Paper Hearts – Season 4, Ep 10

SCULLY: Oh, God…

(She stands.)

You’re going to see the inside of your cell instead. You’re going to rot there.

#DFWS (Don’t F*ck With Scully)

Season 4, Episode 10: “Paper Hearts”

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“Paper Hearts” is the first episode to explore a question that hasn’t been asked yet: what if something else happened to Samantha Mulder? What if she wasn’t abducted by aliens?

What with all the mythology involving Samantha, particularly in Season 2, there became a division between the girl Samantha Mulder and the plot device Samantha Mulder, with the latter largely overtaking the former. Not since Season 1’s “Conduit” do we really get a chance to focus on Mulder’s feelings concerning Samantha, and by the time Season 2 hits we start to attach Samantha Mulder’s name with the mythology. Think “Samantha Mulder,” and you immediately think clones, aliens, UFOs, the Cigarette Smoking Man. You do not think about a man who has spent his entire life trying to fix a tragedy that has broken him and his family apart.

What “Paper Hearts” does is bring Samantha Mulder back to earth, by placing her in a scenario that has nothing to do with aliens, abduction, or a conspiracy. Just like in “Irresistible,” the horror in “Paper Hearts” is very human.

But so, too, is the hero. “Paper Hearts” is one of my very favorite episodes for Mulder’s character, because it shows just how good of a person he is. It’s very tempting, I think, to write Mulder off as a quirky, obsessive weirdo who can sometimes reach stupefying levels of asshole (see “Revelations”), but “Paper Hearts” reminds us that he has incredible integrity. Just look at how he says “It’s somebody, though,” after learning that the girl’s body isn’t Samantha’s. Mulder understands the humanity behind the deaths, especially in this case. Every paper heart for Mulder is a representation of the pain that he knows too well. But Mulder is also incredibly sympathetic and mindful. I tend to disagree with Skinner a little when he accuses Mulder’s personal feelings clouding his judgment. They may cloud his practical judgment surrounding Roche, but they sure as hell don’t cloud his desire to put the victims to rest, Samantha or no Samantha.

Speaking of John Lee Roche, how awesome is Tom Noonan in this role? Compare Roche to the likes of Donnie Pfaster (“Irresistible”) and Robert Patrick Modell (“Pusher”),  and again you get a very different sort of horrible person than we’ve seen before. We have the same lack of remorse, but the thing about Roche that always got me was how normal he seemed, apart from the whole murdering 8-10 year-old girls thing. Just like Mulder, I can easily see him as a salesman, and that’s terrifying on a different level than Pfaster or Modell. Not necessarily more scary, but in a different way.

There are so many things I love about this episode, and to name them all would take a review longer than most of you are probably willing to read. What I will talk about is a little detail I didn’t notice until this recent rewatch. When Mulder and Scully are talking to Addie Sparks’s father, he says this:

FRANK SPARKS: No. I used to think… that missing was worse than dead because…You never knew what happened. Now that I know… I’m glad my wife’s not here. She got luckier.

I never thought about how central that idea was to this episode until I watched it this time. Mulder’s search for his sister, particularly in the context of the mythology, always operates under the assumption that his sister is missing, not dead. But here is a case in which Samantha is subconsciously inserted, placed right into a scenario where she is almost certainly dead. Mulder’s talk with Scully (which is so deeply layered that I can’t discuss everything, kill me) illustrates this conflict. How does he really want to find Samantha? Missing or dead?

Mulder seems to think that at the end of the day, the aliens, conspiracy, the truth, nothing is as important as finding out what happened to Samantha. Even if it turns out that Roche killed her. Even if aliens aren’t involved at all. But what Mulder learns in “Paper Hearts” is that Samantha is something that can and will occasionally have to be sacrificed. Whether it’s to save the life of a little girl, or for Scully’s sake, or even for his own sake, Samantha – the person, not the plot device – will only be put to rest if Mulder takes care of the people in his life first.

And that’s a beautiful message we all can take something from, don’t you think?


Final Score


Final score for “Paper Hearts” is 10/10. No, but really. This episode is pretty close to perfect. From David Duchovny’s really-should-have-won-an-Emmy performance to Scully’s gentle yet fiery concern to Mark Snow’s phenomenal theme to Vince Gilligan’s elegantly simple writing, this episode just has it all. It’s actually my favorite episode from Season 4, and it is one of the very best Mulder-centric episodes. It’s just…well, it’s just what I say for most Vince Gilligan penned X-Files episodes. It’s just damn good television.


Notable Nuggets

  • God, there are too many. Where to start?
  • I didn’t talk about her much in the review, but how beautiful and awesome is Scully in this episode? She’s the only person in this episode who seems to scare Roche a little. I mean, just look at this DFWS stare.

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  • Vince Gilligan obviously loved the “A dream is an answer to a question we haven’t figured out how to ask” line from “Aubrey.” He uses it three times in this episode if I’m not mistaken.
  • If I had to make one itty bitty complaint about this episode, it’s that I wish they had identified the last heart. It would have tied in the whole “missing or dead” theme better, as well as give more weight to Mulder’s “It is somebody, though,” line. Since, I’ll just say it, the last heart isn’t Samantha, it will never be brought up again and in the context of the show that girl, whoever she is, has never been put to rest. Sad.
  • Mark Snow, you genius.

15 thoughts on “Paper Hearts – Season 4, Ep 10

  1. Amy (@amymbythesea) says:

    Great review! I’m not that crazy about this episode. Roche just disturbed me too much, which says a lot about the acting from Noonan. This is a good episode, just not one I like to rewatch. Except maybe the hug at the end. 😉

    You mention the inconclusive ending about the hearts. Maybe it’s symbolic of the struggle and endless search Mulder continues to face, and the pain of not knowing. ?! Just a thought!

    • Melissa (@MadMakNY) says:

      I agree about the inconclusive ending, Amy. I think you’re exactly right. Roche is right up there with Donnie Pfaster as the more horrible characters that I despise. He makes me sick. He’s terrifying. I can see why you wouldn’t want to watch it. But the ending when Mulder hugs Scully’s ass is a highlight. Haha.

    • Knife Ink says:

      That’s very true. Maybe I just want that last heart to be identified to increase Mulder and Scully’s success rate, lol.

      And your dislike of Roche is understandable, although I kind of think that’s the point? You’re not supposed to like Roche; that’s what makes Noonan’s performance so good. But yeah, what a nasty guy.

      And yeah there are TONS of episodes I think are wonderful but don’t rewatch often (like “Revelations” for instance). “Paper Hearts” is not one of them though. I looooove this one. Consider it in my top 10 (I don’t actually have a top 10, but if I did, this episode would be on it lol).

  2. Melissa (@MadMakNY) says:

    David Duchovny was incredible in this episode. His 1997 Golden Globe was well-deserved. Scully could smote people down with just her arched eyebrows. Mark Snow’s score killed me.

    My favorite scene in this episode is when Mulder and Scully find the body of Addie Sparks. I think it’s my favorite moment of emotional development and character evolution for Scully in the entire series. I always compare it to “Conduit” in S1. Mulder and Scully come across a grave in the woods. Mulder, already obsessing about the case and associating it with Samantha, gets down and starts tossing rocks off the grave like a crazy person. Scully grabs his arm, hard, to pull him back. She shouts at him to stop, telling him that he’s disturbing the crime scene. She was By The Book. She Followed The Rules. She sympathized with what Mulder was going through, but he needed to be restrained. The Rules Are Important.

    But here, Mulder crouches down and starts digging, barehanded, no gloves. His eyes are shiny with tears, he’s panting, he’s frantic. Scully hovers beside him, and then very gently she touches his shoulder and tells him to wait. They can get a team in there to excavate. She pleads with him to let somebody else do it. But Mulder’s having none of it. He begs her to help him.

    And she does. Without another word, she gets down on the ground and puts her fingers in the mud next to him. Side by side, they claw at the dirt. Mulder’s lifelong grief and torment has always been there for him, that’s nothing new. But here we see such nakedly emotional character progression for Scully, and also her relationship with Mulder. She may still be skeptical and encourage Mulder to follow the rules, to do things by the book, but she’s willing to toss the book out the window when it’s important. We see how far she’s willing to go for him now. Their personal losses have bound them together over the years since they were first partnered together.

    Sorry for the essay. I still miss you during the Rewatches!

    • Knife Ink says:

      I love that scene too. I think this episode is when Scully truly realizes how much pain Samantha has caused Mulder. It sets the stage for episodes like “Demons” and the S7 Samantha episodes as well. It’s funny, I think Samantha episodes are better when they don’t involve aliens. It forces the humanity out.

      I don’t think anyone ever addressed the Samantha issue as well as Vince Gilligan did with “Paper Hearts,” though. “Demons” comes close, for sure. I just marvel constantly at how perfectly paced Gilligan’s episodes are. He’s a very gifted writer.

      Love hearing from you, Melissa. I hope we all survive the teasers tomorrow.

  3. Salome says:

    I love that you make a distinction between Samantha Mulder the person and Samantha Mulder the plot device. It had never occurred to me before but it’s absolutely spot on, and explains so much about what when wrong with the trajectory of her abduction plot in later seasons. And why we don’t even really care by the time “Closure” comes along. Maybe if she had stayed human it would have still mattered.

    • Knife Ink says:

      We never get to know Samantha as a person, and in a way, neither does Mulder. He’s looking for “the truth” and Samantha is kind of that symbolic thing for him that represents “the truth.” But as many times as the mythology dangles clones in front of Mulder’s face I think it tricks us into believing that he’s ever going to find a real person. “Paper Hearts” made that search for Samantha mean something, and it put her in a very different light than she’d previously been in. I love that Vince Gilligan takes this idea of Mulder’s search for his sister and makes him – and us – realize how important it is to focus on the things and people in our lives (Vince Gilligan does love messages like that, doesn’t he?). I daresay Mulder putting his sister aside in “Redux” wouldn’t have been as believable if not for the way they handle Samantha here and in “Demons.”

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

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