Season 4, Episode 22: “Elegy”
With the exception of “Leonard Betts,” we have yet to see a standalone episode that has much to do with Scully’s cancer. Her cancer mostly shows up in the mythology, and it goes almost forgotten in the standalones. Which is why I thank the X-Files gods or spirits or whatever that “Elegy” exists. Without it, the cancer storyline wouldn’t hit so close to home, I think.
Because of the absolute monster of a three-part mytharc we have coming up, it’s very easy to forget the episodes in between the famous “Small Potatoes” and the season finale, “Gethsemane.” Our previous episode, “Zero Sum,” was good, but the next two episodes, “Elegy” and “Demons,” are in my opinion two of the most underrated episodes of the series. “Elegy” in particular is just a hauntingly gorgeous episode of television. The painfully tragic story of Harold Spuller and the girls he can’t save is a quiet meditation on death and loss – something Mulder and Scully are very close to facing.
I don’t remember liking “Elegy” quite so much the first time I saw it as I did when I watched it most recently. I certainly wasn’t planning on giving it as high a score as I’m about to give it. Whatever flaws it does have – and it has a few – it gives us the most emotional exploration of Scully’s cancer since “Memento Mori,” and takes a rather dark turn from the sad yet hopeful message that “Memento Mori” brought us.
Namely, Scully is dying, and right now there’s nothing that she, Mulder, or anyone else can do about it. This episode doesn’t scream this at you. No one comes out and says, “Scully, you’re dying.” But, if we are to believe what Mulder says about seeing ghostly apparitions – and I think it’s a safe bet to say that Scully does believe him, at least a part of her does – then what Scully sees in the bathroom is a painful and quiet reminder that time is running out, and the seemingly inevitable is approaching.
Mulder doesn’t hold her hand in this one, either. We don’t get the gentle Mulder at the end of “Memento Mori,” holding a sick and exhausted Scully in a warm, hopeful embrace. Instead, we get an angry – maybe frustrated is the better word – Mulder who is facing the same situation: Scully’s dying, and there’s nothing he can do about it. Although Mulder probably suspects it long before Scully tells him about the apparition, when she gets another Nosebleed of Doom. He just chooses to tread lightly, at least until the end.
Mulder and Scully, as I’m sure you’ve realized by now, don’t talk much. You’ve heard it a million times – their relationship is largely unspoken and can’t really be put into words. But this time, Mulder thinks, is the exception. Scully needs to talk to him about this. Even if she doubts what she sees, doubts seeing the ghosts, she can’t doubt what it means and Mulder knows that. Scully seeing (and not believing) the apparition is not, as you might initially think, the most important detail for Mulder. Rather, it’s the fact that she didn’t tell him about it that frustrates him.
MULDER: You can believe what you want to believe, Scully, but you can’t hide the truth from me because if you do, then you’re working against me … and yourself. (his voice softens) I know what you’re afraid of. I’m afraid of the same thing.
Mulder doesn’t care about what Scully believes. He cares about Scully. And Scully, though she momentarily expresses doubt towards Mulder’s reasons for wanting her honesty, knows this. The truth Mulder wants from Scully has nothing to do with science, or aliens, or believing this or that. It’s the truth that’s locked in the meaning behind all of those things, or rather, the truth Scully hides within herself. What she can’t bring herself to face.
Perhaps somewhat strangely, this ending conversation between them – which is admittedly one of my favorite scenes of the season – makes me think of the ending of Season 2’s “Irresistible” and the famous hug. Mulder lifts Scully’s head up, helps her cry. Here, Mulder is essentially doing the same thing. He’s just doing it from a place of greater pain and frustration because he knows he’s about to lose someone he loves so much.
We’ve got some jolly times ahead of us, haven’t we?
Final score for “Elegy” is 9/10. Yes, I realize there’s a whole other part of this episode I didn’t talk about – the actual case. I think it’s good, and would have made a fine episode on its own, but it’s really the Mulder/Scully dynamic in this episode that warrants its high score. I’m not wild about the crazy nurse plot twist, either. It erupts too quickly and isn’t resolved very well.
- The look on Mulder’s face when the Nosebleed of Doom appears is heartbreaking.
- Puppy bowls a strike. Go Mulder!
- Let’s just appreciate the fact that Scully is able to overtake an attacker whilst dying of cancer. That’s my girl.