2×11: Excelsis Dei

“Mulder, mushrooms aren’t medication. They taste good on hamburgers, but they don’t raise the dead.” — Dana Scully
“Shamans have used them for centuries to gain entrance to the spirit world.” — Fox Mulder
“I think you’ve been reading too much Carlos Castaneda.” — Dana Scully

Mulder and Scully go to investigate a nurse’s claim that she was raped by an invisible entity at a nursing home, and eventually learn that a combination of mushrooms and vengeful spirits have resulted in a case that goes beyond a very bad trip.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Radhika: “Excelsis Dei” is a bit of a mixed bag for me to watch. It has some classic Mulder and Scully lines. (Mulder: “Whatever tape you found in that VCR, it isn’t mine.” Scully: “Good, because I put it back in that drawer with all those other videos that aren’t yours.”) And thanks to its sad, stark nursing home setting, it has an unsettling quality that doesn’t even require the assistance of the paranormal to spook the viewer. But the concept, while potentially interesting, is a little muddled and the end result isn’t that great.

The case starts out with a paranormal Law and Order: Special Victims Unit type of scenario. The agents are dealing with a case of invisible rape — a nurse claims she’s been assaulted by an unseen entity, and no one will believe her. She’s convinced it’s a resident of the nursing home where she works, but while the man seems to be a sexist old sort, he says he’s too old to have done anything to her.

After a few mysterious deaths, including that of the aforementioned suspect, the agents manage to figure out that an orderly — originally from Malaysia — has been supplying the patients with an herbal drug made of a specific type of mushroom. The drug has been helpful to those with Alzheimer’s, but it also lets the patients see the spirits of those who died in the nursing home. The spirits are then able to exact murderous revenge on the orderlies who mistreated them in life.

And that’s how you dispel the notion that old people are sweet and kindly.

I suppose it’s a plausible storyline in The X-Files universe, but it does get a bit muddled before the solution is clear. There’s a bit of a red herring with a doctor using a trial drug on the patients, but then it’s clear that the orderly is doing something as well. And then the reasoning for providing the mushrooms feels a little cliché with the Eastern man haltingly referring to “my country” and telling the Western characters that elderly people aren’t treated with respect in their part of the world. I understand that point of view coming from a South Asian family that has scattered throughout the world, but it feels a bit afterschool special-esque (though perhaps not as bad as the line about AIDS in “3”).

But there’s something else that made me uncomfortable the episode: Scully is the only one who appears concerned about the nurse’s rape in the beginning, with even Mulder seeming a bit dismissive about the case. Instead, the other characters make nearly every excuse possible for the nurse’s claims, hinting that she’s a “cry wolf” sort who lodges complaints about something or the other at every turn. But it’s only Scully who latches onto the physical evidence that an assault occurred, and without her, it’s likely the case may have never been solved… or “solved,” if you will.

Max: You know, I forgot the exchange about VHS tapes Radhika mentioned. This says something, given the big takeaway I always get from this episode is “The X-Files gone geriatric.” For me, it is definitely an episode that when it comes up in the rotation, I groan and wish for something better, especially in a season like the one we are in now, where when things cook, the episode just becomes such a decadent pleasure to take in and have wash over you. Let me apologize to that exchange, you deserved to be in a better episode.

It is afterschool special for sure, and despite some relatively arresting visuals (the spirits surrounding Scully is a nice shot, despite the datedness of the effects), the general tenor is one of tedium and going through the typical motions of a MOTW episode. Frances Bay, a David Lynch regular, does though essay a nice performance as Dorothy, one of the patients at Excelsis Dei. She’s another connection to Lynch’s show Twin Peaks, whose premise and iconographic veneer Chris Cater has said he’s indebted to.

Generally though, there is not much else for me to add to the proceedings other than some cliched ribbings that I’d be better off watching Cocoon or batteries not included…, some somewhat richer science fiction experience featuring an elderly cast. It says something about an episode when not even the usual Mulder and Scully routine does anything for me.

For now, I’m just going to leave it at that, I need to go catch up on my Matlock!

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One thought on “2×11: Excelsis Dei

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Season 2 | Apt. 42 Revisited

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