"Aubrey" is the twelfth episode of the second season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files, and the thirty-sixth episode overall. It premiered on the Fox network in the United States on January 6, 1995. It was written by Sara B. Charno and directed by Rob Bowman. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Aubrey" received a Nielsen rating of 10.2 and was watched by 9.7 million households. The episode received mixed to positive 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. Mulder is a believer in the paranormal, while the skeptical Scully has been assigned to debunk his work. In the episode, Mulder and Scully believe that a serial killer from the 1940s passed his genetic trait of violence to his grandchild after a detective, BJ Morrow (Deborah Strang) mysteriously uncovers the remains of an FBI agent who disappeared almost fifty years before while investigating a modern-day murder case similar to the older cold case.
Although "Aubrey" was written by Charno, Glen Morgan and James Wong, who had written for The X-Files before, provided additional contributions to the story. The story for the episode developed around the concept of 50-year-old murders and the transfer of genetic memory. This was later combined with a separate concept about a female serial killer. Terry O'Quinn, who guest stars in the episode, would later play roles in the 1998 feature film, the ninth season episode "Trust No 1", become a recurring character as Peter Watts on Millennium, and appear on the short-lived series Harsh Realm. Strang's work on the episode was submitted for Emmy consideration.
In the town of Aubrey, Holt County, Missouri, local detective Betty June "B.J." Morrow tells Lt. Brian Tillman (Terry O'Quinn) that she has gotten pregnant from their affair. He requests her to meet him at a motel later that night. While waiting for him, B.J. has a vision that leads her to a field where she digs up the skeletal remains of an FBI agent.
Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) head to Aubrey, where the remains are identified as belonging to Agent Sam Chaney, who disappeared in the area with his partner, Tim Ledbetter, in 1942. The agents find discrepancies in B.J.'s story, but Tillman comes to her defense. Mulder tells Scully of the case Chaney and Ledbetter were investigating, which involved the rapes and murders of three women with the word "Sister" slashed on their chest. Discovering similar cuts on Chaney's chest during the autopsy, B.J. instinctively realizes that the cuts spell the word "Brother." B.J. admits her affair and pregnancy to Scully.
Tillman reveals that a new murder has occurred where a woman had the word "Sister" slashed on her chest. B.J. claims to have seen the victim in her dreams, which involve a man with a rash on his face and a monument, which after a quick sketch by B.J., Mulder recognizes as the Trylon and Perisphere from the 1939 New York World's Fair. Searching old mugshot photos, B.J. recognizes the man from her dream as Harry Cokely, who was arrested in 1945 for raping a woman named Linda Thibedeaux and slashing "Sister" on her chest. Scully believes that B.J. unconsciously recalled the case since her father was a cop and may have discussed it. The agents visit the now-elderly Cokely, who now lives alone after being released from prison in 1993. Cokely insists he was at home when the latest murder occurred.
B.J. awakens from a nightmare covered in blood, finding the word "Sister" slashed into her chest. She also sees a young Cokely reflected in the mirror behind her. She heads to a stranger's basement and tears away the floorboards, revealing a skeleton that is found to be the remains of Agent Ledbetter. Cokely is arrested, but denies attacking B.J., insisting he's too old to even leave his residence without his large oxygen flask. Scully tells Mulder that blood on the latest victim matches Cokely's. The agents visit Thibedeaux, who describes her encounter with Cokely in the 1940s. Mulder notices a photo of her at the 1939 World's Fair featuring the Trylon and Perisphere. When pressed, she reveals that the rape resulted in a child, which she put up for adoption. The FBI tracks down the child, who turns out to have been B.J.'s father, causing Mulder to surmise that B.J. is the killer and may be operating on genetic memories which tend to skip a generation.
As the agents are on their way to intercept her, B.J. attacks Thibedeaux, but stops when she sees the "Sister" scars on her chest. The agents find Thibedeaux after B.J. has left, and head to Cokely's house, believing him to be her next target. B.J., who has already arrived, cuts Cokely's respirator tubes and attacks him with a razor. When the agents arrive B.J. attacks Mulder but when Cokely finally dies she stops. B.J. is placed in Shamrock Women's Prison Psychiatric Ward where she is put on suicide watch after attempting to self-abort.
The episode was written by Sara B. Charno, making it her first writing contribution to the series. The episode was directed by Rob Bowman. Charno initially developed a story revolving around the concept of 50 year old murders and the transfer of genetic memory. This was later combined with a separate concept about a female serial killer. Glen Morgan and James Wong, who had written for The X-Files before, provided additional contributions to the story. The script was revised shortly before shooting, resulting in newer scenes being added, such as the scene where BJ attacks Mulder.
Morgan and Wong suggested casting Woodward as Harry Cokely, who had previously performed work for them on their series 21 Jump Street. Actor Terry O'Quinn, who appears in this episode as Lt. Brian Tillman, later appeared as different characters in the 1998 feature film and the ninth season episode "Trust No 1". He later had a recurring role as Peter Watts on Millennium, the sister series to The X-Files, and appeared in the short-lived series Harsh Realm. O'Quinn later earned the nickname "Mr. Ten Thirteen", due to his appearance in multiple shows and movies affiliated with Ten Thirteen Productions, the company that produced The X-Files.
Series creator Chris Carter was happy with the finished episode, later noting, "I think it came out great". He further elaborated: "Morgan Woodward was excellent as well. Rob Bowman came through for us and gave us an excellent job." Director Rob Bowman later declared that he was proud of the sequence where BJ wakes up with blood on her chest. Many members of the cast and crew were pleased with the casting. Carter called it "terrific". He said Deborah Strang's performance was "top notch". Furthermore, Strang's performance was submitted for an Emmy nomination, although she didn't make the final list.
"Aubrey" premiered on the Fox network in the United States on January 6, 1995. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 10.2, with a 16 share, meaning that roughly 10.2 percent of all television-equipped households, and 16 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 9.7 million households.
The episode received mixed to positive reviews from television critics. Entertainment Weekly gave the episode a B, describing it as "a well-paced murder mystery with an inventive wrap-up". 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 three-and-a-half stars out of five. The two positively critiqued the episode's "character study" of BJ Morrow, noting that it "makes this episode stand out". Shearman and Pearson also complimented Strang's performance, writing that she "seizes the part and gives it dignity." However, the two were critical of the genetic defect, arguing that, because Strang's character is fleshed out, the reveal turns her into "a puppet of the paranormal". Critical Myth reviewer John Keegan gave the episode a 7 out 10 rating and wrote that, "Overall, this episode opens some interesting doors, adding the concept of genetic memory to the list of phenomena that cannot be explained in fully material terms. While the plot makes a certain amount of sense, there are a number of convenient moments that take away from the whole. But the end result is a strong episode."
Other reviews were more mixed. Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club said that most of "Aubrey" was "fun", although Tillman was not "particularly interesting". He stated that things got "dicey" for him around the revelation about Thibedeaux's child and that he did not buy Mulder's genetic impulse theories. He criticised the ending, writing that it "[sacrificed] whatever mood and character development the previous thirty had spent establishing for cheesy theatrics, and the whole thing lands with a resounding thud. There are too many problems with the concept; the nature/nurture debate has been going on for decades, and this ep throws the whole thing out the window in about two minutes. No other cause for BJ's actions is ever given... That's some lazy writing right there." Meghan Deans from Tor.com gave the episode a mixed review and wrote that it was "sort of good [but] sort of a terrible idea". She cited the theme of "breaking the cycle of abuse" as a plus for the entry, noting that it was a "revenge story [of] a woman righting the wrongs of her male ancestors and breaking the cycle of violence outside the family". However, Deans was critical of various elements of the episode, most notably, the genetic theory conceit and the idea of a "activator baby" that caused Morrow's past ancestors to work through her.