Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fox and Sam at the End of the Road: THE X-FILES and "Closure"


It is something of a joke, irony or, perhaps, stunt, to call an X-Files episode "Closure". Firstly, it shares the title with an episode of Millennium, part of a series of crossover and bounce-back between titles of the semi-shared Ten Thirteen Productions universe. Secondly, obviously The X-Files doesn't do closure. Certainly not in the narrative or business senses of the word, where the plot is an endless hanging garden of dangling story threads. The program's picture-making form is driven by denying visual closure. Beasts and bodies are concealed in partial shadow, angels and aliens blaze with intolerable light, and the signature images are two flashlight beams searching about in darkness and a cigarette cherry flaring in the murk. Nor does the show traffic in the sort of psychological "closure" (foothold in our pop psych lexicon gained during X-Files broadcast years) that the episode purports to deliver.

At its foundations The X-Files lacks epistemic closure, every moment is forever open-ceilinged, shifting and frustrated. Paradoxically, it is a closed loop and always was, relates back, receives information, and speaks meaning only to itself. But if you want my opinion, The Truth is both: The X-Files is deeply, deeply anxious, and obscurationist at heart.

Now then, the matter at hand is the ultimate fate of one Samantha Mulder, disappeared from her family home at age 8 in 1973, and the resultant impact on the mental state of her brother, Fox. Because The X-Files is an elegantly constructed machine, one thing leading to another and all, the curious circumstances of the abduction witnessed by the elder Mulder sibling provide meaty story materials and internal character psychology, both. Plainly, when we meet Agent Fox Mulder in 1993, he has come to believe Samantha to have been swiped by marauding aliens. The knight's quest to locate the absent sister fuels much X-Files narrative, and as it is, in short order, folded into the larger series-long mechanics of the Syndicate conspiracy and the antics of various space peoples, a story element of central, driving concern. What Happened to Samantha? is not just juicy Mulder backstory, but frontstory. Forward-story.

Even when not directly inquiring into Samantha's whereabouts, whether tackling concerns larger (global Martian invasion) or unrelated (vampires, mutants, chupacabras), she looms large in Mulder's headspace. Sam is riding on Fox's shoulder and just over the horizon as he chases every Jersey Devil down every blind alley. The memory of witnessing the abduction and the pain of loss catalyze a perfect chain-reaction leading to the Mulder we know: a propensity to regard the paranormal with credulity, a paranoiac bent, empathy for victims, a martyr complex, and so on. Perfect, that is, but for the absent center. Mulder's psychology and belief systems whirl around a cavernous gap and he might collapse in on himself at any moment. He is a man built on shaky premises. Two vital supports that (usually) prevent implosion, though they tend to contradict one another: Scully's devotion to keeping him in check, and repeated evidence that tells Mulder he is right. The kind of closed-loop logic that runs Mulder — no one believes me-> I will make them believe by solving X-Files-> no one believes me because I investigate X-Files — runs all the way down on the basement level of the character and the series. This simple hook with convoluted barbs is summed up by that despairing/hopeful kōan: "I Want to Believe."

So then, the true tale of Samantha's fate and the passion of Fox Mulder: these are the entwined snakes to which episode 11 of season 7, "Closure", intends to bring closure. At the end we will hear an explanation, and Mulder will mutter, "I'm fine... I'm free." But maybe the explanation is not an explanation, and maybe Mulder is neither fine nor free, and just maybe there will be no closure. Then again...


Mulder looks up...

I Saw the Sein

Besides a loathing of plot summaries, a guided walkthrough of the episode is perhaps not the cleanest path through these muddy waters. On first pass, "Closure" seems meandering, its conclusions confusing and confused, to say nothing of dissatisfying and, well, inconclusive. These things may be true, as there seems to be something wrong at every turn, but on the other hand something is wrong at every turn. After much gallivanting around Sacramento suburbs, a women's prison, an abandoned military base, and a fictionalized version of the Skyforest, CA Santa's Village park, a solution to the Samantha Problem. "Closure" says: Samantha T./A. Mulder was stolen from her home, then raised along with Jeffrey Spender at April Air Force Base by the Cigarette Smoking Man. She was likely brainwashed and made subject to medical testing until she escaped and was brought to an emergency room. Before Cigarette Smoking Man could retrieve her from the hospital, Samantha was (fortitude, people...) rescued by benevolent spirits made of starlight, known as Walk-Ins. The means by which the Walk-Ins save the souls of innocents about to suffer brutal, unjust deaths, is to (150 episodes and a feature film leading to this moment) kill them and make their bodies disappear without a trace.

To this information any reaction is acceptable, but popular candidates include "lame," "that sucks," and "holy shit." Sure, sure and sure, but only in flatly stated summary, because "mercy killed by star-souls" is less than half the story; it answers the What and When but not the Why and How. One troubling thing about "Closure" is that it sees the agents chasing down a lot of information that they have already discovered, as if reiterating the plot thus far for newcomers. So Scully reviews videos of Mulder's regression hypnosis from 1989, Mulder finds evidence that Samantha had been relocated to the Spender household, and the possibility is floated that the girl was victim of an entirely unrelated serial killer. None of this is news to the characters, none of it is entirely new plot material, but it forces all involved to sift through most of the open-ended possibilities yet again. Mulder pays multiple visits to the same abandoned house on April Air Force Base with reshuffled agendas, hours of videotape are pored over, mountains of hospital paperwork shoveled through, moldering secret diaries scrutinized, obscure witnesses tracked down and dozens of graves laid open. The treadmill churns, and, feet pounding the same few inches over and over, Mulder never lets up.

The X-Files has an ambivalent, relativistic relationship with the concept of truth. To say that "The Truth is Out There" implies a lot of things, including that one is therefore not in possession of that truth, that if it is perpetually "out there," that one cannot know it fully, but perhaps, too, that there is such a thing and a search may not be in vain. For central example, the truth of immediate concern and contention in any given episode tends to be whether or not some kind of supernatural jive is going down. There generally is, of course, paranormal activity afoot, and the audience is nearly always given some kind of "objective" — that is, not filtered through a character's subjective point of view — evidence of such. As such, it might seem that Mulder is nearly always right, while Scully is beating her head against a wall of irrelevant skepticism. It may further seem that The X-Files plays fast and loose — or "cheats," if you prefer — with this phenomenon, implying that there may be some other interpretation, forgetting what it has shown us, or, specifically, regularly allowing Scully to witness the paranormal but not to overhaul her worldview accordingly. A common complaint, that, but it comes a) from viewers outside the narrative, and b) as occasional gripes by Mulder.

The issue laid out before the characters — and the audience — is less about whether the world is swarming with ghosts and UFOs than it is about what one does with the information before one's eyes. When faced with evidence of Possessed Serial Killer #258, or even supernatural phenomenon that might comfortably fit into her belief system, as when visited by a cherub in "All Souls", Scully neither shuts her eyes and forgets it away, nor jumps to conclusions. She tries to assimilate that data with extant scientific knowledge, and when unable to do so, will admit she does not know what to make of the event. Mulder occasionally doesn't know either, but more often, faced with the same evidence, simply confirms a conclusion that he has already reached. Mulder and Scully are not symbolic stand-ins for larger concepts — e.g. Scully is not Science or Skepticism or Rationality — but characters with varied, contradictory and complex attitudes and qualities. The series' core subjects are the nature of truth and power, faith, religion, of science, belief, spirituality, the shaky narratives of history, nation and identity, so on, so forth — life and death stuff, as it were. The X-Files does not preach or lecture on these matters. It investigates.

"Closure" is the second half of a two-parter, following "Sein und Zeit", which is named, in the German, for Heidegger's Being and Time. The titles give a clue on how to read the episodes, "closure" in its multiple senses stands in contradiction to — but gaining reinforcement in its ironic inverse — reference to Heidegger's study of hermeneutical phenomenology. Now, pardon my butchering of an unsummarizable difficult work, but the relevant concepts in Heidegger would seem to be that a being's inquiry into the nature of being is perilous, cyclical and likely unending. A self-conscious being, by asking such questions, is in nature the thing about which it is inquiring. Absent external frame of reference, interfacing only with beings in the same situation, and wrestling with language that has a different being from that which it describes, a being can only gain understanding through systematic interpretation. The being is defined by past experiences, and while aimed at the future, that future, too, is shaped and framed by the perceiving being in terms of past experience.

This is more than enough to chew on as regards Fox and Samantha Mulder. Having already explored the ways in which Samantha's abduction in the past determines Mulder's present, is sure to define his future path, in its way is rather synonymous with his person, the remaining key concept seems to be the cyclical, incremental progress of understanding. The two-ep arc is about nothing if not dogged reexamination of evidence, paths in circles, arcs retraced until one being reaches some knowledge of himself, and therefore another being, and therefore Being. Halfway through "Closure", after weeping over a reading of his sister's newly discovered secret diary (it ends inconclusively), Mulder stands in a late night diner's parking lot. He sees...



... The void, penetrated by glittering pinpricks of light, which leads to this speechifying:

MULDER: You know, I never stop to think that the light is billions of years old by the time we see it. From the beginning of time, right past us, into the future. Nothing is ancient in the universe. But maybe they are souls, Scully. Traveling through time as starlight, looking for homes.

History, then, coalescing in a brief Now that is soon to be past, a history that was once future, a future always in the present. Time spacialized, existence as never ending search. A universe both lonely and sparkling in harmony, a dark space and a light on an unfulfillable quest. This from cold facts made into the sort of New Agey sentiment that stokes Mulder's fire and brings him a peculiar comfort.

"Don't look for it, Taylor!"

Earlier in "Closure", a portent. A certain ape gives advice to a certain spaceman in Planet of the Apes, playing on a motel television, "don't look for it, Taylor! You may not like what you find." Its function, 1) as a hint: this is about time, about looping back to where you began, about the grieving process, and 2) as a warning: perhaps not to Mulder, but to the dedicated, difficult-to-please audience. We are going out on that beach, an answer will be found, and, well, no guarantees after that.

To spend any time in the presence of diehard fantasy audiences — "fans" if you prefer, "geeks" if you absolutely must — is to find that they tend to possess memories for minutia like steel traps, a literalist streak and a contradictory apologist streak. Since we may not like what we find and The X-Files seems to know this, we ought to figure out why we may not like it. So, starting at the end and meandering around again, the Samantha File closes with the Walk-Ins. The Walk-Ins are problematic because they have never been referenced before, will never be heard from again. Their participation in the Samantha mystery has not previously been seeded and they yield to no rules of the fictive universe, and scoot in at an oblique angle to the established narrative facts; that is, amidst the warring government conspiracy, alien factions, serial killers and Feds, angelic star-ghosts can kind of do anything they want.

Perhaps, if these irritants can be weighted, the Walk-Ins' greatest offense is to introduce supernatural element to the central Mytharc storyline. Though The X-Files participates in and/or grabs elements and inspiration from dozens (hundreds?) of speculative fiction subgenres, the Mytharc has always been strictly science-fiction espionage thriller. A fine line, perhaps, but one consistently drawn: no magic in the Mytharc.

Finally, we may reject the Walk-Ins because they are brazenly sentimental in concept and execution. Color desaturated, double-exposed, and bathed in a shimmery glow, moving in uber-serious slow-mo, the little star-ghost-angels frolic as Moby's choir-and-strings piece "My Weakness" plays, and inspire much earnest Mulder monologuing. In their presence, a lot of discussion of the inherent innocence of children, the sort of Problem of Evil discussions that assume the presence of a watchful God and end up framing the spirits as holy agents. The specific language in the voice over is pure Mulder in sentiment, but uncharacteristic in that it speaks at length about "God," and along with the "My Weakness" sequence is highly problematic as it implies that it is a lovely thing that the purity of murdered children has been preserved in amber for eternity. The Walk-Ins, then, seem something of a cop-out, and a sappy cop-out at that.

The potential complaints about the Walk-Ins are, however, the very reasons they possess a bit of an edge and nuance that makes them harder to dismiss. "Believe to Understand" — "Crede, ut intelligas," as Scully could likely explain — urges the title card over that gloomy mountainscape where the banner usually reads "The Truth is Out There." There is that Augustinian inscription on how to read "Closure", and as it unfolds, Mulder is repeatedly warned off his search by the three people with whom his life is most closely intertwined. Scully, his mother, and Cigarette Smoking Man in a private Dr. Zaius chorus tell Mulder not to continue pushing for answers. But why?

The Infinite Samantha

Mulder has, as those paying attention know, been reunited with his sister several times, or, more accurately, been confronted with her physical presence in increasingly disconcerting form. Each iteration of Samantha branches out into new possibilities at least as much as it sheds light on the situation. This begins in "Colony" (season 2, episode 16) where Samantha returns to the family, only to multiply exponentially in the episode's continuation, "End Game", where she is revealed as one of several clones, and an alien hybrid. This effectively solidifies the link, in literal terms, between Samantha and alien activity, and in a more nagging, unscratchable way indicates to Mulder that if he solves one, can solve the other; naturally, having gotten this close, the slate is wiped: though no real "Samantha" is found or erased, the clones are all destroyed, yet Samantha-possibilities have proliferated before Mulder's eyes.

Next contact is made in "Paper Clip" (3.2), when the agents uncover a subterranean cache of abductee information, including Samantha's file (once marked for Fox) replete with "recent tissue sample." So there but for the grace of a 3M stick-on label goes Fox Mulder, reinforcing his survivor's guilt, doubt about his parents, and the caprices of circumstance: it could have been, almost was, eventually will be him. He has located a scrap of Samantha's body in her tissue sample, the smallest confirmation that she is alive, or was recently. Closer by inches.

The season 4 premiere, "Herrenvolk" (4.1) leads to an apiary tended by an army of eight-year-old Samanthas. But clearly they are clones — drones, even, barely able to communicate — stalled at the age of abduction. A reminder, here, that for those who swiped the girl, she was a tool with a function, and that for Mulder, the lost sister is irretrievable; he is chasing the idea of Samantha, and even if she is recovered, she will not be in the same condition as when she last played Stratego.

Apparently tangential, but straight in line with these replicating hypothetical Samanthas, is the season 4 episode "Paper Hearts" (4.8). The story explores the possibility that Samantha was a victim of child-killer John Lee Roche, and not taken by aliens, not with the involvement of the Syndicate, not with the forced hand of his father. The "Paper Hearts" concept will be floated again in "Closure". Both rounds, it turns up zilch. Roche even gives a full confession, which stands as the only complete, first-hand account of Samantha's fate... except that it is bunk. The source that appears to be yielding the most information is giving up the least. Again, odd (or discontinuitous) for Mulder to even consider this version of events after gathering (well, witnessing) so much counter-evidence. But he is open to possibility, willing to explore, and interested in dicey information, but not beholden to it, if it does not gel to his standards.

Finally, in the amazingly-titled "Redux/Redux II" (season 5, episodes 1/2), one more grown-up Samantha visits her brother. This time she is proffered as bait to lure Mulder from government work to shadow-government work, and believes the Cigarette Smoking Man is her father. With that, the final living Samantha disappears from the narrative. Fan speculation tends to agree that this was yet another clone, but all that is certain is that Samantha appears, spends an evening at home, Mulder does not take the Smoking Man's bait, and she is whisked away once more. Possibly the closest she's ever been, maybe he's almost got her back, and could be nothing happened at all.

As hinted, the crux of frustration and the masterstroke is that the "Sein und Zeit"/"Closure" diptych does not rewrite, overwrite or reconfigure exactly what happened to Samantha. The Truth of this matter, in hard, cold factual terms, is unaltered, and has been fairly firmly in place in most relevant details since, say, the fifth season. Mulder has known this for years, or more importantly, it is the version he believes, and the one we, the audience, also see with the most clarity.

Samantha was removed from Martha's Vineyard, as collateral in the Syndicate's dealing with aliens. On her return, she was placed in the home of the Cigarette Smoking Man, experimented on, and cloned several times over. This stands, Walk-Ins or no Walk-Ins. To these events, and while stressing the long-term project of the Infinite Samantha, all "Closure" adds to the known facts is: "She died."

The Smoke-Wreathed Heart

To Mulder's Zaiuses (Zaii?), then. All those concerned for Mulder's well-being take a turn instructing him not to pursue the Samantha matter during the "Closure" arc. Scully, most of all, has to deal intimately with her exhausted and tortured partner, and is attuned as to when to indulge, assist or put her foot down. She and AD Skinner have added motivation to keep Mulder in check, as he is chasing down Samantha via/at the expense of properly solving the child abduction case that spurred the latest tail-chase in the first place. They are right to worry, as by the end, the case is never properly solved.

More mysterious than the cares of Mulder's colleagues is the Cigarette Smoking Man's visit to Scully with a request: "I want you to stop looking." She will deliver a message, which Mulder dismisses with an accurate "Oh well, he's a liar." Sure is, and keep that in mind, but remember that when so inclined, the Smoking Man tells the truth like few others — a particularly cutting version of the truth because he understands relativism, that subjectivity, and agenda apply to all beings, himself included, and is up front about it. For that, Smoking Man scenes are always dense, and this one's a brief doozy. What the Smoking Man says is: "No one's going to find her... Because I believe she's dead. No reason to believe otherwise." Knowing the ending, and knowing that this is about "belief," note that CSM does not say that Samantha is dead or that he knows she is dead. While wrapped up in the suspense of first viewing, these comments are ripe with insinuation, and continue to spawn possibilities as the plot unfolds. Could be he killed her. Could be he had her killed. Could be he knows that she died due to "testing" — by the Syndicate or by aliens. Could be he suspects that, like his ex-wife, Cassandra Spender, the girl was abducted/returned/reabducted. Could be that he knows only what he saw, which is that Samantha disappeared from a locked hospital room just before he arrived. And now he has come to believe she is dead.

But this belief is not what CSM asks Scully to tell Mulder. When she criticizes his having withheld, er, whatever it is he knows for all this time, the Smoking Man explains, as he has before, as he will again: "Out of kindness, Agent Scully. Allow him his ignorance. It's what gives him hope."

Scully thinks about it. Scully doesn't seem to agree. Scully tells Mulder what Cigarette Smoking Man said. He is a liar, after all. "Mulder, why would he lie now?," Scully counters, and CSM had argued the same; that in previous years he was motivated to lead Mulder on to protect the Syndicate's secret work which was effectively destroyed during the season 6 "Two Fathers"/"One Son" arc. Why lie now? Well folks, somebody is lying:

"End Game" — BOUNTY HUNTER: She's alive. Can you die now?

"The Blessing Way" — (somewhere on the astral plane or something)
MULDER: My sister? Is she here?
BILL MULDER: No

"Two Fathers" — SCULLY: Agent Mulder told me he believed he saw his sister. Last year.
CASSANDRA SPENDER: That wasn't her, Agent Mulder.
MULDER: Then where is she?
CASSANDRA SPENDER: Out there, with them. The aliens.

So from abductees to apparitions to aliens, the weirdoes of the universe seem to believe Samantha Mulder lives and breathes.

Speaking of misleading information, Mulder's mother, Teena, in typically enigmatic form, shows up a handful of times during this chapter. She has always been more withholding than even Cigarette Smoking Man, and her tendency to occlude information hangs like a pall over the episode. She first appears while Mulder is away in California on a case. Alone at home, Teena burns a photo of Fox and Samantha, leaves a voice mail for her son, asking that he call back so she may discuss things "that I've left unsaid for reasons I hope one day you'll understand," and commits suicide by gas inhalation.

A hint, here, that Teena Mulder knows something... about something. Scully will discover that Teena was dying from "Paget's carcinoma," which, interestingly may be something of a misnomer, or a confusion of several possibilities. Mulder insists that his mother's undelivered message was about his sister, and that she was silenced by the Syndicate. And indeed, both agents have lost family to these particular murderers, and Teena had withheld crucial information before. Without getting too ahead of the game, let us say that Mrs. Mulder's message is never revealed, and Scully would seem to be correct. But why, then, does she burn the photo of her children?

Certainly she has left things unsaid, and if Mulder tends to categorize the Smoking Man as "a liar," Teena has a pattern of lying as well. The backstory unspoken in the "Closure" arc is that, at minimum, Teena was aware that Samantha's abduction was directly related to Bill Mulder's secret government work: in "Paper Clip", she revealed that Bill had asked her to choose which of the children would be taken, and she was unable to do so. As per "Talitha Cumi", she knew that an alien neck-stabbing weapon (a "plam," to those in the in-joke know) was secreted in a lamp in the family home. As she was stroke-striken at the time, and her son, bizarrely, never questioned her on the topic afterwards, none can say if she knew what the space-icepick was, or its purpose. The list of Things Teena Didn't Tell Fox goes on and on, but the extent to which she understood Syndicate/Colonist business is an unknown variable.

An appearance by Mom's ghost in Mulder's motel room gains no ground either. Mulder is unable to hear or see the apparition, but she appears to police psychic Harold Piller, and meanwhile her son gets a clue via automatic writing: "APRIL BASE." Given these events, all we arrive at are — surprise! — uncertainties and possibilities. The Scully Version is: "Mulder, she was trying to tell you to stop. To stop looking for your sister. She was just trying to take away your pain." Unspoken by both agents is the real possibility that Teena harbored a lifetime of regrets regarding her role in the fates of both her children — Fox's parentage, Samantha's abduction —, hence the burning of the family photo. What Mulder will ultimately conclude is that "I've been looking for my sister in the wrong place. That's what my mother was trying to tell me." This interpretation, predictably, has multiple potential meanings. Possibly Ghost Mom is pointing Mulder to April Base, communicating through the automatically-written note in ALL CAPS, as she once wrote PALM. Indeed, at the abandoned home where Samantha's hands are imprinted in the cement, and her voice is inscribed in a diary hidden in a cupboard, Mulder locates a necessary lead — specifically, that she ran away on the date the diary ended.

Another Truth is that Mulder doesn't find Samantha at April Air Force Base any more than he found her in the "Paper Clip" file. He already knows, or knows the possibility that she was raised in the Spender household. She told him this in "Redux", and if she was a clone or a hybrid or a not-Samantha of some kind, the handprints in the cement could still belong to that same clone. At the top of "Closure", Mulder combs through videotapes found at the Santa's North Pole Village theme park, where a serial killer Santa had buried the bodies of twenty-four children over forty years. Samantha is not depicted on the tapes, not found in the ground. Mulder confesses to Scully that "You don't know how badly I wanted her to be in one of those graves," as it would at least end the search. But Samantha couldn't be there. It would not make sense. Besides flying in the face of the Syndicate plot that the agents have agonizingly pieced together for seven years, Mulder would have some memory of a family trip to California. Should Mulder have found a cold body at North Pole Village, it would not be wrapped with a bow.

There are two poetical-cum-literal dimensions to the message from Mulder's mother that will unlock the business of "Closure". There are geographical coordinates provided, but as they lead only to information that is inconclusive unto itself (handprints, partial diaries, shaggy dog hospital reports), what the note really points to is a series of absences. A body, dead/alive or cloned would not be enough and Mulder has literally searched from the South Pole to North Pole Village, from exhumed graves to the astral plane, and Samantha is not Out There. He is looking in the wrong place.

Secondly, Teena's message is passed to Mulder through automatic writing. That is to say, of course, that it comes from himself.

Sky-Walker, Star-Killer

In real world New Age contexts, Walk-Ins are beings from elsewhere who have taken up in human hosts, replacing the previous consciousness. "Closure" calls its spirits "Walk-Ins," though this application of the term is unique to these episodes. A walking encyclopedia of the paranormal, Mulder would know what a traditional "Walk-In" is, and demonstrated such in the convoluted episode "Red Museum" (2.10). The creative staff is therefore making a choice to associate the "Closure" beings with run-of-the-mill Walk-Ins. So what is going on here?

The behavior and motives of the Walk-Ins are complicated and ultimately inexplicable. The cold open of "Sein Und Zeit" establishes the base pattern and "rules," such as they are, and kindly kook psychic Harold Piller names and explains near the beginning of "Closure"; this is the major loop of phenomenon and interpretation in the investigation of the actual X-File motivating the episodes. To the file cabinet, then.

Six-year-old-ish Amber Lynn LaPierre disappears from her bedroom in Sacramento while her parents are in the house. The name and circumstances echo aspects of the 1996 murder of JonBenét Ramsey, a crime already difficult to comprehend that in the ensuing decade increasingly resembled these no-answers riddles. Mulder horns in on the LaPierre investigation for its superficial links to Samantha's abduction, but besides a child missing with no trace, the incidents bear an important non-resemblance: no bright lights, no levitating girl, no family link to a government cover-up of an interplanetary invasion plot. Scully addresses the transparent psychology at work, and tells Mulder that if sympathy for missing children has drawn him to the LaPierres, he is also stretching to connect the apparently unrelated cases.

Amber Lynn's disappearance is accompanied by three unusual events. While tucking her in, Mr. LaPierre has a vision of his daughter as a corpse. Immediately before the girl goes missing, Mrs. LaPierre pens a ransom note addressed to herself and her husband, and making reference to Santa. Some time later, Mrs. LaPierre witnesses an apparition of Amber Lynn attempting to speak to her.

Recalling a similar confounding note in an apparently solved X-File, Mulder visits the jail cell of confessed murderess Kathy Lee Tencate. She does not quite say the words, but allows Mulder to conclude that given the confusing, inconclusive evidence (more automatic writing, another vision, another spirit visit), Tencate has made a false confession in hopes of appeasing the parole board. After some soul-searching and another visit from her ghost son, Tencate suggests to Mulder that Teena Mulder's message was that she, too, had seen the Walk-Ins.

Here, "Closure" enters that undefined space where metaphor and story events merge, swap out, and wear masks. It is remotely possible that Teena had visions of a dead Samantha, but when? Before Samantha disappeared from home? Years later, before she disappeared from the hospital? In the closing scenes, a retired emergency room nurse who was on duty the night Samantha was taken by Walk-Ins claims that she had the visions. A pile-up, again. The would-be Tencate and LaPierre murderer is given an inconsistent name by the episode closed captioning — "Ed Scruloff" in "Sein und Zeit" and "Ed Truelove" in "Closure" — which is indicative of this open-ended is/is-not pattern. While Scruloff/Truelove nabs victims from all over the country, their bodies are all buried at North Pole Village. The only two of his victims that are named are children he did not manage to kill at all, but likely intended to kill. Whether he ever left a ransom note (or why) is not established, nor is it clear if/how/why the Walk-Ins are leaving such notes. Just as Scully and Skinner indicate, Mulder gets so far off-track with the case's Samantha associations that he fails to notice that none of the evidence is adding up.

The role of psychic Harold Piller, who guides Mulder through "Closure" is partially expository, laying out the few rules of the Walk-Ins that he understands: the awful visions given to the parents are of the fates their children were about to suffer, and, the masterstroke, that "they will come to you if you're ready to see." But he is not there to circumvent the questions begged by the Walk-Ins, either as metaphor or physical event. When standing amidst the North Pole Village graves, Piller asks a question that plunges straight to the heart of the murk: "My God, why? Why must some suffer and not others?"

There is a lot of suffering to go around. As it happens, Scully discovers that Harold has previously been institutionalized, diagnosed as schizophrenic, and is under current investigation regarding his own missing son. These things are, of course, not damning, but they complicate things, they throw doubt, they open possibilities.

Though his own boy disappeared under identical circumstances, Harold does not see his double-exposure spirit, the final confirmation of Walk-In involvement and a tranquil death. But it is Harold's son that guides Mulder to Samantha's diary and escorts him to meet her spirit in the clearing at the end of a dark road. Mulder sees the boy only because he's "ready to see," which means as much and as little as that he Wants to Believe. Piller believes in the Walk-Ins in general, but cannot accept that his son is dead, will not listen to Mulder's advice that "we both have to let go." In his final scene, Harold runs off into the darkness on an endless snipe hunt. The road he takes is the one Mulder has been traveling since 1973.

The memory of Samantha leads Mulder to Amber Lynn leads to the Tencate case leads to the twenty-four children behind the Village lead to Harold's son leads back to Samantha. A series of infinitely nested X-Files, all bearing Fox's name, pasted over with Samantha's. Mulder is the Walk-In, here, the little girl is lost, but she lives on through her brother.

While Mulder is off chasing starlight still looking in the Wrong Place, Scully reviews arcane evidence from what will prove to be the Right Place. She watches videotape of Mulder's hypnotic regression sessions from 1989, where he first remembered the events of November 27, 1973. This is, in effect, where we came in. The memories unearthed in these sessions were the first intimate information that Mulder shared with Scully. It is the formation Fox Mulder, Investigator of the Paranormal. At the closing of the loop, the last evidence meets the very first evidence. The FBI psychologist reviewing the tape with Scully evaluates "this is just garden-variety compensatory abduction fantasy." This was always a possibility. The reason for a reminder at this point is to parallel the solution with the inception. In a rather audacious scene of the season 7 finale, "Requiem", an FBI accountant will ask: whether the Bureau believes it or not, if the whereabouts of Samantha are resolved, and the Syndicate is dismantled, what, exactly, is left to investigate?


The Walk-Ins may rescue some from painful injustices, but leave plenty of pain in their wake. The LaPierres will likely be convicted, Kathy Lee Tencate remains imprisoned, Harold Piller grieves forever, and billions of souls will not be rescued from earthly death. Why must some suffer and not others? In the final moments of "Closure", Mulder gazes at the stars once more. Faced with that field of graves, the lost child's empty bedroom, the sky of Infinite Samanthas, Mulder does what we all must do, and reconciles a mountain of ambiguity with an explanation that makes sense to him. His heart comes to rest on the stars, and not the blackness around them. He is finally looking in the right place.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful piece. Thank you for this.

If you have seen the new movie, Samantha was once again mentioned and it was one of driving forces for Mulder to take part in the new abduction investigation. He'll never be truly free even if he now believes that she's dead.

Sean said...

Chris, a great piece of work. I haven't let X-Files stir my soul in ages, and this was smelling salts.

kenjfuj said...

Hi Chris:

I just read this and I also want to congratulate you on a wonderful breakdown of a fascinating episode of an endlessly fascinating series. This—not the endless parsing of prosaic details about the mythology—is the kind of thing that intrigues me about The X-Files: what it has to say about humanity, spirituality, the universal quest for knowledge and the comfort/discomfort that comes with understanding what it is you know/don't know about the world around you. All of this is encapsulated beautifully in this piece.

Just wanted to add my two cents on one small detail: I had always assumed that the Bounty Hunter, when he tells Mulder that her sister is alive in "Endgame," was just telling Mulder what he wanted to hear in order to make it easier to kill him. I would guess he was probably lying...though, of course, the moment is depicted was just enough ambiguity that one could go either way there.