Season 9, Episodes 9 and 10: “Provenance”/“Providence”
Original Airdates: March 3 and March 10, 2002
There’s something familiar about “Provenance” and “Providence.” A sprawling two-part mytharc, a UFO cult, a long-haired cult leader, a suspicious man pulling the strings at the FBI, an agent in a coma, bodies burned beyond recognition, a once-buried UFO taking off before anyone can figure out exactly what it’s there for, men who come back to life, and a Messiah. Perhaps you’ve felt that Season 9 was a departure? But perhaps, in fact, Season 9 is just like all the others.
After all, there’s been many a two-parter where, in the watching of it, you might have felt like it was fun. Not good, necessarily, but enjoyable. What with the people demanding answers from one another, the car chases, the quippy Lone Gunmen. But like many of its predecessors, “P” & “P” is carelessly plotted and sloppily told, more in love with its special effects than its ability to convey a story. And this, too, is a familiar feeling—the way the script works itself in circles to keep from revealing too much information too early, and the way those circles keep you from ever getting any information at all.
So let’s break it down. There’s a UFO cult (not one we’ve seen before, apparently, a brand damn plot-devicey new one) that believes that someday, aliens will rule the world. The cult is led by a man named Josepho. Josepho served in the first Iraq war and, while lying half-delirious and injured during a firefight, saw some of the Supersoldiers. He believes they were angels, and simultaneously believes they are the aforementioned future alien rulers of earth. Now he has somehow—somehow—been led to a UFO crash site in Canada, and he and his followers have been hard at work excavating a ship that closely resembles the one Scully worked with in “Biogenesis.”
Josepho believes God has spoken to him, and that God led him to the crash site. He believes that God is in the ship, because why not. Further, God has spoken to Josepho of a “miracle child” who will live his life like it’s a dependent clause. Either: (a) He will stop the aliens from taking over or (b) He will lead the aliens in their takeover. However: He will only do (a) if his father is still alive. So: He will only do (b) if his father is dead. And: Josepho wants choice (b). And: he believes that Mulder is dead, and therefore, choice (b) is nigh.
Meanwhile! There is an FBI agent named Comer who has infiltrated the cult. Upon learning of Josepho’s if-then statements, he takes off with a piece of the spaceship, crashes his motorcycle, and is restored to life by the artifact. He heads straight for Scully’s house, intending to kill William. Scully arrives in time to save her child and shoot Comer. She hands William off to the Lone Gunmen for safekeeping, but TLG are immediately waylaid by a cult member who first shoots Doggett into a coma and then kidnaps William.
Reyes and Scully revive Comer with the artifact, and Comer tells them about Josepho and his prophecies. What he does noooooottttttt explain is why he felt like the way to handle things was to kill the baby. I suppose, because, killing the baby would stop the invasion from happening at all? Because I guess being undercover in the cult led this agent to believe that the alien invasion was for sure real? Even though maybe at some point he might have wanted to ask himself a question along the lines of, “where is Josepho getting all this crap, and why?” But maybe critical thinking is not so much in the FBI handbook these days.
Baby William is brought to the crash site, and the UFO starts to show some signs of life. This seems like it would make Josepho super-excited, except something about something makes him decide that maybe Mulder is not dead after all. I would love to know what this was, maybe get inside this guy’s head a little, but since we have no idea why he even thought Mulder was dead in the first place, nope. Nothing. Nothing except that lingering feeling that the whole Mulder angle should not even have been included in this episode, because honestly what does it add except a layer of me banging my head against the wall.
ANYWAY, Josepho arranges a meeting with Scully and demands, and I am 100% serious about this, that she bring him Mulder’s head. His head. To prove that Mulder is dead. Or at least headless. And then Josepho will give her William back? Unlikely, and Scully agrees, and meanwhile Scully now feels good about Mulder’s chances of not being dead, and she and Reyes and the Gunmen track Josepho back to the UFO site. William is crying up a storm and the UFO turns into a light show, roasts the UFO cult dead, and flies off, leaving William alive and crying and discoverable by his mother.
So, clearly something was guiding Josepho. Probably not God. More likely, an alien. Or the aliens. Or something alien. At the end of the episode, a faux-Cigarette Smoking Man is introduced (“Toothpick Man,” I guess we’re meant to call him). He’s an alien; he’s leaning on Kersh to bury information relating to pre-invasion actions such as this. And it stands to reason that he had something to do with Josepho finding the craft, and that Josepho and his cult were being used as an elaborately-gathered excavation crew. And if William was indeed needed to revive the ship—because I guess it appears that William’s presence somehow revived the ship?—the Toothpick Man, or some other aliens, or whoever, could have planted that information as well.
But you guys, none of that is for sure. All that’s for sure is: the craft got dug up, William was nearby when it flew away and also survived its people-burning powers, Kersh has an alien in his office. And while of course none of us need to have everything spelled out for us, I think, I personally could stand to have something spelled out for me. Otherwise, I’m left with an episode that’s full of holes that are filled with question marks that are dancing on the heads of dubious-looking pins. There’s a fine line between building suspense and annoying your audience. If you don’t trust your season arc to hold my attention, if you’ve got to keep distracting me so I won’t look at it too closely, then maybe it’s time for the both of us to walk away.