Case: Several witnesses report seeing a series of murder victims in another location at the moment of their death.
Destination: Washington D.C. So, not really a destination so much as 'hey, look at the local paper, there's a case for us'!
"I don't want to believe it."
I've probably said before that I love ghost stories - they're easily my favourite type of supernatural tale. Death omens and crisis apparitions are both really interesting sub-genres of ghost stories, which are combined here (Mulder seems slightly muddled about what a death omen actually is at various points of this!). Death omens appear to people shortly before they die or as they die - my interest in them may stem from seeing the banshee and death coach in Darby O'Gill and the Little People at an impressionable age. They take lots of different forms, for example in the ancient world they could be dreams of the ghosts of dead loved ones, among other things. Crisis apparitions I find even more interesting - these are the spirits of people who are dying, or near death and who appear somewhere else, usually to their friends and loved ones - as Scully's father did in 'Beyond the Sea'. This story puts the two together and depicts a series of crisis apparitions that function as death omens, as dying people appear to those who are near death.
Ghost stories should be sad and spooky and this one is definitely both. The apparitions themselves are just gory enough without being overdone so the gore isn't distracting, they're supremely creepy thanks to the girls' expressions and the blueish effect on them is fairly well done. We don't find out much about the poor girls who are the murder victims other than their bowling scores, but we feel for the helplessness of each one of them, unable to scream or make a sound because their throats are cut, their spirits flung out to try to make contact in a way their physical forms can't.
The main plot of this episode is a Monster of the Week, but its placement towards the end of the season is very careful, as it also feeds into the arc plot. We are forcibly reminded that Scully has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and the moment when she sees an apparition of the latest victim is truly affecting, not just because of the creepy design and setting, but because it firmly places Scully among the dying. For me that early apparition is more effective than the final scene, when Scully sees Harold while crying in her car, because the first one made the point well enough, but both work. This is where this episode gets its emotional power. The fact that one of our heroes is so close to death make a story about death omens and crisis apparitions much more meaningful than it would be as a run of the mill spooky story.
The actual murder mystery in this episode is fairly forgettable - Nurse Ratchett did it for muddled reasons, a woman who definitely went into the wrong profession and who appears to have no redeeming qualities. But the murder mystery isn't the point here - this is a touching, eerie story that, emotionally speaking, builds tension for the upcoming season finale very effectively.
- Seriously, how does Scully stay so skeptical of everything after four years of ice bugs, crisis apparitions, mind control, psychically linked clones and actually being abducted by aliens?! I know, she believes this was an hallucination caused by the power of suggestion. But still.
- The murder mystery itself may not be up to much, but there is something truly horrible about the victimization of such vulnerable people as those living in the psychiatric home, who can't tell anyone what's happening to them because some of them physically can't, some are unable to perceive it, and others just won't be believed.
- The shipping news: There's adorableness all over the place here, including Mulder's gutted expression after Scully gets a nose bleed and Scully telling her therapist how much Mulder means to her. Even the argument at the end is caused by how much they mean to each other.
- Scully goes to see her doctor and then her F.B.I. therapist within the time-frame of the episode, and goes home or refers to doing so a couple of times (more or less storming out on Mulder at the end) which is presumably why this one was set in Washington D.C. - it would be harder to do that if they were staying in a motel in California or something.
Mulder: Why didn't you tell me?
Scully: Because I didn't want to believe it.
Final Analysis: The murder mystery may not be up to much, but the haunting is great. Three out of four crisis apparitions that Mulder insists on calling death omens.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.