"All Souls" is the seventeenth episode of the fifth season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. The episode originally aired on the Fox network on April 26, 1998. The episode's teleplay was written by Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban, from a story by Dan Angel and Billy Brown; it was directed by Allen Coulter. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, a stand-alone plot which is unconnected to the mythology, or overarching fictional history, of The X-Files. "All Souls" received a Nielsen household rating of 8.5 and was watched by 13.44 million viewers in its initial broadcast. It received mixed reviews from television critics.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. In this episode, the unexplained death of a young girl with polydactyly (among other health problems) prompts Father McCue (Arnie Walters) to ask Scully for her help, but her investigation leads her to a mystery involving Nephilim—children of mortal women and angels. Scully soon learns that Aaron Starkey (Glenn Morshower), a department of social services worker and demon in disguise, is after the girls, in order that the Devil may control their power.
The original version of "All Souls" was a simple story about Mulder, Scully, and angels. Shiban and Spotnitz, however, overhauled the idea and added elements of the earlier "Christmas Carol" and "Emily" story arc, making "All Souls" the unofficial third part. The entry also contained several elaborate effects, which were achieved via makeup and CGI. After they viewed the final cut of the installment, Shiban and Spotnitz decided to frame the action around Scully confessing her story to a priest in a confessional.
In Alexandria, Virginia, sixteen-year-old Dara Kernof (Emily Perkins), a severely mentally and physically disabled girl confined to a wheelchair, somehow manages to leave her house in the middle of the night, soon after her baptism. Her father, Lance (Eric Keenleyside), finds her in the middle of the street, with her arms raised upward, kneeling before a Dark Figure. Suddenly, lightning flashes and the Dark Figure disappears. When Lance reaches Dara, he realizes she is dead and that her eyes are gone, as if having been burned out of their sockets.
Father McCue (Arnie Walters) contacts Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and asks for her help in the case. Scully visits the Kernofs, and learns that Dara was adopted six years earlier. Due to her severe spinal deformities, there is no explanation as to how Dara walked out of the house. Lance is convinced that it was the Devil that stood over her in the street. Scully examines Dara's body with a pathologist Vicki Belon (Lorraine Landry), who notes her surgically removed extra fingers. Belon reluctantly proposes that the girl was struck down by God, as if she was a mistake.
Meanwhile, a man named Father Gregory (Jody Racicot) visits a psychiatric hospital attempting to visit a girl named Paula Koklos (Perkins), Dara's twin sister. However, he is blocked by Aaron Starkey (Glenn Morshower), a social worker. That night, Paula dies when a man enters her room. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), locates Dara's birth records and reveals that she was a quadruplet. Shortly thereafter, Starkey reveals that Paula was about to be adopted by Father Gregory. When the agents visit the priest, he insists he was trying to protect Paula from harm. Later, while examining Paula's body, Scully experiences a vision of her daughter Emily (Lauren Diewold).
Mulder performs further research on the adoption records and uncovers information on a third sister (Perkins), who is apparently troubled and homeless. With Starkey's help, Mulder canvases abandoned buildings in a desolate part of town. However, the Dark Figure finds and kills the girl. After finding Father Gregory at the scene, Mulder believes that he is responsible for the murders. Under questioning by Mulder and Scully, Father Gregory insists that he tried to protect the girls' souls from the Devil, and that the fourth girl must be located. While the agents step out of the interrogation room, Starkey enters and demands to know the location of the fourth girl. When Gregory does not answer, he is burned alive by Starkey, who is revealed to be the Devil.
Scully is approached by the Dark Figure, who is revealed to be a Seraph, an angel who descended from the heavens and fathered four children with a mortal woman. God sent the Seraph to return the girls to Heaven in order to keep the Devil from claiming them as his own. Scully and Starkey find the fourth girl, Roberta Dyer (Perkins) at Gregory's church. However, Scully sees Starkey's horned shadow, revealing his true origins. Scully tries to help Roberta escape, but the women are confronted by the Seraph. She reluctantly lets go of Roberta's hand, after seeing Emily in place of Roberta, and lets her enter Heaven. Later, Scully tells Mulder they should have been protecting the girls from Starkey, not Gregory. She also believes that they are now in a place where they were meant to be.
The script for "All Souls" was written by John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz, and directed by Allen Coulter. The original genesis for the episode was an idea developed by Dan Angel and Billy Brown, two story board editors for the series that had left after Christmas of 1997. In this incarnation, the plot was radically different; according to Shiban, the story was "about Mulder and Scully and angels, but it never quite worked the way it was originally conceived." Shiban and Spotnitz decided to over-haul the script and feature elements of the earlier "Christmas Carol" and "Emily" story arc. The episode, according to Andy Meisler, thus became the unofficial third part in the story. Shiban and Spotnitz wanted to include the "very universal" idea of Scully exploring feelings for her deceased daughter. In addition, by making Scully the believer and Mulder the skeptic, the writers added "the Mulder-Scully criss-cross" that was a major theme for the fifth season.
In order to counter some of the darker aspects of the script, Shiban and Spotnitz—on the behest of co-star David Duchovny—added several bits of comic relief to be offered by Mulder. According to Duchvony, "It was in the more straight ahead investigative shows, the creepier, scarier shows, that I would try to make sure that we kept this kind of humanity alive through humor of it."
Scenes at "St. John's Church"—the church featured in the episode—were shot in the actual St. Augustine Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. In order to secure permission for filming, the script was sent to the church's local Archdiocese for approval by a Monseigneur. Eventually, the script was approved and filming commenced. The production crew, however, scouted several other churches in case permission to film at St. Augustine fell through, although none of them had "the ornate physical presence" of the chosen church. Special stain-glass windows were created that featured an angel ascending into Heaven, to go along with the themes of the episode. Father McCue's book about the Nephilim was created by assistant art director Vivien Nishi with guidance from Spotnitz. Scenes at Father Gregory's church were filmed in an older boiler room at George Pearson Hospital. This location had previously been used in the earlier fifth season entry "Kitsunegari" as a cafeteria. The production crew initially worried that the high windows in the building would not allow the cameras enough time to film, as the light coming through would dramatically shift as the day wore on. A solution was devised in which some of the windows were lit up via artificial means.
The episode also contained several elaborate effects, which were achieved via makeup and CGI. Makeup artist Laverne Basham and hairstylist Anji Bemben were given the task of creating four distinct looks for the quadruplets, all played by Emily Perkins. In addition, they were also responsible for making Jody Racicot appear older. This task proved particularly difficult because Racicot did not have any hair to dye grey and had "the tightest skin of any thirtysomething guy [they'd] ever seen." The visual effects to create the shifting heads of the Seraphim were created by means of CGI and took visual effects supervisor Lauri Kailsen-George a long time to complete; she did not finish until "hours before airtime." The scene was created by having actor Tracy Elofson wear a lion mask to track the scene. Then, the different heads were filmed against a green screen and added in. Various light effects were then interlayed to "make it look scary" and more "angelic".
After they viewed the final cut of the episode, Shiban and Spotnitz decided that they were "far from the end". Feeling that something was missing, the two decided to frame the happenings of the episode with two scenes featuring Scully in a church confessional. Vancouver producer J.P. Finn was chosen to play the role of the priest in the scene, due to his "hushed delivery and map-of-Ireland features". Initially, Gillian Anderson was sent the script for the last-minute shot—which comprised two-and-a-half pages—well in advance. On the night before the reshoot, however, the crew sent her the further rewrites, which were much greater. Anderson refused to rush her performance, noting that, not only would it be difficult for her to memorize her lines, it would also undermine the emotion she was supposed to put into the scene. The crew ended up shooting a day later. Due to this, Finn never actually filmed with Anderson. In order to make up for the added scenes—a total of seven pages worth—the first cut of the episode had to be trimmed "scene by scene and line by line".
"All Souls" premiered on the Fox network in the United States on April 26, 1998, and was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on February 24, 1999. It earned a Nielsen household rating of 8.5, with a 12 share, meaning that roughly 8.5 percent of all television-equipped households, and 12 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 13.44 million viewers.
"All Souls" received mixed reviews from television critics. Dave Golder from SFX magazine named the episode's Nephilim as among of the top "10 TV Angels". He applauded the episode's role-switching, allowing Scully to be the believer and Mulder to be the skeptic. John Keegan from Critical Myth awarded the episode an 8 out of 10 and called it "[a]nother gem of the fifth season". He cited that the episode was "the last strong Scully-centric episodes for quite some time" and was a "stunning exploration of her questions of faith." Furthermore he wrote that "a number of important psychological questions are addressed, and the stage is set for her decisions in Fight the Future." Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club wrote positively of the episode and awarded it a "B+". Despite calling the entry "an occasionally too-slow episode", VanDerWerff praised Anderson, lauding her performance as "another […] potential Emmy tape in a season full of them". Furthermore, he enjoyed the juxtaposition of Scully's skepticism and her religious beliefs, noting that the series could have taken the idea into the realm of irony, but instead played it "with a deathly seriousness" that allowed it to work.
Other reviews were more negative. Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode a largely critical review and awarded it one star out of four. Vitaris wrote "with its trip into blatant religiosity, 'All Souls' comes off like a bad episode of Millennium". Furthermore, she was critical of the scenes wherein the Nephilims' souls were taken, noting the excessive religious imagery: "as [Dara's] soul is taken, the camera pans to the right and stops to linger on a telephone pole that forms a cross." Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, rated the episode one star out of five. The two derided the fact that the episode's killer appears to either be God or an angel commanded by God, along with the fact that the four girls are destined to die because they are disabled and "have no right to live". Furthermore, Shearman and Pearson concluded that, while religious worship is not a passive act, it is treated so in the episode. Ultimately, they concluded that while "looking at death from a different angle is fascinating" it would be explored better "in 'Closure'."