"Elegy" is the twenty-second episode of the fourth season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. It was written by John Shiban and directed by James Charleston. The episode aired in the United States on May 4, 1997 on the Fox network. It is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, a stand-alone plot which is unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Elegy" earned a Nielsen rating of 10.6 and was seen by 17.1 million viewers upon its initial broadcast. The episode received mostly positive reviews from televisions critics; the performance of lead actress Gillian Anderson was especially praised.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. In this episode, Mulder and Scully track a series of murders that lead to a home for the mentally ill and a clue that makes no sense: each victim has appeared as an apparition in the area where their body was found along with the words "She is me". Furthermore, the episode continues the storyline that concerns Scully's battle with cancer.
Shiban was inspired to write the episode based on an incident that involved his wife's father potentially seeing other beings in a room when he was dying. Shiban was also inspired by the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The series sought out a bowling alley for the opening scenes, but many establishments in Vancouver, Canada were reluctant to yield over two-thirds of their space as well as close down for three days. Eventually, the Thunderbird Bowling Centre was chosen.
Angie Pintero (Alex Bruhanski), the owner of a bowling alley, tells one of his employees, an autistic man named Harold Spuller (Steven M. Porter), to go home for the evening. Shortly thereafter, Angie discovers a badly-injured blond girl wedged inside of the automated pinsetter. The girl attempts to speak, but no words come out of her mouth. Angie notices police in a nearby parking lot and rushes outside to get help. He realizes a crowd has gathered around the dead body of the same girl he saw only moments earlier in the bowling alley. Angie relates his bizarre tale to Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Mulder suspects that Angie encountered the dead girl's ghost; three similar encounters, and three similar murders, were reported in the area in as many weeks. The agents discover the words, "She is me" written on the bowling lane where Angie saw the spirit, but its meaning remains a mystery.
Detective Hudak (Daniel Kamin) tells Mulder and Scully that an anonymous caller phoned 911 with a message regarding Penny Timmons, one of the killer's victims. The caller claimed that Timmons' last words were "She is me." Hudak notes, however, that the victim's larynx was severed, making it impossible for her to utter dying words. The agents trace the source of the 911 call to a payphone at the New Horizon Psychiatric Center. Mulder notices one of the patients, Harold Spuller, avoiding his gaze. After viewing photographs of the murder victims, Scully comes to the conclusion that Spuller fits the killer's profile: a compulsive person consumed with the desire to organize, clean and reorder. Scully uses a rest room to attend to a nose bleed. There she encounters the spirit of another blond girl. Moments later, Mulder tells her that the body of yet another victim was found nearby.
Later, Mulder discovers Harold in a room accessible from the bowling alley. The walls of the room are covered with score sheets, including those of the victims. Mulder realizes that Harold met each of the murdered women at the bowling alley. Suddenly, Harold lapses into a strange seizure. From his point of view, he sees Angie's ghost standing behind Mulder. He rushes out of the room and makes his way to the bowling alley, where Angie lies dead, the victim of a heart attack. Mulder tells Scully that every person who saw the apparitions was about to die, implying that Harold may be next. Scully, who also saw a victim's ghost, is struck by the implication.
Harold is transported back to the psychiatric center where he is tormented by Nurse Innes (Nancy Fish). Later, Mulder finds Innes lying on the floor, half-conscious. Innes claims Harold went berserk and attacked her. One of the other patients, Chuck Forsch, tells Scully that Nurse Innes was trying to poison Harold. Scully slowly realizes that Innes, not Harold, was responsible for the murders. When Innes attacks Scully with a scalpel, Scully draws her weapon and fires, striking her in the shoulder. While summarizing the case with Mulder, Scully explains that Innes had been ingesting Harold's medication, triggering violent and unpredictable behavior. Scully hypothesizes that Innes committed the murders in order to destroy the love Harold felt towards the young women. Later, Harold's body is discovered in a nearby alley, the apparent victim of respiratory failure. Scully, however, suspects that Harold died from what Innes took away from him. Scully admits to Mulder that she saw the ghost of the fourth victim shortly after she was murdered. Later, Scully sees Harold's spirit sitting in the back seat of her car.
"Elegy" was written by John Shiban and directed by James Charleston. The episode was inspired by an event that happened when Shiban and his future wife were visiting her father in the hospital. According to Shiban, he was very near death and kept looking around the room, even though there were only two visitors with him. Eventually, he asked his daughter how many people were in the room. When his daughter revealed that there were only two people with him, he kept looking around the room. Shiban was inspired by the idea that "a dying person might be able to look through the cracks […] into the next world". He developed a premise revolving around a "haunted bowling alley" because "it just seemed right".
The character of Harold Spuller was inspired by Shiban's enjoyment of the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. In fact, Spuller's friend Chuck Forsch is played by Sydney Lassick, who appeared in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as one of Jack Nicholson's fellow patients. Steven M. Porter, who portrayed Spuller, was invited to audition for the show by writer Frank Spotnitz. According to Porter, after the audition he felt that he had "either made a great impression or a complete fool of myself". Many of the gestures that Porter used in the episode were inspired by his appearance in a play called Asylum.
The series sought out a bowling alley for the opening scenes, but many were reluctant to yield over two-thirds of their space as well as close down for three days. Eventually, the Thunderbird Bowling Centre was chosen. The series was allowed to film at the location under the condition that the bowling surfaces were preserved. Due to this, the production staff was forced to either wear bowling shoes or wear makeshift "paper booties" on their feet. In between camera set ups, Duchovny and director Charleston bowled several games. Duchovny later joked that after the episode, he "realized how old" he was because he felt sore from all the bowling. He joked, "when you get sore from bowling, it's time to start thinking about your life and where it's going."
"Elegy" premiered on the Fox network on May 4, 1997. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 10.6, with a 16 share, meaning that roughly 10.6 percent of all television-equipped households, and 16 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. "Elegy" was seen by 17.1 million viewers on first broadcast.
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 four stars out of five and called it "terrific". They applauded Shiban's script, noting that it focused on "greater attention to the relationship between Mulder and Scully", rather than the X-File itself. The two called the shot where Scully sees the apparition in the bathroom "one of the most chilling things the series has offered this year", and noted that the part with Scully conferring with her counselor "is the highlight of the season". Paula Vitaris, writing for Cinefantastique, rated "Elegy" three stars out of four, writing that the X-File part of the episode "falls apart by the end" but that the installment is saved by "the emotional impact of Scully". Vitaris praised the acting of the cast, and especially lauded Anderson's performance, noting that she conveyed "the shock and confusion at witnessing the frightening sight of the ghostly girl with a cut throat".
Not all reviews were as positive. Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club awarded the episode a "B–" and called it "alternately deeply moving and really, really stupid". His main criticism of the episode was the it portrayed mental illness in a manner that was "offensive at worst and just plain idiotic at best". Furthermore, he derided the "magical mentally handicapped person" trope as "cringe-worthy" and cliche. VanDerWerff, however, wrote that the episode was saved largely due to the "beautiful little scenes that let you see the weight of everything Scully's been carrying around her".