The X-Files: “Monday” and the Everyday Hell of Abusive Relationships

Art by Jared Adams

“I don’t think she was an accomplice. I think she was just trying to get away.”

These words, spoken by Mulder at the end of the episode “Monday” perfectly encapsulate the fear and danger in trying to leave an abusive relationship. She was just trying to get away. Only you can get out, no one can do it for you. No one can save you. You might die trying to get away, but even that is preferable to perpetual hell.

We know that the woman named Pam represents every woman. We only hear her name once. This could be done intentionally to both signify how she could be any woman, every woman, but also to show that these women aren’t just statistics and victims, but whole people with unique identities. She’s not just some woman. She’s Pam. It lends weight to everything that will happen after. She has a name, people and things she loves, a life, favorite foods, favorite movies, favorite books, dreams and goals.

But any woman (one just like Pam) can find herself in an abusive relationship. Smart women. Strong women. Because gas lighters are smart too. At least when it comes to this. Emotional manipulation is what they’re best at, and there’s usually no indication you’re in an abusive relationship until it’s too late. Using an amalgamation of countless real life stories, we can infer that Bernard probably started out sweet, telling Pam she’s beautiful and perfect and the only girl he’s ever felt this way about, that she deserves the best, and shouldn’t have to work. So he’ll work (as a janitor) so she doesn’t have to. It sounds very romantic and appealing until you realize that he’ll have her right where he wants her-with no financial independence of her own and no way to leave him once he starts showing his true nature.

But this is all just speculation right? We don’t know it’s an abusive relationship. The X-Files has always been subtle but profound. They don’t come right out and blatantly say anything. But we do have one important clue. So like Mulder and Scully we take what little evidence we have and run with it. We know this woman is living the same day over and over and has tried everything possible to stop the explosive ending from happening again. She drugs Bernard; it doesn’t work. She hides his keys; it doesn’t work. She even calls the cops on him herself. But like she says “he always gets here.” And she’s always there with him. There’s nothing she can do to change her circumstances.

When Bernard asks her why she’s always in a mood she replies “because nothing ever changes.” On the surface this is obviously directed at the “deja vu” of the repeating day. But beneath the surface it’s a commentary on the stagnant nature of being trapped in an abusive relationship. Often, the abusive party will apologize for their behavior and swear it’ll never happen again. Inevitably it always does. The only possible outcomes are a woman finally putting her foot down and getting away, living out the rest of her days in Hell, or when her abuser accidentally or intentionally kills her.

I like this bit from the show because you’d think calling the police would be more than enough. Calling the police with a tip about a bank robber with a bomb headed for a specific bank should be enough to stop Bernard, but for whatever reason, it isn’t. Going to the police for help if you are in an abusive relationship should get you out of it, but it often doesn’t. How many news stories include the details of a woman going to the police, filing a restraining order against her abuser and basically doing everything she’s “supposed” to do–“the right thing”–in order to save herself. But often abusers are controlling and possessive. They try to control where you go, who you can and can’t talk to, even how much money you have. When they lose control, the fear of no longer being able to possess the person they want can send them onto a violent and destructive path. But before that happens, they will do everything in their power to maintain that control. They’ll violate restraining orders, stalk, break into houses, whatever they need to do to try to talk the person into taking them back. The particular news story I’m thinking of ended with the woman dead after just such a series of events. She tried to get away, and he killed her. A final act of ultimate control. If I can’t have you, you aren’t going to be with anyone else. If I can’t control your existence, then you’re not going to exist.

But back to the main clue the woman is in an abusive relationship. One of the things she tries in order to change her circumstances is to tell Bernard “I’m not going with you.” He replies “Look, I’m not asking.” This is what abusive relationships are like. You don’t get to decide for yourself how you will live. You are told what to do. And you do it, or else. Frequently watching his episode I asked myself why doesn’t she stick to her guns? Why doesn’t she refuse to go with him? Probably because whenever she tried to say no, she got beaten. She’s afraid. You can see it in her face, her eyes and the bags beneath them, her stance. You can hear it in her voice. She is truly in hell. And there’s only one way out.

At the end of the episode Pam finally realizes what variable needs to change in the events of that Monday. She needs to be the one in the bank, not out in the car. She needs to be the one to get hurt. Bernard is responsible for killing her (accidentally), all the while claiming he was doing this for her. But as is the misplaced feeling of most abusers, that’s not really love. No freedom. No peace. That’s not a loving environment. Money won’t make her happy. Pam actually looks relieved as she lies on the floor of the bank bleeding out.

“This never happened before,” she says with the same optimism she exhibits whenever Mulder remembers something from the repeated day. Maybe this will do it. Maybe it’s finally, finally over. Maybe she’s finally free.

This is all juxtaposed with Mulder and Scully’s healthy relationship–one built on friendship, trust, independence, and mutual respect. Their banter with one another, even on a bad day, brings jokes, smiles, and conversations on fate versus free will. Scully volunteers to cover for Mulder and deposit his check for him, and (as always) they both try hard to save each other’s lives once inside the bank. We even see Scully cradling Mulder with gentle care, in stark contrast to the stiff and cold body language between Bernard and his girlfriend.

In this episode, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban cleverly show the hell, and all too often tragic ends that abusive relationships can meet.

“She was just trying to get away…”

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Hell’s Laughter Coming This Halloween

Hey guys,

I’m very excited to announce that my first book of short stories, Hell’s Laughter & Other Spooky Tales, will be available shortly–just in time for Halloween! I’ve been keeping things pretty “hush hush” until now, but all this week I’ll be dropping clues about the stories in the collection. You can spread the word by sharing the clues and by using  #HellsLaughter. I hope you enjoy these little nibbles of horror, and if you like the teasers, stay tuned to know when you can purchase the full experience.

~Alyssa

Kick-Ass Women of SciFi & Fantasy: Princess Leia

 
“Somebody has to save our skins.”

I opened the old draft of this blog post this morning immediately after seeing another one of the saddest headlines of what has been a brutal year: “Iconic Star Wars Actress Carrie Fisher Dead at 60.” I found that I started this blog post over a year ago. It was actually the first ever of this series that I tried to write. I just couldn’t come up with words good enough to honor her. Of all the women of science fiction, no one has meant more to me than Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia.

I knew I was going to love her the first time I saw her. Growing up, there just weren’t any sharp-tongued, strong women in action movies. And those were the ones I loved to watch with my brothers. They were exciting and adventurous. The only problem was it was men having all the adventures. Women were sidekicks, or worse, damsels in distress. Then my mother introduced my brothers and me to Star Wars and not only was it the greatest, most exciting adventure story I’d ever seen, it featured a main girl character right alongside the boys. At first it seemed typical: They were going to rescue the Princess. But it quickly became apparent that Leia didn’t need saving, and in fact, she was probably going to keep Han and Luke alive.

From the moment we meet Leia, she’s talking back to Imperial oppressors, and she’s not the least bit afraid:

Leia: Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.

Tarkin: Charming to the last. You don’t know how hard I found it, signing the order to terminate your life.

Leia: I’m surprised that you had the courage to take the responsibility yourself.

Tarkin: Princess Leia, before your execution, I’d like you to join me for a ceremony that will make this battle station operational. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.

Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

I immediately and irrevocably fell in love with her bravery and audacity.

Later, she quips to Han Solo, a strong personality himself whom she has no trouble handling:

“I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you’ll do as I tell you, okay?”

Leia was always more General than Princess.

She also has no qualms about calling out the boys’ lack of mission skills:

“This is some rescue. You came in here, you didn’t have a plan for getting out?”

Due in large part to Princess Leia, when I was a little girl, no one was a bigger Star Wars fan than I was. And yet, I never saw one girl in any Star Wars toy commercial. Even upon the release of Episode VII, there wasn’t a Rey action figure to be found. “Girls just don’t buy toys” or “Star Wars isn’t really for girls” came the standard, ignorant reply. Or even better: Rey has finally made Star Wars for girls. But Star Wars has always been for girls. Only now I see little girls in commercials flying X-Wings made from cardboard boxes and this seemingly simple thing is actually so significant it brings a tear to my eye every time.

Fisher herself also spoke to my feminist bones in a way few can. She put body shamers in their place when she said:

“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well….Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary happy by-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.”

She’s also said:

“My body is my brain bag, it hauls me around to those places and in front of faces where there’s something to say or see.”

Carrie Fisher, I will miss you so much on such a deep level. I know you didn’t always love the Star Wars icon you became, but I truly couldn’t imagine a life where I didn’t grow up with Princess Leia in my favorite movie. I am forever grateful that you gifted Princess Leia to me and to the world. May you now forever find peace, one with the Force.

Princess Leia lives on, forever sarcastic, smart, quick-witted, and tough, deadly with a blaster and strong with the Force. She will always have played as important a role as Luke and Han in the Rebellion.  She was the first Princess I ever saw or read about that was in no way in need of rescuing, and Carrie Fisher’s is the first celebrity death that I am feeling as deeply as a personal loss. But she will live on through me and through every other little girl her character helped shape into strong, sarcastic, sharp-tongued, independent, kick-ass princesses.

Better Call Saul’s “Rebecca” Perfectly Captures Workplace Sexism and Gender Inequality

  
Not only is Vince Gilligan’s Better Call Saul every bit as good as Breaking Bad, it also has the one thing Breaking Bad lacked: a strong, kickass female character. Kim Wexler is an accomplished,  independent lawyer. But season 2 episode 5, “Rebecca,” showed us how real her struggle, and the struggle of professional women everywhere, really is. 

Before we even get to sexism, we get a glimpse of the minor annoyances women deal with on a daily basis that make their jobs harder, and that men simply don’t have to think about. In the episode, Kim’s boss, Howard, is punishing her in a particularly degrading way, by removing her from her office and putting her in doc review for long and tedious hours that completely waste her talents. She stays even longer than she needs to, working past midnight to prove to her boss what a hard worker she is, and that she will quickly climb out of this hole. When the other HHM employees go home for the night and Kim is the only one left, she removes her heels, letting out a sigh of relief, and gets back to work. 

If you have ever worn heels, then you know they’re uncomfortable. Moreso if you’re standing, walking, and working in them all day. Heels go from uncomfortable to painful. The longer you wear them, the worse it gets. By midnight one can only imagine the stabbing pain that would shoot through her feet and up her legs every time she took a step. Men, in their flat dress shoes, are never distracted by this pain on the job. Women must simultaneously deal with this everyday pain and ignore it, keeping up a level of excellence in spite of it.

 I suppose Kim could wear flats, but we learn early on that HHM is all about appearances. When we see Kim Wexler, we see what we envision a professional woman to look like. She wears a business-practical knee length skirt, and wearing anything but heels with it would look sloppy. The skirt also allows us to see her legs, which we know she has to get up earlier than her male coworkers to shave, and to do her hair, and makeup. And let’s just have a moment of silence in respect for the underwire we know is digging into her rib cage. 

Though this wasn’t in any way a part of the episode, it did lead me to think about women having their periods on the job. We have no idea what time of month this is for Kim, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much harder this week would have been for her if she had her period on top of everything else. It would be just one more little thing for her to worry about, and one she clearly didn’t have time for since she didn’t even have time to eat lunch. In the back of a woman’s mind during her period, she’s always planning and spacing out her extra trips to the bathroom (which is especially fun when she just can’t get away from whatever she’s doing) and worrying that she’ll forget about it and leave a stain on her expensive suit skirt or those fancy HHM chairs. Not to mention the cramps and headaches that would add to the foot pain, and make simply doing her job that much harder. And people still try to say women aren’t tough enough for certain jobs. Ha!

Then we get to the even worse challenges women face in the workplace on a daily basis. Working through lunch, because doc review takes up all the rest of her time, Kim works frantically and tirelessly to bring in new high-profile clients to her boss’s firm. She believes this will get her out of the hole. She makes phone calls from the stairwell (standing in her heels) because she no longer has an office. On one call, Kim has to explain that she is seeing someone, and we can infer that the man on the other end hit on her and probably told her that she sounded sexy. On another call, Kim is forced to explain that she’s not Howard’s secretarty, but an attorney, just like him. 

Eventually, Kim snags a toast-worthy client, and is so proud of herself that she cheers into an empty garage. When she and Howard meet the female client and a male who accompanies her, Kim and the female client book it up the stairs–a comment on how women are always moving faster and working harder because they have to just to break even–while Howard and the male take a leisurely stroll, because they can.

The worst part is, after all this working her ass off, Howard gives her case to Francis, leaving Kim once again with the  grunt work. 

Though Francis is a gender neutral name, we can assume he’s yet another man getting the assignment Kim deserves because as Jimmy says in the beginning of the episode recounting his first days with HHM: “Met some nice guys and gals. Well, gal. Singular.” This line shows how so many high-profile careers are still male dominated, due in no small part to the previously mentioned challenges and sexism. 

At the end of the episode, Chuck asks Kim: “Coffee?” She says no thank you, and he says “Can you make me some?” While because of Chuck’s “condition,” he thinks can’t make coffee himself, this is also another intentional comment by the show to illustrate how women are asked to do these kinds of “traditional women’s work” tasks around the office.  Asking this implies that Kim’s time is somehow less valuable than his. She can make the coffee (or the copies, or insert other menial task here) while he gets important work done. 

As the show wears on, Howard’s proclivity towards exercising power and control over Kim is becoming more and more apparent. And I was so impressed with how Better Call Saul showed workplace sexism and the other challenges women face, I wonder if they won’t eventually go for the biggest one: sexual harassment. Maybe Howard is too smart for that, or maybe I’m reading him wrong. But I know if he is stupid enough to try that on Kim, he’ll be sorry. 

Which brings me to my favorite line of the episode and a perfect one to close with. To Jimmy, who has been trying to devise ways to get Kim out of doc review, Kim says, “You don’t save me. I save me.”

The X-Files, “Orison:” for  Discussion on Donnie Pfaster, God, The Devil, and Free Will, Don’t Look Any Further 

 
Scully murders Donnie Pfaster. Let’s  just digest that for a moment. Because I think sometimes we get so caught up in the fact that Donnie totally had it coming, we justify Scully’s actions without giving proper consideration to the massive ethical and moral dilemmas this episode poses. In true X-Files fashion, it evokes complex emotional questions. That’s why we love it. So let’s discuss this deep and multifaceted ending.

Even though Mulder and Scully have the situation completely under control and they can arrest Pfaster as the law and conventional justice dictate they should, Scully kills him anyway. She doesn’t have to. It’s not in self defense. Don’t get me wrong; it might have been. At any time during the apartment struggle scene, Donnie could have come at her, and she could have shot him and been totally within her rights of that last resort. But that’s not what happens at the end. Donnie’s just standing there. He’s not attacking her. And she kills him.

Scully shoots out her light, forcing Mulder to look at it in surprise. Now he can’t officially say he saw what happened. He wasn’t technically looking when Scully shot him. So he can’t say that Donnie didn’t somehow provoke her. And Scully doesn’t then put Mulder in the position of having to lie on his report in support of her. Even though Mulder does say his report will reflect the fact that Pfaster would have definitely killed again were it not for Scully’s justified actions.

Whenever I watch this, my immediate reaction is “Yeah! Kick his ass! Shoot him! He deserves it.” Perhaps because I’m a woman like Scully, and Donnie only preys on women, I can only too closely relate to her fear for future safety and her need for vengeance. But I think that’s how most fans feel when they watch it. Donnie is, after all, pure evil. And foregoing a huge capital punishment/all life is precious debate, for most fans, it’s easy to say that some people are so evil we have no choice but to be rid of them. That’s the pro death penalty side. On the other hand? Would you be willing to be the one who throws the switch or pushes that lethal injection? Or in Scully’s case, pulls the trigger?

That’s the part that gives us pause. Because what happens to our humanity if we take a life? Even such a vile and evil one as Donnie Pfaster’s? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves to higher moral standards than the death fetishists and  killers? It reminds me of a quote from another great SciFi series, Stargate SG-1: “I’m talking about the No Killing one [commandment]. No matter what the reason, every time you break it, you take one step closer to Hanson [a cold-blooded killer].”

This becomes Scully’s dilemma. she feels like a terrible Christian for taking a life. Even though Pfaster was pure evil and would “surely kill again if given the chance.”Scully still feels it’s not her right, or anyone else’s, to take any life. She holds up her Bible for Mulder to see, her guilt palpable.

In the end, Scully muses over what forces could have possibly been at work in her, prompting her to make that decision. Mulder asks her, “You mean what if it was God that made you pull the trigger?” Scully says, “I mean, what if it wasn’t?”

Reason dictates that if you believe in God, as Scully does, you must also believe in the devil.  You can’t have one without the other. And if you believe in the devil it stands to reason that Satan is somehow behind all of these violent impulses. If the devil advocates  vengeance over divine notions of forgiveness or peace, then killing Donnie was the wrong thing to do even if Scully was justified.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done the same thing. But I am saying I would have technically done the wrong thing. Because we can’t control what Donnie Pfaster does to us. We can only control our own actions. And the only thing we can ever truly control, is whether we are good or evil.

That’s free will. That’s why God (if you believe) can’t, say, “stop the terrorists from hitting the World Trade Center.” Or stop an evil death fetishist like Donnie Pfaster from killing innocent women. Rapists, sexual sadists, pedophiles, murderers, and terrorists all have the option to be evil. It’s the only way God would truly know who is good or not. As Mulder says, “God is a spectator, Scully. He just reads the box scores.”

God doesn’t interfere. But the devil does. He takes human form in Donnie Pfaster. And let’s face it, if the devil really were to take human form, Donnie Pfaster is exactly what he’d be. A sexual sadist necrophiliac death fetishist killer. He wouldn’t come back as, say, “Lucifer,” Fox’s cool new bad boy. But as pure evil in human form.

But this very X-Files way in which the devil interferes isn’t the only one. He tempts us. Because if allowing us our free will is the right thing to do, then tempting us into violent, instantly gratifying actions with potential long-term damage to our souls, must surely be the wrong thing.

Although maybe God interferes too, but just doesn’t let anyone know. Like when Scully’s cancer goes into spontaneous remission. No one knows for sure whether that was a miracle or not. All we know is that her cancer worsens or remains the same until she embraces her faith and starts praying.  If God did too much for us, we’d become dependent on him for everything, and stop taking responsibility for our own actions–our free will. But if God did nothing, people would lose faith. Maybe those imperceptible little miracles are God’s answer to the devil’s temptation.

One of the things I’ve always loved most about The X-Files is the juxtaposition of science and faith. And how the characters gradually sway each other toward their individual beliefs. Because in the end, there’s a place for science, religion, paranormal activity, and whatever else in our lives. The universe is so vast, why limit the endless possibilities?  I love the open-mindedness of The X-Files and that it doesn’t discount anything out of hand. How, while this conversation and Scully’s faith center on Catholicism, there are passages from all of Earth’s major religions on the surface of the space craft found in Africa. The show makes the case that, just as it would be absurd to say that in this ever expanding universe we are alone as a species, it would be just as ludicrous to discount any and all religious ideas outright. If there’s one thing I learned from the show, it’s to keep an open mind and that it never hurts to believe in something divine.

The X-Files: When Scully Wants to Believe

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In the season 7 finale “Requiem,” for the first time in a long line of denial we finally hear Scully say she has seen things she can’t deny. It’s a big moment, her finally acknowledging that aliens exist. The difference is she’s finally open to it.

Sure it might just be a convenient time for her to believe because David Duchovny is about to leave the show and they can turn the only character the fans have left into the believer and add a new skeptic in Doggett. It would work, because we love Scully just as much as Mulder, and the two have always been equal protagonists. But the reason the show still works after Mulder leaves, as the “main character,” is because the show really is just as much Scully’s, and has been from the start. In some ways it’s actually more her story. After all, she experiences the most change over the course of the series.

When Mulder enters the office, after Scully admitting what she can no longer deny, she’s staring at the I Want To Believe poster. This moment isn’t explicitly brought to the audience’s attention. In fact, the moment Scully really sees the poster for the first time is an easy one to miss. Mulder just starts talking to her and she looks away from it, uncrossing her arms and coming out of a deep thought. It’s about the “want” in I Want to Believe. The truth is out there; you just have to be open to it.

But why now, after 7 years? It was all her experience in Africa. She saw a little too much of the proof she’d been seeking. Not only alien ships with alien writing, but all intermingled with scripture from the Bible, complete with frightening plagues. Scully had always believed in God–ironic when she was always so skeptical about everything else. It’s even more ironic that her religious beliefs eventually lead her to believe in aliens. And it’s even more beautiful when you realize that Mulder’s experiences with the paranormal lead him to believe in Scully’s God as well.

Not long after “Requiem,” in the two-part season 8 premiere, “Within”/”Without,” we see Scully alone, out in the middle of the desert, searching desperately for Mulder with nothing more than a flashlight. It’s incredibly romantic, but also metaphoric for where she is on her journey. In the beginning, she opposed Mulder and stood within the majority of people who don’t believe in aliens. In the end Scully believes and she’s all alone, just as Mulder was alone in the beginning of the series.

“Wherever Mulder is, he damn well better be smiling,” Scully says, finally realizing the pain and frustration she put him through. Now Doggett gives her a taste of her own medicine.

Scully has finally become one of them–the Mulders and Maxes–the alone and unbelieved—-an outsider–and when she does, I have more respect for her than ever.