The X Files Revisited: 5.06 Christmas Carol, 5.07 Emily
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The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the best and most significant episodes of the first 100 episodes in the season's run, from the pilot episode all the way through to the 100th episode Unusual Suspects. Now we're going to continue that run, picking key episodes from the second half of the show - and two movies – and this time it is the emotive 'Emily' two-parter that gives Scully the chance to have a daughter before cruelly taking it away...
The early season five two parter that makes up Christmas Carol and Emily is a curious beast. Aside from Scully's family it features almost no recurring characters and yet serves as a continuing extension of the mythology arc despite the fact that David Duchovny is missing entirely from the first episode. It also deals with the experimentation and death of a young girl, which is powerful yet depressing stuff and the Christmas setting only heightens the emotionally wrought drama of the whole story. But while it is not always comfortable to watch it is still an emotive and harrowing tale that showcases the amazing acting talents of Gillian Anderson - though you have to ask yourself, after her abduction and cancer how much more can this show put her through?
While the second episode is the more traditional mythology-driven story, it is the first episode that is really quite special. Scully visits her family for Christmas (though brother Charlie continues to remain absent), where she receives a call from her dead sister Melissa telling her to go to a house when a woman has committed suicide. The ghostly call is largely as far into the supernatural that the story gets but it works - if there's any time you can get away with having voices from beyond the grave, it's at Christmas.
What follows is Scully's investigation into the suicide of a woman - turned murder at the hands of her husband - and the investigation into their two-year old daughter Emily who bares a striking resemblance to Scully's own sister Melissa as a child. Helping is new 'partner' Detective John Kresge (John Pyper-Ferguson, who played infected inmate Paul in gruesome season two episode F. Emasculata). There is surprising chemistry and banter between the two characters and he makes for a good Mulder replacement for this episode - before almost dying in the following episode when he tries to take down an alien shapeshifter.
Over the course of the episode we come to learn more about Dana Scully, through her childhood flashbacks with Melissa (the incident with the dead bunny in the box is rather harrowing) all the way up to her last Christmas before joining Quantico. Melinda McGraw makes a welcome return to the show a couple of years after her death - an incident that still hangs over Scully and he family in the present. Having learned that her abduction has prevented her from ever having children, Scully's becomes passionately invested in the idea that Emily is Melissa's daughter, while Sheila Larkin returns as the emotional rock that is Margaret Scully. But of course it is the twist that really elevates the episode and into the mythology arc - Emily is Dana Scully's daughter!
And so we enter a a more traditional conspiracy thriller in Emily as the show delves back into the mystery of Scully's abduction and the ongoing clone saga returns to the fore. While it continues to remain a deeply personal case for Scully, it also looses something after the intimacy of Christmas Carol. Though Anderson continues to deliver a mesmerizing performance as a woman forced to watch her new found child die. Over the course of the episode she goes from the joy of finding Emily to despair and finally grim acceptance that her daughter was created for a secret government agenda and was never meant to be.
And while Scully waits anxiously by Emily's bedside, unable to help her as a doctor or a mother, it is up to a returning Mulder to search for the answers. Given everything he went through to find his partner's cure for her cancer, we see him desperate to fight her cause again, first at the judge for Scully's petition to become Emily' legal guardian and then to find the cure to Emily's deteriorating illness. It is a grim irony that he finds a possible cure by the episode's end and yet it is too late; Scully won't subject Emily to more experiments as she has already suffered so much.
In many ways, Emily is a sequel to season four's Memento Mori, an episode which tied Scully's abduction to the clone story arc. her stolen embryos have been used to create more clones - a mix of human and alien DNA, of which Emily is the latest result. Mulder's discoveries from that episode come back to the fore in an even more twisted scenario where old women in a nursing home have been used to carry these children to term.
Even for The x Files this all feels a little too twisted, but it just about works within the concept of shape shifting aliens and great cover ups. The Cigarette Smoking Man might be dead for now - and his shadowy consortium missing from this episode, but their presence is felt. When green alien ooze pours out of a wound in the back of Emily's neck during a doctor's examination it becomes another layer it an increasingly convoluted tale - it's only the emotional attachment to Scully that keeps this episode from becoming too OTT in nature.
But it ends well, even if the nursing home, the experiments and all other traces of the conspiracy have been wiped away. The scene where Scully admits that Emily was not meant to be is incredibly emotive, topped off by the final scene at the funeral where she opens the casket to find nothing left of her child but the crucifix she gave her. It could be argued that Emily vanishing / decomposing or whatever way you want to take it is a bit of a cop out but then a child - at least at this point in the show - would have changed the dynamic forever. And The X Files would attempt something familiar with William in seasons eight and nine, though that wasn't handled terribly well and was something the revival was keen to address.
It's just a shame that in this story, given what Scully goes through, her poor daughter is barely referenced again. I guess that's the problem with a show that mixes episodic cases with ongoing story arcs and as such Christmas carol and Emily remains largely in isolation, another piece in a larger puzzle. But it shouldn't be ignored either; if nothing else it showcases just how amazing an actress Gillian Anderson can be.