Kelechi Ehenulo continues our alphabetical breakdown of The X-Files by looking at the history of healing on the show…
The rock group Queen famously once said, “Who wants to live forever?”
The notion feels tempting, right? The ability to see the world beyond its years as it evolves. When it comes to The X-Files, the concept of immortality is expansive. Just like how the show finds balance in Mulder and Scully, the same can be applied to the subject.
Immortality (as designed on the show) can be viewed in two ways.
Firstly, there’s the literal sense. The desire or ability to live longer or extending a natural life. Whilst the show has always shone a torch into the darkness by exploring the paranormal and alien conspiracies, this concept is not unfamiliar. In fact, it goes as far back as the first season.
In ‘Young at Heart’, criminal John Barnett defied the odds, which became one of many catalysts that defined Mulder’s behaviour in regards to FBI procedures. Barnett’s supposed death in prison was a smokescreen. He became a scientific experiment in which he could age backwards. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, his rejuvenated youth allowed him the perfect cover to re-commit the crimes he was famous for and terrorise the agent who incarcerated him.
In season two, ‘Our Town’ looked at immortality, not through scientific experiments in which the government took a keen interest in. The exploration came from food consumption. The town of Dudley, Arkansas lived a secretive double life where everything on the surface seemed normal but in fact, lived a dark, cultural underbelly. By resulting to cannibalism, the townspeople indulged in their own twisted version of “the fountain of youth”. Their culinary delights slowed down their aging, allowing them to appear youthful, defying the laws of nature. The only way to understand their truth is if you discovered their actual birth certificate, they fed on someone suffering from a disease or the town got sloppy, battling their own interests over their tight-held secrecy. All the above happened and Special Agent Dana Scully was nearly the next victim.
The show also looked at immortality in terms of genetics. ‘Leonard Betts’ was a human anomaly. His body riddled with cancer to the point where not only he could diagnose it in other people but they also became his next target and victim. Driven by compulsion and the help of an iodine solution, Betts fed off it to regrow lost body parts which included his severed head. The episode ‘Trevor’ went a step further, combining genetics and supernatural phenomenon brought about by the weather. Wilson Pinker Rawls gained the uncanny ability to pass through objects. How? By changing the composition and turning objects into carbon. Besides an obvious weakness to glass, he was almost indestructible.
And living a longer life has gone as far as granting a person a wish. In Je Souhaite, Jenn came across an ifrit. Feeling intelligent, she spoke up and said:
“Je souhaite un grand pouvoir et une longue vie” (I wish for great power and long life)
Like a prison tattoo, she was given the mark of the Jinn and became a genie, granting wishes to those who unroll her from her rug. In her own words, she should have been specific.
But can immortality be looked at in the spiritual sense? That’s the second examination.
The bible has always inhabited the idea of life after death or an afterlife. Our spiritual journey is everlasting as we take our next step into the next world. In The X-Files and for the characters affected, the intentions are often emotional and self-serving.
Some have gone to the lengths of using their spiritual immortality as a revenge mechanism. In ‘Shadows’, Howard Graves haunted his secretary Lauren Kyte. Murdered by his work colleague and refusing to let Lauren suffer a similar fate, he did what was necessary to protect her from harm, including murder. It was a relationship built on respect and parental-like affection as highlighted in a confession to Mulder and Scully where Lauren openly viewed Howard like a father.
In Born Again, Michelle Bishop was described as being a “disturbed child”. But the investigation brought to light that she was possessed by Charlie Morris, a police officer drowned in his tropical fish tank by his colleagues. Isaac Luria, a Hasidic Jew came back to life on the wishes of his wife to be in ‘Kaddish’. While it was her intention just to see her husband again after he was brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack, Isaac took on the form of a Golem, an emotionless man-made monster and murdered those involved in his death.
On the other hand, the opposite of the revenge mechanism is spirits finding newfound purposes or roles. Some are based on the classic good vs. evil battle, transporting souls to where they will be safe and out of the hands of the devil, as displayed in ‘All Souls’. In ‘The Field Where I Died’, it was reincarnated souls, soulmates reuniting. And in ‘How the Ghosts Stole Christmas’, the star-crossed lovers Lyda and Maurice just wanted to have fun. Forming a lovers’ pact, every Christmas Eve their home and their Halloween style antics tormented anyone who dared to venture on their property. In their own words, they didn’t forget the true spirit of Christmas.
But the biggest question in regards to immortality belongs to a certain FBI agent. Is Dana Scully immortal? There’s evidence to suggest that.
In the clever and hilarious episode ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’, Scully curiously asked the psychic on how she would die. “You don’t” Clyde suggests. Fast forward to Season 6 in ‘Tithonus’, Scully is accidentally shot by Special Agent Ritter as he tried to apprehend Alfred Fellig. While Ritter frantically rushed to get emergency help, Fellig guides Scully not to look at death, thus “transferring” his gift unto her and stealing her death. Even in the new revival series, Scully casually remarks to Mulder that she’s immortal after surviving a precarious situation in ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’.
Do I believe Scully is immortal? I don’t know because it can be viewed either way.
The beauty about The X-Files was never to prove or disprove a theory, if that makes sense. We are presented with some truths but the show was always an aura of mystery and ambiguity. It invited you into the debate and tested your beliefs. Ultimately it came down to the show’s core theme of faith, adopting the same balance principle as you would come to expect from Mulder and Scully and their investigations. But whatever that result is on what you believe, it doesn’t take away how awesome the character is or the impact she continues to make.
The question is, is there an overall benefit to living forever? The answer is not that straightforward.
The show treats it as a blessing and a curse. John Barnett saw his extended youth not as a new beginning to start a new life but as a venture into payback. He became a figure stuck on a loop, unable to change his addictive and remorseless nature. The townspeople in ‘Our Town’ ultimately wanted a change of leadership, losing their faith in the man who introduced the culture to them. Other examples such as ‘Aubrey’ and ‘The Calusari’ showcase the pain inflicted onto others by an unescapable past coming home to roost.
The Syndicate abused the idea by creating alien-human hybrids (‘Two Fathers’/’One Son’) as an alternative to survive the alien invasion. Even cloning wasn’t beyond their reach (‘Colony’/’End Game’). In ‘Je Souhaite’, Jenn being witnessed to 500 years of human history, became tired of watching the stupidity in humanity in asking for the same indulgent wishes. “Give me money. Give me big boobs. Give me a big hoo-hoo. Make me cool like the Fonz. Or whoever’s the big name now.” In her eyes, humanity has not changed but has led to greediness, shallowness and self-destruction.
However, the ultimate feeling belongs to Alfred Fellig. Despite his own misdemeanours and numerous attempts to end his own life, eternal life was hell. Unable to pass over, he spends his time capturing the death of others in his photography. Psychologically punished and tortured, photography was his way of coming close to experience what death felt like, to stare at its face. By explaining this to Agent Scully, he paints an ugly picture, killing all aspects of romanticism or any idealist hope. There’s no such thing as too much life, love or things yet to experience. When your time is up, that’s it.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe immortality is something you shouldn’t take in the literal sense. Given whatever time we have, maybe the true essence of immortality is achieved through actions and sincere acts of integrity. Through interactions of others and remembrance, they transcend and become something else entirely. They become stories. They become examples. They become legends.
What Mulder and Scully have done is the definition of that.