The X-Files #217: Signs and Wonders

"Satan is near and you don't even have any eyes."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder is tested by dueling priest, one of whom is a snake handler.

REVIEW: Well, I just don't know what to think of the message vehiculated by this episode. It pits two Christian churches, two STYLES of Christianity, against one another, and the twist is that the friendly priest, tolerant of other faiths, and who puts Scripture in a historical context, is the villain, while the ranting fundamentalist, snake-handling anti-vaccer who tests parishioners with deadly serpents, is on the side of good. You could say the first priest - in actuality some kind of snake demon - is only feigning goodness, but the snake handler remains the righteous man, judged too harshly by our agents (who are us). The implication is that his world view is correct, while the "modern Church" approach is a good way for the Devil to lead the faithful astray, devaluing a literal understanding of the Bible and a rampant hatred of any deviation from that understanding. Even Mulder's speech about the comforts of being given "all the answers" is framed non-skeptically. I know demons and evil manifest exist in the X-Files universe, but does that mean the most severe interpretation of Scripture must also be shown to be correct because "superstitions" are often true on the show? I'm just not sure the script fits the program's usual morality, or that the writer thought things true at the deeper levels.

Of course, there are worst things for an episode to do than make you ponder the big questions, and directorially at least, the show looks great. Lots of shadows, acid lighting, visceral violence... Snakes don't make me squirm, personally, but it'll probably work well on those who have a touch of ophidiophobia. Nevertheless, whether the snake situations are practical - slithering in the dark after the agents or with Scully's face pressed into the wire of their cage - or magical - the staple remover turning into a snake, the pastor's daughter giving birth to snakes - their use as a horror element is well used. The exception might be the final, silly moment where a snake peeks out of the priest's mouth to eat a rat. Could have done with the gross body horror of the venom coming out of open wounds too. Moments like editing two prayer circles together to highlight the differences between the churches are also quite strong. It's just a shame that, as television viewers, we're so trained to spot the innocuous vs. the obvious, we can pretty much see the twist coming a mile off.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I like the horror and direction, but the script comes to the absolute wrong conclusions. One you may not want to think about too hard.



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