How the Ghosts Stole Christmas
The more I think about this episode, the more I like it. As a stand alone, it was well done. I think my animosity stems more from the way the episodes have been aired rather than the plot lines. Regardless, the acting, direction and most notably, the music, in "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" were all top-notch.
Here's a rundown on what happened in this dysfunctional Christmas episode:
It's Christmas Eve somewhere in Maryland and Mulder is celebrating by staking out an old Gothic-style house that's supposedly inhabited by two homicidal ghosts. The yuletide is flowing through Mulder's dark sedan as he listens to Christmas carols while munching happily on sunflower seeds. Scully drives up with a car-full of gifts but her mood is anything but festive. She's tired, it's late and she's still got a ton of holiday cheer to spread. Nonetheless she ends up in Mulder's car listening to him tell the tale of two mournful lovers who carried out a Christmas Eve suicide pact in the house they're gazing upon.
Mulder musters every ounce of his literary ability to tell the sad story of the two lovers caught in a dark period of American history. In 1917, Mulder says, the U.S. was immersed in a serious period of self-pity and general badness (the country was in desperate need of a gargantuan Prozac pill). The ill-tidings had spread across the nation, nestling into the cozy confines of 1501 Larkspur Lane. It was here that star-crossed lovers Maurice and Lyda escaped by committing suicide. Now, together in eternity, they spend every Christmas Eve haunting the old manor on the hill.
Mulder spins a good yarn, but Scully has a horror of her own to confront -- it's late on Christmas Eve and she has yet to satisfy her holiday responsibilities (The horror! The horror!). She and Mulder both exit the car -- she prepares to leave while Mulder trudges up the hill to the house. Scully fishes through her pockets and discovers that her keys are missing. She suspects Mulder of lifting them, so she runs into the house to interrogate him.
Bad move. Seconds after Scully enters the dark, dank abode, thunder crashes, lightning sparks across the sky and the previously ajar front door slams shut. When doors spontaneously lock themselves it usually suggests that something bad is about to happen, but Mulder and Scully ignore this obvious warning and set about investigating the house. They begin upstairs, and while Mulder pulls on locked doors, Scully launches into an epic rationalization of ghosts. Bottom line: She doesn't believe in them and never will (big surprise).
Her argument would be well-taken if odd things weren't occurring in the surrounding rooms. Just as she gets revved up, a bedroom door opens and light from within spills into the hallway. The agents get a bad case of the willies, but Scully overcomes her irrational fears and walks into the room. Mulder reluctantly joins her and together they find a two-story library, pleasantly lit by wall lamps and a chandelier. Cobwebs are strung across the covered furniture and ancient books line the shelves.
Scully has determined that someone (not something) is living in the house. The clock in the downstairs hallway was keeping perfect time, the lights are on and a log is smoldering in the library's fireplace. These are all tell-tale signs of occupancy, but as the agents walk to the first level, the lights go out and the scene becomes quite eerie. A thumping noise emanates from the floorboards, and of course the always-inquisitive Mulder wants to pry the wood from the foundation to investigate. Scully, meanwhile, has become uncharacteristically frightened and protests his excavation project. Mulder continues anyway.
What he finds does little to allay their fears. The skeletal, well-dressed remains of a man and a woman are lying in peaceful slumber beneath the floor.Things get really weird when Scully sees that the woman is wearing the same outfit she's sporting and the man is clad in Mulder's leather jacket. Is this a paranormal fashion faux pas or just a really bad omen?
Either way, it scares the agents and they bolt from the room. Unfortunately, the adjacent room is a mirror image of the library they just ran out of. They cross the second room, go through a door and seemingly enter the library they began in. Mulder goes through one door while Scully remains in the original library, but the two become separated and Mulder ends up trapped in a room with a bricked-over doorway.
But it gets worse. He's not just trapped in the room, he's trapped with Ed Asner! A portly man wearing a frumpy hat (Asner) appears out of nowhere. The two trade barbed comments and Mulder believes that he's speaking with an apparition named Maurice (one of the ghosts said to haunt the house on Christmas Eve). Maurice denies the suggestion that he's a flickering image from beyond, but Mulder knows that Maurice is playing tricks on him The two bodies below the floorboards are evidence of this trickery, but when Mulder walks toward the fireplace he sees that the floor is perfectly intact and the bodies are nowhere to be seen. Maurice asks Mulder to take a seat.
What ensues is a funny psychoanalysis of Mulder. Maurice claims to be a mental health expert specializing in "pathological behavior pertaining to the paranormal." In a matter of minutes, Maurice deduces that Mulder's workaholism and "paramasturbatory" behaviors stem from his fear of being alone. This hits a bit too close to home, so Mulder demands to see Scully.
Scully is having a supernatural pow-wow of her own with Lyda (the other ghost). A tall, grey-haired woman wearing a white nightgown walks through a door and scares the bejesus out of Scully. Through five years of chasing aliens and hunting down serial killers, Scully has never screamed, but when Lily Tomlin walks through the door she lets out a bloodcurdling cry. It doesn't make much sense, but the scene continues as Scully attempts to regain her cool. Scully apologies for pointing her gun and scaring Lyda, and for a moment she's calm, but a glance toward the fireplace shoots her blood pressure to a new high. The corpses she and Mulder discovered only minutes before are missing. Scully tries to run from the room, but she encounters the same brick wall Mulder ran into.
Since Scully is trapped, Lyda takes a moment to offer her thoughts on what makes Scully tick. Lyda assesses that Scully achieves intimacy through co-dependency and her only joy in life is proving Mulder wrong. The session ends abruptly as Maurice walks through the previously bricked-over door. Waving her gun, Scully herds the ghosts into a corner of the library and demands that they put their hands up. Lyda shoots her arms skyward, which causes her robe to open and reveals an enormous hole in the middle of her stomach. Maurice politely removes his hat and Scully stares through a three-inch wound in his bald head. These images are too much for the usually-staid Scully, and she faints.
With Scully passed out on the floor and Mulder trapped in a different room, Maurice and Lyda reminisce about the good old days. Over the last 80 years there have been three double-murders in the house, all occurring on Christmas Eve, but the glory days appear to be over. It's been years since the ghostly couple successfully committed a double-homicide and they fear that their reputations are slipping. Fortunately they have Mulder and Scully at their disposal, so they launch a plan that will culminate with the two agents killing one another.
The plan is set in motion by Lyda. She finds Mulder in the locked library, searching for a way out. Mulder realizes the woman blocking his path is Lyda, so he forgets about escaping and instead asks her about the suicide pact. Lyda plants herself in front of a large bookshelf and performs ghostly trickery in search of a certain book. She plucks one from the shelf and we see that it's titled "The Ghosts Who Stole Christmas." Settling into a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace, she warns Mulder that suicide pacts rarely have a happy ending. She's assuming that Mulder has lured Scully to the house so they can embark on a similar trip into eternity. Mulder discovers that Lyda and Maurice's original pact didn't work out the way it was supposed to -- instead of a double-suicide it became a murder suicide. If history is going to repeat itself that means that either Mulder will shoot Scully or Scully will off Mulder. Lyda drops a gun in Mulder's hand before vanishing.
In the other room, Scully awakens and fumbles for her gun and flashlight. The room is dark and the doors are locked and Maurice is calmly sitting in a chair by the fireplace. He warns Scully that Mulder is going to try to kill her, claiming that Mulder's loneliness will drive him to murder her in a disillusioned lover's pact. Mulder bangs at the door and Scully forces Maurice to open it. Her partner comes into the room and begins firing his gun past Scully's head. He demonically talks about the painful loneliness he endures. Faced with nothing but despair, Mulder shoots Scully in the stomach. She falls to the floor, mouth agape. Mulder walks toward his dying partner, stands before her and says "Merry Christmas, Scully" while pointing the gun at his head. As the camera pans we see that Lyda has taken on Mulder's form, so Mulder isn't the killer. Maurice wrestles Lyda/Mulder from the room.
The real Mulder comes through a different door and finds Scully on the floor in a puddle of blood. He tries to help her, but Scully is properly pissed and fires a round into Mulder's chest. Lightning flashes and we again see Lyda, but this time she has taken on the form of Scully. So Lyda has made it look as though Mulder shot Scully, then Scully shot Mulder in retaliation.
The partners crawl separately downstairs as tinny Christmas music fills the house. They point their guns at one another, but the waves of pain coupled with their fear prevent them from firing the final shot. In classic Mulder and Scully fashion, they try to blame one another for their predicament -- Mulder claims that Scully shot first but Scully insists that he was the first to shoot. An idea flashes through Mulder's head. He glances down at the wound in his chest and discovers he hasn't been shot -- it's all in his head. He walks to Scully, picks her up and she discovers that she's fine as well. The two walk through the front door and as they emerge from the cursed house their bloodstained clothes regain their previous laundered look. The agents run to their cars and drive off without speaking a word.
Back in the house, Lyda and Maurice sit in front of a roaring fire, wistful about the double-homicide that narrowly escaped them. They share a loving moment by the fire, then vanish into a haze.
Having narrowly averted a suicide pact with Scully, Mulder retires to his bare apartment to watch the final scenes of "A Christmas Carol." Scully knocks on the door, claiming she couldn't sleep. The two decide that everything that transpired at the house was all in their heads. They question their motives for pursuing the ghosts, but there's little time for introspection -- they've got presents to open! They giddily open their gifts on the couch as the camera pans away from Mulder's window.
Seconds later, Mulder and Scully are visited by the Lone Gunmen and Skinner. The boys have brought a big bowl of eggnog. Everyone has ample servings and they celebrate the holiday by getting trashed and making crank phonecalls to the Syndicate. Well, that's how it should have ended.
So that's it. A happy X-files Christmas brimming with ghosts, gifts and guilt.
Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.