All I remembered about Season 7 of "The X-Files" was feeling unsatisfied with the explanation of what happened to Samantha Mulder and the fact that it was the last “real” season before everything started to go all to hell. I had a definite chip on my shoulder, but perhaps I wanted it to disappoint. If the last full Mulder season devolved into something not worth saving anyway, then I could tell myself it was fine David Duchovny left the show.
Halfway through I find myself surprisingly charmed. Season 6′s pleasant but unfocused style left me thinking Chris Carter probably couldn’t get back on the horse and make 7 more polished. I rarely enjoy being wrong quite so much. Mulder and Scully’s will they or won’t they relationship, while neither precisely explained or resolved, develops a comfortably intimate quality with less sexual tension. We don’t know exactly what they get up to when the camera isn’t there, but it feels like they’ve finally figured some important things out. Season 7 also marks the return of a subtle unifying theme to give the episodes more depth and meaning. Questions of spirituality drive the season. Faith, religion, and whether or not God and the Devil exist come up in nearly every episode.
In “The Sixth Extinction” and “Amor Fati,” Mulder is still in the hospital, looking well and truly crazy and quite possibly damned. Skinner hooks up with Michael Kirtschgau (from back in “Redux”) and they figure out that Mulder’s weird temporal lobe activity has given him astounding psychic powers. Diana Fowley hangs around, simultaneously expressing her love to Mulder, working with the Cigarette Smoking Man and giving everyone trying to help Mulder a hard time. Back in Africa, Scully’s busy investigating the alien craft from “Biogenesis” and bearing witness to increasingly inexplicable events. What with the sea turning to blood and boiling men alive, attacks by locusts, and dead things coming back to life, the discovery of passages from religious texts (like the Bible and Koran) and pieces of the human genome carved on the ship doesn’t seem surprising.
Dr. Barnes, the man who discovered the craft, comes to the conclusion that all life on Earth came from the aliens. There is no God; this ship and the aliens who sent it answer every important question humanity has ever asked. The realization drives him totally insane, and Scully just barely manages to escape his loony clutches. She returns to D.C. just before CSM tells Mulder that he’s his real father and steals him out of the hospital. Mulder descends into a dream about a normal life with none of the guilt and responsibility of the X-Files while Fowley and CSM prepare to cut his brain open. Apparently, when the Russians performed black oil experiments on him a few years ago, Mulder got infected with the alien virus. Exposure to radiation from the craft fragments activated the virus, turning him into a perfect human-alien hybrid.
CSM still believes only hybridization will save humanity from alien invasion. He puts genetic material from his son’s brain into his own in order to continue the work. Mulder might not survive, and in a rare non-bitch moment, Fowley begins to have a change of heart. Scully becomes increasingly frantic as she tries to find her partner. Albert Hosteen visits to pray with her and spur on her search. Before the surgery, Fowley slips away to give Scully her security pass for the Department of Defense lab where Mulder is being held.
Scully finds him, near death, after the surgery. Later, we discover that Hosteen couldn’t have been with Scully because he’d been in a coma for weeks. Diana Fowley was found murdered and Scully basically forgives her. The episode ends with Mulder and Scully having a very touching moment where each declares the other a touchstone and constant even when the world is falling apart.
I think much about these episodes undermines Dr. Barnes’ belief that there’s nothing out there but the aliens. While the proof on the ship posits an extraterrestrial answer to many important questions, it doesn’t explain them all. If Albert Hosteen can guide Scully through a period of despair from his deathbed and Diana Fowley can experience redemption, these, along with many other events in Season 7, suggest there are things in the universe of greater spiritual import than little green men.
“Millennium” acts as a de facto series finale for Chris Carter’s cancelled show of the same name. Members of the mysterious Millennium Group kill themselves with the goal of reanimation as zombie Horsemen of the Apocalypse. As the hours tick down to January 1, 2000, Mulder, Scully, and Millennium’s Frank Black hunt down the necromancer behind the ghoulish rituals. The question of whether or not they should believe that failure to do so will bring on the end times fits Season 7′s theme nicely. Even if it didn’t, the episode is a classic for its inclusion of the first Mulder/Scully kiss in which both people are actually themselves. Thankfully, neither the zombies nor the kiss result in the end of the world.
In “Orison,” the eponymous minister has a gift for group hypnosis. He uses it to spring our old friend, death fetishist Donnie Pfaster, from prison, in order to punish him for his sins. Reverend Orison has killed a number of criminals before, but Donnie proves too much for him. He kills the reverend and goes to finish off Scully, the only victim who got away. Orison is either holy or delusional, so before his death, when he sees Donnie take the form of a demon, it’s hard to know whether to believe him. For her part, Scully has long suspected Pfaster has something of the devil in him. When she eventually ends his life, she can’t help but wonder, was it her own vengeance or God’s?
In “Signs & Wonders,” evil appears in a more substantive form. You can’t help but feel fear and revulsion toward the wild-eyed, snake handling evangelist preacher Enoch O’Connor. When former members of his congregation start turning up dead via snake, he makes one hell of an obvious suspect. The town’s other preacher, pleasant, mild-mannered demon in disguise Samuel Mackey hardly registers in comparison. His honeyed voice tells everyone what they want to hear to lure them into complacency. It’s a good skill for a demon, and a good hint for the viewer that there’s more in the universe than what’s dreamt of in Dr. Barnes’ philosophy.
Final and fairly conclusive proof of a spiritual dimension above and beyond the aliens comes in “Sein et Zeit” and “Closure.” The investigation into the disappearance of a young girl leads Mulder to learn at last what really happened to his sister. In an earlier episode, Scully asked Mulder what he hoped to do now that he’d exposed the Syndicate’s conspiracy and that the men involved were dead. His answer remained consistent. He can’t rest until he finds out what happened to Samantha.
The explanation involves Walk-ins, souls of the dead who travel in starlight. They convert children into energy beings in order to save them from great suffering. Like many of the family members turned over to the aliens as collateral, Samantha Mulder got returned. CSM raised her and his son Jeffery on a military base while, like Cassandra Spender, doctors continued to perform hybridization tests on her. At age 14, paranoid and sick of the tests, Samantha ran away. Before CSM could take her back, the Walk-ins liberated her from her life. CSM allowed Mulder to believe Samantha still lived to give him hope and protect the project.
I remember really loathing these episodes; the Walk-ins felt like a poorly explained cop out. I didn’t love the episodes this time, but I think I understood them better. Both Mulder and the audience deserve, as the title of the second ep suggests, closure. At this late date in the series, introducing the idea that Samantha died a horrible, tragic death probably would have felt like overkill. How do you write her out, once and for all, in a way that doesn’t give Mulder an unnecessary amount of additional pathos?
Chris Carter chose the Walk-ins, and while it still strikes me as a bit too moist and sentimental, seeing the choice in the context of Season 7′s broader spiritual meditations helps me to roll my eyes less. Ghosts and spirits just don’t carry the same weight in “The X-Files” universe as do monsters, aliens, and genetic oddities, and even if they did, the whole Walk-in thing relies a bit much on the woo-woo, feel-good spirituality. I mean, beings made of starlight? Really? But watching the episode with things like the good spirit of Albert Hosteen and the demon in preacher’s clothing in the forefront of my mind made it all much more acceptable. Not great, but not the travesty I recalled either.
Thankfully, the first half of Season 7 does offer up a few episodes that concern themselves with less existentially critical things. The playful chemistry between Mulder and Scully suggests to me that the smooch in “Millennium” isn’t the only thing they’ve been up to. Plus, many of the monsters of the week have enjoyably quirky premises and delightful dialogue. “The Goldberg Variation” features Guest Who Later Got Big Shia LaBoeuf and tells the witty and wryly ironic story of the luckiest man in the world. “The Amazing Maleeni” focuses on a wildly complicated heist planned by a pair of genius magicians. Both episodes are a lot of fun, and there are a few more of their ilk later in season. As I embark upon the last half of Season 7, I find myself appreciating these easy-going one-offs even more than the longer, elegant plot arcs and thematic meditations. They seem normal and familiar, and that’s a feeling I know will disappear all too soon.