Season 3, Episode 12
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Sara B. Charno
Memory can be a real bitch sometimes. The brain is a horrible, punishing creature – which houses what Amy Poehler refers to as “The Demon” – that forces many to focus only on the negative aspects of your persona. Often, the memories that stick with us are the memories of shameful things, events you would likely rescind if you could. Yet, they live on, forever, in our memories, popping up at the most inopportune times. Now, what if your memories were not your own? What if your memories were those of a serial killer?
That’s what The X-Files‘s “Aubrey” posits, and, thanks to some playful cinematography and some outstanding direction that truly understands what scares us, the episode is one of the better episodes I’ve seen on the show to date.
The episode revolves around Detective B.J. Morrow (Deborah Strang) who has gotten pregnant from an affair with Lt. Brian Tillman (Terry O’Quinn, Lost). On her way to meet him to discuss “next steps,” B.J. begins to have flashbacks that lead to her a field where she begins to dig up the skeletal remains of a long-dead FBI agent. Over the course of the episode, B.J. demonstrates intimate knowledge of past and present crimes, believing to have dreamed the events. Mulder and Scully eventually determine that local ex-con Harry Cokely, once arrested for raping another woman and carving “Sister” into her chest, is actually B.J.’s grandfather and surmise that his sense memories are genetically implanted in her, causing her to commit the current murders where each victim also has “Sister” carved into their chest. Seemingly possessed by genetic predisposition to murder, B.J. attacks her grandmother but is unable to go through with the murder. She then hunts down her grandfather – Cokely – and kills him before being apprehended by Mulder and Scully. B.J. is committed to a psychiatric ward where she is placed on a suicide watch after attempting to self-abort.
“Aubrey” is one of the tougher episodes of The X-Files to undertake. First, here we go again with rape as a plot device (particularly after being so prominently featured in “Excelsis Dei“). Then, it’s layered with a fear of pregnancy as the pregnancy is thought to have awakened B.J.’s genetically influenced murderous impulses. Fear of pregnancy is a standard horror trope, of course, and dates back to Alien and beyond. Still, the writers seem to have a penchant for using the female body to drive a lot of the terror in the series. Other than that, “Aubrey” is actually quiet terrifying with lots of night cinematography, faces seen in lightening, and the gory scrawling of names across chests. Accentuating the tension are the well handled flashback scenes which are often intercut with B.J.’s modern day actions. It’s not particularly difficult filmmaking, but it does take some skill. Director Rob Bowman worked extensively in the sci-fi and mystery genre, but here he shows a real flare for horror, something he never really explored extensively in his career.
His deft touch and the strong performances from Strang and O’Quinn highlight a quality episode that, while not really focusing all that much on Mulder and Scully, excels in what it set out to do originally – scare its audience with some PG-13 thrills.