“This is the essence of science, you ask an impertinent question and you’re on your way to a pertinent answer.” – Fox Mulder
Strange things are happening to one family in Iowa, and our heroes take it upon themselves to investigate. What they stumble upon are sordid small-town sins, overzealous federal agents, and a boy who has seen way too much Poltergeist.
Max: This episode serves as another tale of alien abduction or close encounters, our third in only four episodes of the show. At this point in the production of The X-Files, Chris Carter and the team didn’t have an over-arching game plan for the mythology of the series, or even a general sense that they were going to have one. It is in this way that the episodes involving alien encounters in the first season serve as mere puzzle pieces to a larger whole that only began to snap into place once Scully got abducted early in the second season.
In this case, we are brought into the disappearance of a teenage girl from a campsite one evening, and her brother’s burgeoning psychic connection to her, as well as to reams of data and images that he copies down in binary in notebooks. Mulder is intent on figuring out what happened to her, while Scully tries to diplomatically relay sentiments from Section Chief Blevins that Bureau resources shouldn’t be wasted on articles from Weekly World News. While the similarities to the abduction of Samantha Mulder are apparent, the need to have this be thrown at our face as to why Mulder is so hung up on this case seems belabored, despite David and Gillian playing the hell out of it.
That being said, this episode gets a lot of mileage out of the agents trying to figure out exactly what is going on. The dirty dealings of a so-called friend of the girl serves as a red herring, leading Scully to prematurely dismiss Ruby’s disappearance as a mundane homicide. NSA agents get involved when a page of the brother’s notebook turns out to contain data from a defense satellite. I chuckled when I watched the scene of deadly serious agents ransacking a child’s room looking for signs of espionage. The timing of our rewatch in this case is fortuitous, and while the kid is no Edward Snowden, it is just another example of governmental forces hampering the investigation of an X-File. We also learn that the mother Darlene was involved with a similar close encounter in her youth, and the idea of events being revisited on multiple generations is something of a thematic thread throughout the series.
While not necessarily the most memorable of episodes, “Conduit” does the trick. At this point, Scully has enough of a rapport to call Mulder out on his bullshit and tries to rein him in when he’s gone too far, and Mulder is willing to entertain the idea that he doesn’t have the full picture.
Radhika: I agree that this is one of the middle-of-the-road episodes of The
X-Files, but I do find it a bit crucial for establishing more of Mulder’s psychology. It’s not pulled off perfectly here, but it’s almost a bit of a sneak peek of some of the stronger episodes that come later in the series (Season 4’s “Paper Hearts,” for one). There seems to be a hint of the type of stories Chris Carter and company were probably hoping to tell, even if the formulas weren’t right.
Up until now, minus a couple of serious moments here and there, we mostly see Mulder as this don’t-care misfit at the Bureau, but here we actually get to see the pain his sister’s disappearance has caused him — both as a child, and as an adult. There’s an emotional undercurrent that I think allows the viewer to start caring about these characters even more, though their early banter and developing bond also do a good job of making the viewer want to tune in for the next episode.
And while Scully tries to play the diplomat (as she often does) while trying to get Mulder to be reasonable about the case, she certainly explores her curiosity about her partner even further by going ahead and checking out his hypno-regression tapes by the end of the episode. This is also a key moment where she really seems to want to understand him more, despite her skeptical demeanor.
Other than that, the mystery is just okay, and not the strongest abduction-related plotline from the series. But another point that’s driven home here is the idea that the people who believe in the idea of extraterrestrials, or have encountered them, often tend to be the outliers of society: the teenage girl with a reputation, the biker dude at the bar, and of course, the FBI agent who on the outside may seem respectable, but is otherwise the laughingstock of his coworkers. It’s not an easy thing to be a truth seeker in X-Files land. As Darlene, the mother of the lost Ruby in this episode, says: “The truth has caused me nothing but heartache.” In a way, this lays the groundwork for even more heartache to come.