Unlike most of my reviews, you won't find smart-assed asides sprinkled throughout. I thought this episode deserved better. What follows is my best attempt at relaying the events of "Milagro:"
A droning, disturbing heartbeat echoes as the camera pans down on Phillip Padgett. The young, goateed writer is stuck -- the words he so desperately needs to flow from his fingertips aren't appearing on the blank typewriter paper before him. The day grows long and Padgett shuffles around his barren living room. He smokes, he stands, he looks out the window, but nothing happens. His muse has left him.
When darkness falls, Padgett moves to his small bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror. The writer calmly slips his right hand beneath his button-down shirt, clutching the skin around his heart. His expression doesn't change as blood flows over his fingers and down his wrist. Padgett slowly removes his pulsing heart, gripping it in his palm. He countenance is detached and we realize that Padgett is taking writer's block to a whole new level.
After scooping his beating heart from his chest, Padgett presumably places it back it its rightful place and proceeds to the basement of his apartment building to throw papers and trash into an incinerator. As he looks into the fire, he sees another beating heart floating amidst the yellow and orange flames. Something is definitely wrong with this character.
After depositing his trash and staring at floating hearts, Padgett gets on the building's elevator and stands next to Scully. The two are alone and Padgett seizes the opportunity to stare at her. He ogles her lips, her eyes and her skin. The elevator door opens on the fourth floor and we see that Scully is in Mulder's apartment building. She emerges into the hallway, stiffly walking to apartment 42, but Padgett follows close behind. Scully knocks on Mulder's door. To her left, Padgett is opening the door to apartment 41. Mulder answers her knock and she walks inside as Padgett disappears into his own empty apartment.
Scully has dropped by to show Mulder crime scene photos from a series of murders they have been investigating. Before examining the files, Scully asks about Mulder's neighbor and he explains that man is a new tenant. Mulder has met him briefly but only knows that he's a writer. With that, the conversation shifts to the case.
There have been a series of "psychic surgery" murders in the surrounding area. In each case there have been no wounds or incisions -- the hearts were cleanly plucked from the victims' chests. Next door, Padgett listens to the agents' conversation through a heating grate. He's enthralled as Mulder and Scully debate the merits of psychic surgery -- Mulder believes it's a misunderstood off-shoot of alternative medicine, but Scully thinks it's a load of medicine-man hoo-ha with no scientific merit. Nevertheless, it's the only possible explanation for their investigation. They have no motive and no evidence, so Mulder believes this may be the perfect murder. Scully isn't so sure -- if you determine the motive you usually find the murderer. Padgett walks away from the grate as their conversation ends.
That night, Padgett lies shirtless in his bed, smoking a cigarette while thinking troubling thoughts. At the same time, two teenagers -- Kevin and Maggie -- are arguing in a parked car perched on Lover's Lane. Despite a previous "understanding," Kevin is moving too fast for Maggie. She grows upset with his overzealous advances and storms from the car, hiding behind a tree on a nearby path. Kevin searches the woods for his peeved girlfriend. A hooded man approaches through the underbrush as Kevin shouts for Maggie. Suddenly, Kevin spots the man and turns to run, but the attacker rushes up and tackles the young man. Kevin's cries shoot through the dark woods as the hooded man reaches into Kevin's chest and rips his heart from within. The man holds the beating organ as Kevin's terrified screams serve as a death knell.
The next morning, Scully arrives at the X-files office as the phone rings. Mulder is calling from a new crime scene. He stands over Kevin's corpse, expressing his confusion over the case. Scully insists there must be a pattern between the murders, but Mulder's profiling abilities have turned up nothing -- the attacks appear to be random. As Scully listens, she sees an unmarked white envelope zip under the door. Picking up the parcel, she rips one end and dumps a small, metal pendant into her hand. She investigates the charm, her head cocked to the right, cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder. The object appears to be a heart, but before we get a good look, the camera pans away. Time slows and the voice of Philip Padgett begins a monologue. The scene is intercut between shots of Padgett writing at his typewriter and the slow, methodical pan around Scully's face. Padgett describes the conflict within Scully as she looks at the charm. She suspects the charm is from the killer, but she knows her strength isn't profiling. She seeks refuge through the order and structure of science, but subconsciously she worries that Mulder's abilities outshine her own. What she studies, he inherently knows. She wants to be acknowledged for her skill, not her beauty, but she also wants to let someone in -- to let her beauty and emotions flow. The monologue ends as Scully continues to study the charm.
The scene shifts to later that day. Mulder is standing before Scully in the X-files office, looking at the anonymous charm left that morning. Scully explains that it's a "milagro" (Spanish for "miracle"), a charm that's typically worn for good luck. An average looking, unnoticeable man dropped off the object at the Bureau. No fingerprints or DNA traces were left on the charm or the envelope. Scully believes the charm was left for Mulder as a possible clue from the killer, but Mulder dismisses her theory. He believes it was meant for Scully and could be nothing more than a gift from an anonymous admirer. This thought never crossed Scully's mind and she's momentarily taken aback. Her attention snaps into order when Mulder announces that she's scheduled to perform an autopsy the next morning on the latest victim. Taking umbrage at Mulder's audacity, she curtly declares she'll be late for the autopsy. Mulder watches, dumbfounded, as she leaves the office.
Scully travels to an empty church. Walking with a confident gait toward the front of the building, she stops in front of a painting titled "My Divine Heart." She believes she's alone, but footsteps fall behind her. Phillip Padgett strolls up and stands a few feet from her left side, his eyes plastered on the painting. Scully recognizes the man and is slightly alarmed at his presence. Padgett tells the story associated with the painting -- the story of Margaret Mary. According to Padgett, Christ came to Margaret Mary when his heart was so stricken with love he was unable to continue with his charity. Margaret Mary asked Christ to take her own heart, so he did, placing it next to his till both hearts burned with his passion. He then restored Margaret Mary's heart to her chest and healed her wound. Padgett's eyes remained fixed on the painting as he tells this tale, but Scully is shaken. Caught in this awkward and troubling moment, she asks Padgett why he's following her and he claims he isn't -- he simply imagined that she'd come to this church to look at this painting. Scully bites her lip, an angry, distant look on her face. Padgett is unfazed. He rattles off a series of observations he's made about Scully -- observations that tap into her private thoughts and fears. As he speaks, Scully's mouth drops and slight tears well in her eyes. Padgett admits to being "taken" with Scully, claiming they share a bond because neither is prone to overt attraction. Scully walks away, her eyes wet and her cheeks flush.
Turning to something she can rely on, Scully arrives at the scheduled autopsy. She apologizes to Mulder for disagreeing with his dismissal of the charm -- his conclusion that it was a gift from an admirer was correct. Before Scully can relay the full story, Mulder recants, declaring that the charm does hold importance in their investigation. In most cases of psychic surgery, Mulder says, the practitioner believes his or her hands are divine healing tools. Scully interrupts, explaining that Padgett is the one who gave her the charm and it's nothing more than a way for him to reveal his feelings. Caught off-guard, Mulder doesn't know what to say. His concerned look and reticence signal that he's incapable of approaching this problem from a non-professional angle.
Mulder relies on his investigative skills to deal with Padgett. In the lobby of his apartment building, he picks the lock to the mail slots and swipes a phone bill from Padgett's box. Closing the slots and looking down, he sees a copy of a free community music newspaper named "D.C. Muse." As he waits for the elevator to reach the ground floor, Padgett walks behind him. Mulder slides the phone bill within the newspaper and walks onto the elevator. Padgett follows and the two are alone on the lift. Mulder asks Padgett's name and inquires about his work. Padgett says it's unlikely he'd be familiar with his writing. Both men quietly exit on the fourth floor. Before entering their respective apartments, Padgett turns and asks Mulder what he's working on. "A murder case," Mulder replies. A slight grin peeks beneath Padgett's goatee and he asks "Anything I'd know?" Mulder unlocks the door, takes a step inside and says "Possibly."
Padgett seats himself behind his typewriter and continues to weave his story. It's now clear that his words are controlling events. He knows Mulder stole his mail and he also knows Mulder is listening through the heating grate as he types. Padgett's internal monologue turns to Scully. We see as Scully finishes the autopsy and steals a glance at the milagro, then chastises herself for engaging in flights of fancy. Padgett continues, suggesting that Scully is fantasizing about a romantic encounter with him in his sparse fourth-floor bedroom. Scully's need to rebel (a theme previously examined in "Never Again") causes her to lower her guard and engage in carnal relations with an intriguing, literary stranger. As the fantasy continues, Padgett's monologue asks, "What would her partner think of her?"
The monologue ends as Scully emerges from the elevator and walks toward Mulder's apartment. As she passes Padgett's door she can hear the keys of his typewriter banging away. She pauses in front of Mulder's residence, steps back and walks to apartment 41. Padgett answer the door and Scully tries to hand him the milagro, claiming she can't return the gesture. Padgett is anything but rejected -- he knows he intrigues her. Oddly, she accepts his invitation to come in for a cup of coffee.
The discussion that ensues is the antithesis of those romantic Taster's Choice ads. Padgett reveals that he's been watching Scully for a while. She lives in his old neighborhood and Padgett has tried to get closer to her for quite some time. Upon learning there were no available apartments in Scully's building, he found the next best thing in the vacant room next to Mulder's. He explains that she's an integral part of his current story, but he declines Scully's request to read the novel because it's unfinished. Padgett's demeanor is frightening -- he's clearly a stalker -- but when he asks Scully to sit and stay a while, her only response is "You don't have anywhere to sit."
With nowhere to sit, Padgett invites her into the bedroom. The light bulb in his bedside lamp conveniently burns out, so Padgett passes uncomfortably close to Scully as he walks into the kitchen to fetch another bulb. Scully's movements are stiff and she asks Padgett why she's still standing there even though her instincts tell her to go. Padgett claims that motive is often something that isn't established until later. Scully sits rigidly at the foot of the bed and Padgett settles next to her. As the two stare at an opposite wall, Mulder busts through the front door, his gun drawn. Scully is offended/embarrassed at his entrance and Mulder senses it. Turning his attention to Padgett's novel, he shuffles through the papers and finds a segment that reads "...felt his warm beating heart." Mulder spins Padgett around, cuffs him and places him under arrest. Scully reads the passage and looks on, her mouth open and her face drawn.
Padgett is hauled to a local jail where Mulder interrogates him. Reading through Padgett's novel, Mulder has discovered that each of the removed-heart murders was spelled out, in detail, in the book. Additionally, Mulder has also learned that each victim had responded to or posted a personal ad in the "D.C. Muse." Padgett admits to having seen the same personal ads, but he claims he only used them as inspiration for his writing. Mulder questions Padgett about his homicidal character "The Stranger." In the book, The Stranger is revealed to be a Brazilian psychic surgeon named Ken Naciamento. Mulder asks if Naciamento is Padgett's accomplice, but Padgett launches into a philosophical debate that asks the question: Does the writer control the characters or do the characters control the writer? Mulder is no mood to discuss the merits of Jungian philosophy, so he moves forward, preparing to throttle the frail writer. Scully grabs her partner's wrist, calming him. Mulder turns on his heel and walks into the hall, hell-bent on finding information on Ken Naciamento. Scully catches up and tells him she's already done the research and the results aren't good -- Naciamento died two years ago. Mulder still believes that Padgett is connected to these deaths, but Scully, taking an uncharacteristic open-minded stance, suggests that Padgett has a gift to see into people. Mulder drops the subject, instead focusing on Scully's role in Padgett's novel. She timidly asks what was written and Mulder, in his emotional-as-a-block-of-granite way says, "Let's just say it ends with you doing the naked pretzel with 'The Stranger' on a bed in an unfurnished fourth-floor apartment." In an incredible display of stupidity, Mulder asks if that part is fiction and Scully, obviously hurt, says "I think you know me better than that Mulder." Mulder bites his lip, finally aware of his idiocy. He hands Scully Padgett's novel/fanfic and walks off. Scully casts a wounded look down the hall.
While Scully reads Padgett's manuscript in an empty prison office, a guard interrupts, handing her a pad of paper. The guard explains that the hand-written message scrawled on the pad is supposedly a statement from Padgett. The guard leaves and Scully's internal voice relays the message, which describes another murder. The scene shifts to a dark cemetery. Maggie, the teenaged girl seen earlier in the episode, stands over the fresh grave of her boyfriend Kevin. Scully's voice describes Maggie's overwhelming grief. This grief has dulled her senses, for if she were in possession of her full faculties Maggie would know she's in danger. The hooded man approaches and easily subdues the girl. Maggie screams as the attacker holds her beating heart in his palm. The scene cuts back to Scully who realizes another murder is taking place. She gathers Padgett's manuscript and rushes off.
The next morning, Mulder and Scully investigate the cemetery. Maggie's body hasn't been found, but she's been missing since the previous night. Mulder believes Padgett concocted the story as a way of getting back at them, but as he's saying this he sees a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt emerge from a nearby pickup truck. Mulder tackles the man from behind, but it's immediately apparent that it's not Naciamento or Padgett. Nonetheless, Mulder digs through the back of the truck. Beneath a heap of discarded flowers he finds Maggie's body.
In Mulder's mind, Padgett is controlling Naciamento, but there's no way to prove it unless they catch him in the act. Scully still believes Padgett is only guilty of an overly creative mind. Mulder artfully uses Scully as an example of Padgett's abilities -- if he's so good at getting in people's heads, does that mean the things he wrote about Scully are true? Scully's eyes drop and she half-heartedly says "Of course not." Using Padgett's words against her, Mulder convinces her to go along with his plan.
The agents release Padgett from his cell but before he walks off, he stops to say he's made a mistake in his book. In his story, Scully falls in love, but now he sees that's impossible because she's already in love. Padgett tromps off but the camera hangs on Mulder and Scully. The partners avoid eye contact and a concerned look appears on Scully's face.
Padgett returns to his apartment and settles in for another day of writing. Suddenly, he notices a presence in the room. Looking to his right, he sees the hooded form of Ken Naciamento.
Naciamento is Padgett's character -- a character imagined so completely by its author that it's come to life. Since Padgett is having a hard time with his novel's conclusion, his main character has stopped by to help him finish. The problem lies in the motive -- Padgett can't explain why Naciamento kills. At first he says he used Naciamento because his skills as a psychic surgeon would provide the perfect murder -- a murder that would attract the attention of Scully. In turn, Padgett would finally meet Scully. Naciamento doesn't buy it -- Padgett's motivation wasn't to meet his dream woman, it was something deeper, something more intricate.
Next door, Mulder and Scully are watching Padgett's moves via video camera. The camera only shows Padgett, sitting in his chair, staring at the wall. The exchange between Padgett and Naciamento is taking place in the writer's head.
Since Padgett is unable to discover the essence of his work, Naciamento spells it out. The hooded killer says that Padgett, like all humans, believes he can open his heart to "the burning flames of charity" just as Christ did. This ability is beyond human power. Man's only power comes through destroying love. With this revelation, Padgett sees that killing Scully is the only true way to end his novel.
The author attacks the typewriter keys, crafting Scully's demise while she sits in the adjacent apartment. As the agents watch Padgett through the camera, they see him snatch his book from the desk and rush out the door. Mulder pursues the writer to the basement of the building, catching him just as he's about to throw his novel into the incinerator.
Scully grabs her pistol and opens the door of Mulder's apartment. A hooded man standing in the doorway startles her. The man grabs Scully's throat and forces her to the ground. He reaches into her shirt and begins to remove her heart. Scully fires four rounds into Naciamento, but the bullets have no effect. Mulder hears the shots and sprints to the elevator, leaving Padgett to burn his novel.
Mulder rushes through his apartment door and finds Scully lying on the floor, unconscious. He crouches at her side, shocked to see blood staining his partner's shirt. As he looks at her, Scully's eyes fly open and she screams. Realizing Mulder is there; she hugs him, burying her head in his shoulder. Mulder clutches Scully as she sobs uncontrollably.
In the basement, Padgett has successfully burned his novel. The writer is sprawled on the floor beside the incinerator, his beating heart clutched in his right hand. In a final monologue, Padgett explains that while he knew he had to write the ending of his novel, he also knew it could never be read. The book showed him that he wasn't a creator, he was a destroyer, but in the act of burning the manuscript he was able give the charity and love that he couldn't receive.
And that's it -- an episode full of emotion, darkness and odd redemption.
Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.