Season 4, Episode 5
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong
The romantic notion of past lives has been explored many times in both film and television, and The X-Files episode “The Field Where I Died” doesn’t add anything to the overall representations of past lives. What it does do, however, is tell a past life story in a compelling and highly emotional manner, something The X-Files typically doesn’t offer, with some tremendous acting on display.
The episode begins randomly with Mulder standing in a beautiful field, holding two old photographs. The context is unknown, and, honestly, Mulder’s voice-over isn’t really helping anything either. Anticipating some activity, the audience is surprised (at least this one was) when the scene cuts immediately to the opening intro with no hints at shock or horror. The action then shifts to an FBI crack down on a Jonestown-like cult community who is suspected of possessing massive quantities of arms. All members are arrested, including the cult leader Ephesian (Michael Massee) and his selected brides which includes Melissa (Kristen Cloke). Unable to find any evidence of illegal activity, the FBI is on the hook for providing evidence that will justify Ephesian’s imprisonment. If he is released, there is evidence that he will lead his cult into mass suicide.
And then the story pivots in an entirely unexpected way. The FBI had received a tip from a mysterious “Sidney” when no person by that name could be found. After questioning Melissa directly, Mulder and Scully witness her devolve into her “Sidney” persona – either a multiple personality issue or a past life breaking through to the present. Melissa actually displays multiple personalities, one of which is a woman from the Civil War era. Under hypnosis, Melissa lapses fully into the Civil War persona of Sarah who claims to have known Mulder in a previous life. Intrigued/plagued by the revelation, Mulder undergoes hypnosis, revealing the potential past life in which he was a woman with a child possessing the soul of Samantha, his missing present-day sister, as well as a Civil War-era man named Sullivan Biddle in love with Melissa’s Sarah. After grieving through the exposure, Mulder is awakened without the critical information, and the cult members are released. The end brings the dreaded mass suicide, including Melissa, that the FBI was unable to avoid. Mulder closes the episode in the same scene that opened it – in a beautiful field at sunset, clutching two pictures from the past.
Structurally, “The Field Where I Died” pulls a neat trick by ending/beginning the episode in the same location, echoing the theme of circular/past lives featured prominently within the episode. Additionally, it kicks things off with the cult story, making the viewers anticipate supernatural elements around the figure of the cult leader, before it completely pivots into the past lives regression plot. The star of the episode has to be Kristen Cloke’s magnificent performance as Melissa, not only given the trick of rendering the multiple personalities but also in conveying a broken, damaged woman taken in by the cult. The actress would continue into science-fiction works, but she never achieved the level of credibility warranted by her performance here in The X-Files. David Duchovny’s emotional performance as the tortured Mulder has received some level of criticism, but I think he works well here given the nature of the plot. Duchovny was never a natural actor, but, here, he stretches pretty much beyond what I suspect he’s capable of as an actor and acquits himself well in the role.
“The Field Where I Died” isn’t an outstanding episode, but it is different enough from the usual supernatural stories to warrant a recommendation, largely due to Cloke’s tremendous performance (which, oddly enough, reminded me of Ruth Wilson’s work in The Affair). Personally, I applaud The X-Files taking a risk and moving forward with such a heavily emotional story line. The risk, in my assessment, was well worth the reward of exploring the romantic notion of past lives.