“Oh, my God. She’s one.” – Penny Northern
“One what?” – Dana Scully
“One of us.” – Lottie Holloway
Trying to locate the source of a bizarre videotape, Mulder and Scully find themselves again embroiled in conspiracy. While Mulder goes hunting for EBEs, Scully’s journey comes to some surprising revelations…
Max: In 1995, I have vivid memories of one summer night when Fox aired a special called Alien Autopsy: Fact Or Fiction, which featured footage of a purported autopsy of an extraterrestrial biological entity. Grainy and in stark black and white, the film terrified the hell out of my ten-year-old self. If you recall, it was only a few months prior when I watched my first episode of The X-Files, so I was fully enthralled by all of this skullduggery. The special was one of the sources of inspiration for this episode, so biographically it fits that the two-parter that kicks off with “Nisei” is the earliest mythology episode I recall seeing on Friday nights.
Plunking down $29.95 plus shipping for the privilege, Mulder shows Scully a riff on that alien autopsy footage (a point that Scully ribs Mulder with in a moment of meta-humor). However, this one ends with a black ops unit invading the autopsy suite before the tape suddenly cuts off. If curiosity killed the cat, then the investigation into the circumstances of this tape is going to put the Fox [Mulder] and his faithful companion into yet another fix. Tracing the source of the tape to an ersatz video production company run out of a man’s house in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the duo find the man murdered, and Mulder catches a man dashing from the residence. In hot pursuit, Mulder catches up to the man who attempts to disarm him with some karate chop action, making Mulder lose his gun in the process. Still, Mulder is able to pull a backup piece from an ankle holster and apprehend him. Turns out, as AD Skinner informs his agents (making a point to come down in person to the local police station) that the man is a high-ranking Japanese diplomat, and that the arrest is causing somewhat of an international incident. Forced to let the diplomat, one Kazuo Sakurai go, Mulder holds onto a bag of Sakurai’s containing classified satellite images of a salvage vessel and a list of Mutual UFO Network members in the Allentown area.
This is where the duo split up to investigate different aspects of what was in the diplomat’s bag. Scully sticks around Pennsylvania to look into that list of MUFON members, while Mulder heads back to Washington to get a read on the satellite photos. Consulting the ever versatile Lone Gunmen, he learns that these are images pulled from Japanese reconnaissance satellites, and the vessel in question is the Talapus, whose mission was to allegedly explore the remains of a sunken Japanese nuclear submarine. Discovering that the ship is now docked in Newport News, Virginia, Mulder heads there to see the connection between the autopsy tape, the Japanese, and this ship. What he discovers, after almost being caught by a highly trained military unit, is a warehouse in which a craft of unknown origin is being worked on by individuals in hazmat suits.
Having been warned about pursuing the matter further by Skinner, Mulder turns to his man in Congress, Senator Matheson, in an attempt to glean further insights. Already apprised of Mulder’s actions, Matheson tells Mulder that the footage he viewed was of four Japanese doctors performing experiments, and that these individuals were killed by the black ops group on the tape. He continues by saying that these doctors were part of the notorious Unit 731 during World War II that experimented on humans in barbaric fashion, and were recruited after the war by the US government for their expertise. Matheson says that the Japanese are still operating in the United States, and directs him to a rail yard where another of the autopsy cars is about to embark for Canada. Touching base with Scully (who is back in DC after some harrowing discoveries of her own), he discusses what he’s found and about the Japanese doctors. Showing her a photo of Unit 731, she recognizes one of the men, not only from the autopsy tape, but from recently recovered memories of the time when she was abducted.
Acting on this, Mulder is about to intercept the departed train in West Virginia when X confronts Scully in the hall outside her apartment. He warns her about the danger Mulder would be in if he boards that train, and implores her to contact him before it is too late. She does, but his stubborn insistence on knowing what is in that train car outweighs Scully’s vague admonitions. He jumps from an overpass onto the roof of the train, losing his cell phone in the process (if Mulder was James Bond, Q would have a conniption fit over how Mulder treats his gadgets). Mulder is now cut-off from outside contact, and the looming danger X refused to elaborate on proves to be an excellent cliffhanger.
Radhika: Agent Mulder, action hero. That’s what a lot of this episode feels like, as seen in Max’s description. And aside from the slightly flawed logic behind flailing onto a moving train and dropping his cell phone, it seems that Mulder is quite well suited for the role. His quips throughout the episode — “I got tired of losing my gun” upon pulling out his spare, and “Oh, I didn’t get his name. I was too busy getting my ass kicked” to Skinner — remind me a bit of other sarcastic heroic sorts (especially those portrayed by Harrison Ford in a couple of famous franchises). Mulder has a tendency to do a lot of foolish things, but elements of this episode really reminded me why I have enjoyed the character so much over the years, even if I find myself a lot more sympathetic to Scully than I used to be.
And speaking of Scully: She is not one to be forgotten when looking back at “Nisei,” an episode that proves to be so much more vital to the mythology than I recalled. This is the episode that really introduces us to the cancer arc — that’s right; it doesn’t start with season four’s “Leonard Betts.” While Mulder is out hunting for aliens and nefarious characters, Scully finds herself meeting a group of women from MUFON, who claim to know her from her abduction. These women have also been abducted and had tests performed on them, and it turns out that one of them is dying of some type of cancer. “This is what’s going to happen to all of us,” one of the women says, a statement that is likely going to play on Scully’s mind for a long time.
It’s one for the viewers as well: We know for sure that Scully is nowhere close to being out of danger after the previous year’s abduction or her sister’s accidental murder. And while Scully manages to keep her cool thus far, it has to be daunting to know that an even worse nightmare could appear at any given moment.
But aside from all the deep, dark secrets that “Nisei” makes us privy to, let us not forget the first appearance of a memorable minor character, the sainted Agent Pendrell, he who develops quite a crush on our Ice Queen. It is Pendrell that Scully turns to when she wants an implant — a product of the abductions that she and other women have gone through — examined.
With its mix of humor, genuine suspense and action, “Nisei” proves to be one of the better developed, well-rounded episodes of the series — perhaps one that deserves more accolades than it seems to have all these years later.