Season 4, Episode 23
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: R.W. Goodwin
The X-Files‘ “Demons” are the metaphorical kind – the kind of demons that constantly plague Fox Mulder, thanks to the childhood abduction of his sister, Samantha. This storyline is a strong tenant of the overall X-Files mythology, and the writers continue to tease us every so often with tiny advancements. Advancements is a strong word. Imagine a child’s plastic tub boat sitting in the ocean. Now, imagine The X-Files writers are trying to push that boat across the ocean using only their breath. That’s how it feels to follow an X-Files mythology episode. “Demons” isn’t much different.
The episode begins with Mulder waking from a psychedelic dream sequence in which he and his sister, Samantha, watching their parents argue downstairs. After awakening from the dream, a weary Mulder discovers he’s covered with blood. He calls Scully who finds him sick and missing memories from the past two days. Mulder is also in possession of a set of keys that belong to a missing couple who are later found dead in a house near his parents’ Rhode Island summer home. When the police investigate the deaths, Mulder is questioned and arrested because his standard-issue white starch shirt is stained with two types of blood belonging to the dead couple. At the police station, a police officer shoots himself, and Scully finds that both he and the dead couple have similar scars on their forehead. Scully also determines it is unlikely Mulder killed the couple
Because Mulder still has no memory of the missing two days, he and Scully pay a visit to a psychiatrist who was treating the dead woman with a radical memory recapturing treatment. Basically, the dead woman claims to have been abducted by aliens and entered into therapy to fully remember the experience. The treatment, however, causes unnatural behavior thanks to the hallucinations caused by the medication. Mulder continues to try and find his missing memories, visiting his mother and demanding to know her relationship with the Smoking Man and whether or not his father was really his father. That confrontation, of course, angers his mother, and she refuses to answer any of his questions. In the end, Mulder undergoes the controversial memory therapy just as Scully and other agents barge in to arrest the psychiatrist. Mulder eventually comes down, unable to fully recall the events of his childhood.
The cinematography and film exposure techniques used to dramatize Mulder’s memories are far and away the best aspects of “Demons.” Otherwise, they’re relying on the same old bait-and-switch techniques they’ve used in recent episodes where the first plot (in this case, the mysterious deaths and Mulder’s involvement with them) are but window dressing to the actual story (in this case, Mulder’s attempts to remember what happened to his sister). It’s a fair technique to throw people off the trail, but I personally find it extremely annoying. Particularly since The X-Files writers aren’t really very good at setting up the throw-away plots. They’re rapidly conceived, thinly developed, and ultimately an incredible waste of time.
As for the connection between Mulder’s mother and the Smoking Man, I in no way believe that a) she was having an affair with him or b) Mulder is his son. I don’t believe the Smoking Man would engage with people on an emotional or sexual level. He’s a one-man killing machine, dedicating his life to the government and deeply woven conspiracies. That’s what the “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” episode taught us – he has nothing except his conspiracies and his writing. He has no interpersonal relationships on which to fall back.
“Demons” is a disappointing episode because it’s all about the tease from the title to the bait-and-switch storytelling. As we begin to but the forth season to bed, it’s time they started advancing the series in meaningful ways.