3×08: Oubliette

“If I’m her best hope, then that little girl’s in a hell of a lot more trouble than you think.” — Lucy Householder

Mulder and Scully find themselves entangled in a case involving the kidnapping of a young girl named Amy and her psychic connection with a woman named Lucy, who was also kidnapped by the same man many years earlier.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Radhika: “Oubliette” is one of the more poignant installments of The X-Files with its most scary elements rooted less in the supernatural and more in the day-to-day horrors one may encounter in reality. And while it does deal with the supernatural more than another episode of this nature — “Irresistible” — the main attraction of the episode lies in its exploration of human emotions.

Our story begins with the abduction of young Amy Jacobs, who is taken out of her bedroom by an unstable photographer who had been taking photos at her school on picture day. On a seemingly unrelated note, fast food worker Lucy Householder collapses with a nosebleed. And of course, Mulder and Scully come in.

What the agents (mostly Mulder, as Scully decides to go into staunch skeptic mode here) discover is this: Lucy was kidnapped under similar circumstances about 17 years earlier at the age of eight, and was held in a dark basement for five years. Lucy, who has led a troubled life since the incident, as evidenced by her criminal record, has a psychic connection with Amy. Everything happening to the young girl seems to happen to Lucy as well, who begins exhibiting strange injuries along with other symptoms. Mulder is of course sympathetic, while Scully and local law enforcement are concerned that Lucy was involved in the case (the blood from her nosebleed being a match with Amy’s.)

By the episode’s end, Mulder traces Amy to a lake where her kidnapper is trying to drown her, and Lucy winds up drowning — saving Amy — thanks to the psychic connection.

As that summary indicates, while a supernatural element makes the case more interesting, the most intense aspects of the episode really lie in the sense of loss and the theme of sacrifice that underscore the story.

Mulder, who certainly has his moments of dense, one-note, truth searching, is really more like the hero we love in this episode, as his gentler, vulnerable side reappears. The connection to his sister’s abduction is obvious to the regular viewer by this point, making the accusation by Amy’s mother — “How could you really know how I feel?” — pretty painful to hear. There have been multiple times where Mulder has seemed a bit crazed trying to drive his theories home on a case, but this time, he seems to make the most sense out of all the investigators involved — and he also seems to be the only one willing to grasp that Lucy is still a victim, despite the hardened exterior she displays as part of her defense mechanism against a world that has not treated her well.

This is part of why I find Scully’s skepticism a little frustrating in this episode, and perhaps this is a prime example of that “ice queen” behavior fans referred to in the old days. We’ve had plenty of episodes, thanks to her own abduction, where Scully has shown vulnerability. And I have certainly admitted that watching Scully get in trouble is even more frustrating for me as a viewer than it ever was before. But as much as I love a strong female character, as much as I love kickass, no-nonsense Scully, this is not my favorite depiction of her. I feel there is a way to be a strong female character and occasionally let go of your principles when faced with a truly bizarre case where a character’s suffering is fairly apparent.

And Mulder manages to voice the same frustration I felt listening to Scully in this exchange:

Scully: You are so sympathetic to Lucy as a victim like your sister that you can’t see her as a person who’s capable of committing this crime.

Mulder: You don’t think I’ve thought about that? I have. And not everything I do, say, think and feel goes back to my sister. You, of all people should realize that sometimes motivations for behavior can be more complex and mysterious than tracing them back to one single childhood experience.

By the end of the episode, it is a relief that Scully does let up a bit — which she really ought to once it’s determined that Lucy had five liters of water in her lungs when she died, while being nowhere near a body of water. She points out that whatever there was between Amy and Lucy, Mulder was very much a part of that connection as well, and this is most certainly true.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

A lot of credit goes to David Duchovny in this episode. While the actresses portraying Lucy and Amy did fantastic work themselves, Duchovny carries himself with a determined, melancholy air that really takes us inside Mulder’s mental anguish. And that final moment with Lucy, where he silently breaks down over her body, is genuinely touching and an important part of fleshing his character out even further.

Max: This is one of my favorite episodes of the season, and it is really a bit unsung when it comes to fans talking about what they consider the greatest episodes of the series. While there are more powerful entries (this season’s “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is a prime example), “Oubliette’s” power sneaks up on you in unusual ways, especially when you see the connection between Amy and Lucy essayed so beautifully throughout the hour.

In a season that follows the one that chronicled the abduction and return of one of its protagonists, it is interesting how a lot of the MOTW episodes thus far deal with trauma and what follows or could follow. Leonard Trimble in “The Walk” came back a broken man, and his refusal to process his experience made him lash out violently. Clyde Bruckman was so haunted by death he saw taking his own life as the only way out. And now here, Lucy Householder was so transformed by her years in Carl Wade’s basement that she developed some kind of supernatural bond to the experience, which only became activated when another little girl fell prey to the same monster.

Oubliette

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

And yes, this episode invokes Mulder’s original trauma, the one that shaped him and directed his path down into a basement office in Washington DC, the disappearance of Samantha. It comes as no surprise then why he would jump at the chance to insert himself into the investigation, and why he became so protective of Lucy despite her checkered history after her own escape. If Samantha Mulder’s abduction was the show’s philosophical genesis and inciting incident, then (if we could mix mythologies) the emergence of all these monsters, psychics, demons, and aliens could be said to have erupted from Pandora’s box. The hope found in the bottom of the box could be likened to Mulder’s crusade for the truth, the quest to cut through the cover-ups and bring the evil of the world to justice. As viewers, we have seen how Scully has entered into this equation, and with her experiences and commitment to the job, has become an equal partner in this enterprise.

Which makes the ending of this episode so heartbreaking. While Amy has been rescued from her own hell along the river, Lucy was not that fortunate. Through the psychic connection forged when Amy was taken, Lucy took on all the water that Amy was being drowned with in Wade’s final act of desperation.  By this point, Lucy had stopped denying the connection, running away from her past and instead gave Mulder and Scully vital clues as to where Amy was being taken and what was happening to her. She helped to save Amy, but she couldn’t save herself, and nor could Mulder. The vulnerability Duchovny demonstrated in this scene reflected a kind of unbound hopelessness. If Mulder couldn’t help Lucy move on from her trauma, then how does this bode for the moment that (he hopes) he will find Samantha? It is a difficult proposition, especially given last season, when he tried to extricate a woman who he thought was his sister from her own demons. And in the end, Lucy herself never really escaped the oubliette Wade put her in in the 1970s. Sure she physically escaped, but the carefree girl in her school photographs stayed down in that dank dungeon. Going back to the Pandora legend, the hope in this instance was that she was able to help another girl, and in doing so rid the world of Carl Wade’s malevolence.

In Greek mythology, hope was personified by the form of Elpis, a young woman. There are many of those in this episode and in this series. Lucy most certainly was Amy’s Elpis, the hope to the Jacobs that their daughter would be found, despite not knowing of Lucy at all. Samantha, a girl on the verge of womanhood could be considered this as well, the idea, the being Mulder holds on to. But I think the most important exemplar is Dana Katherine Scully, the young woman who by challenging Mulder’s beliefs drives him to be a better agent and investigator, and who gave Mulder (in “End Game”) the one thing he thought he’d lost. “Faith to keep looking.”

YES, IT’S THAT LADY

Jewel Staite – Long before she went on to play Kaylee Frye on cult sci-fi series Firefly, a teenage Jewel Staite guest starred as kidnap victim Amy Jacobs in this episode of The X-Files. Staite also appeared on a few Nickelodeon staples such as Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Space Cases. After her time on Firefly, Staite also took on roles on Dead Like Me, Stargate Atlantis and more.

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4 thoughts on “3×08: Oubliette

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