A child abduction leads Mulder to to the truth about what happened to his sister Samantha. On rewatch, is this a satisfying conclusion to this long-running series arc?
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. Now we reach the season seven two parter that finally addresses the fate of Mulder’s sister Samantha…
The abduction of Mulder’s sister Samantha was one of the fundamental aspects of The X Files; the motivation to find out what happened to Samantha drove Mulder towards the X Files and his quest for the truth. In doing so, Samantha Mulder’s abduction became both the best and worst aspect of the show. The mystery was compelling, leading to great stories like her fake return in season two’s Colony / End Game, which introduced the clones and colonisation mythology and season four’s intense Paper Hearts which suggested Samantha had fallen victim to child murderer John Lee Roche. Both offered tantalising glimpses into her fate without ever revealing what actually happened. Meanwhile Mulder was offered glimmers of hope as he encountered her child clone in Herrenvolk and a possible grown up Samantha in Redux II – which given the way the story ended in this season seven two-parter must obviously have been another clone.
With season seven of The X Files possibly being the last, David Duchovny in a lawsuit over DVD sales and potentially ending his involvement with the show (he would not be a series regular again until the revival) and the core mythology wrapped up in season six’s Two Fathers / One Son, the mystery of Samantha Mulder’s abduction was the last piece of the puzzle and so Sein und Zeit and Closure finally address that storyline. The possibilities were endless; would the show revisit the alien / human clones? Would Bryan Thompson’s shapeshifting bounty hunter return? Would the last remnants of The Cigarette Smoking Man’s scheme be revealed?
No. We would discover that Samantha was abducted by fairies.
Okay, so perhaps I am being a little harsh. There is some good stuff buried in these two episodes but there is so much convoluted plotting in Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter’s script that it all feels forced and unnatural. Take the case of the missing girl Amber-Lynn LaPierre, abducted from her home after her father has a vision of her dead body. Mulder immediately latches onto the case, while is mother rings him with information about Samantha that she is finally ready to give. There is nothing at first to connect the little girl with Samantha, even with the slight supernatural element of her father’s vision and the message her mother wrote unconsciously. And yet Mulder is a man on a mission, ignoring Skinner’s orders, telling his fellow FBI agents their investigation is all wrong and firmly rooting himself in the case as the lead investigator.
The episode progresses because we know Mulder is challenging his grief for Samantha, something Scully is quick to observe, but at no point in the the majority of Sein und Zeit is there that natural progression between random abduction and the wider mytharc. The X Files has been much cleverer in the past – the potential link to Samantha revealed in Paper Hearts for example but this is not subtly done.
It is only at the episode’s half way mark that Mulder makes any plausible connection between this abduction and others as he identifies the phrase ‘no one shoots at Santa Claus’. It is a moment that takes him to the imprisoned Kathy Lee Tencate, who was sentenced for the murder of her son. She too had a vision of her son’s death and wrote a mysterious subconscious letter containing the same phrase. But while this is might seem like a perfect case for The X Files, nothing is effectively explained. It is a reference to a child killer, who dressed as Santa to abduct his victims and it is only be coincidence that Scully notices a Santa’s village as she drives back with Mulder and Skinner. The final shootout and the discovery of the footage of missing children – including Amber-Lynn LaPierre – attempts to add a dramatic conclusion but feels like a tacked on ending. The ‘cliffhanger’ is certainly disturbing though as the agents uncover a field filled with mounds of the killer’s victims and – we assume – the suggestion that one of those graves is Samantha’s.
So what does work about Sein und Zeit? Well David Duchovny’s performance for one. At this stage is is clear that Gillian Anderson can always out-act him (it’s one reason it was ludicrous she was originally offered half of Duchovny’s fee for the revival) but he is always at his best when he Mulder’s personal motivations rise to the fore. He plays a man obsessed well, and you feel for his misguided obsession in this case. And the episode does sensitively deal with the harrowing impacts of child abduction in the parents and the wider community.
On the flipside we have the death of Mulder’s mother. There have been moments where the series has developed the softer side of their relationship, but all too often Teena has come across as cold and unengaging. Sein und Zeit closes off another aspect in Mulder’s life – his family – as she commits suicide before Mulder has time to come seeking answers about Samantha. I found that I had little emotion for her death, except perhaps through Mulder’s grief, but the notion that she was ‘silenced’ by the offscreen Cigarette Smoking Man feels forced and incoherent – as if it is another desperate attempt to make this part of the show’s wider mythology.
Closure picks up after the horrible cliffhanger as 24 child graves are unearthed, but Samantha is not among them. This was a good move – it’s a lesser version of Paper Heart‘s story anyway and it would have felt like a very flat ending to the Samantha abduction arc. That’s not to say the final reveal was any better, but we’ll get to that. Instead it becomes about Mulder pushing for answers and Scully wisely choosing to help, knowing that now is the time to put this obsession to bed. So while she revisits the original case from 1973, Mulder connects with psychic Harold Piller (Anthony Heald), a man who claims to be able to help him on the case.
Piller’s involvement seems to come out of nowhere, but at least he does seem to give Mulder some clues to Samantha’s disappearance (despite Scully’s overt hostility to his claims). The most interesting aspect of the concluding episode is Mulder’s uncovering of what happened to his sister and it is a rather tragic story. She was abducted and returned to the Cigarette Smoking Man / CG Spender and from there she grew up on a military airbase with the [now deceased?] Jeffrey Spender, subjected to horrible tests. It is from these tests we must assume that she was cloned, for otherwise this story frustratingly disregards everything that we have seen and learned about her before. Then at the age of 14 she escaped and died.
Mulder reading her diary is painful to watch and again Duchovny delivers a pained, grim performance as he recounts to Scully the horrors his sister endured. Scully too learns more about the past and his mother’s involvement, who had a copy of the case file closing the investigation into her daughter’s disappearance, signed by CG Spender. For the first time the Cigarette Smoking Man makes an appearance since the season opener as Scully discovers him in her home (I love her frustration that he can’t just knock). Scully is quick to notice his sickly appearance and it is the start of his descent towards death and the first meeting between the villain and Scully this season.
And then it all comes to an end rather abruptly. Mulder, Scully and Piller arrive at the home of the retired nurse who treated the escaped 14 year old Samantha in 1979. She recounts to Scully with dread how she was traumatised and how men came looking for her and how she vanished from her locked room. It turns out, like Amber-Lynn LaPierre, whose story is never actually resolved – that she was taken by starlight. A sort of mystical fairies who take children before they receive unspeakable harm. Or at least that’s how I took it. The scene where Mulder wanders through the field with ghosts of children and hugs the ghost of Samantha (all to the arguable breathtaking Moby track ‘My Weakness)’ might look powerful but it ends Samantha’s story with a sense of huh?
Yes, this story does bring closure, but in such a random way that it doesn’t really fit with everything we have learned about Samantha in the last six and a half years of The X Files. The plan was to apparently resolve her story in the movie The X Files: Fight The Future and I can’t imagine that would have had anything to do with starlight or whatever that crap was. Was I a little angry by that conclusion then? Yes. Am I still angry? Maybe not so overtly but definitely frustrated. Samantha Mulder deserved better than this.
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