“You never had a chance, Agent Mulder. For every step you take, they’re three steps ahead.” – Walter Skinner
“Well, what about you, where do you stand?” – Fox Mulder
“I stand right on the line that you keep crossing.” – Walter Skinner
Agents Mulder and Scully are dispatched to a prison in Virginia to assist with the recovery of two escaped inmates. What they find going on within the prison walls and without pushes them to dig into a cover-up in the works…
Max: There have been a lot of tremendous, quality, standout episodes this season, and “F. Emasculata” is a perfect addition and complement to those we’ve recently covered. A package containing a diseased looking animal leg ends up in the cell of an inmate of that Virginia prison, eventually ending up dead due to unknown circumstances. When two fellow prisoners are sent in to clean up the cell, they seize on an opportunity to escape the jail in a laundry cart. Mulder and Scully are then brought in to help apprehend them, but when Scully notices some people with hazmat suits and containment units at the jail, she begins to believe there is more going on.
While Mulder helps out the US Marshalls in arresting the fugitives, Scully stays behind at the jail to look into what exactly these men are at the prison for. Initially stonewalled by a doctor claiming to be from the CDC, her persistence in the matter leads eventually to corpses with large boils on their skin. Probing these boils, she discovers some kind of insect burrowed within. After trying to stop her from looking at the bodies, one of the boils erupts in the doctor’s face, and his fate is forever sealed. Later, he confesses to Scully that he is not from the CDC, but rather a large pharmaceutical company that was investigating the properties of that insect (found in Costa Rica) for medicinal use. The package was sent to the jail as part of an illegal controlled experiment on the prison population. The problem now though is that the escaped convicts became infected, and Mulder needs to work with the Marshalls to capture them before the infection spreads even more.
This episode, like “Blood” earlier in the season, is about an unauthorized experiment on a captive population. However, the threat in this episode is much more severe, and the conspiracy to control the situation and keep it from public knowledge that much more ominous. Even the CSM is aware of the events and goads Mulder for chastising him instead of doing his job to capture the fugitives. Skinner tries to keep Mulder in line, not involved in the cover-up but instead out of concern. Scully meanwhile, after being cleared by a test as uninfected, tries her hardest to collect as much evidence as she can to document the malfeasance by the pharmaceutical company and the assistance given by the federal government in covering the incident up. Unfortunately for our heroes, the cover-up effort is ruthlessly efficient, and Mulder and Scully are continually several steps behind. Scully is able to salvage one of the insects that gives the episode its title, but much like the nasal implant in the pilot, it’s barely enough to document the disease, let alone a conspiracy or the parties involved.
The iconography of the episode, from the federal “agencies” and the military units involved in the clean up at the prison, to yet another vial of evidence, to those large containment units where the infected were kept, are images that either have popped up already in the series or will pop up again in similar circumstances. For those who’ve seen the first film, Fight the Future, you know what parallels I am referring to. Let’s just say that in terms of this MOTW, there is a good deal of groundwork laid for stuff that will impinge on the mythology in the years to come.
At the episode’s conclusion, Skinner warns his charges that conditions have become much more dangerous for them to operate in, and that they should take some measure of caution. Yes, this is the signal that the season is ramping up for its inevitable conclusion, and if the efforts like those in this episode are any indication, the stakes are high. And in a season where we’ve already had Scully’s abduction and Mulder’s near death in the Arctic Circle, the possibilities are frightening.
Radhika: The thing that struck me most about this episode was how cinematic it felt; I definitely saw the shades of Fight the Future that Max alludes to, and I felt more like I was watching an episode from the middle of the series’ run.
This is a pretty solid episode, an excellent one, in fact, but it’s one of those installments that I barely remembered until I rewatched it. Not sure why, but it’s not one of the episodes I ever had in heavy rotation. And yet it has everything that makes a classic episode: Creepy mystery, conspiracies, a sufficient amount of danger… So I actually found myself glued to the screen while watching it again.
What I like about this episode, which we start seeing more and more, is how the mythology and apparent Monster of the Week episodes start to intertwine. The mythology isn’t just about aliens, abductions and alien-human hybrid experiments. Key conspirators are also involved in seemingly unconnected cases, as evidenced by the appearance of CSM and Skinner’s warnings. It’s a nice way of reiterating that things aren’t always what they seem in X-Files land.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Dean Norris – Playing the US Marshall spearheading the hunt for the fugitives, he is today most famous for playing DEA agent Hank Schrader in AMC’s Breaking Bad (created by X-Files writer Vince Gilligan). On the big screen, he could be found in The Last Seduction, Starship Troopers, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. However, he has more extensive work on television in such programs as Murder One, The West Wing, and most recently in the Stephen King adaptation Under The Dome.
John Pyper-Ferguson – As one of the infected fugitives, this would not be John’s only appearance on The X-Files (he would later appear in two episodes in season five). The Australian actor most recently had a recurring role in the final season of Burn Notice, and has been in the likes of Fringe, Caprica, and The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr..