X-Files Flashback: ‘Never Again’

Season 4, Episode 13
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong

I suspect finding out you have cancer is a life-altering experience. Granted, I have never been in the position, but I have known those who have suffered from the disease. Having received an unofficial diagnosis last episode, Scully doesn’t mention her fears within “Never Again,” but the specter of illness hangs over her throughout the episode. It suffocates her, causing her to start to reject the trappings of her life she once found comfortable. As I’ve found over the course of four seasons, the best X-Files episodes manage to push aside the supernatural, relegate it to the background, and focus on deeper character development. “Never Again” is one of those episodes.

The prologue takes Ed Jerse (Rodney Rowland) through a divorce and straight into a seedy bar. Drunk and miserable, Ed wanders into a tattoo parlor where he has a pinup tattooed on his arm with the phrase “Never Again” written under her. Soon, Ed is taunted by a female voice (Jodie Foster) who consistently berates him and pits him against women out of jealousy. Ed eventually kills him neighbor beneath him, thinking she was talking about him when it was really the voice in his head. Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully are slightly at odds with Scully starting to feel like Mulder’s second hand rather than his partner – she doesn’t even have her own desk in the basement. After Mulder requests that she stake out someone in Philadelphia, Scully reluctantly agrees, embittered by her life falling second to the job.

While on stakeout, Scully follows her target into the same seedy tattoo parlor that Ed earlier visited, and she sees Ed begging to have his tattoo removed. They “meet cute,” and Ed gives her his number. After an argument with Mulder, Scully decides to take Ed up on his offer, and they settle on returning to the same dive bar from the prologue. After a deep discussing in which Scully discusses her affinity for strong men (thanks to her father), Ed convinces Scully to get a tattoo, and she obliges. Scully spends the night at his apartment, and, the next morning, Ed goes out to get breakfast. While he’s out, Scully is visited by two officers who tell her Ed’s neighbor is missing, and they have uncovered a blood type that did not match her. The blood sample also included something that, after analysis, proved to come from the same rare ink the tattoo artist used to achieve his brilliant colors. This substance could have caused Ed’s hallucinations. After discovering Scully was an FBI agent, Ed attacks her and nearly burns her in the basement. Overpowering the voice, Ed thrusts his arm into the incinerator. Scully then returns to DC where Mulder questions her, thinking he’d made her made by not giving her a desk. Scully responds simply with “not everything is about you Mulder,” leaving the typically loquacious Mulder speechless.

The brilliance of “Never Again” is within the completely different mood and tone established by the erotic adventures of Dana Scully. This is a tour-de-force performance from Gillian Anderson, giving us a darker side to Scully that we have yet to see. This side of Scully is the cancer diagnosis changing her, giving her a different, fragile perspective on her life. Practically in shock, she sinks into actions and relationships that she normally would never follow. It also gives her a moment of introspection where she admits her attraction to strong, take-charge men, namely Mulder and her father. What’s interesting about this is the fact that “Leonard Betts” and “Never Again” were actually filmed in reverse order from which they aired, meaning “Never Again” was filmed first, meaning that Anderson didn’t know Scully had cancer when she filmed the episode. Yet, Anderson’s performance here feels incredibly influenced by the earlier cancer revelation. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was luck.

Whatever it is, it works in spades. Excellent work.

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