The X-Files: Oubliette

Case: Teenager Amy Jacobs is kidnapped from her bed in the middle of the night in front of her
sister, and at the same moment Lucy Householder collapses with a nosebleed repeating the same words the kidnapper said as he did it.

Destination: Seattle, Washington

The disappearance of Mulder's sister as a child drives a lot of plot developments in The X-Files, involving alien abductions, conspiracies and all sort of nefarious goings-on. But outside of the aliens and government plots, it also represents a catastrophic trauma in Mulder's life that's left him psychologically scarred and that can affect his perspective on criminal cases, and some of the most effective episodes to refer to Samantha deal with the psychological repercussions of her disappearance for Mulder, rather than the alien side of things.

In this case, it's not just Mulder's 'Spooky' proclivities that have him convinced Lucy is an innocent victim and not an accomplice to a kidnapping, but his emotional connection to Lucy as a result of what happened to Samantha. Mulder denies the connection, insisting that not everything in his life revolves around his sister. Leaving aside the character's known obsessive tendencies, that line resonates beautifully throughout the episode. You can feel how much Mulder wants it to be true. Neither he nor Lucy want to be eternal victims and neither want the entire course of their lives to be determined by something that was done to them (or a loved one) as children. But both find themselves drawn back to that childhood trauma despite their efforts, and neither can ever truly escape it. Over the course of the episode it becomes increasingly clear - to Mulder - that Lucy has some kind of supernatural connection to Amy because Amy has been kidnapped by the same man who held Lucy in a basement for years when she was a child. Lucy, understandably, doesn't want to help them by reliving all her most traumatic memories, but finds herself forced to do so anyway.

Of course, anyone Mulder forms an emotional connection to (who isn't Scully) will be dead by the end of the episode, and poor Lucy is no exception. By the episode's climax, Mulder has managed to convince her that she has some kind of connection to Amy. When Lucy tells Mulder Amy is cold and wet, it gives him the clue he needs to find her - but meanwhile, Lucy starts to drown in the car. There's a moment where it looks like Amy has died and broken the link, as Lucy starts to breathe again, but then Lucy starts to cough up water while Amy recovers. Mulder is convinced Lucy deliberately chose to die instead of Amy, to save the younger girl's life. Amy will be traumatised, but not to the extent that Lucy was (and Scully confirms later that the kidnapper Wade hadn't yet sexually assaulted Amy, and all her injuries have disappeared). Amy will recover, mostly, in a way that Lucy was unable to. Lucy's apparently willing sacrifice provides a really moving conclusion to the episode, giving us the satisfaction of seeing Amy saved, but denying Lucy the chance to move on from her damaged past as she had been trying to at the halfway house where she'd been living.

The performances are excellent across this episode. Jewel Staite as Amy is just the right blend of terrified and determined and Michael Chieffo as Wade is very creepy. The episode belongs to David Duchovny and to Tracey Ellis as Lucy though, both of whom deliver raw, emotional performances. The connection between them comes across beautifully and Ellis blends fragile and tough in one performance very well.

Like many of the best X-Files episodes, this one is also terrifying. Wade is one of the series' creepiest villains since Donnie Pfaster because, like Pfaster, he is completely, horrifyingly human. Many of the most effective episodes of the show incorporated a supernatural element into a story about a human monster, and this one stands with the best of them. The chief crime here is every parent's worst nightmare and its reasonably sensitive exploration of Lucy's ongoing problems acts as an effective reminder that even a happy ending to a story like this can't be completely joyful. Overall, this is a memorable and affecting episode from The X-Files at its peak.

Other Thoughts

 - As if this story weren't terrifying enough, the fact that Amy is, in fact, a young Kaylee from Firefly adds an extra level of emotional investment to it.

 - Tracey Ellis later appeared as the title character in season 9's 'Audrey Pauley'.

 - Oh, the 1990s: serial killer photographers looked so creepy back in the days when they still developed photos in dark rooms. Peering at a computer just isn't the same.


Scully: Well, that's spooky.
Mulder: That's my name, isn't it?

Mulder: Not everything I do and say and think and feel goes back to my sister.

Mulder: I think she died for more than Amy.
Scully: What do you mean?
Mulder: I think finally, it was the only way she could escape. The only way she could forget what happened 17 years ago. Finally, the only way she could outrun Carl Wade.

Final Analysis: Chilling. Four out of four of something appropriate for such a seriously-themed episode.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


ChrisB said...

I agree that this episode is one of the creepier ones. Not only is the villain truly terrifying, but the long term effects of what he does are horrifying. I completely agree that the scariest monsters are the human ones.

The crane shot of Mulder mourning Lucy always gets me. It is clear that, while he is upset about what has happened to her, he is mourning someone else entirely.

I also really like the coda where Scully tells Mulder that he is the reason that Amy was found. It is a lovely, sweet moment between two friends.

Heather said...

Great review, Juliette. Totally agree. I, too, think this episode is really well-done. Love the XF take on shared trauma with abuse victims.

drnanamom said...

Mulder is a sensitive guy which I still find refreshing. He can take down bad guys with the best of them but he feels and knows what he feels and isn't afraid to show it. That was (and still is) pretty unusual for television. I loved that he argued with Scully about the impact of his sister's abduction. He knows that he is affected by it but tries to do good work anyway and as clearly as possible.

NomadUK said...

I agree with everything in this review, and this was a great episode. The only weak spot in it was at the end, when I think Scully gives up far too easily on Amy; as a medical doctor, she's pulled out all the stops on other occasions, and to tell Mulder to give up after only a few breaths and a chest compressions, without even turning the victim on her side to give the water a chance to drain, seemed a bit much.

But other than that, great stuff.

(And, yeah, it took me a minute to figure out where I'd seen Amy before!)