This week’s episode of The X-Files ends with one of the best scenes in quite a while, a moment between Mulder and Scully that feels like it signals the end of the landmark series, which will come with next week’s (likely) series finale. But before that happens, we get a slowly paced hour about a classic TV and movie star who has formed a cult around her refusal to age. Of course, there’s something meta about doing a story about a TV star who looks timeless, given how much David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have completely defied the aging process and that we’re watching a show that premiered almost 25 years ago. Is it really The X-Files itself that has refused to age? Or has its cult fandom kept it alive?
There’s also a thinly defined parallel between the Christian religion and cult-dom in “Nothing Lasts Forever,” but even though the connection doesn’t quite work, it allows us to revisit what has always been a true strength of this show: Dana Scully’s faith. The writers of The X-Files revealed Scully’s faith carefully in the first season, before it became a recurring part of the series in episodes like “One Breath,” “Elegy,” and “All Souls.” Not only does Anderson handle this aspect of the character incredibly well, but it’s always allowed for a bit of role reversal, where the skeptic character becomes the believer. It is nice to see this aspect of Scully explored again before the series ends.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” opens at Port Morris in the Bronx, where we meet Juliet, a vigilante searching for her missing sister who has joined a cult. Said cult is run by Barbara Beaumont, an old TV star who looks nearly the same as she did on TV a half-century ago. How does she do it? She eats body parts. It turns out that Barbara’s cult is based on intense, constant cannibalism. She found a doctor, who also looks much younger than his biological age, who taught her a regimen of the consumption of human organs and fluids. He’s even gone a step further in that he surgically grafts people to himself to “use” their bodies as fuel. And Juliet’s sister, Olivia, is now a part of this cult.
There’s not much else to the episode narratively, and so we spend a great deal of time with Barbara and her followers as they languish around the apartment and eat pancreas smoothies. Barbara rants and raves, mouthing along with her lines on classic TV shows, and even singing a timeless cheeseball classic (“The Morning After”) while one of her followers kills himself and the rest eat his organs. She’s drinking a Follower Shake before she’s even hits the final note. How would Maureen McGovern feel?
Spending so much time with Barbara means we don’t really get to know Juliet, only that she’s a religious avenger who will do anything to save her sister. We also don’t see much of an investigation: Organs are stolen, organs are recovered, Mulder and Scully place a tracker in a heart, organs are stolen again, then our heroes find the cult. Last week’s episode may have had shallow symbolism, but it was at least packed with action. This, by comparison, is one of the slowest hours of the season.
But “Nothing Lasts Forever” does serve up a few choice exchanges between Mulder and Scully that feel like subtle commentary on the show itself. When they first get to the scene of the opening crime, Mulder says, “Sometimes I wonder why we keep doing it, Scully.” Perhaps a nod to the critics and skeptics? Still, Mulder’s argument that “We like to think we recover facets that would otherwise go unnoticed” is a great way to describe what they do.
It all leads up to that fantastic final scene, in which Scully and Mulder speak in front of prayer candles and discuss their faith. She’s questioned hers — as most people have — and he’s joked about his lack of it, even noting surprise that he didn’t burst into flames earlier in this episode. “I may not believe in God, but I believe in you,” Mulder tells her. He speaks to God through Scully. What a great idea: the transitive power of faith. And then Mulder gets an incredible beat in which he wonders if Scully’s life would have been better if she walked out of the office on that first day. She might not have so much misery in her life. But he’s still here for her. It’s easily Duchovny’s best scene of the year. Ultimately, Mulder chooses not to leave Scully. She whispers in his ear and then speaks of wanting to do something together. She wants to take a “leap of faith forward,” whatever that means. Mulder says, “I’ve always wondered how this was gonna end.” We’ll find out next week.
• How do you think it’ll end? What’s Scully’s “leap of faith”? Could it be as cheesy as a wedding? Would that satisfy you? Do you think they’ll leave the door open for a possible season 12, or will they close it forever?
• The tag this week in case you missed it: “I Want to Be Beautiful.” Don’t we all.
• If you’re wondering about this week’s guest stars, they’re both TV regulars. Fiona Vroom, who played Barbara, has been on Altered Carbon, The Man in the High Castle, Hell on Wheels, Bates Motel, and more. Jere Burns, the creepy doctor, has been on TV for decades, very memorably as the vicious Wynn Duffy on Justified.
• Mulder notices that one of the scriptures is Romans 12:19 (“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord”), but there are two others on the board as well. They are Psalms 45:11 (“Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.=”) and Job 40:10 (“Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty”).