Monday, August 1, 2011

"Paper Hearts"

The X-Files - Season Four
Airdate: December 15, 1996
David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson
Created by Chris Carter
Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Rob Bowman

I'm actually pretty impressed with how this series is playing with some of the most fundamental aspects of the mythology. Last week we had an episode devoted to exploring the backstory of the cigarette-smoking man which only made the character more mysterious. This episode takes another fundamental element of the series and plays with it, suggesting that Mulder's sister may not have been abducted by aliens at all.

And that's not the only way this episode involves Mulder's past. It concerns a serial killer of young girl's who Mulder helped to catch years ago. Mulder always suspected that their may have been more than just the thirteen known victims. Mulder has a dream which leads him to the fourteenth victim, and we soon learn that there are two more to be found. Mulder then has another dream which leads him to believe that this serial killer, John Lee Roche, may have abducted Samantha rather than aliens. This is achieved by remounting the abduction flashback sequence from "Little Green Men".

This triggers Mulder's propensity for desperate, self-destructive obsession, and Duchovny always plays that extremely well. Thanks in equal measure to Duchovny's performance and Gilligan's script, this episode immediately achieves a pace and urgency that drives the narrative relentlessly onward to its conclusion. Along the way, the episode constantly pushes a theme about the uncertainty that comes from a missing person situation. Mulder is desperate to learn what happened to Samantha, but as long as he doesn't find her body, then there is still hope. Is hope worth uncertainty, or is learning the truth more important?

The script makes a wise move to keep the focus on Mulder's emotional turmoil, where it belongs. It's pretty obvious all the way through that Roche didn't murder Samantha. For one thing, we've seen clones of Samantha on two separate occasions. More importantly, there's simply no way this series would pull something like this. The idea that there could be a mundane explanation for Samantha's abduction is compelling, but there's no way the show could get away with making it stick. But we don't have to take the possibility seriously as long as we understand that Mulder does.

The resolution of the mysterious dreams comes down to an interesting concept. In a reversal from "Grotesque", Mulder theorizes that when he profiled Roche, not only did Mulder get into Roche's head, but somehow the reverse happened as well. No, it's not remotely plausible, but it doesn't need to be. The story is about exploiting Mulder's psychological weak points. The mental link between Mulder and Roche is just an interesting way to make that happen.


Ben Willans said...

I absolutely love this episode. I find Mulder and Scully absolute determination and sensitivity in this one to be heartbreakingly heroic. Although there are references to the arc, its one of the best standalones the show ever did. The arc references are purely about character motivation rather than plot. We see perhaps the lighter side of Mulder being able to get inside his opponents mind (compare with iirc Grotesque).

existentialist said...

I had to stop watching this episode like 4 times over the course of the 45 minutes, it was so intense.