The finish line is in sight with tonight's episode, "Nothing Lasts Forever." The 9th episode of Season 11 was directed by James Wong, and written by Karen Nielsen. The title alone gave some Philes pause. Scully and Mulder have been with us 25 years, surely if anything lasts forever, they can, right? 

What we got is an episode that deals with the lengths people will go to to stop time, and the beauty and wisdom that comes with aging. And the idea that perhaps time can heal all wounds, if part of that time includes finally talking about the uncertainties that caused those wounds.

We've got a lot to say about this episode. Hit the jump for our recap, review, and conversation with writer Karen Nielsen.

 We open under the harsh light of an operating room. A doctor is rattling off stats about the patient, but the surgeon cuts him off and asks for a scalpel. Large incisions are made into a body. Blood drips from the wounds and into a bucket under the table.

A van is parked outside a building in Port Morris, The Bronx, New York City. Inside the vehicle, a man is snacking and listening to Tad O’Malley on the radio. We can hear Tad rambling about people being dosed through chemtrails. On the roof of the building above, a young woman, who we learn later is Juliet Bocanegra (Carlena Britch, Supernatural), looks on. Back in the operating theatre, the doctors are cracking the chest of the patient with a rib spreader. Machines indicate the patient’s heart has stopped, but the doctors don’t seem concerned. They remove organs and place them into coolers. Still on the roof, Juliet prays for mercy and crosses herself. The doctors continue to harvest organs from the patient. One notes that the pancreas looks like it could be infected. But instead of leaving it, as the other suggests, he removes the organ and licks it. This is the first time this episode I have to pause and try not to hurl, but it won’t be the last.

Juliet enters the operating room, watching as the doctors finish up. A man in a hooded sweatshirt takes one of the coolers full of organs. As he turns to leave, Juliet pulls a long metal spear from a pack on her back. Hoodie guy becomes her first victim as she says, “Those who love me, I will deliver.” The sound of her striking the spear through the man grabs the attention of the doctors. One shoots at Juliet and makes a get-away with the other cooler. But Juliet pins the remaining doctor down and demands that he tell her “where they are.” The doctor says he doesn’t know. She gives him a few more chances to respond, but when he doesn’t, she pounds the stake into him and again says “those who love me, I will deliver.”

Outside of an emergency room, a different doctor walks out to find a cooler with “I will repay” written on it. Organs are inside. Juliet watches this discovery from the shadows.

The credits run, and we see the tagline has once again been changed. This time it says “I Want to Be Beautiful.” Hmm.

Cathedral of the Sacraments in Washington, D.C. Parishioners are attending Mass and receiving Communion. We see Scully, seemingly lost in thought, in the line as the priest says, “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” A theme we will see repeated as the episode moves on. Scully takes Communion and as she’s walking back to the pews her phone buzzes. She reads the message on her phone, dipping her hand into the font of Holy Water as she leaves the church.

The holy water dissolves to a dirty sink, water mixed with blood being rinsed away. Juliet is scrubbing off the evidence of her night of vengeance. As she washes, she looks at a delicate gold bracelet on her wrist. A cross dangles from the bracelet's long chain.

The phone message Scully received apparently summoned the agents to the crime scene in The Bronx. Mulder uncovers a body that’s been impaled by a spear. They walk over to two New York-based FBI Agents who, after Scully introduces herself and Mulder, don’t seem too impressed by their presence. They say they didn’t request help from the Washington bureau and know Mulder and Scully’s reputation of coming onto a case to “take over, and turn it upside down.” Mulder smirks and says he likes to think they uncover things that would otherwise go unnoticed. Or as we’ve said before, “we open doors with The X-Files, that lead to other doors.”

Scully examines the man on the table. The other agents identified him as a 23-year-old man who was abducted after work. Mulder examines the guy on the floor and Scully points out the victims have been impaled with metal dowels. “Stake through the heart, you mean,” Mulder continues, and rattles off why he expects the stake would have been made with the three types of wood “necessary to defeat evil.” That’s enough to scare off the other two rookie agents. Scully’s, “you did that on purpose,” and Mulder’s responding, “you think?” are priceless.

Mulder continues looking around the crime scene, pointing out that the man on the operating table was clearly killed by the other two, who were then killed by someone who was a “fan of Hammer horror films.” The agents also decide whoever killed the other two wasn’t interested in the material gain of the organ harvesting. Scully points out “I will repay” was written on the cooler left at the hospital, which sounds like a motive to Mulder. Scully also points out that whoever took the organs didn’t realize that no hospital would be able to use them in that condition. The liver and the pancreas were missing from the cooler that was left at the hospital. Scully says she’ll check into hospitals doing liver transplants in the next few hours. Mulder pulls out his glasses and says he’ll see if any livers were put up for auction on onion sites. Scully asks if his new glasses are bifocals. Mulder says they’re progressives, which Scully teases him about. “No need to get defensive. Presbyopia is a natural part of the aging process; we’re all going to go through it. Wait 'til you get gout.” The mention of gout is enough to capture the attention of the younger agents still on scene. Mulder ponders why they keep doing what they do in spite of indifference and aging. Then he asks Scully if she got her hair cut. “Are you kidding me?” Scully responds. At which I pause and fall over laughing. Had this episode aired as shot, as episode 8, that moment would have been funny. But now that it’s been two episodes that we’ve seen Scully with shorter hair and Mulder is only now finally noticing, that makes it that much funnier.

In a home filled with family photos, we hear a woman praying in Spanish. Juliet comes down the stairs and looks pained by what she hears. Her mother is praying and crying over the photo of a girl who has some kind of facial deformity. This is Juliet’s sister, Olivia. Cut to another building. In a dark kitchen, Olivia, whose face appears healed, places something back into a cooler and then drinks from a blender jug filled with some kind of gross bloody smoothie. She has the same bracelet as her sister. Olivia walks into a dark room where others lay on dirty mattresses, and she offers them a drink from the jug. In that same apartment, a couple lies in bed while a tv show plays in the background. We hear, “It’s the Barbara Beaumont Show! Tonight’s episode, The Lion Tamer!”  The man is Dr. Randolph Luvenis. (Jere Burns, Angie Tribeca, Dear John). He sits up in bed saying, “I love this episode.” As he sits up, we realize the woman in bed with him is surgically attached to his back.

In a much fancier bed, we find Barbara Beaumont (Fiona Vroom, Hell on Wheels, Bates Motel) herself, watching the episode and reciting the lines along with it. She takes a drink from a cup that stains her upper lip red. “It’s simple really, I do it just for kicks!” she repeats again as we go to commercial.

St. Joseph’s Church in the Bronx. Scully is lighting a candle. Mulder comes up behind her and jokes that he didn’t burst into flames entering the church so they must forgive a lot. Scully tells him there have been twelve liver transplants in a 450-mile radius of New York in the last 24 hours, but all of the donors were accounted for. Mulder says he didn’t find any organs for sale on the dark web. But, he did find out more about the dead surgeon. He struggles to read the name of the surgeon on his phone without his glasses and jokes, “God help me,” which is shut down by a look from Scully. It turns out the surgeon had his medical license revoked for overprescribing opioids to the Russian mob. Scully tells him she thinks they should hand the case over, that it isn’t an X-File. She says she needs more time at the church and that Mulder could either meet up with her later or wait for her here. Mulder smiles and touches her shoulder, then walks away. We see him step into the pews as Juliet walks in. She approaches the priest who holds his hands out to her.

The shot changes and another set of hands are held out in the same fashion. Only this time a knife pierces the palms and blood spills out. We can tell by the bracelet the bleeding hands belong to Olivia, Juliet’s sister. Barbara exclaims over Olivia’s wounds and pours the blood into the blender jar. Barbara looks into the now almost-empty cooler and demands, “where’s the rest of it?” Olivia looks worried as Barbara moves away into the living room, yelling at the other residents. “You were all broken when I found you…..what do you see when you look at me?”  

“Beauty and light” the others respond, sounding brainwashed. She asks what she sees when she looks at them. “Ugliness and pain.” No! Barbara shouts. She sees love and obedience. She tells them they have all sacrificed too much and worked too hard, that the genius of Dr. Luvenis has transformed them. Luvenis rolls into the room in a motorized wheelchair, the young woman still attached to his back. Barbara continues to rant about the missing heart and lungs.

A young man stands up and explains there was a problem with the harvest, that there was an attack, but he escaped with what he could. He was the doctor we saw in the beginning who ran out with the cooler and got away in the van. Barbara leans in, and we’re not sure if she’s going to hurt the man or not, but she kisses his cheek and says, “I’m sure you did the best you could.” She turns and glares at Dr. Luvenis, saying she has to have a word with him.

Back at the church, the priest tells Juliet she needs to keep the faith, that her sister Olivia will be returned to her through God. Juliet tells the father that prayers are not enough. “I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy.” She recites Deuteronomy 32:42 to the priest who tries to respond, but she walks away. As she does, she walks past Scully and Mulder who are now seated together in a pew.

Mulder points out the scripture of the day, Romans 12:19. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, sayeth the Lord.”  “I will repay,” being what was written on the cooler. Scully tells him it’s a common biblical passage. She asks Mulder if she ever told him the story of how she came to believe in God. When her brother Charlie was a baby, and she was four years old, he got sick with Rheumatic fever. Maggie told the kids to pray for his recovery. Mulder points out that Charlie lived, and her prayers were answered. Scully smiles and says after the first few nights she wasn’t praying for him, she was praying for a puppy. They both laugh, but Scully says they got one that Christmas. “I thought God had performed a miracle.” (Young Scully with a puppy? I need some fanfic or fan art of this, STAT!)  Mulder laughs and says he knows now he’s not a Christian because his parents never got him a puppy. This whole exchange is so cute I want to throw something until Mulder asks if she’s praying for another miracle.

Scully replies that she doesn’t know if she believes in miracles, but that she does know the power of faith. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out the necklace quarter she found among Maggie’s things when she passed away, that we saw in “Home Again.”  (CONTINUITY! I DO BELIEVE IN MIRACLES; WE GOT SOME CONTINUITY!!) She says she believes in the power of faith, that she saw it in her mom, in the strength she received. Scully says she could use some of that now. “I need what you have.” Mulder looks at her, almost surprised. “You always bear north, Mulder. No matter which way or how hard the wind blows against you.” Mulder considers this for a minute and replies, “I think all I have, all any of us have are the results of the choices that we’ve made. And at the end of the day, we just hope that we made the right one.”

We hear a little thunder rumbling just before the scene changes, and in my heart, I think that symbolizes the storm Scully is wrestling with within her head and heart right now. It’s raining heavily as Mulder and Scully step outside of the church, umbrellas in hand. (Thank you, Vancouver.)  As they walk by the fence, Mulder notices three bars are missing. Someone is “literally” using the church to get revenge.

Barbara is looking in a vanity mirror and complaining about her reflection. “One day without my dinny and look at me.” So dinny is what we call the bloody sludge in the blender? Okay then. Dr. Luvenis rolls up from behind and tells her she doesn’t look a day over thirty-three; when he first fell in love with her. Barbara doesn’t look convinced but tells him he doesn’t look eighty-five. He says it’s all thanks to his angel Kayla, indicating the woman attached to his back. The two argue over the missing organs, but Luvenis says he will find them. Barbara scoffs that he’d be able to do it while attached to Kayla and that failure, “should not be rewarded.” She grabs a knife, approaches the young woman and tells her, “I think you’re ready to ascend.” Barbara tells Kayla, “prepare to be a swan,” slits her throat, and cuts her loose from Luvenis. Barbara decides the group will eat Kayla for now, but Luvenis says her organs are already depleted. She threatens Luvenis that he needs to find the organs before they both age and turns back to the mirror. We pause for commercials.

Juliet is looking through her sister Olivia’s desk, at the various creams and lotions and makeup it holds. She reads a card signed by Olivia that says she’s found a new family and a new life. She’s startled by a knock on the door. Downstairs, her mother opens the door to find Scully and Mulder. She wants to know if they have news about Olivia. Mulder says they’d talked to the priest at the church about Olivia’s case and asks if they could come inside and look around. He wants to see if they could find something that would help find her. Juliet comes to the door and says no, that Olivia doesn’t want to be found. The mother says, “eso no es verdad,” that is not the truth. But Juliet says Olivia couldn’t stand looking at who she was in the mirror, that she rejected her family, and God, and joined a cult. Scully says they can investigate and try and extract her, but Juliet says she knows her sister, that she thinks the family are monsters. She thinks she can become something, “she will never be.” Juliet has given up on her. “Have you?” Mulder asks, “Or will you repay?”

Mulder points out the cult may be involved in illegal organ trafficking and thinks Juliet knows this. (That must have been one hell of a conversation with the priest.) Mulder thinks Juliet still wants to save her sister. Juliet tries to kick them out but not before Mulder says Father Hardy told them he was afraid someone would take the law into their own hands, and become an avenger. Juliet says she wants her sister found so her mother will stop crying and slams the door.

Mulder and Scully walk back to their SUV while Juliet watches from the window. Scully asks Mulder if he thinks Juliet is involved. Mulder says his gut tells him she is and that his gut doesn’t need glasses.

Back at the cult apartment, Barbara is banging on the blender jar but not getting much out. She throws it in a fit of rage. She complains that there were no nutrients in Kayla and that Dr. Luvenis, who is now walking around on his own power, “ruined her.” Barbara complains that her looks are changing and asks why they can’t just eat one of the cult members. Luvenis tells her they don’t, “eat the seeds.” He then tries to explain the science of just why that can’t happen yet, that if she is patient and waits to have someone attached to her again, she’ll reap the benefits of “reverse aging.” This placates her temporarily, and Luvenis again says he’s got a lead on the organs and is going to get them.

After he leaves, a man named Warren stands up from the group in the living room and says he hates seeing Barbara unhappy. He says that she saved him, gave him joy, and offers himself to be “dinny.” She thanks Warren for the offer and says that as a reward she’s going to perform her favorite song, a number she did on Sonny and Cher in 1973. She busts into “The Morning After” by Maureen McGovern. (who made it famous, but Barbara likes her version better. *cough*)  She keeps singing as Warren sacrifices himself. The song continues as other cult members pull out his organs and drop them into the blender. Olivia mixes up the “dinny” and brings it to Barbara. We pause again for commercials and for a quick moment of "WTF did I just watch?"

We come back to Barbara watching and reciting along with her own sitcom. Dr. Luvenis appears with the cooler and interrupts her viewing. She’s annoyed but then happy he found the organs. She calls to Olivia and tells her, “it’s your day to be beautiful.”

Mulder and Scully arrive at a seriously sketchy looking apartment building, having followed the organs there by a tracker placed in the heart. “You were right Scully; they needed the organs.” Hearing Mulder say that warms my heart. Scully quips that it was easy enough to get the tracker into the organs but harder to get the hospital to loosen security enough so they could be stolen. As they walk inside the boarded up building, Juliet arrives and gets out of her car. The interior of the building looks just as rundown as the outside. Mulder bangs on the door of the manager’s office and is dismissed with, “no vacancy” until he says, “open the door, federal agents.”  

Cut to an operating room where Olivia and Dr. Luvenis are on tables. Dr. Luvenis tells Olivia to count backward from one-hundred. She can barely get a few numbers out as she drifts into unconsciousness. Dr. Luvenis tells the doctors to begin and explains how to do the surgery.

Inside the apartment building, the manager tells Mulder and Scully the only people living in the building are on the fourth floor. He explains that Barbara Beaumont has owned the building for over 40 years. Mulder looks up Barbara on his phone and again struggles to read it without his glasses, getting looks from both Scully and the manager. He rattles off her IMDB profile and mentions that she hasn’t done anything since the Barbara Beaumont show in 1967. Scully asks if at age 85 Barbara needs assistance, but the manager claims he’s never met her or even seen her. He says he only goes up once in a while to fix things but never sees anyone. But he knows people live there, “because of the smell.” Mulder shares a few other pieces of Barbara trivia: Her husband died of leukemia in 1970, she joined a “life extension commune” in Northern California, and married Dr. Randolph Luvenis. The manager tells Scully he’s been there seven years and when she seems incredulous that he’s never talked to Barbara, he explains that, “it’s the Bronx” and that he gets paid on time. This is the first time there’s ever been a problem. When asked how it’s possible he’s never crossed paths with Barbara or the tenants, the manager explains that it’s an 1890’s building with an old system of dumbwaiters and trap doors, and it’s possible to move around without being seen.

Meanwhile, the surgery continues with what looks like a metal valve being placed into Olivia’s back. A line is run, and blood is now running between her body and Luvenis’.

Mulder knocks on the door of apartment 4D and explains that they’ve tracked a signal to the apartment. (I’m going to take the 4D as a nod to my favorite episode of Season 9.) There is no answer, and Scully yells, “I guess we’ll go away and get a search warrant. We’ll be back.”  I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be snickering at this point, but I am. The door opens slightly, and Mulder and Scully enter, flashlights in hand. The apartment is very dark, and Barbara calls “hello” from the shadows. Mulder introduces himself and Scully to Barbara and asks who she is. Barbara says, “you tell me.”  When Scully doesn’t answer correctly, Barbara asks, “Haven’t you seen the Barbara Beaumont Show?” The agents stare at her a little longer while she rattles off other things they may know her from. Mulder jokes, “loved you in Dragnet,” but Scully isn’t buying it. She tries again and says they’re looking for an 85-year-old woman. Barbara responds that she looks good for her age. She says she keeps it dark in the apartment and sunlight is bad for the skin.

Mulder walks further into the apartment, and Barbara tells Scully to be careful, that it’s not already too late. He looks around while Scully asks Barbara if she’s seen Olivia. Scully shows Barbara a picture of the young woman, and that’s when Barbara loses her cool. As she screams, "NO, NO, NO!" someone rushes from the shadows and grabs Scully. Mulder yells and reaches for his gun but is restrained by others. They fight to get away, but Scully is pushed into the shaft of the dumbwaiter and falls, screaming. As Mulder continues his fight, Juliet runs into the apartment and spears Barbara. She drives the stake through with a blow from her hammer and again yells, “those who love me, I will deliver.” Another of the cult members runs to Barbara’s aid, only to be hit by Juliet’s hammer. Mulder is able to break free and tackles Juliet who says, “I did repay.”  But instead of dealing with her, he gets up to go find Scully. We cut to commercial with his flashlight shining down the elevator shaft and his cries of "SCULLY!"

In the makeshift operating room, Juliet finds her sister’s cross bracelet. The scene cuts away to Mulder in the basement of the building, calling for Scully. He hears a noise and finds Olivia and Dr. Luvenis walking towards him while attached together. Mulder demands that Luvenis let Olivia go, but he says she’s a part of him “of her own volition” and that Mulder can ask her himself. There’s a tight shot of their bloodied backs and the sutures joining them together. Mulder’s expression of disgust mirrors my own. Olivia, in her weakened state, tells Mulder they’re helping each other.

Luvenis looks at Mulder and asks what could be possible if they were free from government restraints and regulations. Mulder asks what they’ve achieved and Luvenis says he’s found the “cure for the greatest disease to afflict mankind.” He rattles off a few aging-related diseases, including presbyopia. He says, "through heterochronic parabiosis, I have reversed time.” Mulder looks appalled and says, “age isn’t a disease, it’s a natural progression.” Luvenis says he refuses to accept that people have to grow old. That’s when Olivia starts having a seizure. Mulder wants to take them both to the hospital, but Luvenis threatens to kill Olivia if Mulder comes closer. That’s when Juliet steps into the scene and hits Luvenis with her hammer. “I will deliver,” she says, as he falls to the ground. She cradles her sister who asks why Juliet is there. “I came for you,” she says. Mulder looks on but then hears a banging noise and sets off again, yelling for Scully.

He finds the door to the dumbwaiter shaft, but it’s locked with a padlock. He breaks the lock and starts digging through the trash until he finds Scully, first noticed by her spectacular shoes. “Phew,” he jokes as he holds her. “You stink.” War of the Coprophages, anyone? Winded, Scully thanks him and quips that she’s ok, that her fall was broken by decades worth of trash. And I’m thinking, Mulder, if she smells so badly, why are you holding her so close?

Juliet walks towards them and says, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I know I’m going to prison, but I made a choice. It was mine. I’d gladly trade my lifetime here for an eternity in heaven.”

We again linger on the pictures on the walls at Juliet and Olivia’s home and again hear their mother praying. Olivia comes down the stairs and sees her mother praying over a photo of her and Juliet. She has regained one daughter at home but lost the other.

Okay kids, here we go. The big moment. The conversation in the church. Deep breaths, everybody.

We are back in the church, and again find Scully lighting a candle. Mulder is slowly approaching behind her as she blows out the long stick match. The candle she just lit goes out, and she turns to Mulder. “It must be a sign. I’m all out of miracles. Turn Back. Give up. Accept your place in the numbing embrace of the status quo.”  Her sarcasm there sounds so much like Mulder, I’m twitching. But Mulder won’t have that. “Uh uh,” he says and picks up a match. “I will relight your candle and extend your prayers through mine.” “What prayers?” Scully asks. Mulder quips they won’t come true if he tells her. Scully reminds him it’s a prayer, not a birthday cake, and they share a shy little laugh. Scully tells him that prayers are meant to be a conversation and can be done like a meditation. And that if your needs are too great, you can ask God to act on your behalf. “But you don’t believe in God, so you’d essentially be talking to yourself.”

Mulder considers this and replies, “I may not believe in God, but I believe in you.” (and this is where I start getting really choked up all over again) “And therefore I speak to him through you. Through the transitive property of equality. If A equals B and B equals C, therefore A equals C. Reason and faith in harmony, isn’t that why we’re so good together?” Scully replies softly, “Are we together?” Mulder’s face falls and takes my heart along with it.

He opens his mouth to reply, but before he can, Scully starts again, while looking away. “You know, I believed I could protect our son, and I failed. I believed that we could live together, and I fled. I gave up on that too.”

“If only you’d fled earlier,” Mulder replies. Scully meets his gaze there. “You know how many times I’ve envisioned that scenario where you left that basement office before I even needed glasses? You’d have your health. Dog. Your sister. You’d be Kersh’s boss at the FBI and married to some brain surgeon and have a bunch of kids that you wouldn’t have to give up.” Scully shakes her head sadly as she listens. “Mulder, I don’t begrudge you any of those things. That’s not what I was talking about.”

“Well, what are you talking about Scully?” Mulder asks passionately. “Because I don’t know if any god is listening but I am standing right here. And I am listening. Right beside you. I’m all ears. That’s my choice.” Scully looks around for a moment and then leans in to whisper something to him. There’s nothing to hear while she whispers, trust me, I’ve tried with the sound all the way up with professional quality headphones, and there’s nothing.

But whatever Mulder hears seems to put a touch of hope in his eyes. Scully speaks aloud again, looking directly into Mulder’s eyes this time. “It’s not my 4-year-old self, looking for a miracle. That’s my leap of faith forward. And I’d like to do it together.” Mulder nods a few times and says softly, “I’ve always wondered how this was gonna end.” He reaches for another match and lights a candle as Scully watches. Close on the flame of the candle as it burns brighter.

And we end.  

 

Before we go any further, I’m just going to say this right now. No, we won’t ever find out what Scully whispers to Mulder. XFN spoke with the episode’s writer, Karen Nielsen, who thinks that moment is best left between Mulder and Scully, and that fans are free to interpret it any way they want. She joked, “You guys keep asking for private moments to be on camera, so we gave you one on camera, we just didn't give it all to you!”

With that out of the way, let’s introduce Karen. She worked as a script coordinator on seasons 10 and 11 and held that role on other series, including Glen Morgan’s “Intruders.” Her short film, “Grace,” can be found on the extras on The X-Files Season 10 DVDs. But “Nothing Lasts Forever” was her first chance at writing for network television, and you could say the pressure was on.

“The pressure was incredibly overwhelming,” Nielsen said. “Not only is it X-Files and not only my first time writing for network television, but it's also because of the whole backlash and stuff. People are watching. 'Oh this is why women don't write sci-fi' is what you're terrified of hearing.” She says conversations with other writers on the show helped and that she worked closely with Glen Morgan and James Wong to develop the story.

Scully’s faith has long been in the background of the series, and it’s a solid part of her foundation as a person. It’s touched on in episodes like “Revelations” and “All Souls,” but we usually find her on the defensive and Mulder being dismissive of her religion. Karen said she wanted to approach the X-File of the episode from a character perspective and wanted to talk about Scully exploring her religion because she finds that “fascinating.” She said in talking to Glen Morgan he suggested that a cult would be an interesting way to do that. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess we can blame Glen for another classic song being ruined by horror, in this case, “The Morning After” by Maureen McGovern.

The actual casefile in the episode is pretty horrific. Organ harvesting, cannibalism, and a murderous avenger. Barbara, Dr. Luvenis, and Juliet are all doing violent things but for very different reasons. The X-Files has touched on cannibalism as a means to stay young before. It was the dark secret the people of Dudley, Arkansas, had in “Our Town.” “I Want to Believe” also dealt with abducting others to use their bodies to prolong life. But this took a darker twist and combined them both in a way. That some of the victims stayed living and were aware of how they were being used felt like a more terrifying twist on those older ideas.

And the horror grew the more I thought about how long this cult had been abducting people. If Barbara and Luvenis met when she was thirty-three, it’s possible they’ve been sacrificing people since 1966.

The case mostly centers around the women of the episode. Juliet’s quest to save her sister, Barbara’s quest to stay young, and Scully’s battle with her faith and whatever darkness it is she’s trying to sort through in her head. (We’ll come back to Scully in a little bit.) They all have very different motivations. And it was important to Karen Nielsen to show the different dimensions of her female characters. Just don’t call them strong. “I really hate the term 'strong female characters' because I think that's very condescending. Because we're all strong women,” she said. “I mean like three-dimensional women. And I feel like we did that. I'm really proud of that. Nobody is black and white; they're complicated female characters. My biggest drive was that we show this female perspective and that we show women can be complicated and fascinating and do fucked up shit... we're not just these feminine little creatures.”  While Barbara may be obsessed with staying young and looking perfect, that vanity befalls Luvenis and other men in the cult as well. And Juliet is focused on saving her sister but uses incredible violence to do it. She’s focused on her faith but takes a very Old Testament eye-for-an-eye path, if what little I remember from Sunday School is correct.

Casefile aside, Scully is spending a lot of time in church in this episode. It’s the first place we see her, and where the episode ends as well. I think Season 5’s “All Souls” was one of the clearest examples we saw of Scully relying on her faith. She was in confession talking about the death of the girls she was trying to help, as well as the death of her daughter Emily. (Who was never mentioned again, I might add.)  The priest there suggests that accepting her loss was something she was meant to understand. I’ve always liked to think that Scully was able to release some of her grief after that and it helped her to process one of the many traumas that have been inflicted upon her. It makes sense to me that she’s returned to the church to process everything that’s happened to her this season, but is it helping? I think so.

Over the course of the revival, I’ve wondered how Mulder went from the sarcastic mess Scully had distanced herself from at the beginning of Season 10, to the confident and seemingly more content Mulder we see now. Canon tells us it was his depression that split them up, but it doesn’t explain how either of them dealt with it. As fans, we’re left to fill in the blanks so this has been my theory. Mulder may have been depressed over losing their son and never properly dealing with the trauma of what he went through during his abduction. He may have been consumed by unanswered questions about what did or didn’t happen in 2012. But he wasn’t the only one. I think Scully was depressed as well and dealt with it like we’ve seen her do many times before. By bottling her emotions, drowning herself in work, and pulling away. The darkness in their home was both of them. I think Mulder has done a lot of work to deal with his issues and that explains the peace he seems to have gained. I think Scully hasn’t made as much progress yet on that journey, and that’s why she’s seemed to have held Mulder at arm's length at times this season. But to see her in church like this makes me feel like she’s really working through something major, finally. Last season, she told Mulder she would never have answers to her mysteries. Perhaps now that she has at least has seen William and knows more about him, that’s one mystery partially solved. Maybe now she can work on forgiving herself and working back towards Mulder.

And Mulder, for once, is in that church with her and just being supportive. In previous episodes, he’s been dismissive and can be kind of nasty about religion. He even joked about Scully and Sunday School in “Plus One.” But here he seems to be trying very hard just to meet Scully where she is. We wondered how Mulder got to this point of trying to be so understanding of Scully’s religious experience and asked Karen her thoughts. She found it more to be that Mulder was simply trying to understand her. “I think that they know each other so well, they read each other so well. He wants to understand her I think that's the biggest part of communication between two people is wanting to understand and wanting to learn. Maybe he's listening, he's hearing her.” Keep listening, Mulder, because it sure seems to be working.

Especially at the very end of the episode when Scully and Mulder are finally FINALLY talking about the giant elephant in the room. The nature of their relationship. It was one of those moments where as the conversation started, I couldn’t believe they were actually going to go there. They’ve had some serious conversations about William over the last two seasons, and that’s felt like a good start. But on the issue of their relationship, they danced around it. Even as they’re cuddled in the same bed in “Plus One” and talking about growing old, there’s the nonsense about one or the other meeting someone. But here Mulder talks about why they’re so good together and Scully flat out asks him “are we together?” I am not religious either, BUT PRAISE BE TO THE LORD WE’RE GETTING TO THE POINT.

Mulder has made his choice. He is there, by Scully’s side, where he wants to be. We don’t know what exactly Scully whispered to Mulder, but her choice is pretty clear too. There’s a leap of faith she wants to take, and she wants to do it together. Bless the writer for giving us this moment of clarity. We’ve gotten close to this kind of declaration before, but I feel like this is the most clear-cut it’s ever been. They choose each other. Will take the next leap together. And whatever the outcome is, we know the intention. “I always wondered how this was going to end.” I take Mulder’s words there to mean the end of the uncertainty, this “will they won’t they” dance. A new candle lit, a new chapter beginning.

Whew. After that, I need a second. So let’s get back to the nitty-gritty.

“Nothing Lasts Forever” was shot and originally supposed to air as Episode 8, but a decision was made to swap the order, and it makes so much sense that they did. “Familiar” is a solid episode but the emotion and growth we see in this episode makes a much better lead into what Mulder and Scully will be facing in “My Struggle IV.”  

Other things I really liked include Mark Snow’s music. He moves through an incredible range of style and amps up the horror while also playing off a 60’s sitcom vibe that was both cheery and creepy at the same time and practically perfect. The final hymn, “Ave Maris Stella,” will be haunting me for a while.

James Wong gets well-deserved credit for his writing skills, but he’s also an excellent director. The look of the episode ranks right up there with “Home” for me in the use of darkness to hide the horror at some points while putting it right in your face at others. And all of the church shots are gorgeous.

There were, however, a few things I didn’t like about the episode. I get that after 218 episodes and two films, finding something that hasn’t already been done by the series can be difficult. That same problem befalls “This,” “Plus One,” and “Familiar” this season to some extent. As I pointed out earlier, cannibalism as a fountain of youth did come up way back in Season 2. So it did have the feeling of something they’d touched on before, and it would have been interesting to acknowledge that old case in some way. And if you’re at all squeamish, this one can be gut-churning. I watched “Hannibal” and thought I could deal with gore but still had to look away at points.

On first viewing, I had a hard time with some of Mulder’s gut “leaps” that moved the case forward. I had a few moments of “wait, how did they get there?” especially when they showed up at Juliet’s home. That smoothed out a bit on repeat viewings but at first, it annoyed me. I would have liked to have spent more time seeing Mulder and Scully work the case and less on the cult. With so little time left with our heroes, the cult scenes started to drag after awhile. Though, I did appreciate how, once again, Mulder’s leaps and Scully’s knowledge came together to help them solve the case. And they kept Scully and Mulder together for most of the action which always works better.

As much as I loved the final “Conversation In The Church,” I will point out just one quibble. Mulder says he wondered what would have happened if Scully would have left the basement office before he needed glasses. But in the Pilot, we see Mulder wearing glasses the very first time Scully steps into his office. Memory slips a little with age, so I’ll forgive Mulder that lapse. Twenty-five years is a long time, and I probably would have forgotten that myself had we not just revisited the Pilot in honor of the March 6th anniversary.

Overall, I think “Nothing Lasts Forever” was a strong episode, and it gave us some much-needed character development. I’m a shipper who doesn’t think the relationship needs to be the focus of every episode, but there were questions that needed to be addressed. And I feel like we finally got some answers. I loved Mulder and Scully’s interactions throughout the episode, but those church scenes will stay with me for years to come and gave me a lot to process. I’m grateful for that.  

Just one more episode to go with next week’s “My Struggle IV.”

 

 



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