5×17: All Souls

“Father, I told you that I had a sin to confess … But the sin of which I’m guilty … I’m not sure if you can offer forgiveness.” – Dana Scully
“What is the sin?” – Priest
“An innocent girl is dead because of me. I could’ve saved her life, but I let her die.”
– Dana Scully

Scully has a profound crisis of faith when Father McCue asks her to look into the mysterious death of a severely handicapped teenage girl.

All Souls

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Max: If “Mind’s Eye” was a showcase for Mulder to empathize with the focus of that episode, then “All Souls” does much the same for Scully, although with a different outcome. We’ve spoken at length how when The X-Files ventures into spiritual matters it can come off as hokey or ham-fisted, and sadly there are quite a few instances of this in this episode, including one moment that belongs in an Enya music video and not our beloved program.

Scully has had to deal with quite a lot of emotional and spiritual baggage this season after coming perilously close to death with her cancer and the discovery of a daughter that was birthed using ovum that were taken from her during her abduction. Ostensibly, this episode resolves a lot of the pain and trauma she has been suffering in silence from, but again, the execution of it could use a few more drafts. Father McCue (who we last saw praying with Scully in her darkest hour) notes Scully’s attendance at services lately and asks her to consult on the death of the daughter of the Kernofs, fellow parishioners.

She was found on the street in front of her house in a praying position with her eyes burnt out, an impossible event given that she’s been wheelchair-bound all of her life. What unfolds is a battle straight out of apocryphal Christian texts for the souls of four Nephilim, the offspring of a Seraph and a mortal woman. The daughter, Dara, was one of four identical quadruplets with polydactyly (extra fingers) and other congenital defects (like bony protuberances that appear wing-like) that have made their way through the welfare systems in Virginia and Maryland.

All Souls

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

A Gnostic priest by the name of Father Gregory and a social worker named Aaron Starkey express a great interest in the welfare of the three remaining girls, and Scully brings Mulder in to help out (that is, after she tears him away from an all-night XXX film festival). Inevitably, two of the girls die in the exact same manner as Dara did, and during an autopsy of one of them, Paula Koklos, Scully experiences visions of her daughter Emily. Shaken by this, and by an apparent encounter with an honest to goodness Seraph, Scully questions yet again the conflict between faith and science within her soul. In the end, the Seraph comes to reclaim the souls of all four girls, but not before the social worker kills Father Gregory, who has been trying to protect them from the Devil, who the social worker either is or is an emissary of. Got that? It’s all kind of silly when you think about it in front of the refrigerator late at night.

All Souls

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

I get that there is a lot of unresolved baggage that Scully has been carrying around with her, but the writers handled closing the book on the death of Emily with about as much care and thought as they did the whole “Mulder is a skeptic” arc earlier in the season. When Scully is trying to hold on to Roberta, the last remaining quadruplet, Scully gets a vision of Emily asking her to let her go that is as glurge-worthy as a Hallmark card. In confession, Scully punishes herself for not having enough faith, and that blinded her to the threat the social worker posed, and instead focused her and Mulder’s efforts on nailing Father Gregory to the proverbial cross.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel for Scully. She’s been put through the ringer time and time again since her abduction, and if I didn’t know any better I would think the writers enjoyed taking her down a few pegs like this every so often. Hasn’t she been through enough? What say you Radhika?

Radhika: You already know my opinion on everything Scully has gone through — it really is all a bit too much, especially when you realize the range of time within which her abduction, cancer, death of her daughter and more have taken place. However, I would argue that the writers have at least given a little more care to resolving her storyline than they did with following through on Mulder’s skepticism arc — in the sense that they actually made an effort to address the issue of the mysterious-quickly-dead daughter. But was that effort sloppy? Absolutely.

All Souls

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

We’ve seen how Scully’s faith and her otherwise skeptic, scientific behavior tend to collide from time to time, and those episodes can be interesting. But once the subject matter gets hokey and an unresolved storyline is resolved in a sloppy manner, this “Scully is a scientist who still believes deeply in the religious faith of her youth” trope just becomes stale. There’s nothing particularly redeeming about it. Yes, Gillian Anderson acts the hell out of things — even in this episode — but even that can’t really save it for me. Also, every time the writers want to subvert the believer/skeptic dynamic, Mulder ends up coming across as a self-righteous jerk (and it isn’t just the religious episodes — let’s not forget his short-lived “ALIENS AREN’T REAL!” skepticism, where he managed to piss off everyone, including Scully and Skinner). And it’s really no different here, because the Mulder we know and love would at least seem a little more sympathetic toward the plight of these girls, or at least more sympathetic toward Scully despite not sharing her beliefs.

This also kind of feels like a Millennium B-plot that got tossed aside and rewritten for The X-Files, so that might explain why I can’t connect to the tone of this episode very much. It just doesn’t seem to suit The X-Files very well. Some of the imagery, especially of Dara in a prayer position with her eyes smoked out, is simultaneously gorgeous and chilling. But others — like the weird Emily moment Max mentioned — are bizarre, and it doesn’t help that what seemed like a potentially compelling plot at the beginning just gets more convoluted and weird in a not-so-good way as the episode progresses. I spent the first twenty minutes or so fairly engrossed in the episode. And then I just started looking at the clock, wondering how much more I had to take.

All Souls

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

One final note: I wasn’t raised Catholic, and aside from seeking out a few texts (including a kiddie Bible, because I was a curious child, albeit raised Hindu and now pretty agnostic), I won’t profess to be much of an expert on the subject. But I just felt really sad by the end of the episode. Most of these girls have had terrible lives, not only limited by their disabilities, but by society (I shuddered during the scene where Paula is crawling on all fours in the shadows of a dingy institution, though I suppose it’s a relief that Dara had loving adoptive parents). And then they’re being “saved” at the end in a fairly horrifying way. I mean, I suppose we’re supposed to assume that it didn’t really hurt and they’re in a better place now, but the process just seems too painful for me to see anything good about it.

YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS

Emily Perkins – Playing the heavenly quadruplets, Emily Perkins is perhaps most well known for her role in the Ginger Snaps series of horror films (she played the sister of “Schizogeny” guest star Katharine Isabelle). She also had bit parts in the films It and Juno, but does more television work, including Da Vinci’s Inquest, Dead Like Me, and Supernatural.

Glenn Morshower – It’s a bit disconcerting to see 24‘s all-around good guy Agent Aaron Pierce to play the devilish social worker in this episode, but he acts the hell out of it. He also was on shows like The West Wing, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Friday Night Lights, and most recently Agents Of SHIELD. On the big screen he was in Air Force One, the Transformers series, and Good Night And Good Luck.

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One thought on “5×17: All Souls

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Season 5 | Apt. 42 Revisited

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