The X-Files

Season 4 Episode 10

Paper Hearts

Aired Monday 9:00 PM Dec 15, 1996 on FOX
out of 10
User Rating
309 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

Mulder's dreams help him in finding the body of a little girl which re-opens one of his old cases in the Violent Crimes Unit and leads him to believe the killer he captured had more victims and may have taken his sister many years before.

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  • Little Broken Hearts- Norah Jones

    After exiting the good territory of a main X Files plot we get back to the cases of the week but this time we get a little bit more. Bringing in Samantha as a possible victim by the hands of a serial killer does interesting things for Mulder and they played it well. A well made villain with no sympathy, a broken FBI agent and to top it off an open ended conclusion, will they ever find that last child and put all the paper hearts to rest, who knows.moreless
  • "Paper Hearts" set new standards for compassionate storytelling and stretched-to-breaking-point tension. And in the best tradition of the series, it leaves us with an agonizing ambiguity--what really did happen to Samantha Mulder? Has Mulder's famous memory played him false all his life? Delicious little puzzles like this are what make great X-Filesmoreless

    The heart of The X-Files has always been in the recesses of Mulder's mind, in his relentless search for his sister and his implacable pursuit of memory. What is unchangeable is the fact of Samantha Mulder's disappearance. The agency of that event is a matter of some contention: Mulder asks Scully if she has ever believed that Samantha was abducted by aliens. Without saying so in so many words, Scully makes plain her doubt of this scenario.

    We have seen Fox Mulder find and lose his sister in various ersatz forms in past episodes, yet her very existence is still a mystery. Was that really a clone of his sister in "Colony"--or a clever fake? Were those silent little girls of "Herrenvolk" really clones--or another lie? Are they still alive, or has Mulder been deceived? There are so many ways to interpret the various "Samanthas" we have been shown, that Mulder's confusion on this issue is completely understandable. Particularly so in light of his self-doubt in "Little Green Men", when he confessed to Scully that he was not sure the "abduction" even happened as he remembered it. So when a convicted child killer hints that he may know very precisely what happened to Samantha Mulder in November of 1973, Mulder is overwhelmingly compelled to listen.

    A remorseless sociopath, John Roche culled his victims, all young pre-adolescent girls, from the families of people to whom he sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door. Almost immediately, Mulder discovers chilling evidence that Roche was involved in his sister's disappearance. Roche taunts Mulder, relishing yet another victim squirming under his thumb, until Mulder finally springs Roche on a Federal release order. Mulder's intent is for Roche to lead him to Samantha's grave. Instead, Roche turns the tables on Mulder and escapes, taking a child hostage. Mulder is faced with the nightmare of an escaped predator armed with his own gun and badge, with Assistant Director Skinner breathing fire over his blunder. In the end, Mulder uses memory itself as the trap in which he catches John Roche in a web of lies.

    Mulders parking-lot dream rescue shows, for once, what a healed Mulder would look like. As he clasps his sister/self in his arms with a grin of pure relief and redemption, the deadpan mask drops and we see a Mulder full of joy, as he might have been before grief and failure and guilt turned him partly to stone.

    We finally get to see a loving, tender Fox as he hugs his mother, obviously still grateful to have her. Maybe Mulder is beginning to break past his own defenses and connect to other people, after a lifetime of being frozen by the trauma of his childhood. Yet he is still the sharp-witted hunter wily enough to outwit his prey. Mulder starts out as the victim of Roche's mind games (Roche: "Pick her out...Are you sure you want that one?") and then snares Roche in his own net when he deliberately takes Roche to the wrong house to test his "memory" of abducting Samantha. Throughout, Duchovny gives us a three-dimensional Mulder who now truly trusts Scully, who lets her into his pain as he appeals to her for help. I particularly liked the scene in the morgue, where he discovers that the body he recovered is not his sister's. "It's not her. It's somebody, though." This scene let him do what he does best--show us Mulder struggling to control so many emotions at once--grief, loss, relief, anger.

    Gillian Anderson, for her part, shows us a Scully determined to defend her partner even from himself. When Skinner rightly threatens to yank Mulder off the case for hitting a prisoner, she defends her partner. One of the most telling moments comes when Mulder, digging away barehanded at what may be his sister's grave, calls for her help. After a moment of hesitation, she joins him.

    Tom Noonan, as the obscene John Roche, turns in a terrifying and naturalistic performance, perfectly nuanced. It's a portrait of a man for whom the only borders are the bars of a cage; when released he knows no restraint, no boundary, no limit. A complete outlaw, he savors the savage murders of sixteen innocents, reliving them as the peak experiences of his life. His glee as he taunts Mulder's belief in little green men from outer space, his satisfaction as he relishes the prospect of breaking Mulder with the fine points of Samantha's murder, and his cowardice in the face of Mulder's anger were all rendered in fine detail, as artless as breathing.

    I cannot omit my applause for the surreal dream sequences in this episode, which fitted so seamlessly into the overall fabric of the story. Especially good was the parking-lot bit, where the unlocking of the car and the release of Samantha parallels Mulder's unconscious unlocking of Roche's handcuffs and the release of his prisoner.moreless
  • One of the best episodes of the series

    I think this plot works because it gives s fans a new theory of Samantha's abduction, a more reasonable theory for the skeptic, that is. Even when it was a lie, it keeps you interested the whole time.

    It's terrible to see John Lee Roche mess with Mulder's mind. But what is worse, is having him torture Mulder with a situation that has caused him so much pain and that has been haunting him all these years. Besides all the losses in his life for looking for answers.

    Fortunately, Scully was at his side the whole time, making him see what was wrong and supporting him all the way.moreless
  • Mulder finds the dead body of a girl via one of his dreams.

    Mulder's search for Samantha and the truth of what happened to her is basically what has driven him to search for such strange things in the first place. It's what makes him such a three-dimensional character (at least one of the things that makes him that way) and I always look forward to any episode that references her, if only so we can get a closer glimpse at what happened to her.

    This episode was amazing in the way it got us to see Samantha's disappearance from a completely different perspective and provided us a possible alternative to Fox's long-standing "abducted by aliens" theory. Of course, I was a bit worried that the discovery that Samantha may have simply been abducted by a strange child molester was a bit disappointing, but things become even more complicated when we learn Fox learns all this through a series of strange dreams that he has. Also, it makes things even stranger when we learn that Fox and the aforementioned child molester may be sharing some sort of connection which helps the child molester see things through Fox's eyes and possibly his dreams.

    It ends up bringing up an interesting plot point: is the child molester truly the abductor of Samantha or is he just playing off of Fox's dreams? It's a great little episode that stands out in the middle of the some pretty disappointing ones this season.moreless
  • The Dreams Of Children

    A nice episode with a clever premise. Mulder's intuition and sense of paranoia battle it out, assisted perhaps by the killer's ability to see into or control Mulder's dreams. It seems that this was one case that left nagging doubts in Mulder, doubts that he eventually suppressed from his conscious mind but that his unconscious mind continued to process, unnoticed to him until the opening dream sequence leads him to the body of an unknown victim. So we have Mulder's finely honed intuitive sense seemingly triumphing.

    But then the other side of the coin, Mulder's deep-seated paranoia, begins to peek through. The killer senses this and takes full advantage by slyly insinuating that Mulder's sister was one of his other unknown victims. Despite the past evidence that his sister was, indeed, abducted by aliens, Mulder lets paranoia override his intuition and he sneaks the killer out of prison. Eventually, Mulder's paranoia doubles back to the killer, whom he tests by taking him to the wrong house.

    As noted by others in their reviews, the acting in this episode is really top-notch. The writing is tight and economical but I think the story would have benefitted from a longer running time, perhaps a two-parter or a feature. It would have been more powerful and more effective if we could have seen at least some part of the original case or been given some background into one or more of the victims. This would have added an emotional dimension that I think was sorely missing from this episode. Also, it would have given the writers more time to develop what I assume was the killer's ability to manipulate Mulder's dreams.moreless
Byrne Piven

Byrne Piven

Frank Sparks

Guest Star

Jane Perry

Jane Perry

Day Care Operator

Guest Star

Edward Diaz

Edward Diaz

El Camino Owner

Guest Star

Mitch Pileggi

Mitch Pileggi

Assistant Director Walter Skinner

Recurring Role

Vanessa Morley

Vanessa Morley

Young Samantha Mulder

Recurring Role

Rebecca Toolan

Rebecca Toolan

Mrs Mulder

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (4)

    • If the bodies had decayed down to clean skeleton the fabric would certainly not be in such good condition.

    • When Mulder shoots Roche there is no visible wound on his forehead, or his face, or his neck. Where did Mulder shoot him to create the splatter on the window?

    • Mulder comes to believe that his sister may have met a more mundane end, at the hands of a serial killer, rather than being abducted by aliens. However, he doesn't stop to think about the alien clones from "Colony/Endgame" and "Herrenvolk", which prove that his sister was, in fact, abducted and experimented on by aliens.

      Also, in "End Game" (Season 2, Ep. 17), the Alien Bounty Hunter answers Mulder's question as to where his sister is: "She's alive. Can you die now?"

    • Mulder is able to follow up on his dreams by reading messages and signs posted within them. However, dreams are controlled entirely by the left side of the brain, thus rendering it impossible for human beings to read anything while having them.

      Response: This is not true according to much research. Dreams are widely though of as a function of the fore brain, which encompasses both hemispheres. The left hemisphere mostly controls language anyway, so it should be perfectly possible for people to 'see' signs and words in dreams. It may not be possible to 'read' in the normal way, though I'd disagree with this as well, as, as a writer, I often dream about reading manuscripts and they seem perfectly legible, even if they sometimes don't make sense!

  • QUOTES (16)

    • Scully: Tell me about this dream.
      Mulder: I've had flashes of it three nights in a row. Last night it went on long enough to lead me to her.

    • John Roche: This man... this man hit me. (indicates Mulder)
      Guard: I didn't see it.
      Scully: (entering room) I did.

    • John Roche: Mulder. Long time no see. Got a new partner.

    • Mulder: Scully, do you belive that my sister Samantha was abducted by aliens? Have you ever believed that? No. So What do you think what happened to her?
      Scully: What are you saying you believe now?
      Mulder: I don't know. I don't know what happened. I don't know what to believe. I just know that I have to find out now.

    • Scully: Don't you think the car might have been searched at least once already?
      Mulder: Not by me.

    • Scully: A dream is an answer to a question we haven't yet figured out how to ask.

    • Roche: It's your sister.
      Mulder: If that's true, tell me where.
      Roche: But you'll want to now everything, right? The big mystery revealed. The...
      Scully: Drop the mind games.
      Roche: I can't just tell you. You need me to show you.
      Mulder: [sighs] You just want to get out of here.
      Roche: You're damn right I do. You know, just for a day or two. I'm being honest about that. And most of all, I can't wait to see your face.
      Scully: [as if she's ill] Oh, God. [now spitting] You're going to see the inside of your cell and that's where you're going to rot. [Turns to Mulder defensively] Come on, Mulder. Let's get out of here!
      [They quickly do. While waiting to get out of the guard area, we see Roche holding sadly his head with his hands like he's just blown it.]

    • Roche: Her name was Karen Ann Philiponte. She lived in a green rancher in East Amherst, New York. Mint grew outside her window. I stood outside her window atop sprigs of mint. It smelled wonderful.
      Scully: [tired and stressed] What year?
      Roche: July 1974. I had her mother on the hook for an Electrovac Argosy, but at the last minute, she said "thanks but no thanks."

    • Roche: Pick one.
      Mulder: What?
      Roche: You guess the one that's your sister's and I tell you the location. Come on, it's a 50-50 chance. Either way, I'm giving you a victim.
      )Mulder chooses one of the two hearts)
      Roche: (kind of egging on) That one. Are you sure you want that one?
      (Mulder and Scully give a sigh of stress.)
      Roche: (still grinning) Just kidding. (now rather honest) That's a good pick.

    • Skinner: You make sure that he treads. And that he treads very lightly.

    • [Mulder starts digging for one of Roche's victim's]
      Scully: Mulder, let's get a team out here. Let somebody else do this.
      Mulder: [desperate] Help me, Scully.

    • Roche: [sees two of his hearts, each one in a plastic sandwich bag] I'm not talking to you if you're going to hit me again.
      [A moment of silence passes. The guard and Scully are now there to make sure Mulder stays under control.Roche reaches for one of the bagged hearts, but Mulder grabs his wrist, and stops him.]
      Mulder: [boldy] No. You don't get to touch them. They stay in the bag.

    • Mulder: Sir? I need to know why I've been denied further access to John Lee Roche. I was told that order comes down from you.
      Skinner: Could you tell me why you saw fit to strike a prisoner in federal custody?
      [Mulder looks back at Scully.]
      Skinner: [calmly at first easy, but gets angrier as he says] Now, Agent Scully didn't report that to me but she should have. The whole thing was videotaped as per prison policy. I saw it. You're lucky I don't have your ass in a sling!

    • Roche: Did you bring me back my hearts?
      Mulder: Yesterday, you said something about me taking it personally. Why did you say that to me?
      [Roche smirks]
      Mulder: Where were you in 1973?
      Roche: When exactly? The whole year?
      Mulder: November 1973. November 27th, 1973. Do you know what I'm getting at?
      Roche: I was selling vacuum cleaners in 1973. I made a sales trip to Martha's Vineyard that time of year and...I uh, sold a vacuum cleaner to your dad. He bought it for your mom. I believe it was a Electrovac Duchess or the Princess model. Uh, your dad and I talked about it at great length. He, uh had a really hard time choosing.
      Mulder: What do you know about my sister?
      Roche: You bring me back my hearts, and maybe I'll tell you more.
      [Furious, Mulder punches the smirking Roche in the face. He goes down to the ground, and shakes himself to get his bearings back together. As he stands up the door buzzes open and the guard comes in.]
      Roche: [points at Mulder] This man, uh this man hit me.
      Guard: I didn't see it.
      [The door again buzzes open and Scully walks in.]
      Scully: I did.
      [Mulder lets his fist go guilty as he's been cuaght.]

    • Mulder: That's exactly how it happened? Right here in this room?
      Roche: Yeah.
      Mulder: Wrong house.

    • Mulder: Sixteen victims John. Why did you say there were only thirteen?
      John Lee Roche: Thirteen sounds so much more magical.

  • NOTES (4)

    • Bosher's Run Park is a reference to Bosher's Dam in James River Park, a favorite haunt of Vince Gilligan in his native Virginia.

    • When Scully says to Mulder: "A dream is an answer to a question we haven't yet learned how to ask," she is quoting Mulder back at himself. He originally said this line in the season 2 episode "Aubrey".

    • Mulder finds Roche's trophy cloth hearts inside a copy of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland". Later we learn that Roche lived on Alice Street. The veiled reference here is to Carroll's alleged fascination with prepubescent girls.

    • Roche's El Camino was sold to a man living in Hollyville, Delaware; named for writer Vince Gilligan's girlfriend, Holly Rice.


    • Episode Title: Paper Hearts
      "Paper Hearts" was the nickname given to the case by agents because of the cloth hearts that John Lee Roche removed from his victims clothing.