- “A dream is an answer to a question we haven't yet figured out how to ask”
- — Fox Mulder
"Paper Hearts" is the tenth episode of the fourth season of The X-Files. It first aired in the United States on December 15, 1996 on the Fox network. The episode was written by Vince Gilligan, directed by Rob Bowman, and is a "Monster-of-the-week" story, separate from the series' Mythology arc.
Mulder finds the body of a small girl using clues from his dreams and later realizes that the killer may have also murdered his long-lost sister.
Mulder experiences a series of vivid dreams that lead him to the discovery of the long-buried skeleton of a murdered child. Mulder is shaken, recognizing the modus operandi of serial killer John Lee Roche, one of the first killers Mulder profiled. Between 1979 and 1990, Roche abducted girls from the ages of eight to ten from their homes, strangled them, and cut a heart-shaped piece of fabric from their clothes as a trophy. When captured, Roche confessed to 13 murders. Mulder fears that this discovery means there are more victims than those Roche had admitted to. When the girl is identified, it proves that Roche began his crimes as early as 1975. Another clue from the dream helps Mulder locate where the killer hid his trophies. He finds a total of 16 hearts, and realizes there are two more unknown victims.
Scully and Mulder interview Roche in jail. He will not tell them about the missing children, and toys with Scully and Mulder's questions. Oddly, he comments that he understands why Mulder is taking the case personally. His meaning becomes clear with Mulder's next dream. Mulder goes back in time to the terrifying night in 1973 when his sister Samantha was abducted, except the creature who bursts through door is not an alien: it is Roche.
Could Roche have abducted and murdered Samantha? Mulder tries to get the truth from Roche, who claims that he sold a vacuum to Mulder's father before Samantha's disappearance. When Roche will not answer Mulder directly, Mulder becomes enraged and punches Roche in the face.
Scully, who witnesses Mulder's loss of control, tries to convince him the dreams are nothing but images from his subconscious. She is certain that Roche is only cleverly manipulating Mulder's emotions. Mulder always believed Samantha was abducted by aliens, and now he does not know what to believe. His fears seem confirmed when in the basement of his family home, Mulder discovers the same model of vacuum that Roche claimed Mulder's father bought for his mother.
When Skinner finds out Mulder struck Roche, he denies Mulder further access to the prisoner. However, Skinner is sympathetic when Mulder tells him his fears about Samantha, and finally allows Mulder interview Roche again, provided Scully keeps an eye on Mulder.
Mulder finally agrees to give Roche what he had been demanding: the heart trophies he cut out of pajamas of his victims. Mulder demands to know the truth about Samantha. Roche's description of the night Samantha was abducted is exactly the same as Mulder remembers. He refuses to tell Mulder if one of the cloth hearts was taken from Samantha's clothing. Instead, he makes Mulder choose one of the hearts at random, and tells them where to find the body. Another body is discovered, but it is not Samantha.
When Mulder and Scully return, Roche is fully in control. Refusing to divulge anything more unless he is taken to the scene of the crime. Scully cannot stand to listen anymore, and makes Mulder leave with her. She insists that Roche is playing Mulder.
Willing to risk everything to find out the truth about his sister's abduction, Mulder makes a difficult decision. Without notifying Scully or Skinner, he releases Roche from jail and takes him to Mulder's childhood home in Martha's Vineyard. Inside the house, Roche describes everything in great detail, except Mulder says they are in the wrong house. He has tricked Roche by deliberately taking him to a house six miles away from his childhood home. Now he now knows Roche has been lying all along. Mulder guesses that his extensive knowledge of Roche enabled Roche to get into his head saying, "I profiled you. Maybe some connection was created between us. And through it, you pilfered my memories of Samantha."
Mulder plans to return Roche to jail the next morning. In the motel, he has one final dream of Samantha, and wakes up to find himself bound in his own handcuffs with Skinner and Scully pounding on the motel room door. Roche is missing, and so are Mulder's FBI badge and his gun. With Mulder's ID, Roche tracks down the whereabouts of Caitlin, a little girl he had spotted on their flight to Boston. Mulder shoulders all the blame for placing Caitlin in such horrific danger. He admits to Scully that she was right; Roche was just playing him.
Mulder's knowledge of Roche pays off when he correctly identifies where Roche took the girl. He shoots Roche to save Caitlin's life. However, he is still plagued by the doubts Roche planted about Samantha's fate. With Roche dead, will Mulder ever find out the truth?
SEMICOLON-SEPARATED LIST OF ITEMS/LOCATIONS REFERENCED IN EPISODE (BUT NOT LINKED TO IF ALREADY LINKED IN SUMMARY OR GUEST STARS SECTIONS)
Bosher's Run Park is a reference to Bosher's Dam in James River Park, a favorite haunt of Vince Gilligan in his native Virginia.
Roche's El Camino was sold to a man living in Hollyville, Delaware; named for writer Vince Gilligan's girlfriend, Holly Rice.
In one scene, Scully tells Mulder, "A dream is an answer to a question we haven't yet learned how to ask". She is actually quoting Mulder back at himself, as he originally said this line in the Season 2 episode "Aubrey".
Mulder finds Roche's trophy cloth hearts inside a copy of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland". Later we learn that Roche lived on Alice Street. The veiled reference here is to Carroll's alleged fascination with prepubescent girls.
When Mulder shoots Roche there is no visible wound on his forehead, or his face, or his neck. Where did Mulder shoot him to create the splatter on the window?
(SPOILERS) Mulder comes to believe that his sister may have met a more mundane end, at the hands of a serial killer, rather than being abducted by aliens. However, he doesn't stop to think about the alien clones from "Colony/Endgame" and "Herrenvolk", which prove that his sister was, in fact, abducted and experimented on by aliens. Also, in "End Game" (Season 2, Ep. 17), the Alien Bounty Hunter answers Mulder's question as to where his sister is: "She's alive. Can you die now?"
Cast and Characters
- Jane Perry as a Day Care Operator
- Vanessa Morley as Young Samantha Mulder
- Edward Diaz as an El Camino Owner
- Paul Bittante as Local Cop
- Carly McKillip as Caitlin Ross