by Michelle Erica Green

Promethean Postmodernity

"Milagro" Plot Summary:

A man sits at a typewriter in a nearly empty room. He smokes, he stares, he reads notes. Then he rises, looks at himself in the mirror, reaches a hand into his chest, and pulls out his own beating heart. Later, he takes a bag of garbage to the basement incinerator and seems the heart undamaged in the flames.

In the elevator as he goes upstairs, the man studies Dana Scully, who seems uncomfortable. He follows her out the doors and down the hall to Mulder's apartment, but he stops before she does; he lives next door to Mulder. Scully inquires briefly about the new neighbor, then brings Mulder autopsy results from the second victim of killer who removes his victim's hearts without surgery. The writer spies on the discussion through an air vent as Mulder calls the excisions a perfect crime and Scully insists that if they can figure out the killer's motive, they'll be able to catch him.

Kevin and Maggie, a young couple parked in a car, have an argument about his forwardness and she gets out. When Kevin looks for her, a hooded man chases him and tears his heart out. The writer types the conclusion of the events. In the X-Files office, Scully picks up the phone to learn that there has been another murder. She steps over an anonymous envelope which she opens, finding a charm inside with a burning heart on it. The writer narrates her emotions on finding the potential clue, which Mulder dismisses as a love trinket probably meant for her. The writer admires Scully's curiosity and passion for her work as well as her physical attributes, but says she desires love most of all.

Scully identifies the charm as a milagro, which means miracle in Spanish. She rushes to a church to look at a painting it reminds her of. The writer is there waiting for her: he tells her the significance of the painting, which he says depicts the story of Christ removing the heart of a woman inspired by divine passion to want to feel directly the fire of His love in her heart. Scully asks why the writer is following her; he says that he isn't, he only imagined that she'd go to that church that day. Then he explains in great detail that he knows where she lives, what kind of car she drives, where she went to school, what gym she belongs to, and that the cross around her neck made him think of the painting which he then thought she might be thinking of. He admits that he left the milagro for her because he's taken with her. "That never happens to me. We're alike in that way."

Scully meets Mulder at the morgue, telling him that he was right about the charm being insignificant; his wacky new neighbor gave it to her. But Mulder, who has been reading about killers who believe they have divine powers, wants to know if she got the writer's name, and later picks the lock on the mailbox to find out for himself. Phillip Padgett comes in as Mulder discovers his identity and rides upstairs with him, where they joke about whether Mulder would be interested in Padgett's writing and whether Padgett would be interested in Mulder's murder investigation. Back in his apartment, the writer describes the arousal of Mulder's ego and the arousal of Scully's id; he wants to solve the case, but she wants to be ravished by this mysterious stranger who adores her. The prose is sugary as he describes her sexual pangs and imagines her wondering, "What would her partner think of her?"

Mulder learns that Padgett made no phone calls for an entire month, but he realizes when reading a local paper that the killer stalked people he discovered through the romantic classifieds. As she approaches her partner's apartment, Scully hears typing and stops by Padgett's to return his charm just as he writes about her arrival. He invites her in and discusses their common loneliness, which she claims is a choice. The writer tells Scully that he discovered her in her old neighborhood and moved into Mulder's building to study her; he begs her to have coffee with him and invites her to come sit on the bed since he has no furniture. She accepts with trepidation, but then Mulder bursts in, telling Scully about the personal ads. When they look at his manuscript, Mulder realizes in shock that his neighbor has described all the heart excisions in detail. The agent arrests the writer.

During interrogation, Mulder accuses Padgett of murder using the personal ads to target his victims. But the writer says that he just uses his imagination to create the scenarios - a Jungian psychologist would say that the stories choose the writer, not the other way around. Mulder wants to track down the novel's protagonist - a "psychic surgeon" who can reach inside bodies to remove hearts - but the real person on whom the character was based and for whom he was named has been dead for several years.

Mulder is very surprised when his partner says she believes Padgett did imagine the murders without being responsible for them, asking Mulder whether he doesn't do the same thing when he's trying to solve a case - guessing who the next victim might be. Mulder says that's not the same thing as describing exact details of a crime a priori, arguing that Padgett must be communicating with an accomplice. He asks her whether she really believes Padgett can get into people's heads, telling her that his latest chapter about Scully herself ends up with her "making the naked pretzel" with the protagonist. Scully demands to read the novel, but is interrupted when a guard brings her a new chapter describing the murder of Kevin's girlfriend Maggie at the gravesite. As Scully reads, a Padgett lookalike wearing a hood tears Maggie's heart out.

Though evidence of a struggle is found at the cemetery, no body turns up until Mulder attacks a cemetery worker in a hooded sweatshirt and discovers the body in the worker's truck. He tells Scully that he can think of only one way to trap Padgett working with his accomplice, so they let him go. On his way out, Padgett says he made a mistake: "I wrote that Agent Scully falls in love, but that's impossible. Agent Scully is already in love." The two agents stare blankly at him.

Returning home, Padgett is shocked to be approached by the murderer in the hood, who demands to know his motivation. Padgett admits he can't figure it out - he just wanted to meet Scully and knew the case would intrigue her, but now he knows Scully just wants Mulder's attention and doesn't even know it herself. The killer says that's a lousy excuse. Then he explains that in taking his victims' hearts, he's not expressing love; it's the hubris of a man imagining that, like Christ, he can open up his heart to expose burning passion, but he can't. Man's only true power is to destroy love. Padgett concludes that the only perfect ending is one where Scully dies. "See? It almost writes itself," says his character.

The agents have watched this entire scene on hidden camera, but have observed only Padgett sitting at his typewriter without moving. Suddenly he begins to type, then gets up and leaves. Mulder races after him, downstairs to the incinerator, where he pulls a gun and demands the manuscript. Meanwhile, Scully opens the door and is attacked by the stranger from Padgett's story. He takes her heart as Mulder reads, but when Mulder hears the struggle and races upstairs, Padgett burns the pages.

Mulder finds Scully bloody and lifeless on the floor of his apartment, but as the book goes up in flames, she jolts back to life and clings to him, sobbing. Padgett narrates that there can only be one true ending, and that since he knows himself to be a destroyer, not a creator, he will give the love that he could not receive. While Mulder and Scully hold one another, he lies on the floor with his heart literally in his hand.


Before I begin, I need to relate an anecdote. The first time I saw Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo - a movie in which a woman falls in love with a film character who comes to life, reciprocates her love, then disappears when the actor who plays him pretends that he too is in love with the woman, leaving her alone and sobbing at the end with nothing but more movies for consolation - I was furious with Allen. I thought the movie reflected great arrogance about the superiority of creators over not only their creations but over those who love them. It wasn't until months later, when I rewatched several early Allen films for a class, that it suddenly hit me that Purple Rose of Cairo wasn't sympathizing with the actors or writers who merely stumbled into their material: the film was in love with the woman in the audience, the only person in the entire movie who had true passion and creativity.

I tell this story because halfway through "Milagro," I was similarly pissed off. I thought I was watching an episode in which The X-Files' writers were gloating that they could do whatever the heck they wanted to Dana Scully - make her fall in love, put her in danger, just like Phillip Padgett they could get inside her head and pull all her strings - and by extension the strings of anyone who cares about Scully, or about Mulder. I thought I was seeing a demonstration of the fictionality of the characters, the pointlessness about caring for them because a bunch of guys at the Ten-Thirteen offices don't have to love them to write them.

Until the final confrontation between Padgett and the Stranger, I didn't think about the flip side, the corollary: since Mulder and Scully are fictional, since they can be made to do anything which comes out of the minds of the people who write them, then fan fiction and fantasy are just as legitimate as the episodes we watch. Fans are often accused of having underlying violent impulses towards the shows and actors they love just a little too much; just go read Richard Schickel's study of fan culture, Intimate Strangers, if you have doubts. Yet this episode clearly argues that if fans are culpable in the sort of de(con)structive tendencies attributed to Padgett in the end, then so are Carter (who wrote this teleplay) and Shiban and Spotnitz (who wrote this story).

The real miracle of "Milagro" is that The X-Files production staff seem to concede both points - that the show's writers are guilty of compromising their characters in the name of story, and that any amateur writer can come along and offer some sort of redemption in his or her own image. There was a lot of screwing around with the audience's mind in this episode. Were those sexual fantasies Padgett attributed to Scully a figment of his imagination, or her own? Is she really in love with someone else, or is that just his version of the script? And the answer seems to be: You decide. Write it yourself.

My bet is that 'shippers have already started writing the sequels...starting with Mulder and Scully clinging to one another on the floor of his apartment. I'm not sure I'd rush anywhere with that, however, despite all the evidence and the weight of public sentiment. It still bugs me that Scully's two major attractions since she met Mulder have been a man driven insane by his tattoo and a man driven insane by his own writing - whether we believe that she's drawn to brooding psychopaths instinctively or she's just using them to get Mulder's attention, it's extremely disturbing.

Mulder was wonderful in this episode - his concern for Scully never bordered on Padgett's sort of obsessive possessiveness (though it is fascinating that the latter concluded that he needed to kill Scully, not her partner). Mulder responded to her obvious emotions with great caring. He's also the one who figured out the killer's motive, which is what Scully said they needed to do all along. I adored Scully asking him whether he doesn't do the same thing as Padgett (and the show's writers) in "writing" the scripts he expects his suspects to follow so he can catch them. If she is drawn to the minds of psychopaths, no wonder Mulder continues to hold her interest - he can get inside the best of them. That, too, is rather disturbing.

There were interesting directing decisions: the camera which follows Scully like a voyeur through the hall and the church, ostensibly to put us in Padgett's position but with the effect of making us all stalkers, including the show's director. The irony of having Padgett change the bulb - shedding some light on the situation - which then burns out again anyway was clever both metaphorically and in terms of the suspenseful story. Padgett was superbly written and played, as were both the agents, though I'm sure there will be some who found Scully out of character. Maybe she was, but after the writer's analysis of the sexism of her having to be better than everyone else just to be considered equal, I was happy to see her have some real emotion for the first time in a long time which was not jealous frustration at all she's missing out on.

Metaphysics and filmmaking aside, I found the ending of this episode very moving - a man who so believed in the impossibility of being loved that he chose to give up his life so that someone else might have the possibility, a pair of would-be-lovers who constantly sublimate their love in search of a truth which would also seem to preclude the possibility of lasting love, bound together by a manuscript which seems to take for granted the existence of love, floating just beyond the grasp of all the people in search of it. Mulder had a truly classic line about how a lot of people got their hearts broken on lover's lane, but not the way Kevin did - that could be the theme not only of this episode but of this universe.

If I didn't know better, I'd think there was a subtle message about the fact that God alone can touch the heart of His beloved without causing immediate agony and death. Maybe we're being told to go worship something more deserving than a television show, to put our faith in an immutable Book. But in a universe which can be so easily deconstructed, I find that hard to believe.

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