“Your eyes may have changed shade, but it cannot color the soul behind them. We have come together in this life, this time. Only to meet in passing. It is so heartbreaking to wait.” – Melissa Riedal-Ephesian
Mulder and Scully are assigned by Skinner to a case reminiscent of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas. Their investigation of paranormal claims soon clashes with the need for the Bureau to seize munitions claimed to be held at this group’s compound.
Max: “The Field Where I Died” is, on all accounts, a difficult episode to like, and an even harder one to love. Penned by the classic X-Files duo of Glen Morgan and James Wong, it folds an exploration of past lives into a race against the clock against a religious cult that reportedly has acquired a cache of firearms. The problem for many is that the past life aspect comes to completely dominate the proceedings, and the results of this exploration are uneven at best, maudlin and overwrought at worst.
The episode opens propulsively, with our heroes and and a joint FBI/ATF task force descending on the compound of a charismatic Christian sect called the Temple Of The Seven Stars. Made aware of weapons at the compound (and child abuse to boot) by a church member turned informant. Seeking temple leader Vernon Ephesian, the task force is unable to locate him. However, in the first of many odd moments of prescience, Mulder rushes out into the adjoining field, where he eventually uncovers a hidden bunker with Ephesian and his six wives, on the verge of drinking what is assuredly juice laced with poison. Upon booking church members into custody, Mulder feels a connection with Melissa, one of Ephesian’s wives. Questioning her about the informant they know as Sidney, as well as the location of the weapons, she suddenly begins to act strangely. Scully recognizes this as a possible case of multiple personalities, but when Melissa begins talking about President Truman, Mulder begins to surmise that is instead a case of past lives coming to the surface. Later analysis concludes that one her “past lives” is that of Sidney, the informant.
What ensues is several sessions of Fox Mulder’s therapeutic instrument du jour, regression hypnosis, where the agents attempt to coax the information out of Melissa, and when she expresses a connection to Mulder, he takes it upon himself to undergo hypnosis himself, where he tells of past lives as a Jewish woman during the Holocaust and a Civil War soldier named Sullivan Biddle who has a romance with one of Melissa’s past lives of the same vintage. It all comes to a head when, due to lack of evidence, all the temple members are released, and Ephesian takes it upon himself to do what Skinner was afraid would happen, namely the federal government would have another Jonestown on its hand. Drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid, only quite literally, the entire congregation succumbs to the poison, including Melissa. Mulder only has left then are pictures of Sullivan and his love found in library archives, lamenting the needless death.
Now, Kristen Cloke (who played Melissa and is also the wife of Glen Morgan) isn’t exactly the most outstanding actress of her time, but there are times in the episode where the naysayers could be right to lay claims of nepotism at her feet. Her portrayal of Sidney borders on laughable, but I don’t know, there is a certain charm to her character, even when the past lives come to surface. This may be residual praise from her bravura performance in Carter’s later show Millennium rubbing off on this episode, but when Cloke isn’t trying to overplay, it becomes less melodrama and more emotionally affecting for the audience.
In all, I think the episode would’ve gotten a lot more mileage out of the cult than focusing so much on the past lives of Glen Morgan’s wife. I have a fascination with what happened with the People’s Temple in Jonestown back in the late 1970’s, and the psychological terrain of people involved in charismatic organizations is incredibly rich material to explore. Instead, it recedes into the background. This episode is a misfire, but I think why I like it so much can be summed up in an Elvis Costello lyric. “If the failure is great, then it tends to fascinate.”
Radhika: Oh, “The Field Where I Died” — what a maligned segment of The X-Files universe you are. I was rolling my eyes at the prospect of rewatching this episode, but now that time has passed, I would say this is a poorly done MOTW episode where I can at least appreciate what the writers were trying to accomplish. It’s not particularly well done, but it was a quasi-interesting idea, not just a dull idea paired with terrible execution.
The real backlash against this particular episode was mostly a result of the disappointment the growing shipper fanbase — who supported a Mulder and Scully romance — felt at the time it aired. Full disclosure: I was never really one of them, at one point convolutedly referring to myself as a “darkside finishipper” (which meant I was buddies with the no-romance proponents, while believing the two characters could get together at the end), before eventually deciding I was in fact a “noromo,” not particularly supportive of a relationship between the two.
It’s not that I never recognized the chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. I joined the rest of the Internet in freaking out this week while the two actors shared a couple of fun exchanges on Twitter, and I marveled at their banter during their New York Comic Con panel, twenty years after the pilot aired. But I never wanted romance to be the focus of the show, whereas the shippers wanted more. So in this episode, when we were introduced to this notion that Mulder’s soulmate is … some random chick named Melissa, people FLIPPED.
My only real issue with this notion goes back to that pesky idea of execution. Reincarnation could have been addressed well, but this was a phenomenon within a larger case that was more reminiscent of Waco or Jonestown. Left to the confines of an hour-long serial drama, it’s a bit difficult to tell the stories of Mulder’s past lives well. (But I’m not sure I could handle a two-part “Field Where I Died” either.)
I don’t mind that Mulder may have another soulmate, but spooky as he is, it seems unrealistic that he’s so immediately drawn to Melissa. I get that I’m supposed to feel some kind of emotional pang watching the episode, but it never really hits me. I’m not invested in the characters here and their acting doesn’t convince me either. I’d say that Cloke (who was not married to Glen Morgan yet, though she had been on the Morgan/Wong Space: Above and Beyond) actually tried, but didn’t always succeed. I’d say that Duchovny definitely fell flat — not the first time he’s been criticized as an actor, but we know he was able to churn out some great performances as Mulder both before and after this episode, so I do expect better from him.
I ultimately don’t recommend this episode, but there is one thing that made me smile — the fact that Mulder does at least seem to know Scully from a past life, as his sergeant in the Union Army back during the time of the Civil War. I love the idea that Mulder and Scully have at least always been friends and partners on the job. And knowing the workaholic and loner nature of the two characters, this screams “soul mate” to me even more than traditional romantic love does. It’s the one thing this flawed episode manages to get right.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Kristen Cloke – Playing Ephesian’s wife Melissa, Kristen Cloke would later play the psychic Lara Means in Chris Carter’s other show Millennium during its second season. Having first become known on Space: Above And Beyond, she later would play a role in the remake of the horror film Black Christmas, as well as the first entry in the Final Destination series.
Michael Massee – A consummate television presence, the man who played cult leader Vernon Ephesian got his start on the big screen in films such as The Crow, Tales From The Hood, Lost Highway, and Se7en. He is perhaps best known now for his role as Ira Gaines in the first season of 24, as well as roles in Alias, Carnivale, and FlashForward.