“During their time, Chaney’s and Ledbetter’s ideas weren’t very well received by their peers. Using psychology to solve a crime was something like, um…” – Fox Mulder
“Believing in the paranormal?” – Dana Scully
“Exactly.” – Fox Mulder
Our heroes venture to Missouri to dig into the case of an old FBI agent whose body has been recently unearthed by a local detective, The hows and whys of which fall outside of usual channels…
Max: Now this is more like it! This season has had some bumps (“3,” “Excelsis Dei”), but we are back on track in the quality department. There is a lot to unpack in this episode which ranges from genetics to Jungian psychology, but as a whole it works to create an effective little universe of actions the long shadow of their consequences. BJ Morrow, a detective with the police in Aubrey, Missouri, is the one who gets the ball rolling when a series of visions lead her to dig up the corpse of a renowned FBI agent, one whose avant-garde practices can be likened to a certain “spooky” acquaintance of ours.
The now desiccated Agent Sam Chaney was one of the first to use psychological methods to profile violent offenders, and he was tracking in the 1940s an individual who was raping women and carving the word SISTER into their chests. Now, after fifty years (concurrent with Morrow’s uncovering of Chaney’s skeleton), the attacks seem to be happening again. At the same time, Morrow, continuing to have visions and dreams, manages to locate the remains of Chaney’s partner in the basement of a local house as well as by force of intuition narrowing things down to the mugshot of one Harry Cokely (a once violent criminal, now elderly and out on parole). At first Morrow chalks these visions up to being pregnant (with the child of her married boss Lieutenant Tillman no less!), but Mulder surmises some kind of psychic connection to Cokely.
In the end, it turns out Morrow is the granddaughter of Cokely and one of his victims, her father having been given up for adoption by the woman who thought him the “spawn of evil” and couldn’t bear to raise him. Possibly spurred on by her pregnancy, Morrow’s psyche is taken over by the “genetic memory” of her grandfather, continuing the work he started in the 1940s. It is an intriguing riff on the whole nature/nurture debate that has been a touchstone of psychology and sociology for decades. It’s also a unique twist on the biblical notion of the sins of the father being visited on the son. Violent acts are extremely disruptive events in one’s life, and the result ripples out and echoes for untold years after. A person becomes reshaped by them, which effects their friends and loved ones in a myriad of ways. By coupling this very real phenomenon with The X-Files’ brand of the paranormal, “Aubrey” comes out ahead in a strong effort all around.
It doesn’t happen that often, but this episode pulls out a reversal in the usual skeptic/believer dynamic the show thrives on. When Mulder and Scully are on their way to visit Cokley, they are discussing how everything could be connected, and Scully points to cryptomnesia as a possible reason why Morrow was able to find the body of Chaney and all the weird goings on around her. Mulder prods her to give him a fuller explanation, and things conclude with a really cute moment of Scully ribbing him about all the hunches he’s had in her tenure as his partner.
The one thing I think mars the episode is the theory that Morrow’s pregnancy is why everything has happened, why her latent “genetic memory” became activated. It’s the typical hormonal imbalance/moody and emotional female cliche. Maybe I am reading too much into it (I mean pregnancy does cause changes throughout the whole body), but it can seem to be a backhanded indictment. What do you think?
Radhika: I’ve never actually thought of it that way, but I can see how the emotional/hormonal female cliché does play a part in this story. But maybe the hormonal female has become an even greater overdone figure in the past two decades, and The X-Files approached it a little earlier? (I could also be entirely wrong and maybe just willing to forgive it because of how generally well done the episode is.)
That said, I think it’s still an interesting twist to have this pregnant woman — a life giver— be someone who is also taking life away. And though she takes on a very vicious role when the reveal is done, I don’t think we’re meant to despise or even fear Morrow as the story progresses.
From the very beginning she’s presented as a sort of delicate creature, perhaps due to her pregnancy (which fine, is a little cliché – but it was nice to see Scully softening up and almost bonding with another female character). And by the end, she’s just this sad broken figure, stuck in a cell with a swollen belly, her whole life destroyed by some latent monster gene, when she was a policewoman who intended to protect society. As Morrow’s grandmother/victim points out, Cokely has “done this” to both of them.
There isn’t much else I can add here, but I will say that I rather enjoyed the different takes on partner dynamics we saw in this episode. We’ve got Tillman and Morrow, two coworkers who have an affair… that ultimately results in the pregnancy of doom, if you will. And then we’ve got Mulder and Scully, not quite in that category yet, though they certainly have a steadfast bond by now. There was something rather poignant about the final shot involving the four characters: Tillman tending to Morrow, who snaps out of the “spell” she’s under when Cokely dies, along with Scully checking on Mulder after he’s attacked by Morrow. It’s just a really lovely piece of writing and directing there, which adds to the episode’s overall strengths.
TERRY O’QUINN WATCH
A recurring section in where we note the appearance of the consummate character actor in three rather prominent appearances in the series.
Terry O’Quinn, mostly known as today as the man who played John Locke in Lost (but also who had a major role in Chris Carter’s other show Millennium as well as appearing in other works such as Alias, The Rocketeer, and Harsh Realm) has a kind of unique place in the history of The X-Files. Yes, the series has been known to recycle actors (especially when production was in Vancouver), but O’Quinn was slotted into roles that you’d take notice of. Here, he is playing Lieutenant Brian Tillman, the lover of the homicidal Detective Morrow. There’s a kind of silly “conspiracy theory” regarding O’Quinn’s work in the series, but we’ll get to that soon enough…