The X-Files: Milagro

Case: Bodies are turning up without their hearts: Mulder suspects psychic surgery.

Destination: Washington, DC

"But I have love in my heart."

This is a story about several things; love, obsession, the creative process, feelings spoken and unspoken and, of course, the removal of still-beating hearts from people's bodies. It might be a bit more coherent if it picked one of these themes to focus on, but it's a strong hour with some interesting ideas, excellently directed by the great Kim Manners.

One of the clever things about this story is the way Padgett is presented as a dark extreme of many common habits and stereotypes associated with writers, which are usually presented (by writers, of course!) in a much more innocuous light. Padgett tells Scully that he notices people, something a lot of fiction writers do. One of the most common tricks of the trade for fiction writers is to watch people on the street or another public place and make up stories about them. Padgett, of course, goes much further, listening to Mulder and Scully's private conversations in Mulder's apartment, having only moved in next door in pursuit of Scully, but the central notion comes from the same place, the search for inspiration.

Similarly, Padgett's analysis of Scully is also something that can come across as charming, clever or impressive when put in the mouth of, say, Sherlock Holmes (to whom it clearly owes something). However, delivered in Padgett's slightly sinister monotone, with equally sinister music in the background and coupled with Padgett's open admission of attraction to Scully, it is intensely disconcerting. Even the more obviously erotic aspects Padgett's stories have relatively innocent real world parallels in real person fan fiction (though it's debatable how much general awareness there was of that back in 1999) and in many people's entirely innocent feelings about celebrities - something the stars of one of the biggest shows on TV at the time would be very aware of.

Padgett, in his obsession with Scully and in John Hawkes' performance, is seriously creepy. The way the camera lingers over Scully as he stares at her or thinks about her, and Hawkes' quiet, intense performance are easily enough to make your skin crawl. The only drawback to this is that it makes the episode almost palpably uncomfortable to watch, making the viewer complicit in Padgett's strange objectification of Scully. How much you enjoy the episode will depend largely on your taste for this particular brand of horror, in which the viewer is allowed to participate in and enjoy a character's sleazy obsession before an ending is presented that puts an end to the stalking and/or obsessive behaviour and in the process, absolves the viewer of guilt for vicariously enjoying it.

Of course, in the end, Padgett turns out to be a relatively good guy, as he sacrifices himself for Scully (which does not excuse him for being a creepy stalker in the first place). However, there are some odd moments here. I'm not quite sure why Scully goes into Padgett's apartment - perhaps just because she thinks he is connected to the case. As Padgett points out, she is armed and fairly good at taking care of herself. Still, I would have run a mile and refused to come back without back-up (especially given Scully's history of being kidnapped by creepy guys who are obsessed with her! Not to mention abducted by aliens...). The conclusion, with Scully weeping in Mulder's arms, is also an interesting choice - understandable given the circumstances, but then, Scully has been through much worse in the past. These slightly odd choices prevent the episode from being an all-time classic, but it remains an interesting experiment and a chilling hour that certainly fulfills the 'horror' part of The X-Files' remit.

Other Thoughts

 - This episode opens with a guy sitting alone in an empty room, staring at a typewriter and a blank page. I can relate.

 - Although it turns out that Padgett moved in next to Mulder on purpose, I like the idea of exploring how someone might react if they could hear what Mulder and Scully talk about in Mulder's apartment - I suspect anyone would be at least a little bit freaked out.

 - The shipping news: See Quotes below. Scully also claims that "Loneliness is a choice", something I'm not convinced applies to everybody, but which could reasonably be said to apply to her at this moment, if it refers to her deliberately keeping her distance from Mulder.

 - Oh, the 1990s: Most people were no longer writing on typewriters in 1999, the year this episode was made. However, in the same year, You've Got Mail featured a slightly pretentious writer character who had an obsession with, and collection of, typewriters - it was something of a shorthand for "eccentric writer" (and probably still is).

 - John Hawkes, who plays Phillip Padgett, looks a bit like Ethan Hawke and uses a very similar surname (though in John Hawkes' case it's a stage name) but, confusingly, is no relation to Ethan Hawke.

 - I can never hear the phrase "What is the truth?" without hearing Rod Steiger in Jesus of Nazareth deliver that line wonderfully - especially since by pure coincidence, I happen to be writing this review on Palm/Passion Sunday, having read Pilate's lines in church earlier today.

Quotes

Mulder (moves Scully over to his other side): Well, you're about to argue my usual side, aren't you?

Padgett: In my book, I wrote that Agent Scully falls in love, but that's obviously impossible. Agent Scully is already in love.

Final Analysis: Creepy and fairly effective, but a bit too flawed to be a classic. Three and a half out of four typewriters.

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

3 comments:

ChrisB said...

This episode is creepy and eerie, but it does miss the mark somewhat. My biggest problem is the way that Scully is portrayed. Yes, she has been attracted to dangerous men in the past, but this time I am never entirely convinced she is attracted. She may be intrigued, but that is a conpletely different emotion.

As a shipper, I do love the shot of Mulder and Scully when Padgett fires off his shot about already being in love. If anyone has any doubt to whom he was referring, check out that scene again.

Mallena said...

Liked this one a lot the first time I watched it. Padgett' s voice was pretty mesmerizing and the episode had a lot of shippy goodness. After rewatching though, cheesy dialog and over the top narration gets more noticeable. I did like the writer's character coming to life and their conversation about the way the story should end. That was cool.

Heather said...

You guys, I love this ep. I did from day 1. John Hawkes is perfect. The whole thing is such a love letter to writers including all the pretension, narcissism, and audacity of Padgett! Juliette, great review.