I’m not a Mulder/Scully shipper. I know that puts me in the minority. I watched The X-Files when it first aired, back when Chris Carter was swearing up, down, and sideways that his two lead characters would never, ever hook up. We’ve all seen Moonlighting, he said, crossing that line never works. We all know he eventually changed his mind.
More often than not (and definitely in this case) I agree with him. When the two lead characters get romantic with each other, the show ceases to be about what it’s about, and becomes about them being a couple (I’m fairly certain I said the exact same thing when I wrote about Bones, of which I was also a fan). Plus, we lose that fun will-they-or-won’t-they vibe, which usually is the thing that got us to love the pairing in the first place. And why can’t anyone just be best friends anymore? Anyway.
“The Field Where I Died” was the fifth episode of the fourth season, and apparently the fandom didn’t like it much. It dealt with past lives, and it dared to suggest that Mulder had a romantic soulmate, and that his soulmate (gasp!) wasn’t Scully.
Much along the lines of the film Dead Again (which has GOT to have been some inspiration for the episode, though I can’t find any proof of that), “The Field Where I Died” presents the notion that not only is reincarnation a thing, but that we are with the same people every time. It’s an idea that is both lovely and scary. Paths continue to cross, lifetime to lifetime, and the souls have similar relationships each time. We are never truly lost to the people we love, but neither can we ever really escape the evil in our lives, as that too follows in one form or another.
The particulars of the plot aren’t really important. The agents go investigate the compound of a David Koresh type (Michael Massee). Vernon Ephesian not only has multiple wives, children, and a bunch of Kool-Aid, he’s got guns hidden somewhere, and Scully and Mulder need to find out where. Through questioning, one of the wives, Melissa (Kristen Cloke), begins to talk—only it’s not Melissa doing the talking.
At first, what comes out of this beautiful brunette is a crusty older man who says his name is Sidney. Scully assumes what they’re dealing with is a case of multiple personality disorder, but then Mulder asks Sidney who the president is right now. Sidney says Harry Truman, and Mulder is convinced he’s talking to one of Melissa’s past lives.
Scully does her skeptic thing, they talk to a couple more of Melissa’s personalities, and then Melissa looks right at Mulder. She’s not Melissa, she’s a Civil War nurse named Sarah Kavanaugh, and she recognizes him as Sullivan Biddle, the man she loves, whom she watched die in the nearby field. “We have come together in this life, this time, only to meet in passing.”
Scully still doesn’t want to believe, but Mulder has been getting this vibe off Melissa the entire time, and he must have seen Dead Again, because he has himself regressed. He takes us through a couple of his past lives, and yes, he’s with the same people every time. Melissa is always his lover somehow. Scully is sometimes his father, sometimes his sergeant—always some strong role model he holds in high regard. Samantha is there too, as his son instead of his sister, and even the Cigarette Smoking Man pops up in one of Mulder’s pasts…as another source of evil, of course. Mulder says “love…souls mate eternal,” and says the soul that is Melissa’s doesn’t know that the soul that is his is waiting for her.
The episode ends with Melissa literally drinking the Kool-Aid and killing herself on Ephesian’s orders. Mulder’s left to live out the remainder of this lifetime knowing that his romantic soulmate is lost to him until their next time around. I suppose if I had been a shipper of him and Scully, this might have pissed me off too. I always equate the fandom’s dislike of this episode to when people in the Doctor Who fandom who hardcore ship Rose Tyler and the Doctor hate River Song (she’s his wife, get over it). When you’re that invested in the bond between your two leads, you don’t want to think of anyone else being more special to either one of them than the other is.
Getting past the shipping thing, it’s a beautifully crafted episode. It’s fun to bookend it with poetry on either side, Browning at the top and Shelley at the end. I’m not a particular fan of James Wong’s work on American Horror Story, but when he writes X-Files with Glen Morgan, the two of them really bring it. “The Field Where I Died” is a lot more subtle than most X-Files episodes, which could account for some fans finding it boring. Certainly I don’t care about their whole quest for the cache of guns hidden somewhere in Ephesian’s compound. It’s about the characters, and even more about the performances.
I’m as much a fan of David Duchovny as “the man, the myth, the monotone” as anyone. His semi-deadpan-with-occasional-snark thing works for him, and it works for Mulder. This episode, however, made him stretch his wings a little. Apparently this was a goal of the writers, to get him out of his comfort zone a bit, and he rises to the occasion. When Mulder has his past life regression, Duchovny throws himself into the acting just as much as Mulder throws himself into the idea of it. Mulder’s tears aren’t something you see often. More than that, it’s great to see how shook Scully is over the whole thing. She’s clearly not comfortable with the idea of either past lives or Melissa, but she has to navigate the line between her skepticism and her obvious concern for Mulder. No matter what she herself believes, she’s watching her partner affected by all of this in a very real way.
“The Field Where I Died” was written to showcase guest star Kristen Cloke, and DAMN. She commits herself utterly to her performance, to each personality, making us believe in each of them, even the ones we only see briefly. She apparently did research on multiple personalities, and she based each of her exhibiting personalities on someone she knows. It had to have been trippy to have been a friend of hers, watching the episode, and to suddenly see themselves and their tics coming out of her.
Gillian Anderson has said that this is one of her favourite episodes. I’m with her. Then again, I remember her also saying (back in the day) something along the lines of—what would be added to the show by a Scully/Mulder romance? Ah well.