I know, I know. I'm about a month late on this review - blame it on SDCC hangover. I was not shying away from reviewing this issue, believe me, I was actually very keen to do it because it provoked quite an interesting reaction from parts of the fandom since the previews came through the grapevine.
I'm excited to address some, if not all, of the talked about topics, but first, on to the basics. A spoiler-filled review and further opinions after the jump.
â€œPilgrims, part IVâ€ starts moments after Mulder has returned from Saudi Arabia in the previous issue, carrying a mysterious presence with him. Scully has picked up on this, after theyâ€™ve had sex, rough and unfamiliar sex, making for a disturbing and tension-filled scene that has quite a few implications. She has shared her bed, unknowingly, with someone or something, other than Mulder. They both have.
This entity overpowers Scully, explaining that he might have some answers that may interest them.
This presence identifies itself through Mulder as Sheltem, a being that has been on the planet for millions of years, coming from outer space. Unlike the rest of the X-Files universeâ€™s earthly inhabitants, Sheltem claims that they came looking for freedom instead of colonization. But human beingsâ€™ greed prevented them from remaining off the radar and with oil exploitation, their preferred hideouts were disturbed and so, contact happened.
Sheltem needs Scully to help him, retaining Mulder as a host, playing with her attachment to him and bribing her with the information he possesses. While heâ€™s occupying his body, heâ€™s able to read all of Mulderâ€™s thoughts and secrets, even when heâ€™s fighting from within. Sheltem plays the one card that destroys all of their defenses: William. They get pulled over by a trooper as they travel to a yet undisclosed location, and Sheltem takes advantage of this to escape and make his way to his final destination.
Meanwhile, CSM joins the unidentified, mysterious boss figure that has been leading his operations. This boss, while he appreciates his work, and sees the advantage of having Sheltem now within the â€œcontrolledâ€ environment that is provided by US soil, also suspects that CSMâ€™s true relief is that now he can also control and be vigilant of Mulderâ€™s whereabouts. His urgency comes from the confirmed knowledge that other parties are after Sheltem, trying to get their hands on the entity, and this is something they canâ€™t allow. He throws a final threat and sets CSM in motion with a new mission, as he informs him that heâ€™s grown tired of his usual ways and is able to read him, being in knowledge of his true opinions.
Skinner had been left guarding Krycek at his apartment, and he does his best to prevent him from escaping, taking his sweet time to let him know the kind of hatred he holds for the former agent. Krycek seems confused, having no recollection of ever incurring all the faults that Skinner puts on him, even unaware of the â€œfinal demiseâ€ he had by way of a shot to his head. They get interrupted, Skinner gets overpowered, and Krycekâ€¦ is gone, leaving a flabbergasted Deputy Director behind. Heâ€™s been kidnapped, again, by CSM.
Scully reunites with Skinner, getting him up to speed on Sheltemâ€™s intentions: he will use Mulder to get to Skyland Mountain.
The Editorial Details
Joe Harris continues to build up in an intriguing story that delves deeply into the conspiracy, taking a turn to even darker places and elevating the stakes for these characters. I wholeheartedly believe that this is a multi-parter that has been smart about creating opportunities to explore new ways and worlds for these characters to live in, grittier places, real places, gratefully straying away from cautiousness if this last issue is to be the showmanship of it. What I read hurt, but I wanted it to hurt, because what is the point of reading lukewarm drama? We have to feel the consequences of the acts weâ€™ve been witness to, and heâ€™s not stopping midway.
Matthew Dow Smith, Jordie Bellaire and Robbie Robbins do a great jobs as always in this whole series, and Iâ€™m especially pleased by the use of color in this issue to differentiate the psychological state and semiotics behind each storyline.
The cover artwork was done by Francesco Francavilla for the traditional red and blue version of the regular cover, Mark McHaley continues to deliver my favorite version of these covers with a RI cover featuring Mulder and a rather humorous take on a baby alien. Thereâ€™s also a photo cover for the Subscription cover.
If you follow any of the members of the production team for The X-Files: Season 10 in any of their social media outlets or IDWâ€™s pages, you might have run in a rather provocative sneak peek for what is one of the first panels of â€œPilgrims, part IV.â€
Many fans were vocal about their preconceived interpretation of it, naturally pointing out to private times between Mulder and Scully. Initially, when writer Joe Harris teased about it, he wasnâ€™t explicit about what happened in the scene. Once the previews and the actual issue came out, and with it the full meaning and plot, the reaction shifted to a controversial one.
To put it in simple terms, the fact that Sheltem has taken residence inside Mulder and later on engaged in sexual relations with Scully, means that this entity has actually raped both of them by deceiving Scully and by using Mulder to perform this act.
I had the opportunity to talk to Harris while we attended San Diego Comic Con, wanting to know his opinion on the nature and repercussions that this has brought to the story and the characters. He was firm in his confirmation that he had not taken this act lightly; this was a horrific thing to happen to Mulder and Scully and something that adds up to the long list of tragedies that our heroes have suffered. It speaks of the relentlessness and evil nature of the forces that are against them.
In regards to the vocal opinions that could be found online about the scene, Harris lamented that teasing it without context led part of the audience to believe after the fact that he was trying to be sensationalist or profit from the implied raciness of sexual situations between two characters that are famous for their chemistry. According to him, the purpose of this scene is not to say that rape is good, or accepted. Rape by deception is not okay in any circumstance, and he doesnâ€™t intend it to be seen as that. In my personal opinion, this embarks into a bigger conversation considering the reaction of the readers, about what is the difference between what kind of reality we want these characters to live in and what is the crude reality they actually reside.
Is it awful that Mulder and Scully have been raped? Yes. Even more awful that Mulder has been forced to be a participant of an even deeper level of transgression by being the vehicle of another being raping someone that he cares about? Absolutely. Should we not tell this story? Hmm, thatâ€™s where it gets tricky. Shying away from â€œrealityâ€ does not make for honest storytelling.
As we know, the current social media ambiance is very vocal about sexual transgressions and sexual empowerment of all genres. As the review in Geekmom points out, this is not the first time that the show has used this resource as part of their storytelling, but while â€œSmall Potatoesâ€ could be read as a comedic episode, sweeping some of the significance of it under the rug, I do not believe that â€œPilgrims, part IVâ€ does that. The dramatic effect and aftermath of what has happened have wounded the characters to show that this is in fact a tragedy to them.
The thing is that this issue is not about how Scully and Mulder recover from rape; it is an additional level to the incredible amount of psychological transgressions that they have to overcome to survive despite the lack of respect that their enemies have for them.
A whole conversation could be had about the social responsibility that media holds, and so how are we as content creators doing something to express what we believe is correct, what can be done to change and help transform our societyâ€™s rape culture, and what we should lead toward to improve it.
Perhaps what could help the audience to digest this sour note would be to have this element come full circle; even when these characters are known for locking away their feelings, Harris has taken us into an arena where weâ€™re deeply into their intimate spacesâ€¦ so, will we know how much this has affected them and left scars in their psyches? How it has changed their relationship? How this could make them different people from now on? We can only hope. We have a whole series of upcoming issues to know if this will ever be addressed. The window into this world doesnâ€™t close after Pilgrims is wrapped up.
Pilgrims, part V hits the shelves next week. Hope you have yours reserved already.