“So, you want to use me to clear the slate… to make you a respectable person. It won’t work.” — Dana Scully
“How many people in the world are dying of cancer? And here we are wasting time with the past.” — Cigarette Smoking Man
When a boy is cured of his cancer under mysterious circumstances, the CSM makes promises to Scully about the technology involved while Mulder tries to extricate her from choices he thinks she will regret.
Max: “En Ami” is a bright spot in a season that is sorely lacking in positive attributes, and it still hits (mostly) all the right notes. Written by the CSM himself William B. Davis and directed (for the final time in the series) by Rob Bowman, this outing is a seductive and sinuous sojourn for Scully and the Smoking Man, his overtures of trust and the possibility of something tangible the psychological bedrock of forty-odd minutes of genuinely good television.
Our heroes are put on the scent of Jason McPeck, a young boy who claims to have his cancer cured by angels after his parents have refused medical treatment on religious grounds. A conspicuously placed newspaper later, and Scully finds herself in the company of the Cigarette Smoking Man, entreating her to go on a trip with him to acquire the details of the technology used to cure Jason before colleagues (remnants of Syndicate apparatchiks) intervene to stop him. Taking detours to an allegedly 118-year-old woman and a bit of restaurant espionage, their journey comes to head on the water as Scully meets up with a nervous informant nicknamed Cobra, who gives her a CD before getting his head blown off by a CSM assassin. Mulder meanwhile does all he can to save her from what he thinks is an orchestrated death trap, enlisting Walter Skinner and The Lone Gunmen in an enterprise that ends up fruitless. Returning home dejected, Scully is left with only an empty CD and an empty suite of offices where the CSM supposedly carried out his sinister schemes.
I think one of the chief reasons why this episode is so compelling to me is that is feels so much like The X-Files of the early Vancouver years. The paranoia and mistrust is incredibly potent, and the CSM regains a lot of the mystique that he has lost over the years as we’ve been introduced to his estranged son and ex-wife and the knowledge of how little the other Syndicate elders thought of him. A lot of this is probably due to the fact that Davis penned the episode, so naturally he caters a lot of juicy material to the CSM. But more importantly, there is the realization that while “En Ami” is a throwback in many ways, the episode’s power lies with its position in the series overall.
With nearly seven seasons of backstory between the CSM and the agents he has stymied and caused damaged to in multiple ways, the strange voyage of Scully and the Smoking Man gains resonance. Naturally, the CSM’s mind games come into play many many times, using his knowledge of events he played a major role in (Scully’s assignment to the X-Files, her cancer) to keep her perpetually off-balance. Scully’s recordings of what transpires then would be the natural objective observer, but the CSM’s operative is able to collect them before they land on Mulder’s desk.
One particular callback I find particularly brilliant, and that is Scully in another boat, on her way to rendezvous with the informant. Scully in a boat was quite a metaphor for her physical state in “One Breath,” her life hanging on by a thread after being returned post-abduction. Here though, Scully is traveling not on a rowboat but in a motorized craft, thinking she is in control of a situation that was engineered by a man who has spent his life dealing in secrecy and skullduggery. This is an interesting contrast with all the scenes focused on the undergarments that hide her wire. We’ve spoken a lot about how Scully is portrayed and how that changes (or doesn’t) over the course of the show, so while it has a definite story purpose, it can be construed as a bit of titillation (not that I, a red-blooded male, am complaining).
The key to the whole enterprise though is why Scully put any measure of trust in a man who has, essentially, delivered so much pain and trauma at her doorstep. Davis plays with a subversion of the Mulder/Scully dynamic here, so it is also interesting to think of the episode on those terms. Radhika, thoughts?
Radhika: This is definitely one of the more compelling episodes of the season, if only because it does hearken back to earlier mythology (scars on necks and implants anyone?) — though I will fully admit that my mind began wandering halfway through just as it does during much of the season seven episodes. I just can’t latch onto them the same way I used to, even though I don’t recall thinking as poorly of this season as other Philes do. I only point this out again to admit that it’s possible this is coloring my reviews a bit.
I am definitely baffled by Scully’s desire to go ahead and trust the CSM. I mean, on one hand, we can tell that she is doing it a bit warily (wearing a wire and all), but it just doesn’t seem worth it to risk working with a man who has caused so much trouble over the years. Maybe it would be a little more believable slightly earlier in the series, and would have obviously been more believable if Mulder had done it, but we’ve come too far along for this to make complete sense to me. A couple of postings on the Internet suggest that the episode was aired later in the season to distance it from the events of the season premiere, which was probably smart, but I also don’t feel Scully would easily let go of the awful things done to her partner so quickly.
And speaking of her partner: Of course, Mulder takes all of this very poorly. He’s immediately convinced Scully is in danger and when he concedes to Skinner that he knows Scully can take care of herself, he also says it isn’t like her to lie to him. Which is mostly true, with the exception of a couple of episodes like “Never Again” (and in that sense, I appreciate that this episode does feel like a bit of a callback to that episode).
I do give William B. Davis an A for effort in trying to put a script together, but there are parts like the evening gown scene and the close-up shot of the wire and Scully’s breasts that just feel like fanfiction. I have previously said I wish we got to see the more relaxed, sexual side of Scully from time to time. I have also complained about how on other occasions, when we see this Scully, she is almost always an object — not shocking on a show written by men. But I really wish there were moments we could see her sexual womanly attributes without it being directly via the male gaze. And every time those male gaze moments happen, they seem to come out of nowhere and never fit the show’s tone very well. That happens again in this episode, and I’m afraid I was just taken out of the show while watching those scenes.
Nonetheless, it’s oddly comforting to have another Cigarette Smoking Man-centric episode again — we haven’t had one this focused on him since “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man,” and even though he remains a deceptive figure and we don’t learn a ton of truths, it’s nice to revisit a classic mythology figure even when much of the show’s mythology has melted away.