“The X-Files” drinks the Kool-Aid and worships a particularly bonkers cult where eternal youth is just a disturbing organ transplant away
“I found a cure for the greatest disease of all mankind. Every human has a ticking time bomb inside of them and I figured out how to defuse it.”
Sometimes a certain topic might seem like a questionable choice for The X-Files, but the areas of creepy cults and organ theft mutilation rituals are definitely disturbing content that are tailor mode for The X-Files. Seasons eight and nine of The X-Files get an unreasonable amount of hate, but the season eight entry “Roadrunners” is one of the creepiest episodes from the show’s entire run (not to mention one of Vince Gilligan’s final X-Files scripts). It’s an installment that understands how to pair together the idea of a brainwashed cult and body horror to inspired effect. “Nothing Lasts Forever” might not have the same personal stakes that “Roadrunners” taps into, but it’s still a satisfying entry that finds something new to say on the topic.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” starts off with a rather intense cold open that feels like it could be the beginning of an episode of James Cameron’s Dark Angel. A graphic surgery turns into an espionage-laced organ heist where a bad-ass female is the one responsible for the crimes. If that wasn’t enough, the killings have a very unique quality to them as the organ thief victims get a giant spike through their hearts, but it’s a long steel pole rather than a tiny wooden stake. That’s a lot of elements to throw at the audience in the episode’s opening minutes, but it also appropriately sets the stage for a very unique case that stumps Mulder and Scully for a while. There’s even a solid stretch of time where Scully doesn’t even think that this is an X-Files.
Mulder and Scully realize that a wealth of liver and pancreas appear to be absent from the victims. However, missing organs with suspicious backstories are hardly the strangest things about what’s going on here. What transpires is one of the more disturbing X-Files stories and a tale of skewed Munchausen Syndrome that feels reminiscent of Home, to be honest. There is a disturbing cult at play that has developed a way to cheat death and obtain eternal youth, so to speak. The way in which the cult’s leader, Dr. Luvenis (Jere Burns), achieves this is by grafting young healthy people to his back and siphoning off their vitality. The scariest part about all of this is that the victims that are grafted to Luvenis consider such a torture to be an honor. Everyone in this episode volunteers for the mess that they’re in. “You’re my addiction, Dr. Luvenis,” they tell him. Luvenis’ wife, Barbara, talks about how broken and useless all of their members were before she found them. She preaches about how her torture and modifications to them is their salvation and the promise of an inspiring tomorrow. These are all the extreme lengths that people will go to feel beautiful or important.
It’s worth pointing out that “I WANT TO BE BEAUTIFUL” is the statement that replaces “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE” this week and the message there is rather significant. This statement speaks to the fact that Scully spends a portion of this episode in church and the show reminds the audience that this character is rather religious. The way in which the episode juxtaposes Scully’s religious communion with the ritualistic killings of Juliet tries to make a rather pointed commentary. The installment puts these slayings on the same level as organized religion and highlights how the two experiences can give the same degree of relief.
“I WANT TO BE BEAUTIFUL” speaks to this need to commit terrible acts as a means to an end if it means reaching that reward. When Barbara murders people she refers to them as swans and says that they’ve never been prettier. Death is made synonymous with beauty here because it’s something that’s almost impossible to achieve in the flawed existence of life. If the same degree of spiritual solace can be felt by a specialized slaying, then is it really that different then a major institution? The power of faith can cause people to do incredible things.
This episode is so rich in themes and it happens to come from another X-Files newcomer, Karen Nielsen (a script coordinator from Glen Morgan’s underseen one-season wonder, Intruders). Nielsen pens the episode and the always-reliable James Wong directs the season’s penultimate installment. It’s interesting to note that fans got so excited when this return to The X-Files announced that it would bring a number of the show’s original writers along with it. Honestly, though, some of the best episodes from this season have been the installments written by new writers who are anxious and hungry to leave their mark on the series. “Nothing Lasts Forever” is no exception and it’s a strong episode for the season to go out on before what will no doubt be the overly serious drag of a time that is “My Struggle Part IV” next week.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” actually touches on a lot of the same themes that were present in Morgan’s Intruders. That was a show about people who lived forever by stealing bodies and transporting consciousness through different people over centuries of time. The concept of this episode is essentially the same, only these cult members feel that they can live forever by donating their organs to the Luvenises, who in turn do live forever.
Jere freaking Burns is also in the house for this episode! Between him, Brian Huskey, Haley Joel Osment, and Barbara Hershey, this season has had some decent guest stars! Burns is fantastic in whatever he’s in, whether it’s his work on Breaking Bad, Angie Tribeca, or his unforgettable turn on Justified as Wynn Duffie, human cockroach. He plays Dr. Luvenis with such cold, calculated ferocity that definitely adds a lot to his character. At the same time, his stony demeanor absolutely softens whenever he tries to console his wife, Barbara (Fiona Vroom). They reflect the erratic bipolar nature of some of the most twisted murderous couples that are out there and they both give memorable performances here.
There’s also a bonkers sequences where Barbara croons “There Has to Be A Morning After” while her “seed” disciples willingly mutilate themselves and they feast on their “pure” organs. There’s a certain degree of self-awareness where the episode seems to knows just how ridiculous all of this is, but it’s a necessary evil if it means the show can deliver such disturbing, insane sequences.
The episode also has a sort of Twilight Zone quality to it as well. The idea of an aging, washed up television star who can be in her 80s but look like she’s 40 is absolutely in their wheelhouse. The concept of “age as a disease” is nothing new, but “Nothing Lasts Forever” still manages to put its own classic X-Files twist on the concept. The whole “I will repay” steel stake killings from Juliet don’t exactly get explained in full, which is a little problematic. At the end of the day it sort of just feels like some extra weirdness thrown into the episode, but it still plays into the installment’s overall themes about beauty and obsession. “Nothing Lasts Forever” manages to surprise, entertain, and figure out some new ways to creep out its audience, all of which are important. It might not be the flashy episode that some viewers were hoping for before the season (series?) finale, but it still gets the job done.
Oh, and Mulder has progressive lenses now. It’s not a big thing. Although it does cause him to finally notice Scully’s haircut from two episodes ago. Let’s hope that he can beat the inevitable gout.
Next week’s the big one, guys. Let’s hope we can get through it with minimal mentions of alien DNA, ret-con rapes, and insulting dream sequences. Let’s take a leap of faith.
“The X-Files’” 11th season will conclude next Wednesday at 8pm (ET) on FOX