by CatsWithAxes

recap by CatsWithAxes

This is my first recap, and needless to say I’m thrilled to be here. When I saw that this ep was still unclaimed on this site, I had to snap it right up, since it’s one of my faves. All snark comes from a place of love, of course. OK – here goes:

We start with a shot of some sort of a commemorative plaque on a wall, while a soothing male voice is speaking offscreen. As the location stamp tells us we are at a Parent Teacher Committee meeting in Milford Haven, New Hampshire, the camera pulls away to reveal the speaker, who is none other than… Bulldog from “Frasier”??!!! (Wait what show is this?) Actually it looks like Bulldog, but this person is much better-dressed, and isn’t making any obnoxious/chauvinistic/sexual remarks, so maybe he’s Bulldog’s more enlightened twin, or cousin. We’ll just call him NotBulldog for now, until we know his real name.

NotBulldog is also not alone (obviously, since he’s talking – although come to think of it, on this show that logic doesn’t necessarily follow). There are three others with him and they are all sitting around a conference table, discussing and voting on various school concerns. NotBulldog announces, with an odd self-satisfied smirk, that the outdoor track will be closed to joggers earlier in the evening from now on, and then the tall guy in glasses sitting to his right brings up that the drama teacher plans to do “Jesus Christ Superstar” for the spring musical. The lone woman at the table (in her forties – a parent, or the principal, maybe?) says she doesn’t think that show is “appropriate for this high school.”

(and we immediately get it: this school is in a town in the middle of nowhere, which is so far behind the times that they haven’t really caught on to rock and roll yet! Nice set up!)

The fourth person at the table, a guy who could safely be pegged as “Coach”, says that if the drama teacher wants to do something “young”, he has no problems with “Grease” or “Annie”. Hey buddy, I have BIG problems with both “Grease” and ”Annie”. Well, “Grease” maybe isn’t that bad, if you’re really talking about the original theatrical musical and not the ridiculously overblown movie version. “Grease”, as done originally, could be OK. But “Annie”? Saccharine little orphan girls and a dog? “The sun’ll come out tomorrow”? “You’re never fully dressed without a smile”? Oh, no. No, no, no. I’d be running screaming from the auditorium with my ears bleeding. You know, I truly believe, if ever there was a musical spawned in the bowels of hell, it’s -

…. but, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, Tall Guy w/Glasses asks if “Grease” doesn’t have “the ‘f’ word” (which would be a plus in my book), but NotBulldog curtails the musical discussion by saying that he’ll talk to the drama teacher. He suggests that they end the meeting with Deborah (so that’s her name) leading them in a prayer, and she nods. Coach protests that “the game is on,” but Tall Guy w/Glasses says it won’t take long and they’ve been “letting it slip.” NotBulldog, whose name is revealed to be Jim, directs Coach (whom he calls Paul, even though to me he doesn’t look like a Paul) to close the door, while he lights a red candle.

(and we get it some more: this is a very conservative and religious group, stuck in a bit of a time warp. This could actually be sort of funny!)

But now we hear vague thunder in the distance – thunder in New England in winter is, well, unusual – and Mark Snow’s music, heretofore nonexistent, materializes as an ominous-sounding low string drone. Is something or someone going to suddenly enter the room and attack these fine upstanding folk?! The camera travels outside the room as Coach Paul closes the door, so we can no longer see the group and are now looking at the dark hallway. We see a rather unearthly looking light start to pulse through the cracks around the door edges, and then beyond the door we hear Deborah chanting prayers to “The Lords Of Darkness”, with the men chiming in, call-and-response style. The prayers include some words in German, which subtitles translate as “His is the hand that wounds” and “His is the place called Hell.” WTF???? THIS is how they pray? The camera keeps slowly backing farther away down the hall while keeping the door in focus, which creates exactly the right feeling in the viewer of wanting to get away from the creepiness, and yet feeling compelled to stay and see what happens next. Nice direction! (more on that later)

OK so now we finally really get it: this group is conservative and religious – but the deity they worship is Satan! (Yes, “Jesus Christ Superstar” would be a little problematic, wouldn’t it?) Nice fake out, writers! A promising start, but this is the teaser, so something really awful is still going to happen now, right?

Guess not (darn), because we suddenly cut to:

(Love them! For this episode, The Truth Is Out There)

Darkness, rain, the woods. The location stamp tells us we are still in Milford Haven. But what’s this? A bunch of teenagers approaching in the distance? Excellent! Something bad is going to happen after all – “teenagers in the woods” never ends well on “The X-Files”. I can’t wait!

(But before we go further, I feel that here would be a good time to point out an upcoming anomaly: during the beginning of this scene, the guest actor and creative team credits are rolling, and you will see – if you are looking – that the writers of the episode billed themselves in their producer credit as James “Chargers” Wong and Glen “Bolts, Baby!” Morgan. This was a reference to their favorite team, the San Diego Chargers, being in the Super Bowl at the time this episode was originally broadcast. I’m not a football fan (I know – un-American!), and IMO this cutesiness undermines the dark atmosphere of the scene just a tad. It’s only for a few seconds though, and they did write a great episode, so I’ll forgive them. Not that they care what I think anyway. And now, back to the story)

The teenagers are a pair of boys (nondescript) and a pair of girls (a blonde and a brunette, both cute), who are in search of the location of a tree stump “altar”. The boys are walking ahead of the girls (who says chivalry is dead?), furtively discussing their plan to get the girls, Kate and Andrea, freaked out somehow so they can divide and conquer. (Another interesting pop-culture note: One of the boys says that his prospective honey’s mittens are giving him “a Gingrich”, which I can only assume was a then-in-vogue term for a woody, referencing then-Speaker-Of-The-House Newt Gingrich’s sex scandals. Newt Gingrich – ew. This unsavory little reminder that he exists is possibly the only drawback to watching this episode… I will agree that mittens can be sexy, though.)

They arrive at the designated location and position themselves in boy/girl pairs, and then the other boy (not the Gingrich guy) lights a candle, places it on the stump, pulls out a piece of paper and, echoing the previous scene, begins reading a prayer to the Gods of the Underworld and the demon Azazel. A sudden breeze extinguishes the candle and deep, angry-sounding voices are heard among the trees. Andrea (the blonde) gets scared and hugs Gingrich Guy, who smiles to himself (phase one of mission accomplished!). We hear high-pitched squeaking, and Andrea looks down and sees rats running near her feet. She freaks and runs away, saying the Hail Mary out loud. The other boy, whose name is apparently Dave, says “Forget this!” and tosses the paper he was reading onto the ground, where it bursts into flame. Gingrich Guy, whose name is Jerry, runs after Andrea, calling her, but he is halted by a pillar of demonic-looking fire which erupts suddenly from the ground and blocks his path (don’t you hate when that happens?). He turns and we see a mysterious hand grab him by the throat and choke him, raising him upward with considerable strength. And then we cut to….

Daylight (8:55 A.M., according to the time stamp), still raining, and Scully looking under a tarp at what is apparently Jerry’s body (we can’t see it, which is probably a good thing considering what we’re shortly going to find out about it). The sheriff standing nearby tells her that “a hunter found him early this morning.”

(Which raises the question: just how early is “early”? Because if it’s not even 9 A.M. yet and Mulder and Scully are already there, I’d say we have a whole other X-file going on here. Seriously, how much time would it take for the body to be found, the local authorities to be notified, the FBI to be contacted, Mulder and Scully to be roused from their undoubtedly pleasant dreams, and then for the two of them to travel from Washington D.C. to the boondocks of New Hampshire? A lot more time than for them to be able get there by 8:55, I’d say – in January in New England there wouldn’t be enough light for anyone to be doing any hunting before about 7 A.M. at the earliest, for starters. Is this timeline realistic? Absolutely not. Is this “The X-Files”? Absolutely!)

The sheriff, who seems a bit frazzled, says that the tree stump is rumored to be used as a witches’ altar in ceremonies. He points out that Jerry’s eyes and heart have been cut out, but Scully calmly assures him that “Many homicides involve victim desecration.” Mind you, this is the same woman who just last week was a basket case in the face of Donnie Pfaster’s cadaver-hair-and-fingernails fetish. The sheriff blathers on about his own suspicions of occult activity in the area, while Mulder humors him snarkily – when the sheriff says Jerry and his friends listened to “devil music”, Mulder offers: “‘The Night Chicago Died’?” Now that’s comedy! Scully is unhappy with the shoddy compilation and assessment of evidence at the scene – she finds a fragment of a page from a library book whose title ends with “In America” and says she’s surprised the sheriff’s men missed it. Ouch! Obviously terrified of her, the sheriff takes the piece of paper and promises to start checking libraries (a refreshing change from the more usual “X-Files” scenario, in which local authorities treat M & S like gum stuck to the bottom of their shoes).

The sheriff leaves, but Scully – who, it’s important to note, is wearing a black overcoat – continues to mock his theories of the crime, while Mulder counters that the place does have a “weird feel”. Suddenly their umbrellas are pelted with objects from above – which turn out to be toads, raining from the sky! (I certainly wasn’t expecting that. Fun!) The toads frolic at M & S’s feet, singing happily (well, OK – croaking), and Mulder’s reaction is typically deadpan: “So, lunch?” To which Scully responds, sounding only slightly perturbed, “Mulder, toads just fell from the sky!” It’s so like Scully to state the obvious. Mulder makes a joke about the toads’ parachutes not opening and then says “You were saying something about this place not feeling odd?” I’m right there with you, Mulder – ‘odd’ would be the word, indeed. Here’s hoping it gets more so.

(BTW I hate to be a noodge about this timeline issue, but shouldn’t Mulder have said “So, breakfast?”, given what time it was? On the other hand, if the time stamp had just said, say, 12 noon, instead of 8:55, both M & S’s time of arrival and Mulder’s “So, lunch?” quip would have made infinitely more sense. See, 1013, you should really have hired me as head nitpicker. But I digress.)

Our next scene takes place at the Crowley High School library, where Mulder is looking in the card file to track down the book title from that page fragment. (Remember libraries? I wax nostalgic watching this now and being transported back to a magical time when you couldn’t just find everything on the internet). Scully arrives, claiming that tornadoes in the area could have been responsible for the frog fall (yeah, right). Mulder finds the title which seems to fit the bill: “Witch Hunt: A History Of The Occult In America”, written by one M. R. Krashewski. Scully notes that it was last borrowed by one Dave Duran (since we can read the card, she is again stating the obvious). Mulder says petulantly “I can see that Scully, I’m not BLIND!” Then he starts singing “MOUTH IS ALIVE, WITH JUICES LIKE WINE / AND I’M HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF“ (get it? – Duran Duran!), until he is vehemently shushed by a librarian. OK I’m kidding, he doesn’t really do any of that – although I think the song would have been perfectly in character for him. A missed opportunity by the writers for more delicious “X-Files” humor.

Cut to a high school science lab/classroom where the students are sitting around yakking and waiting for class to start. We see Dave, acting edgy, and behind him Kate and Andrea, looking nervous. The bell rings and the teacher, an ordinary-looking middle-aged woman in a print dress and glasses, tells the class that her name is Mrs. Paddock and that she’s substituting for their regular teacher who is out sick. Just then there is a knock at the door, and Mrs. Paddock opens it to reveal Mulder and Scully, who say that they’re looking for Dave Duran. I’m so hoping that one of the kids will go into the old Cheech and Chong stoner routine: “Daaave? Daaave’s not heeere, maaan” – but sadly, it doesn’t happen. They’re probably too young to know it. Dave tries to bolt through the window – obviously he watched this show last season and made a mental note of Max Fenig’s attempted escape from Mulder’s motel bathroom in “Fallen Angel” – but, like Max, he is unsuccessful. (Hmm… I wonder, how would I have reacted in high school if Mulder and Scully had paid a visit to my classroom just to see me? I’d probably have run too – they’re so unnervingly serious. I’m sure they’d have scared me into confessing to something I didn’t actually do.)

Mulder and Scully interview Dave in an office, with Kate and Andrea standing by. Dave says that the trip to the woods was just a prank that he and Jerry concocted because they were “trying to get some” (Andrea, in disgust, whispers “I told you” to Kate), but now he’s afraid they “called up some devil or something.” Outside, in a larger office area, the four creepy adults from the teaser are conversing sotto voce (we know they’re creepy because Mark Snow’s subtle musical off-ramp into Creepyville tells us so). NotBulldog – I mean, Jim – says that Jerry’s body was displayed according to “the rites of Azazel”, and wants to know which of the others was out in the woods. Tall Guy w/Glasses says he went out there because they were supposed to have a Mass, but no one else showed so he left (I bet he waited, like, five seconds total before making that decision). He says none of them killed Jerry but he can feel that there is an angry presence among them. They all seem a bit unglued and oddly pathetic.

M & S let the kids go, and the PTC members demand to know why they’re not being arrested. When Mulder says there’s no evidence warranting an arrest, the PTC members start blaming outside occult influences that are preying on the kids though books and music, making them do bad things. I think we can safely say they’re full of shit. Scully gets excited and tries to show them how overblown and absurd their conspiracy theories are (someone at 1013 would have done well to try the same tack with the mythology writers around the time of season 5), but Jim just says, patronizingly, “Finally, you people understand what we’re up against.” You can practically see smoke coming out of Scully’s ears – she looks like she’s about to punch him in the face (I kind of want to punch the smug bastard myself). Mulder has to pull her out of the room, while emphasizing to the PTC members that the investigation is ongoing.

Outside in the hall Scully continues ranting, while Mulder drinks from a water fountain, which provides a fortuitous break in the case when he notices that the water is flowing down the drain THE WRONG WAY! It’s going counterclockwise, when in the northern hemisphere the “Coriolis force” dictates that it should go down clockwise! Or maybe it’s the other way around, I forget. Anyway, whatever the water is doing, it’s wrong! I never heard of the Coriolis force, but I totally buy it – Mulder always knows weird shit like this. He’s sure now that something is present and causing all these strange things to happen, and I’m right there on the crazy train with him. Even Scully doesn’t put up much of an argument. (That’s the great thing about this show – it’s so educational, and useful for explaining real life situations. Like, when I do laps around my local park track, I almost always run with the center island to my left, but every once in awhile I’ll take the opposite direction. I always thought it was just because I felt like it, but now I know it’s because there’s an evil presence lurking in the neighborhood and overriding my Coriolis force.)

Back in the classroom Mrs. Paddock is smiling at her students as they hand in their assignments on their way out the door. Kate and Andrea are the last to leave and Mrs. Paddock summons them over and tells them that she heard about what happened, and if they ever want to talk she’s there to listen. Gee, she’s so nice – just the kind of caring, supportive teacher you’d want in high school. The girls thank her and head on out, and Mrs. Paddock straightens the stack of papers and opens up the desk drawer to put them in. Except there’s not much room in the drawer, because there’s already a lab tray there, with a fresh-looking human heart and a pair of human eyeballs in it. WTF???!! Oh, OK, of course! – Jerry’s missing body parts – why not? Just, uh… well, again, something I wasn’t expecting. Mrs. Paddock obviously was though – she’s not the least bit surprised. She just places the papers on top of the heart (What’s she planning to say in class tomorrow – “Boys and girls, pay no attention to the bloodstains on these assignments I’m handing back to you”?), then closes the drawer and smiles slightly to herself, as if she’s pulled a fast one. Another fake out from the writers? Maybe she’s not the kind of teacher you’d want in high school after all?…

A shot of some teenagers walking outside on the Crowley High School grounds (this might be as good a time as any to point out that the name ‘Crowley’ is a nod to Aleister Crowley, a famous and very influential occultist born in England in 1875. See – what did I say? Educational!). Next, a shot of Scully in a school office area, working at her laptop. Then we are in the office of the school psychologist, who is Tall Guy w/Glasses from the PTC (according to the credits, his name is Pete Calcagni, although no one ever calls him by name. He doesn’t look like a Pete, IMO). Mulder is asking him about the high number of student health complaints in his file which could be early signs of repressed memories of ritual abuse, but Calcagni is cheerfully dismissive and unhelpful. He says he can’t divulge the names of the students with chronic complaints, citing doctor/patient privilege. Mulder responds by sulking and leaving in silence.

He joins Scully, who shows him an anti-Semitic newspaper article from 1934 Germany she has found online – she suggests that the type of inflammatory accusations contained in the article have been updated now to target occultists instead. Mulder takes this opportunity to do an earnest and heartfelt PSA for Wicca, saying that modern witches “have a great reverence for all life in Nature”, and that they don’t cast spells or worship Satan. He says even Satanists have renounced murder and torture (Great! – Where can I join up? ‘Cause, you know, that murder/torture quota was the one thing that’s been holding me back). Scully, who wasn’t in any particular disagreement with him to begin with, wonders: if witches are not causing all the strange goings-on, then what is? (This little M/S scene serves no real purpose in the story at all, other than to show us that Scully – uniquely to this episode, if I’m not mistaken – has brought her laptop with her and is not afraid to use it! That will be significant later.) Scully’s last question does serve as a clever lead-in to the next scene, which is:

Back at the biology classroom/lab. Mrs. Paddock, in a white lab coat, is wheeling around a cart, from which she is passing out preserved pig embryos to the students. Yuck. As she does this, she explains, in a very no-nonsense manner, the dissection requirements for their final exam. At the back of the room she stops at a glass tank which contains a humongous snake. She drops a pig embryo into the tank, and then gives the snake a little smile. The snake, as far as I can tell, does not reciprocate the smile (maybe it’s confused and thinks she wants it to dissect the pig rather than eat it, or maybe it’s had pig for lunch all week and was really hoping for something different today). In fact the snake does exactly nothing at all, but I feel like it’s being shown to us for a reason. Just what could that reason be? Hmmm… Mrs. Paddock returns to her desk, telling the students that they have till the end of the period. The way she says it immediately conjures up all my worst adult nightmares of being back in school and about to take a final for which I realize I am woefully unprepared, having forgotten to attend the class for the entire semester.

We now focus on a girl student, whom we saw briefly in the first classroom scene. She seems really revolted by the prospect of dissecting the pig. (I never had to dissect a pig in freshman biology, but I did have to do a frog. I honestly don’t remember being that grossed out by it. Now would be a different story, I think.) The girl’s lab partner, who looks none too thrilled himself, offers to cut the pig open, if she will dissect the heart. She nods and closes her eyes. When she opens them and sees the pig with its insides exposed, she gasps, looking as if she may throw up. Mrs. Paddock looks up from her desk. We see the pig from the girl’s POV, and its very visible heart starts to beat (this is really disgusting and scary). The girl gets more freaked out and seems to be having trouble breathing, and we now see the pig’s head start to move, as if it’s still alive. We hear a sound like a pig squealing (truly terrifying!), which becomes the girl’s loud scream. She gets up from her chair. The other students look over at her, startled and concerned, but Mrs. Paddock just watches, oddly unemotional (just what is up with her, anyway?). The girl continues screaming and sobbing…

In Calcagni’s office, the girl still seems upset. Mrs. Paddock is there, back in her sympathetic/concerned mode. She strokes the girl’s hair and reassures her that she’s encountered squeamish students before. M & S are also there, and Calcagni tells the girl, whom he calls Shannon, that her father should be there soon. Shannon yells “No!” and runs out of the room down the hall. Mulder follows and yells “Shannon! You’re remembering!”, which slows her down. She stops, still upset but a bit calmer. A string section suddenly begins to play a romantic waltz feel, and Mulder, sensing that no one will shush him here, begins to advance dramatically down the hallway, singing in a big booming baritone: “TRY TO REMEMBER THE KIND OF SEPTEMBER / WHEN GRASS WAS GREEN, AND GRAIN WAS YELLOW…” Ahhhhh… if only that were true… But, again, noho on the cantando. He actually just gently asks Shannon to tell him what she remembers. That Mulder, he has such a way with the young ladies. I’d say he’s very likely experiencing a minor episode of STS (Samantha Transference Syndrome) here.

Next, we see Shanantha – I mean, Shannon – sitting outside the school with Mulder and Scully. She tells a very long and detailed story about how her real father left when she was very young, and her mom, who was a teacher at the time, met Jim Ausbury (our friend Jim from the PTC) and married him. She says that recently she went on a class trip to a place called the American Stonehenge (Where is that?! That sounds cool – I’d really like to go!), and she remembered that Ausbury had taken her there when she was four and molested her (OK, not so keen on going there right this second). She tells M & S that she started remembering other things, like how when her mom was away, other people would come over to the house and they would take her and her younger sister down to the basement, which was painted red. They would have ceremonies, and get Shannon pregnant and then kill the babies. She claims that her three children are buried in the cellar, and that one night Ausbury murdered her eight-year-old sister for a sacrifice and then told everyone that she died in an accident.

Some intense, heavy, not really snarkworthy stuff. Mulder and Scully both seem very concerned and sympathetic, but it’s hard to tell if they’re buying it completely. I’m not sure I am, although given what we already know about Ausbury, it certainly seems possible. Shannon seems to genuinely believe everything she’s saying, and to be genuinely upset by it all – by the end of her tale she’s sobbing on Scully’s shoulder.

(Oh! I almost forgot, but that just reminded me – there is something snarkworthy here after all. During Shannon’s aria, the cameraman gets bored and decides to wander slowly around everyone in the scene, at one point circling behind Scully so that we see an extreme close up of the back of her coat, which completely fills the screen and blocks Shannon, and everything else, from sight. Now remember how before, I said that Scully’s black overcoat in her first scene was important? Well that’s because in this scene, Scully is wearing a TAN overcoat! Now I ask you, why would a federal employee bring two overcoats, the same make and model but different colors, on an out-of-town business trip? Especially when said employee had to pack quickly at the last minute? I imagine Scully’s hurried thought process went something like this: “Black is slimming on me, but I know Mulder likes tan – which one will get me laid? Oh God, I can’t decide – I’ll just bring them both!” We’ll see just how well it works out for her…)

Anyway, Mulder and Scully go to the Ausbury residence to confront the parents with Shannon’s accusations. (I must take a moment here to say that I really like the exterior of the Ausburys’ upscale suburban house, and I especially like the carport thing on the side. Good going, location scouts!) Ausbury is upset that Shannon has not returned home, and says that “someone or something” must have put those ideas in her head. Mrs. Ausbury is sitting next to him on a sofa, crying. Mulder gives Scully a little nod, which apparently speaks volumes to her. It seems like it’s FBI code and I’m not sure of Mulder’s exact meaning – it could be “You take the girl and I’ll take the boy”, or it could be “I love the architectural style of this house – you stay here while I check out the rest of it.” Scully opts to interpret it as both, but, clearly annoyed that she’ll have to stay in the living room, she contributes her own little twist by asking Mrs. Ausbury if she wants a glass of water – thus cleverly restricting Mulder’s architectural tour to the kitchen area only. That Scully – such a spoilsport. And so inconsiderate – I wanted to see the rest of the house too!

The Ausburys (unbelievably, to me) fall hook, line and sinker for the “glass of water” gag, so Mulder goes off with Ausbury, while Scully asks Mrs. Ausbury if she knows any reason why Shannon would have said what she did. Mrs. Ausbury thinks that maybe she and Jim haven’t been paying enough attention to Shannon. She tells Scully that Shannon has never been pregnant, and that the only other child she had was a girl who died of crib death at 8 weeks (the actress playing Mrs. Ausbury does a terrific job with this scene, brief though it is). Scully looks stumped as to where to go from here.

Mulder, meanwhile, is with Ausbury in the kitchen (which is spacious and has a decor which I would describe as colonial, although I really have no idea what I’m talking about. I do feel certain, though, that if this kitchen was on “House Hunters”, the prospective buyers would want to change all the cabinets.) Mulder asks Ausbury point blank if he did the things Shannon has accused him of. Ausbury clenches his hand so hard around the glass he’s holding that it shatters, sending pieces flying into sink. Wow – he’s so macho! Mulder says “Hey neat trick! – can you do that again?”, and Ausbury patiently explains, while picking bloody shards out of his sliced-up palm, that it only works once at a time, like cracking your knuckles or burping on cue, and that he’ll be able to do it again for Mulder later. I just made all of that up – actually Ausbury says that he would kill anyone who tried to harm Shannon. Mulder, meanwhile, has opened up the cellar door and is looking down the stairs – he’s too afraid to follow through, though, because he knows Scully will be furious if she finds out he left the kitchen. Come on, Mulder, let’s you and I see what’s down there! But, no cigar – instead, Mulder challenges the authenticity of Ausbury’s righteous indignation, and the cellar door suddenly slams shut of its own accord, which seems to startle them only slightly. Ausbury gets really pissed off and tells Mulder to get out of his house, adding “The devil travels in many forms! And you may be one!”

And the close-up on Ausbury changes to a close-up of Mrs. Paddock. (Have you noticed how whenever someone’s speculating about a presence, or what might be causing the strange events, or the devil, the next thing we see is always Mrs. Paddock? Don’t worry – I didn’t notice it either, the first time I saw this ep. But it’s true. Methinks the editors are trying to give our poor befuddled brains a big fat CLUE.) Mrs. Paddock is staying after school with Shannon, doing the “kindly concerned teacher” thing she does so well. The dissection tray with the pig embryo is on the table between them, and Mrs. Paddock wonders if Shannon is really up to trying it again, but Shannon says she doesn’t want to miss the final. Paddock says she’ll be in her office if Shannon feels funny, and starts to walk away. OK, I was wrong, everything’s fine after all, just breathe – oh no wait, she’s coming back. Mrs. Paddock suggests that Shannon remove her bracelet so she won’t lose it “in some pig’s guts.” I-i-e-e-e… really… don’t… think you should give it to her, Shannon. DON’T DO IT! But she does, and Paddock says she’ll hold it till Shannon’s finished, and walks away again, this time to her office.

Next comes my very favorite shot in the whole episode. I’m going to call it a dual-focus shot, although I have no idea if that’s the correct cinematographical term (in fact I don’t even know if ‘cinematographical’ is a word). But here’s how it works: We see Shannon, out of focus, facing us at the table in the foreground, while over her shoulder, in focus in the background, we see Mrs. Paddock watching her intently through the office window at the back of the room. Then Mrs. Paddock closes the Venetian blinds so we can’t see her anymore, and at the same time the focus switches to Shannon, looking calmly resolute, in the foreground. It’s so chillingly brilliant, I can’t tell you! You just know something bad is going to happen now.

And boy, does it ever. An other-worldly sounding percussion groove, courtesy of Mark Snow, suddenly kicks in, and a male choir starts to chant insistently (they’ve obviously been just waiting for a gig to come along that measures up to their last one – the soundtrack for “The Omen”) . We see a left hand position itself over a burning candle, holding Shannon’s bracelet. The editing now cuts back and forth between Shannon, preparing for the dissection, and extreme, odd-angled close-ups of Mrs. Paddock, performing a ritual in her darkened office. Paddock looks disturbingly as if she is in a trance, and she’s grunting and wheezing in an extremely freaky manner. She lifts her right thumb and index finger as if she’s holding something between them, and then we see Shannon pick up her scalpel the same way. Paddock brings her right hand under her left wrist, and Shannon does the same with the scalpel. Paddock makes a slashing motion with her right hand and then we hear a scream and the bracelet drops on the table. Outside in the classroom, Shannon has fallen off the stool onto the floor, face down, blood pooling under her slashed wrist. We see one final extreme close-up of Paddock, whose grunting has become slower and less labored, finally ending with what sounds like a satisfied little sigh. She smiles slightly. And… scene. Whew!

The school again, thunder and lightning, darkness outside. The police are on the scene, and five officers are in a doo-wop formation in one corner of the science room, harmonizing exquisitely, a la the Beach Boys, on a little tune by Henry Gross: “SHANNON IS GONE, I HOPE SHE’S DRIFTING OUT TO SEA-EA”, while a small but appreciative audience tosses money into the dissection tray on the floor in front of them… You should know by now that it’s not real whenever I say that someone is singing. This is not “Glee”! (Of course the singing on “Glee” isn’t real either, but that’s a whole other horror story.) Mulder and Scully are in the classroom talking to Mrs. Paddock about Shannon’s “suicide” (this is real now, so pay attention). Sartorially, Scully is still a vision in tan. Paddock, of course, is feigning complete innocence, so upset that she is actually in tears over Shannon’s fate (Susan Blommaert, the actress playing Paddock, is fantastic – she’s completely believable when she’s playing “good”, and she’s absolutely terrifying when she’s being evil.). Mulder finds the bracelet in Paddock’s office, but she says that she was simply holding it for Shannon. Mulder gives Scully another nod in FBI code – this one I think means “Lay your pen gently down, woman, and follow whither I lead.” Or maybe it just means “Can we talk?”, and Scully decides on her own that the weight of her pen is too cumbersome to bring along on a hike of about 20 feet. In any event, she keeps her notepad but puts her pen on the table, and excusing herself to Mrs. Paddock (she’s so polite!), goes over to the other side of the room with Mulder.

Away from everyone else, M & S have a quiet little chat. Mulder starts off with “I just wanted to tell you how much I like that coat you’re wearing – is that new?” Scully blushes and says “Really? This old thing? (giggle) No, Mulder, you’ve just never noticed it before. I thought maybe I should have worn the black instead” – SCRRRRCCCCCH! Sorry, rewind, take two: Away from everyone else, M & S have a quiet but professional little chat. (That imaginary convo probably would be funnier if M & S hadn’t really gotten involved later on in the show, but from the POV of where they were at in season 2, I think it still works. Comedically, I mean. But you be the judge. Anyway -) Scully tells Mulder that the teacher that Mrs. Paddock is subbing for was virtually never absent, until two days ago when he contracted necrotizing fasciitis, AKA flesh-eating bacteria. Mulder says that’s very rare. (I should certainly hope so!) Moreover, according to Scully, no one can remember ever hiring Mrs. Paddock. Just whom Scully’s been talking to is anyone’s guess, since no one else from the school seems to be around anywhere, but who cares? At this point there’s a big flash of lightning and Paddock glares over at them, then looks back at Scully’s pen sitting on the table in front of her. M & S don’t seem to notice though. They also don’t notice that the Doo-Wop Cops In The Corner are now covering Cliff Richard: “SHE’S JUST A DEVIL WO-MAN, WITH EVIL ON HER MIND / BEWARE THE DEVIL WO-MAN, SHE’S GONNA GETCHA”… (I’m not even going to bother with the disclaimer this time)

While all this is going on, the four PTC members have congregated outside in the parking lot under black umbrellas. Deborah says she feels there is a dark angel among them, who wants a sacrifice. Ausbury asks if the others are responsible for Shannon’s death. They say no, but suggest a scheme in which Shannon will be blamed for killing Jerry Stevens out of jealousy, as well as for her own death, thus enabling them to get rid of the police and the FBI. Calcagni says that then they must rekindle their faith. Ausbury says nothing, and seems incredulous and angry. I don’t blame him – it’s never fun to be hit with the epiphany that your friends are insensitive assholes.

Back inside, Mulder tells Scully he’s going to check out the Ausbury residence again, now that they’re staying with friends (he doesn’t fool me – he just wants to take that house tour he missed out on before. Take me with you, Mulder!) He says Scully should check out Mrs. Paddock’s background. Another big lightning flash, and this time the electrical power goes out. In the darkness, Mrs. Paddock swipes Scully’s pen off the table. I don’t blame her – it looked like a really nice pen.

The power is out all over town, apparently, for the Ausbury house is in the dark when Mulder arrives. He has his flashlight of course, and immediately heads for the cellar stairs he was gazing at so longingly before (I kind of wanted to see the upstairs first, but… OK). He enters the basement, which is pitch black, and swings his flashlight around a little (which shows us that the walls are indeed painted red, as Shannon described), when he is startled by Ausbury, who is just hanging out there in the pitch blackness, chillin’.

Meanwhile back at the school, Scully is not letting anything as mundane as a Satanically-induced power outage prevent her from working – she has her trusty battery-powered laptop! (I told you it was going to be significant) She starts making the appropriate online entries to do a background check on Mrs. Paddock. Paddock, meanwhile, is back in her office, doing another candle ritual (complete with the freaky grunting and wheezing), only this time it’s Scully’s pen she’s holding over the flame. She thus manages to engineer that a legitimate-looking teaching history for herself shows up on Scully’s screen. Scully looks impressed. It never seems to occur to her to go see what Mrs. Paddock is doing. And has she even given a thought to her pen?! Honestly, some people just don’t know how to take care of the nice things they have.

Ausbury is telling Mulder about the previous perks of his religious faith, and how he has now come to see the hypocrisy within it. He says he never abused Shannon sexually or physically hurt her, but did include her in some of the rituals when she was younger. He now realizes that his beliefs are responsible for her death. Mulder doesn’t seem inclined toward sympathy. He utters the memorable line “Did you really think you could call up the devil and ask him to behave?”

At that same moment we see Mrs. Paddock – who, it’s becoming clearer all the time, is quite literally The Substitute Teacher From Hell – making a phone call from her office with one hand while still holding Scully’s pen over the candle with the other. Mulder gets a call on his cell and it’s Scully. We hear her say “Mulder, it’s me – did you take my pen goddammit? Get back here with it NOW!” Actually we hear her say “Mulder – the school – I’m in trouble…” Of course anyone with a brain watching can figure out that it’s Mrs. Paddock disguising her voice to sound like Scully, but poor clueless Mulder is still three steps behind at this point. He immediately springs into action – his damsel is in distress, after all – and handcuffs Ausbury to the stair railing. He tells Ausbury he’s under arrest and that he (Mulder) will be back, and charges up the stairs. I’d really like to take just a quick look at the master suite before we leave, but Mulder is having none of it – he races outside to the car and then tears out of the driveway and down the street. Fine, be that way. But I know something you don’t know, nyeah, nyeah…

Ausbury, left alone in the basement, begins to sob at the realization of what a wreck his life is. Poor guy – he doesn’t know it, but it’s about to get much worse, although not for long. The camera travels up to the top of the stairs and we see the bolt on the other side of the door slide over, allowing the door to creak open (this is one great creaking door sound, BTW). First we see nothing, but then who should slither into view but our friend the gigantic snake from Mrs. Paddock’s classroom. I guess it was unhappy with the school cafeteria menu, and decided to leave and wander around town in search of more appetizing fare. It starts to glide slowly down the stairs, and when it gets halfway down and notices Ausbury near the railing, it glides over and starts to wrap itself around him. Ausbury, who had his back to it and didn’t see it coming, is of course freaked to the nth degree. He starts choking as the snake winds its way around his neck and body (to be fair, it really looks more like the snake is just cuddling – if snakes in fact do that – and not crushing him, but a bit of suspension of disbelief is required here). Ausbury eventually appears to stop breathing and the snake’s head reaches the cellar floor, whereupon it turns and opens its mouth near one of Ausbury’s feet, as if to begin its meal.

(OK I’m no herpetologist, but wouldn’t the snake be better off starting with the head, if it’s going to devour him whole? What’s going to happen when it swallows one leg and then gets to the crotch area and discovers it has the other leg to contend with? Is it going to spit the first leg out and start all over? Did no one teach this snake proper table etiquette? Oh well – probably best not to think about it. For lots of reasons.)

Mulder meanwhile arrives back at the school to find Scully not in any danger at all. Still at her laptop, and having nothing to do after finishing her background check, Scully has taken the opportunity to browse the overcoats in the Macy’s online store. She slams the laptop cover down self-consciously when she sees Mulder (OK, OK, not true). She says she never called him (duh!), and Mulder looks suitably perplexed. We cut back to the snake, with an engorged body (gross!), closing its mouth as if it’s finishing swallowing something, and then we see Mrs. Paddock, in extreme close-up behind her candle. Her eyes are closed and she is sweating – she appears to be straining physically, and is darting her tongue over her lips, just like… a snake. She makes a big gulping swallow and then opens her eyes, and we see that they are big, dark and reptilian. Lightning flashes and she smiles triumphantly. TOO. FREAKY. FOR. WORDS.


OK, let’s wrap this sucker up! But first, a word of tribute to our director-du-jour, Mr. Kim Manners. This episode was his first time directing on “The X-Files”, and a smashing debut it is. His dark lighting, imaginative camera angles and movements, and clever editing choices make for an inspired excursion into horror. He went on to do many more episodes for the show, of course, as well as for “Millennium”, and subsequently became an executive producer on “Supernatural”. He passed away much too soon and his talent is greatly missed. I consider “Die Hand Die Verletzt” to be one of his finest moments, and one of the best episodes of this series, too.

Getting back to our story: we see the exterior of the Ausbury house at night, thunder and lightning now in overdrive. Mulder has returned with Scully in tow, and they head down into the basement yet again (are we EVER going to go where I want to go?!) Ausbury isn’t there anymore though, but something that looks like his skeleton is. Ew… Mulder sees what look like snake tracks on the dirt floor, but before he can even verbalize the implication, Scully sets him straight: it would take many many many hours for a snake to consume and digest a man. Mulder snarks that she really does watch the Learning Channel (as if there was ever any doubt?). Then he spots something else on the ground, and picks up what looks like a snakeskin that’s been just recently shed. “A-HA! Then HOW do you explain THIS?! Huh, Scully? HUH?!” Mulder doesn’t say that, but you just know he’s thinking it. As are we all. Scully forgets all about what she learned on the Learning Channel and remembers that there was a python in Mrs. Paddock’s room. (Given that it swallowed, digested and expelled a human adult male, shed its own skin completely, and hightailed it back up the stairs and out of the house in the space of, I’m guessing, about half an hour, I’d say this python has really got the multi-tasking thing down.)

Back at the school, which is still sans power, the remaining PTC members are agitatedly plotting in the conference room. They’ve already found out from the sheriff that Ausbury is dead (word sure travels fast ‘round these parts), and they decide that their only way out now is to sacrifice Mulder and Scully, “if it’s not already too late.” They look out the window and see Mulder and Scully arriving in the parking lot, and blow out the sad little candles they’ve lit. As they’re leaving the room to prepare for their ambush, Calcagni goes to lock the door, but can’t find his keys, which he says were in his pocket. This seems to get him more agitated. Being a chronic key-misplacer myself, I can totally sympathize.

The science classroom, from what we can see of it in the flashes of lightning, looks like it’s been trashed – there are chairs knocked over and beakers and other assorted stuff lying around everywhere. Mulder and Scully enter and find Mrs. Paddock lying on the floor, with blood under her nose, as if she’s been attacked. They ever so considerately remove their coats to fashion a blanket and a pillow for her. SUCKERS! (I guess Scully senses that the tan overcoat may not be the tool of seduction she hoped it would be, so she’s OK with using it for a nobler purpose – for now.) Mrs. Paddock seems weak, and tells them that she surprised the PTC members taking the snake. (Damn, but she is good!) She also says that she found out that they killed Jerry and that there’s evidence in the conference room. Mulder tries to reach paramedics but can’t get through. He tells Mrs. Paddock to just stay there, and he and Scully leave. Mrs. Paddock doesn’t move, but she gets a look of grim determination on her face.

Mulder and Scully go to the conference room, waving their flashlights every which way, as they are wont to do in such situations. Scully finds Mrs. Paddock’s “evidence” – a jar with Jerry’s eyeballs in it. She picks it up and shows it to Mulder, who is standing several feet away and can’t really see it that well. He gives Scully another one of his enigmatic FBI code nods, but this time Scully rolls her eyes, stamps her foot and says, “NO, Mulder, YOU come over HERE!” If only. Scully needs to be more assertive in these situations, I feel. But instead, she behaves like a waitress who’s just been signaled by a customer, and brings the dessert tray – I mean, the jar – over to Mulder, so he can ogle its contents. Suddenly there is a bright flash of light and Mulder is hit from behind by Coach Paul. (Ha! Serves you right – you should have gone over to where Scully was.) Mulder stumbles into a bookcase which topples onto Scully, knocking her to the floor. (C’mon, guys, didn’t you see “Howards End”? BOOKCASES CAN KILL! Be more careful in the future, please!) Deborah manages to get Scully’s gun and trains it on Scully, who just lies pinned under the bookcase waving her arms around. If it were anyone but Scully it would be hilarious. Actually, it’s kind of hilarious anyway. Mulder gets the upper hand with Coach Paul and knocks him down, but then he himself is hit on the head by Calcagni’s flashlight, and falls. Bummer. Of course, we can’t have Mulder looking like he knows what he’s doing in a fight – that just wouldn’t be “The X-Files.”

More hilarity ensues: We are next treated to a quick shot of Deborah and Coach Paul dragging a semi-hogtied Mulder and Scully across the gym floor by the ropes around their ankles. Calcagni follows wielding a sinister-looking shotgun. They all wind up in the gym showers, where M & S are positioned on the ground. Calcagni turns on the faucets above them, saying it will “make the blood easier to clean up”. Oh no, this isn’t funny anymore. HELP! Deborah steps forward holding up a ceremonial dagger, with the blade pointing downward, as Calcagni and Coach Paul look on. She starts intoning a prayer in Latin, while moving over Mulder and Scully, who are completely drenched now. (I took Latin in my Jesuit high school, plus I was an altar boy and learned the Mass in Latin, so I feel like I should know what Deborah is saying, but I haven’t got an inkling. I don’t think it’s something the Catholic Church could get behind though – just a hunch). Mulder, who’s closer to Deborah, tries to knock her over using his legs, while at the same time protecting Scully (awww!), but he only succeeds in making her stumble slightly. Deborah continues the prayer and raises the dagger up, then starts to plunge it downward -

- and we see Mrs. Paddock back at her candle again, this time holding Calcagni’s keys over it, while we hear two gunshots -

- we see Calcagni lower his shotgun to reload, and then raise the barrel toward his own head. Mulder and Scully, watching from below, recoil in horror -

- we see Mrs. Paddock again, and we hear a final gunshot. The keys drop onto the table. Mrs. Paddock says “You’re right. It is already too late,” and blows out the candle. She looks exhausted. Well, mass murder by supernatural suggestion is very hard work, I’m sure. But hey, Mrs. Paddock, guess what? Now it’s Miller Time!

Back at the showers, Scully opines that Calcagni (who, just to be crystal clear here, shot Deborah and Coach Paul, and then himself) looked as if he was being controlled by someone. Since he went through the whole episode with barely any kind of expression on his face at all, I don’t see how Scully could tell. Mulder, for his part, makes the astounding leap that it must be Mrs. Paddock who did the controlling. Of course he’s right, but why that would suddenly make sense to him now, when he never figured it out up to this point, is, well, a bit unclear. I think it’s because there are only, like, two minutes left in the broadcast, and Mulder always has to be right, but that’s just my own personal theory. We’ll keep that between us, OK?

Mulder and Scully return to the science classroom (just how long did it take them to get free, I wonder?), to find that Mrs. Paddock is – surprise! – gone. Their overcoats are still there though, thank God. They shine their flashlights at the blackboard and discover that a message is written there, in a very neat, pleasant-looking hand: “Goodbye. It’s been nice working with you. By the way I still have your pen.”

Once more I’m lying – that last sentence isn’t really there. I don’t see why not though – it would have given Scully some closure. (The actual blackboard message is a clever little farewell from our writers, who were leaving the show.) The lights suddenly come back on and we see just what a huge mess the room is. Mulder and Scully are all wet and pretty ragged-looking themselves. They stare around the room in silence, seeming disoriented. If I had to guess, I’d say Mulder is thinking “What the hell just happened?” and Scully is thinking “I’m sure I left my pen here somewhere…” The camera travels outside the room and around the corner, as if it’s an invisible presence taking its leave, and then in a final neat, creepy, quintessential Kim Manners touch, pauses outside the window and watches Mulder and Scully for a moment, before the screen goes to black.

(And as I finish this I notice that the time is exactly 10:13 p.m. Spooky…)