The X-Files #170: How the Ghosts Stole Christmas

"A lonely man chasing para-masturbatory illusions that you believe will give your life meaning and significance, which your pathetic social maladjustment makes impossible for you to find elsewhere. You probably consider yourself... passionate, serious, misunderstood."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A ghost couple play tricks on Mulder and Scully in a haunted house on Christmas Eve.

REVIEW: Chris Carter only seems interested in oddball tributes lately, as far as his writing/directing efforts go, and I've been lukewarm about them. I like this strange Christmas episode much better, but it's a very weird piece. Surreal, even. That's both its power and maybe its downfall. Because while a pair of ghosts essentially trolling Mulder and Scully for 45 minutes is fun, it does feel like a loose string of set pieces dancing on one foot and then the other between black comedy and darker drama, weakest when Carter indulges his love of the Gothic - lightning storms and Edgar Alan Poe references, though as we'll see, it all justifiable - and strongest when the big guest-stars finally show up (yes, finally, they take just a little too long to manifest). Pacing is an issue, but I still like the characters' long-winded speeches which are a throwback to early episode and very much in Carter's "literate" style. Good thing the actors can pull it off without sounding like they're reading off a script.

Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin are, of course, great, and their characters are a nice twist on the fated lovers ghost trope. Mulder believes them to be benign, having signed up for an eternity of half-life out of love for one another. BUT! Lovers though they may have been, they were also demented individuals who wanted to use their ghostly existence to cause harm, pushing couples who dared move into or invade their house to a murder-suicide like theirs. They are, in essence, more akin to demons. And they use all manner of illusion to screw with Mulder and Scully's heads, to turn their loneliness into despair, and/or to destroy the trust they have between them. Whatever will work. What's difficult is that they aren't a normal couple, so the old standards don't necessarily work. And the ghosts do use "standards". The mundanity of their "work" - needing to stay on the haunted tourism brochures, worrying about their reputations and how they might lure more people to the house - is amusing, but also makes them (and Carter) indulge in clichés. These are ghosts who are aware of other ghost stories and are "faking" a lot of the tropes they use (they've seen Death Becomes Her as well, it seems). At the end, though they don't succeed, they can definitely say they've still "got it".

As an engine for character development, the episode explores the two leads' innate loneliness (and thematically, anyone's who's ever felt lonely around the holidays). Or rather, it shows how Mulder and Scully have beat loneliness. They have an isolating job, and isolated personalities, but they're really an island of two. Whatever happens, they're in this together, and though their relationship isn't romantic (and they don't have such attachments with others), they find in one another friendship, camaraderie, and support. Though the ghosts come very near to destroying their connection, they really can't. Trusting the other wouldn't ever do them harm is what breaks the spell. The ghosts' entirely line of reasoning is then suspect, pop psychology and all. The last scene is the sweetest, when Scully shows up at Mulder's still Fletcherised apartment (groan) to exchange gifts, where we see why they need each other, and how they are enough to keep the loneliness at bay.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- Ultimately worthy of attention, this Christmas episode may frustrate at first with its randomness and slow build to the quality guest-stars' appearance.

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