All I Want Is a Normal Family
"Terms of Endearment" Plot Summary:
A pregnant woman who has just had an ultrasound learns that there are bony protrusions on her baby's head and spine. The woman, Laura, takes the news calmly, but her husband Wayne is despondent. That night, after Wayne brings her a glass of milk to help her fall asleep, Laura has a fiery nightmare in which a demon forces her legs apart and steals her baby from inside her. She wakes screaming for her husband, who assures her that she just had a bad dream and he's been there all along, but when he touches her, his hand comes away stained with blood. She's apparently had a miscarriage, but there's no sign of the fetus.
The local deputy - Laura's brother - goes to the F.B.I. to tell Spender his story, but Spender shreds the report. Later Mulder goes to see the deputy with the shredded file pieced together. listening to the wife's tale of the demon and raising his eyebrows at the husband's claim that he was in bed with her the whole time. Mulder calls Scully, who's working on the drug case they're both supposed to be dealing with; she agrees to look at the ultrasound. Wayne overhears the agents' conversation via a baby monitor in the nursery. That night, Laura finds Wayne outside, ostensibly burning leaves; she does not see the bundle he has dug up and stuffed into the incinerator, nor does she see him weeping.
Scully tells Mulder that the ultrasound revealed horn-like protrusions on the baby's skull, but her real concern is that Laura's miscarriage was apparently induced by mandrake, a hallucinogenic herb. Since third-trimester abortion is illegal in Virginia, they have to arrest her. While the furious deputy rants at Mulder - who seems to accept Laura's story that she was taking herbs which were supposed to be beneficial for pregnant women - Wayne drives across town to visit another wife, Betsy, who is also pregnant. Rushing home to Laura when he learns of the arrest, Wayne realizes Mulder suspects him when the agent says he knows Wayne would "hate like the devil" for anything to happen to Laura. In private, Wayne confesses to Laura that he found her the night of the delivery with the baby in her arms, chanting something unholy, so he wrapped the presumably dead child in cloth and burned it to protect her. Outside, the cops find the remains in the incinerator. Laura's brother the deputy is forced to incarcerate her.
Mulder tells Wayne he knows what he is, and follows as Wayne drives to meet Betsy so she can have her ultrasound. Because of the F.B.I. agent's pursuit, Wayne goes to meet a client instead, borrowing the woman's phone to call Kirsch and demand that the F.B.I. stop harrassing him. Mulder tells Scully to tell their boss that he's doing a background check, and goes in search of records on Wayne. Meanwhile, Wayne goes to see Laura in jail. She has started to doubt his story about why and how he got rid of their baby, and pulls aside his shirt when he hugs her to find the demonic scars on his neck. Panicked and regretful, Wayne sucks Laura's life force out through her mouth. She appears to be dead when he calls the guards to say that she has collapsed, but quick CPR saves Laura, though she remains in a coma.
Wayne rushes to Betsy, who has had her sonogram: her baby also has protrusions on the head and spine. A saddened Wayne offers to warm some milk for her and takes her to bed. Betsy awakens in a fiery nightmare like Laura's, seeing the same demon between her legs; she demands to know what it is doing. When the demon doesn't answer, she insists, "I said, what are you doing, Wayne?" Suddenly she can see the demon as her husband. Meanwhile, Mulder has called Scully to examine Laura; Scully can find no evidence that Wayne harmed her, but Mulder has found a lengthy history going back to Czechoslovakia, where the pseudonymous Wayne had several wives die mysteriously. Mulder says the man is a demon, sucking up the souls of the innocent; Scully says that while men can be demonic, she can't imagine an actual demon working nine to five and trying to raise a family in the suburbs.
On the property of Wayne's house, the deputy unearths another infant skeleton with horns. Mulder hypothesizes that Wayne wants a normal child, not a demon. He and Scully race to find Betsy once Mulder learns from Wayne's office that he has another address, but Betsy's car stops them halfway; her nightgown is covered with blood, and she begs for help getting her baby back from Wayne. At her house, they find Wayne digging in the backyard, but he denies that he is going to bury Betsy's baby. He says Betsy took the baby, and says all he ever wanted was a normal family. Before he can explain further, the police arrive and shoot him.
Wayne wakes next to his wife in intensive care, where Laura remains in a coma and Wayne has been taken after the shooting. Seeing her, he spews her life force from his mouth, dying as it re-enters Laura and she wakes. At Betsy's house, Mulder has unearthed four dead babies, but they're not Wayne's - all are normal human infants. Mulder guesses that she got what she always wanted - a demon child - and says that Wayne met someone even more evil than he was. Betsy drives off in Wayne's red car with the demon baby in a carseat, her own eyes glowing red.
Another lovely X-Files meditation on parenthood and the perversity of domesticity, this episode had moments of remarkable pro-choice reproductive politics, but ended with a good old-fashioned assertion that a bad mother is the worst thing a human being can be - far worse than a bad father. It's always gutsy for a television show to remind people of how complicated the issue of reproductive rights really is. Here we get a reminder that abortion can be practiced outside of a medical clinic, in the privacy of one's home, and it's survivable even if it's not pretty. Moreover, the abusive treatment of Laura under Virginia law - arrested for having a miscarriage while she was distraught about it and oblivious to the fact that she'd consumed an abortifacent - seems to be a strong statement in favor of the government butting out of women's private pregnancy problems and decisions. Even when they believe Laura to be responsible for the termination, none of the law enforcement officials in this episode suggest that she should be held reponsible for not wanting to continue to continue a pregnancy with a malformed fetus.
But that's all diminished by the subsequent portrayal of Laura as a guilt-ridden, angelic good mother who would have done anything to save her mutant marriage and child, in contrast to baby-killer Betsy whom Mulder describes as even worse than Wayne. I can't understand this attitude, considering that Betsy was merely infanticidal while Wayne kept murdering his wives as well as his children. Mulder seems to think Wayne's desire for a nice, normal family makes him a tragic figure despite his failings as a husband and father (splort - excuse me). On the other hand, Betsy's independent sexuality and exploitative maternity make her unredeemable in Mulder's eyes, though the episode itself is less judgemental, letting her drive off in Wayne's car listening to rebellious rock music.
The abortion issue is further complicated by the fact that the father rather than the mother induces the procedure against the mothers' wishes, using dangerous techniques which can kill women as well as their offspring. Wayne's sure as hell no hero in the fight for reproductive choice; the rape-style imagery of the forced deliveries emphasizes that point. But in principle, why is it any worse to abort a normal fetus because you want a demon baby than to abort a demon fetus because you want a normal baby? The traditional "pro-life" (anti-choice) argument is that abortion is murder regardless of the medical condition of the mother or child. "Terms of Endearment" remains vague on the morality of aborting demon babies (and, by extension, non-demon babies who also have atypical physiology which makes them undesirable to their parents). Nobody seems to feel terribly sorry for the dead little demons other than their own father, though he's the one terminating them.
Yet Wayne gives Laura her soul back with his own dying breath. Is this because he's seen the light, the purity of a good woman and the virtue of family which he can never have with her but she may be able to have without him? Or is this because he has the comfort of knowing that somewhere out there, Betsy's raising his progeny, so his reproductive imperative has been assuaged? The fact that I'm still muddling these questions despite the misogynistic tone of "Terms of Endearment" makes me inclined to say that this was a successful episode; it had terrific acting on the part of the three guest stars and creepy, bloody direction as well. Scully barely registered as an onscreen personality, however, and Mulder's sexual politics continue to disturb me. Next week we get to see them play at being married - maybe this week's episode was to prepare us to say, "Ick" to marriage and babies, thus letting the anti-relationshippers at Ten-Thirteen off the hook.
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