David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
Photo: Shane Harvey (Fox)

It would be going too far to say that “Nothing Lasts Forever” is The X-Files’ goriest episode. For one thing, the show has roughly half a gazillion entries to its credit, and I can’t be sure I remember them all clearly enough to make such a grand pronouncement; for another, “Home” exists. But the lengths to which a former sitcom star and a mad doctor go to in order to hold onto their youth for just a few more days still managed to shock; not the idea, exactly, as this is just another variation on vampires eating the young to stay fresh, but the details? I shuddered more than once, and there were a few scenes where I found myself actually unwilling to keep looking at the screen. The show may be far past its prime, but when it comes time to deliver the gore, it doesn’t hold back.

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“Nothing Lasts Forever” is one of the season’s stronger entries—not as great as “The Lost Art Of Forehead Sweat” or “Rm9sbG93ZXJz,” but entertaining throughout, with a good hook, interesting guest stars, and, oh yes, copious amounts of the red stuff. There’s also some fairly weighty thematic work going on, as the episode works to bring in Scully’s faith and Mulder’s guilt over her time in the X-Files. Like nearly every script in the season (this one by Karen Nielsen), there’s some talk about how our heroes are getting older, and what that means for their work, and just their lives in general.

It’s heavy stuff, made more palatable by the horror elements and the simultaneously grounded and over the top work of Fiona Vroom as Barbara Beaumont, the former sitcom actress obsessed with maintaining the beauty that made her a (sort of) star. As with most episodes this season, not everything lands as solidly as it should. The longer the reboot goes on, the more obvious it is that there’s never going to be some sudden spark of inspiration that revitalizes the enterprise; that, as much as some of us (hi!) might wish to pretend otherwise, there was no great creative justification for bringing back Scully and Mulder, and the best we can hope for are some fun footnotes that make the most of the limitations inherent in this sort of “reboot.” There’s always an undercurrent of strain to just about everything, and the only way to make that work is to incorporate the strain into the text itself—which limits just how effective any of this can be.

But this is a good one, even if not every connection lands. At worst, it’s a collection of intriguing concepts that never quite gel into a fascinating whole, but that doesn’t make those concepts less intriguing on their own. Maybe the biggest problem here is that there’s just a little too much going on; in addition to Barbara and Dr. Luvenis (played by the perpetually surprised Jere Burns—he’s fine, but the role doesn’t have much personality to it, which is a shame), we’ve got Juliet (Carlena Britch), an avenging angel determined to track down our villains for bringing her sister into their cult. Which means we also have a cult; a group of lost young people clinging to Barbara and the good doctor for purpose in their lives, while the doc harvests their internal organs.

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There’s a lot going on here, and at various times throughout the episode I found myself wanting to know more. Any of these individual threads might have been enough to support an entire hour, and while they connect reasonably well, most end up feeling under-served by the narrative, memorable moments and images that never get beyond the surface. There’s potential tragedy here, but none of guest stars ever go beyond archetypes. It gets the job done, but that’s all it does, and what’s here is so interesting and unsettling that’s hard not to want more.

Still, some of those moments will stay with me, like that organ donation gone wrong cold open, or the sight of Dr. Luvenis sharing body space with one of the cult members. I’m particularly fond of Barbara singing “The Morning After” as one of her devotees guts himself for her pleasure. Mulder’s confession to Scully—that he feels guilt over everything that’s happened to her, and believes she would’ve been better off if she’d left the basement office after that first day on the job, so many years ago—is unexpectedly moving, as are both characters’ on-going struggles with their own mortality. It could’ve been better, maybe; but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Stray observations

  • There’s something going on with Barbara/Dr. Luvenis’s obsession with living forever, and the way Juliet’s faith in eternal life drives her behavior. Maybe it ties in with Scully and Mulder getting older—everyone’s looking for some way to deal with death. Still, it could’ve used a bit more. (Juliet isn’t particularly well-developed, unfortunately.)
  • “Just wait till you get gout.” -Scully, threatening Mulder with the horrors of middle age

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