X-Files Flashback: ‘Terms of Endearment’

Terms of Endearment

Season 6, Episode 7
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: David Amann

It’s kind of amazing it took so long for The X-Files to incorporate the great cult actor Bruce Campbell into the series, here in “Terms of Endearment.” Coincidentally, I’ve often wondered what the series would have become had Campbell been cast as Fox Mulder instead of David Duchovny. Chances are, it wouldn’t have worked well as most of Campbell’s line readings would have come through with his sardonic wit, undercutting the moments that required the significant sincerity Duchovny’s deadpan style delivers. As cool as it would have been, ultimately I’m afraid that Campbell’s past success in The Evil Dead franchise would have created too much baggage for him to successfully disappear into the role of Fox Mulder. Instead, we’re given just this one appearance in the series as Wayne Weinsider, an actual demon masquerading as a human being in search of a normal offspring. Campbell’s fun performance is definitely the highlight of what is ultimately a decent, if forgettable, episode.

Using the title “Terms of Endearment” cannot help but conjure allusions to the Oscar-winning 1983 film of the same name, yet the connection appears only surface deep. The themes of the story bear no resemblance to that family melodrama. The episode begins with Wayne (Campbell) and his wife Laura (Lisa Jane Persky) attending a late-term ultrasound of their baby. The ultrasound reveals abnormalities with the fetus, much to the distress and disappointment of Wayne. Later that night, Laura awakens to find a demon at the foot of her bed with burning flames illuminating him. The demon pulls Laura to the foot of the bed and delivers a demonic baby. Laura screams and is awakened by Wayne, the experience appearing to be nothing but a dream until they realize she is covered in blood and the baby is one from her stomach. Laura’s brother, a deputy sheriff, takes the case directly to Agent Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) who now runs the X-Files unit at the FBI. Spender agrees to investigate but shreds the report.

Having dug through Spender’s garbage, Mulder finds the shredded report and begins to investigate himself. The investigation uncovers the body of her aborted baby in a backyard furnace, and Wayne convinces his wife that she aborted the baby herself in a trace. Laura takes full responsibility and is arrested for the illegal abortion of a late-term fetus. Balancing between Laura and Betsy Monroe (another pregnant wife of his), Wayne visits Laura in prison where she uncovers evidence that he is indeed a demon. Wayne sucks out her soul, but she is revived by EMT and is sent to the hospital in a coma. Mulder digs deeply enough to uncover Wayne’s true demonic nature and begins to torment him. When Wayne discovers that his baby with Betsy is similarly afflicted with demonic traits, he attempts to abort that baby using the same mechanisms as with Laura. However, Betsy wakes up and stops him, later fleeing the scene and running into Mulder and Scully covered in blood.

In the end, Mulder and Scully arrives at Betsy’s house and find Wayne digging frantically in the backyard. He begins to reveal a secret about Betsy but is shot three times in the chest by Laura’s brother. Before dying in the hospital, Wayne returns a soul to Laura, effectively saving her life. Mulder and Scully discover the skeletons of four normal babies in Betsy’s backyard, and it is apparent that Betsy, herself a demon, had killed normal children because she was only interested in having a demonic baby. She drives away in the closing scene with a demonic baby in a car seat.

“Terms of Endearment” is one of those “fun” throwaway episodes that unfortunately relies on real-life human trauma for kicks. Yes, it’s an entertainment for sure – the writing is light and breezy, the performance by Campbell is campy and engaging, and the twist at the end is amusing enough. Yet, there’s something unsettling about the casual murder of babies (demonic or otherwise) that I suspect has impacted the critical and popular reception of the episode. It’s not unique to “Terms,” but somehow, here, it feels increasingly disturbing beyond a campy good time episode of The X-Files. Again, it’s not something they haven’t done before (all those alien fetuses killed over six years), but the trauma of losing a child at the end of a long pregnancy isn’t something that I personally feel belongs in a supernatural thriller. Perhaps that’s just my hang-up.

Otherwise,”Terms of Endearment” is a fine episode if you’re able to push the abortion baggage aside. Campbell’s performance dominates the proceedings, and he never over-camps the role of the demon trying to go straight. Additionally, I enjoyed the twist at the end, only because it explained what was shaping up to be The Most Understanding Wife in Television History. Thankfully, there were two examples of expectant mothers on display in the episode. Otherwise, we could have tip-toed into the “women are secretly baby-hungry demons who just want men’s seed” territory. That’s not a place I think anyone wants to go.

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