souls ascending to heaven wrapped up in a paranormal wrapper so that Mulder can believe in it. In any case, I don't know how the psychic expects to "find" these kids, if they've disappeared off the face of the Earth. Regardless, he takes Mulder on what Scully anticipates will be a wild goose chase, in search of his starlight sister.

Scully, meanwhile, has better things to do. She hightails it back to Washington in order to have an expert analyze the tapes of Mulder's hypnosis sessions regarding Samantha's disappearance. According to the analyst, Mulder's subconscious mind had allegedly constructed the fantasy of alien abduction in order to compensate for his grief, and give him the hope of finding her, fueling his [apparently not lifelong, after all] search. To its credit, this explanation is compatible with real world critiques on the validity of memories uncovered via hypnotic regression. But for seven years on this show, the characters have lived in a world where hypnosis works. That it doesn't, all of a sudden, is rather convenient for the writers, and smacks of retcon.

Well, if hypnosis is now debunked, apparently channeling is still a credible investigative tool, as - in spite of Mulder's growing skepticism - the police psychic manages to convey a message from Mulder's recently deceased mother, leading them to an air force base, where he finds evidence that Samantha may have grown up alongside a boy with the familiar name of "Jeffrey". (Apparently, the Smoking Man was more of a family man than Agent Spender had led us to believe). At the same time, Scully searches Mulder's mother's house, and finds the charred remains of the document that called off the original search for Samantha after she'd gone missing - signed by none other than a man with the initials CGBS. (One wonders why she would have burned these papers if she was trying to tell Mulder the truth - unless it was indeed a cover-up).

The Smoking Man pays Scully one of his creepy house calls, looking a bit sick from his operation in Amor Fati. His opinion on this walk-in business should be interesting, given his part in brokering the deal to have Samantha abducted in the first place. He claims to know that Samantha is dead - that he let Mulder believer otherwise all these years as a kindness to him. He's not particularly convincing - the lying scumbag that he is - but the events of the rest of the episode corroborate his story. For his part, Mulder concludes that Samantha must have been returned to the Smoking Man after the abduction. (Boy, he must have had some clout with the aliens to not only get one of the supposed hostages back, but to steal Bill Mulder's daughter away from him in the process). The reason he called off the search for Samantha is because he already had her, and wanted it to remain a secret.

Answers are flying fast and furious now. Mulder and Scully return (together) to the air force base where Samantha allegedly grew up, and the police psychic holds a séance. The room fills with ghosts, and one of them leads Mulder to a hidden compartment containing Samantha's diary. In it, she writes about the abuse she was subjected to - government testing - over the course of several years. The diary ends shortly after she mentions running away, at the age of fourteen. The next morning, Scully does some sleuthing while Mulder sleeps one off, and tracks down the E.R. nurse who admitted a runaway matching Samantha's description back in 1979. At this point, it's starting to feel like we might find Samantha alive, after all. But, alas, the E.R. nurse admits to having a vision of Samantha's death just before her unexplained disappearance, narrowly preceding the Smoking Man's arrival at the hospital to pick her up.

And that's it. She's dead. (I guess the Alien Bounty Hunter was lying in End Game). It's the closest thing we can get to plausible confirmation of her demise, given that her body magically vanished off the face of the Earth. But, so as not to leave any lingering doubts in fan's minds, Mulder - convinced after all these years that his search has come to an end - wanders off into the woods and comes upon a ghost children's playground, where he meets and embraces the spirit of Samantha once and for all. (Boy, does she look different - and not just because she's six years older. I know it's just a casting disparity, but I can't help thinking in the back of my head, "it's not really her!"). Seriously though, this is some ridiculous The Lovely Bones kind of shit. And when Mulder says, "I'm free", at the very end of the episode, I can't help wondering if David Duchovny is really thinking, "finally, I can quit this show and move on to something else already!"

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Ed Truelove was 19 when he committed his first murder. He was working as a janitor at an elementary school when they needed someone to play Santa Claus. He never got over the feelings it aroused.

(I would take Scully to task for this baffling leap of logic, but for the fact that it's not her fault. The whole world - the writers of this episode included - suffer from this cognitive dissonance).

Mulder: You dunno how badly I wanted her to be in one of those graves. As hard as it is to admit, I wanted to find her here riding her bike like all these other kids. I guess I just want it to be over.

(Do you, Chris? Do you? But that's no excuse for not ending it right).

Psychoanalyst: There are some wounds that are just too painful ever to be reopened.
Scully: Well, this particular wound has never healed.

Base Cop: You gentlemen need to move along. I have to ask you to turn around and get back in your car. There's nothing to see here.

(You couldn't do a better job of convincing me otherwise if you put a flashing neon sign on the gate that read "secrets inside!").

Smoking Man: Got it all figured out, don't you, Agent Scully?
Scully: All but why you can't just come to the door and knock.
Smoking Man: I did that. No one answered.

Harold Pillar: We're going to need to hold hands.
Scully: What do you mean?
Harold Pillar: I'm going to try and summon their presence into the house.
Scully: Oh yay, a séance. I haven't done that since high school.

Mulder: I have this...powerful feeling, and I can't explain it, but that...this is the end of the road. That I've been brought here to learn the truth.
Scully: Are you ready for it?

(This is getting too heavy. I don't think I like this anymore).

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