Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2: “Redux”/”Redux II”
Original Airdates: November 2 and November 9, 1997
Let’s talk about Mulder, and let’s talk about his life’s work. His life’s work is a quest (for the truth) built on a faith (that the truth is out there). In “Gethsemane,” Mulder was led to believe that his faith was misplaced and that aliens might not exist at all. Then, we were led to believe that the merest suggestion of this would immediately make Mulder suicidal, or at least very very very sad. The Reduxes continue in this vein, reconstructing the Mulder we know as a man who might not believe, after all.
Now, this should shake the show’s very foundation, right? This should scare the pants off of all of us, the very thought of Mulder not believing? But, okay, let’s say Mulder doesn’t believe in extraterrestrials anymore. Let’s say the whole thing is a hoax. Does that mean that the things he does know are any less incredible? That the work he’s done is any less important? The injustices that he’s seen are no less unjust and the lies are still lies. If you discover penicillin while trying to grow bacteria, are you really going to be annoyed that you didn’t get top prize at the staphylococcus fair?
I am oversimplifying, of course. The seed that Kritschgau plants in Mulder is not just “what you believe is wrong” but “you have totally, totally been used.” It’s Mulder’s own Truman Show, and what’s at stake is not just his life’s work, but his partner’s life. And this is what saves these episodes for me, what always manages to save the mytharc’s most baffling arcs for me: our agents, and the complicated love they have for each other.
When we first met Mulder, he was prickly and suspicious, attached to his faith and his quest in the manner of a man who’s spent his whole life battling naysayers. Over the past four seasons, he’s evolved, become a man who allows—and occasionally welcomes—a dissenting point of view. Singular. Scully’s. This is clear, this we have seen. But the Reduxes offer us another change in Mulder. Kritschgau tells Mulder that he can lead him to what he wants “most desperately of all.” And for once, Mulder does not fall on his stock, Samantha-centric answer. Instead, Mulder says: “The cure for Scully’s cancer?”
This is an important shift, and a lovely one at that. By changing the focus of his quest—even temporarily—Mulder is able to ignore his trembling faith and focus on some good old-fashioned rising action. He spends the majority of “Redux” cure-hunting in the basement of the Pentagon, reached via Department of Defense credentials that he swipes off of a dead guy who prior to being dead was alive, and spying on Mulder.
It’s an unpretty detail, and I don’t want to sweep it under too quickly. Mulder definitely kills a guy, and then definitely shoots him a second time, in the face, to obscure the guy’s identity and fake his own death. The first shot is in self-defense, the second is in desperation. And Scully aides and abets, identifying the man as Mulder. And why? Because Mulder asked her to? Or because she is sick, so terribly sick, that the desperation feels like righteousness?
Because Mulder isn’t the only one having a crisis of faith. Despite surrounding herself with pipettes and graduated cylinders, despite thinking that she has absolutely determined the source of her cancer, Scully collapses in the dark conference room, surrounded by grim-faced men. Hospital-bound, Scully turns to God to help her through. On her possible-deathbed, Scully’s old faith is a means to an end—a way to get herself to the next day, to trust in something until it either succeeds, and she lives, or fails, and she doesn’t know the difference.
Also not to be swept under the rug is the Reduxes’ treatment of Walter Skinner, known good guy. Scully and Mulder both come to the conclusion that there’s a spy amongst them, someone at the FBI who has made it possible for all of the bad things to happen to the agents. Scully decides it’s Skinner after basically no investigation at all. Mulder disagrees, and good for him, because it totally turns out to be Section Chief Blevins, the guy who assigned Scully to the X-Files in the first place. The Skinner plot point is a bad choice; we’ve all seen “Zero Sum” and so this whole diversion feels like wasted script. Certainly, Skinner has earned a mytharc episode where he doesn’t get punched or yelled at or held at gunpoint, right?
Lots more fun is the involvement of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, known bad guy, who totally gets shot at the end. And “dies.” I mean! Even Mulder smiles when he hears this guy is dead, because how is that guy dead? (Adorably, the Cigarette-Smoking Man has the same reaction when he hears Mulder is dead. No way is Mulder dead, he says. I tried burning him in a boxcar and not even that worked.) But, regardless, shot, and shot by a Consortium assassin. The Cigarette-Smoking Man’s fall from the Consortium has been one of my favorite threads over the past couple of seasons, so I love all of this, even the parts that are confusing.
Namely: the things that the Cigarette-Smoking Man does before getting himself shot. Hoping that Mulder will come work for him (!), he explains that the vial our agent took from the Pentagon has a potentially Scully-saving microchip inside. Then he arranges a meeting between Mulder and a woman who claims to be Samantha, last seen in clone form. The meeting is particularly strange—Samantha refers to the Cigarette-Smoking Man as her father and then runs from Mulder when he gets a little too insistent about “wanting to know” “what the hell” “is going on.” There are a million possible angles on this—it could be a power move, it could be true love, it could be fun with clones. It’s hard to know, because we don’t really know what this guy has at stake. And now that he’s dead, we will never ever ever ever ever ever know. Ever. Ever. Right? Ever. PS he totally bled out on a photo of Mulder and Samantha as children. Ominous!
Anyway, thank goodness for Mulder and Scully and their complicated love. Even if your heart is made of full-on lead-dipped granite-covered coal, you’re going to ache a little bit every time you watch him watch her dying. He sits by her bed, holds her hand, kisses her cheek. One night he slips in while she’s sleeping and falls to his knees, clutching her bed and crying in an extremely unattractive manner. He takes a whole heap of abuse from her brother. And when she implores him to implicate her in the death of the DoD spy, he not only refuses, but talks to her about why. “Why’d you come here if you’d already made up your mind?” she asks. “Because I knew you’d talk me out of it if I was making a mistake” he replies.
So sing along if you know the words: In the end, they can only trust each other. Scully’s cancer is in remission but the reason is unclear—science, or the microchip, or God. The conspiracy might be real, or aliens might be. And what the hell is up with grown-up maybe-Samantha, and what the hell is up with this thing called Roush, and what the hell is up with the Consortium, I don’t know. You come out of the Reduxes knowing a little about a lot, clinging to the one true faith of partnership. Have faith that the rest will be explained someday, or have faith only that you’ll never really know the truth. Either way, as long as you’re watching, these faiths are a means to an end.