The X-Files: Excelsis Dei

Case: A series of violent attacks occurring in a long-term care facility.

Destination: Excelsis Dei Convalescent Home, Worcester, Massachusetts

I found this episode interesting because, for a change, it is Scully who finds the case and takes the lead. A nurse (Michelle Charters) who works at Excelsis Dei (Glory of God) Convalescent Home is suing the state for injuries she received while being raped by an invisible assailant. She has made her own video to substantiate her claims. Scully believes her because the medical evidence supports her story. Scully has been looking into the case for hours before Mulder shows up.

While this isn't a particularly strong or even engaging episode it does deal with several important social issues. First, there is the rape. It is interesting that one of the first exchanges between Scully and Mulder is about what sounds to be his collection of pornography. Then Mulder (a man) reverses their usual roles and is skeptical about Michelle's claims of rape by an invisible assailant. Michelle Charters is not treated particularly well or believed. Unfortunately, that is still the case for many women who have been raped even when they can describe their attacker. I particularly disliked the inference that she somehow deserved it. It actually looked like she was one of the few people who took her job seriously. And Hal was not a lovely, likable old man. He sexually assaulted Michelle to the best of his ability at every opportunity and then had the gall to talk about all that "sexual harassment nonsense." We have stereotypes about older people being kind and harmless but young jerks just grow into old jerks much of the time.

The next issue was the clash between Western and Asian medicine. Gung Bituen was trying to help the people living in the home by growing mushrooms that he knew about from his own country of origin. The mushrooms were working but being greedy and lacking in understanding some of the residents took too much and inadvertently opened a door to the spirit world. Still no one would credit the mushrooms or the dangers of using them because of ignorance and Western pride. Things have changed somewhat since this episode aired and I think people are much more knowledgeable about alternative medicine.

Finally one of the central issues was the treatment of older people in America, particularly those with dementia. They are often treated poorly, either ignored or bullied. Gung contrasted this with how older people were treated where he came from (just a note, as China modernizes this is changing and unfortunately, the ways of the West are gaining ground). I was glad that they balanced this with the terrible working conditions that orderlies and nurses face in long-term care facilities. They often have to deal with inadequate staffing and poor wages. It is difficult to maintain a good work ethic in those circumstances.

I did enjoy the role reversal between Mulder and Scully. Scully was the believer, even though she continued to struggle to find medical or "environmental" reasons for the occurrences. Then it was great to watch them reverse back near the end. I also enjoyed how much Scully got to be a doctor in this episode. It is easy to forget that she has medical training.

Other Thoughts

Those were some ugly mushrooms. I'm not sure how a human body might affect them but they were already nasty enough.

The stair scenes were some of my favourites. The lighting made them quite spooky and I'm not sure, given their age, people should have been flying up and down them.

The hand restraints that were just part of the residents' beds were also nasty. Where I live you cannot use physical restraints on patients without a very good reason. That's the kind of progress I like to see.

That must have been quite a big bathroom. A fantastic amount of water came out of there.


There weren't a lot of great quotes in this episode but here are a few.

Hal: “I’m 74 years old. I’ve got plumbing older than this building.”

Mrs. Dawson: “You’re not in your country now. You’re hired here to care for these people under our guidelines.”

Scully: “Muler, mushrooms aren’t medication. They taste good on hamburgers but they don’t raise the dead.”
Mulder: “Shamans have been using them for centuries to gain access to the spirit world.”
Scully: “I think you’ve been reading too much Carlos Castaneda.”

Final Analysis: Not one of my favourites but some good social commentary.


Jess Lynde said...

I didn’t remember this episode as well as many others from this season. I’m guessing I didn’t rewatch it as much. Probably because it is so darn depressing. Poor, Dr. Fraiser.

Of course, after reading your rundown on the social issues tackled in the episode, Doc, I think I may be even more depressed. This episode is nearly 20 years old, and yet so very little has changed, especially regarding attitudes towards elder care and rape. My stomach actually sank when I read your line about disliking the “the inference that she somehow deserved it.” Not because you disliked the inference --- I wholeheartedly agree! --- but because that kind of victim blaming is still such a common and disgusting refrain.

On a totally different note, when watching this one, I was really feeling the difference between episode lengths back in the day and now. This episode is probably only about five minutes longer than what’s standard nowadays, but it felt like Mulder’s basement search was very drawn out. Like they needed to pad the episode a bit. I started zoning out. Maybe that’s just a reflection on the quality of the episode, or perhaps I’ve gotten used to tighter pacing in more recent years!

ChrisB said...

What a great review, Doc. I tend to gloss over this episode, because it is so depressing and says such negative things about how older people and women are treated.

I loved your pointing out the throw away bit at the beginning about Mulder's pornography. I had never thought about it before, but it does tie in (at least a bit) to his reactions to the rape.