X-Files Flashback: ‘Christmas Carol’

Season 5, Episode 6
Director: Peter Markle
Writer: Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz

The X-Files has hinted at Scully’s secret longing to have a child of her own for a few seasons now. Since her mysterious abduction, Dana Scully appeared to want to fill a gap left in her by the experience. The maternal instinct was touched on and perhaps parodied in the Season Four episode “Home,” and, after her cancer scare, the need for Scully to have a child, to carry on some sort of lasting legacy in her life, is stronger than ever. In “Christmas Carol,” her childless nature is refreshingly treated with respect and poignancy, rather than a comic or grotesque source of horror. As a result, the episode is not only a milestone for Gillian Anderson’s performance as Dana Scully but also a milestone for the power and necessity of female bonds from sister to sister and from mother to daughter.

“Christmas Carol” begins as Scully arrives with her mother for Christmas with her brother, Bill (Pat Skipper), who is expecting his first child with wife, Tara. Scully is happy for her brother but expresses a reserved, tentative happiness. She reveals to her mother that, as a result of her abduction, she can no longer conceive her own child, and the effect on Scully is significant. At the house, she receives a call from a mysterious woman bearing strong resemblance to her deceased sister, Melissa, instructing to her “help her.” Scully traces the call and arrives at a crime scene where a woman has apparently taken her own life in the bathtub some three hours before Scully received the phone call. She left behind a husband and daughter, Emily.

Having a constant nagging about the case, Scully presses the investigation further, beyond the boundaries of a standard suicide case. When rifling through the dead woman’s purse, she finds a picture of her daughter and takes it home to compare to a photo of her sister near the same age – the resemblance is uncanny. Scully continues to pursue the case, much to the annoyance of her brother Bill, and discovers that the woman had likely been murdered by secret injection through her foot of a strong sedative and a deep, persistent slicing of the wrists. Meanwhile, Scully arranges for blood tests of the little girl and finds that she matches Melissa’s DNA profile. After the child is taken into foster care, Scully tries to adopt her but will likely be turned down thanks to her high-stress job and lack-of-romantic status. In the end, a mysterious conspiracy begins to emerge as Emily’s adoptive father is visited in prison by two mysterious men and later hangs himself in his cell. On Christmas morning, Scully receives a deeper DNA analysis of Melissa and Emily’s blood, and the results are conclusive – Emily does not match the DNA profile of Melissa Scully. However, the resemblances were so striking that the lab ran a test against Scully’s DNA on file, resulting in a perfect match. Emily is genetically Scully’s daughter.

“Christmas Carol” doesn’t really have much in common with the Charles Dickens classic tale. Instead, the Christmas season reflected Scully’s deep, reborn religious connection to the world. There are dozens of instances of religious iconography that nearly suffocate the proceedings. What saves the episode is Gillian Anderson’s fantastically emotional, committed and (as of yet) unparalleled performance. We’ve never seen Anderson dig so deeply into Scully and elicit such an emotional, raw core within the character. Anderson’s work here is honest and true. She brings forward Scully’s personal issues over motherhood, her resentment of her sister in law, and her clinging to both science and faith to answer questions in her life. Anderson’s work here even tops that of “Never Again” and her Emmy-winning work in “Memento Mori.”

But perhaps best of all, the episode explores the deep relationship between the Scully women, often through flashbacks to different phases in their lives. Their relationships are strong, and The X-Files rarely spends time exploring connections between women. It is especially interesting when these bonds seem to have crossed into the supernatural realm and pushed Scully in the direction of helping the Sims women. The graceful direction and clear, unfussy writing harmonize with the material in a touching, emotional manner. Yes, this is one of a 2-part arc, but I personally feel that “Christmas Carol” stands on its own because it deepens the character of Dana Scully. I suspect the second part will trend toward the more traditional X-Files path, and that’s fine with me.

But I do appreciate the time spent growing Dana Scully and letting the audience see the damaged core of such a strong-willed woman. It’s an experience you’ll likely not forget.

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