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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“They said the birds refused to sing and the thermometer fell suddenly as if God Himself had His breath stolen away. No one there dared speak aloud, as much in shame as in sorrow. They uncovered the bodies one by one. The eyes of the dead were closed as if waiting for permission to open them. Were they still dreaming of ice cream and monkey bars? Of birthday cake and no future but the afternoon? Or had their innocence been taken along with their lives buried in the cold earth so long ago? These fates seemed too cruel, even for God to allow. Or are the tragic young born again when the world’s not looking? I want to believe so badly; in a truth beyond our own hidden and obscured from all but the most sensitive eyes… In the endless procession of souls… in what cannot and will not be destroyed. I want to believe we are unaware of God’s eternal recompense and sadness. That we cannot see His truth. That that which is born still lives and cannot be buried in the cold earth. But only waits to be born again at God’s behest… where in ancient starlight we lay in repose.”
There’s no shortage of sad moments in The X-Files. Whether it’s the death of Scully’s sister or Mulder’s mother, or Mulder crying at Scully’s bedside as she lies dying of cancer, or when Scully decides to give up William for his own safety, or the death of Max, The Lone Gunmen, or a plethora of other beloved characters, there are many reasons to cry.
Since I was a kid, my dad has been teasing me relentlessly about watching this “melodramatic,” “far-fetched” show with its “ridiculous, over-the-top emotions.” But he really amped up his criticism after I’d had it on constantly in his living room for the past few months, binge watching with my mom to get her up to speed for the revival.
Every so often he’d be in the room while we watched an episode and make comments like “Scully is useless. Always nay-saying Mulder or getting knocked down.” However, the more the show went on and the more bits and pieces he saw, the more he came to like Scully. “She doesn’t take anyone’s bullshit does she?” “Yes! She shot the evil nurse!” “Wow, she kicked his ass!” Aside from gaining more respect for Scully, (which she obviously deserves) my dad happened to sit with my mother and me watching the end of “Closure,” and gained more respect for the show as a whole.
Just by catching an episode here or there, my dad was learning key parts of the story and getting to know the characters and their motivations. Though he hadn’t seen the episode before leading into “Closure,” or most of that episode itself, he knew enough about Mulder’s search for Samantha, the cloning project, and CSM screwing with Mulder’s heart, that he desperately wanted Mulder to find his sister. I mentioned that this was a great part for him to see.
My dad is a social worker who every day witnesses first hand the unspeakable cruelty and suffering that evil people inflict on children. He’s been waken up one too many times in the middle of the night by a call informing him of a child fatality–some crime that would steal God’s breath away, as Mulder says of the children’s graves at the Santa Village.
“Why is this a good one for me?” My dad asked.
I told him about the walk ins. How they come to save the souls of children from the great suffering they would experience in life, so they can live forever in the starlight. How the starlight is billions of years old by the time we see it, always traveling, always alive. How its the one thing in the universe that never dies. As I spoke, the beautiful spirits of children were playing, holding hands, laughing, at peace. “My Weakness” played over the scene as Mulder walked through, his face showing a profound reverence. And there was Samantha. The real Samantha. Finally. After all these years. Samantha at fourteen. Samantha free from the tortures of her alien captors.
The beauty of this moment is that the audience feels they’ve been searching with Mulder for Samantha just as long as he has. And finally we all have our closure. As Samantha ran into her brother’s arms and smiled, Mulder could see that she was happy. Now, at last, he could be free.
“You just gave me chills,” my dad said. “This is so sad.”
At first I thought “Aha! I knew it! You love this show! No one can resist the files!” and then I thought, he’s right. It is sad. I watched him watching the show, eyes tearing.
Multiple times during our binge-watch, my mom had called this is the saddest show ever. She might be right. But I love it. It’s sad because Mulder and Scully’s challenges get harder and the forces working against them never relent. They suffer great losses and the conflict is always building, the threat always growing in intensity. It’s a story I can get totally lost in. That’s because of all the emotion the characters go through. It’s a good sad. And it never gets old to get lost in. Because I’m always seeing it anew.
And as Scully says in the season 8 episode “Deadalive,” “The truth may hurt, but it’s the only thing that matters.”