Reopening The X-Files

Reopening The X-Files: “Aubrey”

Season 2, Episode 12: “Aubrey”
Original Airdate: January 6, 1995

I cannot yet tell you whether or not “Aubrey” is any good. It seems sort of good. I mean some parts really are. But “Aubrey” is also an episode that is sort of a terrible idea: you know how your ancestors did awful things? If you get pregnant (?) you may (??) repeat those things (!?). At its best, this is an episode about breaking the cycle of abuse, so that’s pretty good, except the cycle of abuse sort of involves weak genetic theory and a demon baby, and I’ll tell you guys one thing right now. I’m not a huge fan of demon babies. Though I am okay with weak genetic theory. 

Rewatching the X-Files episode

In Aubrey, Missouri, a cop named BJ wants to talk to the man she is sleeping with. His name is Tillman, and he is married. BJ informs Tillman that she is pregnant, and he asks her to meet him at a motel that evening. BJ goes, and as she approaches the motel, she has a vision of a man driving. She follows the vision to a field nearby and digs up, barehanded, a corpse wearing an old-timey FBI badge. The owner of the badge was an agent named Cheney whose outlandish theories about “using psychology” to “catch criminals” made him a departmental outcast. Our very own outcasts take an interest in the case, and Mulder, in particular, takes an interest in just how it was that BJ found the body.

Rewatching the X-Files episode

Mulder and Scully get the lay of the land pretty quickly. Scully first uses her womanly intuition to divine that BJ and Tillman are having an affair, then uses her womanly talking skills to get BJ to admit that she’s pregs, then uses her womanly computer to compare crime scene photos from Agent Cheney’s last case—a series of three homicides in 1942—to Agent Cheney’s remains. The three victims all had the word SISTER carved into their chest; Cheney’s ribcage bears small cuts that spell out BROTHER. And while it would be pretty awesome if Mulder and Scully figured that last bit out, creepily, it’s BJ: gazing wide-eyed at the remains, she can tell what the word is with barely a glance at the scanned photos.

Rewatching the X-Files episode

Tillman stops by then, sees the photos, and freaks out, thinking they’re all looking at photos from his current case—a young woman murdered, SISTER carved on her chest, body found three days prior. A helpful officer runs in and informs the group that there’s been yet another murder, another young woman, SISTER carved on her chest you bet. They all go to the crime scene but it’s BJ who gasps when she sees the body. The woman is familiar to her. She’s been dreaming about her. At Mulder’s insistence, BJ tells our agents about another dream, one about a woman who’s been hurt, the reflection of a man’s scarred face, a picture from the 1939 World’s Fair on the wall. BJ heads to the archives and looks at mug shots from the 1940s, landing on a man with a scarred face. Tillman interrupts her work and offers to accompany her to get an abortion, which I guess is real sweet, but BJ tells him she’s changed her mind. She’s thinking of keeping the child.

The man with the scarred face is Harry Cokely, a 77-year-old man convicted in 1945 for rape and attempted murder. He carved SISTER on the chest of his victim, and no one made the connection because everyone was so stupid back then. Mulder and Scully visit Cokely and find him to be a crabby old bastard with an oxygen tank and a mobility problem. The creep keeps calling Scully “sister,” and none of us like that all, particularly Scully. When Cokely tartly asks  if they’re finished with him, she replies, “For now.” OHHHHHHHHH SNAAAAAA

Rewatching the X-Files episode

BJ is dreaming of am old truck and something else. She wakes up with a start and she is drenched in blood. In the bathroom mirror she discovers that SISTER has been carved on her chest. In the bedroom mirror she sees Cokely, looking as young as his mug shot. In hysterics she bursts into a stranger’s house and tries to tear up the floorboards. Cheney’s partner’s corpse is underneath, and BJ can’t explain it. She’s convinced that Cokely attacked her, young Cokely, so they arrest Cokely, old Cokely. Surprisingly (j/k), he is uncooperative, and so our agents pay a visit to Cokely’s attackee, Mrs. Thibedeaux.

She’s an old woman with a scar and she remembers the way the light reflected off the handle of the razor that her attacker used. She also has a photo on the wall, taken at the 1939 World’s Fair. Mulder uses his womanly intuition to discern that nine months after the attack, Mrs. Thibedeaux had a child, Cokely’s child, then gave him up for adoption. And at this point Mulder spins a theory that goes something like, what if genetics could also apply to murderers. What if the desire to kill Mrs. Thibedeaux is a biological trait. What if genetic memory can make you turn into your horrible murdery cancer-ridden grandfather?

Now, Mrs. Thibedeaux remembered something else for us, she remembered that at the trial, the defense discussed Cokely’s home life. How he had an abusive father, how he was the only son in a family of five daughters and was punished for all of his sisters’ wrongdoings. This is nurture. But Cokely never knew his child, the one given up for adoption, so he couldn’t beat him, couldn’t nurture him bad. What Mulder supposes is nature: that it didn’t matter if Cokely knew his son, that his son was born with this genetic predisposition. The murdery kind. Except on this round it hasn’t been Cokely’s son, it hasn’t been Mrs. Thibedeaux’s baby. It’s been Cokely’s grandchild. Mrs. Thibedeaux’s grandchild. A lady named BJ. Traits sometimes skip a generation, notes Mulder, conveniently. I guess murder is one of them.

Rewatching the X-Files episode

BJ goes to her grandmother’s house, dressed like the grandfather she never knew, spouting his words. She attacks her grandmother but she doesn’t kill her. Instead she pulls back, stops herself. Overwhelms nature and turns her genetics back on the man who gave them to her. She slashes her Grandpa Cokely with a razor, and she’d finish him, too, except Mulder busts on in and so BJ has to attack him instead. She’s got Mulder on the ground with then razor against his throat and she’d finish him, too, except Scully and Tillman bust on in and point guns. Cokely dies, then, and BJ is released. Because that is also how genetics works?

Rewatching the X-Files episode

In voiceover, Scully informs us that maybe there is a “mutator gene” that has “activated previously dormant genes,” which, so. The baby? Not specifically a demon baby so much as an “activator baby,” so much as “a baby who turns you into your crazy g-pa.” It’s what makes it an X-File, I suppose, but it goes down a little rough. If the bad gene was activated by pregnancy, than the only person who would suffer its effects would be a woman. Okay fine. The abuse is fundamentally gender-based, with Cokely beat for being a boy and then becoming a murderer of women. Okay fine. So it’s nearly a well-tied revenge story, a woman righting the wrongs of her male ancestors and breaking the cycle of violence outside the family by turning it back where it began, inside the family. But it’s not pretty revenge, and it’s not satisfying, and it’s unclear if the cycle is broken. She still murdered two women. She still attacked Mrs. Thibedeaux, and Mulder. And she’s still pregnant. The baby is a boy, so he’ll be fine. But heaven help him if he ever has a daughter, am I right? Am I? Because I think I kind of wish I weren’t.

Next week: “Colony”/”End Game”

Meghan Deans has always been intrigued by men named BJ. She Tumbls and is @meghandrrns.


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