Season 7, Episode 17: “All Things”
Original Airdate: April 9, 2000
Hey Scully what's going on with you these days! Like belief-wise, still Catholic? Eh? Believe in aliens or whatever? Not sure? Eh? Okay great, here's an episode called “All Things” that's going to cover, again, this ground, again, about whether or not Scully has the capacity to believe in things that are unusual. Wait, isn't that the premise of this entire show, sort of, you ask me? And I say yes. Except this time the episode was written and directed by Gillian Anderson. Okay so what does that mean for me, you ask? I tell you: Buddhism.
And why not? The X-Files is up to its neck in Christianity shout-outs, why shouldn't there be an episode that digs on another belief system? Given the opportunity to write the Scully she wants to see, Anderson writes a Scully who overcomes a lifetime of science and The Bible to briefly believe in the possibility of auras and healers. She also—more interestingly—writes us a Scully with a complicated past, a Scully with a former mentor who was also a former affair, who is now dying in a hospital in Washington.
Although the nature of their affair isn't explicitly discussed, the intimacy between Scully and Dr. Daniel is striking—and so, too, is the old distance. She spies him first in the hospital while he lies unconscious, speaks briefly to his doctor, and bails before Daniel wakes up. When she returns, it's at his request, delivered via his Very Angry Daughter, the one who is so angry that we know before we're told that Scully was the straw that broke the back of her parents' marriage. Seeing her again, Daniel clasps Scully's hand—Dana's hand—while our agent pained, as pained as we've ever seen her look.
It's the mixed blessing of the actor-written episode, that there are moments like these. That William B. Davis gave himself plenty of time on a dock to look stricken, that Anderson here gives herself room to show her range, the complicated feelings of seeing an old flame, like this, after all this time. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode isn't nearly as interesting. The plot, such as it is, drags: the episode overall lacks the investigative structure that often buoys the show's more middling episodes. There's no mystery, no real X-File to be solved—Scully must simply decide whether or not she's open to an alternative healing technique. Surprise! She is.
I mean, no surprise, actually, and I'm sorry “All Things” recap but I just need to take a moment here to say, this episode is—while not the biggest offender!—a great example as to why the show's structure ultimately failed it. The gap between the monster of the week and mytharc episodes is, on balance, astonishingly large. Characters make progress and then regress immediately, as though the show’s survival depended entirely on that zero-reset. At the beginning of this season, Scully was in Africa, decoding the mysteries of the universe, piecing together proof that science and religion were connected since before the flood. It's the sort of experience that you think would change a woman? Except it doesn't, those season openers hardly ever do. And you find yourself here at “All Things,” watching Scully freak out like she's never before had a philosophical rug pulled out from underneath her.
And to be fair, The X-Files overall owes more to the traditional procedural structure than it does to our newfangled serial dramas, the ones where you can't miss a week or you completely lose it. The show's mytharc episodes were, in their way, pioneers of the multi-season serial structure. They asked us to consider a conspiracy that was larger than just one season finale/season premiere pair. But by constantly hitting reset on its (very few!) regular characters, the characters themselves stall out and begin to look silly. The premise of “All Things” isn't all that ridiculous, until you consider how many times Scully has had her eyes opened to things like this. There's no guarantee that anything she learns in this episode will stick, no promise that she won't roll her eyes at the next mention of auras or aliens.
But look, hey. Although it's a bit boring, and although it's awfully retread-y, there is something fundamentally sweet about this episode. Anderson’s kind treatment of Mulder is particularly notable. At the top of the episode, he’s trying desperately to interest Scully in what is admittedly an incredibly dumb case (crop circles!), but he’s genuinely excited about it, genuinely excited about his work and his life. And the final scene between the two of them is a vignette plucked straight from fanfiction: Scully and Mulder sit on his couch, she tells him the whole story, he teases her for believing she's spoken to God (“I didn't say that God spoke back,” she says), he begins to ramble, she falls asleep, and he tucks a blanket around her.
It's the sort of moment that's so nice, I immediately mourn how little it'll mean in the next episode, and the episode after. But then again, maybe I've got to enjoy the journey, to release whatever it is that's binding me to the serial structure and just…be?