The X-Files #196: Borrowed Time

"I tried... oh, God, I tried to do everything You asked me to do--without knowing, without knowing why--no expectations. Don't do this, I'm begging you, please, don't take her away from me. If anyone has to die, let it be me... are You listening to me?!?"
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: People are drowning on dry land and Jordan is next.

REVIEW: Frank's FBI adventures keep taking him further and further away from profiling, but I could forgive everything if all episodes were as emotionally gripping as this one. When Frank is threatened with losing Jordan, nothing but her life matters (certainly not his career), and I'd be hard pressed to name a better moment for Henrikson than his desperate prayer begging for his daughter's life. To everyone around him, he seems crazed, which seems to be the byproduct of no longer working with people who believe in his abilities, i.e. the Millennium Group. But his pain is tangible, powerful. And we would share it, I think, if Jordan really were to die.

In a world where angels and demons are real, an angel of death is a possibility. The leather-clad stranger (kind of an alternate regeneration of the Ninth Doctor) does not have to be a divine being, mind you, he could be a prescient "mutant" with the ability to transfer life energy in some way, but the supernatural origin is the one that makes the most sense. According to Borrowed Time, people who have had near-death experiences were given the "gift" of extra time on Earth, but that time seems to be a finite resource. In order to save various passengers on a train, the same number of previously saved souls must now die, including Jordan, whose never-explained brush with death in Season 1 (a miraculous recovery from meningitis) is used to clever effect in this scenario. I suppose the Challengers of the Unknown are next. So the time is "liberated" with the slain dying from what would later have killed the train passengers. The stranger seems to hear Frank's prayers and chooses to die himself (we don't know enough about these creatures' natures to contradict its possibility) to save the soul he's been tasked to save (likely, the little girl), sparing Jordan in the process. The question of choice is touched on in a prior scene where the stranger questions whether Catherine really chose to die to save Jordan, or simply came to the end of her own time. Jordan wakes up from yet another near-death experience saying Catherine thought of it as a choice. Either we have free will, or we don't and self-sacrifice is meaningless. Perhaps that's something the angel of death discovered for himself.

The episode has a strange religious vibe at times. It can work, like when the uninvited (though someone must have called him) priest gives Jordan her Last Rites, tapping into the sense the vultures are circling. The stranger, the priest, black-clad figures who hover around her and herald/await her death. At other times, it just seems like a red herring, like the man who tries to block his mother's autopsy on religious grounds. The train wreck seen in the teaser unfolds more slowly as the episode progresses, allowing the viewer to solve the mystery more fully than the protagonists can. The disaster is well produced, and one may start to question the choices made by the various passengers and how it may have saved or doomed them. Choice is at the center of this story.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: At first, I questioned why Emma and Frank were being called to an obvious X-File instead of Mulder and Scully. Then I remembered this season ran concurrent with Season 6 of The X-Files. And for much of that, our favorite agents weren't assigned to the X-Files. I could totally see Spender passing the buck on this and everything Frank's encountered of late.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A high mark for Season 3, one of the most emotional episodes in the entire Millennium canon.


Anonymous said...

Some have speculated that the angel of death here is the same one from "Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions." IIRC, the names are the same or close.

Also, I feel like S3 improved starting with the last ep and that "Borrowed Time" is the first good one of S3. Again IIRC, the showrunner changed with "Omerta."

Siskoid said...

Did it? Well, that could explain it. The focus on Catherine's death over the course of several episodes is what should have been a much earlier focus.


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