The X-Files

Season 4 Episode 10

Paper Hearts

Aired Wednesday 8:00 PM Dec 15, 1996 on FOX

Episode Fan Reviews (11)

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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.
  • "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-Files


    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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • heart collecting baldy

    Summary- A serial killer imprisoned by Agent Mulder exerts a strange influence on him, leading him to believe that his sister was not abducted by aliens.
    Review- This is an intresting x-file episode- in the fact that its not that much about the paranormal but still manages to keep the view hooked. It develops the narrative hook of "What happend to Mulders sister?"- and leads the viewer to draw different conclusions, before knowing the real facts. There is more character development, and we see the emotional side of mulder. Overall this is a great episode with a nice story. 9 out of 10
  • The one where Samantha wasn't abducted by aliens

    ‘Paper Hearts’ is a good episode but not exactly what I would enjoy watching.
    My difficulties with it where the storyline and how much they tried to make it look like Samantha was indeed abducted by that man, Even though Mulder has seen her as an old clone and seen documents that say she was infact abducted by aliens. It just didn’t seem likely.

    Mulder is having dreams and one leaves him to a grave of a dead little girl, it reminds him of an old case of him. 13 dead girls and he kept a piece of their clothes as a heart. So now there is a 14th one and Mulder believes that there are more.

    When Mulder finds a book it has 16 hearts, so he wants to know who the other 2 victims were. The man tries to convince Mulder that one of them was Samantha and Mulder has the flashback only this time it weren’t’ aliens but the man who took Samantha.

    The man gives Mulder one of the names but it isn’t Samantha, the only way he will tell is if Mulder takes him to his house. That he does and the man tells him everything he did but Mulder says it’s not the same house, so the man tricked him. He only had the same dream and that’s why he knew all those detales.

    But that night the man escapes and leaves Mulder chained behind. The man abducts a little girl and is planning on killing her but Mulder comes to the rescue and shoots the man saving the little girl.

    The episode was pretty well nice, nice acting and good filming. I still think It was a bit unlikely how it all happened, but that’s the world of X-files. This episode was greta though it didn’t impress me as the last couple of season 4 episodes.

    I did like Mulder's character development and him thinking that his girl was infact not abducted by aliens.

    This episode is one of my favorites. On this episode the audience learn more about Mulder’s character. We learn how much change Mulder’s life the abduction of his sister Samantha. We learn why he is trying so desperately to find the truth. For Mulder is very hard to believe but at the same time he wants so desperately to believe. At the end of the episode I believe that he is decide to kill the kidnaper because he did not want to believe that his sister is dead. For one more time I am impreast by David Duchovny’s act and Chris Carter’s direction.
  • Mulder faces up to the horrible possibility that Samantha wasn't abducted by aliens.

    I adored this episode. The writing was wonderful. Vince Gilligan really out-did himself on this one. The villain is one of the creepiest ever, calm, cold & totally evil. The scenes between Mulder & his mother are very revealing, as are the scenes with Mulder and Scully. The most classic scene is when Mulder begins to dig in the dirt, searching for the little girl's body. Scully first begins to chastise, telling him they shouldn't be doing this. Then Mulder says, "Scully, help me," and a heartbeat later, Scully is digging her manicured nails into the soil. The scene where Mulder is examining the girl's body is amazing. The expression on his face is so controlled yet so passionate. Bravo, this is one of the best of the best.
  • What if... Samantha hadn't been abducted by aliens?

    Samantha Mulder being abducted by aliens has been the driving force behind Mulder's actions (and therefore the X Files themselves) from Day One. Learning the truth about her disappearance was his goal, finding her his dream. Neither happens in "Paper Hearts", but the episode gives him a nightmarish reinterpretation of what happened 20 years ago - and the viewers a chilling and eerily plausible mystery.

    Has Samantha really been kidnapped and murdered by a child molestor? Has Fox fantasized the alien abduction? In this show, it seems so and it makes a whole lot of sense (evidence of alien Samantha clones in episodes like "Colony" or "Herrenvolk" nonwithstanding). In some ways, this would've been a great and simple way to end the Samantha arc. It did end fairly well after all (see "Closure"), but this would've been perfect. In true X Files fashion, the mystery stays unsolved, but the way there is riveting. Tom Noonan ("Manhunter"'s Tooth Fairy) is excellent, as is David Duchovny. The two actors face off in many stunning scenes that drive home Mulder's obsession with his sister's fate. Who far will he go to find her? Will he accommodate a serial killer's whims? Will he embarrass Skinner and the FBI? Will he go against Scully? All questions that have appeared once before or after, that are so very Mulder, and they just fit perfectly with a story so harrowingly personal.

    Mark Snow's score is haunting, the dream sequences beautifully conceived and filmed. A success on all levels, and a truly remarkable, if horribly underrated episode.
  • Type of episode that's not the best if your an X-Files fan, but rather better if your a fan of dark mysteries and kidnappings or crinimals pasts.

    Most X-Files fan I know rate the episode 8.5, and I would too. But if I was more just a kidnapper, crinaml, dark mysery fan I would say 10. This truly is one of the best seriel killer, criminal, kidnapper TV episodes of all time.

    This really wasn't that horrible of an episode, especially if you hate killers. The dialogue and stories are kind of hard to digest (we hear the kidnapper strangled girls with an extension cord, but we never see that and only see the skeleton corpses). The only real visual violence is at the end (where there's a gun face off).

    Roche played his character with his heart/soul. In fact I loved him a lot. He spoke very smoothly and well. I enjoyed his stories about when he was selling the vaccuum cleaners.

    The episode has Mulder trying to find whether or not this guy kidnapped his sister. In the reality, his sister was kidnapped by aliens or government conspiracy. But the Roche guy really convinces him that he kidnapped her, even when he sold a vaccuum cleaner to his parents for real. But in the end, he had just somehow gotten into his head.

    The dream sequences with the red laser light was great. Roche was very smooth in fluent with his lines.

    It was pretty good when Mulder hauled a punch off on him, the guard said he didn't see it but Scully did. Then Skinner going, "Your lucky I don't have your @$$ in a sling" and "You make sure he treads, and treads very lightly" had me to laughing. Then the guard was in there the next day to keep such from happening.

    When Roche goes to feel his treasure hearts (that he had cut off the victim's pajamas in a heart shape) Mulder stops him and says, "They stay in the bags."

    Roche sort of talked like some good old doctor or psychartrist at times with his stories and saying, "That's a good pick."

    The best is when we see him living in a nice prison, being allowed to play basketball and when he admits he wants out for a couple of days (since he still can't step foot outside), and says he'll lead Mulder to his sister, he blows it saying, "I can't wait to see your face."

    In the end, Mulder allows him out but then sets a trap by taking him to the wrong house. Therefore concluding he never kidnapped his sister. But as Mulder goes to sleep, Mulder dreams and then wakes up to find that Roche has escaped.

    This was the only flaw I found here that didn't make sense. While on the plane to go to MA, Roche saw a girl. Now the next day he kidnaps that girl. This might have something to do with the way he convinced Mulder, but still...

    Anyway, the episode ends off pretty good. The "count to 20" was strangely somewhat familiar but pretty good.

    Overall, this was a good episode. There was hardly any gore, it was all a mysterious darkness of the past. It reminds me somewhat of a Vincent Price film.