“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…”