Destination: Washington, DC
“Don’t you see? We’re all in hell. I’m the only one who knows it.”
This episode is an example of how excellent writing (Vince Gilligan and John Shiban) combined with brilliant directing (Kim Manners) can take what could have been a gimmicky episode and turn it into one of the highlights of the entire series.
Yes, of course there is the Groundhog Day gimmick. But, rather than use that gimmick for comic effect or simply to pad out an hour without having to do much storytelling, Gilligan and Shiban use the plot device to explore some serious ideas.
How much of our life is fate or destiny? How much is free will? How much of our fate or our free will is predicated by our personality and the choices to which we are drawn? These are tough concepts without easy answers. What makes this episode so special is that Gilligan and Shiban don’t back down, nor do they try to come up with pat answers.
Unlike so much of television, the writers trusted us the viewers to keep up, to understand that this story was not going to be wrapped up in the end in a tidy bow and handed to us. Like all great stories, this one makes us think about the Big Questions and how they may be at play in our lives.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that the answer we do get is rather bleak. We have to watch as over and over again, Mulder and Scully fail. Call it destiny or call it free will, the choices they make -- even the smallest ones -- inevitably lead to their death.
We all know that eventually the time loop will be resolved, but as I watch this episode, that is not what I am waiting for. I am watching for the small changes, the different choices, the different consequences that each iteration of the story brings. Sometimes the changes are large; sometimes they are minute. Each, however, proves to be important in driving Mulder and Scully to their doom.
The saddest person in this story is Pam. So often, the person who is aware of the time loop uses that experience to make things better, to bring a situation to its perfect resolution. Pam seems unable to move beyond the horror of what is happening to her and to affect any real change. Ironically, because she tells Mulder at the end that this is not the first time it has happened.
It is terribly sad that only her death is the catalyst to righting the time warp. Yet, it is also terribly effective. By having the entire story hinge on the act of an unknown character and not one of our heroes, the stakes seem higher. We know that neither Mulder or Scully can stay dead for long; poor Pam does not have that luxury and we must watch as the inevitable unfolds before us.
Mulder is the true hero of this episode. Although it is he who is having such a bad day, it is he who figures out what is happening and it is he who resolves the problem so that he and Scully live to fight another day. Again, however, the writers shine. We don’t know why this is happening and we don’t know why Mulder is the only one able to figure it all out. Finally, it doesn’t matter.
For an episode dealing with such big and serious themes, it is also howlingly funny. The entire opening scene with Mulder and waterbed is hilarious as are his initial conversations with Scully. Even the third and fourth time through the situation, I find myself laughing.
This episode is one of the best, not only of this series but in all of television. An example of how an alignment of writers, directors, and actors can tell a story that leaves us laughing and on the edge of our seat in the same hour. Brilliant.
-- Mulder and Scully are back in the X-Files office. Finally!
-- The waterbed is a fantastic callback to Dreamland. Although, Scully asking Mulder when he got the bed is a bit coy. Don’t forget that she sat on it.
-- The good old days when paychecks were actual checks and not directly deposited.
-- A thought. Juliette has posited that, for whatever reason, Scully can't die. Since that idea has been presented, I am constantly aware of it when I watch an episode of this show. Could it be that the situation Pam had to set right was to sacrifice herself so that Scully could live?
Scully: “What are you doing down here, Mulder?”
Mulder: “Having the best damn day of my life. Any moment I’m about to burst into song. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”
Scully: “Since when did you get a waterbed?”
Mulder: “I might just as easily not have a waterbed and then I’d be on time for this meeting. You might just as easily have stayed in medicine and not gone into the F.B.I., and then we would never have met. Blah, blah, blah…”
Mulder: “I mean, I woke up, I opened my eyes, I was soaking wet. It’s a long story, but I had the distinct sensation that I had lived that moment before.”
Scully: “Well, you may have. Did you do a lot of drinking in college?”
Final Analysis: The X-Files at its finest. Brilliant acting and storytelling combine to leave us shaken and deeply affected at the end of the hour.
ChrisB is very glad her bad days don't repeat. At least as far as she knows.
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