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The X-Files: Memento Mori

Case: Mulder and Scully deal with the fact that Scully has cancer.

Destination: Allentown, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

“The truth will save you, Scully. I think it’ll save us both.”

The fact that Scully has cancer has been teased throughout the past two episodes. It finally comes to a head in this one. Scully is very ill and facing her death. Mulder, as we all do when faced with the death of someone we love, is doing everything he can to stop it from happening.

There are two sides to this episode, reflected by the two leads. Through Scully, we get the emotion, the fear of death, and her trying to accept what is happening to her. Through Mulder, we get pure action. Unable to just sit and watch his partner die, he must do something. He can’t just sit and ruminate the way Scully can.

As a result of this action, we get a few small answers to the mythology. We learn that the clones are alien-human hybrids; we learn that all the women who were abducted are infertile because they have had their ova removed. Surprisingly, we get these answers without adding on any more questions.

The end result of Scully’s struggle and Mulder’s journey is a renewed commitment by them both. They are committed to the work and to their partnership, arguably in a much deeper sense than they ever were before. All the doubts and the miscommunications of the previous episode make this renewed commitment all that much sweeter.

Mulder and Scully are my favorite television duo of all time and this episode is one of the reasons why. At this point, whether their relationship is romantic or not is beside the point. They love each other, but being the people they are, they are not going to admit it in flowery declarations. Scully is going to write how she feels (which, admittedly, is overdone); Mulder is going to act. At the end of the previous episode, they were about as far apart emotionally and physically as they get. At the end of this one, they have their arms wrapped around each other and they are smiling. They don’t have to say anything and we don’t have to hear anything. It’s all understood.

As moving as this episode is, the hardest scene for me to watch is the final one. Skinner, who abjectly refused to allow Mulder to sell his soul to the devil, does just that. He does it in secret and it does it knowing that he will pay a steep price. A proud man, it is this scene that shows us as viewers just how invested Skinner is in his team and their work. Like Scully, he is now fully committed.

This episode is on my list of the top five of all time. It took the mythology and made it work, at least to a degree. But, for me, it is the episode in which Mulder, Scully, and Skinner truly came together and formed a team, if not a family. The show would only improve from here.

Other Thoughts

-- Memento mori is Latin for ‘remember that you will die.’ A complex theory, it is centered around the idea that we should all remember that our earthly life is temporary. The theory, while Classical, took off with early Christianity and its idea of divine judgment and salvation.

-- This episode is now (in)famous as being the first time that Mulder and Scully kissed. An ad-lib by the two actors, it was cut as Chris Carter wanted to save that moment for further along in the series. If you are interested, you can find it on YouTube.

-- This was the episode TPTB submitted for Emmy awards. Carter/Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz were nominated for a writing award. It won for its art direction and Anderson won Best Actress in a Drama Series. Both Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz have said this was the best mythology episode of the entire series run.

-- It would have been easy for this episode to slip into the maudlin. The scene with Mulder and the Lone Gunmen infiltrating the lab was just fun enough, not to mention humorous enough, to keep the show from slipping off the rails.


Scully: “For the first time, I feel time like a heart beat. The seconds pumping in my breast like a reckoning. The numinous mysteries, that once seemed so distant and unreal, threatening clarity in the presence of a truth entertained not in youth, but only in its passage. I feel these words as if their meaning were weight being lifted from me knowing that you will read them and share my burden as I have come to trust no other. That you should know my heart, look into it, finding there the memory and experience that belong to you, that are you, is a comfort to me now as I feel the tethers loose and the prospects darken for the continuance of a journey that began not so long ago. And which began again with a faith shaken and strengthened by your convictions. If not for which I might never have been so strong now as I cross to face you and look at you, incomplete, hoping that you will forgive me for not making the rest of the journey with you.”
I put Scully’s opening voiceover in here, not as an example of great writing which it is not, but as a wonderful depiction of where her mind and her heart are.

Mulder: “I refuse to believe that.”
Scully: “For all the times that I have said that to you, I am as certain about this as you have ever been. I have cancer.”

Skinner: “You can’t ask the truth of a man who trades in lies.”

CSM: “You think I’m the devil, Mr. Skinner?”

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


  1. Lovely review Chris and I agree that this was a wonderful episode. Scully is all in after having a 'crisis of faith' and Mulder shows that he is fully her partner not her superior. The Cancer Man will use Skinner but I wonder if he would have saved Scully anyway?

  2. Chris:
    Awesome review. Awesome episode. Scully's theme does me in every time.


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