Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" Plot Summary:
Christmas Eve in Maryland. As "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" plays on the radio, Scully's car pulls alongside Mulder's outside an old house. Annoyed, she tells him that she has presents to wrap, but Mulder insists that the house's former owners - who died in a suicide pact so they would never have to spend a Christmas apart - reputedly return to haunt the house every Yuletide. Scully rolls her eyes at the gothic ghost story and announces that her New Years' resolution is to avoid following him into such situations, but when she discovers that her car keys are gone, she has no choice but to follow Mulder inside the haunted house.
Inside, the grandfather clock still keeps time. A cold wind blows, a door slams, Mulder hears footsteps, Scully thinks she sees an old woman watching them. But amidst the cobwebs and creaking stairs which she identifies as horror movie conventions, Scully talks about how preposterous ghost stories are - they never age, they never move out of their homes, obviously they merely represent the psychological urge for immortality and endless love. There are lights on and a newly made fire in the library hearth, but Scully says it's likely someone has taken up residence there and scoffs at her own fear. Mulder informs her that every couple who ever lived in the house met a tragic end - including three murder/suicides on Christmas Eve - and when he sneaks up on her unexpectedly, Scully screams.
Discovering a loose floorboard with a panel underneath, Mulder pulls away the wood to discover two corpses...wearing Mulder and Scully's clothes. The two try to flee, but enter a room which is a duplicate of the library, then another. When they go in different directions, the doors slam shut, and when Mulder shoots the lock on one, he discovers a solid brick wall instead of an exit.
From the far side of the room, an old man enters and demands to know what Mulder is doing there. He can't see the brick wall, and laughs when Mulder calls him a ghost. After reassuring himself that Mulder is not drunk or high, the man demands to know whether Mulder's an obsessive-compulsive seeker after the supernatural, informing the F.B.I. agent that he is a psychologist who specializes in such people: they are generally self-righteous, narcissistic, overzealous egomaniacs who use their antisocial behavior to hide from their own loneliness. "You've probably convinced yourself you've seen aliens!" he scoffs, calling Mulder's life work "para-masturbatory illusions" and telling him to change his life. Mulder tries to follow him out of the room, but hits the illusory brick wall.
Meanwhile, Scully encounters the old woman from the entrance, and pulls her gun. The woman shrieks that she thought Scully was a ghost, insisting that she saw Mulder downstairs and thought HE was a ghost. As in Mulder's version of the library, the floor is mysteriously repaired, the corpses gone. Scully demands to know where her partner is but sees the same brick wall on the far side of the door. The woman tells Scully that she must have a pretty sad life if she's spending Christmas Eve chasing Mulder through a haunted house, suggesting that Scully seeks intimacy through codependence, since her only joy in life comes from proving Mulder wrong. The man comes in to tell Scully that Mulder we be along presently. She aims a gun at both of them and insists that they put their hands in the air, and that the man remove his hat: when they do so, Scully can see that the woman has a gaping wound in her gut and the man has a gunshot hole clear through his head. She faints.
Maurice and Lida, the ghosts Mulder told Scully about, reflect that this isn't as much fun as previous years because pop psychology drives them mad so quickly, but because Christmas fills people with misery and hopelessness, these two seem an ideal pair. Lida goes to Mulder - who is trying to escape - snapping at him when he calls her a ghost and reading to him from a book of ghost stories about her own legend. She doesn't believe him when he tells her he came looking for her, not to try to be with Scully for eternity, and insists that he should have discussed his suicidal intentions with his partner before bringing her there. "A suicide pact is about trust," she says, wondering which of them will shoot the other first. Mulder insists that he and Scully are not lovers but she doesn't believe that either, giving him back his gun and telling him that this is the last Christmas he'll ever spend alone.
Scully wakes on the floor, finding herself locked in with Maurice. He says he's just trying to protect her from her crazy partner and demands to know why she thinks Mulder brought her to the house. Maurice offers Scully her car keys, warning her that Mulder is acting out an unconscious yearning to re-enact the lovers' pact. Scully opens the door, but she and Mulder point their guns at one another; Mulder begins to shoot the glass in the room, then - telling her there's no way out and there are 365 shopping days before the next lonely Christmas - he shoots Scully in the gut. He then aims the gun at his own head, but Maurice grabs him; it's not Mulder but Lida.
The real Mulder finds Scully dying on the floor. She says she didn't believe he'd do it...then she shoots him. As he collapses, again we see that it's Lida, who laughs. As thunder crashes and lightning flashes, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" begins to play again, and Mulder and Scully crawl across the floor towards the door to the house. Mulder insists that she's not going anywhere without him and they argue about who shot whom. Finally Mulder realizes that it was all in their heads, and hauls Scully to her feet and out the door. Not only are they no longer wounded, their clothes aren't even stained. They run to their cars.
As the clock strikes midnight, Lida reflects that it's midnight and they almost had those two lonely souls, but they got away. Maurice notes that nowadays Christmas is just another joyless day among many, but the two ghosts have not forgotten the true spirit of the holiday. At home, Mulder watches Scrooge, turning it off when he hears a knock on his door. It's Scully, who says she couldn't sleep and asks him whether any of the events of the evening really transpired. She says that her only joy in life is NOT proving him wrong, to which he retorts, "When have you proved me wrong?", then apologizes for sounding self-righteous and narcissistic. He gives Scully a present, she gives him one too, and as the snow falls on Christmas morning, they sit on his couch together celebrating.
I'm sure there will be viewers who detest this episode and find its treatment of the holiday - and the Mulder/Scully relationship - very un-funny, but I thought it was hysterical and gutsy if extremely warped (it reminded me of "Home," the incest episode). I've been making similar complaints against Mulder for years now, after all, and "intimacy through codependence" sounds like an excellent evaluation of how Scully's connection to him appears, even though of course it's considerably more complicated than that at this point since these two really have seen aliens...not to mention ghosts. I'm not sure why the writers are being such Scrooges, equating Christmas spirit with artificial joy and romantic passion with murderous obsession, but it's definitely a fine line in this case. The funniest line all episode was when Maurice demanded to know how Mulder got Scully to follow him: "Did you take her car keys?" Mulder's expression was priceless! Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin were utterly charming as the ghosts, and had good chemistry with both regulars and with one another.
I probably overanalyze all religious discussion on this series, but once again I don't like the throwaway use of Judaism here. Sure, it was cute to have Lida announce that they didn't have a Christmas tree because they were Jewish (rather than because they were ghosts), but given the nasty, bitter, violent attitude about Christmas exhibited by her and Maurice - not to mention the unsubtle parallels with Scrooge, a literary figure based on many traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes - it bothered me. Scully grew up a practicing Catholic: no matter what has happened to her faith over the past years, surely Christmas means more to her than empty presents and false cheer with her relatives. And whether or not Mulder is really Jewish as he claimed to the neo-Nazis in "Kaddish," he has never been contemptuous of the religious beliefs of others, just wary of the way some people delude themselves in the name of religion. Scorn at the commercialism of Christmas is one thing: scorn at the idea of Christmas as a time of rebirth and renewal is disturbing in and of itself, so to have that negativity associated with Judaism conjures memories of historical ugliness which make me nervous.
In many ways this episode and its happy ending were a relationshipper's dream, perversely reminiscent of the scene in "Pusher" where Mulder almost shot Scully but resisted. Yet as with "Dreamland," I'm a little bugged at how resolutely this series insists that domestic bliss is just a cover for rage, fear, and loneliness. Then again, virtually any pleasure anyone takes in anything on The X-Files is a cover for rage, fear, and loneliness...certainly Mulder's work has been characterized that way by others before Maurice. If the show is parodying its own dark view of the world, then why does it also parody the alternative - the possibility of transcendence, be it spiritual, romantic, or scientific?
I suspect the desire to do a Christmas episode overwhelmed any consideration of character or dramatic logic, so I was willing to overlook the unnecessary blood, the confusion of not being sure who was shooting whom, and another reset button ending - what is this, Star Trek? There's no denying that this episode was stylish and creative, but it seems to have no center. Neither do Mulder and Scully. Neither does the series at the moment. This is not a good thing.
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