“This isn’t Colonization, this is spontaneous repopulation! All our work! …. If it’s true, they’ve been using us all along! We’ve been laboring under a lie!” – Well Manicured Man
Welcome to our first entry in our five part look at The X-Files: Fight the Future. We kick off the week examining the effect the film has on the mythology of the show.
Max: The tensions that began brewing in the “Patient X” two-parter carry over into the film, as the Syndicate is now faced with the startling possibility that the alien colonists it has been collaborating with for decades haven’t been forthcoming about certain aspects of colonization, the date of which we’ve heard has been set. Not that the Syndicate has been on the up-and-up itself, as access to alien tissue and the black oil has offered the opportunity to develop a vaccine against the viral infection that captures Mulder and Scully’s interest throughout the film.
We have, for the most part, followed the mythology along something of a straight line, from a group of high school kids tested on in the Pacific Northwest to an international conspiracy of silence that used the Cold War and paramilitary operations as cover for abductions, experiments, and imprisonment on innocent civilians, including family members of the Syndicate (like Cassandra Spender and Samantha Mulder) and individuals that threatened the secrecy of the project (Dana Scully). Each new layer attacked this cabal from a different angle, but for the most part a consistent alternate history of the post-WWII world had been laid out. But now, with the knowledge that the sinister black oil can gestate a new EBE inside of its host, all of this is out the window.
One of the objectives of Fight the Future was that it needed to work on two fronts: as a continuation of the mythology that rewarded long-time viewers of the show and also as a standalone film for moviegoers who couldn’t tell toxic green blood from branched DNA. To this end, the revelation of a heretofore-unknown ability of the black oil served as the perfect launch pad that could serve both purposes. The oil is such a potent visual threat (as we discussed when it was introduced in “Piper Maru“) that it is easy — even for neophytes — to accept as an antagonistic threat, especially in a scene as unsettling as the Texas boy being consumed by the oil crawling underneath his skin.
What the black oil eventually gestates, it becomes a supremely violent grey extraterrestrial, an absolutely terrifying creation as dangerous and arresting as the Xenomorphs from the Alien film series. These beings are definitely not the conception seen before in the series, certainly not the figures that ran through the mine full of files in “Paper Clip.”
That mine was owned by the Strughold Mining Company, and in the film we finally meet Conrad Strughold, its namesake and the apparent invisible head of the Syndicate. His presence reinforces the staggering implications that the gestation of new EBEs brings to the Syndicate’s project. The Well Manicured Man’s dissenting opinion in the London meeting is an extension of fifth season misgivings, when he wanted to join the Faceless Rebels in opposing the colonists. His frustrations with where things are going, paired with the resurgent influence of the Cigarette Smoking Man leaves him no choice but to turn to Mulder, giving him the tools to not only rescue Scully in Antarctica but to throw a wrench into the colonists’ plans.
Mulder and Scully operate for the majority of the film outside their official capacity as FBI agents, and it is apparent that the spectacular explosion in Dallas (a deliberate reference to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995) was yet another ploy to break up and discredit the duo for good (and also dispose of inconvenient evidence like the infected Texas boy’s body). There is a lot of hand wringing about the future, especially when Scully nearly tenders her resignation to go back to medicine. The duo’s eventual investigation takes them through a lot of the familiar signposts and mythological iconography (bees, viral infections, etc.). This is mostly in the context of a viral infection of extraterrestrial origin, and they don’t quite make the connection to the black oil, but this is more of a concession to the new audiences the filmmakers wanted to court.
It is in this capacity that the film introduces disgraced OBGYN Alvin Kurtzweil, a former Syndicate member that worked on the project when Mulder was still a kid. His info dumps lay out the stakes that Mulder and Scully must work against, a canvas of a possible government-sanctioned apocalypse. I must admit though that it is kind of hilarious to hear of FEMA be spoken of in such ominous terms, given how badly the organization mismanaged the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina seven years later. Or maybe it just wants us to think it’s inept? Hmmm? In any case, Kurtzweil’s expertise on the female anatomy and reproductive systems is a definite link to the various hybridization projects that have peppered the series.
Radhika: Quite a varied group of men has been part of the Syndicate over the years (well, as varied as a bunch of old white guys can be), but even with the introduction of new characters like Kurtzweil, one thing is clear: The pattern of dissent and desire to reveal the ever-evasive truth is consistent. In season five’s “Travelers,” we saw that even Mulder’s father — who got wrapped up in the Syndicate’s web until the bitter end — had at least some leanings to break away from the hive mind of his shadowy compatriots.
While Mulder has always seemed like something of a lone wolf (with Scully simultaneously tearing down his theories and fiercely standing by his side), he’s never been completely alone. He’s had a series of informants over the years, from Deep Throat to X to Kurtzweil, who have all wanted to expose colonization and the crimes committed to attain the Syndicate’s goals.
In addition to meeting Kurtzweil here, we get the final “humanization” of the Well Manicured Man — who exits the stage in a burst of self-sacrifice. The Well Manicured Man is frustrated, as Max pointed out, and has been so for a very long time. We get glimpses of his life as a family man, as he spends time at his English mansion, watching over his family members and even admitting he’s late to a Syndicate meeting because his grandson broke his leg. He is the polar opposite of the Cigarette Smoking Man, a man he despises, a man who ultimately abandoned his own family and seems to view the world through nothing but a callous lens.
The Well Manicured Man is far from innocent — his tenure as a grey character was rather legendary on the show — but he represents the complexity of humanity and he has a conscience. Disillusioned, despite trying to mean well in regards to colonization, he ultimately chooses Mulder and Scully’s side, and chooses his own death by car bomb before his betrayal can be discovered. It’s a tremendous blow for the mythology, as we know it, while also being a necessary step for things to move forward.
Interestingly, while the mythology is packaged to be at least somewhat accessible to a newbie audience, it’s also super amped up here — as if the show has been put on steroids. And I suppose that makes sense if you’re going to make a feature film out of a series that already had five seasons on television. The black oil is bigger and has apparently been around since prehistoric times, the bees — imagery from season four — are back and end up becoming a major plot point…. The conspiracy is larger and there are secret labs for experimentation everywhere. And this time, the spaceship we finally get a good clear glimpse of at the end of the film, is definitely a spaceship. (And of course, Scully is conveniently mostly passed out for that.)
Oddly enough, the only thing that does feel like less of a presence is the Cigarette Smoking Man, a legendary figure in X-Files mythology, whose role grew exponentially over the years. But here, he just seems to show up at convenient moments — representing an old guard, perhaps — while doing very little to move the plot along. Here, he’s something of a shadowy puppet master, similar to his role in the Pilot and earlier episodes of season one, the guy behind the secret lab Mulder rescues Scully from in Antarctica, but very rarely the outright antagonist. But he also lives on and is the guy who warns that Mulder remains a threat to the Syndicate at the very end, right as we learn that the X-Files have been reopened.
Despite some of the movement seen in the film, including the Well Manicured Man’s death, this ending gives us something of a status-quo conclusion, though this time Mulder (and Scully?) may believe even harder in everything the X-Files represent. No one has really won or lost the overarching war and there are still plenty of questions about colonization, even though we kind of learned a little more. But enough has changed for The X-Files to transition into a new era. Fight the Future is a bridge between two worlds and two eras, while also serving as a window to enjoy our “little show” in the spotlight.