Season 6, Episode 18
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Chris Carter (Story by John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz)
Ripping a heart from someone without visible incisions is something I only thought was done on ABC’s Once Upon a Time (back when I used to watch that. First season only, I swear.). But it looks like it’s been done before. In The X-Files‘s “Milagro,” someone has been stealing hearts from random victims, leaving plenty of blood behind but no scarring. Meanwhile, Scully’s heart is nearly stolen by a mysterious and extremely insightful writer (played by Oscar-nominee John Hawkes) who appears to have some connection to the killer. “Milagro” is one of those episodes where Chris Carter’s borderline self-indulgent (okay, maybe wholly self-indulgent) writing and philosophizing nearly overturn the proceedings. Yet, thanks to fantastic performances from Hawkes and Gillian Anderson, “Milagro” ultimately becomes an episode worth considering, even if it does start to feel like Red Hair Diaries after a scene or two.
The episode opens with Phillip Padgett (Hawkes) suffering from writer’s block. He paces the floor. He smokes a cigarette. He reaches into his chest and pulls out his own heart. Odd cure. Later, Padgett, who lives next door to Mulder, sees Scully in Mulder’s building. He cannot take his eyes off her, and Scully is clearly unnerved. She visits Mulder to share crime scene photos from an unexplained death – a victim’s heart was removed without significant evidence of surgery, leading Mulder to suspect psychic surgery. After similar crimes are committed, Scully receives an envelope containing a milagro, a pendant with a burning heart inscribed on it. As she examines the object, we see that Padgett’s writer’s block has been cured – he manically transcribes the event as he imagines it.
Later, Scully goes to a nearby church to view a religious painting that contains the same image of the burning heart. There, Padgett confronts her, giving one of those “I know everything about you” speeches reserved for passionate lovers or Hannibal Lecter. Unnerved, Scully leaves him but eventually knocks on his apartment door out of insatiable curiosity. Just as Padgett convinces her to sit on his bed, Mulder bursts in and arrests Padgett for the horrific murders – his evidence being the in-progress novel in which Padgett uncannily describes the detail of each crime… and of his infatuation with Scully. In the end, Mulder sets Padgett free to trap him, but Padgett has lost his inspiration, observing that Scully is actually in love with Mulder and will never love him. Padgett finishes his novel but attempts to burn it just as Mulder stops him. A hooded figure, the physical manifestation of Padgett’s murderer, previously seen at the various crime scenes suddenly appears and attempts to take Scully’s heart. When Padgett burns his novel, the man disappears, and Scully is safe. The episode closes with Padgett holding his own heart in his hand on the basement floor.
Set aside the philosophical and pseudo-religious mumbo jumbo that Carter and team have written, and you’re left with two fantastic performances that really drive the heart (pun intended) of the episode. Hawkes glides through the episode as if in a trance, a completely appropriate interpretation of the character who apparently lives only in his head. He expertly spouts the heavy-handed Carter dialogue as if he was born to do so. He even manages to make the character appear appealing to Scully even when Hawkes is not conventionally (actorly) attractive. Anderson also adopts a trance-like approach to her acting here. She’s under Padgett’s spell, intrigued and excited by him. If you start thinking that these actions are out of character for her, then I point back to Scully’s risky tryst with Ed Jerse back in “Never Again.” I mean, how long is a girl supposed to wait for a guy?
Overall, Hawkes and Anderson save “Milagro” from being pretentious junk as it slides ever-so-closely toward the path of Red Shoe Diaries with its imagined sexual relationship between Padgett and Scully coupled by the seedy (but excellent) musical score by Mark Snow which employs heartbeats as rhythms. Love it or hate it, “Milagro” is ultimately an effective character study of Scully’s unexpressed yearnings and of the writer who discovers how to fully express his feelings in ways he never thought possible.