X-Files Flashback: ‘Providence’

Season 9, Episode 10
Director: Chris Carter
Writer: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz

I don’t even really know how to react to “Providence,” to be honest. Part of me respects the filmmaking and realizes, for a series in the wane, it’s really not an underperforming episode. Part of me is so completely sick of the series and its repetitious mythology that I couldn’t stand another second of it. Look at it this way. Suppose you love milkshakes. Milkshakes of all flavors. Some milkshakes taste better than others, but you still enjoy them overall. Now imagine having to drink 201 of them. Imagine the bloating, the weight, the incredibly full feeling that won’t go away. Imagine you never want to see a milkshake again. This scenario is how it feels to be on the tail end of the 201 Days of The X-Files. And, through all of the fatigue, “Providence” feels like the richest milkshake you could possibly imagine when all you really want is a glass of water.

“Providence” opens in flashback during the Persian Gulf War with future alien cult lead Josepho (you know: Madonna! Cher! Josepho!) in a dogfight. As many of his patrol die around him, four strange men arrive and nearly singlehandedly wipe out the enemy. Josepho! thinks they’re angels, but they’re really super soldiers. Later, in the present, Josepho! stands on top of the fully unveiled UFO covered with the infamous inscriptions that potentially shaped humanity. In DC, the FBI assembles, led by Follmer (Cary Elwes), on a mission to find Scully’s kidnapped baby while Doggett is comatose. With the help of the Lone Gunmen, Scully starts tracking William’s abductor but misses her by a few minutes. William was taken to the UFO site to be fawned over by the cultists as the UFO shows early signs of life.

Scully takes the UFO fragment to Agent Comer who wakes up and tells Scully why the cult kidnapped William. They believe God exists inside the spacecraft. They also believe that, if Mulder lives, then William will save humanity from the pending alien colonization. If Mulder is dead, then William will lead the colonists to overtake the Earth. The cultists supposedly killed Mulder (don’t bet on it) and are holding William to prepare him for his role as the Antichrist, alien style. Comer dies under mysterious circumstances, and Josepho! asks Scully to meet him. When she agrees, Josepho! tells Scully that he wants proof of Mulder’s death. He actually says the phrase, “Bring me the head of Fox Mulder.”

Scully and the Lone Gunmen wire Josepho!’s truck and follow him to the UFO dig site. As they arrive, William begins to cry as the UFO fully activates. When a beam of light shoots from the dome of the craft, the cultists are burned to a crisp with only William left unscathed. The UFO then flies away. Back in the FBI headquarters, Follmer asks Deputy Director Kersh to strike his name from the report, but Kersh isn’t having it. Finally, Kersh reports to a man, known in circles as the Toothpick Man, that has appeared randomly through the two episode arc. The Toothpick Man is revealed to be… you guessed it. Another super soldier.

My frustration with this season centers around the frustratingly broad themes Carter stuffs into his scripts, particularly the mythology scripts. “Providence” contains many randomly placed Biblical allusions seemingly for shits and giggles. He gives us Biblical dialogue. He gives us people reconnecting with prayer. He gives us characters struggling with faith. He gives us Biblical situations writ large as X-Files mythology conspiracies. And it all operates on a thematic level. That’s fine, of course, but the subtext has taken over the episode. The religious overtones have become the only tone, leaving a straightforward plot to try and support it. None of it truly works. By the end of the episode, Scully recovers William and little else. The super soldiers continue to infiltrate every aspect of government. Aliens come and go. All of it meaningless. All of it pointless.

If you try and think about it from a macro level, then it all falls apart. Why weren’t the super soldiers ever present during the original alien mythology if they’re now so critical to the central plot? To me, that seems like an inexcusable story flaw. Clearly, Carter should not have tried to revisit a tangent of the alien mythology as it falls apart under scrutiny. None of it works with what came before, I would argue. But perhaps it all magically works in the end since Carter so cleverly saved the original alien mythology.

But that brings another episode of The X-Files, another milkshake I don’t have room for. Another milkshake I really don’t want.

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