"Paper Hearts"
by Michelle Erica Green

The Silence of the Lambs

"Paper Hearts" Plot Summary:

When a series of nightmares lead Mulder to the grave of a murdered little girl, Mulder recognizes the pattern of John Roche, a killer Mulder profiled several years earlier. After Roche kidnapped and strangled the girls, he cut a heart-shaped piece material from their clothes as a souvenir. He had confessed to thirteen murders, but Mulder fears the discovery of the body means that Roche committed murders even earlier than they suspected. Another dream leads Mulder to discover sixteen cloth hearts in a book - sixteen in all - and he realizes that there are two more victims.

Mulder dreams of the night when Samantha was abducted, except this time there are no aliens - it's Roche who takes her. The killer claims that he sold a vacuum cleaner to Mulder's father before his sister's disappearance, but won't answer questions about the girl, leading Mulder to punch him. Scully tells Mulder that the dreams are images from his subconscious, and Roche is manipulating him. Mulder goes to his family's home, however, and finds the vacuum model that Roche said he sold to Mulder's father.

Skinner tries to have Mulder taken off the case, but is sympathetic when Mulder tells explains that he thinks Roche is connected to Samantha's disappearance. Mulder gives Roche the cut-out hearts and asks which one is Samantha. Roche describes the night Samantha was abducted exactly as Mulder recalls it, but refuses to tell Mulder whether one of the cloth hearts was taken from his sister. He tells Mulder to choose a heart, and then tells him where the owner's body is buried. They find a body at the site, but it's not Samantha's.

Roche refuses to speak further unless he's taken to the scene of the crime, and a disgusted Scully drags Mulder out with her. But Mulder releases Roche from jail and takes him to his childhood home. Roche describes everything in great detail, but Mulder tells him they're in the wrong house - he took the killer to the same model house a few miles away from his home. Mulder thinks that when he profiled Roche, some sort of psychic connection sprang up between them, enabling the killer to access his memories of Samantha. Mulder plans to take Roche back to jail the next day, but that night he has another nightmare about Samantha, wakes up to find himself wearing the handcuffs he put on Roche, who has escaped with his gun and badge.

While Roche uses Mulder's identity to track a little girl he spotted when Mulder freed him from jail, Mulder correctly guesses where Roche took his victim. Roche warns Mulder that if he dies, Samantha's whereabouts die with him, but Mulder shoots him to save the little girl. A test on the fabric of the remaining heart reveals that it could not have come from Samantha's clothing, but Mulder is still haunted by doubts about his sister's fate.


I basically disliked this episode, which reminded me far too much of Jonathan Demme's "Silence of the Lambs" - girls in danger from a terrifying serial killer, who toys with the emotions of the agent investigating the case. The show seemed oddly gleeful about the cloth hearts and the bodies, as if finding corpses and closing cases is so satisfying that it almost makes the murders OK. I don't like it when this show resorts to popular horror/thriller conventions, especially not little girls chased by evil men. It's an artistic cliche, and it's also a very real social problem that gets distorted when the brilliance of the killer is celebrated in the media.

But I very much liked the implication that perhaps, after everything he's gone through, Mulder should consider the possibility that he believed Samantha kidnapped by aliens because the truth was even more unthinkable. It makes much more sense that Samantha was abducted by a pederast, and that Fox, blaming himself for being powerless to save her, created a story in his subconscious in which there was absolutely nothing he could have done. Like Scully, I have never believed that Samantha was abducted by aliens - I find it more likely that Scully was abducted by aliens than that Mulder's sister was. Psychologically and emotionally, this episode rang very true.

David Duchovny's performance redeemed the episode, because Mulder should have been fired for what he did - no question. If that little girl had been killed, and it was very close, the entire bureau would have been in major trouble. I was not at all pleased to see the lack of punishment for him; this episode proves that he's incapable of objectivity when he needs it most, and if he's this susceptible to psychic bonding with mass murderers, then perhaps he is not the best person to be heading the X Files after all.

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