“No, I’m just trying to do my job, only it gets hard to do if the person you’re working with is keeping secrets and telling lies.” — John Doggett
When a distraught husband comes to Scully and Doggett telling stories of aliens and pregnancies, it opens up a whole can of worms for our heroes.
Max: Secrets and lies. No, I’m not taking about that show on ABC, but rather the very currency that the conspiratorial forces of the mythology traffic in. “Per Manum” is the moment that the season takes a hard turn, plunging the audience back into the shadow world of dueling forces and hidden motives that will dominate every remaining episode of the season. It does a really good job in doing so as well, showing that the writers still have what it takes to pull off the cloak and dagger routine of The X-Files‘ heyday. And at this point in the series, it trusts that the viewers are so well-acquainted with the ins-and-outs that training wheels are not even taken into consideration.
Duffy Haskell is a man on a mission, shouting to the heavens about his multiple-abductee wife who gave birth to an alien fetus and died in the care of her doctors. This not his first time in the X-Files office, having approached Mulder about his wife prior to Scully’s assignment to the unit. His story sets off all sorts of alarm bells in both Scully and Doggett —for differing reasons — which causes our heroes to begin their own investigations into Haskell’s story. Scully becomes concerned about the child growing inside of her (and that of a hysterical woman she encounters in a genetics facility), while the story Haskell spun of his wife’s background has Doggett concerned, given how close it is to that of his partner’s. Naturally, Scully’s desire to keep her own investigation private will clash with that of her partner, and by the end of the episode she is forced to come clean to Doggett about her own pregnancy.
Meanwhile, flashbacks to sometime after her cancer went into remission illustrated the need for Scully and Mulder to be honest about their own recent experiences — her admission that her abduction left her barren, his that he found a batch of her ova that specialists told him were not viable. Clinging onto a faintest strand of hope, Scully asked her own doctor — whom we see in the present day putting Scully at ease, all the while performing an autopsy of an alien fetus — to look into the matter. Dr. Parenti says he can attempt an in vitro fertilization, he just needs a sperm donor, and Scully asks her partner and closest friend. Mulder says yes, but has to console Scully when she comes home only to learn that the pregnancy didn’t take, to which Mulder expresses that Scully shouldn’t give up hope for a child of her own.
It actually feels kind of good having to type all of that out, given how much the show has lived and died on the complex twists and turns of the mythology. We’ve talked a lot about how the show this season has tried to get back to its roots, and “Per Manum” I think has had the most success in that department. Story wise, with Scully’s pregnancy and Mulder’s abduction, we have been traversing unfamiliar terrain, so the episode’s task is to marry the classic atmosphere of conspiracy and paranoia with the new status quo of the past twelve episodes. Besides the callbacks to plot points of seasons past, the episode’s insistence of keeping the audience in a constant state of off-balance hearkens back to such high-watermarks as “Colony“/”End Game.” This includes the introduction of a new shady informant, Knowle Rohrer, a guy Doggett knew in the military, who lets Doggett in on who Haskell is — all the while keeping his own true motives and allegiances to himself.
The episode is all about these motives and allegiances, really, and how they go a long way in explaining the secrets and lies various characters tell and keep from others. The foundation of the personal and professional relationship of Mulder and Scully was a bedrock of unshakeable and implicit trust. With her partner gone, we’ve seen the hard road Scully has gone down in relation to John Doggett, but her concerns fueled her need to keep the pregnancy a secret, even after Skinner’s pleas to her that this course of action causes problems and could put her in more danger than she would be in otherwise. With how we leave things in this episode, things swept under a carpet and our heroes given a party line about events at the army hospital, can you blame her?
Radhika: After taking a break from the elephant in the room, it’s nice to return to the topic of Scully’s pregnancy in this episode — a topic I feel is largely ignored for much of the first half of this season (minus the opener). On one hand, while it’s a good thing not to let a pregnancy or a baby become the focus of a show (something most show runners have not learned how to incorporate into plots particularly seamlessly), Scully’s pregnancy is a huge development. While Scully is often spared from “typical” feminine plotlines on this show, minus the propensity for making her the damsel in distress, her desire to have a child has never been a huge secret on this show. So it’s good to get a better understanding of how events may have led up to her pregnancy, while it’s also important that we have a clearer understanding of the challenges that may lie ahead.
I get a bit of a Rosemary’s Baby vibe from this episode at times — from the opener, a truly horrifying and disorienting segment with the woman asking, “What is it?” when her child is delivered, as it utters strange animal-like cries, to the number of times Scully is essentially told she’s just imagining things and everything is okay. This portrayal and understanding of the terror an expectant mother might feel, especially when there’s a possibility that her pregnancy might not be anything remotely “normal,” is an oddly positive feature in my opinion, especially as this rewatch has made me realize how much of this show was done from a very male perspective.
Gillian Anderson’s acting is on point as well (though when isn’t it?) while conveying everything Scully is going through — she really is the emotional center of a very dark season and it’s a pleasure to see her deliver. Revisiting Mulder in flashbacks also works for me in this episode, perhaps more than it did while watching “The Gift,” because it’s nice to get a glimpse of the Mulder and Scully bond after so long. The fact that he was ready and willing to do whatever it took to give Scully the child she wanted really emphasized all the great elements of the Mulder/Scully dynamic (and yes, while I generally had a no-romance stance on this show, I think the writers manage to convey the logic and motivation behind this all fairly well).
There are a few things that don’t always work for me in this episode — the villainous doctors and Doggett’s slightly disconnected storyline being among them. But hey, at least Scully’s pregnancy is something Doggett is finally aware of too. Now we can get that plot moving along and see how things pan out.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Adam Baldwin – Starting his tenure as Knowle Rohrer, Baldwin is a genre veteran, starring or guesting in shows such as Firefly, Chuck, Angel, Castle, and Day Break. Film lovers may recognize him from Full Metal Jacket, Independence Day, and Radio Flyer.
Christopher Stanley – Before becoming Henry Francis in Mad Men, Stanley made many guest appearances on television, of which Agent Joe Farah here was one of them. He also appeared on 24, Boston Legal, NYPD Blue, and In Plain Sight. He also had small roles in the films Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.