Written by Brittany Means
The episode “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” (1998) of The X-Files is one that stands out from other episodes in that it is both a Christmas special and one in which the two agents actually encounter the monster of the week without any question as to whether or not it is truly supernatural. One particularly important theme is that both characters are forced to face their hypocrisy. The characters and their relationships are developed significantly.
The episode begins with Scully getting into Mulder’s car and listening to his latest conspiracy theory about the haunted house they’re parked in front of, all the while rolling her eyes and pursing her lips, as she does. After the standard five minutes of quipping and begging from Mulder, Scully puts her foot down and decides to go home and wrap gifts, only to find that he has taken her keys and disappeared into the house. Once they enter, the front doors close behind them and cannot be opened. Forced to explore, Scully begins to rationalize as they walk around the upstairs:
That a spirit would materialize or return for no other purpose than to show itself is silly and ridiculous. I mean, what it really shows is how silly and ridiculous we have become in believing such things. I mean, that we can ignore all natural laws about the corporeal body, that we witness these spirits clad in their own shabby outfits with the same old haircuts and hairstyles, never ageing, never in search of more comfortable surroundings—it actually ends up saying more about the living than it does about the dead.
As usual, Scully emphasizes all of the most reasonable aspects of the situation, seemingly leaving no room for the unexplainable. If Scully were a student in the Digital Literature Review class, she would probably get a collective, emphatic head nod from everyone in the class for her careful examination of what haunting says about human nature. In fact, Scully would probably write a stellar paper based on this quote about how the unchanged state of ghosts suggests a narcissistic tendency of man to project our own cultural norms onto the afterlife. She would be an A+ student, and no one would ever ask her to revise anything. However, Scully is not a DLR student. She is an FBI agent working on the X-Files, and in that world, her careful examination gets her nothing but a cold shoulder from Mulder as he searches the upstairs.
The next room that the pair enters is a library. This is where the episode gets really weird, even for this show. Generally, there is some kind of supernatural force that neither agent sees, and in the end nothing is explained. In this episode, the unexplainable begins to happen right away.
First, they find their own corpses under the floorboard and flee the room in fear, only to come in through another door into the same room. From here, they continue to run back and forth until they are eventually separated, though they each remain in what appears to be the library. The ghosts that Mulder had originally intended to encounter talk to them individually, preying on their deepest insecurities and eventually convincing them that each is trying to kill the other. Realizing that the agents’ trust is too strong, the ghosts pose as the two and stage scenarios where they shoot each other, leaving them bloody and crawling dramatically for the front door. Suddenly, Mulder realizes that their gunshot wounds are not real and gets up, pulling Scully with him as well. The two exit the house and drive away, and then later have a feel-good Christmas together.
Christmas ghost stories such as this work well because the holidays are a time of reflection where the past meets the present, leaving room for spectral presence. Much like the ghosts from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the ghosts represent a conscience, leading them to the truth and a better understanding of themselves. For both Scrooge and the agents, the ghosts enlighten them to the consequences of loneliness in a season of togetherness. The most important theme of this episode is that everything is exposed. Mulder admits to Scully that he is self-righteous and narcissistic, and she in turn admits that she thrives on the excitement of working cases with him. Nothing is hidden, just this once. For at least one night, both agents get the Truth.