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Recap / The X-Files S04 E10 "Paper Hearts"

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Season 4, Episode 10:

Paper Hearts
"Let's identify this girl so we can put her to rest."
Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Rob Bowman

"It was a difficult case, he was extremely hard to catch. By 1990, ten victims had been found scattered across the eastern seaboard. The earliest dated back to 1979. V.I.C.A.P. named the case "paper hearts" because of the trophies the killer took."
Fox Mulder

A pedophile serial killer (Tom Noonan) who Mulder helped catch years ago is discovered to have had more victims than was known at the time, and the possibility is raised that one of the unknown victims was Mulder's sister Samantha.


  • Alice Allusion: Roche's victims were little girls. He collected cloth hearts from their clothes and kept them hidden in a copy of Alice in Wonderland. The phrase 'Mad Hat' appeared in Mulder's dreams and also as a mark near a newly found crime scene. Roche used to live on Alice Road in Boston, and Mulder concludes that that's how he first got the idea and that he took the role of the Hatter.
  • Call-Back:
    • In "Nisei", Mulder lampshaded that he got tired of losing his gun and pulled out a back-up gun from his ankle holster. Mulder's back-up gun is very important in this episode.
    • Scully's line, "You said yourself once that a dream is an answer to a question we haven't yet learned how to ask," is a call-back to season 2's "Aubrey."
  • Catapult Nightmare: Mulder falls asleep in his office by the desk and he wakes up gasping "Samantha!" while flinging himself up.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Literally a gun. When Mulder and Scully go to the prison through a metal detector, they put their guns into a drawer. Notably, Mulder takes off two guns, one of which he carried in his ankle holster. Later in the episode, Roche escapes with Mulder's weapon... and he is killed with the back-up one.
  • Continuity Nod: Reggie Purdue, Mulder's former boss from the Violent Crimes Section and his friend who appeared in "Young at Heart", is mentioned again. It was he who brought Mulder on this case as he rightly thought that Mulder would get into the killer's head.
  • Crashing Dreams
  • Creepy Souvenir: The cloth hearts put among the pages of a copy of Alice in Wonderland hidden in Roche's car. He travelled a lot as a salesman and liked to keep them by himself.
  • Did You Actually Believe...? / I Lied: Roche promises to tell Mulder about two more victims of his if he sinks the basketball. Mulder does sink it, and smirks.
    Roche: You'd trust a child molester?
  • Dream Sequence
  • Dream Within a Dream
  • Faux Affably Evil: One of the most disgusting examples in the series. Roche is characterised as the classic professional salesman: charming, friendly, easygoing, eloquent. These qualities allowed him to ingratiate himself with the parents of his victims.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Mulder keeps dreaming about his sister's abduction. He tries to stop it and help her each time but he can't.
  • Gunman with Three Names: John Lee Roche.
  • The Insomniac: Mulder has always had trouble sleeping, but it really stands out in this episode.
  • Invasion of the Baby Snatchers: A Serial Killer who gains people's trust and takes their little daughters from their beds? He does God knows what with them, kills them and takes a twisted souvenir. And he thinks he's re-enacting Alice in Wonderland. It cannot get much scarier than that.
  • I Was Having Such a Nice Dream: One dream sequence has Mulder rescue Samantha from Roche's car. He hugs her and smiles with relief and absolute joy. Too bad it ends horribly.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Did John Lee Roche really kidnap Samantha? Did he have a "psychic nexus" with Mulder as Mulder himself claims? Or did he just extensively research Mulder's background? What about Mulder's dreams?
  • Myth Arc: This was the first time a Monster of the Week episode intermixed with the ongoing quest for Mulder's sister.
  • Never Recycle a Building: Roche's apartment has apparently been vacant since he went to prison several years before.
  • Numerological Motif: Roche originally said he had 13 victims. When his trophies are found and there are 16 of them, he says it just seems more magical.
  • Paedohunt: Act Four, after John Lee Roche escapes from Mulder and needs recapturing.
  • Police Brutality: Mulder gets frustrated while he interrogates Roche, and hits him very hard in the jaw. A guard walks in, surprised, but when Roche complains, he says he didn't see it. Scully is visibly upset but doesn't report it. Mulder still has to account for this action, though, because it was videotaped.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Roche plays basketball in a huge hall. His other privileges include access to the prison's library with the Internet.
  • The Profiler: Mulder's brilliant profiling skills play a very important part. His profile helped to catch Roche in the first place as he was able to conclude how he thought and what he did.
  • Psychic Link: Mulder thinks that Roche can get into his head and that they share some kind of disturbing connection.
  • Recurring Dreams: Mulder keeps having a dream about a park, and that's how he finds one of Roche's previously unknown victims buried in a park. He also keeps dreaming about Samantha's abduction, which is vaguely similar to his old account of it as he remembers it from a hypnotic session. A red laser light beam keeps appearing in his dreams, forming words, messages and pictures.
  • Reminiscing About Your Victims: Roche reminisces about some of his victims and how he tricked their parents into trusting him. He tries to convince Mulder that his sister Samantha is one of them. It turns out she wasn't. He's just a jerk and enjoys tormenting him.
  • Serial Killer: John Lee Roche, a murderer and child molester of little girls, playing some sick and twisted version of the Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
  • Wham Line: When John Lee Roche tries to pretend recounting that he knows the place that Mulder and Samantha stayed in before the latter was seemingly abducted, by entering the house in person, Mulder drops this bombshell.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Skinner to Scully and Mulder. Several times.
    • Mulder receives the first speech for hitting Roche in the prison.
    • Scully is reprimanded too because she doesn't report him. However, she is really pissed at Mulder herself as she is so fair-minded that striking a prisoner who cannot fight back really bothers her.
    • Skinner tells Scully that she let him down as she promised she would keep an eye on Mulder and make sure he's not going to do anything crazy. Skinner, you should know better by now, there is no stopping Mulder from that.
    • Skinner's second shout-down of Mulder is the most serious. He finds out that not only had Mulder checked out Roche from the prison but Roche got Mulder handcuffed, took his phone, his badge and his gun.
      Skinner: Where's your gun? How do you explain yourself, Agent Mulder?
      Mulder: I don't.
      Skinner: You don't. A predator is loose because of you. God only knows how many hours lead he's got.