After weeks of Scully minimalism, the agent returns only to face another round of big issues like faith, motherhood and the afterlife in "All Souls."
The mayhem begins in the quiet Virginia suburbs when a handicapped, polydactyly teenage girl is found frozen in a genuflecting position just down the street from her house. Her death and the fact that her eyes were burned directly in her head have her parents, and the local authorities, searching for answers.
The story is told from Scully's perspective a week after the investigation ended. During confession she tearfully tells her priest how it all began Easter Sunday. On that day Scully dutifully went to church wearing an outfit that would inspire sinful thoughts in the most pious individual. As she's leaving she's stopped by Father McCue (the same priest seen in previous episodes). McCue brings her into his quarters, or chambers or whatever you call a priest's office, and tells her of the mysterious, burned-eye death of Dara kernoff. The unusual circumstances have prevented the police from offering any answers, so McCue asks Scully to look into it.
During what appears to be ample off-time (does the FBI have a lax attendance policy?) Scully looks into Dara's death and it isn't long before she begins feeling a strong connection with the girl, her parents and the events quickly unfolding. After interviewing the medical examiner Scully learns that Dara was handicapped and incapable of leaving her house -- making her exit even more confusing. Add in the fact that no electrical burns were found and you've got yourself a full-fledged X-file.
Scully asks Mulder for help, but he's busy trailing a suspect into a porn theater so he puts her off for a while. Once the movie is done, or maybe he caught up with the "suspect," he finds time to dig into Dara's past. Meanwhile, another polydactyl girl is found dead in her room at the state psychiatric hospital. While investigating this new crime scene Mulder finds an inverted cross -- a symbol of sacrilidge and prime evidence that religious weirdness is about.
Mulder's religious knowledge on demand is handy but the information he found on Dara is far more enlightening. Dara and the other dead girl were two of four quadruplets born to unknown parents and separated at birth. The investigation takes another turn when Aaron Starkey, a borderline albino and social services agent, informs Mulder and Scully that a priest named Father Gregory was scheduled to adopt the latest dead girl. The agents confer and Mulder determines that what they've got here is a "bonafide supercrazy religious wacko." Scully isn't so sure.
A visit to Father Gregory convinces Mulder that he's their man -- especially when he launches into a tirade about sinners, damnation and how bad the Roman Catholic church is. Scully, however, can't dismiss Gregory as easily as her partner. Outside Father Gregory's rag-tag church Mulder suggests that Scully perform the autopsy on the dead psychiatric girl before the religious wacko goes after the two other sisters.
Scully attempts to perform the autopsy but her examination is halted by visions of Emily -- the daughter she knew for all of five minutes. Understandably, Scully is shaken by these visions and tries to pass it off as a delusion brought on by the case, but she later says it was a sign -- a sign that told her she was meant to protect the final two sisters from harm.
While Scully communes with the Lord, Mulder and the social services agent try to track down the other two girls. They get a lead on one and search an abandoned building, but Mulder's just a few minutes too late. A being with a heavenly, highly-radioactive glow, has turned another girl's eyes to charcoal. Father Gregory then has a case of divinely bad luck and turns up at the crime scene, prompting Mulder to haul the weenie priest in for some Old Testament questioning.
Mulder is convinced Gregory is the culprit, but Scully voices her opposition and, in a display of openness previously unknown in the series, tells Mulder of her vision of Emily. Mulder thinks she's too close to the investigation, but for some reason he doesn't stop her when she says she's going to finish interrogating Father Gregory. Ending the interrogation was a nice idea, but while Scully and Mulder were talking Starkey magically appears in the interrogation room and reveals himself to Gregory as a tool of the devil, if not the devil himself. When Gregory refuses to divulge the location of the last girl, Starkey/Devil slaps him on the immortal barbecue and smites him in a really bad way.
The Devil can't track the last girl, but Mulder can. He and a conglomerate of local police bust in on her step father, but all they find is a low-rent man and the low-rent bedroom where the fourth girl used to live. The unhygienic step dad tells Mulder that Father Gregory took the girl. Mulder calls Scully on her cell phone and he catches her just as she's trying to get in her car. She drops her keys, kneels to pick them up (in a convenient genuflecting position) and is greeted by a very bright religious figure sporting four heads. It would be a Kodak moment but I doubt the film has been created that can handle the flash from a religious event.
The next day, Scully goes to Father McCue for guidance and describes her experience. He whips out an obscure religious text and details the story of a seraphim (an angel) who has four heads and is the father of four daughters. The four girls are the fallen ones -- they're human form is misshapen and they were never meant to be. To save their souls from the devil, the seraphim returns to earth and displays himself in all his other-worldly splendor. Their eyes are burned and their souls are saved. Scully is convinced this is what she's seen, but McCue says the story he's told her isn't even acknowledged by the church. Nonetheless, Scully knows these events go way beyond the mortal experience.
Outside the church Scully is met by the social services devil, who tells her that Mulder has tracked the last girl to Father Gregory's parish. When they arrive Mulder is nowhere to be found and Scully notices that Starkey's shadow comes complete with horns. While darting up the stairs she sees a pair of eyes peeking from between the slots of the stair beams. Retreating beneath the staircase she finds the fourth girl, whom she tries to lead to safety, but once again her good intentions are foiled when the girl morphs into Emily and asks to be let go. Starkey yells out, a light flashes and suddenly Scully is staring at the genuflecting, dead body of the final sister. Her soul was saved, but Scully blames herself for not saving her life.
Back in the confessional we get a great look at how Scully's beliefs have changed over the years. The priest asks her if she believes in the afterlife and she convincingly says yes, but he's a wise priest and so he suggests that forgiveness and acceptance of loss are all tied into it. Scully's faith comes into full view as she wonders if acceptance of loss is what faith is all about.
After weeks with minimal screen time for Gillian Anderson it was refreshing to watch the Emmy winner deliver a tour de force. All Soul's was a smart episode that offered an intricate glimpse into Scully's faith.
Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.