Season 8, Episodes 20 and 21: “Essence”/“Existence”
Original Airdates: May 13 and May 20, 2001
If it seems like we keep ending eras, we do. We do keep ending eras. We’ve said goodbye to the Consortium, and we’ve said goodbye to regular appearances from Agent Mulder, and, well, you know. It’s been a lot of change, a lot of goodbyes, and honestly I think we’ve handled it pretty well! But you guys, I hate to break it to you, we’ve got to do it again. We’ve got to say goodbye to the show as we know it, to the show that’s about Mulder and Scully solving cases together. This is it. This is the end of that. Are you ready? Better yet: is the show ready?
It’s complicated, isn’t it, because it’s not really a series finale. It’s not even the final appearance of Mulder or Scully, it’s just, if you draw a line, this is where you really draw it. So you want it to be good, you know, you want it to remind you of all the reasons you started watching this show. And the good news is that “Essence” and “Existence” are action-packed episodes, legitimately suspenseful hours of television stuffed with real plot, real action, real everything. The bad news is that “Essence” and “Existence” are structured around a subject that The X-Files has over and over again proven completely unqualified to handle: Scully’s body.
We talked about this, back during “Per Manum,” back when the nature of Scully’s pregnancy was first questioned. I liked “Per Manum” because it presented what I felt was a fairly accurate account of what would happen if a woman were to discover that the men in charge of her health were, perhaps, liars and schemers. Despite being a doctor, and an FBI agent, Scully is written off as a hysterical pregnant lady, imagining wild things. It was a lovely inversion of the show’s fundamental structure and a glimpse into what it might have meant, had Agent Mulder been played by a woman. As many ways as there are to silence and discredit a man, there are more ways, still, to silence and discredit a woman.
“Essence” and “Existence” tell the story of the birth of Scully’s son, William. But rather than build on the model set by “Per Manum”—in which Scully investigates, actively and passionately—these episodes keep her quiet, reduce her to the role of Woman in Danger. She is once again an abductee, dressed in white and whisked away from her home, not told where she is going. She must be protected. She no longer seems to have a weapon, or at least, she no longer seems to remember how to draw it. She stays behind, she screams for others. She is not the Scully we have known.
What pursues her is Billy Miles, who is not Billy Miles now that he has shed his skin. Billy Miles is, in fact, a handy stand-in for the show itself. In the pilot, he was one thing. A little nervous, a little rough around the edges. Here, now, he is ruthless, and dangerous, and a little bit hard to follow. He fills the role previously filled by the Alien Bounty Hunter, as in, the guy from space who’s going around murdering folks in order to speed the invasion still TK. Billy’s target is the clinic from “Per Manum,” the one where the doctors were ugh ugh ugh so totally ugh ugh making alien-human ugh hybrids and installing them in uggggggh human lady wombs. A successful hybrid could theoretically survive an invasion, and so the clinic and its doctors and any surviving patients must go. Did you hear me? I said any. Surviving. Patients.
Hey guys. Did you really think that the Scully pregnancy storyline wasn’t going to turn into a thing where she was Mary and the baby was Jesus and she was gonna give birth in a situation just left of a manger? Chris Carter never met a Biblical metaphor he couldn’t bluntly co-opt, and so, here is Scully, giving birth in an abandoned building. Here is Mulder, following a star to find her. Here are the Lone Gunmen as wise men, here is the baby, the child, the infant who is more human than human. Who survives his birth only to grow up into an uncertain future.
And if it sounds like I find this frustrating simply because it’s ham-fisted, well, that’s part of it. But the real issue here is that by going full-on Away in a Manger in your quasi-series-finale, you take the years of investigation, and training, and suffering—the years that both Mulder and Scully have spent in pursuit of the truth—and you diminish them. Apparently, to find the truth, all they needed to do was get Scully knocked up, right? Sit back and wait for the X-File to grow inside her? Finally, you guys: evidence!
I appreciate, of course, the kiss. I appreciate that the episode ends with our agents together, the child between them, a family. I appreciate the departure of Alex Krycek (killed, as is correct, by the man he tormented; the light long gone out of his eyes before his death). I appreciate the steadfastness of Doggett. I appreciate the bullishness of Skinner. I don’t much appreciate Reyes, but maybe there’s time for that. And I appreciate that in the end, our agents (and they will always be our agents) have each other. We may never get a satisfactory end to the conspiracy, but we do have—and have always had—the exceptional satisfaction of their relationship.