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.