“I think people are looking hard for miracles … so hard that maybe they make themselves see what they want to see.” – Fox Mulder
Our heroes are called in to help assist the local gendarmerie in a Tennessee town regarding the mysterious circumstances regarding the death of a woman who once had terminal cancer and was supposedly healed by the son of a reverend.
Max: “Miracle Man” is, after the highs of “E.B.E.,” somewhat of a disappointment as we plunge back down to terra firma in a rather rote MOTW. Investigating the abilities of one Samuel Hartley, a so-called faith healer who has a crisis of ability and faith after one of the people he saved died under mysterious circumstances. The 1990s was a period of revivial for evangelists, and given the by then widespread appearance of televisions in most homes in America, gave rise to a legion of “televangelists” who used this mass medium (pun intended) to spread the gospel to untold legions. This new cadre of the cloth naturally also included swindlers and pretenders, like Peter Popoff and Benny Hinn, to prey on the faithful to line their own pockets and quench a rapacious egomania. Howard Gordon (this time without his usual writing partner Alex Gansa) taps into this phenomenon to look at the dark underbelly of religion in America.
There are a few interesting set pieces to note in this episode, from an extended peek into one of Reverend Hartley’s tentpole services to a courtroom scene featuring a plague of biblical proportions. Scott Bairstow does an admirable job essaying a young man torn by both faith and conscience.
If there is one thing that makes this episode suffer is the way that Samantha Mulder is shoehorned into the proceedings. After Samuel intuits while drunk that Mulder has lost a sister. Throughout the episode, Mulder is visited by visions of her, which begin to affect how he sees the case at hand. While the “ghost” of Samantha is a powerful part of the series and an important window into the workings of one of our heroes, going to this well too often only cheapens the writing. There have already been several episodes where she is brought up this season, and her presence is incongruous to the case.
As usual, a lot of the weird goings on can be attributed to more prosaic sources, namely follower Leonard Vance’s schemings to get revenge on Samuel after having to live with his scarred face after Samuel was able to revive him from death. The ministry is forced to close after Samuel’s death at the hands of prisoners when the local sheriff turns a blind eye, and Mulder’s visions subside. All this really poses the question as to why any of this really matters, especially to our agents. This is perhaps why the Samantha stuff was included, given that this episode was a rather ho-hum sociocultural excursion on its own merits.
Radhika: Every once in a while, The X-Files would have these episodes that would take something moderately weird or not-so-mainstream in real life and try to do something paranormal-ish with it. And I guess “Miracle Man” is one of those episodes, thanks to the evangelical faith healer aspect. It’s actually not a terrible attempt – works a little better than the creepy Kindred from “GenderBender.” But at times, it’s a little over the top and hokey. Then again, maybe that just comes with the territory.
I don’t really have much more to add about the story itself; it’s a slightly middle-of-the-road X-File with enough appeal for the viewer to enjoy it for what it is, but I do agree with Max regarding the insertion of Samantha in this episode. On one hand, I guess it doesn’t hurt to remind the viewer why our favorite truth seeker is so adamant about pursuing oddball cases, but plenty of episodes prior to this have done a better job of building up our characters – and there are plenty to come that will do a stronger job as well.
In addition to pointing out that the Samantha thread is useless, I’d also like to take a moment to point out what the little actress is wearing:
First of all, she’s styled like a little teenage goth. Second, is that a choker or something that is part of her dress? How do you expect me to believe she’s a child who went missing in the seventies, show? I’m personally getting a not-so-blonde Claudia from Interview With the Vampire vibe.
These are the things I have trouble believing when I’m watching The X-Files.
Sartorial snarking aside though, there are still a couple of moments I genuinely enjoyed in this episode, namely a very classic Scully-doing-an-autopsy shot, where she says, “It’s 11:21.” We’ve really only seen her do one once or twice before this, and while this particular scene is brief, it’s done in that special style that we’ll see in so many episodes to come. It’s a moment where, while the mystery itself is maybe just “okay,” we’re really getting to see our beloved show shape up into what made it so memorable in all of our eyes.
YES, IT’S THAT GUY
A recurring section of our rewatch where we note actors who’ve appeared in the episode(s) and have gone on to become stars in their own right.
Scott Bairstow – Yes, that’s Scott Bairstow playing Samuel the healer in the episode – the same guy who would later end up in the short-lived, Chris Carter-helmed Harsh Realm. Bairstow was also known for a guest-starring stint on beloved nineties melodrama Party of Five, along with numerous other TV and movie roles. Bairstow’s credits seem to have come to a halt (with an exception here or there) after being accused in 2003 of assaulting a 12-year-old girl related to his ex-wife.