October 7, 2017

The X-Files 6.6, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Posted in TV tagged , at 1:00 pm by Jenn

Fantastic casting right here

Summary: It’s Christmas Eve, “somewhere in Maryland.” Mulder’s waiting for Scully outside a spooky old house so they can do a stakeout. She’s late because she left her holiday shopping until the last minute. She complains about the number of times she’s heard “Silent Night” (if she heard it one more time in the store, she was going to take hostages) and how she needs to wrap her presents, so this is a waste of her time. But she’s willing to listen to Mulder’s explanation for why they’re there.

Mulder tells her that no one lives in the house; they’re staking out the former occupants, who have supposedly come back. Scully details the horror-movie clichés present and correctly guesses that her partner wants to do some “ghostbusting.” She starts to leave, but Mulder tells her that back in 1917, amid a time of “dark, dark despair,” a pair of “star-crossed lovers” died in the house.

The man was Maurice, the woman Lyda. They thought they were going to be separated, so they made a suicide pact so they could be together forever. Every Christmas Eve, their ghosts return to the house. Scully praises Mulder’s storytelling skills, but of course she doesn’t believe in ghosts, so she’s going home.

As Scully starts to leave, Mulder goes up to the house to check things out. Scully decides to start putting her New Year’s resolution into practice early and not follow him. But suddenly she can’t find her keys. Mulder goes in the abandoned house alone, and thunder crashes just as Scully joins him to ask if he took her keys. Mulder suggests that a ghost snagged them. They hear footsteps above them, then the chime of a grandfather clock. Scully tries to explain the sound of wind upstairs. Suddenly the front door slams shut, and Scully can’t get it open.

Mulder tries to convince Scully that ghosts are usually friendly, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. He heads upstairs to check things out, while Scully sees that it’s less than an hour to midnight, so she only has 55 minutes to do her pre-Christmas preparation before it’s no longer pre-Christmas. Even though she sees what looks like a spirit, she thinks Mulder’s let horror movies go to his head when there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on. Besides, why would a ghost show up for no apparent reason? Humans just made up ghost stories to explain human feelings and desires.

Mulder tries multiple doors, all unlocked, but finally one opens…on its own. Scully admits to being afraid, but she knows there’s no reason to be scared. She checks out the room with the open door and realizes that there’s a light on, though it wasn’t on when she and Mulder were outside. The room is a big library, and all of its lights are working. That combined with the clock downstairs keeping time and a dying fire in the fireplace make Scully think that someone’s living in the house.

Since every couple who’s ever lived in the house has died tragically – in the last 80 years, three double murders have occurred in the house, all on Christmas Eve – Mulder thinks the house is cursed. So why would anyone want to live there? The door slams shut and the lights go out, so that doesn’t help ease his fears. The agents hear something under the floorboards, and Mulder bends down to listen while Scully looks for a way out of the library. She sees something that catches her attention, but when she tries to alert Mulder, he comes up behind her and scares her, just for kicks.

Mulder thinks there’s a hiding place under the floorboards so he grabs a fireplace poker to pull them up. Scully’s scared, but Mulder reminds her that she’s been in scarier situations. Plus, she has a gun. Mulder finds two corpses under the floorboards…two corpses who look an awful lot like a decaying Mulder and Scully. In fact, they’re wearing the same clothes the agents currently have on.

Quickly realizing that they’re looking at their own dead bodies, the agents run to another room, but mysteriously find themselves in the same room they just left. They keep moving back and forth between the rooms, but when each is in a different room, the doors between them close. “SCULLAY!” Mulder yells, unable to hear his partner.

Because he’s Mulder, he uses his gun to shoot off the lock, but now there’s a brick wall on the other side. Suddenly, a man appears in the room to ask why Mulder’s in his house. The electricity is working again, and the man doesn’t seem to see the brick wall keeping Mulder from leaving. Mulder thinks this whole experience has been a trick, and the man is a ghost. The man cracks up, guessing that Mulder’s a ghost hunter. He’s not the first to show up.

Mulder asks if the people under the floorboards were also ghost hunters, but the floorboards are back in their rightful place. Now Mulder’s not sure what’s going on. The man asks if he’s drunk, high, or “overcome by the impulse to make everyone believe [him].” He’s a mental-health professional, specializing in disorders involving pathological behavior involving the paranormal. He’s made up the term “soul prospectors” to describe ghost hunters who are narcissistic, self-righteous, antisocial workaholics.

The man continues that Mulder has probably convinced himself he’s seen aliens because he’s lonely. He’s just chasing “paramasturbatory illusions” that he thinks will give his life meaning. He probably thinks he’s passionate and misunderstood, and people probably don’t want to spend time with him. The man guesses that Mulder spends every Christmas alone, and he doesn’t believe Mulder when he says his partner is also there. How did he get her to stick around – steal her car keys?

The man thinks that Mulder’s afraid of his loneliness, so he gets Scully to accompany him on crazy treks. The brick wall is gone, so the man encourages Mulder to leave the room and change his life. But as he’s trying to leave, the brick wall reappears, and Mulder’s stuck.

In the next room, Scully gets frightened by a woman who thought Mulder and Scully were ghosts. Like Mulder, Scully notices that the floorboards are back in place. The woman tells her that there are ghosts in the house – her house – and she laughs off Scully’s claims about the corpses.

Scully keeps her gun trained on the woman while she explains that she came to the house with her partner. The woman feels bad that Scully runs around with a partner who believes in things she doesn’t. She’s trying to find fulfillment with someone else – “intimacy through codependency.” The woman continues psychoanalyzing Scully, saying her only joy in life is trying to prove Mulder wrong.

Scully asks why everything in the house is covered, if the woman actually lives there. The woman says they’re having the house painted. Why is there no Christmas tree, then? Well, because they’re Jewish. The man comes into the room, telling Scully that her partner will be in soon. Scully makes the two put their hands up, and for the first time she notices a giant hole in the woman’s stomach. When she takes off the man’s hat, she sees a hole in his head. It’s enough to make Scully pass out.

The man and woman – Maurice and Lyda from Mulder’s story – complain that they only get one night a year to drive people crazy, and they have to use cheap tricks to do it. He thinks their pop psychology just annoys people. Lydasays they can’t let their reputations slip; otherwise, they’ll be taken off the tour literature. Maurice doesn’t get why Lyda wants to scare people on Christmas Eve. She says it’s more fun to torture them when they’re filled with the hope of the season. Maurice decides it’s time to show these two miserable people “just how lonely Christmas can be.”

Lyda finds Mulder searching the library for a way out. She bars him from leaving, but when realizes that he can touch her, he just moves her away from the door. Too bad he can’t do that with the brick wall that’s appeared there. Lyda, now behind Mulder, doesn’t appreciate being called a frump or a ghost. Mulder figures out who the man and woman are; he’s confused because they were young when they died, and now they’re not.

Lyda looks through some books, amusing Mulder with her psychokinetic skills, until she finds one called <i>How the Ghosts Stole Christmas </i>by R. Grimes. She starts a fire in the fireplace without touching it, then shows Mulder a picture in the book of Maurice as a young man. She thinks Mulder and Scully came there to do the same thing she and Maurice did there 80 years ago. Mulder says they didn’t, but Lyda notes that he knew the house was haunted. They should have discussed their feelings for each other before they got there.

Mulder learns that the story of the suicide pact is false – according to Lyda, she and Maurice died in a murder-suicide. Mulder thinks that Lyda’s trying to say that Scully’s going to shoot him. Lyda notes that Mulder might shoot her first, but he says that would never happen. He also wouldn’t let Scully shoot herself. Lyda reminds him of the bodies under the floor, then hands him his own gun, which is missing from his holster. She tells him this is the last Christmas he’ll ever spend alone.

Next door, Scully regains consciousness and finds that Maurice has locked her in the library. She warns that she’ll shoot him if she needs to, but Maurice thinks it’s more likely that she’ll need to use her gun to protect herself from her partner. Scully can now hear Mulder yelling for her, but Maurice says he’s capable of some very dangerous things. He offers her back her car keys as he says that Mulder’s acting out his fear of being alone. Scully ignores him and tells him to open the door.

Maurice goes to the door, giving Scully one last warning that he’s seen a number of murders in the house. Scully says she doesn’t believe him. Maurice finally lets Mulder in, and he immediately shoots at his partner. He tells her there’s no way out of the house, and one of them has to murder the other. Even if they get out, they’ll just go back to their lonely lives. Scully says she doesn’t believe him, but Mulder doesn’t listen. This time, his bullet hits her in the stomach.

As Scully collapses, Mulder approaches, wishes her a Merry Christmas, and puts the gun to his head. But he’s really Lyda, just making herself look like Mulder. Maurice grabs her to stop her from shooting herself and pulls her out of the room. The real Mulder makes it in and finds Scully, who says she didn’t believe that he would hurt her…but she would. She still has her own gun, and she uses it to shoot her partner. Again, it’s Lyda playing a trick, and she’s pretty pleased with herself.

The ghosts put “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on the record player as Scully wakes up alone. Mulder finds her and they struggle to point their guns at each other, weak from blood loss. They both admit to being afraid. Mulder wishes he’d thought of this possibility before. They each accuse the other of shooting first, which makes Mulder realize that it’s just a trick. Neither of them is hurt. They open the front door, and the second they step outside, their wounds and blood are gone.

The couple runs to the car as the song says that “through the years, we all will be together.” Maurice and Lyda are proud of themselves, thinking they almost succeeded. They wonder what Mulder and Scully were really looking for at the house. Maurice says that for some people, Christmas is “just another joyless day of the year.” But Maurice and Lyda haven’t forgotten the meaning of the holiday.

Mulder watches the end of A Christmas Carol alone at home, unmoved by Scrooge’s happiness, which Scrooge doesn’t think he deserves. Scully comes by to confirm that everything that happened at the house was just in their heads. Mulder says it must have been. Scully wants to make sure that Lyda wasn’t right about her only joy in life coming from disproving Mulder. Mulder wonders when she’s ever actually disproven him.

Now Mulder isn’t sure Scully really wants to be out in the field with him. Scully says maybe she does. The agents had agreed not to get each other presents, but they both did, so they exchange gifts side by side on the couch, unlonely for at least a few minutes.

Thoughts: Maurice and Lyda are played by two Hollywood legends, Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin. Apparently Tomlin had approached the show seasons before, wanting to do an episode, so they wrote this role for her. They wanted Bob Newhart for Maurice, but he turned them down, so they got Asner instead. (I think Asner was better for this role, so that worked out great.)

With only four people in the episode, this is the smallest cast to ever appear in The X-Files. It’s something you don’t really notice when you’re watching, though; it doesn’t feel like anyone’s missing.

I wish this episode had come up closer to Halloween. The atmosphere and plot are perfect for it.

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