Season 4, Episode 13: “Never Again”
Author’s note: My apologies for the length of the following review.
I think I’ve been reviewing “Never Again” from the moment I started this blog. Not consciously, but in a way, my own brain kept preparing me for it. There’s something about this episode that bothers me on such a deep and visceral level that I have been so far unable to express it in words. When I finished “Leonard Betts” and it finally came time to write the “Never Again” review, I wondered if I wasn’t operating on old feelings. After all, I hadn’t seen this one in a while.
So I gave “Never Again” another watch, and felt that old familiar feeling rising in the pit of my stomach. I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair. I glared at the screen. I cringed at certain lines of dialogue. At the same time, I felt my brain searching desperately for an answer to the question that’s plagued me since I first watched this episode: Why do I hate “Never Again” so much?
I’ve read review after review and seen endless comments on this episode from fans, Shippers and Noromos alike. From what I’ve been able to gather, there is no general consensus on this episode, except that no one seems to hate it quite as much as I do. Oh, some people hate it, but they hate it for reasons that I find trivial at best: Mulder and Scully fight, Scully almost has sex with another man, etc. None of those things, at least on the surface, are problems for me.
What startles me about this episode is actually how much people seem to like it. It would be one thing if it was an episode that generally got a “meh” from fans, but there are people who legitimately adore “Never Again” and critics have been more than kind to it. And so I, hanging my head in shame, came to the conclusion it must be me. Morgan & Wong had won, whatever game the three of us had been playing. They clearly had created something so great I was unable to see it. Any fault of theirs was a fault of mine.
Well, almost. I’m way too self-centered for that, apparently.
After reading and discussing and rewatching, I finally get why people like “Never Again.” I do. And upon this rewatch I also realized something else: lost in the discussion with myself of “why do I hate this episode” was the more important question: Is this episode any good? Is it necessary to the show as a whole? Could The X-Files have existed without it?
And…well, no. It couldn’t have.
Like it or not, “Never Again” is a type of episode we deseperately needed: an episode that separates Mulder and Scully and gives one of the agents (in this case, Scully) a close look. We’re used to thinking of The X-Files as “Mulder and Scully,” but Morgan & Wong – rightly so, I think – wanted to look at just Scully. Who is Scully without Mulder? That’s the question they dare to ask in this episode, and I’m glad they do.
Their answer to that question is what I find less-than-stellar. I wholeheartedly agree that Scully’s life has been so wrapped up in Mulder’s quest that it’s beyond acceptable for her to question her place, her life, her situation. I understand her temptation to be rebellious. Hell, I don’t think I would have minded that much if Scully actually did have sex with Ed Jerse—after all, Mulder had sex with a vampire in “3” and as much as I like to pretend “3” doesn’t exist, that scene didn’t affect much in the way of Mulder and Scully’s relationship. And, Shipper though I may be, I think it’s ridiculous that Scully has to be abstinent at this point. She’s a grown woman and she and Mulder are not a couple. Oh, they are, but not sexually. They don’t own each other.
What I can’t really get behind is this idea that Mulder is an all-controlling force in Scully’s life that she just can’t walk away from. For one thing, that implies that Mulder is doing most of the work on the X-Files, with Scully merely tagging along, which we know isn’t true. For another, it’s, well, just not Mulder. Mulder can be a self-righteous jerkface (just look at “Revelations,”) but I can’t watch the scene in “One Breath” where a broken Mulder breaks down crying in his apartment and think that this man is completely selfish and has no cares for his partner at all. He certainly went through an immense guilty stage in “One Breath.” Also, I reiterate, Scully is a grown woman and she’s very practical. If Mulder truly was an all-controlling force in her life, she’d leave, wouldn’t she?
What Mulder doesn’t guage well, at least in Morgan & Wong’s point of view, is what Scully wants to get out of her career and her position on the X-Files. But, at the same time, neither does Scully. She does not know what she wants. And, good for her as some rebellion might be, is getting a tattoo and demanding a desk really the way to find out?
The desk. The desk metaphor really bugs me. Actually, the non-metaphor bugs me even more. Fine, Scully should have a desk. Don’t you think she would have asked for one? Has anyone ever gotten the impression before this episode that Scully was too afraid to ask for one? The same Scully who bravely delivered an angry speech to Skinner in “Piper Maru,” the same Scully who tells Mulder to stop in “Conduit” on their fourth case together, the same Scully who stayed with Mulder even after her abduction and Melissa’s death, this same Scully—was too under the control of Mulder to ask for a desk? Isn’t it also possible that up until now she saw the desk as a functional tool that had no value other than a place where papers and files are stored? Try as I might to see otherwise, the desk has always represented a problem that was never there in the first place. I’m sorry, I can’t buy it.
Another argument I’ve seen in defense of this episode is that it allows Scully to have flaws. I don’t buy that one either. If having sex (or almost having sex) with a stranger and getting a tattoo is a flaw, then it is a flaw that would only be attributed to a woman. I mean, if we’re being honest. Maybe Scully being a bit reckless is a flaw. But how many times has Mulder been reckless and his recklessness is passed off as necessity, to futher his investigations into the paranormal or find his sister?
Speaking of which, oh, dear god, is Mulder absolutely insufferable in this episode. Ignoring the scenes in Memphis, which are funny, I wouldn’t have blamed Scully one bit if she had shot him in the shoulder again, like she did in “Anasazi.” And no, I don’t think that’s completely in character for him. In fact, I think that’s in great part Morgan & Wong. They don’t seem to be big fans of Mulder. Some of the things he says to Scully physically hurt me while watching, because I just had my wisdom teeth removed and opening my mouth wide in shock was painful. Do they really think Mulder would act like this? While I agree that yes, Mulder can at times be self-absorbed, we see very clearly in “Paper Hearts” that he’s also a very intuitive, sympathetic character with a lot of heart and integrity. Not this bodering on sardonic asshole that Morgan & Wong have presented. Where’s the all-controlling, authoritative butthead in other episodes?
The truth of the matter is, there’s always going to be this awkward circular dance around Mulder and Scully in this show. There has to be. Their relationship transcends friendship and romance and is in many ways completely undefinable. It’s the greatest aspect of the series by far but can also be confusing. We, the audience, are meant to take for granted what Mulder and Scully mean to one another. This episode tries to question that notion, to have Scully question that notion, but to me all it does is make Mulder out to be a complete jackass and turns Scully’s side of the relationship into the receiving end of something, I don’t know, almost toxic. Is everything between them perfect? No, of course not, and Scully should take some time alone to figure out who she is and what she wants. As should Mulder. But what do they learn by the end? Just like “The Field Where I Died,” Morgan & Wong seem determined to give us a different take on Mulder and Scully while never really saying what they need to say. They bring up the questions that need to be brought up, but not the answers. Why? Because the answers just don’t fit in with the rest of the show. “Never Again” is, whether by design or by fluke, a necessary anomaly.
The rest of this episode, while beautifully filmed, I’ve also found a tad mediocre. Ed Jerse isn’t interesting for me, and Jodie Foster as an evil tattoo sounds like it should be the greatest thing in the world but sadly isn’t. For what it’s worth, I do love the tension in that last scene, pulled off masterfully by Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny and some damn good cinematography.
I’ve been told by a few Philes that their opinion of this episode changed when they grew older. To that, I can only say: we’ll have to wait and see. I first watched this episode when I was either 16 or 17. I’m nearly 20 now and although I feel like a completely different person now than I was then, I understand I have a lot of growing up to do, both as a person and as a viewer. Consider this review a letter to my future self. Future self, you may end up adoring this episode.
Right now, you can’t stand it.
Final score for “Never Again” is 5/10. I really, really wanted to give this episode a 4, and my gut told me to give it a 3. But the episode is too beautifully shot to be anything less than a 4 and there are enough legitimate reasons for its existence to give it more than a 4, which is a score I reserve for episodes we could have done without. So rest easy, Morgan & Wong. We could have done without “The Field Where I Died,” but not without “Never Again.”
- They worked really hard to make sure this episode was different. You can see it in the cinematography, tone, music, writing, etc. If there’s one thing Morgan & Wong have always excelled at, it’s tone and atmosphere. Kudos.
- (WARNING: DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING IF YOU’RE AVOIDING SPOILERS) Another thing I’d like to point out is the before cancer/after cancer debate. As you all know, it’s revealed that Scully has cancer in “Leonard Betts.” This episode was written before “Leonard Betts” but aired after because the studio felt it wasn’t a good episode to show after the Super Bowl. There has been debate as to whether or not this episode should be chronologically placed at the time of its writing or of its airing. For me, personally, Scully doesn’t act like she has a terminal illness in “Never Again” and I certainly don’t think she’d be worrying about having a desk if she knew about the cancer. That one, though, is completely open for interpretation.
- I don’t want to make it sound like Jodie Foster playing an evil tattoo isn’t awesome. It is. But for some reason I don’t find it as awesome as it could have been. Still, it’s really cool that they got Jodie Foster, whose character in The Silence of the Lambs was a direct influence for Scully.
- I sincerely hope that Morgan & Wong don’t hate me. I love you guys. I promise. ❤