X-Files Flashback: ‘Per Manum’

Season 8, Episode 13
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz

Pregnant women need not watch “Per Manum.”

The X-Files has long used pregnancy and the natural fears associated with pregnancy to drive multiple storylines within the series. It’s not unusual that sci-fi / horror pieces of entertainment call back to life’s most basic event as it is something nearly everyone can relate to with a collective, innate sense of fear or dread. Rosemary’s Baby may not be the archetype, but it’s certainly the most famous example of in what The X-Files dabbles, “Per Manum” only the latest example. The episode is a decent outing, giving Gillian Anderson enough material to further shape Scully’s character – even if we ultimately learn little new by episode’s end.

The episode begins with a pregnant woman, Kathy McCready, having difficulty with her vaginal childbirth. Her husband, Duffy Haskell, remains by her side until the doctor decides to perform a routine c-section. As Duffy leaves the room, the medical team performs the operation, and, just before she loses consciousness, Kathy sees that her child is actually an alien fetus. Duffy later approaches Scully and Doggett, claiming that his multiple alien-abductee wife is now dead, pointing the agents to Zeus Genetics. As the episode presents random flashbacks to illustrate how Scully became pregnant (guest star David Duchovny reprising Mulder in flashback only to reveal he provided sperm for her in vitro fertilization), Scully investigates Zeus Genetics and finds another woman in a similar state of fear and paranoia – Mary Hendershot.

Over the course of the episode, the audience becomes more and more aware that Scully is being toyed with by a (mostly male) physician conspiracy to ease her fears. Her obstetrician is seen at Zeus Genetics performing an autopsy on an alien baby. Her “normal” ultrasound is suspected to have been a videotape replayed from another woman. Duffy Haskell is revealed to be not what he seems (although, to be honest, it’s never really clear exactly what he is). In the end, Scully and Mary Hendershot – having gone to an army research hospital to have Mary’s pregnancy induced – are whisked away by Knowle Rohrer (Adam Baldwin – of no relation to the Baldwin acting dynasty). Scully is sedated to “save her from herself” as Hendershot gives birth to what sounds like an alien baby. When Scully wakes up, Doggett is there with her to reassure her that Hendershot delivered a normal baby, although Scully believes the baby to have been switched.

“Per Manum” is really Gillian Anderson show, and she does an amazing job with the given material. If I have any reservations about the episode, then it’s more with the material than with the filmmaking or with the performances. I’ll admit to being fully annoyed that, in the end, we learn very little about Scully’s pregnancy, other than it supposedly was initiated by Mulder’s sperm. I suppose that’s par for the course with The X-Files, but I’m tired of episodes that spend over half the running time illustrating the overall conspiracy only to have nothing come of it in the end. The conspiracy comes at the expense of Scully’s legitimacy as a character where, here, she is portrayed as an irrational, illogical, easy fooled, and potentially hormonal pregnant woman – a dangerous and ill-advised place for a television show to go.

Additionally, I’m very confused by the involvement of the Duffy Haskell character who is revealed to be in cahoots with the suspect genetics facility. If Scully’s obstetrician is already involved with them, then why alert Scully to any suspicious activity? Why tell her about the alien baby birth and potential murder of its mother? What is there to gain? Who does this man really work for? Why bring him into the picture at all? It’s not a convincing or logical turn of events, showing that The X-Files can still effectively play all the given notes even if the symphony feels like nonsensical noise.

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