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The X-Files – The Field Where I Died (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Morgan and Wong’s four scripts for the fourth season of The X-Files are utterly unlike any other stories in the show’s nine-season run. Experimental, bold, confrontational; these four stories stretch and pull at The X-Files, as if eager to see just how far the hit show will bend.

The Field Where I Died is probably the weakest of these four episodes, but it is also the most ambitious. It is a script with big ideas and a willingness to commit to those ideas. There is no modesty here, no hesitation. There is a sense that Morgan and Wong are committing wholeheartedly to their themes and their concepts. The Field Where I Died is an episode that rubs quite a lot of people the wrong way, for a number of different reasons; however, the episode never pulls its punches. It never holds back. It never tries to be anything that it is not.

Far afield...

Far afield…

There is a lot to admire here. The Field Where I Died is not an episode with a simply formulaic concept or a conventional structure. It looks and feels completely unlike any other episode of the show. Even when the show touched on similar themes in its final season, the result was radically different. Hellbound is a much more conventional episode than The Field Where I Died. More than Home or Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man or Never Again, this is an episode that really seems like an odd fit for The X-Files.

Then again, that may be the beautiful thing about The Field Where I Died, for all its many flaws. It is utterly unlike anything else on television in the nineties. The fact that it can produce an episode of television so unique and incomparable is ultimately what makes The X-Files feel like The X-Files. The fact that The Field Where I Died feels so unconventional and eccentric is precisely what makes it a worthy episode of The X-Files.

Another roaring success for Mulder...

Another roaring success for Mulder…

There are very serious flaws with The Field Where I Died, which need to be considered up-front. The episode really requires a leap of faith from the audience when it comes to characterisation. Mulder and Scully both seem ever-so-slightly “off” here. Despite the fact that Morgan and Wong laid a lot of a groundwork for their characterisation, The Field Where I Died feels like it features slightly different versions of Mulder and Scully than the rest of the show around it. It is like we’ve tuned to a slightly different show, that looks and feels the same, but is slightly different.

When Mulder first discovers that “Sidney” lives inside Melissa, he fudges his prognosis to Skinner. He argues that Melissa is suffering from multiple personality disorder, and sells the argument like crazy. “What we witnessed meets the criteria established in the DSM-IV,” he assures Skinner. When Skinner understandable asks about the legal standing of different personalities, Mulder is quick to promise, “Judicial precedents have established that dissociative personalities are responsible.” Interestingly, Mulder’s argument has some basis in legal fact.

Picture us, together...

Picture us, together…

However, Mulder doesn’t actually believe any of that. The moment that Skinner leaves the room, Scully calls him on it. “You didn’t even have the courage to tell Skinner what you really believe,” Scully berates him. “That Melissa Riedal is being invaded by her past-life incarnations.” Mulder concedes the point. “Because he wouldn’t believe me,” he admits. It is a weird scene, because it plays against one of the core aspects of Mulder’s personality. Mulder is a character who believes – or who wants to believe – absolutely and uncompromisingly.

In Tooms, Morgan and Wong suggested that Mulder was so committed to his beliefs and his philosophy that he would not distort or manipulate the truth under even the most pressing of circumstances. In Tooms, Mulder effectively convinced a court to release a known serial killer – preparing a power point presentation to help him make a case that no court would ever accept. It feels a little convenient to have Mulder lie to Skinner so casually; even after Mulder and Skinner have developed a respect for and trust in one another.

Watching his life go past...

Watching his life go past…

There are a few similar moments in The Field Where I Died. One of the great ironies about Mulder is his willingness to trust blindly. After all, “I want to believe” stands at odds with “trust no one.” Mulder has been repeatedly and thoroughly manipulated and betrayed because of his willingness to trust and accept what other people tell him. Morgan and Wong wrote Mulder that way in E.B.E., but it also happened in Ascension and Colony. However, even with that precedent in mind, Mulder seems too eager and too willing to trust Melissa’s visions immediately.

“You, you were there, Scully!” he demands shortly after Melissa identifies him as her past love. “You saw it. You heard it. Why can’t you feel it? How could I know about a bunker in a field where I’ve never been?” Mulder has known Melissa less than a day, and heard this particular story about an hour earlier. It seems strange he is that committed already. Mulder has effectively gone all-in on a theory that up-ends his entire existence, one perpetuated by the kinds of religious hucksters that he would dismiss in stories like Revelations.

A cloud atlas?

A cloud atlas?

Scully gets to play a fairly convincing skeptic here. “And why is it that Vernon Ephesian is, reported by you, a paranoid sociopath because he believes that he lived in Greece a hundred years ago, and you’re not, even though you believe you died in that field?” she demands, and Mulder cannot answer. This is essentially the reverse of the dynamic that the two had in Beyond the Sea, except Mulder has already committed absolutely to this as the truth. He needs no convincing. He just accepts it immediately and at face value. It is almost like a parody of Mulder.

To be fair, The Field Where I Died suffered horribly in post-production. Director Rob Bowman’s original cut of the episode ran for over an hour and had to be ruthlessly trimmed to make the forty-five minute slot:

Bowman’s director’s cut ran so long that Morgan and Wong were forced to trim twenty minutes out of the episode, including eliminating one of Melissa’s personalities, a crude loudmouth named Jobee, as well information that supported Scully’s viewpoint, and large sections from Melissa’s and Mulder’s hypnosis sessions. Mulder’s session originally began with his re-experiencing Samantha’s abduction, but Morgan cut it, figuring that if something had to go, that particular sequence was the most likely candidate, since it provided no new information about Mulder.

It is possible that these character shifts might make more sense with a bit more room to breath. One might hope that Fox would consider releasing the extended cut at one point, like CBS did with the extended cut of The Measure of a Man on the second season blu ray box set of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, even with these extra scenes, it seems likely that these elements would remain in play. At its core, The Field Where I Died is a story about the romance of the paranormal. It is a story about how desperate Mulder is to believe, because it provides some larger sense of meaning to a confused and troubled life. Late in the episode, he discusses the possibility of a shared past life with Melissa. He desperately wants her to believe it, to accept it, to embrace. There’s a wonderful longingness to Mulder in The Field Where I Died, an attempt to make some sense.

An undergorund movement...

An underground movement…

“Those tapes are saying that we chose the lives we live before we’re born, and who we live with,” Melissa suggests. “It’s a nice idea. It’s a beautiful idea. I want to believe.” In a way, Melissa might be speaking about the episode itself – a beautiful concept with a somewhat messy execution, but one that urges the audience to believe in it. Although Mulder might scoff at the idea of organised religion, his quest has always been spiritual in nature. Mulder is looking for reason or purpose in an otherwise random universe.

It is a point that many of the stronger Mulder-centric stories make over the course of The X-Files. Later in the fourth season, Paper Hearts will suggest that Mulder wants for Samantha to have been abducted because it is much more satisfying than any of the other explanations. Mulder wants to believe that there is a vast international conspiracy scheming with extraterrestrials because that would account for some of the horrors that he has seen; all that loss and suffering cannot be meaningless or empty. There has to be something more.

He looks like such a nice guy...

He looks like such a nice guy…

That is, after all, one of the chief appeals of belief in reincarnation or any life after death. It suggests a cosmic reordering. It suggests some concept of justice and balance that exists beyond the realm of human courts and government authority. There is some grander design at work, there is some larger agenda in operation. It allows people to believe that the suffering and pain of this world is a transient phase of existence. Whether the soul transcends into heaven or reincarnates according to some external arbitration, all will made right.

Mulder is a character who – behind all his cynicism and sarcasm – is inherently romantic. The Field Where I Died is interesting because it is one of those rare occasions in the show where the paranormal is an explicitly positive force. Given that The X-Files is a show about monsters and alien abductions, the supernatural is frequently dark or threatening or horrifying. Morgan and Wong deserve some measure of credit for playing with the idea of a hopeful and optimistic supernatural occurrence. They did something similar in One Breath.

Lost in the wilderness...

Lost in the wilderness…

As with a lot of Glen Morgan’s writing around this time, there is a sense that The Field Where I Died is a deeply personal piece of work. It feels like Morgan is pouring a lot of himself into his scripts at this point in his career. Morgan was going through a painful divorce, one mirrored in various divorces and separations featured in Morgan and Wong scripts like The Angriest Angel, Dead Letters and Never Again. However, The Field Where I Died is notable for representing a slight shift in his outlook. For all that the ending is grim, the core of the episode is hopeful.

Morgan has admitted that The Field Where I Died was inspired by his own personal experiences:

“I had gone through a failed marriage in which I had really believed,” Morgan revealed. “I had always wanted to believe there is somebody out there for you, and I had been in a situation where that didn’t come true. And I thought, ‘It’s a lie. That person you think is out there for you is a lie.’ But then I met Kristen and I was rejuvenated by that. I really thought that you can be reborn in this life, not just life after death. I regained faith that there is one person for you, one person who, by being in your life, can motivate you to change the crappy things you were doing before. In this case, it was Kristen.”

Indeed, Kristen Cloke appears in the episode as Melissa.

That is arguably the beautiful tragedy at the heart of The Field Where I Died, the idea that mistakes and miscalculations and misunderstandings tend to recur and echo across time and space. Skinner makes the point that the confrontation with the “Church of the Seven Stars” is liable to repeat Jonestown or Waco. If you believe in the past life subplot, Mulder and Melissa frequently find themselves separated by fate and their own decisions. The episode explicitly puts Mulder and Melissa in a situation where they could live happily ever after, but she rejects it.

Deep background...

Deep background…

There is a question about how characters are trapped in recurring patterns of behaviour, how history tends to repeat, and how difficult it is to break out of these familiar routines. The ending of The Field Where I Died is one of the darkest endings in the history of the show. Mulder fails spectacularly. Fifty-odd people die as a result of a misunderstanding. Melissa is lost. However, buried at the end of the story, it is suggested that there may be the slightest trace of hope. Maybe Mulder and Melissa will be reunited somewhere else at sometime else.

To Morgan, what made Melissa such an interesting soul mate to Mulder was her vulnerability:

I don’t know if Duchovny would agree with me – he knows more about Mulder – but I think Melissa is the type of women that Mulder would be attracted to. Someone like Bambi in The War of the Coprophages is good for a joke, but I don’t really see Mulder going after her. There’s something sad about Melissa. There was a secret within her that was important for him to get at. That mirrors his life, and his own search for his sister. He is a character whose whole drive is to help everybody, but he’s so unsuccessful at that, and with helping himself. All he wants is to find one person that he can rescue – but he’s not too good at it.

This is an interesting way to look at Mulder as a character. Morgan has a point.

Mulder is a character who desperately wants to be a hero, but who leaves a huge amount of collateral damage in his wake. Mulder has been chasing Samantha for years, but has never brought her home. Twice in the series to this point – Colony and Herrenvolk – Mulder has come close to saving a version of Samantha, but has failed spectacularly. As a result of his quest, Deep Throat and Mr. X are both dead. His father was murdered. In Ascension, Scully was abducted and experimented upon because Mulder refused to give up his quest for the truth.

Mulder and Scully in a nutshell...

Mulder and Scully in a nutshell…

The Field Where I Died is interesting, because it suggests that history repeats and patterns recur. Characters fall into familiar archetypes, and occupy similar positions in different narratives. Stories and roles tend to repeat and recur, playing out in slightly different ways, casting different characters in recognisable roles. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is perfectly believable as a Nazi, to the point where Triangle just goes all-in on the concept. Mulder and Scully are always together; Samantha is always lost.

This is interesting in a number of respects. This doubling arguably applies to the larger story. The Field Where I Died fairly heavily parallels the conflict within nineties American between militias and the government to the Civil War, implying that history repeats itself. However, it also draws attention to how Mulder’s life seems to be full of stand-ins and surrogates. Mulder doesn’t need to die and be reborn to see the characters shift around him. He seems to spend his life trying to populate voids left by the absences of important figures.

Happily married...

Happily married…

Deep Throat and the Cigarette-Smoking Man are arguably substitutes for his father. Deep Throat represents the best in William Mulder, the Cigarette-Smoking embodies the worst. In many respects, Scully is a substitute for Samantha. She was taken away by the government; Samantha was taken instead of Mulder, and Scully was taken because of Mulder. However, Mulder actually managed to get Scully back. Mulder explicitly trades Samantha for Scully in End Game. Scully is – on one level – a version of Samantha that Mulder can save.

Indeed, Melissa seems designed to evoke the women lost along the way. Her name seems consciously chosen to share the “three syllables, ends in ‘a'” sound of Samantha, the original absence in Mulder’s life. However, she shares a name with Melissa Scully, the sister that Scully lost to the conspiracy all the way back in Paper Clip. Given that Melissa Scully was created by Morgan and Wong for One Breath, the reuse of the first name seems unlikely to be a coincidence. Instead, it may point to some larger substitution.

Drawing on past lives...

Drawing on past lives…

Indeed, Morgan and Wong originally considered Melissa Scully as a potential love interest for Mulder, although the show did not go that direction. So the fact that Melissa exists as the lost love of Mulder’s life seems appropriate, a sly nod at the production forces at play outside the narrative. This idea that Melissa represents a lost opportunity for love also draws attention to the fact that having Mulder date Melissa Scully would have potentially defused any hint of romance between Mulder and Dana Scully.

This brings us to one of the more interesting aspects of the episode. Among its most vocal critics are those who believe that Mulder and Scully belong in a romantic relationship. As Kristen Cloke explained:

“The internet ‘Shippers [i.e., ‘relationshippers,’ as Mulder/Scully fans call themselves] got so upset!” Cloke recalls. “I understand that they’re very involved in the show and that’s how they feel about it, but I think it’s dangerous to get so attached to having characters be the way that you want them to be that they can’t ever surprise you – or have something new and interesting happen to them.” The performer is a bit puzzled by the furor, since Scully’s role in Mulder’s psychic history was so substantial: “The point was that [Mulder] was connected to all the people he’s been connected to, life after life.”

This fault line on the episode is interesting. One of the strengths of The X-Files is the fact that different writers bring so much to the table, with episodes often making more sense sorted by writer than sorted by broadcast order.

The best X-Files writers seem to write for their own pocket version of the series – a show that is recognisably and undeniably The X-Files, but has its own unique flavour. Writers like Glen Morgan, James Wong, Vince Gilligan, Darin Morgan, Howard Gordon, Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz all have their own slightly different take on the show. The fact that the show can accommodate all of these perspectives is one of its great strengths as a television series, and one of the reason that it has aged better than more generic procedurals or similar television shows.

Photo finish...

Photo finish…

If each writer cultivates a different version of the show, it stands to reason that each writer has a slightly different take on the dynamic between Mulder and Scully. Given how fandom can’t seem to decide on what it wants from the relationship between Mulder and Scully – beyond perhaps a generic “it’d be nice if they were happy” – it makes sense that the writers are also divided on the matter. Morgan and Wong seem to suggest that Mulder and Scully work better as platonic life-partners rather than love interests; bonded by a deep love that is not romantic in nature.

Of course, for “shippers”, it seems that The Field Where I Died is really just a prelude to Morgan and Wong’s closing thoughts on the relationship between Mulder and Scully in Never Again. Oddly enough, The Field Where I Died is much more optimistic and cheerful in its assessment of that relationship than Never Again. Indeed, The Field Where I Died has Scully assert that she “wouldn’t change a day – well, maybe that Flukeman thing.” In contrast, Never Again suggests that Scully’s biggest problem is that she couldn’t change a thing.

Out-Foxed...

Out-Foxed…

The Field Where I Died fits quite comfortably in Morgan and Wong’s thematic wheelhouse. In many ways, The Angriest Angel suggests the way that the duo approach characterisation – suggesting that plot is a crucible through which character forged; characters are confronted with big twists and revelations to which they must respond. In The Angriest Angel, McQueen suggested that characters are inevitably tested by events, and that the most crucial decision is whether a character is willing to confront the existential crisis, or retreat. Retreating is always defeat.

This approach can be seen in the way that Morgan and Wong approach a number of characters over their careers. Dana Scully doesn’t seem to fare too well in general: in Beyond the Sea, she is unwilling to confront Luther Lee Boggs at the moment of his execution; in Never Again, she is unwilling to actually confront the potentially toxic nature of her relationship with Mulder. In contrast, Frank Black passes with flying colours in The Curse of Frank Black, refusing to back down in front of the great evil at work in the world.

Yep, Skinner doesn't need any jurisdiction to order the ATF around. Bad ass.

Yep, Skinner doesn’t need any jurisdiction to order the ATF around. Bad ass.

Here, Melissa is confronted with a similar challenge. She can accept Mulder’s hand and forge a new life for herself, breaking out of a pattern of abuse and suffering that may or may not stretch into her past lives; or she can fall back into old patterns, returning to the Church of the Seven Stars with Ephesian. Trusting Mulder requires a massive leap of faith on her part, a willingness to up-end her entire belief system and comprehension of the world. It is a revelation that shakes her world to the core. Her reluctance to embrace this is perfectly understandable. She retreats.

Morgan mirrors this in the decisions of Vernon Ephesian. Explaining the situation to Skinner, Mulder explains that Ephesian sees a confrontation with the government as inevitable. “You’re saying he’ll attack the A.T.F. agents searching for the bunker, and believing his prophesied, he’ll win?” Skinner asks. Mulder is not saying that at all. “I would be saying that if I thought he believed in Revelations in its entirety… but he hid the weapons,” he concedes. Ephesian is also afraid of a confrontation that might challenge his understanding of the world. So he retreats.

A cult following...

A cult following…

“If he doesn’t believe that he can defeat the devil’s army, he may think that by denying himself and his followers to the devil… by denying himself, do you understand?” Mulder asks. Like Melissa, Ephesian is so afraid of up-ending his worldview that he would rather commit suicide than live in a world where his biblical prophecy was wrong. Ephesian would rather die than see his view of the world challenged and possibly defeated. He refuses to take that massive risk, to double down on what he claims (or believes himself) to believe, instead just conceding everything.

While discussing The Field Where I Died in the context of Morgan and Wong’s larger body of work, it is interesting to note that their four scripts for the fourth season are all ambiguous on the subject of the supernatural. Home and Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man have no paranormal elements. While Never Again has an element that appears paranormal, the episode ultimately sides against it. The Field Where I Died seems like the episode that is most explicit in its supernatural trappings, but is also somewhat ambiguous.

Staying on track...

Staying on track…

As many critics are quick to point out, it seems odd that the Cigarette-Smoking Man could be in another body in a Warsaw Ghetto. After all, Apocrypha pointed out that he was already working at the United States government by the end of the Second World War. Similarly, it seems strange that Mulder would remember the death of Melissa during the holocaust, but “Sidney” would be an adult by the time of the McCarthy witch hunts and Truman’s presidency. The numbers do not seem to add up. This would suggest that it could all be a subconscious fantasy.

Then again, who is to say that these cycles of death and rebirth are consecutive? Can different lives for the same souls overlap with one another? Could “Sidney” have been a child while Melissa’s previous body was still alive? The Field Where I Died is decidedly hazy on the subject, cleverly leaving the matter open to interpretation and debate. It is possible to see The Field Where I Died as a supernatural love story about souls dancing through the ages, but it can also be read as the story of two broken people trying to make sense of the world.

Toxic...

Toxic…

The Field Where I Died is also notable for its two central performances from David Duchovny and Kristen Cloke. It seems quite likely that The Field Where I Died is the episode that got Duchovny his Emmy nomination. The two actors give very big and very bold performances; there is nothing held back. These are very showy, very theatrical performances. As with Morgan’s writing, there is a sense that Duchovny and Cloke aren’t holding anything back. It’s no surprise that the performances are so divisive; they are anything but naturalistic, instead playing as bombastic.

There’s something quite wonderful about how unrestrained and how untempered Duchovny and Cloke are here. The third act is structured as a showcase for both actors, with long cuts on extended monologues. As Morgan has noted, this was a rather bold move for the show:

“To spend three quarters of an act, six or seven minutes, in close-up, on television, is wonderful,” he said. “On TV, we’re always cutting back and forth. We’re always blowing stuff up. Jim and I participate in that. Act Four of Home couldn’t be more different than act three of The Field Where I Died. I’m proud of that.”

This may be the most endearing and praise-worthy aspect of The Field Where I Died. There is a sense that nothing is ever dialed back, nothing is compromised, nothing is tempered. The Field Where I Died is an episode of television committed to being what it wants to be, even if that means losing a third of the runtime in post-production.

Of course, The Field Where I Died is notable for its subject matter outside of its character work. Belief in reincarnation had become more and more popular in the nineties, undoubtedly spurred on by loss of faith in conventional western religions and a move to embrace eastern philosophy:

“I can remember, 30 years ago, if a person wanted to learn about reincarnation, they would go into a bookstore and go into a very back corner, to a section called ‘Occult,’ ” said Janet Cunningham, president of the International Board for Regression Therapy, a professional standards group for past-life therapists and researchers. “It felt sneaky.” Now the East is in our backyards, accessible on the Internet and in every yoga studio.

At the same time, Western religion is failing to satisfy growing numbers of people — especially young adults. College students Mr. Dasa encounters, most of them raised as Christians or Jews, “haven’t given up on the idea of spirituality or religion,” he said. “They’re tired of the dogma they grew up with.”

It is a great subject for The X-Files, allowing for a slightly more optimistic take on the supernatural than the show normally allows.

More controversial is the decision to focus on an American cult. Chris Carter had touched on the idea in Gehenna, the second script for Millennium. However, the episode seemed to treat those sorts of cults as a horror that existed outside the United States. Making reference to Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, Atkins asked, “Could it happen here, Frank?” It seemed like some sort of terrifying public service announcement warning viewers about some vague horror lurking on the horizon; there was something almost quaint about Atkins’ naivety.

Remembrance of things past...

Remembrance of things past…

Airing less than a week later, The Field Where I Died offers a very clear answer to Atkins’ question. “They’ve been here for a long, long time,” the episode seems to suggest. As uncomfortable as it might be, cults and extremist religious groups were not unknown in the United States. The Field Where I Died would air only months before the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult. More than that, high-profile confrontations with the government in Ruby Ridge and Waco had served as something of a rallying call to the so-called “patriot” movement in the mid-nineties.

Timothy McVeigh’s fake driver license used during the Oklahoma bombing even paid grotesque homage to the siege:

Even the fake driver’s license offered one tantalizing clue. Its date of issue was given as April 19, 1993, the same day the FBI burned to the ground the Waco compound of cult leader David Koresh. From the beginning, the FBI had been operating with three basic theories about the case. One was international terrorism, perhaps from Islamic fundamentalists who use car bombs like the one that blew up the Murrah building. A Palestinian-American businessman, traveling from Oklahoma City to the Middle East right after the bombing, was held for questioning in London; his bags seemed to contain suspicious electronic equipment. But the lead, which captivated the press in the first hours after the bombing, proved false, and the man was released. Another possibility was a drug gang; drugrunners are more willing than most criminals to use violence against judges and law-enforcement agencies. The third was the strange stew of right-wing extremists who have been preaching their conspiracy theories with growing stridency. To many of these groups Waco is a rallying cry, a harbinger of the day that government troops will kick down their doors and steal their guns and their children. On the Internet and on radio talk shows, extremists had been railing lately about the second anniversary of Waco on April 19. The date on the fake license hinted that the FBI was dealing with someone similarly obsessed.

These organisations were typically right-wing and reactionary, a strange alliance of religious crusaders, social conservatives, hawks and other kinds of people united under a fear of an ever-more-powerful state.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre estimated that there were approximately 800 “patriot” organisations, including over 400 militias, active in April 1996. Such groups were often linked with radical forms of Christianity, that sought to interpret various parts of the Bible for their own use. Interestingly, The X-Files was reluctant to engage with the idea. Writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard had touched on the issue in two major storylines from the tie-in comic book, but the show itself had been rather quiet on the subject.

Lost souls...

Lost souls…

Given how The X-Files liked to engage with the broader questions of the nineties, this is an interesting omission. One wonders if there might have been a reason why the show steered clear of this sort of story. Was it a conscious choice? Or did the story just never come up? It’s a shame, because the sort of paranoia that powers these movements is often the flipside of Mulder’s cynicism and mistrust. One imagines that Mulder and Ephesian might agree a great deal on issues relating to the federal government – which would make a story like this an interesting avenue to explore.

After all, The X-Files tapped into a strong tide of paranoia and mistrust that ran through the decade around it. However, that same paranoia and mistrust was finding expression in a variety of other forms. Some of those forms were dangerous and radicalised, edging towards horrific confrontations. It is no coincidence that The Field Where I Died plays out on a bloody battlefield from the American Civil War. This is a county that may still be at war with itself, even if hostilities have not been openly declared.

Standing alone...

Standing alone…

Morgan and Wong consciously model the Church of the Seven Stars on other extremist religious organisations. The name seems to evoke David Koresh’s fascination with the Seven Seals and The Book of Revelations, as James D. Tabor and Eugene V. Gallagher note in Why Waco?:

Koresh talked most, almost incessantly, throughout the fifty-one days about the Seven Seals of the book of Revelation. Inseparable from his view of these Seven Seals was his understanding of himself as the unique messianic figure, sent by God to reveal the hidden meaning of the entire biblical prophetic corpus.

Ephesian’s characterisation seems to draw from this sketch of Koresh. Koresh was a man convinced that his own understanding of the Bible was above reproach and beyond questioning. Ephesian claims to have the same confidence and certainty in his own interpretations. (Even if Mulder suggests some deep-seated doubts.)

He that drinketh...

He that drinketh…

However, the spectre of Jonestown also lurks in the background. The red liquid featured here seems intended to evoke the infamous “kool-aid” that was used in “suicide drills” (and the real deal) by Jim Jones in Jonestown. Sidney’s decision to act in order to protect the children at the compound seems to acknowledge both the horrific abuse and torture endured by children at Jonestown, and also the fact that most of the 406 unidentified bodies from Jonestown were children.

The Field Where I Died is powerful and thoughtful television. It is probably the most flawed of Morgan and Wong’s four scripts for the fourth season of The X-Files, but that can be forgiven. It is a mess of an episode, but it is utterly unlike anything the show had done before or would do after. It is daring, ambitious, bold, confrontational and challenging. The fact that it exists and that it almost works is a testament to both Morgan and Wong as writers, but also to The X-Files as a television show.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the fourth season of The X-Files:

4 Responses

  1. Just took in this review as catching up my X-Files re-watch. A fascinating read, as always. It put me in mind of Glen Morgan’s involvement in the adaptation of “Intruders” for BBC America, which touches upon many similar themes. If you’ve not seen it, I can highly recommend it.

    • Thanks Adam.

      Haven’t had a chance to watch Intruders yet, but very interested – not only because of the cast but because of the production team. If I had more time between now and 24th January, I’d be looking at Kolchak, Final Destination and Intruders. (If I had even longer, I’d dive into Breaking Bad.)

  2. I enjoyed your review, as always. There are a few episodes of The X-Files that I pretend don’t exist. This is one of them. I just can’t reconcile it with what I know to be true of the characters from the rest of the series (even accounting for the different takes on them by different writers). It’s an interesting story. It’s just not Mulder and Scully’s story.

    • Thanks Cathy.

      I can understand that, but I still think it’s a damn beautiful little fable. And one of the most romantic (and off-format) episodes that The X-Files ever produced.

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