Monday, September 28, 2015

The X-Files - S4:E14 "Memento Mori"

[ S4:E13 "Never Again" <<< Season 4 >>> S4:E15 "Kaddish" ]

Spoiler Warning: This review contains major spoilers.

I daresay this episode represents a turning point in the series. Among other things, it establishes Scully's cancer as a significant hurdle for her to overcome, and a more specific and immediate concern than the vague question of what was done to her when she was abducted in Ascension. It also represents probably the first mythology episode in which Scully's half of the struggle outstrips Mulder's in dramatic weight (in this performance that famously won Gillian Anderson an Emmy). Sure, he's out pursuing answers to this whole conspiracy business, as usual, but Scully's not just holding off a Senate Subcommittee this time, she's fighting for her dear life.

Now, I thought Leonard Betts had a cavalcade of writers, but they've all returned for this episode, and they've added Chris Carter himself to the group, to round out the crowd! The episode opens hauntingly with Scully staring at an X-ray of her inoperable tumor, contemplating her mortality, and narrating what sounds like a death letter to Mulder. It's heartbreaking when Scully describes her condition to Mulder - in particular, the extreme difficulty in treating it - and he absolutely refuses to believe it. Yet what hope can he (we) have? There is no magic pill to cure cancer. Is there? This is what we've been waiting for, ever since Scully was abducted in the second season. Obviously, the diagnosis of her cancer is devastating, but finally we begin to pursue some answers. And it starts with the circle of abductees we met ever so briefly last season in Nisei. Sadly, Betsy Hagopian has passed away, along with the entire rest of the circle, minus one - Penny Northern. Penny points Scully to a Dr. Scanlon, who claims to be making headway on treating their cancer.

Unfortunately, as we eventually find out, it's all a big dead end. Dr. Scanlon is working with the conspiracy - his treatment has actually been hastening the women's demise. So the hope we are given in this episode for a potential cure is dashed against the rocks, and we are left at the end little better than we started, except for a few matters of yet-undetermined consequence. For one thing, Scully's cancer is on the table now, and no big secret (or mere speculation); we can be sure we'll be exploring other avenues of treatment in episodes to come. Also, there is that unsettling scene in which Skinner meets the Smoking Man sitting in the dark at Mulder's desk, and makes a deal with the devil (after admonishing Mulder for being willing to do the same - what a self-sacrificing man he is). The understanding is that the Smoking Man has the means to cure Scully's cancer (and why not, he's probably responsible for it in the first place, and you know he has access to alien technologies), but what will be the cost? Is this the beginning of Skinner's end? Who knows.

Finally, we have the discoveries that Mulder made. Although, you get the feeling in this series that we're only ever touching the tip of the iceberg. Mulder discovers that all of the abductees were infertile, and with help from the Lone Gunmen, he infiltrates a medical facility Mission:Impossible-style. There he finds a bank of bodies in tanks, much like in The Erlenmeyer Flask, along with a series of cloned hybrids (identical to the man who claimed to be a MUFON member and friend of Betsy Hagopian, who was assassinated by a man with one of those retractable ice picks, and died in a bubbling blaze of green fury) willing to divulge information in order to subvert the project that created them. The abductees were the hybrids' birth mothers, made barren by the same high-amplification radiation procedure that caused their cancer, but not before samples of their ova were collected. Scully was not spared this treatment, and Mulder makes off with one of her ova samples. I don't think he tells Scully about any of this, though, as she has more than enough to deal with, as Penny takes a turn for the worse. She decides to shoulder on, however - burden and all. And so we will, of course, get another monster-of-the-week episode next week.

Afterthought: It just occurred to me that this Dr. Scanlon character must be a truly wicked person. Most of the assassins we've seen, when trying to clean up loose ends, simply kill their targets. But Dr. Scanlon actually meets with them, pretends to be all friendly, gives them hope for living, and then proceeds to subject them to the torture that is cancer treatment, until they weaken and die - which isn't an unfortunate outcome, but secretly the goal of the treatment. How does he sleep at night?

Memorable quotes:

Scully: For the first time, I feel time like a heartbeat, the seconds pumping in my breast like a reckoning, the numinous mysteries that once seemed so distant and unreal, threatening clarity, in the presence of a truth entertained not in youth, but only in its passage. I feel these words as if their meaning were weight being lifted from me, knowing that you will read them, and share my burden, as I have come to trust no other. That you should know my heart, look into it, finding there the memory and experience that belonged to you, that are you, is a comfort to me now, as I feel the tethers loose, and the prospects darkened for the continuance of a journey that began not so long ago, and which began again with a faith shaken and strengthened by your convictions, if not for which, I might never have been so strong now, as I cross to face you, and look at you in complete, hoping that you will forgive me, for not making the rest of the journey with you.

Scully: Mulder, whatever you found - or, whatever you might find - I think that we both know that, right now, the truth is in me, and that's where I need to pursue it, as soon as possible.

Scully: In med school, I learned that cancer arrives in the body unannounced - a dark stranger who takes up residence, turning its new home against itself. This is the evil of cancer - that it starts as an invader, but soon becomes one with the invaded, forcing you to destroy it, but only at the risk of destroying yourself. It is science's demon possession; my treatments, science's attempt at exorcism.

Skinner: You can't ask the truth of a man who trades in lies.

Smoking Man: It's funny. I always thought of you as Fox Mulder's patron. You'd think under your aegis that he wouldn't be consigned to a corner of the basement.
Skinner: At least he doesn't take an elevator up to get to work.

Skinner: There's always another way.
Smoking Man: Yes, I believe there is. If you're willing to pay the price.

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