Friday, February 29, 2008

Ten Thirteen: The Secret Identity of Isis

"Andrea returned to the United States and finished her studies in Forensic Chemistry and Criminology, only to find that her thesis papers had been brought to the attention of Dr. Elias Barnes, who offered her an immediate position with a criminological consulting team he was founding. Andrea accepted the offer, and thus was begun her challenging and exciting life as Andrea/Isis."

from The Secret Origin of Isis

Paying tribute to pop culture influences - especially old TV shows -was common practice for The X Files. The Night Stalker himself, Darren McGavin, appeared on an episode as the agent who originally discovered the X Files. Roy Thinnes, star of the 60’s UFO drama The Invaders, played the Christ-like Jeremiah Smith in various episodes. Two actors from Hill Street Blues, Bruce Weitz and Joe Spano, would appear as investigators in two separate Chris Carter-penned stories. Steve Railsback- who played Charles Manson in the Helter Skelter TV movie, played MK-ULTRA/UFO mind-control victim Duane Barry in the episode of the same name.

So given that there is a precedent for including references to old TV shows on The X-Files -especially those that had an influence on its creation - it makes sense that if Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz wanted to indicate that Scully was now an incarnation of Isis, they might draw upon earlier pop culture versions of the Goddess for appropriate semiotic signifiers. But, where would they look?

Well, as many of you out there know already, in the 1970’s there was a Saturday morning live-action series on the CBS network called The Secrets of Isis. The show dealt with an American woman named Andrea Thomas who travels to Africa, discovers a long-buried artifact and is then endowed with the powers of the Egyptian goddess. She then returns to America and uses her powers to fight for Truth and Justice.

The show was not a world-beater, even by 70’s standards. It was rendered only slightly less dreary than Shazam! because of the presence of Joanna Cameron (more on her in a later post). But you take your metatext where you can find it. And the parallels between this 70’s incarnation of Isis and The X-Files incarnation of Isis are both extensive and hilarious.

• In the original treatment for Isis, Andrea Thomas was originally a forensic criminologist. Yes, that is exactly what Dana Scully is in The X-Files.

• In Isis, Andrea was then recast as a science teacher, which, incidentally, Scully became in the last season of The X-Files.

• The timing of Scully’s career change plays like another Isis in-joke. Scully and Andrea Thomas were both secret identities of Isis. When she left work, Andrea became the superheroine incarnation of Isis. When Scully left work, she became the Divine Mother incarnation of Isis.

• In Isis, Andrea was assisted by an African-American woman named Rennie Carol, who looked remarkably like a younger version of the African woman Amina Ngebe from the pivotal episode “The Sixth Extinction,” where Dana Scully travels to Africa, discovers a long-buried artifact and is then endowed with the powers of the Egyptian goddess. Scully then returns to America and uses her powers to fight for Truth and Justice. Like Rennie in Isis, Amina also worked at a school.

• Seemingly to drive the parallel between Scully and Isis’ alter ego Andrea Thomas, Carter even had Scully wear her glasses, which were very seldom seen since the first season of The X-Files and were never worn in the field. And Scully also pulled her hair back, a la Andrea.

• This one cracks me up- also working with Andrea/Isis was a scientist named Doctor Barnes. Working with Scully in "The Sixth Extinction" was a scientist named Doctor Barnes.
The Dr. Barnes in Isis was an African-American, and the Dr. Barnes in The X-Files taught at the American University and was fluent in African languages.

• There’s even a visual juxtaposition- Scully’s position when she is piecing together the rubbings from the God-Ship is identical to Andrea Thomas’ position in the opening credits to Isis when she discovers the source of her own divinity.

So it’s not unreasonable to conclude that whereas “Biogenesis” depicts Mulder’s apotheosis as the alien Osiris, “The Sixth Extinction“ shows us Scully’s apotheosis as the alien Isis. Scully’s “origin” here as the new incarnation of Isis mirrors Andrea Thomas’ story in Isis. In Isis, Andrea Thomas travels to the African country of Egypt and discovers an ancient artifact that gives her the power of the goddess. In “The Sixth Extinction,” Dana Scully travels to the African country of the Ivory Coast and discovers an ancient artifact that ultimately transforms her into Isis, mother of Horus, whose coming is foreshadowed in the second part of the story.


  1. Some extremely interesting connections at play here.

    BTW. I had the BIGGEST crush on Joanna Cameron when I was a kid. I LOVED ISIS, and actually met her (in costume mind you) at a mall autograph signing in Raleigh, NC. Sadly it is history but the memory of being terrified, and in total awe of this woman remains constant.

    I also had quite a crush on Scully too...hmmmm

  2. What I've been trying to figure out is how the ancient astronaut theology, the anti-secret society mindset and the Osiris/Isis identification works with that guy. There are so many other mysteries in the subtext of his writing that blow my mind. Everytime I see a 1013 thing I notice some new code. I wish I knew who's been whispering in his ear over the years...