“So what? Why do you want to cover it? Listen friend, everyone gets tattoo they deserve.” – Comrade Svo
Jodie Foster… as you’ve never heard her before!!!
Max: Radhika came up with that above trailer-speak, and it’s actually a pretty damn good (and funny) way to sum up this episode, if only we were talking about the surface of things. Underneath, this outing is one of more psychologically complex offerings the series has done to date, a referendum of sorts on the professional and personal relationship between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, absolutely teeming with allegory and symbolism.
As I mentioned in the review of “Leonard Betts,” the occasion of the Super Bowl caused the producers to switch the order of that episode and this one, which in my opinion serves to strengthen the impact of “Never Again.” Scully’s cancer as a result is not mentioned or referred to here, but with her stepping outside of her usual routine and engaging on her own sort of self rediscovery, it can be argued that her motivations could be read as a reaction to that profound discovery.
The actual MOTW of this episode is relatively straightforward, a Philadelphia man by the name of Ed Jerse is seeing his life being stripped away from him as the result of an arduous divorce. Venturing to a dive bar to try to find answers in the bottom of a glass, he comes up empty. Inebriated, he figures what the hell and gets a tattoo of a pin-up brunette at the shop across the street. Soon, he starts hearing a woman’s voice (Jodie Foster herself), taunting him, calling him a loser, and egging him on to stand up for himself, which includes making a scene at his office (and later getting fired for it) and killing the innocent lady in the apartment below his.
Jerse crosses paths with Scully when, under orders from Mulder, half-heartedly pursues a possible UFO case while he has a spiritual pilgrimage to Graceland. Frustrated with her situation and intrigued by this man that she meets in the tattoo parlor, she takes up Jerse’s offer of a date. This walk on the wild side for our G-Lady culminates in her getting a tattoo of an Ouroboros and having a one night stand with Jerse. While he is out picking up breakfast, Scully answers his door for two police officers curious as to the whereabouts of the lady downstairs. After they leave, she makes the connection that Jerse was in her apartment, and that the ink his tattoo was made with is laced with a hallucinogenic compound. With prodding from his tattoo, he discovers that Scully is in fact an FBI agent and lashes out at her, nearly killing her by throwing her into an incinerator, until he overpowers his hallucinations and burns his inked arm instead. Scully returns to DC, battered but alive, and with a second mention in the filing cabinets of a basement office.
The quote I chose for this episode above I think is very apt to describe the episode as well as its place in the series as a whole. The idea of getting what you deserve, of some kind of karmic balance is I think a potent concept for The X-Files. Not to skip ahead too much in the proceedings, but for all the conspiracy and skullduggery of The Syndicate, which includes the body count of members of both the Mulder and Scully families as well as Scully’s abudction, perhaps the only measure of the kind of justice that our heroes desire would come in the form of some kind of karmic retribution. On a smaller scale, Mulder has perhaps had it coming for a long time for someone to call him out on the self-centeredness of his pursuits, of which Scully not having a desk in the X-Files office is but a symbolic symptom. As Scully said, not everything is about him, and she has her own life that needs sorting out, particularly now that she senses she has some kind of cancer.
The other side of that quotation, the question of covering something [the tattoo] up, this episode is a striking exploration of what happens when thoughts and emotions from deep within bubble to the surface. Ed Jerse’s life fell to pieces in his mind through a succession of women: his ex-wife, his co-worker, his supervisor, and the misogynistic attitude of Betty the pin-up is a reflection of his growing resentments. For Scully, her tattoo represents everything wrong in her life, the constant cycle of frustrations. The Ouroboros is also a symbol of self-reflexivity, and in this episode Scully does a lot of soul searching, and perhaps the tattoo is her attempt to break out of the cycle of behaviors and attitudes she’s become accustomed to by giving them a tangible form, a reminder. She and Mulder may not have ended in the episode on the best of terms, but the silence between them is a start.
Radhika: Even though Scully’s cancer isn’t mentioned here and wasn’t even something Gillian Anderson was aware of while filming based on what she’s said in the past, I think “Never Again” manages to fit into the narrative of her cancer arc rather well. It’s easy to see her actions as a post-cancer discovery reaction, though I suppose Mulder’s general obliviousness to her angst doesn’t quite fit. But truthfully, we’ve seen some of Scully’s frustrations before, handled a bit more comically in episodes like “Syzygy.” As much as her bond with Mulder is great, it’s clear that much of her life has been sacrificed to the X-Files, which were once just one man’s quest. So it was about time an episode like this came along.
I laughed a lot during those early X-Files episodes where the writers would try to show a semblance of a personal life for the agents, especially Scully in “The Jersey Devil.” Her date, her awkward date outfit — all those things seemed so out of place in The X-Files world. And it seems the writers noticed that as well, because aside from seeing Mulder play the occasional game of basketball, we nary saw a resemblance of a personal life for either agent after the first season. Watching “Never Again” though, I do wish we’d seen a little more — I don’t think it was entirely out of place, as out of character as it may initially seem, to see Scully trying to have a good time. She’s a beautiful woman, and a very well rounded character despite the little we see of her outside investigating cases, and I think there could have been a way for The X-Files to explore these things a little more.
But at least we get “Never Again,” which is as sexy as The X-Files could really get, which means it naturally has to end badly. That said, Scully gets that chance to take a break from Mulder, even though it’s while pursuing a case at his behest. Mulder’s barely around in the episode and even when he is, he comes across as kind of lost without Scully and even worse, very oblivious to her needs despite his obvious reliance on her. Mulder’s a wonderful character and fans equally loved both him and Scully, but there are definitely some negative sides to his character, which the writers manage to present here. But that negativity also doesn’t come across without invoking a sense of pity — I actually thought he came across as a bit of a sad figure, which is not surprising considering how doggedly he’s pursued The X-Files over the years. While the episode rightfully focuses on Scully, it really manages to highlight how isolated both these characters have become through their unusual career paths.
YES, IT’S THAT LADY
Jodie Foster – In perhaps our most unusual entry in this series comes with this episode, as legendary actress Jodie Foster lends her voice to that of Betty, Ed Jerse’s woman-hating tattoo. Known primarily as Clarice Starling from The X-Files presaging film The Silence Of The Lambs, she got her big break as the teenage prostitute in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Her other notable film roles include Contact, The Accused, Panic Room, and most recently Elysium. Also a director, she has helmed episodes of House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black, both on Netflix.