“The service on this ship is terrible, Scully. It’s not fair… it’s not our time. We still have work to do.” — Fox Mulder
Mulder and Scully are on the case after survivors from a US Navy destroyer are found suffering the effects of some type of rapid aging syndrome. While investigating, our agents find themselves suffering from the same affliction.
Radhika: “Død Kalm” is an interesting, though imperfect episode that derives a bit from episodes like “Ice” and “Darkness Falls,” thanks to themes of isolation and paranoia. But this time, instead of relying on creepy creatures for scares, the episode focuses on a different phenomenon: Aging.
A Canadian fishing vessel comes across a group of crew members from the USS Ardent, less than a day after they’ve abandoned ship, but there seems to be a problem: The crew members have undergone rapid aging. Mulder and Scully wind up talking to the ship’s sole surviving member (practically unrecognizable) and we learn that the Ardent disappeared at the 65th parallel, where other ships have disappeared before. Mulder theorizes that this is a spot that has a bit of a wrinkle in time.
As they investigate, the agents wind up in the Ardent’s last known location and go on board, where they find advanced signs of corrosion. While a remaining commander, their guide, and the agents themselves also suffer the effects of rapid aging, they encounter a Norwegian pirate whaler who hasn’t aged a day. The agents eventually realize that the Norwegian’s consumption of recycled water from the ship’s sewage system has kept him safe, and that something from the ocean contaminated the rest of the ship’s water and caused the aging.
After a few tense incidents, the agents are eventually rescued by Navy folk. Thanks to some detailed notes taken by Scully, the aging process is reversed.
When I say “Død Kalm” is imperfect, it is. Aspects of the case, as well as the awful aging makeup, are certainly a bit inconsistent and don’t feel entirely right. And as mentioned, parts of it do feel a little derivative of episodes from the series itself. But I think what ultimately saves it for me is that there was a somewhat creative thought process behind the mystery of the week, and I enjoyed some of the moments between the agents (as usual) where they found themselves thinking about their mortality.
It’s Mulder in this instance who seems most frustrated and afraid of what appears to be impending death, partially because he’s the one out of the two agents who winds up deteriorating the fastest over the course of the episode. And it’s Scully who steps in with a rather Zen approach to it all, telling him, “When they found me… I experienced something that I never told you about. Even now it’s hard to find the words. But there’s one thing I’m certain of. As certain as I am of this life, we have nothing to fear when it’s over.”
After all the terrible events of season two, it’s weirdly comforting to hear Scully sound so at peace, and it’s rather nice to watch the two characters bonding even during what appear to be their dying moments. For me, it’s the character development that ultimately adds value to “Død Kalm”, even if the rest of it feels a bit messy as a whole.
Max: This is one of those episodes that a lot of fans dislike because the episode is so slow, ponderous, and plodding along, but I think “Død Kalm” is one of the strongest episodes of the season. Setting aside references to the Philadelphia Experiment (a personal fascination of mine), the episode works because the methodical descent into a hopeless situation is there by design, underscoring the themes of aging, trauma, death, and the inevitable passage of time for all of us.
It helps that one of the through-lines this season is Scully’s abduction and the fallout from that tremendously traumatic episode. As Radhika mentioned, these events have given Scully a new outlook on the end of one’s life. Having held onto life by a thread (quite metaphorically in fact, in “One Breath”‘s allegorical device), she appreciates the way to face a terminal situation with dignity.
I was reminded throughout this of several episodes of The Twilight Zone, where people stranded or surrounded begin to turn on each other and how the selfishness and greed unleashed would lead directly to their downfall. I am of course drawing a parallel to Trondheim, the sailor who Mulder hired to bring them to the position in open waters where they encountered the Ardent. Impulsively locking himself into the sewage room where the only clean water remained, it proved to be his tomb when the destroyer’s hull weakened and the room filled with seawater.
Also of note is the brilliant use of sfumato (an Art History term describing the use of shadows and light) to generate the mise en scene necessary. It causes you to think that we’ve already stepped into another plane and left the outside world behind in favor of this warped place where physics and biology break down. This heightened experience is also the result of another great score by Mark Snow, with the spare metallic noises that echo the sounds radar makes at sea. Really effective.
While yes, the DNA of this episode has bits of previous outings, I don’t think it detracts from the overall effect the episode has. Moreover, it distinguishes itself in spite of this. Mulder and Scully facing down their mortality in this manner acts as almost a reflection and culmination of everything that has happened on the show, and having gone through the ordeals they have (the deaths of Mr. Scully and Deep Throat, Scully’s abduction, the closure of the X-Files, the “return” of Samantha Mulder), The X-Files is ready to begin the march towards the end of the season.
YES, IT’S THAT GUY
John Savage – Playing the trawler Henry Trondheim, Savage has been acting on screens big and small for over 40 years. Making his name in the Oscar winning film The Deer Hunter, he later went on to roles in Do The Right Thing, Salvador, and The Thin Red Line. On television, he played the antagonist in Dark Angel as well as roles in Carnivale, Everwood, Fringe, and Star Trek: Voyager.