Transcript of the DVD Audio Commentary by Rob Bowman for the episode 'Memento Mori'

Transcribed by: Libby
Edited by: X_Follower

This is Rob Bowman and I directed 'Memento Mori'.

[Scully is standing, looking at an x-ray.]

This is the infinite hallway of light and the idea here is we're creating, you know, the light that you see right before you die. I wanted to soften the walls, making them a bit more amorphous, so we draped the walls with plastic, like trash bag plastic. Big, long sheets of it, and then put fans behind the plastic, between the plastic and the walls to sort of liquefy it a little bit and not make it feel so much like a hallway and then treated the film a little bit afterwards. I know when I went to shoot it that people thought I was nuts, 'why are we having dark plastic bags hanging from the scene where Scully discovers she has cancer', and it's just the difference between what I was looking at when I was standing on the set and people scratching their heads, looking at me, and then ultimately how it turned out, the evolution of the image from seeming to be ridiculous to that, worked out pretty cool.

I remember when Frank Spotnitz called me and told me about this episode that he and the guys were writing and that it was going to be about cancer and very emotional. I was concerned because I felt that it was a bit of departure for how we had showed a great deal of restraint in dealing with emotions. I was concerned there might be elements of melodrama in it and he assured me in that phone call that it was going to be one of the more important episodes and to go ahead and use the same restraint in exhibiting emotion as we had in the past and that it would all fit in quite well. I know the first time I read it I understood what he meant, and, you know, considering that I had done many of the mythology episodes which were about kind of, you know, holding your breath dramatically that this was going to be an interesting directing assignment for myself. I don't have anybody in my family who's ever died from cancer but I have friends who had relatives who have, and I wanted to treat it fairly and properly, so it was a very interesting and very different experience for me.

[Mulder enters a hospital, looking for the oncology department.]

Coming up is the scene when David, Mulder, finds Scully after she's learned that she's got this tumor and I know when I was shooting this very scene, there was something interesting to try. You know, David always has, Mulder always seems to be able to find his way through mist and fog and wonder, some clarity in the theory, you know, the 'I believe' notion that, you know, he can act upon dreams and ideas and always have the sense of confidence or surety about what he believes is out there. In this scene he's learning that she's got essentially what could be terminal cancer and I know when I was doing this coverage on David he approached it with that same surety and confidence that he always has, which is, well, there's a problem but we can fix it, correct? And I thought maybe this is a time to unweight Mulder, maybe it's time to, you know, pull up the oars and the rudder and smash the compass and say, look, this is one… David… where you don't... you know, just because you could wish it or dream it or want it, doesn't mean that you can solve this one.

[Scully tells Mulder about her cancer.]

I think coming up here is when you see him sort of losing traction, which is atypical for Mulder.

[Mulder doesn't accept that it is inoperable. He says there must be some people who have received treatment.]

I thought that was really interesting and he was keen to try it. You see him not so confident and again, sort of, you know, rudder's up. And I thought that would take the episode in a different direction, it's not going to be just about because he says it, it will be or 'I believe and I can pursue it'. He's a bit lost and concerned.

[Skinner's office. Mulder and Scully tell him that they are going to pursue the cases of other women who had implants, specifically Betsy Hagopian.]

You know, this is, you know, I've staged Gillian in the foreground because I wanted to keep the audience in her head. She's distracted, and I think both of them are putting on a mask in front of Skinner, that David's behaving as though, you know, I'm Agent Mulder on the case and Gillian is stoic and, and hoping that this is going to end up well.

[Outside Betsy Hagopian's house. They learn that Betsy has died.]

This is a house that David Nutter shot for the episode 'Nisei' which was the first of a two-parter, 'Nisei'/'731', and David had shot Scully in this room with, I believe, with many other women who had also been tested, and so I'm just revisiting it because I'm echoing the scene that he had shot before. And here she is, walking in, seeing it again.

[Flashback: Scully meeting the women the previous year.]

This is David's footage.

[Scully touches the back of her neck.]

Referring to the implant in the back of the neck, where it all started.

[Mulder discovers two phone lines to the house. They find a computer which shows file transfers in progress. Someone has remote access to the computer.]

It's always fun in The X-Files when Mulder and Scully are finding, you know, clues or footprints or fingerprints from secrets, people hiding truths. And I always get kind of jazzed in an episode where they find something. A little trigger to ignite them. You feel the story taking momentum and plot having… starting to have some definition.

[They go the apartment of Kurt Crawford. Mulder goes behind the building. A man comes out of a door and runs away. Mulder pursues him round to the front of the building where Scully aims her gun and orders him to stop.]

This chase was originally supposed to take place through several different backyards and whatnot and it was all scheduled for a Friday night. It was clear that I was going to get nowhere near shooting all that stuff, I don't know why I thought I could even attempt it, but the lighting was too big so we condensed it all down to this back alley and I actually think we came back and shot on another day. You know, that's just the life of the show, the show was very ambitious and we were all aiming quite high, sometimes we pulled off miracles, sometimes we didn't, and that night I didn't. But then you look at it now, it's perfectly fine. Only I'm aware of all the stuff I didn't shoot.

[Scully has had a nosebleed.]

Here is the lurking truth through the story, that Scully really does have that tumor and she really is in trouble. And, again, trying to keep a mask of stoicism and strength in front of Mulder. She knows he's actually, I think, more emotional or unstable about it than she is.

[Crawford had been copying Betsy's files for safe keeping as she had asked him to. He has told Mulder that he thinks his life is in danger and that there's a government conspiracy to suppress the information in those files. Scully learns that all the other women that she met in Betsy's house have died of brain cancer within the last year.]

There's another bit of truth there which is that others… the other women are dying off, which creates a very portentous sense of inevitability for Scully's future.

[The only surviving woman is Penny Northern who is very ill in hospital. Scully questions Crawford as to why he thinks it's a government conspiracy.]

Yet she puts on her, you know, she puts on her work face and I think courageously, knowing that there's very little she can do about what's going on inside of her. What she can do is, you know, find out some truths about what's going on, and what's the objective, and why does all this happen, and for what cause and what purpose, and doesn't, you know, sort of lay down in bed under the covers and feel sorry for herself.

[Mulder and Scully discuss quietly. Mulder urges that where her cancer came from matters and the abductions should be investigated. Scully retorts that she has no clear recollection and she doesn't think the abductions were abductions. Mulder suggests she talks to Penny Northern.]

Countless dead women and she says, no, there's still one left, I think it's OK. A little denial there.

[Scully doesn't want to talk to Penny about what it's like to be dying of cancer, so Mulder suggests she goes as an investigator, to get the story of the one remaining witness.]

[Scully visits Penny who immediately recognizes her, not just from meeting her the previous year, but also being with her during the tests.]

I had a long-running phobia of hospital bedside scenes because they tend to be transparently looking for an emotional reaction, and I tried to cut them out of every show, and even in the scripts, 'please, can we not do it in a hospital room', but once in a while you have to and here's a woman who's moments from death. Obviously it has to be here, but I try to maintain a level of restraint so that the audience would feel the emotion, not the actors pleading for it, and I didn't make that up, it's just, you know, it was not my invention to say, you know, you should deal with emotion with some restraint and let the audience participate.

[Penny tells Scully about Dr. Scanlon who treated Betsy and is now treating her, and who thinks he might have isolated the cause.]

I just think that it's more interesting if the characters are on the stronger side of fear than on the weaker side of it.

[Scully phones Mulder who is still at Betsy's house. He has found information that links some of the women, including Penny and Betsy who were both childless and been treated for infertility at the same clinic.]

One of the really interesting things about this screenplay is that the sort of shadows, the things that are sneaking up behind us the whole time. Again, the lady in the background there is inevitably going to die and the faces of stoicism that both Mulder and Scully put on at the beginning of the episode begin to wither because these darker truths seem to be lurking up from behind, the inevitability of Scully's impending illness and death. David losing his ability, Mulder losing his ability to mask his fear, his concern for her, yet all the while trying to, you know, push forward to find the truth.

[Scully asks Mulder to bring her overnight bag to the hospital. She wants to pursue the truth that is in her.]

You know, the fear just keeps swelling larger and larger in this story. It's not centered on a government conspiracy, certainly that is the umbrella, the cause of a lot of these problems, but this is really the personal story of one of our protagonists, suffering the effects of this conspiracy.

[Mulder leaves Betsy's house. A man attacks Crawford and kills him. Crawford's body dissolves into green slime.]

That's pretty cool. Again that was, you know, one of those scenes that reminds us that always just around the corner in the darkness, and breeze, and you just never know what's going to happen to anybody on the show.

[Hospital. Dr. Scanlon visits Scully.]

I thought Gillian, just throughout the whole episode, just on a daily basis, impressed me with how she told the story of a woman with cancer. I don't know what research, if any, that she did, if she did, it paid off, if she didn't, it's a tribute to her instincts which I always felt were remarkable.

[Mrs. Scully arrives.]

I think behind it there is a degree of hope and not maudlin in the sense of, you know, why me and whatnot, and here's Sheila Larken. She was both a great actress and also a great friend during the years on The X-Files, Bob Goodwin's wife, and sort of played a surrogate mother to me for a few years, I just love having her around. She's a feisty woman too, boy, she's going to get ahold of this scene in a second.

[Mrs. Scully wonders why Scully didn't tell her immediately. She's angry. Scully says she wanted to get all the answers first. Her mother says she doesn't want to be kept in the dark.]

I think one of the things that I loved about, that I love about directing and that I certainly enjoyed during The X-Files was the many different kinds of stories we told and I got to live in these other realities, fictional realities, and here's me, you know, a guy who grew up playing football in Burbank, California, and likes The Wizard of Oz and big movies, and there I am directing a scene with a mother and a daughter dealing with the reality of cancer and not a situation I'd ever been in before and hopefully never will be again, certainly not in reality, but watching this scene play and having an emotional reaction to it, a very interesting part of my job.

[Later, Scully is undergoing treatment, a large machine rotating around her head. In a voice-over she talks about the nature of cancer, an invader. These thoughts she has written in her journal.]

This is obviously a very large prop that is wrapping around my star and, you know, in television things happen very fast, shooting is fast, writing is fast, construction is fast, and I remember watching that thing rotate around Gillian's face, thinking 'I hope they put all those bolts in there nice and tight'.

[Mulder is accessing the center's medical records, looking for either Penny's or Betsy's files. However, the computer is password protected. He hears a noise and hides, then surprises another person who has entered the area - Kurt Crawford.]

I felt better in the episode, the way that the writers had balanced the hospital settings for the cancer story against I think good solid X-Files situations, you know, lurking, and flashlights, and whatnot, it kept it within what I would call the visual vocabulary of The X-Files, it didn't seem a complete departure and it's, you know, how do we tell the story through our, you know, X-Files prism. It doesn't just seem to lurk or dwell in the sort of sullen environments of the hospital.

[Crawford says he's tried to get into the computer system but can't get past the password protection. Mulder notices a snow globe on the desk with 'Vegreville' on it.]

It's always fun, opposing forces join sides with the same kind of goal. I'm just looking at this particular shot where the snow globe is in the foreground. I like staging those forwards, immediate planes, but I'm sure that that staging and then all the staging on the computer was done with time efficiency in mind. I don't have time to turn around and do a point of view of the thing, I'll put it in the foreground and I'll tilt down to it and lot of that, that's really the life of television is creative staging that tells a story and saves you time.

[The password is 'Vegreville'. Back to Scully, she has a 'flashback' of a spinning drill bit coming toward her head.]

Then to come back and have it placed back in the foreground and throw us into that nightmare, I thought from the story level was an interesting way to slam back into Scully's story. And again, you know, just the efficiency of staging, where time is of the essence in television, put that thing in the foreground and I think some people would say, 'ooh, it looks really good in the foreground', well, I think it does too, but I'm sure I did it just because I didn't have time to turn around and see the point of view.

[Scully's 'flashback' is a nightmare and Penny wakes her up.]

Now, as Mulder is further on the pursuit of, you know, moving through the plot, that he's getting further apart and the contrast, the dynamics between the parallel stories is getting greater and that's heightening the depth or the impact. Scully is worsening, she's now taking advice from a woman who's just a few steps ahead of her further down the road. It is these contrasting dynamics that give the show some breadth and some gravity, certainly, you know, 'Scully's not going to die, is she?', so it's our job to take that possibility as far as we can, knowing that the audience is probably not going to believe that by the end of this episode Scully is going to be dead, but 'How sick can she be, will she be the same after she recovers, if she does?'.

[Mulder goes to Skinner and asks him to set up a meeting for him.]

This scene, I wanted to stage David in a very, very unfamiliar, informal way, that he's definitely thrown off his mark and struggling for the right thing to do.

[He tells Skinner that he has found a file directory in the clinic's computer system - a federally operated fertility clinic - and Scully's name is there although he's sure she has never undergone infertility treatment. He doesn't know what is in the file, as it's a directory on a mainframe at Lombard Research Facility.]

Usually there is some conflict or friction between Mulder and Skinner, you know, not in a bad way but they tend to pose off, you know, in Skinner's office, there's usually some, you know, some conflict or whatnot that causes them both to dig their heels in and that's exactly why I wanted to have David sort of informally sitting on the back couch and lower than Skinner. And then it gives him this move up here to make his case.

[Mulder says he wants to meet CSM. Skinner rejects that but Mulder insists that CSM knows what was done to Scully and he may well know how to save her. Skinner says Mulder can't ask the truth of a man who trades in lies.]

I don't know who wrote that line, and if it wasn't Chris, then I apologize, but I always thought Chris had an extraordinary ability to phrase those characterizations, 'you can't ask the truth of a man who trades in lies', that's just a great line. There are many, many, many over the years.

[Skinner insists Mulder find another way and Mulder goes to the Lone Gunmen. They manage to get into the Lombard Research computer system. Scully's file includes a gene code that was detected in her blood after her abduction. It has a different structure from normal inactive DNA, it's branched rather than helical and can mutate. Mulder suggests they visit the Lombard Research Facility.]

Again, I wanted to stage David down, looking up to the Lone Gunmen, you know, the three amigos, come to them not, to me, so much looking for information, as I think on a deeper level, for support. Is this going to work out, is this going to work out?

[In the basement office, Skinner enters to find CSM sitting in Mulder's chair.]

So Mulder has enlisted the help of Skinner who's usually reluctant to choose a side, stands in the middle, but here I have him coming to unusually ask for a favor from Cigarette Smoking Man, who, you know, I put these two guys in a room down here in the basement alone, there's just a simmering hatred between them and I always felt it was a bit like a lion and hyena, you know, and you never know who's playing which when these two guys get in a room and something is going to happen. Cigarette Smoking Man has always got some sort of poisonous upper hand on you, although Mitch as Skinner is certainly an imposing figure, very strong minded, big guy in person, and can certainly break Cigarette Smoking Man in half, but Cigarette Smoking Man has just too much power and now he has to bow to him and ask for a favor, which is just something you never, never, never do, and of course Cigarette Smoking Man's going to love this, but, you know, it's about doing what we can to help Scully.

[CSM asks what Skinner would offer for Scully's life. Skinner asks what it will take and CSM says he will have to get back to him on that.]

[At the Lombard Research Facility, the Lone Gunmen and Mulder prepare to break in. Frohike and Langly connect to the communication systems while Mulder and Byers enter the building.]

Of all the things that people hold so precious, the characters hold so precious, their positions and their clout and whatnot, through much of the series, and in this episode, they're sacrificing those positions of strength, again to help Scully and Mulder, and it's just, you know, what's necessary, what needs to be done at the time of impending crisis. The Lone Gunmen certainly, I think, if you let your instincts run with their ideas in terms of, I guess, their tone, can certainly add levity to a show or furthermore comic relief, and because of the nature of the story but we did need to enlist their help, they all understood very clearly that we had to keep the tone grave and sober. But they're all, I mean, they're just funny guys in person, each one of them could make you laugh. Bruce is probably the most stoic, you know, Tom and Dean are just funny people, so actually you have to keep shorter reins on them.

[Mulder and Byers are now in the building.]

Not that they can't do it, they're capable, but these were the lovable little buddies who are again going out on a limb to help Mulder and Scully. It's just trying to keep the tone correct. Again, for me, this is a different kind of episode for me and the show and just trying to keep, you know, both feet on the ground.

[Mulder has discovered a list of doctors, including the doctor treating Scully. He tells Byers to tell Scully to stop her treatment. In the hospital, Scully writes in her journal that she is weak from the treatment and Penny has taken a downturn.]

These parallel scenes here, where Scully is, you know, trying to find rationale and some peace of mind through her journal, this parallel action is adding urgency by Scully fading into darkness, our guys into this facility they're looking for, making more clues, parallel actions obviously add urgency to it. I didn't want to abandon the emotional residue from Scully's scene that would bleed into these, how do I temper the action and how do I stage and shoot it so that we can still feel Scully. Graeme [Murray] was always giving me these great, infinite hallways with these vanishing points, they just created expanse and because we'd had a history he knew what I was looking for.

[Mulder has reached a door to a laboratory, inside are three individuals identical to Kurt Crawford.]

Now, here we come into a lab and I've got the same actor, David Lovgren, playing himself in multiple planes of the shot. I'm wanting to make it look natural and not like an effect, like how neat I can shoot effects, I actually try to be anonymous about it and make it just fit within the dramatics of the scene. I was shooting the cornfield sequence in The X-Files movie, I got a phone call that Graeme Murray, our production designer, had won an Emmy for, I believe it was this episode. The episode is beautifully designed through and through, I mean, if you saw these rooms and the hallways that bend and the hospitals that we, you know, put plasterboards and whatnot, you know, what Graeme can do with very little time and very little resources just through imagination is remarkable, but I don't think the Emmy is necessarily because this episode was the best designed episode in all of television, I think really is a tribute to Graeme's week-to-week work, and here again I have multiple stages of the same actor. Now, the gentleman in the deep background is a double, but that is David in two passes of the same shot and then David behind Mulder, so part of my homework would be how do I stage it and line it up so it feels like I'm staging a scene as you would naturally with two different actors, not uncomfortable or not flat-footed or stiff, you know, locked on camera, so I had to keep the camera moving.

[Mulder looks into a tank containing a hybrid.]

And there's a stuntwoman holding her breath. Hopefully the water's not too cold for her.

[One Crawford hybrid explains that they want to subvert the project that created them. The clone takes Mulder into a vault containing many metal compartments.]

Here's what I thought was a really neat set with the curved walls. It's just so easy to… you walk into the set and the ideas, they're just obvious, the number of options you have to photograph it, and of course you want to spend, you know, a day or two in there doing every imaginable thing but the scene's only so long and it only needs so many different shots.

[One metal draw has Betsy's name on it. Then the hybrid points to another drawer with Scully's name on it. Mulder opens the drawer to see several vials which the hybrid says contain ova harvested during her abduction.]

And again, you're going into science fiction boundaries where we have a woman in this story who's fading with cancer, it can't be too fantastic, it can't be too ornate. He's able to monitor himself and make sure that it looks like this is a clean room, this is a storage room, this is, I want to say, a sort of pot of gold, end of the rainbow in terms of discovery and it needs to look like you've come on to some place special but never let it go so far that you feel like you've changed the channel or something.

[Mulder puts a vial in his pocket and leaves the vault.]

And lining it up, you know, with the whole set behind me there, so I've got all that depth.

[Mulder walks down a hallway. Langly tells him that they've detected a security breach and gives him instructions on the way out of the building. Mulder goes though a plexiglass door but the next door is locked. Langly works on the security system to unlock that door while Mulder waits. Then the Grey-Haired Man appears in the hallway on the other side of the plexiglass door.]

Again, here comes the sort of omnipresent and now very present villains who I'm trying to just keep always on our tail, and again the thrust of the two storylines here between Scully's worsening and Mulder's pursuit of the cure, the truth, you know, how can I help Scully. The writers did a beautiful job of continuing to expand both getting closer to the truth, that time is running out, the bad guys are here, here's, you know, David being saved by bulletproof glass but not for long.

[The Grey-Haired Man has fired several shots at the plexiglass door, chipping away a small hole in it.]

But just the thrust of the storytelling at this point was so well-orchestrated in the screenplay that it makes it very easy for the director to, you know, just show up and if you just executed what was written, you'd have a great show, and then it's my job to elevate it as best I can while servicing the story and I think in an episode, and again I'll refer to my original statement about Frank reassuring me this episode would be within the fabric of The X-Files, they've done a beautiful job of keeping it an X-File, yet telling a very heart-wrenching story of Scully's seeming impending death. And now after all that, Mulder shows up and it's too late which I think is an idea that is reflective of real life which is you can work as hard as you want, try everything, and do everything right and cross your t's and dot your i's, and it still need not add up to the result you want and here David as Mulder thinks he's too late.

[Mulder returns to Scully's hospital room, but it's empty. He sees her journal and starts reading it, then runs to the nurse's station.]

I mean, this is not a performance that you see David, he doesn't have an opportunity to do this very often where he's not just angry and trying to shed light on people who have lied but there's an emotional subtext to this performance that was beautifully done and quite refreshing.

[Mulder finds Scully at Penny's bedside. Penny urges her not to give up hope.]

Now this scene to me is both about good news and bad news for Scully. The good news is as from Mulder's point of view we thought she was dead and it was too late and yet we find her alive, but that's a momentary relief because the woman who has the same problem she does is passing and that just means that Scully's fuse is running short also, so time is still ticking away quite rapidly, the sand is running out of the hourglass and, you know, the villains are ever-present, with all the support of our friends, the Lone Gunmen and Skinner.

[Later, Mulder is sitting in a chair in the hallway. A nurse runs past him into Penny's room.]

This is a perfect visualization of where Mulder is in the story and I don't know if it was in the script or I made it up but it was not a stroke of genius on my behalf, it was very clear that that was his state of mind in the story and again the writers making it easy for the director to, you know, express the story visually. And here comes, you know, just, I think, a remarkable scene.

[Scully comes out of Penny's room, initially not seeing Mulder. He goes up to her and learns that Penny has died.]

Scully is, you know, very afraid and very sad and, you know, David who's dressed in his stealth black in great contrast to what's going on inside of him, and the affection that lives in this scene between these two characters and Mulder, you know, having to show some strength here when actually Scully's the strong one, but he's got to be there to support her. Again, I remember shooting this scene and feeling privileged to work on a show that had such a great variety of stories we could tell and how well we could do them, beginning with the ideas of the script through the execution of the writing, production, and then standing here with the actors filming it, you know, and I'm sure I was choked up, I'm even a little emotional now to watch, you know, both the quality of the scene but just how talented these actors are, and that I got to be there and I got to shoot it and that'll be there forever.

[Mulder tells Scully that he read a little of her journal, and Scully says she didn't want him to read it and in fact had decided to throw it out and not let this thing beat her. Mulder says that what happened to her can and will be explained and she will find a way to save herself. Scully says that people live with cancer and so will she. They hug.]

This is the sort of show that, you know, we get to shoot submarines and spaceships flying and, I think, do those as well as anybody, then we get to do stuff like this too.

[Mulder kisses Scully on the forehead, then they separate and Scully walks down the hall. He takes the vial from his pocket and looks at it and then at Scully, then puts the vial back.]

Graeme's great infinite hallways.

[Skinner's office. Mulder tells him that Scully's doing OK and is coming back to work. Then Mulder says that Skinner's advice not to meet CSM was right, that they have to find another way of discovering what he knows.]

Interesting that because of the strengths of the connections between Mulder's friends and everybody, including Skinner who joined on board, and Mulder calls… as though he's talking to his... improved... I guess he's always talking to Skinner who's shown some support in this one and, you know, just when we think everything's warm and fuzzy and it's going to be OK, then we find that he's still able to be manipulated, and you just never know who's going to be your friend and who's going to stab you in the back.

[Skinner says there's always another way and hangs up the phone. Sitting across from him is CSM who says he believes there is, if Skinner is willing to pay the price.]