“What is a death omen if not a vision of our own mortality? And who among us would most likely be able to see the dead?” — Fox Mulder
Mulder and Scully investigate a series of murders after a witness reports seeing an apparition of one of the victims. Soon, Scully finds herself seeing ghosts as well.
Radhika: Not shockingly, as its title suggests, “Elegy” is a bit of a melancholy outing. While there is a spooky, initially intriguing mystery at the center of this Monster of the Week, its standout qualities really lie in Gillian Anderson’s performance as a character grappling with her mortality, as well as the exploration of the Mulder and Scully partnership, providing it with a bit of extra emotional heft.
We meet Angie Pintero, a bowling alley owner, and the autistic Harold Spuller who works for him. After telling Harold to go home for the day, Pintero ends up spotting a woman wedged inside a pinsetter and runs out to get help. He realizes a crowd has gathered around the body of a woman who looks exactly like the woman he just saw in the bowling alley.
When Mulder and Scully come in to investigate, they uncover the words “She is Me” on the bowling lane near where Pintero saw the woman, adding to the mystery. There have been other murders of a similar nature as well.
The agents trace an anonymous 911 about one of the murders to a psychiatric institute, where they meet Harold, who seems agitated. Scully is suspicious of him and while going to the restroom to tend to a nosebleed, she spots a ghostly woman. Of course, Mulder delivers the news that another body has been found.
Mulder eventually realizes Harold met each of the murdered women while at work. Harold, who is with him at this time, freaks out — and we realize he’s seeing Pintero’s ghost. Sure enough: Pintero has died of a heart attack. And so, Mulder theorizes that every person who saw an apparition was about to die — which makes him think Harold is next. (Scully is justifiably upset by this, but won’t tell Mulder why.)
Back at the psychiatric center, Harold is being harassed by a Nurse Innes, and a patient tells Scully the nurse is trying to poison Harold. Scully puts a somewhat far-reaching plot together and figures out the nurse is the one behind the murders, and after a bit of a struggle, manages to incapacitate the culprit. According to the explanation at the end, Innes was taking Harold’s medication, triggering violent behavior. Scully theorizes she was trying to take away the love Harold felt for her victims by killing them. (Not sure how this explanation works, but ok.) Then of course, Harold is found dead of respiratory failure, and Scully finally confesses to what she saw… only to end up seeing “Harold” in the back of her car.
The main mystery at the center of this episode definitely falls apart by the end — just typing out the explanation feels a bit silly, even though it manages to play out better on the screen than it does on the page. And while Harold does evoke some sympathy in me, I’m not entirely in love with the portrayal of the characters at the psychiatric center. It just feels rather cliche and typical for TV, though I won’t profess to have a professional opinion on this.
What makes the episode enjoyable for me is that Mulder, after coming across as rather obtuse for much of this season, is really rather caring — not just to Scully, once she finally admits to what she saw, but to Harold as well. He’s a much needed gentle voice for this easily worked up character, and we’re reminded of why we’re rooting for him and his seemingly impossible quests to begin with.
Gillian Anderson is in top form here, transitioning between our skeptical stoic to a vulnerable woman who just wants her cancer to go away, quite well. You really do feel for Scully a lot in this episode, especially when she’s confiding in a counselor and explaining her need to keep working, as well as the positive aspects of her partnership with Mulder. “He’s been a great source of strength that I’ve drawn on,” she explains, and so we are further reassured that her constant need to tell Mulder she’s fine or even get combative at times is a downright defensive move, spurred by the bond they share.
Reassuring as this is, it is still a little tough to watch her argue with Mulder after relaying what she saw towards the episode’s end, asking, “What do you want me to say? That you’re right, that I believe it even if I don’t?” But Mulder remains patient, if a bit saddened by the outburst, eventually telling her that hiding the truth from him means she’s working against him and herself. He also conveys that they’re both afraid of the same thing. And so, after a period of trying to brush her illness under the rug, we at least know that both characters are opening up to each other again — a vital development for the show to go on.
Max: John Shiban, who wrote this episode, was inspired chiefly by the classic film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest starring Jack Nicholson, and it shows. Innes definitely is the descendant of Nurse Ratched from the film, and we certainly feel terrible for poor Harold Spuller as the target of her machinations.
We’ve spoken quite a bit about how the best MOTW episodes reflect our main characters, their current situations, as well as the relationship between Mulder and Scully, and “Elegy” backs up this thesis explicitly. As Radhika mentioned above, this outing in positively saturated with the specter of Scully’s cancer, even going as far as to see a counselor to help process her thoughts and emotions. I’m very much reminded of the role actress Patricia Wettig played in the early seasons of Alias, as a CIA therapist who helped Jennifer Garner’s Sidney Bristow through the various shocks that turned her world upside down.
While Sidney wasn’t dealing with a terminal illness, she and Scully are powerful women whose jobs require a level of composure and vigilance, as well as the fact that both of them are highly committed to their employers (although Sidney has a social life that is now so foreign to Scully). Scully rarely gives herself permission to be vunerable, and when we saw the cracks in her resolve begin to open in “Memento Mori,” the rarity of those emotions is what gave her tearful admissions to Mulder such power.
Mulder’s attitude this episode is definitely a growth moment for the character, especially given his rather dismissive behavior in “Never Again” that caused a bit of a rupture in the usually strong working and personal relationship of our heroes. At the end of that episode, Scully voiced her frustrations that were percolating inside of her for a long time, so it is definitely a relief to see Mulder soften here. For so long, Mulder’s obsessive crusade isolated and cut himself off from people within and without the Bureau, leading to the rather “pathetic” life of tin-hat conspiracies and phone sex hotlines that Eddie Van Blundt commented on a couple of episodes ago.
Scully was forced on him by superiors intent on putting nails in the X-Files’ coffin, and the series has been in part the story of Mulder learning to not be the lone wolf anymore. Scully theorized that Nurse Innes was targeting Harold because she was envious of the love he had for the women that would become her victims. Harold can be seen to be an analog to Mulder, a beset individual shaped by trauma, who has learned to reach out to others as well. The fact that Scully finds such fealty with Harold gives credence to this, a reminder of the intense bond that has developed between our heroes, molded by events that no one but them could ever really understand. It is this complex of emotions that gives their final conversation of this episode the weight Radhika ascribed to it, and I agree with her that them confiding in each other again is the most important takeaway of the episode, especially as we approaching some of the most crucial episodes of the middle third of The X-Files.
I didn’t talk much about the actual case of the week, probably because the case did too good of a job in foregrounding Mulder and Scully’s existential issues, as well as the fact that it is a pretty boilerplate affair. I did though get heavy Are You Afraid Of The Dark? vibes from it, the old Nickelodeon horror anthology series. The aesthetic and structure of the story is a perfect fit for that show, cheesy ghost special effects and all. Regardless, “Elegy” did a lot of heavy lifting in the Mulder and Scully department, setting the table for season’s close.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Lorena Gale – Appearing briefly as an attorney in this episode, Gale was a Canadian actress, playwright and theatre director who was on Battlestar Galactica, as well as other shows such as Stargate SG-1. Gale also appeared in feature films, including Fantastic Four and The Chronicles of Riddick. She passed away in 2009 following a battle with throat cancer.
Sydney Lassick – Appearing here as Chuck Forsch, Lassick may be best known for his role in One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, playing the part of Charlie Cheswick. He was in a variety of TV shows and films over the decades before dying at 80 in 2003.