Another Sign of the End of the World?
"All Souls" Plot Summary:
A priest baptizes a severely handicapped girl. Hours later, her father looks out the window to see Dara walking in the street. A priest appears to her with a bright light behind him; when he is gone, she is dead, her eyes burned out, kneeling with her hands curved in supplication.
Scully enters a church with a photo of her daughter Emily. In confession, she says that an innocent girl is dead because of her, and remembers being in the church the week after Easter. In flashback, another priest asks Scully to help counsel a family whose daughter had died recently - Dara. The mother explains that the girl was adopted, and wonders why God would punish an innocent. Scully questions the doctor who performed Dara's autopsy, learning that the girl had six fingers and toes on each hand and foot, and that other than the burned eyes, there were no other marks on her body. "It's as if God himself struck her down," the doctor says.
A priest with an upside-down crucifix hanging from the rear view mirror gets out of a car at a mental hospital. Inside, he is told by a social worker that his petition to adopt a twelve-fingered girl named Paula has been held up by paperwork. The priest is furious and storms out. Later, however, he appears to Paula with a bright light behind him. When he is gone, she is dead, her eyes burned out, kneeling with her hands curved in supplication. Meanwhile, Scully contacts Mulder for the adoption records on Dara and learns that she was a quadruplet - one of four girls.
Mulder finds an upside-down cross in Paula's room, which makes him suspect that a religious nut is behind the killings. He meets the social worker, who doesn't recognize the cross and identifies the priest as Father Gregory. Mulder and Scully go to his church, the Church of Saint Peter the Sinner, where they find the Gnostic Gospels, the Book of J, and various other apocryphal writings among the liturgy, with an upside-down cross as the symbol on the cover. Father Gregory tells them that he knew the girls' mother, but when they demand access to her, he says that she is dead; he was her confessor, and there are forces of evil at work which they can't possibly understand. Mulder thinks he's insane, but Scully demands to know why he doesn't believe the supernatural could be at work. Mulder says that religion has masqueraded as the paranormal for millennia, and wonders why God seems to employ so many psychotics.
Scully performs an autopsy on Paula, but has a vision of Emily on the table, asking for help. She nearly breaks down, but once she performs the autopsy she discovers that the girl had a progressive, degenerative bone disease and growths on her shoulders which look like vestigial wings. When she tells this to Mulder, he announces that they have tracked down the third girl, who was found homeless in D.C. not long ago. Mulder and the social worker trace the girl to an abandoned building, but by the time they get there, Father Gregory has appeared before her. When he is gone, she is dead, her eyes burned out, kneeling with her hands curved in supplication. Mulder finds and traps Father Gregory.
Under questioning, the priest prays while Mulder demands to know what kind of religious nut would kill three helpless girls. Father Gregory asks Scully whether she recognizes the upside-down cross; she recalls that Saint Peter insisted on being crucified upside-down, as a symbol of humility towards Christ. Father Gregory says that the devil is trying to kill the girls, while he was trying to save them, and begs to be allowed to protect the last one. Mulder warns Scully that she's too involved and is losing objectivity, and asks her to take a break when she suggests that he's looking in the wrong places. The fourth sister, Roberta, had been sent from one foster home to another, so Mulder tracks down the latest. When he goes to the house, he learns that the girl is gone, taken by a man who promised that the family could keep receiving a disability stipend.
The social worker walks through a wall into the room where Father Gregory is being held, demanding to know where to find the fourth girl. When Father Gregory begins to pray, the social worker horribly burns him to death. The body is discovered but nobody knows how he died. Scully goes to her car afterwards, but while on the phone with Mulder, she has a vision of a man with four heads - three not human. She asks her own priest about them, and he identifies the image as a seraph. In a legend, the seraph fathered four children with a mortal woman, all of whom had the souls of angels but were horribly deformed. These nephilim lived on earth until God sent the seraphim to claim their souls; the brightness of his countenance burned their eyes and sent them to Heaven. The priest suspects that Scully heard the story in her youth, and warns her that the legend isn't even accepted as canonical by the Church.
The social worker offers to drive Scully to the Church of Saint Peter the Sinner, where he believes the fourth girl has been hidden. When Scully sees his shadow, there are horns on his head, and he speaks in an increasingly low, menacing voice. Recognizing him as the devil, Scully finds Roberta and takes her to the altar, where the seraphim appears. As the light comes up behind him, the girl appears to Scully as Emily, begging her to let her go. After the vision fades, Roberta is dead, her eyes burned out, kneeling with her hands curved in supplication. The devil/social worker is also gone.
Back at confession in the present time, Scully tells the priest that she feels responsible for the girl's death, but he asks whether she believed she was sending the girl's soul to heaven and whether she believes in a life after this one. She says she does, and that perhaps her faith is the way through her loss.
Another extremely powerful but ultimately frustrating Scully episode which at times made me want to take back everything I said in the "He Said, She Said" column this week, this episode worked for me on the strength of Gillian Anderson's acting and the horror of Scully's dilemma: having to decide whether she had enough faith in Heaven to send a girl to her death in order to protect her from Hell. If one really believes in the Devil, then I suppose death wouldn't seem nearly so awful a fate...but, as Scully's priest says, that is scant consolation when faced with the lifeless body of an innocent. I thought the show took the easy way out by having all the girls mute, barely functional or cognizant, and suffering greatly; their deaths would have had a bigger impact if they'd been presented as individuals with mortal lives worth hanging onto.
I wanted to slap Mulder for the speed with which he dismissed religion as faux paranormal, and for suggesting that Scully was too personally involved to continue on the case. How dare a guy who's been pursuing his sister across secret government installations and through dangerous memory-retrieval techniques make such a judgement? Mulder can handle believing in aliens among us, but not in God, which strikes me as pathetic as well as cynical.There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in his puny philosophy. Of course it was amusing that we got to see him doing things like going to a dirty movie when Scully was asking for his help, but the simple equation of faithlessness and immorality is way too simple. Dara was baptized without being able to understand what was happening to her; she was saved by grace, not because of her deeds.
I like religious installments of X-Files, but did not think this episode was terribly kind to men of the cloth. Father Gregory DID come across as the crazed fanatic Mulder accused him of being even if he was really a seraph - and I'm unclear both on how Satan the social worker killed him and how he rose again. Other than the confessor, the Catholic priests seemed to function as symbols rather than characters and came across rather unenlightened. Scully gave herself consolation through confession, which suggests that the ritual rather than any spiritual growth from the ritual is the real aim. We never heard her receiving penance or absolution from the priest.
And speaking of religion, I had one moment of confusion. Right before he wondered why there were no Jesus Christ Superstar lyrics in the dubious documents of Father Gregory's church - one of the two great Mulderisms of the episode, the other being the line about God employing far too many psychotics to do His work - Mulder said he found the Apocrypha among the controversial writings. But the Catholic Bible actually contains the books which are considered (Old Testament) Apocrypha - The Book of Judith, I and II Maccabees, etc., by both Jews and Protestants. The books are not even set apart in a separate section called "The Apocrypha" in the Catholic Bible; they're fully integrated into canon, so there's no reason they would have shown up in a priest's book of religious writings of uncertain origin, like the Gnostic Gospels (parts of which are in the New Testament Apocrypha). Then again, Father Gregory wasn't a very typical Catholic.
I found it entirely plausible that Scully would believe her visions of Emily. After all, she learned of Emily's existence because the voice of her dead sister drew her to the girl in the first place. That aspect of this episode was terribly moving, and of greater significance to X Files mythology than the nephilim, who seemed to me more like something to expect on Millennium.
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