Written & Directed by Chris Carter
There are X-Files episodes that are odd beasts, and that really don’t fit into the canon. And while in the early seasons most of them were property of writers who were still trying to figure out their places in the lexicon (and many didn’t), quite a few were the property of Chris Carter. Which is strange considering the series is his creation. Then again, considering that many of those episodes were mytharcs filled with prose so purple, you could see the actors struggling to say it, and the other half were bizarre experimentations that would’ve been odd fits in any series, maybe it’s not such a surprise.
But the move to Hollywood seems to have unleashed a playful streak in Carter, and How the Ghosts Stole Christmas is another such joyous byproduct. Triangle was experimental and delightful because it unleashed the abilities of Carter doing camerawork. This episode is a bit more restrained, but no less different. Here we have an episode, that for all intents in purpose, is as close to a play as the X-Files will ever do. Almost all the episode is set in a single location, it takes place in almost real time, and only four actors appear in the entire piece. And while we’ve dealt with all kinds of supernatural events in the five plus years on the show, this is the first one to really take a shot at the ghost story.
And in what is rapidly becoming a common theme of Season 6, the ghosts in this story are no less concerned with human affairs even after shuffling off the mortal coil. They seem to have gone from a blissful young couple on the cusp of World War I to a bitter elderly pair concerned with the mundane affairs of the living. Yes, they do seem determined to make Mulder and Scully die tonight, they don’t seem much concerned with doing this for some great paranormal reason, but rather so they won’t get left off the tourist literature.
This already has the material of what could be a delightful comedy. What makes this such an enjoyable episode is the fact that Mulder and Scully are right at the center of this. Maurice and Lydia are trying their damnedest to make them embrace the two have a lovers pact – and, as we can see, they just aren’t up for it. So they try a more psychological approach, Maurice going after Mulder by profiling him as a deluded man determined to make everybody believe him, and Scully as a ridiculous harpy whose only joy in life comes in proving him wrong. In essence, they have tapped into the psyche of many of the viewers, but its far more enjoyable hearing it come from the source. It doesn’t hurt matters that the ghost are played by legends Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin, both of whom deliver some of the more glorious acting moments in the entire X-Files guest actor canon. Together, they help create the episode from ever crossing the boundary into too pedantic, and so it plays delightfully. And this is an episode, mind you, that has our two heroes pulling their bleeding, dying bodies across the decrepit floors of a haunted house while “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays out.
Duchovny and Anderson have to carry the first act of this story with nobody but themselves to play off, and in many ways, that adds to part of the joy of the moment. There’s a bit too much of the purple even here – Mulder’s monologue where he relays the story of the ghosts he hopes to find, Scully and her long speech on how ghosts say more about the living then they do about the dead. But the way the two manage to undercut each other at just the right moments help to puncture any balloons that we might think when the episode seems to be getting too overblown. What is more concerning is how Mulder and Scully’s relationship is being put at the central of the story, and much like the mythology, seems unable to be leading anywhere conclusive. It’s done so gently here that one doesn’t object, but its going to become an issue in later episodes.
It’s not altogether a perfect episode – Mark Snow’s score can add a layer of interference the longer it goes – but by and large, Ghosts is one of the most enjoyable comedies the X-Files would put together. One would not consider this to be a series to do Christmas episodes well at all – and considering what we got last year, maybe that’s a good thing – but it stands tall as one of the better holiday themed episodes I’ve ever seen. It even has what comes as close to a happy ending as the series gets, with Mulder and Scully gleefully unwrapping the presents they promised not to get each other for Christmas. There could be no clearer sign as to the direction that our heroes are heading in, even if they themselves haven’t realized it yet.
My score: 5 stars.