Season 1, Episode 18
Director: Michael Lange
Writer: Chris Carter, Howard Gordon
It was only a matter of time until The X-Files specifically dipped into religion for one of their supernatural-tinged stories. “Miracle Man” plays with the concept of faith in both obvious and and yet extremely fascinating ways. As a result, it is unexpectedly one of my personal favorites of the first season thus far.
The episode begins with a flashback to 1983 where a high intensity fire has killed at least one man. Enter a preacher and his little boy to come and lay the healing hands on the corpse. After their religious zeal is exercised, the hand protruding from the body bag begins to twitch and grasps the young boy. Unfortunately, the hand and the body connected to it are horribly burned beyond recognition. Hold that one in your memory banks, folks.
Flashforward to modern day where the boy, Samuel (Scott Bairstow, Party of Five), continues to perform acts of healing to the faithful. He is accompanied by the preacher, Reverend Hartley, and the now-disfigured man Samuel brought back to life years ago, Leonard Vance. Unfortunately, Samuel’s acts of faith have taken a dark turn as many of the sick he attempted to heal have died, and Mulder and Scully have been called in to assist with the murder investigation. Samuel believes God is punishing him for having, as Samuel says, the water of his faith muddied. Both Mulder and Scully are skeptical until Samuel begins to reveal personal details about Mulder’s missing sister, which obviously shakes Mulder to the core. As the episode progresses, another person becomes the victim of their faith, and Samuel is arrested again. This time, local toughs are allowed into his cell, and they beat him to death (cue image of Samuel hanging on the bars of his cell like Jesus on the cross).
My least favorite aspect of ‘Miracle Man’ is the fact that the mystery isn’t really all that mysterious. Reverend Hartley’s right-hand man, Leonard, clearly had a hand in the death of those Samuel attempted to heal. And sure enough, after Samuel’s spirit visits Leonard, he poisons himself with the arsenic he used to commit the crimes. Turns out, he didn’t really want to be brought back to life as burned toast and wanted to discredit Samuel without actually causing him physical harm. The episode closes as Samuel’s body has mysteriously gone missing from the morgue – not taken out, mind you, but walked out on its own, further solidifying the Samuel/Jesus connection.
Let me be the first to admit that I find the concept of tent revivals and healers to be completely fascinating. I’m not a religious person, but the fanaticism associated with the event and the Southern culture inherent within me breed this obsession. Many of the crowd shots used in the tent scene feel real, populated with persons of faith caught up in the spirit of the moment. It lends incredible authenticity to the proceedings. Additionally, this episode of The X-Files is one of the more interestingly filmed episodes thus far. The light play with shadows and amber colors are prevalent throughout, and it’s hard not to find a gorgeously captured moment. But finally, the themes of faith flowing through the episode are interestingly conveyed. Sure, there is the immediate skepticism of faith healing, but The X-Files asks you to believe in that as much as you would an alien or a liver-eating serial killer. Scully’s viewpoint becomes critical here as the deaths are indeed based in fact. Someone poisoned the faithful, and she uses science to determine the truth. Mulder, on the other hand, becomes swept up in the Samuel legacy, particularly when he begins to see a persistent representation of his missing sister.
The X-Files always seems to want to have it both ways – believe in our core mythology but trust science to work out the details. As difficult an assertion that may be to fathom, “Miracle Man” carries that forward perfectly. It wants the audience to have faith in the unexplained but also understand the hard facts when proving a seemingly supernatural case is caused by science fact. It’s an interesting dichotomy, and one that the series has always carried off extremely well. “Miracle Man” is, perhaps, the best example of that dichotomy yet.
That and who doesn’t love a courtroom scene overrun with locusts?