“So what you’re saying here is the old man is …” – Dana Scully
“Jason Nichols. Although common sense may rule out the possibility of time travel, the laws of quantum physics certainly do not. In case you forgot, that’s from your graduate thesis. (smiling at her) You were a lot more open-minded when you were a youngster.”
– Fox Mulder
Our agents look into the case of a cryobiologist accused of murdering a colleague, but the truth may be stranger than science fiction.
Max: It is somewhat appropriate that with all the talk of lost time in the preceding two-part mythology episodes that we come to this MOTW episode, as The X-Files dives head first into the well-traversed waters of time travel. While Mulder has thrown out the concept as an off-the-cuff possibility to explain previous cases (most notably bringing up the Philadelphia Experiment in “Død Kalm“), this is the only episode until now to deal with the concept directly. And for a piece of fiction that came out before the hard sci-fi of the 2004 film Primer made accuracy a virtual prerequisite for the genre, the episode teases enough plausible mechanics (and limits the scope of travel) to where it doesn’t distract from telling a cogent story.
The story begins with two academics arguing about possible falsified research when an old man attempts to warn them about a dangerous street and that one of them will be killed at 11:46. A campus police officer apprehends the old man, but one of the academics named Jason Nichols begins to see these ravings come true and tries to stop his colleague Lucas from getting run over by a bus. But he fails to do so, and the bus driver claims Jason pushed Lucas. Mulder and Scully come into play when Mulder shows Nichols’ interrogation tape, and reveal to Scully that the campus police officer was found frozen to death, with Nichols prints all over the police cruiser.
What unfurls is a classic X-Files case of cat-and-mouse between our heroes and the old man, as the body count increases as a visiting Japanese scientist by the name of Yonechi is also found frozen to death, having arrived at MIT to have a meeting with Nichols. Conversations with Nichols as well as his fellow researcher/girlfriend named Lisa Ianelli reveal that Jason was working on a compound (years from being produced) that would act as a rapid freezing agent for cryological purposes, that that agent was injected into the police officer and Dr. Yonechi, and that the individuals would still be alive. This spurs Scully into working with Dr. Ianelli to attempt to revive Yonechi, which they are able to do for a few minutes until his body temperature reaches such high temperatures that his body catches fire and he burns to death.
When Mulder gets a tip that the old man has been staying at a nearby hotel, they enter the room to find not much other than a photograph of Nichols, Ianelli, and Yonechi together holding up champagne glasses in celebration. In one of his patented intuitive leaps, Mulder theorizes that the old man is in fact Jason Nichols come back from the future to prevent whatever work the three doctors in the photograph from coming to fruition. This is confirmed when Dr. Ianelli confronts the old man after he stalks her on a bus ride, and he explains to her that ten years from now, she would meet a scientist in Zurich who discovered tachyons, faster than light particles that would be the key to traveling through time, and that the freezing agent would temper the biological stresses for a human to make a trip possible. He then injects with her the compound and leaves her to freeze, but not before Mulder and Scully find her.
Events come to head back at the MIT cryobiology lab, where Scully attempts to revive Dr. Ianelli while Mulder goes to confront the older Jason Nichols. Unfortunately, our Jason Nichols gets to his older doppleganger first, and a struggle ensues as the older Nichols tries to erase his research from the mainframe. Mulder can only watch through a locked door as the two Jasons fight and then, as the older Jason bursts into flames, and takes his younger self with him. Fortunately for Scully, she is able to revive Dr. Ianelli successfully, and Ianelli is later seen looking at her computer, where the compound can be seen on the screen.
For a time travel story, it is certainly one of the more unique entries into the canon, being that there is no actual time travel depicted, only the initial discoveries and the eventual consequences of the act itself. One of the key elements of Primer was how the invention of time travel would be more of a curse than a blessing, unraveling relationships and destroying the world as we know it. Here, older Jason Nichols shares this sentiment, and his trip back to our time is his attempt at preventing that chaos. Time travel is one of my favorite areas of science fiction, so “Synchrony” is a favorite X-Files episode of mine, even though it isn’t necessarily one of the greats.
Radhika: “Synchrony” isn’t perfect and like many time travel stories, it does contain a few plot holes. (Like why would this guy use this compound when trying to prevent his research from living on?) Plus, I don’t feel particularly invested in any of the characters being that there’s nothing particularly sympathetic or interesting about them beyond playing their specific roles.
But the atmosphere of the episode and the effort behind it are pretty great, so it remains an enjoyable enough episode for me to watch. Plus, Mulder’s final lines, drawing from the thesis Scully wrote at 23, are worth contemplating a bit: “Although multidimensionality suggests infinite outcomes in an infinite number of universes, each universe can produce only one outcome.” Simply put, the future can’t be changed.
So here we have an episode where an older version of a time traveler tries to change the past, managing to get both the younger and older versions of himself killed. As the episode ends, we see Lisa attempting to construct the compound Jason will no longer be able to work on, hinting that the theory regarding the future being fixed is in fact correct. Despite everyone’s efforts to rectify the episode’s events, it seems that just about everything has been done in vain.
That’s a bit of a difficult pill to swallow, isn’t it?
While the episode is a standalone episode, if that theory holds true, it holds some larger implications for our main characters as well, which almost feels a bit contradictory to previous episodes’ about fighting: Fighting illness, fighting conspiracies, fighting to figure out that ever-elusive truth. Do any of their actions or stances really hold that much power, or will whatever’s meant to happen — whether it works in our heroes’ favor or otherwise — just occur because it was supposed to? How much control do we really have at the end of the day?
For all its imperfections, I appreciate that “Synchrony” does try to get philosophical — it’s a lot more enjoyable than the heavy-handed social commentary episodes earlier in the season and at least leaves you with a spooky sense of foreboding.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Michael Fairman – Playing the older Jason Nichols, Fairman has spent decades in the business, including long runs on several soap operas and recurring roles in Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, and LA Law. He’s also guested on Sons Of Anarchy, Cheers, ER, Night Court, and Firefly as the black marketeer Adelai Niska.
Hiro Kanagawa – Hiro is a returning face on the program, having already appeared in season two’s “Firewalker.” We discussed his career over there, but here he performed the role of Dr. Yonechi. Sadly, in both cases he died gruesome deaths. Perhaps this show wasn’t the best fit for you Hiro.