Thursday, October 8, 2015

The X-Files - S4:E24 "Gethsemane"

[ S4:E23 "Demons" <<< Season 4 >>> S5:E1 "Redux" ]

Spoiler Warning: You should know the drill by now - season finale, huge mythology episode, so...lots of spoilers!

This is it! I've been waiting for this episode for four whole seasons! And it is a whopper! Firstly, I love that it's titled "Gethsemane". That's probably my favorite episode title since "Ascension". Gethsemane is my favorite song in Jesus Christ Superstar; it's the one where Jesus entertains doubts as to the fate God has set out for him, and demands proof that his sacrifice will not be made in vain. "I have changed; I'm not as sure as when we started. Then, I was inspired - now, I'm sad and tired." What an appropriate choice for this episode. Unlike last season's lukewarm finale, this one has all the finality of what could - had the "powers that be" been so moved - have been fashioned into something of a series finale.

The episode opens in media res, which is fast becoming a popular device for mythology episodes in this series, making the interesting choice of beginning on the episode's cliffhanger - although the full import of it will not be made properly clear until the end of the episode. Scully's address to a rather formal-looking committee of FBI officials (including Section Chief Scott Blevins - the man who assigned Scully to the X-Files in the pilot - returning from the mists of season 1) is used as a framing narrative for the events of the episode. Although this is a familiar setup - as recent an episode as this season's Tunguska had Mulder on the lam, with Scully reporting to a committee of bureaucrats - this time the stakes have been raised higher than ever before, with hints of Mulder's death, and Scully disavowing the X-Files project in an official capacity.

Wow. I haven't been this excited since the merchandise trilogy! The opening credits switch out "The Truth Is Out There" for the provocative phrase "Believe The Lie", which I've been waiting to see for the last 96 episodes! Yep, it's finally time to start talking about the great big hoax. But first, a little background. Mulder is alerted to the discovery of an alien who apparently crawled into a glacial crevice in the Yukon territory of Canada 200 years ago and promptly froze. If played right, this could be the holy grail that could prove to the world, beyond a doubt, the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. It almost seems too good to be true - and in hindsight, Mulder is right to be so skeptical, but it's a wonder that he is, when he's so quick to believe in other situations.

Unfortunately for all involved, an agent working for the Department of Defense (John Finn's Michael Kritschgau) comes out of the woodwork (well, Scully kind of pulls him out of the woodwork, in a kick-ass parking garage scene that proves that Scully's not always getting pushed down stairwells - and God help you if you're the one who does that to her!) and confidentially reveals to Mulder and Scully that everything Mulder has been chasing after for the past four years - nay, for his entire life, since his sister's abduction - has been an elaborate hoax, an impossibly detailed fabrication designed to cover up the government's excesses. This time, Mulder is understandably skeptical - this is the sort of thing that would stand to shake the entire core of his faith - but is it really that hard to believe? Scully doesn't think so (then again, she's pretty much been saying this for years).

I mean, in spite of what we've seen (or think we've seen), it's been established that, regardless of the means, or the motivation, the ones who decided that Samantha was going to be abducted were human. Scully confirmed that her abduction involved testing by Japanese scientists in a rather terrestrial train car. We've also learned that the government has been involved in human testing in conjunction with Axis power scientists that - even if it doesn't involve extraterrestrials - is incriminating and embarrassing enough to warrant a cover up. Is it that much of a stretch that government agents would latch onto this belief in extraterrestrials - especially given such a fervent believer as Fox Mulder working right within their midsts, in the FBI - and play it up in the hopes of diverting attention from the secrets they do have that are worth keeping?

On the other hand, you begin to get the feeling that this whole hoax thing so perfectly puts a cap on Mulder's quest for the truth, that you start wondering if it isn't possible that this whole idea of everything being a hoax is itself a hoax. It's kind of mind-blowing. In any case, if that alien body is a hoax, it's a very impressive one, as we finally get to witness a "real" alien autopsy for once. But just imagine for a second that it is real. How amazing would it be to gain insight into the biological functions of a complex, intelligent species that has a body similar, but not altogether like your own? I imagine it would be a little chilling.

In other news, Scully has to answer to her family about her cancer in this episode, and it kinda proves that sometimes family sucks, as is the case with her overprotective asshole of a brother Bill, whom we finally get a proper introduction to. There's some subtext about religion, but thankfully it stays on the down low, beyond a confrontational comparison between Mulder's beliefs and Scully's (lapsed) faith. Perhaps what's most infuriating is the idea that the hoaxers would go so far as to give Scully her cancer all as part of a ploy to influence Mulder to believe. It's enough to make anyone want to blow their brains out.

Which brings us to the end of the episode, at which point Scully reveals to the FBI committee that Mulder had apparently committed suicide. It's devastating. I remember going to school in the fall before the fifth season premiered ('97?). I had just spent the summer binging four seasons' worth of The X-Files, and had become a total, obsessed fan. I wore my t-shirt with the phrase "He Is One" on it, and another kid in my class who was an X-Files fan asked me if I thought Mulder was really dead. I have to admit, it's a much more convincing turn of events than when Mulder mysteriously vanished from the box car just before the Smoking Man gave the order to burn it in Anasazi at the end of the second season. At the same time, who could honestly believe that Mulder would really have killed himself? That would be the end of the series! (I'm not going to mention the irony of the series continuing on without Mulder in the last couple of years). At any rate, we'll find out in the next episode, the season 5 premiere!

To be continued...

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Four years ago, Section Chief Blevins assigned me to a project you all know as the X-Files. As I am a medical doctor, with a background in hard science, my job was to provide an analytical perspective on the work of Special Agent Fox Mulder, whose investigations into the paranormal were fueled by a personal belief that his sister had been abducted by aliens when he was 12. I come here today, four years later, to report on the illegitimacy of Agent Mulder's work. That it is my scientific opinion that he became, over the course of these years, a victim - a victim of his own false hopes, and of his belief in the biggest of lies.

(What a way to start an episode!)

Father McCue: In a time of personal crisis - a threat to your health - turning back to your faith is important and essential.

(Oh, it's important and essential, is it, Father? Thanks for your enduring wisdom. To Scully's credit, though, she handles this interaction nicely. This is one of her less abrasive brushes with faith in the series. As an atheist, I have trouble reconciling Scully's intelligence and devotion to science with her religious faith. But she's explained that she was raised Catholic, so there's probably a very strong residual influence there for her to overcome. In this encounter, though, it really sounds like she's comfortable with her "lapse", as though there's not really any space for God to fit into her scientific worldview. Could she be an atheist-in-progress? One can hope).

Arlinsky: Look, I know what your first thought was, but the St. Elias range? That's a long way to go for a hoax.
Mulder: Well, if you're gonna go, why not go all the way?

(At this point in the episode, Mulder has no idea how much of an understatement that is!)

Arlinsky: It's my sincere belief that what we have here is the complete corpus of an extraterrestrial biological entity - absolute, and irrefutable.
Mulder: Qualitatively indefensible. You go public with this and nobody's gonna believe you. You also risk never knowing for sure, because the same people who buried the truth so assiduously will be in charge of its authentication.
Arlinsky: Well, that's why I came to you!

(I apologize in advance for quoting this conversation at length, but this is a pretty critical exchange):

Mulder: You think it's foolish?
Scully: I have no opinion, actually.
Mulder: You have no opinion?
(In Mulder's defense, that was a pretty flippant response to such a tantalizing possibility. In Scully's defense, however, she's dealing with an awful lot on her own).
Scully: This is your holy grail, Mulder, not mine.
Mulder: What is that supposed to mean?
Scully: It just means that proving to the world the existence of alien life is not my last dying wish.
Mulder: How 'bout Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? This is not some selfish pet project of mine, Scully. I'm as skeptical of that man as you are, but proof - definitive proof - of sentient beings sharing time and existence with us, that would change everything. Every truth we live by would be shaken to the ground. There is no greater revelation imaginable, no greater scientific discovery.
Scully: You already believe, Mulder, what difference will it make? I mean, what will proof change for you?
Mulder: If someone could prove to you the existence of God, would it change you?
Scully: Only if it had been disproven.
Mulder: Then you accept the possibility that belief in God is a lie?
Scully: I don't think about it, actually. And I don't think that it can be proven.
(A standard religious response).
Mulder: But what if it could be? Wouldn't that knowledge be worth seeking? Or is it just easier to go on believing the lie?

Babcock: If this were a hoax, would we have six dead men up on that mountain?

(See, this is just the thing - to kill innocent people in the pursuit of a hoax is so cruel, so callous, that it's hard to believe anyone would do it. So when people are killed to cover something up, you tend to want to believe in the authenticity of whatever it is that's being hidden. Because the cost is human lives! Of course, anyone severely dedicated to misinformation could take advantage of that belief. And I guess that if anyone had the motivation, it would be an institutionalized government with secrets to hide - or at least the shadowy people in the government, like the Syndicate, who have a lot of power, and a sobering record of past and present misdeeds. Of course, killing for a hoax would just add to that list of misdeeds, and god forbid anyone should uncover the hoax - it would be incriminating enough without even uncovering what the hoax is designed to cover up. Gosh, my head is spinning).

Kritschgau: The lie you believe - that they have cleverly led you to believe, Agent Mulder - is that there is intelligent life other than our own, and that we have had contact with these lifeforms.
Mulder: So, you're saying this has all been orchestrated - a hoax?
Kritschgau: Which you have been used to perpetuate.
Mulder: You come by this knowledge how?
Kritschgau: Working for the DoD, watching a military-industrial complex that operated unbridled and unchecked during the Cold War, create a diversion of attention from itself, and its continued misdeeds, by confabulating enough believable evidence to convince passionate adepts like yourself that it really could be true.

Kritschgau: That is just like you, Agent Mulder - suspicious of everything but what you should be.

Kritschgau: The lies are so deep, the only way to cover to create something even more incredible.

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