4.15.2003

Miracle Man [1x17]

Overall Rating: 6/10
Fright Factor: 6/10
Acting: 6/10
Mytharc Relevance: 4/10
Re-watchability: Medium
Connections: N/A

Summary: The show opens with an apartment fire, several years ago. Fire crews are on the scene; one firefighter zips up a body bag containing a victim of the blaze. Among the onlookers are Reverend Calvin Hartley (George Gerdes) and his 8-year old son Samuel (Alex Doduk). They approach the body bag and unzip it, revealing a badly-burned lifeless corpse. Samuel begins to utter prayers commanding the dead man to arise, when the fire marshal tells them to leave. Moments later, the body's arm moves, and the dead man's hand grasps Samuel's.

Cut to present day - Scully shows Mulder a tape of Reverend Calvin Hartley's Miracle Ministries show, where Hartley's Samuel, now 18 (Scott Bairstow), demonstrates his "divine gift" of healing. Unfortunately, in this episode of the show, the woman Samuel "heals" dies shortly thereafter of unknown causes. Soon after, Samuel is charged with her murder. Among the Miracle Ministries crew is a mysterious man in black who wears a long coat, gloves, hat and dark shades that cover his disfigured face and body - his name is Leonard Vance (Dennis Lipscomb), the burned man Samuel brought back from the dead.

Sheriff Daniels (R.D. Call) has had a grudge against Miracle Ministries for years, and he welcomes the recent death as an excuse to rein in the Reverend and his entourage. We learn the sheriff's wife suffers from a disabling, incurable illness that leaves her wheelchair-bound, but Daniels forbids his wife to seek Samuel's aid. When Samuel appears in court on the murder charge, the judge releases him on bail, citing no clear evidence he was responsible in the ministry audience woman's death. At that moment a flock of locusts descends on the courtroom, which Samuel interprets as a "sign" he must be incarcerated and punished. Samuel is released, and Calvin Hartley pressures him to perform more "healings" at the tent. Again, a woman, this time an MS sufferer, dies following the healing session.

While the Miracle Ministry dogma cites scripture as forbidding autopsy, the family of the most recent victim reluctantly consents to Scully's postmortem. The results show the woman dies of cyanide poisoning. From there a chain of evidence leads to Leonard Vance, the burned man, as the culprit behind the cyanide poisonings and the "plague of locusts."

Report: This is one of several Season One episodes dealing centrally - or peripherally - with the themes of reincarnation and rebirth; other episodes along these lines include Shadows [1x05], Ghost In The Machine [1x06], Beyond The Sea [1x12], Genderbender [1x13], Lazarus [1x14], Young At Heart [1x15], Born Again [1x21] and Roland [1x22], enough to make me consider Season One the "Reincarnation Year." The show presented these idea in a variety of ways, some that worked well, others that seemed a bit unformed.

Miracle Man is one of the reincarnation X-Files with a religious foundation - but interestingly, here Scully remains the skeptic of the duo despite her Catholic background (later in the series, Scully tends to be the one to believe in faith-based supernatural events, especially after her abduction/alien cancer crises). What makes Mulder a "believer" is that a vision of his missing sister Samantha appears frequently while he's in the vicinity of Samuel Hartley. Part of Mulder thinks Samuel may have a real connection somewhere to Samantha, and part thinks Samuel may merely have the psychic power to project her image into his mind - but Scully thinks the visions are all a delusion of Mulder's fervent desire to believe his sister is still alive.

At its heart, Miracle Man is a sad, "downer" episode: while we suspect there may have been some miracles that occurred because of Samuel Hartley's "gift", little good has come from them. Several innocent people die from cyanide poisoning. Vance, the badly-burned man Samuel (as a boy) originally brought back from the dead despises his condition, and orchestrates the downfall of Miracle Ministries as revenge for being brought back to life. If his life was so terrible, why did continue being a "sideshow act" for the Miracle Ministries for ten years? Was he coerced, or just so emotionally damaged he felt compelled to stay? How did the timing of the healing-tent cyanide poisoning deaths coincide so closely with Samuel's "touch"?

Samuel ends up beaten to death by the sheriff's henchmen, the sheriff's ailing wife is not healed, and for all intents and purposes Samuel remains dead - I didn't get the feeling Samuel actually rose up to appear before Vance, but rather, he was a figment of Vance's guilt-ridden mind or a psychic projection. Why else explain the glow around Samuel? The nurse at the end of the show that claims to have seen Samuel walk past her station didn't report any unusual phenomenon.

Again, a somewhat enjoyable early episode that leaves a few loose ends hanging...and unlike the more audience-popular liver-eating mutant ,Eugene Victor Tooms I don't think Samuel Hartley never reappeared in the series, to my knowledge.

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