Season 7, Episode 21: “Je Souhaite”
Original Airdate: May 14, 2000
So here we are. Nearly at the end of the seventh season of a show about two FBI agents who investigate paranormal activity. Seventh season! Did you ever thought you’d live so long? Fitting, then, to have an episode about immortality, and the corruption of a long life. “Je Souhaite” is the episode with the genie in it, an episode that—despite the fact that there’s explosion, halfway through—comes off as meditative. There’s hardly a crime, and hardly a case. Just a woman who has seen too much, meeting a man who always needs to see more.
You might have, if you were a ‘Phile at the airing of “Je Souhaite,” watched this episode with some trepidation in your heart. Not for any of the characters involved—those in danger seem to deserve it, those that don't have more wishes—but for the show itself. When this episode aired, The X-Files hadn’t yet been renewed, and Duchovny’s future with the show was still uncertain (his contract was up at the end of Season 7, and he’d been pretty vocal about his intent to leave). And as it turned out, “Je Souhaite” was the last of the classic Monsters-of-the-Week, the last time it was just Mulder, and just Scully, just investigatin’ somethin’ weird.
The episode was written by Vince Gilligan, who at this point I believe is the staff writer I refer to by name most often? And, you know, why not/miss u Morgan & Wong. Je Souhaite” in fact gently prefigures Gilly’s biggest hit ever, Breaking Bad. There isn’t any meth (although meth is totally mentioned at one point, so sure, do a shot), but there is a similar construction: there are these idiot burn-outs, right? And you think they’re the dumbest ever? But then a grown-ass man, who thinks he is better than the idiots, makes the same mistakes. Only because he’s a grown-ass man with a bit of a God complex, he makes the mistakes bigger.
The burn-outs of “Je Souhaite” are the burn-outs who find the genie, who we get to call Jen, because, that’s adorable and easy to remember. Burn-Out #1 works at a storage facility, and whilst grudgingly doing his job, he unrolls a rug. Jen is inside that rug! Jen is a lady genie, and she has dark hair and dark glasses and the mark of the Jinn (“like a prison tattoo,” she says) by her eye. Jen also appears to have a super-bad attitude.
Since Burn-Out #1 found her, he gets the wishes. Of course, his wishes are silly, or at least, they’re manifested in silly ways. He wishes his boss would shut up, so Jen removes his boss’s mouth. He wishes for a boat, and Jen gets him—well, a boat, but she doesn’t bother to put it in water. His final wish is to become invisible (although he doesn’t specify that his clothes should be invisible, so that doesn’t happen), and while he runs across a highway, invisible, he gets hit and killed by an incredibly visible tractor-trailer.
Burn-Out Brother doesn’t do much better. He wishes that he brother would be brought back, so Jen does it, only she brings back her brother’s zombie-looking corpse (much to the dismay of Scully, who has spent hours gleefully preparing Burn-Out #1 for autopsy, brushing yellow powder on the body to make it visible). Brother Burn-Out then wishes his brother could talk. So Jen makes that happen, only the talking is actually mostly the screams of a guy who was just hit by a truck. Before Brother can make his third wish, Zombie Burn-Out #1 lights a match a little too close to some gasoline, and the whole damn house explodes.
After watching the parable of the Six-Wish Burn-Outs, it’s not at all hard to see why Jen might have that bad attitude. According to her, and according to what we’ve just seen, people are stupid. All of them. “Always asking for the wrong thing.” In fact, she became a genie thanks to her own stupid lack of specificity—she had three wishes of her own, once upon a time, and wished for “great power and a long life.” Her genie made her a genie. And being a genie has made her bitter and resigned.
Mulder thinks he knows better, because of course he does. When Jen reveals that Mulder has three wishes coming to him—he unrolled her rug after her rug flew, unscathed, out of that exploding house—he feels pretty Walter White-style good about his ability to improve upon the model. He believes that the way to win at wishing is to wish for something unselfish, so he wishes for Peace on Earth. Jen smirks, then does it—she eliminates every other person from the planet. So it is very quiet. Mulder’s furious! He has to use his second wish to bring everyone back! And he calls Jen a bitch! AND accuses her of purposely butchering the intent of his wish!
Any genie story worth its salt (Aladdin, The Art of Wishing) seeks to shed some light on what it would be like to be a creature who has to do the bidding of others. Mulder finds footage of Jen standing near Mussolini and Nixon, so it stands to reason that Jen’s had her share of rough masters. Maybe it’s the only freedom she’s allowed, the interpretation of the words. But why be stubborn about Mulder’s wish, when Mulder was trying so hard to be earnest? The episode presents two possibilities. Jen accuses him of egotism (“You want me to do that in your name?”) while Scully suggests that the wish itself was too big, and a little off the mark. “Maybe,” she says, “it’s a process that one man shouldn't try and circumvent with a single wish.”
Mulder has, after all, spent almost seven seasons trying to save the world. And while maybe he wasn’t doing it for peace on earth, specifically, he certainly was looking for a truth that would help the earth live, and live better. If a genie could have made it all better, all at once, wouldn’t that have undermined his work? Or is that just a loser’s justification, the justification of the one who is contracted to stay through Season 8 no matter what?
In the end: Mulder wishes Jen free (which is do-able, apparently, and has no negative consequences). It’s a small gesture, but best of all, it’s an intimate one—it’s helping another person, who is in front of you. It’s a classic Monster-of-the-Week resolution, in fact. Solving not the problems of the whole world but the problems of someone who is standing right in front of you.