Paige Schector continues our alphabetical breakdown of The X-Files by looking at the history of spectres on the show…
Mulder: “Tell me you’re not afraid.”
Scully: “All right, I’m afraid. But it’s an irrational fear.”
–How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (Season 6)
The X-Files tackles the subject of ghosts in the same out-of-the-box manner we’ve come to expect from our show. While many of the atrocities witnessed on the show can be attributed to actual beings — human or alien — there are an array of phantoms sprinkled throughout the run.
The Season 1 episode “Shadows” doesn’t top a lot of fan favorite lists. According to show lore, at this time the show had a directive for Mulder and Scully to investigate and “help people.” So our heroes do their best when inexplicable — and violent — things start happening around a secretary and Mulder determines her late boss is dealing with things on her behalf with telekinesis. We don’t see him at all, but witness the full brunt of his anger. Strangely enough, the very next episode “Ghost in the Machine” isn’t really about a ghost at all. It’s just a pesky old computer trying to take over the world.
Ghosts also stand — or should it be hover? — front and center in “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” from Season 6. This one stands as almost a polar opposite to “Shadows,” with sparkling guest performances from Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin as the two spirits in a haunted house trying to talk Mulder and Scully into carrying on a holiday tradition they started, some kind of variation on a murder/suicide pact.
These aren’t your average entities and they have our heroes behaving somewhat out of character. It’s kind of nice to see them off their game for the balance of this one. Scully’s definitely shaken. She’s got detailed explanations for all of it at the ready, but the ingrained cliches from 1,000 horror movies still give her pause:.
“The whole idea of a benevolent entity fits perfectly with what I’m saying. … That a spirit would materialize or return for no other purpose than to show itself is silly and ridiculous. I mean, what it really shows is how silly and ridiculous we have become in believing such things. … That we can ignore all natural laws about the corporeal body … that we witness these spirits clad in their own, shabby outfits, with the same old haircuts and hairstyles, never aging — never in search for more comfortable surroundings. It actually ends up saying more about the living than it does about the dead.” — Scully, ‘How the Ghosts Stole Christmas’
Mulder, usually enthralled with evidence of the supernatural, isn’t so thrilled this time around. Maybe it’s the shots Asner’s Maurice takes at him, which probably hit a little close to home when he deems our FBI guy “a lonely man chasing para-masturbatory illusions that you believe will give your life meaning and significance, which your pathetic social maladjustment makes impossible for you to find elsewhere. You probably consider yourself passionate, serious, misunderstood.”
The resolution to the show’s biggest question — what happened to Mulder’s sister Samantha — happens during Season 7’s “Closure.” In an emotionally charged moment Fox sees her cavorting with many children who died far too soon. They’re still young and beautiful and seemingly unaffected the tragedies that befell them. Are they ghosts? Are they starlight? They certainly fit the textbook definition of ghosts — souls or spirits appearing to the living. It gives Mulder something he (and we) have been awaiting for the longest time. Not only does he accept her fate, but he also attempts to help the psychic aiding the investigation do the same with his own long-lost son.
“You see so much, but you refuse to see him. 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.” — Mulder, “Closure”
Apparitions appear in episodes such as Season 1’s “Space” — an other-worldly ghost inhabiting the body of a former Gemini astronaut — and Season 2’s “Excelsis Dei,” in which a nurse is sexually attacked by an “invisible 74-year-old schizophrenic.” Later in the second season, there’s an unsettling amount of spooks seemingly caused by voodoo in “Fresh Bones” and some poltergeist activity that lures a toddler to his death in “The Calusari.” Was there human involvement or did an executed inmate make good on his threat to kill those he considered responsible in Season 3’s “The List”? Similar questions arise later in that season after Skinner is continuously victimized by an apparent succubus in “Avatar,” and then in Season
Similar questions arise later in that season after Skinner is continuously victimized by an apparent succubus in “Avatar,” and then in Season 4, when ghosts of victims form the basis of Mulder and Scully’s investigation in “Elegy.” Later, it’s Doggett’s turn to be befuddled when an abducted child returns in Season 8’s “Invocation” and a Gulf War casualty gets murderously metallic in “Salvage.”
Cases could be made for a number of other X-Files in which there is clear and present evidence of manifested legends, but ghosts often have the biggest impact in small moments for our leads on the show — like in Season 1’s “Beyond the Sea” when Scully sees her father, apparently at the moment he has passed away, sitting in a chair. He’s moving his lips and trying to tell her something, but she can’t hear it. But she can hear her late sister, Melissa, in Season 5’s “Christmas Carol,” when a mysterious phone call eventually leads Dana to her daughter. Mulder often thinks he’s seeing spirits from the past, be they past informants or members of his family. In the Season 9 finale, the show rounded up ghosts from the great beyond — Krycek and X and the Lone Gunmen — to aid Mulder when he needed them most.
There wasn’t time for much ghostly presence in the six-episode revival (can’t quite count Mulder’s hallucinogenic Lone Gunmen dream), but here’s hoping for Season 11!