“Cancer Man? What did you find?” – Fox Mulder
“Possibly everything. Maybe his background. Who he is, and who he wants to be.” – Melvin Frohike
In receipt of some particularly juicy bits of intelligence, The Lone Gunmen convene a meeting with our heroes to shed light on one of their most formidable adversaries.
Max: As we’ve moved into the middle third of the series’ run with our coverage of the fourth season, faithful readers have probably noticed that this one has gotten off to a bit of a rough start with some subpar episodes (excepting outings like “Home” and “Unruhe“). However, our fortunes have shifted for the better with “Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man,” a classic outing that purportedly shades in the background of one of the series’ most shadowy characters, and ruminates on the psychology of power.
The strength of this episode lives and dies on the abilities of William B. Davis and Chris Owens to portray the older and younger (respectively) Cigarette Smoking Man with a greater range of material than what has typically been given to the “chain smoking son of a bitch.” With Mulder and Scully as well as the The Lone Gunmen being reduced to voices on CSM’s surveillance of the TLG offices, this episode is perhaps the show’s most experimental outing to date. Mulder and Scully typically have a case to investigate, and we as the audience are taken on a wild ride into the paranormal. Here, there is no case, nothing to solve, only revelations about a man who has constantly thwarted our agents at every turn.
Laid out as a series of vignettes, “Musings” plays like a greatest hits (literally and metaphorically) of the CSM’s life, starting with his reassignment from the armed forces in 1962 to a project of the utmost secrecy and discretion. Tasked by some rather shady individuals, the CSM accepts the mission of assassinating President Kennedy and setting up Lee Harvey Oswald as the patsy, as individuals in the higher echelons of the government have lost faith in their Commander In Chief after the Cuban Missile Crisis. And thus we have entree into the CSM’s ascension into the ranks of the shadow government, the cadre of men pulling the strings of men like J. Edgar Hoover to get things done according to a carefully guarded agenda.
This includes offing the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once he begins to show sympathies toward and praise of Marxist principles, and chastising the FBI director when his usual bag of dirty tricks fails to keep the man with a dream under control. In a telling moment, the CSM doesn’t delegate this mission to a subordinate and takes it upon himself to do the deed, as he has too much respect for the man that will die by his bullet.
We are treated to other scenes, including one of some comedy relief where we learn that some of his subordinates are responsible for the outcomes of sporting events and even the Academy Awards, that is when they aren’t dealing with Saddam Hussein, the unrest in Yugoslavia, and an up and coming FBI agent who has developed a fascination in a collection of cases termed X-Files. The CSM says he will handle the matter of “Spooky” Mulder personally, and it is here where the audience learns Mulder’s office was bugged when our heroes first met, with the CSM listening in on them talking about an odd case in the very plausible state of Oregon.
But perhaps the most meaningful exploit in the purloined file on the CSM involves one Christmas eve when a UFO crashes in an unknown location, and Deep Throat reminds the CSM it is international policy that any surviving EBE be exterminated. With a flip of a coin, we see it is Deep Throat’s unsavory task to dispatch with the alien himself, an event we know horrified him so deeply that he began to feed Mulder information. Those of us watching at home also get a nice bit of information ourselves, when the CSM calls Deep Throat, “Ronald.” Our old friend finally has a name.
Now, this being The X-Files, it is highly unlikely we can take all of the information given to us at face value. In fact, CSM’s origins with the Kennedy assassination directly contradict what we know of him, since in “Apocrypha,” he and Bill Mulder were tasked to talk to the survivors of the Zeus Faber mutiny a full decade before Dealey Plaza.
It is probable that this information was given to The Lone Gunmen by the CSM himself, either to divert the attentions of Mulder, Scully, and our crusading trio or quite frankly just to mess with them. We do see that the CSM takes a bit of delight in foiling The Lone Gunmen’s supposedly state of the art surveillance countermeasures, and his threatening posturing with Frohike at the end of the episode serves to underscore his belief in his God-like status, able to pick anyone off at the day and time of his choosing.
Radhika: As Max points out, everything presented to us in this episode could very much be false, and I believe some show runners did confirm we weren’t supposed to take this episode as gospel, as even Frohike says much of the information he gathered was from a story in a subscription. But I think we get an accurate sense of the inner workings of the Cigarette Smoking Man, one of the most memorable antagonists in television history, and it’s rather interesting, horrifying and even amusing to get into the man’s psyche. Even if certain events are false, the CSM can picture himself in those situations, and that itself says a lot about the character.
The CSM, powerful as he is, is still a somewhat ordinary human being and a pitiable figure at that. He doesn’t just worry about manipulating political superpowers — he childishly doesn’t want to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. He’s an aspiring writer, using the name “Raul Bloodworth,” excited to see one of his stories finally go to print, only to find out it’s in a rag of a magazine and that his ending has been changed, which means his hopes to resign from his general duties have been dashed. He has grown increasingly isolated as life goes on and while he appreciates an invitation to join one of his subordinates for a holiday dinner, he declines, handing out the same tie as a Christmas present to everyone in the room. The CSM seems to want more out of his life, but can’t seem to get out of the world he finds himself in.
That brings us to his great monologue, riffing on a certain line from Forrest Gump, an oft-quoted movie at the time. “Life is like a box of chocolates. It’s a cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift no one ever asked for.” Bleak, perhaps, but not entirely untrue either. As the CSM goes on, he uses his chocolate metaphor to philosophize about how much of life is the same, because minus the occasional interesting gem of a moment or opportunity, we’re all stuck. (Someone call Rust Cohle!)
As Frohike goes on to say: “He’s the most dangerous man alive, not so much because he believes in his actions, but because he believes his actions are all which life allows him.” The CSM is presented to us as a desperate, lost character — one who clings onto a mild hope that things can change, only to have that hope dashed.
For those of you who are watching the series for the first time while reading this, you should probably skip this portion: Watching this episode after viewing the whole series and having had time to mull over various questions about Mulder’s parentage, it seems the writers were already setting us up to realize the CSM could very well be our favorite G-Man’s father (there’s a Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker situation, if there ever was one). We see him glancing at a photo of the Mulder family at one point, and then during the scene where he declines the holiday invite, he claims he has family to see before going on to pause outside Mulder’s office door for a bit.
I could very well be seeing something that was never intended to be a part of the episode because I really don’t know how far ahead any of the show runners were thinking by this point.
But even if this is a case of retroactively reading too much into some “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” scenes, this episode makes it clear that the CSM is much more than the wordless lurking figure we met in the “Pilot.” He has evolved to the point where an entire story revolves around him, and he is going to be sticking around for a while.