X-Files Flashback: ‘Excelsis Dei’

Excelsis Dei

Season 2, Episode 11
Director: Stephen Surjik
Writer: Paul Brown

“Excelsis Dei,” the eleventh episode of The X-Files Season Two, begins well enough. An uptight nurse in a nursing home begins to remake the room of a patient who had recently died when paranormal events begin to take place. The door slams shut, the bed slides across the floor, and the nurse is strapped to the bed, screaming. Later, it is reported to Mulder and Scully – thanks to similarities to other cases within the X-files – that the nurse has all symptoms and physical characteristics of a rape – rape by a ghost.

So, I was on board with the episode until the development of the rape, a nasty and unnecessary plot devise in which the hard-as-nails nurse (originally a lesbian until the creative team chickened out/came to their senses) is punished for her professional demeanor. The unease continues when the elderly patients effectively justify their sexual harassment of her as “harmless.” I fully realize the episode originally aired not long after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, so it was firmly in the mindset of the era at the time. However, time has not been kind to this line of thinking, so watching it through the prism of a 2015 mindset is difficult. This is but one of the problems that eventually drags the otherwise fairly successful episode down in the end.

Mulder and Scully arrive at Excelsis Dei and find extraordinarily functional Alzheimer’s patients populating the facility. They continue the investigation of the nurse’s claims (her female superior’s complete disregard of the event is particularly disconcerting) and ultimately witness the death of multiple orderlies at the hands of angry ghosts. We know ghosts are behind the events because one of the patients can see them, just as they are beginning to ogle Scully. By the end of the episode, Mulder has discovered a collection of home-grown mushrooms in the basement of the building that are fed by an orderly’s dead body. Later, the ghosts again attack the nurse and lock Mulder in a bathroom with her in an attempt to drown them both. The events are somehow linked to the secret medications the patients are ingesting, and, once they stop taking the meds, the ghosts disappear with the case remaining unsolved while the patients return to their states of dementia.

That was my understanding by just watching “Excelsis Dei,” which is admittedly efficiently directed from strictly the haunted house perspective but muddles the resolution. Wikipedia told me this:

As Mulder and Scully investigate, they discover a Malaysian orderly is illicitly giving the patients an herbal drug made of mushrooms he cultures in the building’s basement. The drug cures their Alzheimer’s, but also allows them to see the spirits of people who have died in the nursing home and channel them into existence. In this state, the spirits assault and murder the orderlies that have looked down on them and treated them poorly while they were patients. When a patient overdoses on the drug, the spirits once again attack Charters, trapping her and Mulder in the bathroom, which begins flooding.

As Scully and the home’s head doctor manage to stop the patient’s seizures, the spirits disappear and the bathroom door gives way, freeing Mulder and Charters.

To determine that resolution based on the events conveyed in “Excelsis Dei” is the textbook definition of a stretch. The direction here at the hands of a one-time X-Files director (Stephen Surjik) is again efficient enough in the traditional haunted house genre, but it doesn’t dig far enough into fully exploring and clearly conveying the connection between the connection between the mushrooms and their apparent invocation of the spirits. I consider myself an intelligent person, and I didn’t follow that logic at all. Plus, the extraneous rape storyline takes the episode from a goofy, Cocoon-influenced affair to something with a seedy, tasteless underbelly.

Still, it did make me want to go back and watch that old “Kick the Can” episode of that Twilight Zone movie.

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