The X-Files A-Z: I is for IMMORTALITY

Kelechi Ehenulo continues our alphabetical breakdown of The X-Files as I is for IMMORTALITY…

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The rock group Queen famously once said, “Who wants to live forever?”

The notion feels tempting, right?  The ability to see the world beyond its years as it evolves.  When it comes to The X-Files, the concept of immortality is expansive.  Just like how the show finds balance in Mulder and Scully, the same can be applied to the subject.

Immortality (as designed on the show) can be viewed in two ways.

Firstly, there’s the literal sense.  The desire or ability to live longer or extending a natural life.  Whilst the show has always shone a torch into the darkness by exploring the paranormal and alien conspiracies, this concept is not unfamiliar.  In fact, it goes as far back as the first season.

In ‘Young at Heart’, criminal John Barnett defied the odds, which became one of many catalysts that defined Mulder’s behaviour in regards to FBI procedures.  Barnett’s supposed death in prison was a smokescreen.  He became a scientific experiment in which he could age backwards.  Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, his rejuvenated youth allowed him the perfect cover to re-commit the crimes he was famous for and terrorise the agent who incarcerated him.

In season two, ‘Our Town’ looked at immortality not through scientific experiments in which the government took a keen interest in.  The exploration came from food consumption.  The town of Dudley, Arkansas lived a secretive double life where everything on the surface seemed normal but in fact, lived a dark, cultural underbelly.  By resulting to cannibalism, the townspeople indulged in their own twisted version of “the fountain of youth”.  Their culinary delights slowed down their aging, allowing them to appear youthful, defying the laws of nature.  The only way to understand their truth is if you discovered their actual birth certificate, they fed on someone suffering from a disease or the town got sloppy, battling their own interests over their tight-held secrecy.  All the above happened and Special Agent Dana Scully was nearly the next victim.

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The show also looked at immortality in terms of genetics.  Leonard Betts was a human anomaly.  His body riddled with cancer to the point where not only he could diagnose it in other people but they also became his next target and victim.  Driven by compulsion and the help of an iodine solution, Betts fed off it to regrow lost body parts which included his severed head.

The episode ‘Trevor’ went a step further, combining genetics and supernatural phenomenon brought about by the weather.  Wilson Pinker Rawls gained the uncanny ability to pass through objects.  How?  By changing the composition and turning objects into carbon.  Besides an obvious weakness to glass, he was almost indestructible.

And living a longer life has gone as far as granting a person a wish.  In ‘Je Souhaite’, Jenn came across an ifrit.  Feeling intelligent, she spoke up and said “Je souhaite un grand pouvoir et une longue vie” (I wish for great power and long life).  Like a prison tattoo, she was given the mark of the Jinn and became a genie, granting wishes to those who unroll her from her rug.  In her own words, she should have been specific.

But can immortality be looked at in the spiritual sense?  That’s the second examination.

The bible has always inhabited the idea of life after death or an afterlife.  Our spiritual journey is everlasting as we take our next step into the next world.  In The X-Files and for the characters affected, the intentions are often emotional and self-serving.

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Some have gone to the lengths of using their spiritual immortality as a revenge mechanism.  In ‘Shadows’, Howard Graves haunted his secretary Lauren Kyte.  Murdered by his work colleague and refusing to let Lauren suffer a similar fate, he did what was necessary to protect her from harm, including murder.  It was a relationship built on respect and parental-like affection as highlighted in a confession to Mulder and Scully where Lauren openly viewed Howard like a father.

In ‘Born Again’, Michelle Bishop was described as being a “disturbed child”.  But the investigation brought to light that she was possessed by Charlie Morris, a police officer drowned in his tropical fish tank by his colleagues.  Isaac Luria, a Hasidic Jew came back to life on the wishes of his wife to be in ‘Kaddish’.  While it was her intention just to see her husband again after he was brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack, Isaac took on the form of a Golem, an emotionless man-made monster and murdered those involved in his death.

On the other hand, the opposite of the revenge mechanism are spirits finding newfound purposes or roles.  Some are based on the classic good vs. evil battle, transporting souls to where they will be safe and out of the hands of the devil, as displayed in ‘All Souls’.  In ‘The Field Where I Died’, it was reincarnated souls, soulmates reuniting.  And in ‘How the Ghosts Stole Christmas’, the star-crossed lovers Lyda and Maurice just wanted to have fun.  Forming a lovers’ pact, every Christmas Eve their home and their Halloween style antics tormented anyone who dared to venture on their property.  In their own words, they didn’t forget the true spirit of Christmas.

But the biggest question in regards to immortality belongs to a certain FBI agent.  Is Dana Scully immortal?  There’s evidence to suggest that.

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In the clever and hilarious episode ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’, Scully curiously asked the psychic on how she would die.  “You don’t” Clyde suggests.  Fast forward to season 6 in ‘Tithonus’, Scully is accidentally shot by Special Agent Ritter as he tried to apprehend Alfred Fellig.  While Ritter frantically rushed to get emergency help, Fellig guides Scully not to look at death, thus “transferring” his gift unto her and stealing her death.  Even in the new revival series, Scully casually remarks to Mulder that she’s immortal after surviving a precarious situation in ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’.

Do I believe Scully is immortal?  I don’t know because it can be viewed either way.

The beauty about The X-Files was never to prove or disprove a theory, if that makes sense.  We are presented with some truths but the show was always an aura of mystery and ambiguity.  It invited you into the debate and tested your beliefs.  Ultimately it came down to the show’s core theme of faith, adopting the same balance principle as you would come to expect from Mulder and Scully and their investigations.  But whatever that result is on what you believe, it doesn’t take away how awesome the character is or the impact she continues to make.

The question is, is there an overall benefit to living forever?  The answer is not that straightforward.

The show treats it as a blessing and a curse.  John Barnett saw his extended youth not as a new beginning to start a new life but as a venture into payback.  He became a figure stuck on a loop, unable to change his addictive and remorseless nature.  The townspeople in ‘Our Town’ ultimately wanted a change of leadership, losing their faith in the man who introduced the culture to them.  Other examples such as ‘Aubrey’ and ‘The Calusari’ showcase the pain inflicted onto others by an unescapable past coming home to roost.

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The Syndicate abused the idea by creating alien-human hybrids (‘Two Fathers’/’One Son’) as an alternative to survive the alien invasion.  Even cloning wasn’t beyond their reach (‘Colony’/’End Game’).  In ‘Je Souhaite’, Jenn being witnessed to 500 years of human history, became tired of watching the stupidity in humanity in asking for the same indulgent wishes.  “Give me money. Give me big boobs.  Give me a big hoo-hoo. Make me cool like the Fonz.  Or whoever’s the big name now.”  In her eyes, humanity has not changed but has led to greediness, shallowness and self-destruction.

However, the ultimate feeling belongs to Alfred Fellig.  Despite his own misdemeanors and numerous attempts to end his own life, eternal life was hell.  Unable to pass over, he spends his time capturing the death of others in his photography.  Psychologically punished and tortured, photography was his way of coming close to experience what death felt like, to stare at its face.  By explaining this to Agent Scully, he paints an ugly picture, killing all aspects of romanticism or any idealist hope.  There’s no such thing as too much life, love or things yet to experience. When your time is up, that’s it.

Maybe that’s the point.  Maybe immortality is something you shouldn’t take in the literal sense.  Given whatever time we have, maybe the true essence of immortality is achieved through actions and sincere acts of integrity.  Through interactions of others and remembrance, they transcend and become something else entirely.  They become stories.  They become examples.  They become legends.

What Mulder and Scully have done is the definition of that.

You can follow Kelechi on Twitter @geekmindUK.

Next time… J is for JOSE (CHUNG)

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The X-Files A-Z – E is for EUGENE VICTOR TOOMS

Kelechi Ehenulo continues our alphabetical breakdown of The X-Files by looking at arguably the most famous ‘monster of the week’…

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If there’s one thing that helped define The X-Files as a cult phenomenon, it was its ability to mix up its core themes. Expanding beyond the mythology allowed the show to become flexible and appeal to a wider audience. This knack took its shape in what is commonly known as MOTW or ‘Monster of the Week’ – one off (or sequel), genre-crossing episodes exploring the weird and the strange in our world.

One character started and defined that era of storytelling. His name was Eugene Victor Tooms.

Long before Millennium, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or Criminal Minds, Eugene Victor Tooms operated as your classic serial killer. He followed a strict and unrelenting pattern. He randomly stalked and murdered his victims. He collected items belonging to the victim, a symbolic trophy of his targets. And finally, it’s always five victims before he disappears. There’s an added twist, though… he’s a mutant and has the dangerous ability to squeeze himself through tight spots. Now he probably won’t be accepted in Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters, but his modus operandi certainly explains Eugene’s nature.

Eugene’s desires are wild and animalistic. His genetic make-up acts as an uncontrollable and obsessive compulsion. He’s a calculating individual, not afraid of playing the victim whilst providing enough clever, monosyllabic answers to get by. Working the streets as an animal catcher means he can do his job with little or no disturbance. Whilst he watches the world with a quiet voyeurism, to everyone, he’s invisible, hiding in plain sight. When the perfect target is selected, his eyes turn yellow and the world fades to grey. His colourized target stands out from the crowd. He overwhelms his victim with brutal violence, ripping and consuming their liver with his bare hands. Eugene is not Hannibal Lecter. There’s no fine dining decadence with his liver consumption. It acts as food sustenance so when he’s finished, he can hibernate for the next thirty years in his newspaper and bile nest. In other words, given his unique abilities, Eugene Victor Tooms is a predatory survivor.

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In ‘Squeeze’ and ‘Tooms’, The X-Files tapped into the world of criminal psychology and profiling that we may not have been aware of. Mulder and Scully utilise every investigative and technological tools to uncover Eugene’s methodology. It’s unsettling and dark, especially as there’s limited information on Toom’s background.

He’s nature’s greatest anomaly. It’s never really revealed on how he became this way. Why does 66 Exeter Street hold so much value to him? It’s not like he was exposed to toxic waste materials linking back to Chernobyl just like the Flukeman. It’s not like he was a science experiment gone wrong, creating this monster. Did he have biological parents with the same ability? Who knows? He just exists, appearing, disappearing and re-appearing like a convenient myth. He makes time the real enemy. Despite having psychiatric care, his drive, his compulsion and his biological nature always won… and that’s scary. However, the psychosis of Eugene Victor Tooms goes deeper which strikes at the heart at what we value dear.

We see our homes as sanctuaries, a place where we can relax and unwind from the troubles of the world. Now we may not be living in the era where “I don’t lock my doors” doesn’t seem true anymore but the security of our homes is paramount. Whether we just lock our doors and windows or secure it like Fort Knox with panic rooms, let’s be honest to ourselves – how often do you think about that vent, that letterbox, that fireplace or even the toilet? That’s Eugene’s lasting legacy. His genetic and contortionist mutation that allows him to squeeze through small areas, breaks all the rules about home security by abusing our naivety. It results in an uncomfortable and unnerving feeling that not even your own home is safe. One way or another, Tooms will get you.

Despite the horrors of this case, Eugene Victor Tooms provided a positive impact on Mulder and Scully. The ‘Squeeze‘ / ‘Tooms two-parter gave us the first real insight into their partnership. Despite the mockery and the casual digs at Mulder from other agents, it’s Scully who becomes Mulder’s champion and supporter. His theories may be “out there” but she respects the work that Mulder does. She respects the journey, putting aside career opportunities and defying her personal friendship with Tom Colton (wouldn’t it be great to see him back again?)

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As for Eugene himself, his character sets the benchmark and blueprint for the series. Without Eugene, we wouldn’t have Donnie Pfaster, Virgil Incanto or Robert Patrick Modell – dark complex killers with an uncontrollable need to fulfil their deepest desires. So next time when you’re thinking about home improvements and there’s something strange in your neighborhood, it might be worth super gluing your letterbox. You may not get any mail for a while but, hopefully, it will stop Eugene squeezing through for a visit.

You can follow Kelechi @geekminduk.

Next week… F is for F… B… I…

INTRODUCTIONS: A Mind Shaped By X – Kelechi Ehenulo

Kelechi Ehenulo invites us to explore a mind shaped by X…

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Sometimes I try to imagine what my life would be like without The X-Files. But then I hopelessly give up as I realise how integral the show has been.

My X-Files journey started back in the early 90s. I was eight years old and it was by pure accident on how I discovered it. I was channel surfing, looking for something to watch – anything to delay going to bed early and thinking about Monday morning and school. Back in the day, we didn’t have the luxury we have today with a carousel of never-ending channels at a touch of a button. Nor did we have Netflix. If you didn’t have Sky, most of the UK population had to settle with four standard channels. Yes, you read correctly – four channels! On this particular day at this particular moment, I settled on BBC 2.

My first impressions were instant. I remembered being completely fascinated. The haunting music, the compelling story and the whole aura of conspiracy and paranoia drew me in. The one chilling and defining moment that I always remember is the scene where the Cigarette Smoking Man is walking down a corridor. The camera pulls back, slowly revealing that the secret room was within the Pentagon. It was a moment reminiscent of the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

So what made me like this show? It was the idea of powerful people and secrets hidden away from public knowledge. It was the idea of control. Whilst the pilot episode was primarily told from Mulder and Scully’s perspective, a beautiful balance of a believer vs. a skeptic, this one scene showed what they were really up against, laying the groundwork for an epic journey into the unknown.

It was fun growing up in the 90s when The X-Files was around. So mesmerized by the impact, I would run home from school, just to get homework done early so I could focus all my attention on the new episode. Back in the day, there was no BBC iPlayer. You had to be in front of your TV screen otherwise if you missed it, that was it. No repeats, no do-overs. Soon enough I began recording episodes onto VHS tapes. When the DVD collections came around, I collected them too. Slowly but surely, The X-Files started to take over pop culture.  I would walk into a local shop and see X-Files magazines or something sci-fi related dominating the news stand.

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I would read books about aliens and the paranormal, just so I could keep up with all the theories mentioned on the show! I would chat about Mulder and Scully’s investigations with friends at school as the school playgrounds became infested with alien eggs (and the conspiracy that they could become pregnant and give birth if you put it in the freezer) and Tamagotchi’s – both were confiscated if teachers caught you with it!  Soon enough, the appeal of The X-Files spread to the furthest depths of TV to the point where you couldn’t escape it.  You either saw shows inspired by The X-Files or shows taking an investigative look into the paranormal and science, just like Future Fantastic which aired on BBC 1 and was hosted by Gillian Anderson!

Over the years I’ve collected my fair share of memorabilia.  My bedroom wall used to be covered in X-Files posters (although I did have a space reserved for Will Smith).  I also possess a Mulder key ring, a Krycek bookmark, both soundtracks from the first movie, comic books and novels.  Now I may have grown up and lifestyles may change, but if there’s one poster that proudly hangs on my wall – the I Want to Believe poster.  It’s amazing how four simple words can define a character and the show itself by becoming a reminder of never giving up and always keeping the faith.

But my love of the show went to deeper levels. The X-Files helped shaped and defined my love of sci-fi. It brought out the inner geek in me, opening the gate of seeing the world in a different way. I grew up watching shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who, galactic space adventures that captured my imagination of distant futures. Yet The X-Files took the opposite approach, grounding itself in reality by making the paranormal and the weird closer to home. Episodes were deliberately left open, allowing the audience to go beyond the series and debate the consequences. That concept and certainly some of the episodes kept me up most nights. I was scared beyond my wits because I never encountered something like this.

Yet despite that, I kept coming back. Whether it was the mythology or a Monster of the Week, the mystery and Mulder and Scully’s investigations constantly intrigued me.  Whilst nothing lasts forever and the show had its fair share of ups and downs, from the first episode right through to the end of its original run and the two films that followed, I remained a faithful and loyal viewer.

Right now it’s an exciting time to be a fan again. With news about Season 11, it will be interesting to see where Mulder and Scully’s journey will go. I’m also excited being part of the X-Cast blog because it’s not every day you get to talk about something you love with a passion!

Favourite season: Season 5

Favourite character: Mulder and Scully – just love them both, it’s hard to choose between them.

Kelechi will be a regular contributor to the blog. You can follow her on Twitter @geekminduk.