“I think the dead are speaking to us, Mulder, demanding justice. Maybe that man was right. Maybe we bury the dead alive.” — Dana Scully
Mulder and Scully continue to investigate the mysterious black oil introduced to us in “Piper Maru,” while Scully also pursues the case of the man she believes killed her sister.
Radhika: Previously on The X-Files, a TON of stuff happened — we got introduced to the black oil and Skinner got shot, and Mulder somehow ended up in Hong Kong, where he found Krycek, who got infected by the black oil. Whatever could happen next?
Well, Skinner survives getting shot, but Mulder — not to be outdone — gets knocked unconscious in a crash. At that point, a black oil-infected Krycek goes missing after emitting a flashing light that usually means anyone in the vicinity — in this case, some dudes sent to apprehend him — could wind up suffering severely from radiation, which they do. Meanwhile, the Cigarette Smoking Man, who we learn in a flashback has known about the black oil for decades, orders the bodies of these men destroyed.
The plot thickens as Scully discovers that a lab analysis has found that Skinner’s shooter is the same person who shot her sister, while Mulder is determined that the black oil jumping from body to body is used as a medium by an alien to hop around. Scully manages to apprehend Luis Cardinal, the shooter of both Scully’s sister and Skinner, after he tries to waylay an ambulance that Skinner’s being transported in (and of course, later in the episode, Cardinal is found dead in a jail cell).
The agents get directed to a missile silo in North Dakota, where a salvaged UFO has been stored, but they’re naturally found and escorted away. But deep inside the silo, we see Krycek, coughing out the black oil in his body, onto the UFO (ET phone home?) By the episode’s end, Krycek is seen trapped inside the silo, banging on the door and screaming to be let out.
There is again a lot happening in this episode, though I’ve tried to keep it pared down to the most basic elements of plot. It provides some resolution with Scully at least being able to solve who was behind her sister’s death, even though she couldn’t bring him to justice. But there’s also the usual level of open-endedness: the agents not being able to pinpoint exactly what was going on in the silo, Krycek seemingly trapped, and the overall threads of the conspiracy still not making complete sense. But it is a reasonable conclusion to the series of events kicked off in “Piper Maru.”The episode is also rather iconic, and here’s some evidence of how etched into someone’s mind it can be, even years after the episode has been watched. I wound up having some company over while in the middle of the episode, and the person asked if it was before or after Krycek coughed out the black oil from his body. And as that moment unfolded later in the episode, we both recalled how iconic an instance it was — how representative of The X-Files it was, much like the flashlights we see Mulder and Scully using in full force while they explore the silo.
Mulder’s also on a roll in this episode, upping the snark with lines like “Nice guy, killed my father” while talking about Krycek, along with a quippy “I didn’t sign any disarmament treaty” before entering the silo. There’s also a bit of visual comedy, with the Lone Gunmen skating in an ice rink in an effort to track down the digital tape Krycek has been using to sell information. Even though the characters in this episode are all on missions, all playing their part in a greater puzzle, the writers and actors don’t forget to have fun while in the middle of the air of seriousness, and that helps the episode feel even more well rounded.
Max: It’s nice to have, relatively speaking, a rather straightforward mythology episode as opposed to the gymnastics we had to perform in “Piper Maru.” If the previous episode’s table-setting was meant to link us from the French salvage vessel to Alex Krycek, then the task of “Apocrypha” is to engage Mulder and Scully on a quest to find him and the digital tape he was selling secrets from. Of course, things are never that simple and never go as planned in the universe of The X-Files. Skinner’s life is still in danger, and while Scully was able to connect his shooting by Luis Cardinal to that of her sister, locating the fugitive wetworks agent is another story entirely.The Syndicate is back in full force in this episode, and again the more level-headed members of the group (notably the First Elder and the Well Manicured Man) continue to voice their frustrations at the rather cavalier way their man in Washington (our favorite villain, the CSM) handles the affairs and duties of his charges. Being called on the carpet in front of the group, the CSM cagily dodges questions that might implicate him in lies he has told, and when asked about the business with the shooting of AD Skinner, he claims Luis Cardinal went rogue, acting on his own accord. In a sort of circle of art and life imitating each other, as a New Jerseyan I can’t help but snicker at this scene which reminds me so much of Chris Christie’s behavior when the whole “Bridgegate” debacle became public knowledge. In both cases you have reckless bullies who create climates of fear and intimidation without regard for the bigger picture. Like Christie, either the CSM was complicit in the shooting of Skinner, or he was managerially incompetent if Cardinale did indeed go off the reservation.
This episode boasts one of the best scenes in the season when, while transporting Skinner to another hospital, Cardinal makes another attempt on his life. Luckily, Scully is in the ambulance with him and gives chase, finally catching up to him in an alleyway. This is a real moment of catharsis for Scully, as she screams at Cardinal to verify that he is the one who shot Melissa, and then when he offers up the location of Krycek as a bargaining chip, pleading to know where he is. You can see nearly a season’s worth of anger, sadness, and resentment exploding to the surface of Scully’s face, and how dangerously close her emotions take her to almost pulling the trigger and ending his life. Local police intervene before she has a chance to do anything, but it is still an interesting moment to ponder, knowing how much faith Scully has in the system to bring men like Cardinal to justice, counterbalanced by her rage and experiences she’s had with Mulder that prove justice like she envisions is hard to come by.
The flashback to 1953 that Radhika mentioned is a tantalizing morsel of the mythology that says a lot about the scope of “the project” that the WMM mentioned in this episode. We see the CSM and Bill Mulder talking to one of the men Johansen locked up in the hold of the Zeus Faber during the mutiny, demanding that people know the truth about what happened. While Bill looked sympathetic to the man’s plight, the CSM gave only dismissive false assurances while lighting up one of the millions of cigarettes the guy has had to have had in his lifetime.
With the black oil now introduced, and the concept of human doctors working on supposed alien abductees in the other mythology two-parter of this season, the conspiracy spearheaded by the Syndicate is beginning to take form. The contours of the what the puzzle is supposed to look like are coming into focus, and it is actually reassuring (in looking back on the series as a whole) that this point in the show, all the pieces still track. Everything we have seen and been told about makes sense in the overall. Not to spoil things for those playing for the first time, but I think at this juncture, a reasonably intelligent person could game out exactly what is the Syndicate’s project given the current playing field.
Production wise, we seem to have gotten into a nice rhythm of the mythology opening and closing the seasons, as well as checking in with it once in the “fall” and again in the “spring” with two-parters that act like little feature films (probably good experience to have knowing that an actual film is in their future). Next time we examine “Pusher,” a MOTW that is one of the most talked about amongst fellow X-Philes.
AGENT PENDRELL WATCH
Introduced to us in the last mythology two-parter, Agent Pendrell has returned to carry out the bidding of Agent Scully, the woman he admires so very much. In this episode, Pendrell runs the saliva sample that Scully uses to identify Cardinal. It’s all business as usual for Scully, but a brief glimpse of Pendrell in this episode reminds the viewers of his unrequited love. Poor Pendrell.