Milagro (The X-Files)
|The X-Files episode|
Phillip Padgett rips out his own beating heart. The sequence utilized a rubber heart. Later shots of beating hearts were created with air pumps.
|Episode no.||Season 6
|Directed by||Kim Manners|
|Teleplay by||Chris Carter|
|Story by||John Shiban
|Original air date||April 18, 1999|
|Running time||44 minutes|
|List of The X-Files episodes|
"Milagro" is the eighteenth episode of the sixth season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. It originally aired on the Fox network on April 18, 1999. The episode's teleplay was written by Chris Carter from a story by John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz, and directed by Kim Manners. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Milagro" earned a Nielsen household rating of 9, being watched by 15.2 million people upon its initial broadcast. The episode received mixed reviews from television critics; while many approved of it, others felt that it used a stereotype to portray Scully as weak-minded.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. Mulder is a believer in the paranormal, while the skeptical Scully has been assigned to debunk his work. In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate a series of murders takes place where the heart has been removed from the victims. A writer that lives next door to Mulder is writing a novel about the murders before they actually happen and soon, Scully finds herself confused and drawn to the writer, who has a romantic interest in her.
"Milagro" was inspired by the idea of someone thinking of something so much that it becomes a reality, a topic Shiban later noted was "familiar" to anyone who had written a script. The part of Phillip Padgett had been written specifically for the actor John Hawkes. In addition, the production for "Milagro" was decidedly low-budget due to its "intimate and personality-driven" nature. The episode's title means "miracle" in Spanish. The episode has been analyzed for its use of symbolism, its exploration of motive, and the role reversal of Mulder and Scully.
Phillip Padgett (John Hawkes), a fledgling author, sits at a desk, suffering from writer's block. He eventually retires to the bathroom to discard a spent cigarette. Without warning or concern, the man suddenly reaches into his chest and removes a bloody heart. Later, he walks down metal stairs into a cluttered basement, and opens the door of an incinerator. Noticing a beating heart amidst the flames, and unfazed by the vision, he nonchalantly tosses in a paper bag.
Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) later encounters the stranger as she walks into an elevator. Both ride in silence up to the fourth floor, with Scully somewhat unsettled by the experience. At Fox Mulder's (David Duchovny) apartment, Mulder and Scully begin discussing a case the pair are working on, wherein the heart of the victim had been removed with the absence of any significant physical evidence. Mulder believes the heart was removed with a technique known as psychic surgery. Meanwhile, Padgett, who is Mulder's neighbor, stands on a chair with his ear to an air vent, listening to the conversation.
Later that night, two teenagers get into a fight in the woods. The girl, named Maggie (Jillian Bach), runs into the woods to be alone and Kevin (Angelo Vacco), her boyfriend, gives chase. However, he is attacked and his heart is removed. Meanwhile, the writer intensely transcribes the event on his typewriter. The next day, Mulder and Scully discuss this latest incident via phone. An unmarked envelope is discovered by Scully in the office containing a milagro, a type of pendant. While she examines the pendant, a voice-over from the writer describes Scully's most intimate feelings as she examines the unsolicited gift.
Scully later runs into the author at a church. He admits sending Scully the pendant and discusses with her the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She leaves, visibly shaken. Scully meets Mulder and relays her most recent encounter with the writer to Mulder. Later, Padgett woos Scully into his apartment with more character revelations. Mulder bursts in and arrests him based on accurate descriptions of the case murders in his novel, which he secretly read after discovering it in the mail. While Padgett is in custody, Maggie is murdered in the same fashion as Kevin. This establishes a de facto alibi for the author. Lacking concrete and connective evidence to the murders, and hoping Padgett might lead them to his partner in crime, Mulder releases Padgett from custody.
Back at his apartment, Padgett converses with the killer from his book, a deceased Brazilian surgeon named Ken Naciamento (Nestor Serrano). It is revealed that through some sort of psychic connection, Padgett's Naciamento has come back to life and has been removing hearts from victims. The two discuss motivations for the killings. Realizing that his novel prognosticates Scully's murder, Padgett heads to the incinerator to destroy his novel. Mulder intercepts him, thinking Padgett is instead simply destroying incriminatory evidence. Meanwhile, Naciamento accosts Scully. After hearing gunshots, Mulder runs toward his apartment and shockingly finds Scully on the ground, covered in blood but alive. The episode closes with a voice over from the author, explaining his final actions. The stranger lies stricken on the basement floor in front of the incinerator, his beating heart in hand, having "... given what he could not receive".
Writing and casting
The idea behind the episode occurred during a conversation between John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz. The two were discussing about the particular stress of their jobs. The episode's theme of someone thinking of something so much that it becomes real was "familiar" to anyone who had written a script, Shiban later explained. Shiban and Spotnitz created a rough draft for the episode and then sent it to series creator Chris Carter, who was busy shooting the pilot for the new television series Harsh Realm. Carter re-wrote portions of the script, including the ending, to show that the writer, although confused, does indeed have love in his heart.
Spotnitz later called the episode "personal". He noted that the cards that hang on Padgett's wall were put up to emulate the original writing style of The X-Files, saying, "in fact, that the cards that are on the writer’s wall are the same format that we wrote The X-Files in. We would use those same cards when figuring out stories for the series." Later, Spotnitz noted that the cards were also in his handwriting "because the prop guy couldn’t do it as well as we could because that’s really the way we did it. It’s a very emotional love story and it’s really about our love for these characters as writers". The writers eventually settled on the title of "Milagro," which means miracle in Spanish.
The part of Philip Padgett had been written specifically for the actor John Hawkes. Several weeks before the casting for "Milagro" began, Hawkes had auditioned for the part of Pinker Rawls in the episode "Trevor". Both Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz felt that Hawkes was not right for the part; however, they believed he possessed a "dignity and simplicity" that would prevent the main character in "Milagro" from becoming a simple caricature. Therefore, the script was written to suit Hawkes' characterization.
Filming and effects
The production for "Milagro" was decidedly low-budget due to its "intimate and personality-driven" nature. Director Kim Manners sought to film most of the episode "very simply", because he wanted "the characters to carry it". Manners wanted to frame the opening scene in a way that told "the story […] in a series of images", and so, he utilized quick cuts between shots. Many of the scenes, such as the opening pan, were created by means of a crane shot.
The sequence wherein Mulder runs was shot on a motorcycle. Manners recalled that, because Duchovny had been able to outrun two horses in the fourth season episode "Tunguska", he needed something faster to film the scene with. Several locations that were scouted for the episode proved difficult to use. Two churches that had been selected for the episode pulled out just before filming began and replacements had to be found immediately. The scenes in the woods were filmed at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. The location was chosen because it possessed "probably the only pine trees in Los Angeles". Due to the fact that the actual park is rather sparsely populated by brush, the foliage was all created by the crew of the series. Manners shot several of the forest scenes with a 200 millimeter lens, so that the lights of Los Angeles would be disguised in the distance. Padgett's furnace was filmed on a set called the red/blue room. It had originally been created for the sixth seasoner opener "The Beginning". The jail set was constructed in a large warehouse by a different production company. The X-Files rented the space for several days for filming, for five thousand dollars. Finding a graveyard with "old-fashioned vertical tombstones" proved a challenge for locations manager Ilt Jones. Eventually one was found in Altadena, California, east of Los Angeles. The fog in the cemetery was created by burying small "misters" that produced water vapor. The vapor was cold so that it would stay low to the group and emulate the properties of actual fog.
The sequence in which Hawkes rips his heart out was created by using a rubber heart. The fact that the faux blood begins leaking through his shirt was added to "hide the fact that [the crew was] doing a little sleight of hand". The image of the beating heart in the furnace was created by overlapping a shot of a fake beating heart and a shot of actual fire. The two were then merged in post-production by animator John Wash, due to the fact that the fire would have melted the actual heart model. The beating of the hearts of Naciamento's victims was created via a pump that was operated off-screen. The actual milagro prop was crafted several times because, according to Manners, the face was particularly difficult to get right. In fact, the second time the medallion appears in the episode, it is a different prop.
Music and cultural references
For his score, Mark Snow used the sound of recorded human heartbeats to go along with the conceit of the episode. During the graveyard scene, one of the tombstones is marked "Salinger," with the names "Nicholas" and "Diana" visible underneath, a reference to the parents of Charlie, Bailey, Julia, Claudia, and Owen in the Fox television series Party of Five. The date on the tombstone reads 1994, the date the series premiered. P.K. Simonds, writer and executive producer for the show was initially unaware that the tombstone made an appearance. Others, including Spotnitz, believed the tombstone to be a joking reference to famous author J.D. Salinger.
Margaret Kaner, in the book The X-Files and Literature, notes that, instead of merely utilizing symbolism, "Milagro" makes "symbolism as a subject". Kaner points out that the Christian symbol of the burning human heart is infused into the episode in a variety of different ways—hearts are both removed from human victims, as well as burned in furnaces. The episode's plot and the Christian symbol are connected when Padgett leaves Scully the milagro charm.
The concept of motive is also explored. When confronting Padgett, Mulder asks him why he is murdering his victims. Padgett, in turn, admits that he cannot answer the question. Kaner suggests that Padgett is representative of a version of Mulder, and that there is a direct parallel between being a criminal profiler—who must think like the criminal—and a writer—who must think like his characters. In the end, however, Padgett sacrifices his personal quest—his manuscript—in order to be free. This presents a distinct contrast to Mulder, who will never truly give up his obsession. Michelle Bush, in her book Myth-X, also notes that the episode sheds light on Scully's motive throughout the series: she wants to gain Mulder's attention, something she feels she does not have. Padgett eventually realizes this, and sacrifices himself for her love.
The episode also presents a temporary role reversal for Mulder and Scully. When discussing the lack of evidence at the crime scenes, Scully points out that "a crime is only as perfect as the man […] Even if he made not one mistake, there still is a motive. If you find his motive, you find the murderer". Kaner argues that this logic is more in line with what Mulder has subscribed to throughout the series. Furthermore, after Mulder discovers Padgett's manuscript, he arrests him "without a second thought". By relying on empirical logic, Mulder is acting in the way Scully normally thinks.
Broadcast and reception
"Milagro" first aired in the United States on April 18, 1999. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 9, with a 14 share, meaning that roughly 9 percent of all television-equipped households, and 14 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 15.2 million viewers. The episode aired in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Sky1 on June 27, 1999 and received 0.85 million viewers, making it the second most watched episode that week. Fox promoted the episode with the tagline "Someone's trying to steal Scully's heart... literally."
Manners was also pleased with the episode; he noted that he "felt it was a very interesting character study". He later called it "one of my favorite episodes". Spotnitz considers "Milagro" to have been an "underappreciated" episode. For this reason, it was later included on the X-Files Essentials DVD compilation, along with seven other episodes. However, the episode received mixed reviews from television critics. Tom Kessenich, in his book Examination: An Unauthorized Look at Seasons 6–9 of the X-Files gave the episode a positive review, writing "The power of ['Milagro's] revelations was stunning. As was the episode." The character of Ken Naciemento has been listed as one of the best guest roles of the series, with TV Guide and UGO Networks both listing him amongst the greatest monster-of-the-week characters in The X-Files. Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, rated the episode five stars out of five, calling it "a study of overwriting with all the mistakes left in" and "one of the most remarkable" episodes of the series. Shearman and Pearson also felt that Anderson's performance was "revelatory", and also praised guest star Hawkes as "both sinister and sympathetic". Sarah Stegall awarded the episode six stars out of five. She said: "My congratulations to Carter, Shiban and Spotnitz on a daring experiment for commercial television".
Zack Handlen gave the episode a "B–" and wrote that "works far better than it deserves to", due largely to the performance of Hawkes and the "bat shit weirdness" of the plot. He was particularly critical of the "self-serious" and "pompous" tone of the episode, as well as its portrayal of Scully with "ill-defined contempt". Handlen concluded that the episode was "like watching someone's fan fiction getting brought to life". He did, however, write that "there is something strangely fascinating about" the premise; in particular, he was pleased with the conclusion, calling it the moment when "things pick up". Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode a negative review and awarded it one-and-a-half stars out of four. Vitaris, despite noting the potential in the episode's theme of the relationship between writer and their characters, felt that "Milagro" betrayed Scully's personality and featured her doing things that were out of character.
Much of the criticism that was leveled at the entry accused the show of using a stereotype to portray Scully as weak-minded. Handlen argued that the episode reduces Scully "to a victim waiting to find out which handsome man will rescue her." Elyce Rae Helford, in her book Fantasy Girls: Gender in the New Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television, accused the show of "reinforc[ing] the stereotype […] of independent women as lonely, neurotic, and nostalgic for sexual attention from men." Anderson herself felt that the character needed to "loosen up". She was once approached by a fan who applauded Scully as the "epitome of womanhood" because she is a character who "not only can kick ass but she […] works with Mulder without jumping him." Anderson, in return jokingly replied, "So the epitome of womanhood is sexual restraint? […] I don't think so." The episode was particularly analyzed by fans of the show, and the fact that Scully was almost seduced provoked "lively internet discussion".
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