Season 3, Episode 24: “Talitha Cumi”/
Season 4, Episode 1: “Herrenvolk”
Original Airdates: May 17 and October 4, 1996
So let’s say your show about aliens and monsters has gone and got big. Cover of Rolling Stone big, one of your leads is hosting Saturday Night Live big. In Season 1 your largest audience was 8.3 million. Now, in Season 3, you’re regularly pulling twice that. And maybe there’s a little bit of criticism, a little bit of fear that your mytharc is getting a teense unwieldy. But it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine because you have plans. Plans that can fill a big show, hell, words that can fill a big show. And bees. You also have bees!
All of which is to say that “Talitha Cumi” and “Herrenvolk” are about as ambitious and high-minded as a couple of X-Files episodes can be. Which is great, I mean. Who doesn’t love a show with ambition? But there’s a trick to it, right? A way to tackle the fate of the human race without constantly reminding us that you are tackling the face of the human race, aka, you are a very important show doing very important things. You can deepen the relationships between your characters, you can add complex shades to existing tensions, you can make it so the stakes are personal. You can grow the show while keeping it focused, and you should, because if you don’t, you will stop convincing people that this is all real.
We start with “Talitha Cumi.” In a restaurant, a man named Jeremiah Smith heals a bunch of gunshot victims and then disappears. Mulder and Scully get set to track him, then Mulder gets a call: his mother has had a heart attack and is recovering in a hospital near the Mulder family’s Rhode Island summer home. As in many mytharc episodes, the agents are split early and often: Mulder to pursue his mission, Scully to pursue hers. It’s a fine narrative device, allowing us to cover a lot of ground, but it fractures the show’s strongest throughline, divides the episode into Mulder’s Stuff and Scully’s Stuff.
Mulder’s Stuff gets a bit of an edge, because Mulder’s Stuff is not just that his mother is in the hospital. It’s that his mother is in the hospital not long after meeting with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He asks her to remember something, she refuses, he implies that he was a better lay than Mr. Mulder, they fight, X photographs them from a distance and then tattles to Mulder about it. In the hospital, fighting for life, Mrs. Mulder writes “PALM” on a pad of paper. Mulder stares, realizes she means “LAMP,” then smashes all of the lamps in the summer house. Inside one of them is one of those retractable ice pick-ish things which, after this episode aired, the Internet used to call a plam. PLAM. Get it, HAH. No, don’t laugh, because the plam is important, says X. So important that later on X is willing to fight Mulder for it, fist-and-gunpoint. Neither of them wins and they both walk away bloodied. X calls Mulder a dead man but we’ll see about that.
Scully meanwhile searches for Jeremiah Smith, who ruins the fun by turning himself in. Only actually it’s not Jeremiah Smith, it’s the Bounty Hunter! Or perhaps, A Bounty Hunter! Since they’re shapeshifters and possibly clones, who knows, but either way, one of them is here! And pretending to be Jeremiah Smith while the real Jeremiah Smith is strapped down in a cell, trading profundities with the Cigarette Smoking Man. And I would love to tell you what they talk about, but I’m going to be honest with you. What they talk about is kind of dull. The Cigarette Smoking-Man talks a lot about responsibility, and fate, and duty. Jeremiah Smith screws with him a little bit by transforming himself into Deep Throat and Bill Mulder. Also he talks about freedom, and fear, and God. The general idea is that Jeremiah Smith is whoever he is, an alien or clone or something, and by going public with his healing powers he is ruining some sort of project for which “the date is set.” The project is probably colonization, the project probably involves hybrids, though frankly you get more of that out of the Season 4 premiere’s title. Jeremiah is a rebel soul, and The Cigarette-Smoking Man is, uh, The Man. And The Man wants The Rebel dead. But to kill him, he’s gonna need a plan. Sorry, a plam. Also he’s going to need to do something about the fact that after their super fun chats, Jeremiah Smith went and broke out of the cell.
There is one concept in here that excites me, and that’s the idea that this particular race of aliens has the ability to heal others. And that in creating this project, the Cigarette-Smoking Man and the Consortium and &tc, they’re keeping this healing power away from the rest of us. This healing situation drives the most interesting aspect of the episode, which is, if you know that someone can heal your sick mother/alleged former sexy ladyfriend, what are you going to do about it, and at what risk? The Cigarette-Smoking Man does nothing, at first. Just shows up at the hospital and keeps an eye on her progress even after Mulder has slammed him into a wall and shoved a gun in his face. Mulder, on the other hand. Mulder gets a call from Scully saying, I’m here with Jeremiah Smith and he wants to tell you something. And instead of saying great, let’s do that, we can get a pizza and he can fill me in on this whole colonization business, Mulder says hold up. Before you do that. Meet me at this weird mill in the middle of the night, and then we’ll go visit my mother and get her healed.
Great plan! The Bounty Hunter tracks them there, and they all look at each other, and Season 3 ends and nearly five excruciating months pass IRL, but this is the future so we just Netflix Instant our way to “Herrenvolk” and Season 4, the season that begins with Mulder saying, Scully, don’t get in the Bounty Hunter’s way and don’t try to shoot him and everything will be cool, and Scully shooting/running at the Bounty Hunter and getting knocked down. Did I mention that in the credits it said EVERYTHING DIES in the place where THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE usually is? Only I think what they meant to say is SORRY SCULLY, ABOUT YOUR DIGNITY. Because then there’s a big action sequence, Mulder and Jeremiah running away from the Bounty Hunter and Mulder actually totally stabbing the Bounty Hunter with the plam (!) and then taking the Bounty Hunter’s plam and escaping via boat with Jeremiah Smith. Guess who gets left behind to deal with the Bounty Hunter, who is not even dead and who also has very strong hands? SORRY SCULLY, ABOUT YOUR NECK.
Mulder is really stuck on this idea that he’s going to take Jeremiah to see his mother, but then Jeremiah says that he can take Mulder to see Samantha. So in case you’re wondering about the hierarchy of women: Mulder will abandon Scully for his mother and his mother for Samantha. And I’m being snippy about it but I like it, actually, it’s great to see him reckless. Even at Scully’s expense. And Jeremiah’s, too: on the phone with Scully, she tells Mulder that the Bounty Hunter is on their trail. And Mulder looks right at Jeremiah and says nothing, because Mulder is in a stricken, selfish place. It’s a welcome contrast to the conversation between Jeremiah and the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the one with concepts so lofty that it seemed like it couldn’t be reality, like it couldn’t really matter. And so Jeremiah and Mulder drive to Canada and Jeremiah shows Mulder a farm full of bees and children. Two children, a boy and a girl who-looks-like-Samantha, cloned over and over, no language, working the farm as drones. There’s something about the bees, something about how they can kill a man with a sting, something about husbandry, but before we can really learn what that’s about, the Bounty Hunter arrives and we all have to hide in an apiary (Mulder covers himself with gasoline to ward off the bees; Jeremiah and a Samantha clone are immune). They escape only to be caught again, only to have Mulder picked up and thrown across a parking lot, only to have the Bounty Hunter stalk towards clone-Samantha and Jeremiah with the Mulder family plam in hand.
Scully: is also in the episode. Doing science. She’s learned that there wasn’t just one Jeremiah Smith, there were several, and they worked for Social Security and they had files and the files had codes and the codes — she figures, with a little help from X — correspond to smallpox vaccinations, given. With the loyal Agent Pendrell by her side, she works out that smallpox vaccinations have been doubling as genetic markers, a tag for somebody. We’ve heard versions of this song before, so I can’t say that it’s a terribly great victory, except she does deliver her findings to Skinner and a room full of suits. Considering how little Mulder escapes with, it’s good that there’s an official report to come out of these episodes. Good to have something on the books.
And the way it ends is with death and with life, in that order. The death belongs to X, assassinated by a Consortium man. And though his last contact with Mulder was a brawl, he cares enough to crawl into the man’s apartment and write “SRSG” in blood on his floor. Mulder follows the trail and meets Marita Covarrubias, an assistant to an S(pecial)R(epresentative to the)S(ecretary)G(eneral). She tells him that the SRSG doesn’t know anything about a bunch of bees in Canada, but then she hands him an envelope with photos of the drones at work As for the life, well. You remember what we were saying about personal stakes, and what a man will do to save someone? The Cigarette-Smoking Man brings the Bounty Hunter to Mrs. Mulder’s bedside and demands that she be healed. He says it’s so Mulder not get more fuel for his crusade, but his eyes say it’s because he’s in love, terribly, with something much more interesting than the fate of all of humanity.
Next Week: “Home”