“What evidence are you then presenting us with today?” – Senator Sorenson
“Documents and interviews in support of a wide-ranging conspiracy to control a lethal bio-toxin that is, in fact, extra-terrestrial in origin.” – Dana Scully
The international intrigue surrounding the extraterrestrial rock concludes as Mulder gambles to escape from the gulag and Scully tries to continue her investigation while still under Congressional subpoena.
Max: When last we left our heroes, Mulder was imprisoned and infected with the black oil, and Scully was threatened with imprisonment herself if she didn’t cooperate with the Senate investigation into the death of the courier. Complicating the events of “Tunguska,” “Terma” follows the parallel tracks of Mulder, Scully, the CSM/WMM, and a reactivated Soviet-era spy as every faction are at cross-purposes in either containing or exposing the evidence of the infectious black oil.
Mulder, while being lead out into the prison yard for manual labor, takes it upon himself to escape his captors, taking Krycek hostage and commandeering a truck making deliveries to the camp. In an action-packed sequence, Mulder is pursued by guards on horseback, while Krycek bolts from the flatbed of the truck when Mulder is distracted after the brakes fail and he is forced to crash. Collapsing in the forest, he is picked up by the man whose truck he stole, taking Mulder to his home, where his wife tends to Mulder’s wounds, and our man pleads for help to get to St. Petersburg, where he can get a trip back home.
Krycek meanwhile runs into a band of young men missing their left arms, and convinces them that he is a hapless American accused spying and escaped from the prison camp. However, in the dead of night, this group surrounds him and cuts off his left arm, a tactic we learned from the trucker’s wife that prevents the prison from submitting the person to the tests Mulder went through. Normally you’d feel bad for a person whose arm is being forcibly amputated (and in such a crude manner), but given that the person in question is Alex Krycek, you can’t help but think the man is getting his just desserts.
Back in the United States, the CSM and WMM are facing a dangerous situation when they learn that Dr. Bonita Charne-Sayre (the woman we saw riding a horse at the farm in “Tunguska”) has been killed by the Russian spy Vassily Peskow, and the WMM demands that the CSM capture him, a request that the CSM can’t help by lord over the WMM after the WMM so cavalierly dismissed the CSM’s capabilities in the last episode. When they realize what Peskow is up to, and his movements, they question how he could know that the Syndicate was working on its own vaccine. We the audience though know the answer, as Krycek congratulates Peskow (with a shiny new prosthetic arm) on a job well done as the episode concludes, a turncoat to the bitter end.
One thing I really love about this pair of episodes is the Cold War intrigue it brings to the mythology, just another level of real-life tensions making for a richer story. We already know about the international agreements as regarding the existence of extraterrestrials as well as the pact to terminate any EBE captured in the course of operations. Now, we learn that the tensions between the two post-World War II superpowers extended into the realm of the extraterrestrial. The attempted smuggling of a Tunguksa-sourced meteorite via diplomatic pouch is emblematic of this conflict, and Krycek’s manipulation of Mulder and Scully by feeding them information they wanted to hear left our agents with tangible evidence (even if it fell out of their possession by Peskow’s hand). Mulder criticizes the Senate panel for dismissing the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and suggests that they are willingly ignoring such evidence. It says something though that even Scully submits that the black oil is of alien origin. But we really can’t be surprised, given that the chairman of the panel is in the pocket of the CSM, who in the final scene of the episode is observed being given Scully’s file on the case by the Senator, promptly tossing it in a box of files on its way to being buried and forgotten.
Radhika: The film-like quality I mentioned while discussing “Tunguska” can be found again in “Terma,” helping it feel like more of an “event” than an ordinary television show. But that said, even while “Terma” serves as the second part of the two episodes, I don’t think it’s as tight as its predecessor. It can be argued — as Max did to me while we discussed it outside this post — that perhaps the point is for Mulder and Scully to get wrapped up in other things, so that we don’t end up focusing on what’s important. After all: Part of The X-Files’ charm and intention was to bewilder and mislead us. But in my opinion, there are still ways to do that while maintaining a tight plot.
There are things I still enjoy about this episode, such as a continually stubborn and loyal Scully, who this time is perfectly fine with being locked up in contempt of Congress. She may not always agree with her partner’s methods or theories, but she’s certainly willing to stand up for him, even more than we’ve seen her do so in the past. And her outward relief at seeing Mulder return mid-hearing is also rather great — the cold hard demeanor completely collapses, and similarly, Mulder is pretty pleased to see her as well. (I know the shippers probably loved this, but I did not view this through shipper glasses. And on a small tiny cynical note: Why does Mulder keep ditching Scully to go have ridiculously dangerous adventures, while leaving her twisting in the wind?)
Speaking of, though, there’s a point in the proceedings where Mulder interrupts everything and questions why some find it so hard to believe in the existence of extraterrestrial phenomena. He makes some great points, but the speech is so classically over the top in some ways, that it really just reminds me of Simpsonized Mulder’s “The unsolved mysteries of unsolved mysteries” speech in The Simpsons/X-Files crossover, “The Springfield Files.”
Instead of coming across as heroic, the speech just feels tired, which is unfortunate, because so much of what Mulder’s been saying all along has been true.
Meanwhile, the introduction of Peskow the assassin is somewhat intriguing. In addition to getting rid of the doctor Max mentioned, he also goes after her test subjects, all infected by the black oil. He then destroys the virus by blowing up the oil well it resided in, giving us another action movie sequence of sorts. By the end of the episode, he seems to be more of a reluctant assassin, albeit an efficient one, and we realize that he was in league with Krycek (now sporting a really terrible looking fake arm). While all of these sequences take up a decent part of the plot, something about it feels so scattered — perhaps it’s the pacing — that I wish we’d had a little more insight about the drama going on here. But I guess that what we do know is, that despite seemingly being destroyed, there’s a lot more to this black oil than we thought before… and it will certainly be interesting to see how it ties into everything we know so far as time goes.
Traditionally, the credits end on a shot with the words “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.” However, in some instances new text emerges.
Here, the traditional tag is replaced by “E PUR SI MUOVE,” which is an Italian phrase attributed to Galileo Galilei, meaning “and yet it moves.” The most obvious tie in to this saying is the viscous black oil, always moving through the bodies of its host. It could also said to have thematic resonance to the Syndicate’s conspiracy itself, that despite the efforts of Mulder and Scully, the machinations of the CSM and WMM still “move” and continue.