"Christmas Carol" Plot Summary:
Four days before Christmas, Scully and her mother arrive at her childhood home on a San Diego naval station. The house is currently occupied by her brother Bill and his wife Tara, who are expecting their first child. The phone rings, Scully answers, and the voice of her deceased sister Melissa says, "Dana, she needs you. Go to her." Scully has the call traced and goes to the house of origin, only to find that Roberta Sim, the woman who lived there, committed suicide several hours earlier. The woman left a husband and child, and Scully learns from police reports that the marriage had had problems.
In the woman's purse, Scully finds a photo of the daughter, Emily - the spitting image of Melissa as a girl. She pulls up records on Emily and learns that the child was adopted. Then she pulls up records on her sister, and discovers that Melissa and Emily's DNA is a near-perfect match. Scully orders more tests, and gets the police to open a murder investigation on the girl's adoptive father. When she performs an autopsy on Roberta Sim, Scully realizes that the migraine drugs Roberta allegedly ingested prior to killing herself were in fact injected. The police find a needle in the family trash, but the father explains that his daughter has a rare form of anemia, and needs daily shots.
Scully's mother and brother are highly skeptical of her claims that Emily is Melissa's daughter, believing that she's trying to compensate for her own inability to have a child. Her mother understands her feeling of connection to her dead sister. The police discover that Roberta Sim was receiving payment from a pharmaceutical company via checks that her husband deposited, so Scully travels to the company to find out what they were for. There she learns that the girl was receiving gene therapy which the mother resisted, and also that the husband had a prescription for the migraine medicine with which Roberta Sim was injected. With this evidence, the police arrest Marshall Sim. Scully gives the little girl the cross she always wears around her neck when she sends her off.
The police call Scully at a Christmas party to tell her that Mr. Sim confessed to murdering his wife, which makes no sense to her - despite the suspicious evidence, he had witnesses placing him at his daughter's doctor's office at the time of the murder. When she goes to jail to investigate, Scully sees two men who have been tailing her and the family; rushing inside the jail, she discovers Mr. Sim dead, an apparent suicide. She petitions to adopt Emily despite her brother's apparent proof that Melissa could not have given birth to the girl, but the county plans to recommend against her because of her lifestyle. Then she gets the lab tests back. The girl is not Melissa's daughter, but there were so many genetic similarities that the lab performed an additional test. Dana Scully is Emily's mother.
This was a beautifully directed and structured episode, with flashbacks that flowed seamlessly between past and present, giving disorienting reminders that people never completely escape traumatic events in the past, nor moments of great revelation. Dickensian in theme more than in feel, this show's ability to wrench my guts never ceases to amaze me. Don't get me wrong: there were a number of things I didn't like about this episode from both a story and a series standpoint. But I hardly breathed through the whole thing, and there were scenes that brought tears to my eyes. I can't wait for next week, even though I live in terror of learning how they plan to take Scully's daughter away from her.
It seems like television suffers from a compulsion to characterize all women as mothers, which really disturbs me. Now that I'm thinking about it, just about every woman I admire in science fiction has been defined by motherhood: Beverly Crusher had a genius child, Deanna Troi was unwillingly impregnated yet learned to love the child, Kira sadly gave up a child, Xena sadly gave up a child, Gabrielle sadly gave up a child, Captain Janeway told Q she wants a child...you get the picture. The social messages that all women must desire children are overwhelming, and I'm a little disappointed to see Scully join the ranks of career women who are suddenly willing to make enormous sacrifices out of a sudden, overwhelming maternal impulse.
If we'd seen this coming over time - if there had been more discussion when we learned of Scully's infertility about how she felt about it - this might not bother me so much. As things stand, her maternal instincts seem abrupt and contrived, not only sending a disturbing message about how all women are supposed to want babies but also forcing the emotionalism of the desire. And to then have a social worker recite a laundry list of reasons why Scully would not make an appropriate mother - too career-oriented, no man in her life - just compounded the problems. I'm sick of watching women get judged by outsiders over their reproductive and parenting choices.
But there are few issues as wrenching as the welfare of a child, and this mysterious little girl with the rare disease, who didn't say a word all episode, managed to yank on my heartstrings even when I was resisting her. The discussions of family ties were moving, with the exception of Bill's wife gushing over her impending motherhood - hit us over the head with the theme, why don't you? Bill's near-abusive accusations to Dana about his perceptions of her maternal motivations were also ugly. I can't stand Bill; the sooner we learn that he's part of the conspiracy, the better, because I'd hate to think he's just naturally a jerk. Margaret Scully deserves better. I really liked her discussions about faith with Dana, both the one in flashback when she gave her the crucifix and the one in the present about how people remain connected to the dead after they're gone.
There were some big procedural errors in this episode, noticeable mostly because X Files is usually relatively error-free, at least as far as the general viewing public can tell. But I find it hard to believe that any top-security jail would let a man meet with his lawyers in his cell, unobserved by guards or camera, long enough for him to be murdered. And I found it completely implausible that a lab would elect to do a DNA test on a woman without her permission, even if she ordered the initial test.
But the meat of the episode - Scully's changes in perspective about how she relates to people - was unaffected by the flaws. Gillian Anderson's performance was heartbreaking. Scully's confession to the adoption counselor that she no longer fears the impermanence of relationships struck me as false, and very sad, considering how alone she was. I was distressed to learn that after all they've been through together, Scully still doesn't consider Mulder a good enough friend that she'd call him just to talk, tell him what's going on with her. She obviously doesn't get the support she needs from her family, and if she can't seek it from Mulder, then maybe she really isn't ready to commit to full-time parenting a child with special needs; she isn't going to get the support she needs herself to get through it. I'm sure this will be a big theme in the second part next week, and I expect the unfolding to be devastating for Scully and the rest of us.
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