“This is the end. I never thought I’d hear myself say those words after all these years. You put your life into something… build it, protect it… The end is as unimaginable as your own death or the death of your children. I could never have scripted the events that led us to this. None of us could. All the brilliant men… the secret that we kept so well.”
– Cigarette Smoking Man
The sudden return of Cassandra Spender opens up a whole can of worms for our heroes, where everything seems to be in the balance.
Max: Well here we are sports fans, the first entry of a two-parter in which Chris Carter and company decided to tie up a vast majority of the mythology’s threads and blow the whole damn thing up. For nearly six whole seasons (and one feature film), we’ve witnessed Agents Mulder and Scully investigate an elaborate puzzle of conspiracy and secrets buried deep from prying eyes.
I utilized the puzzle metaphor heavily during the first two seasons of this rewatch to express how the writers took a loose association of ideas about the existence of extraterrestrial life to assemble an overarching story. Radhika and I also spoke at length how stuff like Anderson’s pregnancy spurred Scully’s abduction arc, which was pivotal in bringing us alien bounty hunters, black oil, bees, genetic experiments, vaccines, and her cancer. In covering the last season or so, our concerns about losing the thread of the top-heavy mythology grew, something the creative team took to heart when season six convened. And so we have here everything coming to a head — the Syndicate’s plans unraveling, heading into an uncertain future.
To fully recap the episode would be a foolhardy endeavor (aka “TL;DR”). Instead, what the episode boils down to is that Cassandra Spender, now the first successful alien-human hybrid, is the key to the fates of everyone around her, from Mulder and Scully, to her son, the Syndicate, and yes, even her cigarette-smoking ex-husband. The revelations and connections fly fast and furious, which causes a lot of the dialogue (particularly that of Cassandra and the CSM) to become an expository info dump. The experiments conducted on her weren’t supposed to be as successful as they were, and the completion of the Syndicate’s work (in the form of an alien-human hybrid) would signal to the Colonists that humanity was ready for invasion.
For an episode so consumed with big issues and ideas, its true legacy lies in how it ties fifty years of covert operations into the relationships in two families, the Mulders and the Spenders. We’ve known the devastating cost that Bill Mulder’s work in the Syndicate had on his family — in sacrificing Samantha for the project, the family was torn apart and the son wound up on a crusade to find out happened. Here, we find out things weren’t all wine and roses for Cassandra, “C.G.B.,” and Jeffrey either. The CSM confides in Diana Fowley (yet another reason to despise her character) that he never loved Cassandra, implied to have been a convenient guinea pig. If that didn’t scar Jeffrey, the CSM does him no favors in present day when he slaps him repeatedly and tells him he pales to Fox Mulder.
The Faceless Rebels reappear in this episode, using their shape-shifting abilities to infiltrate the Syndicate. They want to expose the success of Cassandra Spender to force the group to take up arms against the Colonists, especially since a vaccine against the black oil is now in their possession. This call for resistance is what turned people like Bill Mulder and the Well Manicured Man into pariahs in the Syndicate, and what would eventually lead to their deaths. In a last-ditch effort to prove himself to his father, Spender tries unsuccessfully to kill a rebel masquerading as a Syndicate member. Luckily, Alex Krycek is there to finish the deed, while Spender sits dumbfounded and horrified as the rebel begins to dissolve into green gelatinous blobs. By the end of the episode, you kinda feel sorry for the weasel.
The tension that builds steadily throughout the episode comes to fever pitch in good old apartment 42, when Cassandra begs Mulder and Scully to kill her in order to save humanity from extinction, while the apartment door is banged on furiously (Mulder must have the best neighbors ever to put up with all the stuff that has happened over there). Our agents have never been closer in marshaling enough of the solid evidence Scully goes gaga for to prove Mulder’s theories. Going back to the idea of family, everyone seems to be fighting for some kind of variation of it, whether it be by blood or by a close connection lasting several years. Scully’s abduction and her association with Mulder made her work and her life inseparable, costing her as much as her partner. Now here they are, standing on the edge.
Radhika: “Two Fathers” follows a couple of episodes where the writers seemed ready to shift The X-Files back to its roots, instead of just playing with the straight-up comedic or technological experimentation seen in the first half of season six. But while it brings the show back to its origins by allowing us to revisit the Syndicate, it also allows for a new X-Files universe by showing us the destruction of life as the Syndicate knew it.
The Cigarette Smoking Man we see in this episode is a terribly worried one. He is no longer the confident, smirking villain we’re familiar with — everything he and his cohorts have worked for is getting turned on its head, and he’s going to the likes of Diana Fowley to get help. The mysteries of the Cigarette Smoking Man unravel fast in this episode — whereas we knew a little bit about his connection to Cassandra and Jeffrey earlier, we know even more now. We know his “name” is C.G.B. Spender, even though it’s likely one of hundreds of aliases as Scully points out. We know that as little as he cared for Cassandra; he was never able to bring himself to kill her, because he couldn’t kill the mother of his son (aka, he has that much of a heart). But we also know his son has essentially proven to be a disappointment — both by doubting everything the CSM has worked for and by lacking the drive Fox Mulder has always displayed.
Speaking of which, the events of this episode seem to be exactly the much-needed kick in the pants Mulder needs. When we first see him in the episode, he’s playing a basketball game, uninterested in doing anything FBI-related (or specifically, anything background check-related). Scully is the one who tells him Cassandra Spender is back in the picture, and when Mulder is still reluctant to talk to her, worried about the repercussions, it’s Scully who encourages him to go forward. As Max pointed out, Scully has suffered plenty as the X-Files became intertwined in her life, and she’s equally determined to find out if Cassandra has any more answers about the tests that were done to her. As much as Scully continues to somewhat irritatingly play the skeptic at this point in the series, she very much cares about finding out the ever-elusive “truth,” and it can be argued that she serves as significant motivation for Mulder at this point.
What I appreciate about this episode is that while things are getting turned on their head, we do get to know the characters a little better. Aside from the CSM stuff, we also come to understand Jeffrey Spender a little more — even while he remains an annoying dimwit to an extent. The guy probably didn’t have much of a chance between his parental drama, and his mother’s troubles began while he was still a child. I could see why there would be a need for him to deny everything — it’s almost a survival instinct of sorts. But bitter and miserable as he is, he also has his moments where he shows some heart — his concern when his mother reemerges in the beginning of the episode is genuine, and even his petulant insistence that Mulder not talk to his mother (even though she asked for him), is understandable, especially when he admits he’s afraid of “Agent Mulder filling her head with alien-abduction nonsense.” The fact is, the guy just wants normalcy — something he hasn’t really had in decades. And unlike Mulder, he has no desire to embrace the craziness surrounding his life. Does this mean he pales in comparison to Mulder? Yes, probably. But this is where I can actually marginally start to see where the character is coming from — a good move on The X-Files writers’ parts, considering a number of characters have been in flat, villainous, mustache-twirling roles all season.