Season 5, Episode 17
Director: Allen Coulter
Writer: Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban
Despite Dana Scully’s penchant for skepticism and reliance on scientific evidence in most (not all) X-Files cases, the episode “All Souls” paints an intriguing portrait of her. She is the woman trapped between science and faith, between facts and belief. And I’ll be damned if The X-Files doesn’t put her through the ringer for it.
“All Souls” begins with the baptism of a severely handicapped girl. Later that night during a thunderstorm, the girl impossibly leaves the house and staggers down the street, approaching a man standing nearby in the driving rain. She falls to her knees, hands outstretched in a sign of prayer. When her father finds her, she is dead, eyes smoking as if she’d been struck by lightening. The other man was nowhere to be found. The event becomes the catalyst for an exploration of Scully’s faith and the darkest lingering questions she harbors after the death of her daughter Emily. Her pastor asks her to look into the case, and she reaches out to Mulder for information on Emily’s biological parents as she was adopted. Through the investigation, it is revealed that the girl was one in a set of quadruplets. The crux of the episode then becomes the race to find the girls before similar deaths can occur.
In the end, it is inferred that the man seen taking the lives of the young girls is a seraphim, an angel with four faces, who journeyed to Earth and impregnated a woman. According to religious text not included in the Bible, these four girls were born deformed as they “were not meant to be.” It is assumed by Scully that the now dead three sisters bear some resemblance to the religious text, particularly since she believes she witnessed the seraphim approach her. In the end, she is able to find the fourth girl and must save her from a man who may or may not be the Devil (his shadow reveals horns). In a touching scene where Scully tries to restrict the fourth girl from approaching the seraphim who is attempting to save her soul, Scully visualizes Emily holding her hand and begging to be let go. Scully obliges, and Emily/the fourth sister walks toward the light of the seraphim and dies. Grief-stricken and feeling responsible for their deaths, Scully confesses her sins to a Catholic priest who, in the end, tells her that she may have actually done her job, and their souls are now where they are meant to be.
The filmmaking behind “All Souls” places it squarely in the company of the lesser-known Demi Moore religious epic The Seventh Sign in which a religious-themed story is juxtaposed against Exorcist-level scares. Anything that brings to mind The Seventh Sign is not a good thing. It’s not Gillian Anderson’s fault at all. She very convincingly takes us on a journey with Scully – a journey about her faith, her skepticism, her guilt, and her longing for absolution from her involvement in children’s deaths. Scully balances between faith and science frequently, and the dichotomy has never been more severe than it is here in “All Souls.” Yet, the episode undercuts Anderson’s natural instinct to heighten the internal drama of the religious confusion by making literal the religious allegories. There is no doubt within the episode that Scully is right to believe, that there is a God and a Devil and angels and all of that.
Let me be more clear.
I’m not faulting the episode for taking a side on the existence of events and legends outlined in the Bible and other religious text. What I do fault the episode for is making these stories so incredibly literal and easily identified as to undo any tension arising from the internal struggle within Scully. It would have been far more interesting to engage in the story with an absence of certainty rather than blatantly certain storytelling. The X-Files does this alot, actually. Particularly with Mulder and his shaken faith regarding the existence of aliens. And that’s fine except they love to show actual UFOs. And aliens. Abundantly. We’re never not aware that Mulder is mistaken in his shaken faith much like Scully and Mulder are here. The audience is omniscient in this case, and it significantly reduces the pleasure of dramatic tension. Ultimately, it becomes the most tiresome Sunday sermon you’ve heard a thousand times – you know exactly how it’s going to end without even listening.