“Get the impression that we’ve walked into the middle of a war that’s already started?”
– Dana Scully
Our heroes decide to take a nice trip to the forest, but instead come face to face with a swarm of apparently hundreds-of-years-old insects, hungry and with a score to settle…
Max: “Darkness Falls” is a better episode that I have given it credit for over the years. Yes, the idea of tiny insects being able to swarm and cocoon human beings thousands of times their size is a bit on the ridiculous side, and the special effects used to manifest them laughably outdated by today’s standards, but the tension of what might happen when the sun sets is palpable and works effectively here. Chris Carter, not necessarily known for writing the best episodes of his show, does a bang up job here. And for once, the real world issues that are brought into this episode work to our benefit.
After a logging company loses contact with a group of its employees and a Forest Service team sent into investigate disappear as well, Mulder and Scully are put on the case. Arriving at the scene with Forest Service Ranger Moore (Jason Beghe) and Humphreys, a logging company representative, the duo immediately set out to determine what happened in the woods. Along the way, they encounter Doug Spinney (Titus Welliver), an environmentalist who is part of a group of “monkey wrenchers” set out on sabotaging the efforts of loggers by laying down rudimentary spikes and pouring sugar in gas tanks to disable vehicles, as well as making trees unusable to loggers. Naturally, Humphreys suspects Spinney and his compatriots of murdering his men, and the episode gets the usual tensions out of this red herring.
The episode gets a lot of mileage out of the adversarial relationship between Humphreys and Spinney, as well as the need to find some kind of common ground while trapped in a precarious situation. While Humpreys’ hubris eventually leads to his downfall, it is ironic that Spinney essentially seals his own fate as well. After repairing his jeep, Spinney comes to the rescue of the ranger and our heroes, but after blowing his tires on spikes his group laid down, Spinney is consumed by a swarm of the insects.
Like in “Ice,” (another episode of confined spaces) Scully uses her background in science to begin to determine the true nature of the insects she finds in the core sample Ranger Moore took from a downed tree. Episodes tend to evolve either through Scully’s methodical inquiries or Mulder’s deductive leaps, and the first season lays the groundwork for this.
Personally, I found a lot of suspense in when exactly the generator would stop working. After surviving for nearly a week without power after Sandy, you really begin to appreciate things you take for granted. Yes, I was never in danger of being embalmed by insects, but the clash between nature and civilization is all over this episode.
The episode ends with a bit of a deus ex machina, and perhaps Radhika will have something to say about that as well as the intimations from the doctor that the government is “quite certain that by using a combination of controlled burns and pesticides, they will be successful” in eradicating the swarm.
Radhika: I’ve always enjoyed “Darkness Falls,” slightly abrupt ending and all. Though the ending is a bit of a copout, with Mulder and Scully being found all cocooned up by the glowing insects, you can’t really have a series without them, can you? (I’m ignoring season nine here.) It’s a bit of weak writing, but it’s also perhaps a way of showing that Mulder and Scully really are going to end up in some very dangerous territory, thanks to their line of work — and the dangers aren’t all going to come from gunshots or past adversaries with a grudge.
That final bit of dialogue from the doctor that Max referred to, regarding using controlled burns and pesticides to eradicate the insects, is a rather ominous thing to hear — especially today, when we live in a world of superbugs (not the same types of bugs, but still) and all sorts of heavier environmental disasters.
I sometimes jokingly say that everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from The X-Files. After all, I’m often not all that shocked by some of the strange stories in the news these days, and this show honestly did kind of prepare me for some of the more shady occurrences in the world. This episode in its own way reminds me that despite its label as a science fiction program, The X-Files does have its roots in reality and can still remain relevant today, even when episodes feature dated fashions and technology.
“Darkness Falls” has a lot of parallels to “Ice,” as Max points out. The agents are out somewhere remote, and as a result, the very animalistic sense of fear and paranoia that lies within all of us, is even more prominent in our agents — especially Scully, who is normally fairly cool, calm and collected. This episode is all about tension and the drive to survive, a formula that’s done well before and will prove to be worthwhile in future episodes. The show has really hit its stride with its monster-of-the-week episodes at this point, and the season is well on track for ending on a fairly strong note.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Jason Beghe – Playing Ranger Moore, Jason Beghe has been a constant presence on television for the past two decades. He’s had recurring roles in such programs as Picket Fences, Everwood, Melrose Place, and more recently in the shows Last Resort and Californication (starring our very own David Duchovny).
Titus Welliver – Titus, playing environmentalist Doug Spinney, is a prototypical “Hey, it’s that guy!!!” and a star of screens big and small. On television, he is known for roles in Deadwood, Lost, Sons Of Anarchy, and The Good Wife as well as guest turns in NYPD Blue and Murder One. In film, he’s been a recent frequent appearance in such titles as Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and an uncredited part in Red 2.