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Naturally, Skinner decides this is the time to tell a 'Nam story. Which is a good one, actually. In a nutshell, he joined the Marines because he believed it was the right thing to do. A kid showed up covered with grenades, and Skinner shot him. (Mulder actually looks up at that point.) After that, he lost faith in everything. He was shot and had an out-of-body experience. He saw everything from above his body, the usual (Mulder's eating it up, of course). Two weeks later he woke up in the hospital. He tells Mulder that he's afraid to look beyond that experience, but Mulder isn't. He says again that Mulder's resignation is unacceptable. I'd venture to say that this might be the first time a big studly ex-Marine has told geeky emo Mulder how much braver he is, and it seems to make an impression. Mulder's at attention, or at least all the hair on the left side of his head is. He makes the connection that Skinner was the one to give him CSM's address, endangering his own life. "Every life, every day is in danger," Skinner says. "That's just life." Mulder soaks it all in, big-eyed; you can just about see the hamster wheel turning.

While Mulder's carrying a box down to the parking garage, who should pop out of the shadows but Mr. X, who apparently LIVES in parking garages, connected by an underground network of tunnels or something. He's like the Beast. (Remember that show? I barely do, but I had a friend who was completely obsessed with it. In seventh grade, mind you.) He's got a plane ticket for Mulder, which I guess he picked up at the Underground Parking-Garage Tunnel American Express Travel Agency. He explains that he can't tell Mulder why Scully was taken, but he can give him the men who took her. Because of this plane ticket, "they" believe Mulder will be out of town, because, apparently, "they" are total suckers. Tonight at 8:17 (oh, evil conspiracy people, you're such tools -- what is wrong with picking 8:15 or even 8:00 if the person's out of town anyway?) they'll search Mulder's apartment for information about Scully that they believe Mulder has. Mr. X's plan is, Mulder will be there and, because the intruders will be armed, Mulder will "defend himself" by shooting the shit out of all of them. When he hears this, Mulder closes his eyes in what looks like physical relief. As if there was any chance of him hesitating, Mr. X underscores that this is the only way these people will be punished because, much like Steven Seagal, they are above the law. He tells Mulder that they can't make contact for several weeks.

A very dark place. A gun sits on a table. It's Mulder's apartment, and he and his blue shirt (he took off the wacky gumdrop tie he was wearing earlier, which seems only fitting for this occasion) are staring into nothingness. Someone appears outside the door, but it's too early -- only 7:30, at least as far as I can tell from Mulder's ridonculous watch of geeked-out insanity. It's Melissa. Mulder opens the door pissily, looking around all nervous. The 2 in 42 is missing from Mulder's apartment door, and -- ready for this SRE? I actually believe this one, kinda -- if 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything (as any nerd worth his salt knows), then I believe the 2 is missing because This Is Not The Answer. Yeah, OK, I know in my heart that probably no one noticed that the number of Mulder's apartment had any nerd significance until a bunch of nerds told them, and that probably no one noticed that the 2 had fallen off until...ever, but I like it anyway. Revenge is not the answer, Mulder! Turn back! Anyway, Melissa wants to come in. Mulder is NOOOOOOOT in the mood, but he hustles her in quickly and shuts the door. "Why's it so dark in here?" Melissa asks, and Mulder monotones back, "Because the lights aren't on." "Ooookay," says Melissa. Hee. She tells Mulder that the doctor says Scully's getting weaker, and "it could be...any time." Sob. So she thought Mulder would like to know so he could go see her. "Well, I can't," Mulder says impatiently, because the bad guys that he is going to FUCKING RIP FROM LIMB TO LIMB are going to be here ANY MINUTE, man, and he cannot fucking WAIT and he is going to tie his underpants around his head and dance in the streets and howl when he's done, it is going to be so fucking sweet. "Well -- I'd think that you would," says Melissa, surprised. "Well, I would," Mulder grits. "I can't. Not right now." Melissa gets in his face: "I don't have to be psychic to see that you're in a very dark place," she snarks, "much darker than where my sister is." That's great until she ruins it by starting to babble on about the light, and this is one thing I don't think works a hundred percent with Melissa -- the sort of sarcastic, no-nonsense way that Melinda McGraw plays her doesn't really fit all that well with the idea of Melissa as flitty New Ager. I really believe her when she's glaring bitchily at Mulder; not so much with the light-and-crystals stuff. So, I guess it's interesting contradictions, but sometimes contradictions are...just contradictions. Mulder snaps and tells her to cut it out. Undaunted, Melissa asks, "Why is it so much easier for you to run around trying to get even than just expressing to her how you feel?" and despite the questionable grammar there this is, in a nutshell, kind of the whole episode. "I expect more from you," she snaps. "Dana expects more." Ouch! And, yeah. On her way out, she delivers the parting shot: "Even if it doesn't bring her least she'll know. And so will you." Slam! Mulder locks the door tight behind her. He sits down at the table. He grabs his gun. And he stares into the dark and waits for revenge.

Except...something happens, and we don't see it happen, and as much as I complain about offscreen important stuff, I think this was way the right call: there's no "...Pizza....The pizza guy....MULDER!!" revelation moment, which we so do not need in this episode because it would be so corny, and the fact that the whole episode is about non-climaxes and how they sometimes hold the most meaning is just a bonus. But here we are in the ICU, Scully in the bed, and here's Mulder, sitting down beside her and taking her hand. "I feel, Scully, believe you're not ready to go. And you've always had the strength of your beliefs. I don't know if my being here...will help bring you back. But I'm here." You know, it's simple but it really works. And here he is, settling back in the chair, watching her, with her. Even though he doesn't know if she can hear him. Even though any minute the people he wants more than anything to tear to pieces are going to be in his apartment, unguarded, vulnerable to surprise. Even though Scully's not doing anything -- or he can't tell if she is, because maybe she's in a rowboat right now, paddling hard to get back to the dock, and maybe seeing Mulder there just made her paddle a little harder, but he doesn't know that. He just knows that he loves her, and he gives up that visceral, guaranteed revenge -- his need for it so strong because it's driven by that very same love -- just in case being with her instead will help her. Now that is faith, and that is love, and that is sacrifice. On the wall, the hospital clock reads 8:17.

Next morning. Mulder goes home. His apartment is ransacked. The table where he was sitting with his gun is overturned. Mulder closes the door. He takes it all in. Birds are chirping outside, but he doesn't hear them. He stands in a doorway, and his breath hitches. He slowly sinks down, and cries softly. He holds out his hands, empty. Anyone who says David can't cry, I direct them to this scene, which to me is one of the single most moving of the series.

A clearing in a forest (a Canadian forest, I'm just wildly guessing). Sunlight, and here too, birds chirping. There might be a lake through the trees, though you can't really tell. A beautiful spot, not all that different from the place where, as a child, Dana Scully shot a garter snake (probably because it's the same forest, but that's neither here nor there). Here in the clearing is a hospital bed, and in the bed is Scully; the point of view is basically hers. Beside the bed, an IV pole fades slowly into view. Next is a chair. Then an orderly, and the nurses' station, and we can hear them talking, and then the rest of the room appears and the forest is gone. Last of all are the birds, which fade out under the ambient hospital noise, and the dappled leaf shadows on the bed. Someone stops and looks at Dana, then looks again -- it's Nurse Howard Graves Is Very Dead. "Call Dr. Daly," she says to someone offscreen. "Now." The camera rotates. Dana is blinking slowly. She moves her head a little. She's awake.

Mulder's in his dark place, and he's changed his shirt but, as far as we can tell, the apartment is still a shambles. The phone rings. He ignores it, but when the machine picks up he grabs it impatiently, cutting off his own voice: "I'm here." We don't know who's on the other end of the phone or what they're saying, but there's no mistaking the expression that spreads over his face.


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