“What I am saying, Mulder, is that there is no such thing as alien abduction. It is just a smoke screen, happily created by our government to cover up the biggest lie of all.”
— Dana Scully
In the second part of a two-episode series, Mulder pursues a dangerous adventure on a train that may be carrying an alien-human hybrid, while Scully digs deeper into the truth behind her abduction.
Radhika: The drama of “Nisei” continues in “731” as Mulder finds himself ensnared in a dangerous journey, while Scully digs deeper into understanding the “truth” and possibly finding information that may unravel everything Mulder has believed to be real.
When we last saw Mulder, he was jumping onto a moving train to look for an alien-human hybrid, conveniently losing his cell phone and a link to Scully in the process. He manages to enter the train on the hunt for Japanese scientist Dr. Shiro Zama. He does find some journals, written in Japanese, and meanwhile, another sinister character (who claims to be from the NSA) strangles Zama elsewhere on the train.
Scully, encouraged by X to look further into her implant to better understand what’s happening on the train — and also find out more about her sister’s murder — winds up enlisting more help from Agent Pendrell, who tells her the implant contains advanced technology that can help someone know a person’s thoughts. This leads her to a West Virginia compound, where she meets a group of deformed patients who have escaped “death squads.” (We encounter some of these mass murders in the episode teaser.)
Eventually, Scully meets with the First Elder from the shadowy Syndicate we encountered earlier this season. She contacts Mulder — now stuck inside a rail car with a bomb that’s been triggered -— on the fake NSA agent’s phone. She tells him that numerous test subjects — herself included — have been operated on by Zama, and that the government has been using the notion of alien abductions as a smokescreen. She says the quarantined patient (who Mulder believes must be an alien-human hybrid) on the train has a hemorrhagic fever that could infect others on the train if the car explodes.
Mulder manages to disconnect the car, and manages to unlock the door, but before he can escape, fake NSA man knocks him out. But X appears just in time to save Mulder — not the patient that Zama was trying to sneak out of the country — and our agent is saved, while the truth has literally exploded.
There is, once again, a lot to unravel in this episode, just like there was in “Nisei.” Weirdly, while this episode is technically more action packed, I do believe there is a little more actual suspense in “Nisei,” the set-up episode, than there is in this one. But the introduction of the notion that alien abductions have been used as an actual smokescreen by the government to experiment on various test subjects is certainly an interesting one, which really does seem quite believable despite all our hopes — and Mulder’s — that aliens are real (at least in this universe).
It also helps make Scully’s continued skepticism as the show continues a little more believable, even though that skepticism can be rather frustrating at times. It’s actually rather commendable for the series, built on this notion of aliens and the supernatural being completely real, to actually offer an alternative explanation for all the events we have witnessed. But of course, even though most of the “proof” provided to us in this episode seems plausible enough, enough has happened in the past for us to know that we shouldn’t accept the explanations offered to us here as absolute proof. So on one hand, while it almost seems like we know just a little bit more about the conspiracies on this show, we really don’t know that much after all.
Classic X-Files, huh?
Max: In the pivotal episode “E.B.E.,” our dearly departed Deep Throat, when confronted by Mulder with the evidence that a photo he gave was doctored, told his protege that a lie “is most convincingly hidden between two truths.” Scully, desperate for answers as to what happened to her during her abduction, is taken down the primrose path by the Syndicate’s shadowy First Elder. He volunteers to her that she was indeed abducted and experimented on, and that those experiments were conducted in one of these secret rail cars by the Japanese men she begins to recollect after her encounters in Allentown. The lie in this case is that there was no hint of alien contact, involvement, or technology used. A diversion meant to throw people like Mulder off the scent of what was really going on. This also fits with what Scully believes what was really going on with all those Nazi scientists in “Paper Clip,” human tests covered up by the government that only later developed an extraterrestrial aroma when conspiracy theorists of The Lone Gunmen’s ilk got their hands on the scraps of information they could.
It really is quite an elaborate game the Syndicate has going for it. In any cover-up, plausible deniability is the name of the game. But as we have seen in real life, with scandals much more mundane than those on the program, from sexual infidelity to bridge closures, contrition is the quickest road to rehabilitation. The people though who are left holding the bag are those caught in the middle: the Scullys and the Betsy Hagopians and the lepers. It has been a long road back for Dana Scully, and her conflict continues to be that between what she can barely remember about her experiences and the evidence that she acquires that can prove what happened to her. The First Elder sure has given her a lot of evidence, but as Radhika warned above, we (and Scully herself especially) should take this evidence at face value, and keep in mind from whom this information is coming from and the agenda in admitting as much.
Back on the train, Mulder has his own sort of predicament, a struggle between questions he wants answered and proof he wants to obtain and the preservation of his own life. This segment is a classic locked-room scenario, played out in many books, films, and television shows. Still, with this supposed NSA agent to contend with as well, Mulder has his work cut out for him. It’s a nice touch that both Mulder and Scully are trying to get information from individuals who are at cross-purposes with what our heroes are trying to achieve in their investigations. The one thing The X-Files does so well is layering its story with paranoia, conflicting evidence, mistrust, misdirection, and misinformation that Mulder and Scully have to wade through. While we are still at a point in a program where it is an asset and not a liability, in the puzzle metaphor I frequently use, there are definitely some pieces that look like they should fit together. But we the audience would be damned to know how they fit together, if they fit together at all.
For me, the climactic moment when X saves Mulder from being incinerated in the explosion is extremely telling in respect and devotion X had/has for Deep Throat, his predecessor. From what we’ve seen of his character, X has been a more cautious and selfish informant as opposed to Deep Throat, unwilling to stick his neck out if it might jeopardize his safety. But with this episode, we see a shift in his internal allegiances. X does not want to end up shot on a bridge, but danger always lurks in the shadows when Mulder and Scully try to shine their flashlights on these dark corners.
Traditionally, the credits end on a shot with the words “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.” However, in some instances new text emerges.
“APOLOGY IS POLICY” is the tagline for this episode. A paraphrase of what Scully tells Mulder, warning him that by continuing his pursuit of the extraterrestrial, he is in fact helping to cover-up actual damning incidents committed by the government. The scraps that do come to light though are quickly smoothed over by a little PR, the truth buried or (in the case of this expisode) exploded.
AGENT PENDRELL WATCH
Briefly mentioned at the top of this post and first introduced to us in “Nisei,” Agent Pendrell is back in this episode, and if it wasn’t clear earlier, he is definitely harboring a little crush on our beloved Agent Scully. Unfortunately, poor Pendrell isn’t particularly smooth, which he comes to realize himself after telling Scully — who has told him to keep up his good work — to “keep it up yourself.” As Scully walks away, Pendrell, mutters to himself: “Keep it up yourself. What a doof.” At least you can’t blame the guy for trying.