December 24, 2016
The X-Files 4.10, Paper Hearts: Confessions of a Serial Killer
Summary: Mulder wakes up to see a red light shining on his wall. The light floats around, spelling out “FOLLOW,” so he does. The light takes him to Bosher’s Run Park in Manassas, spelling out “MAD HAT” on the side of a white El Camino. It shines on a tree, then points Mulder to a girl lying on the ground. The light becomes a heart on the girl as she sinks into the leaves she’s lying on.
Mulder awakens from his dream, looks up the park, and drives over in the middle of the night. There are leaves next to the tree from his dream, but no body. In the morning, Mulder gets a team to dig around in the dirt. As he tells Scully that he’s had a recurring dream about the girl, one of the diggers finds a skull.
The diggers start to expose an entire skeleton, but Mulder thinks they’re moving too slowly. He tells Scully he already knows that the victim was strangled, and her killer took a heart-shaped piece of fabric from her clothing after she was dead. Scully thinks he’s guessing at this because of his dream, but Mulder’s focused on a serial killer named John Lee Roche who killed 13 girls between the ages of eight and ten. Well, 14 girls now.
Back at their office, Mulder shows Scully Roche’s file, telling her that he killed girls between 1979 and the early ’90s. The case was called Paper Hearts because of the pieces of cloth taken. Mulder helped find the killer, a vacuum cleaner salesman who used his job to check out potential victims. The hearts were never found, and though Roche confessed to killing 13 girls, Mulder always wondered if there were 13 hearts. With a 14th victim, he’s even more curious.
Scully thinks Mulder’s dream was his way of unconsciously processing the case. After all, he once said “a dream is an answer to a question we haven’t had time to ask.” She congratulates him on finding the 14th victim and suggests that they get her identified so Mulder can finally put the Paper Hearts case behind him.
This doesn’t take long, and Scully IDs the girl as Addie Sparks, who disappeared from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in 1975. Mulder isn’t sure Addie was one of Roche’s victims, since they thought his earliest murder took place in 1979. Scully says Addie’s death matches everything about Roche’s other murders.
The agents go see Addie’s father, who recognizes a little pouch found on his daughter’s body (her mother sewed it to leave her teeth in for the Tooth Fairy). Mr. Sparks confirms that Roche is already in prison. He used to think that it was worse to think his daughter was missing than know she was dead, but he was wrong. He’s sad to know that the agents might have to visit other families to tell them that their children are dead – are there other victims they weren’t aware of?
As the agents leave the house, Mulder flashes back to the part of his dream with the El Camino. He remembers that Roche drove an El Camino and wonders if he left them in his car. Mulder still wants to find the hearts and count them. They track down the person who bought it at auction (and who’s kind of excited that he drives a car once driven by a serial killer). They don’t find the hearts, but Mulder remembers “MAD HAT” from his dream and thinks of the camper shell the owner took off. It’s in the backyard, and inside is a copy of Alice in Wonderland and 16 cloth hearts.
Mulder and Scully go see Roche in prison, where he’s playing basketball in a gym, so I guess this isn’t a maximum-security facility, even though he’s a freaking serial killer. The agents ask him why he said there were 13 victims when there were really 16. Roche says 13 “sounds more magical.” Mulder urges him to name the last two victims so their families can get closure.
Roche remarks that he knows Mulder takes the situation personally. He offers to give the agents information if Mulder can sink a three-pointer. Mulder does it easily, because David Duchovny is a basketball wizard. Roche has another condition before he’ll tell the agents anything: He wants the hearts.
Mulder studies the hearts at his desk, then looks up to see the red light again. It takes him to another room in the basement, which turns into his family’s living room. Samantha’s there, playing a board game and watching a news report on the Watergate scandal, though she wants to watch a movie instead. It’s the night of her disappearance, and Mulder reenacts the events, saying the same things he said and going for his father’s gun as he did as a child. But instead of aliens, Roche arrives to abduct Samantha. Mulder wakes up and looks at the two unidentified hearts.
He goes back to see Roche at the prison, asking why Roche remarked about Mulder taking things personally. He wants to know where Roche was on November 27th, 1973. Roche says that he sold a vacuum to Bill Mulder and had a long conversation with him. If Mulder brings the hearts, Roche will tell him more. Mulder punches Roche just as Scully arrives. He tells her that Roche took Samantha, just like his dream said.
Scully disagrees – Roche has access to “the Net” (oh, 1996, you’re so funny) and could have easily looked up Mulder’s personal information. She thinks Roche is playing mind games with him. Mulder walked into their meeting with his “heart on [his] sleeve” (nice one, Scully); Roche saw where he was vulnerable and took advantage of it. The case is bringing back old feelings, but Mulder’s dreams are just dreams.
Mulder notes that his dream about the park came true, so this one could be true, too. He reminds Scully that she doesn’t believe that Samantha was taken by aliens, which means they don’t know exactly what happened to her. He doesn’t know what to believe, but he knows he needs to find the truth.
Mulder goes to his mother’s house and searches the basement. He shows her the two unidentified hearts and asks if she’s ever seen the fabric before. She doesn’t recognize them, but since her stroke***, her memory isn’t great. (Other than that, she seems to have fully recovered, though.) Mulder asks about the vacuum Bill bought her and checks to see if it’s the same kind Roche said it was.
After being denied further access to Roche, Mulder goes to see Skinner, who’s upset with him for punching a prisoner. He thinks Mulder’s let Roche get in his head, and now he’s too close to the case. Scully backs him up, though, saying Roche was in Martha’s Vineyard around the time Samantha disappeared. They still need to identify two victims, and Mulder has the most insight into Roche, so who better to continue the investigation?
The agents are allowed to see Roche again, and Mulder brings the last two hearts this time. Roche says that one of them belonged to Samantha. Scully tells him to prove it, so Roche describes the scene in the Mulders’ living room when Samantha disappeared. Mulder asks where Samantha is, and Roche says he’ll answer if Mulder picks the heart that belonged to her. Mulder chooses one, and Roche says it’s a “good choice.”
Roche sends the agents to Forks of Cacapon, West Virginia, to dig in the dirt by a rock with “MAD HAT” spray-painted on it. Scully thinks Mulder should let someone else dig, but he ignores her, telling her to help him. They find a skeleton, but once it’s in a morgue, Mulder determines that it’s not Samantha – she broke her collarbone when she was six, and the skeleton doesn’t have a deformity in that bone. Scully confirms that it’s not Samantha’s. Mulder sadly notes that it’s still someone’s child.
The agents go back to Roche, who IDs the girl as Karen Philiponte from East Amherst, New York. He says he killed her in 1974, making her the first victim. Mulder hands over the last heart and Scully tells Roche to drop the mind games and just give them the information they want. Roche thinks Mulder wants to be led through everything that happened. He needs to go with the agents to get Samantha’s body. “I can’t wait to see your face,” he tells Mulder.
Scully’s disgusted and tells Roche he’ll never get out to go get the body. Mulder clearly isn’t so hesitant, so Scully tells him they can’t let Roche get his way. But Mulder ignores her again, arranging to get Roche out of prison so they can fly to Massachusetts together. On the way to the airplane bathroom, Roche stops to chat with a little girl, and he’s lucky Mulder doesn’t strangle him with his handcuffs.
Back in D.C., Scully tells Skinner that Mulder sprang Roche from prison without her knowledge. She wants to go after him, but Skinner decides to go to Massachusetts himself. He’s mad that Scully didn’t babysit her partner better, and now they have to rush to clean things up before they get out of control.
Mulder takes Roche to his family’s house to walk him through the events of November 27th, 1973. Roche says he didn’t plan to take Samantha that night, but when Bill and Teena left, he saw his chance. He watched Mulder and Samantha through the window for a while, then cut the power. The door was unlocked, so he didn’t have to kick it in. He just simply came in the front door and grabbed Samantha while Mulder was frozen in shock.
Mulder asks Roche to confirm that that’s exactly what happened, then reveals that it had to have been a lie. The house they’re in is six miles from the one Samantha was taken from. But Mulder thinks that when he profiled Roche years ago, somehow they formed a connection and Roche was able to get into his head. Roche argues that geography is the only error he made. Mulder notes that all of his other claims about his other murders were accurate. He thinks Roche watched the events of the abduction through Mulder’s eyes in his dreams.
Roche taunts that Mulder’s a little off since he believes in aliens and flying saucers. He’s telling the truth, and if Mulder doesn’t believe it, he’s not as open-minded as people think. Mulder notes that with this kind of demeanor, Roche must have been a great salesman. The men will be spending the night in a motel before heading back to D.C. and prison.
While Roche sleeps, Mulder looks at the hearts, hearing Samantha calling to him from an El Camino in the parking lot. He manages to unlock the door and get her out before the car can drive off. A red light in the window spells “BYE,” and suddenly the car and Samantha are gone. When Mulder wakes up, Roche is also gone, and his handcuffs are now on Mulder’s wrists.
Scully and Skinner are displeased with this turn of events, especially since Roche took Mulder’s badge and gun, along with the last heart. Mulder thinks he might have gone after the girl he was talking to on the plane. He calls the airline for a passenger manifest, learning that someone with his name called ten minutes earlier to get the girl’s identity.
Thanks to Mulder’s badge, Roche was able to pretend he needed to take the girl from her daycare because of an emergency. Mulder tells Scully that she was right – Roche was playing him the whole time. They consider that Roche might take the girl someplace familiar, since he used to live in Boston. Scully sees in Roche’s file that he lived on Alice Road, which sounds perfect to Mulder, as they found Alice in Wonderland in the camper shell: “He’s the Mad Hatter.”
The agents go to Roche’s old apartment, but Mulder quickly determines that it’s not where Roche and the girl went. He sees a lot behind the apartment building that’s full of old…cable cars? Subway cars? Something like that. As he’s looking around, he hears a girl screaming. When Mulder finally finds Roche, Roche says that maybe they have that connection Mulder mentioned after all.
The girl, Caitlin, is fine, but she’s sitting between Mulder and Roche, who’s holding a gun on her. Mulder tells Caitlin to close her eyes and count to 20. As she does, he holds his gun on Roche. Roche doesn’t think Mulder will shoot him – Roche still hasn’t said who the 16th heart belongs to, and Mulder can’t be 100 percent sure it wasn’t Samantha’s. As Caitlin nears 20, Roche moves his finger like he’s going to shoot her. Mulder shoots first, killing Roche while Caitlin runs to safety.
Tests show that the fabric of the 16th heart was made between 1969 and 1974. Scully tells Mulder that it didn’t belong to Samantha, but she’s sure they’ll find the real victim eventually. She suggests that Mulder get some sleep, which just makes him laugh. She leaves him alone in the office with the 16th heart, which he puts in a desk drawer.
Thoughts: This show has a lot of good one-episode guest stars, and Tom Noonan, who plays Roche, is somewhere near the top of my list of the best.
Someone needs to write another trippy children’s book that TV and movie writers can refer to instead of Alice in Wonderland.
I love that Skinner questions why Scully wasn’t with Mulder when he got Roche out of prison. Maybe because, even though I joke about them being married, they’re not actually together 24 hours a day? And why does he think Scully has any kind of control over Mulder’s behavior?