I'm Afraid To Believe: The X-Files and "Beyond The Sea"
While keeping up with my 201 Days of The X-Files viewing schedule, I re-watched one of the show's most iconic episodes, "Beyond The Sea." Besides being notable for yet another reference to Mulder's porn proclivities ("Last time you were that engrossed, it turned out you were reading the Adult Video News," Scully quips), it's a perfectly constructed episode that reveals cracks in Scully's scientific demeanor.
The episode opens with Scully saying goodbye to her mother and father after she's cooked them a Christmas Day meal. William Scully addresses his daughter with a gruff but affectionate "Goodnight, Starbuck" before he leaves. Later, Scully falls asleep on the couch and is awoken by her father sitting in a chair across from her. His lips are moving but no sound is coming out of his mouth. Startled, she addresses him but he doesn't respond. The phone rings and it's her mother, informing her that her father has just passed away from a massive coronary. When Scully looks back at the chair, her father is no longer there.
The case this time involves a death row inmate named Luther Lee Boggs, portrayed with scenery-chewing glee by Brad Dourif, in a nod to his role in The Exorcist III. Mulder's profile of the prolific serial killer is what put him in his current predicament, but when he was first sent to the gas chamber, there was a last-minute executive stay and his life was spared. Boggs asserts this experience sparked the flame of psychic abilities within him and he has contacted Mulder claiming to have vital information about a recent series of kidnappings and murders, hoping to avoid his rapidly approaching rescheduled execution.
Mulder thinks Boggs is just a con artist but he's more concerned that Scully is coming into the office after her father has just died. She assures him that she "needs to work" so he drops the subject. At her father's funeral, the jaunty strains of Bobby Darin's "Beyond The Sea" are heard, the song that was playing when Captain Scully's ship returned from the Cuban Blockade. It's difficult to swallow the lump in the throat we feel when a clearly bereft Scully tremulously questions her mother, "Was Dad at all proud of me?" All her mother will say is, "He was your father."
When they visit Boggs in prison, Mulder goads him into putting on a psychic revelations pageant, positive he's exposed him as a fraud. He leaves in disgust. As Scully packs up her files Boggs starts singing "Beyond The Sea" and she stops cold. Boggs fixes his eyes on her and asks, "Did you get my message, Starbuck?" Scully looks wounded. Outside, Mulder can tell something is wrong, but she just attributes it to "my father" before apologizing and leaving.
Scully discovers some of the things that Boggs said about the location of the kidnap victims were true when she does a little investigating of her own. Mulder becomes angry when she suggests that Boggs was right, warning her that she should only open herself up to "extreme possibilities" when they're the truth, insisting that Luther Boggs is "the greatest of lies." Mulder's explanation is that Boggs is working with someone on the outside and is an accomplice in the kidnappings and murders.
Still, Scully advocates for making a deal with Boggs, if only to get information to save the kidnap victims before they become murder victims. Another visit to Boggs results in more information and a warning about Mulder's blood on a white cross. When the FBI agents visit the docks Boggs told them about, they find Elizabeth, one of the victims, but they also spy a boat leaving the scene. A gunshot rings out and catches Mulder in the leg. Scully notices two white crossbeams nearby covered in Mulder's blood.
Mulder's theory about Boggs having an accomplice seems to be confirmed when Elizabeth identifies one Lucas Jackson Henry as her abductor and there is evidence that Boggs and Henry committed murders together before the former's incarceration. Furious, Scully revisits Boggs and spits venom: "No one will be able to stop me from being the one that will throw the switch and gas you out of this life for good, you son of a bitch!"
Smooth-talking Boggs keeps seducing her. "I know who you want to talk to," he sneers, but insists he won't let Scully have her way until he gets a deal. She maintains that she doesn't believe him, but when she visits Mulder in the hospital she proposes there could be another explanation. Mulder tells her not to deal with Boggs, but Scully doesn't listen, visiting him yet again. He mentions the Blue Devil Brewery up by Morrisville.
As it turns out, that's exactly where Henry and the kidnap victims are. After a shootout and chase, Henry falls through some loose floor beams to his death. Scully notices a painting of a blue devil on the wall behind him and recalls Boggs warning her not to "follow Henry to the devil." She goes to thank Boggs for saving her but he suspects she still has "unfinished business," and begs her to come to his execution so she can "get her message."
But she doesn't. Instead, she visits Mulder in the hospital and tries to rationalize that Boggs might have gotten all the information he needed from her personnel file. "Dana," Mulder interrupts, "After all you've seen, after all the evidence, why can't you believe?"
SCULLY: I'm afraid. I'm afraid to believe.
MULDER: You couldn't face that fear? Even if it meant never knowing what your father wanted to tell you?
While "Conduit" showed that it was the fear of not knowing which drives Mulder, Scully presents a different side of the knowledge coin in "Beyond The Sea." From the beginning of the show, Scully has worn a small gold cross around her neck, indicating that she believes in something other than science, even though it has not been discussed up until this point. But how far does that belief go? And is it just faith in a God that keeps Scully going? Is the possibility of finding proof of something beyond science or even religion too frightening for her to accept?
In the last scene, Scully tells Mulder that she did know what her father wanted to tell her because, like her mother said, "He was my father." While "Beyond The Sea" purports to show Scully opening herself up to extreme possibilities, she ends up reverting to her closed-off views at the end. It seems to be Scully's faith that keeps her going, but it's faith in not believing. Mulder has faith in things he wants to believe, the intangible and abstract truth for which he so desperately searches. It will be a while before Scully can walk through those particular doors.