Thu
Jun 21 2012 12:00pm

Reopening The X-Files: “Memento Mori”

Season 4, Episode 14: “Memento Mori”
Original Airdate: February 9, 1997

Scully has cancer, and Scully is stoic. We wouldn’t expect anything less from her, anything less than a long shot of her studying her own brain, anything less than calmly instructing Mulder as to the nature—and inoperability—of this cancer, without another doctor in sight. Cancer is awful, and difficult, but cancer is not an X-File, so it is up to her to be in charge of it. Still, she must know, when she chooses to tell Mulder first, what his response will be. Not a tear, or an offer to hold her hand through the treatment, but a small smile and, “I don’t accept that.”

He’s right to react this way, story-wise, as Scully’s cancer does turn out to be an X-File. She’s the one who makes the connection first, recalls that one of the MUFON women she met a year back, Betsy Hagopian, had the same cancer that Scully now has. Mulder, you may remember, barely cared about the MUFON women and their implant support group. He was caught up in his own thing, jumping on trains and chasing down scientists. Scully makes the connection not because she’s eager to think more about her abduction—for her part, her reaction to the MUFON women was ignore, repress, ignore—but because she’s hoping to learn something from Betsy Hagopian’s treatment plan.

So Science and Spooky go to Pennsylvania and the results aren’t any good. Betsy Hagopian is dead, as are most of the women from that MUFON chapter. There’s one survivor, Penny Northern, who gazes at Scully and tells her that of course she remembers her, not just from a year ago but back from when they were abducted together. Penny is also dying but she’s receiving treatment from a Dr. Scanlon. She says that he says he knows what he’s doing, that he’s getting close to solving this lady-abductees-dying-of-cancer thing, and Scully’s so anxious to let science take her in that she decides to stay in Pennsylvania and get treated by Dr. Scanlon.

This: is silly. I suppose it’s grief, I suppose it’s a woman desperately trying not to acknowledge the fact that her cancer might have a sinister provenance. But she does zero research on Scanlon, doesn’t even run his name or wonder if it’s possible that his record of No Survivors might not be a good thing. But she’s trying, I’m not mad. The only one who’s mad is Mrs. Scully, Mrs. Scully who has lost a husband and a daughter in just four short years and is not at all ready to watch another one go. She’s mad that Scully didn’t tell her right away; Scully says it’s only because she wanted the answers first. And perhaps this is the reason she chooses treatment with Scanlon, perhaps it was the only way she could break the news to her mother. See, things are bad, but I’ve got them full in hand. This is what Mrs. Scully needs.

Scully has also given Mulder what he needs, which is a case to solve. Although she wants no part in his investigation of the link between her abduction and her illness, she knows he needs it. And there’s plenty for Mulder to find, much of it to do with a shady fertility clinic where each of the (childless) MUFON women—and Scully, too—are on record as receiving treatments. With the help of the Lone Gunmen, Mulder breaks into the fertility clinic and finds a room full of alien-hybrid clones named Kurt Crawford. Also, no big deal, a bunch of drawers with ova harvested from the abducted women. Scully included. A Kurt explains to Mulder that the ova was taken during the abduction via a terrible, high-radiation procedure that left the women barren and at risk for cancer. The Kurts are trying to save the women, because the women are the reason they live—their ova was used to create the hybrids.

So you got all that? Yeah, it’s awful. What’s worse than cancer, how about, you have cancer because someone abducted you and exposed you to radiation and took all your eggs and then dumped you off and PS you can’t have kids of your own. Oh and I forgot, Dr. Scanlon works at this place, so he isn’t even going to help you, he might even kill you a little. Mulder slips a vial of Scully’s eggs into his pocket (what? gross!) and heads back to the hospital. Presumably he means to tell her everything, but when he gets to her room she’s not there. Her journal is, filled with pages meant for him to read after her death. He looks at it, then finds Scully sitting by Penny Northern’s bed, her face twisted and tragic.

And Mulder doesn’t tell her. Which is good. Normally I am captain of the Everyone Needs To Know squad, and you know, she needs to know eventually. It’s her body, her future. But the Scully that Mulder sees in the hospital is a Scully that is in torment, a butterfly slowly being pinned to the cork. If he told her she’d either refuse the information or break down entirely, and neither would save her. In order for Scully to be saved, Scully must be strong. In order for Scully to be strong, Scully must have hope, must have science to believe in. Which is what the Consortium has always known, right? That the people need hope and that the best way to give them hope is to withhold information? Oh. So. Well. Well, anyway, Mulder waits for her outside Penny’s room, and when Penny dies, he’s there to hold Scully until she is ready to go.

Only he’s not the only one. I want to say. “Memento Mori” doesn’t end with that hug in the hallway, doesn’t end with Scully looking devotedly into Mulder’s eyes, knowing that he’s the only one she can count on. There’s someone else she can count on, someone maybe more stoic than she. Assistant Director Walter Skinner, after refusing to set up a meeting between the Cigarette-Smoking Man and Mulder, has set up a meeting between the Cigarette-Smoking Man and himself. He asks for Scully’s life, does it with his teeth clenched and cigarette smoke drifting all around them. This is how the episode ends, a proud man laying himself down for a proud woman, and doing it so in secret. This is also what the Consortium knows: everyone has a price.


At least Meghan Deans doesn’t take an elevator up to get to work. She Tumbls and is @meghandrrns.

4 comments
Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
This was a hard episode. Scully's abduction is shown to be a basic violation of her existence. She has been harvested and given cancer. The "treatment" she is being given doesn't seem useful. Everything seems pretty bleak.
Then the ending and we have to ask just what price Skinner will have to pay.
It all made sense when I first saw it (well as much as any X-File) now, I'm thinking that I want some more agency on Scully's part. Mulder is finding answers in this episode and Skinner is making sacrifices. I want Scully having a more active role here although, as Meghan says, Scully does have quite a bit to deal with. So I guess this is the ep of Scully dealing with herself and the rest of the world will come later.
Meghan Deans
2. Meghan
It's a good point, shalter, and it's an interestingly-structured episode in that respect. The first third of it is all about Scully taking control of the situation--she's looking at her own slides, she's controlling the narrative (who knows, who doesn't know). But as soon as she sees Penny in bed, she breaks down and checks herself into the hospital in PA. It's a subtle construction, but overall strong. By the end of the episode she's ready--with Mulder's help--to face the world as best she can.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
Meghan, I agree with that, it is very much two differently weighted Scully scenes with hope at the continuation. Getting to that continuation takes a bit.
Eugene R.
4. Eugene R.
Another thing about the structure of X-Files that this episode helps bring home is the generosity of the show toward its characters, in that, even though we immediately respond "MulderScully" to the cue "X-Files", the other characters like Skinner, Margaret Scully, even Cigarette-Smoking Man, also bear a lot of the emotional weight of the story and truly affect the primary dyad's motion through the plot. It is not often that "second bananas" get to do so much of the heavy lifting on a TV series.

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