“Fear. It’s the oldest tool of power. If you’re distracted by fear of those around you, it keeps you from seeing the actions of those above.” — Fox Mulder
Mulder’s called to investigate a series of inexplicable killings in small-town Pennsylvania. And it seems there might be some killer subliminal messages behind all the suspects’ actions…
Radhika: It’s been a while since I last watched “Blood,” and I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It’s not necessarily as memorable as the previous episode, “The Host,” but there is enough tension pulsing throughout the episode to keep the viewer very intrigued.
The episode is less about aliens and monsters, and more about psychological scares. We’re taken to the town of Franklin, Pennsylvania, where various members of society have committed a series of inexplicable murders. Mulder arrives after a suspect murders four people in an elevator with his bare hands. As the investigation continues, Mulder realizes the only connection between the murders is that the suspects have been destroying an electronic device during the killings.
Eventually, Mulder deduces that the exposure to a chemical present in a pesticide has the ability to spur psychosis — and the presence of destroyed electronic devices suggests that many of the suspects have fallen victim to violent subliminal messages.
To be fair, there is a level of disjointedness behind what has caused these suspects to snap. But the combination of electronic messages like “Kill ‘em all,” a suspenseful musical motif, and the genuine fear and paranoia displayed by the actors in the episode make it easy to get immersed in the story. We watch our main suspect/victim, Edward Funsch, transform from beginning to end, trying to avoid the messages before he finally gives in and starts shooting randomly from a clock tower, University of Texas style.
In another scene, we get an excellent situation of role reversal, in a scene between a woman and a mechanic. The lighting is dark, the mechanic’s language can be easily misconstrued to sound threatening, and the woman eventually does kill him after a machine sends the message that the man will rape her. But ultimately, it is likely that no one would have been harmed that night, if it hadn’t been for the message the woman received.
The episode does have a moment of levity as well with the second appearance of The Lone Gunmen, the trio of conspiracy theorists that make Mulder seem like the most rational man on earth. There’s the usual flurry of exchanges regarding Scully’s hotness, but we also get a chance to see the trio’s potential for value in the years to come. So all in all, “Blood” is a great episode from both a standalone and continuity perspective, giving us three solid episodes in a row at the start of season two.
Max: Indeed. “Blood” is another stellar outing in the murderer’s row we call season two. Often, the most effective episodes do not feature any kind of monster or freak at all, but rather intense psychology at play. Here, it is the town’s exposure to LSDM, an experimental compound that the local government is using to keep insects off crops that are the economic lifeblood of the area. During Mulder’s visit to The Lone Gunmen, Byers shows him a videotape of archival footage of DDT spraying in the 1950’s, another compound whose deadly side-effects greatly outweighed any benefits as a pesticide. In this case, a local bureaucrat stymies Mulder’s effort to make the existence of this trial spraying program public, another overreach by government without the consent or awareness of those governed.
What ties all the victims together is the existence of their own fears and phobias, which the LSDM compound exacerbate to unbearable levels. From hemophobia to claustrophobia to the fear of being raped, these unfortunate individuals’ fear was pushed to eleven. Having taken classes in psychology myself, it continues to astound me how much power the mind has over the body, and how certain triggers cause the entire system to shut down. We become almost prisoners of our own making; and in the theoretical cell in which we reside, our own version of Hell. This intensity and paranoia drives the engine of this episode, and the results are incredible. Moreover, while not the primary topic of the episode, the pervasive paranoia ties nicely into the current situation with Mulder and Scully, with the X-Files closed and the pair still continued to be watched closely.
As mentioned above, the climax is a reference to an actual tower shooting at the University of Texas in 1966 committed by Charles Whitman (which also served as a background thematic point on an episode of Mad Men). But this isn’t the only historical event to be recalled in the episode. When Edward Funsch goes to a department store to inquire about a job, the presence of a group soliciting blood donations sets off an LSDM panic attack. Finding himself in front of a bank of televisions, they begin to display footage from the trial of Charles Manson, the Branch Davidian incident in Waco, and the Bronco slow-speed chase of OJ Simpson (which only occurred months earlier). These touchstones underscore the themes of the episode (paranoia, fear, subliminal messages, a pervasive sense of being watched) and bring the audience’s world into that of the episode, grounding the proceedings in a visceral reality.
This episode reminded me a lot of the classic episode of The Twilight Zone called “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.” In that episode, a contagious fear paralyzes a neighborhood and piece by piece destroys the people on the titular street. While in the case of “Blood” the cause abated, it is easy to imagine a scenario in where LSDM becomes more widespread, and the compound itself becomes an almost tangible analogue to the way emotions and psychoses (like fear) actually spread amongst social groups.
The X-Files, season two: 3-0.
YES, IT’S THAT GUY
William Sanderson – Playing the beset Edward Funsch, William Sanderson has been a presence on screens big and small for decades. His most notable roles are that of replicant designer JF Sebastian in the film Blade Runner and inn proprietor EB Farnum in the HBO series Deadwood. Other credits include the films The Rocketeer, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and The Client as well as roles in the television programs Newhart, True Blood, Lost, and Batman: The Animated Series.