“You ever seriously thought about dying?” — Dana Scully
“Yeah, once, when I was at the Ice Capades.” — Fox Mulder
En route to a teambuilding conference, Mulder and Scully conveniently manage to find an X-File when they’re stopped at a roadblock because an unknown predator is on the loose.
Radhika: I will always love “Detour,” and that’s because as some of you may recall, it was the first full episode of The X-Files I ever watched. (I was still fairly young — 12 — when this aired, and my tendency to get frightened by anything when I was a kid made it hard for me to sit through an entire episode). This is the episode that led to an encyclopedic knowledge of episode titles and character biographies that I cannot shake to this day, even though I barely retain half this level of information about the other TV shows I watch.
“Detour” builds on a classic X-Files formula — it’s a Monster of the Week episode, it takes place in a Florida forest, which looks suspiciously like Canada, and there’s some classic Mulder and Scully banter for all to enjoy. Some critics of the episode have said this episode is a little too derivative of “Quagmire” and others have said the case is weakened just for the sake of bringing us special character moments.
In retrospect, perhaps the case is a little weak. And I have certainly criticized other episodes for being too derivative of past installments. But “Detour” also remains suspenseful and creepy even with any flaws, and I personally do feel the character moments are genuine. There is much dialogue here that Philes I know loved to quote back in the day, and still do sometimes. Formulaic can be a good thing when it’s done right, and I strongly believe it’s done correctly in “Detour.”
The beginning of the episode is quite suspenseful on its own when two surveyors are attacked and killed by assailants with glowing red eyes. A father and son out on a hunting trip discover the gruesome scene, with the son running home as two shots are fired.
But the tone does switch to a somewhat lighter one when we find our agents in the backseat of a car with other agents, on their way to a team-building conference. Mulder is ready to escape as fast as he can, and he uses a roadblock they encounter as an opportunity to do so. Mulder and Scully get onto the case of the unknown assailants, eventually finding themselves in the woods with a team to investigate. Thanks to the classic strategy of divide and conquer by the mysterious creatures, our agents are soon split from the team.
The agents have their final encounter with the creatures when Scully falls into an underground chamber where she manages to kill one of the creatures, which has almost human-like features, but wood-like skin. The words “Ad noctum” are carved nearby. This causes Mulder, who had previously suggested the possibility of Mothmen, to theorize that the creatures are evolved versions of the Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the area 400-plus years ago. Realizing they could still try attacking the team that entered the woods, he rushes off to the motel where Scully has gone to pack up their things. As he rushes her away, the camera takes us to the area under the bed, where red eyes are glowing.
The structure of this episode is reminiscent of a classic monster movie or mystery, with that touch of danger still prevalent at the end, which is why I consider it one of the stronger standalones. And the scene where Mulder and Scully spend the night in the woods, after Mulder goes into shock from being attacked by the creatures, is fantastic. Most of it is innocuous enough, with banter about whom Scully identified with more: Betty or Wilma? (Scully’s response: Betty’s bustline, which Mulder enthusiastically says he identified with as well.) But then there’s even a bit of philosophizing about death and Scully’s brush with cancer, before she winds up singing an off-key version of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” at Mulder’s behest and eventual horror. It’s all a perfect mixture of tender and comedic, which The X-Files often did remarkably well.
Max: Radhika spoke of this episode being perhaps a little too derivative, and I can think of another example: “Darkness Falls” from the first season. Both episodes deal with creatures being confronted with the encroachment of civilization, both from logging and commercial development. Still, the case is only one part of the episode, and like my partner argued above, there is much to enjoy and praise when watching the episode.
The mix of humor and horror, suspense and release is one of the hallmarks of “Detour,” and its unique synthesis is what I come back to and revel in any time I have a chance to watch the episode. Given that we are moving into five seasons of watching our heroes, this outing expertly understands the collective history of Mulder and Scully, which permits the writers to use a shorthand in their interactions which come off as effortless and real, as much as two individuals who have had this much history and tumult would have in the real world. “We have communication like that, unspoken. You know what I’m thinking,” Mulder tells Scully in this episode, and it is the truth.
Radhika went over a lot of ground, but there are so many wonderful moments that it would be remiss not to mention them. The car ride with Agents Kinsley and Stonecypher (awesome names, by the way) is a hilarious tableau of contrasts. These agents seem to have a much more outwardly normal (or normative) partnership, that it is ironically jarring for us sitting at home to see these G-men that haven’t concerned themselves with aliens and government conspiracies. It is this gung-ho naiveté that Mulder makes such glorious snarky hay out of. However, these agents are not treated as objects of derision or ridicule, and in fact it is with their efforts that Mulder and Scully are rescued from the cave where the creatures deposited the people they captured. Kinsley gets the thanks from the wife and child of the hunter, but he admits to Mulder that he and Scully actually deserve all the credit.
Someone else deserving of credit is the music composer for the series, Mark Snow. His tracks here are first-rate, and the incessant, propulsive almost-tribal beats he throws in during scenes of pursuit and danger really help to amp up the tensions of being in a forest where you do not know the lay of the land but the creatures that are after you most certainly do.
When thinking about “Detour” though, I still keep coming back to the campfire (or lack thereof) scene. It is just such a perfect encapsulation of the relationship between Mulder and Scully, and it touches on so many events and emotional undercurrents that you can’t help but smile watching the scene unfold. Abductions, cancers, murders, conspiracies, all of that happening to these two people in such a short amount of time. Yet here they are: still alive, still partners, still committed to their jobs, their ideals, and each other. Some people recoil in horror whenever anything remotely resembling a shipping moment comes up in the series, but I believe this goes beyond a reduction of Mulder and Scully to a romantic relationship. After all, there are profound relationships that are assuredly platonic. But here we have one of the best written partnerships in television history, the core of The X-Files. And Scully sings to Mulder, out of tune. And Mulder enjoys it. Better than building a tower of furniture any day of the week, I’d say.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Anthony Rapp – Yes, that is the actor and singer best known for the role of Mark Cohen in the Broadway production of Rent playing the ill-fated Jeff Glaser in this episode. Rapp has done a lot of theater work and also guest starred on shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and appeared in films such as Twister and A Beautiful Mind.
Merrilyn Gann – Actress Merrilyn Gann, who appears as Mrs. Asekoff, played Rose Abbott on Everwood and has appeared in countless other TV shows over the years, from 21 Jump Street (yes, the original Johnny Depp version) to The Killing. She’s also had a few film roles as well.
Alf Humphreys – Alf Humphreys is one of those guys you’ll see in all sorts of random things, whether it’s in his breakthrough role in First Blood or other roles in film X2 and TV show Smallville.