Oestrus, the latest installment in Virtual Season 2, has all the things we have come to expect from the X-Files: monsters, hospitals, agents in danger, and shadowy hints of the world’s seething underbelly. The best aspects of this episode, however -- its Freudian subtext and truly unexplainable monster -- get tangled and occasionally lost in the writing.

The basic concept is simple and thus workable. A monster, visible only to those with fevers, is snatching children from the hospital. Mulder, who seems to always have a brain fever anyway, stumbles across this crystalline creature during one of his fever-induced treks down a hospital corridor. Readers of fanfic and viewers of the television show know the game: how does Scully reconcile a seemingly unbelievable story from an unreliable witness with her inherent trust in her partner? It’s a game we have seen played out countless times, but like genre, becomes interesting through its nuances. Oestrus does a nice job playing out this tension, even down to revealing how deep seated Scully’s belief and trust is. Subtextually, the episode suggests that her belief may even be physically damaging, an idea many have bandied around as they have tried to determine whether or not Scully and Mulder’s relationship is healthy or harmful.

This question is prominent in this episode because Oestrus literally revolves around sickness. The ramifications of this -- sickness of mind, sickness of the world as a whole, etc. --- is something I would have liked to have seen played out. What is most fascinating, and perhaps most disturbing, is the way sickness and healing intertwine. Oestrus details at some length with Mulder’s feverish Prickly Heat, and Agent Scully becomes Nurse Scully, busily making sandwiches, running baths, and otherwise playing the nurturer. Almost sadistically, we witness Mulder’s illness and the scene suggests that only in illness can there be closeness, only in the stifling heat of fever can there be intimacy. It’s a situation Scully both seems to enjoy and resent. Most problematic,however, is Oestrus’ Oedipal strain. Scully is literally referred to as playing the role of mother, and Mulder the role of son. Considering their less than platonic exchanges on the “real” X-files, the juxtaposition of Scully as both mother and potential love object is unsettling. Of course, it is an issue that has been raised before, considering episodes like "Kill Switch."

If you’d like, Oestrus offers the possibility of a full blown Freudian interpretation. The basement, for instance, an important location in this episode, is often a symbol of the unconscious in psychoanalytic theory. It is what is hidden from the self and from society, yet boils up into the conscious. With this in mind, I believe it’s possible to “read” the monster as a product of the unconscious. Brief references to trauma (an orphaned boy, unloving parents, Oedipal desires) abound in Oestrus. For me, the monster appears to represent the psychic weight of all this unconscious pain or unfulfilled desire, literally crafted from the psyches of the characters or of the world. This might explain the ending, though to keep suspense for readers I’ll leave you to ponder the question. I’d also suggest considering why the monster takes the children; the answer to this, whatever it may be, certainly must affect one’s interpretation of the episode.

These issues are suggested though not directly addressed in Oestrus. Though I would not like them explicitly raised (it leaves less for the reader and therefore isn’t as much fun) I still think the episode could have been streamlined so that these and other issues could have floated toward the forefront. The X-file, for instance, took awhile to develop, seemingly pushed back after a lengthy and at times, overly detailed description of Mulder’s fever and Scully’s caretaking. The thematic issues were also occasionally displaced by the writing itself. I was distracted by phrases such as "sickly hospital" (aren’t they all?) and "His shirt was nearly matted to his body with the expelled bodily wastes" (I’m not even going to touch that). Among these, however, were some gems, including some authentic dialogue that was good enough and informative enough that it didn’t need narrative commentary within the episode. Small asides such as "Her voice is my conscience, he told himself" were succinct and nicely stated.

My advice is to read Oestrus with an eye toward the unconscious, to think about fever and all its connotations, to examine the sometimes strange and unsettling interaction between our heroes. These are topics that never get old, and while I struggled with some of the text, I still applaud Oestrus’ attempts to attack the psychological battleground.

RANK: 6/10

2X04) "Oestrus"
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