The X-Files: “Aubrey”

The Razor’s Edge

by Sarah Stegall

copyright ©1995 by Sarah Stegall

Writer: Sara B. Charno

Director: Rob Bowman

People who argue that only physical traits can be passed genetically clearly have no children. No one who has watched a child develop exactly the same mannerisms and character as a long- dead grandparent can deny that, clearly, some personality characteristics must be genetic. As Mulder himself points out in Friday’s episode of “The X-Files”, numerous twin studies have supported the growing suspicion that at least some of what we consider learned behavior may in fact be genetic programming. The premise of “Aubrey” lives up to the best expectations of “The X-Files”: controversial science, ambiguous situations, and the unexpected twist.

Mulder and Scully investigate the discovery of the body of a murdered FBI agent by a woman detective who may or may not be having precognitive dreams. Almost immediately the investigation begins to uncover links between a string of fifty-year-old serial murders and new murders bearing the same distinguishing features. The tension builds as the inquiry concentrates not only on the murdered agents but on the detective herself. Mulder and Scully begin to suspect an unexpected connection between her and the murders and the serial killings of fifty years ago….a genetic bond.

As the mystery deepens, we find that the real heart of the secret lies in Detective B. J. (Deborah Strang) Morrow herself. Like Oedipus the king, she goes in search of a riddle and finds herself at the center of it. A top notch performance by Deborah Strang gives us a complex woman caught between the agony of an unplanned pregnancy, an unsolved mystery, and the night terrors that haunt her life. As she is drawn helplessly into nightmares that turn into waking horrors, we identify with Detective Morrow’s confusion and fear. Strang is supported by a capable performance from Terry (Earth 2) O’Quinn as her lover and superior, Brian Tillman. Their interactions, like Scully and Mulder’s are heavy with meanings left unspoken. His solicitous care for B.J. even in the disaster represented by her pregnancy, his defense of her when Scully accuses her of assault, and his grudging acceptance of the FBI’s meddling in what he sees as a local case, are all well brought out in a low-key but affecting performance. In a particularly well done scene at the end, O’Quinn makes us believe in Tillman’s bewilderment and heartbreak as he holds a gun on the woman he loves.

This is Sara B. Charno’s maiden script for “The X-Files”, and it is an auspicious debut. We are given important issues handled deftly: unplanned pregnancy, abortion, rape, children and the inheritance from one generation to another. These primary “women’s issues” are woven seamlessly into a strong plot that addresses directly the question of what is evil, and where does it come from. She gives us solid characters, balancing the tight drama of Detective Morrow against the superb teamwork of Scully and Mulder. She gives us memorable dialogue–Mulder: “Dreams are answers to questions that we haven’t yet figured out how to ask.” Working in the best tradition of Chris Carter himself, she fleshes out the working relationship between Mulder and Scully; for example, we get a clue to Mulder’s love of sunflower seeds. It is glorious to watch Mulder and Scully bent over a computer terminal, putting together evidence, arguing over lines of inquiry. How absolutely wonderful to see Scully’s empathy and kindness come through–not only in the excellent conversation in the bathroom with B.J. but later, when she brings the woman some clothes to wear in the hospital. One of her best moments was when she goes to Mulder after BJ nearly kills him–she is almost cradling his head against her breast. It’s a hint of the tension in Dana Scully, torn between attraction to Mulder and a distinctly maternal protectivenes of him. Scully gets better every episode.

Director Rob Bowman adds excellent visuals: little touches like Mulder and Scully munching on donuts (they’re cops, right?) in a room full of old bones, the stunning overhead camera work at the swimming-pool murder site, the juxtaposition of images when B.J. flashes on an ancient murder. And the scene in B.J.’s bedroom, when she wakes from a living nightmare terrified and bloody, left me gasping. The rash appearing more and more clearly on both Cokely and B.J. was a powerful psychosomatic link between them–a corruption both physical and moral made manifest.

Bowman elicits fine performances from his actors, as well– the scene between Scully and B.J. in the Ladies’ Room is evocative. Scully is as warm and sympathetic as Morrow is closed and defensive, but Scully’s gentle solicitude wins through to the other woman’s trust in a scene of which both actresses can be proud. Likewise, Mulder’s amiable humor as he pokes fun at his own obsessiveness lightens him up considerably. Mulder smiles more in this episode than any other this season, and it’s a welcome change. His soft-spoken questioning of rape victim Ruby Thibodeaux (Joy Coghill), in which his intuition races past his partner’s to discover the existence of the child, reveals depths of compassion in him we rarely get to see. Nor can I overlook Morgan Woodward’s portrayal of ancient evil incarnate, as the malevolent Cokely. His malignant stare, his sneering contempt, and finally his helpless terror were well done.

There were one or two points that stuck–Carl Jung never had physical genetics in mind when he wrote of a collective unconscious. Moreover, the kind of memory inheritance we are asked to believe in here is extremely selective–are we to suppose that only the memories of a psychotic and not the dozens of other ancestral memories potentially available to the offspring would manifest themselves? The head blow that knocked Mulder down would probably have killed him: David Duchovny should be getting hazard pay. I could have done without the reference to a wholly imaginary “mothering instinct”, although I loved Mulder’s response to it. And I fail to see how on earth B. J. Morrow could have figured out that some evil old man she has never met is her secret grandfather.

I kept seeing parallels between Oedipus and B.J. Morrow. Oedipus’ story is tragic because he pursues the ‘truth’ headlong despite the dire warnings of those around him. His determination to do his public duty and solve the mystery results in searing personal tragedy. Likewise, the stubborn Detective Morrow uncovers a secret about her own past that destroys her. As Mulder may someday discover, some secrets are better left buried.

I applaud the cast and company for one of the best episodes of the season. This one gets five sunflower seeds out of five.