The X-Files: The Field Where I Died

Case: Someone called Sidney calls in a tip that cult leader Vernon Ephesian of the Temple of the Seven Stars is storing illegal weapons and abusing children at his compound.

Destination: Apison, Tennessee

This is the last episode of The X-Files that I remember watching as a teenager before I drifted away from the show to return years later as an adult. I remember it was the first episode of season four I'd really enjoyed. I'd completely lost interest in the alien arc by this point and the opening episodes of season four hadn't done much for me (they still don't, apart from 'Unruhe', which I quite like now). Mostly, though, I think it was because this episode first aired on the BBC in October 1997, which was a few weeks after we moved to a new town, and my new friends were into VC Andrews novels at the time.

So I have these weird, fond and strangely bittersweet memories of this episode. I think I was fascinated by the whole concept of a cult, by men in contemporary society having multiple wives, and by the history of Waco, all of which was new to me at the time. I was also really interested in the idea of reincarnation, though as an adult this is one of very few X-Files cases in which I find myself leaning towards a more psychological, rather than supernatural, explanation (for no particular reason that I can put my finger on, other than the accidental implication that Cigarette Smoking Man was supposedly persecuting Mulder in the 1940s, a time at which the CSM we know and hate was probably already alive).

There's a lot going on in this episode. There's the cult and its leader and tragic suicide pact. There's the strong possibility that Vernon was also abusing children. There's Melissa's multiple personalities, and at one point Mulder has to defend the concept of multiple personality disorder without even mentioning reincarnation because even the existence of the disorder is a point of debate. There's the concept of past lives and of Mulder meeting someone he was married to in a past life. And then there's the idea of 'soulmates' meeting over and over again in different lives, so that Scully was once Mulder's sergeant and Samantha was his son and he's repeatedly attacked by the Cigarette Smoking Man over decades. Much like 'Wetwired', it's all interesting, but a bit much all put together.

The whole thing rests on the actress playing Melissa and her various personalities, and it's a strong performance by Kristen Cloke. 'Sidney' is a bit over the top for me (she squints so much she surely can't see anything) but you can see the clear change as she switches between personalities. Duchovny also emotes like crazy during his regression sequence, while in the field Mulder retreats into his standard hurt-puppy 'I'm-emotionally-tormented' look. It works pretty well, though Scully's various often silent reactions - skepticism, horror, sympathy, mild freaked-out-ness - are my favourite bits of acting in this hour.

This is a very personal episode for Mulder, with an utterly tragic ending. The scene in which Mulder walks between the bodies of the cult members who've killed themselves - including Melissa, who's been forced to drink the poison by the also-dead Vernon - is truly eerie and the whole thing positively depressing. It's a thoughtful, interesting piece, but I think perhaps it loses something by pushing Scully to one side in favour of Melissa. Regardless of whether their relationship is romantic or not, if Mulder has one really important soulmate, it's surely Scully.

Other Thoughts

 - This is one of those episodes that opens with a poetic monologue, in this case from Mulder. These are usually reserved for alien arc episodes. They... do not always work that well.

 - It just occurred to me that Melissa has the same name as Scully's late sister. Whether - in a story about the same souls coming together again and again across different lives - this is significant or not is hard to say.

 - I love the look on Scully's face when Mulder responds to her written suggestion 'multiple personality' with 'PAST LIFE'. And her calling him out on wanting to know about past lives, not disassociative personalities, when he calls in a hypnotherapist.


Mulder: Dana? If, early in the four years we've been working together, an event occurred that suggested - or somebody told you that we'd been friends together - in other lifetimes. Always. Would it have changed some of the ways we looked at one another?
Scully: Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn't change a day. Well, maybe that flukeman thing. I could have lived without that just fine.

Final Analysis: Emotionally affecting but a bit messy. Three out of four soulmates from past lives.

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 love this episode. It's one of my favorites.

The idea that the people we love follow us from life to life has an odd comfort to it. While the cynical part of my nature struggles with the idea of one soul mate, the romantic in me embraces it.

I think it was a stroke of genius to have Mulder and Scully as friends in their past life. Because, finally, that's what counts. It is their partnership and their friendship that gives each of them the strength to do what they do in this life.

You quote one of the best exchanges between the two of them in the entire run of the series. Scully is just wonderful as she validates Mulder, and his smile as she walks out of the room always makes me well up.

Jess Lynde said...

I know this episode is fairly reviled in some corners of the fandom, but I have always loved it, and I'm delighted to see at least two others like it, too! I think it was absolutely the idea of souls being linked through different lives that spoke to me, and sometimes I really love a tragic ending.

Mulder's monologue is from Robert Browning's 'Paracelsus.' I remember the poem resonated with me so much at the time, that I went to the library after the episode to find the full reference. I wrote it down and kept that small section of the poem tucked away into one of my notebooks all these years. I still have it, and it still resonates. "... at times I almost dream, I too have spent a life the sage's way, and tread once more familiar paths."

Juliette said...

I didn't know this episode was disliked - I've always been pretty fond of it! Even more so when I first saw it I think, but I still like it a lot.

Heather said...

Thank you for a great review. Count me in as a fan of this ep. The sensibility is twisted, sophisticated, creepy with a hint of tawdry -- what's not to love? Lol. Kristen Cloke is Glen Morgan's wife btw. Aw.

drnanamom said...

Great review -thanks. I liked this episode as well but did feel it went a little over the top. I loved your "standard hurt-puppy" remark and I also thought Scully's bits were the best. An interesting idea inside another interesting idea can make for great episodes but as you say things can also get a bit crowded and I agree that this was true for this episode.

Docnaz said...

This was such a meaningful episode to me. I always have and always will equated Mulder and Scully's friendship with that of mine and my best friend from medical school's friendship. When we were in school, long before The Xfiles, I dreamed we were detectives risking our lives and solving mysteries. Later, after he died at age 33 I could see the similarities. Born one year after he died and when his own twins were 18 months old, my son was given David as his middle name after him. My son did not talk until he was almost 4 years old and when he was in kindergarten he told me " your friend David is in my class. He told me he had been born reborn as this other child. I knew it was not true, but I didn't question it, preferring to just " believe". This episode made me cry. The thought that we had been friends ( and only friends) in past lives as well as will be in the future was comforting. I always hated when Mulder and Sculley's relationship was framed in a romantic light. For me, a friendship could be as powerful as a romance. And the thought that a man and a woman could not have a platonic relationship seems foreign to me. This and " This Is Not Happening" both struck a nerve with me regarding David's death.

ChrisB said...

Docnaz -- Thanks for posting such a personal and moving comment. It brought a tear to my eye.

Juliette said...

Docnaz, thank you - and even though I've become a bit of a Mulder/Scully shipper over the years, I do agree that male/female platonic friendships are something we don't see enough of, and just as important.