“I don’t think you can know. I mean, how many different lives would we be leading if we made different choices. We… We don’t know.” — Fox Mulder
“What if there was only one choice and all the other ones were wrong? And there were signs along the way to pay attention to.” — Dana Scully
“Mmm. And all the… choices would then lead to this very moment. One wrong turn, and… we wouldn’t be sitting here together. Well, that says a lot. That says a lot, a lot, a lot. That’s probably more than we should be getting into at this late hour.” — Fox Mulder
Spurred on by one of Mulder’s investigations, Scully is confronted with possibilities she’s usually dismissed.
Max: Last season, David got his chance at writing and directing an episode of The X-Files with the wonderful outing “The Unnatural.” Here, it is Gillian’s turn, and I wish we could say we were as pleased with what she brought to the table, but sadly, there are a lot of issues with “all things,” an episode that throughout my life as a fan of the program I’ve wanted desperately to like. Typically, I have a kind of fascination with ideas that would be stereotypically derided as a New Age hodgepodge (at the very least, they give us a novel way of looking at the cold hard reality in front of us), but Gillian’s execution of those ideas leaves a lot to be desired.
“all things” begins as two separate cases that Mulder has asked Scully to lend her expertise and assistance to (the autopsy of a woman and the unmasking of the makers of crop circles in England), that invariably end up as a single “case” through which Scully is forced to confront choices she’s made in the past, choices that affect how she will carry herself in the present and into the future.
By happenstance, the autopsy results get mixed up with the x-rays of one Dr. Daniel Waterston, the man who was once one of Scully’s teachers in medical school, and whom she carried on an affair with that broke up his marriage. His daughter Maggie is obviously not happy to see Scully waltz back into her father’s life when she wasn’t around to witness the fallout of her father’s indiscretions, and Scully must walk that fine line between wanting to be there for the man she had such strong feelings for and not wanting to reopen old wounds.
Meanwhile, her assistance with Mulder’s crop circle fascination brings her to the door of one Colleen Azar, who runs The American Taoist Healing Center. Shaken up by nearly being the victim of a car accident, Scully is at first dismissive but later beings to open herself up to the ideas of things being immutably interconnected and powered by these forces. As Colleen relays to Scully, “There is a greater intelligence in all things. Accidents– or near accidents– often remind us that we need to keep our mind open to the lessons it gives.”
These lessons lead Scully through a sinuous route with stops at a Buddhist temple, Daniel’s hospital bed, and ultimately to Mulder’s apartment, where our heroes have an intimate conversation about God, the paths in life that we did not take, and the choices and events that led to two seemingly incompatible federal agents becoming the closest friends either of them had.
A lot of hay has been made of the fact that on the whole, the worldviews of David and Gillian are actually the opposite of what their characters on the show subscribe to. While this reductive analysis may be useful in beginning to parse “all things,” it really only begins to scratch the surface of a complicated episode that unfortunately collapses under the weight of too much meaning.
This is particularly evident in the scene of Scully in the Buddhist temple, where she is confronted with every moment of her life in a brief, intense flash of light that ends on a visualization of Daniel’s body, a bizarre intermingling of the feelings she had for her old teacher and the feelings she has for her friend and partner. Still, I do have to give Gillian the director some kudos for the way she initially framed that scene. Large shafts of light formed an almost barrier between Scully and the big statute of Buddha in the temple, a physical manifestation of the ways her rational, skeptical thinking have sometimes cut her off to other possibilities.
This is also the episode that a lot of shippers have said is where the sexual and romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully begins, reading a lot (perhaps too much) into the opening and closing scenes in Mulder’s apartment. While that is a possibility, the way things are left in the final scene undercut the theory fomented by the cold open. For Radhika’s sake, I’m going to stay agnostic about the whole thing.
Radhika: I hated “all things” when it first aired. I was bored out of my mind and I wanted the pretentious schlock I was watching to just get off my TV screen once and for all. For that reason, it’s an episode I haven’t revisited very much. Watching it now, I still consider it a fairly terrible episode — though this time, I am at least somewhat appreciative of what Gillian Anderson was trying to accomplish, even though I think the execution was sorely lacking.
Knowing this is a first-time writing and directing effort, and realizing now how much work that is, I do give Anderson some credit for trying here. While she’s written (or really co-written) a science fiction book recently, writing and directing doesn’t seem to have been of as much interest to her as it was to David Duchovny, who at least shared some co-writing credits before going on to write and direct a couple of episodes. (And I’m not saying Duchovny’s episodes are flawless, but I will say they had more polish.)
I also appreciate that we get to see a little more of Scully’s personal life and internal thoughts, though I wish we saw that more often and in better episodes than this one. I like that she’s willing to admit she wants the things in life that she “should” want by this point, I like that she wonders if a more traditional path would have suited her better — as deep as her bond is with Mulder, I don’t mind that she has all these “what ifs.” I don’t think it makes her less brave or less interesting because frankly, there’s no right or wrong way to be a strong female character.
What I don’t like is that Waterston is presented as someone worthy of creating such a crisis in Scully — yes, we’ve all had that one person we’ve been idiotically blind about in life. But Waterston is pretty terrible — not only choosing to wreak havoc on his previous marriage with a woman significantly younger than him, giving us your classic abuse-of-power dynamic, but also choosing to move to D.C. to be closer to Scully… without saying anything about it for a good decade. He’s simply slimy to me. While I do believe a younger Dana Scully, maybe even a Scully of five seasons ago, could temporarily lose her mind as we all do at some point for romance, I don’t really believe the current Scully would. And at least she does come around at the end and realize that he’s not right for her — but I’m just not sure his presence should have shaken her as much as it does either.
Ultimately, not a whole lot happens in this episode. Yes, Mulder and Scully probably “did it.” Yes, Scully is now “open” to things outside her belief system. But ultimately we have an episode that is a lot of style and not a whole lot of substance. There are times where Gillian Anderson’s direction is lovely, but there are times where we are just hit over the head a little too much by everything. A good chunk of the episode is all about “ticking” sounds — pencils tapping, the beat in Moby’s “The Sky is Broken” from the album Play, which was everywhere that year. There’s the slow-motion shots filled with a gaping Scully and swirls of color. Lights flash to the music. Used sparingly, this could be some interesting stuff — a worthwhile departure from the show’s overall look. But unfortunately, much of it is heavy-handed when handled by a novice. (Similarly, the opening monologue is also heavy-handed, straight from the Chris Carter Academy of Postulation).
I am weirdly more forgiving of this episode now, but it’s ultimately not one I recommend. I commend the show runners for letting the actors have a passion project or two by writing and directing here and there, but I’m ultimately glad Gillian Anderson stuck with what she knew best for her remaining time on The X-Files: Acting.