“I’m back and I’m not going anywhere.” — Dana Scully
There’s a killer fungus among us. That’s the takeaway when our favorite FBI agents, reunited at last, find themselves investigating a death in a remote volcanic research base.
Radhika: A few things I learned while watching this episode: Mulder and Scully are back to investigating the ooky and the kooky, which is a plus. Also, this is not an X-File you want to find yourself eating your lunch during, because you will quickly have the urge to lose it.
Other than that, while “Firewalker” is sufficiently gross and suspenseful in parts, and fairly enjoyable thanks to returning to the show’s old formula, it is in fact… a little formulaic. With the story borrowing heavily from the likes of “Ice” and even “Darkness Falls” from season one, the viewer can’t help but draw parallels between those earlier episodes, even though this one is in a more volcanic setting.
At the beginning of the episode, Firewalker, a robot used by a volcanic research team, broadcasts the image of the chief seismologist’s dead body. The scientist who sees the image goes to Mulder and Scully for help, hinting that Daniel Trepkos — the project’s leader — could be at the heart of all the problems. Once the agents get to Oregon and meet the fairly shaken members of Trepkos’ team, they learn that Trepkos — who has bipolar disorder — had been behaving strangely ever since the robot’s first descent.
Eventually, our agents find some notes by Trepkos that indicate the discovery of a silicon-based organism living inside a mountain, and they also eventually realize that a spore has infected members of the team (killing at least two in a delightful fashion that involves a tentacle bursting through their throats). And though they do eventually find Trepkos, only Mulder and Scully end up being the ones to escape the site.
The episode is entertaining enough and certainly not the worst X-File we’ve ever seen (and “3” is still the winner as far as being season two’s worst episode is concerned.) But this is one of those episodes that’s “pleasant enough to have on in the background until you watch someone have a tentacle burst out of his throat.” In other words, it’s not particularly remarkable. But it does have a decent spate of guest stars, including Bradley Whitford, and there are a couple of solid Mulder/Scully moments, particularly with Mulder being concerned about Scully putting herself at risk so soon after her abduction.
That said, it is nice to have Mulder and Scully back, investigating a case together instead of finding convoluted ways to team up again. Perhaps a touch of that familiarity is just what we need as we start to approach the second half of season two.
Max: Doesn’t it feel so good to have back the Mulder and Scully banter? With the abduction arc resolved, we’re back to the usual rhythms. It’s telling how easily we are able to slip right back into things, and how well we know our heroes.
With “Firewalker,” we have another example of the “Ice” clone, taking the template from that episode and laying variations over it. It may not be the most exciting episode, but like Radhika said, it’s good background entertainment. Not every episode of a season is a winner, and especially when you are writing and producing 20+ episodes. That’s the nature of the beast, moreso when this episode originally aired than now. At present, we still have network shows producing a similar volume of episodes per season, but with cable networks, premium channels, and most recently streaming outlets, smaller runs of 10-15 episodes have become the norm. This is interesting fodder for perhaps a larger piece on the show and its place in the larger history of television, but it’s worth noting on an episode as middle-of-the-road as this one.
Bradley Whitford acquits himself well as a man ravaged and consumed by what he discovered. Episodes like this explore (in micro) the ways science’s voyages into the unknown and unfathomable effect society and the individuals whose intrepidness are sometimes repaid in tragedy. On the opposite end of the coin we have Scully, who despite the mass of death around her in this episode, still works diligently to research the spore and figure out to arrest its spread.
In the end, much like what happened in “Ice,” a clean up crew is dispatched to the scientific outpost to collect evidence and then sanitize and seal up the affected area, hoping that with obstacles and willed ignorance, that they will prevent a similar occurrence from ever happening again. However, much like the classic twist ending in a horror film, the spore (analogous to the killer in a slasher flick) is still out there, waiting for some poor schmo to unleash it. Knowledge and secrets never truly get buried for good, they always find a way to surface. This actually is a primary theme of the back half of this season and into the seasons to come, so in this sense you can call this riff on a theme one of the episodes strengths.
Also, on a more superficial note, pregnancy does wonders for Gillian Anderson. Her post-natal glow is terrific. We’re getting closer to the classic Scully look that has set millions of nerd hearts a-flutter. Now if we can just ditch the denim and flannel…
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Bradley Whitford – Playing the crazed Daniel Trepkos in this episode of The X-Files, Whitford is probably best known for his role as White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman on The West Wing. Whitford, who has been in a variety of TV and movie roles, was nominated for three consecutive Emmy Awards from 2001-2003 for his role on The West Wing. He won in 2001.
Shawnee Smith – Appearing as Jessie O’Neal in this episode, Shawnee Smith is an actress and singer who may be recognized most recently for her role as Amanda Young in the Saw films. Smith can also be seen in the TV series Anger Management, and was also on the comedy series Becker.
Leland Orser – Appearing as Jason Ludwig in “Firewalker,” Orser is a character actor who may be recognizable for roles on shows like ER and Married… with Children. He’s also been in movies including Se7en, Alien Resurrection and The Bone Collector.
Hiro Kanagawa – The doomed Peter Tanaka in “Firewalker,” Hiro Kanagawa is another actor who has appeared on a variety of programs. Some may remember him as Principal Kwan on Smallville. Kanagawa has also appeared on Fringe, Supernatural, Caprica, and more.