“It began with an act of supreme violence, a big bang, expanding ever outward, cosmos spores of matter and gas, matter and gas, ten billion years ago. Whose idea was this? Who had the audacity for such invention? And the reason? Were we part of that plan, ten billion years ago? Are we born only to die? To be fruitful and multiply and replenish the Earth before giving way to our generations? If there is a beginning, must there be an end?” — Dana Scully
A rock covered in Navajo characters is found in Cote d’Ivoire and a scientist is murdered. Our agents investigate, resulting in Mulder’s mental breakdown and Scully going to Africa.
Radhika: I liked this season finale back when it first aired — it had enough elements of dangerous, surprise and “wtf”ery for me to be intrigued and eager to see what was next. I actually still enjoyed rewatching it for this blog, but a tiny voice in the back of my head started pointing out that this may have been the beginning of the end of cohesion on The X-Files. After all, as Scully points out: Technically Mulder and Scully have won already. The men behind vast conspiracies are defeated, which means the mythology of the show is effectively ironed out. So what’s left? For Mulder, it’s his sister… for the rest of us, it’s a jumpstarted mythology that sorta kinda heads into a new direction.
A biology professor in Cote d’Ivoire finds a metallic artifact and when he puts it next to a similar piece, the two join together and fly across the room. He travels to the United States to meet Steven Sandoz, another biologist affiliated with American University, who is supposed to have a similar object. But an impostor murders the professor.
Mulder and Scully are called in to find Sandoz, and they’re provided with a rubbing of the artifact. We discover that both scientists believed in the theory that life on Earth has extraterrestrial origins. Mulder starts experiencing intermittent headaches and as the agents investigate, they learn that the symbols are actually Navajo. So of course when they visit Sandoz’s apartment (where they discover the dead African professor), they see a picture of Sandoz with their own Navajo ally, Albert Hosteen. After some time, Scully learns Hosteen is dying of cancer and Sandoz is hiding out in New Mexico. And in the meantime, Mulder is so overcome by his headaches, that he has a mental breakdown and is put into a psychiatric ward.
Sandoz is eventually murdered by Krycek, who has been passing along information to Barnes (the murderous man who posed as Sandoz). But before he dies, he tells Scully that the letters on the artifact contains all kinds of information about human genetics. The episode ends with Scully in West Africa, standing by a spacecraft that has similar markings all over it.
What this episode does well is this: It reintroduces a high-stakes game, even with most of the original members of the show’s conspiracy no longer with us. (Though this doesn’t prevent the resurgence of the Cigarette Smoking Man, Krycek or our favorite plot device, Diana Fowley). Nothing’s going to happen to Mulder, not yet, but we don’t really know how he’s going to be okay. And now, Scully has seen another spacecraft, a little more conscious than she was when she saw one in Antarctica, and it looks like our favorite skeptic may really become a believer this time. There is enough suspense to make me want to know what happens next, making it a successful cliffhanger, which is all part of an effective season finale.
It’s also a weirdly welcome change to see Scully get to be a hero this time. Of course she’s saved the day in the past, but we’ve had an onslaught of Scully-in-danger plots to the point where they’ve outnumbered the Mulder-in-danger plots. Here, Scully is the lucid one, trying to figure out what has happened to her partner — understandably angry to see Skinner and Fowley together at the hospital where Mulder is. When she insists on seeing Mulder, she’s told he’s too violent and she calmly responds that he won’t be violent with her. And then we see Mulder yelling her name, looking at the camera in his cell — and for a minute, we know Scully’s totally right. Mulder has completely unraveled, but Scully remains a constant somehow. Now we just have to see how the rest of this alien stuff figures into the plot.
Max: This is certainly an effective finale, capping off a season that saw the entire show in transition, from the wrapping up of the seasons-long conspiracy that was The Syndicate and their project, to our heroes’ exile and slow journey back to the basement office. At the very least I look on “Biogenesis” more favorably than I have in the past, and the money shot of the extraterrestrial craft in the African surf is certainly a more compelling reason to stick around for the next season than lets say the Alien Bounty Hunter’s pursuit of Jeremiah Smith was back in “Talitha Cumi.”
Being that this episode is the beginning of a jumpstarted or rebooted mythology, the writers threw in a lot of elements from season finales past, calling back and pursuing old threads to build a new tapestry (Is this going to be my new metaphorical device? Stay tuned sports fans). Mulder’s health, if not life, is in the balance much like in “Gethsemane” and “Anasazi,” and like the latter episode, it marks the return of our good friend Albert Hosteen and the Navajo/Native American connection to the alien and extraterrestrial. Mulder also seems to be developing a precognitive ability much like Gibson Praise exhibited in “The End,” and of course Diana Fowley is present in both episodes to throw a wrench into the Mulder/Scully dynamic. And experimentation on monkeys by biologists hearkens all the way back to “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” when the dynamic duo discovered elements of the Purity Control program that was The Syndicate’s attempt to develop a vaccine against the black oil.
If there are elements that I do not like in this episode, they mainly stem from how in some regards, a character’s progress has slipped backwards. With Skinner now on Krycek’s leash (most likely because Ratboy has control of the nanobots that can cripple Skinner’s blood vessels at will), Scully is forced to not trust her superior and undo seasons worth of accumulated trust. Through his actions, Skinner has made himself into a tried and true ally of the X-Files and the work his agents stand for. Here, we revert back to season two, where Mulder and Scully had no qualms about pulling their firearms on Skinner when they believed his motives were anything less than pure. And with the CSM pulling strings again, we have Diana Fowley back in our lives. I’m not sure if I quite buy Mulder being desperate enough to call her, and her presence at the hospital comes off as a perfunctory obstacle between our agents for the sake of conflict.
This being a rewatch, I know how what is started here gets carried over and resolved in the beginning of the seventh season, and while my memories of it result in me rolling my eyes, I am willing like Radhika to see how things play out once we begin that leg of our X-Files journey. At this stage, the melange of science, religion, and culture that results from an analysis of the alien fragments is a curious wrinkle on the plot. Radhika and I will be most likely operating going forward with a sense of cautious, guarded optimism, even though the threads may get too knotty. The artifacts are a cool little puzzle piece, even though they preconfigure the more divisive aspects of late-period X-Files mythology.
“Biogenesis” is more straightforward than most mythology outings, but it begins to lay the groundwork for what will emerge as we head into the last three seasons of our beloved show. Sure, the luster has worn off, but once we return with our coverage of season seven and beyond, Radhika and I will see if The X-Files, to quote galactic smuggler Han Solo, still has “it where it counts.” Will the series’ storytelling engine still work? Will we be surprised and critically reassess our opinions? Stay tuned. Same Bat Time, same Bat Channel. Two-thirds of the way through, we’ve reached a milestone.