Written by Howard Gordon & Chris Carter
Directed by Michael Lange
Considering however you want to view Genderbender, this is the first real episode of the series to try and visit religion as an X-File. It's also the first episode Gordon has done for the series without his comrade in arms Alex Gansa, and perhaps not coincidentally, it's a shade better than most of his scripts for the series. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most confusing ones.
Strictly speaking, this might not be an X-File at all; it certainly makes it way to Mulder and Scully through them being asked to consult. Considering how cynical Mulder will eventually reveal himself to be to organized religion, it's rather surprising how open-minded he seems to be when it comes to dealing with faith-healing. He does view it with more than a few indelicate quips, but for most of the episode he views Samuel Hartley with a sincerity that he doesn't show a lot of the other faithful in the X-Files canon. He saves most of his venom for the boy's father, who seems far more of a huckster, albeit one with a genuine healer on his hands.
Unfortunately, the episode makes one of it's two major missteps when it has Samuel identify far too closely with Mulder about the loss of his sister. Given what we ultimately learn about Samantha's fate, it's not impossible Samuel might know the truth; it's even (barely) conceivable that the girl that Mulder keeps seeing really is Samantha. But the trick is used far too often in this episode, and it cheapens the power of Samuel's genuine empathy with Mulder and his genuine remorse for what appears to be the corruption of his gift. Scott Bairstow gives one of the rare good performances on this series by a teenage actor, feeling that God has finally left him for betraying his calling, and it's easy--- and rare--- that Mulder is more inclined towards Samuel than Scully is.
The episode has some pretty good set pieces--- the locusts invaded the courtroom where bail is being set, the way the faithful try to protect their savior by using the power of belief, and there's a refreshing honesty to the fact that local law enforcement is-- at least initially--- on Mulder and Scully's side. It is diminished when we learn about the local sheriff's built in prejudice towards the Hartley's, but it's rare enough in the saga for it to be admired.
We don't have a real climax involving Samuel--- he's even killed off-screen, but the revelation of who the actual murderer is pretty interesting, considering how much of a follower the healed Leonard Vance seems to be for most of the episode. One can even understand why he would want to punish and destroy the man who healed him--- it can almost be considered a fate worse than death. But the episode stumbles again, mainly because it ends just when things are getting interesting. Samuel appears before Leonard in a vision, and then appears to rise from the dead. In a normal episode, this would be the point Mulder and Scully would be invited in; instead, they choose to wrap up the investigation and leave, without even really thinking twice. Then again, considering that at this point in the case, things would rapidly start spinning out of control, maybe it's good that Gordon and Carter decide to wrap things up here.
Miracle Man is one of the harder X-Files to rank, even in the general unevenness of Season 1. It's nowhere near the level of some of the better shows, like Beyond the Sea or Ice, but compared to some of the detritus we've had to wade through, it's well-plotted, has a few decent shocker scenes, and can be viewed with either rational thought for through the paranormal One can't help but think that had this episode aired even one season later, it might have been able to cement over the shakier bits in the foundation. It doesn't help matters that it ends where it does--- and seeing a little girl in the final minute is perhaps one too many, but it definitely shows that Gordon seems to have a better grasp of how these stories should go without Gansa. Maybe that explains why the majority of the more interesting ones he did would come when he flew solo. This one still has a few many too holes in the plot--- Samuel seems to have been the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker--- but it's definitely better as a religious themed or rationally based story.