“Je Souhaite” (season 7, episode 21; originally aired 5/14/2000)
In which you get three wishes…
I can’t help it. I love “Je Souhaite.” I think it might be my favorite episode of season seven, and there’s a part of me that really wishes it had been the series finale, even though I’m rather a fan of the season seven finale (as you’ll see in a bit). It’s not that I don’t like what follows. Indeed, I think a lot of season eight is really well done. But there’s a warmth and tenderness to “Je Souhaite” that I think the show lost once Fox Mulder left it as a regular. This is not to dog on John Doggett, who was a pretty good character. He just wasn’t Fox Mulder, a man capable of a surprising depth of feeling, given how deadpan the man playing him was. The show’s soul was so tied up in Mulder that it wasn’t surprising that his departure would leave the show struggling to find a new purpose. And “Je Souhaite” is a much better episode for depicting that soul than the season finale.
The center of “Je Souhaite” is sort of story-less and surprisingly mean-spirited. There’s this weird strain of, “Let’s make fun of the yokels” that runs through nearly all of The X-Files’ comedic episodes, and this one is no exception. To be fair, we only meet two Missourians, really, since most of the storyline centers on the adventures of Anson and Leslie Stokes, two dumbasses who somehow get hold of a genie who’s been rolled up in a rug lo these many years. Anson finds the genie because he works for a storage locker facility, and he’s been tasked to clean out one of the units, belonging to someone whose payment has apparently lapsed. The only indication we get at first as to what’s happening is that Anson’s irritating boss suddenly has his mouth disappear, that he might yell at his employee no longer. And that’s when it becomes obvious this is a Vince Gilligan episode and, even better, a largely comedic one.
By season seven, Gilligan had mostly settled in as the show’s resident experimenter. The various episodes he wrote in the season included one from the point-of-view of the monster, one that was a pseudo-crossover with the show Cops, and this lightly comic look that aspires to be almost a modern fairy tale. Gilligan’s greatest talent was finding the weirdnesses that might lurk in otherwise normal parts of the American dream. He was really good at combining something mundane—a storage locker—with something fantastical—a genie. Since that was such a central part of The X-Files’ formula, he became as central to the show’s success in the latter portion of its run as Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz were. (Interestingly, Gilligan would mostly step back from the show in the next season, that he might work on the more blatantly comedic Lone Gunmen spinoff.) Reportedly, Gilligan wanted to make this—what he thought for some time would be his swan song on the show and knew would be his first directorial effort—a spare, scary story about something unleashed from a storage locker. Instead, he chose to make a story about human frailty and the power of hope.
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I’m not going to say “Je Souhaite” is to the level of Gilligan’s finest work. There’s not really a story here, particularly once Mulder figures out that “Jenn” is actually a genie. There’s some fun stuff here, and I really do love the sequence with Mulder’s three wishes, but I can’t really say there’s all that much going on underneath the hood. This is just a slyly comic outing that lets Gilligan play around with the idea of wishes granted ironically, like when Leslie wishes that his brother would be alive again, and instead gets a zombie version of Anson who blows up his trailer. I also like that Gilligan grasps that no wish can be wholly altruistic, that Mulder’s desire for “world peace” stems from his own desire to be smug and self-satisfied about what a good guy he is. The ultimate “solution” here—which essentially concludes that the only way to win at genie is not to play genie—is obvious from the moment Jenn says what she’d really want, and the episode doesn’t give Scully nearly enough to do, though I always feel really bad for her when the invisible guy disappears from her morgue. And though we have just the two yokels here, they’re almost unrealistically dumb. Neither would get that Jenn is saying they should wish for Leslie to walk again? It would never occur to them? Really?
But I can’t care about that, because “Je Souhaite” feels almost like the ultimate X-Files fan love letter. There’s so much stuff in here that should feel like fan service but just doesn’t, like that final scene where Mulder and Scully settle in on a couch to talk about nothing in particular and the weirdness of having just found a frickin’ genie. I love Paula Sorge’s portrayal of Jenn, too, all sardonic snark and wry deadpan that hides a lifetime spent in the service of others and a raw sadness that bubbles up from time to time. (Also, I like that her first wish back in the day was for a “stouthearted mule,” because that’s a great phrase.) In some ways, Jenn acts almost as a mirror for Mulder, a person whose life has been consumed by something beyond their understanding, to the point where they almost seem to be on autopilot. But Mulder has Scully, while Jenn just has whomever demands wishes of her, be that Benito Mussolini or Richard Nixon or Anson Stokes. There’s a rich humanity to even Gilligan’s worst scripts, and that comes through in every moment here, even when it seems like he’s being unrealistically cruel to the Stokes brothers.
Yet the genius of “Je Souhaite” lies in how it embraces the inherent weirdness of the world this show is set in. Mulder and Scully find a genie, and they end up sitting on the couch with popcorn and Caddyshack, the genie released to build her life anew. Everybody on Earth disappears for an hour, and it’s no big deal to the man who made them disappear. A man turns invisible, gets hit by a bus, then wanders out of a locked lab, and it’s just another day at the office. When The X-Files began, it was that sense of possibility, of anything happening, potentially, that made it seem so wondrous and new. But over time, it shut off that possibility, that wonder. “Je Souhaite” has its fair share of problems, and it’s ultimately a pretty minor episode of the show. But it still takes place in a world where what you don’t know is weirder than what you do, where a genie can pop up out of a rug, where a man can be reinvigorated by just how little he knows, where the constant struggle to build a better world is the greatest mystery of all. And that’s the place I want to leave the show I love.
- I like when Mulder says “Schwing!” David Duchovny seems really happy about it.
- Vince Gilligan would later be nominated for directing for his work on Breaking Bad. In this, his directorial debut, there are few shots that indicate how good he’d become, but it’s not as though anything embarrassing is happening either. He sets everything up well and offers some nice stuff, particularly in the sequence where Mulder runs around the empty Washington, D.C.
- I wonder whatever happened to Sorge, who’s really good here. She seems to have fallen off the face of the earth until 2006, when she reappeared. Somebody should give her more work! Pronto!
“Requiem” (season 7, episode 22; originally aired 5/21/2000)
In which the series redefines itself
There was a time during production of “Requiem” when all involved really did think it might be the series finale. Though the show’s ratings were still solid, it was clearly on the downward slope of its Nielsen trend, and it was beginning to suffer creatively. It was also obvious that David Duchovny was ready to move on to something—anything—else, and it was hard to imagine the show without Mulder. Plus, the ratings success of Malcolm In The Middle—which had just launched—had made it slightly easier to imagine a Sunday night two-hour comedy bloc that didn’t need a spooky drama holding down one half of it. But something happened to putting an end on the show that would spin off into a movie franchise after all involved had had a nice little break from it: The show reinvented and reinvigorated itself.
It’s hard to explain just how difficult this is for a seven-season old show to do. It’s also hard to say if any of this was intentional. After all, the series would likely have preferred to just have Duchovny come back in season eight, for more adventures hunting aliens and other weird beasties. Instead, he went off into the sky with the little green men, and the show found itself backed into a corner it would have to write its way out of. In researching “Requiem,” I found reference to the back half of season seven making the writers of the series feel more enthusiastic about what they could accomplish in an eighth year, which seems kind of crazy to me. The bulk of the episodes in this half of the season are fine, but they’re only that. There’s little of the mad genius that defined this show at its best. But some writers will always love coming up with a way to write themselves out of a corner, and “Requiem” paints the show into a huge one.
In all honesty, I think this might be the best season finale cliffhanger the show ever did. Sure, the end of “Anasazi” is pretty amazing, and Gillian Anderson’s delivery of Mulder’s death sentence is pretty solid. (I’m also kind of partial to the end of “The End,” come to think of it.) But the best cliffhangers have a finality to them, a sense that nothing will ever be the same, and if it is, the show is cheating. (Naturally enough, most shows find their way back to the status quo after a big cliffhanger, at least sooner or later.) On a show with only two players, the death of one of those players never held all that much weight, but the idea that Mulder could be tricked into being abducted by aliens—then sort of okay with that idea until the bounty hunter showed up—was a well-executed fake on the audience. To be sure, Mulder might have known what he was getting himself into. Some part of him probably did. But when the audience realizes what’s about to happen, it’s a great, great moment.
Yet “Requiem” piles a bunch of other stuff on top of that, just to make things feel even more momentous. Skinner sees the UFO that bears Mulder carrying him away! Krycek and Marita kill the Cigarette Smoking Man by pushing him down some stairs! Scully reveals she’s pregnant, and it seems to come out of nowhere! This is the show unleashing a bunch of plot points it had obviously been hanging onto for some time and unleashing them with uncommon skill and precision. The mythology has been without a singular purpose for a while now, but reconfiguring it as a search for Mulder makes all the sense in the world. That Duchovny left the show as a regular, allowing for the series to more fully explore that idea, just ended up being a surprise bonus.
Now, “Requiem” isn’t just its final 10 minutes. There’s some clumsiness on the way to that end, particularly since the series can no longer figure out just what it wants its mythology to be about anymore. There are mentions of, like, the fact that the aliens are what we call “God,” and there are a few moments when the episode tries to incorporate the larger story of the Syndicate and its offshoots. But the mythology has been flailing for a long time now, and the first 30 minutes of the episode don’t do much to fix that issue. It’s even more pronounced because the episode keeps working in references to the pilot—something that increases the episode’s sense of finality—and the story is functionally not all that different from what went on in the first episode. The characters have learned so much about the alien menace, but they’ve also apparently learned very little. There’s an alien ship crashed in Oregon, back on the site of Mulder and Scully’s first case, and everybody wants that ship, because it could lead to the start of a new Syndicate or… something. It doesn’t make a ton of sense, but, honestly, it’s not as bad as whatever was going on in “The Sixth Extinction.”
I like the nods to the pilot, ultimately, because they highlight just how far the show came from those humble roots. It’s kind of fun to remember when the show was all about Mulder explaining concepts like missing time to Scully (and by extension, the audience), and it’s a kick to remember just how small-scale the series was back in the day. The plot of the pilot would be dealt with in about five minutes by this point in the series, but the central things that made that pilot work—a sense of mystery, the connection between two FBI agents, a spooky vibe—remain pretty solid. The fundamentals of the series are strong, even at this point in the series. It’s just the fact that everything is different now.
To watch “Requiem” is to see a show that became something entirely different from what it had been originally. To watch “Requiem” is to be viscerally reminded of just how much bigger this show became between season one and season seven. To watch “Requiem” is to be shown just how unusual it was that this show became a hit at all, was able to last long enough and work well enough to become a zeitgeist-defining hit. And the differences are noticeable in smaller ways, too. Big Bear might look vaguely like the Pacific Northwest, but it’s still recognizably Southern California. And the two actors who seemed so fresh-faced and dewy-eyed back in the pilot now seem much more brazen and blasé. I’m glad “Requiem” wasn’t where the show ended, because I think season eight is pretty good, and I’d have hated if the show ended on a cliffhanger. But I can still see where the impulse came from. In this episode, it’s easy to see everybody involved taking a step back to marvel, saying, “Can you believe this show got that big?”
- Some nicely low-key special effects whenever somebody gets trapped in the UFO’s force field. I haven’t seen the pilot in a while, but they seem sort of similar to something from that episode. Am I wrong about that?
- I can’t really say that returning to the characters from the pilot was the most exciting idea in the world. I remember being really impressed by it back when this episode first ran, but this time through, I found their struggles sort of uninteresting, perhaps because I knew this was going nowhere again.
- Wikipedia tells me that Duchovny didn’t officially leave the show until after this episode had aired, but I thought he had already announced he wasn’t interested in returning before this aired. Maybe that’s just the fact that he was obviously going to leave but hadn’t confirmed it yet.
- Mulder and Scully cuddle in bed. Whoooo!
- Every time the show introduces a plot where Mulder and Scully might get shut down for budgetary reasons, it's kind of stupid, no?
Next week: Our Twilight Zone reviews return. We’ll be back to finish out the last two seasons of this show sometime, possibly in the fall.