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11X09: Nothing Lasts Forever

This is the last stand-alone case before the (season? series?) finale, after being switched with Familiar — and the switch works, as this episode includes some watershed Mulder & Scully moments that we are not likely to have time for next week. Nothing Lasts Forever is written by Karin Nielsen (script coordinator for season 11; and apparently someone Carter knew, since her short film Grace was included in the season 10 BluRays) and directed by James Wong, although it was was initially advertised as a Morgan & Wong script (their first collaboration for over a decade, after their writing partnership split); there are plenty of elements still in the final script that remind of a Morgan & Wong story: Nielsen must have worked closely with both even more than Cloke & Hamblin worked with Morgan for Followers.

The Gore-Files

Nothing Lasts Forever looks at a particular sub-genre of horror: gore. It purposefully tries to out-do the series’ well-known precedent shocker of an episode, 4X03: Home, and certainly succeeds — I wouldn’t know whether this is testing the limits of what can and cannot be shown on network television since there have been so many shows since then (Hannibal?), however things have changed a lot compared to the strictness of the 1990s!

The X-File here mixes a cult of vampire-like cannibals, organ theft by doctors, a mad scientist looking for the fountain of youth, the public persona pressure for a youthful appearance and fear of old age (with yet-another-tagline-change, unfortunately: “I Want To Be Beautiful“), as well as a revenge story fuelled by religious Catholic fervor — quite a bit for a single episode! As a consequence, the Mulder and Scully scenes feel clumpsily out of place and tonally and thematically not very linked with the rest of the episode; the investigation aspect is boiled down to its very minimum, with much of it happening offscreen; the plot itself is, after all, very simple, and could be summarized in just two scenes of setup in the vampires’ den and the resolution. There is only so much you can do in 42 minutes, and Nielsen & Wong’s choice was to sacrifice investigation time for building atmosphere and tension, a fair choice.

A significant part of the episode is spent in the vampires’ den (reminiscent of 7X01: Hungry), giving actress Fiona Vroom time enough to shine (she was also the young Cassandra Spender in My Struggle III!) in a role reminiscent of Gloria Swanson’s in Sunset Boulevard. The episode’s gore culminates with a gory combination of a song over horrific images, a stylistic choice used many times by Morgan & Wong! There are comments about scientists going beyond what regulation and morals permit so as to attain a goal for the good of humanity, as in 1X15: Young at Heart (although Dr. Lovinus’ tirade comes at an odd time in the episode though, pausing the tension of Mulder searching for the missing Scully).

There are parallels drawn between the cult’s literal consumption of human flesh and blood and the Christian act of symbolically consuming Christ’s flesh and blood in order to accept him in one’s life and attain eternal life — both in the way Scully’s communion is shown and how a cult member is willing to sacrifice himself so that he can live on through Barbara. The B-story of “La Avispa” (the wasp, stinging its victims), a Latina Buffy-like vampire hunter straight out of an action movie, is given a short time to develop, but the script makes the most out of it with the two scenes echoing each other of the two different sisters coming down to their mother, who is weeping and praying for the missing one.

Overall, this is not an episode for the faint of heart! Wong’s directing does an excellent job, particularly putting attention to the transition between scenes, and not hesitating to add icky sound effects of chewing and licking and squishing to maximum effect (remember that a sound — a baby crying — was a specific element that did not pass the censors for Home!), making use of his experience with American Horror Story, a show with a similar tone. Between this and Ghouli, Wong signs two of the best-directed episodes this season, making it obvious how important directing, not only writing, is for a show like The X-Files. One has to wonder how the episodes directed by Carter and the Morgans would have turned out with directors of Wong’s caliber: the auteur approach of a single person writing and directing his own episodes is interesting, but it has shown its limits in this revival.

Mulder and Scully and that church scene

The aptly titled Nothing Lasts Forever ties the theme of the episode of working against the natural process of ageing with how our main characters have grown old as well — the passage of time is something that almost every single episode has dwelled on in this revival with uneven results, and it would have been repetitive here would it not have been for the quality of the dialogue. Yes, Mulder and Scully are older, the show itself is old, there is no denying it.

This comes off almost like a meta commentary on the show itself: it too wants to be young an hip when it is two decades past its prime, and goes through all kinds of artifices to trick itself and its cult (us fans) that you can go back. More than just mentioning these characters are older, like This, it is integrating this fact in its story; in a sense it is building on ideas discussed in The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat. Certainly the Mulder & Scully scenes show that the episode is conscient that it is in the closing age of the series and not before a new golden era. There is a sense of inter-connectedness between the episodes this season more than in season 10, rarely in character continuity but at least in the underlying themes.

Mulder and Scully’s scenes together are destined to remain among those most remembered from this revival. They are in tone with the show, much better written and acted than the ones in Plus One, far from the sappiness of love declarations of 9X08: Trust No 1, and strong enough to convince even this agnostic noromo; their dialogue rings true in the mouth of these characters and for once we really have the impression that we are watching the characters and not the actors. Although it could be said that this is the sort of discussion that is one or two decades too late and that they might have had it repeatedly offscreen in the past already, the fact is that such a discussion openly addressing their relationship and their common future has been a long time coming for viewers, and this potentially being their penultimate episode together it fits very well here.

Scully laments her failures: “I believed I could protect our son, and I failed. I believed that we could live together, and I fled.” Mulder’s fear is that their work in the X-Files has been holding Scully back from living a better life, echoing the hallway scene in Fight the Future or the motel scene in 7X22: Requiem. But Scully absolves Mulder of all that guilt (“I don’t begrudge you any of those things“): their shared history has been going on for so long that it is not about Mulder’s obsession in the paranormal, it is not about who is pulling who into the X-Files. Mulder is very much ready to start again, and it has been Scully who has been thinking things over.

While Carter did not include any scene in the revival to show how their relationship broke up, he did describe the end scene of Babylon as an important moment for them; but it is really the moments in this episode that are the important (and superior) ones. The question is, bluntly, “are we together?“, however the acting and directing, the church scenery, and the a religious and spiritual connotations of Mulder lighting Scully’s candle give this a lot more weight and significance than any melodrama from a telenovela. As frustrating as Scully’s inaudible whisper was upon first viewing, it is indeed a beautiful moment of intimacy for them and them only — similar to us not knowing what were their gifts in 6X08: How the Ghosts Stole Christmas or what happened after the credits in many an episode.

This analysis would not be complete without mention of the pregnancy theory. Picking up on the discussion and sex and the name of the St Rachel motel in Plus One; the stained glass depicting children joining Jesus under which the discussion takes place; the mention here again of Scully as a mother (“have a bunch of kids that you wouldn’t have to give up“); all of these seem hints that a pregnancy is brewing. Indeed, why discuss “miracles” so heavily, a term associated with the conception of William, when all Scully is mulling over is their future together? What action and project does she refer to when she says “I’d like to do it together“? It somehow feels more than a decision to “be” together, but to “do” together. It can be read both ways, and probably purposefully so — My Struggle IV itself might leave it ambiguous as well!

Regardless, dialogue like “reason and faith in harmony” is a summation of everything in The X-Files: a callback to season 7, when the show was also ending then, during which Mulder and Scully’s beliefs drew progressively closer until they became one. A great point to leave these characters, if there was any.

Next week: finale!

“This Man” is again present in this episode (graffitied on the building of the vampires’ den, when Mulder and Scully enter it), and its status as something significant or as an Easter Egg should be revealed next week.

And thus we come to the end of the string of eight stand-alone episodes this season. The X-Files has always worked by being more than the sum of its parts, by having a base template that could be used to explore all sorts of stories and genres. The longer length of season 11 has allowed the show to look at science fiction stories, technology parables, supernatural horror, paranormal thriller, gore. The longer length has also allowed episodes to tackle their story and not fusing things together like 10X4: Home Again. There has been, at times and far from consistently, some continuity (here: reference to Charlie Scully, Scully’s mother’s coin from Home Again, an 1121 reference, a 9X03: 4-D reference (?)); much less so than how other shows do it but more than the stand-alones in an average X-Files season; the mythology is another issue altogether. Each episode has had its more or less big ball of problems, some with huge, but the overall feel is that of a more satisfying season than season 10 (a feel perhaps reinforced due to two of the season’s strongest are these two last ones).

It is interesting that only one of the old gang, Wong, and two new writers, Van Allen and Nielsen, are the ones that seem to understand what works in The X-Files and give episodes that feel satisfying as “scary stories” and as emotional stories. It has been an uneven run of episodes, which shows that The X-Files still has life in it left when it is handled well, but that it should really think about the stories it wants to tell in an environment where so many quality shows out there make viewers less forgiving of missteps.

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5 Responses to “11X09: Nothing Lasts Forever”

  1. Anna says:

    The pregnancy is the popular theory out there (I haven’t read any spoilers) but Scully’s “I want to do it together” may refer to her search for William. Maybe she finally have faith in herself that she can protect him and it’s time to be together and she wants to do it with Mulder. Earlier in the episode she held her mother’s coin and her mother’s last words weren’t about William?

    • orodromeus says:

      That would make sense! — especially given how out of place the end of MS3 was with “he’ll find us”. But I think whatever they said is not directly linked to MS4. Nielsen said as much in interviews, and this episode was initially planned for airing before Familiar.

      If gheyvplan on re-adopting William they should hurry, very soon he will be 18 and legally an adult!

      • Anna says:

        You are right, I forgot about the re order of the episodes. Then whatever it is it can’t be earth shattering as in Familiar nothing had changed. more likely she said she is ready to continue her life beyond the X-Files and she wants to do it with him. Although I wouldn’t put it pass 1013 to hint something like a pregnancy in one episode and in the next episode to act like nothing happened. Typical X-Files! Let’s see what they have in store for the finale.

  2. Lami says:

    I really enjoyed this classic X-File episode. Moreover, for me, the last scene in the church is a dignified conclusion to the story of Mulder and Scully, because IMO the final episode “My Struggle IV” is simply a bullshit and great disappointment. Here in this beautiful intimate moment, I’m sure they still love each other and they want to be together forever. And that’s enough satisfaction for me.

    • orodromeus says:

      In the past I would have taken issue with the shop’s shipper moments 😀 but the status of the mythology is such that indeed NLF is so much more satisfying and true to their characters.

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