"Tattoo reflect on body what lies in person's soul."
REVIEW: Space Above and Beyond alumn Rodney Rowland plays Ed Jerse, a loser with a talking tattoo. Get over it because while it gets a lot of air time, this is really a character piece about our own Agent Dana Scully. Mulder's on vacation, see (Graceland of all things, and of course, the road between D.C. and Tennessee is quite snow - oh British Columbia, can't you ever cooperate?), and gives the pair some time apart. Just what the doctor ordered, in fact, because Scully is right in the middle of a mid-life crisis brought on, quite clearly, by worry over her possible cancer. She's distracted and distant towards Mulder, and wondering not only where her career is going, but her life in general. If she's to die - is that the symbolic value of the dry rose petal she fingers? - has she lived well enough, fully enough? And gloriously, the root cause of her malaise is never mentioned! The theme of going around in circles is invoked, but as a way to represent her own destructive and lonely cycle. She lets a man control her, rejects him, starts all over again, and she can't seem to break the cycle.
A chance meeting with Ed in a tattoo parlor provides a possible way to do so. He says he got his "Never Again" tattoo as a way to mark the end of something and the start of something new. Indelible, the tat is something he can't undo. Perhaps that's why she gets one of her own, an Ouroboros, a cyclical symbol. Maybe she's embracing the cycle rather than breaking it. Falling for Ed itself is a rebellious act, since he's not, on the surface, the kind of man she usually goes for. He has some of Mulder's boyish charm, sure, but only in the collective mind of the fans has she actually "gone for" Mulder. Except she does treat him as part of her problem here. Perhaps the bond isn't romantic, but she still feels the sting of his authority over her, and authority that's become part of their relationship, but isn't there on paper. HE drags HER to various sites, he asks her to do autopsies and run background checks, and yeah, why DOESN'T she have a desk in that office? So not only is this her making a break from the fannish idea of their relationship, but she also gets to solve two cases with the help of her natural skepticism (the Russian with the outlandish story - fun use of Bullwinkle there - proves to be a con man, the talking tat is a bad case of ergotism mixed with a frail mind).
It makes COMPLETE sense that this episode ends with Mulder being told it's not always about HIM, and I hope the stories she drives from now on aren't limited to her space cancer. Because though she's been the audience's identification figure, and has had more than her share of agency, episodes are usually structured so that Mulder chose the case, Mulder brought up the crazy theory, and Mulder turned out to be right. If she's to be his equal, we need to see her pick some cases and solve them. Is it too much to hope for this won't be a one-off?
I haven't talked a whole lot about the tattoo plot, so a few words... I find it interesting they got Jodie Foster to play its voice (I almost didn't recognize her in her cameo in Ed's office), seeing as her Clarice was the inspiration for Scully (they even have a similar voice). There's a certain irony in her turning someone into a demented killer. Poor Scully falls for the wrong guy, clearly. There's a pathology at work that goes beyond ergotism. He's a self-destructive man quite capable of self-harm, and ends up with his arm in a furnace, trying to shut the tattoo up. He was rough, but there was a tenderness there as well, and in Scully too. She knew this was a one-night stand (represented by her getting the tattoo in entirely sexual terms), and that he thought it was more. You can see her thinking of letting him down easy, and then it turns nightmarish. Oh well.
REWATCHABILITY: High - It has an odd structure, but is an excellent Scully-driven character development episode. It might even be a paradigm for a new kind of X-Files story.