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The X-Files – Gethsemane (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.

Agent Mulder died late last night from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

– Agent Dana Scully, 22nd October 1997

xfiles-gethsemane27What if it was all a story?

What if there were no aliens and no “colonisation”? What if there were only government officials and runaway budgets? What if evil was not about “the project” or the plot to wipe out mankind, but simply about sustaining the existence of a grotesquely over-inflated military-industrial complex? Worse than all that, what if this fiction constructed around the truth were used as a protective shield? What if the story about the horrors perpetuated by the government was itself designed to enable further horrors perpetuated by government?

A smoking gun...

A smoking gun…

Gethsemane is very much in the spirit of Anasazi. At the end of the second season, Chris Carter had made the unconventional decision to kill off The X-FilesAnasazi tore ruthlessly through the show’s support structures; Mulder found the truth, Scully shot Mulder, Mulder’s paranoia became all-consuming, Chris Carter popped up to tell Scully that she wasn’t doing her job. In its closing minutes, Anasazi implied that everything that Mulder had ever believed was a lie.

However, Anasazi killed the show so that it might rise again in a new form. The Blessing Way served as a literal and figurative resurrection; as Mulder returned to the world with a new purpose, The X-Files returned from its summer hiatus with its own new philosophy. The third season was a different animal than the first two, with The X-Files using Mulder’s death and resurrection as a catalyst to reinvigorate and reinvent the show’s mythology and its underlying logic. After all, Anasazi came at a point where The X-Files was getting ready to break into the mainstream.

Alien autopsy. For realz.

Alien autopsy.
For realz.

Gethsemane uses the same broad approach as Anasazi. It chips away at the rules that underpin The X-Files as a television show. However, it does this to a different purpose. Anasazi killed off Mulder and revived him so that The X-Files might be reborn alongside its here. Gethsemane kills off Mulder once again, but in a different way. After all, the season-ending cliffhanger is all but revealed in the opening minutes of the episode. Scully visits Mulder’s apartment and identifies a body on the floor by the couch. Who else are we meant to think that it is?

As such, Gethsemane is executed with considerable confidence. The cliffhanger reveal – that Mulder is “dead” – comes a minute into the episode. It doesn’t even serve as the sting at the end of the teaser; the opening sequence continues past Scully identifying the body on the floor of the apartment. Gethsemane is remarkably up-front about the second death of Agent Fox Mulder. It is even more candid than Anasazi, which reserved Mulder’s fate for the last few minutes of the episode.

Eye for an eye...

Eye for an eye…

Unlike Anasazi, Gethsemane is not killing Mulder off so that he may be reborn and so that the show might be reinvented. This is no longer a show on the cusp of the popular consciousness. The X-Files is now a pop culture phenomenon. The fourth season earned the show’s highest ratings ever with Leonard Betts. Gillian Anderson would claim the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy Award for her work here. The show had moved to Sunday nights, and proved a hit. Chris Carter had already written The X-Files: Fight the Future.

More than that, Gethsemane itself became something of a national talking point. The New Yorker had published an article in January 1997 decrying what it perceived to be the decline of The X-Files as an institution – itself a sure sign that The X-Files had become popular, and also demonstrating that you don’t have to wait too long before you will find somebody claiming that a beloved show has “jumped the shark.” However, even the cynicism of The New Yorker acknowledged the impact of Gethsemane, publishing a cartoon affectionately referencing it.

Ice, ice, baby...

Ice, ice, baby…

Indeed, The Wall Street Journal even got in on the fun, polling fans in the wake of the cliffhanger to see what they made of Mulder’s “suicide.” Unsurprisingly, it seems that a significant majority of fans correctly figured out where Chris Carter was going with the cliffhanger. This demonstrates a key factor in Gethsemane: nobody watching the episode with any sense of televisual literacy would actually believe that Fox Mulder had turned his gun on himself and taken his own life. In fact, the opening scene is quite transparent in the way that it hides the identity of the body.

Gethsemane seems to take this assumption for granted. After all, the show had a fifth season coming up. David Duchovny would be working over the summer on Fight the Future. Given how essential Mulder and Scully were to The X-Files, it seemed unlikely that Chris Carter would kill off the show’s lead character at the absolute height of its popularity. Somewhat shrewdly, Gethsemane takes this granted. It is smart enough to realise that most viewers understand the demands external to the show’s narrative that make killing Fox Mulder impossible at this juncture.

A chilling discovery...

A chilling discovery…

That would seem to be the point. If Anasazi killed off Mulder so that The Blessing Way might resurrect him, it seems that Gethsemane kills off Mulder to prove that he is invincible. At this point in time, nothing can kill Mulder, just like nothing can harm The X-Files. The show that began life as a low-budget and underrated cult phenomenon has evolved into a well-loved mainstream hit. This is The X-Files at its zenith. This is The X-Files ascendant. The gap between the fourth and fifth seasons arguably represents the very peak of the show’s popularity.

The X-Files has worked phenomenally hard to reach this point. It has earned the right be discussed as one of the defining American television shows of the nineties. Of course, as the Redux trilogy clumsily acknowledges, life is often cyclical. The X-Files began as something of a fringe and cult property, and it would arguably end as something of a fringe and cult property. However, at this moment in time, The X-Files could be counted alongside Law & Order, E.R., Chicago Hope and NYPD Blue as one of the biggest shows of the year.

Ice to see you...

Ice to see you…

It is interesting to contrast the death of Mulder in Gethsemane to the closure of the X-files in The Erlenmeyer Flask way back at the end of the first season. It seems a life-time ago. In The X-Files Confidential, writer Glen Morgan recalls how worried Fox were than fans would think that the show had been cancelled:

That was another case where we had to fight the network. They said, ‘Closing the X-Files is completely unacceptable. We will not air it because people will believe the show’s been cancelled.’ My response was, ‘It’s your job to let them know it hasn’t, and this is the best way to end the season.’

The network was less concerned that viewers would make a similar mistake in the wake Gethsemane. In fact, the network refused to confirm that the fifth season was not just a clever hoax to make the ending all the more shocking. A spokesperson playfully offered, “That would be a conspiracy reaching the highest levels of Fox.”

Into the wild...

Into the wild…

Of course, the death of Fox Mulder seems designed to mirror the passing of another iconic pulp fiction character. Much more than any of Mulder’s other “deaths” over the course of the show, Gethsemane evokes the famous death of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, Gethsemane foreshadows Steven Moffat and Steven Thompson’s adaptation of The Final Problem as The Reichenbach Fall for Sherlock almost two decade later. In both Gethsemane and The Reichenbach Fall end with their lead seeming to commit suicide, and a second part that glosses over the mechanics of the feint.

Gethsemane is quite similar to The Final Problem in that both stories build to the reveal that the lead character is dead, as confirmed by their closest acquaintance. In both cases, the story is constructed with just enough room to back away from the shocking conclusion. As Carter does in Gethsemane, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was careful in The Final Problem to avoid leaving a body behind. While Mulder and Holmes both “die” at the climax of a particularly heightened adventure, the stories are designed in such a way that an obvious “out” presents itself in each case.

A cold welcome...

A cold welcome…

Watching Gethsemane, one cannot help but wonder if Chris Carter is intentionally echoing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle was motivated to kill off his character because he resented the control that Holmes’ marketability exerted over him. He labelled the death as self-defence:

I have had such an overdose of him that feel towards him as I do towards paté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day … I have been much blames for doing that gentleman to death, but I hold that it was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defence, since, if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me.

It is interesting to wonder whether Chris Carter might have empathised. He had originally planned to do five seasons of The X-Files; however, Fox had already convinced him to extend it further. More than that, Carter had created Millennium to branch out from the show, but it had not taken off as he desired.

"Yep, I'm sure 'Colony' was staged. And all the other stuff that the bad guys said when talking to themselves."

“Yep, I’m sure ‘Colony’ was staged. And all the other stuff that the bad guys said when talking to themselves.”

A large amount of the fourth and fifth seasons is spent trying to extend the show’s central mythology, to stall or stretch a story originally planned to run for five seasons. Carter had already written Fight the Future, he had already committed to a sixth season and beyond. From the fourth season onwards, Carter would devote considerable effort to expanding and developing his brand beyond The X-Files. However, nothing in Carter’s filmography could compete with The X-Files for longevity. Gethsemane is less than half-way through a run that should almost be finished.

As such, it seems appropriate to wonder whether there was some small measure of frustration here, whether the reference to Sherlock Holmes extended beyond the playfulness of killing off a protagonist who was so rooted in the popular consciousness as to be practically immortal. Fox Mulder will not die; The X-Files will live forever. Regardless of how it eventually turned out, that is quite legacy. By this stage, it has created a legacy that will almost certainly eclipse the rest Chris Carter’s body of work.

Bloodying the waters...

Bloodying the waters…

The X-Files has come a long way since the first season. In fact, Gethsemane seems designed to emphasis this distance. In many respects, Gethsemane looks like a blockbuster movie. It sends Mulder into the Yukon Mountains, shot beautifully by helicopter. In fact, the whole early sequence in the mountains seems to exist to demonstrate how much the budget has grown since that first season. There is a lovely (and gratuitous) shot a helicopter in flight, as if to demonstrate that The X-Files can not only afford a helicopter, but another helicopter to shoot that helicopter.

Gethsemane, Redux I and Redux II all place considerable emphasis on the fact that Mulder and Scully have been doing this for four years now. “Four years ago, Section Chief Blevins assigned me to a project you all know as the X-files,” Scully explains in the teaser. Even though Mulder himself worked on the X-files for years before Scully arrived, he seems to treat The Pilot as year zero for his quest. When Kritschgau challenges everything that Mulder holds dear, Mulder demands, “Why come to me now? Why not four years ago?”

"And like that... he was gone..."

“And like that… he was gone…”

The X-Files is often a show fascinated about the way that the past relates to the present; it is a show that suggests that many of the problems that exist today are a result of decisions made years ago. As the show prepares to enter its fifth season, it faces its own history and past. The X-Files has been around for a while, it will likely be around for a while longer. In some ways, Gethsemane serves as an example of The X-Files coming to terms with its own age. With the development of Fight the Future, the show will have been around half-a-decade and more. That’s a long time.

In keeping with this fixation on the passage of time, it is interesting that Gethsemane is largely free from the recurring cast that The X-Files has accrued over the past four years. Skinner and the Cigarette-Smoking Man play major roles in Redux, with the Lone Gunman and the First Elder also appearing in the first two episodes of the fifth season. In contrast, the fourth season finalé is largely free of the show’s major recurring guest stars – with the exception of Sheila Larkin as Margaret Scully.

"And now it's time for out quart-annual review!"

“And now it’s time for out quart-annual review!”

Instead, Section Chief Scott Blevins shows up to demand answers from Scully. Blevins was the character who initially placed Scully on the X-files to report on Mulder. He appeared again in Conduit, the fourth episode of the first season. Outside of some archive footage in Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, this is the first time that Blevins has appeared in almost four years. His presence seems intended to form a concrete and substantial link to the show’s increasingly distant past.

Of course, The X-Files was in the process of historicalising its own past at this point. The fourth season as a whole seemed quite interested in the show’s history. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man featured the eponymous character listening to recordings from The Pilot, playing the role of affectionate fan. Between the fourth and fifth seasons, Ten Thirteen would begin licensing comic book adaptations from the first season, providing easy access to those early stories for fans in an era before DVD made it practical to own entire seasons of The X-Files.

Shadow call...

Shadow call…

Still, there is also a strong sense that The X-Files treats its own past as something that cannot be completely recovered. Max Fenig was a guest star in Fallen Angel; he returned for Tempus Fugit and Max, promptly killed off in the first five minutes of the two-parter. Here, Section Chief Scott Blevins is brought back after a four-year absence, building to his assassination at the end of Redux II. The past occasionally returns to haunt The X-Files, but it is promptly tidied away.

Gethsemane is not the last time that the show will focus on the show’s own past. The climax of the seventh season see the show focusing on its own origins. Requiem will take Mulder and Scully back to their very first collaboration for a rather funereal story. However, while the fourth and fifth seasons seem to treat these historical elements as clutter to be cleared away, the seventh and eighth season comes to fetishise these links to the show’s past. In a way, this reflects the different stages of evolution for The X-Files.

"Don't worry, just doing normal trusting friendly stuff here. Nothing to worry about."

“Don’t worry, just doing normal trusting friendly stuff here. Nothing to worry about.”

In the fourth and fifth seasons, The X-Files is on top of the world. It has a long and prosperous future ahead of it. However, the seventh and eighth seasons are more insecure. The future is less certain, and a major part of the show’s foundation is lost. The past looks less like clutter and more like valuable support. This contrast is quite clear in how the show treats these historical elements. Max Fenig and Scott Blevins are killed off almost immediately, Billy Miles becomes a recurring character eight years after his first appearance.

There are other links between The Erlenmeyer Flask and Gethsemane. Chris Carter’s season finalés are broadly similar. Talitha Cumi offers the most conventional “to be continued…” conclusion of any of the show’s nine seasons, closing on a very matter-of-fact foot chase through a creepy location. Then again, there was a clear purpose behind that as well; Talitha Cumi was the cliffhanger most committed to assuring viewers that it would be “business as usual” the following season. However, Chris Carter’s other season finalés fit a broad pattern.

Body of proof...

Body of proof…

Carter is very fond of undermining The X-Files at the end of the season. Most of his season finalés essentially take away some element of the show that is essential to its identity. The Erlenmeyer Flask closes the X-files, making it very difficult to keep calling the show The X-Files. Anasazi calls Scully out for how far she has come since The Pilot, suggests that everything Mulder believes is a lie, and kills off the lead characters. This trend continues through to the end of the eighth season, which seems to remove two key ingredients for the show.

Gethsemane hits many of those same plot beats; arguably it is the last time that any of them will work quite as well. The teaser suggests to us that Scully has turned against Mulder, that the fabric of the show has been undermined. “I am here today to expose this lie,” Scully tells her superiors. “To show the mechanism of deception that drew him and me into it. And to expose Agent Mulder’s work for what it is.” Four years late, Scully has completed the task assigned to her in The Pilot. She has debunked Mulder, proven everything he believed a lie.

"You know, I'm starting to wonder if his alien family would be cool with us filming his autopsy like this?"

“You know, I’m starting to wonder if his alien family would be cool with us filming his autopsy like this?”

More than that, Gethsemane emphasises the mortality of both of its leads. The opening scene suggests that Mulder has apparently committed suicide, but Scully is also facing her own death sentence. Gethsemane reveals that her cancer has cancer has metastasised, and that she is living on borrowed time. That sense of doom and gloom plays into her conversations with Mulder, with her references to her “dying wish.” The non-linear structure of Gethsemane suggests that Mulder and Scully are counting down their final hours, despite what Fight the Future might suggest.

More to the point, there is a sense that the relationship between the two characters is not healthy. The relationship between Mulder and Scully underpins The X-Files, so chipping away at that is chipping away at the show’s foundation. The teaser implies that Scully has turned on Mulder, but there are other unsettling suggestions. Early on, Scully seems to reject Mulder’s pursuit of the truth. “This is your holy grail, Mulder,” she bluntly tells Mulder. “Not mine.” For all the talk of shared lives and shared quests, Gethsemane suggests that there is a limit.



More than that, Scully seems to question Mulder’s entire philosophy. When he gets excited about the possibility of tangible proof, she asks, “You already believe, Mulder. What difference would it make? I mean, what would proof change for you?” It is a point that suggests Mulder’s desperate pursuit of the truth is anchored in insecurity and uncertainty, despite his posturing and boasting. Most crucially, the scene closes with Scully abandoning Mulder. “I can’t go with you, Mulder,” she tells him, speaking in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

Of course, Scully does not just abandon Mulder. Mulder abandons Scully as well. After his scenes were cut from Memento Mori, Bill Scully makes his first appearance in Gethsemane. While he is not a particularly pleasant character, he does make some very valid points. Collecting Scully from one of her medical appointments, he directs a lot of justifiable anger towards Mulder. “Well where is he, Dana? Where is he through all this?” Mulder, it seems, considers a block of ice more important than the woman who has given so much for him these past four years.

Tears of a clown...

Tears of a clown…

All of this is building towards the big reveal nestled at the heart of Gethsemane. The episode hints that Mulder’s work has been a lie, the relationship between Mulder and Scully has been a lie. Ultimately, it suggests that the entire show is a lie. Gethsemane doesn’t just attack Mulder and Scully, it attacks The X-Files itself as a piece of television. It suggests that everything built up over the past four years is a lie in one form or another. At the climax of Gethsemane, Mulder is pushed to the brink of suicide by the realisation that it is all a story.

Michael Kritschgau explains to Mulder that everything that he has seen over the past four years has been carefully stage-managed and manipulated. Mulder has seen what the people in power wanted him to see, and that he was used as a tool to help perpetuate a story that covers up for much more banal abuses of power. The X-files (and The X-Files) are not just a failed attempt to expose real atrocities, they are a cover-story that help to hide those same horrible actions. The X-files (and The X-Files) have failed.

"Stop, don't shoot! Let me shoot holes in the conspiracy!"

“Stop, don’t shoot! Let me shoot holes in the show’s mythology!”

Gethsemane was broadcast in May 1997. However, Chris Carter had attended the World Sceptics Congress in June 1996. There, he was confronted with a host of criticism about how The X-Files seemed to undermine critical and sceptical thought. In a lecture broadcast on BBC in November 1996, Richard Dawkins laid into the show:

How do we account for the current paranormal vogue in the media? Perhaps it has something to do with the millennium-in which case it is depressing to realise that it is still three years away. Less portentously, it may be an attempt to cash in on the success of The X-Files. This is fiction and therefore defensible as pure entertainment.

A fair defence, you might think. But soap operas, cop series and the like are justly criticised if, week after week, they ram home the same prejudice or bias. Each week The X-Files poses a mystery and offers two rival kinds of explanation, the rational theory and the paranormal theory. And, week after week, the rational explanation loses. But it is only fiction, a bit of fun, why get so hot under the collar?

Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a black suspect. And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to have done it. Unpardonable. You could not defend it by saying: “But it’s only fiction, only entertainment.”

For Carter – who took considerable pride in the idea that The X-Files invites its audience to question as it “subverts a certain amount of authority” – this must have seemed like a very damning indictment. What if The X-Files was not being used to encourage people to question authority, but to unquestioningly accept crazy theories?

"We need to talk about you pornography problem..."

“We need to talk about you pornography problem…”

The fourth season of The X-Files seems to engage rather sceptically and critically with itself; it seems to question its own contributions to the conspiracy culture of the nineties. After all, were the beliefs of Timothy McVeigh that disconnected from those of Fox Mulder. Anti-government militias haunt the fourth season in episode in episodes as diverse as The Field Where I Died, Tunguska, Terma and Unrequited. The fourth season has been remarkably introspective and considered about the relationship between The X-Files and nineties conspiracy theory.

So Gethsemane has Mulder confront that idea head-on. What if all his work was just a way of fostering belief in the paranormal or the supernatural as smokescreen to prevent people focusing on the very real problems? In doing so, the show returns to one of the core ideas from the first season – the sense that The X-Files existed in a somewhat listless and disconnected space after the end of the Cold War. According to Kritschgau, these alien threats exist as a way of perpetuating military spending.

Found footage...

Found footage…

Kitschgau recalls his own history, “working for the DoD, watching a military industrial complex that operated unbridled and unchecked during the Cold War create a diversion of attention from itself and its continued misdeeds by confabulating enough believable evidence to convince passionate adepts like yourself… that it really could be true.” As such, the X-files become part of a tapestry of lies. Mulder’s pursuit of the truth is nothing but a distraction and a smokescreen, perhaps reflecting real anxieties around the show itself.

Indeed, there are points in Gethsemane were it seems like Mulder and Scully can almost peer behind the curtain – where the duo seem almost aware of the fact that they are trapped inside a story. Mulder is pushed to the brink of suicide by the realisation that his entire life is a narrative over which he can assert no control. Kritschgau presents Mulder with a version of events that is likely closer to the real-life explanation for the belief in UFOs than the internal logic of The X-Files. It certainly mirrors the claims made by Richard Doty and the leaks from Edward Snowden.

Washed up...

Washed up…

So Mulder finds himself confronted by the logic of the real world, as opposed to the internal logic of The X-Files. In brushing against the idea that aliens are nothing but fictional constructs and his entire life has been a made-up story, Mulder seems to touch upon the idea that he may be a fictional character himself. His life is not his own, it is orchestrated by outside forces. In essence, his life has been written and plotted, and pieced together. Gethsemane seems to engage in reflexive self-criticism.

After all, the criticism that really lands with Mulder is more of a literary criticism of The X-Files than a logical criticism of his work. “He said that the men behind this hoax… behind these lies… gave me this disease to make you believe,” Scully confesses. As such, Scully was used as a prop in a larger story about Mulder. This is the revelation that breaks Mulder; not the idea that his sister was taken for a hoax, nor that the guest characters in the episode died for nothing. It is the suggestion that Scully was used as a narrative device.

The great white yonder...

The great white yonder…

This is a very valid criticism of Scully’s abduction arc as a whole. The production team had to write Gillian Anderson out of The X-Files due to her pregnancy, but they opted to do it in a way that reduced Scully’s agency as a character. When Scully was abducted in Ascension, it was explicitly framed as a plot about Mulder. At the end of Sleepless, the Cigarette-Smoking Man suggested that Scully was being taken to punish Mulder for his refusal to stop working on the X-files. Part of the beauty of One Breath is the way that Glen Morgan and James Wong critiqued this development.

To be fair to The X-Files, the show eventually figured out how to use Scully’s abduction to advance her own character arc. The misogyny at the heart of the conspiracy became explicit in the third season, with the execution of Melissa Scully in The Blessing Way and the revelation of all the exploited women in Nisei and 731. Scully became a woman who has not defined by the abuse she had received, but who resolved to hold the men responsible to account. There is a very strong feminist reading to be made of the mythology.

Identifying a problem...

Identifying a problem…

However, as Gethsemane argues, the actual abduction arc was somewhat ill-judged at the time. There was a way to write Gillian Anderson out of the show without turning her into a prop in a plot about Mulder as a character. While that two-parter became the basis of the show’s expansive and well-developed mythology, Gethsemane points to it as an original sin for the series – an ill-judged character development that probably could have been handled much better. It is no coincidence that part of Redux II‘s revision is the magical remission of Scully’s cancer.

In keeping with this fascination about authorship, Gethsemane spends considerable time meditating on the existence of the divine. The title provides an obvious connection, as does Mulder’s “death” and “resurrection” or the idea that the simple “deionised water” recovered by Mulder in Redux might mystically transubstantiate into a cure for Scully’s cancer. Mulder likens his pursuit of aliens to Scully’s religious faith. Scully spends a family dinner sitting next to a priest. Faith and hope are frequent topics of conversation.

Stairway to heaven...

Stairway to heaven…

Even director R.W. Goodwin gets in on the act – a lot of sequences in Gethsemane are shot from high angles, as if the audience are staring down upon creation itself. The epic backdrop of the Yukon Mountains seems to provide an infinite white space; it evokes an all-consuming white light, or perhaps even a blank page waiting to be written. Scully comes to terms with the idea that she might meet her maker, while Mulder is frustrated at the idea that his life is not his own – that Fox Mulder the product of a bunch of powerful men.

In a very real sense, this draws attention to Chris Carter as the architect of The X-Files. He is, in a very real sense, the show’s creator. He writes the complete Redux trilogy with no assistance from any of the staff; even Fight the Future was written with assistance from Frank Spotnitz. He is the man who directs Mulder and Scully, who chooses the course that their lives might take. Gethsemane comes quite close to having Mulder and Scully engage with him, at least on an abstract level.

He won't take that lying down...

He won’t take that lying down…

This concern with fictionality and reality helps to mark Gethsemane as quite reflexive and postmodern. As with several other points in the fourth season, the influence of Darin Morgan can be keenly felt on Gethsemane. Kritschgau’s story in Gethsemane seems quite close to the possibility suggested in Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, that aliens are just convenient scapegoats for an out-of-control military industrial complex. The late third-season episode has a considerable influence on the Redux trilogy as a whole.

After all, Gethsemane closes with Mulder watching taped footage as an attempt to shore up his own wavering faith and uncertainty. In Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, Mulder watched the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage of Bigfoot. In Gethsemane, Mulder watches footage of Carl Sagan insisting on the possibility of alien life out there in the universe. Given Sagan’s criticism of The X-Files in The Demon Haunted World, the usage seems quite wry and almost ironic – particularly in light of the suggestion that Mulder’s work was used to demean scepticism.

A light in the darkness...

A light in the darkness…

Redux II features another obvious reference to Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, after the Cigarette-Smoking Man arranges for a special conversation between Mulder and Samantha. As in Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, Mulder has a potentially revelatory conversation in what looks like a small-town diner. However, despite the fact that he is conversing with a character who provides a vitally important evidence opposed to Mulder’s own theories, Mulder is inevitably forced to leave the diner on his own.

Gethsemane is a delightful paradox. Leaving aside all of the (many, many) logical problems that Kritschgau’s theory causes for the direction of show, Gethsemane is an episode that celebrates the success of The X-Files. It is, in its essence, a story about how you can’t kill Mulder – even if you open with a shot of a dead body in his apartment and a positive ID from Agent Scully. Mulder is invincible. So is The X-Files at this point in time.

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

5 Responses

  1. X-cellent review for an X-cellent episode! The main premise, that it was all a conspiracy and that there are no real aliens, is a twist that brings XF into more down-to-earth real-world matters, it would have been an exciting direction for the series to take after four years of ambiguity — an excitement probably drarfed by the challenge to explain all the contradictions that would have emerged as a result.

    However, it is an interesting possibility to explore in terms of storytelling, one more theory among many theories XF put out there as objects to think about without privileging one of them. Given that “Fight the Future” was already written at that time and was firmly anchoring the reality of aliens in the XF universe, this was the last chance Carter had to tell this story — before the pressure to resolve the mythology and provide firm answers became too big.

    • Thanks for the kind words! And for the wonderful X-Files resource you run!

      I’m a big fan of Gethsemane. It’s one of my favourite season finalés, along with Requiem. It’s just so sombre and reflective and… quiet and contemplative.

  2. Just got to this episode in my rewatch and thought I’d leave a belated comment. Watching this episode now you do get a strong sense that Carter had lost a bit of control over his creation. You point out the revising of Scully’s abduction narrative by the cancer remission in Redux II, but it’s very explicitly commented on here when Scully says “the men behind this hoax, behind these lies, gave me this disease to make you believe.” That could be read as directed at Spotnitz and the writers who wanted to further the mythology and the cancer arc to their own ends.
    There has been much discussion over how Carter originally planned for the series to last 5 years. It is interesting to note that the final “piece” of the mythology Carter saved for “The End/The Beginning” is the notion that “alien” biology is just activated dormant human biology. The black oil/purity virus is somewhat ret-conned to be nothing but a mechanism that turns on this DNA. Look back over the 5 years’ mythology and omit Spotnitz’s contributions. “Erlenmeyer Flask” “Paper Clip” “Herrenvolk” “Gethsemane” all seem to point at a direction Carter couldn’t take the show even though it may have been his original intent. They all suggest a very much human or earthly obsession with a master race and using the Purity Control project as a means to engineer such a race through activation of these dormant genes.
    All of this is still true in the show’s universe you just have the actual aliens and rebels on Earth also. Maybe fatigue just started to set in and Carter turned over the reigns to Spotnitz mid season 5 at which point the show ventures into some heavy sci-fi elements that go well beyond what Fight the Future did. And maybe Carter wasn’t all that pleased with that direction and that’s why it was so quickly abandoned mid season 6.
    Like I said, I just watched this episode in the context of some heavily grounded work in seasons 3 and 4. It’s hard to imagine The Red and The Black less than half a season away.

    • That’s a very interesting reading, particularly the “Carter minus Spotnitz” stuff.

      I also suspect Duchovny doesn’t get enough credit for shaping what the mythology became, with his contribution to scripts like Colony and Anasazi coming at a point where the show was embarking on the mytholgoy. Duchovny’s a big fan of Campbell, so I’d credit him with both Mulder’s hero’s journey and all the Star Wars stuff. (Maybe even leading to the Rebels and the Colonists.)

      At the same time, whether he’s responsible for the ideas that led to the point or not, I think Carter is a big fan of some of the ideas inherent to the heavy sci-fi elements. In particular, the interpretation of the conflict as a “war in heaven” in Colony/End Game and Patient X/The Red and the Black feels quite logical coming from the guy who wrote Red Museum.

      (In fact, a lot of the first season of Millennium plays as a missing link between those two two-parters, with Lamentation/Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions serving as the middle part of a trilogy of “war in heaven” two-parters. Not to mention that the serial killer in The Pilot seems to be creating rebels.)

      • That Millennium connection, that’s an interesting take! But I see your point. Carter clearly wanted to integrate the aliens/God analogy somehow, which is explicitly discussed in this episode. That definitely seems like a Carter addition to some plotting by Spotnitz.

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