5×14: The Red and the Black

“Hear this, Agent Mulder. Listen very carefully, because what I’m telling you is deadly serious. There is a war waging, and unless you pull your head out of the sand, you and I and about five billion other people are gonna go the way of the dinosaur. I’m talking planned invasion — the colonization of this planet by an extraterrestrial race.”
— Alex Krycek

With Cassandra Spender missing, Scully resorts to hypnosis to figure out what’s been going on both with Cassandra and her own abduction. Meanwhile, the black oil remains perilous.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Radhika: And so we continue the tale of alien abductions and possible colonization. This is that borderline convoluted point in the mythology I referred to while discussing “Patient X,” but this episode is also largely fairly compelling and at least manages to show a lot of promise (which unfortunately dwindles as the series goes along). And unlike other two-parters where the second part seems to flounder, “The Red and the Black” does manage to hold its own.

When we last left the show, Scully was amongst a group of abductees — but when Mulder arrives at the scene, there are a number of burned corpses, and Scully is thankfully pretty okay. Meanwhile, Cassandra Spender, the older woman who claims to have been a multiple abductee, is missing. Her FBI agent son, Jeffrey Spender, is pretty pissed off.

Through hypnosis (in a scene that is both beautiful and mildly pornographic out of context), Scully remembers seeing the faceless rebels burning other abductees and then a colonist spacecraft killing the rebels and taking Cassandra. (This now reminds me of a more dramatic and consequential version of the multiple aliens in “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.”)

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Meanwhile, poor Marita Covarrubias has turned into a test subject, with the Syndicate trying to administer a black oil vaccine to her. It’s not working so well, so the Well Manicured Man goes after Krycek, who’s being held captive on a Russian freighter, demanding a Russian vaccine that is eventually used on Marita. Krycek tracks down Mulder and goes on a huge spiel about aliens colonizing the planet. After some sitting and thinking, it looks like Mulder’s belief in extraterrestrials is back (while Scully’s is waning thanks to chatting with Spender who says his mother pretty much force fed him the idea of aliens in an effort to cope with his father abandoning the family).

The climactic scene involves Mulder screaming the always-cheesy “Noooo!” while a rebel alien apparently kills the Alien Bounty Hunter who has come to kill a captured rebel (More shades of Jose Chung, I tell you). By the end of the episode, Mulder has opened an X-File on Cassandra and we the audience learn, thanks to some artful filming and setup, that a) The Cigarette Smoking Man is still alive and b) He’s Jeffrey Spender’s father.

I’m going to be honest with you. I hate Spender. I know I’m not supposed to like Spender, and he only gets more annoying as the series progresses (with some minor redemption at the end, if I recall correctly). But in addition to disliking Spender, I also sort of don’t care about him. It’s like — why are we wasting precious screen time on this guy? So finding out that the CSM is alive through this plot device is vaguely annoying for me. How many of us really believed the old chimney was dead, after all?

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

I also didn’t really care much for the climactic scene, as you could probably infer from my tone above. And I know I praised this episode more than I have other “part two” episodes, but while the pacing is great and the acting (minus the “noooo”) is top notch, that scene actually just feels largely anticlimactic.

I think the big failing of the mythology on this show was that it always promised so much, right before bringing things back to the status quo. I like seeing Mulder back in the believer role, considering how poorly developed the whole “Mulder is now a skeptic” plotline was, and it suits his personality. But to see Scully kind of roll back into skeptic mode is a little disappointing and an oft-critiqued element of the series. This is where the series starts failing at making some real progress with the characters and plot, and that’s why it’s hard — despite the fact that it’s a good episode on its own — for me to gush over “The Red and the Black” too much.

Max: The reason why I think this is the beginning of the convoluted gymnastics that would doom the mythology in later seasons is that by now there are perhaps a little too many balls in the air. The addition of this faceless rebel faction puts a whole new set of wrinkles in the quest shared by both our heroes and the audience to understand what precisely is going on. Complicating a story is all well and good, but the issue is following through with some compelling answers. Much like what doomed Lost more than a decade later, the piling up of questions makes the story extremely top-heavy, and without reinforcing the foundation with resolutions the entire structure will collapse.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

The frustrations of lingering questions only get compounded by the relatively abrupt return to the status quo Radhika wrote about above. The “Mulder is now a skeptic” arc (if we can really call it an arc to begin with) was given such disappointing lip service. The show could have generate some really interesting story beats out of this, especially when Skinner of all people suggests that alien abduction is the more plausible explanation for the events on the bridge in his meeting with Mulder and Scully, as opposed to military cloak-and-dagger machinations. Scully’s conversation with Mulder about his memories and her need to recover hers is a touching emblem of a strength backed up by nearly five years of personal and professional ordeals.

Speaking of ordeals, how about that hypnoregression, eh? Scully’s session with Dr. Werber was wonderfully shot, both beautiful and horrifying in equal measure. While the rebels surround the bridge and being burning abductees, the colonist craft arrives to take Cassandra. Other abductees, including Scully raise their hands tracing Cassandra’s ascent in a quasi-religious moment. Admittedly, it does border on the kind of schmaltz that goes with the territory when The X-Files touches anything vaguely spiritual, but Scully looking into the sky — bathed in extraterrestrial light — is an iconic image in the program’s history. But whatever power these memories have is nearly destroyed by Scully’s reaction to them. I’m in agreement with Radhika about it, and Gillian gave a performance that you would swear would come out of one of the many videotapes in Mulder’s office that he claims aren’t his. It is quite silly to go there, but you can’t help but go there when it is so apparent if you closed your eyes.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

The CSM’s apparent resurrection from the dead is an obvious move in retrospect. Yes, there is the trope that no one in a science fiction property is ever truly dead, but you would hope that one of your favorite shows would rise above it (the answer to that is a no). His sudden assassination in “Redux II” was shot in a way to leave open this possibility (and I’m sure Carter had his return mapped out already), and he appears again almost as abruptly as his supposed demise. William B. Davis essays such an incredibly rich antagonist that keeping him away from the action must’ve been excruciating. How he will play into the new landscape of faceless rebels and a possible biological weapon (the vaccine) against the colonists remains to be seen, but the letter he wrote to Jeffrey was interesting in its implications in the growing suggestion that the paternity of Fox Mulder is not what “Spooky” has been lead to believe.

Aside from the somewhat ridiculous slow-mo resolution to the truck scene, the sequence is thematically close to that of Mulder’s predicament in season three’s “731.” In both, Mulder is perilously close to apprehending an extraterrestrial locked up in a container, with an individual charged with protecting the status quo threatening to derail the whole thing. And while X in one and a Faceless Rebel in another intervene, the resulting lack of tangible evidence is yet another one step forward, two steps back in the mythology. Mulder can’t catch a break, can he?

“The Red And The Black” dropped a lot of new puzzle pieces on the table, connected some, and made a mess of others. Krycek’s warnings to Mulder spell out what we can expect to see in episodes to come, and things are still curious enough to make one excited about things, particularly with a feature film on the horizon.

Traditionally, the credits end on a shot with the words “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.” However, in some instances new text emerges.

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

This episode’s tagline is “Resist Or Serve,” a quotation from Krycek’s confrontation with Mulder in apartment 42, relaying a message (presumably from the Well Manicured Man) that resistance to the colonist threat is possible, and if Mulder didn’t stop taking stupid pills he would face the consequences of the project The Syndicate has been collaborating on all these years.


One thought on “5×14: The Red and the Black

  1. Pingback: 5×15: Travelers | Apt. 42 Revisited

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