“When your father died, it was a long time before he left me. I saw him in my dreams. The phone would ring, and just for a moment I was sure it was his voice. You’re doing the same thing with Melissa. You’re seeing her in this child, but that doesn’t make this child my granddaughter. We’re still connected to them, Dana. Even after they’re gone.”
— Margaret Scully
Christmas vacation doesn’t exist for Scully who gets a mysterious phone call that leads her to a little girl she believes could be the daughter of her dead sister, Melissa.
Radhika: Scully’s cancer may be in remission at this point in our heroes’ story, but the repercussions of her abduction and illness have not faded away. “Christmas Carol” revisits Scully’s journey by adding a new layer to the mix — the presence of a mysterious child who carries the Scully family genes. As a result, we end up delving further into Scully’s thoughts about the personal life she has sacrificed and the desire for the child she didn’t realize she wanted until that chance was gone.
It’s Christmas, and Scully’s spending time with her brother Bill, his pregnant wife Tara and her mother. But normalcy is not in Scully’s cards. So when she receives a mysterious phone call from someone who sounds like her dead sister, Melissa, she gets caught up in a case involving the apparent suicide of a woman named Roberta Sim. The lead detective says Roberta died before the call was made and her husband, Marshall Sim, is reluctant to be helpful to the investigation.
The Sims have an adoptive daughter, Emily, who bears a striking resemblance to Melissa when she was the same age. Scully, who has told her mother that her abduction and cancer have rendered her unable to have children, becomes obsessed with figuring out the connection between the two — eventually concluding, thanks to DNA results, that Melissa may have given birth to Emily without telling the family during a period of absence. Scully starts the process of trying to adopt Emily, though an adoption agency representative warns her that the anemic Emily — who has been involved in clinical trials — is a special needs child. In the meantime, Marshall Sim is arrested for the murder of his wife and is soon found dead in his cell after being visited by a couple of men in suits.
The final twist is presented to us at the very end of the episode when additional DNA tests come back, proving that Emily is not Melissa’s daughter as Scully’s family suspected. However, it looks like Scully herself is the mother.
The plot is certainly in the vein of a soap opera, and what can you expect from a sci-fi show that put one of its main characters through a painful abduction arc? But despite some unrealistic elements (possible, even on The X-Files) — such as a visit from an adoption agent on Christmas Eve — the episode is a compelling one, largely due to Gillian Anderson’s performance. The episode, which is Mulder-lite thanks to David Duchovny being scheduled to promote his movie, Playing God, is another psychological study of Scully.
Such episodes often tend to be incredibly intriguing, perhaps due to Scully’s closed-off nature, which she admits to in this episode: “Ever since I was a child, I’ve never allowed myself to get too close to people. Perhaps I’ve been so afraid of death and dying that any connection just seemed like a bad thing,” she tearfully explains to the adoption agent, who isn’t exactly encouraging Scully to become an adoptive parent, thanks to her high-stress job and single status (and lack of longterm relationship history).
Previous episodes in the series, such as “Never Again,” started hinting at the level of sacrifice Scully has made over the years (and the last “normal” date we saw her go on was back in the first season). In “Christmas Carol,” we see how badly hit Scully is by some of the events in her life, which have affected her ability to have a child. “I just never realized how much I wanted it until I couldn’t have it,” she says to her mother, which is often how life tends to work in such situations. The waves of loss Scully has experienced ever since her abduction years ago are still very much in play.
Max: Indeed, the sacrifices that Scully has made and the waves of loss she has experienced over the years would be blows to anyone, but especially to Scully since the experiments done to her have left her unable to bear children. The scene with the adoption agent is such a brutally frank and candid assessment of Scully’s life thus far, and it is moreso given the gender politics of the 1990s.
Shows like thirtysomething (which straddled both the 80s and 90s) depicted the differences and struggles between women who gave up jobs to become mothers and women who sacrificed family and relationships due to their commitment to fulfilling careers (a path started by programs such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show). A bit later, Murphy Brown set off a real life political firestorm when then-Vice President Dan Quayle blasted the title character for having a child out of wedlock. Scully follows this emerging discourse by underscoring the unfortunate choice that society foists on women to be either/or and not both dedicated mothers and workers. What makes this doubly difficult is Emily Sim’s medical condition which requires round-the-clock care and support, something that Scully could not possibly do galavanting with Mulder in search of monsters and little green men.
Episodes focusing on Scully frequently reference her religious upbringing as a point of contrast to her current worldview and methodology, and “Christmas Carol” is no different. In fact, the episode is filled to the brim with them, including the Christmas when Dana and Melissa were teenagers and Mrs. Scully let them open her present of cross necklaces early. The cross necklace has been a potent symbol in the show (especially when Scully was abudcted), a shorthand for the dichotomies that exist within Scully and the forces that molded her into the woman we would see on a weekly basis. This symbolism comes to the fore when Scully gives her necklace to Emily. The Christmas Eve flashback is a rather touching scene, given The X-Files‘ proclivity for producing overly maudlin flashback sequences. It really highlighted the bond Mrs. Scully has with her daughters, with a tinge of the spiritual that lead some X-Philes to theorize some kind of latent psychic ability in Scully women. I hope Scully got that Hotel California album, it’s a favorite of my dad and he would very much approve!
Other flashbacks mix actual events with pieces of the Sim case to demonstrate how invested Scully has become in the welfare of this child. This is most evident in the rather surreal funeral dream set inside a church, where Scully’s subconscious replaced whomever was in the casket with Roberta Sim, blood stained water and all. It’s perhaps a tad too melodramatic, with a young Scully witnessing this horrific act (paralleling a previous flashback of when she hid a dying rabbit from a malevolent Bill Jr.). I’m sure Freud would have a field day with all of this intermingling of mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers. Bill is his usual charming self here, downplaying his sister’s feelings and experiences completely in order to get her back in the world again. He could use some of the sensitivity training the Armed Forces have now. Margaret though recognizes the deep wells of pain and sadness in her daughter, cautioning her while still reflecting on the deep familial connections most of us share.
All of this comes back though to the mother (pun intended) of all bombs dropped, when the more detailed genetic workups suggest that little Emily is Scully’s daughter. Gillian definitely hits it out of the park, and it makes me appreciate the episode more, given that I’ve usually thought of the set of episodes that started here were some of the weaker offerings of the mythology.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Karri Turner – Playing Bill Jr.’s wife, Tara Scully, Turner is perhaps best known for playing Lieutenant Harriet Sims on JAG. She has had a few other TV and movie credits as well.
John Pyper-Ferguson – Playing the role of Detective Kresge in this episode, Pyper-Ferguson has a long list of TV and movie credits, dating back to roles on shows like 21 Jump Street and MacGyver to more recent series including Caprica and Grimm. He may be best known for roles such as the one he played on The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.