“Oh. This is about you.” – Walter Skinner
“Or about the X-Files.” – Fox Mulder
“You are so paranoid, Mulder. You’re not even on the X-Files anymore.” – Walter Skinner
“I know. But you are. You still supervise them.” – Dana Scully
Mulder and Scully check in on their old Assistant Director when Skinner begins to develop a serious medical condition of unknown origin.
Max: It’s telling how far down the comedy rabbit hole we have gone this season that the cloak and dagger machinations of “S.R. 819” seem so foreign to come back to. And I think that has to do with the function of the structure of this season. Since our heroes are no longer assigned to the X-Files, the writers have had to devise all sorts of excuses for Mulder and Scully to get involved in cases with a certain paranormal bouquet. While this has resulted in some pretty solid outings of bold experimentation, it has also lead the characters and the audience away from the eponymous division within the FBI that became (respectively) their life’s work and home. Bringing Skinner back into the fold, and waylaying him with a mysterious medical condition makes for a very jarring cold open indeed.
After his apparent death, we flashback twenty-four hours to when Skinner first became symptomatic while sparring at his usual boxing gym. Released from the hospital after being given a clean bill of heath, Skinner goes to sleep it off in his office, when Mulder notices him in the hallway. Concerned for his former superior, he brings Scully in when he notices a nasty bruise on Skinner’s ribcage. Interrogating Skinner (who just wants to be left alone), Mulder and Scully link his condition to an unusual encounter with a physicist named Dr. Kenneth Orgel at the Bureau. What unfolds is the discovery of a Senate appropriations bill that Skinner was looking into, and its connection to Senator Richard Matheson, one of Mulder’s old informants into the world of the extraterrestrial.
Scully discovers with a physician named Dr. Plant that Skinner was infected a peculiar form of so-called “multiplying carbon,” which when left uncontrolled obstructs his blood vessels, eventually leading to cardiac arrest and death. Mulder learns from Matheson that what is actually ailing our beloved AD is a form of cutting edge nanotechnology, tiny machines the size of atoms, and that research and the exportation of said technology was reliant on S.R. 819, the appropriations bill that Skinner was looking into. After coming back from the verge of dying, Skinner appears to heal miraculously, and cautions his former charges not to look into these events further. Later, he encounters the man who was actually behind all of this, a familiar face, Alex Krycek. Krycek warns Skinner to tread lightly, and that he will be back with further instructions.
This was a interesting episode to say the least. My issues with the episode aren’t with it per se, but with how out of left field it came. We spoke a lot last season about how the “Mulder is a skeptic” arc failed to amount to much of anything, but I think Mulder and Scully’s forced exile from the X-Files thus far this season has been even more poorly handled. The paradigm shifting stakes of “The Beginning” have been mostly squandered on a series of experimental excursions which don’t tie in at all with the precarious position within the Bureau our agents are in. The last time Mulder and Scully were in the outside looking in back in season two, the audience got to at least see the toll it took on them and their relationship. Here, the writers became so enamored with their cool new toys that they failed to service what made the show great, what turned a cult following into a mainstream juggernaut.
Radhika: Within a few seconds of starting this episode, I found myself marveling at how much it felt like the “old” X-Files — and as the episode progressed, I found myself agreeing with my earlier assessment even further. “S.R. 819” seems like it belongs somewhere in season four — even the lighting of the episode, minus a few glimpses of that pesky Los Angeles sunlight, make it feel more like the pre-Fight the Future years than anything else. It’s also a reestablishment of the show’s mythology, something we really need at this point.
So we have the throwbacks: Alex Krycek and even Senator Richard Matheson, a character we haven’t seen since season three. Skinner gives us the sort of overly philosophical monologue usually reserved for Mulder or Scully, just after the credits. The pulsating veins on Skinner are pretty disconcerting (and gross). This all serves as a reminder of what The X-Files is really about.
But like Max, I do think the placement of “S.R. 819” in the rest of season six is kind of odd and weak. I’ve been talking about how much I’ve been enjoying most of the season six episodes this time around, and I think it’s a season that actually produced a lot of good television. But a lot of people I know started getting turned off by The X-Files by the time Fight the Future left theaters, and I think — even though there was good writing and fun cinematic experimentation in season six — it’s because the writers definitely did forget the show’s roots a bit. Eager to enjoy the new free reign offered them by increasing popularity, an actual motion picture and bigger budgets, the mythology of season six began to meander.
After we see Mulder and Scully displaced at the beginning of the season, we get to see them stumble upon weird case after weird case, alluding to their current station at the FBI, but without doing much to get back in the game. It’s episode after episode of laughs and oddities until we stumble upon this mid-seasonish episode that takes us back to conspiracies and blackmail. I’m not sure it provides the right impact.
While this episode is meant to propel the mythology along, it also feels like a step back. After he basically tells Scully how much he has admired her and Mulder’s quest over the years, even admitting that he could have been a better ally to them, we’re back to seeing Skinner standoffish and telling the agents to leave things alone at the end. Granted, in this case, we can see that some things really are no longer in Skinner’s hands — he’s had a brush with death and Krycek is clearly holding something over him. This all still makes Skinner more sympathetic than he was when he was first introduced as an ambiguous surly superior, but it also makes the overall vibe of the story feel very stuck — a hint that the mythology may be running out of steam.
YES IT’S THAT GUY
Kenneth Tigar – Playing Dr. Plant, Tigar has been a consummate television presence, with recurring roles on Cheers, LA Law, Fringe, Growing Pains, House of Cards and Hill Street Blues. He’s guested on Quantum Leap, Lois & Clark, Boardwalk Empire, and Star Trek: Voyager.