Thursday, 1 September 2016

X-Files Rewatch | Irresistible & Die Hand Die Verletzt

Nothing like a bit of necrophilia and occultism to start your Thursday morning, eh? Thanks, X-Files

Here we are, the one and only episode that scares the absolute shit out of me. 'Irresistible' is one of the episodic pinnacles of not only The X-Files, but television as a whole. Mulder and Scully are led to Minneapolis to investigate a death fetishist who has begun kidnapping and killing women to satisfy his fetishistic urges. The case brings back painful memories for Scully, who struggles to cope with the similarities of her previous abduction. 

'Irresistible' has an amazing ability to absolutely horrify you whilst not showing you that much. Compare this episode to an episode of Hannibal; its hard to stomach (pun intended) seeing body parts cut up and displayed in lovely sculptures, whereas seeing Donnie keeping his victims hair, nails and fingers is insanely tame compared to television in the 21st century. 

Somehow, the writers have the ability not to rely on the shock horror that shows like Hannibal or American Horror Story do more often than not. Instead, we're given a much more intrinsic insight as to how killers are made. Sure, Hannibal does this, but through three seasons. This is just one episode - not counting the future seventh season sequel episode Orison. 'Irresistible' is such a focused albeit disturbing look into how Donnie slowly turns from one thing to the next; a fetishist to a serial killer to procure his needs as a necrophiliac. 

It's through this that it's somewhat easier to believe in aliens and UFOs, than to believe that a human could be this... un-human. So coldblooded and distant that they could happily prey on the living to scavenge on the dead. This is something that we not only have to struggle with throughout the episode; Scully does too.


Scully's abduction acts as the foundation and catalyst for the majority of 'Irresistible'. Thankfully, the writing team didn't just leave Scully's trauma as a one-line brush off in 'Firewalker'. Here we have a whole episode dedicated to Scully's continuing struggle of coming to terms of what happened to her. She has no memory of the abduction, but throughout the investigation she is triggered by events and subsequently has nightmares involving herself on an autopsy table with the devil (Donnie) staring down at her. She was the victim of an unidentifiable force, who was left on her death bed. It's no wonder she repeatedly see's herself in each of the girls here; she may not have been the one actually on the autopsy table, but she certainly feels as though she was.

There aren't a lot of shows that openly deal with the trauma that its characters are put through. The X-Files is in the minority that it caters for both its main characters and the traumas they face; staying clear of the gender stereotypes that they could have easily mistakenly used. Both Mulder and Scully are treated equally in regards as to how they both deal with each others traumas. This episode could have been the ultimate breakdown of Scully; however the writers give Scully a poignant character study by having her clearly effected by the violence surrounding the case, PTSD from the similarities of her abduction, Scully recognizing that she needs support in the form of a FBI counselor and that she can breakdown in front of Mulder. They've been with each other long enough now to know that not only can the trust each other inevitably, but can be vulnerable with each other, too. 

It's this that also makes Mulder and Scully's growing relationship the centerpiece of this episode. They both walk the same tightrope alongside each other. Mulder is silently pained and frustrated that Scully won't tell him that she's not alright; Scully doesn't want Mulder to feel as though he has to protect her. 'Irresistible' is one of the first episode that highlights the underlying problem between these two - their inability to share their feelings with one another. The more they keep it to themselves, the more they struggle with their inner demons.


Scully's breakdown could have been seen as a damsel-in-distress motif, but with all that the writers set up within Scully's psyche its a welcomed relief for herself, Mulder and us. She finds strength to let herself go for both herself and for Mulder to receive the relief for the worry he has been carrying on behalf of Scully through the case. It still astounds me that this embrace is the first that they've had since Scully came back from her abduction (that we've seen, anyway). 

They both truly just needed to let themselves go by holding each other. Scully needed to relinquish her issues of not wanting to be protected, and Mulder needed the ability to show Scully that he needs to support and comfort her. As heartbreaking as the last scene is, there's so much being said without anything being spoken: Mulder just having to touch Scully's chin for her to show him the effect the case (and her abduction) has had on her, Scully instinctively going into Mulder's chest, Mulder embracing her first, Scully finally being able to let herself go by putting her arms around Mulder and pulling him closer to her, all the while Mulder is pained but relieved to have Scully alive in his arms. A barrier has truly been crossed; a barrier that they've needed to cross since 'The Erlenmeyer Flask'.

'Irresistible' is a testament to how Mulder and Scully have grown both in themselves and as partners. They've grown to be the only people that each other can trust; Mulder isn't Mulder without Scully, and Scully isn't Scully without Mulder. It's a testament to the writers that they managed to establish this within the first two years of the show without any sort of romance. If you don't count the unnecessary touching and gazing (I'm looking at you, David and Gillian). 

Anything with a funeral home and dead people involved means trouble in this show.

I've seen Nick Chinlund in other stuff (most recently an episode of House), but I can never not see him as Donnie. His performance is so good but so, so creepy.

I always forget that necrophilia is actually a thing. I don't know why it's a thing, what would make a person want to do what they do to dead bodies?

This is the episode that my mum and brother continuously haunt me with. When its dark and quiet, one of them will creep up behind me whispering 'girly girl'. 'Irresistible' is truly the only episode of this show that has properly scared me.

During the cold open, the camera pans over some gravestones. One of the names on the graves is that of Raymond Soames - which is a callback to the plot of Season One's pilot episode through Ray Soames; one of the names of the 'Class of 1989'.

'Irresistible' is known as one of the non-paranormal episodes of the series, but several times antagonist Donnie Pfaster appears to be a demonic figure - which is later confirmed in the episode 'Orison' in Season Seven. Carter mentions this in an interview, stating that:

"There are reports of people who had been under the spell of Jeffrey Dahmer, who actually claimed that he shape-shifted during those hours when they were held hostage; that his image actually changed" 

Either way, Pfaster could be an actual demon, or Scully's PTSD is causing her mind to warp her darkest fear into reality.

Throughout the episode, Scully is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from her previous abduction. The similarities within the case trigger memories of her abduction, in turn causing symptoms of PTSD which include disturbing thoughts and traumatic feelings. Carter also stated that:

"My first chance to work with David Nutter in a long time, and I wanted to give him something he could sink his teeth into. It's a little bit different for us. It doesn't really have a paranormal aspect, except for Scully's perceptions of her deepest fears. I felt that I could figure out what she is most afraid of, and she is most afraid of those things that most of us are afraid of. The idea of dying at the hands of someone - creature or not - and she is helpless to do anything about it. I thought it was a very good way to explore Scully's character." 

Originally, Donnie Pfaster was characterised as a necrophiliac, but this idea was rejected by Fox for being "unacceptable for broadcasting standards". Still, Carter implied the sexual connotations of Pfaster's death fetish which is obvious throughout the episode. Obvious enough that I believed he was a necrophiliac throughout the entirety of the episode.

The original title of the episode was 'Fascination'

MULDER: Some people collect salt and pepper shakers, fetishists collect dead things. Fingernails and hair, no one quite knows why. 

MULDER: The conquest of fear lies in the moment of its acceptance. And understanding what scares us most is that which is most familiar, most common place. That boy next door, Donnie Pfaster, the unremarkable younger brother of four older sisters, extraordinary only in his ordinariness, could grow up to be the devil in a buttoned-down shirt. It's been said that the fear of the unknown is an irrational response to the excesses of the imagination. But our fear of the everyday, of the lurking stranger, and the sound of foot-falls on the stairs. The fear of violent death and the primitive impulse to survive, are as frightening as any X-file, as real as the acceptance that it could happen to you. 

Scully has to do the autopsy on the woman that Donnie killed. She tries to rationalize that it's any other dead person that she has autopsied before by listing how to investigate how someone died: "Death, like life itself, is a drama with a beginning, middle and end"  

SCULLY: You think you find a way to deal with these things. In med school, you develop a clinical detachment to death. In your FBI training, you are confronted with cases, the most terrible and violent cases. You think you can look into the face of pure evil, and then you find yourself paralyzed by it.
KOSSEFF: Are you aware you've been talking about yourself in the second person?
SCULLY: No. Was I?
KOSSEFF: Do you know why?
SCULLY: Probably as another way of trying to detach myself from it.
KOSSEFF: You're a strong person. You've probably always felt you can handle any problem yourself. But you feel vulnerable now. Do you know why that is?
KOSSEFF: Is it your partner? Is there a problem with trust-
SCULLY: (firmly) No. I trust him as much as anyone. I'd trust him with my life.
KOSSEFF: Can you talk to him about the way you're feeling?
SCULLY: No. (pauses) I know it sounds crazy, but I don't want him to know how much this is bothering me. I don't want him to think he has to protect me.
KOSSEFF: I know you lost your father last year. And I read in your file that you were very ill recently. That your life was threatened. Exposures like these can leave you extremely vulnerable.
SCULLY: I know these things. I'm conscious of them. I know the world is full of predators, just as it always has been. And I know it's my job to protect people from them. And I've counted on that fact to give me faith in my ability do what I do... I want that faith back. I need it back. 

Whether she believes it or not, she's always on the case and on the side of the victims, like she said in 'Squeeze'. 

Scully surprising with how the case didn't shock Mulder, but he prepared himself for it before they left Washington. Mulder suspected that this wasn't UFO related from the start. 

The only reason they flew all they way out there is because Mulder got tickets to a football game for the two of them. Mulder wanted to go to a football game with Scully. Kill me. 

MULDER: If you're having trouble with this case, I want you to tell me.
SCULLY: I'm not having trouble with it.
MULDER: I'd understand, it's not exactly easy to stomach.
SCULLY: I'm fine.
MULDER: I've seen agents with twenty year field experience fall apart on cases like this

Doesn't want Scully to feel as though she has to hide anything from him. He completely understands if the case is getting to her in any way. He doesn't want her to feel uncomfortable at any point on the case.

SCULLY: Anyway, you could always use my help.
MULDER: Always.

Mulder coming to Scully once they find her. Mulder's first priority is Scully's health, which Scully assures is fine. She just wants to be free of the constraints that Donnie put upon her. Mulder proceeds to help get her wrists untied, and she's adamant that she's fine. Scully tries to not show Mulder how much this is effecting her, but all he has to do is tilt her chin so that she and him can make eye contact. 

She anchors herself to him, then just lets everything out finally. All the emotions she's been bottling up come flooding towards Mulder. Mulder seems relieved, not only to find Scully but that she can finally open herself up to him and let herself free. It's such a heartfelt moment. His face when she breaks down, Scully instinctively going into Mulder's arms. She has her arms crossed over herself at first, but then she allows herself to hold him with Mulder whispering into her hair that "it's alright", whilst holding onto her tightly. 

This is the first time they've embraced since the pilot, and its under completely different circumstances; signalling a huge change in their relationship. Both are still affected by Scully's previous abduction, with Scully not wanting Mulder to feel as though he needs to keep her safe and Mulder not wanting to go through the trauma of losing her again. They're both in the same frame of mind here, and them being able to anchor themselves to each other like this signals a massive change in the way in which they trust each other. It's a step that they've been trying to reach since Scully came back. 

In true 90s style, 'Die Hand Die Verletzt' sees Mulder and Scully investigating a murder in a small town that is plagued with devil worshipers. They are brought to the town of Milford Falls, New Hampshire due to the subsequent death of a teenage who is believed to have died at the hands of other teenagers performing an occult ritual. As a result, the local high school faculty fear that they're lapsed-worshiping of the devil could reveal activities from their past. They decide to act upon it, unbeknownst to them letting the devil interfere with their reawakened devotion. 

I say in true 90s style, because these 45 minutes are the epitome of The X-Files. Satanic rituals and the occult? Check. Shitty lighting? Check. An abundance of flashlights? Check. Rain and forests? Snarky Mulder and Scully lines? Check, check and check. 'Die Hand Die Verletzt' has everything The X-Files is admired for. Whenever someone asks me what the show is all about, I point them directly to this episode. This and season three's 'Syzygy'; bearing the same foundations as this episode, with an added dash of classic 90s fashion, makeup and music and a surprising appearance from a young Ryan Reynolds. 

Both episodes starkly contrast one another; 'Syzygy' is a comedic episode through and through, which is what 'Die Hand Die Verletzt' seemingly starts out as, but the tone shifts drastically mid-way through the episode. The creators of the show know this too, "It was a fun script that turned this big corner when the girl had the emotional breakdown," Carter says. "It suddenly became a very creepy, dark, disturbing episode. It was vintage Glen and Jim, and we had a great, great performance by the guest stars. A really good, solid episode that actually veered a little more toward the horror genre. But it worked because of Mulder and Scully." 

It's always down to Mulder and Scully. They really do hold this show together, through both good and bad episodes. Thankfully, this is a good episode. A really, really good episode, which marks the show's first deep foray into the truly creepy and horror-esque landscape mixed with a interesting yet strangely not that engaging of an episode. Sure, everything to make it engaging is there - as previously mentioned - but there is little or no resolution alongside child abuse allegations, a demon-controlled snake and the devil actually saving Mulder and Scully rather than his half-assed worshipers. 

'Die Hand Die Verletzt' is also said to be an episode parodying organized religion, i.e. those who follow a religion but don't do so devoutly. For me, however, it's a goldmine of witty Mulder one-liners, including the sound advice of hiding your Megadeath records when in the vicinity of devil-worshipers. 

"In the name of the lords of darkness, rulers of the Earth, kings of the Underworld, I command the forces of darkness to bestow their infernal power upon me" 

I love the cold opening to this, you think it's going to be an innocent prayer and then they end up worshiping Satan. Well played.

"Hail the lords of darkness" - Me whenever I listen to Black Sabbath.

God bless David Duchovny for unnecessary hand touching when leading Scully out of a room.

When it is revealed that Mrs. Paddock murdered Jerry, why does she put the test papers on top of Jerry's heart and eyes? Blood will soak through the paper surely?

How did people survive getting news on the internet. The way it looks when Scully is looking something up is horrifying, it seems like so much effort. Seems much easier to read it in a newspaper or watch it on television that to go on the internet back then.

We never got to dissect creatures/frogs at school here. Is it only an American thing?

I love the episodes where we know who the killer is throughout, but Mulder and Scully don't.

The German phrase 'Die Hand die verletzt' translates to 'the hand that wounds'.

The name of the high school is a reference to Aleister Crowley, a well-known British occultist and performer of black magic.

As Mulder is checking the card catalog to find out who checked out the book, the first card he looks at is Stephen King.

Actor Dan Butler was terrified to the point of not being able to speak in the scene in which he is to be eaten by the anaconda. His fright meant that the makeup team didn't need to apply fake sweat to his face.

Chris Carter has credited the episode as being 'a cautionary tale about playing with fire, playing with things bigger and badder than you might imagine'.

The line written by Mrs. Paddock on the blackboard at the end of the episode - 'It's been nice working with you' - was an in-joke between the writers, as it acted as a goodbye to writers Darren Morgan and James Wong, who went on to produce the series Space: Above and Beyond.

The character names of Deborah Brown and Paul Vitaris were based on fans of the series from the internet.

Mrs. Paddock's name is a reference to the toad demon in MacBeth, who calls the witches away in the first scene of the play

This is the first episode directed by series favourite Kim Manners.

Real frogs were used in the scene in which they fall from the sky, being dropped from a short distance. According to Carter, 'the fake ones looked too bad and didn't hop away after command'.

SHERIFF: I know he and his friends listen to devil music.
MULDER: The Night Chicago Died?
SHERIFF: You know what I mean, heavy metal bands that influence kids.

SHERIFF: This stump here is supposed to be the ceremonial altar. What do you think?
MULDER: I think with a few turquoise chips, a picture of John Wayne and three cans of Schlack, it would make a pretty nice coffee table.

Mulder is on FIRE this episode.

MULDER: (To SCULLY) Better hide your Megadeath albums.

(Stops raining toads) MULDER:, lunch?
SCULLY: Mulder, toads just feel from the sky!
MULDER: I guess their parachutes didn't open. You were saying something about this place not feeling odd?

MULDER: Modern witches are known as 'Wiccan' are a religion. They have a great reverence for all life and nature. They do not cast harmful spells, they don't worship Satan, even the Church of Satan has renounced murder and torture. Their influence here wouldn't account for the frogs and the water draining backwards, or most importantly the murder.

MULDER: There are tracks in the dirt. They're from a snake.
SCULLY: That's impossible. It would take a large python hours to consume and weeks to digest a human being.
MULDER: You really do watch The Learning Channel.

SCULLY: The National Weather Service says there are tornadoes in Northern Massachusetts. The wind probably picked up the animals in to the storm.

Really, Scully. Really.

MULDER: There's no evidence to warrant an arrest.
DEBORAH: They never leave evidence.
VITARIS: They've reached into our area from the outside.
MULDER: (To SCULLY) 'They' again.
AUSBURY: We heard how Jerry Stevens was killed. An occult ritual.
VITARIS: Those three kids are obviously under a cult influence.
DEBORAH: They reach into our children. In music, television, books-
CALCAGNI: They prey on children's innocence.
SCULLY: The FBI recently concluded a seven year study and found little or no evidence to the existence of occult conspiracies.
CALCAGNI: And J. Edgar Hoover never admitted to the existence of the Mafia.
SCULLY: Look, if the number of murders attributed to occult conspiracies were true, it means thousands of people kill tens of thousands of people a year without evidence, without being exposed... it would be the greatest criminal conspiracy in the history of civilisation.
AUSBURY: Finally, you people understand what we're up against.

SCULLY: Well the man she replaced has taken two sick days in a fifteen year career. The morning of Jerry Stevens' murder, Mr. Carrey developed necrotising ficitus.
MULDER: Flesh eating bacteria? That's very rare.
SCULLY: I know. And when I questioned the other staff members about Mrs. Paddock's background, no one can ever recall even hiring her.
(Thunderclap, Mrs. Paddock looking at Scully's pen and gloves)
SCULLY: Look, I'm even getting caught up in this. I'm sure that Mrs. Paddock's just a wrangle and the teacher's sickness is just a coincidence. And the fact that no one can recall hiring her is a bureaucratic oversight.
MULDER: No, I have a feeling this is something we both shouldn't get caught up in. I'm going to get a search warrant for the Osbury house, I've been told they're staying with friends. You check deeper into Mrs. Paddock.

Mulder and Scully are tied up and are about to get shot; Mulder instinctively lies practically on top of Scully to prevent her from getting hurt. When the gunshot rings out, he immediately leans into Scully to protect her. He'd rather get shot than have her get shot.

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