You know, sometimes experience is a curse.
After a string of Season 5 episodes that were either not especially memorable or deeply problematic (I’m coming back to Christmas Carol/Emily, don’t you worry; also perhaps “Schizogeny”) I was really looking forward to “Bad Blood,” which is probably Season 5’s only really memorable Monster Of The Week. Like “Small Potatoes,” it’s a Vince Gilligan production; and, I guess also like “Small Potatoes,” it’s a great episode until about the last 5 minutes, when something happens to Scully that gets played for humor, but about which I can no longer laugh.
So let me just say first: “Bad Blood” is definitely a cut above most MOTWs. It is obviously inspired by “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” a classic Season 3 episode by Darin Morgan (also the brain behind two other great stand-alone episodes, “Humbug” and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”) in which we’re told the story from the perspectives of several different witnesses, not all of them reliable. In “Jose Chung,” there is no final clarity; the versions are so different that they can’t all be reconciled, and the question of exactly what happened to the two teenagers in question is not fully resolved. Gilligan’s use of the same device in “Bad Blood” is less challenging to the viewer; there are only two perspectives, and though Mulder and Scully’s perspectives are different—often in legitimately hilarious ways—there are no major factual discrepancies.
The episode opens with a sequence in which a helpless teenaged boy is running for his life from a shadowy black-draped predator who finally knocks him down and bangs a stake through his heart. When Scully shows up, we discover that the predator is Mulder, and that the boy he’s just staked through the heart is wearing a set of fake plastic vampire fangs. (Mulder’s reaction is priceless: an “Oh, SHIT!” cut off just in time by the opening credits.) After the credits, we’re in Mulder’s office, where we learn that young Ronnie’s family is suing the FBI for $446 million. Skinner wants them in his office with a report in an hour. This initial conversation, BTW, is handled really well. They’re both scared, nervous, and kind of pissed off with each other; and when Mulder says he wants to hear it from Scully’s point of view before they go in to see Skinner, Scully is appropriately concerned about what seems to her like Mulder’s attempt to get her involved in concocting a cover story. She holds her ground on that; and when she finally agrees to tell him the story from her POV, he makes a point of recording it, presumably so that she won’t be able to change it later. In these rotten times, it’s nice to see two partners who are actually morally troubled by the idea of covering up the truth about a suspect who died in their custody.
Most of the episode is taken up by their separate narrations, Scully’s first and then Mulder’s. Most of the enjoyment to be had from “Bad Blood,” in fact, comes from getting to see how each partner perceives the other—and how each partner perceives him or her self. The “Mulder” of Scully’s story is hyper, scattered, too caught up in his own perorations to listen to her (or to reason), full of himself, disdainful of her (scare quotes) “theories,” and massively inconsiderate in terms of the demands he makes on her in pursuit of his crazy ideas. She, on the other hand, is patient, reasonable, and very attractive to the handsome town sheriff, played by Luke Wilson. The “Scully” of Mulder’s narrative is, unfortunately, kind of a whiny and demanding bitch, but this version of her is linked to Mulder’s own image of himself as her humble, diffident, intimidated and very loyal but very under-appreciated subordinate, eager for her approval but constantly denied it. Mulder’s version also ‘edits’ the handsome sheriff, giving him buck teeth and a thicker accent and making him much dumber, thus making Scully’s now oversized flirtations with him look like Titania’s overtures to Bottom.
Despite the perspective differences, though, it’s easy to put together what happens. While Scully autopsies the first victim, Mulder—who has been much struck by the fact that the victim’s shoes were untied—asks the sheriff to take him to the local creepy cemetery, hoping that the vampire will be drawn to it. Ronnie drives by in his pizza-delivery car, but doesn’t stop. Instead, the sheriff gets a call about a “situation” at the local trailer park. A trailer has gone berserk and is driving around in circles. Mulder and the town sheriff try to shoot out its tires, but can’t; Mulder then tries hanging on to the back of it, getting dragged around the trailer park several times before giving up and letting go. Eventually it runs out of gas, at which point they discover that its occupant is another dead and exsanguinated tourist. Mulder goes back to the motel to inform Scully she has to go do another autopsy. Scully, who discovered at the first autopsy that the killer was drugging his victims first with chloral hydrate, discovers at the second autopsy that he’s been using pizza as the delivery device, and remembers that Mulder’s back at the motel eating the pizza she’d ordered. She bursts in to find Ronnie about to suck the blood of a drugged Mulder; she shoots at him and chases him into the woods. Mulder recovers, also runs into the woods, and find and stakes Ronnie the vampire.
So here’s what I like about this device: the duelling perspectives express for us some of the frustrations that each partner has with the other—it’s the fifth year now, in any relationship that lasts that long you’re going to start finding a lot of stuff the other person does that really pisses you off—and also validates some of the peeves that we as viewers have with both characters (after 5 years why is Scully’s first reaction always to deny the possibility of the paranormal? after 5 years and cancer, why does Mulder still treat Scully as if her life is so much less important than his quest?). But it also shows how dedicated they really are to each other. My favorite scene in this episode is probably the two of them waiting in Skinner’s office for their epic dressing-down. Scully’s both annoyed by him and worried about him; she keeps reminding him to emphasize the fact that he’d just been drugged with chloral hydrate, and he slaps the suggestion away like a petulant teenager. But then Skinner pops out of his office, and the first thing Mulder does is leap to his feet and yell, “I was drugged!” During the rest of the episode—Skinner, instead of chewing them out, sends them back to Texas, because Ronnie revives as soon as the coroner pulls the stake out, and now he’s missing—each of them, realizing that in his/her own narration s/he has been kind of a jackass at the other’s expense, is trying to make it up to the other. Scully is now willing to buy into Mulder’s vampire scenario; Mulder makes an effort to be a grown-up. His final gesture of reconciliation is to suggest that the handsome town sheriff stake out the graveyard along with Scully while he heads to the RV park to track down Ronnie’s family. “Don’t say I never did anything for you, Scully,” he says, magnanimously sending her on a little stake-out date with the guy she’s been eyeing all episode as he heads to the park to do the hard stuff.
And this is where the thing happens.
Mulder’s attempt to arrest Ronnie at the trailer park is pretty funny. He gets into the family trailer. They’re all sleeping in coffins; Mulder finds Ronnie’s because he’s listening to music in there and it’s turned up too loud. Mulder tries to arrest him by sitting on the coffin and handcuffing it shut; but a whole trailer park full of vampires start moving in on him, unimpressed by his attempt to fend them off by making a cross out of two breadsticks.
Scully, meanwhile, is back in the handsome sheriff’s police car, drinking some coffee that he’s just offered her. Which turns out to have been laced with chloral hydrate. As Scully realizes what’s happened, we see the handsome sheriff’s eyes glowing vampire green.
The next time we see Scully, she’s standing outside the pickup truck in which Mulder’s unconscious form was apparently dumped. She tells him “I came to in the cemetery, and that’s all I remember.” They both check their necks for puncture wounds, finding none. The vampires have melted into the woods; there is nary an RV left in the park. The final scene shows the two of them in Skinner’s office. He is a little upset about some of the variations in their reports, and about the general implausibility of the thing. Mulder and Scully, now functioning together like a well-oiled machine, tell him that this is “essentially” what happened. “And besides,” says Scully, just before we cut to the final credits. “I was drugged.”
And this is the joke I seem not to be able to get any more.
Choral hydrate is a date-rape drug. People knew that in 1998. It was during the 1990s, in fact, that stories about women being drugged while out drinking or dancing and then raped started to really circulate in the media. Now, obviously from a practical standpoint the sheriff drugs Scully because he needs both her and Mulder to be out of commission while he and his fellow vampires make their escape. I’d be OK with that explanation if it weren’t for all the other cues that imply that more went on that night. Scully’s obviously attracted to the sheriff, and Mulder’s last words to her before leaving make it clear that he thinks he’s setting her up on a date with the sheriff and she’s happy about that. Then, while she’s drinking her drugged coffee, he asks her what she thinks about vampires, and she talks about how they’re “supposed to be very charming” and “seductive.” Unlike Mulder, who’s apparently able to fight back in a limited way even after he’s been drugged, all Scully is allowed to do is sit there paralyzed in the passenger seat while she breathes heavily and stares with horror at the handsome sheriff’s face looming in closer. When she reappears outside Mulder’s pickup truck, she’s wearing the sheriff’s jacket. They deliberately bring this to our attention by shooting her first from Mulder’s POV; when he looks out the window he sees the jacket and the sheriff’s star and we think for a moment that it’s Sheriff Handsome instead of Scully. And then there’s her punch line. It’s obviously a callback to Mulder’s “I was drugged!”. But when he uses that line, it’s an attempt to excuse behavior which is both personally embarrassing and potentially criminal. What would Scully be using it to excuse? What happened while she was drugged that she feels she has to explain away?
So…did Scully get date-raped? Is that what the “I was drugged” joke is about? Is what happened with her and the handsome sheriff in her chloral hydrated state the thing that Skinner somehow senses that Mulder and Scully are not telling him? Because to me that’s not funny. Not funny that it happened; and not funny that the episode has her trying to explain it away as if she is somehow responsible for it because she was attracted to the man who drugged her and got into his car voluntarily.
People are going to tell me I’m overreading that. Well, perhaps I am. I actually have a review on file for this episode when it first came out; and it seems that the 29-year-old me was bothered by it, but not willing to ruin the experience by giving it much thought:
"And what did he do to poor Scully after he doped her with the chloral hydrate? We can only hope that he was a vampire and a gentleman. I suppose he must have been, or Scully would probably have reported it." (1998 me)
But it seems to me on rewatch as if the final joke is about the fact that Scully’s not reporting it, and that Mulder is loyally helping her not report it. And that kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
I still have a soft spot for the episode itself. It has those little comic touches that do so much for the show, like the autopsy scenes in which we watch Scully get more and more tired and pissed off as she throws human internal organs around like meat at the deli counter, and Mulder refusing to believe that he sang Scully the “Theme from Shaft” in his drugged state. But…Vince…could you not? Could you not ruin a perfectly good episode by exposing Scully to sexual predation at the end of it? Could you stop doing that before I start to feel like fantasizing about sex with an incapacitated Scully is really the foundation of your vision for her character?
I suppose I will find out soon enough.