Theatre of the Mind ~ Paper Hearts

Those who read the TOTMs from time to time probably know that "Paper Hearts" is my all-time favorite episode of the X-Files. Ask me to name my top five, it will be different every time you ask me. But #1 doesn't change. CC could write my dream ending to the show and to the MSR, but I don't think it would supplant this episode as my favorite. (Of course, CC, if you'd like to accept that challenge, I say "bring it on!").

Why is it my favorite? IMHO, "Paper Hearts" is the "perfect" X-file. It has it all-part mytharc, part MOTW; it's got Samantha, Mulder!Angst, Mulder!Torture, Scully!Angst, Scully!Comfort, Strong!Skinner, continuity up the wazoo, and Mulder!Glasses. It's got great acting by all concerned, a great story that grabs you in the teaser and doesn't let go, great writing (by Vince da Man-the guy who writes the Mulder/Scully dynamic the best, again IMHO), great directing (our man Rob), fantastic music, and a villain that just confirms that real people are sometimes scarier than any type of monster that the boys at 1013 could dream up.

Lastly, the best X-Files-especially the best MOTW episodes-are those that involve our heroes personally in some way, and you can't get much more personal than the abduction of Samantha Mulder-the cornerstone around which this show is built. Everyone has their favorites, but for me, "Paper Hearts" is the X-Files' finest hour.

1. Mulder and/or Scully in the teaser is always a sign of good things to come. Mulder asleep on his couch-this one's gonna be great.

2. The red dot effect serving as Mulder's dream guide is wonderfully done. So simple, yet so effective; charming enough to remind us of a young Samantha, but not too "cute." I've always dubbed this as Mulder's Tinkerbell; I think it's the music, but it is quite an appropriate analogy, I think. Mulder is a bit like Peter Pan, the boy who won't-or maybe in this case can't-grow up, because of the effect that events of his childhood have had on his life.

3. TWC1: Personally, I rank them in this order: a) gray t-shirt; b) black t-shirt; c) red t-shirt. Hoo-boy, why doesn't he wear that red tee more often? And add the leather jacket-what an ensemble!

4. Mulder follows the bouncing laserball to a crime scene, but then he awakens and we learn it's all a dream. Or is it?

5. Mulder "Follows That Dream" (thought I'd throw in that Elvis reference) to Bosher's Run Park (named for Bosher's Dam in Virginia, one of Vince's favorite haunts).

6. Love the way he touches Scully's arm as she's pumping him for information and he asks her to give him a minute.

7. Mulder discovers his dream has come true; or perhaps it's his worst nightmare. Wow, what a teaser!

8. Vince has said his original idea for this episode was for the killer to remove the *actual* heart of the victim. But then he thought that was too gross. Good call, VG.

9. Have I said lately that Vince is da Man? One of the best things about this episode is all the references to past episodes or things we know about the XF (I believe that's sort of like continuity!). An X-File writer who actually *watches* the show and loves it perhaps as much as we do? If only we could have Vince train the rest of them. I'll try to point out some of Vince's fine references as we go along.

10. Like first of all, the reference to Mulder's days as a profiler, and to his old friend and mentor at the Bureau, Reggie Purdue ("Young at Heart").

11. TWC2: As Mulder sits in the office explaining the case to Scully in that lovely red tee-shirt, woo hoo!

12. Well, Scully, Mulder is a psychologist and probably doesn't need you to explain his dream, but he's humoring you, and so shall I. Go ahead, explain.

13. I forgive you, Scully, since you gave us that nice reference to the line about dreams being an answer to questions we haven't learned how to ask from "Aubrey."

14. Glad to see Scully is taking a different tactic in this episode rather than her "stop chasing after your sister" demeanor in "Conduit" and "Oubliette." "Are you up for that?"

15. The entire scene with Frank Sparks is just heartbreaking for all. Especially the look in Mulder's eyes when Frank says, "I used to think that missing was worse than dead because you never knew what happened."

16. TWC3: Running toward the car when he "sees" Roche's El Camino. With that 5 o'clock shadow, oh my.

17. "Not by me." Love it.

18. It's the Holly reference: Hollyville, Delaware.

19. If I ever have a car I want to detail, I won't be inviting Mulder over to help me.

20. Doggett's got that fancy switchblade, but I still like Mulder's little pocketknife with the jagged blade best.

21. The hearts tucked away in the Alice in Wonderland book was just too creepy.

22. Vince reminds us of that handy-dandy little ankle holster that Mulder got in Season 3 cause he kept dropping his gun. (And coincidentally, it just made another appearance in "The Gift" in Season 8! I only wish Mulder had been attached to it when Doggett found it!)

23. Love the way Mulder falls into familiarity with the perp, calling him "John" from the get-go.

24. Nothin' but net! I love this game.

25. Mulder wears his heart on his sleeve in this ep, all right, and in his eyes. You can just see the hurt as Roche laughs off his promise to tell more with "You'd trust a child molester?"

26. TWC4: Glasses!Mulder! Woo-freakin'-hoo!

27. Tink is back, leading Mulder back to where it all began-the same abduction scenario we saw in "Little Green Men." (Thanks again, Vince.) Except this time, Mulder remains an adult. I love the image that Mulder's office door opens directly to his past; I love the slight smile as he walks through the door and realizes what he is seeing; and I love the way DD plays this scene, reciting the lines with such detachment-he doesn't want to say them, but he knows he must.

28. But no aliens in this version-just an all-too-human monster.

29. Mulder awakens screaming Samantha's name-but the nightmare is just beginning.

30. Great scene between Mulder & Roche-so underplayed by both. Watch their eyes. Terrific.

31. TWC5: And Mulder looks awesome through the whole thing, but poor baby-he hurt his hand.

32. Busted by Scully! No remorse till he sees the accusing look in her eyes.

33. More continuity as Mulder now expresses his feelings that it could have been Roche who took his sister rather than aliens as he believed. This goes back to "Little Green Men" where Mulder expressed his self-doubt as to whether Samantha's abduction "ever even really happened" as he remembered it.

34. TWC6: Scully, the red suit is awesome. Maybe you can dig that out of the closet once your 15-16 month pregnancy is over.

35. Mulder finally pops the big question to Scully, but he already knows the answer, as do we. No, she doesn't believe Samantha was taken by aliens. That's really not important, though. The important part is that despite her beliefs, she has stood alongside him all the way.

36. I'm a little concerned that Mulder goes into his mom's house unannounced in the middle of the night to rummage around in the basement. And how did she know it was him and not a burglar? Maybe they have a psychic connection as well.

37. A little reminder that Mrs. Mulder had a stroke just a while ago. Just call Vince Mr. Continuity!

38. I guess it's a good thing that Mrs. Mulder is a packrat and that she not only kept a 30-year-old vacuum cleaner that she doesn't use anymore, but she also transported it from Martha's Vineyard to Greenwich. Must have had sentimental value. (And were those Christmas decorations in the closet?)

39. Hmmm, Skinner is sporting his wedding ring again. Reconciliation?

40. LOL-I think it's just the editing of this scene, but it always appears to me that Skinner forgets Mulder's name for a second!

41. See #35 again. Scully knows in her head that Mulder should be pulled from this case, just as Skinner threatens, but instead she defends his right and need to stay there. (And she didn't tell on you either, Mulder; shame on you for suspecting her!)

42. But for her efforts, she gets assigned babysitting duties. Buck up, Scully, there are worse jobs.

43. TWC7: I don't think Scully has ever looked more beautiful than in this scene with Roche. The suit, the hair, the lighting, it just all works for me.

44. And of course, MamaBear!Scully is hard at work, keeping one eye on Mulder at all times. "Prove it."

45. The eyes are surely windows to the soul, and throughout this scene DD may have his heart on his sleeve again, but his eyes tell the entire story. The tears welling up as Roche recounts the abduction scene once again, the look of hesitation when Roche asks him to pick a heart, and then the look which defies description when Roche makes him question his choice. Wow!

46. MSRM: The little hug and the hair pet at the end are nice, but the scene at the Forks of Cacapon, West Virginia, is the MSRM for me. Even though she knows it's wrong, that it's not going "by the book," that it could contaminate a crime scene, and that it could further damage her partner's already fragile emotional state, Scully barely hesitates when Mulder says, "Help me, Scully." She knows what this could mean, she knows they could potentially be digging barehanded in what may be his sister's grave, but she also knows that "Agent Mulder deserves closure, just like anyone." So she stays by his side and assists him in what could be the final step in a quest that was once his alone. Refer to #35 once more.

47. After watching the scene with Mulder in the autopsy bay, alone with the body of what might be his sister, I felt sure DD should go begin preparing his Emmy speech right then and there. He looks like he's already been crying, the hesitation as he removes the sheet and prepares himself, then nervously yet hopefully running his fingers lightly over the collarbone, and then the struggle to control a flood of emotions at once when he learns it's not Samantha-grief, relief, guilt, anger, compassion. "It's somebody though."

48. And major kudos to Mark Snow on the score for this episode. It is wonderful throughout, but particularly powerful in the autopsy bay scene.

49. TWC8: There are many scenes in this episode that could rate a Holy Flaming Cow, but I'll award the official HFC to the scene in the prison where M&S are interrogating Roche about the body they found. From sitting quietly with his arms folded at the beginning, to Reflecting!Mulder in the end, it's DD looking his finest.

50. I said great acting all around, right? DD, GA and Tom Noonan are all terrific, especially here.

51. Hip, hip horray for MamaBear!Scully. She tells off Roche, ushers Mulder out of the room, makes sure he's okay, and gently reminds him of what they cannot do, all in the space of a minute.

52. Have I mentioned I'm a sucker for reflecting Mulder? Almost as good as footwear!

53. Even when Scully told him not to, we all knew he was gonna get Roche out, right?

54. Badge Number JTT047101111 - Even more continuity! Mulder first revealed his badge number in "F. Emasculata".

55. Poor Caitlin. I think we all know where she's headed.

56. Oops, Scully flunked babysitting and Daddy Skinner is none too happy. "You let me down." Ouch!

57. As someone once said, Scully "apologizes for him a lot. I've noticed that too."

58. TWC9: Woo-hoo! Mulder and his five o'clock shadow look fine.

59. Mulder starts out the victim of Roche's mind games, but snares Roche in his own trap when he deliberately takes Roche to the wrong house. "You stooopid sonofabitch!" Tee-hee-hee.

60. Applause also for all the dream sequences that fit so well in the flow of the story, never interrupting, only enhancing. The scene in the motel parking lot was particularly fine, as the unlocking of the car and the freeing of Samantha mirrored Mulder's sleep-induced unlocking of Roche's handcuffs and the freeing of the prisoner.

61. The parking lot scene also gives us another glimpse of the man that is Fox Mulder. Perhaps what his life would have been like had Samantha not been taken-sheer joy on his face as he embraces his sister, embracing the return of innocence, love, and happiness that was lost to him when she was taken. A great moment until reality intrudes, he is left holding nothing, and he awakens to the worst nightmare yet.

62. After Mulder calls the airline and is told that Agent Mulder was already given the information, he hangs up. So how did the real Mulder get the info? (Good thing he has that nexus with Roche!)

63. TWC10: The last act of this episode is noteworthy for one TWC-related thing. We get some very nice shots of a very underappreciated part of Agent Mulder: the back of his head. That is some nice hair!

64. You also knew that it would come down to a showdown between these two, didn't you?

65. Even Caitlin gets to call him Fox.

66. Roche still playing mind games up to the end-but this time, Mulder is not so easily manipulated. Of course, his actions mean he may never find out what happened to Samantha.

67. The end scene gets the MSRM runner-up award. Love the pan across the bits and pieces of Mulder's life posted on his bulletin board, to the I Want to Believe poster, to the man himself in deep despair. Enter Scully offering inconclusive evidence, but also hope. Hope, faith, friendship, and reassurance that they will find the answers . . . together.

68. Since the episode started with a dream, it's only fitting that it ends with another reference to sleep-and Mulder being afraid to. And the nice hug and hair petting which evokes lots and lots of images.

69. This episode, like so many others, leaves us with a lot of questions. (The first of which might be how did Mulder manage to avoid being fired from his job? Well, he's one of the stars, so I guess that answers that!) But other questions too, like how did Roche know all the details of Samantha's abduction? Did he form a "nexus" with Mulder, did he find the details on the Internet as Scully suggests, or was he really there? For now, of course, we don't know. It's actually interesting to look at this episode again in light of what we know now about what happened to Samantha. Here in season 4, Mulder's biggest dream was to find Samantha, to heal himself, and to heal his broken family; finding her body would have been his biggest nightmare and put an end to that dream. By Season 7, the quest was weighing so heavily upon him that he *wanted* to find her body amongst the victims of Ed Truelove-there was no more family left to heal and he "just wanted it to be over." By Season 7, he is ready to come to the end of the road, to find peace. It's kind of nice to watch "Paper Hearts" again now, knowing what we know, and knowing that three years later Mulder will find the answers he is looking for (even if many of us didn't like those answers). And that, surreal or not, he was reunited with his sister for one brief moment, long enough to understand that her suffering has ceased, that she is in a better place; long enough to let go, long enough to be set free.

70. Yes, this episode leaves us with a lot of questions; but in this case, for a change, I really don't care. "Paper Hearts" is my favorite because of all these things, but for one reason most of all: "You do good work, Mulder."

Sorry it's so long, and even then I didn't do it justice. So apologies as always!