"Memento Mori" opens with a voice over narration, Agent Scully reading from her journal. Though the language is as formal as Scully's reports, the emotion in it seeps through to saturate the scene in despair and resignation. The camera takes us down a long tunnel of white light, reminiscent of near-death experiences, to focus finally on Dana Scully's X-ray, showing a deadly mass growing at the base of her brain. From this image of the death's-head, the episode unreels as a parallel story deriving from Scully's abduction: Scully fights the result of it and Mulder seeks the cause of it. As before, Scully rejects their stories, but is forced to rely on Penny, who is dying of brain cancer, as her guide through the ordeal of cancer therapy. Mulder, meanwhile, searches desperately for information about the other women of that luckless group, all of whom are dead; his investigation leads him to a fertility clinic and a confrontation with a hybridization experiment that now vitally involves Scully.
"They're our mothers," Kurt the Clone tells Mulder. In such small and offhand sentences whole story arcs are born. In "Herrenvolk", X's last words to Scully herself were a warning to "protect the mother". Is Dana Scully indeed the genetic mother of a set of red-headed clones?
The metaphor of cancer as an invading demon, with chemo/radiation therapy as a form of exorcism, struck a profound note. The mini-drama between Skinner and the Cigarette-Smoking Man alone deserves a paragraph, as Skinner contemplates a Faustian bargain. Scully's diary entries beautifully summed up her relationship with Mulder with her usual dispassionate and objective mien: like Marie Curie, Scully would take her own temperature and make her own diagnosis on her deathbed, a scientist to the end.
I'm not sure where to begin in describing Gillian Anderson's benchmark performance. Likewise, Sheila Larken's brief scene as Mrs. Scully once again showcased her capacity to show tenderness, anger, and bitter grief mixed together. Mitch Pileggi's terse and troubled Skinner struck the perfect note of worry and resolve, and the final image of the episode, closing in on his profoundly disturbed expression, sounded the right grace note for the story. Gillian Barber's portrayal of the ill-fated Penny Northern was enough to bring tears to a statue.
In "Memento Mori", Duchovny let us hear the tears stuck in Mulder's throat, the anger choking him, the fear nearly strangling him. Struck nearly dumb with grief and denial, he fights to maintain his usual sang-froid and utterly fails. From the sea-change that comes over Mulder's face when Scully tells him of her cancer, to the barely-repressed grimace when she calls him to bring her bag to the hospital, Duchovny gives us a Mulder stripped down to raw, bleeding nerve. In a storage room that might contain his own sister's eggs, he doesn't even look for a drawer with her name on it. In Skinner's office, he is willing to sell his soul cheap for Scully's life. Mulder is down to his last emotional nickel here, on the ragged edge of despair. The most sensitive moment in "Memento Mori", however, the one that demonstrated Fox Mulder's innate humanity, came as Scully walks away down the hospital corridor. He takes the vial of her eggs from his pocket-- and does nothing. The truth, and his quest, might be served by revealing to Scully at this supremely vulnerable moment that she has suffered a violation as intimate and visceral as rape. But the Fox Mulder who might have blurted out the painful truth in the first season now thinks twice. Finally, he understands that some things--such as compassion- -are more important than his version of the truth.
"Memento Mori" gives Dana Scully a crusade of her own, and Mulder a partner unto death.