The X-Files S1, E18: “Miracle Man”

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I’ve been delving into the popular sci-fi series The X-Files for a while now, making many attempts and failures to engage with its first season. Since the summer, and I’ve been weaving in and out through the series’ various episodes, trying to piece the gigantic enterprise together. It may seem strange for me to go back and recap an over two decades old television show, in some ways that type of thing is what the blog was built for. Join me this week for the Michael Lange directed and Chris Carter and Howard Gordon written seventeenth episode!

...and so is a child faith healer!

…and so is a child faith healer!

Last episode, “EBE,” tracked the conspiracy away from the existence of aliens somewhat and towards the motives the government has in covering them up. On a rewatch, the Monster of the Week episodes sometimes tend to be better than the mythology ones, because you already know the mythology of The X-Files is too drawn out and convoluted to make much sense. The Monster of the Week episodes however, only have to sustain a mythology across 45 mins of screen time instead of years of episodes. However, in the case of “Miracle Man,” things might more or less add up in the end, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be left with a compelling episode.

In the cold open, we see a child accompanied by his father raise the dead, literally. Reverend Calvin Hartley (George Gerdis) instructs his young boy Samuel to lay his hands on the body of a burning victim (Leonard Vance, played by Dennis Lipscomb) so that he may live again. The kid says a bunch of Southern Baptist sounding words, and it works. Vance is brought by to life, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily happy about it. He keeps it to himself though, and allows himself to be toted around the South with the Hartleys, testifying to the power of God that works through Samuel (now played by Scott Bairstow). Scully and Mulder are called into investigate when the power of God that works through Samuel produces some sour results, the deaths of those who come to be healed.

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The episode mostly focuses on Samuel and his crisis of faith, which just didn’t really seem to be that interesting. I’m not sure if it was the writing or the actor’s performance, but the whole examination seemed brutally obvious. The relationship to The X-Files isn’t very well handled either, Mulder spouts some mumbo-jumbo about Samuel’s healing perhaps being an ability to manipulate the electro-magnetic system that governs the human body, whereas Scully doesn’t really have any theories that are better. (I love you Scully, but just because there is a bunch of literature on spontaneous cures doesn’t mean that it explains them.) They don’t really resolve anything, and the episode seems to be arguing that Samuel is blessed by God or something, painting him as quite a Christ-like figure throughout the episode. The plague of locusts might have been faked by the killer, and the killer also perpetrated the murders that Mulder and Scully were called in to solve, but the duo is no closer to figuring out how Samuel healed everyone in the first place.

The peripheral characters end up being a bit more interesting. Leonard Vance, brought back from the dead, heavily scarred, to basically become a prop in a Christian tent revival show/service, is understandably upset about what happened to him. Though Vance is somewhat of a spooky presence throughout, you don’t know until the end that he has any problems with being brought back to life. This was done to force a plot twist I suppose, but it prevents you from really understanding his character deeply or the script delving into what exactly is must have meant for him coming back from the dead.

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The most interesting thread was that of the local Sheriff, Sheriff Daniels (RD Call), with its clear Mulder parallels. Daniels is so convinced that Samuel is a fake, that he keeps his arthirtic and suffering wife from seeing him and the possibility of being healed. Though the very terms of the skeptic/believer dynamic suggests that Scully is the one closed off to possibility, it’s clear as the show continues that Mulder is actually much more set in his ways than Scully is. Scully’s flexible enough to entertain Mulder’s ideas, especially confronted with more and more evidence. Mulder however, with hardly ever believe in something ordinary going down. It’s heartbreaking in the few scenes we get with Daniels and his wife, to see the close-mindedness rob her of all her hope that her suffering will end. She has trust in her husband, but unlike her, we’ve seen that Samuel does have successes. I don’t know that we needed more of this in the episodes as I feel we did with Vance, but it was definitely the strongest thread from my point of view.

Then there’s Mulder’s sister. Mulder has visions of a young girl resembling his sister, dressed in red, appearing to him throughout the episode after Samuel divines that he’s grieving for a lost sibling. It never goes anywhere. Knowing how the Samantha story line plays out, I can see an argument of how it might make sense to include her in this episode, but it’s a tenuous one at best. In this episode, it just feels extraneous.

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On a technical level, this episode is mostly business as usual. The appearances of “Samantha” weren’t done with any effects or anything, but there is an unrelated scene at the end which uses some pretty bad early ’90s effects to make the dead appear to the living. They’re pretty laughable, at least they don’t last long. There is a distinct Christ-like framing of Samuel in jail, not actually as if he’s on the cross but pretty damn close. Mulder and Scully along with the Sheriff go to exhume one of the victims bodies early on in the episode, and a group of Hartley’s congregation comes to stop them in a pretty chilling way. It’s your classic sci-fi look ever since Blade Runner which The X-Files uses quite a bit, lots of fog, with one bright light source shining through it. When you put a lot of people with candles in the frame it just looks that much more creepy.

In the end, this ends up being a pretty forgettable Monster of the Week episode for The X-Files. Mysterious things are briefly considered, partially but not totally explained, and then it’s back to business as usual. The “Samantha” appearances feel out of place and tacked on to me. Scully does briefly engage with her own faith here, but it’s not even close to being a Scully-centric episode. All in all, a pretty meh episode.

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“God never lets the devil steal the show.”

Long story short: 2.5/4 stars

Click here to read my review of next week’s episode, “Shapes”

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