The X Files Revisited: 8.13 Per Manum
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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 pilot episode and then carried on throughout the series, covering the best and most significant episodes of the show including the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. The show's mythology is refocused in this latest season episode that delves into the mystery of Scully's pregnancy...
If there is one main fault with the structure of The X Files season eight, it's that Scully's pregnancy lasts an awfully long time. She might have fallen pregnant towards the end of season seven, but thirteen episodes later, she's only 14 weeks along. It takes a further five-six months before the season finale, where William would finally be born. At this point, it puts each case (and therefore each episode) a week apart, making it a busy first three months for Doggett and Scully. Per Manum was originally planned for earlier in the season but it works here just as well (it isn't as if Scully is showing in episodes like Medusa that would have originally followed it). The episode is also the last episode before Mulder's dramatic return, though David Duchovny return here in the credit sequence (and the rest of the season), appearing here - like The Gift - in flashback form.
The episode plays on Scully's fears for her unborn child and in true The X Files fashion, the horror arising out of misused science; alien babies being borne by woman seeking IVF treatment. The pre-title sequence delivers a truly horrifying spectacle as a mother delivers a screeching grey alien baby. The father turns to Scully and Doggett seeking justice after his wife dies but it is a mere front for something more insidious - the implanting of female abductees found and observed through shared abductee groups like Scully first came into contact with in season three.
It's a case that really hits close to home; Scully discovers that the dead woman shares many of her own experiences, including a brush with death through illness. When she encounters a second woman fearing for the life of her unborn child Scully finds herself at the heart of a conspiracy...and a potential victim herself.
Per Manum properly addresses Scully's mysterious pregnancy as part of the wider mythology, something that would continue with the birth and life of William to come. She takes the woman to a safe clinic, hoping to save both of them from harm but finds herself confronted with more lies. Her ultrasound is actually the recording of another pregnant woman and the doctors are also part of the 'conspiracy'. Perhaps the clue was already in the name of the facility in the episode - Zeus Genetics; a throwback to Zeus Storage from season one's The Erlenmeyer Flask? The horror of the episode is keenly felt in the scene where Scully discovers the room of deformed foetuses. It's truly evocative of the scene with Ripley in Alien Resurrection, a film that dealt with a similar theme; an alien gestating in the heroine's body. Gillian Anderson is magnificent throughout; she never breaks down, never openly expresses her fears about the possible alien inside her but she delivers it all in her facial expressions and you absolutely feel for her.
The episode also makes steps to bring John Doggett deeper into the show's mythology through the introduction of former military colleague Knowle Rohrer, played by Adam Baldwin. The actor famously auditioned for Robert Patrick's role but takes up a recurring presence here on the series. After Doggett makes contact to protect Scully, Rohrer intercepts her and takes the woman away as she gives birth. There is the suggestion that he is involved in this new conspiracy, though it is not explicitly stated yet. It's the start of the new mytharc - the super soldiers - though we don't quite realise it at this stage.
There is another purpose to Per Manum; it attempts to tie up the loose threads from earlier stories that the writers failed to wrap up in season seven, despite it being David Duchovny's last full season on the show. The flashbacks in this episode are a bit hard to date. Mulder tells Scully about the facility he discovered in season four's Memento Mori and her harvested human ova which left her infirtile. While he explains he didn't want to put her through the trauma (she was currently undergoing treatment for cancer), it isn't clear how longer after her recovery he gives this information. There is a suggestion that all the flashbacks are from season seven, but that would suggest he held onto that information for a very long time. Perhaps this was season five?
The subsequent flashbacks tell of how Scully sought fertility treatment with Mulder; it shows just how close they became in those later years. The tragedy of course is that it doesn't take and that final scene as he comforts her in her bed is incredibly powerful. They might not have worked together for a while but - like the revival - the chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson is still utterly absorbing.
Per Manum is a strong, emotive and thrilling episode with a very chilling undertone of horror. Gillian Anderson continues to deliver a mesmerising performance (arguably she does some of her best work in the absence of Duchovny this season). The flashbacks attempt to offer some context to Scully's pregnancy, as well as suggest Mulder might be the father, even if they are a little hard to date. It's a great lead into Mulder's subsequent return and a big step forward for Doggett too as he learns Scully's secret and protects her. If there was any doubt that he was a good guy, this is surely gone by this stage. It's also a nice, easy episode to tie in to the wider mythology, that would gain renewed focus in the final episodes ahead...