“The boy is the key, Scully.”
Written by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, directed by Daniel Sackheim
Season 1, Episode 4
A family camps by a seemingly peaceful lake. A young boy and a teenage girl sleep by a campfire, while the mother sleeps within the camper nearby. Inside the van, the mother is suddenly jerked away by the violent shaking of the camper and a blinding white light. She scrambles to reach her children, who she hears calling for her outside. Grabbing the door knob, her hand is instantly burned by the hot metal.
Outside, her son tells her that Ruby (his sister) is gone. The woman calls out for the missing girl — eventually tilting her head back and screaming her name to the sky.
Section Chief Scott Blevins calls Scully into his office to discuss a case Mulder has put forward — based on nothing more than a tabloid clipping. Even Scully admits that this is odd.
Blevins explains to Scully that Mulder’s feelings may be getting in the way of his professional judgement. He points to the missing persons case for Samantha Mulder (his sister who went missing), which Agent Mulder himself opened as as an X-file.
Because of this, Blevins is planning to deny Mulder’s request to open the tabloid case, but Scully convinces him to wait until she’s had a chance to talk to Mulder about it first.
In their basement office, Scully confronts Mulder about the case, pulling out the full force of her logic to point out that a tabloid is hardly anything to base a case on. Mulder counters that this case is interesting because it occurred on a UFO hotspot, Lake Okobogee — where an girl scout troup witnessed a flying saucer. Not only that, but one of those girl scouts, Darlene Morris, is the mother of the missing girl.
Mulder and Scully travel to Iowa to visit Darlene, who tells them her story of that night and that her son, Kevin, is acting strange. Because of her experiences as a girl scout, Darlene is convinced of what has happened to her daughter.
“They took her didn’t they, Mr. Mulder?” she asks. He hesitates, clearly caught between his own beliefs and the risk of confirming something without evidence. Instead, he changes the subject, asking for permission to speak to her son.
Mulder finds the boy in the living room, watching a TV filled with white noise and writing on some paper. Kevin quietly answers questions, while continuing to write a string of ones and zeros. The boy let’s Mulder take a look when asked, and then—in a moment echoing Poltergeist—he points to the staticky screen and says, “It’s coming from there.”
At the police station, Mulder sends a fax containing a copy of Kevin’s page of ones and zeros to a friend for possible decoding, while Scully speaks to the lead officer on the case regarding Ruby’s disappearance. They learn that the officer didn’t take the case seriously because Ruby was a teen known for getting in trouble.
Walking out to their car, Mulder and Scully find a strange note on their windshield. A young woman watches them from across the street and then enters the library. They follow.
Among the stacks, the woman tells them that Ruby was pregnant when the disappeared. As a result, Ruby apparently ran off with the father, a bartender named Greg. Mulder and Scully want to ask more questions (like her name), but she’s able to slip away before they get the chance.
Mulder and Scully go to the biker bar — standing out among the crowd of leather-clad men in their clean, pressed suits. They speak to the bartender, who doesn’t have any more information on Greg, who hasn’t showed up for his shift in a few weeks. However, he does tell them about Lake Okebogee, where you could get a killer sunburn in the middle of the night. The bartender pulls back his hair to reveal burn scars on his ear.
At the hotel, Scully notices figures moving and talking quietly outside her window. She grows increasingly suspicious, especially when the knob begins to rattle. She leaps for her gun, but doesn’t reach it before the door bursts open and half a dozen men in suits pour into her room bearing guns and flashlights.
The men — who turn out to be from the NSA — question Mulder about the document. He doesn’t know what they’re talking about until they show him the page of ones and zeroes, which he had sent to a friend for analysis. As it turns out, the page contains classified information from a defense satellite transmission. The NSA demands to know where Mulder got the page, but he lies and says he doesn’t know.
While they’re talking, the NSA get a message. They know where the boy is, thanks to Scully. Mulder expresses his disappointment.
Mulder: You shouldn’t have told them. They have no jurisdiction.
Scully: Mulder, they’re NSA. They think the boy may be a threat to national security.
Mulder. C’mon. How could an eight-year-old boy who can barely multiply be a threat to national security? People call me paranoid.
At the Morris house, the NSA tears through the boy’s bedroom, knocking over books, digging through the kid’s clothing, ripping apart toys — scouring every inch for evidence. When they find the stack of papers with Kevin’s writing on it, they leave, bringing Darlene and her son with them for questioning.
Mulder peers out of an upstairs window, watching them leave — and then notices something. Outside, he climbs a ladder to the roof of the camper, which has been blackened with a deep layer of ash.
At the FBI headquarters in Iowa, Mulder and Scully learn that Darlene and her son will be set free, since none of the other pages of ones and zeros contain any sensitive material. However, the information isn’t random either. After processing through a computer program, all of the pages that Kevin created contain clips and fragments from famous art, music, and literature.
Though though Darlene and her son have been released, she is understandably pissed off. Mulder tries to convince her that Kevin has seen something, possibly something important — but Darlene cuts him off. She wants Mulder, Scully, and the rest of the FBI to stay away from her and her family.
Driving out of the city, Mulder and Scully discuss the case. Though she points out that the pages are likely a statistical anomaly, he’s believes that Kevin is a conduit, that he’s somehow connected to who or whatever took Ruby that night.
Mulder: The boy is the key, Scully.
Scully: The key to what?
Mulder: Finding Ruby. Just think about it for a minute. This is a boy, who’s receiving all kinds of digitized data from a television screen.
Even though she knows why this is important to him (hint: his sister), Scully insists that there’s no evidence indicating that Ruby’s disappearance was an abduction. Mulder explains that this is why they’re headed out to Lake Okobogee to investigate further.
At the campsite where Ruby disappeared, Mulder and Scully examine the area. Scully notes that it’s close to the forrest, making it easy for someone to come out and grab her. However, it’s interesting that the tops of the trees have been burned, indicating that something around there was capable of creating extreme heat.
While they’re talking, a wolf appears then dives back between the trees. Mulder follows and finds the wolves digging around piled rocks — clearly a grave. He shoots his gun to scare off the wolves, then begins digging, desperate to find out if it’s Ruby. But Scully stops him, preventing him from disturbing the crime scene (more than he already has).
The police and forensics team arrive, uncovering the body of Greg Randall — Ruby’s supposed boyfriend. Inside Greg’s wallet, they find a note with the name and number of a doctor. The handwriting on the note matches that of the girl who spoke with them at the library.
Tessa (the girl from the library) is brought into the police station for questioning. They know that Tessa was actually the one pregnant (not Ruby) and that Greg was the father. In other words she lied. After some intense interrogation tactics from Mulder, they learn that Tessa killed Greg—though she insists she never killed Ruby.
Scully is convinced that the case is closed. But Mulder can’t leave it alone. He’s determined to talk to Kevin again, even even though he knows Darlene doesn’t want to see them.
Scully: Mulder, stop. Stop running after your sister. This won’t bring her back.
Mulder: Come with me, or don’t come with me, but until they find a body, I’m not giving up on that girl.
When they reach the Morris house, they find it eerily empty. The TV hisses static, a kettle whistles on the stove. It’s as if Darlene and Kevin left in a hurry.
They find the pages of ones and zeros laid out on the floor in a grid patter, which doesn’t make sense — until Scully goes to check upstairs and sees the pages from above, revealing Ruby’s face.
Mulder and Scully rush out to Lake Okobogee, where they find the camper parked near a trail head. Following the trail, they find Darlene in the woods. Her son has run off ahead of her and she couldn’t keep up with him.
Mulder takes off down the trail after the boy, who he finds in a field walking toward a growing, rumbling light. He is able to grab the kid and shield him as a group of bikers tear over the hill, their bikes roaring around them.
Kevin is convinced that his sister is back; he’s certain of it. Mulder feeling the deep loss of his own sister reluctantly tells the boy that Ruby might not be coming back.
However, when they return to Scully and Darlene, they receive a surprise — Ruby is indeed back, lying unconscious on the ground while Scully tries to revive her.
Ruby is taken to the hospital, where it’s revealed that she’s been in a coma, though the doctors don’t understand the cause. Mulder asks after some of her symptoms and points out that they’re associated with prolonged weightlessness — just like shuttle astronauts tend to experience.
Entering Ruby’s room, Mulder and Scully speak to her about her experience. But before she can say much, Darlene interrupts and pulls the agents out into the hall. She doesn’t want anyone talking to her daughter about what happened. All she cares about is that her daughter is back, safe and sound. Darlene explains, “The truth has caused me nothing but heartache, and I don’t want the same thing for her.”
Scully continues to look through the X-File on the disappearance of Samantha Mulder. She listenes to a tape recording of the hypnotic regression sessions that Mulder underwent in trying to figure out what happened to his sister. On the tape, he explains how he couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything but lay there on the bed while his sister cried out to him for help.
While Scully listens to tape, Mulder sits in an empty church. While we watch Mulder weep over a photograph of himself and his sister as children, the sounds of the tape recording continue to play.
Dr. Werber (on the tape recording): Are you scared.
Mulder (also on the recording): I know I should be, but I’m not.
Doctor: Do you know why?
Mulder: Because of the voice.
Doctor: The voice?
Mulder: The voice in my head.
Doctor: What’s it telling you?
Mulder: Not to be afraid. It’s telling me that no harm will come to her and that, one day, she’ll return.
Doctor: Do you believe the voice?
Mulder: I want to believe.
What interests me about this episode is the way it explores how the loss of his sister continues to impact Mulder — though it does this primarily from Scully’s point of view. We learn that his judgement might be compromised from the first moment that Scully is handed the X-file about Samantha. As viewers, seeing it from Scully’s point of view, we’re meant to wonder how personally Mulder is taking this case, which so closely resembles what happened to him.
At several points in the episode, we see moments in which Mulder holds back, refocusing on the case in hand. For example, when Darlene asks, “They took her didn’t they, Mr. Mulder?” He hesitates. This is a moment where he might normally go into his beliefs about aliens, but he holds back, asking instead to talk to Kevin. In essence, he’s resisting the urge to jump right into what seems obvious to him. This is perhaps because he’s aware of his own bias regarding this case, or perhaps the admission would be too close to home from him to handle.
The point at which Mulder seems the most out of control is when he is interviewing Tessa. He towers over her, intense and hostile, slamming his hand down on the table at points to emphasize the crack of a gunshot. Here the answer coming to the surface is the most mundane. Tessa killed Greg, so it’s entirely probable that she also killed Ruby.
Considering this, Mulder’s actions and intensity in this scene then seem to be for two reasons. The first is his fear that Ruby may be dead (and by extension that his own sister may dead). Two, if Ruby was lost to such an ordinary cause as murder, then his sister might have been, as well. This would mean that all his investigations and the pursuit of aliens would have been meaningless.
The episode ends with uncertainty. Ruby returns, but the how and the why remain unclear. The answers that Mulder so desperately wants are not provided. He remains on unsettled ground. As he explains to Scully, he’s still walking into the same empty room:
Mulder: When I was a kid, I had this ritual. I’d close my eyes before I walked into my room, because I thought one day when I’d open them my sister would be there, just lying in bed, like nothing ever happened. You know, I’m still walking into that room. Every day of my life.
Although Scully has known about Samantha going missing — since Mulder told her about it in first episode — this is the first time she has had access to the investigative file regarding the case, giving her the ability to explore and understand the event in more depth, as well as its impact on her partner.
Scully is aware of Mulder’s emotional investment in this case. However, she also respects his work and abilities as an agent and, so, is able to give him a certain benefit of the doubt. Though she questions his interest in launching a case based on a tabloid, she follows through with the investigation once he presents sufficient evidence for doing so.
Only two times throughout the episodes does Scully brings up the fact that Mulder might be emotionally compromised. In each case she does so only when his actions seem to contradict the evidence at hand. In all other cases, she treats Mulder and the case with the same respect as she would any other.
The closing of the episode, in which we hear a recording of Mulder undergoing hypnosis, is particularly haunting — largely because of the final words, “I want to believe.” Easily recognizable from the UFO poster in Mulder’s office, these words take on a new meaning. Rather than just referring to the belief in the paranormal, it brings up Mulder’s desire to believe that one day his sister will return.
The visual of him sitting in a church crying also perfectly echoes a sentiment of lost faith. Mulder is never really portrayed throughout the series as being a man of religious faith. His beliefs tend to lie elsewhere — and one of those desired beliefs is that one day he’ll see his sister again. Though Ruby returns to her brother Kevin, Mulder’s sister has not returned to him. Wanting to believe is not the same as believing, and though he must still long for that return, the events of this case may have shaken that hope to some degree.
From This Episode: None that I noticed.
From the Series as a Whole:
Dana Does an Autopsy: 1
Mulder Eats Sunflower Seeds: 2
Mulder is Called Spooky: 3
Appearance of Cigarette Smoking Man: 1
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