“I come here today, four years, to report on the illegitimacy of Agent Mulder’s work. That it is my scientific opinion that he became over the course of these years a victim. A victim of his own false hopes and of his belief in the biggest of lies.” — Dana Scully
When Mulder comes across evidence of alien life, he is soon faced with the possibility that his life’s work is all part of a larger hoax. Meanwhile, Scully continues to struggle with the impact her cancer has on her health, as well as her personal relationships.
Radhika: Love it or hate it, “Gethsemane” is probably one of the more memorable season finales of The X-Files. That final line from Scully — “Agent Mulder died late last night from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head” — is striking. I’m sure a few folks found it a cheap ploy (reminder/disclaimer: I did not become a regular viewer until season five). But what this episode does do well is turn the entire premise of The X-Files on its head. That search for the truth, for extraterrestrial life, may just be a giant hoax designed to mess with our favorite believer’s head — a daring move for the show.
A quick recap: Scully confirms the identity of a dead body in Mulder’s apartment in the teaser. We then cut to her at an FBI panel, reviewing her work with Mulder over the past four years.
Meanwhile, we’re taken to Canada, where a team of scientists finds a frozen ET. The ice core samples containing alien DNA are sent to Mulder, who promptly has Scully look into it. She confirms the DNA is not earthly DNA, but is attacked by Defense Department employee Michael Kritschgau, who steals the samples. When she tracks him down, he claims he may be killed. Mulder, while heading to the mountains himself with the expedition leader, discovers most of the team has been shot dead. But a survivor has buried the alien corpse, which is brought to the U.S. Of course, right after an autopsy is performed, the expedition leader is killed.
Mulder reconnects with Scully, who introduces him to Kritschgau, who says all his knowledge about alien life is a lie. Kritschgau claims Samantha’s abduction was fabricated and the alien body was a fake. According to Kritschgau, aliens are a hoax by the U.S. government to cover up the military-industrial complex’s activities. And then Scully throws in the kicker: Kritschgau told her she was given cancer to make Mulder a believer.
Mulder then discovers the death of the scientists who were performing the alien autopsy and realizes the body is missing. The final moments of the episodes involve a distressed Mulder, sitting in his apartment and watching clips of a conference on extraterrestrial life. Meanwhile, Scully’s telling the panel that he was found dead the previous night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In “Demons,” the episode prior to “Gethsemane,” we are given a sense that Mulder may be suffering psychologically, as his attempts to figure out what happened to his sister drive him to seek damaging treatments. But despite that, I’m not sure I can fully believe Mulder’s “suicide” in this episode, trickily as everything is shot.
The sadness and desperation on his face in the final moments of the episode are real. It must be a terrible thing to realize that all of one’s hard work and sacrifices were for nothing. But even with the devastating possibility that Scully was made sick simply in order to make Mulder believe, I do believe Mulder is — and always has been — a stronger character than the one we’re told to believe took his own life. Mulder is persistent; in fact, he has almost been willing to deserve everything he believed was a lie in the past (“Paper Hearts,” anyone?). If anything, his grief would drive the Mulder we know to seek revenge on those who harmed Scully. So this finale, while it does the job a finale is supposed to do, is simply not all that believable to me — though I’m sure the hiatus before the next season still felt excruciating enough to viewers when “Gethsemane” aired.
The X-Files’ mythology gets increasingly muddled as time goes on, though I find myself following it rather well during this rewatch. But I do commend Chris Carter and company for always being willing to change things around, to take apart the central point of their series — it didn’t always pay off well, but it’s a brave move that prevented the show from getting too predictable.
Max: Gethsemane, the garden at the foot of a mountain in Jerusalem where Jesus frequently prayed, and where his apostles slept the night before his crucifixion, is the source of the title of this episode. Now a site of holy pilgrimage, it is known for its ancient olive trees believed to be hundreds of years old. Reflecting its namesake, “Gethsemane” then is an examination of how Fox Mulder seemingly has been crucified (in this case driven to apparent suicide) for his beliefs by an government organization that has inculcated the notion of the existence of extraterrestrials in him to cover up abuses done in the name of the military-industrial complex since the beginnings of the Cold War.
From the start of The X-Files, we have always danced a fine line between the truth and lies, and the expansive grey area where the two mix. Going back to “E.B.E.,” Deep Throat taught Mulder that a lie was more convincing sandwiched between two truths during our heroes’ quest to locate an E.B.E. being transported across the country. Here, that quest is paralleled (well, duplicated almost) with Dr. Arlinsky’s discovery of the E.B.E. in Canada. Evoking the alien autopsy footage Mulder acquired in “Nisei” (and of course another callback to Fox’s infamous television expose), Arlinsky and Mulder perform the autopsy that so convinces both men of its authenticity.
There are more callbacks as well in this episode, and you really feel that this is a culmination of everything Mulder, Scully, the writers, and the audience have gone through in four seasons of The X-Files. Section Chief Scott Blevins, the man who assigned Scully to debunk Mulder’s work in the pilot makes his first appearance since the very early days of the show. Scully’s meeting with him and other assembled FBI bigwigs seems very much like her submitting a final report of her dealings with “Spooky” Mulder, and while I share in Radhika’s disbelief in Mulder’s death, there is a definitiveness to her statements that chills me to the bone. In the second season premiere “Little Green Men,” Mulder discussed with Senator Matheson the Voyager project that sent up a golden record of information about Earth for potential extraterrestrials to find. Mulder, in this episode, watches a video of leading scientists discussing the possibilities of such life, including Carl Sagan, the man who spearheaded the project that developed the Golden Record.
Getting back to the sense of finality in the proceedings, this sense is underscored by Scully’s revelation that her cancer has metastasized in her body and short of a miracle her prognosis is terminal. Her mother convenes family and friends together for a dinner, and the looks on Margaret’s face are very much those of a mother desperately wanting to save her child, including inviting Father McCue in a bid for Scully to find strength in the faith she once so strongly held in the church. Scully’s argument with Mulder about faith and science at the Smithsonian is an outgrowth of this. For an episode that traffics heavily in the concept of faith, invoking the garden of Gethsemane is tremendously apropos.
We also meet Bill Scully, eldest Scully sibling for the first time in this episode. Coming home for the dinner, he later meets Scully at the hospital after she is checked out for the fall she suffered at the hands of Michel Kritschgau. Concerned for her health and safety, he reveals that their mother told him about her cancer, and chastises Mulder for putting her in harm’s way and not being there for her. Now, we know Mulder and we know his faults, but I for one find it a bit rich for Bill to be criticizing Mulder when Scully ribbed Bill at the dinner for actually remembering her birthday this year. Bill Scully is infamously despised in X-Phile circles, and his attitude and disdain for Mulder makes me want to preface every mention of his name with the word “asshole.” This being a family publication, I shall stifle this urge.
By the end of its running time, “Gethsemane” upends everything we ever thought and believed. Mulder, like in “Anasazi” is seemingly dead, with Scully’s cancer ramping up its mission to destroy her body. A heavy sheet of darkness provides no relief, and we are left wondering what to believe and who to trust. For all the unevenness of this season, Carter and company rallied to put quite an exclamation mark on it.
Traditionally, the credits end on a shot with the words “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.” However, in some instances new text emerges.
The tagline to wrap up season four is “Believe The Lie,” and in this episode we are certainly confronted with the dueling forces of lies and the truth, as well as how either can be manipulated to serve any number of purposes. As Kritschgau intimated, it was much easier to have people like Mulder believe in a lie that the government is covering up the existence of extraterrestrials than to have them uncover the truth behind some of the worst atrocities imaginable.