“Mulder, I know what you did. I know what happened to me but without ignoring the science, I can’t… Listen, Mulder … You told me that my science kept you honest. That it made you question your assumptions. That by it, I’d made you a whole person. If I change now… It wouldn’t be right… or honest.” – Dana Scully
Our heroes struggle against adversity (when don’t they??) investigating a possible outbreak of the virus from Fight the Future.
Max: There is perhaps no clearer indication that we are in a new era of The X-Files than the bright California sun beating down on the audience that kicks off the episode. Yes, we are no longer in dreary, rain-besotted Vancouver any longer X-Philes. Even the title of the episode bears witness to the upheavals on and off screen. After Fight the Future proved to be a success, it certainly put added pressure on the cast and crew to start off the sixth season right, especially for those who may have been converted to the cause over the summer. Certainly the episode has a lot of heavy lifting, having to not only capitalize on the revelations of the feature film, but also to bring them back into the fold of the show’s mythology as well as picking up the dangling plot from “The End,” last season’s harrowing finale.
Mulder and Scully are brought before yet another OPR board, this time to justify their petition to be reassigned back to the X-Files. Naturally, Mulder barely hides his annoyance at having to jump through hoops, particularly when Scully tells the board that her analysis of the virus found in the honeybee suggests that it was very much of this planet. Later, that annoyance turns to disgust when Mulder learns that Jeffrey Spender and a recuperated Diana Fowley have been assigned to the division instead.
The episode then becomes a contest of one-upmanship, as Mulder drags Scully yet again into an unauthorized investigation into the death of a pharmaceuticals employee in Arizona. What they find (including Gibson Praise, escaped from the CSM’s clutches) is that one of those violent EBE’s from the film has gestated and is on the loose. Mulder wants it as evidence so that he can get back to his work, but Spender, under orders from his father (and to a larger extent the Syndicate), is meant to tamp down the situation.
Overall, I think the episode works despite having to juggle so many balls in the air, which says something given my concern in the “Patient X” two-parter that the writers were starting to lose the plot of the mythology. Granted, the execution is a bit shaky at times, but I felt strangely reenergized after watching the episode. Mulder and Scully may have to contend with a new assistant director, who looks none too pleased at having to take them under his wing.
However, the outlook is not as bleak as it was in the beginning of the second season, when the agents were split up and paranoia was running high. I think this due to the fact that we as viewers better understand the rhythms of the show, and we know it will be only a matter of time before we are safely ensconced back in the Bureau basement. Also, Mulder and Scully are changed individuals, the tragedies they’ve had to endure only strengthening their resolve.
But as much as they have changed, unfortunately the writers do the characters of Mulder and Scully a bit of a disservice in the episode. We talked a lot about the dynamic between our heroes while writing about Fight the Future (hell, we devoted a whole piece to it), but it seems like the writers doubled down on the whole skeptic/believer song-and-dance routine. It could be par for the course, given how much weight Mulder gave to his partner’s trust and faith in doing the work of a scientist and gathering the evidence that would serve as a loud and unequivocal affirmation in his belief in the extraterrestrial. Still, the back-and-forth can wear on you as a viewer, and is enshrined in common critiques of the series over the years.
I do though miss not seeing the Well Manicured Man during the scene where the Cigarette Smoking Man reports on what is happening in Arizona to the group. The Second Elder’s dissent is a poor substitute for the majesty of the ole English chap. Your wonderful exhortations and expressions of shock will be forever missed, sir.
Radhika: It’s amazing how much manages to stay the same amid the many changes put into place during this season opener. I also found myself sharing some of Max’s frustration over the reiterated skeptic-believer dynamic, especially after rewatching the entire series up until this point over a condensed period of time.
Viewers always found the formula a bit astounding (after all, Scully’s a smart lady — she can only deny everything to a point), even if it could be comforting. But nothing makes the absurdity of the dynamic more obvious than ramming more than 100 episodes and a movie into your viewing schedule over the course of a year or so. It’s frankly a little exhausting to find Mulder and Scully at yet another standstill.
But a few things stood out for me, too: That bright sunshine, of course, which I remember automatically throwing me off when the episode aired. And the gore! There have been quite a few gory X-Files episodes over the years, but now it’s pretty obvious that the show has an even higher budget than before — the blood and the makeup/effects used for one person’s ravaged hand really show that this is a shinier X-Files. (The continued upgrade of Mulder and Scully’s wardrobe into clothes with flattering silhouettes also helps.)
Despite these visual changes, I realize the formula of this episode still falls into the general realm of “classic” X-Files, even though this was never my favorite season premiere. But there are more jokes than before, such as the Men in Black reference during Mulder and Scully’s review (Mulder rigidly says he hasn’t seen the film, while a higher up goes on to declare how great it was). We also hear about Mulder and Scully’s questionable travel expenses — a moment of self-awareness for the show.
And of course, we have a nuclear power plant worker named Homer — a nice little homage to The Simpsons. It’s not as if all mythology episodes of The X-Files are dour and humorless, but these little snippets do stand out within the context of this episode, especially as just about every character seems to be pissed off about something. (Aside from Mulder’s overall prickly attitude, even the CSM and Scully seem more irritable than usual. And of course, Jeffrey Spender is a miserable stick in the mud by default.)
The great revelation by the time the episode is over is the suggestion that we all happen to carry alien DNA inside us (with people like Gibson Praise still having access to it, explaining his “special” powers). This should be a cool development, and the mythology is still managing to make some sense up until this point, but truth be told… it still doesn’t feel all that exciting to me, possibly because too much of this episode suggests that nothing will ever really change that much in X-Files land. Oh well.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
James Pickens, Jr. – Arriving at the end of the episode, the man who plays Mulder and Scully’s new Assistant Director has had a long career on screen. Most well known today for his role on Grey’s Anatomy, he had recurring roles on NYPD Blue, The Practice, and Roseanne. On the big screen, he could be seen in Nixon, Bulworth, and Ghosts of Mississippi.
Wendie Malick – Malick, who played AD Maslin here, is best know for her long run on the television program Just Shoot Me! and more recently in the show Hot in Cleveland. She has also guested or starred in Dream On, Baywatch, Empty Nest, Frasier, and Law & Order. She also has done a lot of voice work, including the Disney animated film The Emperor’s New Groove.