"I was a man in 1868. Still interested?"

This episode was originally scheduled for the early part of the season, right after “Daemonicus”, but someone made the decision to air “4-D” in its place. I have to think that whoever made that decision had no idea what he or she was doing. This episode would have been a perfect compliment to the events of that episode.

This episode was also a bit of a Trojan Horse. On the surface, it appeared to be another David Amann MOTW episode, complete with the requisite serial killer motif and “Millennium” stylings. Indeed, the first two acts gave us very little indication that it would evolve into something more. But by the end of the episode, we get a massive amount of revelation in terms of why Monica Reyes is the kind of person she is. This is, in many ways, the foundation of her character.

The story is wonderfully simple, yet presents a compelling puzzle. A victim is murdered in a small town in Virginia. The victim has been skinned alive, and was an ex-convict trying to change his life for the better. Monica gets the other agents involved, claiming that it is a possible X-File, but it soon becomes clear that Monica looked into the case without being contacted. Something is drawing her into the case, some inner compulsion.

It doesn’t take long to determine that all of the potential victims, as well as Monica, are having visions of seeing people skinned alive, prior to another killing. It leads Monica to a point where she can soon predict the details at a crime scene from memory, as though it has all happened before. And, as it turns out, it has. Four men killed a prospector in 1868, skinning him alive, and now that murdered soul is returning in each new generation, hunting down and killing the new bodies of the original murderers. Monica is this generation’s investigator, the one charged with stopping the murders. If she fails, and she always has, then the cycle continues decades into the future.

This brings up some interesting challenges. How are the writers going to take this ball and run with it? Given the time remaining to the series, they may not do anything with it. But it opens up the various theories on the nature of past lives, and the ideas of reincarnation. How applicable are the traditional interpretations?

Actually, I’ve always had a bit of a personal take on the idea, one that I think fits this situation rather well. It’s obvious that Monica is her own person, above and beyond the compulsions of her role in this particular drama. The same applies to the others involved in the situation. They were connected to the past events, as though the needs and desires of a previous life had been working through them. But how connected were these modern players to the earlier events?

What if memory is simply information, which we then access as needed through the electrochemical processes of the brain? Imagine that all memory is stored in the fabric of the universe itself, and that the brain is simply the retrieval mechanism. I could expand on the theory, describing quantum states and the inner structure of neurons and all of that, but the concept is simple enough without making it needlessly complicated.

Taking that idea as correct, then there would have to be some kind of association between a person and the ability to access the memory. Given a close enough similarity between one person and another, genetically or otherwise, someone other than the original individual could tap into those memories and information. They may not even know that they are doing it. If the memories are those of someone long since passed, and the person is accessing the memories in the present, then they would never know the source of the memories. They would assume that they had lived before, and by extension, that they were living a past life.

In this way, certain people with the unconscious ability to tap into this information could find themselves compelled to do things, make certain choices. Depending on how cohesive the memories were, it could almost be like a fragment of the original person’s soul. That could weave itself into the connections and memories of a new mind, become a part of the new mind. For Monica, that could have resulted in her career studying and solving ritualistic serial killings.

It would be easy to assume that this is the primary source of that choice, her need to solve this one case. But if this one thread of memory was drawn into her own “matrix” of personality or her soul, then what else might she have been unknowingly connected to? In this case, she is mostly taking on a role, playing out her part. She is not even aware of why, only that the information has been there, hidden away, until the right moment. What else could she be a part of, without knowing it?

This could be a part of her connection to John Doggett. Doggett is obviously connected to some greater evil, something ancient and disparate, as though he has some unknown role to play. I believe that Monica is a part of that as well, and that it is this larger role that connects her to this case. There is something about Monica, something central to her being, that draws her to this place and time. Just as she was meant to end this cycle of pain, she was meant to be there when Luke was murdered, as evidenced by her involvement in the later case shown in “Empedocles”.

All of this, I think, would have served as a better “new mythology” than the tired and ultimately derivative “super solider” plot. This episode, if shown in the original airing order, would have perfectly taken up Monica’s premonitions from “Daemonicus” and given them a larger context. At the same time, Doggett’s unconscious sense of the evil around him, and his rejection of that sense, would have been underscored.

Still, a number of episodes during this season have dealt with the ideas of memory, reality, and spirit. The mystery of how it all fits together binds John and Monica together, just as the labyrinth of the alien conspiracy tied Scully to Mulder. It’s this kind of lost potential that I will regret when this season, and the series, comes to an end.

Some other thoughts:

- Is it just me, or was Mr. Hellbound just a little wimpy for some killer ex-con? He sounded like he wanted to cry through the entire episode!

- I bet Ed was real popular on the 12-Step Program Tour.

- The victims didn’t look skinned so much as dried in the sun for a reallllly long time...

- Anyone else detect that little look of awkwardness between Doggett and Scully? Couldn’t miss it...they practically put up a neon sign and blinking arrows...question is, what’s that supposed to be about?

- Oh, and amazing how good Scully looks when pulled out of bed that early in the morning! John looks like he’s exhausted, and Scully looks like she’s off to a photo shoot...

- Fans of Babylon 5 might recall Dr. Holland as Ms. Connelly in the very popular first season episode, “By Any Means Necessary”.

- Had Van Allen pegged from the get go...way to obvious. Still, the twist at the end saved it.

- Let’s see...whole town full of ex-cons. Why not put their skills to use at the meat packing plant? Complete with really sharp knifes...

- So the FBI guy with the files brings Scully all the cases of post-mortem skinnings, and just happens to slide a case of a live skinning from 40 years ago into the pile? Guy was useful, sure, but might be looking for a new job, if he keeps that up...

- Scully’s damn good, to notice a pattern to the skinning from two photos, 40+ years apart!

- Need I mention the World’s Greatest Daycare again? Talk about taking advantage of one’s mother!

- Here’s another bright one. Just been threatened, working in a meat packing facility, and the lights go out. Don’t try to get out or anything intelligent like that!

- Some people assume the “nightie” scene was a blatant hint that Doggett and Reyes slept together, since he was supposedly in the other room. Sorry, try again. He said he was on the phone and heard her crying out through the wall. As in, the wall behind her head. Next room over, folks. Think Doggett would violate the Bureau rules for agent conduct?

- That said, Monica. Black nightie. Yum!

- Yet another mutilation...of a crime scene...sigh...

- Did Monica’s reaction to the hanging body seem a little too extreme? Seemed that way to me.

- Perfect Doggett moment: “Which part of ‘stop right there’ did you not understand?”

- Monica’s expression when she was walking out of the interrogation, after John’s little, “Can I talk to you for a second?”...priceless. She knew exactly what he was going to say!

- Why do Doggett and Scully keep asking Monica about her “feelings” when she’s mentioned them a million times before?

- Damn, but Doggett can bust down a door...

- “Looks to me we’re looking at a real sick puppy here.” No kidding, really?

- I’ll say this...Monica’s little psychic moment was pretty damn freaky.

- Searching an abandoned mine, and neither agent calls for backup? Well, I suppose I should be glad they didn’t call Scully out again...

- So was Monica born on the date of Sheriff Hobart’s death? That doesn’t exactly track, since she would be in her 40s.

- So they took a picture of the prospector that they killed, way back in the 1860s? That’s going a bit out of the way, for that time period, given they look like they’re in the middle of town at the time!

- Great shot of Monica right before she takes her shot...love that look in her eye.

Overall, a wonderful unexpected look into the underlying motivations of a character that, until now, has been only vaguely drawn for the audience. Thankfully it is completely consistent with what we have seen before. The greatest drawback may be that we are unlikely to see this theme explored much further, since this is now officially the final season.

I give it an 8/10.

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