Season 4, Episode 24: “Gethsemane”
I don’t have many regrets where The X-Files is concerned, but boy oh boy does this episode make me wish I wasn’t a Baby Phile. This has got to be one of the greatest cliffhangers ever made, and yet I can’t be sure because I never got to experience it as one. I’ve spoken to many Philes who say that the months between Seasons 4 and 5 were absolute torture, and I believe them.
It’s funny, because in a lot of ways “Gethsemane” doesn’t deal with a whole lot we haven’t seen before, at least on the surface. We’ve seen the Mulder-is-possibly-dead thing before, even as a season finale (“Anasazi”). We’ve seen alien corpses, frozen wastelands, and angst all before.
What makes “Gethsemane” and its two follow ups “Redux” and “Redux II” different, however, is two things: Scully’s cancer and Mulder’s spiritual crisis. Not to sound dramatic, but both of our agents are dying. One is dying physically, and the other is dying mentally/spiritually.
I’ll address Scully’s cancer in our upcoming two episodes, but here I want to focus on Mulder for a minute. This isn’t the first time I’ve detected signs of depression in Mulder, and it won’t be the last. Now, I want to be clear that I am by no means an expert on mental illness, and diagnosing fictional characters with real-life illnesses is in many ways a silly and unnecessary task. But every time I watch this arc, I always think the same thing: Mulder is depressed. He’s entered in a gray haze of existence where everything around him seems to be dying – his best friend and partner, his work, everything he’s believed in. It’s knocked Mulder off his center and he can’t get back up. Life is pointless.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up. Mulder calls Scully away from a family gathering to investigate the supposed discovery of an alien corpse. Mulder seems to expect Scully to be as gung-ho about it at he is. Instead, he gets nothing but indifference.
MULDER: You think it’s foolish?
SCULLY: I have no opinion, actually.
MULDER: You have no opinion?
SCULLY: This is your holy grail, Mulder. Not mine.
MULDER: What’s that supposed to mean?
SCULLY: It just means proving to the world the existence of alien life is not my last dying wish.
MULDER: What about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? This is not some selfish pet project of mine, Scully. I’m as skeptical of that man as you are, but proof… definitive proof of sentient beings sharing the same time and existence with us, that would change everything. Every truth we live my would be shaken to the ground. There’s no greater revelation imaginable, no greater scientific discovery.
SCULLY: You already believe, Mulder. What difference would it make? I mean, what would proof change for you?
MULDER: If someone could prove to you the existence of God, would it change you?
SCULLY: Only if it were disproven.
MULDER: Then you accept the possibility the belief in God is a lie?
SCULLY: I don’t think about it, actually, and I don’t think it can be proven.
MULDER: But what if it could be? Wouldn’t that knowledge be worth seeking? Or is it just easier to go on believing the lie?
SCULLY: I can’t go with you, Mulder.
MULDER: Can you at least take a look at those core samples? Tell me if they’re a lie? That’s all I’m asking.
There is so much to talk about in this exchange, and it really helps to actually watch it, to see the facial expressions and whatnot (for instance, watch Mulder’s face after Scully says “dying wish”). It also brings up an interesting point about Mulder’s views on God, which we haven’t really addressed since Season 3’s “Revelations.” Here, Mulder seems to equate God, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, with aliens. The interesting thing about this is how much Mulder seems to be trying to justify his search for aliens as something impersonal, when we know as well as Scully does that it’s not. Because of “Demons” just before this episode, we know how truly, deeply personal it really is.
You’re going to be seeing that word a lot in the next few reviews – personal. Personal is a scary, scary thing, especially for Mulder and Scully. Even leaving out the most personal thing they both have (their relationship), Mulder’s connection to aliens isn’t so much about scientific revelations or great truths. It’s the manifestation of his personal pain and suffering. It’s the reason he searches for the truth, but it’s also the reason he suffers.
Now, imagine if something you’ve suffered and worked for years to prove is suddenly disproven. Wouldn’t you go a little crazy?
I don’t want to make it sound like Michael Kritschgau is the most convincing character ever, because I sure as hell wasn’t convinced by him, and I’m not so sure Mulder was, either. But everyone has their breaking point, and Mulder’s had enough. He’s had enough and he’s heard enough. He’s been on this merry-go-round of lies, deception, and suffering too many times to handle, and something in him just breaks.
And then, of course, there’s the final straw: Scully is dying. If there’s one thing that matters to Mulder more than his ongoing quest for the truth, it’s Scully, and his guilt over her condition is higher than ever. Add that to his already unstable mental state, and you’ve got to wonder if maybe Jose Chung wasn’t exaggerating when he called Mulder a “ticking time bomb of insanity.”
I’m exaggerating to make a point, of course, but to me Kritschgau isn’t convincing enough to warrant this spiritual crisis in Mulder. This is a gray cloud that’s been brewing in Mulder’s head for a long time. One wonders if Mulder would have even continued his investigations into the paranormal for very long if not for Scully. How long could he have gone on alone?
It’s at points like these I wonder if the Syndicate really knew what it was doing by pairing Scully with Mulder, or if they stumbled across a golden opportunity to destroy his life by accident. It’s hard to say which, especially since it’s clear the writers weren’t sure themselves. Did they really expect Scully to debunk Mulder’s theories, or did they realize she would be a beacon upon which Mulder would attach himself, a steady, guiding force that, if taken away, would reduce Mulder to a depressed, empty shell?
It’s hard to say, but I certainly don’t think the Syndicate could ever have predicted the bond between Mulder and Scully, how deep it would run. In a way, it doesn’t matter much, because, when it’s all said and done, it’s that bond – or the threat of it being broken – the series keeps returning to.
Nothing Michael Kritschgau says convinces Mulder that everything he’s believed in has been a lie. It’s Scully who does that. Once Scully tells Mulder that her disease was given to her because of him, that’s when he goes over the edge. That’s what he can’t handle.
Or, sort of. We’ll see in the next two episodes where this spiritual crisis goes. But, as we bid farewell to Season 4, know this: sh*t’s definitely getting real.
Final score for “Gethsemane” is 9/10. It’s a fantastic Season closer. Even the technical stuff, which I didn’t really talk about, goes above and beyond. The music, cinematography, acting – it’s all great. It’s exciting and suspenseful, and that cliffhanger. THAT. CLIFFHANGER. It must have been hell to wait for Season 5.
Notable Nuggets (and Nitpicks)
- So, let’s get this straight. Michael Kritschgau knows Scully has cancer, yet he still tosses her around like a ragdoll? What an asshole.
- Scully is probably the best liar in the world. Dying of cancer and able to put on a performance like that. Kudos.
- The score for this episode is so epic. Also the cinematography is beautiful.
- Poor crying puppy dog Mulder.
- Everyone take your hats off to Season 4 – it’s been a fun ride. Season 5, here we come!