The X Files Revisited: 4.14 Memento Mori
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we'll pick the story highlights of each year. Scully's cancer comes to the fore in the emotive but surprisingly thrilling episode...
After her encounter with Leonard Betts two episodes earlier, Memento Mori tackles the subject of Scully's cancer as her chilling diagnosis is revealed. While the performances of all was sure to be magnificent, I was somewhat trepidous going back to this episode; how could it be anything but grim and depressing? Fortunately the episode was surprisingly well paced, with the subject handled sensitively and passionately while trying into the show's wider mythology in a satisfying and often exciting way.
The episode begins with Scully's ethereal voiceover as she stands in a white room, staring at the mass on the X ray telling Mulder - and the audience - "I hope you'll forgive me for not making the rest of the journey with you." It is powerful stuff from the get go, with Gillian Anderson delivering a mesmerising performance as a woman both terrified by what is growing inside her and yet having the grim acceptance of her fate. It is inoperable, incurable. But of course, such is the bond between the two agents, Mulder won't give up so easily and so begins the quest for answers that takes them back to the home of Betsy Hagopian from season three's Nisei.
The chilling truth is that all those women who stood in that room with Scully a little more than a year ago, holding up their implants and recounting their shared abduction experiences with Scully, are all dead. Only Penny Northern has survived and she too is near death. It is a shocking reality for both agents that Scully's abduction in season two is about to have fatal consequences. And while this discovery leads Scully to seek treatment with the mysterious Doctor Scanlon, a man who was close to finding a cure for Penny, a greater mystery is revealed; the colonisation of Earth.
In what could have been a shoehorned attempt to bring some action and mystery to the story of Scully's illness, the episode instead neatly weaves the wider mythology in an intriguing way. Supposed alien abductee support group member Crawford who helps Mulder review the secret data held in Betsy's basement is suddenly killed by a mysterious man in black with the same needle used to kill clones. And as his body bubbles and oozes green in the same manner as all those alien / human hybrids we have seen before, the abduction and clone story arcs converge into same ever-expanding mythology.
Heading into a secret fertility clinic connected to Scully and the deceased abductees Mulder encounters something we were first introduced to in the season one finale The Erlenmeyer Flask.; a room full of hybrids grown in water tanks all under the watchful eye of more Crawford clones. Even more chilling is the room of human ova, harvested from the abductees - Scully included - and used to grow the hybrids. It is interesting that what began as a way to work around Gillian Anderson's pregnancy has developed into a central thread in the conspiracy and we would see the consequences of Scully's human DNA being mixed with alien in next season's Emily.
This episode is all about consequences. Scully faces the trauma of what was done to her. Her mother Margaret (a brilliant, heartfelt performance by Sheila Larkin) rages against Scully for hiding the truth from her. Mulder finds just how far his quest for the truth hurt his partner and Skinner finds himself back under the thumb of the villainous Cigarette Smoking Man. After the Assistant Director refuses to let Mulder make a deal with the series villain in exchange for Scully's life, he does exactly that. This episode shows just how much of an ally Skinner has become and the fact that he will make a deal with the devil to save Scully is both heartwarming and tragic.
But it isn't just 45-minutes of emotional drama; one of the best moments of the episode is the Terminator 2: Judgement Day-style showdown in the clinic as the clone killer closes in on Mulder as the Lone Gunmen desperately try to override the security systems and break him out. It only heightens the drama of Scully's own condition and the reveal that Doctor Scanlon was working at the clinic adds a surprising twist that dashes any hope of recovery as he vanishes into the night, leaving Scully with her cancer and Penny on her deathbed.
Gillian Anderson is amazing throughout the episode; it certainly demonstrates why she was an Emmy that year. From her heartfelt goodbye to Penny to her emotionally-wrought voice-over, her thoughts as she writes in the journal for Mulder. The final scene as Mulder meets Scully in the hospital corridor is the closest we have ever seen them; not as a potential romantic pairing but as two souls united through so much history. As Mark Snow's powerful score underplays their conversation, Scully emerges from the trauma vowing to keep fighting, to find the truth of what happened to her.
"The truth will save you Scully, I think it will save both of us." It is beautiful stuff and concludes a powerful, passionate and sensitive episode. Episodes like Home might stand out as the fan favourites of season four but for me Memento Mori is a work of art and an equal highlight in The X Files's fourth year.