"Terms of Endearment"
Written by David Amann
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Mulder investigates an attack on a pregnant woman and begins to believe that the father of the child is the devil in disguise...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
At the end of the fifth season, story editor Tim Minear (mostly known for his later work with Joss Whedon) moved on, having kept watch over one of the more consistent seasons of the series. While the overall season arc didn’t work as well as the one constructed for the fourth season, the stories themselves were more consistent. (Mulder’s character arc is the exception that proves the rule.)
For the sixth season, David Amann took over the reins, and there was a distinct difference in the quality of storytelling. One cannot and should not place all of the blame on Amann’s shoulders, because the tone of the season was mandated by Chris Carter for the post-“Fight the Future” leg of the franchise. For that matter, Duchovny and Anderson had certain desires for the direction of the sixth season. It all adds up to a less consistent, more iconic approach to each and every episode.
Amann’s role is mentioned because, in general, story editors make mediocre writers. This is a bit of a gross generalization, but as an example, Minear’s episodes were hardly the highlights of the fifth season. Similarly, on “Babylon 5”, Larry DiTillio was the story editor for the first two seasons, yet his episodes were typically the least effective and least consistent. It could be a question of opposing demands.
In this case, the writers rallied around a story that focused on Mulder working more or less on his own, yet having very little to do with the resolution of the episode itself. In fact, the story doesn’t resolve so much as come to an end. While this is not always a problem, it gets a little tiresome. The earlier seasons were all about the dynamic between Mulder and Scully, struggling to resolve certain events and situations within their opposing perspectives. This episode, like many in the latter seasons, focuses on one character at the expenses of the other, while missing key elements of the character in the process.
Mulder is a complex individual with a deeply wounded psychology. The fact that he is an expert on criminal profiling is therefore a neat irony; he can understand the most extreme and dangerous intellects, but his own psychological issues are often left unnoticed by that same keen mind. Mulder yearns for someone to understand and validate his ideas, yet he gains focus and drive from the persecution he invites. He has an apparent “photographic memory”, but he conveniently forgets information on a regular basis, especially when he cannot deal with the implications. This has left him vulnerable to those willing and able to use his own weaknesses against him.
Past writers have made the mistake of taking his near-perfect memory and insight and transforming them into a near-psychic ability to leap towards the correct paranormal explanation for the incident at hand. More correctly, as described in earlier seasons, his abilities would hew closer to those of Frank Black on “Millennium”. (To further complicate the issue, Mulder does have latent psychic abilities, which has been inconsistently applied over the course of the series.)
That same mistake is made in this episode, but in far more egregious fashion. In keeping with the more “iconic” version of the character at play in the sixth season, Mulder’s past is ignored in favor of something far less complicated. Thus Mulder claims not to be a psychologist when he is most definitely an expert on the subject (complete with degrees!), and his conclusions are the result of logical leaps instead of analysis of data and study of suspects.
The Mulder of this episode is not the same Mulder of “Grotesque”, to be sure. Mulder is cast instead as someone who can divine the supernatural underpinnings of a situation in seconds. It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense for him to rummage through Spender’s trash without being noticed. It doesn’t matter that his activities would be under strict observation, especially after crossing Kersh too often in the past few months. All that matters is that Mulder come across as the archetypical rebel, pursuing truth, consequences be damned.
That is a part of Mulder’s personality, but it could have been explained and explored in more detail and in a manner more consistent with the complexity of the character in mind. Instead, more time was spent on the spurious psychology of Wayne, the demon in search of a human child. In that case, the writers also fail to go far enough. Wayne becomes something of a sympathetic character, but beyond the superficial explanation of what he wanted, there’s no sense of the why. And since this is a stand-alone story, that explanation is never to come.
This episode owes more to the anthology-esque format that Chris Carter was always looking for, without the balance between natural and supernatural that was at the heart of the series earlier in the run. There is no attempt at a scientific explanation for the events of this episode, and that presents a problem for the series mythology as a whole. How do demonic creatures like Wayne and Betsy fit into the mix?
Thankfully, the way that Wayne and Betsy are portrayed is not entirely inconsistent with the mythology itself. After all, if most of the oddities of the X-Files universe can be attributed to the genetic abnormalities present within the human genome itself, then why not a rare sub-species of “demons” like Wayne and Betsy. That could explain why Wayne is obsessed with normality; he wants a normal child, because he was born different. Betsy, on the other hand, wants to continue her subspecies.
In this interpretation, it doesn’t matter if Wayne is normally human with the ability to project the image of a demonic figure and flames into the minds of his victims. That telepathic connection is inherent to the series’ mythology. Similarly, Betsy and her child would likely be able to adapt for life among the humans. Wayne’s ability to “steal souls” could be linked to that ability, a process of stealing away energy.
All of which is easy enough to work out within the purview of the existing X-Files cases, making it odd that Scully never offered any type of explanation along these lines. Scully has come to the point where she would accept the oddity itself, yet search for some kind of explanation consistent with the data collected. That doesn’t happen in this episode; Scully is used as a sounding board for Mulder and a way to remind the audience that Mulder is under Kersh’s thumb, however haphazardly.
While the casting of Bruce Campbell is certainly inspired, the character itself isn’t substantial enough for such a talented performer. He does everything possible with the role he was given, but for the character to work, Wayne has to be subdued. With so much focus on that character, the downplayed nature becomes a further liability. A director can only do so much when the material isn’t dynamic enough for an exciting story. The tone of the episode is more appropriate to character study, yet the episode clearly fails to provide even that much.
The reason is simple, and has been mentioned in nearly every review for the sixth season: the depth of character is lost when Mulder and Scully are portrayed more as archetypes than individuals. The result is an episode that could have easily been lifted out of the schedule with no impact on the season as a whole, and when that’s the case, one must ask why the episode needed to exist in the first place.
SPENDER: “OK, Deputy, we’re going to put this right into our priority caseload…”
Overall, this episode is another disappointment, emphasizing a focus on the characters as icons rather than fully developed individuals. Bruce Campbell is wasted as a guest star, and Scully’s presence is sorely missed through much of the hour. The core idea is interesting enough, but the execution never goes as far as the writers seem to think it does.
Final Rating: 6/10
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