Enter the Serpent
"Signs and Wonders" Plot Summary:
In Blessing, Tennessee, Jared Chirp is killed by poisonous snakes as he tries to flee town his car. Since he had more than 100 snake bites, Mulder suspects murder, and concurs with Scully's belief that the religious symbolism cannot be ignored. The agents head to Tennessee to question Reverend Mackey, who tells them Jared and his girlfriend Gracie came to his liberal church from a Fundamentalist, snake-handling sect calling itself the Church of God With Signs and Wonders. Reverend O'Connor of their former church believed Chirp was damned.
Inside the old church, which lacks even electricity, Mulder asks Scully why snake handling is any harder for her to buy into than Communion. "Or believing in flying saucers?" she demands. They are interrupted by a rattle on the floor. Scully aims a gun, just as Rev. O'Connor walks in to ask what right they have to be in there. He tells them they have nothing to fear if they are righteous people, but Mulder asks for help with the snake anyway, just in case. Then he asks about Chirp, whom the reverend claimed failed a test of faith. Scully believes O'Connor is probably the murderer, but he was in another state the night Chirp died.
Gracie's landlady Iris tells Mackey that Chirp called for Gracie the night he died, but she didn't tell the police because she feared upsetting the pregnant girl. While Mackey teaches a class about reading the Book of Revelation in its historical context, O'Connor preaches a fire-and-brimstone sermon, then passes poisonous snakes around the congregation. Although the snakes are passive as O'Connor's congregants sing, Iris is attacked by a snake in Mackey's church restroom. Scully tells Gracie that O'Connor is a suspect in both deaths, but Gracie sobs that this is Satan's work.
Mulder realizes that Gracie is O'Connor's daughter, who must have been thrown out of her father's church and his house for getting pregnant. Inside the church, he sees photos of former congregants, including Gracie and Gracie's mother Alice, who died of snake bites. Meanwhile, Scully finds a trailer full of snakes and mice to feed them. When O'Connor discovers her inside, he shoves her hand inside a box with a snake to test her faith. Mulder pulls a gun and forces the reverend to let his partner go, but O'Connor says Scully might have learned good news about herself had he been allowed to continue.
In jail, Mulder demands to know whether O'Connor killed his wife, or just Jared and Iris. He thinks O'Connor is practicing Old Testament revenge. "You're proud," says the reverend. "The devil will make a fool of you." He says he prays for his daughter, because she is lost. Meanwhile, Gracie tells Scully she won't visit her father in prison. She doesn't believe that she can make him talk, and anyway he will be judged as he deserves: "Can't nobody avoid it." Later that night, O'Connor awakes in his cell and prays as snakes surround him.
The next day, Mulder looks at the reverend in the ICU as Scully asserts her belief that he's no longer a suspect. Gracie has forbidden anti-venom treatments for her father, saying his life is in God's hands, but both agents suspect the girl has other motives for preventing the treatment which could save O'Connor's life. They go to Chirp's home to try to find what made him flee on the night he died. Mulder discovers a medical form indicating that Chirp was sterile; he couldn't have been the father of Gracie's baby. Scully wonders aloud why anyone would be attracted to a narrow, intolerant religion like O'Connor's, but Mulder says he understands: "Somebody offering you all the answers can be a very powerful thing."
Mackey asks Gracie whether she's sure she wants to risk her father's life withholding treatment. "I can't risk his soul," she insists, claiming he would think it was a sin not to trust God, but finally agreeing to the treatment when Mackey reminds her that she left home so she could think for herself. As soon as the minister leaves, venom begins to seep from O'Connor's wounds. When Mulder and Scully arrive at the hospital, he and his daughter are both missing.
The reverend confirms Mulder's theory that Chirp wasn't the father of Gracie's baby: O'Connor is. Mackey says he tried to teach her to forgive her father. O'Connor brings his daughter screaming into his church, telling her he's taking her home. As the congregation chants, he pins her down and prays over her. "Something's wrong with my baby," she gasps, then screams as her belly begins to move unnaturally. "Jesus," prays her father. Snakes come out of her.
The FBI agents find Gracie in shock and the congregation unwilling to talk. Mulder can tell from the blood trails on the floor that Gracie produced snakes. He goes to look for O'Connor, believing the man had unfinished business, and finds him at Mackey's church, where O'Connor is accusing his rival of stealing what was most precious to him, and pulling a knife. Mulder pulls a gun and warns, then shoots, O'Connor, who whispers to Mulder that Mulder still doesn't know which side he's on. Meanwhile, Gracie wakes in an ambulance and Scully says she's safe from her father, but Gracie says her father saved her.
After Mackey phones for an ambulance, Mulder suddenly pulls a gun on him. "You killed Jared," he realizes. "You were the father." "Are you a righteous man?" asks Mackey, noting that most people believe they're on the side of angels. Mulder looks at his hand, but his gun is covered by a snake, and snakes are surrounding him on the floor. Scully enters the church, sees O'Connor on the floor, then hears Mulder's cry for help. "You can't help him. This is his alone," warns the wounded reverend. The snakes cover Mulder and one of them bites him, but by the time Scully enters the room they are all gone, and so is Mackey.
At the hospital, Mulder suspects the evil reverend will never be found. "People think the devil has horns and a tail; they're not used to looking at a kindly face." Scully is surprised to hear Mulder speaking of the devil, but he says that if the snakes were some kind of test, he failed. Scully argues that the fact that he lives indicates he passed with flying colors. Mackey goes to a small town in Connecticut, where he changes his name and takes over another liberal church. When he is alone, he takes a mouse out of a box, and a huge snake slithers out of his open mouth to swallow it.
A delicious, creepy episode in which Mulder came as close to getting religion as I suspect we'll ever see him, which was a nice change from his frequent scorn towards Scully's uncertain beliefs. His most memorable line was a joke about knowing church girls who were expert "snake handlers," but his most powerful scene came when Scully wondered aloud what attracts people to Fundamentalism and he related his own experience being tempted by someone who promised all the answers.
I was sorry there wasn't more serious theology - in particular I would have liked some concrete discussion of the passage in Revelation that O'Connor interpreted literally as God vomiting the weak-hearted out of Heaven but Mackey argued was based in history. Scully surely has enough of a religious education that her background could have been brought in more.
I'm also a bit confused as to why Mackey talked Gracie into saving her father's life, after Mackey himself presumably tried to kill the man in jail - did he consider it leading her down the path to hell if she went against her father's stated wishes in the matter? Not that she had the chance, in the end. Gracie's passivity annoyed me a bit; I realize she was raised to be passive, but she was so much defined as a victim, I have no idea who else she is.
There were some brilliant cinematic moments in this episode, most notably the snake coming out of Mackey's mouth at the end. The dissolve from a snake's fangs to the staple remover which led to Iris' death was also memorable. I did not, however, like the cheap device of having Gracie give birth to snakes - it was gross and obvious in too many ways. It would have been far more interesting if she had a completely normal-looking baby, and none of us would be able to tell whether good or evil would dominate its life.
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