-Fox Mulder contemplates the night sky, and the fate of his sister Samantha, in The X-Files, "Closure."
In the epic two-part X-File presentation, "Sein Und Zeit"/"Closure," a television inside Agent Fox Mulder's motel room in Sacramento plays important imagery from the classic sci-fi film, Planet of the Apes (1968).
In particular, orangutan scientist and Protector of the Faith, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) warns the human astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) not to seek the truth about his people, about humanity.
"Don't look for it, Taylor," the simian urges. "You may not like what you find."
When asked by Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) about what Taylor will find on that mysterious shore-line stretching to the horizon, Dr. Zaius replies, cryptically, "his destiny."
This quotation from a sci-fi, cinematic landmark underlines the thematic through-line of this emotionally-affecting X-File two-parter, which aired originally on Fox TV on February 6th and February 13, 2000. Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, this seventh season story very explicitly concerns the idea of "seeing."
In particular, the narrative revolves around the way that people -- even good people -- tend to see only what they desire to see. Even heroes like Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) -- who believes he is seeing through conspiracies and secrets -- tends to see the world as it conforms to his particular world-view.
This isn't a critique of Mulder so much as it is an observation about human nature. It's just how we, as thoughtful, emotional beings, operate. We all boast a personal lens (our viewpoint) through which we see and attempt to interpret the world. The X-Files remains such a memorable and valuable television series because it provides not one, but two distinctive world-views, two perspectives, in the persons of Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny).
But the series also pointedly tasks us, the audience, with seeking the "balance" or "truth" between those perspectives, these two "poles" of human sight and insight. We are encouraged, on one literal level, to contemplate extreme possibilities (like the existence of the paranormal or supernatural), and but then, on a deeper, metaphorical level, to consider what these possibilities mean to the characters, even to the human equation as a whole.
In other words, The X-Files deploys both its stirring and scary supernatural cases and its two very-differently-inclined heroic investigators to gaze meaningfully at the essence of our human nature. In my opinion, this is the critical element that renders the series an artistic masterpiece in the tradition of Star Trek, The Twilight Zone or other genre greats. Although not as widely popular as many other installments of the Carter series, this two-part effort reveals The X-Files at its most meaningful, and indeed, most poetic.
As is also often the case with The X-Files, "Sein Und Zeit"/"Closure" commences with reality, and with a real life event from the 1990s as context, and then beelines into the unexpected, the supernatural.
Here, the action starts in Sacramento when a cute-as-a-button, six-year old girl, Amber Lynn La Pierre, disappears from her bedroom...never to be seen alive again. Oddly, her mother disassociates from reality and pens a cryptic ransom note (through the paranormal auspices of "automatic writing.") And her father experiences a precognitive vision of the little girl's bruised corpse.
If you remember the 1990s at all, you will appreciate many of the details of this strange, macabre introduction. Jon Benet Ramsey, a six year old girl, was discovered dead in her family home in Colorado on Christmas Day, 1996. The unsolved case became a media sensation for months and even years. As late as 2006 (and the false confession by John Mark Karr), this murder was still a topic of hot debate.
Importantly, the bizarre ransom note in the Jon Benet Ramsey case, believed to be written by the late Mrs. Ramsey, opens with the same two cautionary words as the note written by Mrs. La Pierre in the X-Files episode: "Listen carefully!"
Furthermore, the victim in both cases is a six-year old girl. And in both real and fictitious cases, the parents are believed to be the perpetrators of a terrible, heinous crime; the murder of a child. There's even a connection between Amber Lynn and Jon Benet in the Christmas day trappings. At the bottom of Mrs. La Pierre's ransom note is a mystifying, holiday-themed sentence: "No one shoots at Santa Claus!"
This odd final sentence is the very clue that rouses Mulder's interest. He remember an earlier X-File in which the same sentence was also scrawled in a ransom note. Another woman, Kathy Lee Tencate (Kim Darby, of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark fame...) wrote the same words on a kidnapper's note for her "missing" son back in 1987. She is currently in prison, having confessed to his murder. But that is just a legal ploy and Ms. Tencate actually believes -- as Mulder comes to believe -- that ancient spirits called "Walk-Ins" are responsible for the disappearance of these children. That they are "old souls protecting the children" from terrible violence in this mortal coil, as depicted in the precognitive visions of the parents.
The particulars of the case are resolved at a place called "Santa's North Pole Village," a haven for a serial killer who abducts and murders children. One visitor at his tourist trap was...Amber Lynn La Pierre. She was destined to die at his hand, like too many other innocents, and the Walk-Ins spared her this terrible agony, transforming the child from matter into energy...into, poetically-speaking, "starlight."
Ultimately, however, this paranormal resolution of a murder case related to real-life isn't the point of Carter and Spotnitz's intricate and haunting tale. The narrative take a strange and unexpected turn when Mulder learns of his mother's suicide...and comes to realize that his missing sister, Samantha, may have also been taken by these Old Spirits as well.
For seven years up to this point, one of The X-Files most prominent mysteries involved Samantha and her ultimate disposition. Was Mulder's sibling abducted by aliens in 1973? Was she taken to another world? Is she still alive on another planet? Will Mulder ever be reunited with her?
This has been Mulder's continuing obsession, his white whale, and various episodes of the series have charted clues, intimated destines, and suggested possibilities. One episode even revealed the aliens harnessing Samantha clones, if I'm not mistaken.
But "Closure" suggests,Mulder has not seen the truth at all. The investigations, the trappings of the alien abduction and other bells and whistles of the case, have actively prevented him from seeing the truth.
And what is that truth? That his sister...a frightened fourteen year-old girl, for all intents and purposes died in 1979.
All Mulder's adult life, he has been chasing a ghost rather than dealing with the truth that his sister is gone. The Cigarette Smoking Man even encourages Mulder's wild goose chase. "Allow him his ignorance," he tells Scully. "It's what gives him hope."
It's a hard, human truth Mulder finally comes to countenance here, and much of this two-parter deals explicitly with our (understandable) sense of outrage and futility when innocence is corrupted, when innocence (like the innocence of Amber Lynn La Pierre or Jon Benet Ramsey) is destroyed. by human "evil." Carter and Spotnitz suggest a welcome spiritual remedy to such ugliness: Walk-Ins who take the children and spare them the pain of such destruction. But the writers also offer Mulder a sense of closure, if he will accept it. The quest for Samantha is over. Or as he realizes, he's reached "the end of the road."
What makes this sense of closure all the more emotionally affecting is that Mulder is joined in this story by a kindly psychic, Harold Piller (Anthony Heald) who lost a son to the kindly Walk-Ins, just as Mulder lost Samantha. But because Harold refuses to believe his son is dead...he can't see him. He refuses to see his boy's spirit, and acknowledge the truth, He cannot grieve, can never on, because his stubbornness won't let him. And thus he achieves the opposite of his desired goal. He remains eternally separated from the child.
Mulder attempts to sway him. "Harold, you see so much, but you refuse to see him," he says. "You refuse to let him go. But you have to let him go now, Harold. He's protected. He's in a better place. They're all in a better place. We both have to let go, Harold."
Our final view of Harold in "Closure" is a haunting one. He runs off, dedicated to finding his "truth"...which is no truth at all. He would rather chase the palatable fantasy than accept the sad reality. This is the object lesson. This could have been Mulder, forever tilting at windmills, never moving on, past the defining traumatic experience of his life.
What remains so remarkable about this X-File story is that Spotnitz and Carter successfully make the audience feel much like stubborn Harold. After seven years and over a hundred episodes, we all invested in Mulder's quest, and the possibility of a happy reunion, of Samantha's safe return. That's what we all hoped for. But this episode precludes such a happy ending, even as it grants Mulder a kind of release.
That sense of release, of catharsis, arrives in one of the most beautiful, lyrical sequences I've ever seen on a television program" a kind of perfect expression of magical, spiritual reality. By starlight, Mulder ascends a hill, accompanied by Harold's son...and sees a field where the "taken" children are at play...still innocent, forever young. There, he is reunited with his fourteen year-old sister. Shot in glowing white light, in slow-motion photography, cut to a haunting but cathartic song from Moby (called "My Weakness,") the long journey ends, and Mulder finds a degree of peace.
Yet some X-Files fans I know outright rejected this lyrical conclusion, mirroring Harold's rejection in the storyline itself. It is easier for us, often, to accept fantasy than reality . We don't have all the answers, and as Scully suggests, "we never truly know why" things happen. But, this tale reminds us, we must attempt to make our peace with the way things are. As as often the case in Chris Carter's works, he purposefully flouts expectations here in order to foster a deeper understanding of the human race. We had expected a Samantha resolution story to involve alien abduction, not, explicitly, grief, about the process of letting go.
Like Planet of the Ape's Taylor -- Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz tell us -- we may not like what we find at the end of the road. The fans are in the same boat as Taylor and Mulder: we don't want to climb that star-lit plateau and know, finally, that Samantha is gone. But it's our destiny. Just as it is every human being's destiny to grieve a loved one, and, in fact, to die.
The popular meme, endlessly repeated in the media about The X-Files, is that it is a brilliant series that stayed on the air a few years too long, and in doing so, somehow damaged its permanent legacy. I would argue, contrarily, that episodes such as "Sein Und Zeit" and "Closure" reveal the opposite is actually true.
It would have been extraordinarily easy of Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz to write a happy ending for Samantha and Fox Mulder. They probably could have done it in their sleep, actually. Mulder gets information from the Lone Gunmen that the Cigarette Smoking Man is holding Samantha for tests somewhere, and Mulder and Scully break her out. Brother and sister are reunited. Cue End Credits.
Instead, these writers pursued a more creative, artistic path and forged a tale about how difficult it is to accept our own mortality, or the mortality of loved ones. This is why human beings have religion...so that we don't have to openly acknowledge that for all of us, there is an end. Although this episode of The X-Files also promises a kind of moral hierarchy to the universe -- one in which innocence is preserved instead of destroyed -- it simultaneously acknowledges that death is an irreparable and grievous separation.
"They said the birds refused to sing and the thermometer fell suddenly... as if God Himself had His breath stolen away. No one there dared speak aloud, as much in shame as in sorrow. They uncovered the bodies one by one. The eyes of the dead were closed as if waiting for permission to open them. Were they still dreaming of ice cream and monkey bars? Of birthday cake and no future but the afternoon? Or had their innocence been taken along with their lives, buried in the cold earth so long ago? These fates seemed too cruel, even for God to allow. Or are the tragic young born again when the world's not looking?
I want to believe so badly; in a truth beyond our own, hidden and obscured from all but the most sensitive eyes; in the endless procession of souls; in what cannot and will not be destroyed. I want to believe we are unaware of God's eternal recompense and sadness. That we cannot see His truth; that that which is born still lives and cannot be buried in the cold earth. But only waits to be born again at God's behest... where in ancient starlight we lay, in repose..."
To me, this soliloquy a perfect summation of human existence, and particularly human doubt. It's an explicit grappling with the unanswerable "why" of our lives. We want to believe in something greater, something good and kind at the end of the rainbow Why? Because, again like Taylor, we're all going to be making that trip ourselves, whether we want to or not. "Sein Und Zeit" and "Closure" get at this truth beautifully. The episodes don't hit you over the head with everything, either. For instance, in a scene featuring ghosts, there's a young, World War II era couple depicted, and without acknowledging explicitly their identities, we understand that they are Mulder's (now-reunited) parents...supporting his "quest" and his attempt to learn the truth.
I suppose what "Closure" really comes down to is the idea that we can either accept hard reality, like Mulder, or retreat into "not seeing," like Harold. Even today, I think that's particularly relevant message, globally and individually, in our culture.
We sometimes need to understand that -- in seeking answers -- we may not like what we find. Still, we need the grace to accept the truth for what it is.