Signs and Wonders (The X-Files)
|"Signs and Wonders"|
|The X-Files episode|
Mulder is attacked by demonically-possessed snakes. Due to the nature of the episode, it was described as "one of the scariest episodes of season 7" by one reviewer.
|Episode no.||Season 7
|Directed by||Kim Manners|
|Written by||Jeffrey Bell|
|Original air date||January 23, 2000|
|Running time||44 minutes|
"Signs and Wonders" is the ninth episode of the seventh season of the science fiction television series The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network in the United States on January 23, 2000. It was written by Jeffrey Bell, directed by Kim Manners. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Signs and Wonders" earned a Nielsen household rating of 8.5, being watched by 13.86 million people in its initial broadcast. The episode received mixed reviews from television critics.
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 the Church of God with Signs and Wonders, a church where the Bible is read literally, and punishment is dealt deftly, after a small town church is the site of a number of ritualistic-like murders. But soon the agents realize that the difference between the peaceful religious and the fanatics may not be very much at all.
Bell wished to write a "down-and-dirty" horror story about a snake-handling church. Furthermore, Bell wanted the true antagonist of the episode to remain hidden until the very end. In order to do this, the script was written so that Mulder suspected the wrong individual. According to executive producer Frank Spotnitz, the theme of the episode was "intolerance can be good", in some cases. The episode used live rattlesnakes; at any one time, there were between six and fifty snakes on the set.
In Blessing, Tennessee, Jared Chirp, while attempting to flee his home, is attacked by rattlesnakes inside his car and killed. Federal agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), after conferring with the completely ordinary Reverend Mackey, go to Reverend Enoch O'Connor's church, Church of God with Signs and Wonders, where Biblical literalism is stressed and snakes are used during his services. As such, O'Connor becomes the prime suspect. Later, a woman named Iris tells Reverend Mackey that she feels guilty because Jared called her on the night he died in order to talk to his girlfriend, Gracie. Iris, however, refused because Gracie was in bed. Later that night, Iris is bitten when her staple remover turns into a snake; she promptly goes into the bathroom to clean up but is killed when snakes appear everywhere in the bathroom.
Gracie is questioned by Mulder and Scully about O'Connor because she is a former member of his church. The two agents discover that she is, in fact, O'Connor's daughter and was kicked out of his congregation and home when she became pregnant. The agents go back to O'Connor's church and Scully is attacked by O'Connor, who attempts to stick her head in a box of snakes. He is promptly arrested. Later, while in his cell, he is attacked by snakes in his cell, but is not killed. O'Connor later wakes up in the hospital and is visited by Gracie. O'Connor then takes Gracie and leaves the hospital. Reverend Mackey tells Mulder and Scully that Enoch O'Connor is the father of Gracie's child.
Meanwhile, O'Connor takes Gracie back to his church and baptizes her. Suddenly, she goes into labor and gives birth to live snakes. O'Connor goes to Mackey's church and attempts to kill him, but Mulder intervenes and saves Mackey. In the ambulance, Gracie tells Scully that Mackey was the real murderer, and the father of Gracie's baby. He killed everyone to keep the fact that he was the father a secret and in order to destroy O'Connor. Back at the church, Mulder realizes O'Connor was innocent all along, but Mackey summons snakes who promptly attack Mulder. Luckily, Scully is able to break down the door and save Mulder. Mackey, unfortunately, disappears to Connecticut, changes his name to Reverend Wells, and starts another church. The episode ends with a snake coming out of Mackey's mouth and eating a mouse.
"Signs and Wonders" was written by The X-Files staff writer Jeffrey Bell. Bell had long desired to write a "down-and-dirty" horror story for the series. In addition, he had informally studied the practice of snake handling, concluding that "anything involving snakes would be scary and I saw the church stuff as something that would be really fascinating." However, unlike most stories featuring the radical religious, the theme of the episode was that in certain circumstances, "intolerance can be good", according to executive producer Frank Spotnitz.
Bell "wanted the snake church people to end up being the good guys." However, the trick would be to disguise the real bad guys in plain sight. According to Bell, "The way the shows usually work out, Mulder is the one to figure out who the bad guys are. So I went into the story meeting with the idea of having Mulder being wrong. Because Mulder believes so strong it's the other guy, it helped hide the true identity of the bad guy from the audience."
During the snake handling scene at the Church of God with Signs and Wonders, the song being sung by the congregation is called "May Glory Protect Us". The song was written by executive producer Paul Rabwin, who was heavily involved in the episode's music production. Rabwin later noted, "I auditioned a bunch of gospel songs [to episode director Kim Manners]. I told him I could write one that was better and he told me to go for it. And I did. […] Kim loved it. […] It was a great tribute that he was able to ask me and accept my opinion on it."
Casting and filming
The casting for "Signs & Wonders" was "rather unorthodox". In order to prevent ophidiophobia from hitting the actors on the day of filming, live rattlesnakes were brought in during the casting sessions. Strangely enough, many of the actors were "thrilled" about holding the snakes, according to Kim Manners. He later noted that "the funny thing was that the actors couldn't wait to hold the rattlesnakes […] but we were still nervous." In addition, Michael Childers, who portrayed Reverend O'Connor, was actually the son of a real life snake preacher. Manners later noted that "he had gone to church as a child and handled snakes."
A series of safety meetings were scheduled in order to prevent accidents on the set. One of the items on the agenda was finding the closest hospital to the set, according to make-up effects coordinator John Vulich. Furthermore, several of the cast and crew members had a fear of snakes, including Manners, David Duchovny, and John Shiban. During one of the days that the show was being prepped, a snake wrangler brought several live rattlesnakes to the set, but one escaped. It was eventually found behind Manners' desk. In order to prevent future accidents, the mouths of the snakes were sutured shut.
At any one time, there were between six and fifty snakes on the set. During the scene where Mulder is attacked, fifteen live snakes were used. However, Duchovny was "not within blocks" of the shot and a stunt double was used. Several faux-body parts were used to simulate snake bites. One of the fake arms, which was used for Mulder, was recycled from the sixth season episode "Dreamland". A false stomach was created for Tracy Middendorf, who portrayed Gracie, to give the illusion that live snakes were wriggling inside of her.
At one point in the episode, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a famous painting by Italian Early Renaissance artist Masaccio appears in the background. Because the painting contains nudity, Fox's network executives took issue with the scene, forcing the show to edit out the genitalia on the painting. Paul Rabwin later noted that "the network executive censors didn't feel it was appropriate for us to show all the details [...] course, they could see people giving birth to hundreds of snakes, but that's OK." On the seventh season DVD special features, the painting is erroneously attributed to the famed Michelangelo.
Broadcast and reception
"Signs and Wonders" first aired in the United States on January 23, 2000. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 8.5, with a 12 share, meaning that roughly 8.5 percent of all television-equipped households, and 12 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 13.86 million viewers. The episode aired in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Sky1 on April 30, 2000 and received 0.61 million viewers, making it the eighth most watched episode that week.
The episode received mixed reviews from critics. Kenneth Silber from Space.com wrote a very positive review of the episode, writing, "'Signs and Wonders' is a clever episode whose serpentine plot twists will leave many viewers genuinely surprised. Although a bit overly reliant on the alleged shock value of snakes, the episode establishes, more firmly than any before it, the demonic nature of some of the powers at work in The X-Files." Rich Rosell from Digitally Obsessed awarded the episode 5 out of 5 stars and called the episode, "one of the scariest episodes of season 7" before noting that the episode "really creeped me out." However, other reviews were more mixed. Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, rated it two-and-a-half stars out of five. The two noted that, despite several very "cool" images—such as Gracie birthing snakes and a man oozing reptile venom—the episode "doesn't really seem to stand for anything." Shearman and Pearson further criticized putting "religion in the crosshair" and concluded that the episode was "just your everyday sliver of supernatural hokum."
Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode a mixed review and awarded it two stars out of four. Vitaris criticized the polarization of religion viewed in the episode, noting that "although 'Signs and Wonder's purports to be an examination of different modes of faith, it offers a pessimistic—and distorted view of religion." Tom Kessenich, in his book Examinations, gave the episode a mixed review, writing "I have always been the type of person who admires the creative attempt, even if the attempt isn't a complete success. […] This is precisely the mindset I'm feeling after watching 'Signs and Wonders'. I admire the attempt to spook me, to offer up conflicting views of religion and righteousness, even if I'm not completely sure what the point of it all was." Nevertheless, Kessenich praised the snake attack scenes and the episode's occasional quips of humor. Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club awarded the episode a "C+". Despite writing that the snake attack scenes were "surprisingly horrifying" and that the episode contained "plenty [of elements] to recommend", he was critical about the lack of explanation behind Mackey. Although he had a positive opinion of the first 30 minutes, he wrote that the "last 10 minutes just sink everything good the episode has going, and in a way that hurts everything that came before."
- Shapiro, pp. 107–116
- Shapiro, p. 116
- Shapiro, p. 117
- Fraga, p. 98
- Hurwitz and Knowles, p. 177
- Paul Rabwin (2000). Cleaning Up Michelangelo's Act (DVD). The X-Files: The Complete Seventh Season: Fox Home Entertainment.
- The X-Files: The Complete Seventh Season (booklet). Kim Manners, et al. Fox.
- Shapiro, p. 281
- "BARB's multichannel top 10 programmes". barb.co.uk. Retrieved 4 January 2011. Note: Information is in the section titled "w/e May 8–14, 2000", listed under Sky 1
- Silber, Kenneth (30 June 2000). "The X-Files – 'Signs and Wonders'". Space.com. TechMediaNetwork. Archived from the original on February 7, 2005. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
- Rosell, Rich (27 July 2003). "The X-Files: The Complete Seventh Season". DigitallyObsessed. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- Shearman and Pearson, p. 214
- Vitaris, Paula (October 2000). "The X-Files Season Seven Episode Guide". Cinefantastique. 32 (3): 18–37.
- Kessenich, p. 107
- VanDerWerff, Todd (January 5, 2013). "'Signs & Wonders'/'Sein Und Zeit' | The X-Files/Millennium". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved January 5, 2013.
- Fraga, Erica (2010). LAX-Files: Behind the Scenes with the Los Angeles Cast and Crew. CreateSpace. ISBN 9781451503418.
- Hurwitz, Matt; Knowles, Chris (2008). The Complete X-Files. Insight Editions. ISBN 1-933784-80-6.
- Kessenich, Tom (2002). Examination: An Unauthorized Look at Seasons 6–9 of the X-Files. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1-55369-812-6.
- Shapiro, Marc (2000). All Things: The Official Guide to the X-Files Volume 6. Harper Prism. ISBN 0-06-107611-2.
- Shearman, Robert; Pearson, Lars (2009). Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen. Mad Norwegian Press. ISBN 0-9759446-9-X.
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