“She was trying to tell me something. She was… trying to tell me something.”
— Fox Mulder
“Mulder, she was trying to tell you to stop. To stop looking for your sister. She was just trying to take away your pain.” — Dana Scully
Old wounds open up when Mulder gets involved with the case of a young girl who has disappeared, only to lose his mother to suicide as things heat up.
Radhika: So here we are — watching the first of a two-part installment that was meant to bring us answers and closure to the Samantha Mulder arc. The episodes as a whole ended up being somewhat controversial, because even as folks found certain parts powerful, the resolution couldn’t make everyone happy. But let’s start by taking a look at this episode, which to me feels like the first episode this season with some genuine soul in it, even when certain characters and writing choices annoyed me a bit.
Mulder gets drawn into the case young Amber Lynn LaPierre who disappears from her California home one night. The parents say they found a note in the girl’s room, but the note (which mentions Santa Claus) gets traced to the mother. Despite it seeming as though the family was involved in the girl’s disappearance, Mulder believes they weren’t. A similar Santa Claus note can be linked back to a 1987 case as well that involved a now-imprisoned woman who claimed to have visions of her dead son before he disappeared (just as Mr. LaPierre did).
And then something else happens — Mulder’s mother dies of an overdose of sleeping pills, burning all her pictures of Samantha. Convinced that it’s a cover-up of a murder, he asks Scully to perform an autopsy, which confirms what Mulder doesn’t want to hear: His mother did in fact kill herself while suffering through a debilitating illness. Mulder ends up talking to the imprisoned mother from the 1987 case, and she brings up the concept of “walk-ins,” spirits that take children to protect them from harm. No matter what the explanation at this point, we do start to see Mulder — distraught after losing his mother — doubting the alien abduction narrative that’s surrounded his sister’s disappearance.
As the episode closes, Mulder and Scully end up at a Santa-themed ranch where they find tapes of children, including Amber Lynn. The authorities pursue the man running the park, and the final shot we see is that of our agents standing in the middle of graves scattered all over the ranch.
The episode, especially with that ending, does a fine job of establishing some atmosphere. While not as twisted as “Orison” and “Signs and Wonders,” it is equal parts paranormal and equal parts a good-old detective story with some chilling true-to-life occurrences. And we finally get some real emotion out of our characters (aside from the emotions seen in the messy season-opening episodes): Here, we have Mulder raw and torn up, finally breaking down when he realizes his mother did indeed take her own life. And while the Mulder family has always been on the cold and dysfunctional side, I found myself really feeling for him in that moment — after all, the last bit of family he had is gone and it really did seem as though his mother wanted to tell him something while he vaguely dismissed her.
That sense of loneliness and guilt is palpable, and I can perhaps understand it even more as I grow older, lose people important to me and observe people around me lose those important to them. Scully, admittedly, is a useless broken record at times, insisting that Mulder is internalizing his sister’s abduction (duh, he’s done this with previous disappearing girl cases like “Conduit” and “Paper Hearts”). But she redeems herself with her emotional horror at Mulder’s request to do his mother’s autopsy, and when she protectively tries to keep Skinner away after Mulder breaks down and cries over his loss. Even when she doesn’t affect the plot very much, Scully remains that emotional core Mulder relies on.
There’s a little silliness in the episode too — the sad inside joke of Mr. LaPierre watching canceled Chris Carter show Harsh Realm and mentioning how good it was. And then more relevant to the plot, the concept of the “walk-ins,” which will play out even more in the next episode. Even hearing the summary here makes me roll my eyes a bit, though I can appreciate the emotional baggage attached to the concept. It just feels that when juxtaposed against the overall conceit of this show, the walk-ins kind of come out of nowhere and seem to fit poorly into the myth. But I don’t want to go into it much further — I imagine my references to the concept seem murky right now, when it’s something that is more important in the next episode.
But that said, I do appreciate how this episode, like “Paper Hearts” casts doubt on what may have happened to Samantha Mulder, albeit in a slightly different way.
Max: Even if the ensuing results of this two-parter turn out to be as full of glurge as I remember it, we do indeed get to link the case of the missing Amber Lynn to that of Samantha Mulder in some rather thought provoking ways. We’ve been down the road of Mulder using the current case as a surrogate for his quest to find his sister so many times, but “Sein Und Zeit” seems like a horse of a different color.
There have been episodes where the connection is a hastily forced mess (“Miracle Man“) and then there are those which positively resonate both with the characters and the audience (the aforementioned “Paper Hearts”). The missing are holes in the psyches of the left behind, begging to be filled back up again (contrast this to all those graves at the ranch). This is an existential dilemma, one that for Mulder is complicated by the death of his mother and his initial refusal to believe that she had taken her own life.
The connections to real life missing children cases are readily apparent, even if we don’t get to delve into the semiotics of the archetypal event as much as the subject has to offer us upon examination. There is the media furor, the need to find someone to blame, and the idealization of the taken. Naturally, my thoughts drifted toward remembrances of the JonBenet Ramsey case, and it surprised me how blatant the reference is in this episode (I had forgotten the detail of the news report prior to this rewatch). It is the not knowing which turns cases like these into tragedies I think, because with so much time just to think (or to fill in the case of our 24 hour news cycle), we frequently grasp at straws and can sometimes make things worse by focusing on the wrong things.
This misdirected focus is what Skinner was wary that Mulder would suffer from when he first asked to be let on the Amber Lynn case, and what Scully admonished her partner for after talking to the imprisoned Kathy Tencate. Kathy’s desperation and utterly helplessness is mirrored in Teena Mulder’s desire to reach out to her son, the only connection she really has left in the world after enduring the taking of her daughter and the dissolution of her family. It is really a sad state of affairs, and like Radhika I really feel for both Mulder and his mother. I can relate somewhat, given how deaths in my family and similar misfortunes have impacted my life (even though the outcomes are different, and my family remains warm despite events).
The title of this episode is taken from the name of philosopher Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus of philosophy, which is relevant given that book’s explorations into the nature of existential thought and the interpretation of events and ideas. Mulder himself is on the verge of interpreting (or rather reinterpreting) his thoughts on and what actually happened the night his sister Samantha was taken in his presence. Here, we are reintroduced to the concept of “walk-ins,” which was actually brought up in passing by Mulder back in season two’s “Red Museum.” Funnily enough, Mark Rolston (the actor who plays Amber Lynn’s dad in this episode) was in that episode as well, playing Odin, the leader of the Church of the Red Museum.
Frequently, the Cigarette Smoking Man referred to Mulder’s quest for the truth (particularly when it comes to his sister) as his religion, so given the spiritual undertones of this two-parter this makes thematic sense. It is his momentous regression hypnosis session with Dr. Werber that set Mulder on this course, the recovered memories of which he is going to have to grapple with in the episode to come.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Mark Rolston – Playing Bud LaPierre here and having appeared in the episode “Red Museum,” Rolston has appeared on a number of TV shows and movies, including Aliens, The Shawshank Redemption and The Departed.
Kim Darby – Appearing here as Kathy Tencate, Darby may be best known for her role in the 1969 version of True Grit. She’s done everything from the 1963 flick Bye Bye Birdie to 1985’s Better Off Dead, alongside other TV and movie roles.