Next up in my reverse rankings of Fox Mulder’s impact in Season 1 of The X-Files, we’ve arrived at #14. Miracle Man is a weird episode for Mulder. On one hand, his impact on the main plot is negligible like so many of the one-off episodes from the show’s early days. On the other hand, this might be the humble beginnings for Anti-Religion-Mulder which means character development! These two aspects don’t jive particularly well because the episode is haphazardly patched together and you really have to reach to get that origin story. Even with that character development, the rest of Mulder’s scenes are a bit of a slog. But if you’re willing to take a leap of faith and make that reach, then that character drama resonates throughout the show’s run enough to get this one in at #14.
(I probably should have noted this in all of my previous posts but spoilers ahead for the entire show!!!)
I’ve always viewed Miracle Man as the odd episode out when compared to other religious episodes. In Revelations and All Souls, Mulder is a complete asshole and very condescending when talking about religion. Here though, he’s relatively straightforward. Though he’s surrounded by some of the most stereotypical and larger-than-life religious characters, he generally treats the case with the respect it deserves. And that always threw me off because it doesn’t feel consistent with latter season Mulder, reinforcing my assumption that Miracle Man was written before the writers and Duchovny had fully developed the character. But while that assumption may be true, I’m here to tell you that Miracle Man may actually be the secret origin story for Mulder’s distaste for religion.
Here’s the thing about Mulder: he believes in just about anything. A kid can control lightning and Mulder lights up. A man needs to eat cancer to regenerate his body and Mulder is ready to feast on that investigation. Michael Kritchgau tells a story (with no real evidence) about how the past four years of his life have been a lie and Mulder is ready to shoot himself and/or completely alter his belief system to the point of being a grumpy, snarky, arrogant, and bitter douchebag for half of Season 5. This man is susceptible to everything.
So why is it that when religion comes up, Mulder becomes so rigidly skeptical? Well maybe its because of what happens in Miracle Man.
In many ways, Mulder behaves exactly how we expect him to when Samuel starts talking to him about Samantha. His initial reaction when Samuel mentions Mulder’s “pain” is to dismiss it but as soon as Samuel mentions the word sister (which was a 50-50 guess if Samuel was just pulling this stuff out of his ass), Mulder is instantly entranced. His demeanor changes as he loses that normal quick-wittedness and immediately falls into his wounded-puppy phase that Duchovny does so well. Scully quickly notices this and tries to change the subject in the bar, asking “how do you think he does it” but Mulder can’t be reeled back in. Samuel has emotionally hooked Mulder and from that point on, Mulder is vulnerable, wearing “his heart on his sleeve” as Scully would point out to him in Paper Hearts.
The thing is, its hard not to be vulnerable when you start seeing visions of your long-lost sister (who looks a lot like the creepy girl from the game F.E.A.R.). And these visions send Mulder into a bit of a tailspin which is natural because my guess is that this is the first time Mulder has seen Samantha since that fateful day back in 1973. Mulder has no idea what to make of these visions. Samuel tells Mulder earlier to “open his heart” because God might have a message for him. And the episode doesn’t say one way or the other whether Samuel is bringing these visions to Mulder or if its a matter of Mulder opening his heart to the possibility. But one thing that is pretty definitive is that Mulder wants answers about what the visions mean…and he is not happy when Samuel acts all Chris Carterly and doesn’t give him a straight answer. When confronting Samuel in jail after figuring out that Samuel is likely being framed, Mulder is flat-out combative which is very different from the empathetic side he normally shows towards victims like Roland Fuller or Lucy Householder from Oubliette.
But its completely understandable because what the hell is Mulder supposed to do with these visions? He just gets these fleeting glimpses of Samantha with no explanation. He pushes Samuel to give him more details, demanding to know if she’s alive but Samuel is as cryptic as the Cigarette Smoking Man. (It doesn’t help that the writing for Samuel isn’t particularly good as he seems to taunt Mulder for no real reason). And so what is Mulder left with? Some really creepy visions of his sister but absolutely no additional information about her. Mulder scours the earth for the paranormal because of the answers that can be obtained. But here, all he knows is “I saw my sister three separate times not looking any older than the day she was abducted and she really likes the color red”.
That frustrating lack of answers is why I think this is Mulder’s breaking point with religion. We saw in Conduit Mulder sitting in a church crying over the loss of Samantha. Obviously that means that in some way, Mulder associates church with a sense of hope. And in Miracle Man, Mulder receives visions of Samantha that he believes are associated with religion. But that is literally all he’s given and Samuel provides no clarifying information about what the visions mean. Do they represent hope? That Samantha is alive? Dead? Happy? In pain? What the hell does it mean?
In my opinion, I think Mulder makes the most obvious conclusion: that seeing what is basically a ghost means that Samantha is probably dead. And Mulder shows seven seasons later that that very conclusion is one that he’s willing to accept if he’s provided with some sort of evidence or message beyond “creepy girl in red shows up randomly”. But in Miracle Man, he is knocked off-kilter because he’s given ZERO context beyond the visions. And I think while Mulder is willing to accept the possibility that Samantha may be dead, he’s not willing to accept it without an explanation. He may think that the vision could represent hope and reunion but he doesn’t know that and he can’t know that because religious belief is based on faith. Mulder has faith but its in the truth which is a faith he feels he can act on. I think he comes to view this experience in Miracle Man as a traumatic experience where the visions just rip open his emotional wounds and essentially jerk him around. This is very similar to his feelings at the end of Season 4 when Michael Kritchgau basically tells him that the entire alien conspiracy hinges on ripping open Mulder’s emotional wounds and jerking him around.
And isn’t it telling that Mulder’s behavior towards religion in later seasons is eerily similar to Mulder’s behavior towards aliens in Season 5? That is he digs his heels in and becomes a grumpy, snarky, arrogant, and bitter douchebag. I think both reactions are Mulder dealing with some fundamental and defining aspect of his life being shown to be potentially misguided. And what happens is we get a Mulder who is erratic and confused.
Now I never thought any of this before watching Miracle Man again last week because literally none of this is in the actual episode. And while I don’t think the writers had this grand plan here, I think this makes a very interesting through-line for Mulder between seasons. But the reason this character stuff doesn’t resonate within Miracle Man itself is because this is all married to an incredibly underwhelming episode. Samuel provides no insight into what the visions mean because they likely meant nothing to writers Howard Gordon and Chris Carter other than a way to heighten the drama. All this subtext is interesting but it doesn’t change the fact that Samantha’s inclusion is awkward at best. Miracle Man ends up feeling like a clumsy exploration into Mulder and his trauma because the surrounding case doesn’t have any urgency or real intrigue.
Maybe it would have been better suited as an exploration into Scully’s psyche regarding religion versus science; a nice low key examination of the contradictions of Dana Scully. Instead, Gordon and Carter go big by involving Samantha which ends up heightening the stakes in a way that Miracle Man can’t sustain. Yes this is probably partly due to Scully not being fully developed by this point but its a bit ridiculous that the episode force-feeds all this stuff about Mulder and looking for miracles when we get no real insight into Scully and her thoughts about a man performing miracles and rising from the grave. But hey, we learned she loves The Exorcist!
Outside of Miracle Man awkwardly skewing more to the Mulder side than it probably should, the actual investigation is not Mulder at his best. Like does he actually do anything? We have not one but two scenes of him and Scully just sitting at the Miracle Ministry watching the show and that is about as interesting as writing this sentence was. They interview Samuel but that immediately gets railroaded into the Samantha side-plot. They fail to interrogate any of the obvious suspects because…well most likely even a rudimentary questioning of Leonard Vance would have revealed him as the killer. And even though there is a clear conflict of interest going on with Sheriff Daniels and his bias against Reverend Hartley, Miracle Man is not interested in having Mulder or Scully confront this.
Also, why do he and Scully not investigate the locust infestation at the courthouse until the next day AFTER Samuel and another member of the Ministry have already died?? I mean Mulder solves that part of the investigation in mere moments so its not a matter of capability. Nope, its just a matter of the writers knowing that as soon as Mulder and Scully figure this part out, they will have solved the case and then we can’t get that shocking twist of Leonard Vance being the killer. This isn’t really a knock on Mulder but I hate it when the show makes Mulder (and Scully) behave less intelligently just to service the plot. And please do not get me started on how Samuel’s body freakin’ disappears from the morgue about five minutes before the end of the episode and Mulder and Scully can barely stay awake before leaving town without resolving anything.
But overall, Miracle Man is more good than bad for Mulder. That Samantha stuff may be out of place but it leads to two of the most underrated Mulder scenes of the first season. Those would be the conversation between Mulder and Scully in the hospital and the confrontation between Mulder and Samuel in the jail cell. Both are well acted by David Duchovny and really play to his strengths of playing a Mulder who is unable to keep his emotions from seeping into the case. The scene between Mulder and Samuel is surprisingly electric for an episode like this. And the one between our loveable duo is pure magic since this may be the first time they both drop their voices down to those urgent whispers which screams emotional intimacy. So #14 is a good spot for this one!
And now for some Mulder tid-bits.
1.) Number of Sarcastic Mulder Jokes: 3
He brings the heat early with his Woodstock and Elvis jokes but Samantha’s inclusion in the plot naturally makes him a bit dour. Gotta love his delivery though on the line “yeah maybe in a cornfield…but this happened in a courthouse.”
2.) Number of Self-Righteous/Pretentious/Hyperbolic Mulder Moments: 0
You know surprisingly I don’t think he really has any of these moments in the episode! He almost gets there with Samuel in the jail-cell but his reactions there feel wholly justified.
3.) Number of Mulder theories: 1.25
Mulder has one good theory about Samuel restoring and destroying the energy fields around people. And that is the last time Mulder shows any real interest in the case. Mulder is about to theorize what Samuel’s motive is for murder but gets interrupted mid-sentence because I don’t think Carter or Gordon had any idea.
4.) Number of Mulder leaps: 0
Mulder lacks his trademark leaps this episode which is why the investigation in Miracle Man is so boring. Though considering how obviously up to no good Leonard Vance is throughout the episode, I wouldn’t have even considered it a leap if Mulder showed a picture of Leonard Vance to the patients in Elegy and they started yelling “he did it!!”
5.) Number of quality Mulder investigative moments: 0
He actually had two…he went and examined the medical records of those who had been healed by Samuel. And he solves the mystery of the locust infestation, But there is literally no reason why he or Scully didn’t solve that mystery earlier so that nonsense negates the good work. Hopefully Skinner provides him with some constructive criticism during his midyear review.
6.) Number of times Mulder’s voice goes into that trademark sad “Duchovnyish-Whisper”: 1
Oh baby, its there! And Scully whips out her “throaty Andersonish-Concerned Voice” in the same scene!
7.) Number of times Mulder’s gun is drawn: 0
None because even Mulder knows not to run blindly around the Miracle Ministry waving a gun around.
8.) Number of times Mulder is in danger: 0
I think he and Scully are in danger of falling asleep at the Miracle Ministry. Maybe those Samantha visions are literally dreams??
9.) Number of fiery Mulder interactions: 1
He has that fairly intense interaction with Samuel where he’s frustrated by Samuel’s stubbornness and pretty justifiably angry that Samuel refuses to answer any of his questions about Samantha. And it’s lines like “I can’t stand here and argue with your Biblical rhetoric, but I do know that the law will find you innocent” where the writing on The X-Files really stands out among its contemporaries.
10.) Number of times Mulder pisses someone off: 1…ish??
I can’t really tell if he pisses off Samuel or if Samuel is just confused because he has no motive and doesn’t really have a coherent argument about why God is punishing him. So Samuel’s frustration in that scene might have been more towards the writing. Mulder does directly tell Sheriff Daniels that he thinks Daniels is essentially not a good cop but the episode isn’t interested in diving into that so Daniels doesn’t really care.