Dana Scully, having come to a minor crisis in her life brought on by depression, finds herself rebelling against Mulder, against her job, against her self.
When Mulder is forced to go on vacation (to Graceland, of course), he reluctantly leaves her in charge of a case. In a scene we have waited for for years, Scully finally asks why she does not have a desk, flat-out refuses to investigate a farcical case, and stonily refuses to be drawn into a debate with Mulder over her commitment to The X-Files. They part on poor terms, and Scully goes off to Philadelphia, where she meets Ed Jerse, a man coming out of a divorce and a drinking binge, and when their paths cross sparks fly. The only trouble is that Ed is more than he seems to be--his own newly acquired tattoo, which Scully so much admires, talks to him. Stranded by a storm, on the outs with Mulder, alone and depressed, Scully takes Ed up on his dinner invitation, which becomes a date at a bar, which becomes a tattoo a deux, which leads to a night in Ed's apartment.
And thats where the rug got jerked out from under our expectations. Everything in this episode was leading up to sex. I didn't need to see it, but I needed to know it happened. I didn't need a last-minute cop-out, where Ed takes the couch and Dana sleeps in her clothes. The intent of the entire first half of the episode was clearly slanted that way. The whole point of the episode is that Scully is seeking to re-make her self--through a tattoo which symbolizes her facing of her fears, everything from snakes (see One Breath), disfigurement, independence, to a sexual encounter not sanctioned by an authority figure. She spent half an hour letting down her barriers. So what happened? Did a show which does not hesitate to show more blood suddenly get Puritanical on us? Or is the famous double standard at work? In "Fire", Mulder embraced and kissed his old girlfriend, but in "Lazarus" Scully didn't even touch her former lover. In "3", Mulder kisses a vampire groupie, but in "Never Again", Scully doesn't even get a lip lock. The raw sensuality and eroticism of the tattoo scene itself notwithstanding, the story's potential for revelation and discovery was thrown away with both hands. This attempt to maintain a falsely virginal aspect to Agent Scully only renders her character naive.
It's too bad, because this episode was remarkable in many ways. The elegant dialogue is at its best here. Scully's "This is not about you, Mulder" is eerily echoed by the tattoo's "Hear that? It's you, Ed! It's all about you!" How many times did the talk of lines and circles, of authority and rebellion underscore the events unfolding? Jon Joffin's circling camerawork, which metaphorically echoed the dialogue, was impressive. I was particularly struck by the long tracking shot after Ed enters his downstairs neighbor's apartment to kill her for playing the Partridge Family too loud (justifiable homicide if I ever saw it). The camera backs away from the door, circles backwards down the stairs, into the basement in a scene reminiscent of Hitchcock's "Frenzy". Yet director Rob Bowman shows us only spatters of blood, lets us hear the weight of a body bumping down the stairs, and never shows us the actual violence spawned by rage and fear. This is the X- Files at its best--terror without gore.
The acting was first rate. Jodie Foster's manic laugh (as the voice of the tattoo) was marvelous. Duchovny himself let us see the Dark Side of Fox Mulder: snotty, arrogant, self-centered, and very nasty in a fight. Anderson is outstanding, showing us Scully's sensuality, her lack of self-confidence, her fear, her despair in subtle and understated nuance. It is a landmark performance from Anderson, who continues to shine this season. Mark Snow outdid himself on the music for the tattoo scene, which became a raga-like purr weaving itself through an intimate moment of shared physicality. The Elvis glasses on Mulder, as well as the Elvis-fu Mulderdance at Graceland, were almost de rigeur by now.
It was not until the second viewing that I realized that Ed's tattoo opened her eye when "she" was talking to him. The crowning moment, however, was the final scene. After a quietly stormy opening, a rocky parting, and a reunion marked by Mulder's sneer, we get a scene which, with very few words, reveals his need for Scully, his dependence on her, and the assumptions he has made about her life. Mulder does indeed think of Scully as part of the X-Files: she has become part of the office furniture, and when she rebels he is astonished to discover how intimately entwined their lives have become. It is fitting that Morgan and Wong's last contribution to The X-Files should be an unfinished sentence spoken in a half-lit room, with no music to break the tension, the promise, or the sense of unease.