“Men can never be free, because they’re weak, corrupt, worthless and restless. The people believe in authority, they’ve grown tired of waiting for miracle or mystery. Science is their religion, no greater explanation exists for them.” — Cigarette Smoking Man
Mulder and Scully look for a man who seems to possess the ability to heal, amongst other things, and who may be linked to larger conspiracies.
Radhika: “Talitha Cumi” has never been the most standout of The X-Files’ season finales to me, in part because it seems almost subdued compared to other mythology episodes. This is not to say the episode lacks suspense — it does! But those moments are subtle when compared to episodes like the season two finale, “Anasazi,” or even multi-parters from season three itself, such as “Nisei”/“731” or “Piper Maru”/“Apocrypha.” But in the grand scheme of things, this is not damning at all — the plot moves along nicely, touching upon old themes, keeping the mythology mysterious, while allowing it to make cohesive sense.
The episode opens at a restaurant where an agitated gunman shoots a number of people before police shoot him. An older gentleman, later introduced to us as one Jeremiah Smith, appears on the scene, healing everyone with the palm of his hands, including the shooter himself.
The mysterious healer has disappeared by the time Mulder and Scully arrive, but it isn’t just the case the ends up being on the agents’ minds. Mulder is informed that his mother, Teena, has suffered a stroke, moments after viewers are treated to a scene involving her and the Cigarette Smoking Man. When Mulder meets his mother at the hospital, she writes the word “PALM” on a notepad, and he believes there must be a connection to Jeremiah Smith.
The mysterious Smith is captured by the CSM and taken to a prison, while Mulder goes to the old family summer house where his mother had been prior to the stroke. He encounters X, who shows him pictures of his mother and CSM arguing, allowing Mulder to connect the dots. Later on, realizing that she actually meant the word “LAMP,” he shatters a few that are in the house and finds the weapon we’ve seen the Alien Bounty Hunter use in previous episodes.
Scully finds herself with a man who claims to be Jeremiah Smith (while the real Smith is being interrogated by the CSM), but he eventually gets away thanks to the power of shapeshifting. We learn the Alien Bounty Hunter is back and in pursuit of the original (?) Jeremiah Smith, but when he goes to find him in his prison cell Smith is gone. By the episode’s end, Mulder and Scully are the ones presumably traveling with the real Smith … only to have the Alien Bounty Hunter find them with the dreaded cliffhanger looming over us.
With its shapeshifting, alien weapons and references to a larger “project” during the interrogation scene between CSM and Jeremiah Smith, the episode touches upon themes and imagery we’ve seen before in season three’s mythology. But it also starts on build on a few other ideas, such as the Cigarette Smoking Man’s connection to the Mulder family.
We’ve already been made aware in the past that Bill Mulder and the CSM were old acquaintances, often working together on the same deep dark projects. But CSM’s interactions with Teena Mulder indicate he knew the family well, spending time at their summer house… based on the sinister leering and hinting going on in the scene, it becomes fairly clear that he probably knew Teena Mulder a little too well, which makes you wonder exactly how much she knows about all the deep mysteries swirling around our agents.
The episode also reveals (or does it?) that CSM is dying of lung cancer. At least that’s what Smith wants him to believe during the interrogation scene, which really turns into a wonderful bit of dialogue about science versus religion, an idea the show has certainly explored before. With his healing powers and ability to shapeshift, Smith is representative of someone who can perform miracles. But CSM argues for science, saying that people have grown weary of miracles and look to science for the actual answers. The scene also contains some fun visual effects, with Smith morphing into different characters from the past — Deep Throat and Bill Mulder, both now dead. And while the CSM maintains his cold, hard exterior, you can tell that he’s rattled. (Though it’s not entirely clear whether his conscience truly worries about the role he’s played in their deaths.)
The episode feels quieter, as I said, compared to other mythology episodes, but these are the types of scenes that reveal just how many layers there are to the story. And so I’ll let Max carry on.
Max: Last season ended with Mulder being left for dead amongst a firebombed buried railcar of alien (or alien-hybrid) corpses, so “Talitha Cumi” certainly had a hard act to follow. While I agree with Radhika that this results in a comparatively humdrum finale, I don’t think it is necessarily a mar on the episode or the season itself. The lives of our heroes have already been threatened many times over the course of the series, so going back to that well would seem like a cheap move, so Carter and company acquitted themselves nicely. It’s interesting though, to take a macro view of the series, that this finale (paired with it’s concluding partner “Herrenvolk” next season) is more table-setting than anything else, dropping more puzzle pieces on the table for us to make sense of in the coming seasons.
This makes the interrogation scene between the CSM and Jeremiah Smith even more integral. The CSM has been a constant adversary of Mulder and Scully since the pilot when he locked up the nasal implant deep within the Pentagon, and has orchestrated everything from Scully’s abduction to Bill Mulder’s death. CSM’s diatribes about people, power, and the truth clarify and define his position as the series’ antagonist, the public face of all the cloak-and-dagger machinations. To expound on the religious angle, we are certainly talking to the Devil in the sequence, seducing mankind with promises of happiness while undermining their ability to reason and consent.
Jeremiah Smith is certainly the boldest exploration of religious themes and iconography the series has submitted yet, and the mere fact that he is of alien origin and tied directly into the Syndicate’s “project” adds unprecedented wrinkles. Sure, we have touched on Scully’s religious background and how that informed her decisions to become a medical doctor and later FBI agent, but religion was always used in this context to illuminate and complicate her character in opposition to Mulder’s steadfast desire to believe. Here, Jeremiah Smith is the philosophical manifestation of Religion with a capital “R,” Christ-like in his power and his appeals for hope. Going back to the Cigarette Smoking Man, and how uncomfortable he became in his interrogation of Smith, it can be argued that the CSM is doing this out of pure jealousy. Smith has powers, actual powers, and while the CSM gloats over the power and authority he wields, you can tell that there is uncertainty there buried inside, especially when Smith drops the bomb about lung cancer.
Meanwhile, Mulder has a reckoning of his own when X comes to the hospital parking deck to collect the stiletto weapon Mulder found inside the lamp. Demanding to hold onto it for some unknown future use, X displays his usual selfish reticence in dealing with Mulder, and Mulder’s insistence on holding onto the weapon as insurance sparks a full-on brawl culminating in an uneasy truce with guns drawn. X tells Mulder he’s a dead man, and whatever sense of duty X had in continuing the work of his predecessor Deep Throat seems to have evaporated. The character of X has always been a more thorny and reluctant informant to Mulder, more willing to feed information only when it was convenient and beneficial to do so. Just last episode, in fact, Mulder admonished X, saying “You’re a coward! You work in the shadows, you feed me scraps of information, hoping that I can piece it together. You make me risk my life, you risk my partner’s life and you never risk your own!” The tension is quite palpable, and Mulder is sick of being told half-baked truths.
I quite enjoyed the return of the Alien Bounty Hunter to the proceedings, an indelible part of the mythology if there ever was one. Unsettling, because one can never truly know what the mostly-mute assassin is thinking, what drives him, and what he knows about the project, colonization, and even the whereabouts of Samantha Mulder (things that Jeremiah Smith is now all too willing to divulge to Mulder and Scully). When we were introduced to him in “Colony,” his mission was to eliminate rogue aliens doing hybridization experiments meant to populate their race on Earth. Here, he is tasked to handle a rogue “drone” (in CSM’s words), one who works in the Social Security Administration and who has apparent dopplegangers in SSA offices across the country as Scully discovers. One of this season’s big discoveries was the mine of medical files and samples of everyone (for decades) who had smallpox eradication vaccines, a catalog of genetic material. In this context, Smith’s place of work makes sense, a key part of the project’s bookeeping arm.
New layers are indeed added to the story, but just as we are about to get some answers, the Alien Bounty Hunter comes along to threaten us into a cliffhanger! Rest assured, we will see what next season has in store for us, Mulder, and Scully.