Over the course of nine seasons and 2 feature films, The X-Files transcended its cult status, becoming a phenomenon and cultural touchstone. With a new series on the way, special agent Rick Shingler has accepted the assignment to rewatch the entire series from the beginning and provide detailed reports about his findings.
Come with us now, as we explore the mysteries of the complete X-Files.
S3E9: “Nisei” (w: Chris Carter, Howard Gordon, Frank Spotnitz/d: David Nutter) / S3E10: “731” (w: Frank Spotnitz/d: Rob Bowman)
First, a little background information: In August of 1995, just three months before this two-parter aired, Fox Network aired a special called “Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction.” It was touted to be genuine found footage of an examination of a creature similar to (or perhaps actually) the entity recovered from the Roswell crash in 1947. It became something of a big deal for a few weeks that summer as people debated the authenticity of the rubber creature being cut open and examined. Fox aired the special three times, each time to higher ratings. They brought in special effects experts, cinematographers, and even forensic pathologists to discuss the veracity of the footage. It was sensationalistic, rushed to broadcast without proper journalistic vetting, and eventually exposed as a complete and total fraud, but only after the millions of viewers drove up ad revenue for the network.
Now that I think about it, this broadcast might just have been the secret origin of Fox News.
Over in the X-Files office, Carter and his cohorts saw a golden opportunity to simultaneously cash in on the frenzy and make a sideways jab at their bosses. “731,” the second part of this story, was directed by Rob Bowman and served to cinch him the job of directing the first X-Files feature film, which was to go into production sometime the following year. “731” also featured a deviation from the “truth is out there” tagline, punctuating the opening sequence instead with the phrase “Apology is Policy.”
In Knoxville, Tennessee, a large boxcar is left in a rail yard. That night, several Japanese scientists arrive and enter the boxcar. Inside, their activity recorded by the boxcar’s internal satellite transmission, the scientists work on some sort of figure on the table. During their autopsy procedure, military-looking figures burst into the car and shoot them all down. Weeks later, Mulder watches a video tape claimed to have been lifted from the satellite on the night of the incident. He bought it from a guy on the internet for $29.95 (plus handling), which Scully mercilessly razzes him about. The video ends when the armed soldiers burst into the car, leaving them both speechless. They go to Allentown, Pennsylvania to track down the guy Mulder ordered the tape from, only to find him face down on the bed, a bloody pillow case over his head. Someone runs out of the house, and Mulder chases him. When he catches him, we learn that Mulder is sort of defenseless when facing off against a martial artist, so that X-Files vs. Street Fighter game you fans keep clamoring for just isn’t going to happen.
However, a gun pointed at the head is usually able to trump most any form of Kung Fu, so Mulder is able to take the man into custody. There is one problem, though: their suspect doesn’t speak a word of English, and finding a Japanese translator in Allentown in the middle of the night proves challenging. They are at the police station waiting for the translator when Skinner turns up and informs them that the man they have taken into custody is a Japanese diplomat and must be released immediately. Upon his release, Sakurai will be strangled by a mysterious gentleman identified in the credits only as “The Red Haired Man.”
Mulder goes through the man’s briefcase and finds some satellite photos and a list of the names of members of MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network) with one name circled. He takes the photos to go back to Washington to ask the Lone Gunmen for help identifying the ship being tracked by the satellite photos. Scully is left behind in Knoxville to follow up the lead concerning the woman from MUFON. She arrives at the house and is soon introduced to a large group of women who not only recognize her from when she was abducted the year before, but all share her experience, up to and including the implant that Scully’s doctor had removed from the back of her neck. The woman on the list is not at her home, however, as she is battling stage three cancer in a local clinic. The rest of the group tell Scully that they (Scully included) will all suffer the same fate because of what was done to them during their abductions.
While Scully reels from these unexpected developments, Mulder is boarding the Talapus, the salvage vessel from the photographs that is now docked in Newport News, Virginia. While he searches the ship, armed men arrive and search the ship. Mulder slips away from them, sacrificing his snazzy giant black trench coat to the James River. He finds a warehouse that is the center of activity and plays Peeping Tom. Inside, he sees some sort of short, cigar-shaped object being examined and worked on under a plastic fumigation tent. He goes to visit his old pal Senator Matheson to ask for help. Matheson breaks open the connection of the WWII-era group of Japanese scientists known as “731.” This group was known to have conducted horrifyingly inhumane experiments on human subjects.
The Senator tells Mulder that these men were brought to America after the war in order to continue the alien/human hybridization experiments, similar to Victor Klemper, who we learned about earlier this season in “Paper Clip”. Matheson describes the secret train cars that are transported all over the county, with scientists working on their experiments inside. Mulder believes the room in his alien autopsy video is one of these train cars. Scully calls to tell Mulder about how she’s had sort of a weird day. He takes off to track down one of the train cars, using information provided by Senator Matheson. X approaches Scully, telling her that Mulder needs to stay away from the train car, and she calls him to relay the message. Unfortunately, Mulder is already leaping off of a bridge onto the roof of the train, losing his cell phone. Adding to the unfortunate-ness is the fact that, unbeknownst to Mulder, the Red-Haired Man is already on the train, plotting to kill Dr. Zama, the Japanese scientist placed on the train to work on the humanoid alien-looking creature inside the boxcar laboratory.
In rural West Virginia, armed men arrive at a seemingly abandoned leper colony. While a few of the residents hide from the men, many more are rounded up and taken to an open mass grave where they are cut down by a firing squad. Those executed appear to have both human and alien characteristics. Scully is still with X, who instructs her to have her implant analyzed, as it will lead her to information about her sister’s murderer. Mulder has made it into the mysterious railcar, but it is locked up with a security system, so he goes back to the passenger cars to try to find Dr. Zama. Unfortunately, the Red-Haired Man gets to him first and strangles him in a train lavatory.
Scully takes her implant to Agent Pendrell to be examined. He is able to identify the manufacturer as Dr. Zama, who developed it at a West Virginia facility. He says that it is able to replicate brain activity, making it theoretically possible to effectively read someone’s thoughts. Scully thanks Pendrell before rushing out to find the West Virginia facility where Zama worked. Alas, Pendrell, it just is not to be. While it is undoubtable that you and Agent Scully would produce a stunning brood of ginger children, there’s just no ‘ship sailing from that port. Scully gets to the compound, where she is met by the survivors of the most recent death squad. Their spokesman tells her of the experiments Dr. Zama had performed on them, before leaving them to rot some time ago. He takes her to the mass grave, but a helicopter shows up along with a battalion of soldiers. The patient is killed, and Scully is captured and brought to someone identified as the First Elder.
We’ve seen him before in the smoky room somewhere on 46th Street in New York, alongside the Well-Manicured Man and the rest of CSM’s bosses.
Mulder returns to the super-secret silver railcar, and finds the door open. Inside, he is able to see a human/alien hybrid cowering in an interior room, but is attacked by the Red-Haired Man before he can act. The train conductor locks them both in the room, and in the ensuing confusion Mulder is able to get the upper hand with the Red-Haired Man. He tells Mulder that he works for the National Security Agency, and that there is a bomb somewhere on the train car that activated when he used Zama’s pass code to open the door. Scully calls the Red-Haired Man’s cell phone from another railcar, where she is still with the First Elder. She confirms RHM’s story about the bomb, and tells him that the car she is in is the same place she was held during her abduction. Those responsible have fostered the alien abduction stories as a smokescreen for their continued experimentation. She goes on the tell Mulder that her source has informed her that if the bomb explodes in a populated area, the test subject on board could cause the spread of hemorrhagic fever.
Following her instructions, Mulder finds the bomb in the ceiling of the car. Instructing the conductor to unhook the car from the rest of the train in a remote place, Mulder turns to RHM for answers. He tells him that Dr. Zama was trying to sneak the subject in the other room out of the country and back to Japan. The subject was the result of a successful experiment and is immune to every known form of biological weapon. The NSA, rather than let something like that fall into another country’s hands, ordered him to kill both Zama and the subject. The bomb was set to explode as a failsafe in case he failed. Scully helps Mulder unlock the door of the car, by watching Dr. Zama on Mulder’s alien autopsy videotape.
As the door opens, RHM sucker-punches Mulder, knocking him unconscious. As he is about to leave the train car, X arrives and shoots him dead. With seconds left on the bomb’s timer, X carries Mulder to safety as the car (and test subject inside) explodes. Once Mulder and Scully are reunited, she hands him the Japanese-written journal that was in the diplomat’s briefcase. Unfortunately, Mulder recognizes that the journal has been switched for a decoy. The episode ends with CSM in a dimly-lit room watching as a translator works on the real journal of Zama’s work.
This story arc served to effectively debunk nearly everything we thought we knew about this series, much to this viewers’ frustrated delight. We now know that the US has access to extraterrestrial tissue samples, which they have been using to develop cross-hybridization as a means to resist biological weaponry. Our government has been utilizing the twisted genius of Nazi and WWII-era Japanese scientists to further this unconscionable research since the early Fifties. We know that many (if not all) of what are generally regarded as alien abduction cases are actually the work of shadowy forces within the military industrial complex, and not galactic sportsmen on catch and release expeditions. We know that the Syndicate/Consortium/46th Street Smoking Club (a group so secret that they don’t even really have a name) is steering all of it, but that its membership is divided with regard to some of their tactics. A few members seem to be nearly allied with Mulder and Scully’s work, although it is much more likely that these men are seeking to gain some control of the agents who keep skating dangerously close to exposing their infrastructure. Either way, it seems it’s only a matter of time before these two pests need to be eliminated, right? Especially Mulder. The guy just doesn’t know when to quit for his own good.
S3E11: “Revelations” (w: Kim Newton/d: David Nutter)
R. Lee Ermey all-too briefly trades his fatigues for vestments in this episode. Also, Michael Berryman is able to leave behind the hills that have eyes to portray a less monstrous character for once. This would be David Nutter’s last episode of the series, as he decided to pursue other opportunities and felt that Rob Bowman and Kim Manners had everything well-covered. He would help launch Millennium the following season, directing the pilot and three additional episodes of that show.
A minister uses stagecraft to fake stigmata during his sermon. Afterwards, he is visited in his dressing room by a man named Simon Gates. Gates appears to be a preacher groupie at first. Instead of an autograph, however, he strangles the minister. Curiously, Gates’ hands seem to burn the flesh they touch. Arriving at the scene, Mulder tells Scully that this is the eleventh death of a fake stigmatic in the past three years. In Loveland, Ohio, Kevin Kryder finds the most iron-clad way out of his math homework in the history of lesson-shirking. While at the chalkboard, bleeding wounds open up in his palms.
Mulder and Scully arrive and talk with a social worker, who explains Kevin’s complicated family situation. Kevin’s dad is in an institution following unexplainable injuries to his son and his lack of cooperation in explaining them. A talk with dad further reveals that Kevin is (supposedly) chosen and that forces of evil are going to kill him without a protector. While staying at a halfway house pending an investigation into Kevin’s mom and home situation, a strange-looking bald man breaks in and abducts Kevin in front of several other children. Kevin’s mom recognizes the man described by the other boys as Owen Jarvis.
They go to confront Owen, but he claims that he is only trying to protect Kevin. Kevin, meanwhile, has escaped Owen’s house. Owen dives out of a window of his house to get away from the agents and rushes to Kevin’s house. Kevin arrives at home to find an empty house, at least until Gates shows up and attacks the boy. Owen gets there just in time to help Kevin escape, but sacrifices himself in the process. Scully is drawn in by the details of the case, citing information from her Catholic upbringing, but Mulder remains dismissive and critical of Scully’s faith. Kevin’s mom’s car breaks down on the road side, and Gates shows up to play Bad Samaritan. He attacks mom, but Kevin inexplicably bi-locates to draw Gates away from her. Kevin (still in the car) and his mother attempt to escape while Gate’s chases Kevin (running away through the woods), but mom is injured from her scuffle with Napalm-hands and runs off the road, killer her and wounding Kevin. The agents arrive on the scene of the accident and, once the paramedics have checked him out, Scully insists that Kevin come with them so that she can protect him.
Back at the hotel where Mulder and Scully are staying, Scully sees additional stigmata on Kevin in the form of a pierce in his side, which was the killing blow delivered to Christ on the cross. She confronts Mulder about his immovable skepticism when it comes to anything that smacks of the religious or miraculous. While they argue, Gates breaks into the hotel bathroom and grabs Kevin. Scully determines that Gates has taken Kevin to a recycling plant near town and rushes to save Kevin while Mulder pursues another possible lead. They arrive at the plant and rescues Kevin, with Gates falling into an industrial shredder in the process. Kevin is no longer in danger, and Scully says goodbye to him. He insists that she will see him again, however. Upon leaving, she goes to confession for the first time in over a decade.
This is another one I would have been interested to see played out a year later as an episode of Millennium. Truthfully, it could have been an episode of Supernatural a decade later, too. But while the dynamic explored through the role reversal of Mulder and Scully is fascinating, it would have been equally interesting to see Frank Black working alongside Owen to protect the boy. Just my two cents. The episode is crucial to the series in its ignition of Scully’s faith, which will become an integral part of later seasons, and even the second feature film. It’s the single most divisive factor between her and Mulder. He’s (at most) religiously agnostic, and most likely atheistic. As much as Mulder is willing to accept and believe in the realm of unexplained science, he very often struggles with anything truly supernatural. If you ask me, her rekindled faith sparks something of a rift between Mulder and Scully, as we’ll see in the following couple of episodes…
S3E12: “War of the Coprophages” (w: Darin Morgan/d: Kim Manners)
First off, let’s just rip off this band-aid. A “coprophage” is a politely sciency term for something that eats shit. In this case, cockroaches. Darin Morgan’s third script is yet another synergy of comedy, self-deprecation, cringe-worthy ickiness, and genuine character development. The production used about three hundred real cockroaches, and according to the show’s animal wrangler, only one didn’t make it through the shoot, dying of old age. Poor grandpa. I’m unsure if that precludes the display of the “No animals were harmed…” disclaimer from the closing credits. Hm. I may have to go back and check that, if only for my own interest. Several members of the crew reported that director Kim Manners was seen actually giving verbal instructions to a bucket of cockroaches at one point during the production. If only there had been cell phone video cameras in 1995. Of course, the title and the panic-stricken populace of Miller’s Grove is a nod to Orson Welles’ hysteria-inducing War of the Worlds broadcast, relating the Martian invasion of a town called Grover’s Mill.
With Mulder and Scully apparently on one of their cooling-off phases, Mulder takes a road trip to Massachusetts to stargaze. There have been reports of UFO sightings in the area, and he is trying to confirm them with his own eyes. Coincidentally, in the nearby town of Miller’s Grove, an exterminator is seemingly attacked and killed by a swarm of cockroaches in the basement of Dr. Eckerle, a scientist working on alternative fuel sources. Mulder gathers information from the local sheriff about the recent rash of “roach attacks” in town. Mulder calls Scully to try to get her involved in the case, but she correctly identifies the exterminator’s death over the phone as being a case of anaphylaxis.
Later, a group of teens are Walter White-ing some sort of manure-based nastiness in a basement when one of them freaks out and takes a razor blade to himself, claiming that cockroaches are attacking him and under his skin. Again, Scully correctly diagnoses via Mulder’s cell phone the kid’s death as a result of delusional pararsitosis, a fairly common side-effect of drug use wherein the use believes himself to be under attack by insects of one sort or another. Mulder finds what he thinks is one of the cockroaches on the scene, but it is only a shell. When he grabs it, however, it disintegrates in his hands, cutting his skin. He will later confirm that the shell was made of some sort of ultralight metal. The doctor who patches up Mulder’s hand dies on the toilet when he is (also) attacked by a swarm of cockroaches. Mulder calls Scully (again), who (again) correctly diagnoses the victim’s death. This time it’s a cerebral anyeurism caused by overstraining while pooping.
You know, at least once a week I pray that when my death comes it will, at the very least, not be something that people will whisper to each other and snicker about during my eulogy. It doesn’t have to be a hero’s death, just not ironic or embarrassing. OK, God? Please?
Acting on a tip from the sheriff that some sinisterly secretive government agency posing as the USDA has a facility in town that is breeding killer cockroaches, Mulder sneaks into what appears to be a typical suburban home (wait, did the sheriff also mention a government facility harvesting killer bees? Is that…? Nah, more on that after season five). Inside, while talking to Scully (who has called him this time to discuss some research she’s done on the relocation of various species of insects around the world through trading ships), he sees ripples under the wallpaper before thousands of giant cockroaches begin spilling out of the wall, swarming him. The lights turn on and Mulder is greeted by a woman who could possibly be credited as the design inspiration for Lara Croft. He hangs up on a suitably alarmed Scully. Her name is Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, and she is an entomologist for the Department of Agriculture using this house as a breeding ground and research facility to find better methods of pest control. As she explains her research to Mulder, she confesses to him her theory that UFOs are really just swarms of insects flying through electromagnetically-charged fields, causing their carapaces to emit light.
Scully calls back, but Mulder dismisses her with an abrupt “Not now.” Later that night, Mulder is awakened when another cockroach-related death occurs, this time just down the hall from his hotel room. He calls Scully, who diagnoses the death as a simple heart-attack in reaction to waking up covered in cockroaches. Dr. Eckerle, unable to stay in his own house after the exterminator’s death, was one of the witnesses who discovered the body and saw the cockroaches before they scattered. Mulder finds one of the cockroaches in a glue trap on a corner of the room and takes it to Dr. Bambi for analysis. Scully decides it’s high time for her to join her partner on this unusual case. The fact that she makes this decision immediately after he tells her about Dr. Bambi may or may not be irrelevant. Looking at it under the microscope, they both are surprised to find that it might be mechanical. Conveniently, there is a high-tech robotics lab in town as well.
Is this Eureka?
Mulder takes the (robot?) cockroach to Dr. Ivanov, a robotics engineer who is attempting to build artificial robot intelligence based on insect, rather than complex human, behavior. They discuss the possibilities of space exploration using insect-level intelligent robots. When Mulder shows him the captured cockroach, he is speechless. The technology exceeds anything he has ever seen. Scully arrives in town to find apocalyptic hysteria has set in. After an unsuccessful attempt to break up a riot in a convenience store, she loots a couple of malted milk balls and calls Mulder. She fairly quickly ascertains that Dr. Eckerle had recently imported a large supply of African animal dung for his methane-based alternate fuel source. Mulder thinks the killer cockroaches are actually methane-powered robotic emissaries from an extraterrestrial civilization, sent to study our planet.
He and Dr. Berenbaum go to Eckerle’s research facility, but Mulder asks her to stay in the car until he can determine if there’s any danger inside. He finds the scientist fully engulfed in the paranoid delusion that the cockroaches are following him. Scully arrives outside, awkwardly meeting Bambi before following her partner inside. Unfortunately, by the time she enters the building, things have gone indescribably south with crazy Dr. Eckerle, and she and Mulder barely make it back out to the cars before the plant explodes, covering everything and everyone nearby with animal dung. As Mulder types his report at the end of the episode, a large bug appears on his desk. He swats it dead with an X-File folder.
Scully’s palpable jealousy makes this (and the following week’s “Szyzygy” – we’ll get to that in a minute) one of my go-to episodes whenever the need arises to make my argument for the Mulder/Scully illicit relationship. The following episode takes a darker turn with regard to whatever it might be that is spurring this rift between them, but this one takes a decidedly lighter tone. Mulder’s lechery tries to stand up against Scully’s cool reason, making them both look more than a little silly in the process. If someone were to pin me down and threaten me with a bucket of cockroaches over my head, I would have to speculate that the subtext of the past couple of episodes seems to indicate that Mulder is not entirely on board with Scully’s religious reawakening. Stuff like that can make what was a fairly simple arrangement somewhat more complicated, and I think it’s safe to assume that Fox Mulder is not a fan of complication in his assignations. As a result, they have decided to cool things a bit. Except that Scully, while being one of the strongest, most independent women in the history of televised entertainment (for my money, at least), has grown quite close to her partner, and feels entitled to a bit of territorialism. Or maybe I’m full of coprophage food.
S3E13: “Syzygy” (w: Chris Carter/d: Rob Bowman)
A “syzygy” is an astronomical term describing an alignment of any three celestial bodies. For example, we get to participate in two syzygies a month, as the sun, moon, and earth line up every new and full moon. Incidentally, syzygy is also the greatest Scrabble word you’ll never be able to play, since there are only two “Y” tiles in a standard game. Its plural, syzygies, however, would be fair game, but the perfect alignment of tiles and space on the board with a triple word score available is something that, in astronomical terms, would be referred to as a “dream on, cowboy.” And before you hurt your thumb searching on your smart phone when you watch the opening teaser, let me save you the trouble. Yes, that is indeed a young Ryan Reynolds who ends up spending the evening hanging out with the evil Bobbsey twins (keep reading and you’ll get that – trust me, it’s hilarious).
In the town of Comity, New Hampshire, a funeral is being held for a local high school student who was, according to some, the victim of Satanic cultists. After delivering the eulogy, fellow student and teammate Jay is approached by two girls who ask him for a ride home. While he drives, Terri and Margi tell him about the rumors that the cult’s next victim will be a blonde virgin. They imply that neither wants to be that victim, prompting Jay to pull onto a side road in the woods. The next morning, rescue crews find Jay’s truck before discovering Jay, hanging off of a cliff with a rope around his neck. At the top of the cliff, Terri and Margi sit laughing.
Mulder and Scully arrive in town bickering over directions like an old married couple (or, actually, like an old divorced couple). They meet Detective Angela White while attending Jay’s funeral. Principal Spitz from the high school starts a tirade about the Satanists, during which the coffin bursts into flame, evacuating the church. Mulder and Scully separate Terri and Margi, interviewing them separately about Jay’s death. Their stories are word-for-word identical, and Scully feels they seem rehearsed and clichéd. But Mulder and Detective White aren’t so quick to dismiss, much to Scully’s irritation. It should be noted that the actor portraying Detective White, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, is quite possibly the epitome of what the network casting people were originally looking for when they were searching for a Dana Scully for the X-Files’ pilot episode. They wanted a blonde bombshell type, but Duchovny and Carter lobbied and won Gillian Anderson, despite her not fitting the network’s preference for lingerie models as crime-fighters.
Maybe that explains Scully’s seeming jealousy over Mulder and White ditching her to work together. Yeah, maybe that’s it. They go to see a local fortune teller, who tells them of the current alignment of Mercury, Mars, and Uranus and the impact such an alignment is likely to enact upon people’s more aggressive tendencies. Later in the episode, she will expand that assessment to say that anyone born on this date will find that all the energy of the cosmos is directing itself through them. At the high school, one of the basketball players accidentally knocks a table full of drinks on Terri and Margi. They respond by somehow causing the ball to bounce underneath the bleachers, and when he goes under for the ball, the bleachers close against the wall on him, killing the boy.
An angry mob (is there any other kind of mob? Why can’t there ever be an ambivalent mob?) stomps the woods looking for a mass Satanist grave, but only find a doctor’s bag full of bones. Believing the bones to be those of a child, they storm the doctor’s house, but he says he sold the bag. Upon further inspection, the bones belong to a dog. Terri’s dog Mr. Tippy, to be exact. Scully finally gets fed up with the whole thing and tells Mulder she’s bailing to go back to Washington. Meanwhile, at Margi and Terri’s combined birthday party (because it’s their birthday today), the girls are using an Ouija board to predict who they will marry. Brenda, a cheerleader and rival for the affections of a boy Terri and Margi crush on, gets upset when the board spells “Satan” and runs into the bathroom where the girls are chanting “Bloody Mary” into the mirror. It shatters, killing Brenda.
Detective White booty-calls on Mulder in his hotel room, but they are interrupted by a disgusted Scully, informing them of Brenda’s death. The girls turn on each other over a boy, and end up killing that same boy during their spat. Terri finds Scully and tells her that Margi has been the one killing everyone while Margi is with Mulder telling him the same tale about Terri. The agents bring both girls to the police station and put them in a room together. The whole place starts shaking, all the station’s guns fire, and general chaos ensues until the clock ticks to midnight and everything goes quiet. The syzygy has passed. Principal Spitz is still blaming Satanism, but the town has come to accept that the girls bear responsibility for the crimes. The agents leave town, still bickering over traffic laws.
According to Chris Carter, this episode was his treatise to prove that there was never going to be any chance for Mulder and Scully to be romantically involved. At least, that was his claim at the time. You know, deny everything, right? The thing is I just don’t trust him when he makes statements like this. I firmly believe that he, Duchovny, and Anderson were having too much fun dangling this secret in front of everyone to let it out. I’m quite sure Carter was well aware that many of his show’s followers were armchair conspiracy theorists, and what better way to tantalize people who make a hobby of sifting through obfuscation and misdirection to find the buried secrets? Hang it out there, tease it, then rip it away and declaim any knowledge of its existence, right?
S3E14: “Grotesque” (w: Howard Gordon/d: Kim Manners)
A long-haired male nude model is posing for a classroom full of artists at George Washington University. One of the artists, an Uzbeki immigrant by the name of John Mastow, seems to have a particularly unconventional vision of the model, as his portrait looks more demonic than the Michael Bolton-impersonating exhibitionist in the center of the room. He accidentally cuts himself while sharpening his charcoal pencil and uses the opportunity to smear blood on the face of the gargoyle on his pad. After class, the model is attacked and stabbed to death by a cloaked and hooded figure. The next day, an FBI task force bursts into Mostow’s apartment and arrest him for a series of murders in which the victims’ faces were mutilated. From every wall of the apartment, grotesque faces leer from sketches, paintings, and drawings similar to the one he made in class the previous evening.
At his arrest, Mostow insists that he was possessed at the time of the killings. After he is in custody, another murder takes place which matches Mostow’s pattern perfectly. Mulder and Scully are sent in to lend aid to the investigation. The lead on the case in Bill Patterson, a veteran agent who had been an instructor of Mulder’s at the academy. Patterson has spent the past three years pursuing this case and seems irritated that Spooky Mulder is now involved. Mulder and Scully go to Mostow’s apartment and discover a hidden door into a sculpture studio. There are several life-size gargoyles sculpted in clay in the hidden room. Mulder peels back the layer of clay on one of the fresher sculptures and discovers a human corpse hidden inside the gargoyle.
Another man is attacked and hospitalized with facial wounds. At the hospital, Agent Nemhauser, who works with Patterson, tells Scully that his partner was the one who put in the request to put Mulder on this case with them, much to Scully’s surprise given the seeming animosity between the two men. Patterson finds Mulder in the campus library researching gargoyles and berates him for wasting investigative hours with this research. Scully goes to Mulder’s apartment and finds it decorated in a scheme similar to that of Mostow’s apartment. Mulder wakes up in Mostow’s sculpture room with a gargoyle-like figure standing over him, which he chases until he is attacked, his face slashed at with a knife. Scully finds a utility knife covered in Mulder’s fingerprints, and discovers that Mostow’s murder weapon has been stolen from the evidence room. Scully meets with Skinner and expresses her alarm over her partner’s increasingly manic behavior.
Mulder has a nightmare about the gargoyle, and goes back to Mostow’s apartment. Inside the hidden room, he finds a severed arm. Scully, having received a message to call Nemhauser, is concerned and suspicious when Mulder answers the other agent’s phone. Mulder claims innocence, but discovers Nemhauser’s body (or most of it) encased in a new gargoyle sculpture. Mulder quickly realizes that Patterson has gotten too deeply into this case and become a part of it. The two men confront each other and Patterson ties to run, but is caught by Mulder and arrested. At the end, Patterson stands at the door of his cell, insisting that he was not in control of himself at the time of the killings.
I have to respect this episode. Howard Gordon was thrilled with the end product. Kim Manners ranks it as one of his faves. It won an Emmy for Cinematography. The acting is excellent, especially Duchovny. This was a real chance for him to show a few chops we hadn’t yet seen from him. More than anything for me, this episode clearly showed how Mulder had earned his Spooky nickname, as his increasing mania over solving the case and seemingly preternatural ability to predict aberrant behavior drives the episode. With all of that said, I just don’t like this episode. It seems ponderous and just a little pretentious and the plot remains muddy to me, even upon repeat viewing. Nevermind that I’m a bit offended by the idea of gargoyles as a threat rather than protectors, this hour takes a dark turn that will become the bread and butter of Millennium the following year, but just leaned a little too far into the shadows for where we’ve come with our favorite FBI agents. The still-unexplained rift between Mulder and Scully that has been running through this and the prior two episodes is wearing thin on the fabric of the show for me. As has been discussed elsewhere in this column, this show just doesn’t work as well when Mulder and Scully are not in sync. Sorry guys. It’s not you. It’s me. I just can’t swallow this particular episode.
S3E15: “Piper Maru” (w: Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter/d: Rob Bowman) / S3E16: “Apocrypha” (w: Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter/d: Kim Manners)
A far less scrupulous writer might begin this segment with a declaration to the effect of “we struck oil”, or even (shudder to think) attempt to rewrite a verse of the Beverly Hillbillies theme to herald the first appearance of the Black Oil virus that will continue to plague the X-Files for years to come. But this writer, for all his faults, would never stoop so low. So come and listen to my story ‘bout a man named Fox…
A French salvage crew sends a diver down into the Northern Pacific, where he finds a WWII-era P-51 Mustang, a fighter plane. Gauthier, the diver, hears pounding through the water and discovers the pilot of the plane, trapped in an air pocket in the cockpit, alive and knocking to get out. His communication with the ship above malfunctions, so that the crew members on the ship above are unable to witness his discovery, even though they detect unusually high spikes in radiation. As Gauthier looks closer at the man in the cockpit, the WWII pilot’s eyes glaze over with some sort of moving inky substance. Gauthier is reeled back up to the ship, and when they remove his suit the same substance can be seen moving in his eyes.
At FBI headquarters, AD Skinner attempts to delicately inform Scully that the search for her sister’s killer has become an inactive case. She is understandably furious, and he assures her that he will do everything in his power to make sure every possible avenue of investigation has been pursued. She storms out of his office. In the basement office, her storm clouds are met with Mulder’s single-minded zeal and they are on their way to San Diego to check out the crew of the salvage vessel, who have all come ashore from their excursion with what appears to be extreme radiation poisoning. He adds that they anchored in the same area where the San Diego-based Talapus had salvaged a possible UFO (as was seen in the earlier episode “Nisei”). In San Diego, they are told that all the men on the ship suffered the radiation burns, except for one, Gauthier, who has since been released.
Aboard the ship, Mulder finds a strange oily residue on the diving suit. Gauthier returns home and is searching through his own desk for something when his wife surprises him. By way of greeting, he infects her with the black oil and she leaves the house. Scully goes to visit one of her father’s Navy acquaintances, where she learns about the plane that Gauthier had found. He was on a submarine, the Zeus Faber, whose mission was to recover the fighter when his commanding officer was infected with the black oil. He himself had led a mutiny on that mission in order to save the rest of the crew. Mulder, meanwhile, goes to visit Gauthier, only to find him passed out on the floor in a pool of the same oily substance that was on the dive suit back aboard the ship. Mulder finds a letter from a salvage company regarding the sunken fighter and goes to the offices of the company to get answers. After a less-than-friendly conversation with the “secretary” Jeraldine, Mulder sets up camp in his car near the office. Before long, the office is invaded by several armed soldiers, Jeraldine slips out the back, and Mulder follows her. He tracks to the ticket counter at the airport and boards a plane to follow her to Hong Kong.
What Mulder doesn’t realize is that Gauthier’s wife Joan is following Jeraldine as well. Mulder confronts Jeraldine, confirming that she’s not the secretary, but is acting as the middleman for the sale of government secrets. She is in Hong Kong to meet with the person supplying her with the intelligence. He handcuffs himself to her and goes to her Hong Kong office to meet with her seller, who happens to be Alex Krychek, who has been selling the decrypted information from the digital tape he stole from Skinner back in “Paper Clip”. Jeraldine is shot by men coming down the hallway and Krychek jumps through a window. Before the gunmen can enter the office and find Mulder, Joan Gauthier enters the hallway, still infected with the Black Oil. As the men turn to face her, she begins to glow with a bright yellow light, burning all the men in the hallway with radiation. Back in Washington, Skinner is confronted by three men in a coffee shop who claim to be part of the intelligence community. They tell him in no uncertain terms that he needs to desist his pursuit of the Melissa Scully case. Skinner storms out of the coffee shop, nonplussed by their threats. Mulder catches up with Krychek at the airport and captures him. Krychek tells him that he will take him to a locker in Washington where he has the digital tape in exchange for his release. Krychek goes to the bathroom before their flight, but Joan follows him in, and the Black Oil transfers from her to him. He and the unwitting Mulder board their flight together. Back in Washington, Skinner goes back to his favorite coffee shop and is shot by a familiar-looking man.
In a flashback to 1953, some government men interview one of the crewmen from the Zeus Faber. He was one of them locked into a hold with the black oil-infected captain when the mutiny occurred. He tells them that when the captain was knocked unconscious, the inky substance left his body, went through a floor drain and escaped into the sea. Two of the three men interviewing him are revealed to be a young Bill Mulder and Cigarette-Smoking Man. In present day, Mulder and Krychek have landed in Washington and are on their way to the locker where Krychek has the digital tape hidden. Two men run them off the road, and they crash into a ditch. Krychek is the first to recover and gets out of the car. When one of the two men tries to stop him, the black oil in his system provides the same radioactive defense mechanism that was exhibited in Hong Kong by Joan Gaulthier when she confronted the gunmen.
As usual, Krychek gets away.
Mulder wakes up in the same hospital where Skinner is recovering from his gunshot wound. Scully has learned through crime scene analysis that the man who shot Skinner is the same person who killed her sister. Skinner also confirms that the man who shot him was one of the men that was with Krychek when he was attacked and lost the digital tape back in “Paper Clip”. Dammit, Krychek… Mulder thinks the oily residue that he found on the diving suit and on Gautier in his apartment is indicative of some sort of substance being used by an alien creature to move between human hosts. The Lone Gunmen go on a mission to recover the digital tape from a locker in an ice skating rink, while Mulder waits in the car. They recover the envelope from the locker, but the tape is no longer in its case. The Syndicate, meanwhile, is standing in carefully-blocked places in their room in New York, discussing the information leak that has led to this Piper Maru business.
As far as they know, Krychek is dead and the digital tape was destroyed months before. Krychek turns up at CSM’s ashtray of an apartment to trade the digital tape for the location of the UFO recovered from the North Pacific. Mulder finds a phone number on the envelope that was supposed to have contained the tape, and calls it. The phone rings in the Syndicate’s office, and Mulder speaks with the Well-Manicured Man, who agrees to meet with him. WMC tells Mulder about a UFO that sunk beneath the Pacific during World War II. He also implies that Skinner might be in danger, a tip which leads to Scully’s capture of Skinner (and Melissa’s) shooter. The would-be assassin tells Scully about a decommissioned missile silo in North Dakota and that Krychek is going there following a lead from CSM. Mulder and Scully make it to the silo, but are captured and asked to leave by CSM and his men before they can find Krychek. Krychek, for his part, is too busy puking black oil onto a UFO to know he had callers. At Melissa’s grave, Mulder tells Scully that the man who shot her was found dead in his jail cell. Krychek recovers from the control of the alien symbiote only to realize that he is locked away in an abandoned silo with no one to let him out.
The ever-widening gyre of this show’s conspiracy just keeps adding layers. We’re going to need score cards soon. We have players within the government that have been working with alien DNA for several decades, attempting to fuse it with human DNA in order to create some sort of alien/human hybrid soldiers to defend us against whatever biological warfare the extraterrestrials might be bringing to the table. There are shape-shifting aliens (or at least one of them that we know of) who is trying to hunt down and destroy these hybrids. Now there is this Black Oil alien ooze that is capable of taking any human out for a joyride and emitting high-level radioactive bursts, but is really just trying to find where its car is parked, after all is said and done.
And how about our key players? CSM seems to be in the doghouse with the Syndicate again, although the definitive recovery of the digital tape should help improve his standing somewhat when they give him his annual review. Krychek is locked in Room 1013 (don’t be cute, Spotnitz) three stories underground in an abandoned bunker. Skinner is likely on the intelligence communities’ watch list now in addition to recovering from a perforated intestine, which sounds just as nasty as it probably is. Honestly, Mulder and Scully came out of this one better than just about anyone else, for once. And it would seem that their partnership has fallen back into its proper track, which is a welcome return to the status quo.