“Mulder, even if George Hale only saw elves in his mind, the telescope still got built. Don’t give up.” — Dana Scully
With the X-Files closed, our heroes find themselves split up and reassigned to new areas. But when Mulder goes on a mission to Puerto Rico in search of further proof of extraterrestrial life, both agents find themselves back in some strange — yet familiar — territory.
Radhika: And we’re back! Watching “Little Green Men” is such a pleasure, and while it’s only one episode from the second season, it’s a delightful reminder of what great stories lie ahead. The episode is another installment in the show’s mythology, a one-off adventure that digs deeper into Mulder’s past, while also showing us how deep conspiracies run.
After the events of “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” Mulder’s been reassigned to dull wiretap duty, while Scully’s teaching at Quantico. But Mulder gets dragged back to seeking the truth when U.S. Sen. Richard Matheson, a patron of his work, directs him to the defunct High Resolution Microwave Survey in Puerto Rico. The Survey’s mission had been to look for signs of alien life, of course. Mulder, eventually joined by Scully, has some strange encounters, but eventually has to flee with little evidence of contact (which we later realize is damaged) when a UFO retrieval team arrives.
Of course, at the heart of all this adventure and conspiracy, the Mulder and Scully dynamic is still going strong. Despite not being partners anymore, their bond remains — albeit with some caution. At the beginning of the episode, the two agents meet in secret (though Scully makes it clear that they’ll be meeting more openly in the future), and by the end, a concerned Scully goes on the hunt for Mulder when he seems to disappear. The best part of the bond is Scully’s constant encouragement of Mulder — skeptic as she is, she’s the one saying words of encouragement to her dejected former partner, who now admits to not knowing whether everything he ever believed has been a lie.
The episode also gives us a clearer picture of what happened the night Mulder’s sister, Samantha — the root of his obsession with the paranormal — disappeared. At Mulder remembers it, the two siblings were having a fairly normal night as far as American childhoods are concerned, fighting over what to watch on TV before the sudden arrival of bright lights and a shadowy figure. Mulder’s last memory of his sister is of her floating away, seemingly being taken by an unseen someone. It’s a fairly traumatizing event for a 12-year-old boy to witness, and even though Mulder’s beliefs are shaken in this episode, the viewer gets a better understanding of why he would be so fixated upon finding out what happened to Samantha.
That said, while the episode deals with some heavy subject matter, it also has its lighter moments, evidenced by Mulder’s abysmal Spanish (“Nojo on the rojo”) in Puerto Rico. And there is also a glimmer of optimism by the end when Mulder seems to straighten up a bit, despite the setback of losing evidence of extraterrestrial life: “I may not have the X-Files Scully, but I still have my work. I still have you. I still have myself.” And so, despite the bleak new era our agents have entered, hope and determination are not lost.
Max: The paranoia definitely runs high with this episode. I’ve mentioned before while reviewing “E.B.E.” that episode’s homage to the film The Conversation. Well “Little Green Men” builds upon this and adds another film, All The President’s Men. While in Matheson’s office, the senator uses a Bach concerto to prevent surveillance from picking up that he is sending Mulder to Arecibo. Moreover, Scully in a desperate attempt to reach out to Mulder schedules a clandestine meeting in the parking garage of the Watergate. Combine this with agents monitoring Mulder’s phone and tailing Scully to the airport, our heroes are under an inordinate amount of pressure, with no one to turn to but each other.
As someone who grew up watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and being a general space nerd, this episode tickled my fancy. With all the references to SETI, the Voyager missions with their Golden Records, and the WOW Signal, you can get a sense to the various means our species has undertaken over time to find and communicate with creatures from other worlds. The radio antenna at Arecibo in Puerto Rico is still operational to this day, and part of its use is the continued search for extraterrestrial transmissions. It’s a famous landmark, one that has been used in the films Contact (where Jodie Foster’s character first works on her own SETI research) and Goldeneye (where Trevelyan has his evil villain lair).
Mulder’s quest there provides us with some good scenes of David giving us monologues essentially of his doings and his psychology. While voiceovers in the series have tended to be overly ponderous, the riffing here mostly dodges that in the aim to show a man nearly broken by his past and his present that he tries to hold on to any evidence he can muster. This includes a nice moment where he attempts to perform a cursory examination of a man’s body who experienced a close encounter, attempting to use the tools of inquiry Scully began to inculcate in him. A lot of artistic analysis goes into the trope of the man saving the woman, but in this case the roles are reversed, as Scully arrives just in time to get Mulder out of the facility before the clean-up crew arrives. She also saves him emotionally and mentally, in the scene Radhika described above where Mulder tells Scully that “I still have you. I still have myself.”
Upon his return to the U.S., Mulder is called on the carpet in Skinner’s office (with the watchful presence of the Cigarette Smoking Man) for abandoning his post and going off to a restricted area. Skinner seems intent on washing his hands of his wayward agent, until the CSM begins to threaten and intimidate Mulder himself. Tired of the games, Skinner surprisingly throws the CSM out of his office, and then proceeds to send Mulder back to his wiretap assignment. A hallmark of the series is how despite the fact that he needs to navigate the politics of his office, AD Skinner tries to do right by his agents and stand by them against any encroachment. We see the seeds of that planted in this episode, even though we still barely know the character.
“Little Green Men” gets the second season off to a good start, and we here are very much looking forward to rediscovering with you perhaps one of the strongest seasons of television ever.