January 14, 2017
The X-Files 4.13, Never Again: The Silence of the Tattoos
Summary: A court case in Philadelphia has just been declared closed, and a man named Ed Jerse is officially divorced. He drowns his sorrows at a bar, using a cigarette to burn his face in a picture of himself and his kids. He ends the night at a tattoo parlor, enticed by a sketch of a winking Bettie Page-type woman. He gets the tattoo and heads home, where he passes out. The woman, who has “never again” written under her picture, now has both eyes open.
Mulder and Scully are at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C., meeting with a contact in the middle of the night. The man is telling them about his experiences working on a base under the KGB’s control. Scully loses interest and looks at some things left at the memorial, including a dried flower petal.
Jerse goes to work, calling people about stocks, but he looks a little under the weather. A woman’s voice calls him a loser, and he thinks the woman he’s on the phone with is insulting him. Jerse hears laughter and goes down the hall to confront a co-worker. The voice (Betty) tells him to trash her desk, so he does. His boss sends him home.
In D.C., Scully studies Mulder’s nameplate and “I want to believe” poster in their supposedly shared office. Mulder tells her that he’s being forced to take a week’s vacation, since he hasn’t had one in four years and would otherwise lose eight weeks’ worth of pay. (I’m pretty sure that’s an illegal policy, but whatever.) He expects Scully to keep an eye on some things while he’s gone.
Scully asks why she doesn’t have a desk. Apparently Mulder has never noticed that she doesn’t have her own space in the office. He offers to get her a desk, though there isn’t really room for it. He then chastises her for not being interested when they were talking to the contact the night before. The contact, Pudovkin, worked at a military space center and smuggled out reports of alien craft. Scully is to go to Philadelphia and confirm the identities of people Pudovkin is blowing the whistle on.
Scully announces that she’s not going. Pudovkin’s story the night before was the plot of an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Mulder confirms that she’s refusing an assignment. Scully remarks that he’s acting like he’s her superior. He notes that he worked hard to get the X-Files reopened, while Scully was just assigned there. She replies that the job isn’t her whole life like it is his.
Mulder’s hurt that she doesn’t seem to want to be there, but Scully tells him it’s not about him. She admits that she feels like she’s lost sight of herself. They’re not even going in circles anymore; they’re moving in a line that never ends. Meanwhile, the rest of her life is standing still. Mulder thinks his vacation is coming at a perfect time – they need some time apart.
Scully asks where Mulder’s vacationing, and though he won’t give details, he tells her he’s going somewhere he’s always wanted to go. He hopes to have a “spiritual journey” and discover something about himself. He suggests that Scully do the same. She pulls the dried petal out of her pocket and leaves it on Mulder’s desk.
Jerse tries desperately to keep his job, but his boss won’t give him a second chance. He responds politely as she fires him over the phone. Betty mocks him for letting yet another woman screw him over. Jerse thinks the voice is coming from his downstairs neighbor, a woman with birds who doesn’t appreciate him pounding on her ceiling.
A couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses come to Jerse’s door, and he asks if they hear what he hears. The female half of the pair is sure that his downstairs neighbor, Ms. Schilling, isn’t doing anything to bother him. Jerse tells them that “she” somehow knows what he’s feeling. Maybe he’s the victim of surveillance. The visitors leave quickly, giving Jerse a pamphlet that asks, “Are you a failure?” Betty mocks Jerse again, saying that no woman wants to waste her time on him.
Jerse goes downstairs, bursting into Ms. Schilling’s apartment and attacking her. Her episode of The Partridge Family continues, asking, “Doesn’t somebody want to be wanted like me?” as Jerse kills her and puts her body in the building’s furnace. Betty praises him and volunteers herself as Jerse’s “right-hand gal.” She promises that no one will hurt him as long as she’s with him: “Never again.”
Mulder pulls off to the side of a road to call the office and check on Scully. She’s not there, as she’s gone to Philadelphia after all. She tracks one of the men Pudovkin named to a convenience store, then follows him across the street to the tattoo parlor. Jerse is there again, asking to have his tattoo covered. “Everyone gets the tattoo they deserve,” the artist tells him.
Scully is asked for her opinion on the tattoo, which she finds impressive. The artist, Svo, got the distinct red pigment on Betty’s lips from a Soviet prison. “Thought I was your girl,” Betty says as Jerse shows some interest in Scully. She warns him not to break her heart over a “cheap redhead.” (Not cool, Betty.) Svo tells Scully that a tattoo reflects what’s in a person’s soul. He did his prison tattoos using found items, and now uses grasses like rye, which he used for Jerse’s.
As Svo leaves the room, Jerse warns Scully to give any tattoo she might get more thought than he did. She admits that she’d like to be a little more impulsive. Jerse asks why she’s there, and she lies that she’s visiting an aunt in the neighborhood. He offers to show her the city, by which he means take her to dinner. Scully says she’s leaving that night, so he gives her his card in case she’s ever back in town.
Scully does some work in her hotel room, getting a call from Mulder, who’s now at his destination. His “spiritual journey” will be taking place at Graceland. Scully’s surprised that he knew where she was, so he explains that he checked the hotel where they always stay in Philly. He knew she wouldn’t “abandon” him. Scully tells him she’s handed Pudovkin’s case over to the local bureau, since they’re not dealing with an X-File. Her background check just turned up swindlers.
Mulder asks her to hold off until he joins her in Philly. Scully calls him on questioning her work, repeating that their time on the case is over. She tells him she has to go, and he sarcastically asks if she has a date to get to. When she doesn’t answer, he thinks she really does have one. Mulder’s not too worried, though, since he just goes back to touring Graceland and trying to imitate Elvis.
Betty tries to convince Jerse that he’s better off with just her. Other women are controlling and jealous, and Scully wouldn’t have been any different. Just then, Scully calls (going by Dana) and pretends her flight was cancelled, so she’d like to have dinner. Betty tells Jerse that Scully might be pretty, but that’s only skin deep. Betty goes “all the way to the bone.” Jerse responds by burning her face with his cigarette.
Scully comes to Jerse’s building, passing the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have come back to talk to Ms. Schilling but aren’t getting a response at her door. Scully warns Jerse that she doesn’t date much, but before he can respond, she sees that his arm is bleeding. She offers to take a look, since she’s a doctor and all, but Jerse says the tattoo has just been “nothing but trouble.” She sees his burned picture and asks him to take her to the bar where he drank the night he got the tattoo.
The two have a drink as Scully talks about her life often going in a circle. A controlling or authoritative figure comes into her life, and she appreciates it for a while, but eventually she gets annoyed. Her father was a Navy captain and she always loved him, but when she was 13, she snuck out to smoke her mother’s cigarettes, knowing it would make her father mad. Since then, she’s had “other fathers” in her life.
Jerse wants to live in a straight line rather than a circle. He got the tattoo to mark the moment his life changed. It’ll remind him of something he never wants to happen again. Scully asks to see the tattoo, but Jerse tries to keep her from pulling up his sleeve. He tells her that if she’s so curious about tattoos, she should get her own. So in one of the weirdest erotic-though-it-shouldn’t-be scenes in the series, Scully gets an ouroboros on her back in the same red as Betty’s lips.
The weather’s bad, so Jerse suggests that Scully spend the night at his place (he’ll sleep on the couch, if you believe that). Scully says she feels different with a tattoo, even though she can’t see it. She sees blood on his arm again, and this time he lets her check out his tattoo. Betty orders Jerse to get Scully’s hands off of her. Jerse grabs Scully’s hands as Betty warns, “You kiss her and she’s dead.” Jerse ignores the voice.
Mulder’s back in D.C., but he can’t reach Scully, since she’s not in her hotel room. He sees the petal on his desk. In Philly, Jerse wakes up and checks his tattoo. Later in the morning, Scully’s alone when she’s woken by two detectives at the door. They’re investigating Ms. Schilling’s disappearance and the blood found in her apartment. There were “abnormalities” in the blood, which wasn’t Ms. Schilling’s. The detectives urge Scully to get Jerse to contact them when he gets back.
Scully finds a note from Jerse telling her he went to get breakfast. She uses his super-primitive Internet to get into the FBI database and look into the blood abnormalities. She discovers that the blood contained ergot, which can come from grass and can cause hallucinations. Scully quickly puts everything together and calls Mulder, but she hangs up just before he answers the phone.
When Jerse returns home, Scully tells him about the blood, which she thinks may be his. Jerse says he helped Ms. Schilling move in and must have cut himself in her apartment. She tells him about the ergot, a parasite that could cause “dangerous and unlikely behavior.” They both need to go to a hospital and get tested. Jerse admits that he hears a voice “in [his] head, only deeper.” Scully realizes that his tattoo his talking to him.
Jerse continues that Betty hates women and makes him do things he doesn’t want to. He thinks Scully made her go away. Scully calmly repeats that they need to get help. As she leaves to get dressed, she drops her FBI badge, but Jerse doesn’t comment on it, so it’s not clear if he saw it. Betty pushes Jerse to find out who Scully called while he was gone. Jerse star 69s the call, reaching the FBI and asking for Scully. When the operator says she’ll connect him, he gets violent with Scully.
Jerse yells, “Never again!” as he tries to go up against a trained FBI agent. Scully locks herself in the bathroom and manages to grab some scissors. Unfortunately, scissors are no match for Jerse knocking her out. Betty laughs maniacally and tells Jerse, “Burn her!” He wraps Scully in a sheet and takes her to the furnace room. He hesitates, so Betty tells him to do it for her.
The hesitation is enough to let Scully free herself and stab Jerse in the arm with the scissors he accidentally wrapped up with her. She tries to convince Jerse that he’s not acting like himself, telling him to get control of himself. Betty disagrees, telling Jerse that losing control is good. Jerse sticks his arm in the furnace, effectively destroying Betty and the voice (as well as a few layers of skin, but, you know, everything’s a sacrifice).
Scully spends some time in the hospital, then heads back to work, where Mulder congratulates her for becoming an X-File for the second time. Jerse is in a burn center and will be psychiatrically evaluated. The Pudovkin/Svo case is being wrapped up. Mulder jokes that it’s too bad Svo will be put out of business, since he wanted to get “NY” tattooed on his butt in honor of the Yankees’ World Series win.
Scully finds the petal still on the desk as Mulder tells her about their next case. He stops, wondering if she went wild in Philly all because he didn’t get her a desk. “Not everything is about you, Mulder,” she replies. “This is my life.” He starts to respond, but the look on her face makes him fall silent.
Thoughts: Betty is voiced by Jodie Foster, whose portrayal of Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs inspired Chris Carter’s creation of Scully.
After this episode, Gillian Anderson dated Rodney Rowland (Jerse) for a while. She took him to the Emmy’s that year, where she famously kissed David Duchovny before him when she won.
Ms. Schilling is named for Entertainment Weekly editor Mary Kaye Schilling. James Wong and Glen Morgan wanted some petty revenge after the magazine gave some episodes a bad review. Ms. Schilling even uses an issue of the magazine to line her birdcage.
This episode was shot before “Leonard Betts,” so Anderson didn’t know about Scully’s cancer yet, which is why she acts like everything’s normal.
I think it was Carter who later insisted that Scully never had a one-night stand during the course of the series, even though, in this episode, it’s pretty clear she did. Like, are we supposed to believe Scully and Jerse slept in the same bed but didn’t do anything?