“What the hell is going on? This is our own backyard …” – Second Elder
“This is no good. I don’t like being kept in the dark on this.” – First Elder
“Someone’s going to great lengths to sabotage our work.” – Well Manicured Man
Mulder is asked by his former hypnotherapist to meet with a woman he’s been helping to recover her memories of multiple abductions. Soon, events unfold that call into question what he and Scully believe.
Max: Earlier this season, the revelations made by the rogue DoD employee Michael Kritschgau profoundly transformed Mulder’s belief in the existence of extraterrestrials, and this is readily apparent when we first see him in this episode, skeptically questioning the experiences of an older woman who claims that her multiple abductions have given her a connection to an alien race. This race, she claims, has made her an apostle, charged with spreading the word for a new age on enlightenment. This woman, Cassandra Spender, is a patient of Dr. Heitz Werber, the same hypnotherapist that helped Mulder recover the memories of Samantha’s abduction.
The episode runs on two separate tracks that converge on yet another perilous mythology cliffhanger. In Kazakhstan, two boys bear witness to a massive conflagration of metal and bodies, as individuals gathered together for some unknown purpose a burned alive by men without faces. Converging on the scene, Marita Covarrubias and her UN envoy argue over jurisdiction with Alex Krycek and his Russian gulag goons. Taking into custody the last surviving boy, Krycek tells Marita to report back to her superiors in the Syndicate that everything is “going to Hell.” Infecting the boy with the black oil in the manner of the “Tunguska” tests, Krycek spirits the boy away on a vessel bound for the United States, to use as leverage as he makes quite clear to the Well Manicured Man on the phone.
Meanwhile, both Mulder and Scully take a look at Cassandra Spender’s background and experiences as a favor to Dr. Werber, but are warned by her son to keep out of her affairs. Jeffrey Spender, the son and coincidentally also an FBI agent, tells Scully about his mother’s experiences in a UFO cult and how they transformed her into a disturbed woman, something that caused the family a good deal of pain. Mulder is ready to wash his hands of the situation, but when a group of disparate individuals converge on good old Skyland Mountain and are burned alive (by more faceless men) for their troubles, it is Scully that pulls him back in.
Cassandra spoke of so called “lighthouses,” sites of great importance and activity where people (particularly abductees) would gather during the final days of whatever the aliens’ plans are. Scully can’t help but draw the connection back to when she was abducted at the hands of Duane Barry at the same location. Mulder, to his credit, has random victims x-rayed to find implants just like Scully and Cassandra have, but is still unwilling to read into the events anything more than a covert military project operating under the smokescreen of extraterrestrial encounters. As Scully playfully comments to her partner earlier in the episode: “Well … I guess I’m done here. You seem to have invalidated your own work. Have a nice life.” It is quite a shake-up of the series status quo to have Scully be the one to suggest the more out of the box scenarios, and perhaps the episode loses the kind of steam that is generated by Mulder’s brand of crusading for the truth.
We haven’t really dealt much with the fallout from Mulder’s realigned worldview. Sure, the Christmas two-parter had a lot of the hallmarks of the conspiracy, but it was more grounded in the mystery and well-being of little Emily Sim, with the circumstances surrounding her existence more grounded and man-made in nature. It isn’t until this episode that we see how much of a difference it has made, how much it has taken the wind out of Mulder’s sails. The old Mulder would’ve been just as gleefully enthusiastic as Scully claimed he was last episode to learn of another Skyland abductee, as well as the emergence of a seeming third-party that has laid waste to two gatherings of abductees. It’s not until Marita calls him, after she purloins the infected boy from Krycek, that he gets into any kind of action.
Unfortunately, this is too little too late, as Marita has gone missing from the phone booth and her car, and a call to Cassandra to see if Scully was with her results in Jeffrey picking up the phone to let Mulder know that his mother has gone missing. The final scene is yet another abductee congregation, attended by both Scully and Cassandra. However, the occasion is interrupted by those same faceless men, who being setting people on fire right before the credits roll.
The episode has to do quite a lot heavy lifting, and while it integrates together elements of the mythology that have thus far stayed separate, the introduction of the faceless men, as well as the shifting alliances within and without The Syndicate, can cause some people the need to whip out a notebook to keep everything straight.
Radhika: When Max and I were discussing this set of episodes, he said that this might be the start of that point in the mythology we were dreading — where things start getting a little too convoluted for their own good. I can follow the events of this episode just fine, but I am inclined to agree. While the images of the faceless rebels, the burning victims and the eventual glimpse of lights in the sky over masses of alleged abductees are striking and follow the path of The X-Files’ increasingly cinematic quality, there were moments in the story where I found myself rolling my eyes and turning into quite the skeptic myself.
Of course, I think I’m supposed to feel that way during those scenes, but that’s not a comforting thought either. Cassandra Spender, who I remembered liking in previous years, actually does come across as a little too loopy here, especially when she earnestly talks to Scully about how the aliens have much to teach us, and how Scully — as a doctor — would surely want in on it. Whether it’s aliens or the government, or the government and aliens working together, who have abducted people like Scully and Cassandra, nothing about these particular abduction experiences has sounded particularly pleasant to me. Poor Duane Barry (who gets a bit of a shoutout here) was a hot mess after his abductions, and the short glimpses of whatever we saw happening to Scully weren’t particularly enlightening. So legitimate experiences or not, I do feel like Cassandra has been brainwashed — whether it was the result of a cult, or something else.
But going back to Duane Barry for a second — what I do find interesting about Cassandra is that Mulder, and particularly his negotiations with the former abductee who went on to capture Scully, is the person who inspired her to seek help after going through multiple abductions. The doctor who treats Cassandra is the same guy who worked with Mulder back when he started experimenting with hypnoregression to figure out what happened to his sister. Everything is starting to come full circle here, and while Mulder’s the skeptic this time around, it’s a good way to pull him back into the web at the center of this series.
That said, as Max pointed out — we really haven’t dealt very much with Mulder’s realigned world view, and I wish we had prior to these episodes. Something about his staunch disbelief seems unnecessarily antagonizing here, especially considering he hasn’t entirely given up on believing in the paranormal itself. Even Scully points out that he’s “come a long way” in a bit of an exasperated tone, which certainly tells you something. But at least things are ramping up now with the introduction of a few new players, including Jeffrey Spender, who will prove to be a bit of an antagonistic pain soon enough. (Though can someone please explain how all these abduction-connected folks keep ending up at the FBI?) And we are starting to get a greater sense (maybe) of the type of role the Syndicate has played in everything.
With only a few episodes left before the big feature film, it’s time to see how it all plays out.
YES IT’S THAT LADY
Veronica Cartwright – The actress who plays Cassandra Spender is perhaps best known for her supporting role in the first Alien film, as well as the remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. She also starred in The Right Stuff, In The Bedroom, and Flight Of The Navigator. On television, she guested on Six Feet Under, ER, LA Law, Revenge, as well as the miniseries Tanner ’88.