“Scully! For God sakes, it’s me!” – Fox Mulder
“Mulder… you may not be who you are.” – Dana Scully
In this episode, our heroes are stranded on a remote arctic scientific post and come face to face with sinister parasites, and each other.
Max: It was a real pleasure getting a chance to rewatch this episode, which is one of the strongest entries of the entire series. Effectively a riff of The Thing, “Ice” sends Mulder and Scully into the wilds of Alaska to investigate what happened to a science team researching ice cores millions of years old. What they uncover is a parasitic worm (of possible extraterrestrial origin) that feeds off of violence in the host. Given that this a program whose thematic underpinnings include conspiracy and paranoia, the conceit of this episode is a perfect fit for the series, and all hands involved are on their A-game.
Essentially a bottle episode, “Ice” seals off its small cast of characters in a venue of no escape. In this way, it acts almost like a classic whodunnit or piece of dinner theatre. Aside from our heroes, there are only four other players in this episode, and when suspicion and doubt are cast over who may or not be infected, this really drives up the stakes. This is only the eighth entry in the show, but Mulder and Scully and their relationship have been so wonderfully drawn that as viewers, we completely buy into how devastating it would be if things happened to either of them. It is this bond and trust that develops between the two of them that will power the series through its best moments.
Thus far, we have seen a lot of the tensions between the philosophies of Mulder and Scully play out, but it was interesting to note that this episode is basically Scully driven. It is really a showcase to see how Scully collects and examines the evidence at hand, and then uses her training in medicine and science to determine the precise cause and nature of the events that brought them to the frozen tundra. In fact, Mulder is sidelined throughout a good portion of the episode when it is surmised that he is infected after he went to investigate things on his own and came upon the body of Dr. Murphy (Steve Hytner).
A lot of what gives early episodes of The X-Files their power is that, for the most part, we are entering into uncharted territory, not knowing what or who we as the audience will encounter. It is these voyages into the unknown that got millions of people hooked on the program, something that grew from a cult phenomena into a mainstream hit. The qualities found in the best of these are found in “Ice” itself, namely terrifying adversaries, monumental tensions, and a real sense that anything can happen (and usually does).
It is of no surprise then that this episode would become a standard template for future entries (dubbed by fans as “Ice-clones”), each acquitting themselves in various degrees of success. But for the one that started it all, “Ice” is an early high-watermark and an example of what the show can accomplish.
Radhika: This is one of the most excellent episodes of The X-Files, and it remains a personal favorite. It also appears to be the first episode, despite previous attempts, that successfully pulls off exploring the psychological ramifications of being stuck in a frightening situation. It’s true that there is a “monster” in the form of the parasitic worm, and it’s true that there’s a bit of a gross-out factor when we see the worm moving beneath the skin of those who are infected by it. But the real fear for both the characters and the viewers alike lies in trying to figure out how those trapped in the site will get out of there, as they try to navigate through the paranoia induced by being in a stressful situation.
As Max pointed out, the bond between Mulder and Scully has already been well established enough for us to truly worry about something happening to them. And we can watch the characters’ worry play out in their interactions and facial expressions as well. The look of betrayal on Mulder’s face when Scully, thinking he may be infected and pulling a gun on him, tells him “You may not be who you are,” is pretty devastating. It’s also continued evidence that while Mulder cares very little about what others at the FBI think of him, he does care very much about what Scully thinks.
At the end, what makes this episode great is the fact that it’s utterly believable, paranormal elements or not. There’s a parasitic creature, there’s a group of characters trapped in the middle of nowhere, and frankly, it’s likely that any of us watching would behave in similar manners if we were stuck in such a situation. You don’t have to be a believer or a skeptic to invest yourself in the episode, which is why it probably remains such a strong installment to this day.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
A recurring section of our rewatch where we note actors who’ve appeared in the episode(s) and have gone on to become stars in their own right.
Xander Berkeley – Playing Dr. Hodge, Xander Berkeley has been a constant television presence for two decades. Guest starring in series such as Law & Order, Boston Legal, and ER, he had a supporting role in early seasons of 24 as George Mason and most recently played the corrupt Percy in Nikita. On the big screen, he’s been in Terminator 2, Air Force One, Safe, and Apollo 13.
Felicity Huffman – Best known these days from her role in the ABC primetime soap Desperate Housewives, Felicity played Dr. Da Silva in this episode. Her other major television role was that of Dana Whitaker in Sports Night, and her filmography includes roles in Magnolia, Georgia Rule, The Spanish Prisoner, and Transamerica, where she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Steve Hytner – Playing the doomed Dr. Murphy, Steve is perhaps best known as Jerry’s comedian nemesis Kenny Bania in Seinfeld. He was a regular on the short lived NBC comedy Working, and has guested on Lois And Clark, Hung, and Roswell.